On the Contrast between the Promise and the Law

posted by R. Fowler White

As a complement to the three recent posts on the Hebrew Roots Movement (here, here, and here), consider the following synopsis of Paul’s argument in Gal 3:1–5:1, where he expounds the contrast between the Promise and the Law, between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant. Put differently, in those chapters, the Apostle makes an inter-covenantal argument in which he contrasts Christ and the Law.

We might begin by asking, Why would Paul stress the Promise/Law contrast to the Galatian churches? I maintain that he does so because Paul’s opponents at Galatia (2:4) were teaching a heretical view of how to obtain justification and all the other eschatological blessings of Abraham. Specifically, contrary to the false brothers’ position, the Apostle insists that the Law is not the way to obtain those blessings, whether as an alternative to Christ (i.e., law-keeping without Christ) or as a supplement to Christ (i.e., law-keeping plus Christ). Christ is the only way, Christ alone is enough, to secure those blessings. To see how Paul’s argument unfolds, we will break it down section by section.

The “follies” at Galatia (Gal 3:1-9). The issue that Paul’s opponents had created in the Galatian churches can be reconstructed from several places in the letter. We’ll take as an example 3:1-9. There, Paul expresses his astonishment at the foolish Galatians. He lays bare their foolishness by highlighting the contrast between the way they had begun their Christian lives (3:3b) and the way they were now finishing their Christian lives (3:3c). They were at least seriously considering a way other than the one with which they had started (cf. you who want [or desire] to be under the Law, 4:21). The Galatians had begun their new lives under God’s promised blessing: it was by hearing with faith that He had provided them the Spirit and had worked miracles among them (3:2, 3, 5)! Misled by Paul’s opponents, however, the Galatians were, apparently, submitting to doing the works of the Law (3:3) and, as he will add later, to circumcision (5:2-3). The result of these choices was that they are now finishing under God’s threatened curse (3:10; 5:4; cf. Rom 2:25)! Evidently, the false brothers were luring the Galatians, if they had not already duped them, with a false gospel, a gospel different from that of the Apostle (1:6). So, Paul is required to refute that false gospel, and he does so by arguing both for and from the true gospel of Christ. To rebut the “follies” at Galatia, he takes the Galatians through the history of the Promise and the Law. From that history, he reminds them of several pertinent facts.

Redemptive history lesson #1: Before the Law came in (Gal 3:6-9). First, as summarized in 3:6-9, Paul shows the Galatians that, even before the Law came in, the way to obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham—including justification (3:6, 8)—had not been by doing the works of the Law, but by hearing with faith. In fact, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was contrary to the way in which God had credited righteousness to Abraham himself (3:6). Clearly, before the Law had been enacted, it had been by faith that God had justified Abraham. In addition, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was also contrary to the way in which God had previously determined to credit those blessings to all among the nations who would be Abraham’s true heirs (3:7-9). Therefore, even before the Law came in, doing the works of the Law had not been the way to get the eschatological blessings that Abraham received.

Redemptive history lesson #2: What the Law itself testified (Gal 3:10-14). Second, Paul goes on to explain in 3:10-14 that the Law itself makes it abundantly clear that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain eschatological blessings. The Law spells out this truth in its declarations about those who break it (3:10b): it curses each lawbreaker (3:10; cf. 3:13) and justifies no lawbreaker (3:11a; 2:16). In fact, the Law testifies that the curse of death falls on all who fail to keep it, while the blessing of life belongs only to him who does keep it (3:12b; cf. Rom 10:5). Consequently, the Law itself shows that its violators have no hope of justification, life, or any other eschatological blessings by their own doing of the works of the Law. Their only hope is by hearing with faith (3:11b), faith in the one Seed of Abraham who would be justified by the Law and would become a curse to redeem all under the Law who believe (3:13), even Christ. By so much, the Law establishes that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham.

Redemptive history lesson #3: After the Law was enacted (Gal 3:15-18). Third, going back in 3:15-18 to the Law’s enactment after the Promise, Paul insists that the Law neither annulled nor amended the Promise. Specifically, the Law’s introduction did nothing to change the means of securing Abraham’s eschatological blessings from faith to law-keeping. In addition, the parties to the Promise remained the same: Abraham and his seed, Christ—that is, Christ and those of faith blessed in Him (3:16, 29). Thus, even after the Law was enacted, the means of obtaining eschatological blessings was, as it always had been, by faith, not by law-keeping.

