Biblical Inerrancy, Moral Relativism and Leviticus

In a recent online discussion, fundamentalist Christians were challenged to defend passages in the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament (OT). The section in question details punishment for a number of ‘sins.’

The following is all from Leviticus:

20:9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

20:11 And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

20:12 And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.

20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

20:14 And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.

24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death

The following is from Deuteronomy:

22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Clearly, these ‘instructions’ from God are not practiced in modern societies. Parents who murdered a disrespectful child would be punished severely. So how did believers in the Bible respond when questioned about this?

1. Here is how it was put in one argument:

“In the beginning, when we had the “letter of the law” but Christ had not come, we were to carry out the law of God exactly as it was given…death to homosexuals, blood atonement, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, etc. Once Christ made the sacrifice for sin, we were no longer required to make this atonement on our own, but to rely on HIS blood for that payment for our own sin.

2. Here is how another Bible defender put it:

“Those were instructions for a certain group of people, at a certain place and time, under certain circumstances. He told certain people to do all sorts of things, but we are nowhere told to do whatever He told anyone at any time to do.”

Both of the defenses have a common thread: That was then and this is now. What God said then in his instructions does not necessarily apply to the present.

Were God’s words in the OT correct at the time they were written? The answer must be yes, to those who consider the words in the Bible to be inerrant. If so, then aren’t they still correct? But what if moral codes have changed since that time? Moral relativism is a term coined by Christian believers to describe and criticize changing moral codes. In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II rejects moral relativism and insists that moral law is universal across people in varying cultures. So it would seem that one who believes in Biblical inerrancy, must also believe that the instructions given in the Bible are valid today.

But wait! If the defenders above are correct, Biblical commandments that were issued in ancient times do not apply to contemporary life. This is a truly revolutionary theory that totally contradicts Veritatis Splendor! Biblical proponents have always claimed that the truths in Biblical scripture are universal and eternal. But if everything in the Bible must be re-evaluated in a modern context, how much of it is valid? What about the admonition in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply?” Given the pollution of the ecosphere, depletion of the earth’s nonrenewable resources and the effects of climate change, all intensified by overpopulation, should good Christians be enthusiastically having large families?

The Bible says yes.  What do its defenders say?

I await your comments.

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