Dwelling in the Past: Old Testament Law for New Testament Christians

A book review of Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application by Roy E. Gane (Baker Academic, 2017).

This book considers the question “Is Old Testament Law Relevant for New-Covenant Christians?” Proceeding from the premise that a purpose of Old Testament (OT) law includes revealing God’s characterand creating a model society as a guiding light to the nations, Roy Gane writes 410 pages and answers in the affirmative.He acknowledges problems applying OT law in modern times and provides the context of ancient Israelite legal culture.

Three approaches to applying OT law are discussed:

Radical Continuity Radical Discontinuity Both Continuity and Discontinuity

Thus framed, the Aristotelean golden mean presents itself: there is both continuity and discontinuity between the OT law and New Testament (NT) covenant. Proceeding from OT moral principles one can discern what is to be kept and what discarded, or so the author contends.

Ten Commandments as Enduring

Amongst the materials kept are the Ten Commandments, which are unchangingly authoritative. Per Gane, the first four deal with our relationship with God, the remaining six our relationship with one another. But that assumption helps the average Joe very little in discerning what else in the OT remains in full force and effect. One needs the scholarship of a Professor Gane to sort it out.

Cross-Fertilization

Gane writes that OT laws are from God. This reviewer takes a less pious approach and insists, rather, that OT laws are attributed to God. Moreover, morality, language, and law are linked. But it is not a one way street. Our morals mold our laws. And in turn our laws (expressed in words) curb our conduct. There is a cross-fertilization. Our shared values, for better or for worse, facilitate and even require us to enact certain laws. The assumption that slavery was an inevitable if not preordained part of life, for example, led people in ancient times (even those in NT times) to assume its morality, which was reflected in the laws attributed to God.i Whether our morals or our laws came first is akin to the chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Problem of Pain

Theodicy seeks to explain divine goodness and providence in light of the existence of evil. David Hume wrote that “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

These are not idle questions. C.S. Lewis dubbed this the “problem of pain.” His solution in part referenced pain as a natural part of growth and a consequence of God-given freedom. He may have revised his view after his wife succumbed to cancer.

Whence Immoral OT Laws?

With the OT law, we have a somewhat analogous though admittedly different conundrum. We have two presuppositions: 1) OT law is from God and 2) God is of good character. But then the unavoidable question: Whence (from what place or source) come the immoral laws in the OT?

To consider a specific example: If a genuine value found in OT Scriptures is equality of the sexes, as Gane says, then whence all the chauvinistic if not misogynistic OT laws? One must dare to plumb the depths of the patriarchal mindset of OT times for answers regarding what to do with, for example, laws forbidding contrasting fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11), prohibitions regarding cutting one’s hair, dietary restrictions, such as prohibition of eating certain parts of so-called clean meats, legal provisions for determining a woman’s fidelity by having her drink a potion,ii and etc.

To his credit, Gane does not ignore difficulties in OT law, such as:

Permanent Servitude Severity of Punishments Divinely Mandated Destruction of Nations

Critical Assessment

This reviewer finds this book to be a careful and closely reasoned work of scholarship. It is for a niche audience, is conventional in its conclusions, and is a model of misplaced certitude. I still find it instructive and worthwhile reading.

Niche Audience

That the laws of the OT are consistent and coherent is regarded as a truism by many biblical scholars, including Gane. But others consider this assumption little more than a comforting myth.

Is the glass half empty or half full? Is the relationship between OT and NT one of stark contrast or affinity? Continuity or discontinuity? The answer depends on whom you ask.

Every book is written to persuade, but Gane’s book is without question an advocacy piece rather than a descriptive piece. His argument is thus: the OT laws are of orfrom God,iii God is good, ergo (therefore) OT laws are good. QED. Gane’s audience (including perhaps some doctrinal apparatchiks) already believes this, so he finds it unnecessary to examine his premises.

Conventional Presentation

Gane writes that “the Pentateuch [the books of Moses] presents its law as coming from, and therefore endorsed, by YHWH.” He asserts the “NT is the continuation of the OT story of redemption” and that “modern Christians can gain much practical wisdom from the rich and fascinating world of OT laws” – but nowhere are these assertions examined. iv

Gane proceeds methodically and logically from his premises. But his unquestioned assumptions are worthy of a moment of reflection. For example, he writes: “Divine laws came to Israel through an especially transparent and therefore reliable medium because Moses is described as being supremely humble and having a relationship to the Lord transcending that of other prophets…”

Is not this circular (if not self-serving) reasoning, since the citations noted by Gane (Numbers 12:3, 6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10-12) are from books attributed to Moses?

Gane writes that “A moral ‘principle’ is an objective, absolute, changeless truth that governs human nature and relationships. Society corporately agrees on principles….A moral ‘value,’ on the other hand, is a subjective, changeable perspective of an individual or group that has developed from past experiences….”

But how do we know objective from subjective in the Bible, when there is no identification in the text itself? Nowhere does the Bible say “Warning: this particular command is a mere subjective changeable value with an expiration date.”

Gane writes that “Human values are subjective, changeable, and affected by culture; divine values remain constant, although OT law can temporarily constrain expressions of divine values…in order to accommodate human weakness….”

A cynical reader might say this preemptively “explains” what appear to laypeople as immoral laws. Just blame it on the victim — humans compelled God to accommodate human weakness.

