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Andrew Bonar: Leviticus, Covenantal Premillennialism, and Ezekiel

April 3, 2017 1 comment

As part of the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, for the commentary I’m currently reading Andrew Bonar’s classic and highly-recommended commentary on Leviticus (1846).  I’m a little over halfway through, and greatly appreciate it, as a verse by verse, chapter by chapter commentary that is straightforward reading for the layperson, with many good devotional thoughts.

I have read other works by Andrew Bonar, including his Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, and (earlier this year) his biography of Robert Murray McCheyne, which I especially enjoyed.  I like reading his perspective as a covenantal premillennialist, a view not often seen today, due to the over-reaction by many Reformed against the errors of dispensationalism–to the point of rejecting even what has historically been affirmed by Reformed / covenantal theologians.  For Bonar, in the Reformed tradition, saw the unity of scripture (Old and New Testament), and noted in Leviticus many types (figures, allegories) of Christ—yet also affirmed what the scriptures say regarding Israel’s future and how the scriptures describe the future millennial age.

Here, from Bonar’s commentary – published in 1846, years before dispensationalism had taken hold of much of evangelical Christianity – come some interesting thoughts regarding Leviticus and the last chapters of Ezekiel, regarding the future millennial temple.  He notes (as did the later dispensational writers) the differences in this temple as compared to the previous tabernacle and temple, and relates the types and shadows of Leviticus to their educational, instructional purpose:

Is it not possible that some such end as this may be answered by the temple which Ezekiel foretells as yet to be built (chap. Xl., &c.)  Believing nations may frequent that temple in order to get understanding in these types and shadows.  They may go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to be there taught his ways (Isaiah 2:3).  In that temple they may learn how not one tittle of the law has failed.  … Indeed, the very fact that the order of arrangement in Ezekiel entirely differs from the order observed in either tabernacle or temple, and that the edifice itself is reared on a plan varying from every former sanctuary, is sufficient to suggest the idea that it is meant to cast light on former types and shadows.  … As it is said of the rigid features of a marble statue, that they may be made to move and vary their expression so as even to smile, when a skillful hand knows how to move a bright light before it; so may it be with these apparently lifeless figures, in the light of that bright millennial day.  At all events, it is probably then that this much-neglected book of Leviticus shall be fully appreciated.  Israel—the good olive-tree—shall again yield its fatness to the nations round (Romans 11:17).  Their ancient ritual may then be more fully understood, and blessed truth found beaming forth from long obscurity.”

The commentary itself includes many references to New Testament passages as well as the Psalms, to give a complete picture of the Levitical worship and what various texts in Leviticus symbolized or paralleled elsewhere.  As for instance, the concluding remarks on Leviticus 1 relate the sacrifices found here to the original sacrifices and features of Eden, explaining these details of God’s progressive revelation from earlier to later Old Testament revelation:

Let us briefly notice that the rudimental sketch of these offerings, and the mode of their presentation, will be found at the gate of Eden.  …  Just as we believe the Hiddekel and Euphrates of Genesis 2 are the same as the Hiddekel and Euphrates of later history; and the cherubim of Genesis 3 the same as those in the tabernacle; and the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8:21 the same as that in Leviticus 1:9 and Ephesians 5:2; so do we regard the intention of sacrifice as always the same throughout Scripture.

In Mosaic rites, the telescope was drawn out farther than at Eden, and the focus at which the ground object could be best seen was more nearly found.  But the gate of Eden presents us with the same truths in a more rudimental form.

… opposite to this sword [at the gate of Eden], at some distance, we see an altar where our first parents shed the blood of sacrifice—showing in type how the barred-up way of access to the Tree of Life was to be opened by the blood of the woman’s bruised seed.  …when we find clean and unclean noticed (Gen. 8:20), and in Abraham’s case (Genesis 15:9,10), the heifer and goat, the turtle and the pigeon, and also “commandments, statutes, and laws” (parallel to Lev. 26:46), we cannot but believe that these fuller institutions in Leviticus are just the expansion of what Adam first received.  The Levitical dispensation is the acorn of Eden grown to a full oak.  If so, then may we say, that the child Jesus, wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, was, in these ceremonies, laid down at the gate of Eden!

