I appreciate your courteous and prompt response to my letter. I do hope very much that you read Michael Martin’s book. No, my letter to you was not intended to be a refutation of your doctrine; and yes, I am hoping the book will speak for me in many ways.
The article wrote for PLAIN THINGS certainly, cuts a wider swath, but even that leaves many of your points unanswered. My apology: It is the feeble attempt of an unlearned man to give you the defense we owe you. I do not expect to convince you. My writing style is too earthy, my arguments too elementary, my knowledge of the Scriptures too inadequate (I would like to remedy that, God help me). No, you are a very big fish and I have only a ten lb. line. Aside from being a response to you, the article is, perhaps more realistically, intended to benefit those Anabaptist people who bump into teachings like yours and wish for some help to know how to give an answer.
So I don't "get it". If you mean your interpretation of the Scriptures, you are probably right. Your position certainly has some logical appeal, as it seeks to proclaim the consistency of God. However, that logic seems to be stretched a little thin some places. There is another understanding of the Scriptures which is, in our view, much more logical. And it brings us to a much different conclusion.- a conclusion which harmonizes with the conclusion the vast majority of true, God-fearing Christians through out history have reached. This is no small thing.
The plain Scriptures are inescapable to the honest student.
The above statement is indeed true. However, when the honest student faces difficulty in Scripture interpretation, what shall he do? Will he be arrogant enough to imagine that his own private interpretation of Scripture trumps all others? No, the honest student, when faced with challenges in Scripture, will go for help. He will find a church that conforms to Scriptural teachings, and will seek direction with the help of his brethren, Beyond that, he will seek the wisdom of true Christians throughout the two thousand years of church history between now and the time of Christ. He will weigh their teachings carefully with Scriptures, scrutinize their lives to see if they bear the mark of true Christianity, and then will, listen carefully to the things they have to say. Interpretation., Mark, interpretation. It's not that we can’t all agree that the Scriptures are the only solid foundation, the problem is with our understanding. We have seen many people hold the Bible high and say, 'I trust only in the word of God! I don't need a bunch of other people tell ing me what to do. The Bible is the only true thing we can go by." Sound, familiar? The problem is, that position, as you know and agree, is in direct opposition to the Scriptures themselves.
If I could just break away from my indoctrination!
It seems clear to you that siding with the Scriptures requires me to emrace [sic] your doctrine and turn away from mine, so convinced are you of your position. Let me tell you about my friend Robert.
Robert is a zealous keeper of the Saturday Sabbath, So sure is he of his belief that be says all people who have heard the truth of the Sab bath as he perceives it will either accept it or be condemned.
I gave Robert clear answers as to why we do not observe the Sabbath. I told him we believe Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything the Sabbath was pointing to. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that there is a Sabbath rest (sabbatismos) that remains for the people of God, and that rest is found in Jesus Christ. We do not observe Sunday as Sabbath, "Today" is the day of salvation, and every day is a holy day to the Lord. When we cease from our own efforts to become righteous without God (dead works), and take on ourselves the yoke of Jesus Christ, we enter into His rest.
But Robert would not give up. "Break away from your indoctrination," he told me. "Lay aside all your preconceptions and see the truth for what it is. You keep all the rest of the ten commandments, why not that one? The Scriptures are clear." (Just as a side note, we do incidentally keep the other nine commandments, but it is not because they are the "great moral law of God, delivered once for all to the saints." We keep them because our Master taught us how to truly keep the law of God, and by so doing, we fulfill those Commandments, Even the fourth commandment we keep, by finding our Sabbath rest in Jesus Christ.)
Robert's arguments sounded much like yours. In fact, when I got your letter, it was almost like déjà vu. He explained very carefully, in ten-page letters, how God's law is the same forever and ever, The only thing Jesus did away with was the ceremonial law, etc., etc, But of course, keeping the Sabbath is a moral law, and so is abstention from unclean meats.
Okay, so I’ve been through this before. Everyone with a different doc trine than I have wants me to "break away from my indoctrination" and "side with the Scriptures against my denomination." But this brings us to some really important questions.
In the verses you quoted in your letter (Matt. 5:17-20), what did Jesus mean when He said He came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law and the prophets? And what commandments are they, which we must not break or teach men to break, lest we be called least in the kingdom of heaven?
Is He speaking of the Mosaic law? If we take verses 18-19 at face value, it seems as if He is: "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall he called great in the kingdom of heaven."
