The Old Testament and Fugu

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1

When a Christian preacher begins talking about the Old Testament, and especially the Law of Moses, I instinctively start clutching my Bible, ready to ingest the New Testament antidote.

The Law is the enemy of grace. There is no harmony, no amalgam between the two. As Luther wrote, “Either Christ must perish and the Law remain, or the Law perish and Christ must remain.” The Law has been forever removed as a standard of behavior:

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,God made youalive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.”  Ephesians 2:14-15

The whole purpose of the Law, as Paul writes in Galatians 3 and Romans 3, is to demonstrate Man’s inability to satisfy God’s moral demands, and to turn people to Christ as their only hope of salvation. Once that job is done, the Law has no further business in the Christian’s life. It may be “cheerfully ignored,” as Luther says.

The fugu (puffer fish).

Japanese chefs must be specially trained in the art of preparing fugu. Fugu is the flesh of the puffer fish, among the most toxic animals in the world. If, during preparation of fugu, the skin or the liver of the fish comes in contact with the flesh, it will be rendered toxic. There are several deaths every year in Japan from improperly-prepared fugu. The emperor of Japan is forbidden to eat fugu for this reason; it is simply too dangerous.

I liken the preparation of fugu to Christian preaching from the Old Testament. As long as it is ”rightly divided” (like the fugu chef who uses a very thin knife, the “hiki,” to prepare sashimi that is translucent – and non-toxic) in the hands of a trained and careful expositor, there is no danger. That is, a congregation who understands the doctrine of grace and of their real identity in Christ, thanks to the blessing of a wise New Testament expositor, is unlikely to be poisoned by exposure to the Law.

But there are only a few preachers of that caliber, and many more who like to dabble in the Old Testament. They cannot accept that the Law has done its job (i.e., been fulfilled, achieved its purpose) in bringing people to Christ; they’ve spent too much time in seminary studying it, and want to share that knowledge with their parishioners.

For my money, I think most ministers of the Gospel should steer clear of the Old Testament entirely. There is too great a risk that impressionable believers, with only a vague understanding of grace, will hear in such messages an endorsement of the legalistic, performance-based Christian life that is such a useless burden, an uneasy yoke, to millions of believers. Instead of “puffing up” the congregation with useless knowledge about the Law, and risking real spiritual damage, ministers should instead focus on the message of grace and build up the flock in their appreciation of Christ’s work in them.

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2 Responses to The Old Testament and Fugu

  1. Denes House says:

    …which would leave believers mystified about how to deal with 2/3 of their Bibles.

    • shuzensoxon says:

      Is this a serious objection? Are we concerned about paper resources?
      All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and everything written in the past was written to teach us (Romans 15:4). On those points we can surely agree. But look at these:
      “You are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14
      “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ.” Romans 7:4
      “We have been released from the law.” Romans 7:6
      “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4
      “I myself am not under the law.” 1 Corin. 9:20
      “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.” Galatians 2:19
      “We are no longer under the supervision of the law.” Galatians 3:25
      “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Galatians 5:18
      “…by abolishing in his (Jesus’) flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” Ephesians 2:15
      “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14

      The Old Testament is there to teach us — what we have been saved from, how awesome and holy God is and how puny, weak, and foolish Man is. But the Law is no longer authoritative over us. The Law was meant only as a sort of spiritual disclosing tablet, to reveal Mankind’s sinfulness and bring us to Christ. If it has done that job in me, then its work is complete and my conscience need no longer be bothered by it.

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