Laws, Codes, and Christianity

Master of Theological Studies students at Grebel choose from many interesting courses relating to ministry, the Bible, and theology. Special Topics courses allow students to take specialized classes throughout their degree since the subject matter of these courses change regularly. Laws and codes are usually thought of as mundane, but in her Special Topics: Biblical Law course this past fall, Professor Carmen Palmer challenged this assumption by creating an engaging and applicable course with a new perspective.

“Legal materials and codes provide a unique window onto societies, the beliefs and values that they hold near and dear, the ways these beliefs and values may have changed over time, and what is at stake behind disputes between different groups,” Carmen explained. “The study of biblical law is important for the sake of uncovering these unique windows regarding what was theologically significant within ancient Israel, ancient Judaism, and formative early Christianity.”

While this asynchronous course did not have class meetings, students still engaged in weekly discussions and listened to audio recordings of the lectures. “Professor Palmer laid out the course beautifully,” reported student Douglas Clarke. “There was a natural flow and progression from topic to topic, and she made sure that we understood the fundamentals before moving on to the more complex issues. The information was useful and enlightening.”

“The most interesting concept in the course was looking at other biblical texts which reinterpreted the laws found in the three biblical codes,” commented Jacqueline Haycraft. “It was fascinating to see how various communities in the Bible interpreted and practiced the laws in different ways.”

The course also looked at practical implications. Carmen said that “contemporary methodological lenses offer a framework through which students may draw contemporary relevancies from biblical law for their own lives and contexts, as well.”

“What we see as students in 2020 are various interpretations and fragments, yet when we pull back, we see a system of laws that are not unlike our own. There are laws to protect property and well-being, as well as laws that punish wrong doers,” Douglas explained. “What is different is the set of religious laws that are meant to bring a community together and better understand its position in the world. This has certainly deepened my knowledge of the Bible and the way that I will read it going forward.”

“Before this class, I felt unsure about the law codes and how they should be used within Church and ministry,” observed Jacqueline. “However, now I feel like I have a clearer understanding of the historical and social context in which the biblical laws were written. The law codes are useful in helping us learn about the Ancient Israelite community and their covenant with God, but we need to be careful when taking them out of their historical context.”

Douglas added, “This course is a chance to learn about more than old laws, it is a chance to study biblical interpretations, history, and sociology wrapped in theology.”

Though Biblical Law might not be taught as a special topics course again soon, there are many courses for MTS students to dig into. Not only do they provide knowledge needed to meet degree requirements, they also provide students with new perspectives and opportunities for personal growth.