The above image was shared by the Facebook page, We F***ing Love Atheism. As Christians, what do we do when images like the above circulate around the Internet? First of all, know your convictions. Know that no matter how much atheists and others twist Scripture, God’s Word does not suddenly become errant and contradictory. Second, if you’re unsure of what to think about these atheists’ view of Scripture, talk to a pastor about it. The reason why I’m even writing this is because as a future pastor, I know exactly why their interpretation of this passage is erroneous. And third, ignore it. Their only purpose, and Satan’s purpose, of posting images like the above is to get you to doubt your faith with the hope of falling away.
With that being said, why is their interpretation wrong? Well, let’s look at the entire context they inappropriately summarize (Deuteronomy 22:13-21):
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Here is the correct summary of the passage: It begins by talking about the husband who wrongfully accuses his wife of not being a virgin. While his lies are proven, according to the Law he is to be whipped and fined a monetary amount, the proceeds going to the woman’s father. Secondly, if a woman is guilty of not being a virgin before marriage, she is to be executed. Immediately, the atheist will say, “Aha! So we’re right!” No, they’re not. Sure, they correctly see lack of virginity is punishable by death under the Law. However, they misappropriate the passage by implying that because this is in the Bible, it’s justified as current Christian teaching. Thus, they commit two errors
The First Error: Sins Are Not Punishable by Death
Their first error is they believe it’s wrong for Scripture to say it’s permissible to execute a woman just for being sexually active before marriage, committing an even further error that sins are not punishable by death. This kind of thinking is not surprising, considering the sexual revolution of this age. The Deuteronomy passage is not validating only marriage where the woman is a virgin; it’s saying premarital sex is punishable by death because it’s a sin. It needs to be made irrevocably clear that every sin is punishable by death under the Law of God, which is exactly what the Old Testament Israelites were under. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The Law condemns us in our sin because it reveals our unrighteousness and unholiness. Yes, the just punishment for premarital sex is death. It is the same for adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, gossip, greed, thievery, lying, and the list goes on indefinitely. Every sin you can think of is punishable by death.
The atheist does not want to accept the presupposition that every sin is punishable by death, even for something as “minor” as premarital sex. Because they are not willing to accept this reality, it’s only natural they cherry pick a Bible passage out of context and purport it must mean the Bible isn’t true and therefore God doesn’t exist. Why would an atheist want to believe their sins are punishable by death? They wouldn’t, because that means they would have to be held accountable for their sins, but they don’t want to be held accountable. In fact, nobody does. They don’t want to acknowledge the behaviors they’ve accepted as being normal are wrong in the eyes of God, because it would mean changing their entire worldview. To them, and others like them (e.g. liberal theologians), when the Bible is inconsistent with their worldview, this must mean the Bible is wrong. This is an irrational approach. Just because God’s Word says what you believe is wrong does not mean the Bible is untrue; it just means you’re unwilling to accept what God says about your sin.
This is to be expected in today’s sexual revolution. Sexuality has become simultaneously everything and nothing to people. Sexuality is the sole concern and foundation for modern opinions about religion and church, how to interpret and dismiss the Bible, how to vote, how to have a political philosophy, how to find a foundation to legally besmirch and dominate any establishment if they hold a different opinion, and how to justify any desired legislation that enforces their sin—all to please a demographic that apparently thinks about nothing but sex and marriage. At the same time, sex is merely a preference—an arbitrary decision, signifying nothing deeper than sensual pleasure, nothing but another trivial means of getting high without any absolute truth to say anything about it. When this happens, nothing can become meaningful about it because there can be no right and wrong on the issue, because any right and wrong would be bigoted or “no big deal.”
