Suffice it to say that today's article would be a great beginning point in the postmodern Christian's understanding of how the OT might relate to the NT. However, at first blush it would seemed that there may be a few more things going on here than we might currently admit. Mostly, we must think about why certain societal rules or cultural norms appeal to us. A postmodernist will question everything, and one of the things s/he must question is ourselves, then our social group, our church fellowship, and lastly our society.
But rather than saying everything is relativistic we should be asking how the Bible might help illuminate us as we find ourselves in our time-and-place when re-enacting God's great love that He has shown to us through His Son Jesus. Not judgmental love even though proper love will judge both its challenger as well as its motivation to meet that challenge. But to love in the sense of bringing peace and justice, reconciliation and purpose, back into a person, a situation, or a society. Even so, it must all begin with Jesus even as He questioned everything, teaching an ethic that stood everyone on their head, and spun them around in their thinking, from what they thought He might say to what He was actually saying TO THEM.
Further, a good historian of the Bible knows that ancient biblical culture - both in the OT as well as in the NT - are mostly lost to us in the sense of knowing how people thought and behaved back then. Oh yes, we can make our conjectures based upon our comparative readings of ancient histories, but most of these histories were written much later after-the-event-had-occurred! Even in the Bible's recorded histories by the biblical writers themselves as they too wrote from their cultural-and-historical perspectives (sic, via an enculturated boundedness, personal biases and judgments). In its present form the Jewish OT was written in the Second Temple era from records as much as a thousand years earlier, many of which had been lost to time and inattention. Truly, we mostly are at a lost as to what people were thinking back 2000 years ago (the NT period), let alone 4000 years ago (the Torah period).
Which also gets us to the idea of remembering that language by its nature is both fluid and ambiguous. Even today, amongst our literate societies news-events are continually questioned as to their correctness of interpretation! Whether they are punning towards a particular view, outcome, or bias - or whether, it is in sincere search of the truth - our words carry multiple meanings to multiple hearers and societies. How much more than has the church done the same with its own ancient records and traditions as demonstrated by the vernacular speeches and commentaries held forth by today's current crops of Christian writers, pulpiteers, and media outlets? Words carry meaning. But they also carry ambiguity. Words are not mathematical symbols with strict mathematical properties. The best words of poets know this. And those kinds of lucid poets will write in a way that will carry an idea as expressed in a poem on many levels of meaning to many kinds of ears and eyes. Even in the church's traditional creeds we find our postmodern thinking wanting more (or less) when reading those grand confessions of faith. Especially when couched in the newer terms of process theism, relational thought, open theology, and the emergent strains of radical theology in its pithy cores and poignant questions to Christianity's truer meanings.
For all these many reasons, and many more, today's articles by Christianity Today and Scot McKnight make for a great beginning point of conversation. But not an ending point. Why? Because CT's expression is couched in the church's traditions and classical creedal expressions. Whereas McKnight's is showing a more nuanced reading of those traditions and expressions which may help guide the street-level Christian in his/her's reading of the OT. But still, we may push forward by asking even more questions. Questions of our preferred hermeneutical interpretation of the Bible: whether it pushes us far enough from our comfort zone, or if whether it keeps us too smugly wrapped up in our biases and bigotries towards those whom we should share God's love with. Whom we should advocate and mediate justice for. Whom we should forgive and reach out to. If whether we might lay down our religions clubs and shields long enough to work together in irenic debate and peaceful argumentation.
At the last, it is a beginning point. And hopefully, as we have discussed here at Relevancy22 in previous articles about the Bible and biblical interpretations, we might have been asking the hard questions of how we might discover Paul's readings aright in light of his Jewish orientation and not his Calvinistic or Reformed interpretation that we have covered him in. Or his Americanized, Western dress that we see Paul in. But not only must we learn to rethink the OT, so even must we learn to rethink the NT. When making our brazen speeches that "Paul said this or that" we may only be marking ourselves by our own (biblical) shortsightedness to what Paul may or may not actually be saying (or not saying!). Issues of gender equality, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, political rightness, poverty, victimization, and injustice continue to challenge us by God's Word. Let's just say that it would be a fearful thing should Jesus return today within our lives and churches. Just how many of our judgments and biblical assurances might you think remain?
In Paul's day, even this great Rabbi of the Jewish faith (I'm speaking of the Apostle Paul) found his faith impoverished, his ideas conflicted, his ministries oppressive, his love hardened before he met the Resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road. An experience that burned up the chattel of his life and reapportioned his livelihood to the re-righting of his earthly calling to public ministry. A ministry of love-and-reconciliation rather than of one of oppression-and-judgment. So too must we each must be confronted by our own Damascus Road experience beginning with how we might skew (or unskew) our interpretations of the OT text and NT principles we think we understand today in the postmodern sense. No, we do not speak of a relativism, but of a loving God's guidance of His church to err on the side of love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. To do all in the name of Jesus as we are able or gifted by our separate callings. No more, and no less. And to abandon our guilt, and the oppression of our conscience, by taking all to the Lord as He gives us insight into our lives, our calling, our purpose here in this life when confronted by the crucified Christ.
