Unwritten laws before the Law

Biblicism is untenable. Biblicism is the view that the Bible is “the exclusive source for formulating Christian belief and practice with explicit rejection of the need for historical background, garnering wisdom from wider tradition, recognizing the influence of one’s cultural location, and attaining insights from out-group perspectives” (Michael F. Bird).

For example, Ex. 18:16 shows that there were statutes and laws prior to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Moses tells his father-in-law how he judges the cases brought before him by the people:

…when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”

Ex. 18:26

Moses makes this statement before God dictates to him the statutes of the Law (chapters 20-23). So there were statutes and laws of God known before what we know as the Mosaic Law was given, laws which are not written down in Scripture. This is incompatible with biblicism.

One might object that talk of ‘a statute and a rule’ appears already in chapter 15 (v. 25-26). But the chapter 15 reference means something different: there, the statute consists in Israel being commanded to attentively heeding God’s word, without any specific content being mentioned; a ‘meta-statute’ or ‘proto-statute’ so to speak. Chapter 18 certainly speaks of statutes with a specific content, without which Moses could not have judged between the people’s differing requests.

There were statutes and laws of God before the Mosaic Law, laws which are not written down in Scripture.

A further objection is that God did give Israel content-specific laws noted down in the Bible: the circumcision of all males, the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But it is implausible that those were the focus of Moses’ verdicts. Undoubtedly the people had very mundane problems that had nothing to do with religious feasts. We get a glimpse of such questions in chapters 20-23.

Finally, the observation that knowledge about God, his statutes and moral claims was around prior and independent of written revelation ties in with a more general pattern in Scripture. Abel and Cain offer sacrifices very much in line with the ordinances of the Torah; who told them to do so? Noah set apart seven pairs of clean animals; who told him which animals were clean or unclean, before the book of Leviticus was written?

Image by Aaron Burden / unsplash.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *