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Jesu, Juva

The law of God

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The Bible uses law variously to refer to the ten commandments; laws within the five books of Moses; the Mosaic books themselves; or even the entire Old Testament (John 10:34, 12:34, 15:25). There is a history of dividing the law into categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial, but the boundaries are not always clear: God’s laws are more a sermon than a legal code, mixing history, commands, exhortations, threats, and judgments. God is God, so every law is moral. Many of what we call civil laws have no judicial penalties attached. Is the fourth commandment, the Sabbath—a creation ordinance!—a moral law or a ceremonial law? And what kind of civil law neglects water rights?

It’s good to simplify things; a good map is a useful thing. But it’s easy and dangerous to over-simplify. We might over-simplify how the law has changed: our husband, the living law-word, died, releasing us from the law (Romans 7). The law was our tutor, but now we have graduated (Galatians 4). With the change of priesthood there is a change in law (Hebrews 7:12). The first Pentecost brought the letter; the last Pentecost brought the Spirit. Jesus inaugurated a new creation; to the degree this is “already,” the law has passed away together with the old heavens and earth (Matthew 5:18). The law was only a shadow (Hebrews 7). But we might also over-emphasize how things have not changed: The law reveals the unchanging character of an unchanging God. The law is perfect (Psalm 19:7), an exemplary witness (Deuteronomy 4:6-8), holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). Students live by the lessons of their tutor. Jesus and his Spirit do not negate the law but fulfill it.

Both of these have an element of truth; let us rather say that the law has been transfigured or glorified. The law is changed (Hebrews 7:12) but not abolished. Our husband has been transfigured, resurrected, glorified. We remember the lessons of our trainer but we are no longer running intervals and stuffing spaghetti: we are running a race.

All this is to say that we need much wisdom, understanding, and patience to wrestle with applying the law (2 Tim 3:16), to our lives, our church, and to nations (Matthew 28). Proverbs 25:2 reminds us that “it is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings . . . to search things out.” A few thoughts from teachers like John Frame and James Jordan have helped me in this search:

First, all law is typological of Jesus and his church (John 5:39, Luke 24:27, etc.). Typology doesn’t let us off the hook of applying the law to ourselves (the law of adultery applies to our marriages as well as Jesus’s), but it does enrich our understanding. When Peter saw the sheet of unclean food, he reasoned that God was adding Gentiles to his priestly people (Acts 10). Paul applies the law of the ox treading grain to pastors (1 Cor 9:10). The laws for house leprosy guide the inspections and and dismantlings that Ezekiel and Jesus performed on God’s own house. We know of no wife who experienced the jealousy test (Numbers 5)—except for Israel: consider the golden calf. The Lord’s supper is our jealousy test: some bread and some drinking and a threat of judgment (1 Corinthians 11).

Second, Jesus is still lord over nations and kings, and his law has much to teach them. The society spelled out by God’s law is amazingly free. Even in the case of death penalties, few were mandatory sentences (consider Matthew 1:19). But the first application of civil laws is to the church. The church is Israel transfigured, the beachhead of the new creation and new kingdom. We have elders. Church discipline replaces the death penalty. Evangelism by the sword of the spirit replaces holy warfare.

Third, the Jerusalem council ruling in Acts 15 gives a helpful guideline for what is transformed versus what is carried over directly. The laws for the stranger, the Gentile God-fearer, remain directly applicable: idolatry, sexual immorality, and eating blood. This is why God now allows eating bacon and shrimp but not homosexuality. Israel and her laws come transfigured into the church, where we are now all priests. But out in the world we live as sojourners.

Fourth, the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy are structured around the ten commandments. Deuteronomy is a kind of sermon by Moses after forty years meditating on the commandments. I’ve found this helpful in considering the Sabbath: Moses expresses the fourth commandment (Deut. 14:21b-16:17) in terms of tithing, giving freedom and rest, and feasting together with God. Moses considers the fifth commandment (Deut. 16:18-18:22) to also apply to leaders like judges, Levites, priests, and kings.

Finally, the ceremonial laws are not merely a picture of how Jesus deals with our sin at the cross. Hebrews repeatedly considers these to be transfigured in the church’s worship: All washings are wrapped up in baptism. All feasts are wrapped up in the Lord’s supper. The old covenant’s sacrifices are covenant renewals are feasts are drawing near are worship: Leviticus—a red-letter book if there ever was one—has much to teach us about worship in the new covenant.

There is so much to figure out; we have barely scratched the surface in our kingly search. I leave you with a few intriguing problems:

  1. In light of Acts 15, is blood pudding off the menu? Not that I’m tempted, mind you.
  2. In Genesis 26, God says that “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” What did Abraham know about God’s laws?
  3. Five times God commands us to greet one another with a kiss. What?

Additional resources

Written by Scott Moonen

July 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Success

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Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy points out that the transitive and intransitive forms of succeed are closely related. It is not possible to “turn out well” without reference to that which you have inherited or followed. All success is dependent on, builds upon, translates, and perhaps transcends, something that has come before.

See also: Less

Written by Scott Moonen

July 18, 2017 at 6:44 am

Posted in Miscellany

Future

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Marriage:
Isn’t founded on a proof or prediction of a good future.
Isn’t a mutual experiment in hope of a good future.
Is a risky and courageous mutual determination to create a future.
(Summarizing Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy)

Written by Scott Moonen

July 18, 2017 at 6:39 am

Posted in Marriage

Living sacrifice

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy points out that the first living sacrifice in scripture is Isaac:

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:13 ESV)

This adds depth to how we understand Paul. Paul is saying that we offer our entire selves to God in worship. But we do so not simply because of God’s worthiness, or even because everything we have is from him (11:36). We do so out of the consciousness that we have been spared one kind of death by Jesus’s death, that we owe ourselves to him doubly.

[Y]ou were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV)

So we die in a different and better way, dying to ourselves not in order to repay him but in order to also give life to others (12:3ff).

Written by Scott Moonen

July 16, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Foodless

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Peter Leithart writes of weekly communion:

Foodless worship is unthinkable in the Bible and has been unthinkable through most of Christian history. . . .

The Church is not an “instrument” or “means” to achieve individual salvation. The Church is the present form of salvation in history.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 30, 2017 at 9:59 pm

Vaunting

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The concern for victims has become a paradoxical competition of mimetic rivalries, of opponents continually trying to outbid one another.

The victims most interesting to us are always those who allow us to condemn our neighbors. And our neighbors do the same. They always think first about victims for whom they hold us responsible.

We do not all have the same experience as St. Peter and St. Paul, who discovered that they themselves were guilty of persecution and confessed their own guilt rather than that of their neighbors. It’s our neighbors who kindly remind us that we should be compassionate, and we render them the same service. . . .

From now on we have our antisacrificial rituals of victimization, and they unfold in an order as unchangeable as properly religious rituals. First of all we lament the victims we admit to making or allowing to be made. Then we lament the hypocrisy of our lamentation, and finally we lament Christianity, the indispensable scapegoat, for there is no ritual without a victim, and in our day Christianity is always it, the scapegoat of last resort. As part of this last stage of the ritual, we affirm, in a nobly suffering tone, that Christianity has done nothing to “resolve the problem of violence.” (René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 164)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 28, 2017 at 8:49 am

Posted in Quotations

De profundis

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The book of Job is, in effect, an immense psalm. (René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 117)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm