I’ve made the observation before that the Pentateuch has no concept of “higher order laws”, that is, laws about other laws. They do not have laws which says that a previous or another law only applies in such cases and not others, they do not Hart’s laws as “secondary rules” where you have laws for recognizing the validity of other laws or for amending laws. The laws of the Moses speaks directly on concrete situations, and while obviously the law itself is an object of discussion, and even obsessive concern, they simply do not have laws *about* other laws.

I think it would be useful to look at how the New Testament approach commandments and law in general. My argument here would be that, parallel to what I have been saying about how human law should be treated instrumentally, there is a sense in which God himself treats his own laws instrumentally. To understand this point we will look at Matthew 12:1-8:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

First Jesus expressly says that David did “what was not lawful for him” and the priests “break the Sabbath” and yet both were “innocent”. As such, Jesus did not say that the law did not apply to their situation, or that the law was suspended in operation, he outright says that the persons concerned broke the law. However, if one can break the law and still be innocent, then clearly guilt, innocence, and righteousness is a broader concept than law keeping. Sometimes one can be justified in breaking the law, or “civil disobedience” as we used to call it. I think this points very strongly towards an instrumentalist reading of “the law” as something one could just ignore and break when given sufficient cause. It is interesting that Jesus treats the story about the priest breaking the Sabbath in the temple as part of “the Law” (capital L), which suggests that “the Law” is broader than just commandments and statutes and imperatives, it includes the narratives as well.

The broader context and consideration whereby the divine laws are already indicated by the text itself, “I desire compassion, etc”. Thus this suggests a divine voluntarist framework for contextualizing, and delimiting, the divine laws, that the will of God for us is paramount over even what “the Law” itself commands. While keeping to the Protestant point that the will of God is wholly revealed only in the Word of God or the Bible, it remains the case that “the Law” is but a subset of the totality of “the Word”, and the Word which reveals the divine will situates and contextualises “the Law”.

When we couple this with the Galatians 3:24 point that the law is our schoolmaster, etc, we can see that the Law has a pedagogical social function, it serves other ends, and it is not the thing in itself. It reveals and points to the will of God, but sometimes following the law may be subversive of that purpose/will, in which case we are justified in literally, and righteously, breaking the divine law.

In the end, just as human laws are but our instruments for us to accomplish our own purposes and desires, likewise is the divine law merely God’s own instruments for him to accomplish his own desires and will, and they may be suspended at the divine pleasure just as we may suspend or ignore our own laws at ours.

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