Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians

Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians - Part 1

Is Old Testament Law preoccupied with boring ritualistic trivia that is no longer applicable in 2006?

Daniel I. Block, D.Phil., is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, United States.

Preaching Old Testament (OT) Law generates little interest in our churches, whether they are mainline Protestant or charismatic or fundamentalist or generic evangelical. This aversion toward OT Law arises from a series of myth conceptions concerning the Law. First, the ritualistic myth that OT Law is preoccupied with boring ritualistic trivia declared to be obsolete with Christ’s final sacrifice on the cross. Second, the historical myth that OT Law concerns the times and cultural context of nations so far removed from our own that, unless one has purely academic or antiquarian interests, what it has to say about the human condition is hopelessly out of date. Third, the ethical myth that the OT Law reflects a standard of ethics that is rejected as grossly inferior to the law of love announced by Jesus and the high stock placed on tolerance in our enlightened age. Fourth, the literary myth that the OT laws are written in literary forms that are so different from modern literature that we cannot understand them. Fifth, the theological myth that OT Law presents a view of God that is utterly objectionable to modern sensitivities. So long as these myth conceptions determine the disposition of preachers and pastors toward OT Law, there is little hope that they will pay much attention to those parts of the OT that we refer to as Israel’s constitutional literature.

Contributing to these myth conceptions are fundamental ideological and theological prejudices against OT Law. The essentially anti-law stance of contemporary Western culture may represent the most important factor, especially in our post-Christian and increasingly secular culture. But these will hardly explain why within the church the Law has had such a bad reputation for such a long time. The roots of the aversion to OT Law within the church may be traced back almost two thousand years to the second-century heretic Marcion. Marcion proclaimed a radical discontinuity between Old and New Testaments, Israel and the church, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. In his canon, he rejected all of the OT and accepted only those New Testament (NT) books that highlighted the discontinuity of the church from Israel, which left him with radically edited versions only of the Gospel of Luke and ten Pauline epistles (minus the pastorals and Hebrews). This is not so different from American evangelical Christianity, which bears a distinctly Pauline stamp (cf. the eastern church) and hears only Paul’s criticism of OT Law.

Two streams of antipathy

In western Protestantism we observe two traditional specific streams of antipathy toward OT Law. The first is associated with Lutheranism, with its fundamental Law-gospel contrast. In his discovery of the gospel of grace in his study of Romans, Luther came to identify the ritualism and works-oriented approach to salvation of Roman Catholicism with the OT Law.

In Christ believers are declared to be free from the Law! The grace of the gospel in Christ has replaced the bondage of the Law under Moses. The second is associated with extreme forms of dispensationalism. In its division of human history into seven dispensations, a radical change in the divine economy is seen to have occurred in the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We are now in the church age, which is fundamentally the dispensation of grace, in contrast to the age of Israel, ruled by the dispensation of Law. To these two traditional sources of the problem of OT Law within American evangelical Christianity we must now add a third, more recent development, namely, the influence of New Covenant theology. This movement, which has its roots in Reformed theology but exhibits a radically different view toward the OT than Calvin himself did, insists that since the “Mosaic covenant” [sic]2 has come to an end in Christ, it has no claim on Christians. We are subject only to the law of Christ.3 This dichotomy is remarkable, especially in the face of the NT’s repeated and emphatic identification of Jesus Christ with Yahweh.

Consequently, if one hears preaching from OT Law at all (which is rare!), the preaching tends to take one of three approaches.4 First, since through His atoning work Jesus Christ has abolished the Law as a way of life, OT Law has no bearing on the Christian at all. In fact, the blessed gospel of grace liberates us from the curse of the law (Rom. 3:21; 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Gal. 2:19–21; 3:23–26; 4:21–31; Heb. 7:12). Second, interpreting the word in Romans 10:4 as the “fulfillment” rather than the “end” of the law, Jesus Christ is seen as the culminative fruit of OT Law, and since His righteousness is imputed to us, we are not under obligation to any external code. Third, since the Ten Commandments and some of the ethical injunctions of the Torah are thought to have some binding force on Christians, the operative question with respect to OT Law is, “Do I have to keep this law?” Careful attention is paid to distinguishing among the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws. A fourth theonomist option, which views the OT Law fundamentally to be in force even for the church, receives scant attention these days.

So long as the first three perspectives determine the relationship of OT Law to NT Christians, we can hardly expect to hear much preaching from the Law. But how Christians can tolerate this anti-Law stance remains a mystery to me, especially in the light of Jesus’ own statements that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, and His own declarations of its permanent validity (Matt. 5:17–20); in the light of His declaration that love for Him is demonstrated first and foremost by keeping His commandments (John 14:15; cf. 15:10); and Paul’s assertion that “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom. 2:13, RSV).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Does this statement really mean that “while believers were not obliged to carry out all the demands of the Mosaic law, they could nevertheless draw from the OT, read paradigmatically, lessons for Christian living?”5 They could draw lessons? Does it have no more moral force than an invitation to read it as an optional sourcebook for optional lessons? Should C. G. Cruze not have said at least “they should nevertheless draw from the OT, read paradigmatically, lessons for Christian living”?

To move beyond this typical trivializing of the OT, we probably need to take a closer look at OT Law, particularly as the OT Law presents itself. I propose to do so in three articles. In the present one, we will examine the designations for law and the literary contexts of laws in the OT. The second one will deal with the significance of the laws of the OT for OT saints. The third one will note the signifi cance of the laws of the OT for NT saints and draw some reflections on the implications of these observations for our preaching today.

The designations for law in the OT

The OT uses a series of expressions to refer to the laws of God. Perhaps the most explicit is the term , “commandment,” from the verb “to command.” But the term commandment should not be construed as synonymous with law. In day-to-day life, we often give orders that need to be carried out immediately or in a given circumstance, but this is not the same as an ordinance by which our church or company must operate until further decrees are handed down.

The laws in the Pentateuch are often referred to by the standardized word pair often translated “ordinances and judgments.” On etymological grounds, one may surmise that the former expression, singular derives from a root “to inscribe, incise,” and refers to “inscribed” laws, that is, laws that have been prescribed by a superior and recorded by incising a clay tablet with a reed stylus, or a wax-covered writing board with a metal stylus, or even a stone with a chisel. The second expression, literally “judgments,” apparently originates in case law. Judgments previously made in judicial contexts become laws in a prescriptive sense. While some have argued that relates primarily to religious regulations and to civil law,6 these distinctions certainly cannot be maintained within the book of Deuteronomy, at least.

To this list we should also add (pl. ), “obligation, regulation, procedure,” from , “to muster, commission,” which occurs twenty-four times in Psalms.7 A fifth expression is , “the stipulations.” Based on the assumption of a derivation from the same root as ¸ “testimony,” NIV follows the traditional rendering of the word with “testimonies.”8 However, because we usually think of testimony as the utterance of a witness in a court of law or some less formal context in which a particular event is being debated/ discussed, this interpretation is misleading.9 It is true that in the case of a person who had sworn an oath to keep an agreement but was being brought to court for violating it, the written document could certainly be produced as a standard against which to measure his behavior, hence serve as a witness. However the possibility of an etymological link with the Akkadian word for “covenant/treaty” and “loyalty oath”10 strengthens the case for interpreting (plural of ) as a general designation for the stipulations of the covenant. This interpretation is confirmed in Deuteronomy 4:45, which clarifi es the sense of by adding .11 The fact that all these expressions have the article suggests a specific and identifiable body of laws. In accordance with our conclusions regarding the significance of stated earlier, the covenant stipulations refer to the specific body/bodies of prescriptions revealed by Yahweh through Moses at Sinai, and periodically prior to the present addresses (cf. Num. 36:13), an interpretation supported by the addition of “when they came out of Egypt.”

These five words do indeed often refer to the specific laws and regulations prescribed by Yahweh at Sinai and elsewhere. While the expressions above tend to be associated with specific kinds of laws, the expression most often associated with law itself is . The noun derives from the verb , ”to teach.”12 On occasion, may be legitimately translated as “law.” However, its everyday meaning is illustrated by the book of Proverbs, which applies the term to the instruction that the wise provide for the community (13:14), parents provide for children (1:8 [mother]; 4:1–11), and the woman of the household to those under her infl uence (31:26). Its theological meaning is illustrated most clearly by the book of Deuteronomy, which, contrary to the Greek (and English) name of the book (meaning “second law”), does not present itself as “law” but as a series of pastoral addresses (Deut. 1:1–5; 4:40). Admittedly, Moses repeats and adapts many of the ordinances previously prescribed by Yahweh, but the first eleven and the last nine chapters contain little that we would classify as “law” in a legal sense, and even the so-called Deuteronomic code (chaps. 12–26) has a predominantly pastoral and didactic (rather than legal) flavor. In fact, in the book of Deuteronomy, the semantic range of is much better captured in Greek by or Ä“ , rather than , as the Septuagint renders the term in 202 of 220 occurrences.13

This conclusion regarding the meaning of is confirmed when we observe how easily its scope was extended to the rest of the Pentateuch, despite the fact that at least two-thirds of Genesis through Numbers is narrative, that is, the story of the Yahweh’s grace in election, salvation, and providential care for Israel, and His establishment of His covenant first with Abraham and then with the patriarch’s descendants at Sinai. When the psalmist declares that the godly delight in the of Yahweh (Ps. 1:2), surely he did not have only the laws of Sinai in mind, for apart from the surrounding narrative, the laws provide no occasion for joy.

The literary contexts of laws in the OT

Before we preach from OT Law, we need to remind ourselves that there is law in the Old Testament and there is law. Since the groundbreaking work of Albrecht Alt,14 many scholars have recognized two major types of laws:15 laws in the conditional form dealing with specific cases, and laws in the unconditional form. The former typically involve a protasis (a conditional clause) introduced with “when/if” (Hebrew , or in subordinate cases), describing a specific circumstance, followed by an apodosis (a main clause) outlining the required response. These may be cast in third person (“If a person . . .”) or second person (“If you . . .”). The latter are typically cast as direct commands in the second person, though third person jussives are not uncommon. Apodictic laws subdivide further into positive prescriptions (“Honor your father and mother”) or negative prohibitions (“You shall not murder”). The differences between the two types are obvious when specific examples are juxtaposed as in the following synopsis (See PDF):

The Pentateuch contains a great deal of prescriptive material through which Yahweh sought to govern every aspect of the Israelites’ lives. Maimonides, a twelfth-century Jewish rabbi and philosopher, established that the number of commandments scattered throughout the Pentateuch numbered 613.

Beyond recognizing the basic formal differences between individual laws, preachers do well also to recognize the differences among the series of specific documents within the Pentateuch that might qualify as law. These may be grouped in two classifications. One involves focused instructions, usually dealing with cultic and liturgical matters: instructions concerning the Passover (Exodus 12; 13), instructions concerning the tabernacle (Exodus 25–31), instructions concerning sacrifice (Leviticus 1–7). The other one has to do with collections of ordinances and regulations governing a wide range of human activity: the Decalogue (Exod. 20:2–17; Deut. 5:6–21), the book of the covenant ( , Exodus 21–23, cf. 24:7), the holiness code (Leviticus 17–25), and the so-called Deuteronomic code (Deuteronomy 12–26). Although these documents all represent collections of prescriptions whose scope covers all of life, each has its own distinctive flavor.

