Aristotle’s Tomb Found

We may have just identified the ruins of the tomb that once held the ashes of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.

aristotelAristotle was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the ancient world. He was a student of Plato (who had been a student of Socrates), and had been the tutor of Alexander the Great. He died at Chalkis in northern Greece in 322 BC, but his ashes were returned to his hometown of Stagira, where a stately building was erected to house them.

Greek archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis claims the ruins he has found have not definitely been proved to be the tomb of Aristotle. However, he claims it is the most likely identification, especially in light of the evidence of ancient sources.

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Reconstruction of the Tomb of Aristotle

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The present days ruins of the horseshoe shaped tomb.

Read more HERE and HERE.

There is also a short clip below (but please disregard the overstatement that Aristotle was the founder of Western Civilisation—there were obviously a few other Greeks to thank for that, too 😉).

Akhenaten’s Capital Recreated in HD

akhenatonIn the 14th century BC, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV initiated a religious revolution in Egypt. He introduced worship of the sun disk Aten to eclipse the worship of all the other gods of Egypt. He changed his own name to Akhenaten, and he built a new capital city, Akhetaten, in which the pure worship of Aten could take place. The temples were roofless—open to the rays of the sun disk.

When Akhenaten died, his revolution died with him. His successor, Tutankhamun (yes, that pharoah!) oversaw the reversion back to Egypt’s traditional religion. The capital city, Akhetaten was abandoned to the sands of time. Its ruins are now part of the site known as Tell el-Amarna.

Some fantastic imaging by Archéovision has recreated some of Akhenaten’s old capital city in digital form. If you can, watch the clip below in fullscreen mode and in full HD (click on the HD symbol and choose the resolution). It’s a brief but impressive recreation.

You can read a little more about this HERE.

No, those ancient Hebrew ‘sticky notes’ do not necessarily prove the Bible was written early

Christianity Today has published an article that comments on a recent study by the Epigraphic Hebrew Project examining the handwriting on some ancient Hebrew documents through digital technology. The headline reads:

Ancient Sticky Notes Shift Secular Scholars Closer to Evangelicals on Bible’s Age.

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The study itself demonstrates that the cache of sixteen documents from the remote desert outpost of Arad on the edge of the Kingdom of Judah in c. 600 BC had six distinct authors. The claim of the Christianity Today article is that this seemingly high rate of literacy in Judah’s monarchic period is forcing secular scholars to acknowledge that the biblical documents were probably written early (that is, before the exilic era). This is certainly the direction in which Walter Kaiser Jr., who is cited in the article, takes the evidence.

Unfortunately, the study that this article is commenting on doesn’t actually shift secular scholars closer to Evangelicals on the Bible’s Age. Indeed, some of the other scholars mentioned in the article (Alan Millard and Christopher Rollston) advise serious caution. There is a plethora of problems with the headline of the Christianity Today article.

First of all, there is no real agreement on the age of the ‘The Bible’ amongst anyone, be they ‘Evangelical’ or so-called ‘secular’ scholars (honestly, the division implied by that terminology is just grating!). After all, we’re talking about a stack of different documents that developed over centuries, with very few overt statements about authorship and time of writing. ‘The Bible’ wasn’t written in one go. It eventually coalesced into the collection we know today as ‘The Bible’, but exactly when the documents began their life is almost impossible to pin down.

Second, the study this article is commenting on simply shows that elite professionals in the monarchic era could write—exactly the kinds of people whom we would expect to be able to write. It doesn’t show that literacy was widespread. On the contrary, one of the documents in this collection includes a man protesting that he could read something for himself, which implies that literacy wasn’t widespread. So six individuals wrote sixteen documents! This does not mean that suddenly most people in ancient Judah could write two or three biblical books! Finding some buttons does not necessarily mean you’ve found an entire tailored suit.

But thirdly, even if literacy in the monarchic era was very widespread, this tells us nothing about when the various biblical documents were written. All it tells us is that people could write. And that’s a very different thing to knowing when these specific biblical documents were written. You see, you only need one person who knows the alphabet, owns some ink and parchment, and has some imagination, and you have yourself a document. This could be at just about any time. Why, it could be early, or it could even be late.

