Question – is it wrong for you to boil a goat in its mother’s milk?

After all, Exodus 23:19 says, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” So, is it unbiblical to boil a goat in its mother’s milk? I know you’ve all been itching to boil a young goat, but you’ve been hesitant because of this command.

Or how about this one: is it biblical to have all male babies circumcised on the eighth day after their birth? Because in Genesis 17:12 it says, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring…” You had your son circumcised on the ninth day after his birth? Oh boy, looks like you might be in trouble.

The question of whether or not something is “biblical” came up last week in my review of Rachel Held Evans soon-to-be-released book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It’s a great question. Does simply being in the Bible make something biblical? The answer to that question depends on how you define “biblical.” If by “biblical” you simply mean “in the Bible,” then, yes, all of the above commands are biblical. But that’s not usually what we mean when we loudly say, “It’s biblical!” Usually we mean, “I must obey this command as a Christian, come heck or high water.”

So let’s lay out some terminology. When I say that a command is biblical, I mean that it applies to me, a New Testament Christian who has been bought with the blood of Christ. I’m sure if I had more time I could come up with a better definition, but I’ve got other stuff to do today, like catch up on the latest cat pictures posted on the Internet.

When trying to determine whether or not we must obey a particular command, we gotta ask at least two questions. The first question is: was this command a universal command given to all the people of God for all time? The commands given under the Mosaic Covenant were only for the people of Israel. They were given to a particular people, at a particular time in history, in a particular geographical location. When Christ came and established the New Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant passed away. As Christians, we are not obligated to obey any of the Mosaic commands unless they are explicitly restated in the New Testament.

However, there are certain commands in the Old Testament that are not associated with the Mosaic Covenant and are still applicable to us today. For example, in Genesis 1, God commanded Adam (and all humans) to be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth. That command is rooted in God’s plan for creation, not a particular covenant or people.

The second question to ask is: what is the immediate context of the passage? This is where things can get a little bit tricky, and we need to be careful. So, for example, in James 2:24 James says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Well now. That seems confusing. Doesn’t Paul say over and over again that we are justified by faith alone?

Context is key here. As you read the verses before and after James 2:24, you can tell that James is using the word “justified” in a way that is different from Paul. He is not saying that a person is saved by their good works. He is saying that someone who is truly saved will demonstrate their justification by their good works. In a sense, their good works “justify” their assertion that they are truly saved. Context baby. It’s all about context.

We need to be careful when we say something is “biblical.” God cares about carefulness. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some funny cat videos to watch.