Reviewed by Elizabeth Woody
Roy Gane is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He has completed several written works on the Old Testament, including works focused on the Pentateuch, such as Altar Call (1999), Leviticus, Numbers (NIVAC, 2004), Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (2005), and Ritual Dynamic Structure (2014). Roy Gane writes from an evangelical perspective with a Seventh-day Adventist influence.
Gane segments his book into four parts. The first part ensures that the reader understands the relevance of OT Law for the believer today, what it is, and its purpose. The second part covers literary and contextual elements that assist the reader in proper interpretation of OT Law. In the third section, Gane focuses on the subject of applying law to the life of the Christian believer and how this can be done wisely. His last section is dedicated to specific values reflected in OT Law, providing commentary on how these can be applied in life in particular.
In chapter one, Gane sets forth the value of the Old Testament. He does so by commenting on its vital function within the whole canon of Scripture. He also discusses Jesus’ perspective of the OT and the OT’s influence on Paul’s teaching. Gane’s opening topic is an appropriate way to begin such a book – it creates interest in further exposition on such an authoritative, relevant, and needed text.
In the following chapter, Gane identifies what the Law is – God’s revealed will, given so that people can walk in His ways, and therefore, enjoy life and blessing. Gane explains that this divine will consists of principles rooted in what God values, and He has the absolute authority to demand alignment with these values. Following these clarifications, Gane introduces the reader to the nature of scriptural law – the categories of law, the format of law collections, and specific characteristics of these collections.
Gane discusses the purpose of the Law in chapter three. It was intended to reflect God’s character and give guidance to His covenantal people. In turn, this guidance would enable them to serve as a light to the nations. Gane appropriately qualifies this guidance, noting the role of grace, as well as the role of the cause and effect dynamic within the covenantal relationship.
Part two of the book covers literary and contextual elements. In the initial chapter of this section, Gane moves through a comprehensive coverage of legal texts throughout Scripture. He also moves through those texts which allude to or imply the reality of legal instruction already given. This comprehensive coverage is quite helpful, allowing the reader to track exactly where legal portions surface in Scripture.
Gane then discusses the various literary features used by God in the explicit legal portions. His discussion includes comments regarding positive and negative commands, the use of second and third person, the addressing of male heads of the household, grammatical aspects of apodictic and casuistic laws, three repeated consequential statements, and the use of motivational speech. This discussion involves much detail and is quite technical in places. Nevertheless, the detailed commentary makes the book a great resource.
In the final chapter of this section, Gane transitions from literary location and features to the historical contexts of OT law, explaining both social and legal aspects. He addresses societal structures and practices, the inclusion of foreigners, and factors such as corporate identity and motivation. He also addresses judicial structures and processes within Israelite society. Understanding these social and legal aspects will assist the reader in better understanding the role of OT Law within Israelite society. Gane also tracks the progressive development of OT law from creation to the monarchy, as well as the similarities and differences between OT law and other ANE law codes. He provides just a few comparisons between the OT Law and other ANE law codes, highlighting general observations.
In shifting to application for the Christian believer, Gane first presents difficulties encountered when studying OT law – the problem of unfamiliarity and/or theodicy concerns. Even with such difficulties, Gane perceives that most OT laws can be applied, at least indirectly. His explanation of paradigmatic application in light of continuity and discontinuity between the OT and the NT is quite clear and effective. He further explains that scriptural principles fall within a hierarchy, with love as the primary principle, love for God and love for humans as subprinciples, and specific manifestations of love for God or humans as further subprinciples. Beyond this, Gane argues that scriptural principles show a progression that moves toward divine values (as they were reflected at creation). OT Law functions within this progression.
Gane’s previous discussion introduces the reader to factors that must be considered when examining OT law application. This groundwork leads into his very useful overview of current scholarly approaches to this topic. He summarizes each approach effectively, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses noted in scholarly discussion, while including his own observations. He discusses “Christian Reconstructionism,” which emphasizes continuity between the OT and NT and promotes literal application of OT law. He then discusses three approaches which emphasize discontinuity and then four approaches seeking middle ground. Gane works with the strong points of these moderate approaches in order to develop and present his own – the “Progressive Moral Wisdom” approach.