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Exceptions to Truth Telling (Nazis Asking About Jews) and the Ninth Commandment

June 27, 2016 1 comment

Continuing through Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, the section on the ninth commandment includes 14 lessons, encompassing the three issues addressed.  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” addresses more than merely “not lying” and always telling the truth, but encompasses and combines three issues:  truth, justice, and reputation.  Through many different scripture texts, Chantry connects this commandment to issues of truth versus relativism (the worldview of Pontius Pilate); reputation and biblical, true “self image” and concern for our own good name as well as that of our neighbor; and justice versus oppression.

This in-depth look at what the commandment is really about, the working together of these three important issues, provides the proper context for what some have called “ethical dilemmas”: the rare situations in which someone should lie and not tell the truth – such as what to say to Nazis when you’re asked about Jews that you have hidden.  As Chantry notes, these truly are “exceptions” to normal practice, so rare that most of us will never actually experience them, and yet the “standard” answer, given by many well-meaning Christians, is that we should always tell the truth regardless of the circumstance.  See the following posts, this one and also this follow-up post, from over a year ago at the Cripplegate blog, for examples of how many Christians approach the question of lying versus telling the truth.

Chantry’s series includes one full lesson on this topic, “Exceptions to Truthtelling,” in which he relates the well-known story from Corrie Ten Boom.  As I remember the details of the story, it was actually Corrie’s sister, and the question was regarding the whereabouts of a few men in their group who were hiding the Jews, not the location of actual Jews – but the main part of the story was that the people were hiding under a hidden trap-door that was under the floor, thus under the kitchen table.  When asked to tell where these people were, Corrie or her sister said “they’re under the kitchen table” – an answer that she reasoned was technically true and thus avoiding the problem of never telling a lie.

The problem with such reasoning, as Chantry points out, is that our understanding of normal language is such that to say “they’re under the table” would mean they were actually under the table itself.  To make such a statement and yet mean that they were really in a room underneath the table, is being deceptive – and deceiving and misleading in this way really is the same as telling a lie.

Instead, Chantry directs us back to what the ninth commandment is all about – the combination of upholding truth AND justice.  Normally, truth-telling and justice work together, and all societies recognize this, as seen in our laws concerning perjury.  The truth is necessary to determine and carry out right judgment and for justice to occur: to acquit the innocent and punish the guilty.  Sadly, though, history does present us with cases where an oppressor – someone working against justice – would demand the truth in order to carry out their injustice and oppression.

Scripture gives us a few cases where truth and justice are in conflict, of which the earliest one – Exodus 1:8-21 – is the clearest example of how God views this situation.  A wicked Pharaoh, desiring to oppress and carry out injustice –harming the innocent (infants) – tried to accomplish his purposes through the Hebrew midwives, and then asked them why they had not killed the baby boys.  On the surface of it, from our perspective, the lie that they tell Pharaoh seems incredibly bad – who would believe such a thing, that the Hebrew women really were stronger than the Egyptian women and could give birth to their children without a midwife’s assistance?  Yet, consider the actual situation and what the Pharaoh believed; this was someone who was rather paranoid and afraid of the Israelites, someone fearing them because they were so numerous, someone trying whatever he can think of to stop this threat of a numerous people, to keep them from spreading and growing – to the point of genocide.

The lie that the Hebrew midwives told was actually a brilliant one – it was a racist lie about the Hebrew people as a race, saying in effect that they were different from other people, that they were like the animals (which deliver their young on their own, without assistance).  It actually made sense to Pharaoh, he believed it – yes, he thought, there really is something different about these Hebrews, that I can’t do anything to stop them from multiplying.  It was the type of lie that Hitler would have fallen for.

If the Hebrew midwives had told the truth, they would have been killed – and Pharaoh would have brought someone else to do the work for him.  Contrary to the claims of the “no exceptions to lying” camp, the Hebrew babies were still in danger—it would have been an easy thing for Pharaoh to find someone who could replace the midwives and to start killing all future baby boys.  If all Hebrew babies were already safe, with no threat to future babies, Pharaoh would not have summoned the midwives to ask them this question.  The “no exceptions to lying” camp would also say, “well, God commended them for their faith, but He did not approve of their lying” — and yet scripture is quite clear that God approved of them.  The midwives feared God from the beginning, and nothing in the account suggests that God was in any way displeased with them, or that the midwives had committed a “lesser sin.”  To suggest that God commended them because of some aspects of what happened, but that He didn’t really approve of them lying, is going beyond what the text says–and injecting our own presupposition, that lying, in and of itself, in all situations, is always a sin.

