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God's Law; Your patient teacher (Index thread)

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posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:02 PM
The laws of the Pentateuch offer a dilemma to Christian thinking.
The Jews can accept their authority, and unbelievers can reject their authority, but the Christian is caught in the middle.
On the one hand, these laws have been received along with the rest of the Old Testament as part of the Christian scriptures.
On the other hand, according to Paul, the Christian is not to live under their authority as laws.
Yet they can’t be ignored altogether.
So what use can the Christian make of them? What function do they have in the Christian faith?

The object of the present series was to answer that question by examining the laws for evidence about the character of the God who endorsed them, complementing the information found in the rest of the Old Testament.
This gives them a purpose which is relevant to Christian teaching.

The key to my approach has been the premise that these laws have a mixed origin.
They rest on a stratum of human law, but they are modified human law.
Obviously this amounts to a compromise between the traditional view that they came down from God in their entirety, and the modern sceptical view which treats them as the products of human culture alone.
It must be frankly accepted that many features of these laws do show the influence of human fallibility.
If we want to see God at work in them, we must look for the signs that the laws have been raised above this original level.

In that case, the task must be to try to discern the difference between these two elements in the law, the “human element” and the effects of God’s influence.
It might then be possible to separate them out.
That was the object of the threads in this series, looking at different aspects of the Law.

Following my custom, I’m now completing the series by offering an Index thread, to tie them all together and help readers to find their way around them.

There will be eight further posts after this one;

1 ) The Index itself.
This will summarise the content of each thread.

2) The character of the Law
A summary of the basic principles of the laws, drawn from the observations made in each thread.

3) God’s character in the Law.
Following on from the previous post, this attempts to answer the basic question of the series, namely what the laws are revealing to us about the character of the God who endorses them.

4) The Code of Hammurabi- similarities
A survey of the common features of these laws and the Babylonian law
That illustrates the extent of similarity between the Pentateuch laws and the laws of other human societies, and so helps to identify the “human” element in the laws.

5) The Code of Hammurabi- differences
A survey of the different ways in which the Pentateuch departs from Babylonian law, by making substantial changes, by making substantial omissions, or by the addition of new features.
These differences may provide clues in identifying the more specific input which may be attributable to the Biblical God.

6) Your patient teacher
This analogy attempts to answer the question raised by the presence of the “human element” in these laws, viz.;
Why should the Biblical God confine his intervention to “modifying” the human laws, instead of removing their imperfections altogether?

7) Discharged from the Law?
Considering the arguments for Paul’s claim that the Christian has been released from the authority of the written law as found in the Pentateuch.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in other words, the Christian may attempt to discard the more “human” element in these laws and seek out God’s real intentions.

8) The curse of legalism
Some observations on the way the church has found it difficult, in practice, to live up to Paul’s radical rejection of “living under the law”.

Similar Index threads to a number of completed series dealing with other parts of the Bible can be found at these locations;

Song of Solomon

1 Corinthians



edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:03 PM

The starting-point of any system of law has to be the judicial process.
Therefore the series began with;

Settling your disputes

This looks at the instructions about arranging to have good judges.
Also the demand that accusations should be supported by sufficient witnesses, and the warnings against untruthful testimony.

There followed a group of themes looking at relations with neighbours.
These themes run into each other and could have been combined, but the divisions between them were imposed by the need to keep threads within the 7500 characters allowed by ATS.

Your neighbour's goods

This theme deals with the need to respect the property of others in goods and animals.
So it covers the penalties for theft, and the rights of a man who leaves his goods in the safe-keeping of a neighbour.
Other regulations govern what happens when animals are borrowed (for work in the fields).
People are also expected to help take care of wandering animals belonging to their neighbours or even their enemies.

Your neighbour's field

These laws deal with the damage which may be caused when people, animals, or fires wander across the boundaries between fields.

Your fighting bulls

These laws cover the problem of aggressive oxen which attack other oxen or even people.

Your duty of care

This thread brings together a number of miscellaneous laws without any other connections.
The main common factor is that they all demand care on some point of detail, the objects of care varying from blind people to nesting birds.

Then there was another group of themes looking at aspects of “family law”.
The divisions between them, again, are largely imposed by the character limit.