Sex and marriage were made to resemble our need to search for the “Other”—the thing that is different and not like us. We are not to seek our righteousness; we are to seek God’s righteousness, not by the Law we naturally desire (like the above atheists), but by the Gospel, which is alien and foreign. We are not to be right according to our own works, but according to the works of Christ. We are not to seek our own truth, but God’s truth, who is Christ (John 14:6). God is the Other; everything else is worldly. The “helper fit” for Adam (Genesis 2:18) was a woman, not a man. Adam didn’t get a say in the matter; God created another being distinct yet complementary to him—a woman. We are not to love something in our image, but we are to be made in the image of God. Christ did not desire something like Himself—a holy, perfect God, but He desires to be in a covenant with sinful human beings. In the same way, we are not to desire something like ourselves, like our own image or gender, but we are to desire the Other and give a visible picture of what God has done for us. When we don’t choose the Other, we glorify ourselves and make everything into our image, and we trivialize and aggregate everything together for our own sake.
So yes, any sexual act that is a perversion of God’s will is punishable by death. Indeed, every sin is punishable by death, because all sin is a perversion of God’s will. In our highly sexualized society, we don’t want to accept this. However, God does not ask us to accept it; He has simply laid down His Law as it is whether we accept it or not. We simply face the blessings of accepting what His Word says and the curses of rejecting what it says. So, according to the Law in this passage, premarital sex is a sin and punishable by death, but we also need to recognize the Gospel.
The Second Error: We Are Still Under Law
The second error these atheists make is their legalistic interpretation of the passage by presuming we’re still under Law. In a way, they have it half right. “For all who rely on works of the Law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the Law, for, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the Law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:10-14).
These atheists have it half right in that those who commit such sins without the Gospel are under the Law and thus will be executed for their sins—that is, condemned. Yes, the unbeliever who practices premarital sex, among other sins, deserves death and will be condemned to Hell. However, what they erroneously assume is this is still applicable to Christians. Non-Christians are under the Law because they rely on the works of the Law—doing deeds to achieve their own righteousness and salvation. Because they’re under the Law, they suffer the eternal consequences of the Law.
For Christians, however, it is a different story. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under Law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). A Christian may commit premarital sex, but the Christian is not under Law; he or she is under grace. This grace is the Gospel of Jesus Christ—cleansed and renewed in our Baptism, which saves us (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21), justified by faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). As Paul said in the above Galatians passage, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law—that is, the damnation to Hell we deserve. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us (Matthew 5:17) because we are incapable of fulfilling it ourselves. It’s true God condemns sin, but it’s also true He freely offers forgiveness for all our sins. Pay attention to the second half of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This passage is a perfect, concise summary of the move from Law to grace for the Christian. Under the Law, we are condemned to eternal death; but under the grace we receive from Christ through faith, we receive eternal life.
By cherry picking the Deuteronomy passage, the atheists inevitably set themselves up for failure (some Christians do this as well). They picked a Law passage and said, “Look! See this Bible verse talking about God killing you because of your sin? That means your Bible is wrong and God is hateful; therefore, He doesn’t exist since you say He’s all good.” Okay, so God says I deserve to die because of my sin. What of it? That’s the truth. However, believe it or not, there is Gospel in Deuteronomy. The large majority of Deuteronomy is God setting forth His Law for the Israelites. After all, that’s the purpose of Deuteronomy, which in Hebrew literally means “second law” (remember this in a little bit). Then, in chapter 30, there’s Gospel where God invites repentance and forgiveness. He says, “…and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey His voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you” (Deuteronomy 30:2). Compassion in Deuteronomy? No! It can’t be!
