Home > Bible Topics > Biblical Theology > Torah as Holiness > this page
Site Contents
Daily Readings
Bible Topics
Worship Topics
Ministry Topics
Church Year
Theology Topics
New Additions

Footnotes for Torah As Holiness:
Old Testament "Law" as Response to Divine Grace

Dennis R. Bratcher

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright 2013, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
See Copyright and User Information Notice 

(To return to the article text click "return", or click HERE to return to CRI/Voice's main menu page.)

1. The modern debate was begun as an apologetic from a Jewish perspective in 1909 by Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud, Schocken, 1961 [Macmillan, 1909], 116-126. [return]

2. While not using identical terms, Anthony Phillips raises the same two dangers in "The Place of Law in Contemporary Society," in Jewish Christian Relations, London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 43-51, as does, Shemaryahu Talmon from a different perspective and emphasis in "Torah as a Concept and Vital Principle in the Hebrew Bible," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 24 (1979):284-285. [return]

3. This is basically the canonical perspective of James Sanders, Torah and Canon, Fortress, 1972, and Canon and Community, Fortress, 1984, and, from a slightly different perspective, Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament As Scripture, Fortress, 1979. The methodology and assumptions of this study will follow a little more closely to Sanders, who emphasizes the communities’ historical interaction with authoritative traditions. [return]

4. For this reason, the Hebrew word torah will be used throughout the paper rather than Torah. See Paul Livermore, "The Precious Instrument: A Study of the Concept of Law in Judaism and Evangelicalism," Wesleyan Theological Journal 22 (1987):16-37; Alan F. Segal, "Torah and nomos in recent scholarly discussion," Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses 13 (1984):19-27. [return]

5. Walter Brueggemann, "Trajectories in Old Testament Literature and the Sociology of Ancient Israel," Journal of Biblical Literature 98 (1979):161-185, although I am here emphasizing the ongoing theological implications more than the sociological shaping. Rf. Walter Brueggemann, "A Shape for Old Testament Theology, I. Structure Legitimation; II. Embrace of Pain," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 (1985):28-46. [return]

6. Stephen Westerholm, "Torah, nomos, and law: A question of ‘meaning’," Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses 15 (1986):327-336. [return]

7. Sacrificial laws in 1 Chron 16:38-40; children not incurring punishment for their fathers’ sins in 2 Kings 14:6; also, the building of an altar in a specific manner in Josh 8:31; the observance of Succoth in Neh 8:13-18; the banning of Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly in Neh 13:1-3, etc. Other examples of reference to a written collection are: Deut 17:18-20, 27:3-26, 28:58-61, 29:20, 30:10, 31:9-11, 26, Josh 1:8, 8:31-34, 23:6, 24:26, 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 23:24, Neh 9:3-14, 13:3, 2 Chron 34:14-19, 35:26. The formula "This is the torah concerning . . ." occurs about 20 times in the OT (Lev 6:2 [ET9], 7 [ET14], 18 [24], 7:1, 11, 37, 46, 12:7, 13:59, 14:2, 32, 54, 57, 15:32, Num 5:29, 6:13, 21, 19:14; Eze 43:122). It is sometimes seen as carrying the same legal connotation. However, since the formula only occurs in cultic contexts (with the possible exception of the single verse in Ezekiel), it could just as easily mean "This is the instruction for [the proper observance of]. . ." without necessarily taking the more narrow meaning of law. The single verse in Ezekiel, in the context of the vision of the restored temple, is more a confessional statement concerning the temple mount than any specific instruction or law. [return to note #7] [return to note #18]

8. Josiah in 2 Kings 22:1-24:30 with the Deuteronomic summary of his reign in 2 Kings 23:24-25; Hezekiah in 2 Chron 30:16, 31:3-4, 21. [return]

9. Neh 8-9, 13, Ezra 9-10; Cf. Mal 1-2. [return]

10. This is especially seen in the hortatory sections of Deuteronomy, often with the formulaic phrase "all the words of this torah" or other phrases using "all:" Deut 4:8, 44, 17:11 (which includes ongoing case law in the administration of justice as well as written instruction), 19, 27:3, 8, 26, 28:58, 29:28 [ET 29], 31:12, 31:24-26, 32:46; also Josh 1:7-9, 8:34-35, 23:6, 2 Kings 17:13, 21:8, 23:25. [return to note #10] [return to note #60]

11. The number of occurrences are according to Qonqordantseyah chadashah letorah nebi’i uketubim [A New Concordance of the Bible], Abraham Even-Shoshan, ed., Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, 1985, 1225-1226. Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976 [reprint], lists only 217 occurrences, 216 of which are translated as "law" in the KJV (590-591, Index-Lexicon, 50). [return]

