Russell and Duenes

Hard O.T. Texts: How to Read Them

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In trying to address some hard Old Testament texts, I think it’s important to say a few words about the way in which we ought to read these texts – as indeed we ought to read all biblical texts – namely, we should read them in canonical context. What does that mean?

It means that the Scripture is not just one continuous piece of writing, but contains numerous writings which make up the canon of Scripture. This canon is rightly closed, and admits no new inspired writings. But we run into trouble when we try to read hard texts piecemeal without seeing them in light of the canonical story.

In other words, we have to start our reading of everything under the banner of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Further, God created mankind in his image, gave us dominion over the earth, and said that all he had made is “very good.” Thus we know that God is good and all he creates is good. He has no bad intentions and all his ways are justice and mercy. As St. John says, “God is light and in him there is absolutely no darkness at all.”

But, a canonical reading also tells us that we have rebelled against God, and are thus cursed, marred, twisted, unholy and impure. We stand under God’s righteous judgment. Thus, God’s laws are given to us in this context. His laws are not given to sinless, perfect people. They are an expression of his character, given to sinners, for the purpose of showing his holy glory and showing their dependence on him.

God’s laws are also given as part of his redemptive plan to bring his salvation to all the nations. One of his early moves in bringing about this redemption was to choose the nation of Israel in particular and set her apart by giving her a unique law. Thus, the law is conditioned by the context and purpose of the recipients. They are not all timeless laws in their application, for they were intended to bring about the display of God’s mercy and glory among a particular people, at a particular place, in a particular time. Yet they are timeless in that they are a reflection of God’s character. We know that God’s laws are all merciful and good because the canon of Scripture tells us they are. We know that “God is good and does good.” (Ps.119:68). God’s people are told, “So keep and do [these laws], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” (Deut.4:6-7). God desired for his people to know the right way to live, but he also desired for them to have the knowledge of their sin and his judgment against it, for the canonical Scriptures also tell us, “through the law comes knowledge of sin,” (Rom.3:20) and “the law brings wrath.” (Rom.4:15)

The high peak of God’s work of redemption comes through the sinless life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hard O.T. texts must ultimately be read through the lens of Christ’s teachings and the apostolic teachings. Christ is the fulfillment of the law’s prophetic function, but in the death and resurrection of Christ, many of the laws become passe. Obviously the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is no longer needed, to give but one example. The book of Hebrews also makes it clear that, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb.8:13). As Christians, we walk by the Holy Spirit, according to the law of Christ. Much more could be said here.

Finally, we have the final age, when Christ reigns over the new heavens and the new earth. The O.T. law must be read in light of this as well. Here there will be no sin, and we will know final redemption. God’s law will always be “perfect,” but its work in redemption will no longer be needed.(You can see I need to do much more thinking about this part of the canon.)

Doubtless I’ve left out a lot of stuff, which only points up the importance for me and all other Christians to be reading our Bibles, en toto, again and again and again. We need to become ever more familiar with the entire terrain of the biblical canon, so that we are able to interpret each part of it in light of the whole. This is a life’s work, yea, more than a life’s work. Which is why King David said that the blessed man or woman is the one “who delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”



Written by Michael Duenes

June 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

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