These are the types of polarizing questions that I love. Not that I enjoy polarization in general. Surely there are better things to do with ones time. But if you're in the corner, reporting that you're in the corner is hardly wrong. If theology is truly going to be practical, then occasionally our practices will be different. Today's questions most certainly will highlight some of the distinct features of my theology and its application to civil legislation and moral integrity.
My quiet time this morning brought me to a few questions in Exodus 21, and I love how deep and connected your explanations are in discussion of all things Bible, so I thought it appropriate to ask you.
In verses 22-25, I'm immediately spurned to think about the issue of abortion. Though the secular world is not under covenant, there are still those who claim covenant relationship that adhere to the mantra of "pro choice." I'm also aware that Jesus fulfills the law, so OT law has to be filtered through the atonement. My question is very cloudy at best, but here it goes. Does this passage have a correlation to the sanctity of life on the level of abortion, and how do I bring this OT law to NT understanding? It talks about men conspiring to hit a woman so that the baby comes out. It sounds like a willful early birthing of a child, but I want to be careful not to superimpose current culture issues onto Scripture. Relevance cannot trump truth.
My second question is regarding verses 28-36. That ox is kind of a mess. This question is a little more straightforward. Can "ox" be synonymous with "possessions"? I like the implications of the oxen being set aside because of its disregard for life, and the accountability of the owner for keeping the repeat offender ox. But that's where my question comes from. If one of my possessions hurts someone, I would be inclined to never use that piece of equipment again. I'd probably even destroy or dispose of that piece of equipment and never look back. But if I kept it despite my first offense and end up hurting someone else, What does that say about my judgment and character? What does it say about how I hold to the sanctity of life?
Deep breathe. My answers require some qualifications. Some people may be more acquainted with my personal views on God's law than others. For those who are gluttons for punishment, there is even a whole series reviewing a book entitled God's Law Made Easy. But put more simply, I am of the opinion that while Christ "fulfilled" the law, His death/atonement by no means removes the continual validity of the Mosaic Law. I am persuaded that most interpretations of Matthew 5:17-19 essentially ignore v. 19 and make an interpretation of v. 17-18 that contradicts the conclusion that Jesus draws. The word "fulfill" is the antithesis to "abrogate." In no one can the word "fulfill" infer that that the law ceases. Likewise, any attempt to make "all things come to pass" speak to the death and atonement is reaching for straws via eisegesis. In general my opinion is referred to as theonomy. (For additional and extensive teaching on this subject I recommend Greg Bahnsen)
That said we are not under the Mosaic administration. Things have changed and we are not to replicate the nation of Israel with its laws in some wooden manner. There are alterations that must be made to modern life. What shouldn't be surprising, though it often is, is the revelation that this is built into the law of God. The Mosaic law is not a comprehensive type law. Most modern legislation attempts to be comprehensive hence the inherit strengthening of "big government" in recent times. Instead the Mosaic law is a divinely chosen set of "case laws." A modern and equivalent idea might be that of "precedence" from a judge's decision. The case law of Moses is in fact God acting as judge and providing precedence for the judges that would seek to judge righteously upon the earth. So the law remains valid as an example of God's righteous judgments and can be looked back to for guidance even today. So one must be well acquainted with the law and able to ask the practical "why this decision" if it is to be replicated today. Some laws are easier than others.
Using this method, we would be able to see why certain laws "change" in the New Testament. Since God's people no longer needed to keep themselves separate from the nations certain "holiness laws" need not be followed literally as their lessons is complete. Instead saints are called to separate from "the world" (essentially everything John wrote) by being obedient to God. The symbolism of the case laws then is no longer needed. Now we can eat all things and wear clothes of mixed fabric. The same can be said in a larger context about the ceremonial (Levitical) law. All this was and is fulfilled in Jesus once for all time and hence does not bear our repeating. Christ is the fulfillment of the ceremonial law at this very moment. This law did not cease in its validity but continues to stand fulfilled in the body of Jesus Christ.
In this stream of thought, its time to respond to one of the presuppositions made in the question. I do believe God set down His law as a standard for nations to follow. I agree that the secular world is not "under covenant" with God in the same manner as Israel. However they are encompassed by God's covenants with Adam and Noah. And His redemptive covenant in Jesus Christ is made available to the world (2 Cor 5:18-19). God's covenants always have a universal application though they do not have universal participation. This is why God judged those living in the promise land by the law though they did not have the law (Lev 18:24-27). Those interested or incredibly bored should read Part 12 and Part 13 of my walk through God's Law Made Easy.
But even with specific application to the law in the New Covenant, it is explicitly written on hearts (Jer 31:33) and the prophets write about the nations, not individuals, coming to learn God's law (Mic 4:2). Even during the time of its giving, God desired for His law to be a statue and example for the nations surrounding (Deut 4:7-8 and more available in my review posts). So I do believe that God's law should still be the standard of righteous laws in a nation. Let me repeat that, I believe God's law should be the standard for every law in the United States of America. Period. (One wishing to argue with me must first study Greg Bahnsen in-depth on this subject)
Okay. My qualifications are finally accomplished. Though I don't need each of them for every part of my answer it is easier to just have them all on the shelf waiting for me. So on to the direct questions!
First, I think "conspiring" is a bad translation. The word should mean "strive" in the sense of a struggle or fight. The passage then is laying down a "precedence" for two men being negligent and bringing damage to the child. Now I do not believe "eye for eye, etc." is literal. I believe it is a statement of fair judgment: no more and no less than righteous judgment. How I wish our unrighteous nation could replicate just this simple rule. But the examples within the symbolism can in some cases be laid down as valid punishments in other portions of the case law. This is certainly the case with "life for life." There are many case laws that show God's judgment upon someone who takes life (even preceding the law Gen 9:6). So stepping back, this is our "precedence": a negligent man who accidentally strikes a woman is responsible for the damage done to the life in the womb. What are we led to think a righteous judge would do against someone who does so willfully and knowingly? Certainly not less. God is definitively anti-abortion.
Having gotten the handle of using the Mosaic law as "case law" or "precedence", in the proper sense, provides the answer for the second question in its entirety. It has been worked in the right direction and I do believe it is proper to say "ox" is synonymous with "possessions." However, we do need to make sure we don't read this woodenly. Many "possessions" today can be fixed in a way that an ox cannot. And the example with the ox is behavioral in a way that is hard to accommodate in a literal fashion to modern possessions. But this does mean that we must be faithful to fix the problems that are known to us. Car breaks/headlights/etc., drills/saws and other things that could cause danger must be maintained faithfully. In keeping with the law, an accident that is the "first time" can be looked over for "not knowing" (though a regenerate Christian should be honest and not falsely take advantage of this allowance).
To your practical questions. It says very bad things about a person's judgment and character. And it says more embarrassing things about how that person "holds" to sanctity of life. And it is deficiencies like this that cause Christians to be called hypocrites. God has called us to some extreme forms of honoring the sanctity of life but we are usually stalwarts for only one (thought it is a very important "one" due to its pagan associations with Molech). From Exodus 21:18 to the conclusion of the chapter, God is quite focused on the value of life and provides some valuable case laws. It is correct to connect these things together even today. These were great questions that prompted some great conviction even as I wrote my answers.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.