A number of my atheist friends have asked how can such barbarous rules such as those in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy come from a loving God. My atheist friends go on and ask me why I don’t follow the Old Testament laws and rules described in the Bible and they assert that I am ignoring verses that I don’t like i.e., “cherry picking” the Bible for only those verses which show a loving and merciful God. Basically, my atheist friends are saying that I am not following the whole Bible literally and in full context as I claim that I do.
Let’s get a definition of the word, “barbarous” so that we have a common understanding of it.
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
1a : uncivilized b : lacking culture or refinement : philistine
2: characterized by the occurrence of barbarisms <barbarous language>
3: mercilessly harsh or cruel
1a : a barbarian or barbarous social or intellectual condition : backwardness
b : the practice or display of barbarian acts, attitudes, or ideas
2: an idea, act, or expression that in form or use offends against contemporary standards of good taste or acceptability
1: of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people
2: lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture
From the definitions given above for barbarous, I’m assuming that my atheist friends are claiming that the rules and laws set forth those in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy is number three; mercilessly harsh or cruel. From this, we’ll continue the rest of this article giving that the definition of barbarous is mercilessly harsh and cruel. Thus, I’m making the assumption that my atheist friends are claiming that the rules and laws in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are mercilessly harsh and cruel. Also, I’m assuming that they feel that the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are offending to their contemporary standards of good taste and acceptability and that these Old Testament books were written by people lacking refinement which they feel exists today.
The Purpose of the Laws
Before we look at the assertion that the laws and rules set forth in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are barbarous, let’s look at why the rules and laws are in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We’ll start with the book of Exodus.
In the book of Exodus 19:1—40:38, God is giving the law to the Israelites, including tabernacle instructions and construction details, and what happens when the law is broken. God’s law system is described in three parts within the book of Exodus. The first part, the Ten Commandments contain the absolutes of spiritual and moral life. The second part was the civil law which gave the Israelites rules to manage their lives. Thirdly, the ceremonial law described patterns for Israelites to build a tabernacle and regular worship. God revealed His law to the Israelites so that they could learn more about what God is like and how He expected them to live as His people.
The book of Leviticus defines instructions for the priests and Levites outlining their duties in worshiping a holy God and a guidebook of holy living for the Hebrews. Leviticus 1:1—17:16 are instructions for the offerings, instructions for priests, instructions for the people, and instructions for the altar which all are for worshiping a holy God. Leviticus 18:1—27:34 define living a holy life and has standards for the people, rules for priests, descriptions of seasons and festivals and receiving God’s blessing. In Leviticus, God gave clear standards to the Israelites for how to live a holy life, separate and distinct from pagan nations around them.
The book of Deuteronomy was written to the new Israel generation about to enter into the Promised Land for daily living guidelines and civil laws. In Deuteronomy, God reviewed His laws for the people and the legal contract between God and His people had to be renewed by the new generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 4:44—28:68 go over again the Ten Commandments and is God reminding His people that in order to ratify His agreement, they must choose the path of obedience and follow the daily living guidelines given to them.
Laws given during those times are as laws given today which means, there are consequences to choice we make or do not make but should have made. It is vital for you and me to actually think before we act today so to not break the law and back then, it was no different. In fact, if the people who were given the Ten Commandments could have actually kept the Ten Commandments, there would have been no reason for any further rules and laws. It’s the same with us today. If each one of us could actually not break the Ten Commandments, there would not be any need for new laws. But the people back then make poor choices just as you and I today make poor choices and as such, we have more and more complex laws.
So now knowing that the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy do indeed contain rules and laws which God put forth for His people to follow, let’s look into some of the rules and laws other than the Ten Commandments. Other than the Ten Commandments because my atheist friends say that I overlook the rules and laws which are not the Ten Commandments. I’ll rather randomly take two from each book which I’ve had questions about from my atheist friends. Again, we’ll start with the book of Exodus. If anyone has questions about any other rule or law within the Bible which I don’t cover here, I’ll be happy to cover it in the comment section of this article.
First from the book of Exodus, let’s look at Exodus 21:20-21; “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” First, you can’t just take this verse as it is, it must be placed into context which starts with Exodus 21:12-14 because order matters. Exodus 21:12-14 states, “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I [Moses] will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my [Moses’] alter and put him to death.” I admit murder is mercilessly harsh and cruel and barbarous. Having capital punishment for murder clearly described as it is in Exodus I’m sure that during that time, there were not many people who committed murder for fear of being put to death for it when caught. So, I don’t see this law being barbarous at all. I see this law and its consequence as a deterrent to those who would commit murder.
Side note; during those days unlike today where we have bankruptcy courts, people could become a slave (or servant) because of poverty, debt, or even crime. Many people during that time freely on their own became a slave to someone. There were also people who were put into slavery who didn’t want to be a slave as some people are today. The Bible acknowledges slavery existed but it never encourages or condones slavery. If you say the bible condones or encourages slavery, please point out which verse or verses you say condones and encourages slavery. In fact, slavery today is ramped in many forms; manly in the pornography industry and human sex trafficking which includes children of all ages. Many newspapers, magazines, TV news shows, etc., report about the occurrences of slavery today just as the Bible reports about slavery back then. Do these newspapers, magazines, TV news shows reporting slavery today condone and encourage slavery?