The study itself states that the kind of literacy levels that the Arad documents demonstrate only occurs again in c. 200 BC. The implication seems to be that it’s unlikely the biblical documents were written in the intervening period (600–200 BC) when literacy levels were lower. But there are so many problems with this inference. First, the claim relates only to the region of Judah. It says nothing about literacy levels outside of Judah. Second, the claim uses blank evidence (little apparent writing in 600–200 BC) as a warrant for reaching a positive inference (it’s unlikely the biblical documents could have been written in this period). But logically this is unwarranted. To state it another way, a lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. It could be that we just haven’t found all the other document caches like the one from Arad that date to this period. We just don’t know! Third, you don’t need most of the elite, let alone most of the population, to be reading and writing to create conditions conducive to the writing of texts like the ones in the Bible. You just need one competent literate person who can ‘put pen to paper’. And that person could write for themselves, or even for a whole group of people. One person can pen the imagination of hundreds! And fourth, since there evidently were biblical texts that were written in Judah between 600 and 200 BC (e.g. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah), the very low literacy levels actually count for nothing.

So, just because a few army officials in Judah could read and write in 600 BC does not mean biblical authors wrote all the biblical documents very early on. At best, it helps establish a terminus a quo for mundane Hebrew writing in the region of Judah (which in this case is only c. 600 BC), but not an actual date for writing biblical texts. Using the same logic employed in the article’s headline, we could just as easily say that Evangelicals must shift closer to secular scholars who argue for late dates (c. 200 BC), because the evidence this study is based on is about mundane literacy at the very end of the monarchic era, and surely fine literature takes longer to develop than mundane ‘sticky notes’.

In actual fact, the literacy levels do not contribute all that much to the discussion about the dating of biblical text. That depends on numerous complex criteria. Literacy is important—you need it in order to have documents! But there are so many other criteria to consider, such as references to historical persons and events, form and genre, theological development, purpose, possible influences and their direction, redaction, transmission, preservation, manuscripts, etc. The list goes on!

Unfortunately, headlines like this one given by Christianity Today are misleading. They promote a sense of tribalism as well as wishful thinking amongst Christians, which in turn leaves Christians grasping at air but thinking they’ve grabbed something solid. It’s just not constructive. And even the headline is at odds with the comments of the two main experts cited in the article.

Surely we can serve the Christian public better than this!

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Remains of the ancient fortified outpost of Arad, Judah, where the cache of documents was found.

 

 


My good friend and colleague, Prof. Ian Young (University of Sydney), has also written a brief response to the study on the Arad documents for the Huffington Post. It’s well worth reading and can be found HERE.

Christopher Rollston’s blog article on the study can be read HERE.

 

There is a reason this terrible Friday is called ‘Good’

shadowofcrossOn the night Jesus was betrayed, he had dinner with his friends. But they would all abandon him later that night.

That same night, Jesus was trapped by his enemies, who wanted him dead. Having nowhere on earth to turn, he turned to God the Father. God didn’t come to his rescue.

Within hours, Jesus was violently hustled out of Jerusalem. He was nailed by the limbs to a cross—transfixed to a gibbet by hate and rejection.

And yet, as the shadow of death suffocated his life, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who harmed him.

And he was heard.

In the depths of human despair, when God seemed to be nowhere, yet God was acting to save. When screams of hate and betrayal seemed to drown out cries for love and reconciliation, God was listening. When God seemed callously absent, he was there in the One he had sent. At the moment Jesus seemed to have failed, he triumphed over all.

Things are not always as they seem.

There is a reason to celebrate the death of this man. There is a reason this terrible Friday is called ‘Good’.

‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.’

Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence?

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter directs the following words to wives:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

These words have sometimes been used to expect victims of domestic violence to remain within their abusive relationships. Women are seen to be encouraged to put up with suffering under domestic abuse for the sake of the salvation of their spouses.

First of all, let me say straight up that domestic violence is always wrong. Always. There is never a time that domestic violence should be condoned or encouraged. Never. Ever.

Second, I believe that using Peter’s words here to encourage victims of domestic violence to remain in abusive situations is a complete misunderstanding and misuse of Scripture. Let me explain why I believe that.

Peter, the author of this letter, is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was one of the Twelve—the inner circle whom Jesus handpicked. The Twelve were Jewish men—evocative of the twelve tribes of Israel. The symbolism of twelve Jewish men points specifically to the establishment of a new people of God. In other words, in appointing the Twelve, Jesus was deliberately starting a new movement that he defined as a new people of God, but with specifically Jewish roots. He was viewing the people that would grow around him and the Twelve as the faithful remnant of Israel.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peter was seen as an Apostle to Jews. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul, who was considered an Apostle to Gentiles, describes his encounter with the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (who were all Jewish) as follows:

…they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised. For the one working through Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised also worked through me for the Gentiles. (Galatians 2.7–8)

Paul acknowledges that Peter was specifically commissioned to minister among Jewish people (the circumcised), while he, Paul, was commissioned to minister as an Apostle to the Gentiles.

