Saturday, March 12, 2005

Covenant Renewal

Two posts today (hopefully):

The first is a sort of comment on Derek Melleby's last blog about the Ten Commandments controversy. Strange, in a nation full of dispensationalists and antinomians that a rather theonomic position would be taken over this issue. That's beside the point though...

There is a weird phenomemnon in our Bibles. We have some very similar (though slightly different) laws in the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) that have often been understood properly. Part of the problem is our conception of "law" in the Bible. We should understand it in its ancient near eastern setting as covenant conditions given by a Lord to a servant. They are not timeless or authority-less, nor are they necessarily universal (although, through a different route, that could be said of the Biblical Torah).

The reason that the Torah has many similar, but differing, laws is because of the process of 'covenant renewal'. When situations changed (the death of the lord and the ascension of his successor, the death of the servant and the ascension of his progeny, a change of times due to war or location or whatever, etc.) the covenant was renewed. During that process, the former covenant was still considered binding, except the parts that the change affected. In the case of the covenant of Exodus-Leviticus, the situation was of a traveling and assembling army. By the time of Deuteronomy, the army is fully assembled and ready to go, plus their status as traveling is coming to a close as they descend into their permanent home in the land. This can be seen especially in the change of phrasing in laws from "outside the camp" to something like "outside his people or outside the city". Obviously, a stationary people wouldn't need laws that spoke of "outside the camp", since the "camp" is a traveling phenomemnon. This also clears up the controversy over how much we are actually supposed to tithe, 30% or 10%.


When Jesus comes in the NT, we announces the coming of the kingdom of God and (therefore) a renewed (or new) covenant. His stipulations in the Beatitudes should, I think, be seen in the light of ancient covenant renewal ceremonies, especially as it is ratified in the upper room and at Pentecost. I wonder aloud, then, whether one of the Gospels (I would think Luke-Acts, but I can't speak for certain, it might well be Matthew) is a retelling of the Torah traditions, especially Deuteronomy to emphasize this theological dimension.

So what does this mean?

This means that our understanding of the Torah must be conditioned by the covenant renewal that takes place in and through Jesus and the Spirit. Mouw's modest proposal might have a theological strength that heretofore hasn't been expounded or 'exploited'.

Shalom olam.

1 comment:

David Whitcomb said...

Russ, it was good to meet you yesterday and put a face on a blog. It brought me back to your page, as I clicked your link on my blog, it took me to Russ Warren's Remax salesman page. I just corrected my link, so now people get connected to your site.

I like your (or your interpretation of someone else's) thoughts on the transitional nature of the covenants. I wonder though, is this type of thinking the type that Brueggeman undertakes to affirm monogomaus homosexual relationships? It could be a very slippery slope that people could use to justify many things due to what they see as a necessary transition of a covenant. Just a thought.