Monday, May 23, 2011

Law vs. Instructions: reconciling differences

Do you ever read the New Testament and wonder if God made a mistake in the Old? You know, like when Jesus says stuff like, "You have heard it said...but I say..." Pretty sure the "you've heard it said" part was said by God. Well- God through Moses...but same dif. Is Jesus correcting God's mistake? Did God give us all those legalistic laws in the Old Testament and then realize they weren't working so he sent Jesus instead to give us a new way?

I was musing about these things, among a myriad of others, last night to my good friend, Dustin, who I've mentioned before is a wealth of knowledge. He gave me a new perspective to ponder:

The Torah, also know as the Pentateuch, refers to the first five books of the Bible, and is often mistranslated from Hebrew as 'The Law'. When we hear the word 'law' we think rules. We think rigid regulations to be obeyed. This is primarily the way I have viewed the words that Moses brought down from the mountain after his meeting with God. But a better Hebrew translation of the Torah is 'Instructions'. This translation immediately changes our perspective. The Torah was a set of instructions given to a specific people, the Hebrews. God was setting them apart to be His witness to the nations. The instructions he gave them would distinguish them from every other people group on the earth. The Torah is essentially Hebrew culture.

So in the New Testament when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8-11, is going over the old law and giving new instructions and leeway to the Corinthian believers, he isn't only doing so to free them from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10), but also to open up the doors of salvation to the Gentiles. Remember, the Torah was a set of instructions to set apart the Hebrew people, a specific culture. Holding converts to the Hebrew culture instructions would be like going into inland China to try and convert new believers into American Christians. It doesn't work and it ruins something beautiful. Jesus does the same thing as Paul when he says, "You have heard it said...but I say...".  He is basically saying, "It's been done this way in the past, but I don't expect you to be Hebrew. You can love me as you are." He is putting infinite value on all the new cultures and people groups who were beginning to fall in love with Him. Jesus didn't want or need a homogeneous culture to worship Him. The fullness of God's glory in creation is expressed when His people worship Him as they were created, in beautiful diversity.

This understanding has given me a whole new perspective on God's story as it has played out over the course of history. Have you ever wondered why there seem to be so many differences between the Old Testament Law (instructions) and the new way of Jesus? How did you reconcile them?

1 comment:

  1. I notice some discord between some of Jesus' instructions and at least a cursory reading of the Old Testament, particularly in how Jesus and the Disciples have a very loose approach to the Sabbath, and the story of Jesus saying "let the one without sin cast the first stone" about the woman caught in adultery.

    But I'm not sure that's what is really going on with the "you have heard it said, but I tell you" in the Sermon on the Mount. All of the examples I can think of aren't really throwing out these commands but are more expanding on them, taking part in the way Rabbi's taught the law. There are a few folks who believe that the "you have heard it said but I tell you" line was a common Rabbinical teaching method.

    To answer your question at the bottom however, I guess when I see differences, I try to read them through the lens of Jesus and asking what the intent of the law was. That doesn't always offer a perfect reconciliation, there's still moments that are confusing but it at least gives me a decent framework through which to attempt to understand discord between the Old and New Testaments.