Theology Thursday - Dispensationalists on the Law & the Christian

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. Some are orthodox, but decidedly outside the Baptist orbit. Others are completely heretical. Regardless of heresy or orthodoxy, we hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

Myron Houghton

“Those who believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone recognize that the role of the law is to show sinners that they are, in fact, sinful and that they need a Savior. Once the law has accomplished this purpose, it ceases to function as a part of salvation: ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’ (Rom 10:4).

This use of the law in showing the lost their need of a Savior becomes a hermeneutical principle. Any passage that makes demands by causing the reader to be afraid of God, whether in the Old or New Testament, is to be considered law. By the same token, any passage that offers God’s free forgiveness apart from demands, whether in the Old or New Testament, is to be considered gospel.”1

“[T]he word ‘law’ can be used in several different ways in Scripture:

  1. the Ten Commandments (Rom 7:7-13),
  2. the civil law of the Old Testament (Lev. 11:16, cf. vv. 1-45),
  3. the ceremonial law in the Old Testament (Lev 6:9, 14),
  4. the first five books of the Bible (Rom 3:21c),
  5. any statement in Scripture that condemns or makes a person feel guilty (Rom 4:14, 15),
  6. God’s Word in general (James 1:25),
  7. the righteous standard of moral law (Rom. 8:4),
  8. a principle or fact (Rom 8:2a), and
  9. Christ’s command for believers to love one another (Gal 6:2).

I previously mentioned these in the context of the Reformed theology articulated in the Westminster Confession, which teaches that numbers 2 and 3 of this list do not apply to the believer today. However, I mention them again to show that in my understanding of dispensational theology, numbers 1-5 do not apply to the believer today. The believer is not under law when ‘law’ is used in the first five ways listed above. However, one can still affirm the meanings of law as described in numbers 6-9: the role of God’s Word in the life of the believer, the role of moral law’s righteous standard, the law as a principle, and the role of Christ’s command for believer to love one another.”2

“Is the believer today under the law? We have seen that the law makes demands, shows us our guilt, manifests God’s wrath, and terrifies us of Him. The gospel, however, does not make demands, but shows us God’s promise of salvation and forgiveness based upon Christ’s death and resurrection. But we know that the New Testament Epistles clearly make demands under believers today. If Law and Gospel are the only two categories available, the believer must be placed under Law. To me, there is another category: Grace. While grace in the form of Gospel does not make demands, grace as guidelines for managing a believer’s life does make them. So, rather than placing today’s believer under the law, since Paul stated in Romans 6:14 that today’s believer is not under law but under grace, it seems better to view believers as under grace as a set of guidelines that makes demands upon them.”3

Alva McClain

“The charge has been made that in affirming the believer is not under the law we are rejecting a part of Scripture. This slanderous charge has been answered already by the Biblical evidence presented earlier, but I wish to deal with it more specifically.

First, we deny categorically any rejection of the law. On the contrary, we accept the law of God in Scripture in its totality, including all its elements—moral, ceremonial and civil—not merely a small part of the law stripped of its penalties, as our opponents are accustomed to do. They, not we, are the real rejecters of the law!”4

“To summarize: In relation to the Christian, the law, as law, having been completely fulfilled and satisfied in Christ, has been “done away.” But as law it still remains to operate as an external restraint upon the ungodly. On the other hand, the law, as inspired Scripture, abides for all the saved and as such is ‘profitable’ in all its parts. Only the soul is saved by grace, understanding clearly what took place at Calvary, can truly delight in the law of the Lord. Such a one has seen in the cross the awful severity and doom of the law and rejoices in the assurance that its demands have been satisfied to the last farthing by the Lamb of God.”5

Charles Ryrie

“If Christ ended the Law, then why does the New Testament include some laws from the Mosaic Law in its ethic? How could the unit end and yet have specifics in it still binding on the Christian? …”6

“The only solution (which I have never seen proposed by anyone else) that seems to do full justice to the plain sense of these various Scriptures distinguishes between a code and the commandments contained therein … The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim 4:4), some old ones (Rom 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom 13:4 with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands that are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law, or in order to observed in some deeper sense, but as specifically incorporated into that code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding. It is necessary to say both truths in order not to have to resort to a nonliteral interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 or Hebrews 7 and in order not to have to resort to some sort of theological contortions to retain part of the Mosaic Law.”7

Notes

1 Myron Houghton, Law & Grace (Schaumberg, IL: RBP, 2011), 115.

2 Ibid, 116-117.  

3 Alva McClain, Law and Grace: A Study of New Testament Concepts as They Relate to the Christian Life (reprint; Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2011), 120.  

