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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Graduate School

I got my ethics midterm back and I got a 95. I was excited. Here is an example of the questions. There were 5 essay questions and each answer had to be no more than 2 pages single space. Most questions took 2 pages to answer. This was question 2 and my response:

Explain to a moral skeptic your justification for a "fractured" use of the Old Testament law. In making your case, describe the types of commands you might encounter in the Old Testament and explain why and how these commands are or are not still morally applicable as they are given in the Old Testament Law. Use Scripture in justifying your answer.

In so much as making claims about the Bible's inerrancy and inspiration, one might see Scripture as being inconsistent in its teaching about certain moral quandaries. Those irregularities affecting one's ability to see a solid moral reliability can be eased by applying proper hermeneutical study to those verses that seem to say one thing, but are not practiced principally. For example, defrauding other people (Lev. 19:13), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), and tattooing (Lev. 19:28) are all forbidden in the Old Testament. Yet, planting two kinds of seeds in your field (Lev. 19:19b), wearing clothing made with two kinds of material (Lev. 19:19c), and eating meat with blood still in it (Lev. 19:26) are also prohibited in the Old Testament, but are still practiced today. Where is the appropriate line drawn?

It might seem conflicting to uphold the former examples and disregard the latter in the above paragraph, but there is a reason for this. A "fractured" use of the Old Testament, or only fulfilling part of the Law, is proper in that it is not simply ignoring those verses that seem trivial and participating in the ones that Christians view as important (though to a skeptic, it may seem to be this way). Christianity recognizes the notion that they are no longer under the Law, but under grace because of the sacrifice that Christ made on behalf of them. Man no longer had to make sacrifices for his transgression. Jesus' death was the atonement for all of humanity's sins (1 Jn. 2:2). "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (Ro. 6:14). For the Christian, his or her duty is to follow the example of Christ. A moral doubter still might question the fractured use of the Old Testament and not be able to see how Christians can justify keeping only some of the Law. It is here that the Law is examined and the task is see where the differences lie.

One of the problems with interpretation is, a lot of different people read the Bible in a lot of different ways. However, if Christians would teach proper hermeneutical (the way we read and interpret the Bible) methods, than the skeptic might begin to see a consistency in the Scriptures. First, the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books that speak of doctrine, moral commands, and narratives. When reading the Bible, one must decide if that particular book being read is describing people's behavior or prescribing the behavior for those whom read it. The hermeneutical approach will alleviate the complications that come from not knowing much of the author's original intent for that book.

Now, looking through the Old Testament, it appears to be a vast amount of rules and commands. But were those instructions simply for the Israelites or are they still applicable today? It is apparent that much of the debate for a fractured use revolves around the Christian's intent to moralize some commands and pay no mind to others, but this is not the case. A true follower of Jesus does not want to do anything except follow Christ. He or she does not have to fulfill the Law; the Christian just wants to find what behavior is acceptable to God. When reading through the Old Testament though, one can seemingly see several discrepancies about how man and woman are supposed to live. When examined under hermeneutical guidelines, those incongruities fade away.

It is already been said that knowing the author's intent for either stipulating law or illustrating the law is important. A reader must discern between what is cultural and permanent. However, we can go one step deeper and look at this civil law and see what verses are actually mandating law and which verses were specific to the Israelites. Generally speaking, the Old Testament is for the Israelites. That does not mean, however, that we are not to follow the same rules they had to or that modern Christians cannot gleam truth from the Law. Throughout the Old Testament, like the New Testament, there are descriptions of different types of writing. Doctrine is derived from the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). The Pentateuch gives Christians commands for moral living (Leviticus). The historical narratives (Joshua, Judges, etc) tell of God's people and their leadership. Sometimes there are commands for contemporary Christianity and sometimes there are not. In the Law genre, the commands can be broke down into three categories: Apodictic law, Casuistic law, and Ceremonial law. Apodictic or moral law is usually a relevant application for all Christians (Ex. 20:2-17). Casuistic or case law derives the legality of a specific case and gives consequences for it depending on which rules it falls under (Ex. 21-23). Ceremonial law directs the Israelites to their relationship with God because this is how other nations identify them with Yahweh (Lev. 20-21). Knowing what types of laws there are will help a moral skeptic see a justified reason for a fractured use of the Old Testament. But how can one study and know what verses represent which law?

Because Christians have the Bible today, it is much easier to discern between laws of the Old Testament. The addition of the New Testament is a huge advantage for Christendom. The first century Christians only had the Torah, so believers now can benefit from the whole Bible to find a clearer understanding of God's interaction with the world. When reading the Old Testament, there are several things one must keep in mind. First, we must try to see the Old Testament in light of the New Testament because we are under grace. When the Old Testament prescribes a behavior and the New Testament also affirms the advisement, Christians ought to pay attention and uphold the moral law (homosexuality). Next, when rules and commands of the Old Testament are contrary to the New Testament, the New Testament takes priority (circumcision). Lastly, when Law teachings are neither opposing nor agreeing in the New Testament, a Christian should see them in the context of the whole biblical lesson. By observing a proper examination of the Old Testament, the moral skeptic can see why a fractured usage of the Old Testament is necessary in trying to figure out what is commanded for Christians.

posted by Jeff Watkins at 11:06 AM

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