Saturday, February 16, 2013

NT Wright and the Hebrew Law Court analogy

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. (John 5:45)

Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:5-6)

In James R White's interaction with and discussion of NT Wright's doctrine of justification, Dr. White focuses on Tom Wright's idea of the "law court" analogy, in which NT Wright states that his "law court" analogy is to be that of the Hebrew law court where there is a judge and the defendant, 2 parties only. Dr White focuses on the idea of the newness of the New Covenant in his interpretation of Romans 8, in which clearly there is a third party, the mediator, present. From a Reformed (non-Baptist) perspective, do we or should we go along that line of argument? Or is there a better line of argument against NT Wright's portrayal of what the law court analogy in Scripture teaches?

It is my opinion that there is a better way to go about defending the historic reading of the law court analogy, through looking at the Hebrew law court itself. Is NT Wright true when he says that the Hebrew law court has only 2 parties? True, there seems to be only two parties present (the judge and the defendant), but is that really the case?

To truly understand the Hebrew law court, we must understand the Old Covenant. The Law or Torah was given by God to Israel. God's decrees, statutes and commandments were given to Israel as their covenant document (c.f. M.G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King). This was the way Israel ought to live her life as God's covenant people. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant or the Mosaic Covenant. He was the mediator between God and Israel, receiving the Law from Mount Sinai. What Moses received was the constitution of Israel, the basis for all of Israel's laws. As John 5:45 assumes, Moses was the covenant mediator of the Old Covenant. He who received the Law mediates Israel's covenant to God under that economy. Heb. 3:5-6 assumes that Moses was a covenant head and mediator just as Jesus is a covenant head and mediator, and then contrasts the two mediators and the two covenants they mediate.

If Moses is the mediator of the Old Covenant with its laws, then Moses is the mediator in the Hebrew law courts under the Mosaic economy. Moses' mediatory office however focuses on the principles of works found in Lev. 18:5: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD." The Mosaic economy is strictly legal without mercy. The one who does the Law shall live, while the one who violates the Law dies. Moses in this sense mediates death. This is not to say that the Law is evil, as Rom. 7: 7-14 shows. Rather, because of sin and wickedness, all are under the curse of the Law.

Therefore, in the Hebrew law court, there are not just 2 parties. Moses is present as a mediator everytime the Law is used. The Law in the Hebrew law court therefore brings the mediation of Moses as the covenant head, in typological form, in its deliberations and judgments. If the accused is guilty, Moses "mediates" punishment to him. If the accused is innocent, Moses "mediates" life in the form of acquital. There therefore IS a mediator in the Hebrew law court, the head of the Old Covenant Moses. That is why the Pharisees could set their hope on Moses, while Jesus state that Moses will condemn them instead.

We could very well therefore grant NT Wright his appeal to the Hebrew law court. The problem is that Wright does not truly understand the Old Covenant, and thus his view of the Hebrew law court is defective.

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