Secondly from Exodus we’ll look at Exodus 22:16-17 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” Unlike many men and women today who do not take seriously their virginity as something precious and sacred and to be kept until their marriage on their honeymoon, back then it was understood that virginity was a onetime distinctive gift which could never be recovered nor given a second time. For a man to take the virginity away from a woman who is not his wife is a very wrong back then and it should be today too but too many people just follow the crowds even if it leads them into sexually transmitted diseases and death from those venereal diseases. There needed to be retribution for the man who took the woman’s virginity out of marriage and it is fair that it be the bride-price for virgins and that the man be wedded to the woman he took advantage. Now you say something like, “What about the woman who was seduced/raped? How is this fitting for her to have to marry the man who took her virginity?” Note that she doesn’t have to marry the man. Her father can refuse the marring of his daughter to the man who took his daughter’s virginity and yet the man who took her virginity still must pay the bride-price the father requires of his daughter. So, I don’t see this law being barbarous at all. Rape is barbarous and I see this law as a deterrent to those who would commit rape. Side note; If I were to set a law for rape, it would be total castration of the man’s genitalia for his first offence of rape.
First Leviticus’ law we’ll look at is Leviticus 20:9-10 “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.” Growing up knowing this was the law, would you openly disrespect your father or mother? Maybe some of you would like it if this law was on the books now. Let’s put this into context as to whom it was written to and to do that we need to go to Leviticus 20:1-2 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: …’” God wanted His people, the Israelites, to have solid families with children respecting their parents. Having a child be disrespectful to his or her parents doesn’t make a strong family. Just look around today at the disrespectful children of all ages putting down their parents in so many ways. If God had not clearly stated what was wrong and what its consequence was, this could be considered barbarous yet God did clearly state both. Side note; there’s nothing in the Bible that said this law was ever executed but seeing how disrespectful many children are today to their parents, most likely there were some back then too.
Leviticus’ second law we’ll look at is Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Wow, now that’s a clearly stated outcome for homosexual activity isn’t it? Let’s put this into context as to whom it was written to and to do that we need to go to Leviticus 20:1-2 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him.’” Molech was the Ammonites (Israel’s neighbors) national god. It was common practice for those who followed this false god of the Ammonites to perform child sacrifices and also commit hideous sexual acts. God made woman for man’s company and sexual relations between man and woman within marriage of one man and one woman. God not wanting His people (the Israelites) to get any sexually transmitted diseases through the religious practices of the Ammonites following Molech, gave the Israelites clear rules to follow with clearly defined consequences if the rules were not followed. Seeing that God clearly stated what was not to be done and what would happen if it was done, Leviticus 20:13 is not barbarous. Side note; there’s nothing in the Bible that said this law was ever executed but knowing how people are today in breaking marriage vows, I’m sure most likely someone broke it back then too.
We’ll do a third one in Leviticus. Leviticus 20:22-27 “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.” Remember that the book of Leviticus defines instructions for the priests and Levites outlining their duties in worshiping a holy God and a guidebook outlining the dos and don’ts of holy living for the Hebrews. God is telling the Israelites that people who consult the spirits of the dead are people who do not have their ability given to them by Him; meaning that these people are evil and are trying to lead the Israelites away from God. God with this law wanted everyone to know the seriousness of trying to lead His people away from Him. I don’t see this law as barbarous because anyone trying to lead someone to their demise should be punished. Anyone leading someone away from God is trying to lead someone away from their life with God. Side note; there’s nothing in the Bible that said this law was ever executed but knowing how people are today in following horror scopes and watching mediums, I’m sure most likely someone broke it back then too.
Deuteronomy’s first law we’ll look at is Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.” God is against adultery and this law is an example of the severity that God holds adulterers offence of marriage infidelity. Today, many people treat marriage as nothing special and as something which isn’t sacred which is why we see so many divorces and hear about so many adulterous affairs. Standards for moral behavior for many people today are at such low levels that they think of themselves as animals and thus act like dogs in heat instead of responsible human beings. Adultery is barbarous and goes directly against a strong loving family. Deuteronomy 22:22 gave those people back then something to think about before they committed an act of adultery. I mean think about it for a few moments… would you have an adulterous relationship with someone if Deuteronomy 22:22 was still an active law? I hope you’d not with or without it but some people need something to think about so to deter them from doing something they shouldn’t. I don’t see this law as barbarous; I see it as stopping someone from making a mistake of a lifetime. Side Note; Kind of like the old saying; “Locks are on the door to keep an honest person honest.” If the lock wasn’t on the door, some people’s curiosity would get the better of them.
The second Deuteronomy law we will look at is Deuteronomy 23:15-16 “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him.” How could anyone consider this law barbarous?
Barbarous Rules from a Loving God?
