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March 25, 2008

Comments

Great job, Amy!

Nice post!

Amy can be my defense attorney any time.

What is this whole mixed fiber thing? This, I assume, is a reference to Leviticus 19:19, which reads: 'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.'.

What could this have ever meant apart from what it says superficially?

Not sure that I am interested in reading the book, but how does it end for A. J. Jacobs? What conclusions does he come to?

I think you make a good point, Amy, but I also think there's much more to the Law than simply showing people their inability to keep it. I think some of the laws (such as not mixing fibers) were arbitary, and they were arbitrary for a reason (if that's not a contradiction). Not only was God trying to create a cohesive society, but he was also trying to create a national identity. The most modern parallel I can think of was when Americans created their own dictionary with their own peculiar way of spelling things (e.g. color instead of colour). I think that some of these laws served a psychological purpose. They created a national identity by creating an obvious distinction between Israel (with their peculiar ways of life) and the surrounding nations. Remember that Israel had just left Egypt after 400 years.

There are different laws for different reasons. Some laws are based on morality, which doesn't change with time. Others were based on practical considerations given their cultural context, which don't apply outside of that context. Others were made for health reasons. And yet others were made for the express purpose of creating a national identity.

That's what I think, anyway.

Sam,

That is quite a good listing of legal reasons. Is there any room for metaphor? The cultural thing is probably a huge driving force and I can see the mixed fiber thing fitting into that category while being metaphor. The mixed fiber could be ambivalence or impurity which to God would be as plain to see as the clothes we wear are to our fellow human beings. I think of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14) when I think of this mixed fiber statute. In the parable, a king prepares a feast for his son and has trouble filling his hall with those he originally invited. Ultimately, the invitation becomes more open than to just the original few. The king later on takes notice of a guest and asks him "Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?" Having no answer, the man is expelled.

God, of course, is not a picky fashionista, who only cares about outward appearances.

If I can give some uncited information and not have my feet held to the fire, this is what I recall from studying the Ancient Near East from that period...

The prohibition to not wear clothing made from mixed fiber was very specific to the religious practices of Palestine during the conquest period of Israel's history. If I remember correctly, treaties that were made with neighboring nations were signified by intermarriage and homage to foreign deities. This polytheistic method of political diplomacy was also expressed in the symbolic gesture of blending two types of material.

Michael V,

Thanks for the input. The prohibition of mixed fiber would take on a somewhat different dimension, if that is the case. Please, do give us a source.

Let me request an explanation of another strange prohibition. For this one you must turn to Exodus 23:19. God is speaking to Moses atop Mount Sinai and He says: "Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk." Is there anything literal to this? Is it a forgotten figure of speech? Is it a metaphor? What is it? Why would it have been so important to God to say this to Moses in the middle of long list of commands with regard to law, justice, mercy, and commemorative feasts? Why forbid this one seemingly culinary practice?

Alvin,

I guess it depends on what you mean by a law being metaphorical. If you mean that a law may say one thing but mean something else that isn't immediately obvious, I doubt it. I'm open to the possibility, but I can't think of a specific example off the top of my head. The reason I doubt it is because when I read it, I get the impression it's very much like any modern sort of legal code. It's very specific, and it's written to be understood by everyone. It isn't poetry or anything like that. It's just a dry legal code.

But I think Michael is right and that some of these laws do have metaphorical significance. I think the law about not wearing clothes with mixed fibers was meant to be taken literally, but at the same time, Michael is probably right that the law symbolizes (and perhaps reiterates) that the Israelites were not supposed to intermarry with the surrounding nations, worship their gods, etc. They were supposed to be separate and distinct.

Law is not just an Old Testament concept, you find law in the New Testament also. Not intending to negate the purpose or significance of the OT law by the way. I just would point out that law reveals mans inadequacy, it's the mirror of God's perfection that reflects our twisted forms in truth. By that knowledge, we know God in more truth and the gospel--what God did--produces gratitude that then produces works in service.

Not works done out of an external legal motivation in some attempt to be worthy, but works produced from the knowledge that we rightly deserve the death penalty, and were set free to live, really live--by the sacrifice of another. The reformed concept of Law/Gospel distinction teaches that law has no power to produce good works, even if the works are by mans standards very good. The gospel does have the power to produce good works because it affects the heart of the saint to serve, to give, to defer to another, to walk humbly before God. After all, we've been forgiven much. See Luke 7:40-50 to see what I am trying to convey.

Brad B

I think Michael V.'s point is being somewhat lost in calling the law metaphorical. It seems the law was entirely practical and literal, prohibiting and act, which, itself, had symbolic significance.
It would be like prohibiting wearing gang colours in L.A. schools. This is not a metaphorical ruling, but a literal ruling against using the symbol, which, in and of itself, has practical ramifications.
Another example is the O.T. prohibition against trimming of beards. This is not a fashion statement but an admonition not to engage in a particular false religion, and follow its practices, which are symbolized by the style of beard worn.
Yet another example being Paul's warning about women with uncovered heads and his saying they might as well shave their heads as to worship with them uncovered. The problem is not with the fashion, but with what the people are consciously saying and engaging in when they engage the practice.

"It seems the law was entirely practical and literal, prohibiting and act, which, itself, had symbolic significance."

Right, literal and metaphorical/symbolic are not exclusive labels. Often there is a literal object that is supposed to lead to more.

Alvin, I was thinking about you this morning on my way to work, and I thought of something that might be considered a "metaphorical law" in the sense you mean. When Jesus said to pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, I don't think he literally meant for people to pluck out their eyes. I think it was a metaphor, and the literal reality behind it is that people should avoid putting themselves in situations that are going to cause them to sin.

But I think there are still two genres involved. Jesus was giving a sermon, using pursuasion, and giving practical advice. Moses was writing a specific law code that would be used to judge people.

FYI, Christian philosopher Paul Copan has written on some of this in his book "How Do You Know You're Not Wrong?" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005). Chapters 12 and 13 deal with issues of the Old Testament Law.

Regards,

Steve

Hi Sam,

I think I'd make a finer clarification - I don't think Jesus was giving a command or law in that passage. He never said to pluck out your eye, or cut off your hand. He said it would be better if you did, but he was speaking with a fair dose of hyperbole to make his point. I think this is what you were getting at in your last paragraph, but I think it's important to make the distinction between what Jesus was doing there and any kind of law.

The Law actually serves three purposes. First, the Law acts as a curb to keep order in the world. Second, the Law acts as a mirror to show us our sins. Third, the Law teaches us what we should and should not do in order to lead a God pleasing life. Living by the Law is only possible through the Gospel.

I'm relieved to have come across these comments. As a gay christian Lev has caused me trouble in the past. Now I have some hope that we might be free from these 'Laws'. If it really is OK to wear to a polyester/cotton mix shirt (not that I would!) is it then OK to be gay?

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