Which ancient Israelite laws still apply today and which don’t? Should the law be divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial categories? And why did Jesus quote Deuteronomy when Satan tempted him? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to audience questions about the Deuteronomy scroll. Thanks to our incredible audience for your questions.
Jesus said that what Eden actually is can arrive and break in anywhere he is and his followers start living the way he invites them to. That’s the promised land Jesus is inviting people to enter. It’s not a place but a relationship you enter with the Kingdom-bringer.
Diego from Guatemala (1:30)
My question is: how do we determine which laws still apply today and which ones don’t? I know some traditions believe that if something is not addressed in the New Testament, it is no longer valid, but I’ve also found other traditions anchoring their beliefs in Old Testament laws as an explanation for current Church practices. Could you shed some light on this?
In one sense, all 613 of the Old Testament laws apply today. In another sense, none of them do.
How do none of the laws apply? The laws are part of God’s story with ancient Israel. Because none of us today are ancient Israelites, none of the laws apply directly to any of us in the way they did to their original audience. And often, the justification given for the application of ancient Hebrew laws comes from an approach to the Bible that treats it like a reference book. We cherry pick singular verses to create a “rulebook” of sorts. A reference book approach takes every law so literally that only an ancient Israelite could have followed those laws accurately.
But how do all of the laws apply? The laws are part of one unified story that demonstrates God’s character, wisdom, and the pitfalls of human nature. Just because a law wasn’t quoted in the New Testament doesn’t mean it’s without value. We can find wisdom for our contemporary context in all of the laws. All of the laws can be applied to a contemporary context and adapted for a new setting—even Jesus does this. While the commandment “do not murder” is immediately applicable to any context, Jesus applies it to a broader context when he says the sin of murder starts in the human heart as contempt, pride, and superiority (Matt. 5:21-22).
Alex from Ontario (12:52)
My question is about seeing the law as organized into moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects, which is a common interpretation of the law that is used especially in more Reformed and apologetic-minded circles. Based on what you have been saying throughout this series in Deuteronomy, I get the impression that that interpretation is not native to the text, nor is it a framework that Jesus and the apostles used, although some in Church history, like Aquinas, did see the law that way. Is this a faithful way to understand the law as Jesus and the apostles saw it? Can this view live alongside the concept of the law as wisdom that you have been discussing as you have walked through Deuteronomy?
In this approach to the law, individual commands like “do not murder” would be categorized as moral, whereas laws about accidentally killing someone in self-defense would be considered civil, and ceremonial laws would include all the rules governing the tabernacle and rites of purification. Often, these categories are used to determine which laws Christians need to obey today (i.e., moral laws apply today, but ceremonial laws don’t).
Organization of the laws into categories or topics is not how ancient Israelites, Jesus, or the apostles talked about the laws. Jesus talked more simply about laws regarding murder, Sabbath, divorce, etc. He made no distinction in their applicability, which is why it is truly helpful to look at the laws as wisdom literature that can be applied to a variety of circumstances. However, it’s not “wrong” to categorize the laws into moral, civil, and ceremonial rules—it can be helpful for studying the law. But if we’re doing that to figure out which ones still matter and which don’t, we will miss the wealth of wisdom available to us from these ancient texts. Even civil or ceremonial laws are mini-narratives that show us what it means to live righteously and do right by our neighbors.
Kait from Washington (22:47)
My question is regarding the law of the harvest in the second movement of Deuteronomy, where it says in Deuteronomy 23:14-15 that if you go into your neighbor's vineyard or field, you may eat your fill that you pluck with your hand, but you can't harvest. Also, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22, it gives instructions on how to leave part of your harvest for, basically, any people that don't possess land (ie: sojourners, widows, fatherless, etc). Is this significant in Matthew 12:1-8 when Jesus and his disciples pluck the grain with their hands (and eat) on the Sabbath, since they were essentially nomads/people without land?
When Jesus and his disciples pick grain to eat on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the pharisees accuse them of violating the Sabbath. Aside from the debate over the Sabbath (which is really the main point of this controversy), Jesus’ actions here link to a number of laws in Deuteronomy about sojourners’ rights. Jesus and his disciples renounced land ownership, and although they didn’t overtly renounce their families, they distanced themselves from them. Moreover, Jesus chose to first share his Kingdom with people who were primarily landless—the poor, the sick, and immigrants—just like God did in Exodus, choosing to form a unique relationship with a group of enslaved immigrants.