The “Progressive Moral Wisdom” approach has 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as its basis. All of Scripture, no matter the genre, is sacred, providing direct thoughts from God and “progressive training in moral wisdom.” Gane explains and illustrates the “Progressive Moral Wisdom” model. According to this model, the following should be considered in study:
- The specific law – life situation in view, scope of application, those addressed, its goal
- Its OT context – other laws in its immediate literary context with which it is coordinated, laws in other literary contexts with which it is topically related, its function within the hierarchy of moral values
- Its wider context – how the life situation is reflected in the biblical texts and then in extrabiblical materials
- The process of redemption – its relation to creation and new-creation ideals, its implied remedies for fallenness, any further (related) moral development in the OT beyond this law, any further moral development in the NT beyond this law
- Its modern-day function – whether or not it applies to today or the future, how it provides paradigmatic higher-level values for today even if not directly applicable, whether Scripture reflects a progression beyond the law that should be applied
After a thorough explanation of the approach, Gane follows-up with a case study to model its usage.
In the final section of the book, Gane addresses specific values reflected in OT Law. In chapters 11-12, he examines the Ten Commandments, sharing insights on each using his PMW approach. The approach is not applied step-by-step for the reader; rather, insights are given in summary format. The coverage is effective in communicating a more comprehensive overview of the role of God’s Decalogue in Scripture.
Gane dedicates two chapters to justice. In the first, he discusses social justice and how it was to be manifested in regards to debt release every seven years, bond servants, free but vulnerable individuals, women, animals and the environment, and humans in general. With each of these, Gane reviews the given OT instructions and how they were perceived and needed in Israelite culture. He works to assist the reader in understanding the merciful and practical nature of the social justice laws.
In the second chapter on justice, Gane targets those concepts in OT laws that are harder to understand, due to theodicy concerns. Such concepts include servant concubinage, the enslaving of foreigners, extremely harsh terms of punishment, and the commanded destruction of those dwelling in the land of Canaan. Gane’s comments on each are helpful. He shares insight on Israelite perceptions and God’s intentions (those intentions both explicit and possible), all while drawing connection to today’s believer.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine if certain OT laws still apply today. In chapter 15, Gane addresses such laws, not comprehensively, but by targeting various questionable aspects and giving his own understanding of applicable or non-applicable components. For many of them, he considers whether the law is bound to cultic practices; if so, it no longer applies to Christians, since the sanctuary does not exist and since Christ has fulfilled the role of cultic practices. It is quite significant that Gane devotes a chapter to these questionable laws in order to further equip the reader. He raises factors that may not have been considered by the reader previously, thus allowing for further understanding of the laws in their original context. The discussion assists the reader in navigating such laws, even if he/she may differ on points of interpretation.
Chapter 16 is dedicated to ritual laws. Gane identifies the locations of these ritual laws and the specific ritual laws given in each – a helpful resource for anyone attempting to track such material. His comments on the values implicit in those laws enable the reader to acknowledge the importance of studying them – laws now obsolete, but vital for “progressive training in moral wisdom.”
In his conclusion, Gane appropriately lands on the value of obedience to God. He addresses misconceptions concerning obedience and law observance and rightfully calls today’s believer to proper observance of God’s divine values.
Whether a layperson, theological student, or minister, one can benefit greatly from reading Roy Gane’s Old Testament Law for Christians. Sometimes the writing is quite technical, so slower reading and processing are required. Yet, Gane’s explanations are for readers with varied exposure to OT material, and his level of detail provides content worth considering, no matter the background of the reader.
Throughout the book, Gane’s conservative view of Scripture and his abundant and effective use of specific scriptural examples combine effectively to build his argument of the applicability of OT law for the Christian. Even when one may disagree with any specific point of application, he/she will most likely agree with his argument and defense of divine values as reflected in OT law. Roy Gane does an excellent job of capturing the heart of the Law. For this reason alone, the book is highly recommended for all.
Elizabeth Woody is an MDiv student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application