29 Mar 2009

Jesus and the Law

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One of the trickiest issues for a Christian is the Mosaic Law. Jesus claimed that He was the fulfillment of the Law, and yet in many respects He clearly overturned it.

One of the most fascinating passages in all of Scripture occurs in Mt 19: 3-9:

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

More generally, we have to deal with one of the biggest problems, namely the fact that God ordered the Israelites to kill babies. That’s…kind of a big deal.

As a former college professor, I grapple with these things with an analogy to testing students at different levels. With the freshman Business majors who are taking Intro to Micro, sometimes the multiple choice questions or even the short essays were a little off. That is, I had to dumb the issues down in order to test the students, and thus what they were forced to parrot back on the test (if they wanted a good grade) wasn’t quite right.

But if a student majored in economics and took my seminar as a senior, or even better did an independent study and wrote a paper with me as the guide, then obviously we got a lot more nuanced and could see why the kiddie stuff they learned in Intro wasn’t actually correct.

(Note that this isn’t just about Economics. I’ve even had math professors tell me the same thing, that they literally teach “bad math” to freshmen in Calc I or whatever because it’s not worth going into the real subtleties of certain things.)

It’s just an analogy, of course, but I think it serves a purpose in illustrating why God may have ordered the Israelites to do things that modern Christians would consider immoral. In a nutshell, look at what He had to work with!

And just as with my freshmen students, it’s still true that an incomplete instruction is better than none at all. In other words, even though I knew that some of the concepts and techniques were a little off, it was still better to show the students that than to show them nothing, and it was also better than trying to dive into Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk on Day One.

So by the same token, even though Jesus seems to be conceding that the Mosaic Law was flawed, He presumably also knew that God was right to promulgate it.


And while we’re here, a Big Picture thought: In the very beginning, Adam and Eve had total freedom. They abused it.

Then God allowed the humans to run rampant with no intervention on His part. They messed things up so bad, that He destroyed the world and started over with Noah’s family.

Then things got bad again and God intervened and guided the Israelites by the hand, like the little children they were.

Now the atheist says, “Ha ha, if God is so smart why did He have to reboot?! What a dumb story.”

But I think part of the Christian answer may be, “God wanted it to be perfectly clear that we needed Divine Intervention. So He let things run their natural course right off the bat, before finally He had to stop it. We can’t even imagine how awful people must have been back then. In fact, there were probably many non-believers the week before it started raining who said, ‘If there were a God, He would surely destroy the earth because there is so much wickedness.’ Yup.”

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