Your wife

Laws on the subjects of adultery, suspicion of adultery, and divorce.

Your daughters

Daughters are also covered by the laws on adultery, because they are expected to be faithful to their future husbands.
Another section of the law outlines the punishments which will be imposed upon men who are guilty of rape.
The law describes rape as an act of violence which can be compared with murder.

Your sons

Sons are brought into these laws partly as the heirs of the family, and partly as young men who might be disobedient to authority.

Your family's land

The family depends, for support, upon its plot of land, and these laws try to prevent the land being permanently lost to the family, either by marriage or by debt.

The poor always with you

Following on from the previous theme.
These are the laws which allow gleaning, impose restrictions on pledge-taking, forbid interest to be charged on loans, and place a time-limit on debts.

Your slaves

Again, following on from the previous theme (since many slaves will have sold themselves to cover their debts).
Laws regulating the treatment of slaves and imposing a time-limit on debt-slavery.

Fighting your neighbour

Violence against neighbours.
The penalties for causing injuries which fall short of death.

”You have just been murdered”

Violence against neighbours, continued.
This is mainly about defining the boundary-line between murder, which carries the death-penalty, and “manslaughter”, which does not..

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:03 PM
The character of the law

The purpose of each thread in the series was to look at the question “What do these laws say about the God who endorses them?”
I was hoping to answer this question by looking for the basic principles which underlie the detailed laws found in the text.

The first and most obvious conclusion was that this God wants his people to live at peace amongst themselves.
This follows from the fact that he appoints ways of settling disputes, as an alternative to settling them by violence.
There are the laws themselves, seeking to promote peace by providing solutions to contentious problems.
And there are the procedures, including a system of judges, which help to solve disputes as they arise.

Looking at these procedures, they speak of a God who wants his people to be treated justly.
So he wants the justice system to be organised with some efficiency, for “justice delayed is justice denied”, as the maxim says.
What little we know of procedure suggests a care to protect the innocent, with many attempts to discourage false accusation and warnings against corrupt justices.

I suggested that some of these laws are about helping to maintain social stability, by preserving the structure of the family.
That’s part of the purpose of the laws against adultery (maintaining the marriage relationship), about obedience to parents (maintaining social authority), and setting up rules of inheritance (fending off disputes).

Many of the laws endorsed by the God of Israel imply his concerns about how his people should treat one another.
So he demands that they should have respect for each other’s goods.
There should be no theft, no misappropriation, no damage caused by malice or neglect.
But in these laws as well, he remains intent on protecting the innocent from false accusation.

There is a basic principle at work that people (and their goods) should not be damaged by the malice or neglect of others.
That is why there are laws governing the conduct of owners of neighbouring fields, and laws promoting a sense of responsibility for the behaviour of domesticated animals.
At the same time, these laws accept that owners can’t be blamed for events beyond their control, which is another aspect of protecting the innocent.

Obviously the principle that people should not be suffering from the actions of others will be even more applicable in the cases of direct violence.
Hence the compensation which is demanded when people are injured.
It seems that the normal practice, in cases of murder, had been to allow the family of the victim to seek vengeance (or compensation).
In the laws of the Pentateuch, the family’s vengeance is permitted, but carefully regulated.
This dampens down the danger of perpetual feud, which is another sign that this God who wants his people to live at peace with one another.
The exile of the accidental killer contributes to this, because it allows time for the vengeful passions to die down.
And the regulations also allow room for the protection of the innocent, which means, in this case, those without harmful intentions

The protection of the innocent is one aspect of concern for the weak and vulnerable.
This can be seen in an number of other ways.
In what is obviously a very paternalistic society, these laws are doing much towards the protection of women.
When women are suspected of adultery or pre-marital un-chastity (which is seen as a form of adultery), the law offers procedures by which they can show their innocence.
The law on the subject of rape insists that the victim of rape is to be regarded as the victim of an act of violence, like the victim of murder.
There are laws to regulate the treatment of enslaved women who have been taken as concubines, and protect them from abuse.

