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The Law: Seven Different New Testament Uses/Meanings

April 19, 2016 1 comment

Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, in chapter 19 on the Law of God, comes this lesson: a look at the different ways in which the word “law” is used in the New Testament.  Our English words can have various meanings depending on the context (as for example the word “set,” many different meanings); a look at New Testament scriptures shows seven different uses/meanings of “law.”

  1. To refer to all of the scriptures (which at that time was the OT). Here, consider John 10:34 —   Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? – Yet He quotes from a Psalm.  Also Romans 3:10-21:  quotations of numerous Old Testament scriptures, including several from the Psalms; then Paul refers back to these quotes:  Now we know that whatever the law says.  Both Christ and Paul in these texts are using the term law in its broadest sense, all of scripture.
  2. To refer to the Pentateuch (the books of Moses, which are not all actual laws), as seen in wording of “the Law and the Prophets.” Examples here include Luke 24:44 and Romans 3:21.
  3. To refer to the time period of the Old Covenant, the whole Mosaic economy. Examples here include Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 – note Galatians 3:17-24, and references to “the law” as that time period when the law was a guardian.
  4. Referring to the ceremonial / sacrificial law: Hebrews 10:1   “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come”
  5. As the penalty of the law – similar to how we refer to a fugitive, that “the law is after him,” or “his is running from the law.” Romans 6 includes this use of the law.  Per Romans 6:14 we are “not under law but under grace.”  But as 1 John says, sin is lawlessness.  Paul is not saying we are not “under law” in any sense, that we are lawless.  The context of Romans 6 is the penalty of the law.
  6. The word “law” as a rule, principle, or an axiom. Romans 7 contains multiple meanings of law, and in some of these verses “law” is an axiom.  Consider Romans 7:21-23:  in verse 21, “So I find it to be a law” (a principle or axiom), and again in verse 23, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind.”
  7. To refer to the moral law, the Decalogue. This is seen in passages which cite one or more of the moral laws, as in Romans 3:19-21:  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  Other references to the law as the moral law:  Romans 7:22 (I delight in the law of God, in my inner being), also Romans 7:7-14 (reference to the commandment about not coveting), Romans 13:8-10, and Ephesians 6:1-4.

The Hidden Life: Devotional Book, by Adolph Saphir

August 9, 2013 2 comments

After trying a few different free online Christian books recently (including works from Henry Morris and Alfred Edersheim), I am now reading Adolph Saphir’s “The Hidden Life”.  This work is available in several formats from archive.org, and also free on Google Play: the format I’ve chosen, without the many typo errors in, for instance, archive.org’s Kindle version.

I’ve only read the first three chapters so far, but finding it a good devotional with the proper emphasis on different aspects of the Christian life: prayer, reading of scripture, and the overall question of what it means to draw near to God.  Saphir’s work considers the epistle of James, and specifically James 4:8 – “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Scripture verses and Christian poetry abound, as Saphir considers the proper way to come to God, how we should approach prayer (along with discussion of our tendency to not pray), and more.

A few excerpts are noteworthy, including this from the preface:

It is right to guard the house against the attacks of foes, or rather to point out the strength and security of the divinely-laid foundation. It is also right to point out the gate wide and open, and to declare to all the freeness and fulness of divine grace. But to describe the home itself, the inner sanctuary, seems to be more essential, and also more in accordance with the practice of the apostles, who declared the whole counsel of God, and regarded the preaching of the gospel, in its fulness, and with the power of the Holy Ghost, as at once the great argument to convince, and the great attraction to persuade.

And

The Word, or the Scripture, is the great, and in many respects the unique, channel of God’s communications to the soul; or rather it is central, round which all other divine influences gather. Scripture is the divine revelation in a special sense, but so that it connects itself with all other manifestations of God to the soul, be they in Nature or Providence, or by the direct influence of the Spirit.