Misplaced Certitude

Gane acknowledges that there are apparent “discrepancies between laws” — and he explains this by saying that God “can maintain justice through variable circumstances by giving somewhat different laws to different people for different situations. Thus OT law is dynamic and adaptable rather than static and rigid.” A classic technique of lawyers is turning a weakness into a strength, a vulnerability into something venerable. Gane has done so here.

What if we simply cut the Gordian knot and recognize the plausibility of the Documentary Hypothesis that the Books of Moses were composed by different authors (or groups of authors) over a rather lengthy period of time, thus explaining discrepancies, rather than insisting that the OT Pentateuch (five books of Moses) was written by Moses just prior to his death?

A conservative pastor zealously involved in overseas evangelistic crusades once told me that the “remnant does not wallow in the gutter of modern biblical scholarship.” Oscar Wilde’s retort comes to mind: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” An omnipotent God can manage to convey the essential message, even if it is through a host of anonymous authors gathered in Babylonian captivity redacting their way through the oral traditions handed down over centuries.

With human laws, one can admit without apology that a prior law was wrong and that it is now overruled. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme court overruled Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (“separate but equal” is okay) with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) (“‘separate but equal’ has no place [because] separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”). There is no need to justify the earlier immoral case law.v

Gane writes that the variety of OT laws are a “massive demonstration of the divine character.” But what do we do with, as he puts it, the “especially brutal” OT laws commanding, for example, capital punishment of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18)? Troubling to moderns is YHWH’s fondness for the death penalty — often by burning or stoning. Even lesser punishments meted out by God are barbaric: having one’s hand cut off, being beaten with rods, and debt servitude (slavery).

To this reviewer, the prevalence of immoral punishments in the OT calls into question their divine provenance.

Tolerate vs. Legislate

Gane asks, “How could God tolerate evils such as slavery and polygamy and command cruel punishments, and yet still claim that his moral system is based on love…” (141). Tolerate is an odd choice of words, given that God is the Divine Law giver. His laws do not tolerate but go further: they mandate, legislate, and require, for example, the continuation of slavery and polygamy! This would be like saying Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution merely tolerated but did not legislatively enable the continuing slave trade until 1808.vi

Gane argues that certain OT laws are for all time, whereas other OT laws were merely allowed temporarily by God because of the sinful historical-culture milieu of the time.

Commandments vs. Man’s Commands

The Ten Commandments, for Gane, stand as pillars of enduring divine principles. For example, the Sixth Commandment unchangingly underscores Respect for Life.

But we have to be honest about what this law against murder permitted: you should kill your child for disobedience (Deuteronomy 21:18–20), you should execute your child for cursing (“For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death” [Leviticus 20:9]), you should slay your daughter for her loss of virginity prior to marriage (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), under certain circumstances you should put to death your daughter for prostitution (“If a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute you shall burn her” [Leviticus 21:9]), you could execute your neighbor for gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), you could kill someone whose theology you found unacceptable (Leviticus 24:10-13), you could execute a prophet whose prophecies were unfulfilled (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), and so on and so forth.vii

Gane points to the Seventh Commandment as yet another enduring value and summarizes it as: “Respect Marriage.” But the law’s asymmetrical enforcement and unequal application as between the genders underscores it as a law assuming men are favored. This is because the law is as much about property rights as it is about love and fidelity. Hence its placement amongst laws against theft and coveting property. And Gane recognizes the property aspect of the marital relationship: “A man who seduces and has sex with an unbetrothed virgin causes economic damage to her family (among other things). Once she has lost her virginity another man who might want to marry her will not pay the bride-price for virgins.”

The Bible never specifies what the other damages are to her family, never discusses consent when it comes to sex, always portrays fornication or sex outside of marriage as harmful to the property right of a male, whether the husband or the father. An example of this is the bizarre biblical “solution” to rape where one option is to have the rape victim marry the rapist! (Deuteronomy 22:28). The Bible never asks whether the rape victim or the unbetrothed heretofore virgin consents.viii Servant concubinage is mentioned, but Gane likewise explains it away as God allowing for human weaknesses and moral failings. Men, especially powerful men, have always assumed certain privileges. Non-consensual sex did not begin with Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced American film producer. Even after having sex with his wife’s slave, Hagar, Abraham is admonished not for the nonconsensual intercourse but for doubting God’s provision for an heir.

Redemptive Trajectory Only in Hindsight

A theme of Gane’s is that enduring principles are at least hinted at in the OT and brought to greater fruition and fulfillment in the NT. But is this true? For example, where is freedom of religion even faintly hinted at in the OT? Today religious liberty is espoused as a core value of God, the heart of the Great Controversy. God does not cajole or coerce worship.

And yet OT laws concerning rival religions make clear that religious freedom is not contemplated, let alone safeguarded: those who worship differently are to be killed.ix One would think that an enduring, unchanging principle of divine law would include the notion that we love rather than hate, and err on the side of sparing rather than taking life, even toward those who worship differently. And yet the OT law exhibited just the opposite, especially with the prevalence of the death penalty as the preferred default punishment.

At the risk of gainsaying Gane’s redemptive trajectory in the OT, this reviewer suspects that such trajectory is imposed rather than discovered.