If lying itself, regardless of the circumstance, were always a sin, then God could have communicated that truth to us easily enough.  The three commandments that immediately precede this one  – the sixth, seventh, and eighth – are worded in that terse, simple manner: “no murder,” “no adultery” and “no stealing.”  It would have been quite natural, if God wanted to communicate the same regarding truth and lying, for the ninth commandment to follow in that same pattern:  “no lying.”  Instead, the ninth commandment adds complexity—truth (and not lying) is within the context of justice and reputation: you shall not bear false witness (false witness is lying, not telling the truth, within a context of justice and a court system) against your neighbor.

Covenantal Premillennialism: Author Michael P.V. Barrett

March 15, 2016 1 comment

I’m now back from vacation earlier this month and mostly caught up on normal, everyday life, and starting to return to the normal study routine. I haven’t had much time for the blog — now starting back to it.

I am enjoying the kindle book (half-way through) of Michael P.V. Barrett’s “Beginning at Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament” (available on Kindle for 99 cents here). It’s written at a layperson level, and a lot of it is basic content about looking at the attributes of God and what to look for in the OT in reference to Christ – written by a covenantal premillennialist who affirms the future wide-scale salvation of ethnic Israel at Christ’s Return.  Among current-day authors this is quite rare – many current-day HPs are non-covenantal, often of the NCT or progressive covenantal variety, and/or of the one-text Rev. 20 view; and many see nothing for future Israel. Most of today’s CT proponents are amillennial/postmillennial, again with no future restoration of Israel. Barrett comes from a dispensational background–former professor at Bob Jones University, now at Puritan Reformed Seminary—so arriving at the historic/classic premillennial view from a different background than the standard Reformed teacher.

Contrary to what some dispensationalists may think (in a knee-jerk reaction to the title, Finding Christ in the Old Testament), this author does not get into allegorical teaching about how we can “spiritualize” the Old Testament to find Christ in “every verse.” The book description even states that we don’t find Christ in every verse. Instead, this author presents various attributes of Christ, including His roles as prophet, priest and king, including a good section on understanding the Old Testament references to the “Angel of the Lord” and the different features of the many theophanies and Christophanies throughout the Old Testament. The book also looks at the historical covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and so on), as well as the prophecies about Christ’s First and Second Coming.

I like what I’ve read so far, and now have purchased another of Barrett’s 99 cent Kindle books — God’s Unfailing Purpose: The Message of Daniel. Amazon has several other books from Barrett, including one looking at the gospel in Hosea and another about the post-exilic era. A look at Sermon Audio also shows quite a few audio lectures available, including quite a few on the minor prophets.

 

Classic Premillennial Views: Ezekiel’s Temple (Nathaniel West)

December 2, 2014 1 comment

Occasionally the question comes up, what does historic premillennialism believe regarding Ezekiel’s Temple and the Sacrifices? It must first be noted that this is really a secondary issue, not an essential of any form of premillennialism – and further, that even dispensationalists have differing views. H.A. Ironside and a few others have taken the Scofield Bible’s “secondary” explanation of a literal temple with symbolic language for the sacrifices.  Another good, basic reference is an article regarding Charles Spurgeon’s eschatology, which notes Spurgeon’s speculation regarding the future millennial temple:

  1. During the millennial kingdom there may be a temple or “Christian Structure” built on the Temple Mount for worship of God.
  2. During the millennium there may be some forms of Old Testament ceremonial adherence (Sabbaths, News Moon, etc.), but that those forms will be modified to be appropriate for the church.

