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James White, and Islamic Sharia Law Versus the Mosaic “Holiness Code”

February 7, 2017 2 comments

In a recent group discussion concerning James White’s conversation with a Muslim, it was stated by one person that some Christians (theonomists) are just as bad as Muslims with Sharia law, for wanting to impose the Mosaic law — “and I wouldn’t want to be under either system.”

I haven’t studied theonomy in detail, but to compare Sharia law to the Mosaic law is a very flawed idea, on several levels.  One very obvious difference here: has any theonomist or group of theonomists actually imposed Mosaic law, on any modern-day society?  But at a more basic level, this idea is an example of modern-day evangelical confusion regarding the role and purpose of the Old Testament law.  I also find it especially ironic that the same group that hosted James White for a discussion with a Muslim, is apparently quite unaware of James White’s own teaching and view on this very issue.  White’s sermon series “The Holiness Code for Today” (series available here), a recent series through the Levitical law, responded to this very mistaken idea – as he even said, an idea prevalent among unbelievers as well as many evangelicals – that the Mosaic law is some type of  “iron age, outdated morality only for the Jews”  (and now, even considered by some to be on the same level as Islamic sharia law).

As noted in a few recent blog posts (this one on Leviticus 19, also this one), James White explains (the historic Protestant view) that we recognize the overall moral precepts in God’s law, including the moral law as applied to the particular circumstance of the nation Israel as a nation of God’s people, a people in covenant with Yahweh.  The Mosaic law (Israel’s civil and ceremonial law) was not a harsh, obsolete code for an ancient Near Eastern civilization; it also was not a “covenant of works” requiring strict obedience to every precise point as a works method of salvation.  Mankind was always saved in the same way, by faith in God’s redemptive work, both before and after Calvary.  Yes, the Jews of the first century had turned the Mosaic code into a “works salvation” but that was not its purpose from the beginning, as is clear from many Old Testament texts, particularly passages in Deuteronomy and the Psalms.  Though it is true that some texts describe the Mosaic law as a burden, this view ignores the reality of the many scriptures that describe the Old Testament law in very positive terms.  The Mosaic law was instead a specific application of God’s unchanging moral law, to the situation of Israel as a nation, laws civil and ceremonial and meant to govern the people of God in their daily life.  Thus, the whole Bible stands together – there can be no excuse that in our day we don’t need to study the Old Testament; God’s moral law does not change, and we can benefit from study of the Mosaic code by considering, for each law, the moral precept behind the particular circumstance.

By contrast, here is sample of actual laws in the Sharia law system, a system that has actually been implemented in certain societies throughout history:

According to Sharia Law: (Basic Laws of Islam)

  • Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand.
  • Criticizing or denying any part of the Quran is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing Muhammad or denying that he is a prophet is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing or denying Allah, the god of Islam is punishable by death.
  • A Muslim who becomes a non-Muslim is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim who leads a Muslim away from Islam is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim man who marries a Muslim woman is punishable by death.
  • A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.
  • A woman can have 1 husband, who can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.
  • A man can beat his wife for insubordination.
  • A man can unilaterally divorce his wife; a woman needs her husband’s consent to divorce.
  • A divorced wife loses custody of all children over 6 years of age or when they exceed it.
  • Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
  • A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
  • A woman’s testimony in court, allowed in property cases, carries ½ the weight of a man’s.
  • A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.
  • A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
  • A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
  • Meat to eat must come from animals that have been sacrificed to Allah – i.e., be “Halal”.
  • Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.

Just a sample list from among a huge body of law.

Seriously – where is the moral precept behind these Sharia laws?  Anyone who honestly studies the Mosaic law will recognize that it is not merely some ancient-age law code, and that it was nothing that should be compared to Sharia law.

In addition to White’s study, another good reference for understanding the Mosaic law is A.W. Pink’s The Divine CovenantsI do not agree with everything in Pink’s work, and especially in the Davidic and New Covenant section Pink went too far astray into the spiritualizing hermeneutic — but that is another topic.  However, the section on the Sinaiitic covenant is quite helpful, as here he considers the ideas of various commentators and responds with good scriptural arguments to the idea that the Mosaic covenant was a “works salvation” covenant.  For consideration here, an excerpt from this section that looks at the Mosaic law and the scriptures in great detail:

at this point we are faced with a formidable difficulty, namely, the remarkable diversity in the representation found in later Scripture respecting the tendency and bearing of the law on those who were subject to it. On the one hand, we find a class of passages which represent the law as coming expressly from Israel’s redeemer, conveying a benign aspect and aiming at happy results. Moses extolled the condition of Israel as, on this very account, surpassing that of all other people: “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?”  Deut. 4:7, 8). The same sentiment is echoed in various forms in the Psalms. “He showed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19, 20). “Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165).

