The Perfect Imperfection of the Mosaic Law, and the New Covenant

The Mosaic Law is not a universal moral code applicable to all people at all times.

If you read through the Torah, you will find verses that seem morally repugnant to our modern sensibilities. For instance, the death penalty is applied for what seem to us like minor offenses. Israelites were allowed to keep slaves. The Mosaic Law is also clearly paternalistic, subjecting women to second class citizenship.

This is just a start. Skeptics like to point these things out as they criticize the Bible. They claim that Scripture is full of immoral ideas. Christians try to find explanations that soften the criticism, claiming that we need to understand the cultural context and what was actually meant. Skeptics claim Christians twist the plain meaning of the text to avoid obvious conclusions.

Could it be that both skeptics and defenders of the biblical text are right? That is the position that is taken in the video by Inspiring Philosophy: The Imperfect Mosaic Law.

We have to admit by our modern standards the Torah contains some instructions that are morally distasteful. We could try to explain them away. We could take the view that our modern morality is wrong. We could take the view that the Bible is simply written by Ancient Near Eastern men, that there is no God, and that the Bible is unreliable as a moral code.

Most of the these options assume that the Mosaic Law is/was meant to be a perfect and universal statement of God’s moral code. Perhaps, though the Torah was never meant to be a perfect, universal moral law to be applied to all people in all times.

The video describes some subtle and some not-so-subtle clues that support this view in various places. One such clue is the way Jesus viewed and applied the Law.

In Matthew 19, for instance, the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus with a question on divorce. They referenced the Law of Moses, which allowed men to divorce and send their wives away and asked Jesus who would be a man’s wife in heaven if he divorced and remarried several times. Jesus responded, to their chagrin, that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives only because of the hardness of their hearts, adding, “but from the beginning it was not so”. (Matt. 19:8)

Jesus is saying, here, that God only allowed divorce in the Mosaic Law because the people were stiff-necked and stubborn (hard of heart). Perhaps, God allowed it because the people of Israel were not in a cultural, moral or psychological position to receive the full instruction of God at the time.

We don’t know for sure, but the interesting point is the way Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law as a kind of “compromise between God and Israel”. God apparently softened and calibrated the provisions of the Law to accommodate the cultural norms, attitudes and expectations of the people at the time.

The statement by Jesus suggests that the people were not open to what God intended from the beginning, so God revised the terms for them. Why would God do that?

I have often thought that the Bible demonstrates a kind of progression in the relationship between God and man, more or less. I don’t mean this in the sense of a formal doctrine. Whatever we call it, there seems to be a recognizable element in Scripture of a growing, unfolding revelation of God to people.

Scripture has an arc to it. From the creation of the world, to Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the first Temple, and second Temple and forward to Jesus and beyond, Scripture has a progression. There is a “sweep” to Scripture that is as important to recognize as any particular passages.

Thus, I believe the video is correct that the Mosaic Law is not meant as a legislative moral code to be applied to all people at all times. The Law was given to a particular people in a particular time, but it fits into the progression of revelation of God who is working with people to reveal Himself in ways that they can understand and in ways that are are able (or willing) to receive.

And this is key: God is doing these things while protecting the character of free agency He gave to people created in His image. His overarching purposes require that we be allowed to engage Him and participate in this progression on our own accord using the agency He gave us.

As I have often speculated, this is because God is love, and God desires a reciprocal, loving relationship with us. Love does not coerce. Love does not demand or impose itself uninvited. Love requires freedom both ways in the relationship.

Some of the passages that are most repulsive to us may be nothing more than the Ancient Near perspective of people through whom God was revealing Himself. These passages are colored by their limited understanding at the time and the limits of God’s revelation to them bounded by that understanding.

The descriptions of God’s wrath, jealousy and harsh dealings, are the descriptions of people who lived in a harsh world filled with arbitrary and capricious gods. God was distinguishing Himself to these people in the midst of the world as they knew it, and He could only take them so far in their understanding.


