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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Moses


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Just as, in the Synagogue, the Law (the Torah), was accounted the most important division of the Canon, and as Holy Scripture in its entirety might thus a parte potiori be designated the ‘Law’ (ὁ νόμος, the tôrâh), so in the primitive Church Moses was regarded as the supreme figure of the OT.

1. Moses as the author of the Pentateuch.-Moses was honoured as the author of the ‘Law,’ i.e. the Pentateuch: Romans 10:5 (‘Moses writeth’); cf. Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37. His name had become so closely identified with the books of the Torah that we even find it said, ‘Moses is read’ (Acts 15:21, 2 Corinthians 3:15 [cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14]). The Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch was an assumption of Jewish tradition and, as such, seems to have been taken over by Jesus and His apostles without criticism of any sort. It is to be noted, however, that they attached no special importance to the belief that Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch. This is in no sense the point of the above references, as the name ‘Moses’ is used either metonymically for the Law (‘the Old Covenant’) as in Acts 15:21 and 2 Corinthians 3:15 (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14), or as a designation of the correlative, i.e. the first, portion of Holy Scripture or Divine revelation; cf. e.g. Romans 10:19 (where Moses is referred to only as the mouth-piece of God, exactly like ‘Isaiah’ in the next verse). Occasionally, however, special emphasis is laid upon the fact that Moses, as a prophet, gave utterance to certain sayings, since, as the recognized representative of Judaism, he forms in some sense a contrast to Jesus; cf. Acts 7:37; Acts 3:22 (‘Moses said’) with John 5:46 (Romans 10:5).

2. Moses as a prophet.-Among the early Christians generally Moses was honoured as preeminently a prophet. While the religion of the OT revolved around the two foci, Law and Promise, primitive Christianity-in contrast to later Judaism-laid the chief emphasis upon the Promise; and, if the Jews exploited Moses in their controversies with the Christians, the latter could always appeal to his Messianic prediction; cf. Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37; Acts 26:22; Acts 28:23, Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44, John 5:45-47 (Deuteronomy 18:15 : ‘The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me’). More especially in the speech of Stephen a strong emphasis is laid upon the prophetic character of Moses (Acts 7:37); here, moreover, Moses does not merely foretell the coming of Christ, but in his calling, and even in his experiences, he is also, as indicated in the passage cited from Dt., a prototype of Christ, having been first of all disowned by his people (Acts 7:23-29), then exalted by God to be their leader and deliverer (Acts 7:35), and at length once more rejected by them (Acts 7:39-41). St. Paul, too, uses the figure of Moses as a type of Christ: the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt ‘were all baptized unto Moses’ in the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2); and in Hebrews 3:2 Moses is spoken of as typifying Christ’s faithfulness in the service of God’s house. That Christ is called the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 12:24) doubtless presupposes that Moses was the mediator of the Old (cf. Acts 7:38, Galatians 3:19). In the speech of Stephen the life of Moses is sketched at some length, and is furnished with certain particulars which were derived from the oral tradition of the Synagogue (the Haggâdâ), as e.g. in Acts 7:22 (‘instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians’)-just as the names of the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Jambres, are given by St. Paul (2 Timothy 3:8). Further, among the heroes of the faith enumerated in Hebrews 11, Moses wins more than a passing reference as a pattern of faith (Hebrews 11:24-26).

High as Moses stands in the Old Covenant, however, his glory pales before that of Christ, as the transient and the material gives place to the permanent and the spiritual (2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Hebrews 3:3-5). Moses was but the servant of God, while Jesus Christ is God’s Son, who not merely superintends, but actually governs God’s house, and was in fact its builder (Hebrews 3:3-5). In the fading away of the dazzling glory on the face of Moses (Exodus 34:33-35) St. Paul finds a symbol of the transient glory of the Old Covenant mediated by Moses, while the glory of the Lord (i.e. Christ), and thus also of the New Covenant, is imperishable (2 Corinthians 3:12-18; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

