Why is the Bible full of so many strange imperatives?

Part Three in thee series, “How Reasoning Enforces My Faith”


“The only saving grace we only ever need speak of: If ever there’s’s a question, the answer is to love.”
— Five Iron Frenzy lyric from "God Hates Flags"

From my own experience, it seems the most common, albeit disagreeable, answer to the above question has something to do with dismissing Levitical law as "cultural" and "not applicable in today's world." Even if that is true, there is a major flaw in that excuse: it isn't rooted in the Bible. No where in the Bible does it say Levitical law was cultural. If anything, it says the exact opposite. (Matthew 5:17-19) To be clear, the Bible says we are "dead to the law" (Romans 7) and in Acts 10, laws about food and who Jews may associate with are given a back seat in order to spread the gospel to Gentiles, but the Bible does not say the laws are flawed. They are and have always been good and deliberate commands from God. (Romans 7:12-13) When we dismiss parts of the law, we not only misrepresent the Bible, we appear to be cherry picking, waving our hands and manipulating the Bible to suit our purposes.

The only reasonable interpretation of the Bible is that God means what he says. Therefore, all of Leviticus is spot on. When God told us not to cook a goat in it's mother's milk, he meant it. When he said people with defects can't approach the altar, he meant it. When he said a man who has sex with another man should be put to death, he meant it. When he said a couple who has sex during the woman's period should be cut off from their people, he meant it. I don't want to go on and on. Do a Google search for "outrageous commands in Leviticus." God meant it. This is step one. If you approach the Bible thinking, "I wonder whether or not God meant this part of the Bible," you are doing yourself a disservice. The answer is always "yes". If these laws bother you in anyway, let it serve as a lesson: you don’t have the first idea of what it means to be holy and perfect.

Admittedly, there are a few reasonable questions people entertain when they read objectionable passages:

1) Is it translated correctly?

2) Is this passage literal or not?

3) Does context altar the interpretation?

These are reasonable questions, but when it comes to the law, I believe all or nearly all can be taken straight off the page, exactly as it appears. In other words, if you ask me whether I believe any law should be interpreted literally, my answer will be yes.

So now I turn to the question of "Why? Why were we given these commandments?” We don't have to make guesses, as Jesus provided an excellent answer.

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:37-40, emphasis added

According to Jesus, every commandment was provided either so we can better love God or better love each other. This is the “spirit of the law.” Understanding the spirit of the law is one of the reasons (but not the most important reason) why Peter was allowed to associate with foreigners in Acts 10:28-29. Sometimes the spirit of the law is abundantly clear (Leviticus 19:10) while other times it is not at all clear. (Leviticus 18:22) But even if the law was completely irrational, it would need no other justification than the fact that God gave it. I would even go as far as to say that if the entire world, today, began obeying God‘s law to the letter, God would be thrilled. But that has never happened and will never happen.

There was a group that took the law very seriously. They read every word literally and even made up their own, extra-strict laws above and beyond the existing one. They wanted to keep themselves fully clear of even violating a law accidentally. They took pride in their upstanding character, judged and ostracized those who fell short, used religion to manipulate politics, and made big productions whenever they gave charitable gifts. 

No, I'm not talking about Christians, but if Christians allow political groups to carry out their activities under a Christian label, I may as well.

The group was called the Pharisees. Not by coincidence, Jesus Christ made his appearance when the influence of the Pharisees had reached its peak. He arrived like a parent who pulls the car over to the side of the freeway in order to turn around and speak sternly to his kids, "You guys need to stop it. Stop it right now." Jesus did this by deliberately not following their rules and then chastising them in their self righteous reaction. (Matthew 12:1-8, Matthew 12:9-14, Luke 6:6-11, Luke 13:10-16, Luke 14:1-6, John 5:16-17, John 8:1-11)

Tecnically, the Pharisees had been following God's law, but they had completely missed the spirit of it and they were not honoring God with their lives. That's why Jesus said that not even the Pharisees had achieved a level of righteousness worthy of heaven (Matthew 5:20)

We have arrived at a crossroad. The law is full of commandments that we struggle to understand and, during modern times, we often criticize, but even if we were to abide by it, we would almost certainly fail as the Pharisees did.

We coukd ask, "why would God give us a law like that?" Iif we entertain that  question, we may as well head down what Christians call "Romans' Road", or the first several chapters in Romans in which Paul talks about the law and it's affects on our life today. I have already written about Romans, as well as how Christians are sometimes like Pharisees, and you can read about it here.

Ultimately, Christ's life, death and resurrection accomplishes two things: it sets us free from sin and it shows us how to live apart from the law. (Romans 6:1-2,5,11) I used to think being "free from sin" or being "dead to sin" meant not sinning anymore. Nope! I definitely continue to sin. Being dead to sin means that the consequences of all, not "some", but "all" Biblical commandments no longer apply. You want to pick and choose? You want to cherry pick? Fine. Go right ahead. The truth is, NONE of them apply anymore. That is why Paul uses the phrase,

"Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"

The implication of a law that has been made irrelevant is that you can now "sin" as much as you want. But Paul says that isn't the appropriate conclusion. While we may be dead to sin, we are "alive in Christ". In other words, if being set free from sin was important, how much more important is the way we live as a result of that?

God would love it if we never sinned again, but that was true even before Jesus Christ. We should instead ask, "how does Jesus Christ change how a sinner should live, in a way that is distinct from what we already knew the old Covenant called for?" Fortunately, Christ was quite direct in how he called us to live: by serving others.

If you don't believe in Jesus, I'm sorry but I can't help you. Without Jesus, I can't make logical sense of the Bible because the idea of living under the law is entirely impossible. Nobody does it. Nobody can do it. For there to be a God that is good, there has to be a way out of religion (“religion” as a moral code and set of ritual observances). There has to be a Jesus. The problem is, people say they believe in Jesus Christ, but they keep living like they don't. People have a tendency to focus on maintaining religious rituals (going to church) and upholding a now powerless law, which they hypocritically pick and choose from. Jesus severed us from that way of living. He says to us. "Those things don't matter. Take a minute to observe how I just changed everything and instead of worrying about sin, worry about how you are going to follow in my footsteps."