Redemptive history lesson #4: Why the Law then? (Gal 3:19-22). Fourth, if history shows that those of the Law have never been heirs of Abraham’s eschatological blessings, then the question arises, Why did God enact the Law (3:19-22)? According to Paul, God put it in place for a purpose different from that of the Promise (3:19b, 22), for a duration different from that of the Promise (3:19c), and by a procedure different from that of the Promise (3:19d-21).

The Law’s purpose (Gal 3:19b, 22). As for its purpose, the Law was added to deal with transgressions as breaches that, if not handled properly, would jeopardize the fulfillment of the Promise, whether the transgressors were Gentiles from outside or Jews from inside (3:19b; cf. 2:18). Moreover, the Law was added to keep transgressors under its yoke and in its custody so that the Promise by faith in Christ might be given to those transgressors who believe (3:22). The Law, then, was not introduced as the way to obtain Abraham’s eschatological blessings, but as the way to handle transgressors, subjecting them to its temporary probationary custody and pedagogy.

The Law’s duration (Gal 3:19c). Regarding its duration, unlike the Promise, the Law was revocable and thus temporary in that it was in effect only until the Seed for whom the Promise was reserved should come (3:19c; 4:4). That Seed having arrived, the Law’s probationary tenure came to its proper end; by contrast, the Promise, being irrevocable, is alone in operation to convey eschatological blessings.

The Law’s ratification (Gal 3:19d-21). With respect to its ratification procedure, the Law was enacted through angels by a mediator, whereas the Promise was enacted by God alone (3:20). That is, the Promise was guaranteed with an oath by God who therein revealed Himself to be the Divine Surety of the Promise for Abraham and his heirs (Gen 15:7-17). That oath was, moreover, progressively revealed to be that of God the Father to God the Son, the Surety proper (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:20-22). Therefore, it is God alone, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (4:4-6), who is able to dispense the eschatological blessings of the Promise. The Law’s mediator, not being a party to the intratrinitarian pact, was not then and is not now able to dispense those blessings.

Redemptive history lesson #5: It is written. Lastly, as a kind of coup de grâce, Paul challenges the Galatians in 4:21–5:1 to hear once more what the Law itself says. He reminds them that it is written that Abraham had two sons by two different women (4:22). Both sons were circumcised, but only one was named Abraham’s heir. How was it that that one son was his heir? It was not according to circumcision or the Law, but according to the Promise. Ishmael, the disinherited son, was begotten of Abraham’s confidence in the flesh; Isaac, the heir, was begotten of his confidence in the Spirit. The mother of Ishmael was identified with the Law, the covenant that bears children into slavery and is linked to Jerusalem below, an earthly city of slaves. The mother of Isaac was identified with the Promise, the covenant that bears children according to the Promise and is linked to Jerusalem above, the heavenly city of the free.

Paul’s overall point reduces to this: if the Galatians hear the Law rightly, they will learn who are Abraham’s heirs and who are not. More than that, they will know to throw out any pseudo-evangelists who require circumcision and law-keeping. They will do so because the Law itself, rightly read, clarifies who Abraham’s heirs are and also prescribes the rejection of their persecutors, particularly false teachers. The Law, then, was never put in place to dispense the eschatological blessings of Abraham, and so it has never been the way to obtain them. As it was at that time, so it is now (4:29-31).

Hebrew Roots Movement, Part 3

The law of God is at the heart of the HRM and the debates surrounding it. The traditional understanding of God’s law is that there are three parts of the law and three uses of the law. Reformed understanding would also include three main principles for understanding the Ten Commandments (though I will not go through those principles in this post). As far as I can tell, the HRM rejects all or most of these distinctions.

The three parts of the law are the moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral law is the Ten Commandments. The civil laws are those laws given to Israel as a political entity for the Old Testament time. They were given to Israel for the time when they were in the land (Deuteronomy 5-6, note the recurring phrase “in the land”). They taught the Israelites about holiness, being distinct from the rest of the world. they included laws such as not sowing the land with two different kinds of seeds, or weaving cloth with two different kinds of thread. The dietary laws are also usually reckoned to be in this category. The ceremonial law is the sacrificial system, the worship laws, the feasts and festivals. Of course, there has always been some debate about whether a particular law belongs in one or the other of these three basic categories. However, the vast majority of the church has held to this distinction for most of its history.