Concern for the weak and vulnerable also extends to the protection of the poor.
Hence the laws which insist on the right of “gleaning” for food.
Since the poor are likely to fall into debt, there are laws to protect the dignity of those giving pledges for their debts, and a remarkable law which bans the charging of interest on loans.
Debt is also limited by the national “release” from debt which takes place every seven years.
The Jubilee laws help to ensure that the land which supports the family, even if it has been sold to cover debts, cannot be permanently kept away from the family.
All these laws show an interest in making it easier for poor people to maintain themselves and live.

The laws on slavery are part of the same theme, since Israelites would become slaves, if at all, by being sold to pay their debts.
Thus there are laws to protect them from physical abuse, their time of service is limited like any other kind of debt, and their master must let them go with gifts from his own wealth to help set them on their feet again.

This God likes to take the sense of “care for the brother”, which belongs to the kinship system and extend it more widely to cover the whole nation.
On that basis, he imposes an obligation to give positive help to neighbours and even enemies, when their animals are found wandering, or otherwise in difficulties.
It’s also the argument used in banning interest and trying to discourage them from treating their own people as slaves at all.
In fact he likes slavery so little that he even forbids the return of fugitive slaves to their masters.
Meanwhile the more literal “kinsman” is expected to be the agent of the wider family in redeeming family members enslaved because of their debts, or family land lost for the same reason.

All these laws are well summed up in the single command which Jesus quoted as representing the meaning of the rest of them;
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:03 PM
God’s character in the law

I’ve already looked at the basic principles implied in the laws of the Pentateuch.
The next stage, then, is attempting to assess what they reveal about the God who endorsed them.

We can see how much they say about the way he wants his people to treat one another.
He wants them to live at peace amongst themselves.
He wants them to treat one another with justice and truth.
He wants them not to injure one another, whether by malice or even by neglect.
He’s anxious to protect the innocent from being falsely accused.
He’s anxious to protect the weak and vulnerable.
He wants them to treat one another as “brothers”, as if they were close kin, and to extend the same care even to their personal enemies.
In short, he wants them to love one another, and says so explicitly.

This, in turn, indicates how much he loves them, as his people.
It’s worth noticing that his care for the well-being of individuals extends to small details.
They include injunctions against fraudulent weights, against defamation, against mistreatment of vulnerable people such as widows and orphans, or the blind and the deaf, or hired servants, or aliens.
They even look to protect animals, such as oxen or wild birds.
So this is not a remote God, but the kind of God who could care about the death of a sparrow or number the hairs on a man’s head.

There are two particular areas where he seems to make demands for his own sake, not just for the sake of his people.
I’ve already suggested that the laws on marriage could be explained by the need for a stable society, and the same need would account for the laws on murder.
In both cases, though, the Biblical God is taking a much more direct and personal interest.
He makes it clear that he has a high regard for the importance of marriage, and keeps it under his own protection.
Thus the teaching in the law is that the land is “defiled”, in the sight of God, by the different ways of taking sex outside marriage, including the use of harlots.
It is an “abomination”; that is, an act of unfaithfulness towards God.
He attaches the same high value to human life.
He puts it under his protection, to the extent that the land is “defiled” when life has been taken without his consent.
The common factor in these two themes may be the Biblical understanding that the God of Israel is the source of life.
Then the laws on marriage and the laws on murder will be expressing the fact that the production of new life and the protection of existing life are both under his jealous care.

The many resemblances between these laws and the laws of other societies are also instructive.
There is no need to flinch from the conclusion that this God is willing to work with human law and take it as a starting point.
So much so that some of these laws conflict with his final intentions, as Jesus himself observed.
This can be seen by comparison with the principles found elsewhere in the Bible.
The example given by Jesus was the conflict between the permission to divorce and God’s intention, as expressed in Genesis, that marriage should be a permanent bond.
He explained it as a concession to their “hardness of heart”; the people had not been ready, at that stage, to live up to the standards which God really wanted from them.
This also accounts for the law’s acceptance of multiple wives and concubines, which meets the same objection.
The same can be said about laws which apply the death-penalty in ways which conflict with the fundamental principle of “life for life”.
Other features of Israelite law clearly have their origins in the human culture of the time, such as the male domination of society, the acceptance of slavery, and the failure to extend the concept of “brotherhood” beyond the nation to include the human race at large.
These features might be regarded as the more “human” element in the laws of the Pentateuch.

