Shaking Things Up: Hebrews 12:26-29

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another Hebrews puzzler for you! In our study we have finally made it to ch. 12, and I am contemplating possible readings of 12:26-29, where the author exposits Haggai 2:6 re. the “shaking” of the earth and the heavens. In his 2010 commentary Peter O’Brien sums up the general consensus on this passage when he writes in a footnote:

The shaking that God will do ‘once more’ is usually taken to mean that the whole universe will be shaken to pieces and the only things to survive will be those that are unshakeable. It is understood as the eschatological judgment to be visited upon the earth at the end of the age, when the material universe will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 21:1). At that point only the kingdom of God will remain, the kingdoms of this world having been utterly destroyed (Guthrie, 422). (O’Brien, p.495n.262)

This eschatological reading seems largely to be based on the phrase “ὡς πεποιημένων,” usually translated “that is, created things.” But John Owen points out (in an appendix of Calvin’s commentary) that this could also be read as “things that are completed, accomplished, finished,” allowing us to read as the object of “shaking” the Old Covenant, or the Jewish religion, instead.

I am wondering whether there is any legitimacy to the suggestion that the author has in mind here NOT the final eschatological transformation to new heavens and new earth, still pending; but rather the completed, accomplished, finished “shaking” of heaven and earth that occurred when Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant, new kingdom, new world order by the sprinkling of His blood (cf. Heb. 12:22-24). This event would still have been future in relation to Haggai’s time, but (in contrast to the eschatological reading) would have already been accomplished by the time Hebrews was written.

Although I have not encountered it in my resources outside of Owen, I find this possible reading compelling in light of the stress in this epistle on the dramatic and decisive change from Old Covenant to New; and it is also in keeping with the author’s assertion in v.28 that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” indicating that this unshakeable kingdom is already an accomplished state of affairs.

What do you think? Does this passage give us information about a future event involving the material universe, or is it conveying the earth-and-heaven-shattering nature of the already-accomplished work of Christ?

Thanks in advance for your perspective!

Why the Two-Readings View of the Old Testament is Wrong

The two-readings view (hereafter TRV) says that we should first read the Old Testament as though the New Testament did not exist, and as though Christ had not come. The reasoning typically runs along the lines of seeking to ensure that we understand the text in its original literary and historical context. How would this have sounded to the original audience? What impact would it have had? Now, there are certainly important points here which we cannot afford to ignore. We need to know context, literary and historical. The Old Testament writings were written at a particular time and place, and there is a good reason for why those writings were written just then. It is good to seek answers to those questions. At this point, I might add a gentle reminder to TRV folks that opposing views do not necessarily ignore the context. That is not primarily where our disagreements lie (although how much weight we give to ANE materials in determining the nature of Scripture is certainly an issue of disagreement. On this I will only say that there is a difference between using ANE materials to understand how a text would have sounded to an original reader versus using the ANE materials to determine what Scripture actually is). It is not primarily the context of the OT that is under dispute (with the caveat just mentioned) but rather the intention of the OT that is under dispute. As Rich Barcellos helpfully put it to me, does the Christological reading of the OT predate the NT or not?

The second reading of the TRV is what we do after we re-factor Jesus and the New Testament into the equation, usually as a surprise ending. The apostolic hermeneutic is often likened (in the TRV) to rabbinical methods of interpretation (key-word exegesis, etc.). Oftentimes, the meaning that the NT writers see in the OT has little or nothing to do with what the OT itself actually says in its original context. There is often (not always!) a radical break between the meaning of the OT in its own context and the meaning that the NT authors assign to the OT text.

