….and in with the New? Fr. John in his blog, Fr John Whiteford’s News, Comments, & Reflections (here) questions the interpretation of some Orthodox regarding the validity of Old Testament moral law.
The Continuing Validity of the Moral Law of the Old Testament
One of the earliest heresies that the Church had to confront was the Marcionite heresy, which taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament was evil, whereas the God of the New Testament was good. Consequently Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament, as well as much of the New Testament. The Church decisively rejected Marcion’s view, and emphatically affirmed that the Old Testament belongs to the Church.
Since Marcion’s time, echos of his disdain for the Old Testament have continued to reverberate. Recently, Lazar Puhalo, has voiced such disdain. Lazar Puhalo was a deacon in ROCOR, who was deposed in 1981. From 1981 until he was received as a “retired” bishop by the OCA, he was in a series of vagante jurisdictions where he was ordained a priest, then a bishop, and then raised to archbishop. He is referred to as a retired OCA bishop, but this gives the false impression that he was once an active OCA bishop, when in reality, he has never been an active priest or bishop of any legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction. However, now that he has the air of legitimacy about him, he has used this platform to promote all sorts of strange ideas, including his view that transgenderism is acceptable. He is a regular contributor to a pro-homosexual Facebook group, where the only views he sees a need to criticize are the views of those who defend the traditions of the Church which condemn homosexuality. It is this advocacy of moral perversion that lies behind his desire to dismiss the moral law of the Old Testament.
In this video, Lazar Puhalo claims that the moral law has been “done away with”. He claims, for example, that Christ “absolutely contradicts” the law against breaking the Sabbath, but what do the Fathers say? St. John Chrysostom says “Did Christ then, it will be said, repeal a thing so highly profitable [the laws concerning the Sabbath]? Far from it; nay, He greatly enhanced it” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). He misquotes Colossians 2:14 as saying “The manuscript of the Law was been torn up”. What that passage actually says is “Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross, and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15). In Lazar Puhalo’s version, the suggestion is that the text of the Law of Moses is done away with, whereas in the actual citation, it is the sentence against us that is blotted out and nailed to the cross.
Expressing his disdain for the Law, when speaking of the woman caught in adultery, he says that the law called for the woman to be stoned, but for the man to just pay a fine. The law actually called for both the man and the woman to be put to death: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).
Of course, there are differences between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant anticipated the New Covenant, and was given to people who were at a very low level of spiritual understanding. The harsh penalties that are often found in the Old Testament law were due to this. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the law which condemned Sabbath breakers to death, said that it was “Because if the laws were to be despised even at the beginning, of course they would scarcely be observed afterwards” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). But while the harsh and immediate penalties for the violation of the law are relaxed in the New Testament, the strictness of the laws themselves are not only not relaxed, but are rather enhanced. Just as you spank younger children, but expect less of them, and expect more of older children, without spanking them, the Old Testament dealt with the Israelites where they were, but brought them gradually to a higher level of spiritual understanding.
St. Paul states clearly the value of the Old Testament:
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
And when St. Paul speaks of “doctrine” he does not limit doctrine to abstract theological concepts, but also to question of orthopraxis (right living):
“…that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust (1 Timothy 1:9-11).
It is clear that for St. Paul, applying the moral law of the Old Testament to moral issues, such as fornication or sodomy, is entirely appropriate.
It is true that liturgy of the New Testament has changed. We are not saved by the works of the law, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4) — it was not possible in the Old Testament, and it is not possible in the New Testament. The saints of the Old Testament were saved by faith in Christ just as the saints of the New Testament are. The Old Covenant Ceremonies pointed forward to Christ, and our services point to the Christ that has been revealed to us. As St. Augustine put it, “The New Testament in the Old is concealed; The Old Testament in the New is revealed.” “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry [liturgy], inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). But it should be pointed out that it is in the Old Testament that we first read “The Just shall live by Faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
St. Paul never suggests that the moral law of the Old Testament is done away with, in fact he states just the opposite: “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law” (1 Corinthians 9:20-21). And what is the Law of Christ? Lazar Puhalo answers this question by citing the two great commandments, but fails to recall that they are found in the Old Testament:
“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
“…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).
There are civil laws and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament that do no longer apply to us directly, though they continue to have instructive value to us. But the moral law of God is unchanging:
“For all things that, according to the Law, went before, whether in the circumcision of the flesh, or in the multitude of victims, or in the keeping of the Sabbath, testified of Christ, and foretold the grace of Christ. And He is “the end of the Law,” not by annulling, but by fulfilling its meanings. For although He is at once the Author of the old and of the new, yet He changed the symbolic rites connected with the promises, because He accomplished the promises and put an end to the announcement by the coming of the Announced. But in the matter of moral precepts, no decrees of the earlier Testament are rejected, but many of them are amplified by the Gospel teaching: so that the things which give salvation are more perfect and clearer than those which promise a Saviour” (Sermon 63:5, St. Leo the Great).
“There are two distinguishable parts in Moses’ law: the religious-moral and the national-ceremonial which was closely tied with the history and way of life of the Jewish nation. The second aspect is gone into the past for Christians, that is, the national-ceremonial rules and laws, but the religious-moral laws preserve their force in Christianity. Therefore, all the ten commandments in the law of Moses are obligatory for Christians. Christianity has not altered them. On the contrary, Christianity has taught people to understand these commandments, not externally – literalistically, in the manner of blind, slavish obedience, and external fulfillment, but it has revealed the full spirit and taught the perfect and full understanding and fulfillment of them. For Christians, however, Moses’ law has significance only because its central commandments (the ten which deal with love of God and neighbors) are accepted and shown forth by Christianity. We are guided in our life not by this preparatory and temporary law of Moses, but by the perfect and eternal law of Christ. St Basil the Great says, “If one who lights a lamp before himself in broad daylight seems strange, then how much stranger is one who remains in the shadow of the law of the Old Testament when the Gospel is being preached.” The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives toward submitting to Him as a son submits to a beloved father” (On the Law of God, by Metropolitan Philaret (Voskresensky), Translated by Hieromonk Varlaam Novakshonoff).
The Old Testament allowed some things due to human weakness. For example, divorce for any reason was allowed in the Old Testament. Slavery within certain bounds was allowed in the Old Testament. However, the law did not mandate either. It allowed them. In the New Testament, when Christ confronted the woman caught in adultery, he did not impose the death penalty on her. However, he did not say, “Go, it is a sin no more”. He said “Go and sin no more.” How did she know what was a sin and what was not a sin, because of the moral law of God. Christ did not weaken the law on the question of adultery… he enhanced it. It is more strict in the New Testament, not less. And so why would we assume that the New Testament would lessen the law on the question of Homosexuality? There is no basis for doing so… not to mention that the New Testament specifically condemns homosexuality in several places.