Saphir keeps balance, avoiding the excesses and negative associations of mysticism and Christian mysticism, while noting the proper focus the Christian should have: on the Lord Himself, rather than on the “experience” of communion we enjoy with the Lord (which tends toward self-centeredness).  Notes at the end of chapter 1 specifically address the errors of mysticism, also observing:

The Christian knows not only wherein religion consists, but he also knows the source and power of the true life. The mystics outside Christianity have truly felt the necessity of death, of hating our own will and life, and in this respect put to shame many professing Christians who mind earthly things, and are the enemies of the cross of Christ. But they did not know : ” Ye have died with Christ, and your life is hid with Christ in God. ” They did not know the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the constraining love of the Divine Saviour, who for us died and lived again, that we henceforth may live unto Him. They may therefore be viewed as resembling those who, through the law, have become dead and long for life.

Later chapters deal with worldliness and the Christian’s proper response: to not love the world, yet in our service in the world, The less he loves the world in its God-opposed character, the more he truly loves the world, and is a blessing to those around him.

Psalms and Hymns: Confusing the Covenants and Testaments

October 11, 2012 Comments off

Recently a preacher, talking about church hymns, referenced an early hymn writer (perhaps Isaac Watts; or someone else from that time period) who argued for hymns beyond the words of the Psalms–by reasoning that the Psalms were “Old Covenant” and thus were limited in worship, because in singing only the Psalms we could not express the great New Covenant / New Testament truths about Jesus, including His name, and the greater truths we now have in this age.

That statement struck me as a bit off, as a misunderstanding of the definitions of the Old and New Covenants, which are not the same as the Old and New Testament of the canon of scripture.   After all, the New Covenant is mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), and the Psalms are not the Old Covenant (that is the Mosaic law of the Pentateuch, and not even all of those five books); and the Psalms have a great deal to say concerning New Covenant and New Testament ideas.  Rather than having “old covenant” content, the Psalms specifically include several references to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, while also referencing the doctrines of the kingdom (the idea of royalty, and the Lord God as King), creation, and many other Christian beliefs and concepts.  A recent Dr. Reluctant post addresses the specific error of conflating the Old/New Covenant with the Old/New Testament.  Here I especially note point 3:

When one reads about the contrasts between the “first covenant” and the “new covenant” in Hebrews it is clear that the former is equated with Moses’ Law (Cf. Heb. 7-10), which is inferior to the “better covenant” (7:22) and is “growing old and is ready to vanish away” (8:13).  This type of language cannot be used of the relation of the Old Testament books to the New Testament books.

Looking further into the Psalms and music issue, though, I found some interesting articles, both from the perspective of Psalms-only and a more moderate view that includes Psalms as well as hymns that strive to reflect scriptural language.  Yet here too, often the references were to “New Covenant” hymns as contrasted with “Old Covenant” Psalms.  I also observe that the Psalms-only advocate, as in this article, a review and criticism of Iain Murray’s work about hymns, shows greater understanding of what the Psalms contain and the problems that come from not using the Psalms as hymns  – along with proper use of the terms:

While the Psalter is not exhaustive in telling us everything in the Old or New Testament, neither are uninspired hymnals. In fact the Book of Psalms is far richer, better and more doctrinally complete, and balanced than any modern hymnal. Hymn writers historically have avoided the judicial aspects of God’s character in favor of love and heavenly bliss. They have avoided the important imprecatory aspects of praise which, contrary to Murray, is not inappropriate in the New Covenant era. Hymns do not contain warnings against trusting in princes (Ps. 146:3-4) and they certainly do not focus on the doctrine of creation in a manner that approaches the Psalter (e.g. see Ps. 146:6). Hymnals do not contain the many antitheses between the righteous and the wicked that are found in the Psalter. Neither do they contain such amazing statements about God’s holy law as found in Psalm 119. Such examples could be multiplied extensively. …  Even if a humanly produced hymnal contained no unorthodox doctrines, it still would be grossly unbalanced theologically by emphasizing popular doctrines while ignoring the less popular teachings.

