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Law, What’s it Even Good For

???????????????????????????????So, in a recent post I discussed the church’s first heresy (Judaizers/the circumcision party) who sought to require gentiles to become Jews before becoming Christians, or in addition to becoming Christian, as if a proper expression of Christianity is encapsulated in a fixation on the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law… as if truest God pleasing spirituality is found in clothes, food, dates and rituals.

So what good is the Law to the Christian if the way Israelite and Jewish worshipers seemed to be commanded to keep it in many many texts is not a valid expression of truest spirituality and can be set aside by the gentile Christian according to the edict of the first Christian Council?

Well, I know I wrote it on your behalf, but “set aside” is a poor wording for the relationship of the Christian to the Torah Law codes. What’s needed is not a setting aside of law, but a fuller understanding of law in its role as Christ’s tutor, a tool in bringing the worshiper to Christ, and as an expression of God’s vision for worship and human society.

There is a tension between laws and the rule of law.

Laws… those codes we find explicitly expressed in books like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy are cultural expressions of the rule of law at a particular point in Israelite history.

The Rule of Law is the essence of Divine order.

In a world under perfect Divine order:

  • Everyone would do unto others as they wished others to do unto them
  • Everyone would love God with all their heart, soul, mind & strength.
  • Everyone would love their neighbor as themselves.
  • No laws would be needed.

In a world under perfect Divine order:

  • Everyone would respect each other’s Life, Liberty, Property, Labor & Time
  • Everyone would work hard & honestly to improve their situation while caring for those around them honestly less able to do so.
  • No laws would be needed.

Because the World is Fallen, however, legal systems are needed to check the wicked, to protect the vulnerable, to promote the right vision for society among those whose hearts are unable to see that vision on their own, too blinded by reckless self-interest to find harmony with his or her neighbors without threats and aggressive instruction.

Dale Patrick writes, “Law is the order of Justice & Right to which Individuals & Groups should conform and which judicial authority should enforce.” “Rules will necessarily play some role in this order, but there will also be principles and values, which Form a consistent system, cover all possible situations, and belong to the collective conscience of the community.”[1]

The legal codes of Scripture are not necessarily, in and of themselves, the highest expression of moral virtue, so much as principle based, culturally expressed, struggles to deal with human evil in the pursuit of societal order in the ancient near eastern context in which they were written. Even in Mosaic Law the people are often between a rock & a hard place.

Specific Laws are not always about what is perfect in a given situation, but are often codes within a system of codes for practically administering human evil in the fight against societal chaos within the capabilities of society. Many things are left to be worked out detail-wise with those judging situations… gleaning thoughts about justice from the entire codified system, using wisdom with an ultimate eye on social goals. The code has no explicit mercy unless managed by people of insight who glean wisdom in their function through the larger context of the codes within the rest of Torah, which comprises more than legal codes, which expresses the heart of God toward his people, toward human evil, and toward those trapped in sin.

Paul writes, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:6-7)

And, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:25-29)

And, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

So, what should a Christian do with the legal codes? Try this.

With every single law, ask yourself, “What was this law designed to accomplish in terms of the rule of Law, working as it did in conjunction with all the laws, working as it was intended in harmony with all Torah, laid as it was over the existing systems of kinsman justice that governed these people until Moses arose, given the cultural & economic structures of those people.”

If you can answer that question, you’ll be a lot closer to understanding the spirit behind laws, and less likely to imagine horribly false things about these codes… like the common but misguided claim that God wants women to marry their rapists.

 

[1] Dale Patrick Old Testament Law.

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