From the rules and laws we looked at above (and the ones in the Bible we didn’t cover), for that timeframe, I see none that match the definition of barbarous. God was giving His people instructions for what to do and what not to do and clear consequences for doing what wasn’t supposed to be done or not doing what was supposed to be done. Muslim Shariah law which is practiced today in the name of Allah from the book written by Mohammed is barbarous.
Okay, we’ve taken a look at to whom the laws were written for and at a couple of laws from each of the three books. Again, if these laws that I picked are not ones you would have picked, please leave a comment and let me know which ones you want discussed. Now we’ll quickly look at why God has so many laws about sexual behavior then we’ll address the accusation of “cherry picking” only the laws from the Bible I and other followers of Christ Jesus are accused of doing.
God included in the Bible instructions about sexual behavior because sexual sins not only disrupt and destroy families, it can (and does) have the power to disrupt and destroy the church. Sins involving sex are not innocent experimenting in illicit desires as it is portrayed in music videos, movies, pornography, and TV, it is actually an extremely powerful destroyer of relationships. Sexual sins tear down the atmosphere of respect, breaks trust and creditability which are so essential for solid marriages and secure children. Also, God knowing what is best for us, gave the Israelites the laws about sexual behavior to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. If our ancestors could have abstained from (and our generation had not done and would not do) sexual relationships outside of marriage between one man with one woman, with no homosexual activity, and had not perform sexual acts with animals, sexually transmitted disease would not exist.
My atheist friends accuse me (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) of “cherry picking” what we want to follow from the Bible and ignoring what we don’t want to follow from the Bible. They say that I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) take out of context what is written in the Bible so that we can make it say what we want it to say when what my atheist friends say, what the Bible says is something directly opposite than what I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) say it says. My atheist friends say that because all the laws in the Bible are in the Bible, and I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) say that the Bible is God’s unchanging word and is absolute truth, that I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) should be adhering to all of the laws written in the Bible. Let’s take a look at why I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) don’t adhere to all the laws written in the Bible as they are written; meaning that if the law is broken, why do I (and all people who follow Christ Jesus) not punish the lawbreaker with the prescribed punishment described in the Bible i.e., the examples of the law described in this article.
As a follower of Christ Jesus, both the Old Testament and the New Testament make up the Holy Bible. The Old Testament isn’t called “The Old Testament” by Jewish people yet it is the same writings in both only a slight different order of books. Jewish people do not consider the New Testament as holy scripture. Only people who follow Christ Jesus consider the New Testament as holy and as the Word of God. The reason for this is that Jewish people do not accept Christ Jesus as the Messiah. Many Jewish people are still waiting on the Messiah to arrive however, people who used to be Jewish at the time Christ Jesus was walking in human flesh, saw the miracles Jesus performed and saw Him die, and then saw Him after He rose from death which fulfilled the Jewish holy scriptures (today’s Old Testament) prophecies about the Messiah. These previously Jewish people wrote the scriptures which became the New Testament.
People who actually follow Christ Jesus are true Christians (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16) and take the whole bible, Old Testament and New Testament as God’s word and as absolute truth and read it all in context.
Christ Jesus as stated in Matthew 5:17-20, said the following concerning the Law and Prophets;
“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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So if Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, doesn’t that mean that all of the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? Those who do not read the Bible in context say, “Yes, it does mean that the Old Testament laws apply to those who say that the Bible is God’s never changing word and those who say it doesn’t are ‘cherry picking’ what they want the Bible to say because they don’t want to abide by those laws.” Reading the Bible in context however, we learn that there were three categories of law given to the Israelites by God; ceremonial law, civil law, moral law.
The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel worshiping God as described in Leviticus which points forward to the Messiah to come – Christ Jesus. These laws became nullified and no longer necessary after Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. While we are now not bound to ceremonial laws, the principles behind each of them (to worship and love a holy God) still apply. The Pharisees often accused Jesus as not following and breaking ceremonial laws.
The civil law like Deuteronomy 24:10 for example, applied to daily living in Israel. Today’s society and culture is very radically different than back then and trying to follow civil guidelines of that era today, couldn’t specifically be something we could always do. Jesus actually demonstrated the principles of the civil law.
Moral law (The Ten Commandments in Exodus) is a direct command of God which requires strict obedience; i.e., Exodus 20:13. Moral law reveals the nature and will of God for us to follow and does still apply to us today. Jesus completely obeyed the moral law.
The Gospel (Good News)
With ceremonial law not applicable due to Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection, civil law being given specifically for the Israelites to follow, it leaves only moral law which we all should follow. This is good news that we don’t have to follow the ceremonial and civil law of that time however, the Ten Commandments are something that no one can fully follow because you and I are not perfect.
Because you and I are not perfect and thus cannot completely obey the Ten Commandments, Jesus came and fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17-20). This is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, that He came and perfectly followed the Law for you and me. You see, God knew you and I couldn’t follow the Ten Commandments so He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to do it for us (John 3:16-21).
It is your choice to make to read the Bible in context. It is your choice to make if you want to know truth. It is your choice to make if you want to not just take my word for truth and do your own seeking for truth. I suggest that you not take my word for anything that I’ve said. It is your life, why should you believe me? I don’t know everything.
“Life Application Study Bible” New International Version (NIV), Zondervan