instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

"I have come not to abolish the law"

Camassia looks at Mark 7:
This is a very vexing chapter, if you're trying to figure the relationship between Jesus and the God of the Old Testament. It defies both those who make the one to be a seamless fulfillment of the other, and those who try to completely separate them.

In the first story some Pharisees criticize Jesus and his followers for eating without ritually washing first....

The weird thing about this is that Jesus quotes Mosaic law to undermine Mosaic law. "Honor thy father and mother" is credited as the Word of God, but the food taboos of Leviticus are treated as mere human tradition. But in the Old Testament as we have it, at least, all that law appears as a lump, delivered by God from Mt. Sinai. Jesus seems to be implying, though he does not actually say so, that the true Word ends at the end of Exodus.
Revelation is a process. Since it's revelation to time-bound creatures like us, it has to be a time-spanning process if it's to be congruent with our nature.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law (and in fact of all Revelation, being the one Word God speaks to mankind). As such, He teaches the fulfillment of each precept of the Law, including "Honor your father and mother" as well as "The rabbit and the pig are ceremonially unclean for you."

Note that the Pharisees had their own fulfillment of these two precepts: "Honor your father and mother unless you can get around it." "The rabbit and the pig are ceremonially unclean for you so wash your hands before every meal and you will be clean before God."

Jesus, of course, fulfilled them differently.

But in saying, "Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person," was Jesus treating "the food taboos of Leviticus ... as mere human tradition"?

I don't think so. First, we need to distinguish between the food taboos of Leviticus and the mere human traditions that grew out of these taboos (the so-called fence around the Torah). It was the human traditions Jesus was particularly speaking against.

Still, it's true that Christianity does not regard the food taboos of Leviticus as binding. How can what is in effect the abrogation of a law be its fulfillment?

Some laws are what might be called "useful laws." The law in the U.S. is to drive on the right side of the road, not because driving on the right side of the road is in itself good for us, but because it makes driving safer. It is a useful law.

Similarly, the food taboos given in Leviticus 11 are given, not because eating rabbits and pigs was necessarily bad for Israelites, but because eating them made the Israelites ceremonially impure -- that is, unable to participate in the ceremonies required of them by the Law.

Again, though, Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Law, includng the ceremonial precepts. In His fulfillment of the ceremonial precepts, Jesus tells us no one is too unclean to approach Him -- or rather, that what makes a man ceremonially unclean with respect to Jesus is what comes from his heart, not what enters him.

The food taboos, then, are the means to ceremonial purity, and just as the notion of ceremonial purity is perfected by Jesus, so are the means.