Has the Bible Become Obsolete?

A reader writes:

“How can the Bible be accepted as universal when certain aspects of it are obsolete by reason of the ancient cultures out of which it arose?  In view of its historical setting, how can it be practical?  How can it function as a guide for man today? [1]

Dear Reader:

You may be surprised to hear me say that there is both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ component to the main question at hand; has the Bible become irrelevant in today’s culture?  In short, there are many Biblical laws that are obsolete in today’s church practice.  But not obsolete in the sense that those laws (and the whole Bible) points us toward knowing Jesus Christ better.  You ask then if the Bible as a whole can be trusted if certain parts are obsolete – I’ll get back to that in a bit.  I’m going to answer your questions in reverse order.

There’s plenty of things in the Bible no longer practiced in the church.  We don’t stone people who work on the Sabbath.  We don’t enforce dietary ‘Kosher’ laws.  We don’t forgive all debts after 7 years (how crippling would that be to our financial system!).  We don’t practice capital punishment.  All these are Old Testament laws, but then there’s New Testament ones to factor in too.  Most women don’t wear head coverings when they pray in church.  Few practice Paul’s ‘Baptism for the dead’ in 1 Corinthians 15:29.  The church doesn’t meet daily for fellowship but mainly on Sunday.  The last goes on and on.

There’s a reason these practices have become ‘obsolete’.  Romans 7:6 gives a hint into this:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

The reason is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are released from serving those laws literally.  But we now follow them for their spiritual, deeper intent.  This is known in the Bible as ‘the spirit of the law’.  There being a cultural practice only for that time period, while articulating a deeper universal truth.

Discerning between what’s cultural or not during the Bible times does take a bit of common sense.  For example, the 10 commandments says not to murder or steal – I don’t know of any person who would think those are acceptable today!  But then if we take my first example of stoning those who work on the Sabbath – Many Christians work on Sunday because of financial hardships and that’s okay.  But what the law is saying here is the importance of rest.  It’s not good as a Christian to work all the time.  Even God rested when he created the world.

Jesus in Matthew 5:17 clarifies the matter at hand:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

You see, Jesus didn’t reject the Old Testament laws, but elevated himself as the culmination of all those laws.  The laws were fulfilled with his death and subsequent resurrection.  So back to the Sabbath example – Jesus not only rested on the Sabbath, but by dying on the Cross he become our rest!  Sunday is a time to meditate and rest in Jesus’ finished work, and not just to think about ourselves.

Let us return to the original question, ‘how can the Bible be accepted as universal when certain aspects of it are obsolete by reason of the ancient cultures out of which it arose?’  The answer is simply because the Bible is consistent in articulating universal principles about faith, morality, ourselves and the nature of God.  And these principles are rooted in God’s love, and justice.  You’ll never find God condoning lust, anger, envy, theft, murder, or adultery in the Bible.  But you WILL find a God that condemns all of them, all the time.  Understandably, some problems are more difficult than others such as God commanding Israel to wipe out an entire ethnic nation.  You won’t always find an answer.  But I want to stress that there is always an underlying principle in every recorded instance in the Bible.  If you doubt what I’m saying, I challenge you to study the Bible for yourself and see if it speaks in contradictions.

As a Pastor and an avid reader of literature, I have never seen a masterpiece written as beautifully as the Bible.  You can take one passage and draw out hundreds of spiritual insights, yet still not fully comprehend the depth of God’s word.  It is historically reliable, morally consistent, and excellent for the soul.

 


Have any questions or concerns?  Please leave a comment below.

[1] Quotation taken from: Jackson, Wayne. “Is the Bible Obsolete?” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: April 17, 2016. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/914-is-the-bible-obsolete

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