At the last, how did Jesus answer his accusers? To Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. And to Love your neighbor as yourself. Even so may this be prayer and admonition be in our lives this day, as difficult as it is. As challenging as it can be. To do good to everyman... and even more, to love in the power of the Holy Spirit by God's grace and mercy, peace and forgiveness. May this be so for you as God gives you strength and confession, repentance and trust. Amen.
July 25, 2013
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Chris Wright on Old Testament Law and Today
by Scot McKnight
Jul 25, 2013
But just as well, we should never say, “Oh, we don’t bother with those things because they are just Old Testament rules.” There are principled reasons why Christians not only need but also should not observe certain Old Testament laws simply as written. And regarding two kinds of law, the New Testament itself provides those reasons.
The sacrificial laws: The New Testament makes it clear that the religious system of temple, altar, animal sacrifices, priesthood, and the Day of Atonement has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ through the Cross and Resurrection. He has accomplished once and for all what that great system pointed toward. The Book of Hebrews stresses that, whether we are Jewish or Gentile believers, we must not go back to that system, because we already have all that it represented through Christ’s sacrificial death and ascended life in the presence of the Father.
The food laws: The distinction between clean and unclean animals and foods was symbolic of the distinction between Israel as God’s holy people and the Gentile nations (Lev 20:25–26). In the New Testament, that separation is abolished in Christ, as Paul says in Ephesians 2. Through the Cross, God has made the two cultures one new humanity. And as Peter discovered through his vision in Acts 10; before going to the home of the Gentile Cornelius, what God has called clean should no longer be called unclean. Today some Messianic Jewish believers choose freely to observe the kashrutregulations as a mark of their Jewish community and cultural identity. But in their unity, believers are free from food laws.
But just because we no longer keep these laws literally does not mean they can’t teach us anything. We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in the service of God. We are called to offer the sacrifice of praise. We are called to cleanness of life in a corrupt world. In fact, if we are tempted to mock Jewish fastidiousness over kosher food in the kitchen, we might ask if we have any sustained commitment to the moral and spiritual distinctiveness that the New Testament upholds.
We can find principles even in Israel’s civil laws to apply today. The urban Christians in Corinth did not see oxen grinding corn in their city houses. But when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he took an Old Testament law about allowing working oxen to be fed from the product of their labors (Deut 25:4) and applied it to Christian workers in Corinth. He sees a principle in the case law—originally meant for the benefit of animals—and applies it to working humans. The principle: Work deserves reward. Later he applies another commandment about how manna was to be collected (totally irrelevant to Corinth, you might think), and applies it to the principle of equality between Christians (1 Cor 9:8–10; 2 Cor 8:13–15). These are biblical examples of creative application of biblical laws in nonliteral, but very appropriate, ways.
Additional Comments from Scott McKnight:
In Blue Parakeet, I advocated that we learn to read Moses’ laws as God’s ways in Moses’ days, and it seems Chris Wright gets close to this view by advocating a hermeneutic of questions that then get re-asked in our day:
The best way to derive principles from the Old Testament law is to ask questions. All laws in all human societies are made for a purpose. Laws happen because people want to change society, to achieve some social goal, to foster certain interests, or to prevent some social evil. So when we look at any particular law or group of biblical laws, we can ask, “What could be the purpose behind this law?” To be more specific:
● What kind of situation was this law intended to promote or to prevent?
● What change in society would this law achieve if it were followed?
● What kind of situation made this law necessary or desirable?
● What kind of person would benefit from this law, by assistance or protection?
● What kind of person would be restrained or restricted by this law, and why?
● What values are given priority in this law? Whose needs or rights are upheld?
● In what way does this law reflect what we know from elsewhere in the Bible about the character of God and his plans for human life?
● What principle or principles does this law embody or instantiate?
Now we won’t always be able to answer these questions with much detail or insight. Some laws are just plain puzzling. But asking questions like these leads us to a much broader and deeper grasp of what Old Testament laws were all about: forming the kind of society God wanted to create.
Then, having done that homework as best we can, we step out of the Old Testament world and back into our own. Ask the same kind of questions about the society we live in and the kind of people we need to be, and the kind of personal and societal objectives we need to aim for in order to be in any sense “biblical.”
In this way, biblical law can function sharply as a paradigm or model for our personal and social ethics in all kinds of areas: economic, familial, political, judicial, sexual, and so on. We are not “keeping it” in a literalist way like a list of rules. But more important, we are not ignoring it in defiance of what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. We are studying and using it as guidance, light for the path, in the joyful way of Psalms 1, 19 and 119.