12. Although they are kept close to the RSV, all biblical translations are the author’s. [return]

13. I am using the term "civil" law generally to refer to regulations governing the proper functioning of a community on a social level, which in most modern cultures in distinguished from religious or cultural matters. However, this is only a term of convenience, recognizing that in theocratic, theistic monarchical, or hierocratic societies, such as in the OT, the dividing line between civil and religious matters is not sharply drawn. [return]

14. 2 Chron 30:16, 31:3-4, 21. [return]

15. 2 Kings 18:6: For he remained close to the LORD; he did not turn aside from following him, but observed [yishmor] the commandments [mitsvot] which the LORD commanded Moses. [return]

16. It is interesting that in 2 Kings 19, when faced with the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib, Hezekiah sent for the prophet Isaiah to ask his advice (and thereby the direction of God). In 2 Chronicles 32 Isaiah is only mentioned incidentally. The Chronicler presents the deliverance from the Assyrians as a consequence of strict adherence to the law; 2 Kings presents it, first proclaimed by the prophetic word (2 Kings 19:6-7), as the result of Hezekiah’s diligence in seeking faithfully to follow Yahweh. [return]

17. This does not suggest that the Priestly and Deuteronomic perspectives were identical. However, following the experience of the destruction of both Samaria and Jerusalem, proclaimed by the prophets as the judgment by God on the unfaithfulness and idolatry of the Israelites, both traditions were concerned with the faithful obedience of the community. After the return from exile, the focus of the community was on avoiding past mistakes. In the post-exilic period, this increasingly took the direction of obedience to specific written codes.
There is considerable debate concerning the origin of Deuteronomy, its levels of redaction, and its relationship to the preceding material of the Pentateuch and to the following material of the Former Prophets. For convenience, I will take the perspective that Deuteronomy is related theologically and structurally to the Former Prophets, providing the theological framework from which to evaluate Israel’s history. This implies a theological coherence to the Former Prophets from the perspective of the exile, a coherence emphasized by the term Deuteronomic History applied to the former Prophets, and by the term Deuteronomist applied to its "author" (whether an individual or a community). (See History and Theology in Joshua and Judges) [return to note #17] [return to note #51]

18. See note no. 7 above. [return]

19. Psa 119:1, 18, 29, 34, 44, 51, 53, 55, 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113, 126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163, 165, 174. The parallel terms in the OT, ten of which are used in this psalm are (as usually translated by the RSV): ordinance (mishpat), statute (hoq), commandment, (mitswah), word (dabar), word (’imra), voice (qol), knowledge (da‘at), way or path (derek), way (’orh), testimonies (‘edot), testimony (‘edut), precept (piqqud), covenant (berith), teaching (musar); testimony (te‘udah) occurs in parallel only in Isa 8:16, 20, and righteousness (tsedeq) only in Isa 51:7. [return]

20. The term tamim in this verse means whole, complete, or mature. Cf. Psa 1:1-2, Psa 19:8-10 [ET7-9]. [return]

21. Walking God’s path: 1, 3, 9, 14, 15, 30, 32, 35, 45, 59, 101, 102, 105, 128, 168; learning from God: 7, 12, 18, 19, 26, 27, 29, 32, 33, 34, 36, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 99, 102, 104, 108, 124, 125, 130, 135, 144, 169, 171; seeking the Lord: 2, 10; allegiance of the heart: 11, 34, 36, 80, 145. [return]

22. "Walking a path" is a common biblical metaphor for living a certain kind of lifestyle. This is dramatically illustrated by the fact that one of the primary Hebrew words for sin (chatta’) basically means "to walk the wrong path" or "to go in the wrong direction" (cf. the non-technical use in Prov 19:2), with the primary Hebrew word for repentance (shub) meaning "to turn around" or "to return." This metaphor carries into the NT, for example, in Eph 5:2: "And walk in love, as Christ loved us." [return to note #22] [return to note #44]

23. "Attempts to argue that certain specific community structures are definitive for all time on the basis of an appeal to Scripture may contribute to a superficial sense of clarity. However . . . they fail to grasp the most profound biblical insight into communal structures--namely, that they are in every age an aspect of the community of faith’s response to the living God. . . . The most fundamental characteristic of such a notion of community thus seems to be that it is based on the pattern of divine initiative and human response." Paul Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible, Harper and Row, 1986., 3. [return]

24. This is supported by instances in which torah is used with verbs for learning or teaching (Deut 1:5, 33:10, Isa 2:3=Micah 4:2, Psa 94:12, Ezra 7:10, etc.), or in contexts where the people must understand the torah (Hos 4:6, Isa 51:7, etc.). [return]