Love Clear at Calvary, Not in the OT

And how does Gane conclude his book? “Our study of OT law,” he writes, “has shown that the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] exemplifies the great principles of love for God and for other human beings, which Jesus affirmed and which also for the foundation of the rest of the OT law.”

But a review of just a few of the Ten Commandments suggests that even this most cherished summary of OT law is not without its cultural indebtedness.

The core problem with Gane’s book is his unexamined assumption that OT laws come from God. Is it hubristic to suggest to Gane that one ought not fear the possibility that some of the laws in the OT are man-made? Calvary shows that God permits Godself to be vulnerable, perhaps even to countenance sincere but imperfect followers to attribute to God ungodly laws. Perhaps epistemological humility requires this possibility.

Cognitive Dissonance

F. Scott Fitzgerald said a first-rate intelligence can hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time. Here, those propositions are that all laws in the Bible are God’s laws and God is all good. But what do we do with the OT, since it is God’s law? Gane suggests that over time the OT laws paint an ever-fuller picture of the character of God.

Laws as Humanity’s Mirror

Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker, has suggested that each generation of historians conveys the Jewish past in a way that is indebted to, bound up with, and reflective of its vision of the Jewish future. Our laws are similarly influenced by the lawmaker’s vision of the trajectory of a community.

If you have not noticed, this reviewer suggests that the Bible’s presentation of God’s laws is likewise beholden to its particular understanding of God. When God was seen as a victorious king, mighty in the ways of the contemporary kings, God’s law reflected that view. When God was seen through the visions of the prophets and their social concerns, God’s laws reflected their view. In the time of Christ, when seen through the sacrifice on Calvary, God’s laws reflected the compassion of Jesus. Post-Calvary, we have seen and heard things not previously seen or heard. It does not make us better; it only gives us a different vantage point. We benefit from humankind’s slow and often painful learning of lessons from the Beatitudes and the meditations on the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no shame in saying that old understandings of law however sincere were simply mistaken. We all have our own ways of dealing with cognitive dissonance.

As with the Supreme Court overruling Plessy v. Ferguson with Brown v. Board, we too can simply admit that there were immoral laws in the OT which never were and never will be reflective of the character of God. But for Gane this is verboten.

To allow consideration that particular OT laws were immoral and not of God is to let the inmates run the asylum. But how does declaring all OT laws to be from God solve this problem? We are all inmates. We are creatures of our time and place, immersed like fish in a bowl not fully aware of the water within which we swim, live, move, and have our being, to paraphrase St. Paul.

In conclusion, Roy Gane has written a commendable work of biblical scholarship. His erudition and research are beyond contestation and his argument is logically valid, which is not necessarily the same as true. Gane’s conclusions are sound — if you accept his premises.

Notes & References:

[i] How we all wish Paul sent the runaway slave Onesimus with a letter to Philemon declaring with no uncertain terms that Christians do not own slaves and that Philemon was forthwith to free Onesimus from slavery, as was his Christian duty. How different our world would have been! Instead, Paul gave Philemon an option – which was used for the next two millennia to justify the holding of slaves by Christians.

[ii] “Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries” (Numbers 5:19-22, NIV).

[iii] It is not clear which Gane actually argues. The phrase made of is utilized when the material of which the subject consists does not substantially change during the process of making the subject. For example, a wooden table is made of wood. Or a cheese sandwich is made of cheese and bread. The phrase made from is employed when the material of which the subject consists is transformed in some important way during the production process. Hence paper is made from wood. Or cheese is made from milk. Thus, words can have precision but can also be ambiguous. One might think of laws of God being laws dictated verbally of God, no change being made during their transmission. Whereas laws from God may be filtered through culture, language, historical context and be less than a faithful verbatim transcription of the communication from the divine. The Bible does not tell us which is, in fact, the case. One simply assumes one or the other and proceeds from the assumptions.

[iv] Gane cites the touchstone of Sola Scriptura: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17), but would Paul have applied the status of Scripture to his own epistles, let alone to the Gospels he obviously had no knowledge of since they were likely yet-to-be written and yet-to-be deemed by the Church as authoritative?

[v] Regarding the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and racial segregation, the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson was decided by a 7-1, holding that “separate but equal” public facilities could be provided to different racial groups. In his majority opinion, Justice Henry Billings Brown pointed to schools as an example of the legality of segregation. The one dissent argued against segregation and against separate but equal. Nevertheless, it was the law of the land — for a time. Then came the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren read in open court the landmark decision unanimously prohibiting racial segregation: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

[vi] “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.

[vii] The exceptions to “Thou shalt not kill” are so numerous that they virtually swallow up the rule against killing. Arguably, the prohibition against murder in Exodus 20:13 is self-consistent only if one very narrowly defines murder and meticulously identifies what sorts of killings constitute homicide. For example, you were permitted to kill another person simply for having sexual intercourse with someone of another nationality or tribal community! (“He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the [foreign] woman's stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped…” [Number 25:8: NIV]). God did not merely tolerate the killing but here required this lawful killing in order for the God-caused plague to end.

[viii] “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman…” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, NIV).

[ix] “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people” (Deuteronomy 13:6-9, NIV).

