James M. Todd III. Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. See here to purchase the book.
Are Christians obligated to obey the laws that God gave to Moses at Sinai? In Sinai and the Saints,
biblical scholar James M. Todd III tackles this question. Todd's
position is that the Old Covenant has passed away, so people are not
obligated to observe the Mosaic law. Rather, for Todd, Christians are
under the New Covenant and are required to obey the law of Christ.
his credit, Todd wrestles with challenges to such a position. Why does
the New Testament quote or allude to Old Testament commandments and
laws, if they are no longer authoritative? What exactly is the law of
Christ? And what about Matthew 5:17-20, in which Jesus denied that he
came to destroy the law?
Contrary to the
book's title, Todd does not really attempt to read Old Covenant laws for
the New Covenant community. (At least that is my impression, and other
readers may conclude differently.) He actually advises against going
overboard in focusing on each Old Testament law in an attempt to derive
an application from it. Rather, Todd focuses on what he considers the
purpose of the Old Covenant: to use Israel as an example of how people
cannot become righteous through obedience to the law, since they need a
new heart. For Todd, the Hebrew Bible points to a coming king who would
bruise the serpent, a la Genesis 3:15.
were some issues that I wished Todd had engaged. For example, how can
Jewish-Christians be the weaker brethren of Romans 14, when Romans 14
says the weaker brethren eat only vegetables? Jews, after all, eat
kosher meat. One answer is that Jews stayed on the safe side and ate
only vegetables because most of the meat in the Diaspora was offered to
idols or was non-kosher, but Todd never makes this point. Another
example concerns the sacrifices. Todd notes that the Old Covenant had
blood sacrifices for sins, and, of course, he believes that foreshadowed
Christ's sacrifice. But his discussion would have been stronger and
more nuanced had it acknowledged that sin and guilt offerings were
largely for unintentional sins and explored how that theme gets played
out in the New Testament.
deserves credit and praise for the issues that he does engage. Since
Israel's return to her land is a significant aspect of the Hebrew
Bible's eschatological prophecies, where is the land promise in the New
Testament? Are the stipulations for Gentiles in Acts 15 still
authoritative for believers? And are Christians forbidden to represent
God visually? Todd's answer to that last question left lingering
questions in my mind, since I wondered why God would change his stance
on this from the Old Testament to the New (assuming that God did).
Overall, though, Todd's discussions were judicious and methodical.
approach to the biblical text was conservative, and there were cases in
which that influenced his answers to questions. A number of New
Testament scholars maintain that the Gospel of Matthew was a
Jewish-Christian Gospel, which held that the Torah was still
authoritative for Jewish believers. Todd never entertains this
possibility, perhaps because he believes that the entire New Testament
teaches the same thing about the Mosaic Torah: that it has been
nullified and replaced with the law of Christ. Diversity of Scripture
has little place in that paradigm. The result is a rather convoluted
interpretation of Matthew 5:17-20, as commendable as Todd's discussion
is for wrestling with the passage in light of the Gospel of Matthew as a
Did I find Todd's arguments
convincing? Partly. On the one hand, to me at least, New Testament
authors seem to be appealing to Old Testament commandments as
divinely-authoritative. In my opinion, that differs from Paul's
reference to a Stoic poet in Acts 17, even though Todd appears to regard
the two as analogous. On the other hand, that leaves me with a
problem: Which Old Testament commands are authoritative, and which are
not? Todd makes a convincing case that attempts to make such
distinctions are problematic. It is easier simply to say that the
Mosaic Torah was replaced with the law of Christ.
portrays the Old Covenant as a covenant of trying to become righteous
through obedience to the law and receiving God's condemnation for
disobedience. The New Covenant, by contrast, holds that God's people
are already a royal priesthood rather than trying to become a royal
priesthood through obedience (cp. I Peter 2:9 with Exodus 19:6), and it
affirms that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
(Romans 8:1). There may be something to Todd's argument here, and yet I
wonder: If God's Old Testament wrath is no longer relevant for New
Covenant believers, why does Paul appeal to God's Old Testament wrath as
an example for the Corinthian Christians (I Corinthians 10:11)?
my questions and critiques, I am still giving the book five stars. It
was judicious, meaty, and thoughtful. And I want to see movie The Magnificent Seven after reading Todd's description of it!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!
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