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On Old Testament Law

This is an email correspondence about the place of Old Testament Law for us today. It is an attempt to express a number of points and is presented "as is". A.B. 5 February 2018. At the end, I have added pieces that fill this out, which readers might like to skip to, since they are brief.

Hi Martin,

Thank you for your email. I will endeavour to provide some initial comments tonight, rather than putting them off until 'tomorrow' ("tomorrow never comes"!).

I think I shall reply inline with lines that start with "AB:"

Andrew 4 February 2018

Hi Andrew,

This is a theological question, and I wondered whether thinking of law in terms of D.'s aspects may help resolve it. And I hope you may be able to comment:

1) There is an on-going discussion as to whether the Old Testament laws still apply today. Many Christians distinguish moral, civil, and ceremonial laws and claim that the moral laws still stand, whereas the others have passed away with Christ.

AB: Certainly, it is possible to see the split between moral, civil, etc. laws in terms of their meaningfulness in Dooyeweerd's aspects. Civil might be several aspects, such as hygiene (biotic), justice (juridical), etc.

AB: However, I feel uneasy about just replying from a Dooyeweerdian perspective. Partly because I don't want to use Dooyeweerd too much in theology. But mostly because I would want to address this issue from a perspective that many Christians might reasonably accept.

2) I find the above difficult to justify, since the Bible only speaks of "the law" as a combined entity, i.e. all the laws (and the prophets) form a whole and I don't see that this is split up anywhere in terms of moral and other laws. So when Paul says Christians are not under the law, I take that to mean that the OT law is indeed no longer valid.

AB: I too feel that 'the law' is one - or maybe I should say that there is 'one law' emanating from God, of which the OT law is an expression, as also is what we have today.

AB: If Moral v civil etc. are just aspects of one law, then this fits with Dooyeweerd, because he was clear that in real life the aspects all interweave and they also work together in harmony that cannot be split apart. It is only theoretical thought that splits them up, for purposes of clarifying and discussing etc. So it might be with the Law.

AB: However, I don't take Paul's "not under the law" to mean that the OT law is no longer valid.

3) This creates other problems, since some of these laws are clearly "timeless" and much of what the OT says makes a lot of sense for Christians to follow and implement as well. And of course, discarding the law entirely rieks of lawlessness - let's sin so grace can abound even more.

AB: I think that part of the problem is that we have had too indivdualistic, or spiritualistic, or anti-world view of God's Plan. If we ask "Why did God create in the first place, and then take pains to redeem? What did he hope to achieve?" then we get various answers, of these kinds. But I feel there might be a different answer. (I am avoiding just citing verses like "to bring all things into completion in Christ"; such things need to be explained and expanded.)

My answer is that God's Plan is to produce a Creation in which all Works Well together - human and non-human together: true shalom (salaam, eudaimonia). This occurred in pre-fall, it will occur in richer form post-time, and in these eras, it still applies. It makes sense of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, Kingdoms, Prophets, Exile, Jesus on earth, Early Church, though to today. It sees humanity, even fallen humanity, having a role. The theme of representing God pervades the Plan and takes several forms (different in the different periods of your diagram below). See "", "" and what they link to.

AB: Then God's One Law (in all its diversity and coherence) is the governing principles to define and achieve this shalom.

AB: If that is so, then OT law is an expression of this for an ancient nation that representing God among pagan nations. But the principles remain. Even though expressed differently in different situations.

AB: And it is possible that if we see Dooyeweerd's aspects as reasonably delineating the spheres of meaningfulness and law of reality, then they can be helpful if separating out conceptually the different areas in which the principles of God's One Law applies.

AB: "Not under law" I take to refer to the dynamic that is alive in us: We are not motivated primarily by guilt, fear, retribution, sacrifice for forgiveness, etc. as under OT Law, but the Holy Spirit indwelling us, to make us WANT what God wants (Phil 2:13) so our very hearts desire and orientate towards God's One Law, however expressed. On this, see "".

4) The diagram below attempts to resolve this dilemma by referring to the created moral laws (or principles) that are an expression of the ethical aspect. And nowI am venturing out: I am trying to show that the ethical aspect "projects" through different lenses, during different times of history, and results in actual laws that would pertain to the juridical aspect.

AB: This is an interesting diagram, with the periods. I think I might modify some of the details, but the whole idea is sound.

AB: However, I wonder why you need the ethical aspect there. What purpose does it serve, either as explanation or in terms of what is being said theologically. Seems OK without it. However, maybe I have answered that myself in what I wrote above about agape love.

# Is this the right way of looking at it? I would take it that the first two laws of the decalogue are indeed of ethical nature, whereas the others flow from the first two but are part of the juridical (on these two hang all the law and the prophets, Mt 22:40). So, the ethical/moral aspect informs and guides the juridical. Does this make sense or am I confused?

AB: It makes sense, but I don't think I fully take that line. It feels too trying-to-be-logical to me. Certainly, though Dooyeweerd himself demurred from thins, I believe that the Great Commandment of love is ethical aspect. But the first two commands of the Decalogue are pistic aspect. However, all of them have pistic and ethical aspect, but also others, such as lingual, economic, juridical, etc. For example, to understand adultery, we must recognise (dysfunction in) many aspects playing their part. So, though I would use Dooyeweerd's aspects as a tool to understand the complexity of any situation, I would not want to identify one single 'qualifying' aspect for each law, too neatly.

5) The different lenses represent different dispensations - though I am not a dispensationalist - and highlight that the expression of laws may change between dispensations. When Israel was God's people, they had different laws than we as Christians would apply in the church and beyond. But there is also some overlap.

AB: Yeah, I get you there. I also see them as having different forms of Representing God in different periods. See above. How we represent God is guided by different sets of laws, perhaps. (Not sure)

6) By referring to the ethical aspect, I mean to show that there is of course an overarching truth about what is right and wrong, and how unselfish love actuates through saved (or righteous) individuals in any dispensation. So, indirectly, through the ethical aspect, we can then agree that there can be no libertinism in the New Testament, even though we reject the notion that OT laws still apply. We can discard them all but they partially return through the back door since the Spirit will project the same principles into our lives that also led the Israelites and were expressed in the decalogue, for example.

AB: I don't like talk of "overarching truth about what is right and wrong", because it smacks too much of trying to counter seeming-relativism-that-horrifies-us. I would try to avoid these considerations being contaminated by our twentieth-century agenda of countering relativism. (I dislike relativism and liberalism etc. but that does not mean that my dislike should bully the way I think about these things.)

AB: Rather, the ethical aspect of love can provide a kind of background or reason for juridical stuff. See my wee bit on how God's justice emerges from his love in "".

So, would you be able to provide some comment on this and let me know whether it is a fruitful train of thought or whether I need to dump this attempt and go back to the drawing board?

AB: Certainly a fruitful train of thought. But I have provided a different way of approaching some of the things. Hope they are helpful. And clear; if not, please let me know. I expect they are not clear.

Thanks a lot,


Feb 2, 2018, 04:17


The general nature of Law

The following is some reflections that preceded the email, but are kept in case useful.

Let us put down something fundamental about law, before we discuss Jewish law in particular.

A note

The following is from a note that I found 11 November 2018 from a few years ago. I don't know whether these were my thoughts or those of "Bernard":

"To Bernard: How they interpret Law. Do they not have to take into account that the people to whom the law was given were a 'rabble'who had not yet been formed into a worshipping community that showed forth the glory of Yahweh? Was not the form in which the law was given to knock them into shape?"

(Bernard is a Jewish academic with whom I sometimes interact. "Rabble" is not a word that I usually use, and if written by me, would have come from someone else. Maybe Martin Ansdell-Smith - though I don't know that the "Martin" above is him, probably some other Martin.)

Helpful Piece from Sermon

The following is a note I found from a sermon I heard on 4 November 2018, given by Martin Ansdell-Smith on Leviticus 19. The law is NOT given to get people to please God. Rather, the law is given to show how God's people should live in response to God's grace.

That makes sense of Jesus' statement "I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it." It throws fresh light on the injunction, "live in the light". It includes feelings and motives [what God called "the heart" when he chose David as king of Israel]. When Jesus quoted "love your neighbour ..." this is not a new legalism, but more to get God's people thinking about how they live, to tune our consciences. God's people then become "instruments of righteousness", especially, I think, in the sense intended by the Hebrew word tsedeq (and the Greek dikaios) rather than the individualised version that Western evangelicals assume today. This links closely with the theme of Representing God.

See also:

This page, "", is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 23 February 2017. Last updated: 5 February 2018 added email from MT and my respojnse. 11 November 2018 Bernard bit. 12 April 2019 note from sermon 181104, and link to end at start. 3 May 2019 see-also links, esp. Torah. 6 May 2019 link to nv/law.