David Alexander Pendleton is a partner in the California law firm of Bradford & Barthel, LLP, and before that he served as an elected state legislator, a policy advisor to Hawaii’s Governor, and an administrative law judge for the State of Hawaii until his retirement in 2014. His opinions are not necessarily shared by Spectrummagazine, his law firm, or the State of Hawaii.

Image courtesy of Baker Publishing Group.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/node/9025

Dr. Alden Thompson (Walla Walla University) wrote the book Inspiration (published 1991) in which he discusses OT law. His conclusion was that “the one, the two, and the ten” are meant for all time. He proposed that other OT laws may have been applicable at one time, but not necessarily today.

I have never known of a completely honest Christian who could claim that they really obey ALL of the OT laws. Nor have I known one who can satisfactorily explain to me which ones they believe are applicable and which are not any longer.

Inspiration remains a fundamental(ist) challenge to Christians. Each of us must decide for ourselves how we understand inspiration, and thus the Bible. I propose, though, that we honestly acknowledge that 1) God never directed that “the Bible” be compiled; 2) its books were written over thousands of years; and 3) the Christian Bible is a compilation of writings whose inclusion was determined by bishops by about the 4th century — although there is still not consistent agreement on which books should belong in “the Bible”.

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As much as I admire Dr. Gane, I think his absolute rejection of any type of documentary hypothesis and his unwillingness to consider other models of divine inspiration other than a unilateral thought/verbal model make his work unhelpful.

To understand why, consider the following question: “Have there been, and could there be, political/social situations in which mass genocide of all residents of a particular society (i.e. the Amalekites) is morally required?” To be consistent with his hermeneutic, Gane has to answer “Yes.”

If this is true, we are cooked. Ethics as a discipline is over. Traditional Adventists have often feared the onslaught of “moral relativism,” but with this type of hermeneutic, we have practically the same thing. Anything can be permitted, provided you have the right context and God wants it.

Why can’t Gane change his hermeneutical principles? Of course, he is in the seminary, and thus must maintain his hermeneutic in order to avoid GC censorship. I believe they also had to sign an oath of loyalty to certain theological premises. I honestly think that’s why he and others like R. Davidson are such geniuses–they have to do all their work with both of their intellectual hands tied behind their backs.

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I have not read this book written by my good friend, but I offer these observations in the hope that they might be helpful:

  1. This book is most probably a work of theology written by an exegete. Theology is a subsidiary discipline of hermeneutics, (by which I mean “general hermeneutics,” which we have known hermeneutics to be since Schleiermacher, and not mere hermeneutica sacra). Exegesis is theology’s limited, though valuable, contribution to the hermeneutical endeavor.

  2. Application of the biblical text is not informed solely by theology but also by history, anthropology, sociology, law, and the other human sciences that reside under the umbrella of hermeneutics. In other words, application of the biblical text is a hermeneutical question. Accordingly, whether we should obey a particular OT law is not a question that a theologian, drawing solely on his or her theological expertise, can answer.

  3. History teaches us that all knowledge is of a historical character. Our values, attitudes, modes of reason, notions of truth, and the texts we read (including the biblical text) are all historically conditioned. God’s written and spoken word is historically conditioned, because He has inserted Himself in our time and space. In other words, God’s thoughts are not the sole cause of His word. The historical context is also a proximate cause of His word. God’s word is an alloy of His perfect and holy thoughts and the historical context of sinful humanity. Accordingly, we cannot say that Scripture sets forth universal, transcendent, and absolute truth. But we can say, because God is a proximate cause of Scripture, that Scripture sets forth historically-conditioned truth, which is significant and meaningful.

  4. So how can we determine whether God’s truth for the ancient Israelites is His truth for us? This question necessitates an anthropological and sociological analysis of how our society and culture compare with the society and culture of the ancient Israelites. Our analysis will note incongruences and commonalities and will recognize that God’s word is not only conditioned by the historical context but confronts and challenges the historical context. We must ask ourselves, “What would Scripture say if it had been informed by our historical context rather than the historical context of the ancients?”

  5. Most theologians erroneously presuppose that Scripture sets forth universal, transcendent, and absolute truth and that such truth is not conditioned by the historical context but merely clothed by the historical context. These theologians then endeavor to divide Scripture and separate the naked truth from the clothing. This endeavor is gross hermeneutical error.

  6. With respect to biblical law, such endeavor is undertaken for the purpose of supporting a characterization that some particular laws are universal, transcendent, and absolute. The default position of a theologian (and anyone else for that matter) who does not understand law is legal formalism. So we see Albrecht Alt dichotomize OT law into apodictic law and casuistic law. We see our Seminary theologians trichotomize OT law into moral law, civil law, and the ceremonial law. We see traditional folk Adventists dichotomize biblical law into the Ten Commandments and other laws we may or may not need to keep. Whatever covenant the particular law may be under is another formalistic distinction that is made. What God commands and what He permits is another formalistic distinction. But legal formalism is problematic, because it has been rejected as a viable approach to understanding law for well over 100 years. There is an impressive body of literature that establishes the non-viability of legal formalism. In short, we can quickly note the following: Apodictic law is casuistic and casuistic law is apodictic. Law cannot be trichotomized into moral law and something else, because all law is moral law per se. Law given to the nation of Israel cannot be trichotomized into civil law and something else, because all law given to the nation of Israel is civil law per se. There are subsets of law, such as ceremonial law, torts, sexual offenses, etc., but ceremonial law is most certainly moral law and civil law. Changes in society and culture encompass much more than a change in a divine covenant. There is no realistic distinction between what God commands and what He permits. What is most important is not the law on the books but the law in action; legal realism predominates over legal formalism.

