Bible dealbreakers: The covenant

I’m doing a series this week on what I’d like to call “Bible dealbreakers,” reasons why I reject the Bible’s authority and therefore reject Christianity. Some will apply to Judaism as well, but Christianity is my focus here. I expect to get about five separate posts out of this, but we’ll see.

In the Old Testament, God promises repeatedly that the Mosaic laws will be in effect forever. That is God’s covenant with the Jews: follow these laws, and God will look out for you as his chosen people. (And God holds everyone accountable for these rules, not just the Jews.) Here are just a few of the very clear statements in the Torah that this is the way things will work for all time:

In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend [an oil lamp] from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel. Exodus 27:21

This day [Passover] shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Exodus 12:14

Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons. Exodus 29:8-9

It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood. Leviticus 3:17

And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month [Yom Kippur], you shall afflict yourselves [or shall fast] and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. Leviticus 16:29-30

But the Bible says that, once Jesus came on the scene, those laws weren’t so important anymore.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:1-4

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:11-14

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:18

In fact, even though God’s covenant with the Jews was supposed to last for all time…

Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed as a statute to Jacob, as an everlasting covenant to Israel… 1 Chronicles 16:15-17

…with Jesus’ arrival, the claim goes, God is making a “new covenant” because the old one is “obsolete.”

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. Hebrews 8:6-7

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:13

This is such a huge contradiction in what the Bible teaches that I cannot consider it to be a single description of the one true god — a god who is, by the way, supposed to be perfect, all-powerful, and all-knowing. So did he screw up the covenant for the first time around? Or did he not know that the covenant would become obsolete later? Or was Jesus a con artist? No matter how you slice it, something is very wrong here. Given that Christianity claims that the entire Bible forms one coherent whole, and it clearly isn’t, I can’t believe Christianity.

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24 Comments

  1. Questioning

     /  February 21, 2011 at 9:32 am

    This is one of the major things that started to crack my faith. Interestingly, it is not Jesus who claims to be the end of the law, but Paul who claims this for him. Jesus says he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and that the law will never pass away. Paul, however, is the one who throws it out and claims that we are under a new covenant. Most of my life as a Christian, I thought I was following Jesus, but I was really following Paul. If you leave out Paul and the other New Testament writers there are definitely still issues, but the gospels harmonize with the Old Testament much better than the rest of the New Testament does.

  2. As Questioning says and many buyBull scholars have stated that Paul is the real source for what we call Xtian. And just as in this example Paul states all this stuff and not jepus himself. The best jepus says is ‘I am not here to replace but complete’ which very different from the Paul stuff.

  3. Have you considered that it is not so much that it has been abolished than that since Jesus fulfilled every requirement, that rather than us having to be perfect we can now fall under His work.

    It has always been that a Messiah would come and this would be the case.

  4. @John: Then why wouldn’t God have told Moses, “It shall be a statute throughout your generations until your Messiah comes”? Why would he say “forever”?

  5. Because the law is still the law, breaking it is still sin even after the Messiah. Its just that now those who break it can have a mediator in the Messiah.

  6. … That’s what “obsolete and outdated” means to you? “The curse of the law”? “The end of the law”? “You are not under the law”? I mean, come on, you don’t actually follow the laws, nor do you feel guilty about breaking them. Do you abstain from pork or shellfish? Do you check to make sure the pastor(s) at your church(es) are descendants of Aaron? Do you abstain from leavened bread for the entire duration of Passover? Assuming no: do you pray to Jesus for forgiveness for these transgressions? … Or, are you really that casual about your sinning that you don’t even try not to sin, and you don’t even feel remorse about it, because you know that Jesus has made it all better ahead of time?

  7. But, if you go by the behavior of modern Christians, the OT law is not still the law. Christians today self-evidently don’t feel any need to follow the OT’s clear commandments about abstaining from shrimp or pork, not wearing mixed fabrics, or barring deformed or handicapped people from their churches – nor do they seem to feel it’s sinful to do any of those things. Was it ever a sin to perform those acts?

  8. Do you two really not understand the Mosaic covenant was not given to gentiles? Atheists always, always cite the OT priestly and cerimonial laws which were only given to Israel and then ask why Christians don’t follow them. Do you do this on purpose, or do you really not know?

  9. Hmm. John, you started out by saying that “Jesus fulfilled every requirement” of the law and Christians “can now fall under His work” instead of having to obey the laws themselves. Then you said that “breaking [the Mosaic law] is still sin.” Now you’re saying that Christians don’t have to follow the laws because they weren’t given to gentiles…? (Does that mean if you’re a Christian with Jewish heritage, you do have to follow the laws?) Seems a little strange to be so thrilled that Jesus fulfilled every requirement of a thing you weren’t bound by in the first place. Also, I already cited Leviticus 18:24-30 in the first paragraph of my post as evidence that God punishes everybody for breaking these rules, not just the Jews.