25. The verse is duplicated in Micah 4:2. Cf. Isa 51:4. [return]

26. The word "word" (dabar) means not only what a person says, but also what a person does, often in connection with or as a consequence of what is said. This may be part of the background of some NT concepts (Heb 1:1-2, John 1:1-18), and has led some NT scholars to see theological as well as semantic connections between the Hebrew terms torah and dabar, and the Greek terms nomos and logos. [return]

27. This is one of the speeches of Eliphaz to Job. While the narrowly applied theological orthodoxy of the friends is consistently rejected or modified by Job in his speeches, the perspective of torah is consistent. [return]

28. The author is mourning the apparent loss of the ongoing presence of God in the community as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC. [return]

29. I have previously suggested that both the noun and the verb (chazon, vision; chazah, to see, to envision) are technical terms coming very close to what modern theology means by revelation, for example, in Hab 1:1, Isa 1:1, Eze 12:27, etc. Dennis Bratcher, The Theological Message of Habakkuk: A Literary and Rhetorical Analysis, University Microfilms, 1984, 48-50. [return]

30. Other passages that have similar perspectives are: Exod 13:8-10, Psa 1:1-2, 78:5-8, Isa 8:16-20, Eze 7:26. On the dynamic role of the prophet, see 2 Kings 17:13. [return]

31. The blessing of Moses to Levi in Deut 33:10 also reflects this role of the priests; in a slightly different context, also Neh 8:7, Ezra 7:10. That this role was shared by prophets and priests is evident in Hos 4:6 (Cf. Jer 18:18, Eze 7:26). Although the term torah is not used, the passage in 2 Kings 17:24-28 concerning the instruction of aliens in the customs of the land also highlights the teaching role of priests. [return]

32. Deut 17:8-13, Hag 2:11. [return]

33. Other passages are: Prov. 1:8, 3:1-12, 4:2, 7:2; 13:14, 31:26. A possible exception is Prov 29:18, where torah is connected with the prophetic word. The admonitions of Prov 28 to keep the torah (4, 7, 9) are in the context of ethical injunctions (justice, integrity, generosity) that go beyond OT codified law. [return]

34. For a brief summary and a bibliography, see Stephen Westerholm, "Torah, nomos, and law: A question of ‘meaning’," Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses 15 (1986):332-333, footnote 28. [return]

35. Paul Gilchrist, "Towards a Covenantal Definition of Tora," in Interpretation and History: Essays in Honour of Allan A. MacRae, Singapore: Christian Life Publishers, 1986, 93-107, has concluded that torah itself should be seen under the larger rubric of covenant. While not denying that covenant may be an adequate way to describe generally the relationship between God and his people, this study is concerned more narrowly with the concept of torah as response to God in the context of that relationship. [return]

36. Usually in the construction shimru la‘aso, for example, Josh 1:7-8, 22:5, 2 Kings 17:37, 21:8 2 Chron 33:8. [return]

37. This legal understanding seems most likely in the Priestly and Deuteronomic passages, for example, Exod 16:28 (in the context of keeping Sabbath), Deut 17:19, Deut 28:58, Josh 1:7-8, 2 Chron 22:12-13, Neh 9:34. [return]

38. The use of the plural construct here is most likely due to poetic parallelism. In the 12 times that the plural of torah occurs, there is no discernible difference in meaning from the singular. Cf. Psa 119:34; see also Psa 78:10 which connects the Northern Kingdom’s failure to "keep God’s covenant" and "walk by his torah" with their failure to remember the gracious things God had done for the people in the past, which the psalm continually equates with faithlessness (vv. 17, 22, 32, 37, 56-57). Note also Proverbs 1:8, where "keep" (natsar) is paralleled with "do not forsake." [return]

39. "The covenantal context [of shamar in Gen 26:5] points to the maintenance of a personal relationship rather than to obligations to a code of ethics." Paul Gilchrist, "Towards a Covenantal Definition of Tora," in Interpretation and History: Essays in Honour of Allan A. MacRae, Singapore: Christian Life Publishers, 1986, 94. [return]

40. This idea takes on added significance in light of the fact that the "word" (dabar) of God can be either a spoken word or an activity in history. [return]

41. Also Jer 44:23. [return]

42. Also Gen 26:5, anachronistically described as if it were the written codes; Jer 6:19. [return]

43. Also Psa 78:1, Isa 30:9. [return]

44. Section II, A, 2 and note no. 22 above. This usage is common in a variety of contexts in the Old Testament and occurs about 16 times with torah, either as the governing verb or in the immediate context with parallel words. These span the range of biblical traditions: more narrowly legal contexts (Neh 10:29, separation from foreigners, keeping Sabbath), wisdom poetry (Psa 1:1-6, which clearly presents the two paths a person may walk, "the path of the righteous" or "the path of the wicked;" cf. Psa 119:1-2), liturgical hymns (Psa 89:30), historical narrative (2 Kings 10:31, perhaps with Deuteronomic influence), the Chronicler (2 Chron 6:16), and a variety of prophetic contexts (Isa 42:24, Jer 9:12, 44:10, etc.). Also note the priestly call to obey specific regulations as the choice between two paths to walk (Lev 26:1-46). [return]

45. Building on this metaphor, wisdom writers expressed the torah or dabar (word/action) of God or of the community as providing light on the path, making the journey of life easier and safer as the light of instruction revealed God’s will (Prov 4:18-19, 6:20-23, 24:13, Job 22:28, Psa 119:105, note Sirach 50:27-29, Baruch 4:1-4; also Isa 2:5, 40:14). This metaphor is likely the basis for the renewed post-exilic understanding of Israel’s mission as a "light to the nations" (Isa 42:6, 49:5-6, 58:6-9, 60:1-3). [return]

46. Jon Levenson identifies three distinct sources of torah in Psalm 119: (1) received tradition, especially through teachers; (2) cosmic or natural law, and (3) direct divine teaching, in "The Sources of Torah: Psalm 119 and the Modes of Revelation in Second Temple Judaism," in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, 570. While the specifics of his conclusion may be arguable, it does support a dynamic view of torah, at least in the post-exilic period. Here also lies the basis for the theological confession of Scripture as the "word" of God; God still speaks through the written traditions, and continues to call for a response (hear) even to that written "word." [return]

47. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1: The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions, translated by D. M. G. Stalker, Harper And Row, 1962, 175-190; for a brief survey of the development of the debate, see Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible, Doubleday, 1992, 12-28. [return]

48. Deut 4:32-40; for a slightly different perspective see Deut 9:4-7. [return]

49. Exodus 6:3, 7, 7:5, 17, 8:10, 8:22, 9:14, 29, 10:2, 11:7, 14:4. [return]

50. "While at no time did Israel understand torah to have created her relationship with her God which was and remained entirely dependent on his gracious election, obedience to torah none the less determined who was within that relationship, that is who constituted Israel." Anthony Phillips, "The Place of Law in Contemporary Society: A Further Christian Response to Contemporary Questions," in Christian Jewish Relations: A Documentary Survey 14 March, 1981):44. [return]

51. Without spending time on the ongoing debate concerning the date and provenance of Deuteronomy, I will simply assume for the purposes of this study at least a two stage redaction of Deuteronomy, and most likely a three stage redaction, with the final form of the book edited, along with the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), in the late exilic or early post-exilic period, although containing very old traditions dating to the time of Moses. See note no. 17 for comments on the Deuteronomic History. [return]

52. While the immediate historical setting is the time of Moses, these same features take on an even greater significance, and urgency, if seen in the context of the Exile. Thomas Mann sees the dynamic dimension of torah emphasized by the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch, which leaves it Torah cast in a prophetic role as a witness for the future as the community moves through history. "[Torah] provides the criterion by which their present is informed and judged in terms of their past, and the way their future is determined by that critical evaluation. The end of the Torah thus points us towards the way of torah." In The Book of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch, John Knox, 1988, 158. [return]

53. Bryon L. Sherwin, "Law and Love in Jewish Theology," Anglican Theological Review 64 (1982):467-480. [return]

54. Robert Wall sees a connection between an emphasis on response in history and the development of behavioral standards within community, which can too easily drift to "nomistic faith;" "Law and Gospel, Church and Canon," Wesleyan Theological Journal 22 (Spring, 1987):58-59. In the context of the OT, this would be a perversion of the dynamic dimension that lies at the heart of torah (see section IV, A). [return]

55. The two psalms may not have had that original function. However, the fact that the canonical shaping of the Psalter has juxtaposed these two psalms in precisely this manner reinforces the idea that this is an important theological understanding in OT traditions. Note that the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:2) is introduced by an extended recounting of God’ s past dealings with Israel, and concludes with a summary statement of the people’s failure to respond by keeping the torah (7:53, while nomos is used, I would maintain that the sense behind the verse is the Hebrew concept of torah: . . .you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. Rf. Acts 13:16-24; Heb 11:4-40). [return]

