Refinding Faith: Deuteronomy 23:1

Refinding Faith: Deuteronomy 23:1

“If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the 
assembly of the Lord.”

Structure

The sentence structure in this passage follows a theme very common in the Old Testament law. “If” something happens or is true, “then” this other thing needs to happen or is by default also true.  The “then” may not explicitly appear in the text, but is implied by the “if” and  grammatically could be inserted after the comma without any effect on the meaning of the verse. 

Language

There are no real mysteries in the language of the text. “Testicles” and “penis” we’re the same things then that they are today.  “Crushed” and “cut off” mean exactly what they sound like they mean. 

“Admitted into the assembly of the Lord” could use some clarification.  I have heard it argued by those who seek to blend the requirements of the Old Testament law into the Grace we see unfold in the work of Christ, that being “admitted to the assembly of the Lord” is the equivalent of spending eternity in His presence, or as we often call it – “salvation.”

The problem with that is neither the language or the context support it. The word used here for “assembly” is exclusively used to refer to a gathering of humans in the flesh.  It is even translated in other places and “throngs of people” or a “mob”. There are other words that could have been used to specify a heavenly assembly which would be more akin to our eternity with God.

Context

Since this passage also falls in the context of the Mosaic Law, much of the same contextual issues discussed for 22:5 apply here as well, with one notable difference. This regulation is grouped with several that address issues surrounding proper worship. In fact, it is the first regulation brought up in that section. To say that one could not be admitted to the assembly was to say that they were “unclean”. This was not intended to diminish their value as much as it was to elevate the place of God in the community. Others on the “unclean” list were women at the peak of their menstrual cycle, men who had had “nocturnal emissions”, anyone who had recently touched something dead, “illegitimate” children (and the next 10 generations) and so on. In fact the list of “cleanliness disqualifiers” is so long it has been suggested there was a greater gathering outside than there was inside of the assembly.

Peter addressed the issue of clean and unclean things in Acts 10. Having seen a vision where he was instructed to eat animals that were considered unclean, he was summoned to the home of a Gentile – also an unclean practice. On arriving and having a conversation with the master of the house, a Roman officer, Peter declared “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.  So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for…” (Acts 10:28-19) 

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