The problem with the TRV comes in the area of what the Old Testament actually intends. On a TRV, it is possible for a New Testament author to twist the meaning of the OT into something it was never originally intended to say. Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an excellent example. We may ask the question this way: is Matthew’s use of Hosea a legitimate way of understanding what Hosea intended to say? Or, better yet, what God intended to say through Hosea? The standard Vossian way of interpreting Matthew’s use of Hosea is simply to note that Matthew everywhere describes Jesus as reliving Israel’s story, but in a righteous way (thus contrasting with Israel). Matthew treats Israel as not only typologically pointing to Jesus, but also as being embodied (in a faithful way) in Jesus. So, when Matthew looks at Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son,” in the original context plainly speaking about God calling Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus), he sees Hosea not only talking about the old Exodus, but also talking about the new Exodus that Jesus brought into being by embodying faithful Israel. It is what he understands Hosea to be saying. The TRV would say that Matthew’s interpretation has nothing to do with what Hosea meant (and notice here how divine authorship fades very quickly from view here).

The deeper problem with the TRV lies in the character of God. If God has written the Bible, then God has changed His message from the OT times to the NT times. That means that God changes His mind and is open to the future. The TRV cannot avoid an ultimately open theistic view of God’s character. They would probably respond that it’s okay that God does this because the changeability resides in the humanness of Scripture. This is just God using the messiness of humanity to communicate to humans. This is a smokescreen, unfortunately. God inspired humans to write the Bible in such a way that there are no errors in recording God’s words. Yes, humans are fallen and sinful. That does not mean that they distorted God’s message in any way. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. For the TRV to be correct, the message had to have been garbled in transmission. Yes, we see humanness in the Bible. Paul does not sound like John. We can tell the difference. God used the personalities of each writer. But He did so in such a way that there are no garbled transmissions. In short, the TRV is ultimately incompatible with our doctrine of inspiration, and it is incompatible with our doctrine of God.

More on the Enns/Green Controversy

I was directed by a friend to read Tremper Longman’s thoughts on the WTS situation, and the comments on his posts by various people, and my jaw just about hit the floor. There are an awful lot of people over there writing as if they know the entire situation, when all they have is one side of the story. Anger can be righteous, that is true (though I think it misplaced in this case). However, I wonder how many of those people, before they got all fired up over Green and Fantuzzo (both of whom I consider friends, by the way), actually bothered to see if there was going to be another side to the story published. Have they kept in mind also that the board may not be at liberty to discuss things done in executive session? Are there mitigating factors here of which they may not be aware? In these situations, it is quite often the case that there are details which would change the complexion of the picture entirely in the public eye, but which may never come to light for various reasons, maybe none of which are nefarious! There’s a lot of “shoot first, ask questions later” going on here. There’s also loads of assumptions and motive-reading present as well. They want a less heavy-handed approach to be extended to Green and Fantuzzo, but they are not willing to extend any courtesy or charity to those people they believe are being heavy-handed. Anyone for the Golden Rule, folks?

As to the theological picture, it seems that in the minds of many people on those threads, Jesus was wrong when He said that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). Certainly, those of Jewish extraction are not going to agree with Jesus at this point. Whom should we believe? It would be easy (through Holocaust guilt, maybe, or through other motives) to introduce man-fear into the picture here. I’m against anti-Semitism, don’t get me wrong. It is wrong to hate Jews. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them about the Old Testament! Is the Old Testament about Jesus or isn’t it? John 5 and Luke 24 say yes. The two-readings view says no and yes. And no, I am not flattening out the Old Testament at this point. There is a development and an unfolding. There are even some surprises. I’m okay saying that. But Jesus is still correct in John 5 and Luke 24 in saying that the Old Testament is about Him. The New Testament does not advocate a two-readings view, and Jesus never gave us any evidence that He did this. In all the instances in the New Testament where Jesus relates to the Old Testament, He makes a beeline straight to Himself. The Isaiah passage that Jesus reads in the synagogue is a good example. He doesn’t say, “Let’s do a first reading of this to make sure that the original context has nothing to do with me so that you can be really surprised when I read it the second time as being about Me!” He says flat out that He fulfilled that passage that day. He is saying that it was about Him all along. He doesn’t mention any other fulfillments.

