Question: How can Christians pretend to tell people that they have to follow the teachings of the Bible when I see Christians eating pork and shrimp? The Bible says those things are wrong, so why not follow ALL the rules of the Bible? Seems to me you are picking and choosing.
I hear this objection quite a bit. Usually a Christian calls something a sin, such as abortion, and the non-believer retaliates by accusing Christians of not still following Old Testament laws. “Why do you still eat shrimp? I see in the Bible it says you aren’t supposed to eat shrimp. How can you say anything is a sin if you are not following all your book’s rules?”
If you were to read the Bible straight through and have a general idea of the story, this might seem like a reasonable argument. But, the Bible is meant to be understood in a much different way. You have to understand the story of salvation and what Jesus was doing when He came to earth. You have to understand the story of the Jews in relation to the story of the Resurrection of Christ. You can’t simply just sift through the Bible, find a rule/law, and demand that it all still be practiced. Let me explain.
Divine Law is divided into Laws of the Old Testament and Laws of the New Testament. Then we can go even deeper. The Laws of the Old Testament are divided into:
Ceremonial laws are all those laws established for the Jewish people on how to do religious worship. Like who could enter the Holy of Holies, what to sacrifice for sins and how to sacrifice, what to do on Holy days, and the like.
Judicial/Civil laws are those laws that “regulated the the civil government of the chosen people.”* So, all those things that the Jews did that were what set them apart from other civilizations. Think the not eating of pork and shrimp.
Moral Laws are those laws such as the Ten Commandments.
When Christ came the Ceremonial and Judicial laws were not needed anymore, because Christ came for all. Christians were/are people that are set apart by Baptism, which is for all. The Jews were a set apart people through who the Messiah would come. They had to look different than the Gentiles. So, they had a lot of different ways of doing things so that they could be set apart–circumcision being a big part of that.
The certain things that God commanded of the Jews that were ceremonial or civil were things were not good or bad in and of themselves. It’s not bad to eat shrimp; it’s just something God commanded them not to do. But, the moral laws never change or suddenly become okay. Murder was not wrong only for the Jews, but for all people, because murder in and of itself is evil. Adultery was not wrong only for the Jews, but for all people, because betraying a spouse is always wrong. Moral laws are things that don’t change. It will never be okay to steal, lie, or worship false gods. Those things are bad and will always be bad. But, not eating shrimp and wearing your hair a certain way or washing your hands before this or that aren’t moral laws.
So, why is it that we don’t have to follow all the laws/rules from the Old Testament? Because Christ ushered in a new covenant. The Jews didn’t have to be “set apart” anymore. All were called to Christianity–it’s universal. So, those things that were specifically commanded for the Jews are not commanded for Christians. It’s why you don’t have to circumcise your baby boys anymore. You can if you want for hygiene or cultural reasons, but it’s not necessary for salvation. It’s why we can eat shrimp and pork. St. Paul even touches on these things in Romans. He talks about how you don’t need to keep hold to those Jewish laws to be saved anymore. You need to have faith in Christ and follow His Ways. It’s why in Acts they discuss whether or not circumcision is needed anymore and St. Peter concludes that it isn’t anymore.
As Christians we are called to follow the Two Great Commandments from the New Testament. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Interestingly enough, the first three parts of the Ten Commandments are encompassed in loving God with our whole being. The rest of the Ten Commandments can be encompassed in loving our neighbors. I love when the Old and New come together. If anything sets us apart now, it’s Baptism and living a life that doesn’t look like the world.
So, it’s important to understand that certain laws were meant for only the Jews; moral laws are meant for all time, for everyone. If something is truly wrong, it will never be right. This can only be understood with a full understanding of the Bible in its entirety and its message. One simply cannot pick a random rule from the Old Testament and call a Christian a hypocrite for not continuing to follow it.
*Catholic Morality by Fr. John Laux