  10. Questioning

     /  February 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    But John, weren’t the Gentile Christians “grafted in,” thereby coming under the covenant?

  11. I concur with NFQ. John, first you said that breaking the Mosaic law is still considered sinful for Christians. Then you said that the Mosaic law was only ever applicable to Jews, not Gentiles. Which is it?

  12. I have expounded on this issue here. Read the comment section as well.

  13. Aristarchus

     /  February 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    John, two questions:

    1. Do you believe that a modern day Jew who converts to Christianity and starts following it (and no longer keeping kosher, etc.) is sinning by doing so?

    2. Do you believe you are sinning any time you eat pork? If so, why do you do it?

  14. You didn’t answer Ebon’s question, John. Your essay doesn’t, either.

    It sure looks like you’re running away from a contradiction you’ve been caught in.

  15. Aris: the Jews don’t have dietary restrictions any longer per New Covenant, and I have never been an OT Jew, so pork has always been fine for me.

    Reiux: I’ve answered. Let’s not play this game where that if I haven’t answered to your satisfaction that I either cannot answer, or I am running from the issue.

  16. Aristarchus

     /  February 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Aris: the Jews don’t have dietary restrictions any longer per New Covenant, and I have never been an OT Jew, so pork has always been fine for me.

    I’m sorry, but are you a fucking moron? Let’s review how this conversation went:

    NFQ: I have a problem with the fact that in the OT God makes a covenant with the Jews and lays down rules that he says apply “forever,” and then Christianity thinks they no longer apply.

    John: This is a stupid critique because the rules were given to Jews only, not Christians in general.

    Me: John, forget the Christians then – do you think Jews still need to follow those laws?

    John: No, they don’t, because those rules no longer apply after there was a new covenant.

    Which brings us right back to the original objection NFQ had. Can you really not see that? The obliviousness of your argumentation makes it hard for me to really believe you really think what you’re saying is a good argument. Maybe you’re just that stupid, but you seem capable of clothing and feeding yourself, so I’m having trouble figuring out what’s going on.

  17. John, Ebon asked you a question: “Which is it?”

    In response, you posted a comment that did not identify which one it is. You directed attention to an extremely long post (and even longer comments) that, as far as I can tell, do not identify which one it is, either.

    You now whine that I am somehow imposing unreasonable standards regarding what does and does not constitute answering Ebon’s question. I, predictably, disagree.

    So I suggest that you copy the paragraphs from your referenced post in which you think you have answered Ebon’s question and paste them into a comment here. Then we can evaluate your answer.

    Absent that, it certainly appears that you’re avoiding the contradiction you’ve talked yourself into by hiding behind a bank of minimally relevant obscurantist fog you posted on your own blog some time ago.

    Which is to say: refusing to answer the question on the forum on which it was asked sure looks like running away.

    Let’s see the answer, John.

  18. I read the link, John, and I don’t think you’ve resolved the contradiction. Here’s a quote from your essay:

    Now that a new covenant is in place, the old is obsolete and done away with, and even the Jews are under no obligation to it.

    And here’s another quote from your comment upthread:

    Because the law is still the law, breaking it is still sin even after the Messiah.

    These viewpoints can’t both be true. Which one of them do you believe?

  19. grizzlybaker

     /  February 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    And then he runs away. *sigh*

  20. News flash, I don’t live here. And I’m not going to keep responding repeating myself. The answer to Ebon is found in the link I provided and expanded on in the comment section. I can’t help it if he is not satisfied. I can’t make you or anyone else agree with me.

  21. Aristarchus

     /  February 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    John, it’s not about him not finding it. He found you saying exactly the opposite thing from what you said here. You can explain it if you want, or you can just pretend that it’s obvious, but no one here is fooled.

  22. Aris, I had this same discussion with someone in the comment section. The two seemingly contradictory isolated sentences I reconciled in the comment section. Here’s a hint: read Romans 2.

    What I can’t help is if you still want to say “I don’t care what explanation you have, you contradict yourself”.

  23. These verses are not talking about the abolition of the law.

    Jesus says that he was the fulfillment of the law. This is the same thing Paul is saying in Romans 10. Paul is contrasting Jesus to Jews who are try to declare themselves righteous by following the law. But only Jesus completes the law, and the law has declared Jesus alone righteous.

    The Hebrews verses are talking about old and new covenants, not specifically the law. The New is “better” but the Old is obsolete ONLY in comparison to the New. This is not a declaration of abolishment but rather illustrating the “betterness” of the New Covenant.

