Who Said They Were Obsolete?
“He has made the first obsolete” (Heb. 8:13).
These words follow an extensive quotation from Jer. 31 in which the prophet foretold the replacement of the covenant made with Israel at Sinai with a better covenant (cf. Heb. 8:7-13). The writer would go on to say that the “better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6) was put in place by the death of Jesus (Heb. 9:15; cf. Matt. 26:28 and His “blood of the new covenant”). When we put Heb. 8, 9 together with Rom. 7:1-4, Eph. 2:11-18, and Col. 2:11-17, we can see that Jesus has made the Old Testament “obsolete” when it comes to being the law or standard under which we are to operate today. It’s not that the Old Testament has no value, for it was written for our learning (Rom. 15:4) and we can learn much from it about the power of God, the importance of trusting faith, the consequences of disobedience, and other important subjects. But we need to understand that we cannot justify a separate priesthood, Sabbath observance, or instrumental music by pointing to their authorization in the Old Testament. If these or any other practices of today are to be defended, it must be by finding some indication in the New Testament that these are things God desires (Matt. 7:21).
In other words, not everything in the Bible has the same authority, for the Lord who revealed the Scripture has the right to change it and He did choose to render His revelation to Israel obsolete as a binding law that it might be replaced with a gospel for all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Yes, God can make it obsolete and yet our culture has come to view certain passages as obsolete without any indication from God that He sees it that way. When the Lord speaks of the cross resulting in the old law being “taken [it] out of the way” (Col. 2:14), it has been taken away; however, we have no right to dismiss passages that are authoritative simply because they no longer fit the social and sexual mores of our society.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
How long has it been since American society, including many who consider themselves Christians, has treated sexual relations as something reserved for the marriage bed? We moved first to giving our societal approval to any “loving, committed relationship” and then progressed (?) to approving almost any consensual relationship, but where do we find any indication that God’s will has changed? As much as our culture wants to say “anything goes,” there is no passage on a changing sexual morality comparable to Jer. 31’s prophecy of a new covenant. While it’s seen as outdated and prudish by many, God’s “wait until marriage” and “confined to marriage” rules are not obsolete, but still apply.
With regard to the teachings of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Rom. 1:26-27 about homosexuality, American culture took a little longer to decide these too were obsolete, but same-sex marriage is now the law of the land and anyone who expresses public disapproval of such conduct is ridiculed and denounced as a hateful, homophobic bigot. Though I strongly believe we should avoid crude, mean-spirited denunciations of this sin and its practitioners, when did the Lord stop using the terms “vile passions,” “against nature,” “shameful,” “error,” and “not fitting” to describe this conduct (Rom. 1:26-27)? We can choose to be like King Jehoiakim in the days of old and take a knife to the word of God, but it won’t change God’s will in any way (Jer. 36).
And when it comes to “traditional marriage,” could any passages be considered more outdated than the following?
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:22-23).
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).
One could argue that the greater relationship of Christ and the church is for all practical purposes considered obsolete by many today because most religious groups today are more about feasting and fun than any serious consideration of the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9), but when it comes to husbands and wives, how many even pretend to honor the teachings of Eph. 5, 1 Cor. 11, Col. 3, et al? And in a culture which honors personal pleasure above sacrificial obedience, it is not surprising at all that the Lord’s intention from the beginning regarding the permanence of marriage is no longer seen as a controlling or even an influential factor in American life (Matt. 19:3-9).
If God chooses to abolish one covenant and make another (Heb. 8), so be it, but we dare not decide as a cultural convenience to do away with any portion of God’s word.
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because
‘All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.’
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.”
1 Pet. 1:22-25
All quotes from the New King James Version, copyright 1995, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc.