Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Torah

What do I think about Walton and Walton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Several years ago, Weird Al came out with a song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” One could say that if the Waltons are right, everything you know about the Law is wrong. The Waltons come with a new way of reading the Torah that is not without controversy, but those who disagree will still have something to think about.

The book starts the usual way with the idea that Torah is an ancient document. This seems like something so simple and obvious, but it is easily missed. Too many times, we take the text and then thrust it into our modern context and assume the writers of the Old Testament were writing from the same cultural context that we are.

What is important in understanding any ancient work is not just what is said, but the world in which it is said. The background knowledge of the text makes all the difference. There are some things my wife and I can say to each other that will make each of us laugh that you are not likely to understand as an outsider. The reason is the simple word or words bring out memories that are funny based on our background knowledge.

Getting into the meat of the matter, the first major section is that the law codes are not legislation. If we took just one law in America in all of its fullness, it could very well be longer than the Torah itself. We cover every possible rule and scenario we can think of. Not so in the ancient world. It was more guidelines there. It could be seen as wisdom literature. One scenario I was surprised was not mentioned at this point was Solomon. Solomon wanted to know how to rule over the people. He never figured, “I have the Law so I have everything that I need.” No. He asked for wisdom and in his famous scenario of the two prostitutes and the baby, that wisdom won the day.

The next is that other cultures had rituals serving to meet the needs of the gods. The gods needed food and everything else and man was meant to supply them in exchange for blessings from the gods. Not so with YHWH who needed nothing. Israel was chosen for entirely different reasons.

Instead, Israel was chosen and rituals were done to maintain covenant order, which is the next major point. We should read the Law as a covenant. In this, the recipients of the covenant would swear loyalty to the sovereign and in exchange, the sovereign would give them blessings. Covenant is so huge in understanding the Law that we will go wrong if we do not see it that way. If we see it as just a random set of rules to be followed, we miss the point.

From there, we get to the ongoing usage. For one thing, the New Testament quotations of the Law do not show how it was necessarily understood by its first recipients. The purpose of the Law was also not to provide salvation. It also should not be divided into different kinds of law such as ceremonial and cultic. Most challenging today perhaps is that we should not go and get prooftexts to settle moral disputes today. We should read it as it was written.

There is also a very helpful section at the end dealing with the Ten Commandments. It’s a quite thorough look that can actually deal with many atheistic statements about the Ten Commandments one encounters today. The Waltons show how the Ten Commandments fit into a covenant system.

I thought it would have been helpful to have more examples of how the Torah should be read. Perhaps take a section and show how we read it today and then give an explanation from there on how they would have understood it. There is much in the book that will be debated and I can’t say I’m entirely sold on it yet, but there is certainly a lot of food for thought to consider.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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