Did Jesus Abolish the Old Testament?

Old Testament
46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever discussed the bible in which many Christians claim to believe with a Christian? If so, the odds are good that you may have asked the Christian about some of what you found in the Old Testament. When you did this, you were almost certainly told that whichever part you asked about is no longer valid (although depending on who you are talking to, some parts of Leviticus may still apply). Somehow, the good parts of this book are still perfectly valid but the bad or embarrassing ones are not. Interesting how that seems to work, isn't it?

Jesus, the Christian might insist, did away with the various bad parts you point out. Of course, the Christian will not be able to show you anything in their bible that makes it clear that this was the case. The Christian just knows it somehow, and you are expected to believe it too.

A reader - I'll call him Jason - e-mailed me a great question recently. It is one I have received several times. In fact, it is one I have asked several times! I am going to post it here, take a stab at answering it and then invite you to chime in. I readily admit that my answer is tentative, as I am really not sure about the most effective way to respond. Let's get to the question.

Here is Jason's question:

I recently had a discussion with a Christian, and I asked him why Christians cherry pick from the bible. I brought up stuff from the old testament, like women not being allowed to dress fancy in church. His response was, "That's mosaic law and we are under a new law now." I didn't know how to respond to this. What would you say? I also hear Christians respond with "that's the old testament or Judaism. Christians follow the new testament". Are these legitimate responses to challenges to the bible?
No, I do not regard these as legitimate responses at all. The challenge, and what I hope to get some input from my more informed readers, is how best to articulate why.

It seems to me that one has a couple of avenues from which to respond. First and most challenging, there are passages in the New Testament where the statements attributed to Jesus seem to make it clear that he was NOT coming to change anything about the old laws (e.g., John 14:15 says, "If you love Me, keep My commandments."). So the first line of response might be to point the Christian to such statements. The problem with this and the reason I described this route as most challenging is that the Christian bible can be used to support virtually anything. There are so many inconsistencies that it is difficult to come away without concluding that it is utter gibberish.

Some will argue that Jesus only abolished certain rules while endorsing others. Thus, I believe that Matthew 5-7 is often used to support the notion that Jesus came to fulfill prior law so that continued observance was no longer necessary. Of course, nobody seems to agree on what was supposedly abolished and what was supposedly retained. In fact, interpreting the meaning of "fulfill" is a massive controversy (Matthew 5:17 says, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill"). Spend a little time on Google, and you'll get a sense for just how contentious this issue remains.

A second response and the one which I prefer takes the Christian's claim at face value and probes the implications. I might remind them that their Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament. I might remind them that the biblical basis for anti-gay bigotry is found there as well. If this does not get me where I want to go, I might present them with some of the more atrocious parts of their New Testament and see how they excuse those. I might share some of the many contradictions of the New Testament. And then, the character of this supposed Jesus figure could be addressed too. Finally, I might demonstrate how the New Testament is cherry-picked as well.

Of course, one could also argue that none of the above really matters because there was likely no historical Jesus. Based on what we know of how and when the Christian bible was written, it is highly probable that none of the quotes are even remotely accurate.