All the way through this series, I’ve been arguing that this God’s willingness to compromise with his people in the laws he allows them can teach us something about the way that he works.
It shows us a God who deals with people as he finds them.
Instead of making a completely fresh start, he takes the customs that they’ve got already and allows time to change them in a gradual way.
He is prepared to deal with people in ways they can understand, before trying to lead them further.
In my mind, this way of working shows him to be a God of patience as well as a God of love.

We ought to take note, finally, how at least two of the teachings which become vital in the New Testament period are quietly embedded in these laws.
One is the concept of the “redeemer”, the one who can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
This idea is foreshadowed in the law on debt, in the form of the “kinsman”, who redeems land lost to the family and redeems the slave.
When Paul describes human life before the arrival of the gospel as "I am carnal, sold under sin" (Romans ch7 v13), he is using the metaphor that life is under a spiritual burden which is comparable to debt-slavery.
So when he says that Christ has "redeemed" us (e.g. Galatians ch3 v13), he is using the same metaphor.

The other is the concept of substitutionary death, a death which takes away the need for someone else to die.
That’s foreshadowed in the law on murder, in the form of the High Priest whose death allows the “accidental” killer to return home, an act which would otherwise entail the killer’s own death.
Then we can read in Paul’s letters that we are released from “the curse” imposed by the Law, because Christ, in his death, has taken the curse upon himself.
In other words, the effect of the death of Christ was to remove from us the condemnation which we would otherwise have suffered.

In short, it’s possible to recognise, even in these laws, the God who can be found in the teaching of the New Testament.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:04 PM
The Code of Hammurabi- similarities
All through the series, I’ve been comparing the laws in the Pentateuch with the equivalent laws found in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.
There were sometimes no equivalent laws, for one reason or another, but a number of interesting similarities could be discovered.

Most obviously, the fact that Babylon has a judicial system.
Which wants to avoid the problem of bad or corrupt judges.
And makes a point of punishing those who make provably false accusations against other people.

On the subject of the rights of property, the most obvious similarity is the punishment of thieves, by means of fines.
Under both systems, the killer of a night-burglar is not punished.

There is an elaborate set of laws about leaving property in other people’s care, so that owners can be compensated if their goods are lost or misappropriated.
And another set of laws covering the loss or injury of borrowed work animals.
Another concern is that a man’s field should be protected from grazing animals and other kinds of damage.

In the field of “family law”, both codes provide death penalties for adultery, and an “ordeal” to test the good faith of women suspected of adultery.
Divorce is allowed.
Both codes demand the death-penalty for the man who rapes a betrothed woman.
There are punishments in both cases for a son who is violent against his father.

Inheritance of property is mainly on the principle of equal division between sons, together with some provision for a father to give an extra portion to a favoured child.

Physical injuries are punished by inflicting similar injuries on the culprit.

And it’s reasonable to assume that Babylon has laws of some kind on murder (since part of the text of the Code has been lost).

Some of these similarities might be explained by the direct influence of Babylonian culture on Israelite lawmakers.
The other obvious explanation is that similar social needs (like the protection of persons and
property) demand similar remedies.

It has to be said that these similarities, demonstrating the common ground, will justify the claim that the laws of the Pentateuch are based upon human law.
But that conclusion will still be consistent with the premise I’ve been adopting, that the laws of the Pentateuch are modifed human law.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:04 PM
The Code of Hammurabi- differences

All through the series, I’ve been comparing the laws in the Pentateuch with the equivalent laws found in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.
There may be many similarities, but the comparison also throws up some very interesting contrasts.

Not all of them have any great significance.
Water, for example, plays a much greater part in the Babylonian laws. Damage to fields is more likely to come from water than from fire. “Ordeals” and death-penalties are carried out by throwing people into the river. Obviously this aspect of their laws is conditioned by the physical landscape.

Nevertheless, when we shift from one set of laws to the other, we do find a number of changes which add up to a substantial difference in tone.

Comparing the systems of justice;
Babylon relies heavily on “ordeal” (by jumping in the river) as evidence against defendants.
Israel, of course, insists that an accusation should be supported by additional witnesses.
Under Babylonian law, if you make a successful accusation against one of your neighbours, you will receive the money from the fine which is levied on him.
If the other man is given the death-penalty, you can take over his house.
This looks like a positive inducement to press false charges.
Nothing like that appears under Israelite law.
The effect of these differences is that the law of Israel defends the innocent more effectively than the law of Babylon.

On the subject of the rights of property;
The law of Babylon deliberately imposes the death penalty on any man who breaks into someone else’s house.
There’s also the provision that a man who steals the goods of his neighbour while helping to put out a fire will be thrown into the same fire.
Whereas the law of Israel makes a point of exempting the killer of a burglar from “blood-guilt” only if the event took place at night.
If a man is convicted of stealing animals, the law of Babylon imposes a much heavier fine than Israel does, and also puts him to death if he cannot pay.
So the Israelite law shows a respect for the life even of a thief which is not evident in Babylonian law.

Both sets of laws have rules to deal with disputes which might arise when goods have been left in another man’s care.
Both laws, in certain circumstances, allow one of the disputing parties the right to be believed after taking an oath.
But Hammurabi gives this advantage to the man who makes the deposit, while Israel offers the same advantage to the householder who receives the deposit.
In other words, once again, the law in Babylon has a greater interest in protecting the owner of property, while the law in Israel makes it easier for the man who is innocent of wrong-doing to defend himself.

It’s noticeable that the punishments in many of these laws are governed by social status.
Thus the man who steals from royal or temple property is punished more severely than one who steals from an ordinary free man.
And again, the compensation for inflicting injury varies according to the relative social status of culprit and victim.
There seem to be at least three social levels above the status of slave, including the freed man, the ordinary free-born man, and the free man “of higher rank”.
If you make the mistake of mutilating one of your social superiors, then the penalty imposed will be much more severe than the Pentateuch’s “eye for an eye”.
This feature is not present in the Israelite system. Except in the status of slavery, which is supposed to be temporary, the “brethren” of Israel are taken to be “equal under the law”.

Apart from these variations, the most revealing differences between the two systems of law are the omissions of the Code of Hammurabi, compared with what can be found in the Pentateuch.

They show that the lawmaker of Babylon doesn’t have the God of Israel’s interest in encouraging mutual help among the “brethren” and protecting the weak and vulnerable.
There is no equivalent of the Pentateuch’s demand that men should give voluntary assistance to their neighbours and even their enemies, when their animals go astray or find themselves in difficulties.
He offers no laws to protect the poor, like the Israelite laws on gleaning and pledges.
Nor does he attempt to forbid interest on loans.
There does not even seem to be a general law on the subject of rape.
That is to say, Hammurabi demands the death penalty for adultery, and the death-penalty for the man who rapes a betrothed woman, but I could find no law at all which identified the rape of an un-betrothed woman as any kind of crime or offence.

Similar differences can be found in the laws relating to slaves.
Babylon has elaborate laws demanding the return of fugitive slaves, whereas Israel has a law forbidding them to be returned to their masters.
There are no laws in Babylon like the laws in Israel, regulating the treatment of slaves, protecting them from physical abuse, even offering goods to help set them up again at the end of their time of service.
In short, while Israel has laws aimed relating to the welfare of slaves, the only laws on the subject in the Babylonian code are concerned with protecting the investment of the purchaser.

The God of Israel takes a personal interest in the maintenance of marriage.
He regards other kinds of relationship, including adultery, as offences against himself, which “pollute” the land.
However, there is no sign of any similar attitude in Babylonian law.
What we find, instead, is an elaborate set of rules about financial arrangements; what happens to the woman’s dowry and the husband’s property, if the woman leaves her husband or is divorced or is widowed with young children.
Marriage, in Babylonian, is much more frankly a business matter.

Finally, the God of Israel makes a claim on human life, which makes murder, once again, an offence against himself which brings pollution to the land.
The Babylonian laws on murder may well be in the portion of text which is missing.
However, the other extant laws show no great respect for the value of human life.
We may guess, then, that Babylon is likely to treat murder as a secular affair, like marriage.
Possibly, like many early societies, they regard it as an offence against the victim’s family, and allow the family to seek vengeance or compensation.