Another article takes a more moderate position (include Psalms along with newer music, with the emphasis on music that closely agrees with scriptural language), and mentions the importance of progressive revelation.  Yet this work shows a few misunderstandings and misuse of the terms “covenant” and “testament,” as in this paragraph:

In addition to their pre-Christian stance of anticipation, the Psalms frequently reflect the struggle of faith that the OT saints had due to the seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of his providence.  On the one hand, God had promised the nation that they would have a king and a land. Yet in reality, they often had ungodly kings and at one point were removed from the inheritance during the exile. Thus the Psalms are full of the cry, “O Lord, how long?”And the cry largely goes unanswered. To sing only the Psalms without updating them with the Christological solution is to say that we are still living under Old Covenant conditions.

Does this author really think that in our New Covenant era believers know nothing of the Psalmist’s experience:  ungodly kings (rulers), and the “seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of His providence”? The New Testament writers themselves describe similar conditions of hardship and persecution, submitting to ungodly rulers, and still awaiting Christ’s return to fulfill what was not done at the First Coming (reference Acts 1:6; 3:20-21; 26:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:23-25).  In Revelation 6:9-11 (as explained in Revelation 4:1, this is in the section of things yet to be), the souls who had been slain for the word of God are still crying out, “how long?” and here again, in a New Testament book, in the New Covenant era, we find again the spirit of the imprecatory Psalms: the righteous rejoicing over the judgment done to the wicked.

I find that, ironically, it is the CT non-premillennial view that tends to find more division between the Old and New Testament and more tendency to misuse the terms covenant and testament.  After all (as in the above example), when people think that everything Christ set forth to do was accomplished at His First Coming, and we are now either living in the kingdom (amillennialism) or going to bring the kingdom into the world gradually before Christ’s return (postmillennialism), the result is a much sharper distinction between the “Old Covenant Church” experiencing struggles of faith and conflict between promises and reality, versus our golden, glorious triumphant age of the Church.

Also ironically, it is really the biblical dispensationalists, understanding the importance of the unconditional biblical covenants set forth in God’s word (the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants), who see the overall unifying theme of scripture: the Kingdom of God as that one uniting theme throughout, God’s Divine Purpose, including the work to be accomplished by Christ at His First AND Second Coming. Such emphasis brings about the understanding of the difference between the terms Old and New Covenant, and Old and New Testament.

Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?

June 19, 2012 3 comments

Much has been said, and often, about Christian liberty.  In some cases it is misrepresented, or certain aspects of it are emphasized while other areas neglected.  Romans 14 and 15, and the S. Lewis Johnson Romans series, consider the proper balance.

Paul’s text presents both sides:  the strong Christian should not look down on the weaker brother who eats only vegetables, and the weak Christian should not despise the strong one who eats everything.  The strong Christian should also take care to not do anything that would cause the weaker brother to stumble or wound his conscience.  In normal situations, though, the strong believer recognizes that everything is of the Lord, that there are no other gods, and so has greater Christian liberty to eat meat and other things which might bother the conscience of a weaker believer.

Christian liberty (of course) refers to morally indifferent things, and not to things which are revealed in the scriptures as clearly wrong or unclean.  The tendency among many believers, though, is to overemphasize only the part about the stronger believer giving up his liberty so as not to injure the weaker brother.  However, as SLJ points out, the strong Christian should not always give up his liberty.  In the first place, all Christians are in the growing process, and the weaker Christians will (or at least should) grow and mature to become strong Christians.  That at least is the goal and the desired outcome.  More significantly, though, when the stronger Christians always give up their liberty, a dangerous situation results in which only the most narrow and “lowest common denominator” belief is set forth as representing true Christianity.  Then the outside world, unbelievers, see this very narrow interpretation – the view of the weakest Christian – as actually being true Christianity.  As Johnson observes:

