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Particulars of Christianity:
305 Liberty in Christ

Incorporating Pagan Practices
in the Old Testament

Liberty in Christ: Extended Introduction
Liberty in Christ: Introduction

Definitions and New Testament Survey
Synonyms for Liberty in Christ
Liberty and Death
Liberty, the Law, and the 10 Commandments
Origin of the Law of Liberty
Liberty and Yet Prohibition
Incorporating Pagan Practices in the Old Testament
"Christianizing" Pagan Practices
What is Observing Times?
Liberty, Bondage, and Righteousness
Liberty and Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Liberty and 1 Corinthians 8
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Idolatry
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Your Neighbor
Summary and Practical Applications
Addendum: Romans 14, the Conscience, and Morality

Exodus 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Leviticus 26:1 Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God.

Once again, from the very onset of the 10 Commandments, we see that the command to abstain from idols and idolatry was inseparably linked to the commandment to "have no other gods before" God. The first commandment was "have no other gods before me." And the second commandment simply enforces that first command in more explicit detail, saying that we are not to make or serve idols in any way.

Why are these first two commands inseparable? Because as God himself declares openly here in Exodus 20:5, "I the LORD thy God am a jealous God." Because God is a jealous God, any worship of other gods, even having an idol, is considered a violation of the first commandment that we should "have no other gods before" Him. It is the jealousy of God that keeps the prohibition of idolatry inseparably linked with the first and greatest commandment, to love God first and with all our being.

OK, so we can see why the apostles continued the Mosaic prohibition of idolatry. Because idolatry meant breaking the first commandment of the Law of Moses and because breaking the first commandment of the Law of Moses meant breaking the first commandment of the Law of Christ. That seems simple enough.

But why did the apostles forbid Christians from eating blood? Well, that comes from Deuteronomy 12.

Deuteronomy 12:23 Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. 24 Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water. 25 Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD. 26 Only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the LORD shall choose: 27 And thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the LORD thy God: and the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the LORD thy God, and thou shalt eat the flesh. 28 Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.

First, we should notice the phrases "that it may go well with thee" and "thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD" found twice here in Deuteronomy 12:15, 28. Those statements from Deuteronomy seem quite similar to Acts 15:29 regarding sacrificed meats where James writes, "from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well" and James 2:8 where James writes "if...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well."

Second, we see that the reason that eating blood was forbidden under the Mosaic Law is because "the blood is the life." Because blood is the life, blood isn't just a natural matter, but it takes on spiritual meaning. Likewise, the Israelites were to "pour out" the blood of their sacrifices, which is why the apostles forbid eating strangled animals. Animals that were strangled to death were not likely to have been properly butchered and so the blood would not have been properly drained from the meat.

Third, the most important thing about Deuteronomy 12 is that the apostles DID, in fact, uphold it as binding on Christians. This is especially true considering what the rest of Deuteronomy 12 goes on to say. We just showed that the apostles did uphold Deuteronomy 12:23-28. Here then, is verse 28 through the rest of the chapter.

Deuteronomy 12:28 Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God. 29 When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; 30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Here in verses 28-32 we find that God forbids the Israelites from trying to learn what the pagans did to their gods. And, not only does God tell the Israelites NOT to worship those other gods, but more specifically God tells the Israelites NOT to do unto him what the pagans did unto their gods. Why didn't God want the Israelites to worship him using pagan worship practices? Because God hates all the things the pagans do, not just because they are done to other gods instead of himself but because the very acts themselves are evil in his eyes. In fact, God so much wants to get across the point that he does not want pagan worship practices used to worship him that he concludes this chapter of Deuteronomy by stating "whatsoever I command you...do not add to it."

So the question arises, given that the apostles did uphold the previous five verses (verses 23-28) of this same chapter regarding eating blood, did the apostles uphold these four verses (verses 29-32) as binding with regard to idolatry? Or, in other words, having upheld the prohibition against eating blood found in Deuteronomy 12:23-28, did the apostles also uphold the prohibition of incorporating pagan worship practices into the worship of the true God, Deuteronomy 12:29-32?

Perhaps the most significant thing to note from this portion of our study is that if Deuteronomy 12:29-32 applies to Christians today, then any pagan thing (such as a holiday) that has been "Christianized" somewhere in the Christian past would still be wrong and would need to be discarded.

Let's look at it this way. Deuteronomy 12:23-28 prohibits God's people from eating blood. In Acts 15:20, 29 and 20:25 the apostles prohibit eating blood. Deuteronomy 12:29-32 goes on to prohibit God's people from worshipping him by idolatrous worship practices they learn from the surrounding pagans. In Acts 15:20,29, 20:25, 1 Corinthians 5:10-11, 6:9, 10:7,14, Ephesians 5:5, and Revelation 21:8, 22:15 the apostles prohibit Christians from participating in idolatry. Is it likely that the apostles also forbid Christians to incorporate idolatrous pagan practices into their worship of God? We believe that the reasonable answer is yes.

Yet despite all of these pressing facts, most Christians will reject that Deuteronomy 12:29-32 applies to Christians today, not because this is a reasonable deduction from the facts, but simply because if these last four verses of Deuteronomy 12 did apply to Christians today, we would have to give up anything pagan that has been Christianized over the centuries, including things like Christmas and Easter. For most Christians, the idea of giving up these long-since "Christianized" things is too much and so they will reject any obligation to Deuteronomy 12's prohibition of "Christianizing" idolatrous practices without a second thought.

To some it may seem like a riddle that cannot be solved. How can we know if the apostles upheld, not only verses 23-28 of Deuteronomy 12, but verses 29-32 as well? How can we know if the apostles upheld the ban against "Christianizing" idolatrous worship practices?

Well, first we have the repeated statements against idolatry found throughout the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:10-11, 6:9, 10:7,14, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8, 22:15.) In fact, the apostles' ban of idolatry is so complete that in 1 Corinthian 10:14, Paul writes, "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." Clearly Paul doesn't want us tip-toeing around pagan practices. Rather than seeing how close we can get and still be "OK," Paul wants us running in the opposite direction and getting as far away as we can. Sounds like there's no way Paul would have accepted Christians "Christianizing" idolatrous worship practices.

Fortunately, as logically sound as these inferences are, we don't just have to make inferences with regard to whether Christians were allowed to "Christianize" pagan holidays.