Change in the Law

Although I do have my qualms (significant qualms) with the documentary hypothesis (or hypotheses), I retain a sense that there is some truth to the idea. I have always had trouble accepting that Moses himself composed the whole Torah, since then chapter 34 of Deuteronomy would imply that Moses was describing his own death and burial, and also speaking in the past tense about how no prophet since him had arisen in Israel who fulfilled his prophesy in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. One must wonder, however, how much freedom did the Jewish priesthood take in changing things in the Torah? One passage in Hebrews should be taken into consideration:

For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.
~Hebrews 7:12

In this passage the author of Hebrews is trying to demonstrate that Christ’s priesthood necessarily involves a change in the law, and the author is appealing to an analogy from Jewish tradition. There are a number of different ways one might take this assertion: obviously we could say that every new high priesthood had the ability and freedom to change the Torah itself (not likely). However, more likely, the author is here referring not to the essence of the Torah/Law, but to the practice of it, since Christians believe that the essence of the Torah is not abrogated but fulfilled by the Gospel, and in the life of the (Catholic) Church. Thus a change in priesthood brings about a change in the way one practices or lives out the law, which is precisely why people were to follow the dictates of the Pharisees with respect to their practice (Matthew 23:2-3).

However, here’s an interesting passage I was translating for my Hebrew class this summer and have no memory of having read before:

Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.
~Joshua 24:26

Obviously this passage demonstrates that somebody other than Moses (namely, Joshua), wrote in the book of the Law of God. Not only is this precisely what many biblical scholars thought prior to Julius Wellhausen (thus consonant with tradition), but it is a view which seems to be confirmed by scripture here in this small passage. Moreover, in reading the next verse, it became clear to me that there is some clearly messianic imagery involved with this passage.

Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, ‘See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.’
~Joshua 24:26-27

Here, the rock represents Christ, who stands as a witness against the whole priestly people of God, if they should deal falsely with God. The significance of the passage is interesting because it is, to my knowledge, the only time the Scriptures clearly talk about anybody other than Moses contributing to (adding to) the Torah, the Law of God. However, this is precisely what Christ does – it is not without meaning that the successor of the original Moses was named ‘Joshua’ (Yeshua), which is Jesus’ name. Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea, one of the Church Fathers, also points out this prophetic anticipation of Christ. Here, Yeshua adds to the Law, instead of taking away, and then sets a large rock in the Sanctuary of the Lord to stand as a witness – something which clearly resonates with other Messianic images throughout the Old Testament. Christ himself was so far from taking away from the Torah that he says:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
~Matthew 5:17-18

And yet, he also came to bring about a radical change to the Torah, precisely by ‘finishing’ it, or bringing it to final completion (something Joshua was on the way to doing, since he added to it making it ‘fuller’ – though we had to wait until Christ so that it might be ‘fulfilled’). This was all a reflection I had while looking the passage up, and I’m sure there is even more one can take away from these few verses, especially since the prophets seem to elsewhere indicate that there was an expectation for Messiah to bring about some radical renewal of the Law:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says theLord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
~Jeremiah 31:31-34


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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