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Discovering Biblical Equality 3: the law

Chapter 3 of Discovering Biblical Equality talks about how women are treated in the Mosaic law. Because we are so far removed from the culture and the language and the actual lives of God’s people during this time, we want to read it just as we would a modern work.1 If we do that, we are quite offended by many of the things that it says. But that’s an unfair assessment based on a faulty reading.

Before we can talk about what the law says about women, we have to discuss how we read the Torah in the first place.2

The OT law was not a “comprehensive and universal legal code” such as we have now. That’s a fairly recent development. Instead what we consider law “did not become a final, immutable law code, but acted as a resource, a body of precedents, or a ‘system of reasoning’ for judges to consider.” The law was wisdom that guided their communal life. 

The law was also not God’s perfect will for humanity. It was given because of sin; it was supposed to restrain sin and allow for more flourishing. Here’s an example. From the garden account of Adam and Eve, we can pull the sentence that sums up marriage: “therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.”3 However, the law made allowances for divorce and put limits of the accumulation of wives.4 Jesus quotes this passage in Mark 10 when critiquing how the law has been used and says “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation…”5 The laws about divorce were there because of sin. They are still there because of sin. But it was not what God intended. The law limited sin, which is a valuable thing in a fallen world. 

Many of the passages in the OT law that seem offensive about women are just going to feel offensive. I’m not going to pretend that suddenly they will be fine. But we must at least do them the justice of understanding them in context. The laws protected women from male power and gave them recourse to have the best life they could. 

A great example of this is Wendy Alsup working through Numbers 5. In an IG highlight, I talk through the laws surrounding the rape passages. 

God works in the context humanity finds themselves in, moving people toward what God intended all along. But it’s a slow movement. God does not snap fingers or wave magic wands. God works through the Spirit, reshaping people. We see this same principle at work now so it should not shock us to find it in the lives of the Israelites either. God honors context and works within where we are. God points us toward best but does not drag us there right away.

1 We actually want to do this with all of the Bible which means we will constantly misinterpret it.
2 I suggest Bearing God’s Name by Carmen Imes, How To Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth by Christopher Wright and the podcast series on the law from Bible Project if you want to learn more about the law.
3 Genesis 2:24. We should circle back some other time to the man leaving his family because in patriarchal cultures exactly the opposite happens.
4 The law dealt with the practical, not the theoretical, therefore there are no statements about accumulating husbands because that was not a practice of the people. Here is where we could practice the wisdom of the law by noting the lack of limits does not mean a woman should accumulate husbands.
5 Mark 10: 2-12.

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