In the last part of that paragraph, when He speaks of breaking or keep ing the commandments, do you believe He is speaking of the law of Moses? If so, that raises more questions. Now we have to decide what part of Moses' law is still in effect today. Away with all the sacrificial laws, for they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. What other laws were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and which still stand? The moral laws, you say; those still stand. Okay, which laws are moral and which are not? For instance, do you make sure to not sow two different kinds of seed together in a field (hybridization), and to not use fabrics woven of two different kinds of cloth cotton/polyester)? Remember, "the least of these commandments."
Do you observe all the laws of purification, cleansing, etc.? What about laws that are clearly moral, such as Lev. 20:10? Would you kill an adulterer? Or Lev. 20:9 - would you put someone to death for cursing their parents? Perhaps you will say that, since that kind of sentencing was the job of the judges in Israel, today it is the job of our government.
But the problems with that are multitudinous, and should be very obvious. Our government has no desire to follow the law of Moses. They have their ideas of what is just and right, but I don't believe you'll catch them putting anyone to death for those kinds of offenses anytime soon. If you admit that you are admitting your inability as leader of your church to carry out God's moral judgments in the law of Moses. You speak so clearly about God's judgments being the same from age to age, yet you yourself are powerless (and perhaps unwilling) to carry them out, You say that, through out eternity, whenever the exact same scenario exists, God will always give the exact same judgment call. In light of this, were your son or daughter to turn against you and curse you (God forbid!) it would be His desire that they be put to death.
You must either keep the law of Moses or not. You cannot do a halfway job. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; For it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. (Gal. 3:10),'"
"Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteous ness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith, which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (v. 21-25). "
There is only one explanation that makes sense of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-19. Jesus was, in Himself, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It is very important to notice not only what He does, say, but also what He does not say. He does not say that He came to establish the law and the prophets. He says He came to fulfill them. What depth was in the words He spoke while hanging on the cross, "It is finished!” The Old Covenant was finished. The law and the prophets were finished. His own teaching was finished. His sacrificial lifeblood, was poured out, and God's great sacrifice was finished.
“I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do... For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent me (John 17:4,8).”
Matt., 5:17-18 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,.." Why do you think they thought that's what He was trying to do? They thought He was destroying the law, because that's what it sounded like to them. He was teaching things that sounded radically new to them, "I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." The Law and the Prophets were divinely inspired by God. You couldn't just destroy them! But the covenant God made with Israel. had a time limit. It would not last forever, and they knew it! One day a new covenant would be made, and when that time came, the old one would be completely, entirely fulfilled. Where God no longer worked with the nation of Israel as such, all those little rituals, symbolisms, and even the larger laws that dealt with governing the nation, were fading away, They became obsolete when the fullness of time had come, and their purpose was fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. "Because, finding fault with them, He says, 'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says: the Lord (Hebrews 8:8-9).”
“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.' Beware that you do not think this means that we are to fulfill that law in the sense of "keeping" it, That is not what this word fulfill means. This word is genetai, which is literally translated, "come to be," or happen, This word is never used in the New Testament to mean "keep," as in "keeping the law,"' The old American Standard, version does a better job of translating it in that particular instance. It uses the word
"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but who ever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." We talked about this verse a little bit ago. If he was speaking here of the Mosaic law, Paul and the other apostles would have repeatedly broken it. They taught that circumcision (which was not given by Moses, but was certainly commanded by Moses) was unnecessary. They themselves did not break that law, but they taught others that it was not necessary to keep. The only way to make sense of Jesus' words here, is to understand that He was speaking of the commandments He Himself was giving them.
Michael Martin hit the nail on the head when he said, "The Old Covenant was not a set of timeless universal principles dropped from the sky for a11 peoples and all times.” The laws of the Old Covenant revealed to Israel only that part of God's heart which he chose at that time to reveal to them. They were good, even perfect, for the purpose God had for that nation in that time and place.. And to us today who look back and observe God's work in Israel, they are instructive and important in revealing His mind and his "great, majestic, unfolding plan" for His creation.
As the rays of the sun shine on us, and we trace them directly to their source, so were God's laws revealed to Israel. But when Jesus came, everything changed. We no longer trace the rays back to the small hole in the thundercloud where a bright ray pierces through; or wander through a deep forest and see the occasional flickering shaft of sunlight here and there. The sky is clear, and the sun is overhead. It's the same sun. It didn't change. But everything looks different in the broad daylight of its radiance than when it pierced its way with force through the dark., rumbling thundercloud.