4 Ibid, 70.  

5 Ibid, 72.  

6 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 350.

7 Ibid, 351-352.  

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TylerR's picture

Editor

A few things:

  • There has always been a gulf between how much continuity or discontinuity dispensationalists have seen between the Old and New Covenants. This is a presuppositional issue which informs how you answer the question of "the Christian and the Law for today."
  • There has also been a wide difference among dispensationalists about how the church relates to the New Covenant
  • Scofield and Chafer represent the extreme discontinuity view. Revised dispensationalists like McClain and Houghton seem to represent a mediating position. I don't find their arguments convincing. Houghton, for example, basically seems to replace the label "law" with "grace" and call it all good. He wrote, "If Law and Gospel are the only two categories available, the believer must be placed under Law. To me, there is another category: Grace. While grace in the form of Gospel does not make demands, grace as guidelines for managing a believer’s life does make them." I see no real difference other than the label. If you sit Houghton down with Michael Horton and ask them how their positions work out in real life, with real preaching - I think they're answers would be very similar. I doubt the Christian in the pew would see a contradiction.
  • Houghton also rejects the idea of the active obedience of Christ. I was very unsatisfied with his explanations, and I've read his book twice now. The same with McClain - his big point is that the law must be interpreted within the context of Christ's grace. I really don't "get" what they're talking about. It seems as if these men are saying the OT has no grace, although Houghton (for example) cited Ryrie to prove this isn't the case.
  • Houghton wrote that "any statement in Scripture that condemns or makes a person feel guilty" does not apply to the Christian today. What on earth?
  • In the end, there is a watershed between how you believe the Old Covenant as a rule of life functioned. It almost seems as if some dispensationalists view it as a savage, oppressive, evil yoke. David didn't view it that way. I'm not saying the law didn't bring continual knowledge of sin, but you were supposed to obey the law the best you could because you loved God and wanted to serve Him - not out of fear. In that respect, the impetus for sanctification and dedication to God has always been the same. I don't think some classical/revised dispensationalists would agree. I just finished re-reading the Pentateuch. I think they're wrong on this.
  • Ryrie is much closer to the mark, I believe. I have my own tentative opinion on the Law and the Christian, and don't have time to elaborate, but I think Ryrie is significantly closer than Houghton or McClain.

I think, in general, dispensationalists have trouble answering the question of the law and the Christian. Or, I'm just really dense. That is certainly possible.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that's missing from these analyses is the simple fact that a lot of the time the word "law" is used in the NT, it refers at least in part to the "Oral Torah"/Mishnah/Midrash that later became the Talmuds--at best commentary on the written Torah/books of Moses, and at worst contradictory to it.  So I'd divide the use of "law" into six categories:

1.  Greek/Roman civil uses of law.

2.  Appeals to ethics and morals without necessarily invoking Moses at all.

3.  Oral Torah/Pharisaical teachings about the Torah.

4.  Books of Moses: moral law (e.g. Leviticus 18)

5.  Books of Moses: civil law (e.g. Leviticus 22)

6.   Books of Moses; ceremonial law, especially regulations for the priests and Levites.

Now the boundaries of these categories are sometimes a bit blurred, but in the church era, we've got a repetition (mostly) of the moral law (4)  in the New Testament, and our new sovereign shows that #1 largely replaces #5 in our understanding--though in our republic, we are of course free to vote for Mosaic civil law.  #2 is largely unchanged, and #3 and #6 are "interesting but not binding" for us.  We can, like Salmon or Boaz, marry a pagan like Rahab the harlot or Ruth the Moabitess, provided they are in Christ.