I don’t see the apostles doing two readings of the Old Testament. I see the apostles saying that the Old Testament is about Jesus. They apply Old Testament language to Jesus and to the church as Christ’s body. I would challenge the two readings people to find one place in the entire New Testament where these two readings occur; one place where the apostles imply or say that the Old Testament wasn’t really about Jesus at all, but now that Jesus is here, we have to change the meaning of the Old Testament retroactively in order to make it fit. I just don’t see it.

Great Quotation on God’s Word

I was reading Douglas Kelly’s commentary on Revelation, and came across this wonderful quotation on God’s Word:

One old country preacher in North Carolina once said that the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, is the only sword that you can stick into a dead man, and he becomes a living man (p. 28).

A King James Only Debate

I just watched this whole debate this morning, and found it very interesting and informative (from both sides). I just wanted to comment on some things I saw there. For full disclosure, I am not a King James only advocate, although I greatly respect the KJV, and use it rather often.

First, I think that James White had the better arguments. He had answers for Moorman’s queries, and had several things that Moorman could not answer, the Revelation passage in particular. Why Moorman would not admit that the KJV should be revised on that verse when no Greek manuscript whatsoever reads the way the KJV does is beyond me. The KJV at that point doesn’t even agree with the TR (Textus Receptus) or the MT (Majority Text)!

There are some weak arguments on both sides that I want to point out. First, the argument from vocabulary against the KJV is weak, in my opinion. The KJV is not that hard to figure out. We have dictionaries to help with the odd words. Not to mention that there are words in most modern versions that we will have to explain anyway: words like “propitiation,” “expiation,” “sanctification,” “justification,” “baptism.” These are not words (even the last one!) that regular people use in conversation. On the other hand, the point that White made about style is very important. The New Testament was written in the common spoken language of the day. It wasn’t slang, but it wasn’t high style either. If KJV advocates argue that we ought to keep using the KJV because of the majesty of its style, this is mere sentimentality, and an attempt to improve on God’s Word.

Moorman’s argument about “coherence” was incredibly weak. I have read most of the NT in Greek now. It is coherent in the critical text. When we start arguing that theological doctrines are clearer in one text than in another, we are on very dangerous ground. Here’s why: it is very easy to understand why a scribe would add something to strengthen a doctrinal testimony. It is very difficult to understand why someone would take away a doctrinal testimony, unless one subscribes to conspiracy theories, which are notoriously hard to prove.

White is correct that pejorative words like “take away” or “delete” assumes that which must be proven. In a given variant which has to do with words being present or absent, there can be no prior judgment rendered on whether the words were originally there and later deleted, or were originally absent and later added. So Moorman’s statement about the critical text having fewer words than the TR doesn’t prove anything. Maybe the TR added something that was not originally there. One cannot make broadbrush comments about these things either. Each textual variant has its own ins and outs and must be decided on its own merits. By saying that the CT has fewer words, Moorman was assuming already the standard of the TR which was the very thing under discussion. It was circular, in other words.

Also, Moorman kept on hinting that the majority of manuscripts should rule. He never came out and said it, but he always emphasized the difference in number between the vast majority, which support the TR, versus the 50 which support the CT. In particular, Moorman emphasized that the CT was based almost exclusively on Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. This may have been true in the days of Westcott and Hort, but it is not true today. There are plenty of places where Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other, and where the CT does not follow one or the other, or both. We have a lot more papyri than Westcott and Hort did, and so we have a larger basis for an early text.

White made a good point about the age of the texts: before the end of the first millenium, the majority text was Alexandrian in text type. Moorman trotted out the old canard about the provenance of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which White promptly kaboshed by noting the Arian heresy prominent in the Byzantine area, which was refuted by an Alexandrian by the name of Athanasius. Provenance does not govern the value of a manuscript. This would be the poisoned well argument, which is a logical fallacy.

