Building Biblical Theology – Lesson 3: Diachronic Developments of the Old Testament (Part 4 of 14)

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Faithful Christians have always recognized the importance of progress in biblical history, especially as it relates to humanity’s fall into sin and to God’s redemptive work. Biblical theology is a specialized discipline that studies this progress by tracing the development of theological ideas between historical epochs. Used rightly, this is a helpful tool for interpreting and applying the Bible.

“Diachronic development” is the ways theological structures grew or developed over time. This lesson provides a basic orientation toward diachronic development, explores how epochal developments took place between major historical periods or epochs, and looks at how specific topics developed over time in the Old Testament.

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at this point we should turn to a biblical example of authors or characters in the Bible treating the Scriptures diachronic Lee for our purposes we'll look at just one example that will both illustrate and legitimate our concern with diachronic developments in Matthew chapter 19 verse 3 some Pharisees tested Jesus with this question is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason the question raised here was a matter of debate among rabbinical schools in Jesus day and their differences were based on Moses teaching in Deuteronomy listen to what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy chapter 24 verse 1 if a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her and he writes her a certificate of divorce in Jesus day there was controversy over the meaning of the phrase something indecent some rabbis believe this expression implied that divorce was legitimate for nearly anything that displeased the husband but other rabbis interpreted the term to mean only sexual immorality listen to the way Jesus first responded to the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 19 verses 4 through 6 haven't you read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female and said for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh so they are no longer two but one therefore what God has joined together let man not separate to answer the Pharisees question Jesus gave a brief synchronic summary of marriage based on the first chapters of Genesis notice that Jesus drew attention to a number of particular features about important theological structures at the beginning before sin had corrupted the created order referring to Genesis chapter 1 verse 27 he noted that God had made humanity male and female quoting from Genesis chapter 2 verse 24 Jesus said that for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh jesus then drew the conclusion what God has joined together let man not separate the original creation ordinance of marriage was that a man and a woman who married became one flesh after Jesus described the theological perspective on marriage at the time of creation the Pharisees asked him explicitly about Deuteronomy chapter 24 listen to what they said in Matthew chapter 19 verse 7 why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away in line with beliefs in the first century Jesus and the Pharisees knew that Moses teaching about marriage was harmonious with the theological structures God had ordained in the beginning so how could Jesus defend what he had just said in light of what Moses had said about divorce in response Jesus explained that a significant diachronic development a theological change had taken place between the time of creation and the period of Moses as he put it in Matthew chapter 19 verse 8 Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard but it was not this way from the beginning here Jesus noted that by the time Moses gave his laws God had reacted to human sin by shifting the theology of marriage in certain ways looking at scriptures diachronic Lee he compared Moses time with Adam's day by saying it was not this way from the beginning and then by acknowledging that in the time of Moses the hearts of the Israelites were hard so Jesus concluded that God responded to this human condition by permitting divorce for certain reasons even though it was not God's ideal the law of Deuteronomy chapter 24 was God's permissive regulation in response to Israel's hardness of heart Jesus diachronic assessment of marriage and divorce led him to draw a highly restrictive view of the grounds for divorce as we read in Matthew chapter 19 verse 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness and marries another woman commits adultery so we see that Jesus understood marriage and divorce in the light of diachronic developments in Old Testament theology at first divorce was unthinkable later when sin had hardened the hearts of God's people divorce was permitted but not endorsed in this case a change in the human condition led to a change in Old Testament theology the way that Jesus handled the Old Testament here demonstrates that treating Old Testament theology diachronic Lee is legitimate and important for us today as well

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