Nathaniel West’s classic work “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” (1899) supplemental material includes a full essay, “The 1000 years in Ezekiel,” on the question of where Ezekiel 40-48 fit within the premillennial timeline. After establishing that this temple exists during the 1000 year intermediate state — and not any time in the past, and also not as something purely idealistic (with no reference to any time, and not during the Eternal State – Nathaniel West shares some interesting points regarding the idea of the temple itself as well as its “bloody sacrifices,” including how the text can be understood to follow the literal hermeneutic and as typical language, in a way that does not violate the principle of literal language yet not contradicting other biblical teachings that conflict with “bloody sacrifices.”

Following are some excerpts from this material, which is not available online, but only in existing used print copies.  (Note: emphasis is in the original text.)

It is enough, for our present purpose, to state where we fully believe these Chapters belong, and their connection with the “first resurrection,” even as (apostle) John has briefly stated the connection of the 1000 years, in the same way. …

The locus of the whole scene of the New Israel, in their New Land, redistributed and transfigured, their New Temple, New City, and New Cult, is between the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment at the end of Ezekiel’s “Many Days,” 38:8, Isaiah’s “Multitude of Days” Isaiah 24:22, Hosea’s “Third Day” 6:2, and John’s “1000 years,” 20:1-7. That is the region where they belong. That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile-point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by “the hand of God” to comfort the exiles of Gola!” (noted in the footnote, the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 was written in October 572 B.C.)

 

It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and bleeds the Restoration, the non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it. … And, as all the rest speak, so does he, in Old Testament terms, and paints in Old Testament colors, yet not without the most startling modifications of the Mosaic worship;–not legislating the “rudiments of the Pentateuchal priest-code,” but amending, abolishing, and adding to it, changing it,–a sign of fading, not advancing, Mosaism.

One thing we know, beyond dispute, viz., that “Israel” of the Millennial Age is a converted people, “serving God in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” How much of Ezekiel’s typical picture will fade in the fulfillment, how much brighten to intenser glory, we may not decide. Nor does this impinge on the doctrine of “exact accomplishment.” It neither asserts nor denies. It leaves to the future, problems the future only can solve. It refuses to reconcile apparent contradictions by the adoption of a principle of interpretation which, if logically carried out, would end in the denial of Christianity itself. It waits. The early Jewish Christians adhered to their Jewish rites long after their conversion on the day of Pentecost. They worshiped still in the Temple. At any rate, the future will bring the solution. … We can agree and with Kahle, feel sure, that “it is not for us to determine how much of these closing predictions of Ezekiel will be literally fulfilled, how much not, when Israel has turned to the Lord with all their heart.” We may not go to the length of Baumgarten and Hess who, perhaps, press the literal, in some respect, to the quick, but we may follow men of scholarship and greatness in the knowledge of God’s word, like Crusius, Delitzch, Nagelsbach, Hofmann, Neumann, and agree, even with Kuenen and Graf, in this, that “it is vain, either to idealize, or seek to spiritualize, the many of minute details of these Chapters.”

Further:

The relations described are too perfect to allow us to see in this picture a representation, beforehand, of the restored Church of Zerubbabel and Joshua, of Ezra and Nehemiah, such as was afterward related historically. Or, is it the consummated Jerusalem, the Eternal City of God? For this again, the relations are too limited, too specifically Jewish. And yet there are elements, even in the oracles of Ezekiel, that do not find expression in the architectural plan framed after the Mosaic pattern. The Temple is seen standing on a high mountain. This feature, and the Temple-River swelling as it goes, show that the whole is more than a new architectonic for the building of God’s house, or a new revision of the Law, or the Restoration of the State. It is a prophetic vision in which the Church of God and the Temple, are presented in glorified form. And yet the detailed descriptions are of such a kind, the walls, the chambers, and the doors, that they yield a real architectonic of which a plan may be drawn, complete as that of the temple of Herod or Solomon. The Mosaic cultus here, is typical prophecy.

and

Attempts have been made to crane up this picture, and its separate features, by artificial means, to the height of the New Testament revelation, by putting a spiritual meaning into everything, or an outward fulfilment has been claimed by which even the bloody sacrifices must be logically ascribed to converted Israel. Really neither the one nor the other view accords with New Testament teaching.

Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views

November 18, 2014 3 comments

A little over a year ago (summer 2013), a passing comment in David Murray’s blog post caused a bit of uproar from Calvinist Dispensationalists. Included in a list of 7 reasons why the Old Testament is neglected was this 4th reason: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.” The Cripplegate blog, and a guest post from Dan Phillips at David Murray’s blog addressed some reasons why dispensationalists do study the Old Testament.

From my studies concerning dispensationalism, and covenant theology (including Baptist covenant theology and covenantal premillennialism) and its contrasts with New Covenant Theology, here are some further reflections on the overall issue of people’s interest in the Old Testament – and how it relates to their theological reference system.

Dispensationalism

Murray’s original comment noted what was introduced with classic dispensationalism, “the division of Scripture into different eras,” and thus greater supposed differences between OT saints and the church age. Though current-day dispensationalists tend to downplay the specific number of dispensations, often they will emphasize the historical covenants that relate to the different time periods – especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus study that part of the Old Testament. “The division of Scripture into different eras” also includes, as with NCT (discussed below), the traditional definition of antinomianism (Christ taught a new “higher law” beyond the original Mosiac Ten Commandments, and regarding law, only what is taught in the NT is for “church age” believers). Generally, though, dispensationalists put more emphasis on the prophetic word – of which there is much content from the Old Testament. This includes study of the historical covenants, as well as all that the Old Testament scriptures say related to promises for Israel’s future. The dispensationalist’s interest in the Old Testament also overlaps with that of overall premillennialism in study of the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the future millennial age, an intermediate phase followed by the eternal state, as well as the prophecies that speak of a future regathering and restoration of the people of Israel.

Covenant Theology

The CT view sees much more unity (than the other two groups) in the Bible as one people of God, with much in common between the believing community of Israel and the NT church. Old Testament saints had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them (though in less measure) and we can learn from their examples, from what is often referred to as “the Jewish church.” Also, the moral law, the natural law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments/ Decalogue, goes back to creation, as law from God for all peoples living in all times – not just something that began with Moses and only for Israel through the 1st century. All believers, from all ages, understand the same precepts and delight in God’s law, and we learn from everything in God’s word, the unity of the scriptures. Within covenant theology, some teachers emphasize the law, grace, and sanctification, while others (such as covenantal premillennialists) teach on this issue as well as eschatology.

NCT (New Covenant Theology)

The third group, NCT, combines some elements from dispensationalism and other ideas associated with Covenant Theology, to end up with something that could be considered (as others have expressed it) “the worst parts” from these two systems. Here I refer primarily to the “majority view” within NCT, that seems to “get both things wrong” in reference to both the nature of law AND their eschatology. (There are a few exceptions; one well-known NCT proponent holds to historic premillennialism and thus more interest in the Old Testament for that reason.) It is this group that appears to take the least amount of interest in the Old Testament; and I have observed “hard-core NCT” proponents actually say this, that the OT has so little value and that from now on they only do their evangelism from the New Testament.

On the one hand, NCT teaches – and emphasizes — the discontinuity of dispensational theology: a sharp division between Old and New Testament believers. The Decalogue was only for Old Testament believers, and moral law for us is only true if it is repeated in the New Testament. This group further maintains (again, at least some of its adherents) that OT Israel was never really a believing community, apart from the very few characters set forth for us, essentially the prophets, King David and a few other godly kings.

NCT also takes very little interest in eschatology, as a secondary issue not worth much consideration, but a “default” position of amillennialism generally associated with extreme “partial preterism” (all prophecy except Christ’s return, the general resurrection, general judgment, and eternal state, was completed by A.D. 70). Given their view of OT Israel as not really a believing community, it is not surprising to hear the claim, as I recently heard at an NCT local church, that “Israel never had any sovereign election to begin with, it was only a type of our individual election in the NT age” – in complete ignorance of what even the NT teaches, such as in Romans 9:4-5 (They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.)

* * * * * * * * *

In summary, both “systems” of covenant theology and dispensationalism can find at least some benefit in studying the Old Testament, whether from a viewpoint of continuity or an interest in the prophetic word.  However, when both of these ideas (CT and DT) are rejected — in favor of sharp discontinuity regarding OT and NT saints and overall sanctification, law and grace, combined with very little (if any) interest in eschatology/millennialism– the resulting theological system becomes something that sees little if any benefit in studying the Old Testament.

