We are continuing the Q&A between myself and prolific theologian, author, professor and blogger, Scot McKnight, about his new book, One.Life. You can check out a number of his award winning books and blog here.
Andrew’s Question: A very interesting section of your book was when you talk about the 613 laws of the Torah (p. 49-52). You mention that each of the 613 laws is broken down into two broader categories: either an expression of how to love God better or how to love each other better. How do you explain some of the more obscure laws, or severe punishments, within the 613 to reflect an expression of how we are supposed to love God and love others?
Scot’s Response: Now you’re asking a tough one. The focus of Jesus’ teaching that the entire Law (and Prophets) hang from these two commandments is to say: At the bottom of all of God’s directives for God’s people are these two commandments: love God, love others. I take that to be not something I’ve invented or figured out, as if I’ve got a pet theory. No, this reduction to love is Jesus’ own perspective on the laws of the Bible. So, he’s right.
Now it’s ours to explain some things. There are some commandments, or some punishments that are commanded by Israel’s God in the Old Testament, that appear to be brutal or over the top – however you might want to say it. But if you stare at those commands long enough, and think them over and over, you will often find your way into the deeper pools of love.Take, for instance, making a man marry a woman because they have had sex inappropriately, even in the case of rape. This strikes us today as brutal. What we learn in studying texts like Deuteronomy 21 is that violated women were set loose in that ancient culture – they couldn’t return home and they couldn’t find a husband because they were violated. The law of Moses, and here is where love starts to shine through, was shaped to protect that woman and punish that man and require that man to be faithful to that woman – and that is a step toward redemption away from turning that woman loose to become a prostitute or somehow dependent upon others. At the guts of this somewhat brutal law then is a love for a woman, God’s love for that woman, and Israel’s need to care for that woman.
It’s a bit too easy to settle down on the barbarity of ancient conditions, and harder to see how that law functioned in that world, but when we do we see that laws are designed to help us love one another and to love God.
There’s so much more that could be said; so much more that needs to be said; but the only way to move forward here brother is to look at tough examples and see how Love God and Love Others works in those settings. I’ve given it a fair shot.