How is the Christian to Construe Old Testament Law? -- By: Elmer A. Martens

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:2 (NA 2002)
Article: How is the Christian to Construe Old Testament Law?
Author: Elmer A. Martens


How is the Christian to Construe Old Testament Law?

Elmer A. Martens

Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary

The essay shows how a biblical theology approach can be helpful in delineating OT ethics for the Christian. Using the exemplar of Leviticus 19, the legal regulations are set in spiraling contexts of law generally, covenant, story, and Jesus/the NT. From the conceptual context, specific guidelines are suggested for Christian ethics: paradigm (deriving from story), principles (based on law), and precedent (following Jesus and the NT).

Key words: Leviticus 19, exegesis, law, covenant, biblical theology, ethics, Trinity, hermeneutics

The governing question in this essay is: by what exegetical and theological method are the moral regulations found in the OT determined as normative for the Christian? Put another way: How is the Christian to construe OT law? Leviticus 19 with its collage of commandments ranging from the spiritual injunction “Love your neighbor” to the culturally strange prohibition not to mar the edges of the beard highlights the issue of interpretation and application. Clues from an exegesis of this chapter along with a biblical theological method can point the way for a Christian application of OT ethical material.1

Author’s note: A version of this paper was presented in the Biblical Law Study Group at the Evangelical Theological Society in Colorado Springs in November, 2001. The author is grateful for feedback there, from colleagues Allen Guether, Nzash Lumeya, Jon Isaak, and from Olga-Maria Cruz, V. Athithan, and Dwight Acomb.

Clues From An Exegesis Of Leviticus 19

Given our topic, pertinent observations from a set of exegetical steps beginning with the formal structure of the chapter follow.2

First, the prohibitions and directives are punctuated with a self-identification refrain, usually in the short form, “I am Yahweh” (אֲנִי יְהוָה ʾănî YHWH) but sometimes in the longer form “I am the Lord your God” and once in the expanded form “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” The self-identification formula occurs 14 times, 7 times in each of the two sections (19:2-18; 19-37). Notably, the identification of the speaker as “Yahweh” occurs as an inclusio in the Yahweh speech (19:2 and...

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