1. The Decalogue

In both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 the Decalogue is presented as the only speech of Yahweh addressed directly to the Israelites. Contrary to modern practice, the Scriptures never refer to the Decalogue as the “Ten Commandments.” The genre of the document is identifi ed in both contexts as “all these words” ( , Exod. 20:1; Deut. 5:22) that Yahweh “spoke” ( ), rather than “these commandments” that Yahweh “commanded.” In fact, wherever this document is identified by title, it is always referred to as “the Ten Words” ( , Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), and never “the Ten Commandments.” We would do well to follow the Septuagint in referring to this document as the Decalogue (literally “Ten Words”), or, since the Hebrew word is capable of a broad range of meaning, the Ten Principles of covenant relationship. That this document is perceived as the foundational written record of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel is demonstrated not only in the fact that two copies (one for each party) of this document alone were stored in the ark of the covenant of Yahweh ( , Deut. 10:1–5) but also in Moses’ explicit reference to this document as “His covenant” ( , Deut. 4:13). The structure of the narratives introducing the Decalogue reinforces the covenantal nature of the Decalogue. Indeed, in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, it is cast in the pattern of an ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaty:

(a) The preamble (Exod. 20:1; Deut. 5:1–5) sets the stage for the document.

(b) The historical prologue (Exod. 20:2; Deut. 5:6) introduces the divine Suzerain and summarizes the history of the relationship of the parties to the covenant to this point: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

(c) The covenant principles (Exod. 20:3–17; Deut. 5:7–21) specify the fundamental obligations placed upon the human vassal. The principles of covenant relationship were reduced to ten presumably to facilitate commitment to memory and to match the number of fingers on our hands. Their unconditional form invests them with an absolutist flavor.

Inasmuch as the terms of the Decalogue are addressed to potential perpetrators of offences, it may be interpreted as ancient Israel’s version of the Bill of Rights. However, unlike modern bills of rights, the Decalogue is concerned to protect not my rights but the rights of the next person. According to the arrangement of the stipulations of the Decalogue, the next person involves two parties: Yahweh, the divine Suzerain, and fellow members of the vassal community.16 In fact, as Jesus and Paul recognize in their reduction of all the commandments to the command to love Yahweh and one’s neighbor (Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9), the objective of the Decalogue is to encourage love for God and for one’s neighbor,17 the kind of behavior that puts the interest of the next person ahead of one’s own.

(d) The declaration of the people’s response (Exod. 20:18–21; Deut. 5:22–33) reports the people’s acceptance of the document and a recognition of its revelatory significance. The latter text ends with a summary blessing as a reward for obedience (vv. 31–33), also common to ancient treaty forms.

2. The book of the covenant

Although the Decalogue obviously functioned as the official covenant document, this does not mean that it exhausted the terms of Yahweh’s covenant. Indeed the other collections of laws may be interpreted as elaborations and practical explications of the Decalogue. The book of the covenant, encompassing Exodus 20:22–23:33, derives its name from Exodus 24:7, according to which, as part of the covenant ratifi cation ceremony, Moses took the (literally “written document of the covenant”) and read it in the hearing of all the people, precipitating their third declaration of “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” Unlike the Decalogue, which is referred to as declared directly to the people by Yahweh, this document is formally introduced as (“judgments, regulations”) that Moses is to set before the people (Exod. 21:1). Furthermore, whereas the Decalogue consists entirely of unconditional statements in the second person, the book of the covenant consists largely of conditional statements in the third person. Taken as a whole, the book of the covenant may be divided into six parts arranged in an artful chiastic order: (See PDF)

Note that prescriptions for Israel’s worship frame the prescriptions governing daily life. The purpose of worship is to inspire devotion to Yahweh and to create an ethical community of faith. Worship and ethics are tightly linked.

3. The holiness code

What distinguishes this code from other similar texts, such as the book of the covenant (Exod. 20:22–23:33), is its emphasis on holiness. First, Yahweh identifies Himself as the Holy One ( , Lev. 19:2; 20:26; 21:8). Second, Yahweh identifies Himself as the One who makes Israel holy ( , “sanctify them,” Exod. 20:8; 21:8, 15, 23; 22:9, 16, 32; cf. , 20:24, 26). Third, Israel is challenged to “sanctify yourselves” ( , 20:7) and “be holy” ( , 19:2; 20:7, 26 [to Yahweh]; 21:6a, 6b [cf. 7, 8]). Fourth, many of the articles and persons discussed in this section are described as holy ( ): Yahweh’s name, 20:3; 22:3, 32; sacrifi cial food, 19:8; ordinary food, 19:24; sacred bread, 21:22; 24:9; food dedicated to Yahweh, 22:2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16; convocations, 23:2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 21, 24, 27, 35, 36, 37; a place (tabernacle), 24:9; a time (year of jubilee), 25:12. As for the content of this long section, it provides a summary catch-all of moral exhortations, cultic regulations, and legal prescriptions. What use was made of this holiness code in ancient Israel we may only speculate. D. N. Freedman suggests it may have served “as a catechism for some sanctuary school, or as a guide for priests and Levites in their work as teachers of the people.”18 We may view this document as an exposition of the expressions “a kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” in Exodus 19:6.

That this is viewed as an exposition of the nature of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh is demonstrated by the 18-fold occurrence of Yahweh’s self introduction as “I am Yahweh your God,”19 which represents an adaptation of the covenant formula, “I am your God and you are my people” (cf. Lev. 20:26; 26:12). Looking far ahead to the time when the Israelites will be settled in the land that Yahweh has promised them, this document seeks to govern the life of the Israelites as Yahweh’s vassals ( , Lev. 25:42, 55) living in Yahweh’s land (25:23). The covenantal nature of this document is affi rmed by the addition of chapter 26. This chapter not only refers to the covenant six times,20 but its presence here accords with the pattern of ancient Near Eastern Hittite treaties, which typically followed up the stipulations with declarations of blessings as a reward for obedience.21

4. The Deuteronomic code

It has become customary for scholars to refer to the long section of text encompassing Deuteronomy 12–26 as the Deuteronomic law code. We may be justified in doing this on several grounds.  First, it is formally framed by references to the laws of God:

Introduction: “These ( ) are the decrees ( ) and laws ( ) that you shall keep ( ) by doing ( ) [them] in the land that Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth” (12:1).

Conclusion: “Yahweh your God commands you this day to follow these ( ) decrees ( ) and the laws ( ), and you shall keep ( ) and do ( ) them. . . .” (26:16)

Second, Moses repeatedly refers explicitly to “statutes” ( ),22 “laws” ( ),23 “commandment”/ “commandments” ( / ),24 “instruction” ( , usually rendered “law”),25 and “covenant stipulations” ( , usually rendered “testimonies”), if one may refer back to 4:45, which functions as a heading for the second half of Moses’ second speech.

Third, within this large block of material we do indeed fi nd several series of regulations that have the appearance of legal lists, especially in chapters 22–25.

Fourth, the types of issues dealt with in these chapters often correspond to those found in codes of law outside the Old Testament.26

Recently it has become fashionable to argue that Moses’ presentation of the covenant obligations in Deuteronomy 12–26 is structured after the Decalogue. Stephen Kaufman, for example, has argued that the Deuteronomic code derives from a single redactor, who has organized the entire code after the model provided by the Decalogue as a whole.27 It is apparent throughout that Moses has the principles of covenant relationship as outlined in the Decalogue in mind, but this system seems quite forced and can be achieved only by resorting to extraordinary exegetical and redactional gymnastics.28 Moses seems here to have been inspired by other aspects of the Sinai revelation as well. Although there are also strong links with Exodus 34:11–28,29 Bernard Levinson argues more plausibly that the Deuteronomic code represents a revision of the covenant code (Exodus 21–23).30 The links are recognized not only in the details but also in the broad structure of the text, as the following synopsis illustrates: (See PDF)

Moses’ flow of thought is best grasped, not by forcing it into some sort of decalogic pattern, but by outlining Deuteronomy 12:2–26:15 on the basis of content and without reference to any external document. This lengthy document also displays strong links with the holiness code. Most striking is the addition of the lists of covenant blessings and curses in chapter 28, which echoes the addition of Leviticus 26 to the holiness code.31