To Moorman’s credit, he was not frothing at the mouth at modern versions, claiming that they were all Satanic, like some cultists do. The book linked is full of more factual errors per page than any other terrible book I have ever had the affliction to read. It once took me 15 pages to document the factual errors of quotation that Riplinger made in just 15 pages of her text. Moorman is quite a cut above that riffraff. He even admitted that major doctrines were intact in modern versions, even if he accused modern versions of running on fewer engines. The latter criticism, by the way, is the argument of the beard, another logical fallacy. It runs like this: how many hairs does it take to make a beard? If one defines a beard as 1000 hairs, then you immediately run into problems if someone says, “Isn’t 999 hairs a beard?” The problem is in the definition. For many KJV advocates who argue this way (which is not all of them), a doctrine is fully proved by 1,000 mentions of it in Scripture. And if the CT only mentions it 900 times, then it has weakened the testimony of that doctrine. Folks, this is not how we define our doctrine, and it is not how we speak of a doctrine as being proven from Scripture. White actually brought up a few Scriptures where the deity of the Son is actually more strongly supported in the modern versions than in the KJV (courtesy of Granville Sharp’s rule!).

Ultimately, there are many versions of the Bible that can be said to be God’s Word. If someone wants to use the KJV, go to it, I say. A person has God’s Word if they use the KJV. But so does someone who uses the ESV. Please don’t disenfranchise those of us who want to use the ESV, NASB, or even (shocker!) NKJV. Are there too many English translations out there? Absolutely. Let’s try giving some people of the world a translation of their own, instead of creating yet another niche English translation for the benefit of a publishing house’s royalty problems (as was pointed out very well in the debate).

Some Thoughts on General Assembly

These thoughts are not in any particular order. But I did want to address some of the issues, and try to explain them in such a way that the average ruling elder in particular would be able to understand and follow the important things that are going on.

First up is the evening of confessional concern and prayer being held on Monday night. One thing I had not noticed about it the first time I read it was that it is an RSVP event. So please remember that and RSVP if you are planning to attend. The second thing I want to say about this (a thing which isn’t entirely clear in the Aquila Report) is that this evening of confessional concern and prayer is a shot across the bow of “wake-up call” for the PCA. EDIT: I have changed this language at the request of people I respect, as it is liable to misunderstanding: what I mean by it is simply that we are concerned about the direction the denomination is going, and we are going public with that concern. This is not merely a discussion of the major issues facing the denomination at the General Assembly. This is a group of people who are seriously concerned about the direction the PCA is headed. This is the beginning of action being taken about that direction. CWAGA folk (“Can’t We All Get Along?”) and liberal progressives take note. Now, this might not be the intention of everyone who will be there, or even everyone who will be presenting. I cannot speak for them. However, the design and original intention of this meeting is as I have outlined.

The second issue I want to talk about is the Insider Movement report. The Insider Movement (IM) is a missiological trend whereby people are being encouraged to identify themselves as both Christian and Muslim. Closely associated with this is a trend in Bible translation that removes references to the sonship of Jesus to the Father in favor of other terms like “Messiah” or “highly favored one.” The intended or unintended (not to prejudge!) consequence of this action is seriously to jeopardize the Scripture’s witness to the eternal sonship of Jesus to the Father. The report exposes these errors. This is not a peripheral issue of doctrine, but one that is absolutely central to the Christian faith, as the doctrine is present in every single creed in Christendom that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the eternal Father. If Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, then He cannot bear the infinite guilt of our sins on His shoulders. Why did this trend get started, you might ask? The alleged reason, according to the report, is that translators were discovering that Muslim people tend to think of biological sex being involved when they hear the phrase “Son of God.” They find that offensive, and so the move to eliminate references to Jesus’ sonship in the Bible.