Thank you for reviewing what I perceive to be an important and fascinating book that we all should read.

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It seems to me, logical, that when we read Jesus’ declaration “A new commandment I give you” we should maybe pay attention; and when, in the Sermon on the mount, Jesus states “it has been said, but I say…” we should also make a point to listen.

The ten commandments were specific to the needs of the Hebrew, newly freed, slaves. They apparently needed 40 years to get themselves to the point that they were able to form a nation and function as one. Of course the principles of the TEN are based on, what Jesus called, the great commandment - love God and love your neighbour.

Adventist teaching about the law is based on the Sabbath, almost exclusively. Institutionally, nobody pays attention to the other nine commandments - nor can anyone claim they keep them all as they should. Even the Sabbath has various laws connected to it which we ignore. We have made up our own “unofficial” laws governing how we should “keep” the Sabbath - never completing the requirement of that commandment that it be “kept HOLY”. I would challenge anyone to describe their Sabbath keeping as “holy”.

There is no directive IN THE BIBLE to separate “moral law” from “ceremonial law”; but we need to do that so that we don’t participate in all the ceremonial washings and purification ceremonies; plus all the other laws associated with the various “holy days”. We pick and choose what laws we keep.

None of the laws we can coerce ourselves to “keep” are really worth anything (Jesus called them filthy rags). We can’t create obedience so it’s a lost cause from the get-go. Paul sees the commandments as a “mirror” that points out our sinfulness. Only the atonement can make anything we do or keep - holy. Only there HS can change our hearts - that are willing to obey anything.

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Most overlooked possessive nouns, they are different commandments…

John 15:10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

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What’s your point? Jesus has different commandments than God, so they don’t count? The Sermon on the Mount internalizes the TEN and changes some of the ones we ignore (eye-for-an-eye et.) Jesus came to reveal God. (“You’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” - “I and the Father are ONE”).

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Mr David Pendleton Esq.

Congratulations! You have created a very critical book review! Presumably you could easily be classed as a fellow doctrinal apparachik with our featured author and his work, yet instead you let fly with a host of alien theological presuppositions.

You are seemingly dismissive of the fact that the work you review has been warmly embraced by four high profile Old Testament Bible Scholars from both sides of the Altantic whose expertise and research is on a par with Roy Gane’s.

  1. Prof Daniel Block, Prof Emeritus of Old Testament at Wheaton College, warmly welcomes Gane’s ‘progressive moral wisdom approach’ and he says “Of books that offer guidance for Western Christians on how to make sense of the Old Testament law, this is the finest… Gane’s concluding summary alone is worth the price of the book.”
  2. Prof Richard Hess, Prof of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Denver Seminary has concludes that the book is “a great introduction to the subject of Old Testament law, a thorough review of the major approaches and interpretations of law to the New Testament and to Christians today.” (Cf Pendleton’s critique of the volume which is hyper critical of Gane’s very standard theological presuppositions).
  3. Dr Christopher Wright, leading Evangelical Anglican academic, London missiologist, and biblical ethicist concerned with the Old Testament in particular, welcomes this book as “an excellent guide for all who want to take the Torah as seriously as Jesus and Paul but struggle to know how they can.” (Cf Pendleton’s willingness to challenge Gane’s positive embrace of the Torah in an engaged way).
  4. Prof Bill Arnold, Prof of Old Testament Interpretation at Ashbury Theological Seminary praises the volume as “a sure guide to developing a mature and nurturing understanding of Old Testament law. The author’s ‘progressive moral wisdom’ approach is firmly rooted in sound hermeneutical method.”

Here we have it - Gane’s offering of a concluding summary of his topic, a moderate but entirely appropriate application of law to both the New Testament and to Christians today, a taking of the Torah as Jesus and Paul do, and a maturing and nurturing understanding of OT law which is rooted in sound hermeneutical method.

And what do we get from Pendleton, Esq? A carping critique of Gane’s conservatve presuppositions and premises based on his commitment to the Documentary Hypothesis with the associated conclusion that OT law was not directly conveyed to Moses by God Himself which Pendleton describes as mythic and a concoction of inconsistent and incoherent laws put together over a period of hundreds of years.

Which belief is calculated to mature and nurture Christian experience - Gane’s or Pendleton’s!

Pendleton doesn’t offer much of a summary of the main themes and structure of the book. For example, he doesn’t mention Gane’s development of the ‘progressive moral wisdom’ approach to Old Testament law. Nor does he mention the fact that there is a probing evaluation of this approach to OT law in contrast to its competitor approaches.

Pendleton does give Gane’s work faint praise. He says after concluding that it is “for a niche audience, is conventional in its conclusions, and is a model of misplaced certitude” that he “still find[s] it instructive and worthwhile reading” even “a careful and closely reasoned work of scholarship.” But I doubt that you can have it both ways, Mr Pendleton Esq.

