Is Old Testament Law Good To Women?
I've been reading through the pentateuchal law recently, and if I'm really honest, there are points which make me wince. Prominent among these are some of the laws relating to women. I'm sure I'm not alone in this instinctive discomfort.
How should we handle this sort of instinctive reaction? I think my response has two parts.
First, I recognise that the problem almost certainly lies in me and not in the God-given law. I start with this assumption because everything I know about God—and supremely what he’s revealed through the sacrifice of his son—tells me that I should expect his law to be good, just, and life-giving. I therefore need to explore why I’m having this reaction.
There are two ways in which the problem can be at my end. It might be that my priorities and my understanding of what is best are different from God’s. In these cases, I need to challenge my own assumptions and bring them into line with God’s truth. But sometimes the problem isn’t in my existing beliefs but in my understanding of the law. My instinctive discomfort is sometimes a very good thing. If my understanding of the law and its implications pits it against key principles that are right and good and which I should value, then my reaction is good. But I can’t stop there, I also need to seek to better understand the law.
And this is where the second part of my response to this instinctive discomfort with some of the Old Testament laws comes in. I have to do some work to better understand the law. When we read the Old Testament we are like tourists overhearing a conversation among locals. The potential for misunderstanding is huge, and so we have to do some work to learn to understand the conversation as a local would.
One thing that has really helped me to hear the laws about women more like a local than a tourist is a discussion between Preston Sprinkle and Sandra Richter. Sandra is the Robert H. Gundry Chair of Biblical Studies at Westmont College and her discussion with Preston provides a brilliant introduction to how we should approach difficult laws as well as some excellent explanations of some problematic examples, including Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and Deuteronomy 21:10-14. It’s well worth an hour and a bit of your time.