Friday, March 28, 2008

Justice and Torah (2)

My reader's second question about the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) is really important.

Which laws would you include and exclude?
This question is critically important. Unfortunately it has been ignored by the church for most of history, because we have been happy to take over Roman laws, or whatever else the world had to offer.

I realise that it is a hard question to answer, but I am confident with the right effort by the right people we could determine which part of the Torah is God’s standard for law and justice. This is the task that I have set myself, so I have been studying the Torah over the last couple of years to this end. However I realise that I cannot do this alone. God needs other godly people working at this as well.

I have not reached a final conclusion on what parts of the Torah are still applicable, but three principles do stand out.

First, most of the laws in the Torah are not laws in the modern sense, with a prohibition and a penalty for failure to comply. Only small subsection of the Torah has penalties specified. The rest are just moral imperatives. They are “power under” laws. They are moral statements about what is required but without power of enforcement (the laws about mixing fibre and crops are examples) They could simply be ignored. The laws penalties specified are quite limited in their scope.

Secondly, I have concluded that Leviticus was specifically for Israel. This is stated at the beginning and the end and about twenty times through the book. Therefore this book does not have any universal application as a source of judicial laws, although it may have other didactic uses. The irony of this is that it makes life difficult for those who are hard on homosexuality. The other irony is that the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” comes from Leviticus.

The third important point that is often missed is the guidance about how the law should be applied. Once you take into account rules about three witnesses, non-guilty witnesses, financial compensation, penalties being applied by the juries, allowance for hardness of heart, etc., the situations in which the death penalty could be applied are extremely rare. I am sure if these principles were applied in America, the death penalty would almost disappear.

The other conclusion I am arriving at is that most of the policies of both the religious right and the chrisitan left go way beyond what God's law allows.

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