Jenny has an extremely intriguing post. Can you outlaw the act of incest from the Bible without using the Mosaic Law? At the moment I don’t have an answer for Jenny (now does that mean my view on the role of the OT law is wrong? Or is it my view on incest? Or something else?) – think carefully about it before you rush to the Garden of Eden or even Paul’s writings…
Archive for the 'Law and Gospel' Category
I have just recently got into holiday mode after some exhausting end of year exams (that’s partly why I have been so slack with posting recently), anyway I got to thinking after my last exam, while i was still in study mode, about the fact that as christians we uphold the law of our countries not because we are legalistic (because of course we are under grace) but as a witness to others so that we can bring God glory.
Now I know many of us know the basic traffic rules and the general ‘biggies’ that are common in our legal systems, but as christians how far should we go to further our understanding of the laws? (and I’m not talking indepth study). I simply mean do we have a responsibility to familiarise ourselves with for example our constitution and not just bits and pieces of it, so that we conduct ourselves in a manner worth of the gospel at all times with the attitude of bringing glory to God through that.
After a conversation with a friend about this she made a very valid point, take for example a christian in the corporate world, it would seem that they have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with the particular legal system that falls under that banner so as to be a godly witness when drawing up a contract or dealing with property or whatever it is.
I think as christians we have a responsibility, some more than others in specific legal areas. But we do need to guard against an attitude of legalism and ‘religiosity’ when considering this.
Anyway this is just something I was thinking about. What do others think?
A Friend of mine asked me to respond to the following piece of writing from the book ‘The End of Faith’ by Sam Harris:
…we must decide what it means to be a religious “moderate” in the twenty first century. Moderates in every faith are obliged to loosely interpret (or simply ignore) much of their canons in the interests of living in the modern world…The first thing to observe about the moderates’ retreat from scriptural literalism is that it draws its inspiration not from scripture but from cultural developments that have rendered many of God’s utterances difficult to accept as written. In America, religious moderation is further enforced by the fact that most Christians and Jews do not read the Bible in its entirety and consequently have no idea just how vigorously the God of Abraham wants heresy expunged. One look at Deuteronomy reveals that he has something very specific in mind should you son or daughter return from yoga class advocating the worship of Krishna:
“6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. 9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.”
While the stoning of children has fallen out of fashion in this country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a “symbolic” reading of a passage of this sort. (In fact one seems to be explicitly blocked by God himself…
Deuteronomy 12:32 (New International Version)
32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.
The above passage is as canonical as any in the bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world. This is a problem for “moderation” in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the divine law.’
So the question i pose is ‘are religious moderates either ignorant or deliberately ignoring certain parts of the bible?’
‘is being uninformed a requirement for being religious in the modern world?’
Here’s my initial reply:
Context, context, context!!!
The Bible is an unfolding narrative of redemptive history.
Those laws were given to a group of people who lived in a theocratic state governed solely by God through the Mosaic law and his manifest presence in the Tabernacle.
So here’s my answer as to why I don’t obey that specific command:
1. I don’t live in an earthly theocracy.
2. The NT makes it abundantly clear that Christ both fulfills the law (I take that to be in a prophetic sense) and frees us from obeying the law slavishly.
3. Hence I interpret all of the Mosaic law (613 commandments) through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. Those laws were given for judgment inside the covenant community. According to Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5 we are to continue this internal judgment by expelling those who claim to be believers but refuse to repent of blatant sin – I still keep this law.
5. That same passage in 1 Corinthians 5 tells us not to judge those outside the church – and so I won’t stone people outside for idolatry.
6. The Gospel of Christ now judges people, I proclaim the message thereby bringing judgment on all who hear and refuse to repent and install Christ as king – and BTW this judgment is a hell of a lot worse than simply being stoned! Excuse the pun.
I could probably come up with more – but that’s a start.
I am NOT a Christian moderate – I am a radical, Jesus has called me to die to self and become a servant to all – in some ways its easier to stone someone then really obey that command.
Obviously when doing ethics one’s view of the relationship between the Mosaic law and the New Testament believer. Which ever view you take it will impact upon your ultimate ethic for the Christian today. Now as one who’s not to keen on the whole tripartite division of the law of moral/civil/ceremonial (mainly because I think its an imposed framework that Calvin borrowed from Aquinas and not from reading his Old Testament), I found Michael Hill’s brief comments extremely helpful. Speaking about the stage of redemptive history containing Israel and their law he says the following:
“The significance of this stage in salvation history for ethics is often over emphasized. The Law of Moses does not provide a complete and binding guide to Christian morality. On the other hand it should not be dismissed as irrelevant. The basic shape of God’s rule, and God’s just order established at creation, is confirmed and further delineated in the Law. Yet it is delineated in positive and negative ways. For example the people of Israel are told not to commit adultery, a negative command.
Nevertheless the Law gives us, as Christians, a glimpse of God’s just order. Aspects of the configuration of his good order are revealed. There is good reason for the negative aspects being included. The revelation comes to people who have rebellious hearts. Even though God has called them and dealt graciously with them they are still, as Paul puts it, slaves to sin. The negative aspects address this rebelliousness. The negative pattern is exposed in the Ten Commandments. Only three of the commandments are stated in positive terms. The rest are asserted negatively. The sevenfold repetition of ‘do not’ presupposes a spirit of rebellion and disobedience.
While Christians are not under the package called the Law, the moral elements in the Law are part of a continuum that gives shape to an ideal. This continuum reaches from creation to Christ. Many people like to divide the regulations and laws that give shape to God’s covenant with Israel into moral, cultic and civil elements. In this way it is hoped that the cultic and civil elements can be jettisoned with the coming of the New Covenant in Christ, and the moral component retained. However the Bible itself does not operate in this way. The Old Covenant is seen as a discrete unified package with a number of aspects, not parts. These various aspects cannot be unravelled and treated as parts. Moreover the Old Covenant and its Law is seen as a shadow of the reality to come in Christ. The partial gives way to the complete. This is true of the cultic and civil aspects as well as the moral.” (The How and Why of Love, p.74)
NIV: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
NASB: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”
MESSAGE: “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures-either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete.
The question brought to the minds of many when reading this text is: Did Jesus place himself above the Jewish law? To answer this question I will firstly briefly attempt an exegesis of the passage by identifying both erroneous interpretations of the verse and then by suggesting a preferable approach to reading 5:17. The exegesis will also interact with a bit of historical theology regarding the relationship of law to gospel. Through this I hope to answer the question.
Firstly, what the passage is not saying:
A commonly taught view concerning this passage is that by using the word ‘fulfill’ Jesus is saying that he has lived out all the requirements of the law and the prophets perfectly. In this way the passage reads rather similarly to Romans 8:4 which informs us that the righteous requirements of the law were fully met in Christ. However although this reading is consistent with the broader theology of Paul and the rest of the New Testament, it is not likely that it is the meaning of this passage. D A Carson, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, comments that such a reading does not “appear to be taught here. The language of verse 18 seems tighter than that.” Added to this criticism is the fact that this reading fails to take into account the inclusive term found in verse 17, ‘the law and the prophets’, a correct understanding of this term shall be explained shortly.
A second erroneous way to read this passage, which is extremely common in Reformed circles or often associated with Covenant Theology, is to read the term ‘law’ in Matthew 5:17 as referring only to the ceremonial or sacrificial aspects of the Mosaic law. This view sees the 316 commandments of the Mosaic law as being divided into three categories, ceremonial, civil and moral. It is argued that Christ is here proclaiming his fulfillment of the ceremonial law by going to the cross, hence all the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law fall away. This view also further argues, although not directly connected with this text, that the civil requirements of the law also fall away since they applied to the nation of Israel which was a theocracy, which the Lord has since seen fit to discontinue post cross.
So by not abolishing the law but fulfilling the ceremonial requirements, and due to the fact that the civil requirements have fallen away, one is left with a reading that upholds the continuity of the moral laws contained within the 613 Mosaic laws. Well known scholar Walter Kaiser argues this view in the Book ‘5 Views on Law and Gospel.’
