The Ethical Authority Of The Old Testament: A Survey Of Approaches. Part IΙ -- By: Christopher J. H. Wright

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 43:2 (NA 1992)
Article: The Ethical Authority Of The Old Testament: A Survey Of Approaches. Part IΙ
Author: Christopher J. H. Wright

The Ethical Authority Of The Old Testament:
A Survey Of Approaches. Part IΙ

Christopher J.H. Wright


Current mainline evangelical approaches to Old Testament ethics are represented by the work of Kaiser and Goldingay, for whom the authority of the text has to be applied by the use of derived moral principles. The article then proceeds to critique both dispensationalism, which severely relativizes the Old Testament, and theonomism, which affirms its continuing validity in the civil realm. After brief mention of the approaches of Messianic Judaism and the Jubilee Centre, the author summarizes the assumptions and methodology of his own paradigmatic approach.


In the first part of this article,1 we traced some lines of approach to the ethical use of the Old Testament, from the early Church, through mainline Reformation and Anabaptist writings, to recent critical scholarship. In this part we look at a variety of evangelical approaches to the question, concluding with an outline of my own presuppositions and method in handling the Old Testament for Christian ethics.

I. Walter Kaiser

In 1983 a long silence was broken. After more than half a century when no book had been published in English on the subject of Old Testament ethics, two arrived almost simultaneously, their authors quite unaware of each other’s work. One, my own Living as the People of God,2 sets out a way of understanding the ethical thrust of the Old Testament in general terms and then illustrates its method in several applied areas. It is referred to more fully in the closing section

of this article. The other, by Walter C. Kaiser, is a much more wide-ranging work.3 Kaiser devotes a major first section to a survey of the field itself, its definition, scope and methodological problems, and also a classification of such approaches as were advocated in various scholars’ work on biblical ethics in general. After an exegetical survey of the major sections of the law, he organises his material around the central theme of holiness, and proceeds with an exposition of the second table of the decalogue. Finally, he tackles some of the moral difficulties frequently raised by readers of the Old Testament. Kaiser is thus among those who affirm two things about the Old Testament: first, that it can be handled in some systematic, unified way, in spite of its manifest diversity; and second, that it does still hold moral authority for the Christian. On both counts, he finds much current writing on the...

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