3. Moses as the law-giver.-This brings us to the function of Moses as the law-giver. As Judaism became more and more definitely legalistic, an ever higher position was assigned to the great intermediary of the Law. He towered above every other character in the OT, and Judaism became neither more nor less than Mosaism. To impugn the Law in any way was to speak blasphemy, not only against Moses, but even against God (cf. the charge against Stephen, Acts 6:11). The primitive Church, on the other hand-as was said above-laid great stress upon the prophetic and prototypic character of Moses, as also upon his subordinate position in relation to Christ. But as long as Moses remained the great canonical standard, the Church could not renounce his legislative authority. Even the Lord Jesus Himself had sanctioned the Law of Moses, and co-ordinated it with the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-20, Luke 16:17; cf. Luke 16:29-31), and the primitive community in Jerusalem could never have entertained the thought of disparaging the authority of Moses for Christians as well as Jews. Still, the relation of the disciples of Jesus to the Mosaic Law could not permanently remain the same as that of the unbelieving Jews; the differentiating factor of belief in Jesus was felt more and more to be paramount, and at length it was fully realized that salvation could be secured not by the Law but by faith, or grace, and that it came not from Moses, but from Jesus Christ.

Thus too had come the time when the believing Gentiles must be fully recognized as brethren, and received into the Church without circumcision.* [Note: A detailed explanation of this development is given in the art. Law.] Yet this does not in any sense imply that the mother church in Jerusalem and the rest of the Jewish Christians believed themselves to be exempt from the obligation of the Law. On the contrary, we are told in Acts that the many thousands of Jewish Christians continued to be ‘zealous for the law’ (Acts 21:20), and in a continuation of the passage we are shown that the rumour of St. Paul’s having taught the Jewish Christians in his churches to forsake Moses was without foundation (Acts 21:21-26), while we learn from St. Paul’s own letters that within certain limits he desired the distinction made by Moses between Jew and Gentile to be maintained in his churches (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:18, Galatians 5:3; see also article Law, p. 690). Furthermore, even as regards a Gentile Christian community, the Apostle could appeal to particular regulations of the Mosaic Law as expressions of the Divine will in contrast to the dictates of human reason (1 Corinthians 9:8 f.; cf. 1 Timothy 5:18, where the same OT passage-Deuteronomy 25:4 -is placed side by side with a saying of Jesus)-just as elsewhere he frequently refers to special provisions of the Law, or to the Law as a whole. Yet this in no way detracts from the validity of the principle that all things are spiritually judged (1 Corinthians 2:14 f.), and that nothing is to be enforced according to the letter which killeth (2 Corinthians 3:5), the regulative canon being that the external statutes, ‘the commandments in ordinances’ (Ephesians 2:15), are merely the shadow of things to come, while the body is Christ’s (Colossians 2:17)-whence it follows that the outward regulations of the Law are to be applied in a typological (or allegorical) way. A further result was a certain relaxation of the Mosaic ordinances relating to practical life, enabling the Jewish Christians to live in brotherly intercourse with the believing Gentiles.

In this connexion, however, certain difficulties arose which seemed actually to necessitate some limitation of Gentile Christian liberty, and it was this state of things that led the primitive Church to promulgate the ‘Apostolic Decree.’ According to Acts 15:19-21, St. James, the brother of the Lord, justified his proposal regarding the Decree by the circumstance that ‘Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath.’ The point of this statement is much debated. Does St. James mean thereby that the apostles do not need to trouble regarding the dissemination of the Mosaic legislation, and that they should therefore lay upon the Gentile Christians nothing beyond the four prohibitions specified by him, since Moses had from of old been sufficiently represented throughout the Diaspora (so e.g. Zahn)? If this be the true interpretation, the statement of St. James fails to explain why these particular prohibitions were fixed upon. We must thus rather look for an interpretation according to which Acts 15:21 provides a reason why precisely these four injunctions were laid upon the Gentile churches. Such a reading of the passage would be as follows: Since, not only in the Holy Land, but also in heathen lands, the doctrines of Moses are every Sabbath inculcated upon those who attend the Synagogue, it is necessary that the believing Gentiles-like the so-called ‘God-fearing’ (οἱσεβόμενοιτὸν θεόν)-should give some consideration to the Mosaic Law, and should at least abstain from taking part in those heathen practices which were most revolting to the Jewish mind. The prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree, which resemble those imposed upon Jewish proselytes, were probably framed in conformity with Leviticus 17, 18, which contain, inter alia, laws to be observed by aliens resident in the land of Israel. They seem at first sight to be a strange mingling of moral and purely ritual laws, the prohibition of sexual immorality being conjoined with three interdicts about food (cf. Acts 15:29). But while this collocation has certainly an appearance of arbitrariness, a glance at Revelation 2:20-24 (where we undoubtedly hear an echo of the Apostolic Decree), as also a comparison with 1 Corinthians 10:7 f., shows us that abstinence from idolatrous sacrifices and abstinence from sexual immorality are closely related, and that πορνεία here refers not merely to the forbidden degrees of marriage but also to ceremonial prostitution; the Gentile Christians must abstain both from taking part in the sacrificial meals of the heathen world and from the immoralities connected therewith, i.e. from practices regarded among the heathen as adiaphora (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12). As regards the other two restrictions, it is clear that they converge upon a single point-the supreme necessity of maintaining the sacredness of blood in every form, as already recognized in the so-called Noachian dispensation: the believing Gentiles must no longer partake of blood either in the flesh or by itself (e.g. mixed with wine, as drunk by the heathen in their sacrificial feasts); in other words, only the flesh of ritually slaughtered animals may be eaten.

