Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part II: Looking to Scripture (The Biblical Texts)
Chapter 5 – From Old Testament Law to New Testament Gospel. Ronald W. Pierce.
Ronald Pierce writes:
In an effort to seek understanding of these passages in the broader context of the Bible’s teaching regarding men and women, this chapter has a twofold emphasis. First, it will highlight the positive, regulatory character of the law, given that it was designed (in part) to expose and restrain sinful behavior. In other words, the law not only showed us our need for redemption but also functioned as guardian and disciplinarian until that redemption was more fully realized.
Second, this essay will demonstrate a redemptive process, of which the Law is but one stage. This process begins with (1) God’s good creation, which is (2) marred by humanity’s sin, which in turn is (3) regulated by the Mosaic law, a structure that is transcended in (4) the gospel. Thus just as the law took humanity beyond the judgments of Genesis 3:14-19, the New Testament believer is called to go beyond the law to the fullness of the gospel. This process is confirmed by comments of Jesus (Mt 5:17-48; 19:1-20) and Paul (Gal 3:19, 23; 4:4). Jesus explains the implications already inherent in the law yet adds his own countertheses that constrast a traditional understanding of the Torah with the fuller revelation of the gospel. Likewise, Paul argues that the law “was added because of transgressions,” guarding those under its care, while serving as their “disciplinarian” until “the fullness of time” when a Redeemer would appear, “Born of a Woman…under the law.” In both contexts the law is honored yet understood as part of a redemptive process that led to something better. (96-97)
Those who are familiar with the “redemptive movement hermeneutic” as articulated by William J. Webb will no doubt see a close relationship. Indeed, in footnote 7 Pierce acknowledges that he is closely paralleling Webb’s ideas. I have two short posts about the RMH which you can find by clicking here. We will also be visiting the RMH in chapters 22 and 23.
Dr. Pierce goes on to show how this plays out with five different themes:
- Adultery and divorce
- Slaves, daughters and prisoners of war
- Levirate responsibility and a breach of modesty
- Vows, purification and ceremonial participation
- Priests and firstborns
Pierce shows how each of these was a significant move toward the restraint of evil. Our tendency is to use today's standards as a measure of Old Testament law. When this is done, the OT standards leave much to be desired. But this is not the appropriate vantage point from which to view the Old Testament laws. The astonishing feature is the level of protection it gave to women and the vulnerable compared to history before that time and to the surrounding cultures. It set the Israelites on a trajectory away from fallen humanity toward God’s vision of humanity. Pierce writes, “Thus the Torah does not reverse the judgment of male dominance (Gen 3:16), it guards and protects the woman within the situation.” (98)
Pierce moves on from here to show that the New Testament takes things further. The law restrained evil. The law placed restrictions on the practice of divorce protecting women arbitrary divorces initiated by the husband. But Jesus said that, except for marital unfaithfulness, divorce is wrong. He equated hating someone with murder. He equated looking lustfully at a woman with adultery. The discussion moves from an OT view of restraining evil to being transformed into a new humanity. Jesus points us on that trajectory toward being the Kingdom of God that will only be fully realized when he returns. Our focal point moves from strict adherence to laws given in the past to the realization of a new humanity in the future and being that new humanity as best we can in the present. This is not a contradiction or refutation of the law. It is the fulfillment of it. The new humanity in the new kingdom is what the law was pointing to all along.
I find Pierce's perspective, and the redemptive movement hermeneutic offered by Webb (which will get to more fully later), to be essential in putting the scope of biblical teaching in perspective.
Ronald W. Pierce received his M.Div and Th.M from Talbot School of Theology and PhD. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is professor of biblical studies and theology in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, as well as an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. His publications include OT Interactive (a computer learning program for Old Testament survey classes) as well as several articles in the JETS, TrinJ and BBR. He also serves on the steering committee and occasionally cochairs Evangelicals and Gender Study Group at ETS. Ron and his wife, Pat, have directed Biola’s travel-study program to the Holy Land for fifteen years. They currently reside in Fullerton, California, and have two children.
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