Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill—Jesus (Matthew 5:17, NRSV).
For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes—The Apostle Paul (Romans 10:4, NRSV).
Sometimes when reading the Bible we stumble into confusing stories, sayings, and teachings. Take, for instance, the two above scriptures. Given the option to pick between the two, most of us would pick the latter over the former. “If we can do away with all the laws then we don’t have to worry about those rules and regulations from the Old Testament,” we reason. Some even argue that the New Testament makes the Old Testament obsolete. Yet, should we hastily dismiss Jesus’ claim that he’s come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it? Should we pit Paul’s words against Jesus’ words or Jesus’ words against Paul’s words?
We must consider what the Apostle Paul means in stating that Christ is the end of the law. The Greek word for our English word “end” is telos. To understand the meaning of telos picture the finish line of a track race or marathon. The finish line serves as the “termination” and the “goal” of the race. Likewise, in Romans 10:4 Paul implies that Christ is the “termination” of an era (ruled by the law of Moses) and its “goal” (the law of Moses pointed toward Christ). We might also use words such as climax, consummation, and culmination. Paul is pointing out that the Jewish people of his day have been so preoccupied with keeping the law that they have missed God’s righteousness offered to each of us through faith in Jesus Christ. He challenges the readers of his letter to the Romans to place their faith in Christ, the one who has brought the law to its telos and ended its reign. Righteousness does not come by obedience to the law, but by faith in Christ for all who believe. Praise God for his marvelous grace!
We also must consider what the Apostle does not mean in stating that Christ has brought an “end” to the law. As already stated, the Law of Moses is no longer basic to the relationship between the believer and God. Christ now mediates the relationship between God and the believer. But Paul is not saying Christ has ended all “law.” Instead, the law is now mediated in and through Jesus Christ. Paul affirms his understanding of the law mediated in and through Christ in Galatians 6:2 writing, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (emphasis mine). In addition, Christ bringing the law to its climax, does not mean that the Law of Moses is of no more use for the believer. Writing to Timothy, his child in the faith, Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The scripture to which Paul refers is what we know as the Old Testament. The Old Testament was the only scripture the early Church had during the days of Paul and the other apostles. Paul would cringe at today’s Church severing Christ from the law.
John Wesley and the early Methodists stood firm against abandoning the law. In Wesley’s day certain groups attempted to “make the law void through faith.” Wesley taught that Christ brought to climax the ceremonial law. In other words, Christ was the one perfect, sinless sacrifice for sins and his sacrifice was made once for all (see Hebrews 10:1-18). Because of what Christ has done, animal sacrifices and prescribed offerings are no longer required. The ceremonial law has been brought to its end, or goal, through Christ. However, the moral law has not been brought to an end. For example, we would think it outrageous to claim that since Christ died as a sacrifice for sins that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to the Christian life. If we take the view that the law is obsolete, we are free to blaspheme God’s name, create idols, lie to each other, steal from each other, and if it gets too bad, we can take one another’s life. It’s easy to see the ridiculousness of this kind of reasoning. Our desire to obey the moral law comes as a grateful response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The moral law is not confining, but promotes growth in Christ-likeness (see the Matthew 5-7).
What does this have to do with same gender marriage? Let’s consider Leviticus 18, where in giving the law to Moses, God addresses unlawful sexual relations. Leviticus 18:22 reads, “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would a woman; it is a detestable practice” (CEB). This statement doesn’t mean much, if the entire law (ceremonial and moral) is no longer applicable for the people of God. (Please note that Leviticus 18:22 says nothing about homosexual desire, orientation or tendencies. In fact, this verse recognizes that people do have such tendencies).
As we read the whole of Scripture, we witness the prohibition against homosexual behavior that spans from the Old to the New Testament writings (see Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). Why does this prohibition find its way into the New Testament from the Old Testament when so many other prohibitions from the Old Testament do not enter into the New Testament picture? Again, we return to the early pages of human history in Genesis 1-2. At the heart of the original creation we find one man plus one woman equals two becoming one flesh. God affirmed his creation as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This means that he saw the one man plus one woman equals two becoming one flesh as very good. As noted in my first blog on the subject, Jesus spoke on the marriage relationship as well (see Mark 10:6-8). The restrictions of homosexual behavior are based on the design of God’s good creation of the male and female covenant relationship. Nowhere in the New Testament is covenant relationship of marriage redefined nor are the prohibitions against same-gender sexual relationships annulled.
Let’s return to Jesus statement, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but fulfill.” One of the chief affirmations of the Church is that Christ is the “head over all things to the church, which is his body the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23, NRSV). If Jesus, our Head, has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law, then the body—the Church—is called to fulfill the law today in our union with Christ. Fulfilling the law means honoring God and living a life of holiness in all our relationships, including sexual ones. Since the prohibition on same-gender sexual relations is grounded implicitly in the creation story, and nothing in the New Testament suggests otherwise, I find no biblical license to say that the prohibitions against homosexual behavior no longer apply.
I hope this blog entry helps you, the reader, to gain a deeper understanding of why for centuries the Church has recognized Christian marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman. I recognize that this may bring more questions to mind, such as, “What about the role and status of women in the New Testament?” and “What about slavery in the New Testament?” In my next blog I will lay out why I believe those issues are not of the same kind as homosexuality. Stay tuned!
Senior Associate Pastor