How can Gane’s work be based on a comforting myth fit for doctrinal apparatchiks and still be good scholarship? How can Gane’s work be based on the so-called “circular reasoning” that divine laws were delivered directly through the reliable medium of Moses and yet be good scholarship. (Pendleton reasons that this such an assertion is less than believable since it originated with Moses himself). Accordng to Pendleton, Gane’s work dispenses with the Documentary Hypothesis as sufficient explanation for the OT laws and instead seeks for a misplaced certitude concerning them. Further, Pendleton asserts that Gane does this while flying in the face of the evidence. “The prevalence of immoral punishments in the OT calls into question their divine provenance.” Gane has an answer for this line of reasoning that Pendleton rejects. It is that God provides justice in differing circumstances by instituting differing laws ie. OT law is dynamic and adaptable. How can Gane require a misplaced certitude in the origin of OT law and yet still have provided a work of careful and closely reasoned scholarship?

Finally, Pendleton appears to reject Gane’s approach to theodicy, though Gane has been careful to derive his understanding from the Scripture itself.

I believe that Gregory Boyd has outlined a helpful contribution regarding Biblical theodicy. He says, "The intellectual problem of evil constitutes the single most difficult challenge to classical-philosophical theism… No single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time and ink than this one… There is a serious and fundamental problem with the way the problem of evil has been formulated in the classical-philosophical tradition. (God at War, p.43,44). Previously Boyd had summarised his argument with this tradition - “The problem of evil that New Testament authors grappled with was simply the problem of overcoming it. The problem of evil we Westerners usually grapple with is the problem of intellectually understanding what we rarely seek to overcome.”

Surely Adventists of all Christians (and the Pentateuchal scholars among us most of all) should have a wise approach to the subject of the uses of OT law for Christians today. As Prof Daniel Block has suggested, Gane’s concluding summary is worth the price of the book. I got my copy of this book most of a year ago. I can vouch for this. My copy remains within 12 inches of my study chair.

NB It is time to give Roy Gane a right of reply to this book review. Let’s use our best scholars as the God-given resource that they are.

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Perhaps a 410 page book on New Covenant law is called for and why our abiding in Christ and His abiding in us is the answer to a law that has lost its glory. Law kills. The Spirit of the Living God is our only hope. Our Lord is the Spirit and that means liberty not condemnation.

I particularly like Sirge’s initial comments. We live under a new covenant of grace and the challenge is to discover what that means for daily living.

Why would we choose a life of living by law we cannot keep when we have Christ through His Holy Spirit living in us 24/7?

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Ray,
Point taken! But the Spirit of the Living God still invites us to learn from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Roy Gane has done a superb job of this as well he might. His Adventist credentials and his academic training in the Penteuch should set him up for this.

Read especially p. 400ff of the book as I have it open right next to me. Here Gane asserts that "Jesus’s teaching concerning obedience provides a foundation for addressing five common misconceptions, which the following sections of this conclusion will adress.

  1. Christians who are saved “by grace … through faith … [and] not a result of works” (Eph 2: 8,9) do not need to keep God’s law.
  2. Obedience to God’s law is too difficult.
  3. Christ’s commandment to love one another supercedes OT law, except perhaps the Ten Commandments.
  4. Genuine obedience is unthinking.
  5. Concern for obedience to God’s law is legalism."

It’s not my point. Jesus said it so it is His. I was sharing it as it added to yours…

OK, let’s have the Adventist twist on 2Cor. 3:7-13:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, … how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope,we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sos of Israel wouldn’t look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.

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I find so much discordance/dissonance in the OT, not to mention the grotesque, gratuitous violence/savagery/barbarity/brutality/cruelty, that I regard the entire compendium as an ABOMINATION.

Like Grimm’s fairy tales, not appropriate bedtime story material for innocent little lambs.

If Hollywood were to accurately film the OT narrative, it would be both R and X rated.

Not the least bad optic, would be watching the destruction by drowning, of an entire planetful of innocent animals. Not to mention, the murder of millions of innocent domestic animals, in mindless temple rituals.

The glorification of human trafficking, including the FOUR HUNDRED YEAR god ordained enslavement of the Israelites, by the Egyptians, is untenable. Would FOUR DECADES not have been enough??

Many of the mosaic laws are so obtuse/opaque/inane, their derivation is un decipherable, such as the weird injunction not to wear clothing comprising two different fabrics!

For me, the only REDEEMING fragments of Scripture, are the four GOSPELS.

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The reviewer, who has been critical and yet generous in spirit, would easily, I imagine, apply Heb 1:1-3 to the tasking of interpreting the OT. It would be harder for Roy, whose book, I gather, does not really face the moral repugnance of some parts of Holy Writ.

If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, as the book of Hebrews also says, then God can NEVER have commanded genocide. To think of stories that suggest this as mere divine accommodation to human stubbornness stretches credulity to the breaking point. And if it were true, it would become a moral duty to leave off worshiping this God.

But I am harsh. I fully agree with the suggestion that Roy, who is a very sharp and well-meaning scholar, should be invited to respond to the review.

Chuck

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:cricket: :cricket: :cricket:

I think Allan should weigh in on this too. It’s been mentioned before, but let’s try again. What say you, Allen?

@ajshep

@Sirje
@c_scriven

Thanks to both Sirje & Chuck!

Thanks Chuck. Please can the editors of this blog note well!

