Consistency vs. Contradiction

Back to Cindy’s questions, with #2:

Why don’t the Old and New Testaments agree?  I know that we are supposed to believe that they ultimately DO agree, but after reading them for myself and comparing, they do NOT agree.  The OT says that we should not even touch a pig.  The NT says that what passes a man’s mouth does not make him unclean.  Yes, the NT was talking about different issues, but the rules seemed to have changed after Jesus came.  In the OT a man was stoned for picking up sticks on Sabbath.  In the NT, we are told not to judge people based on Sabbaths.  So if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why isn’t He the same spanning a few thousand years?

Like the first question, this one depends upon an understanding of human culture, and how we as humans change and develop.

When my children were small, I warned them against using sharp instruments like knives. This could include an absolute prohibition against touching a knife. As they grew and developed, I might actually purchase a knife as a gift, might encourage them to use sharp instruments of all kinds.

Does that mean I was contradictory? Did I not agree with myself?

In an earlier post I mentioned the prohibition of cooking a goat kid in its mother’s milk. We now know that, at the time the prohibition was made, that practice was used in a divination ceremony.  Would that prohibition still hold today? I don’t think so. There may be good health reasons not to eat such a dish, but the cultural context into which that prohibition was made has changed to the point where the prohibition is essentially meaningless.

We must always ask what a particular command or prohibition meant to the people to whom it was given. God meets people where they are; He does not wast His time or theirs by making irrelevant commandments which will only make sense to later generations.

Oddly enough, one of the concerns many contemporary people have is that the church does not change enough; does not abandon practices which no longer make sense.

Orthodox Jews will not start their car or even turn on a light during the Sabbath hours, as that would constitute “kindling a fire” — and so it does. But Adventists don’t follow that practice. Does that mean we’re ignoring the Divine will? Did God change his mind?

Let’s look at an example much closer to home

God forbade the children of Israel’s baking and boiling upon the Sabbath. That prohibition should be regarded by every Sabbath-keeper, as a solemn injunction from Jehovah to them.

Spirit of Prophecy, Vol 1, pp. 226-227

Should we follow the same rule? Or are we ignoring God’s instruction through the prophet if we bake or boil?

The above counsel was given in 1870. The process of baking or boiling had changed very little from Biblical times. My Grandmother’s old wood-fired cooking range required cutting and splitting wood, kindling the fire, tending the range until it was good and warm. Bread had to be mixed up and kneaded, allowed to rise, then baked. And then everything had to be cleaned up, including the firebox of the range. Baking was most of a day’s work.

Does that compare to taking a container of lasagna, say, from the freezer, putting it in the oven, setting the timer and flicking a switch?

Even a culinarily challenged fellow such as myself can bake a casserole with no more labor than is required by simply getting dressed. Such baking need barely interrupt a conversation, or meditation.

On the surface, baking is baking. But when the reality changes so radically, we shouldn’t be surprised that our practice–and God’s commands, when He chooses to speak to the situation– should change as well. Sometimes consistent application of a principle results in apparently contradictory practices.


Consistency vs. Contradiction — 3 Comments

  1. I’m blessed to have had a wonderful Academy Bible teacher who introduced this questioning, yet devoted, teen to the concept of PRINCIPLES. Few other concepts have shaped my understanding of the Christian life and kept me focused on Jesus.

    You wrote: “Sometimes consistent application of a principle results in apparently contradictory practices.”

    Wow! That’s the best explanation I’ve seen for a long time that really addresses the heart of the issue. Thank you!

    • Janel, I cannot express how pleased I am for your comments. Blessings to you, and to your academy teacher as well.

      We lose so many honest seekers because we know all the rules, but don’t know the underlying principle. When circumstances change, the principle needs to be re-applied, which results in a different rule.

      An example of this would be “necessary work.” We Adventists always say it’s OK to do necessary work on the Sabbath.

      This used to be narrowly defined, such as nurses in hospitals. And that works in a community where Adventists are in the minority. But what about communities almost exclusively made up of Adventists?

      I spent one entire Sabbath 30 years ago, digging up a broken sewer line for replacement. I was at an Adventist summer camp. We had several hundred campers, and providing sanitation was “necessary work.”

      What about electrical current? Security? Information Technology?

      Our society is changing rapidly, making rules obsolete left and right. The principles remain, but applying them is a never-ending challenge. And thank God! He and his kingdom are not reducible to a simple set of requirements, like applying for a government grant! He’s dynamic, and creative, and wants us to be, too.

  2. My challenge and my prayer is that God will help me keep my own principle-based rules fresh and current. I don’t adjust quickly, but God is gracious. He knows me well and is a great teacher!

    I think dialogue, such as in these blogs, is helpful in adjusting.

    Our world is changing so rapidly. How important to reflect Jesus’ character and the principles of His Word in daily life so others will be drawn to a clear picture of Him and be ready to meet Him at His soon return!

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