The HRM believes the church invented this distinction without any biblical basis whatsoever. The HRM erases category distinctions between sets of laws, thus (at least potentially) putting the law of two different kinds of threads on the same footing as “Do not murder.” Jesus says, in Matthew 23:23 that there are weightier and less weighty matters of the law. Tithing mint and cumin is less weighty than justice and mercy. He says none of them should be neglected by the Pharisees, but the Pharisees lacked a sense of proportion. For a far larger and exegetical position defending the biblical position of the three parts of the law, see this excellent tome.

The three uses of the law are equally important in this discussion. The first use of the law, the pedagogical use, is outlined in Galatians 3:19ff. In this use, the law shows people how badly they fail to measure up to the law’s demands. What goes along with that is the equally important truth that the law shows us how perfectly Jesus Christ did measure up to the law’s demands. In this use, the gospel is set in contrast (not opposition) to the law. As Michael Horton would put it, the law says “Do this;” the gospel says “done.” Now, of course, there needs to be nuance applied to Horton’s statement, as he himself does. The nuance is quite adequately found in the other uses of the law.

The second use of the law is to restrain evil in the world, the civil use of the law. Romans 1-2 provide the foundation for this understanding of the law. The moral law is written on every person’s conscience. There is no particular need to dwell on this use of the law, as it probably would not be controversial among HRM proponents.

The third use of the law is as a guide to the Christian life. HRM proponents would probably agree partially. Reformed folk believe that the law is not to be obeyed to obtain or retain God’s saving favor. God’s fatherly pleasure is distinct, of course. Obeying the moral law is our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the salvation He has given us as a free gift. In the video linked in the last post, Anne Elliott says that she circumcised her boy on the eighth day. Apparently, she has not properly understood Galatians 5:1-6. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. If one accepts circumcision, then he is obligated to keep the entire law. This is the state of having fallen away from grace (towards works!). This is being severed from Christ. This is one of the main reasons I call the HRM heresy: it is the exact same heresy as Paul was fighting in the letter to Galatians. Next up, I will start exegeting individual texts that are at issue, grouping them around dietary laws, the feasts, circumcision, and show how the HRM twists Scripture to fit its grid, even while they accuse the church of doing so.

Born to Give Us Adoption as Sons

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

Reflecting as he does on the wonders of the eternal Son’s birth in Gal 4:4-5, the Apostle Paul tells us extraordinary things about Him, giving us answers to the question that William C. Dix posed in his carol, “What Child is This.” In previous posts on Gal 4:4-5, we’ve seen how Paul focuses on the providential timing, three circumstances, and the purpose of Christ’s birth. Yet there is one more aspect of His birth that the Apostle would have us contemplate. As Paul puts it, God sent out His Son so that we might receive adoption as sons. What are we to make of this last phrase? Here we learn the final—yes, predestined—outcome (Eph 1:5) of the Son’s coming. We need again to deepen our understanding of the Apostle’s words.

Turning directly to Paul’s term adoption, its ancient significance was not ordinarily parallel to adoption as we know it today. We usually think of adoption as a parent-child relationship formed confidentially between persons (usually adults and orphaned or abandoned children) who are not biologically related. In the context of Gal 3:23–4:7, however, adoption was a public act in which a male heir was received from his boyhood standing as a minor into his manhood standing as full-fledged son. Elaborating on that background in Gal 4:1-2, Paul reflects on the supervision to which a male heir was subject while he was an under-age boy. Until the heir qualified as a full-fledged adult son, he did not receive the inheritance promised to a son any more than a slave did. In the meantime, however, the heir had it better than a slave. After all, he was under the temporary yoke and care of guardians and managers who would direct and bind him to meet the qualifications set by his father for full sonship. Submitting himself to their yoke and care, that sonship would come to the heir in due course.

