Protestants regard the Bible as having two major sections—the Old and New Testaments. Following John Calvin, most Protestants affirm the theological continuity between the two Testaments: both are the work of the same God, setting out the same fundamental themes of creation, grace, sin, judgment, redemption, and consummation. At the theological level, the New Testament states more clearly and more fully what is sometimes set out more opaquely in the Old. This basic theme is often summarized in a slogan of Augustine of Hippo: "The New Testament is hidden in the Old; the Old is made accessible by the New."
But what of the Old Testament's moral commands? For example, the Old Testament commands that the Sabbath (Saturday) be kept holy and prescribes the death sentence for those who defile it. Virtually every Christian community, including Protestantism, insists that a distinction must be made between the "cultic" and the "moral" commandments. Where the Old Testament lays down a general moral principle—such as "You shall not murder"—this is binding on Chris tians. Where it lays down a command linked with the Old Testament cult—for example, relating to sacrifices, the priesthood, or the worship of the Temple—this is not binding. On this reading, the command to observe the Sabbath is a cultic requirement and is therefore open to reinterpretation by Christians.
This issue has become of major significance in recent debates over homosexuals and the ordained ministry. Those who oppose the ordination of active homosexuals often appeal to texts in the "holiness code" of the Book of Leviticus that condemn homosexuality. This section of the text deals with eating blood (17:10-11; 19:26), proper sacrifices (17:28; 19:5-8), incest (18:6-18; 20:17), menstrual uncleanness (18:19), adultery (18:20; 20:10), homosexuality (18:22; 20:13), Sabbath keeping (19:3, 30), and unclean animals (20:25). Most interpreters have regarded the "holiness code" as mingling cultic and moral issues, in that the Old Testament makes no distinction between them, whereas Christians regard the distinction as significant.
Debates within Protestantism over the question of homosexual ordination thus tend to focus on the question of whether its prohibition in the Old Testament is cultic or moral. Those in favor regard the prohibition as cultic; those who are opposed see it as moral.
Was this article helpful?