Living All The Bible: A Response To A Faddish Argument

One of the stranger arguments against Christianity that has found an audience (and publishers) is the argument that Christians are hypocrites because they do not adhere to the Bible the way that pagan critics think they should. As I recall, there have been at least two different volumes recounting the attempt to follow the Bible “literally” for a year. The first, The Year of Living Biblically (2009) was published by A. J. Jacobs. The second, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was published in 2012 by late Rachel Held Evans. I was reminded of both the other day  by Jonathan Merrit, a writer on religion and politics for The Atlantic and other outlets, published this on Twitter:

Can we all get real honest and admit there is no Xian who follows ALL the Bible. No one is stoning their disrespectful children or sending escaped sex trafficking victims back to their masters. This is a way of framing debates that conservatives use to shame and silence. 💫…

He is a former self-identified evangelical who was “outed” as gay in 2012. He holds Masters degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Emory University. Presumably he knows that, in the Christian Bible, there are two covenants or testaments. Let us assume that his facility in Greek and Hebrew have become a little rusty but in any English Bible he would find a table of contents. In the table of contents distinguishing between the Old and New Testaments, which Christians have done since the time of Irenaeus (c. 170 AD). The Apostle Paul himself distinguished sharply (and narrowly) between the “old covenant” which he assigned the Moses and the giving of the law at Sinai (2 Cor 3 [all]). The writer to those Jewish Christians who were tempted to leave Christ and return to Moses, made the same distinction (Heb 8 [all]; See also Gal 3:15–29).

More broadly, however, Christians have spoken of everything that God revealed and did before the coming of Christ as belonging to the Old Testament. We have always recognized a principle of progressive revelation of the one plan of redemption in Holy Scripture. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the Old Testament as being replete with “types” and “shadows.” Paul calls Adam a “type” (Rom 5:14) of Christ. Hebrews 8:5 says of the Jerusalem and the Aaronic priesthood: “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain’” (ESV).

Indeed, according to our Lord Jesus, the entire Old Testament was intended to point to Christ as its fulfillment. E.g., in a dispute with the Jews Jesus proclaimed “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced” (John 8:56). He told Nicodemus that the bronze serpent raised in the wilderness was about him (John 3:14). John said that Isaiah spoke of Jesus (John 12:36b–43). According to Jesus the whole OT was about him (Luke 24:27).  The Apostle Paul taught the Corinthian congregation that all the promises are yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The writer to the Hebrews argued that Moses himself was a servant in Jesus’ house but Jesus, God the Son incarnate is the owner of the house (Heb 3:5).

In other words, much of the Old Testament, the ceremonial laws (e.g., hand washing, touching a dead body, menstrual regulations etc) and the judicial laws (e.g., stoning of rebellious teens) was designed to be obsolete. As the rabbis counted them there were 613 commandments. Of the Old Testament law, only the moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments was intended to be permanent and even that law, as it was expressed at Sinai (Ex 20) had temporary features. The Old Testament Sabbath (Ex 20:8) was a type of things to come. In Christ, the rest promised has come. The Christian Sabbath was inaugurated with the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10).

The living-the-Bible-for-a-year approach ignores basic literary conventions like types and shadows. A type is an illustration of a future reality. A shadow is a sketch of future realities. According to the New Testament, the types, shadows, and sketches of future realities were fulfilled in Christ. It was on this principle that the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:13–16) that the ceremonial laws had been fulfilled and abrogated. In 1684 the Reformed theologian David Dickson repeated traditional Christian teaching when he explained why and how the Mosaic judicial laws have been fulfilled an abrogated:

(1) Because, the Judicial Law, was delivered by Moses to the Israelites to be observed, as to a Body Politick; Exod. 21 chapter.

(2) Because, this Law, in many things, which are of particular right, was accommodated, to the Common-wealth of the Jews, and not to other Nations also; Exod. 22. 3. Exod. 21. 2. Lev. 25. 2, 3. Deut: 24. 1, 2, 3. Deut. 25. 5, 6, 7.

(3) Because, in other things, which are not of particular right, it is neither from the Law of Nature, obliging by Reason; neither is it pressed upon Believers under the Gospel, to be observed.

(4) Because, Believers are appointed under the Gospel to obey the civil Laws, and commands of those under whose Government they live, providing they be just, and that for Conscience sake. Rom. 13. 1. 1 Peter 2. 13, 14. Titus 3. 1.

Accusing Christians of hypocrisy because they do not keep laws they regard as intentionally temporary and explicitly abrogated is like criticizing auto mechanics for not using the manual for a Model T to repair a Tesla. The first was intended to speak to a particular situation. The general principles of physics still apply but there is a great deal of intentional difference between a modern auto and a Model T, the last edition of which rolled off the assembly line in 1927. Such an argument would only be persuasive to those completely ignorant about cars. “Why these Tesla mechanics are completely ignoring the original manual given at the beginning of the auto industry. They claim to be honest mechanics but the ignore the original guide.” A Tesla is not a Model T. The Model T manual was never intended to be applied to the Tesla. It would be dishonest and unfaithful of the Tesla mechanic to attempt to use a Model T manual to repair a Tesla.

The living-the-Bible-for-a-year attempt to discredit Christianity fails at a very basic point. It ignores the unity of the divine authorship of Scripture, that the same Holy Spirit who inspired Moses and the prophets also inspired the authors of the New Testament. Moses and the prophets knew that they were working for us, as it were:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12; ESV).

The charge of hypocrisy fails because it seeks to hold Christians to a standard they have never professed to hold, which their holy Scriptures explicitly and implicitly reject. It ignore the way Christians, following Christ and his apostles, have always understood the Scriptures. The early post-canonical church had this argument with Jewish critics of Christianity, who complained that Christians did not keep the ceremonial laws. We rejected that critique then and we reject it now.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Clark,
    Your sound (Scripturally based) and reasoned (flawless pictorial logic) response to these ‘curious criticisms’ by those apparently not ‘called to follow Christ’ was fun and helpful to read. Thank you.

  2. Dr. Clark,
    Would you comment on the content of the ‘outed’ link you included by AZARIAH SOUTHWORTH? Azariah’s story, if it is true, discredits Jonathan Merritt and describes him as predatory.

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