Why is this important?

It’s important because Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews (i.e. the circumcised) is on display in the way he opens his letter. I’m offering my own translation of the Greek texts throughout this post, but here I’ll also quote the Greek text for those who are able to read it. That way I want to highlight something that is often passed over too quickly in translation:

Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνίας…

Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect migrants of the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1.1)

When we understand Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews, we cannot help but recognise that he is writing his letter to the ‘Diaspora’—that is, to Jewish people living as migrants in the ancient countries of what we today know as Turkey. ‘Diaspora’ is the standard way of referring to all Jews who lived outside the ‘Promised Land’ (Judea, Samaria, and Galilee).

More specifically, Peter is writing to those whom he views as ‘elect’ among the Diaspora. This is his way of addressing Jewish people who have come to believe in Jesus as Israel’s messiah. In other words, Peter is not writing to all Christians—Jews and Gentiles—as is sometimes espoused. Rather, he is writing to the people to whom he ministered specifically as an Apostle to the Jews—that is, to Jews! To underscore this, he even says to them later:

Conduct yourselves well among the Gentiles… (1 Peter 2.12)

Evidently, then, Peter sees a distinction between his audience and Gentiles. They are very clearly Jews. Critically, though, they have come to believe that Jesus is Israel’s messiah, just as Peter himself has.

Now, let’s look at Peter’s words in chapter 3. There he addresses ‘wives’. Let’s read his words again:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

The wives Peter addresses are Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Peter is not addressing each and every Christian woman in every age regardless of her cultural heritage or context. He is writing specifically to women who have grown up as Jews. These Jewish women would, in virtually all cases, have been married to Jewish men. We know that this was the standard case in the ancient world, since Jewish communities of the first century were endogamous—that is, they married within their own ethnic group. Thus, Jewish women were married to Jewish men. While it was possible for a Gentile man to marry a Jewish woman, it was most certainly not the norm. In fact, it was so exceptional that when it happened, it caught people’s attention and was worthy of specific mention (see Acts 16.1). The norm was that Jewish girls would marry Jewish boys and have Jewish babies. There is nothing here in Peter’s letter to indicate any exceptional circumstances that might call this into question. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that when he was addressing wives, Peter was thinking of Jewish women married to Jewish men.

So Peter is addressing Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Amongst these women would be some whose Jewish husbands were not convinced that Jesus was actually the messiah. This would naturally have created a significant division within the family—a division that even Jesus appears to have expected within Jewish families:

“Do not think that I came to set up peace on the earth. I did not come to set up peace, but a sword. For I came to turn

a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.

The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The person who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt 10.34–37)

Peter’s advice to Jewish wives who believe in Jesus is not to attempt to separate from their husbands who do not share their belief about Jesus, nor even to disparage their husbands. Rather, he encourages them to stay committed to their marriages, with the specific goal of convincing their husbands that Jesus is indeed the messiah.

In other words, Peter gives advice here to Jewish women who live in a household where there is a difference of opinion over who Jesus is. Women in that situation would be encouraged to continue observing Jewish customs, along with their Jewish husbands. This is something Paul even advises the Gentile Christians in Rome to do for the sake of commending the gospel of Jesus as messiah to Jewish people (see Rom 12.1; 15.7–12). After all, these customs were not incompatible with belief in Jesus. As Paul acknowledged, the Law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7.12). Indeed, the Apostles viewed their belief in Jesus as the logical endpoint of their Jewish faith. They believed that Israel’s whole history and culture had culminated in Jesus the messiah (see Hebrews). Therefore, Peter is urging women married to Jewish husbands who do not share their belief in Jesus to cling to their Jewishness as a means of demonstrating to their Jewish husbands that Jesus is indeed Israel’s messiah. To put it another way, Peter urges the wives here to find the common ground with their husbands and work constructively within that common ground to commend the gospel of Jesus to their husbands.

So that’s what Peter is saying. What, then, is he not saying?