Sirje,
How do you respond to Christ’s response to the Devil - "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Surely this suggests that we still can learn from the Torah.

I thought Adventist theology had a divinely given and enlightened perspective about both law and gospel from which Adventists can do battle against the almost wholesale contemporary Christian dismissal of the Old Testament as a living and vital document of divine origin. Yes, the glory of the Torah fades in comparison with the glories of the good news of Christ and His kingdom.

Prof Roy Gane in his outlining of the ‘progressive wisdom’ approach to understanding and applying Old Testament law for use by Christans today is not alone in doing this. His fellow scholars, a Mennonite, an Evangelical Anglican and a United Methodist have promoted the value of this volume, while at the same time doing much work in the same vein. The Jubilee Centre at Cambridge is another fascinating example of a think tank and Christian social reform organization committed to doing Biblical thinking for public life, by seeking to apply the principles of OT law and ethics to contemporary society. On their website an interdisciplinary team of British scholars seek to build up God honouring ways of living in contemporary society, all based on biblical principles of OT law and ethics.

Chuck

Pendleton frankly acknowledges Gane’s efforts in facing “the moral repugnance of some parts of Holy Writ.” Our reviewer says of Gane, “To his credit, Gane does not ignore difficulties in OT law such as permanent servitude, severity of punishments, divinely mandated destruction of nations” (emphasis original).

You appear to be hinting that the acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis is the most appropriate way around the “moral repugnance of some parts of Holy Writ.” I do not accept the Documentary Hypothesis as a worthy option providing for the construction of the Pentateuch. Even Christ himself accepted the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch. Should we do less?

It may well be that Barna Magyarosi’s doctoral thesis Holy War and Cosmic Conflict in the Old Testament From the Exodus to the Exile is “the most incisive biblical analysis of these issues available in the scholarly world.” (Richard Davidson in review of Magyarosi’s work).This work has been published in 2010 as part of the Adventist Theological Society Dissertation Series. It may assist us in putting the OT and some of its more unsavoury parts in a most helpful context. At least, it has for me! Magyarosi is presently Executive Secretary of the Inter-European Division of the General Conference of SDA’s and was one of the two Inter-European Division representatives on TOSC.

Magyarosi made several conclusions as to the nature, purpose, limits and function of holy war which I will briefly review below.

  1. The image of God the warrior and the concept of holy war should be viewed against the backdrop of the cosmic conflict between good and evil. Divine intervention in holy war is the historical manifestation of the cosmic conflict. Holy war was simply the intrusion of eschatological ethics into history. This whole motif of Yahweh as warrior becomes a prefiguration of that ultimate victory of God in ending the conflict with evil. Holy war is part and parcel of that same conflict and is an anticipation of God’s end-time judgement against evil.
  2. One major purpose of Holy War was to offer the people of Israel a context where their identity could take shape. The original intention of the Israelite conquest of Canaan was that the Canaanites immigrate beyond the borders of Canaan. Only after rebelling against this divine plan did they suffer the divine terrors.
  3. God’s initial plan concerning holy war did not include the physical involvement of Israel in warfare. The battle belonged to God. On account of Israelite unbelief, participation in war became a test of Israel’s faithfulness. Yet God always reminded them that the outcome of the battle was in His hands.
  4. The concept and practice of total eradication of a people group or nation must be seen within the big picture of divine conflict with cosmic forces of evil where his character and reputation were at stake. There must never be any neutrality in reference to evil. God uniquely delegated the execution of part of divine judgment to His people, Israel. This happened as part of the theocracy, limited to a certain period of history ie. the Conquest and to the well defined geographical area of ancient Canaan. God’s decision to destroy the Canaanites was not arbitary or nationalistic. The Israelites who adopted their lifestyle were to suffer the same fate. Further, individuals could still move from one side to the other.
  5. The OT history is one where, different from all other ANE people, the Israelites experienced the reversal of holy war ie. God fought against them and not for them in allowing their enemies to oppress them.
  6. One can see the whole concept of holy war in the light of God’s activity as Judge. They were never imperialistic wars of self aggrandizement and glory. Rather, they were intended to establish justice and peace. Therefore at the heart of the concept of holy war is the reality of God’s rule and His soverignity. This is what the imagery of God as warrior is all about. God will not tolerate oppression of the weak, injustice and rebellion forever. Rather, he remains committed to implementing, stabilizing and maintaining the rule of law. The wars of Yahweh are God’s ways of bringing justice.
  7. Holy war is therefore intrisically related to the problem and solution to sin, and more than mere military confrontation. It involves Yahweh’s character and reputation. On the one hand, God offers forgiveness of sin through sacrifice. On the other, He wages war against sin. Thus holy war breathes a message of hope to humanity. Evil will finally be eradicated.

All of the above conclusions of Dr Barna Magyarosi lead me to repeat the assertion of Gregory Boyd that the problem of evil must not be defined as “an intellectual problem to be solved rather than a spiritual opponent to be overcome… Whereas the New Testament exhibits a church that is not intellectually baffled by evil but is spiritually empowered in vanquishing it, the Western tradition has more frequently exhibited a church that is perpetually baffled by evil but significantly ineffective in and largely ineffective toward combating it.” (God at War pp. 21,22.).