Despite these links with the book of the covenant, in tone and style much of Deuteronomy 12–26 bears a closer resemblance to chapters 6 through 11 than it does to the Sinai documents32 on which they are based. In fact, there is no appreciable shift in style and tone as one moves from chapter 11 to chapter 12 and beyond. While scholars are quick to recognize in the speeches of the book of Deuteronomy the voices of a prophet or a scribe, or even a priest,33 the concerns and style of the speaker are better understood as the addresses of a pastor, who knows that his own tenure as shepherd of Yahweh’s sheep is about to come to an end.34 As pastor, Moses is concerned not only about civil and liturgical matters but especially with the spiritual and physical well-being of the people. He expresses particular passion about the people’s relationship with God, a relationship that, on the one hand, is to be treasured as an incredible gift and, on the other hand, is to be demonstrated in a life of grateful obedience to their divine Redeemer and Lord.

1 This article is based on a lecture given on the Ministry Professional Growth satellite broadcast aired from Loma Linda, California, April 5, 2005.

2 Mosaic covenant is quite a misnomer. Unlike the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, which are rightly named after the person whom God graciously chose to be his covenant partner, the covenant made at Sinai was not made with Moses. He served as the mediator between the two covenant partners, Yahweh and Israel. No other biblical covenants are named after the place where
they were established, so “Sinai covenant” is no better. Following the paradigm of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, it is best referred to as the “Israelite covenant,” or neo-Abrahamic covenant, inasmuch as through this ceremony Israel as a nation was formally recognized as the heirs of Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:7, 8).

3 See Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick, Md.: New Covenant Media, 2002).

4 Cf. Robert D. Bergen’s summary of the three basic positions represented in New Testament scholarship on the disposition of the early church to the law in “Preaching Old Testament Law,” Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle: Preaching the Old Testament Faithfully, ed. G. L. Klein (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 55, 56.

5 Thus C. G. Kruse, “Law,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture, eds. T. D. Alexander, et al. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 636.

6 See G. Liedke, “ einritzen, festsetzen,” THAT 1.631.

7 HALOT 959.

8 Thus LXX ( ), Vulgate, the Targums.

9 S. T. Hague (NIDOTTE 1.502) notes that “the translation of as ‘testimony’ is reasonable, as long as we understand the testimony as the law that is the seal of the Lord’s covenant with Israel.”

10 On the meaning and significance of see Simo Parpola and Kazuko Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988), XV–XXV.

11 This interpretation is strengthened by the observation that what Moses will call the ark of the covenant of Yahweh , Deut.
10:8; 31:9, 25, 26) is elsewhere referred to as the ark of the (Exod. 25:22; 26:33, 34; 30:6, 26; 31:7; 39:35; 40:3, 5, 21; Num. 4:5; 7:89; 4:16). The present triad of terms recurs in Deuteronomy 6:20 (with preceding the present pair). appears between and in 6:17. On the meaning and signifi cance of / , see H. Simian-Yofre, TDOT 10/514, 15.

12 HALOT, 436, 37.

13 Both expressions are common in the NT. For , see Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Romans 12:7; 15:4; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22; 2:10; 1 Timothy 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3; 2 Timothy 3:10, 16; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7. For see Matthew 7:28; 16:12; 22:33; Mark
1:22; 27 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; Luke 4:32; John 7:16, 17; 18:19; Acts 2:42; 13:12; 17:19; Romans 6:17; 16:17; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 26; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 6:2; Hebrews 13:9; 2 John 9, 10; Revelation. 2:14, 15, 24.

14 “The Origins of Israelite Law,” in Essays in Old Testament History and Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967), 101–71.

15 Albrecht’s classifi cation of these laws as “casuistic” and “apodictic” has recently been criticized as too simplistic, not allowing enough room for mixed forms, and even misnamed. See Rifat Sonsino, “Forms of Biblical Law,” in ABD 4.252, 53.

16 The vertical dimensions of covenant (Exod. 20:1–11) respectively call for a recognition of Yahweh’s right to (a) exclusive allegiance, (b) the definition of His image, (c) honor and true representation, (d) govern human time. The horizontal dimensions of covenant (20:8–17) respectively call for a recognition of (a) the household members’ right to humane treatment (cf. Deut. 5:12–15), (b) parents’ right to respect from children, (c) the right of all to life, (4) the right of all to a pure and secure marriage, (5) the right to personal property, (6) the right to an honest reputation, (7) the right to security. The terms add up to eleven because the fourth is
transitional. The Exodus version highlights the Sabbath as a creation ordinance; the Deuteronomic versions highlight its humanitarian character.