On the one hand, then, Babylonian law has a fairly single-minded interest in the protection of property.
In the law of Israel, on the other hand, this interest is balanced and moderated by concern for the protection of the innocent, and active concern for the protection of the weak and vulnerable.
And only in the law of Israel does the people’s God place the value of marriage and the value of human life under his own protection.

These results are consistent with the premise I’ve been adopting, that the laws of the Pentateuch may be based upon human law, but they are modifed human law.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:05 PM
Your patient teacher

I am the son of two schoolteachers and the grandson of a third.
I may have mentioned this before.
This provides me with a very accessible analogy for the way God approaches the question of giving laws to the people of Israel.
He behaves like a teacher.

A good teacher is always conscious of the capabilities and limitations of his pupils, and he tries to give them teaching at the appropriate level.
He talks to them in terms which they will be able to understand, and sets out to improve their understanding in gradual ways.
If their reading abilities have taken them to the end of the first of the “Janet and John” books, then he offers them the second book.
If their mathematical skills have taken them as far as adding up and “taking away”, then he might begin showing them how to multiply and divide.
What he’s not going to do is start scribbling Einstein’s equations on the blackboard.
Teaching is not about “zapping” people with instantaneous advanced knowledge (except in science fiction stories).
It is the slow and patient work of gradual training.

We find a similar patience in the way the God of Israel deals with his people.
Thus his intention for marriage was that “a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Genesis ch2 v23).
Yet in the Old Testament laws he accepts, for the time being, the practice of divorce, which Jesus blames on “the hardness of their hearts” (Matthew ch19 v8).
And why does God allow them to fall short of the intended standard?
Because their minds are not yet ready for the intended standard.
They are still in training.

He finds this people living in a very patriarchal society, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to change it at a stroke.
He modifies their behaviour gradually, beginning with some mild restraints on the husband’s power.
He finds them owning slaves, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to abolish the custom at a stroke.
He modifies their behaviour gradually, providing slaves with some legal protection, and trying to discourage them from enslaving their own people.
He finds them loving their brothers and other kinsmen and encourages them to treat the rest of the nation in the same way.
However, they are not yet ready to extend the concept of “brothers” to the world at large, so that part of the training is postponed for a later stage.
He finds them offering animal sacrifices, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to abolish the practice at a stroke.
Instead, he gradually changes the meaning of the word “sacrifice”, giving it a more and more metaphorical interpretation, and waiting until the more literal sacrifices can be brought to an end by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
And he finds them engaging in war, just like all the other societies around them.
But in this case, too, it takes time to wean them out of it.

In short, what we see in the laws of the Old Testament, and in the overall history of the Old Testament, is the slow and patient work of gradual training.
God does not “zap”. He teaches.

When modern critics are assailing the laws and the culture of the Old Testament, this is precisely what they are complaining about.
They don’t think God should have been giving his people this patient teaching.
They think he should have “zapped” them , instantly, to a state of spiritual maturity comparable to their own.
If they had been in God’s place (and they would certainly have done the job better) they would have “zapped”.

The God of the Old Testament is much more patient than they are.
He finds his people at the “cuh-ah-tuh-CAT” level of spiritual education, and he lifts them gradually.
A lot of work will be required before they can reach the kind of spiritual heights from which these critics can look down haughtily at the junior versions of themselves.
The fact that God is willing to undertake this slow and patient work is very revealing.
It shows us that God is a teacher.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:05 PM
Discharged from the Law?

The attitude of the Christian church to the laws of the Pentateuch is based on the teaching of Paul;
“But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit”- Romans ch7 v6
In other words, this law belongs to the past, and not to the present time.

This can be justified in a number of ways.
For one thing, as I keep observing, these laws were not designed for the modern world.
They were clearly designed for a different kind of world, a mainly agricultural society.
Just one practical example will be enough to make the point;
The law on rape involves the assumption that “A woman who calls for help in the city will receive help quickly”.
I believe this was a valid and a reasonable assumption in the time when it was made, because it was made in different social circumstances (with smaller towns).
Obviously it’s not a valid assumption at all in modern cities, and it can’t be applied in modern cities without creating injustice.
I doubt whether even the Jews can apply these laws in the modern world, without a certain amount of tinkering.
For this reason alone, they would need to be revised.
They can only be “God’s laws” for a period of Israel’s history, rather than for all time.

