Leviticus toolbox #3: the three ‘R’s for a Christian understanding of the law

When it comes to understanding Leviticus as Christian Scripture it’s not about “readin’, (w)rittin’ & (a)rithmetic” but





Credit where it’s due

paul-and-the-lawThese three ‘R’s arise out of Brian Rosner’s 2011 Moore College Lectures on ‘Paul and the Law’. You can download his main talks here (for some reason the initial overview talk is listed separately here). But even more helpfully, on each individual talk page you can download his detailed outlines.

Those who bother to look at Brian’s material will notice that his three ‘R’s are actually ‘repudiation‘, ‘replacement‘ and ‘re-appropriation‘, but I decided to go with the three ‘R’s above (more on this below). Having already tried to teach a similar paradigm in initial talks on Leviticus to our EU staff team in January ,Michael Allison, one of our current Howard Guinness Project ministry trainees, helpfully put me onto Brian’s clearer and more memorable summary which I morphed into the three ‘R’s above.

I’ll outline briefly what I mean by each of these ‘R’s and where I think it helps us.


1.  Repealed as Law-code by Christ



I think this is not grasped by many evangelical Christians. We operate with a fuzzy ‘these laws apply but these laws don’t’ approach to the Old Covenant law. But this comprehensively fails to appreciate a basic NT teaching: Christians are no longer under the law (Rom 6.14-15; 1 Cor 9.20; Gal 3.24-25; 5.18)

Not under the old code

Christians are no longer under the Old Covenant law because they are members of the New Covenant established in Jesus’ death (Luke 22.20; 1 Cor 11.25; 2 Cor 3.6-7). Keeping the Old Covenant law is no longer mandated for God’s New Covenant people in Christ (Gal 2–4). Although if Christians want to keep the old law they are free to do so as long as they don’t impose it on others (Rom 14-15).

The point here is not merely that individual laws have been repealed, but that the entire body of laws, as a functioning, coherent law-code, no longer applies to those under the New Covenant in Christ. Christians died to the Law with Christ and are therefore not under the old written code (Rom 7.1-6).

Now there are plenty of commands in the NT that Christians are meant to obey — it’s not that there is no law for Christians. Paul says we are under the ‘law of Christ’ (1 Cor 9.21). And there are continuities between NT laws and some of those in the OT. But it’s not a ‘part of the law is still operative but this part is not any more’ scenario: the Old Covenant law, as an operative law-code, has been repealed by Christ. Why there are NT laws that repeat laws from this repealed law-code we will need to work out (a future post).

three Rs

2.  Recognised as Prophecy about Christ

Our Lord Jesus said that the Hebrew Scriptures speak about him (John 5.39). Any Christian understanding of Leviticus must see in it the whispers and shadows of the greater reality that God had planned, which is Christ (Col 2.16-17; Heb 10.1). As the Christ, Jesus is the goal/end/telos of the law (Rom 10.4)

A Christ-centred Biblical-theology

This may be a common-place for those who’ve been taught a Biblical-theological, Christ-centred approach to reading the Old Testament—though we sometimes do it in a fairly shallow way—but is still a massive hole in much evangelical interpretation in other parts of the world.


3.  Re-appropriated as Wisdom in Christ


Are we missing good wisdom from God?

All (Old Testament) Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that as Christians we may be prepared for every good work (2 Tim 3.16-17). Yet the vast majority of OT law (and Leviticus in particular) is  written-off by Christians as irrelevant to their life now. We claim the relevance of certain laws (eg about homosexuality) but ignore the rest. And most of the time we lack a clearly articulated reason for why we uphold some whilst ignoring the rest.

Reclaiming God’s wisdom

I think we need to reclaim the relevance of all the Old Covenant law. Not just as prophecy about Christ (point 2 above), and not in such a way that reimposes it as a law-code which Christ has actually repealed (point 1).

Rather, all Scripture is useful for training us in righteousness because all of it provides wisdom—it shows us what it meant to ‘love God’ and ‘love neighbour’ under the Old Covenant. As Christians we are still called to love God and love neighbour (Matt 22.34-40; Rom 13.8-10). But we don’t have the way we are to ‘love God and neighbour’ as tightly prescribed as it was under the Old Covenant law (although as we’ll see in future posts, there are continuities — and we’ll need to ask why). However, when we see what ‘love for God and neighbour’ looked like under the Old Covenant it does give us useful information (wisdom) on what it might look like in our New Covenant relationships.

To anticipate future posts, critical to this process is careful exegesis of the Old Covenant laws (so that we’re understanding rightly how they functioned and what they signified within the Old Covenant) as well as interpreting each of the laws in the light of Jesus’ teaching and ministry (we re-appropriate it as wisdom in Christ).


For the curious


How do these three ‘R’s fit with Rosner’s three ‘R’s?

‘Repealed’ is the same point as Brian’s ‘repudiated’ — I just thought the legal concept of ‘repealing’ no-longer-operative laws was neat.

I decided to turn Brian’s ‘re-appropriation’ point into two separate points: ‘recognise’ the law as prophecy and ‘re-appropriate’ it as wisdom. Brian had both of these under ‘re-appropriation’. Because of my context on a Uni campus, where I am especially keen to model and articulate a clear Christ-centred Biblical-theological hermeneutic, I decided it was worth making the prophecy point on its own. Also, I like that the law is recognised by Christians as prophecy: it implies the intention and plan of God in what was written.

Brian’s middle ‘R’, that the law is ‘replaced’ by Christ’s law of love, I wove into the content under my third ‘R’ (re-appropriate as wisdom), as I did in the explanation above. Further, it seems to me that to ‘love God and neighbour’ is the continuous expectation of God for his people across both the Old and New Covenant: the Old Covenant law just gave it a very tightly prescribed expression (‘you are to love God and love neighbour like this…’). So I’m not sure that saying the OT law is ‘replaced’ by Christ’s law of love captures the continuity. But Brian’s a pretty smart guy…


What does this look like in action?

The EU Public Meeting talk on the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25) tried to model all three ‘R’s (though not by name). You can listen to it here.

The three ‘R’s were introduced explicitly in the talk on the Sacrifices and Offerings (Lev 1–7). You can listen to it here.

4 Responses to “Leviticus toolbox #3: the three ‘R’s for a Christian understanding of the law”
  1. Krystyna says:

    I am really appreciating these posts, Rowan! Very timely. Thank you! Looking forward to your future posts.

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  1. […] tools he used over on his blog: Overview || Reading Leviticus as a chiasmus || The big question || The three Rs There are still many unanswered questions from Leviticus but spending lots of time in it has […]

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