But on the other hand, there is another class of passages which appear to point in the very opposite direction. In these the law is represented as a source of trouble and terror—a bondage from which it is true liberty to escape. “The law worketh wrath” (Rom. 4:15); “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). In 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9 the apostle speaks of the law as “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones,” and as “the ministration of condemnation.” Again, he declares, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:1-3).

Now it is very obvious that such diverse and antagonistic representations could not have been given of the law in the same respect, or with the same regard, to its direct and primary aim. We are obliged to believe that both these representations are true, being alike found in the volume of inspiration. Thus it is clear that Scripture requires us to contemplate the law from more than one point of view, and with regard to different uses and applications of it.

Sundry Laws: James White on Leviticus 19

December 26, 2016 2 comments

Continuing in James White’s Holiness Code series, the following three messages look at Leviticus 19:

Many misconceptions have abounded regarding this chapter.  Some have taken a superficial look at what seem to be miscellaneous or “sundry” laws, all thrown together, and treat this chapter as a justification for claiming that the Mosaic law was “all one law,” with no distinction between moral, civil and ceremonial aspects.  The general idea that the Mosaic law, and especially Leviticus 19, was “only for the Jews,” persists with many evangelicals, who have discarded this portion of God’s word as completely irrelevant to Christians today.

Then, especially ironic, are the unbelievers who quip that we should put aside all those antiquated, “iron age morality” ideas, and just love our neighbor as ourselves; they who object to the words against homosexuality, found in Leviticus 18 and 20, are completely unaware that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is also found here – sandwiched in between those two chapters, here in Leviticus 19.  Leviticus 19 also answers the modern evangelical idea that in the Old Testament age everything with Israel was all about externals only, nothing about their heart motive (the erroneous NCT idea that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was something completely new and unknown before that point:  verse 17 says “you shall not hate your brother in your heart.”

White instead approaches Leviticus 19 from the perspective of Israel as the covenant people of God; how should the people of God live?  Similar to handling the book of Proverbs, we look at the context – which in this case is not necessarily the immediate verses around it, but the same idea expressed elsewhere in God’s word—in this case, similar passages in Deuteronomy.  The context includes also the actual practices of the pagans surrounding Israel, and also, especially, the moral precept behind the laws, which pertain to our relationship to our neighbor as well as or our relationship to God (such as verses 26-31, in reference to idolatry – the negative commands as well as the positive in verse 30).

What about verse 19, the laws forbidding the breeding of different kinds of cattle, the sowing of different kinds of seed, or garments of different materials?  Some of the laws were not in themselves moral, but had the purpose of keeping God’s people separate from the rest of the world.  These laws emphasized separateness, dedication and purity (not mixing, no division, in regards to your cattle, seed, and garments).  Another interesting feature, seen in these laws, is that to be in covenant relationship with God meant a disadvantage, in the world’s economy, compared to other people.  The laws regarding cattle, seed, and garments, brought a disadvantage compared to the worldings – as did laws in this chapter that curbed greed and provided for the poor (harvesting, gleaning the fields, verses 9-10) .  Unregenerate Israelites would chafe under the restrictions, but the true, regenerate believer in relationship with God (and such did exist in the Old Covenant era; mankind have always been saved by faith, some Israelites were regenerate believers) would be willing to accept these disadvantages, trusting that God will take care of us and He is first in our lives.

James White’s “The Holiness Code for Today” is a very interesting and edifying series, one that looks at texts generally ignored and not taught in sermons or Bible teaching.  Later lessons in this series look at Leviticus 20, chapters in Deuteronomy, and will address the issue of slavery in the Bible, noting the differences between Hebrew slavery, Roman slavery, and our own, much later history, American Slavery.

Apologetics and the Law: James White’s “Holiness Code For Today”

December 14, 2016 1 comment

A few weeks ago a friend linked a great response of James White to the “West Wing” Bible Lesson, a sharp and witty response to an atheist’s ridicule of Christianity in reference to the Mosaic code. James White here responded to one of several such sarcastic remarks that originated several years ago in a letter from an atheist to Dr. Laura, this particular one: “My neighbor was working today (sabbath) so I murdered him. This is correct?”

Excerpted from the West Wing program that featured this same content:

“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”

“While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police?”

… “Here’s one that’s really important, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?

“Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side?

“Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

From the comments at the James White note (above) I learned of a full series that James White did on this very issue, “The Holiness Code For Today,” begun in 2014 and recently completed (August 2016), preached at Phoenix Reformed Baptists for both Sunday morning and evening sessions. The full series of 38 lectures is available here.

I’m now about ¼ of the way through this series, in lesson 10 of a great series that approaches the “holiness code” (generally seen as Leviticus 17 through the end of the book) from an apologetics perspective, equipping Christians with serious, thoughtful responses to the secular unbelieving world.  The introductory lectures set the tone and the background, acknowledging our increasingly secular world and hostile unbelievers who mock by asking tough questions — and the truth, the right response to such challenges.  As White mentioned, googling “holiness code Leviticus” or “iron age morality” will indeed bring up some rather interesting anti-Christian web pages.  This portion of scripture especially deals with the evil and abomination of homosexuality, and this series responds to the common objections of those in our day who would try to deny or twist these texts into something that no longer applies to us in our age.

The introductory messages provide the overall setting and perspective regarding the holiness code and the real problem that unbelievers have.  As White well said in this lessonNo one will ever hear or honor the law of God, who hates the God of the law. No one will ever honor or hear or bow to the law of God, who hates the God of the law, and that’s the real issue.

Among the highlights: the importance of looking at the historical context, of Israel surrounded by pagan religions and practices, a nation in stark contrast to the standards of its neighbors; whereas our society today cannot fully appreciate this, from a time reference of a post-Christian culture, a society that has enjoyed the common grace benefits of the Judeo-Christian worldview – a society that is, sadly, quickly heading back to paganism.  Also, we must not look at these laws, the ones given to Israel in the Leviticus holiness code, from a pragmatic view, of trying to determine “why” He did so, “the real reason” for each particular law.  A common example of this is the modern “explanation” as to why the Israelites were forbidden to eat pork, trying to rationalize it due to supposed modern discoveries of science.  Instead, our starting point should be, that these laws were commanded by God; God forbid these things, and we may never discover the reason why.

In response to those who think that the Mosaic law in its entirety was “only for the Jews” and a part of “iron age morality” no longer applicable:

First, as noted in these chapters, the Canaanites were judged by God, were spewed out – the land itself said to vomit them out for their abominable practices.  They did not have the Mosaic law, nor any prophets sent to them, yet they were still held accountable and judged, based on the light they had; reference Romans 2.

Secondly, it is true that these sexual behaviors, including homosexuality, were a part of the religious rituals of the Canaanites.  That does not mean, though, that the underlying idea is in itself okay; people cannot reason that, because the Canaanites were doing such things in their religious practices, thus homosexuality in a different context is okay, in a “loving, monogamous (homosexual) relationship.”  Leviticus 18 simply states the abomination itself:  a man lying with another man.  Leviticus 18 says nothing that would restrict the meaning to only those religious ceremonies.

White also references the various scriptures and usages of the Hebrew word for abomination – pronounced as “Toe-ay-Vo” (I have no idea of the spelling in Hebrew letters).  The first occurrence is found in Genesis 43 (Hebrews were loathsome to the Egyptians), but the second and third are found in Leviticus 18 and 20.  Other uses throughout the Old Testament, including several places in Isaiah, include the abominable idolatry of the Israelites. Throughout, the meaning of the word is clear, of something detestable; none of us would want to be considered as such, before God.  The early church used the Greek Septuagint, and in the New Testament we find that Paul uses (in 1 Corinthians 6) the same Greek word for abomination, as what is found in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18.

All the above and so much more is available in just the first ten lessons of this series.  The upcoming lessons consider the distinctions of law (moral, civil and ceremonial) and deal with the specific content of Leviticus 18-21 as well as a few passages in Deuteronomy.  I find this series edifying, a topic that is especially helpful to study in our day and age, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the series.