Monday, February 28, 2011

Purpose of the Law Study

As mentioned, I will be posting a series on the difficult subject of The Law. These posts will be a bit rambling—almost like notes I want to save as I read some books. I have to assemble them into a coherent Sunday School by next fall. Unless I am excommunicated first.

I thought I would start with the purpose of doing such a study. Let's begin with a familiar if unpleasant verse:
If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Lev 20:13)
So, are you a hypocrite, or do you advocate the death penalty for practicing homosexuals?

This is the false dilemma that many atheists present to believers. If the atheist is loathsomely troll-like, he may even say something like this:
If you really want to see the most honest adapation (sic) of what the bible and Christianity really stands far if you follow the most literal interpretation of the bible, go to [Fred] Phelps.
The motivation of this line of, um, reasoning is not honest intellectual debate—the motivation is to portray Christianity in the worst possible light using the least possible effort. The atheist-troll's utter transparency defangs what he considers a killer argument. Nevertheless there are sincere versions of the question that must be addressed, for example: why do Christians keep the Ten Commandments yet wear blended cloth? (Lev 19:19)

It doesn't help that Christians have both unsatisfying responses to this question and inconsistent practices—or at least large loopholes.

An example of the former is the oft-repeated claim: The Old Testament has three types of laws: ceremonial, civil, and moral. The first two are null and void, but the third type remains in force. This sounds sublime (well, maybe) but suffers from at least two major flaws:
  1. There is no such teaching in the bible—that there are three types of laws and two and only two are nullified.

  2. It is arguable some laws that are readily jettisoned by most Christians, like the call for execution of homosexuals, are in fact moral in nature—the very type of law that is supposedly preserved from the Old Testament. So, again, are we hypocrites for ignoring them?
An example of the latter (inconsistent practices and loopholes) are churches that take a high view of Sunday-as-the-Sabbath: no restaurants, no yard work, etc. In my experience these churches, conservative as they are, always have a liberal "works of necessity" exclusion. You can't work on Sunday! Oh, it's a work of necessity! Why didn't you say so? Probing would generally reveal that "work of necessity" means "My schedule came out, and I am assigned a shift on Sunday."

Not to mention the number of times I have heard someone rationalize: but I like mowing the lawn, it's relaxing, so it's not really work, is it?

The purpose of this study is twofold. The first is to argue that the atheist does indeed present a false dilemma. That our choices are not limited to: executing homosexuals or being hypocrites. We have, it will be argued, a third option: to comprehend the fuller revelation of the law as presented not by God through Moses, but by God through his Son. As a metaphor (Apropos? You tell me. I think so) for the argument we will use the Transfiguration:
1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Math 17:1-5)
Here we have personifications (not the right word—but you know what I mean) of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and the New Testament/New Covenant (Jesus.) God makes it clear which one is supreme: Listen to Him! 

When it comes to the law we have much to learn from Moses and Elijah. But ultimately, we listen to Him.

We will look for a solution to this dilemma by these very means: the superiority of the law as revealed by Jesus over that of Moses. Not as a denigration of Moses—but as an acknowledgment that God's revelation has always been progressive. The gospel first appears as the protogospel in Genesis 3:15. Throughout the Old Testament more is revealed—including the motif of the suffering servant. But the full revelation—the supreme revelation—required the incarnation of the Son of God. We acknowledge the supremacy of the fully revealed version of the gospel over the protogospel of Genesis and prophetic gospel of the bulk of the Old Testament. We evangelize with the gospel as revealed in the ministry of Jesus, not with Genesis 3:15.

The second purpose of this study is to show that Christians do not need inconsistent practices or loopholes. Spoiler: I will argue that it is perfectly fine to go to a restaurant on Sunday—or to mow the lawn.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I found this interesting table in the book All Old Testament Laws are Cancelled
by Greg Gibson. It list seven popular views and which laws they say must be

Popular Views


Orthodox Judaism

All OT and no NT Laws: 1) Decalogue 2) Temple 3) Priests,
sacrifices, 4) State-Church Theocracy 5) Infant Members

Roman Catholicism

Some OT and all NT Laws: 1) Decalogue 2) Priests, sacrifices, 3) State-Church Theocracy 4) Infant Members 5) All NT Laws

Theocracy, Reformed Covenant Theology

Some OT and all NT Laws: 1) Decalogue 2) State-Church Theocracy 3) Infant Members 4) All NT Laws

Non-Theocracy, Reformed Covenant Theology

Some OT and all NT Laws: 1) Decalogue 2) Infant Members 3) All NT Laws

Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology

Some OT and all NT Laws: 1) Decalogue 2) All NT Laws

New Covenant Theology

No OT and all NT Laws: 1) All NT Laws


No Laws

Some of it I disagree with, but nevertheless it is food for thought.

Link Cleaning

Upon resurrecting this blog, I have cleaned up links. My link policy has always been "mutual links," so I dropped all one-way links. If we are no longer linked, and you'd like to reestablish links, just drop me a line.

Returning with a series on "The Law".

I will resume blogging with a series on the law. This is in preparation for a Sunday School class on this topic that I will offer in the fall.

This is a difficult topic. It has been proposed, and I agree, that the three most vexing theological questions are:
  1. The antinomy of God's sovereignty vs. Man's free will.
  2. Eschatology.
  3. The role of the Old Testament law in the life of the Christian living under the new covenant.
Of these, the third has the most practical impact. From the simple question of whether it is proper to mow the lawn on Sunday, to questions regarding the amount of political engagement we should accept.

America's greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote
There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.

So very true.

One piece of advice I will surely give my class--advice that I think clarifies many (but certainly not all) passages, is to replace the phrase "The Law and the Prophets" or "The Law or the Prophets" with "The Old Testament." That is what those phrases refer to--the Old Testament before it was called the Old Testament.

For example when Jesus stated:

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. (Matt. 5:17)

We read it, accurately and probably more clearly, this way:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Old Testament; I have not come to abolish it but to fulfill it.

Much more to come.