The third issue is the request by Philadelphia Presbytery to have a study committee report on women’s ordination. Now, the request is specific. It is asking about whether a person can believe in women’s ordination if he is not willing to practice it in order to conform to our BCO. I should note that one of the “whereas’s” reads as follows: “Whereas, our constitution does not clearly delineate or define ‘the general principles of biblical polity or their relation to male only eldership.” I had to scratch my head on that one. I thought our BCO clearly said that the offices of elder and deacon are open to men only. The BCO is part of our constitution. So I’m not quite sure how they came up with this statement, which seems on the face of it to be completely false. To be perfectly blunt about this, if we open this question we are denying everything the PCA has stood for since its inception. This denomination was founded in part because of liberalism on women’s issues (the other major piece being the doctrine of Scripture itself; the two are intimately related, of course, because of how one has to twist and distort 1 Timothy 2 or deny its authority in order to achieve women’s ordination). So, if we open the question of women’s ordination, then we also need to open the question of Scripture’s authority, since the only way you can get women’s ordination is to deny that Scripture has the authority to prevent it.

The fourth issue I wish to talk about is theistic evolution, being brought up to the GA by means of Overture 32. There are some in the PCA who deny that theistic evolution is being taught by anyone in the PCA. I would say that such people have their head in the sand. According to a Christianity Today article, Tim Keller believes that it is the job of pastors to promote a narrative for Biologos:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Unofficially connected with Redeemer Church (as in, he has no official connection, but has done many Sunday School seminars and the like) is Dr. Ron Choong, a man who clearly espouses theistic evolution, and opines that no one at Redeemer has had any problems with his teaching.

Fifthly and lastly, there is the issue of the Standing Judicial Commission and the lack of oversight of that commission that currently exists. No doubt many will want to point out that the SJC is often dealing with cases that are extremely complex. No doubt that is true. However, no organization or group of people in the PCA should be without oversight and accountability. Reports of Presbytery commissions have to be approved. Therefore, what the SJC does needs to be approved or rejected by the body as a whole. This is true even if there is a difference between judicial commissions and other commissions.

Taking God at His Word

by Reed DePace

Others have said more and better about this new book from Kevin DeYoung, but I wanted to give it a brief plug as well.

Taking God at His Word

This is not a simplistic book, but it is simple. This is not a scholarly book, but it is studied. In short on this short book, this is one of the best books on the doctrine of Scripture available. Inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, perspicuity, authority and necessity, DeYoung covers all the essential components.

He does so in his relaxed apologetic style. He offers not simply an easy explanation of the Bible’s teaching on each of these topics. He does so with a gentle and persuasive expression of why we need these characteristics in the Bible.

I think everyone who cares to confront the resurging denial of the Bible as God’s own word needs to have multiple copies of this book on hand. This is not for their own reading necessarily (as most will care because they’ve already done some study on the doctrine of Scripture), but for giving out to others. This book is great for young converts and immature believers, for those who find a post-modern approach to life appealing or alarming, for those who never quite learned this subject, or who worry about some loved ones who appear to be jettisoning this essential subject to the ministry of the gospel.

Pick up a few copies and give them away. You will be glad you did.

by Reed DePace

Wise Words on Preaching

Timothy Ward concludes his wonderful book on Scripture with some wise words on preaching that I would like to share with folks.

Firstly, he notices that some pastors are so afraid of seeming too arrogant, authoritarian, or tyrannical in the pulpit that they seek to avoid any and all trappings of power in their sermons: “In sermons like these the preacher comes not proclaiming, declaring, exhorting and rebuking, but sharing, musing, reflecting and imagining” (157). He puts his finger directly on the problem with this: “The main problem with preaching in this ‘weak’ style is that it is not weak for any of the same reasons that the apostle Paul judged his own preaching to be weak” (157). His trenchant conclusion on this issue is very quotable indeed: “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent” (158).

