Although the need to provide a far more adequate theological interpretation of biblical law remains primarily the task of the theologian and ethicist, the modern Old Testament scholar can aid in making available pertinent information from his discipline. [*]According to Childs, then, the theologian needs the exegete, yet given the importance of "correct context," the exegete also needs the theologian. In the context of a discussion of the Christian appropriation of Biblical law, here is an example of what Childs thinks the exegete has to offer the theologian as part of the broader dialogue (he calls them "points that must be taken into consideration"):
- The historically conditioned nature of the Old Testament law, which includes the Decalogue, has emerged with an even greater clarity on the basis of close study of Ancient Near Eastern material.
- The Old Testament laws give evidence of having arisen in different historical periods and often performed different functions; there is, however, no clear patter of 'ethical progress' which can be established on the basis of Old Testament texts.
- Most modern New Testament scholars would seriously question whether Jesus ever intended to present 'a higher ethic'. Certainly his relation to the Old Testament was a different one entirely from that represented by the evolutionist.
- Jewish interpretation of the Mosaic law cannot be dismissed by Christians as 'rigid' or 'legalistic' but it must be understood, first of all, on its own terms before engaging in a theological debate with Christian theology.
Again, several points should be made which affect the constructive task of developing an adequate theology of biblical law:
- The idealistic categories which admit divine inspiration only to what is regarded as 'eternally valid' or 'perfect' for all contexts must be firmly rejected in handling the Bible.The theological data of Old Testament law cannot be restricted by an a priori schema of values, symbols, ontology or the like.
- A theology of biblical law must relate specifically to the structuring of the concrete historical life of the people of God, who in ancient Israel, in the first-century church, and today continue to participate both in the kingdom of God and in the world.
- All forms of law, Old and New Testament alike, must be ultimately judged in the light of the living God himself who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ through a life of complete faithfulness under the law.
I look forward to reading the recently published I am the Lord your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, to see in what sense these theologians have responded to Childs' proposals.[*] Childs, Exodus, 496.