Monday, October 26, 2015

Interpreting Old Testament law, coercion and violence through the lens of the cross (part 1)

This is the first part of a series to look at the New Testament interpretation Old Testament law, coercion and violence. The purpose of the series is to examine and develop the approach or method to be used when the Old Testament portrays God as instituting, regulating or commanding punishments, coercion, the death penalty and violence.

The approach will be to look at the examples where a New Testament author writes about such topics as the law, judgement, condemnation, death etc. as provided for in the Old Testament and to identify and develop the distinctively Christian approach to such provisions of the Old Testament.

The first example is:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:20-21)
In this place Paul makes an unexpected statement about the purpose of the law: it was brought in to increase trespass. Now the conventional theory is just the opposite: the law was brought in to control trespass. However, Paul does not see it that way at all, on his accounting:
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. (Rom 5:13-14)

So the difference the law made was:

  1. The law charged law-breakers for their law-breaking, and took coercive enforcement action against the lawbreakers.
  2. The law was brought in to increase sin (and its fruit, death).
On this view, the law's charging and enforcement action against lawbreakers has the opposite purpose and effect of what the law says about itself:
Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. (Deut 21:21)

The deterrent effect of fear and the purging effect of punishment lawbreakers is a myth. Paul does not accept the myth of redemptive violence / coercion at the level of 'the law' even though 'the law' expressly states it!

The teaching of Paul is that the law arouses sinful passions in us and bears the fruit of death (Rom 7:5).

The discussion of Paul in the book of Romans contains competing elements: the law is good and holy, but it is also a vehicle for sin and bondage. This is the Christian interpreter's tension to resolve when looking at the Old Testament law: upholding its inspiration while arguing for a superseded administration that renders the old administration sinful and repudiates its original justification and rationale. Based on Paul's grappling with the law in the book of Romans, that tension is a difficult one, but one required by the perfect revelation of God in Jesus dying on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of his enemies.

No comments:

Post a Comment