Peter is not addressing every Christian woman in any possible context. And he is most certainly not encouraging women to submit to domestic violence. The logic of Peter’s argument critically involves common ground. Common Jewish ground in his particular letter. For Jewish women married to Jewish men, that common ground existed in their cultural heritage, expressed chiefly in observance of the Mosaic Law. But there is no such common ground in situations of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence sees one partner abusively using power and violence to deprive the other partner of wellbeing, safety, and options. In such situations, there is no common ground anymore. One partner simply dominates the other, abolishing any sense of commonality. To have commonality, you need two consenting adults. When there is only one consenting adult, the very notion of commonality has ceased to exist. Indeed, part of the reason domestic violence is such a terrible problem is that the victim feels so utterly trapped within the world of their partner.

To use Peter’s words in 1 Peter to encourage women (or men for that matter) to remain in situations of domestic violence is a misunderstanding of the context, logic, and intent of Peter’s words. It is a tragic misappropriation of Scripture.

More than that, the New Testament makes the point that belief in Jesus is something that God himself grants to people (Eph 2.8–10). To expect a victim of domestic violence to remain in the abusive situation for the sake of their spouse’s salvation is effectively expecting the victim to save their spouse—to do the work that only God himself does. In that case, not only is the person trapped within the violent situation, but the cruel chains of bad theology keep them there, entrapping them even further. It is a terrible situation! No one should be expected to do the work that only God himself does. So we should never expect a victim of domestic violence to continue suffering for the sake of their spouse’s salvation.

2 Peter 1.4 states that part of what it means to be a Christian is to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Not only should we think of this in terms of being freed from the sin we ourselves commit, but we should also think of it in terms of helping victims escape the terrible situations in which they suffer. We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients. That would be reprehensible. So we should never think of encouraging anyone in an abusive relationship to continue in that situation either. The gospel of Christ is meant to bring freedom and peace, and Christians should be brokers of that very freedom and peace.

Domestic violence is both tragic and wrong. There is no other way to view it. The New Testament never condones it. No one ever should.

Rome Recreated (AD 320)

Realm of History has showcased a stunning animation that recreates the city of Rome as it was in AD 320—the reign of Constantine, just before he moved the imperial capital to Constantinople. At that time, Rome was at its zenith. The animation is the fruit of a collaboration between the Rome Reborn Project and the Khan Academy. It breathes life into the ruins that lie throughout Rome today, giving a sense of the grandeur and bustle of what was once the centre of the Western World.

I’m sure you’ll find this animation fascinating. If you can, watch it fullscreen on HD 1080p.

Christians and the Law

This is an article I wrote originally for Southern Cross magazine, appearing in their November 2015 issue, and also at Moore College’s Think Tank blog.


As Christians we hold the Bible to be the Word of God. We acknowledge the Scriptures are ultimately God’s idea, and that he inspired the human authors to write them for the good of those who read them (2 Pet 1:20–21). We rightly acknowledge the Bible to be the ultimate authority for the Christian life. But this poses something of a challenge: How do we rightly interpret the Bible within a modern-day setting when it was not written by or to people in the modern day? How do we take these ancient words of authoritative revelation and apply them well to contemporary situations? As our society changes and seems increasingly keen to let go of Christian mores, this becomes an ever more pressing issue.

One of the particular challenges we face in this regard is the way we bring the laws of the Old Testament to bear on the church and society today. As we read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), we encounter laws about various aspects of life, and we often appeal to these in discussions about Christian behaviour and the ethics of society at large. We recount the Ten Commandments in our liturgy as a statement of God’s righteous standards. We hold some laws as binding today (e.g. not murdering), but relinquish others (e.g. prohibitions against eating certain foods). This can create a serious dilemma, because on the surface, it looks like an arbitrary approach—a purely selective retention of those laws that suit us, and the rejection of those that don’t. Indeed, this is how many caricature our handling of Scripture. Unfortunately, in many cases, they are right. We have not thought carefully enough about interpreting Old Testament laws to ensure that we do not do so arbitrarily. We must do justice to these laws as integral parts of God’s authoritative word to us, and that means having a rationale for how we interpret them.

ten-commandments-hebrewOne method popularly espoused is to divide the Law into three categories: (1) civil laws pertaining to the life of Israel as a national entity in ancient times; (2) ceremonial laws pertaining to how Israel worshipped God at the tabernacle or temple; and (3) moral laws that indicate the ethical standards God desires of people. Under this scheme, the civil and ceremonial laws are seen as no longer applicable to Christians, because they are fulfilled in Christ. The moral laws, though, do continue to have force, since God’s standards have not changed. It therefore takes Jesus’ fulfilment of the Old Testament and the high ethical standards of believers quite seriously.