Secondly, Ward establishes a very clear, strong and beautiful connection of the Holy Spirit to the Word in preaching: “[W]hat the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (emphasis original, 162). This should have a profound effect on the preacher himself: “The preacher should have grappled with the meaning of the text in his preparation, desiring the Spirit-given purpose of the biblical text to become real in in his own life. He should enter the pulpit as someone who has been chastened by the Spirit, or given new hope, or set out on a new course of action, or renounced a kind of behaviour, or had love rekindled in his heart, that is, responding faithfully to the speech act conveyed by the Scripture on which he is preaching” (164).

Thirdly, Ward connects the private reading of Scripture to the public preaching in an interesting and helpful way: “the healthiest way to relate the two is to think of the individual reading of Scripture as derivative of, and dependent on, the corporate reading and proclamation of Scripture in the Christian assembly” (171). What he means by that is that “good preaching exercises something of a ‘credal’ function in the local church” (172). It helps the people read their Bibles better.

Fourthly and lastly, Ward gives us a good argument for turning to commentaries a bit sooner in our preparation of sermons. This statement is worth quoting in full. Notice how balanced it is, with appropriate qualifications and limitations set on it:

There is certainly merit in not simply turning to learned books to find ‘the answer’, as a lazy short-cut to avoid wrestling with Scripture for myself. Yet increasingly, when reading Scripture, I find myself wanting to turn to a good Bible commentary sooner rather than later. My reason is this: a good commentary will give me an insight into the consensus view on the meaning of each passage held by the generations of believers who have come before me. Working within that framework seems to be a sensible, humble and faithful place to start. For most Christians, who lack the time, resources and perhaps also the inclination to do the research themselves, good preaching will be a crucial means by which that historic consensus on Scripture’s meaning is conveyed to individual believers. For that, of course, the preacher needs to be, as he should be, well educated in biblical, historical and systematic theology. (paragraph break, LK) Nothing that I have just said denies outright that God can cause new light to break out from Scripture, enabling us to see truths in it that our forebears did not” (173-174).

Hebrews 10 and the LXX

(Posted by Paige)

So, who is up on recent developments in manuscript studies of the LXX?

I encountered an intriguing difference as I read through Hebrews commentaries in chronological order, focusing on the use of Ps. 40:6-8 in Heb. 10:5-7, specifically the line, “But a body you have prepared for me.” This rendering of Ps. 40:6 differs from what our MT-based OT says, whether “But ears you have pierced for me” (NIV) or “But you have given me an open ear” (ESV), each a paraphrase of the literal Hebrew “But ears you have dug for me.” Sure enough, when I checked my copy of the Septuagint, I found that it matches with what is written in Hebrews 10:5, “But a body you have prepared for me.”

Now, commentators from Calvin through F. F. Bruce (1990) and Peter O’Brien (2010) have been concerned to harmonize the difference between the MT and the LXX in some way, explaining the diversity by way of paraphrase. Ears, after all, are body parts; ears being “dug” certainly suggests listening or paying attention, but it could also refer to the formation of the ears in the first place – so, “Body parts you have created (or prepared) for me.” One more step gets to, “A body you have prepared for me,” which became the version happily appropriated by the author to the Hebrews, who wanted to present the obedient, bodily sacrifice of Christ as superior to all the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

And maybe it happened just so. But in Beale & Carson’s splendid tome on the NT’s use of the OT (Baker Academic, 2007), I encountered a different explanation, offered by George Guthrie in his chapter on Hebrews. On the textual background of Heb. 10:5-7 (Ps. 40:6-8) Guthrie writes:

“In 10:5c we find sōma (“body”) rather than the LXX’s ōtia (“ears” [also in LXX La(G) Ga]). Although it is true that LXX B S A have sōma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.” (p.977)

In other words, according to this explanation the variation originated with the author of Hebrews, NOT the LXX, and was subsequently absorbed into later copies of the LXX.

Is anyone aware of which of the above explanations is current scholarly consensus? Do you find Guthrie’s suggestion compelling, based on the dates of the different LXX manuscripts, or are you satisfied with the harmonization approach?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.

