The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church: Reading the Torah in the Light of Christ, By Richard E. Averbeck

The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church

Reading the Torah in the Light of Christ

by Richard E. Averbeck

The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: September 06, 2022
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 4100
  • ISBN: 9780830841004

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From the early days of the church to the present, the Old Testament Law has been a subject of much confusion, debate, and outright theological division. And with good reason: the way Christians understand the Law has massive implications for their individual lives and for the life of the church. To sort through the numerous interpretations and approaches to this thorny issue, we need to start with a solid knowledge of the Law itself.

Richard Averbeck provides a comprehensive, accessible discussion of how the Law fits into the arc of the Bible and its relevance to the church today. Beginning with the way God intended the Law to work in its original historical and cultural context, he then explores the New Testament perspective on the Law. Averbeck identifies three biblical theological theses: the Law is good, the Law is weak, and the Law is a unified whole. Rejecting common partitions between categories of law, he makes the case that the whole Law applies to the Christian. Our task is to discern how it applies in the light of Christ.

The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church invites readers to consider how all of Scripture is illuminating and useful for God's people. The church, as the new temple, has much to learn from the Law and about what it means for our doctrine and practice.

"Richard E. Averbeck convincingly demonstrates the continuity of God's law from the Old Testament to the New Testament so that the whole law provides guidance for the life of the Christian church and the believer. This profound and refreshing book is full of insights that enlighten, challenge, and inspire the reader."

Roy E. Gane, professor of Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern languages at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, and author of Old Testament Law for Christians

"Thinking through how the law relates to the gospel is like trying to cut a path through the Amazon jungle. Many have offered an array of approaches to this question. This book on the law and the life of the church cuts a fresh and revealing path to the refreshment the gospel offers without demeaning the law that helped to show the way there. It also makes a serious case for how the law can help us even now by keeping its eye on covenants, promises, and the progress of revelation. Well done."

Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament studies and executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, Dallas Theological Seminary

"Does the law of Christ leave the Old Testament law behind? No! Explaining the law's function for ancient Israel, Averbeck shows its goodness and its unity—moral, civil, and ritual belong together—and its weakness, for only the Holy Spirit can purify and vivify hearts to display the sacrificial life Israel should have exemplified as a 'kingdom of priests.' Consolidating decades of study in Old Testament law, Averbeck cogently concludes we should be thinking how all of the laws, rituals, and sacrifices apply to Christian life. With honest exegesis, spiritual sensitivity, and personal testimony, he guides readers to a better answer than others have offered."

Alan Millard, emeritus professor of Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages at the University of Liverpool

"Undergirding this book is a lifetime of study by an internationally recognized specialist in Old Testament law as well as a published voice in the field of Christian spiritual formation. Clearly written and accessible to a wide audience, this balanced presentation is replete with helpful insights and will be my first recommended reading on the subject."

John Hilber, professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity College and author of Old Testament Cosmology and Divine Accommodation

"This remarkable study effectively and clearly places the Old Testament law in its context within the ancient world of covenant making and law, and within the flow of redemptive history. From this basis, Richard Averbeck gives the church a positive and understandable view of the Old Testament law as God's continuing good gift to his people. Anyone struggling with how the Christian should understand the Old Testament law should read this critically important book."

Sarah Dorsey Bollinger, assistant professor of biblical studies at Evangelical Seminary

"Drawing on his considerable expertise, Richard Averbeck provides an accessible and authoritative introduction to the complex and challenging issue of how Christians should approach the Old Testament law associated with the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Delving into passages, some initially striking modern readers of the Old Testament as largely irrelevant, Averbeck affirms the importance of the whole of Scripture as the living and transforming Word of God. For anyone grappling with how the Old Testament law might be best approached from a Christian perspective, this study offers insightful and compelling guidance."

