Sunday, February 10, 2013

Many of us are reading now through the Pentateuch in our Bible reading, and Nathan posted this.  I found this helpful.
 "I found Stuart's excursus in his NAC Exodus commentary interesting:
Excursus: The Paradigmatic Nature of Biblical Law
Modern societies generally have opted for exhaustive law codes. That is, every action modern society wishes to regulate or prohibit must be specifically mentioned in a separate law. Under the expectations of this exhaustive law system, state and/or federal law codes run to thousands of pages and address thousands of individual actions by way of requirement or restriction or control or outright banning of those actions. By this approach, all actions are permitted that are not expressly forbidden or regulated. Thus it is not uncommon that criminals in modern Western societies evade prosecution because of a “technicality” or a “loophole” in the law—their undesirable actions are not exactly prohibited or regulated by a written law, so they cannot be convicted even though an objective observer may be convinced that what they did surely deserved punishment.
Ancient laws did not work this way. They were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models of prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors, but they made no attempt to be exhaustive. Ancient laws gave guiding principles, or samples, rather than complete descriptions of all things regulated. Ancient people were expected to be able to extrapolate from what the sampling of laws did say to the general behavior the laws in their totality pointed toward. Ancient judges were expected to extrapolate from the wording provided in the laws that did exist to all other circumstances and not to be foiled in their jurisprudence by any such concepts as “technicalities” or “loopholes.” When common sense told judges11 that a crime had been committed, they reasoned their way from whatever the most nearly applicable law specified to a decision as to how to administer proper justice in the case before them. Citizens of ancient Israel, and especially its judges, had to learn to extrapolate from whatever laws they had received from Yahweh to whatever justice-challenging situation they were dealing with. The number of laws dealing with any given application of justice might be few, but that would not prevent justice from being applied. It would simply have been the case that all parties were expected to appeal for guidance to those laws that did exist, whether or not expressed specifically in terms that dealt with the case under consideration. In other words, the Israelites had to learn to see the underlying principles in any law and not let the specifics of the individual casuistic citation mislead them into applying the law too narrowly.
God’s revealed covenant law to Israel was paradigmatic. No Israelite could say: “The law says I must make restitution for stolen oxen or sheep [Exod 22:1], but I stole your goat. I don’t have to pay you back,” or “The law says that anyone who attacks his father or mother must be put to death [Exod 21:15], but I attacked my grandmother, so I shouldn’t be punished,” or “The law says that certain penalties apply for hitting someone with a fist or a stone [Exod 21:18], but I kicked my neighbor with my foot and hit him with a piece of wood, so I shouldn’t be punished.” Such arguments would have insulted the intelligence of all concerned and made no impact on those rendering judgments. It is in connection with the paradigmatic nature of Israel’s covenant law that Jesus, following the established tradition in Judaism, could make so sweeping an assertion as that two laws sum up all the rest (see above). Properly understood, two laws do indeed sum up everything in the entire legal corpus of the Old Testament. So do ten laws (the Ten Words/Commandments); so do all six hundred and thirteen. The numbers go no higher, nor would they need to. If a reasonable number of comprehensive and comprehensible laws (as few as two, as many as six hundred and thirteen) are provided to a people as paradigms for proper living, there is no excuse for that people to claim ignorance of how to behave or to claim innocence when their sins are found out.
Most laws are expressed as commands in the masculine singular—the you of the laws is “you, a male person”—from a technical, grammatical point of view. But here again the reader/listener would not have the slightest ground to say, “It prohibits individual men from doing such and such, but I’m a woman/we’re a group, so the wording of the law exempts me/us.” Implicit in the wording is the need for paradigmatic extrapolation to all persons, singular or plural, male or female.
Within the New Covenant, the paradigm of the two great laws is summarized as the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Because of the help of the Holy Spirit, the need to memorize and remember six hundred and thirteen commandments is obviated. The law is no longer a matter of (paradigmatic) guidelines written externally on tablets of stone. It is now a matter of a clear sense of loving God and neighbor written on the mind by God’s Spirit (Jer 31:31–34; cf. Rom 2:15) in accordance with the two commandments that always summed up God’s will and/or the ten that in the Old Covenant were graciously given to clarify the two.
One may ask, “If the commands to love God with one’s whole heart and to love neighbor as self are the two greatest, why weren’t these the first commandments spoken at Sinai? Why did one of them (“love your neighbor as yourself,” Lev 19:18) come later to the attention of the Israelites rather subtly, without fanfare, in the midst of the levitical “Holiness Code” (Lev 19–26) and the other (“love the Lord your God with all your heart,” Deut 6:5) almost forty years later, in the new generation’s law code, Deuteronomy? The answer is disarmingly simple: too many people could not appreciate the two great commandments except in reference to the others, including the ten principal expressions thereof, the Ten Words/Commandments of Exod 20. That is, without an awareness of all six hundred and thirteen commandments and seeing within them the high standards of God’s holiness and his particular required and/or banned behaviors enumerated, a person corrupted by a fallen world does not easily get the point of what the two great commandments are intended to summarize. Once one has learned the breadth and depth of God’s expectations for his holy people, however, the two greatest commandments serve brilliantly as comprehensive reminders of all that is expected of God’s covenant people. This is the point of the law of Christ in the New Covenant. It is not an amorphous, contentless concept but a way of summarizing full obedience to everything Christ taught, demonstrated and reinforced from elsewhere in Scripture.
A final implication of paradigmatic law: not all ll laws will be equally comprehensive in scope. That is, some will be very broad in their applicability (love Yahweh your God) and some much more narrow (do not bear false witness). One might ask, “Why not say ‘don’t be dishonest in any way,’ which would be broader and more comprehensive than ‘don’t bear false witness’?” But that would be missing the way paradigmatic law works: through a somewhat randomly presented admixture of rather specific examples of more general behaviors and very general regulations of broad categories of behavior, the reader/listener comes to understand that all sorts of situations not exactly specified (either because a law is so broad or so narrow) are also implicitly covered. In other words, when all the laws are considered together, one’s impression is that both the very narrow, precise issues and the very broad, general issues fall under the purview of God’s covenant. The wide variability of comprehensiveness is intended to help the person desiring to keep the covenant to say, “I now see that in the tiniest detail as well as in the widest, most general way, I am expected to try to keep this law—in all its implications, not just in terms of its exact wording.” Some commandments are thus less broad in scope in the way they are expressed than is necessary to cover all the intended actions; others are so broad in scope in the way they are expressed that one could never think up all the ways they might be applied. This is just as it should be. The narrow and the broad taken together suggest the overall comprehensiveness of God’s covenant will for his people.12

1 comment:

Sonja said...

Very helpful! Enjoyed this post. Please let Nathan know I'm really enjoying his Bible reading plan. I started a bit late in the game because of some other Bible study I was finishing up, but I'm catching up. (Not terribly far behind now.) I really like the chronological aspect. Just today I saw a connection that I wouldn't likely have made before. Love that! Blessings!