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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Three different kinds of Old Testament Law

I confess. I have a Facebook account, and most days, I post a verse or two from my daily Bible reading.

Recently, I posted Proverbs 16:8 Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice. (ESV)

A commenter asked me which injustices the Bible was talking about in Deuteronomy 22.

I attempted an answer, thus:
Thanks, . . .

As I understand it, the Old Testament has three kinds of law, and they generally are not identified as such, namely Civic (such as how to divide the land between the tribes), Ceremonial (such as how to offer sacrifices) and Moral (such as the Ten Commandments, which are, I believe, all reaffirmed in some way in the New Testament. Civic and Ceremonial laws are not required of Christians, according to several parts of the New Testament. The Moral law is.

The first part of Deuteronomy 22 strikes me as mostly Civic -- how to get along with your neighbors, although it might be considered to be applications of the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12, which seems to me to be a moral requirement for Christians. (It's sometimes hard to apply, because we don't always know what would be good for our neighbors, or for us.) I doubt if you were referring to the first part.

The second part of Deuteronomy 22 is various sexual prohibitions. They strike me as applications of the moral commandment of God to avoid sexual immorality.

As I see it, most of Deuteronomy 22 is not about injustices. Justice is important to God, therefore to us, but purity, integrity, and uprightness are also important -- in other words, living a life that pleases God. Although there are some injustices in Deuteronomy 22, such as raping a young woman in a field, much of that chapter is about living a life that pleases God. In other words, that one verse that I quoted doesn't cover all of what God wants us to be.

We can't live a life that pleases God without strongly desiring to do so, and we also can't do that without God's help. We cannot do this in our own strength.

I hope that answers your question. Others might have a better answer.

*    *    *    *

Actually, it turns out that the commenter was accusing God of injustice, but that's another story.


Keetha Denise Broyles said...


Oh my - - - I call that "the dark side"


Keetha Denise Broyles said...

Oh - - - I DON'T mean that as a moral judgment - - - I mean that I dislike facebook for its randomness as much as I love blogging for its magazine-ness.

Greg facebooks.

Anonymous said...

pretty neat evaluation. I would question the idea of there being such a separation of the law. I would probably go with just two at most with some complex cross over in how they are expressing themselves. Sometimes the societal laws are a result of their liturgy, and other times the liturgical laws are the result of the realities in society. Although the separations make it easier, maybe the ancient Israelites didn't look at them this way. Consider it an ancient and modern separation in how we all understand things.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Keetha. Facebook is, or can be, a ministry of encouragement. It can also be an enormous waste of time.

Thanks, superrustyfly. At least two, then, moral and other, other not required of Christians. I prefer to separate civil, because we have so much civil law in our own society. (How to vote, building regulations, etc.)

Pete DeSanto said...

And so none of you are disturbed by the notion of the death penalty as punishment for adultery or being silent while being raped?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete DeSanto.

Blogging being what it is, I don't think the other people above will ever see your comment. I'll attempt a partial answer.

Stoning was a serious, even drastic, penalty for adultery, or for being silent while raped, and I wouldn't advocate it myself. But breaking marital vows is a serious crime, and God prescribed a serious punishment for it. I don't believe that there is any case mentioned in the OT where that penalty is actually applied. It may have been. I don't know. It may have served as a deterrent. I believe in a just God, who has freedom to prescribe penalties, and remedies, for sin.

Jesus prevented the application of this punishment to a woman in John 8. (The Pharisees didn't bring the man involved, for whatever reason.) He also told her to sin no more, and, before His life was over, he had provided His own sacrifice for sin, namely Himself. I also believe in a merciful, loving God.

Do I understand why there was Old Testament law, before Christ came? No, I don't. But I'm not omniscient. I assume that God knew what He was doing, and the reasons for it.

Thanks for your comment.

Pete DeSanto said...

The death penalty does little to deter crime in this country. Why would you expect it to do so millenia ago? Particularly in a population willing to erect idols in place of god? I think the very fact that the populace was so willing to stone the woman for whom Jesus spoke suggests that it was a penalty they had enacted many times.

"I believe in a just God, who has freedom to prescribe penalties, and remedies, for sin." This confuses me. How do you define just? If it is a special characteristic of god, then nothing he does can be unjust. This is a wonderful situation for tyranny! Which is exactly what is described by god's actions and words throughout the bible. I think your first instinct to view stoning as a deplorable penalty for such things (rape victims remaining silent!?) shows how unjust this is.

I guess my larger point is that you have to contort rationality to fit irrational things in your belief. Is it not maddening?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete.

You may be right about stoning many times. Stephen was stoned, for sure. And, yes, the death penalty isn't really a deterrent now -- it's mostly vengeance. I'm not in favor of it in the US.

As I said, and you quoted, I believe in a just God. And, of course, this would be a wonderful situation for tyranny. But I believe that God is worthy of my trust, and, besides, I don't have any say in the matter.

I'm sorry, but I don't feel particularly maddened.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I found it a helpful resource. :D

Martin LaBar said...

And thank you for your comment, Anonymous, whoever you are.