Our handling of what we call biblical law veers between controversy and neglect.
On the one hand, controversy arises when Old Testament laws seem either odd beyond comprehension (not eating lobster) or positively reprehensible (executing children). On the other, neglect results when we consider the law obsolete, no longer carrying any normative power (tassels on clothing, making sacrifices). Even readers who do attempt to make use of the Old Testament “law” often find it either irrelevant, hopelessly laden with “thou shalt nots,” or simply so confusing that they throw up their hands in despair. Despite these extremes, people continue to propose moral principles from these laws as “the biblical view” and to garner proof texts to resolve issues that arise in society. The result is that both Christians and skeptics regularly abuse the Torah, and its true message often lies unheard.
Walton and Walton offer in The Lost World of the Torah a restorative vision of the ancient genre of instruction for wisdom that makes up a significant portion of the Old Testament. In the ancient Near East, order was achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society. The objective of torah was to teach the Israelites to be wise about the kind of order needed to receive the blessings of God’s favor and presence within the context of the covenant. Here readers will find fresh insight on this fundamental genre of the Old Testament canon.
Walton and Walton take recent scholarship on ancient Near Eastern law and apply it with great dexterity to their investigation of the biblical Torah. Ancient law codes, like the Laws of Hammurabi, very likely did not form the actual law of their respective societies, and this book is willing to face the implications of this honestly. Overall, it builds a careful and important argument for how to approach biblical law. And it is brave enough to show that most casual interpretations by modern Christians will almost inevitably go awry. One can only hope that this kind of work will begin to dampen the naive and simplistic readings that plague much of American Protestantism today.
—Bruce Wells, associate professor, department of Middle Eastern studies, University of Texas at Austin
Walton and Walton rightly view Torah in the broader context of wisdom and as an expression of wisdom. This is exactly what passages such as Deuteronomy 4:6 and Psalm 19:7 imply.
—Kevin Chen, associate professor of biblical studies, Union University
Walton and Walton continue their Lost World series with a study of Torah, understood as instruction rather than law, wisdom rather than legislation. They point out how Torah is often misunderstood by Christians because they assume that it functions like modern laws or Greco-Roman laws. Instead, the authors argue, the Torah should be interpreted in its ancient Near Eastern context, where order was achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society. The collections of ‘laws’ contained selected illustrations, intended to teach a model for right and wrong as guidance for judges but were not comprehensive legal codes that regulated everyday life in detail. This careful and readable study will be valuable for all who are interested in Old Testament law and its relevance for Christians today.
—David L. Baker, All Nations Christian College
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John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. Previously he was professor of Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for twenty years.
Some of Walton’s books include The Lost World of Adam and Eve, The Lost World of Scripture, The Lost World of Genesis One, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, The Essential Bible Companion, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, and The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (with Victor Matthews and Mark Chavalas).
Walton’s ministry experience includes church classes for all age groups, high school Bible studies, and adult Sunday school classes, as well as serving as a teacher for “The Bible in 90 Days.” John and his wife, Kim, live in Wheaton, Illinois, and have three adult children.
J. Harvey Walton (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is a researcher in biblical studies and has contributed to a variety of publications. He is pursuing graduate studies at St. Andrews University.