Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

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Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Points to remember about the Old Testament laws

A lot of critics of Christianity argue that there are bizarre Old Testament laws that show that the Christian God is not really good. Without going into any specific explanations of any Old Testament laws (here is a good site for that), here are a couple of general points about all of them.

Something to remember is that Jesus specifically says that the Old Testament laws involved a compromise between what God wanted ideally, and what the ancient Israelites were prepared to accept. Matt 19:8-9: 'Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful."'

Ancient near east culture was so incredibly different to us that they would have considered 'standard' the OT laws we find bizarre. We can find similar attitudes in laws in other ancient near east cultures of the period, and so it was probably what the Israelites were prepared to accept (link). Also, the OT laws are a lot nicer than other laws from that period.

We have to remember what principles the OT law is grounded in. A few great verses are: 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD' (Lev 19:18). And two interpretations from the New Testament, Matt 7:12: 'Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets', and Matt 22:35-40: 'One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."'

So if the rabbis of the Old Testament period thought that was what the law was really about, then there must be something in their understanding compared to ours that modern critics are missing, that enables them to think that. So while the basic principle of 'Do unto others' has remained unchanged throughout the millennia, the social, cultural, historical (etc) context has made it so that ancient rabbis see something in the law that, today, we seem to miss.

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