Vaughn from New York (27:55)
In the gospels when Jesus is tempted by Satan, he responds by referencing Deuteronomy three times. Is this scene connected in some way to the deuteronomic theme of preparation to enter the promised land?
In Matthew 4, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, where he is tested three times by Satan. In all three tests, Jesus responds to Satan by quoting from Deuteronomy (chapters 8 and 6). These tests fit into a larger motif in the Hebrew Bible: biblical characters facing moments of testing and decision on the third day or some other repetition of three, as well as the number 40. Three and forty are both key numbers in testing stories. Additionally, the wilderness is connected to exile and God preparing people for the abundance of the Eden land. The gospel writers frame Jesus’ story as a repetition of the Israelites’ story. Jesus passes through the waters of baptism (like Israel crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan River), is tested in the wilderness for forty days (echoing Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness), and enters the promised land after those events.
Jesus’ testing in the wilderness is preparation for the promised land, just as Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Both Jesus and the Israelites’ testing narratives echo an even older story: Adam and Eve in the garden. Israel gets an opportunity to become a new Adam and Eve and demonstrate trust in Yahweh that will result in Eden blessing for them and other nations—but they fail. Jesus becomes both the faithful Israelite and God’s faithful image-bearer who passes the test and opens up Eden blessings for all humanity.
Madison from Texas (33:38)
My question comes from Episode 4 of the series on the Deuteronomy scroll [The Law … Again]. You discussed seeing the broader wisdom behind the laws and using that, in light of the rest of Scripture, to inform how we live centuries later. As you talked about the destruction of the Asherah poles and altars on the high places (Deut. 12:2-3), discouraging adultery against the marriage covenant with Yahweh, my mind was drawn to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:29-30. He says to tear out your eye or chop off your hand if it leads you to commit adultery against your spouse. Is Jesus drawing his audience’s attention back to the Torah here and “modernizing” the underlying wisdom, if you will? Are there other passages he’s linking to?
The narratives of conquest in the Hebrew Bible have been used to justify other conquests throughout history, which is a misapplication of those stories. When Jesus and the apostles refer to those texts, or to violence in general, it’s as an illustration of how we ought to relate to sin and moral compromise. Followers of Jesus are to “put to death” sin and sinful behavior or “cut off” the source of our sin. Jesus uses very aggressive language (not unlike the commands to chop down Asherah poles) when he says things like, “If your eye or hand causes you to sin, pluck it out/cut it off” (Matt. 5:29-30).
Adultery and idolatry are serious offenses to Yahweh, so the comparison is strong. Similarly, Jesus urges his followers to respond to the temptation to commit adultery against one’s spouse with equal severity—cut it off.
Dave from Indiana (37:48)
My question comes from Deuteronomy 31:21, which in the English Standard Version reads, "And when many evils and troubles [have] come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)." So my question is: when in the Bible do we see the prophets using this song to confront the people? Do you think Phinehas used this song in the Judges 17-21 stories to confront the people?
In Deuteronomy 31, Yahweh commands Moses to write down a song (Deut. 32) that will act as a witness to the terms of Israel’s covenant with God. It’s true that we don’t see Moses’ song referenced by prophets in Joshua, Judges, Samuel, or Kings. However, all the later prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets) hyperlink to Deuteronomy 32. The opening lines of Isaiah are direct links to Deuteronomy 32, and some of Ezekiel’s most graphic imagery hyperlinks to Deuteronomy 32 as well.
Jordan from Oregon (44:38)
My question is on Deuteronomy 29:1, where it says, “These are the words of the covenant that Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab besides the covenant that he had made with him at Horeb.” Is this a different covenant from Horeb? Or is it the same one revisited in light of the prophetic hope of a new covenant?
While this question has to do with one single verse, it’s a great example of how one verse in the Hebrew Bible can open up an entire universe of meaning to be explored. Did Moses actually broker two covenants between Yahweh and Israel? What’s happening in Deuteronomy 29:1 is similar to the overall premise for the scroll of Deuteronomy. When Deuteronomy opens, Moses is giving Israel a “second” law, except it’s not really an entirely new law. It’s the old law but updated, expanded, and adapted for a new generation who will lead a settled existence in the promised land, which will naturally look different from the nomadic lifestyle of their parents. It’s also possible that this verse prophetically looks ahead to the need for a new covenant because Israel will fail to keep this covenant. (This is John Sailhamer’s take.)
Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by Hannah Woo. Audience questions compiled by Christopher Maier.
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