Does Ritual Law Exist? – Part 4
by Paul Blake
In Part 1, it was explained that scholars have essentially rejected the “categories of law” such as ritual, moral, civil, etc. In Part 2, a survey of Scripture revealed that the terms ritual, ceremony-ceremonial, civil, and moral are seldom used in Scripture. When they do show up, they are almost always used differently than how they are understood today. In Part 3, the penalties for breaking the laws were not consistent with the ritual-moral paradigm. Additionally, the ritual laws do not seem to be abolished, especially considering the fear of the Lord upon us when considering whether to abolish commands. Here in Part 4, now that the weaknesses of the ritual-moral paradigm have been exposed, an alternative with a clearer Scriptural foundation needs to be presented. There are two principles to consider within law and ethics: hierarchy and covenant. First, a hierarchy exists, as there do seem to be commands with greater emphasis and consequences. Second, covenant is also a major factor as will be shown here.
There is ample evidence throughout Genesis to Revelation to establish the paradigm of a hierarchy of laws. The factor that different penalties were applied indicates that some sins were worse than others. Jesus confirmed that a hierarchy of laws existed when He ruled that healing on the Sabbath was more important than resting on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14), and He later answered which of the laws were the “greatest” (Matthew 22:34-40). While congregations may function within a slightly different definition of this hierarchy, it is clear that a hierarchy exists according to the Scriptures.
There are three options for ethics within a covenant perspective. First, universal law existed for all mankind since the days of Adam. This idea of universal law overlaps with the modern concept of natural law. We know that universal law is applicable to all mankind based on the stories from Noah’s generation, Sodom, and Gomorrah. They had broken God’s standard of right and wrong, as had Cain by murdering Abel. The key
factor is that not every person in Noah’s generation was “in covenant” with God, so these laws are universal. Alternatively, Abraham had obeyed the universal commands of God (Gen 26:1-5).
Second, when the Torah was given, the Jewish people were given expectations in additional to universal law. Thus the Jewish ethic was different than universal law. Third, with the giving of the Torah came an interesting development – a third group of people known as ger toshav (an uncircumcised “resident alien”). So after Sinai, God spoke regarding the ger toshav and gave them covenant status with forgiveness of sins (Deut 29:10-13, Lev 16:29-17:16) along with equal status (Lev 19:34). This was a different scenario, a covenant and equal status, that the goyim and universal law did not necessarily provide. Of course, the ger toshav would have also been expected to keep universal law.
Multiple passages address how the Jewish people were commanded to treat the ger toshav, a system of legal rights the ger toshav could claim in court that foreigners could not. Other ger toshav passages are clearly in imperative form, commands of God given to the ger toshav but not to the foreigners. These are critical passages when studying ethics for the uncircumcised brethren. These passages become even more important when considering that numerous New Testament passages addressed pagans who were coming into covenant, receiving forgiveness of sins, receiving equal status, and dwelling alongside Jewish people whether inside or outside of Israel (Numbers 10:29-34).
Congregations need to be studying ethics within the principles of hierarchy and covenant. The former paradigm of ritual-moral is insufficient and lacks Scriptural backing. Congregations do not necessarily need to take an official stance today, yet they need to be studying towards a local level implementation. As the re-digging of these ancient wells continues, patience is the key.
Tikkun leaders have used the phrase “living out the Torah in a New Covenant order.” This is helpful since “in a New Covenant order” can be interpreted in multiple ways. We need to allow families and congregations the time to examine the Scriptures for themselves, as they may interpret the Scriptures differently. At the same time, we can openly challenge the ritual-moral paradigm … and present the hierarchy-covenant paradigm as a more Scriptural approach.