The Bible Project

The Law as a Revolution - Law E3

Episode Summary

Welcome to our third episode on how to read biblical law!

Episode Notes

In part 1 (0-21:30), the guys recap their conversation so far. Jon says that often the law is the first place people go who look to take issue with the Bible, saying it’s archaic or barbaric. Tim points out that too often, we don’t understand how cross-cultural it is to read the Bible. Instead, we often impose our own cultural mindset on the Bible.

Jon recalls from their discussion that the ancient law code of Israel was not the supreme authority, but instead illustrative of the relationships between the parties involved.

In part 2 (21:30-26:30), Tim talks about the wisdom of the laws in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tim shares this quote:

“The Hebrew Bible strongly suggests that the earliest forms of disputes… were resolved… by intuitions of justice against a background of custom, rather than appeal to formulated rules. The biblical sources which talk about the establishment of the judicial system in Israel give no indication that judges were to use written sources. Rather, judges are urged to avoid partiality and corruption and to ‘do justice.’ But what was the source of such justice? The version attributed to king Jehoshaphat is the most explicit, ‘God is with you in giving judgment’ (2 Chronicles 19:6). Divine inspiration is also attributed to the king in rendering judgment: Proverbs 16:10, ‘Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.’ Solomon’s judgment (1 Kings 3:16-28) is presented as an example of just such a process…. This is not to say that judges were expected to go into some kind of trance or function as an oracle. Rather, they were called to operate by combining local custom with divinely guided intuitions of justice…relying on the ‘practical wisdom’ that existed within the social consciousness of the people as a whole.” (Bernard Jackson, Wisdom Laws, 30-31)

In part 3 (26:30-40:30), Tim says the laws embody a set of ideals. Laws related to similar topics work together as a symbolic ritual system. They embody a set of ethical, social, and theological ideals for God’s ancient covenant people, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” living out the Garden-of-Eden ideal in the world. He shares five ideal “buckets” or categories to help readers understand different laws:

Ritual Calendar: The 7-day Sabbath cycle is all about the anticipation and re-enactment of new creation (note the literary design of the days in Genesis 1: There is no end to the seventh day).
Ritual sacrifices: sacrifices involved offering the life of a blameless representative who would “ascend” to the heavenly mountain on behalf of the offerer (Leviticus 1 begins with the “‘olah” or “ascent” offering)
Ritual holiness: symbolic purity boundaries embodied the conviction that God’s presence is the source of all life, and health is separate from the mortal and immoral
Civil law: creating a new-creation community structured to carry the poor and prevent injustice toward the vulnerable
Criminal law: zero tolerance for those who corrupt the holy covenant family: no blood feuds, theft, idolatry, or sexual behavior that disrupts the social web

In part 4 (40:30-end), Tim goes over the sacrifices in the “ritual sacrifices” bucket. He cites a book by Michael Morales called Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A biblical theology of Leviticus. Tim also goes over civil and criminal laws in ancient Israel. Jon asks Tim for a few specific examples. Tim goes to these passages:

Deuteronomy 24:21-22
“21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 25:1-4
“1 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes
4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”

Deuteronomy 25:11-15
“11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”

“13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.”

Tim admits that these laws are very hard to understand. He points out that there are no narratives of these laws actually being put into practice. Regarding verses 11-12, Tim points out that the woman would have been endangering the entire family and bloodline by seizing a man’s genitals. Tim also notes that the differing weights are about not counterfeiting money.

Thank you to all our supporters!

Show produced by:
Dan Gummel, Jon Collins

Show Music:

“Defender Inst” by Tents
“Good Morning” by Amine Maxine
“I don’t need you to say anything” by Le Gang
“Shipwrecked” by Moby


Show Resources:

Bernard Jackson, Wisdom Laws
Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A biblical theology of Leviticus