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Works Righteousness (2) Different Purpose

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Most of the Torah has nothing to do with personal righteousness because it describes a communal program that teaches people how to live together in a tightly populated land with relative harmony. The law was given when the children of Israel were about to move into a new land. While they were slaves, their taskmasters had controlled every aspect of their lives. Once they were freed from slavery and planted a new land, they faced the challenge of living together without falling out with each other over trivial issues. God gave them the Torah to equip them for this challenge.

  • The Instructions for Economic Life cannot be fulfilled by an individual because they provided guidance for people to interact in various economic activities. They dealt with challenges that did not arise while they were slaves. These instructions are specifically inter-personal, so they did not provide a standard for personal righteousness.

  • The Laws for Society (judicial laws of Moses) are instructions to the entire nation about how to deal with crime, given that God had not instituted a parliament to make laws for this purpose. God gave the Israelites a system of law implemented by local judges to constrain crime in their new society, so it is only tangential to personal righteousness at best.

  • The tabernacle described in the later chapters of Exodus and the sacrifices described in the early chapters of Leviticus were given to deal with unrighteousness, not to define personal righteousness. God did not expect people living under the law to live righteous lives because they were incapable of doing it, so he provided them with sacrifices to absolve their inevitable failure.

  • The laws about sexual immorality and health in the middle part of Leviticus were to provide people with spiritual protection in a world where the spiritual powers of evil were rampant and not yet defeated by the cross. The best protection came from keeping separate from evil people who were carrying evil spirits. God is not obsessed with sexual purity. The emphasis on sexual immorality is in Leviticus because it is one of the key ways that evil spirits get transferred to another person.

  • The food laws, circumcision and sabbath were a key way for the Israelites to mark themselves as different from the world. They were external markers that had very little to do with personal righteousness.

These are just a few of the main purposes for which God gave the OT laws, but there are many more. The law provides guidance for marriage, instructions for defence and war, guidance for caring for the poor, and many other social and economic issues, but most of these are instructions to a community of people. They are not criteria for personal righteousness because that is not the purpose of the law.


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