There are a few problems with this approach, however. First, the Law itself does not make this kind of threefold distinction. The laws together constitute a singular whole. While we are still permitted to divide it up for the purposes of analysis, it becomes easy to take these divisions as absolute features of the Law, rather than useful tools. It’s a bit like treating a three-room house like three distinct houses. Second, the New Testament sees Jesus as the fulfilment of the Law in its entirety, not just two portions of it. And third, the Law is an all-or-nothing proposition. Paul’s interaction with the Gentile believers in Galatia demonstrates this. When the Judaizers came to Galatia and urged the Gentile believers to undergo circumcision in order to be part of the people of God, Paul reacted strongly. He told the Galatians that if they wanted to be characterised by observing the Law, they had to keep all the laws, not just portions of them (Gal 5:3). But this would be to no avail anyway, since no one can ultimately be justified through the Law (Gal 3:11). Nevertheless, Paul also affirms that when Christians walk in step with the Spirit who has been given to them (Gal 5:16, 25) and love their neighbours as themselves, they fulfil the entire Law—not just part of it (Gal 5:24). Carving the Law up into applicable and non-applicable slices simply does not do it justice.

So how should we approach the Law as Christians? The answer to that question would take many more pages than this article allows. Nevertheless, here are some principles and ideas that are vital ‘stakes in the ground’ when considering the place of the Law today.

Types of Laws

It’s useful to understand the nature of the laws we read in the Bible. There are two broad types of laws. The first are ‘apodictic’ laws, which plainly state what people must or must not do. The Ten Commandments (Deut 5:6–21) are the best examples of these. The second type are ‘casuistic’ laws. These don’t hand down a ‘do’ or a ‘do not’. Rather, they describe hypothetical cases and dispense advice on how these cases could be handled. From these cases, readers can derive principles that can be applied in other scenarios. This is important to realise, because casuistic laws are not exhaustive. They do not explore all the possible alternative situations that people might encounter. They are simply worked examples. It is easy to think that casuistic laws are simplistic, unjust, or have numerous loopholes. But this is to treat them as apodictic laws, or misunderstand them as exhaustive. Their hypothetical nature also means that understanding the ancient culture that provided the context for these laws is also invaluable. Without that context, it can be easy to misconstrue the intent of these laws.

The Old Covenant

God gave his laws to his ancient people, Israel. These laws were part of his old covenant, by which he established a particular kind of relationship: God was Israel’s ‘head of state’, and they were his national society within the land he gave them. The old covenant was about establishing and maintaining a nation, which is why laws were appropriate for ordering the covenant relationship. This is very different to our situation as Christians today. Jesus has established a new covenant in which we relate to God not as citizens towards a head of state, but as children towards a heavenly Father. We have become a family, which is why Christians relate to each other not merely as ‘neighbours’, but as ‘brothers and sisters’. While our relationships to God and each other still require order to function well, laws are actually an inappropriate means for this. A family that needs laws imposed on its relationships is not functioning in a healthy way. A family functions well when its members share an inherent identity that inextricably binds them to each other in love. Affection, more than duty, is what makes a family function well. A nation, however, requires a dutiful level of order. Understanding the different dynamics required in running a family and a nation gives us some leverage for understanding the rationale of some of the Old Testament laws, and how they may relate to us today.

The Purpose of the Law

The Law was not about saving a person unto eternal life. Rather, it was about enabling a person to be a good citizen of old covenant Israel within the land. The Apostle Paul, for example, could boast about being blameless with regards to the righteousness that comes from the Law (Phil 3:6). But this type of righteousness only allowed him to be a good ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’—a citizen of Israel, but not necessarily a citizen of heaven. This is why he counted such credentials loss for the sake of knowing Christ and having the righteousness that comes through faith in him (Phil 3:9). This is a new type of righteousness, which is apart from the Law, though the Law (and the prophets) testified to it (Rom 3:21). Only Christ is able to save unto eternal life. Christians are not under the old covenant, so we are not required to live as a national entity within a particular land. We are, instead, under the new covenant, which allows us to relate to God as our Father, regardless of our ethnicity. This means we must not impose the Old Testament Law on Christians today. It is not necessary for salvation or Christian identity. Only Christ is necessary for salvation.

