My friend Joe asked me a question on Facebook about Torah, the Law of the Old Testament. In particular, he asked how a Christian deals with the fact that Leviticus forbids shellfish or mixing clothing fibers in one section, and forbids homosexual activity in another section. Why does the Church dismiss the former and continue to uphold the latter?
My response to Joe is below. Unfortunately, for some reason, Joe's original question no longer appears on FB. I don't know if FB ate his question (maybe there's a filter against "Leviticus") or if Joe pulled his question for some reason.
Anyway, here's my attempt to respond to the question: why are shrimp "in" but same-sex sexual activity "out" for Christian faith...
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Hi Joe, a good question, and one that the early Church also dealt with in the first decades of its existence.
As did the Anglican Church much later. From the Thirty-Nine Articles (founding document of the Church of England): "Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."
The understanding is that in Christ, the works of the law were fulfilled--so temple sacrifice and dietary codes were no longer binding on Christians because their purpose had been summed up and perfected in Christ. I wouldn't describe them as "quaintly dismissable," although at times their purpose seems pretty opaque.
But the moral law, which includes sexual purity, is timeless and universal. This is repeatedly affirmed in the New Testament, and nowhere more elegantly than in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus affirmed and deepened the moral law of the Old Testament.
So, the Gentiles when they were welcomed into the Church weren't required to cook kosher or make temple sacrifice (impossible anyway after 70AD) but they were conjoined to be chaste (i.e. either faithful in marriage between man and woman or celibate outside of that covenant).
It's true that statements of civil, ceremonial, and moral law stand side by side in Leviticus and elsewhere in the OT. But recognizing which is which is not overly problematical in the light of the New Testament.
Hope this helps. I appreciate your asking.