A large portion of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is comprised of laws. Indeed, there are over six hundred commandments in these books. We find this legal material throughout most of Leviticus and most of Deuteronomy. Also, about half of Exodus along with a portion of Numbers presents various laws that God gave to Israel. Obviously, these laws are important. But many of them seem strange to us—even weird. Consider the following laws:
Exodus 34:26: “Do not cook a young goat in his mother’s milk.”Leviticus 19:19: “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”Leviticus 12:2: “A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a sonwill be ceremonially unclean for seven days.”Leviticus 13:40: “A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean.”Deuteronomy 22:12: “Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.”
Furthermore, there are numerous Old Testament laws that we as modern Christians violate with some regularity. Which of the following have you violated?
Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wearwoman’s clothing.”Leviticus 19:32: “Stand up in the presence of the aged.”Leviticus 19:28: “Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves.”Deuteronomy 14:8: “The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof,it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch theircarcasses.
While we tend to ignore such laws, there are other Old Testament commands that we latch onto as the moral underpinnings of Christian behavior. These will be more familiar to you:
Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.”Deuteronomy 5:18: “You shall not commit adultery.”
So, why do we adhere to some laws and ignore others? Which laws are valid and which are not? Many Christians today are baffled by the interpretive problem of the law. Some of us take the approach of simply skimming through the legal texts, skipping over all of the laws that do not seem to apply to us. These laws we choose to ignore altogether. Then when we encounter one that does seem to make sense in today’s world, we grab it, underline it, and use it as a guideline for living. Surely this willy-nilly approach to interpreting the Old Testament law is inadequate. But how should we interpret the law?
In this unit you will learn a consistent approach to interpreting the Old Testament law. We will first discuss a popular traditional approach that we consider inadequate. We will then present the method we feel is most valid for interpreting the law. As part of our suggested approach, we will first explore the narrative and covenant context of the Old Testament legal material and discuss the implications of that context to interpretation. Then we will apply the Interpretative Journey to the task of interpreting the law, providing several examples.