Question 2: What is the Difference?

The second question I want to address very briefly here has to do with the uniqueness of what Scripture teaches. I’ll try to summarize and represent my loved one’s question as best as I can. The question is as follows:

I’ve done some research into the surrounding cultures and their religious texts. As far as I can see, they try to do the same thing that the Bible does. They give people rules by which to live their lives, rules that if followed please God, but if not followed bring judgment from God on them. What’s the difference, then, between the Bible and those other ancient writings?

My Brief Answer

While there are superficial similarities between the legal sections of the Bible and the legal documents of surrounding Ancient Near East cultures, the pivotal difference between has to do with something much deeper than just keeping order among the people. This fundamental difference is seen in the function of the giving of the Law to Moses by God. God explains that the Law served and serves the function of a guardian, or a tutor that shows us our inability to please God by our obedience to it (see Romans 7:7-14 & Galatians 3-4). It is by the Law that we are convicted, judged, and shown to be under the wrath of God.

Yes, there is a civil function of the Law. Just read through the book of Exodus and this becomes very clear. But even this civil function is serving a spiritual purpose, namely the purpose of exposing the sinfulness of our own hearts. And yes, keeping the Law is pleasing to God, and failing to keep the Law is not pleasing to God. But no sinner can ever keep the Law in a way that merits them favor with God. The same Law that says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…[etc]” (cf. Mark 12:29-30) also declares that “there is none righteous, no not one” (cf. Psalm 14:3). God commands us to be perfect even as He is (cf. Matthew 5:48), but we cannot be. And so we are forced to admit that we are sinners who not only cannot do what God commands but do not want to do what God commands.

The Purpose of the Law, then, is not simply for civil order. The Law of God was given for three purposes:

1. To show us our sin and, consequently, lead us to Christ the Savior.

2. To govern civil affairs in Israel and the church.

3. To guide the Christian in his attempt to live a life that is honoring to God who saved him apart from any obedience of his own to the Law (i.e. through faith alone in Christ Jesus’ sacrifice alone).

The laws of the cultures surrounding Israel during the time of the composition of the legal sections of the Old Testament do not serve all three functions, but only the second. The laws of human society are not given by civil magistrates in order to lead us to see just how wicked and in need of a Savior we are, and neither were the laws of ancient Mesopotamia, Babylon, etc. And this is one of the greatest differences we see. God’s Law shows us that we cannot look to ourselves for salvation, but must look to Another who can provide salvation for us, who can save us by His obedience to God’s Law in His life and in His death – namely, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Hope this helps :)

-h.

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