Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul

By Harmon, Matthew S. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul


Harmon, Matthew S., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul. By Preston M. Sprinkle. WUNT 2/241. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. xvi + 244 pp., $110.00 paper.

In this slightly revised form of his dissertation under Simon Gathercole at Aberdeen, Preston Sprinkle seeks to explore "the theological significance of Lev 18:5 in early Judaism and in Paul, and how their respective interpretations of this passage compare with each other" (p. 1). After his introduction Sprinkle divides his study into four parts.

The introductory chapter covers the expected territory of the history of research and methodology. Sprinkle reviews selected literature in the broader category of Paul and the Law and the more specific area of research on Lev 18:5. He connects the two by stressing the key role that Lev 18:5 plays in determining Paul's view of the Law, while at the same time noting how few studies explore the use of Lev 18:5 within Second Temple Judaism on its own terms. With respect to methodology, Sprinkle offers five criteria for determining allusions to Lev 18:5: (1) verbal correspondence (are there at least two elements of Lev 18:5 present?); (2) another source (is the proposed allusion closer to another text?); (3) contextual parallels (are there other words from the context of Lev 18:5 elsewhere in the passage?); (4) recurrence (is there a clear allusion to Lev 18:5 elsewhere in the same document?); and (5) syntactical tension (has the author adopted Lev 18:5 without changing the wording and thus creating syntactical tension with its new context?). These criteria enable Sprinkle to distinguish between discussions of the larger concept of 'law" and "life" and specific allusions to Lev 18:5.

In part 1 (chap. 2) Sprinkle examines the use of Lev 18:5 within the OT itself. Within its original context in the Hebrew Bible Lev 18:5 is an exhortation to both the Israelites and resident aliens to perform all the laws of the holiness code (Leviticus 17-26); the result of doing so is "life" (i.e. experiencing the covenantal blessings in the land). Sprinkle identifies three clear allusions to Lev 18:5 in Ezek 20:11, 13, 21, as well as additional ones in Ezekiel 18 and 33. From these allusions Sprinkle concludes that Ezekiel "did not believe that Israel was capable of meeting the conditional demands of Lev 18:5; life and obethence to the 'statutes and judgments' will be elicited from the nation through divine agency" (p. 40). A clear allusion to Lev 18:5 is also detected in Neh 9:29, but Sprinkle admits it is difficult to determine whether the language comes directly from Lev 18:5 or has been mediated by Ezekiel 20. As a result, Sprinkle suggests that by this point Lev 18:5 has become a "common stock" phrase. The chapter concludes with an examination of these same texts in the lxx, noting that the lxx of Lev 18:5 clearly portrays life as a result of obethence to the commandments.

Part 2 (chaps. 3-7) examines allusions/citations in Jewish literature from 200 bc to ad 100. There are three identified in the Qumran literature: two in the Damascus Document (CD III, 15-16; 4Q266) and another in the Words of the Luminaries (4Q504). In the former the "statutes and rules" of Lev 18:5 have been transformed to refer to the specific halachah of the Qumran community by which both the individual and community may gain eschatological life. The latter presents Lev 18:5 as "an offer of life forfeited through the rebellion of Israel, but still capable of being met through renewed obethence to the law" (p. 85). The allusion to Lev 18:5 in Psalms of Solomon 14:2-3 reveals that the author views eschatological life as being conditioned upon obethence to the law. When Philo cites Lev 18:5 in De Congressu 86, he portrays "true life" as "a state of existence attained as a result of virtuous behavior which . . . includes the progress through the encyclical education" (p. 114). The citation of Lev 18:5 in Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 23:10 is more complicated, since the citation presents "future Ufe" as dependent upon the obethence of the nation. …

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