The Advanced Culture of the Patriarchs
NCW 17, March 1995
Q. I have noticed from reading your materials that New Covenant Christians hold the Patriarchal Age with great respect and awe. What evidence is there -- if any -- that the Patriarchal Period was more enlightened than that of the Mosaic dispensation? Don't most scholars regard this Age as being even more primitive than the Mosaic period?
I think you must be careful when you brandish words like "primitive" around because they are emotive and not very informative. There is tremendous variety and range of spiritual light and darkness within the Mosaic period both in Hebrew society as well as in the prophets who administered God's Word to it. In the New Covenant we look upon Jeremiah as being one of the most sensitive of all the prophets, for instance.
But if you believe that the Patriarchal period was "primitive" you only have to read the oldest book in the Bible, the Book of Job, to see that the opposite was true. This book was written before the Law -- we know this because it would have been impossible in a discussion covering the whole field of sin, of the providential government of God, and of man's relation to Him, to avoid all reference to the Law if the Law had been known.
Despite the fact that the Law of Moses was unknown to Job and his time it is immediately obvious that the Book of Job sheds a remarkable light on the philosophic breadth and intellectual culture of the patriarchal age. It is, in my opinion, one of the most profound and deep books of the Bible, and its writer every bit a match to the wisdom of Solomon. It also contains, as it were, the Law in non-legal terminology. What the Law had to demand of a stiff-necked and rebellious people centuries after Job, the patriarchs already understood and appreciated inwardly. The Law was written on their hearts.
The Book of Job illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of moral theology in the face of a complex and -- at first -- an apparently meaningless situation. Job knows the truth within in his soul even though his three legalistic friends attempt to refute this inner knowledge with dogmatic theology. And sometimes that theology -- as is that of many modern religionists -- is impeccable.
The Patriarchs were not unsophiticated, rural savages as the proponents of evolutionistic, liberal theology would wish us to believe, but highly lucid men, like Moses. Their breadth of understanding was impressive. Yes, we venerate the patriarchs because we feel a close identity with them, and we very much view ourselves as modern-day inheritors of their spirit but within a New Covenant/Testament setting.
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