Paul’s readers would recognize those Greco-Roman customs to which the term adoption referred, but they would also notice that he applies that term to the redemptive history of Abraham’s descendants. The Apostle rehearses the scenario for old-covenant Israel under the law as their guardian-manager (paidagōgos, Gal 3:24; epitropos and oikonomos, Gal 4:3). In His covenantal dealings with them, the Lord had promised the adoption to them and in particular to their king (Rom 9:4; Exod 4:22; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14-16; Ps 2:7; 89:26-27). Through His law, He showed the nation and their king how they would move from a standing as under-age boys into a standing as full-fledged adult sons. To meet the qualifications for that sonship, the Lord directed and bound them by the character and conduct that pleased and displeased Him and by the alternative consequences that followed each: life, prosperity, and victory, on the one side; death, adversity, and defeat, on the other. The message was clear: the only descendant of Abraham to whom the inheritance of irrevocable life, prosperity, and victory was promised would be the man who satisfied the law’s demands. That man would be the true Israel and the true David, hence the full-fledged adult Son. Of course, the history of Israel and their kings bore witness that until such a man arrived, God’s law disqualified everyone else, and the consequence was that all others came under the law’s curse and forfeited full-fledged sonship and the inheritance that went with it (Gal 3:10-11). And this cursed standing applied to Gentiles too. As we said in our previous post, whether God’s law reaches Jews in special revelation (Rom 2:17–3:1) or Gentiles in natural revelation (Rom 2:12-16), it judges us all to be under sin (Rom 2:6-11; 3:9-18; Gal 2:16). Therefore, apart from adoption, we all, Jews and Gentiles alike, are sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2) and by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Even if we’re God’s offspring by creation (Acts 17:24-29), we’re all children disqualified and disinherited by God for our sin, and we all must find the true Israel, the true David, the true Son who satisfies the law’s demands.

While with the eyes of faith Israel could find that Son in the old-covenant promises, prophecies, ordinances, and types (“shadows”), the Apostle would have us know that, in the fullness of time, God’s own eternal Son was born as that man. That incarnate Son became the only descendant of Abraham, born under the law, to move from under-age boyhood into full-fledged Sonship. That incarnate Son had qualified to be publicly declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:4, NASB95; see also Acts 13:33; Phil 2:6-11; Heb 1:5; 5:5, 8-9). As such, that incarnate Son had qualified both to redeem the disqualified and disinherited and to be the surety for the adoption of all who would be co-heirs with Him.

What Child, then, is this in the manger? He is the eternal Son incarnate qualified to give us the adoption as sons. In and for Him, we, who by our sin were disqualified and disinherited by God in His justice, are now by His free grace through faith received into the number of His children, have His name put upon us, and have the Spirit of His Son given to us! We are provided for under His fatherly care, are welcomed to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, and are made heirs of all the promises and fellow heirs with Christ in glory![i] Let us then celebrate!

[i] See Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 74. For more on the doctrine of adoption, see John Murray, “Adoption,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume two: Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth, 1977), 223-34; and David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016). N.B. For those who may wonder, “the gender-specific sons speaks without an iota of prejudice against the ‘daughters’” (see David Garner, “Saved as Sons in the Son”).

Born under the Law, Born to Redeem

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

With the words born of woman in Gal 4:4, Paul had begun to reflect on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The next two phrases in Gal 4:4-5—born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law—bring into view not just another circumstance of His birth but also its purpose. Together both features point us again to the humiliation of God’s glorious eternal Son.

What does the Apostle mean by those words born under the law? Specifically, he means that the Son of the Father humbled Himself to be born a servant of the Lord His God (Phil 2:7). Born under Moses, the Son would live and learn obedience (Heb 5:8) under the educational rigors of the law. As a circumcised son of Abraham, the Son-born-servant would owe to His God and Father a perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. Every detail of His life and death was under the pedagogical direction of God’s law, from His circumcision eight days after His birth (Luke 2:21), to His last Passover on the night before His death (Luke 22:7-23), to His submission to His Father’s will (Luke 22:41-42; John 17) and His honoring of His mother in His death (John 19:26-27). As a servant of the Lord, He humbly submitted Himself to the law of His God to fulfill all righteousness, down to the smallest letter and the smallest stroke of a pen. Comprehensively speaking, God’s law demanded a righteous man, a man who kept the divine commandments, a man qualified to live with God and to be the surety for His people. The Son, says Paul, became just such a man. Indeed, it was with His qualifications in mind that the law in its multiple dimensions (moral, civil, liturgical) was put into effect, for their fulfillment was to be found in Him. No wonder the author of Hebrews can say, when Christ came into the world, He said, … “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book” (Heb 10:5, 7). What Child is this in the manger, then? He is the Son born under the law, born a servant of the Lord His God.