56. Jon Levenson concludes that the sapiential influences in Psalm 119 lead to an alternative view of torah in which " . . . the history of redemption is a consequence of the laws of God. Mythos is an expression of ethos." In "The Sources of Torah: Psalm 119 and the Modes of Revelation in Second Temple Judaism," in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1987, 559-574. [return]

57. Other than passages dealing with Passover (Exod 12:49, 13:9) and Sabbath observance (Exod 16:4), torah is only used in Exodus to refer to what was written on the stone tablets, the Ten Words (Exod 24:12). In the last three books of the Pentateuch, torah is used repeatedly to refer to the specific instructions regulating cultic observance. See note no. . It is beyond the scope of this study to determine the exact provenance of Israel’s cultic regulations, or to address the debate over the nature of Scripture that arises from the following observations. [return]

58. "Some degree of continuity between the religion and cult of the ‘Israelite’ tribes and that of the general Syro-Palestinian population should be expected, if for no other reason than that the tribes themselves emerged, at lest to some extent, from the indigenous population." J. Maxwell Miller and John Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986, 109, rf. 107-119. See also Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Vol. 2: Religious Institutions, New York: McGraw Hill, 1965, 424-446. [return]

59. Exod 31:18, Deut 9:10. [return]

60. See note no. 10. [return]

61. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, second edition, Princeton University Press, 1955, Sumerian, 159-161, 523-525; Akkadian, 161-180; Hittite, 188-197; Albrecht Alt, "The Origins of Israelite Law," in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion, R. A. Wilson, trans., Basil Blackwell, 1966, 79-132. [return]

62. There are a variety of laws covering slavery from various periods of Israel’s history. For example, Exodus 21:2-11 seems to allow Israelite slaves (Cf. 2 Kings 4:1), while in the priestly laws of the Holiness Code (Lev 25:38-55) Israelites could only work as hired servants not as a slaves. The Deuteronomist seems to fall somewhere in between with the laws allowing Israelite slaves, but requiring they be released at the end of six years with some payment (Deut 15:12-18). [return]

63. It is significant that the priestly regulations concerning slaves (Lev 25:38-55) are bracketed by references to God’s deliverance from Egypt: v. 38, I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.; v. 55, For to me the people of Israel are slaves, they are my slaves whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God. The laws concerning the year of release that canceled debts every seven years was a rather radical application of this principle, a working out of a social vision grounded in the reality of God who would not settle for conventional structures of power (Deut 15:1-11). [return]

64. Jeremiah had given them this advice in a letter (Jer 29:5-6): Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. It is unlikely, however, that Jeremiah intended intermarriage with non-Israelites. [return]

65. Neh 13:23-27; it is likely when Ezra read the Book of the Torah to the assembly, the role of the priests he had stationed throughout the crowd was to translate the Hebrew into Aramaic so that all the people could understand (Neh 8:7-8). [return]

66. Ezra 4:3, 5:14-15, 6:21; 9:1-10:44; Neh 10:30, 13:23-27. [return]

67. Neh 13:23-27. It might be important to note, in our modern context, that none of the prohibitions against intermarriage were based on race; only on the worship of alien gods. [return]

68. Ezra 10:1-17, drawing on Deut 7:3; Cf. Exod 34:16. [return]

69. Mal. 2:10-16 may represent the prophetic counter to the excesses of the "purification" of the community advocated by the priests, specifically attacking the practice of divorce, although some see the book as supporting the priestly innovations. For a more structuralist analysis, see Jack N. Lightstone, "Tora is nomos--except when it is not: Prolegomena to the study of the Law in late antique Judaism, "Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses 13 (1984):29-37; James Burtchaell, illustrating his point from the issue of abortion, maintains that textually based "law" from either Testament must be processed through the "moral wisdom of the believing community" before it can become binding today; in "Is the Torah Obsolete for Christians?" in Justice and the Holy: Essays in Honor of Walter Harrelson, Scholars Press, 1989, 113-127. [return]

70. 2 Sam 7:1-7; Michael Lodahl, The Story of God: Wesleyan Theology and Biblical Narrative, Beacon Hill, 1994, 114-115. [return]

71. "Situationism is not then the enemy of torah, but its interpreter." Anthony Phillips, "The Place of Law in Contemporary Society: A Further Christian Response to Contemporary Questions," in Christian Jewish Relations: A Documentary Survey 14 (1981):45. [return]

72. "Torah as part of the word of God does not return to him empty (Is. 55:11), but is made real for every generation in the situation which confronts it." Anthony Phillips, "The Place of Law in Contemporary Society," in Jewish Christian Relations, London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 45. "The Law given on Sinai lives and grows by this traditional interpretation, closely linked to the condition of the Jewish people at the various stages of its history." Shemaryahu Talmon, "Torah as a Concept and Vital Principle in the Hebrew Bible," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 24 (1979):274, see 276 ff. [return]