He also engages with these people in the context of covenant relationship. The relationship comes first. God engaged people in a two-way commitment, which is the context in which God is acting in the history of people who have, in turn, engaged Him.

One key to God’s character in this relationship is His faithfulness to the promises He makes. No matter how wicked, evil and determined the people are to walk in their own ways, God never abandons them. Though he warns them and even metes out judgment on them, as they understand it, God is always ready and quick to receive them back if/when they turn back to Him.

The way Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law is instructive and provides key information about the covenant relationship between God and man. We tend to read the Mosaic Law like a prescriptive code laying down universal rules for all time and all people, but that isn’t the way Jesus viewed it.

Continue reading “The Perfect Imperfection of the Mosaic Law, and the New Covenant”

Looking at Some of the Oldest Extant Examples of Ancient Biblical Text

By Tamar Hayardeni, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23802552
Ketef Hinnom burial caves

Some of the oldest extant examples of ancient biblical text are the Ketef Hinnom amulets.[i] The silver amulets meant to be worn around the neck are very small. They are actually tiny scrolls made of rolled silver with inscriptions on them. They were found at the First Temple funerary site of Ketef Himmom southwest of Jerusalem.[ii]

Discovered in 1979, the inscriptions on the amulets were not detected until the scrolls were painstakingly unrolled in 1994 by the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California. The inscriptions on one scroll contain text similar to the blessings found in the Tora[iii]h at Numbers 6:24-26[iv]:

6:24 Yahweh bless you and keep you;
6:25 Yahweh make his face shine upon youand be gracious to you;
6:26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

(The italicized words are not found on the scroll but may have appeared in the area where the scroll has disintegrated.)

The other scroll contained language similar to the parallel passages in the Torah of Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10 and 7:9, and the Prophets, Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:5.[v]


These amulets with the biblical inscriptions date to the First Temple period before the Babylonian exile. Conservative sources date them to the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E.[vi] More liberal sources date them to the period immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.[vii] No one dates them after the destruction of the First Temple.

This is significant because the consensus of scholars date the Torah post exile to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE, and probably 450-350 BCE).[viii] While classic rabbinic views hold that the entire Torah was written by Moses during his life in the second millennium BCE, the consensus of modern scholars is that the Torah was written by a number of authors post exile.

The confirmed dating of the Ketef Hinnom amulets doesn’t necessarily prove that the Torah was written and in existence at the time those amulets were created. They could have been produced from oral tradition. It does establish, though, that pre-exilic Jews were familiar with the sayings in the Torah.


It’s also consistent (or not inconsistent) with the view that the Torah was written down before the exile – perhaps, even by Moses.

All five books of the Torah, and every book of the Christian Old Testament, except for Esther, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The earliest Dead Sea Scroll texts date to 300 BCE. The remarkable similarity of the versions of the Hebrew text in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the texts preserved from a millennium or more later amazed scholars. While most of the books of the Old Testament found at Qumran were fragmentary, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found dating to no earlier than the first century BCE.[ix] The Ketef Hinnom amulets, though are much older still.

I have referenced mostly sources that are secular or liberal in their leaning. I did that on purpose, as even these sources attest to a certain factual baseline that is consistent with the biblical narrative, and not contradictory to it. They don’t rule out earlier dates and facts that are not just consistent, but which match the biblical record. Thus, archaeology continues to reveal artifacts consistent with a view of the historical reliability of the Old Testament.


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[i] See Ketef Hinnom at Wikipedia

[ii] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets, by Robin Ngo for Bible History Daily at the Biblical Archaeology Society website March 5, 2021.

[iii] The first five books of the Christian New Testament known as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

[iv] See Wikipedia

[v] Ibid.

[vi] See Miniature Writing on Ancient Amulets

[vii] Wikipedia.

[viii] See Torah at Wikipedia

See Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? By Andrew Lawler for Smithsonian Magazine January 2010

[ix] See 6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jennie Cohen at History.com