Paul says that the purpose of the Law was to be our “schoolmaster” (AV), our “custodian” (RSV), “like a slave serving us” (Jerusalem Bible) until Christ came.- Galatians ch3 v24
These various translations are rendering the Greek word PAIDAGOGOS.
The PAIDAGOGOS was a family slave entrusted with the daily guardianship and education of a child.
He was a male version of Mary Poppins, except that he had a lower social status (even lower than the status of a real Victorian governess, who would normally be paid less than a good cook).
His disciplinary methods might be very harsh, because a slave might not otherwise find it easy to hold the attention of the free-born son of the household.
But the child was released from the slave’s charge, of course, once he came of age.

So Paul’s meaning is that the Law was a system of discipline which held God’s people in a kind of servitude.
It had a necessary but temporary function, preparing them for adulthood, but once they had reached adulthood they were released from its control.
The moment of adulthood is to be identified with the arrival of Faith, which replaces the Law, and their “adoption” in Christ (ch4 vv1-5).

I’ve been using the “teacher” analogy myself, but in a different way.
In my version, God himself is the teacher (more in the style of a modern professional educator), and the Law is part of the teaching material which he’s using.
But this version of the analogy leads to the same conclusion, because the teaching material used in the modern classroom varies according to the age and circumstances of the pupils.
The books used in the infants’ class are not the books used in the university lecture hall.
I’ve heard a physics graduate complaining that he had to re-learn the laws of physics at every stage in his education.
In the same way, the guidance which God gives to his people might be expected to change according to the level of their spiritual growth as well as the condition of their society.
The pupils move on from the elementary material to the more advanced material.
That is, in Paul’s terms, they move on from the Law to Faith.

The Law which Paul is rejecting is the written code, published in the name of Moses.
Other parts of the New Testament show greater respect for the law, but on closer examination it’s not clear that the law they want to keep is the same law which Paul is rejecting.

Thus James, for example, tells his readers about the need to keep “the whole law”.
However, he seems to understand this law in terms of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which sits in the background of everything he says.
He’s quoting the commandment which Jesus quoted, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
He calls this “the royal law”, in most translations, though I’ve argued elsewhere that the Greek really means “the law which belongs to the Kingdom”.
He also uses the very suggestive phrase “the law of liberty”.
Paul says that we have been “made free” from the law, and I’m inclined to think that James has coined this semi-Pauline term to mean much the same thing. “The law of liberty” is not the written law (which is not liberty), but a substitute for the written law, to be found perhaps in the teaching of Jesus. (James ch2 vv8-12)

Jesus himself appears to take a firm stand when he declares that the law will never pass away.
At the same time, though, there are details in the written law which he’s unwilling to endorse.
He asserts that the permission to divorce was in conflict with God’s real will, and only allowed because of their “hardness of heart”.
He’s also very reluctant to enforce the death-penalty for adultery.
So perhaps he, too, is thinking in terms of “the spirit of the law”, as expressed in his own teaching, rather than “the letter of the law” which had been given by Moses.

There’s an obvious danger in the idea that the law has been made obsolete, which explains why religious teachers might be reluctant to take that route.
The problem is that people are only too ready to understand “freedom from law” as “freedom from all restraint”, and live accordingly.
That is not what Paul means at all.
In his teaching, our “service” has not been abolished but simply transferred; we are serving under “the new life of the Spirit”, which is a different kind of restraint.

I can explain the difference by use of analogy.
When I was a child, the school taught us how to cross the road safely.
I still remember watching the misadventures of “little Dolly Daydream” (in those days, a projected silent filmstrip with live teacher commentary).
We were expected to cross by following a set of rules;
“Look right,
Look left,
Look right again;
When all is clear, then cross”.
That could be called “the letter of the law”.
Obviously the important point here is the basic principle of not running out into traffic.
That could be called “the spirit of the law”.
Now that I’m grown up, I don’t follow those rules religiously (“freed from the law”), but I don’t take that as permission to rush out and get myself killed.
Instead, I live under “the spirit of the law” by keeping my wits about me enough to make sure there aren’t any vehicles coming.
There is still restraint, but a different kind of restraint.

