Deuteronomy: An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law -- By: John H. Walton

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 08:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: Deuteronomy: An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law
Author: John H. Walton

An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law

John H. Walton

In contrast to the idea that the book of Deuteronomy is a legalistic refinement of Mosaic regulations, the structure of Deuteronomy suggests that it is designed to elucidate the broader morality behind each of Ten Commandments. The book, then, is an exposition of the spirit of the Commandments. The sweeping implications of the decalogue oblige the individual to a lifestyle of moral conduct that is far broader than theletter of the law would suggest. Deuteronomy revolves around four major issues (authority, dignity, commitment, and rights and privileges), each of which is the focus of two or more commandments. Under each of the four issues, one commandment deals with conduct toward God and one or more with conduct toward man. When this structure is studied, it becomes clear that Moses grouped legal cases around common themes to bring a truer understanding of Gods concerns and requirements as they are reflected in each command of the decalogue. Thus, there is a moral theme behind each command that creates timeless parameters for ethical conduct.

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One of the most frequently encountered questions among Christians of the last nineteen hundred years concerns the significance and applicability of the OT law for the Church. Such questions have not been limited to the laity, as theologians have grappled with the hermeneutical issues involved with cross-testamental exegesis. Careful responses need to be made to such questions in order to lay a foundation for a correct understanding of “Church and Society.”

Deuteronomy, as one of the major repositories of Israelite law, has been subjected to much scrutiny in this regard. A breakthrough in the understanding of the book came in 1979 when Kaufman published his suggested correlation of the deuteronomic laws and the

decalogue.1 This was the first successful attempt at such a correlation and has already gained recognition as a seminal work in the area of Deuteronomy studies.2

Kaufman was of the opinion that the arrangement of the deuteronomic laws in accordance with the decalogue was merely a literary device and that it did not necessarily betray the Israelite perception of legal classification.3 An examination of the correlations of the various sections of Deuteronomy with the decalogue suggests, however, that the arrangement served more than a literary function. Rather, by his choice and classification of the legal material, Mo...

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