Continuing in Gal 4:4-5, Paul’s focus shifts from the circumstances of Jesus’ coming to its purpose. Christ Jesus, says the Apostle, is the Son born to redeem those who were under the law. We need to pay special attention to the meaning of these words. The Apostle has in mind the intent to rescue, release, deliver from slavery by the payment of a price. No doubt the events of Israel’s redemption from Egypt provide the backdrop here. The price paid for the nation’s deliverance was stunning: the death of the firstborn. Through Moses, Israel learned of God’s penal substitute for their firstborn, and thus Israel offered the Passover lamb and saw their redemption from slavery in Pharaoh’s kingdom to liberty under the Lord their God. By saying, however, that the Son, God’s Son, came to redeem, Paul tells us that the redemption He provides is greater than that of Moses. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was gospel, but only a shadow of the redemption fully revealed in Jesus Christ. It was He who humbled Himself to become both the true Israel (God’s firstborn son, Exod 4:22-23) and the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; John 1:29). It was He who poured Himself out in death as the surety for His people (Isa 53:12; Heb 2:10-13; Rev 5:6-9), who by His death brought about the true exodus from slavery in Satan’s kingdom of sin and death (Luke 9:31; Matt 1:21). So great was this exodus that it brought a benefit that the first exodus could not provide, namely, the forgiveness of sins, the sinner’s release from legal liability to endure the punishment that sin and its guilt required.

There is still more in the Apostle’s words in Gal 4:5. Paul goes on to describe those whom the Son redeems as those under the law. By that phrase Paul characterizes all whom the Son came to redeem. Whether God’s law reaches us by special revelation as Jews (Rom 2:17–3:1) or by general revelation as Gentiles (Rom 2:12-16), it shows no partiality in its judgment: God’s law judges all to be under sin (Rom 2:6-11; 3:9-18). It is in that light that the Apostle would bring good news of great joy to all of us sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike. He would announce to us that, commissioned by His Father, God’s Son was born a servant to bring sinners release and rescue from sin and death. He would proclaim to us that, in His life and death, the incarnate Son presented to His God and Father the obedience required by His law. He would preach to us that, on that basis, the Father applies the merits of His obedience to all sinners who believe; that, on that basis, the Son answers all accusations against His people and quiets their restless consciences; and that, on that basis, the Son qualifies sinners who believe to live with God, securing for them access to and acceptance before Him.

What Child is this, then, in that ancient feeding trough? He is none other than the eternal Son of glory who, to fulfill His Father’s commission, humbled Himself to be born a servant under the law, born to redeem those judged by that same law as sinners.

Jesus Wrote With His Finger

Posted by R. Fowler White

John 8:3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. 10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” [NASU]

As we see above, the Evangelist reports that, when Jesus was responding to the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. … Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground (vv 6, 8). If you agree as I do with those who affirm the historicity of John 7:53–8:11 (even though ancient manuscripts and our English translations aren’t sure where it should appear in the NT text), we’ve all had to puzzle over those two statements in verses 6 and 8. We want to know: what did Jesus write with His finger?

Yes, there are texts in “the Law Moses commanded” (v 5) that applied to the woman and her accusers (e.g., Exod 23:1b; Lev 20:10; Deut 17:7; 22:22–24). It makes really good sense to say that those passages are at least relevant parts of this episode’s backdrop. Perhaps Jesus wrote out a quotation taken from among them. It remains, however, that the Evangelist tells us not one word of what Jesus wrote. So, we keep asking: since we’re not told what Jesus wrote, what is the narrator’s point? I have a suggestion, but it has to be only tentative since I haven’t found a presentation or defense of it yet in the commentaries (not least because they skip over the passage as inauthentic to the Gospel of John). If you have seen it somewhere (and especially if you’ve seen it developed better than it is here), please don’t hesitate to let us know.