Matthew 5:17-20, the Smoking Gun of the HRM?

There is no doubt of the importance of Matthew 5:17-20 in any discussion related to the law and its place in the Christian life. Indeed, there are few passages more important. However, what often happens is that this passage is simply quoted rather than explained. Sometimes, it seems to be treated as a smoking gun, as if people who do not agree with the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) have never read this passage before. The fact of the matter is that this passage is a minefield of difficulties, and is hardly as straightforward as the HRM seems to assume by simply throwing it at their adversaries (as has happened to me many times on this blog). The HRM folk have quoted this to me and then asked the double question, “Why do you hate the Torah so much?” Of course, this question makes a rather whopping assumption: that I do in fact hate the Torah, which is false. I love the law, since it is a reflection of who God is, and it teaches me about God, and because the essence of the law is love for God and love for neighbor. A couple of other preliminary questions need to be dealt with before we can address the exegesis of the passage itself.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the big picture of the Old Testament. What is the point of the Old Testament? According to John 5 and Luke 24, Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. Jesus flat out says in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him. What is so fascinating about that claim is Moses never directly talks about Jesus. The name of Jesus is not mentioned except by way of typology in Joshua’s name. And yet Moses wrote about Jesus. That was the content of Moses’ writings. All of Moses’ writings had a direction arrow saying “This way to Jesus.” As we will see from an exposition of Matthew 5:17-20, this includes the law. The law is not ahistorical, timeless and changeless, but has a telos, a goal. The law points forward to Jesus. It is sometimes objected at this point that the character of God forbids any change in the law. This does not follow. God created everything there is. Everything that God created reflects the glory of God in one way or another, and yet it changes, because it is created. Now, God’s character does not change. But time and people on earth do change, and the way God relates to His people does change in some ways over time. The law can therefore change. Hebrews says this explicitly: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.” The text is Hebrews 7:12, which in context is contrasting the order of Aaron and the order of Melchizedek, portraying Jesus as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. The implication is that when Jesus comes as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, there is a change of the law to match the change of priesthood. The word for “change” is “metathesis” which means an alteration from one state into another, or a transformation. So, that thing which the HRM says never happens to the law (i.e., change), Hebrews expressly and explicitly states does happen to the law. Verse 18 confirms this interpretation by stating that a former commandment is in fact annulled. The reason it was annulled is because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing) as verse 19 states. This does not mean that the law is bad, of course. It just means that the law cannot perfect people, and that when people think the law can do that, they quickly find that it is weak and unprofitable. The law needs to be used for its proper uses, and not for something it cannot do. The whole issue here in Hebrews 7 is the change of priesthood from Aaronide priesthood to Melchizedekian priesthood. There had to be a change in the law, since the law stated that a priest had to come from the tribe of Levi (this is the point of verses 13-14). This verse (as well as John 5 and Luke 24) has a great impact when we come to Matthew 5.

A second issue is the clarity of Scripture. HRM advocates often quote Scripture as if all Scripture were perfectly clear, and all that is needed is to quote it rather than discuss its meaning. The Reformed church has always believed that everything necessary for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture in one place or another. But the Reformed church has never believed that because of the clarity of salvation issues, that therefore all Scripture is equally clear. This is proven conclusively by 2 Peter 3:15-16. The irony in those verses is clear. They clearly teach that not all Scripture is clear. Given the interpretive issues that have come up in the exegesis of Matthew 5:17-20, I would say that Jesus’ meaning in those verses is not initially clear, and must be carefully treated in context.

Matthew 5:17-20 seems to be directed against a possible misunderstanding of what Jesus is going to teach. What Jesus teaches about the law could give rise to a misinterpretation of His words that results in Jesus rejecting the law. The issue is not rejection, but fulfillment.