 

Charles Spurgeon: Sermon Application of Leviticus 11

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Charles Spurgeon’s textual preaching style brought forth some rather interesting — and sometimes unusual — ideas that appear quite different from the result of expository (“verse by verse”) preaching of the actual text. And in some cases I agree with Spurgeon’s sermon points while thinking he could have preached from a better, more direct, text. Still Spurgeon often brings out interesting items for consideration.  This weekend’s Spurgeon reading, number 499  (from spring 1863) dealt with an Old Testament Jewish law text: Leviticus 11:2-3, about clean and unclean animals.

Regarding the basic understanding, that the Jewish laws were especially meant to keep them separate from other people, as a unique people to God – and by application, a call for us to come out and be separate from the world, a wonderful summary from Spurgeon:

When the Jews were put away as the people of God for a time, then the Gentiles were grafted into their olive branch, and though we did not inherit the ceremonies, we did inherit all the privileges to which those ceremonies point. Thus all of you who name the name of Christ, and are truly what you profess to be, are solemnly bound to be forever separated from the world. Not that you are to leave off your daily dealings with men. Our Savior did not do so. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, yet, you know, He was always in the company of sinners, sitting at their table, seeking their good, and hunting after their souls. He was with them, but He was never of them. He was among them, but always distinct and separate from them—not conforming Himself to them, but transforming them to Himself!

Spurgeon expands beyond this with another interesting point about the Jewish man’s experience of life and the law, with an idea he notes is from Bonar (probably either Andrew or Horatius Bonar):

An Oriental Jew, sensible and intelligent, walks out in the fields. He walks along close by the side of the high road, and what should he see but a string of camels going along? “Ah,” he says to himself, “those are unclean animals.” Sin, you see, is brought at once before his mind’s eye. He turns away from the road, and walks down one of his own fields, and as he goes along a hare starts across his path. “Ah,” says he, “an unclean animal again. There is sin in my path.” He gets into a more retired place; he walks on the mountains; surely he shall be alone there. But he sees a Coney burrowing among the rocks—“Ah,” he says, “unclean. There is sin there!” He lifts his eye up to Heaven—he sees the osprey, the bald eagle, flying along through the air, and he says, “Ah, there is an emblem of sin there!” A dragonfly has just flitted by him—there is sin there. There are insects among the flowers; now every creeping thing and every insect, except the locust, was unclean to the Jew. Everywhere he would come in contact with some creature that would render him ceremonially unclean, and it were impossible for him, unless he were brutish, to remain even for ten minutes abroad without being reminded that this world, however beautiful it is, still has sin in it!

Additional ideas from this text: an analogy of how the animal “chewing the cud” is like our inward life of meditating upon God’s word; and the animal having a parted/divided hoof as like our Christian walk, our outward behavior. Just as the clean animals for the Jews must have both parts, so a true Christian must have both the inward life with God AND the outward walk:

You cannot tell a man by either of these tests alone—you must have them both. But while you use them upon others, apply them to yourselves! What do you feed on? What is your habit of life? Do you chew the cud by meditation? When your soul feeds on the flesh and blood of Christ, have you learned that His flesh is meat, indeed, and that His blood is drink, indeed? If so it is well. And what about your life? Are your conversation, and your daily walk according to the description which is given in the Word of believers in Christ? If not, the first test will not stand alone! You may profess the faith with in, but if you do not walk aright without, you belong to the unclean. On the other hand, you may walk aright without, but unless there is the chewing of the cud within, unless there is a real feeding upon the precious Truths of God in the heart, all the right walking in the world will not prove you to be a Christian! That holiness which is only outward in moral, and not Spiritual, does not save the soul! That religion, on the other hand, which is only inward is but fancy—it cannot save the soul, either. But the two together—the inward parts made capable of knowing the lusciousness, the sweetness, the fatness of Christ’s Truth, and the outward parts conformed to Christ’s image and Character—these conjoined point out the true and clean Christian with whom it is blessed to associate here, and for whom a better portion is prepared hereafter!

Hermeneutics and Old-New Testament Revelation

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.

Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”

Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts?  They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)

If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.

Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):

Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.

Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.

Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).