73. Cf. Hos 6:6. [return]

74. 1 Sam 13:7b-15a; the reason for Saul’s sacrifice is different in this account. Here, it is portrayed as almost a magical act to persuade God to act in the face of a threatening enemy. In 1 Samuel 15:1-31, the sacrifice is a celebration of victory which God has brought to the Israelites. [return]

75. 1 Sam 15:1; note v. 10. [return]

76. The response to an encounter with God in liturgical texts is most often "vows," usually related to some cultic activity such as a sacrifice: Jon 2:7-9, Job 22:27, Psa 61:8, etc. [return]

77. The meaning of the middle section of these verses is unclear, although it may refer to a trip to the temple where the psalmist will publicly proclaim his thanksgiving (vv. 9-10). The metaphorical idiom of cleaned ears (literally, "dug out") corresponds to previous observations about hearing/obeying God. See Section II, B, 2. [return]

78. Burnt offerings, referenced in the MT 286 times mostly in priestly instructional/legal texts, were strictly regulated acts of worship, e.g., Lev 1:3, 10, 14,6:9 ff, etc. Sin offerings were a means to acknowledge God’s grace in forgiving the people and community of sin, e.g., Lev 4:24, 25, 29, 5:6, 11, 12, etc. [return]

79. Most scholars take the last verses of Psalm 51 (vv. 18-19) as a redacted ending and not part of the original Psalm, an attempt by later editors to mitigate the anti-sacrificial tone of the psalm and to render it acceptable for liturgical use. While that may be true on one level, the function of the canonical shaping is to maintain balance by emphasizing the true nature of obedience without rejecting ceremonial worship. The effect of the juxtaposition of the two perspectives is to affirm that there is nothing inherently wrong with sacrifices as long as they are a demonstration of a relationship with God established on other bases, a good example of the legal-relational balance (see Psalm 51 and the Language of Transformation). [return]

80. The Isaiah tradition, in one of the clearest definitions of the community of faith’s ethical responsibilities in the OT, affirms that how a person lives in relation to other people reveals the nature of their relationship with God (Isa 58:1-14). Ritual and ceremonial observance are rejected as measures of true devotion to God. Only in responding to God from the proper motive (3b-5, 13) by concrete expressions of a self-giving lifestyle (6-7, 9b-10) could they fulfill their role as people of God (8, 10b). [return]

81. Isa 2:2-4. It is irrelevant for the purposes of this study to try to determine whether this passage or Mic 4:1-3 is original. The issues are the same and the prophets are contemporary. Whichever way the traditions are redacted, the passage functions to highlight the message of both books. The historical ethical implications of the passage cannot be easily dismissed by characterizing this as only eschatological expectation. Future actions of God are certainly in view here. However, the canonical shaping of the book of Isaiah has placed this passage as the second introduction to the book of Isaiah, which provides a basis for the repeated calls to respond to God in the face of the growing Assyrian menace that unfolds in the following chapters. It also follows the condemnation of past failures and a renewed call for proper ethical response of the previous chapter. In this context, the passage functions as a call for the people to live out this vision of true torah in their present history. They are not to wait until God vindicates them to live as his people; they are to live as his people in the present with a view to future vindication. This is the real impact of most eschatological passages in the Old Testament. [return]

82. Mic 6:4-6, Amos 2:4, 5:21-24. [return]

83. The pioneer in this methodology was Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, Old Testament Library, 2 vols, translated by J. A. Baker, Westminster, 1961, who advocated "covenant" as the central unifying concept of Scripture. For a summary of this approach and a bibliography, see H. G. Reventlow, Problems of Old Testament Theology in the Twentieth Century, Fortress, 1985, 125-133. [return]

84. The inspiration and authority of Scripture are usually assumed here as well, although more dynamic and interactive models of inspiration become apparent in most of the writers, for example, Paul Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals, Westminster, 1980, 134-165. [return]

85. Although Samuel Terrien is somewhat eclectic in his approach, he still emphasizes the tension between poles: The Elusive Presence: The Heart of Biblical Theology, Harper & Row, 1978. Paul Hanson, in an early book, characterizes the activity of God in the same bipolar model as "dynamic transcendence;" in Dynamic Transcendence: The Correlation of Confessional Heritage and Contemporary Experience in a Biblical Model of Divine Activity, Fortress, 1978. [return]

86. Paul Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology, second edition, Fortress, 1979; he later incorporates this perspective into a larger understanding of the interactive nature of community under God in The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible, Harper and Row, 1986. [return]