The form of verse 17 has the exact same form as Matthew 10:34 right down to verbal parallels, which are precisely the same. The form is this: “Do not suppose that I came in order to do X. I did not come in order to do X, but rather Y.” This raises the question of whether Matthew 5:17 is absolute or not (this point is raised by Carson in his commentary). No one would suppose that Jesus did not come into this world to bring peace of any kind. Of course He brought certain kinds of peace (most notably peace between God and man: otherwise, Luke 2:14 is meaningless!). Certain other kinds of peace He did not come to bring (such as peace between Christians and non-Christians). These kinds of statements need to be interpreted in their proper context. So, it is at least possible that what Jesus said in Matthew 5 does not have reference to all forms of abrogation. In this regard, Carson is extremely helpful: “The antithesis is not between ‘abolish’ and ‘keep’ but between ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.'”

In fact, the meaning of the entire text hinges on the meaning of “fulfill” (Greek “pleroo”). Whatever the word means, it has to mean more than simply “do.” The reason for this is the inclusion of the prophets in Jesus’ purview. It is highly unlikely, incidentally, that the word “pleroo” reflects the Aramaic word “qum,” (which means “establish, validate, or confirm”) since the LXX never uses “pleroo” to translate that word “qum.” The LXX uses the words “histemi” or “bebaioo” to translate “qum.” The verb “pleroo” translates the Hebrew word “male'”. The meaning of the word in this context is therefore almost certainly “fulfill,” and not “establish.” However, even that word “fulfill” can have more than one meaning. Whatever meaning is correct must be able to account for the law and the prophets being in the text. This is where John 5 and Luke 24 help us out. Jesus is saying in those two passages that the entire Old Testament has a direction arrow pointing straight to Him.

An assumption that is gratuitous in the HRM is that change equals annulment. This is certainly not obvious. If a law changes in its application because of some great eschatological change, such as the coming of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that does not mean it is annulled.

This understanding of verse 17 allows verse 18 to have its full force without any equivocation: not the smallest part of the law will pass away. And it hasn’t. The whole law, in its entirety, and in every part, is still there for us, helpfully teaching us about Jesus, helpfully pointing us to Him, and teaching us important spiritual principles that are always valid. The law has a prophetic function. The word “Torah” points in this direction, with its common meaning of “teaching.” Again, notice the difference between “pass away” and “change.” The text does NOT say that no change will ever occur in the way the law is applied. It says that nothing in the law will pass away. That is, nothing in the law will be erased from the law.

Verse 19 must be understood in the light of what has already been said. Verse 19 does not prejudge the question of whether any change has happened to the law. It does rule out a Marcionite rejection of the Old Testament law. The upshot of the passage is that there are aspects of continuity and discontinuity with regard to how the law of God applies after the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus will illustrate how that works in the rest of chapter 5. In some cases, that means drawing out the meaning of the law that was already there in the OT, but in certain other cases, it means a modification of the law in its application. An example of the former would be Jesus’ treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments in verses 21-30. The implications of those laws are already present in the Ten Commandments. Any one of the Ten Commandments commands all the lesser virtues of the same kind, and forbids all sins of the same kind. However, examples of modification include the teaching on divorce, the teaching on oaths, and the teaching on the eye for an eye. Jesus offers serious qualifications to the law that were not present in the original setting. These modifications are based on Jesus’ own authority as the law-giver (see 7:28-29). He is the new Moses, giving an authoritative interpretation and modification of the law on the new Mount Sinai. Whatever is new in Jesus’ teaching has to do with what time it is: time for fulfillment, and the kingdom promised in Jeremiah 31.

This passage is fraught with difficulties. The meanings of the words “annul,” “fulfill,” “pass away,” and “accomplished” all have an impact on the meaning of the passage. Furthermore, the interpretation we wind up with must match the rest of Scripture, such as Matthew 10, John 5, Luke 24, and Hebrews 7. Any interpretation of Matthew 5 that states that there is no change that ever happens to the law will bring it into direct contradiction with other passages of Scripture.

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