The Spiritual Use of OT Case Laws

In his excellent JETS article, “The Scriptures Were Written For Our Instruction,” George Knight persuasively asserts that all of the Scripture, including the Old Covenant theocratic case laws, have a spiritual application to the New Covenant community. Chartering the waters between a theonomic  approach, on the one hand, and dispensational approach, on the other, Knight proves that we have very precise hermeneutical principles, set down in the apostolic writings, to follow. He explains:

In examining the core passages that have constituted the focal point of our study, we are coming to realize that in each place Paul is dealing with the responses God expects of humans. In 1 Cor 9:8 ff., he appeals to the theocratic case law that specifies that oxen must not be muzzled when threshing (citing Deut 25:4 in 1 Cor 9:9). Paul is persuaded that this law, like others, reflects God’s view of how people should relate not only to animals but also to human beings when those human beings are involved in laboring for our benefit, as he indicates in his transitional words that correlate the OT to his argument: “Yes, it was for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?” (vv. 10–11). This is not the only situation in which Paul appeals to the theocratic case laws. He does it also earlier in 1 Cor 5:13. There he refers to one or more of the passages in Deuteronomy in which God in his written word instructs the people of God to remove the unrepentant wicked man from their midst (which in the OT context is done by stoning him). And therefore Paul’s entire description of the action to be taken is that of removing the man from their midst and not associating with him, not even eating with him. We note however that the action Paul enjoins is not that of stoning but rather of putting him out of the fellowship with a view to his repentance (cf. 1 Cor 5:5). That this spiritual action becomes the NT principle for church discipline in general, rather than the act of stoning, is borne out by his comments in 2 Cor 2:6–8 where he urges that one who had been disciplined should be forgiven, comforted and restored (impossible if he has been stoned to death). Paul’s utilization of this theocratic case law shows that he regards it as teaching an important principle that must be followed by the Church, even though not in the theocratic form of stoning to death but rather in the form appropriate to the non-theocratic, non-national spiritual entity that the Church is in distinction from the Israel of the OT. Here the apostle takes account of the difference that fulfillment has brought about and at the same time maintains the principle of continuity for the instruction as it relates to the Church, and in doing so he also has “written for our instruction. (p. 10)”

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