I philosiphize [sic] too much, you say. Perhaps you are right. Let's look at the Scriptures. As I read through both the Old and New Testament Scrip tures, I see a host of passages that refer to "the Messenger of the Covenant," Jesus Christ, who is the mighty transition from one dispen sation to the next. But where does one start? I suppose we should start in the same place Jesus Himself did.
Luke 24:25-27 Then He said to them, “0 foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?"
And beginning at Moses and the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
But it is not enough for our purposes to go back to the beginning. The Scripture tells us that "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20)." And in Revelation 13:8, "...the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." It is important to recognize that Jesus was not plan B after plan A failed. God knew before He ever created the world that the Mosaic law, the entire Old Covenant, would not be enough. Remember, ",...if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law (Gal, 3;21)."
Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses speaking: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren, Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'
And the Lord said to me, "What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.
Acts 3:22-26 makes it clear that this passage is speaking specifically of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In this passage Peter is quoting that same Old Testament passage, only he says it a little differently, since he quotes from the Septuagint: "And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people (Acts 3:23)." Now this is very serious. From the very beginning of the Old Covenant, God said He would raise up a Prophet to speak His word to the children of Israel, and they must hear Him.
John 12:48-49 "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I hare not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent he gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”
Through these passages it is clear that Jesus' teaching far supercedes [sic] the teaching of Moses. In the last day, we will not be judged by the Law of Moses. We will be judged by the words of Jesus Christ. To say that Jesus taught nothing new or different from Moses is preposterous! Why would God have told the children of Israel, through Moses, that He would raise up another Prophet later to teach them, if this later Prophet would say nothing different than Moses had already said?
Jesus' teaching was not merely clearing up misconceptions about Moses' law. He was giving them a whole new understanding of the Law of God. The Law of God was the source of the law delivered through Moses, but the law of Moses was not the Law of God in its entirety. The law of Moses was the Law of God for a specific people in a specific time and place. Through it we catch beautiful glimpses, from time to time, of the bright sunshine behind the storm cloud. When Jesus came, however, He removed that heavy, cloudy veil and revealed to us the Law of God from which the law of Moses came.
Was the law imperfect? Yes and no. It was imperfect in the sense that it was unable to accomplish in us the redemption we can find in Jesus Christ; Acts 13:38-39: 'Therefore let it be known to you brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses."
Still, the law of Moses was perfect in that it fulfilled the purpose God had for it in its time and place. It revealed the power and righteous ness of God and the depravity of man. It showed man how desperately he needed, the salvation of God. "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law, For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet (Rom 7:7).’”
Genesis 49:10 is another clear prophecy of the Messiah who would come and give the law. Even then, they knew that their allegiance would belong to this Shiloh above anyone else. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. And to Him shall be the obedience of the people."
What about Malachi? I do not claim to perfectly understand Malachi, although I see in him no reason to believe that Christ was to come and turn people back to the law of Moses. I see in Malachi warning of the wrath of God against those who had forsaken His law, a loving plea to Israel to return to that law, and a beautiful prophecy of the coming "Messenger of the covenant," the Messiah.
Yes, the children of Israel had fallen terribly. They forsook the law of Moses that God had given them; and God, through Malachi, was calling them back. At that time the law of Moses was still God's plan for His people. It was the law they knew and the law they left, and to it they must return. It was that law that pointed them forward to something better. If they would truly turn back to the law of Moses and follow it with an honest heart, they could not mistake the coming of the Messiah!
Jesus made it clear that, had Abraham lived in His day, he would have joyfully followed Him: "They answered Him and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.. Abraham did not do this (John 8:39-40).’" And again in verse 56: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
My point in quoting those verses is simply that it is not contradict ory to say that Israel, in Malachi’s day, was to return to the law of Moses, but when the Messiah would come, they would turn from that law, to follow Him. The law of Moses was still God's perfect will for them at that time, and if they would not return to it they would not be prepared for the Messiah when He came. Malachi says, in chapter 3, verse 3, that the Messiah would come and "purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteous ness." Do you suppose the Levites at that time thought that meant the sacrifice of sheep and bulls? It would be understandable if they did, yet today we know that's not what God meant, He meant that He would teach them to sacrifice their own bodies as offerings in righteousness. Yes, the Messiah is like a refiner's fire, and a purifier of silver, and His day is indeed a great and dreadful day. He will restore us to the law of God, and we will again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
The call to return to the law of Moses was intended for all those of God's children who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Nowhere does Malachi tell us that the Messiah, when He arrived, would direct us back to the law of Moses.