    The “curse of the law,” in Galatians, is a reference to death or condemnation. It is also consistent with Christ’s words that he did not come to the world to condemn it because it already stands condemned.

    The remainder of Galatians 3 gives a very full description of the purpose of the law. Romans 3:20 gives a shorter description:

    “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

    This principle is in operation now, before Christ, and before Moses. It is not our actions which allow us to be declared righteous, but rather our faith. Many times Jesus pointed out the sin of those who most structured their life around the law, the Pharisees. Even they could not be found blameless.

  24. I grew up in a Baptist church which very carefully analyzed the Bible. We would sometimes spend weeks on one chapter and its implications to other verse. We believed it to be inspired, straight from God to writing hand. Hopefully, this background gives me the grounds to comment.

    I appreciate the Bible as one of the greatest series of books ever written. You can’t study it in detail and not realize it to be the Star Wars of medieval story design. The Christian authors tied their work, the New Covenant (“Testament”) in beautifully with what came before, the Old Covenant (“Testament”).

    With respect–since you are putting a good faith effort in your work–I don’t think that this study of the Biblical covenants quite appreciates the intricacy.

    Firstly, there were two main covenants in Hebrew tradition:

    1. An *unconditional* covenant with Abraham and circumcised males of his line, the Brit bein HaBetarim or “Covenant Between the Parts” in Hebrew, explained in Genesis 12-17. This covenant was sealed on God’s end by separating an animal in two. It is seal on the end of each Jewish male through the act of circumcision: “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised… My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    2. A *conditional* covenant with Israel made after their exodus from Egypt, Exodus 19-24. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The law was then presented to Moses, beginning with the ten commandments, for the people to follow to keep their end of the bargain.

    (A third minor covenant, which a couple of your passages refer to, concerns the priestly duties given to Aaron and his descendants.)

    Israel broke its Mosaic covenant with God by not following his laws. It says this right in the Hebrew text, and the Torah is says to have prophesied the New Covenant:

    “Behold, days are coming—the word of HASHEM—when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah: not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master—the word of HASHEM. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days—the word of HASHEM—I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach—each man his fellow, each man his brother—saying, ‘Know HASHEM!’ For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest—the word of HASHEM—when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin..”—Jeremiah 31:31–34

    Paul’s take on this:
    “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”—Hebrews 8:7–13

    So, turns out the Hebrews weren’t quite spotless enough to handle that Old Covenant. Unfortunately, no human being can follow the Law. Why’d God even bother with it to begin with? To answer that you have to go back to the reason God created humans. He created people in order to have a relationship with them. Instead of commanding us to love him and want to be with him, he wants us observe his qualities and learn to love him of our own free will. In order to be able to show his good qualities, he had to make the world an evil and awful place which he could save us from. He doesn’t do that with just anyone: he created a bunch of people to give eternal life to only a few, the ones that were created with the purpose of having that relationship with him. The rest of humanity is basically filler, in a sense, existing for demonstrative purposes to be the antithesis to a reborn Christian, just as Satan is the antithesis of God. You can have a type without an antitype. So all the unbelievers are destroyed and there’s nothing they can really do about it. Cruel? Well… yes and no. Those “extras” in this movie got to have a life for a while, before they fall into everlasting death, so it worked out pretty well for them too.

    (If you study the Bible without external influence, you won’t believe in Hell. Hell was an idea cooked up later to scare people into believing in God. From Wikipedia:

    “Gehenna refers to the “Valley of Hinnon”, which was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. It was a place where people burned their garbage and thus there was always a fire burning there. Bodies of those deemed to have died in sin without hope of salvation (such as people who committed suicide) were thrown there to be destroyed. Gehenna is used in the New Testament as a metaphor for the final place of punishment for the wicked after the resurrection.”

    The unsaved are not reborn into a new life, they just die and their body goes to this metaphorical burn pile. If you don’t get everlasting life, you just get death–not everlasting torture in fire, which would be a form of everlasting life! I don’t know why many Christians don’t realize this when they speak of this idea of Hell!)

    So, anyway, God created this covenant with Israel knowing that they would fail miserably. Why? So he could show him his standard of goodness, show them they can’t measure up to it, and then save them and demonstrate his compassion. Remember, can’t have good without evil.

    The Jews had this idea of the sacrificial lamb, which saved them from the passover of the Holy Spirit, whose blood could atone for sins. The Torah spoke of an ultimate lamb that suffers for all people. Christians took this as a prophecy of Jesus, the only perfect person to ever set foot on earth, this ultimate sacrificial lamb for all of humanity.

    God gave people a chance to save themselves. They failed. So he established the New Covenant to show that only he can be their salvation.

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