T. Desmond Alexander, senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, author of Face to Face with God

"Everything that Richard Averbeck writes edifies me, and this work does so in abundance. Here the full range of the blessings he has to offer is on bright display: his meticulous scholarship and attention to detail, his deep and wide knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and its context, his love for the whole Bible and his scrupulous determination to let that shape his theology, his sincere Christian faith, and his gentle disposition. In all of this he patiently lays out his reasoning for the positions he takes in a manner that is both rigorous and fair, serving as a kind and thoughtful guide. What better way to think through these challenging issues, and what better company could we ask? Here is a splendid feast for heart, mind, soul, and might, and I count it a privilege to commend it to you."

C. John "Jack" Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

"Do you have a friend who is an antinomian or, alternatively, a legalist? Maybe it's a family member or even the person who looks back at you in the mirror. Whatever the case, this is the book for them (and you!). Richard Averbeck has long been a leading scholar of biblical law in its ancient Near Eastern context—the doyen, in fact, of such studies within evangelical circles. In this thorough and yet accessible volume, he shows how the entirety of biblical law is good and profitable for Christians. Even if readers find things to quibble with along the way, Averbeck repeatedly proves himself an authoritative and—most importantly—a faithful guide."

Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament and professor of law at Duke University

"Richard Averbeck has contributed much on this topic in a large number of important scholarly publications. Over the years, he has taught scores of students and laypeople striving to understand better how Christians relate to the instructional materials of the Old Testament. Here he offers the fruit of all that work in a way that is accessible and easy to follow, which puts us all in his debt. The nature and relevance of the Old Testament 'law' has become a topic of a number of book-level treatments recently, and Averbeck's is among the best of the lot."

Bill T. Arnold, Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary

"I have been waiting a long time for this book. Reading the Scriptures forward before he reads them backward, Dr. Averbeck has caught the spirit and tone of Israel's law and demonstrated its relevance and authority for Christians with unequalled clarity and brilliance. Explaining the goodness and weakness of Israel's law, chapter ten alone is worth the price of the book. This volume should be required reading not only in courses in the Hebrew Bible but especially in New Testament theology."

Daniel I. Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Wheaton College Graduate School

"This book weds two of Averbeck's greatest passions: the Old Testament law and the maturity of the church. We are the beneficiaries of his exegetical craft, love of biblical theology, and respect for the historical context of Scripture. Regardless of one's tradition, Averbeck explains how the Levitical regulations were about worship and our ongoing service. Believers young and old now have access to the most holistic treatment on the subject for a generation. Here is the product of a lifetime of study; prepare yourself for a feast!"

Andrew J. Schmutzer, director of teaching, residency, and spiritual formation at New Covenant Church, Naperville, Illinois, and coauthor of Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering

"Richard Averbeck has spent his entire career studying biblical law, especially Leviticus, and helping Christian students understand its ongoing relevance. He rejects the traditional distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial law, insisting instead that we must read it holistically. His worthy proposal is sure to generate further discussion on the specifics of law-keeping today. Given its length and level of discourse, this book could serve as a helpful introduction to law in an upper-division college elective."

Carmen Joy Imes, associate professor of Old Testament at Biola University and author of Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters

Read an Excerpt



Part 1: Covenant and Context
1. Covenants in the Old Testament
2. The Nature and Progression of the Redemptive Covenants

Part 2: The Old Testament Law in Context
3. The Mosaic Law Collections and the Redemptive Setting of the Law
4. The Sinai Narrative and the Ten Commandments
5. The Book of the Covenant and Parallel Collections of Law in the Torah
6. Israel as a Kingdom of Priests and the Presence of God
7. Offerings and Sacrifices, Holiness and Purity

Part 3: The Old Testament Law in the New Testament
8. Jesus and the Mosaic Law
9. The Mosaic Law in Acts and the Earliest Church
10. The Goodness and the Weakness of the Law
11. The Unity of the Law

Appendix: Jewish Messianic Believers and the Torah
Subject Index
Scripture Index


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Richard E. Averbeck (PhD, Annenberg Research Institute, Dropsie College) is professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the coeditor of "An Excellent Fortress for His Armies, a Refuge for the People" and the author of many articles in journals and reference works.