Countercultural Love

hammurabi

A black basalt stele with the Code of Hammurabi.

Other cultures of the ancient Near East had law codes. The Code of Hammurabi from Babylon (c. 1750 BC) is one of the best known of these. Some laws in these codes bear a striking resemblance to those found in the Old Testament. The ‘law of retaliation’ is an example, whereby proportionate punishment is given for a crime: eye for eye, and tooth for tooth (cf. Exod 21:23–25). However, there are also some glaring differences. For example, Hammurabi’s code stipulates that no one must harbour an escaped slave, but must immediately return the slave to his master. On this front, however, God’s Law is profoundly countercultural. It stipulates that if an animal escapes from its owner, the person who finds it must do all in their power to return the animal (Deut 22:1–3). But if a slave escapes from his master, Israelites must not return the slave to his master, but allow him to live among them (Deut 23:15–16). In other words, the Law does not see slaves as property, but as human beings with an inherent right to personal freedom. This is why Israel was only ever to see slavery as a temporary measure for settling debts (Deut 15:12–15). When we consider the ancient world’s view of slaves as dispensable chattels, God’s Law is countercultural. It sows the seeds of compassion and dignity that would eventually inspire the likes of William Wilberforce to bring the institution of slavery to an end. The Law outlines Israel’s duties, but at its heart is love of neighbour. This should be a guiding principle in how we analyse it.

This countercultural aspect of the Law is not just about Israel being different to other nations for the sake of being different. As we’ve seen, Israel shared some laws in common with its neighbours. Rather, it is about establishing practices and policies that reflect the justice, righteousness, and love of God. The Law aims to treat people as persons in relationship with others. This is not the same as treating people individualistically—as singular units without reference to others. It is about promoting personhood and relational wellbeing. This is why it bids the powerful of society to use their power in loving service of the weak, usually characterised as the fatherless, the widow, and the migrant (e.g. Deut 10:18). In an ancient society that lacked many of the social and political infrastructures that we enjoy in the West today, this was a crucial message.

Same God, Different Context

The God who gave Israel the Law is the same God who has spoken and acted in Jesus Christ. We worship the same deity whom old covenant Israel worshipped (or, rather, should have worshipped). But while God himself has not changed, our understanding of God is, in fact, different to the understanding Israel had. In Old Testament times, God was still in the process of revealing himself. This is why he kept sending prophets to Israel, and why Israel had to keep adapting to this unfolding revelation. We, however, live after the completion of God’s revelation in Christ. The Law was not God’s final word—Christ was. Failing to take Christ into account is like interrupting God mid-sentence, and not letting him speak. It can be presumptuous and lead to misunderstanding.

So as we interpret the Old Testament Law, we must appreciate the difference in historical and theological context between Israel and ourselves. We must feel the difference between ‘BC’ and ‘AD’. Yet we must also recognise that God has not changed. This means we should be able to see a consistency between the Law given to Israel and what God requires of us today, but this consistency is situated in the character of God, not in the laws themselves. Although we (technically) no longer have the institution of slavery, the laws on slavery should still speak to us of a God who values human dignity and freedom, and which places people above economics. And while we are in a different salvation-historical context to old covenant Israel, there are some things that have not changed. For example, human nature is still the same. Our capacity for sin, our biological composition, and our personal limitations are unchanged. While our context may be different to old covenant Israel’s, our need for God and his revelation has not changed.

The change in historical and theological context demonstrates that the Law is not a timeless revelation. It was, rather, a revelation in history. Paul describes the Law as Israel’s tutor, put in place until Israel’s time of maturity and fulfilment arrived—the time of Christ (Gal 4:1–7). The Law is, therefore, not binding on Christians today as Law. But this does not mean the authority of God’s Law has expired. The Law remains the word of God as it ever was, for it still speaks to us of the God we worship, and of our forebears in the people of God. But it speaks to us today as prophecy and wisdom, rather than as Law. It testifies to the God whom we know today as our Father. It testifies to his righteousness, justice, and love. It provides us with the framework for understanding God’s dealings with his people in ages past, and in so doing, still provides us with wisdom on what is pleasing to God. The Law is like a tall tree whose shadow has moved through the day. It now casts a different shadow on a different landscape, but it is the same tree as it was in the morning. As such, we can affirm the truth of Paul’s words to Timothy when it comes to the Law: ‘All Scripture is breathed by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16–17).

tree