Are evangelicals guilty of biblical inconsistency?
No—although it may seem so. Inerrantists, like myself, claim that the Bible is without error and the final rule of authority, and yet even we do not submit to every command. We do not worship on the Sabbath, bleed out our beef, or participate in purity rituals—in fact, most of the early instructions are not observed. This seemingly selective practice is not a result of personal preference. The reason for our choices are theological not cultural.
The books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) contain a regulatory system that is known as the law. This law of God was a comprehensive framework of regulations that ordered every aspect of Israelite life: the moral, civil, and religious realms were all addressed. Accompanying the law were serious consequences—obedience brought blessing while disobedience brought curses. God wasn’t toying about, these instructions were meant to be strictly followed. And yet, we evangelicals see fit to do much of what is forbidden.
The reason we do not observe portions of the Bible is because the Bible instructs us not to. The apostle Paul writes that the believer in Jesus is no longer bound by the requirements of the law. In Romans 7:6 he says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Jesus’ perfect life, his substitutionary death, and his glorious resurrection have fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). He is the ultimate explanation and completion of this regulatory system and consequently, the Old Testament law is not normative or binding for believers.
Since we no longer live under the constrictions of the law, what good is it to us? Do we simply disregard it and treat those sections of scripture with some historical curiosity? No. While the commands have been satisfied in Jesus, they still have significance for us. The law is useful to us because it awakens us to our sin, it points our attention to the accomplishments of Jesus, and it informs our ethics. The law provides us with principles and moral norms that still apply today.
As Tom Schreiner explains in his book ‘40 Questions about Christians & Biblical Law’. “What we typically call the moral norms of the law are fulfilled, at least in some measure, in the lives of believers. Nevertheless, they are not normative because they appear in the Mosaic covenant, for that covenant has passed away. It seems that they are normative because they express the character of God. We know that they still express God’s will for believers because they are repeated as moral norms in the New Testament.”
Paul teaches us, in numerous places, that those who love God will not commit adultery, murder, steal, covet, etc. He didn’t think that these commands were a return to bondage under the law but were a way to respond to his grace. Those who love God are faithful to study his word so that they might know how to please him. We are still the people of The Book.