I suggest that the Evangelist’s point is not what Jesus wrote, but that Jesus wrote and did so with His finger. The act itself might be seen, then, as an acted-out, unspoken reminder that “the Law Moses commanded” was written by the very finger of God (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10). Yet further, the fact that Jesus wrote with His finger was arguably tantamount to saying, “That Law cited by you scribes and Pharisees? It was My finger that wrote it.” For the narrator, it was the act itself that was revealing. After all, in keeping with the unfolding historical-canonical context, that finger was the very finger of God incarnate. In that light, we readers can recognize in Jesus’ act a pointed disclosure of His identity as God the Son to whom God the Father has committed all judgment (John 5:22-23, 27). In reporting, therefore, that (not what) Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, the Evangelist wants his readers to know that Jesus is the Judge who frames His declarations and His questions to bring conviction of sin, to stir the conscience. His is the word that discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart, not just to punish but also to seek and save that which is lost. Writing on the ground with His finger, Jesus made known that He is the Judge who will punish or pardon all who appear before Him (cf. John 5:28-29), whether they appear as offenders, like this woman caught in adultery, or as accusers, like these scribes and Pharisees, who in passing judgment on others condemned themselves. 

Theocracy and Typology

Geerhardus Vos had an insight into the typological significance of the Old Testament theocracy that I would like to share and expand vis-a-vis the discussion of theonomy. Vos writes:

The significance of the unique organization of Israel can be rightly measured only by remembering that the theocracy typified nothing short of the perfected kingdom of god, the consummate state of Heaven. In this ideal state there will be no longer any place for the distinction between church and state. The former will have absorbed the latter. (Biblical Theology, p. 126).

While the critics of theonomy have correctly pointed out that the modern church and state are distinct, what they often fail to do is tie back in the significance of the theocracy for the future. In other words, the present state of distinction between church and state is a parenthesis. One day in the future, a perfect theocracy (with no possibility of the people’s apostasy) will come into being in its fully ineradicable, eschatologically perfect state.

More can be said, however, since Reformed theology has traditionally also seen a subordinate, imperfect typological relationship between theocratic Israel and the New Testament church. Which aspects of theocratic Israel carry over typologically into the church has been up for debate for many centuries. However, assuming that some sort of relationship along these lines is appropriately biblical, what we wind up with is a double typology: theocratic Israel points forward to the church, and points still further away to the consummated state.

One last point must be made: this typology only works with the person and work of Jesus Christ being the hinge on which all the typology turns. What turns the type into the anti-type? No mere human can do this. Only the God-man can do it. Both transitions from type to antitype hinge, then, on the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, respectively. The typology of theocratic Israel turning into antitypical church promises comes into existence at the first coming of Christ, while the greater typological turn into the new heavens and new earth happens at the second coming.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 12

With this post, we delve into Chapter 4, section 1, of the report dealing with merit and demerit. Most of the section is taken up with defining what condign merit is. There are five categories that explain condign merit, and these categories prove that humans have never been in a position to condignly merit anything, even in the case of Adam before the Fall.

The five categories are: 1. free (the performer of merit must be himself free of debt); 2. perfect; 3. personal (meaning we cannot borrow the merits of others); 4. profitable (must be above and beyond what is required, in other words); and 5. proportional to the reward. While the authors take some pains to prove that Christ’s work is meritorious in these five categories, a question remains in my mind. While I have no problem ascribing full condign merit to Christ’s work, I wonder how and if the situation is complicated by the pactum salutis. Would the Son’s agreement with the Father before time began have an impact on our definitions of Christ’s merit? Would it negate the possibility of condign merit? Or would the idea of pactum merit co-exist alongside condign merit in the case of Jesus’ righteousness? This issue has nagged away at my mind for quite some time, and I am not at a point of cognitive rest on the matter yet. My current leaning is that we cannot take away condign merit from what Christ has done, because He has earned our right to heaven. I also think that if any ideas of pactum merit are introduced into any understanding of Christ’s merit, it would have to be heavily qualified such that any idea of disproportionality between work and reward would be eliminated. So, is there a way of saying that Christ’s work both inherently earns eschatological blessing and saying simultaneously that the Father and the Son agreed to this?

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!

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.

The Unique Priesthood of Moses

(Posted by Paige)

We’re working in Hebrews 9 now in my Bible study, and I have been struck afresh by the unique priestly role that Moses has in Israel’s history.  I’m wondering if any of you have remarked on this unique priesthood or taught or read about it.  I’d benefit from your observations about its features and redemptive-historical significance.  Would it be fair to say that Moses’ priestly work of intercession, mediation, & consecration  (esp. Ex. 19-20, 24, 29, 33-34) is something of a cross or a bridge between the patriarchal priestly roles and Aaron’s high priestly line?  It’s fascinating to me that when we think of Israel’s first priest we think of Aaron — but Moses was the priest who installed him!

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful ideas.

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