87. The clearest articulation of this idea is Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Fortress, 1978, although he has continued to expound the idea in several subsequent books and articles. [return]

88. His bipolar model emerges from a growing awareness of this tension in the biblical traditions; Walter Brueggemann, "A Convergence in Recent Old Testament Theologies," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 18:2-18. [return]

89. While I have already indicated that I would not trace the concept of torah into later Jewish contexts, it might be helpful at least to note that this is precisely the function of Torah that developed in Judaism. [return]

90. The communal understanding of ancient Israelites rendered the question of whether any particular individual had met Yahweh in history irrelevant. A number of passages in Deuteronomy directed at the second generation who had been born in the wilderness, address the people as if they themselves had been slaves in Egypt: 1:3, 3:21, 4:3, 9, 34, etc. This solidarity in community is seen in modern Judaism’s confession in the Passover Haggadah that "once we were slaves in Egypt," or in the implied positive answer to the question in the American spiritual, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" [return]

91. On the Sinai event as a "sign," see Exod 3:12. The observations here do not intend to move into broader metaphysical categories, and so terms used here should not be put into that context. [return]

92. Jud 21:25, Deut 12:8. [return]

93. Brevard Childs identifies this as the tension between "knowing and doing the will of God." "God’s will has been revealed in the Law, but it also must be discerned afresh. . . . Although each generation, each individual, learns to discern the will of God, it is not as a blind leap in the dark. There is a continuity from generation to generation which is recorded in scripture." In Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, Fortress, 1985, 60. Exactly how torah would be applied and by what specific methods continued to develop in Judaism in a variety of ways, as it did later in the Church, and continues today. [return]

94. This conclusion is very close to Brevard Childs’ understanding: "There is a continuity to the divine will, a consistency of redemptive purpose extending from past to the future. . . . However, the tension remains between the revealed will of God and the struggle for obedience in the concrete moment before a living God." In Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, Fortress, 1985, 59. [return]

95. The cultural mytho-poetic world view of the Ancient Near East was greatly concerned with order. While that background is complex and far beyond the scope of this study, it is interesting to observe that there are hints throughout the Old Testament that the Israelites connected the doing of torah with the maintenance of the order of God’s creation (for example, in the imagery of cultic purity and contamination). To put it another way, violation of God’s boundaries in the world (sin) introduced a disruptive force into the world that threatened the stability of creation itself and ran the risk of collapsing the world back into primeval chaos. Usually this is in the imagery of water (the primeval ocean, for example, negatively, Gen 1:2, Gen 6-9; positively, Psa 24:2, Isa 51:9-10 ), although Isaiah refers directly to chaos (Isa 24:5-12, 34:11, 45:18-19). It is likely against this background that later Judaism could conceive the doing of torah as bringing shalom. Rf. Isa 2:2-5, Mic 4:1-5. Rf. also Paul Hanson, "War and Peace in the Hebrew Bible," Interpretation 38 (1984):341-362. [return]

96. Shemaryahu Talmon, "Torah as a Concept and Vital Principle in the Hebrew Bible," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 24 (1979):271. [return]

97. Paul Livermore, "The Precious Instrument: A Study of the Concept of Law in Judaism and Evangelicalism," Wesleyan Theological Journal 22 (1987):32-35. [return]

98. "Preamble" to the "Articles of Faith" of the Church of the Nazarene, Manual/Church of the Nazarene, Nazarene Publishing House, 1989, 29. [return]

99. It does not take a journey too far into the history of the early church to confirm this. Some theological affirmations worked out by the early church, such as the Doctrine of the Trinity, while implicit in Scripture, are not there as developed theological doctrines. This is not to say that the Doctrine of the Trinity is invalid. As it was worked out by the early church, it is certainly an appropriate formulation of the Scriptural perspectives. But it is not as explicit in Scripture as in the early church because the philosophical categories in which it is cast are from the milieu of third and fourth century AD Christianity. And whether we in the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition like it or not, the same can be said for the Doctrine of Holiness. And yet the Doctrine of Holiness, as worked out in the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition, is affirmed by the biblical tradition. One of the major dangers at this point is that the biblical tradition will be re-applied, at the same time that the process of re-application is denied. The result is an authoritarian "God said" validation that denies the very dynamics that allows the new application.[return]

100. This is not to suggest that philosophical questions or philosophical theology are invalid or irrelevant. It only intends to suggest that those are perhaps not the best avenues by which to understand Scripture. I am quite aware that it is a certain philosophical frame of reference that even allows this observation, and there were likewise certain philosophical assumptions underlying the Israelite affirmations. I am referring here more narrowly to the philosophical categories used as the receptacles of the early Christian Faith that have become more or less paradigmatic. There is a growing awareness among biblical scholars, as well as theologians, of the need to hear the biblical text itself more closely. Two examples are Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination, Fortress, 1993, and from a different perspective, Clark Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, InterVarsity, 1994. [return]

