actor Jack Black dressed as Jesus

Actor Jack Black is known for his humor, not his hermeneutics. But when California voters banned gay marriage last year, the film star decided to delve into the latter - and teach fans a thing or two about proper Bible reading. The result is “Prop 8: The Musical” - a star-studded video that has been viewed 4 million times on - in which Black, dressed as Jesus, enlightens a group of ignorant, uptight Christians that they’ve been making too much out of the Bible’s teaching that sex between men is “an abomination.”

“It says the exact same thing about this shrimp cocktail; Leviticus says shellfish is an abomination,” Black says mockingly, a serving of seafood in his hand. “Friend, it seems to me you pick and choose.”

The video plays for laughs, but it raises a serious question that seems to stump many both inside and outside of the church today: Do Christians arbitrarily “pick and choose” which parts of God’s Word to obey? (Or, as Newsweek put it in a cover story last December, “Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices. ... Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?”)

The answer really isn’t as complicated as some make it out to be, said Clinton E. Arnold, chair of the New Testament department at Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology, and vice president of the Evangelical Theological Society.

“It’s not a matter of picking and choosing,” he said. “It’s a matter of understanding the distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant.”

In short, the Levitical laws were part of the old covenant, and were given to Moses specifically for the nation of Israel, Arnold said. When Jesus instituted the new covenant, the old covenant was made &rlquo;obsolete” (Heb 8:13); Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Christ is the “end” of the Law (Rom 10:4) and has “abolished” the Law (Eph 2:15), he said.

Quite simply, the church is not Israel, and the Mosaic Law is not intended to regulate the Christian life, Arnold said. Rather, Christians are to live according to the new covenant, as laid out by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

That’s a concept that many Christians don’t fully grasp, said Robert Saucy, distinguished professor of systematic theology at Talbot. Many times, believers make the mistake of trying to divide the Mosaic Law into categories - salvaging the “moral” laws (such as those that pertain to sexuality or divorce), while discarding “civil” and “ceremonial” laws (such as those that pertain to diet or animal sacrifice), he said.

“I think it’s impossible to divide them into different categories,” Saucy said. “The Jews saw 613 commandments in the Law and they never separated them into three segments. ... Christians are simply not under the Mosaic Law.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Law serves no purpose for believers. For example, just because an adult is no longer under the childhood bedtime rules set by his parents, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a valuable principle behind them to guide his life, Saucy said.

“He may not have to go to bed at 7 p.m., but he knows that he can’t stay up until 4 a.m. every day and expect to be successful and healthy,” he said.

In the same way, Christians ought to look for the principles behind the different Old Testament laws to discern what they say about God’s unchanging holiness, he said. An essential part of this is to understand what the rest of the Bible teaches, especially in the New Testament, he said.

Homosexual behavior, for instance, is clearly shown throughout the rest of Scripture to be inconsistent with God’s will - whether in Genesis or in Paul’s letters, Saucy said.

“You find it as a running theme throughout the Bible,” he said. “If you didn’t have it anywhere else, and you didn’t have strong implications from creation, and all you had was Leviticus, then it would be a more difficult question.”

Dietary laws, on the other hand, shouldn’t indicate to us that certain food was inherently evil in God’s eyes - only that God wanted the nation of Israel to be distinct from surrounding pagan nations and their customs, Arnold said. This is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in Mark 7 that all food is clean, and by Peter’s vision to “kill and eat” unclean food in Acts 10.

“God’s holiness doesn’t mean that he hates shrimp,” Arnold said. “The ban on eating shellfish was a way of keeping Israel distinct from the nations. But we’re no longer the nation of Israel. We’re the church. And there’s no longer a need to be distinct by old covenant symbols like circumcision or food laws.”

In other words, Jack Black may want to stick to comedy.