You asked for my interpretation of Romans 8. My understanding of this passage is that those who are enabled by the power of Jesus Christ to walk according to the Spirit, fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, even though it is not their focus. If the law said, "You shall not murder," and Jesus Christ said, "You shall not hate, because hatred leads to murder," we who obey Jesus Christ are fulfilling the righteous require ments of the law much better than those who simply go by the letter. And what were the righteous requirements of the law, but to "love the Lord with all your heart," and to “love your neighbor as yourself”? Jesus said that on those two commandments hang, the entire law and the prophets. Was Jesus bringing a new and different righteousness than that? No! He taught us how to truly fulfill the law of God by walking according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The law was weak through the flesh, Paul says. It lacked the power to transform hearts from carnal, fleshly pursuits to righteous, unselfish godliness. With Jesus the law does not begin and end with the physical act. It begins with the condi tions and desires of the heart that lead to the physical act.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be (Rom. 8:7).”
It is important to recognize that Paul talks about several different laws in Romans, especially chapters 7 & 8. We must not imagine that “law of Moses" could be interjected every time the phrase "law of God" is used. It is clear from the context here that when Paul says, “law of God,” in verse 7, he is not simply speaking of the law of Moses. In chapter 7:4-6: “Therefore, my bethren, you have also become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another - to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter."
What does Paul mean here when he says "die to the law"? “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law (Gal 4:21)?" What do you think about Galatians? Chapter 4 is a very clear picture of the end of the Mosaic law (the bondwoman) and the beginning of the law of Christ (the freewornan). Chapter 5 makes it clear also that attempting
to be justified according to the law estranges us from Christ and shows that we have fallen from grace. If we would fulfill the law, Paul says, it “is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shalt love your neigh bor as yourself (v. 14).'" ..."But if you are led by the spirit, you are
not under the law (v. 18)." Not under the law? What law? Surely we are still to love our neighbor as ourself [sic]? Yes, we are still under the law of God, but we live according to the Spirit, as revealed to us through Jesus Christ, and not according to the flesh, as laid out in the law of Moses. When Paul says that the law is obselete [sic], he must he saying "the entire Mosaic legal system,” not the divine principles of God from which that legal system sprang. Hairsplitting? Perhaps, but I guess hairs must be split sometimes. The point is, we no longer need the Mosaic legal system to tell us what it means to love our neighbor. Christ does this, and our complete allegiance is to Him. Now He tells us how to love our neighbor, and He is not speaking contrary to God's moral precepts. He is simply bringing us closer to them.
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (6:2)."
I cannot understand how you could believe that Jesus brought no new light on the law of God than that which had already been delivered by the prophets. To me, the evidence is overwhelming! Jesus Christ delivered to us the words of life, unveiled for us the beauty and majesty of the law of God and His words outshine by far the words of Moses!
Remember the time when Jesus was on a mountain with His disciples, and was transfigured, shining white before them? At that time, Moses and Eli jah appeared with Him, and they were talking with Him. Suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well please. Hear Him." When the disciples regained their senses after this, they were alone with Jesus. What does this passage say to you? To me, the meaning is crystal clear. Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the Prophets, faded away, leaving only Jesus Christ, Then we have the clear, audible voice of the Father, telling us to hear His beloved Son. "Hear Him!" He said. He didn't just say, "Believe in Him," This means that Jesus was to teach us something beyond what the Law and the Prophets taught us.
John 6:32 Then Jesus' said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
v. 45 "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God,’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” I should have quoted this verse when talking about Malachi. It was important for Malachi to turn the people back to the law of Moses, so they could learn from the Father. Thus, when the time was ripe and the Messiah appeared, they would be ready to turn to Him
v. 63 'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
v. 68 But Simon Peter asked Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Revelation 19:11-16 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written which no one knew except Him self. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
What more could be said? I'm sure a lot, but I need to quit for this time. You asked if I have read the entire Old Testament. I have, several times. But I am still not as familiar with the word of God as I wish I was. If the Lord continues to give me life, I wish to learn more. But most of all, I wish to become more and more intimately acquainted with the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.
If you wish to send a reply to PLAIN THINGS about the article, you are welcome. Or if you just wish to respond informally to me, that's okay well.
In His Name, J_______________
Comments from readers:
-- "Brrroooooother...............just, bless your heart.Honestly...These people must have to try very hard to be this Biblically inept. This kind of irrationality can't possible come naturally.