This verse is built upon the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Martin Luther’s explanation of this commandment says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Anything we fear, love, and trust above God becomes our idol, thus breaking the first commandment. What the Israelites called the Book of the Law is essentially Deuteronomy (and Leviticus for the sacrifices). The Law in its simplest form is the Ten Commandments. In Hebrew, the word we use for “commandments” really just means “words,” so it is properly called The Ten Words. The Book of the Law is God’s further and deeper explanation of His Ten Words; that’s why it’s called “second law.” In the Hebrew it’s דְּבָרִים (Devārīm), meaning “spoken words.” When it’s transliterated into the Greek Septuagint, it becomes Δευτερονόμιον (Deuteronómion), which means “second law.” This “second law”—the Law of God/the Mosaic Law—is the Law Jesus fulfilled for us and freed us from. Within this Law God still offers forgiveness to those who love Him. Jesus says this is the great and first commandment (Matthew 22:36-38). After God has laid down all these laws for the Israelites, He then invites them to undeservedly come to Him in repentance and forgiveness. Yes, a woman (and man) guilty of premarital sex is guilty under punishment of death, unless she comes to the Lord in repentance.
Jesus echoes this grace of God: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). All throughout Deuteronomy 30, God offers forgiveness to those who come to Him and repent, offering life over death, which He still does today. God manifested Himself in Jesus Christ in order to justify our sins. Jesus was the final blood sacrifice as the atonement for our sins. So committing this sin of premarital sex these atheists have singled out does not mean one is hopeless.
There was hope for the Israelite woman who lived under this Law, and there’s hope for us today. The only difference is now Jesus Christ has been revealed and He has fully redeemed us from our sins, whom all the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to as our final sacrifice, who sets us free from the curse of the Law and places us under the mercy of His grace. This does not mean, however, the Christian who commits premarital sex is exempt from repentance. Quite the contrary. Jesus has baptized us into life and out of sin and death and thus calls us to live a life free of sin, not so we may continue living in it (see Romans 6:1-4). The difference between now (under grace) and then (under Law) is now we don’t have to do works to justify ourselves; Jesus has already done that for us. Nevertheless, He commands we not sin and enables us to do so; we’re not left to do it alone.
“We can quote the Bible too”
Yes, atheist, you can quote the Bible, and rather inadequately, too. I find this statement satanically interesting. Satan can quote the Bible as well. During Jesus’ temptation, Satan took Scripture and twisted it to meet his own purposes. This whole event was a mirror image of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Satan twisted God’s Word with Adam and Eve, and they gave in to the temptation. He did the same with Jesus, the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), except Jesus corrected Satan’s errors and misinterpretations by quoting God’s Word against him. So what atheists are doing here is no different than what Satan does and has always done. In this way, then, they are instruments of Satan by taking Scripture and twisting it to meet their own purposes. Our proper response is using God’s Word against their misinterpretations and twisting of Scripture, such as what I have done in this entire article.
There is also the fact that no matter how an atheist utilizes Scripture for their purposes, they are always wrong. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). It’s no surprise when they misappropriate biblical passages such as the one from Deuteronomy in discussion because as nonspiritual people, they cannot fathom the things of God. The things that consist of the Spirit of God are folly to them—they’re absurd. Without God’s Spirit, they are incapable of understanding God’s Word and using it adequately. St. Peter describes them this way: “There are some things in them [the Scriptures] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
The first error of these atheists is that sins are not punishable by death. God makes it clear all sins are punishable by death under the Law, whether we accept it or not. Its validity is not dependent upon our acceptance; its validity is up to God’s will, which we have no control over. All sins are condemned, even for something as “small” as premarital sex, and even for something as small as telling a lie.
Their second error is that all are under the Law. The unbeliever remains under the Law, for without Christ it’s impossible to be under grace. For all who remain under the Law, they will face inevitable condemnation. For all who have Christ, however, they are justified by His righteousness and are placed under grace. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4). God’s Law declares all people are guilty of sin and deserve death. The Law is good, but it’s “weakened by the flesh”—it’s powerless because the sinful nature cannot keep it. Therefore, God sent Christ, who is perfect and was born without sin, who fulfilled the Law for us and offered Himself as the final sacrifice for all our sins. Therefore, for all who remain in Christ, there is no condemnation. For all who reject Christ, the condemnation remains.
So, as geeks under grace, come to Jesus when sin and stress make you weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest in His gracious forgiveness.
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