Review: Old Testament Law for Christians

9780801049040Roy E. Gane is Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Gane received an MA and PhD from University of California, Berkeley, and has authored numerous books, including a commentary on Leviticus and Numbers in the NIV Application Commentary series. Most recently, Gane has provided a comprehensive volume on Old Testament Law that will help Christians better understand and apply such to everyday life.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application aims to “show Christians how OT laws are relevant, interesting, accessible, and useful; how to navigate around them; how to uncover their wise values; and how to arrive at answers to questions regarding their interpretation and application to modern life” (p. xiv). The book has been divided into four major sections: (1) Getting into Old Testament Law, (2) Literature and Background of Old Testament Law, (3) Applying Old Testament Laws, and (4) Values in Old Testament Law. These divisions provide a logical order in support of the overall objective of the book, and thus, most of the content is naturally centralized within parts 3 and 4.

Gane is a well-known and accomplished scholar of Biblical Law, and the scope of Old Testament Law for Christians demonstrates such with minimal effort. In part one, Gane offers justification and rationale for the relevance of OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane focuses on Jesus and Paul’s view of OT law and sketches the trajectory. Gane also devotes a fair amount of space to the introduction of Old Testament law prior to establishing the contextual background in part two. Gane is especially strong on areas of literature and background of OT law, and the attentive reader will glean insight after insight as they follow him in the second section.

In part three, Gane introduces the difficult task of application and spends a portion of the time surveying the various approaches advocated both past and present. Those who appreciate methodology will enjoy Gane’s discussion here. Gane contends for a Progressive Moral Wisdom (PMW) approach to understanding and applying Old Testament law. There are five components of a PMW model: (1) analyze the law by itself, (2) analyze the law within the system of OT laws, (3) further analyze the law within the content of its ancient life situation, (4) analyze the law within the process of redemption, and (5) relate findings regarding the function of the law to modern life (p. 202-203). Then, after detailing the PMW model, Gane uses Exodus 23:4 as a test case for readers to engage the approach and witness its benefit. His approach is firmly built upon a solid hermeneutical methodology and readers will do well to take notes.

In part four, the reader is taken on a tour de force into the world of OT law. Here Gane addresses the Decalogue in two chapters before considering additional law related issues, such as the value of social justice and ritual laws, OT law and theodicy, etc. Gane also provides a sizable chapter on keeping OT laws today, where he specifically addresses the OT laws that seem most strange to the modern reader, including various occurrences of forbidden mixtures, vast dietary restrictions, sex during menstruation, etc. Gane is reliably informative and pastorally sensitive to the difficulty that Christians face concerning the implications of these issues, and the reader will appreciate the candor and attention that is found therein. Gane is constantly canonically oriented in his approach and keen to offer explanations for New Covenant Christians.

Old Testament Law for Christians is outstanding as an introduction to OT law and equally as helpful as a hermeneutical model. That said, for many readers, I am confident that there will be inevitable disagreement with Gane at several points during the journey. Gane is unashamedly honest when his conclusion differs with the common position among Christians (especially in the chapter titled “Questions about Keeping the Old Testament Laws Today”). Still, his consistency is to be commended despite disagreement. Where most readers will find Gane helpful is in parts 3 and 4. Overall, Gane has succeeded in his objective and does much to elevate the usefulness of the OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane removes an unfortunate false dichotomy in the contemporary church and encourages Christians to take the Torah as serious as Jesus and Paul. The Progressive Moral Wisdom approach is properly established and the outcome is a step in a much-needed direction.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application by Roy E. Gane is a timely resource. Gane has provided a comprehensive examination of OT law that will serve the New Covenant people of God for years to come. Any shortcomings will be found in the inevitable disagreement that arises out of a topic as such addressed here. That said, shortcomings aside, while I didn’t agree with Gane on every turn, I am very pleased to recommend this much-needed book.

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