What “Living Biblically” Will Probably Get Wrong

This week, CBS launched a new sitcom called Living Biblically. The series, which premiered on Monday, is loosely based on A. J. Jacobs’ best-selling book, The Year of Living Biblically.

The show centers on the life of Chip, played by Jay Ferguson. After losing his best friend and finding out his wife is pregnant, Chip decides he wants to be a better man. Quite serendipitously, Chip turns to the Bible for help.

At one point in the promotional video for the show, Chip is in a confessional with his priest friend, Father Gene. Chip declares, “I’ve decided to live my life 100% by the Bible, to the letter.”

I think the concept of the show is a good one, and it will no doubt attract a sizeable audience—believers and unbelievers alike. However, there is a liability to a show based on the premise of living biblically. If you want to live biblically, then you need to understand the Bible.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t have a good track record in this area. In fact, the trailer is already raising some serious red flags. Here’s one.

The Bible Says

Near the end of the trailer, Gary, who appears to be one of Chip’s co-workers, says, “Hey Chip, I hooked up with this chick, Josie from CrossFit, last night. Hottest caboose I’ve ever seen.” He then quickly adds, “Aside from my wife, of course.”

Wanting to do his best to live according to the Bible, Chip asks Father Gene, “Biblically, what should I do?”

Gene replies, “The Bible says you’re supposed to stone adulterers. Of course, you’re not going to do that in 2017 because of jail.”

In the next scene, we see Chip at a restaurant throwing a stone at Gary, who is on a date with someone who is not his wife.

Thinking Biblically

A show about living biblically should understand a biblical approach to living. If you want to live biblically, then you need to think biblically.

If someone wants to live biblically today, are they obligated to obey the commands given in the Mosaic Law?

Father Gene gets one thing right. The Bible condemns adultery. Furthermore, the punishment under the Old Covenant was death. In fact, the Lord said to Moses, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10).

This was one of 613 laws that were given to the chosen people of Israel through Moses. It is often referred to as the Mosaic Law. This was part of the Old Covenant, which was a treaty made between God and the nation of Israel. God promised to protect and bless Israel if they kept the terms of the covenant. However, if they didn’t, there would be consequences (Deut. 28). Ultimately, the Israelites were to be set apart to accomplish God’s plan of redemption for the world.

But does the Mosaic Law apply to people today? The short answer is, no! No command in the Mosaic Law is incumbent upon us in virtue of being part of the Mosaic Law.

Consider this analogy. If you live in the United States, there is nothing in Canadian law that applies to you. The States have their own laws. There is a law in Canada against murder. It is section 222 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Now if you’re living in New York, then you’re not under this law and its punishment. It only applies to people in Canada. Does that mean you are allowed to murder in New York? Of course not! New York has its own law and punishment against murder.

The Mosaic Law is like a state law. It only applied to specific people at a specific time. People living today are no longer living under the Old Covenant because it is “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). There is a new covenant with new terms. And it includes anyone who puts his or her trust in Jesus.

If the Mosaic Law isn’t binding on New Covenant people, does this mean the Bible permits adultery? Not at all! Under the New Covenant, adultery is wrong. In fact, Jesus raises the moral standard. He says,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:27–28)

Even though Jesus raises the moral standard, He removes the prescribed punishment. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. They say to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:4–5).

Jesus responds by reminding the Pharisees they are just as sinful as the woman. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). One by one, the men leave the woman standing before Jesus. 

Jesus shows that we are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). There is a new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). If the Mosaic Law were still binding, they would have been obligated to stone the adulteress.

But notice how the story ends. Jesus says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She says, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10–11).

So, who was living biblically in this story? Was it the scribes and Pharisees following the Old Covenant, or Jesus?

Jesus doesn’t ignore her sin, but He is quick to offer her grace. This is consistent with His words in John 3: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

Living biblically does not mean following the Mosaic Law. In fact, if someone were following the Law, it would be evidence that they are not living biblically. Living biblically entails thinking biblically. If you want to live according to what the Bible teaches, then you need to understand what the Bible teaches. This includes understanding the Old and New Covenants.

Under the Old Covenant and theocracy, adultery was punishable by death. However, under the New Covenant, adultery is still wrong, but there is no commandment for citizens to punish those responsible.

If the past is any indication of the future, Hollywood will fail to make a distinction between the covenants. But if you want to live, as Chip says, “100% by the Bible, to the letter,” then you cannot only read the Old Testament. The Bible doesn’t end at Malachi.

I’m sure Living Biblically will get some things right, but my suspicion is it will get this wrong. Unfortunately, it’s easier to pull a verse out of its historical and theological context than to think hard about what is really going on.

I hope I’m wrong. Time will tell.

Tim Barnett

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