Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 4

All week long I have been trying to answer the following question: What do Christians do with the Old Testament law?  Today I will try to answer the hardest related question; What is the point of all the law? We all understand the reason behind some of the laws, for example, don’t worship other gods, but why are some others so obscure?  E.g. Don’t eat lobster, or catfish.  Build a fence around your roof.  Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.   If you kill someone on accident their relatives can come after you, unless you flee to a city of refuge.

Depending on who you ask, you get different answers about the nature of the Pentateuch.α These views fall basically into 4 camps.

  • Some say the point is to relay the law and give moral guidance. – In other words, the main purpose for the Pentateuch is to give the laws.  Which is understandable view since so much of it is made up of laws.  But that ignores some extremely important narrative.
  • Some say that the point is to offer a simple history – Plain enough right.  The laws are basically extraneous
  • Some say that the point is a biography of Moses – I would like to dismiss this out of hand because it ignores Creation, and everything about Abraham.
  • Some say that the point is to offer specific commands to specific people. (e.g. Build an ark)  This also seems silly.

Having dismissed all these views, how will we arrive at an answer to the question at hand?  let’s turn to Old Testament theology genius, and my Hebrew professor, John Sailhamer.β

He will say that main idea of the Pentateuch is to contrast 2 people; Abraham as seen in Gen 26:5, and Moses in Num 20:12.

Follow those links and read the 2 passages closely.  I’ll bet you see something you have never seen before that will transform the way you look at these passages.

What is so transformative about this view?

First, Abraham is said to have kept the law even though he lived and died before it was given.  Do you see it?

Then compare that praise to the sin of Moses.  Which according to Num 20 is a lack of faith, not disobedience to the law.

Have you ever seen this?  Abraham is praised for his faith, Moses (the bringer of the law) is condemned by his lack of faith.

So what conclusion do we draw from this contrast?  How does it help answer the question I have spent all week on?  It means that the point of the OT law is just as Paul says in Rom 10 “the righteous live by faith.”

I hope this series has been helpful.  I enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

α I’m not sure where I got this from.  I think from lecture notes by Robert L. Cole, Old Testament Survey 1,  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

β John Sailhamer, “The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch,” Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991) 241-261.