101. There has already been considerable progress in this direction within the Wesleyan tradition. H. Ray Dunning, while still at times using philosophical models, has laid a solid groundwork for this approach by working more directly from Scripture and taking a thoroughly Wesleyan approach that breaks out of many of the older categories; Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology, Beacon Hill, 1988. Michael Lodahl’s The Story of God: Wesleyan Theology and Biblical Narrative (Beacon Hill, 1994) is an example of a theology that uses a biblically based narrative model. [return]

102. I am not content, as some have done, to reject the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra as being a deterioration of true Old Testament faith simply because they move to a more legal formulation of the relationship with God. In the historical context, those reforms were necessary and vital to the survival of the community of faith. As such they were themselves a recovery of balance for a community that had lost its anchoring in history and theology, and had already drifted too far in the other direction. However, by moving toward more legal formulations, without a corresponding emphasis on the balance of dynamic relationship with God, those reforms did set in motion a drift toward redefining torah in almost exclusively legal categories (the pendulum theory at work). The overshadowing of prophetic, and to some degree wisdom, traditions during this period by priestly ones contributed to this drift, aided by circumstances of history that emerged in the Greek-Maccabean wars. There are some dissenting voices calling for balance, however. The prophet Malachi calls for greater accountability by the priests. The book of Jonah (if it is allowed in the post-exilic period) represents a counter to the developing exclusiveness fostered by the "purification" of the community under Ezra. And the (apocryphal) wisdom traditions begin to gain new vitality later in this period. [return]

103. This is precisely the point of Job’s dialogue with his four friends, who represent a rigid orthodoxy with correct, convenient answers that simply are not true in Job’s history (Job 4:1-37:24). For a contemporary expression of the growing evangelical realization of the inadequacies of propositionalism, see Clark Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, Harper & Row, 1990, 183-186; Stanley J. Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century, InterVarsity, 1993, 61-85. [return]

104. By "lawmaking" I mean generally the community of faith’s activity in constructing guidelines that govern the community in its life under God, covering the range of ethical, ceremonially, and doctrinal norms accepted within the community. Walter Harrelson summarizes both the dangers of legalism and the positive value of community norms in providing stability in The Ten Commandments and Human Rights, Fortress, 1980, 3-17. [return]

105. This is the background of Hosea’s warnings to the Israelites, couched in figurative language, that they must respond to Yahweh by a transformed lifestyle characterized by faithful relationship (in a marriage metaphor), or face the unpleasant prospect of returning to Egypt (Hos 11:5-7). [return]

106. John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel, University of Notre Dame Press, 1984, 546-55. Note the wider context in which the OT community saw itself as expressed in the promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2-3: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This is frequently the basis of the prophetic concern with the failure of social ethics, and the developing understanding of a larger role for the people of God as a witness to the world of the nature of Yahweh (Isa 61:1-9, 42:1-7, 49:5-7, Jer 16:19-21, Eze 20:9-26, Amos 3:2, 9:7; Jon 4:9-11; Mic 3:9-4:5; Zeph 3:9, Mal 3:12). [return]

107. This is precisely the idea behind John 13:34-35: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." While the perspective here is cast in communal terms, most of this can be applied on the individual level as well, keeping in mind the communal and social dimension of relationship with God. [return]

108. "Genuine law, as opposed to arbitrary commands, must convince the conscience." Dale Patrick, Old Testament Law, John Knox, 1985, 4. [return]

109. Other facets of lawmaking that we might deal with here are various doctrinal formulations or communal activities in which we might learn lawmaking from biblical torah. One example is in worship where often, it seems, worship in the Wesleyan-holiness tradition is governed by the needs of the moment and individual preference without adequate theological grounding, that is, without a basia in torah. If the OT traditions, not to mention much of the historical tradition of the Christian Church, thought worship important enough to engage in ongoing lawmaking concerning it, perhaps modern communities of faith could also engage in such lawmaking. [return]

110. It is helpful to remember that the Protestant dictum of sola scriptura inherited from Martin Luther was formulated in a very specific historical context in which tradition had overshadowed Scripture. Much like the reforms of Ezra, this affirmation was a recovery of balance, not an absolute truth. It is evident even in Luther that he understood the need to interpret Scripture in a larger context, as evidenced by his opinions of the book of James. [return]

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
See Copyright and User Information Notice

Related pages