What about the Old Testament laws? Like the purity laws or the holiness codes? Can they be used in political discourse? for laws in our land? Are they just passe? If these are God’s laws are they God laws for all time, for all people, in all places?
Richard Bauckham, in his new book, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically, ponders the holiness laws for Israel now found in Leviticus 19 (after the jump) as a test case for how to read the Old Testament laws for political decisions today. This is not only a tough text in itself, it is even more delicate to handle when it comes to modern politics. So, bravo for Bauckham!
First, the principles and illustrations. The key to the chp is v. 2: “be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Note vv. 3, 4, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37. Israel is special, set apart, covenanted to God and to God alone and God is covenanted to them, and to them alone. That’s the point of holiness. Thus, the point of the chp is the full holiness of God’s people in all they do.
What do you think of this principles worked out in illustrations? Does this turn “rules” inside out? How do you think a text like Leviticus 19 can be of use in our political world?
There are plenty of examples and there is a randomness that shows it is a sampling rather than a completeness. They examples illustrate the principle of holiness. There is also here the principle of love of neighbor (19:18), the principle of concern for the marginalized, the principle of avoiding the praxis of the pagans. Etc. This is important to Bauckham: the Torah has major principles which are applied. Thus, the Decalogue is principles, and examples follow for chapters after it. They work out the principles. Judicial cases in the Torah are examples as well. The Torah is not complete.
Bauckham is not keen on the distinction between cultic, moral and civil laws. Gleaning does not illustrate private charity vs. government charity because the distinction between private and public is unknown to the Torah. What is good for one is good for all (except for special laws for priests, etc.). Gleaning is a culturally specific illustration of love of neighbor by providing for those in need. It is designed to protect the poor and to remind the owner that God owns the land — that is, that what we have is not “ours” but God’s.
The church is to seek to live out these Torah principles; and in society but maybe not as a political entity (depending on how much authority is vested in the principles in that society/political state). All of this means we need to see that the Torah of Israel is on its way to the Kingdom of God, and it points to that Kingdom. It attempts to realize God’s will in an ancient near eastern society. The church is not a political entity, and must not seek to be one. Torah then is instructive but not instructions for the church. The church is an eschatological witness to the kingdom as it seeks to live out the will of God for the kingdom.
Bauckham sketches grey hair texts and adultery texts before getting to Jesus’ use of Leviticus 19. Jesus presses utter truthfulness in Matt 5:33-37 as he extends beyond Lev 19:12. Jesus also saw Lev 19:18 as the second great commandment, and this shows Jesus saw the Torah as having fundamental principles and illustrations of those principles. Jesus extended “neighbor” to all humans.
In all, then, Bauckham sees the Torah as having foundational principles, the principles are worked out concretely in a context, and those principles are to be set within a redemptive history aiming at the Kingdom of God. We are to see our place in that history and to live out the kingdom in our time and in our place.
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.3 “‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.
4 “‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.
5 “‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. 6 It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. 7 If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. 8 Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the LORD; they must be cut off from their people.
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
19 “‘Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
20 “‘If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. 21 The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the tent of meeting for a guilt offering to the LORD. 22 With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the LORD for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven.
23 “‘When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.
26 “‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.
“‘Do not practice divination or seek omens.
27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
29 “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.
30 “‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD.
31 “‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.
32 “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.
33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
35 “‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. 36 Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.
37 “‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’”