17 Cf. Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 439.

18 D. N. Freedman, “Pentateuch,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. G. A. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon, 1964), 3.722.

19 Lev.18:2, 4, 30; 19:3, 4, 10, 25, 31, 34, 36; 20:7, 24; 23:22, 43; 24:22; 25:17, 38, 55.

20 Vv. 9; 15, 25, 42, 44, 45.

21 See Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003), 283–89.

22 Deut. 16:12; 17:19; 26:16, 17.

23 Deut. 26:16, 17.

24 Deut. 15:5; 17:20; 19:9; 26:13; cf. 27:1; 30:11; 31:5/Deut 13:4, 18; 26:13, 17, 18.

25 Deut. 17:18, 19; cf. 4:44; 28:61; 29:21, 29; 30:10; 31:9, 11, 12, 24, 26.

26 The links have been noted frequently. For a helpful collection of ancient Near Eastern law codes see Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2nd ed., vol. 6, SBL Writings for the Ancient World Series (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).

27 “The Structure of Deuteronomic Law,” Maarav 1/2 (1978/1979) 105–58. For a variation of this approach, see Georg Braulik, Die deuteronomischen Gesetze und der Dekalog, vol. 145, Stuttgarter Bibelstudien (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1991); idem, “Die Abfolge der Gesetze in Deuteronomium 12-26 und der Dekalog,” Das Deuteronomium: Entstehung, Gestalt und Botschaft, vol. 68, ETL (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1985), 252–72. Eugene H. Merrill follows this approach in his commentary Deuteronomy
(Nashville: Broadman & Holman), 31.

28 It is an unliklely stretch, for example, to interpret Moses’ instructions regarding administrative institutions in 16:18–18:22 as an exposition of the commandment to honor father and mother in 5:16. This approach is also rejected by Tigay, Deuteronomy, 226. n. 19, and E. Otto, Das Deuteronomium, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999), 226.

29 So also Norbert Lohfi nk, “Zur deuteronomischen Zentralizationsformel,” Bib 65 (1984): 324–26.

30 Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), especially pp. 144–50.

31 Chapter 28 seems originally to have been attached directly to chapter 26, before chapter 27 was inserted.

32 The book of the covenant (Exod. 20:22–23:33), the so-called holiness code (Lev. 17–26).

33 For a helpful discussion of the prophetic and scribal voices, see James W. Watts, Reading Law: The Rhetorical Shaping of the Pentateuch, Biblical Seminar 59 (Sheffield: Sheffi eld Academic Press, 1999), 112–121; on the priestly voice, see G. von Rad, Deuteronomy (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 23–27.

34 Moses gives most eloquent expression to this understanding of his role in Numbers 27:15–17: “Moses spoke to Yahweh, saying, ‘Let Yahweh, the God of the spirits of all fl esh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of Yahweh may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’ ”



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Daniel I. Block, D.Phil., is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, United States.

May 2006

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More Articles In This Issue

Visuals in preaching: increasing the impact of your biblical sermons

Preaching involves more than spoken words. Nonverbal communication can make or break your sermon.

Talking about death: helping your members make final decisions

Talking about death with your family members can ease their burdens later.

Creation and Flood implications of the first angel's message in Revelation 14:7

The wording of the first angel's message of Revelation 14 promotes more than the Sabbath commandment.

The Da Vinci Code and the Nag Hammadi Gospels

How can we be sure that there are not other "gospels" worth considering?

The pastor's guide to resource materials on the New Testament

New Testament materials that are a must-have for every pastor-theologian.

Preaching to an unknown audience

How do you prepare to preach to an audience you know nothing about?

Poverty in the pulpit

"If the worst thing that can be said about a teacher is that he can't teach, the worst thing that can be said about a preacher is that he can't preach."

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