To highlight the pitfalls of this view, I quote Wayne Strickland from the same book as he responds to Kaiser’s essay:
‘…Kaiser argues that Christ fulfilled the ceremonial part of the law in his death on the cross, so that the ceremonial provisions of the law do not remain in force. Yet Christ fulfilled all the Mosaic law, not simply the ceremonial provisions. This is Christ’s own testimony in Matthew 5:17. That Christ had in mind the entire Mosaic law is confirmed by the correction of abuses immediately following this statement of fulfillment (vv. 21-48). For instance, he corrects abuses dealing with fasting, a regulation that is not part of the so-called moral law.’ Douglas Moo, also in the same book, and Carson in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount both hold similar criticisms of the approach championed by Kaiser.
The other problem with this view is the artificial and extra-biblical classification of the Mosaic law into a three-way division. This division is found nowhere in biblical literature or in early rabbinic literature. According to Carson it is not even found in the writings of the early church fathers. The origin of this division which has become known as the ‘tripartite division of the law’ can be traced to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, the great Roman Catholic Scholar. His division was later adopted by Calvin and thus incorporated into the general Reformed tradition. Notable exceptions came in the form of Luther, the Anabaptists and John Knox who all challenged the unnatural division.
In modern times the view has been greatly challenged by the likes of Don Carson, Douglas Moo, David Peterson, Craig Blomberg and Gordon Wenham on an academic level, and by the likes of John Piper, David Jackman and Phillip Jensen on a pastoral level.
Wenham goes so far as to label the tripartite division as ‘arbitrary and artificial’ and another writer, David Dorsey makes the point that the categorizing of certain selected laws as “moral” is in his view ‘methodologically questionable’ – since all of the 613 laws have some sort of moral implication.
So to read this tripartite division into Matthew 5:17 is likewise questionable and this is backed up by verse 18 which suggests that the law being spoken about here is definitely all of the law and not just the moral law.
What is the passage saying?
The key to understanding the passage is a correct understanding of the term ‘the law and the prophets’, through correctly understanding this term one will be able to discern the meaning of ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill’. Carson and Blomberg both point out that this is an inclusive term used to denote the entire Old Testament Scriptures – and this is echoed in numerous other commentaries – strangely enough those who propagate the tripartite view would normally agree with this understanding of the term when found in other parts of the Bible but in Matthew 5 they all tend to change their tune, perhaps because their theological system overrides their exegesis?
If this reading of the term is correct then in what way can Jesus say he is a fulfillment of the law and prophets? Well Matthew 11:12f tell us that all the prophets and the law have prophesied the coming of the kingdom up until John the Baptist. So we see that the law can function in a prophetic role – the law prophesies. And it is in this sense that commentators like Moo, Hagner and Carson see Christ fulfilling the law – he is the prophetic end of the law. So this passage directs us to see Jesus, his life and teaching, by virtue of his own proclamation, as the prophetic fulfillment of the whole law, and in fact the entire Old Testament. In this sense his teaching is not that different here from his words to his disciples in Luke 24:44, ‘everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’
So to our question then:
Is Jesus placing himself above the Jewish law? The answer I think, is yes, in that he is the fulfillment of that Jewish law and that it cannot be interpreted and applied clearly without us viewing it through the life, work and teaching of Jesus. For example, think in terms of a progression on a building site. When building a bridge we lay pillars upon which the bridge can be supported. When only the pillars are in place, we can investigate them, study them and make conclusions and deductions about them and yet as true as those deductions might be they are not the whole story.
When the bridge is built upon the pillars we can now see the pillars completely and their role in the whole structure, the pillars don’t disappear and although our original deductions might require some adjustment we can now rightly understand their role in the whole construction.
It is the same with the law. Jesus proclaims himself as the completion of the construction and so we must view the foundations of the construction in light of the completed work. And so in that sense Jesus places himself above the Jewish law.
Now this will have all sorts of applicatory ramifications for doctrine and church – and that is really the extended debate around this issue, that a book like the ‘5 Views on Law and Gospel’, and also the ongoing debate of Covenant Theology versus New Covenant Theology begins to tackle, but those issues are complex and beyond the scope of this paper.
Carson, D. A. 1998. Sermon on the Mount. Paternoster Press. Carlisle.
Strickland. W(ed.). 1996. 5 Views on Law and Gospel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids
Blomberg. C. 1992. Matthew – NAC. Broadman Publishers. Nashville.
Jackman. D & Philip. W. 2003. Teaching Matthew. Christian Focus Publications. London.
Dorsey. D. A. 1991. The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise. JETS vol. 34 no. 3