At times, it is probably proper for us to indulge in our liberty, because after all, what the Bible teaches is important for us to understand.  The cause of Jesus Christ is never advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation always and completely forego his rights, because what happens then is that the question is settled on the basis of the narrowest and the most prejudiced person in the congregation.  The person who is most narrow in his viewpoint and most prejudiced, it is his viewpoint that ultimately prevails.  … what eventually becomes involved in this is that the outside world then begins to think that a Christian is a person who, if in order to be a Christian, must give up this and must give up that and must give up the other thing, and the result is that our salvation by grace becomes confused with things that have to do with human works.  And thus we give a false picture of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus, I think, illustrates this in the way in which he treated the Sabbath.  It was a day.  And some observe the Sabbath very strictly and others observed it more leniently.  The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to do some things on the Sabbath days that offended the weaker consciences of some of the people in his day.

A few further thoughts … as understood from the context of Romans 14-15, and the similar texts in 1 Corinthians, Christian liberty also has nothing to do with the question of how we handle doctrine, the things revealed and taught in God’s word.  Yet I have seen the concept of “Christian liberty” taught, by the doctrinally shallow and weak, as an excuse for not being dogmatic and certain about what God’s word teaches.  Christian liberty is thus misconstrued to encompass the overall post-modern worldview and its attack on the clarity of God’s word, rather than those things which truly are indifferent.  By such distorted reasoning, certain doctrines, things set forth in God’s word, are equated with the morally indifferent issues of food and drink.  (I have in mind particularly the prophetic word, that which Peter even said we would do well to pay attention to, 2 Peter 1:19.) That error is compounded with imbalance: the idea that one group must always defer to the other; in their case, the ones that are certain about a particular doctrine must yield and “not cause division.”  Thus this twisted view attempts to justify continual biblical ignorance and spiritual babyhood, because after all, these are really things of indifference and those who dare to have an opinion about them are really the ones being divisive and causing trouble.

The Author of Hebrews: Words Directly From God

September 12, 2011 2 comments

I’ve started listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, one of his last ones (perhaps the very last series he did?) which he started in late 1992.  His age definitely shows in his voice by this time, yet the words and recording are still clear and understandable, and Johnson’s insights as sharp as ever.

Much debate exists concerning the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews.  It is quite clear from the evidence that Paul did not write it; others have suggested the author as Barnabas or Apollos.  Feminists have even taken to suggesting it was secretly written by a woman, and yet we can know from the Greek grammar and the use of masculine versus feminine words in the Greek language, that it was at least written by a man.

Yet one very good point is: why don’t we know the human author?  This epistle stands apart from others, as one that emphasizes the word of God itself.  As stated in the opening verses, God has spoken: by His prophets and now by His Son.  That is the important point that the author wishes to convey to his audience:  it is God who has spoken.  This is a word from God and not from men.

The book of Hebrews has the most citations from the Old Testament:  the accolade of “using the Old Testament more than any other New Testament writer belongs to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.”  Furthermore, the book of Hebrews never cites the human author in the citations.  Never does the text say “Moses saith” or “Isaiah says.”  David is mentioned once in the 4th chapter, and not for citation purposes but to refer to the section of scripture (in Psalm 95) that has to do with David himself.

Common Claims Against Dispensationalism: Responses

August 15, 2011 Comments off

The following come from various online discussions with individuals who cited reasons for rejecting dispensationalism, along with my responses.

Claim:  Dispensationalism is constantly changing from classic to modified to Progressive.

Response:  Dispensationalism is not “constantly changing from classic, to modified, to Progressive.” The way to describe what you have observed is: within the overall “umbrella” of dispensationalism some variations exist, on the lesser points such as the number of dispensations, the rapture timing, or on issues that really do not pertain to dispensationalism (such as Lordship salvation views, which is soteriology). These “changes” or differences also do not come from the same men changing their own views, but from these relatively minor differences among different theologians.

