By Randy Limbird
About a dozen years ago, we were at a Bible study where the topic was the Bible itself. One man expressed his opinion that the Bible was all about rules to live by. The funny thing was, he wasn’t a fundamentalist who insisted that every word in the Bible is meant to be taken as literal fact. As far as I could tell, he was just saying something that he had been taught but had not thought about all that much. Yet he also seemed confident that he was living by whatever rules were in that book.
I expressed my view that rules weren’t really at the heart of the Bible, which is really more of an extended narrative of how God has made himself known. Part of that is expressed in rules, to be sure, but the story is much bigger than that. As you keep reading, you discover how limited rules really are.
That same man ended up having an affair, maybe more than one, and left his wife. It seemed ironic to me that someone so adamant about living by biblical rules eventually found them cumbersome.
Actually the Bible starts out with only one rule: God tells Adam and Eve not to eat “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The paradox is that Adam and Eve broke this one rule so they could make their own rules. Many theologians believe that the temptation represented by this tree was the desire to determine right and wrong on one’s own, apart from God. It’s the essence of pride: To believe that we can know what is good and what isn’t, and we don’t need God to tell us.
Yes, there are a ton of rules in the Bible, and if you’ve managed to read through Leviticus, they don’t all make much sense to a 21st century mind. Apart from the Ten Commandments, which are expressly credited to God Himself, it’s not all that clear to me where all the rest of the rules come from. Did God really care whether people wore clothes made of different kinds of cloth? Did it matter that much which kind of meat people ate? Were all these rules straight from God or just a way people tried to please Him?
By the time you get to the New Testament, these rules don’t seem so important. Dietary laws, even circumcision, are no longer required by the leaders of the early Christian church. In I Cor. 10:23, Paul writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.”
In other writings, Paul is not above listing various rules for Christian living; in Eph. 5:3, he goes so far as to say “But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you.” Paul isn’t making up rules on his own, however, but stating the obvious implications of a life committed to Christ.
The Christian life doesn’t reject rules. It accepts them as a way of responding to God’s grace, not as a substitute for it.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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