Continuities between Old and New Testaments

The nature of holiness

In both biblical testaments, holiness is first a status conferred by God on those he has redeemed and drawn to himself (e.g. Ex. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11).  It is also a calling to be lived out in obedience to his word, in separation from the world and its values (e.g. Lv. 19:1; 1 Thes. 4:1-8).  Holiness is an expression of the covenant relationship in which God has placed us.  We are to bear witness to a fallen world of God’s character and intentions for humanity by our distinctive, God-determined lifestyle (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:9-12). See my argument in Possessed by God.

The parameters of holiness

The parameters of holiness were established for Israel in the Mosaic law, where issues of sexual behaviour and interpersonal relationships are central.  But the prescriptions of the law with regard to sexuality reflect the fundamental principles of Genesis about God’s purposes in creation. See Holiness and God’s Creation Purpose.

The parameters of holiness under the New Covenant are established by Jesus and his apostles (e.g. Matthew 5-7; 15:1-20; 19:1-12). They affirm again the foundational intentions of God for marriage and sexuality, as reflected in the creation narratives and the provisions of the Mosaic law. See What did Jesus teach about homosexuality?

Although Christians are not under the law, what the law essentially required is fulfilled under the New Covenant in ‘those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:4).

New Testament teaching on sexuality and holiness is often given with reference to particular situations in the early church (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:9-20).  However, the principles enunciated are above and beyond situational variables because they are rooted in the clear and unequivocal position of the Old Testament. See Holiness and Sexuality on the Pauline Writings and Same-Sex Unions and Romans 1.

Regulations and principles

There is a continuity of principle and intention in what is taught about sexuality in the Bible. The apostle Paul was relaxed about abandoning Old Testament regulations concerning circumcision, sacrificial rituals, and food laws, but not concerning matters of sexual conduct. These were understood to reflect God’s purpose for humanity in creation and were not limited to his covenant requirements for Israel as a distinct group among the nations.  See The Interpretation of Scripture.

The penalty for unholiness

In the Mosaic law there were severe penalties for sexual sin (e.g. Leviticus 20), which are not applied to believers under the New Covenant. Nevertheless, the immediate penalty for serious cases of sexual misbehaviour amongst professing Christians is excommunication or exclusion from the fellowship of believers until repentance has been expressed (1 Cor. 5:1-5; cf. Lv. 18:29-30).  The ultimate penalty for persistent sexual misbehaviour is exclusion from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Some helpful books on homosexuality

R. A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001)

C. Keane (ed.), What Some of You Were (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2000)

D. F. Wright, The Christian Faith and Homosexuality (Rev. ed., Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1997)

T. E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow?  Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Leicester: IVP, 1995)

B. Whitehead, Craving for Love: Relationship Addiction, Homosexuality and the God who Heals (Tunbridge Wells: Monarch, 1993)

2 Responses to “Continuities between Old and New Testaments”

  1. Richard Romero says:

    Dear David,

    Your scholarship and erudition are awe-inspiring. I am Catholic, so I am more familiar with Raymond Brown than Anglican scholars, though I loved N.T. Wright’s “Resurrection of the Son of God.”

    A philosophic question–I have just finished most of your articles on sexuality and homosexuality, and of course, cannot argue with your explication of Greek phrases, etc.–I am not a scholar. However, sometimes I wonder about the old “forest for the trees”, especially regarding historical context (I have a B.A. & M.A. in History). Going all the way back to Julius Wellhausen’s discussion of “weltanshaung” and “sitz im leben,” by parsing paragraphs and chapters in letters by Paul that were written (dictated and transcribed) as one long essay, with no punctuation or division into clearly-defined arguments, aren’t we missing the forest?

    By this I mean that in all of these articles, you hold the Genesis story in 1 & 2 as somehow equal in Paul’s mind to the actual laws expressed in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Although the concept of 613 laws is simply mentioned in the Talmud, and only comes to its greatest fruition in Rabbinic Judaism under Maimonides, surely a First-Century Hellenistic Jew like Paul did not hold Genesis to be the equal of the comprehensive Holiness Code found in the other books?

    Yes, I know that Paul discusses Abraham in Romans, but I feel that too many of your arguments against homosexuality rest upon the foundation of the Creation Story in Genesis–God’s purpose in Creation, what was natural and unnatural, etc. I would put it to you that if we take the example of the Pharisees, men of Paul’s time were obsessed with fulfilling the “letter of the law” (which Paul claimed was impossible for sinful humans) found in Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus, and not engaging in philosophic discussions of God’s intentions as described in Genesis.

    By forgetting the context–that Torah scrolls were kept in synagogues, that there were no printing presses, that there were no chapters or verses for citations (while acknowledging that NT authors quotes the OT), I would say that modern Christianity has veered far off course in Biblical interpretation, creating literary arcs and themes across books and testaments that no First-Century Jew would have been able to make or acknowledge. Furthermore, the primacy of Genesis in Christian doctrine results from Augustine’s doctrine of “original sin” — although Paul makes many references to the Fall to explain our sinful nature, and hence the doctrine of atonement, you would be hard-pressed to find this emphasis in the Gospels themselves.

    Of course, we are still left with the description of homosexuality as an “abomination’ in Leviticus, and with Paul’s discussion of men falling into shameful lust for each other that you describe in one of your sub articles. This entire comment is based really on your articles in the sexuality sub-heading, and not on your argument above about continuity between testaments. It is one thing to make that general observation above, but another to use it in your other articles as you parse individual texts.

    With sincere admiration for your scholarship and your evident spirituality,
    Richard R

    • Dear Richard, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. With regard to the authority of Genesis 1-2 in the argument about sexuality and marriage, I would simply point to the teaching of Jesus in this matter. While answering a question about divorce and remarriage put to him by the Pharisees (Matthew 19:1-9=Mark 10:1-12), Jesus re-iterated and endorsed the teaching of Genesis. He even declared this to be more foundational than the exception introduced by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. More generally, we can see from a text like Luke 24:25-27, 44-49, that Jesus taught his disciples to search for the unity of Scripture in the redemptive plan of God, culminating in his own suffering, resurrection, and pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Jesus interprets what we call the Old Testament as an existing canon of Scripture to be interpreted as the Word of God for his New Covenant people. I have said more about this on my website (see the drop-down menu on Biblical Theology). Best wishes David

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