That said, it is equally true that the overall “umbrella” of Covenant Theology has just as much variation among different theologians. Some within overall CT hold to infant baptism, others do not. Some within CT see a future large-scale national salvation for Israel, while others think “all Israel” only means those Jews saved during the church age. Hoekema mixes things on his definitions of the Millennial Earth versus the Eternal State New Heavens New Earth. Some within CT formed another view of “New Covenant Theology” departing from some parts of CT while clinging to others. Some within CT are postmillennial with dominion theology ideas, while others are amillennial. Some postmills and amills are preterist, while some are historicist, and even a few amills are futurist, believing in a future great time of trouble before the end and Christ sets up the Eternal State. CT itself was only formulated in the 17th century and has had many variations since.

So we might as well say that “Covenant Theology is constantly changing, and thus unreliable and untrue.”

Another Claim:  As far as the idea that the New Testament “continually spoke with distinctions regarding Jews and Gentiles,” check out Ephesians 2:11-19. It clearly implies that gentile believers are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants. As far as, “The New Testament writers never said that the prophets were writing about the church or that those OT promises were transferred to the church age,” check out Peter’s use of quotes from Exodus 19:6 and 23:22 in I Peter 2:9.

Response:  So??  Ephesians 2:11-19 agrees with the point of Romans 11 and the wild and cultivated branches of the Olive Tree.  We are all included in the one people of God, which includes both Jews and Gentiles; we are now included in the same Olive Tree and receive the same promises given in the root, the Abrahamic covenant promises.

That does not nullify the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, any more than where Paul says in Gal. 3:28 that “…there is now no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Just because all are now included in the people of God does not mean that men become women or women become men, or that slaves and free cease to have their distinct identities and roles.

Same with 1 Peter 2:9, just as the Jews have that identity as a chosen race and holy nation, so Gentiles who are brought to believe are brought into the one people of God, into that olive tree that includes BOTH Jews and Gentiles, yet distinctions of persons and roles still exist.  We’re all believers, but have our different roles and functions within God’s Divine Plan and Purpose:  slaves, free, great or small, male or female, Israelites (descended from Jacob), or Gentiles (descended from Japheth or Ham, etc.).

Follow-up Claim:
It’s amazing that every time that passage (Gal 3:28) is cited, dispensationalists are quick to explain what it ~doesn’t~ mean, but never really get around to explaining what it does mean. Given the context of (Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…) it seems clear that Paul'”

Response:  Read Barry Horner’s “Future Israel” which explains it very well.  One aspect of the Abrahamic covenant referred to a singular seed of Abraham (Christ), but another part of that covenant very clearly talked about plural descendants (see Gen. 17:7-8).  In Galatians Paul dealt with one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, but that covenant included other provisions as well, and those other provisions in the covenant are still there.  Just because someone gives particular commentary about one part of a covenant or contract, does not mean that the other parts of that covenant are null and void.

Bible Teachers and Their Use of Typology

February 3, 2011 Comments off

I’ve recently added daily reading of a few devotional books:  Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, ICR’s “Days of Praise,” and John MacArthur’s “Life of Christ, vol. 2.”  MacArthur’s devotional book, in particular, includes some specific points of his teaching, and so I’ve become aware of slight differences between otherwise like-minded teachers.  For example, in a recent devotional (Jan. 18), MacArthur referred to the account of Jesus coming out of Egypt in Matthew 2:13-15 as fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.  He went on to say:

This is a type, a nonverbal prediction from the Old Testament that illustrates something about Christ without specifically describing it.  However, we can’t credibly label a person or event a genuine Old Testament type except as Scripture itself informs us of it.

