Why don’t Christians welcome Kelantan’s hudud initiative?

Rama Ramanathan

Rama Ramanathan, Malay Mail Online

The Bible, in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Kings, and Joshua, urges execution by stoning for offences including blasphemy; cursing the king; calling upon evil spirits; persistently disobeying parents; sacrificing children; sexual misconduct; taking illicit booty during war; working on a rest day.

The feedback I’ve got about my last post tells me many Christians either aren’t aware that the Mosaic Law includes execution by stoning, or struggle to explain why they object to stoning. Though it seems ironic, their objection springs from their acceptance that we are urged to follow a stricter version of the Mosaic Law.

What do I mean by “a stricter version”?

In the “Sermon on the Mount” the Messiah says we should obey a stricter version of the Mosaic Law. Here’s one example:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

Clearly if we were to do what the Messiah urges us to do, we will all starve to death because we would all be blind and limbless. Why do Christians say we should obey the Sermon on the Mount, but don’t blind and amputate themselves?

The answer lies in the word “covenant.”

The Bible is in two parts. The first part is called the Old Testament (OT). The second part is called the New Testament (NT). The word “testament” may be replaced with the word “covenant,” which in the Bible, is a “contract” initiated by a Lord over a serf. It describes the Lord’s commitment and the response expected from the serf.

Christians speak of an Old Covenant and a New Covenant. Christians say that after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, the old is gone, the new has come. Understanding “covenant” is central to understanding how Christians read and use the Old Testament.

The Old Covenant ended with the coming of the Messiah. In the Old Covenant, rituals and utterly faultless obedience were necessary to ensure acceptance with God. In the New Covenant, “the Covenant of Grace,” the requirements of the Old Covenant have been obeyed by the Messiah; his obedience is “assigned” to those who acknowledge him as Messiah and obey him.

The OT is a collection of narrative stories; dialogues; historical accounts; judgments upon kings, nations and priests; proverbs; predictions; songs; and more, including the Mosaic Law.

Christians believe the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to keep the Jewish community together till the coming of the Messiah at the appointed time. Bible scholar Elmer Martens helps us understand the community orientation of the OT:

“The fundamental unity in . . . society is the group, and not . . . the individual. Modern man starts with the right of the individual; the Israelite did not.

“Group solidarity is illustrated by a look at blessings and curses, for these affect more than the individual” (God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 1994, page 73).

Christians routinely read and teach from the OT. Many follow prescribed OT readings for each day of the week, including Sundays when Christians meet together.

One of the marks of being a Christian is acceptance of the OT as the Word of God: in the early church, a man called Marcion said we should evict the OT from the Bible. For this, Marcion was evicted from the church.

Christians cherish the OT because they believe that God revealed Himself in it, and continues to do so today. Without the OT – into which the Mosaic Law is inextricably woven – we would be unable to understand much of why the Messiah came, what happened during his bodily presence, and in subsequent history.

Christians cherish the knowledge of the special way in which the OT has been preserved over the centuries. Bible scholar Bruce Waltke says:

“The very fact that the Scripture persistently survived the most deleterious conditions throughout its long history demonstrates that indefatigable scribes insisted on its preservation. The books were copied by hand for generations on highly perishable papyrus and animal skins in the relatively damp, hostile climate of Palestine. . .

“W.F. Albright noted, “The prolonged and intimate study of the many scores of thousands of pertinent documents from the ancient Near East proves that sacred and profane documents were copied with greater care than is true of scribal copying in Graeco-Roman times.”” (NIDOTE, Zondervan: 1997, vol 1, page 53)

We cherish the OT because the Messiah cherished it. Waltke again: “. . . by the time of the NT the OT canon was closed. Jesus and the apostles held the same OT in hand that Protestants do today” (page 54).

We do not snip out sections of the Bible which urge stoning. We recognise in those sections what we also recognise in the Sermon on the Mount: the impossibility of obeying the law.

We recognize our need for mercy at the hands of the great Judge, for we accept there is a Day of Judgment and Punishment. We are dumbstruck by what the Messiah went on to say: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

We read the OT as children of the New Covenant. The Mosaic Law is to us a graphic description of our need for forgiveness, and an explanation of why the prayer the Messiah taught us includes this: “forgive us as we forgive others.”

The Law, as Luther put it, is a mirror to our souls. The Law reveals grace. The Law now prompts forgiveness.