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Old Testament – Law

 Authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays begin the chapter by presenting the problem of interpreting the Old Testament Laws. “[T]here are numerous Old Testament laws that we as modern Christians violate with some regularity,”[1] they write. Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits women from wearing men’s clothes and vice versa. Leviticus 19:28 prohibits everyone from getting tattoos. So how should we interpret the hundreds of laws presented in the Old Testament? In order to answer this question, Duvall and Hays point out that there are two contexts at play: the narrative and covenant context.

Narrative Context: “The Old Testament legal material does not appear by itself in isolation.”[2] It is embedded into Israel’s history as a nation and therefore is part of the theological narrative describing God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt into the Promised Land.[3] The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are part of the narrative of the Israelites’ deliverance and journey in the desert to Mount Sinai. The laws found in Leviticus are presented as part of a dialogue between God and Moses. Numbers describes the events taking place during the Israelite’s forty year journey in the wilderness; and its particular laws are also tied into this narrative. Deuteronomy is essentially a series of farewell speeches by Moses, also presenting legal material within that context. We must understand that the law is part of the story and, therefore, the story “provides an important context for interpreting the law.”[4]

Covenant Context: Under the broader category of the covenant context, Duvall and Hays offer five things to consider. First, the law is intertwined into the Mosaic covenant, which provided the blueprint as it were by which Israel could claim and live in the Promised Land. Second, blessings and punishment were conditional to Israel’s obedience to the covenant (see Deuteronomy 28). Third, the Mosaic covenant is no longer in play (see Hebrews 8-9). Fourth, this means that the law presented to Israel in the Old Testament is not applicable to Christians today (see Galatians 3:24-25). Fifth, “We must interpret the law through the grid of New Testament teaching.”[5] In other words, the Old Testament legal material is an outworking from God’s moral character and still contains principles and lessons for living that are relevant today.

So how should we go about discovering these principles and lessons? The Interpretive Journey as presented here and here.

Check back next week for Chapter 20: Old Testament – Poetry.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 355.

[2] Ibid, 358.

[3] Ibid, 358-359.

[4] Ibid, 360.

[5] Ibid, 363.