The essential equivalence of these two prohibitions might also explain the uncertainty attaching to the reading πνικτοῦ in the textual tradition. Here, however, another consideration arises. In the Western text, which omits καὶ πνικτοῦ (πνικτῶν), we find an addition which points to an entirely different conception of the Apostolic Decree, viz. καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις μὴ ποιεῖν (1 Corinthians 15:20; so D, Iren., Tert., Cypr., some Minuscules, and the Sahidic). The ‘golden rule’ being thus added to the prohibitions of idolatrous sacrifices, fornication, and blood, the Decree is transformed into a short moral catechism, in which are forbidden the three cardinal vices-idolatry, fornication, and murder (αἶμα = ‘shedding of blood’). But although the genuineness of this form of the text is defended by able scholars, such as Blass and Harnack, it should in all probability be rejected as of secondary origin. For not only is the golden rule introduced most inaptly in a formal respect, but the purely ethical character of the decree as thus transformed presupposes the conditions of a later time-a time when the Church was no longer concerned with the specific problem that had called for the attention of the Apostolic Council; in the West, where the ‘ethical’ form of the Decree took its rise, Jewish Christianity was a relatively insignificant force, and what was wanted there was a brief compendium of the anti-heathen morality of Christianity. At the same time, however, the altered form of the Decree shows that the Church never regarded it as an inviolable law, but thought of it simply as a provisional arrangement which might be varied to suit local and temporary circumstances.

In Revelation 2 the prohibitions of idolatrous sacrifices and (ritual) immorality are once more brought to view, while in 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 St. Paul urges the same restrictions, though without appealing to the Apostolic Decree. Nor, strangely enough, does he mention the Decree in Galatians 2:1-10; this, however, would be sufficiently explained on the ground that the Apostle had emphasized its provisions (which, be it remembered, were not new, but had already found a regular place in the Jewish propaganda) in his missionary labours in the Galatian region (Acts 16:6). In that case it was not necessary that he should complicate the deliverance of the Council as to the recognition of his gospel and his apostolic status by mentioning the Decree, and all the less so because the account in Acts 15 does not imply that St. Paul himself was charged with the duty of enforcing its provisions in his missionary sphere.

We may sum up the whole by saying that while primitive Christianity originally set Moses and Jesus side by side, it came at length, in the process of development, to contrast them with each other, and St. John, in the Prologue to his Gospel, gives expression to this result in his great saying: ‘The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (1:17).

Literature.-H. H. Wendt, Apostelgeschichte8, in Meyer’s Kommentar, 1899; G. Hoennicke, Apostelgeschichte, Leipzig, 1913; text-books of NT Theology, by B. Weiss (Eng. translation , 1882-83), H. J. Holtzmann (21911), P. Feine (1910), G. B. Stevens (1899); E. B. Reuss, Hist. of Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age, Eng. translation , 1872-74, i. 139, 205, etc.; J. R. Cohu, St. Paul, 1911, p. 40 ff.; A. E. Garvie, Studies of Paul and his Gospel, 1911, p. 192 ff.

Olaf Moe.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Moses'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/m/moses.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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