Paul seems to assume that the Christian will be receiving moral guidance direct from the Holy Spirit.
However, the later church has never been able to live up to that standard.
Individual Christians did not feel confident enough to rely on this direct contact, and the church leadership was reluctant to risk leaving them to their own devices.
So the church, in practice, has evolved the compromise theory that the “ritual law” has been abolished while the “moral law” content of the Law of Moses remains valid, especially in the Ten Commandments.
This works well enough as a practical rule of thumb, but it’s not really what Paul means.
He does agree that we should not be committing theft and murder and adultery.
But his point is that we now avoid these things because the Holy Spirit tells us to avoid them, and not because the Law of Moses tells us to avoid them.

We are discharged from the Law of Moses, in every detail
edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:05 PM
The curse of legalism

In connection with the current topic, “legalism” is a failure to recognise that Christians have been discharged from “the Law”.
It clings to the letter of the law instead of moving on to the spirit of the law.

I believe legalism is closely allied with idolatry.
So much so that their roots are intertwined.
They both stem from the human reluctance to part with the concrete.

Idolatry, in the original sense, comes from the human preference for objects of worship which can be seen and touched.
While the mind has a similar preference for ideas which can be clearly grasped and defined, which leads into legalism.

That is why legalism is just as difficult to eradicate as idolatry, and it keeps popping up in religious life.
Thus the Pharisees as observed by Jesus, whose fault was that they focussed on the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law, and so kept missing the point.
If God had told them to keep his laws close to their hearts, they would have taken literal texts of the law and worn them close to their literal hearts.
(He said, in fact, “wear them on your hands and between your eyes”, which comes to the same thing.)

In reaction against the Jewish legalism of his own time, Paul weighed in against observance of the Law, and his view was embedded in the teaching of the church.
Yet in the Middle Ages, legalism was creeping into church life again (partly under the influence of Roman law and the frame of mind which it induced).
It began to govern the church’s management of moral behaviour, which was defined and treated legalistically.

Therefore Luther weighed in against the legalistic focus upon “works”, and tried to pull the church back to Paul’s rejection of the Law.
Yet a candid observer would also have to admit how frequently legalism creeps back into Protestant thinking.
You may find it in Calvinist circles, in any discussion attempting to define the doctrine of “election”.
There is “verbal legalism” to be found wherever Protestants are insisting on the literal truth and meaning of every word in scripture, or on the unique validity of a particular translation, or on a particular form of the name of Jesus.
And it is to be found whenever Christian leaders are searching in the Old Testament for instructions which can be imposed as commands upon Christian people, whether it be the instruction on tithing or the instruction on observing the seventh day of the week.
Such people are missing the point of Paul’s teaching.
We are discharged from the Law of Moses; we are serving in the new life of the Spirit.

edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2014 @ 05:28 PM
All right, thank you for your patience, everyone.
The editing of the extra posts is now complete.

posted on May, 2 2014 @ 02:12 AM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Good Lord

posted on May, 2 2014 @ 05:04 PM
a reply to: randyvs
Thank you for your support.
This was probably the most elaborate Index thread I've put together since the one on Revelation.
The good old days- do you get the impression that there used to be more Christians around on this board?

posted on May, 2 2014 @ 09:07 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

You know I don't care what anyone thinks around here DIS.
I like to speak the truth as I know it, just to see what people
do with it. With that in mind, yes I get that impression. I
got it even as i was posting to your thread. Hearing whispers in
my mind, that I some how knew were the truth.

That I would be your only post.

I don't have a clue what to make of that. But I knew again when
I saw you PMed me.

We are going to see glory.

posted on May, 3 2014 @ 01:07 AM
a reply to: DISRAELI

I cant begin to describe how helpful this was to me.

I just wanted to say that this is a moment of serendipity for me. I needed this and didnt know it.

Thank you.
edit on 5 3 2014 by tadaman because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 3 2014 @ 04:02 PM
a reply to: tadaman
Thank you for your comments.
I'm glad you appreciate it.

posted on May, 4 2014 @ 04:11 PM
N.B. I'm aware that similar questions are raised by the presence of sacrifice and warfare in the Old Testament, but these would need more extensive treatment.
In particular, sacrifice would need a whole series of its own. I'm working on it.

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