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Our knowledge re: the “Ten Commandments” may be ignorance. I’d like to implore comment on the following discoveries:

  1. The so-called TEN COMMANDMENTS of Exodus are exclusively aderessed to the Israelites.
    FIRST COMMANDMENT (So called)
    I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.3 Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. (Ex 20:2b,3)

So this is actually a treaty between Yahweh and the tribe of Israel. If commands are not addressed to us, nothing we do is obedience to them–or disobedience! I can’t obey God’s purported commandment to Abraham by murdering my son or disobey it by choosing not to.

a) James and Ellen White always misquoted the “first commandment” by removing the first 22 words (verse 2) whenever they quoted these commandments. Is that fair?

b) Having removed the evidence that this was a private covenant between Yahweh (the Suzerain of the First Part) and Israel (the Vassal of the Second Part), James and Ellen boldly announced that this was a covenant between the Lord and ALL mankind. Does the Bible say that?

c) And, as we all know, they proclaimed that it was the pope who “changed times and laws” (not they). I don’t think they ever said which pope or when or how. Is that fair?

  1. The Book of Exodus never calls the Ex 20 commandments, “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”.

No big deal? Then check this out: Exodus DOES call the commandments of Ex 34 “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. After reciting an entirely different covenant, a virtually secret passage says:

_And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. _
And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. (Ex 34:27,28)

This is the first time the words “TEN COMMANDMENTS” occur in the Bible and the only occurrence in Exodus. (They do not occur anywhere after Sinai.)

SHOULD WE CLAIM THAT WE ARE THE KEEPERS OF “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?” (Granted, we don’t seethe kids in their mothers’ milk). Or that Rev 14:12 is even talking about the TEN COMMANDMENTS?

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Ellen White in Acts of the Apostles page 502 makes this statement. The law, obeyed, leads men to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Titus 2:12. In verse 11 Paul tells us that it is the grace of God that has appeared, bringing salvation to all men and then follows verse 12.

Who should we believe. Ellen White or Paul? Can we reconcile the two statements? SDA theology from its inception has been built on the law. It is a mix of two covenants, the old and the new. Grace and law are not synonymous, they are mutually exclusive covenant issues. Either grace gives way to law or law gives way to grace when we try to mix the two.

Paul’s advice to Timothy was that the law is good on one condition and that is that we use it lawfully. Paul was clear. It’s time we realised the fact that law is not made for a righteous person. It’s made for those who are lawless and rebellious etc, the unholy, the profane, etc, etc. 1 Tim 1:8-.

“In the spiritual as in the natural world, obedience to the laws of God is the condition of fruit bearing. And when men teach the people to disregard God’s commandments, they are preventing them from bearing fruit to His glory. They are guilty of withholding from the Lord the fruits of His vineyard.” COL 315.

This is a compelling statement until we read Romans 7. Verses 4 to 6 are very revealing. When we die to the law we are joined to Christ so we can bear fruit. Unless we abide in Christ, the Vine, we can do nothing. There is one source of fruit bearing under the new covenant and it is not by obedience to the law. Sinful passions are aroused by the law and this works in us to bear fruit for death. Maybe we should take these verses more seriously before we try to unravel the rest of Romans 7 and get tangled up with the law…

Sirge has already drawn attention to 2 Corinthians 3 which rarely if ever surfaces in SDA discussions about the law that I can find. There seem to be good reasons for this.

Is it Christ or Law or both? Paul makes it clear. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Remember, the law is not for the righteous. We have the Spirit of Life dwelling in us. I contend that this is an infinite and glorious source of righteousness that totally eclipses any glory that attended the giving of the law on Sinai.

I would suggest that the only safe way to study OT or old covenant law is from the foundation of a clear understanding of the height and depth and length and breadth of the new covenant of love and grace by faith in Christ. This can only come through the death and resurrection of Christ and from the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

The Old Testament with all it’s laws and statutes could but dimly point forward to the infinite realities of love, grace, forgiveness, cleansing, righteousness, holiness, rest, peace and eternal life found only in Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant.

It is the cross that gives meaning to the New Commandment that Christ gave us. It is Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection that teaches us what it means to love one another as Christ loved us.

I have deep respect for those who are able to make a serious study of the Old Testament, its teachings and its laws. However, my personal preference first and foremost is to make the New Covenant the centre of my study. This can shed some light on the difficulties experienced by those living under the old covenant. But, I’m thankful for the light of truth revealed by Christ and that He commissioned the Apostles to expand our understanding of His deep love for us all.

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I love what you say of the New Covenant. The gift of the Spirit is the greatest of gifts eclipsing all others.

I find your love for the New Covenant, and dismissal of law puzzling. In the NC, God writes his laws on our hearts. Do you trust the inner light to such an extent that you do not wish an external standard with which to compare it.(Subjective vs Objective truth)? The Spirit leads where it will, and even spoke to Abraham one night to go sacrifice his son, a violation of the law. But Abraham was a man of deep faith and experience, and knew the voice of God. And in the end, he keep the 6th commandment fully. No one else has been asked to do as he did.

The Spirit is what enables us to do God’s will, and submit to his ways. The Law points to that way, even as Jesus spoke on the Sermon on the Mount regarding the law.

I really like your emphasis. But I think your dismissal of law is a bit too far.