How NOT to Interpret the OT Law

WrongThe Resurgence has posted The Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Law and offered the commonly received Reformed categorization of the Torah as ceremonial, civil and moral. The problem is that this is an external distinction not found in the text of Scripture itself. And while it may be helpful as a basic categorization to separate what is still “in force” for the Church, it offers a system that creates its own problems which are foreign to the Torah itself.
On the other side, J. Daniel Hays (“Applying the Old Testament Law Today” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 [Jan-Mar 2001]: 21-35) wrote a terrific treatment on the topic where he discusses why such categories are not as helpful as many have been led to believe. Here are his concluding remarks:

The traditional approach of dividing the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral laws violates proper hermeneutical method, for it is inconsistent and arbitrary, and the Old Testament gives no hint of such distinctions. This approach errs in two ways. On the one hand it dismisses the civil and ceremonial laws as inapplicable. On the other hand it applies the so-called moral laws as direct law. In addition the traditional approach tends to ignore the narrative context and the covenant context of the Old Testament legal material.
Principlism, an alternative approach, seeks to find universal principles in the Old Testament legal material and to apply these principles to believers today. This approach is more consistent than the traditional one, and it is more reflective of sound hermeneutical method. It also allows believers to see that all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Joseph Kelly blogged about this last year in relation to Rachel Held Evans “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” (and Tim Keller’s review of it) wherein he argues she likewise subscribes to the “na├»vete” of such distinctions in the Law. He notes that mainstream Biblical scholarship has largely moved from such distinctions (even though I note it has had little effect on the wider churches’ understanding and application of the Torah).