Here he differs from S. Lewis Johnson, who frequently employed “types” or illustrations using a specific definition and pattern for valid types — and not restricted to only those types mentioned in the NT.  Consider the following, from a previous blog here:

Typology is really just another word for “illustration” or “example,” and has specific characteristics, including historicity and pattern, with correspondences between people, things (or institutions), or events.  The type is found in the Old Testament, a historical reality, as distinguished from allegory, of which John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progess” is a classic example.  According to S. Lewis Johnson, types are not restricted to only those which are explicitly pointed out in the New Testament (I have heard that claim before), but still must follow the pattern established by the definition.

As I considered these different ideas, an “a-ha” moment came as I recalled a connection between S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle.  At about the same time I had learned, from both S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle, of the “type” comparison between 1 Samuel David — after his anointing by Samuel, before becoming King — and our Lord Jesus in this present age.   Then I also remembered J.C. Ryle’s Holiness chapter 20, in which he mentioned several more of these “types” from the Old Testament that relate to Christ either in His First or Second Coming.

Obviously, MacArthur’s restricted definition, relying (only) on the explicit NT teaching, would fail to see these types or illustrations.  Gotquestions.org also takes this more limited definition, one that sees “types” as something different from “illustrations.”

We should point out the difference between an illustration and a type. A type is always identified as such in the New Testament. A Bible student finding correlations between an Old Testament story and the life of Christ is simply finding illustrations, not types. In other words, typology is determined by Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the use of types; illustrations and analogies are the result of man’s study. For example, many people see parallels between Joseph (Genesis 37-45) and Jesus. The humiliation and subsequent glorification of Joseph seem to correspond to the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the New Testament never uses Joseph as a model of Christ; therefore, Joseph’s story is properly called an illustration, but not a type, of Christ.

Based on what I’ve studied thus far, though, I would agree with SLJ’s point that types really are illustrations — and that people often tend to get terms confused, as in the above from Gotquestions, and try to make “types” something different or more complicated.

The following website, Victorian Web, has good information concerning typology as practiced by 19th century Anglican preachers including J.C. Ryle — and thus the Biblical tradition that S. Lewis Johnson continued into the late 20th century.  A few excerpts:

Unlike allegory, which interprets one thing as in reality signifying another, typology traces the connections and similarities between two unique events, each of which is equally real.  . . .
Typical interpretations of Scripture differ from allegorical ones of the first or fabulous kind, in that they indispensably require the reality of the facts or circumstances stated in the original narrative. And they differ also from the other, in requiring, beside this, that the same truth or principle be embodied alike in the type and the antitype. The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.

I’ve only begun to look at this, and the Victorian Web articles contain much more information (much of it rather technical).  Yet now I observe an overall difference that correlates with different notions of typology: one’s general interest in the Old Testament versus the New.  It appears that those who make a distinction — that “types” are of a “higher level” than standard “illustrations” – do not spend as much time teaching directly from the Old Testament passages and do not point out the interesting parallels in the “non-type illustrations.”  My sample is admittedly small: John MacArthur’s view of “types” separate from illustrations, versus S. Lewis Johnson, Spurgeon and Ryle — all of whom, as far as I can tell, made no such distinctions between “true types” and “only illustrations.”

At any rate, I have greatly appreciated the Old Testament teaching from the latter group, who (unhindered by a rule that types are only those things mentioned in the NT) often pointed out some very interesting parallels, types (illustrations) of NT truths in the many events that are not specifically referred to as official types by the NT writers.

MacArthur has primarily taught only from the NT (true, much of that was because of his book contract to produce a complete set of NT commentaries), and for Bible reading recommends multiple repeated reading through the NT books yet only one reading per year through the Old Testament. By contrast, S. Lewis Johnson and the other teachers at Believer’s Chapel have taught many expository series through OT books. J.C. Ryle wrote of the importance of the Old Testament, that we should beware of undervaluing the Old Testament, which is just as valuable as the new.  Spurgeon, another who frequently related the events of the Old Testament as types of NT truth, gave generally equal treatment to passages from both the Old and New Testament — as seen in his sermons as well as his devotionals and his writings on the Psalms.