In whatever case, it's very important to note which category we're talking about.  Sometimes it seems that we confuse #2 with #4 a lot.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Tyler, check out Andrew Snellings paper (masters seminary) on active obedience. He argues (convincingly IMO) that it is simply an outgrowth of the "Covenant of Works" and that it was not taught in the early church. He also very adequately handles the proof texts for it. I don't believe Ryrie or most of the Dallas guys taught it either.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Thanks for pointing me to the paper.

I view Christ's active and passive obedience as the linchpin for understanding what He did during the incarnation. I think it is critical. I think dispensationalist scholars are generally insane to deny it. I suspect you're right about the Dallas guys not going for active obedience; I know Robert Lightner (for one) denies it. I'll look for and read Snelling's paper. Look also for Dr. McCune's discussion in favor of Christ's active and passive obedience in vol. 2 of his systematic.

I've never been swayed by appeals to the early church. Most of the Ante-Nicene fathers seemed to believe in baptismal regeneration, for example. I once ran a search for "baptism" and read every reference to baptism in context through several volumes of the Ante-Nicene series. They almost all seemed to believe in baptismal regeneration; it was common to refer to the ordinance as the "laver of regeneration." The fathers are interesting, but not always too helpful for me.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I think you mean Andrew Snider. His thesis was "Justification and the active obedience of Christ : toward a biblical understanding of imputed righteousness."

 

I haven't been able to get a copy yet.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Thanks to Josh and Mark. I don't have time to read everything I need to!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

Only remaining option is to call TMS and ask them to scan and send the thesis. Probably will cost as much as a book.

IMHO, I agree with Tyler. Jesus had to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15). Jesus didn't just die for our sins, he fulfilled the law to the jot and tittle in his earthly life. Without that, how could Christ fulfill the law? 

I think some dispensationalists are off on this one.

josh p's picture

Mark,

Indeed you are correct. Thanks! I

Emailed him directly and asked for it.

 

Tyler, I have read most of the well know systematics on it including McCune. I agree about early church history being, in general, a mess. Still, one would think if it was necessary for Christ to fulfill the Covenant of Works for us to be saved, (in the sense that the Obedience itself is expiatory- obviously he had to be perfect) it would be clearly explained somewhere in the church fathers or at least some pre-reformation writers. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Whaddya think about dispensationalists and the use of the law for the Christian today?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

My perspective may not fully align to other dispensational articulations, but nevertheless, here is how I understand the relation of law to the Christian.

  1. While law can have a variety of meanings based on context, the primary use is a reference to the Mosaic Law as a whole or some part thereof.
  2. The Mosaic Law was a unit; while it may be helpful to visualize it broken into moral, civil, and ceremonial, for the Jew, the Law was to be followed in total (James 2:10), so it was all moral.
  3. Law always has an attendant penal and/or restorative consequence if violated, whether death, financial restitution, sacrifice, etc. (see various points in the Pentateuch).
  4. The ethical principles that are codified into the Mosaic Law existed before the codification, for ethics are based not in law itself, but upon mankind being made to be like God (Gen 1:26). Acting in ethical alignment to God is right, whether or not a law with an attendant punishment has codified that action or a direct command to do so has been given. So what is ethical is always moral, and morality is what determines righteousness (i.e. what is right), and righteousness is what determines one's primary relationship to God (Rom 10:3-4) of either wrath (Rom 1:18) or blessing (Rom 4:6). A person must be deemed by God to be as righteous as God to be in right relation with Him, for that is what He designed mankind to be.
  5. A non-ethical (neutral) item or action can be made moral by law, but such non-ethical based morality can also be removed by law. Hence dietary laws of the Jews based on unclean declarations of animals were made moral by command (e.g. Lev 11:4), but God can rescind the uncleanness and the command (Acts 10:9-15). But no law can righteously legislate opposite of an ethical characteristic of God (#4), that is, a law can make non-ethical items obtain a morality, but it cannot make ethical items either amoral or immoral while having that law be righteous.
  6. Because of #3, Law cannot bring life (law marks a point of violation for punishment, not reward), and because of #4, Law cannot circumscribe all that is righteous, for not all that is righteous has been or could be codified; hence law does not bring righteousness or life (Gal 3:21).
  7. Christ did come to fulfill the Mosaic Law (Mat 5:17-18; and all non-codified ethical points of character to be like God, since He was God); but Scripture also states that such a fulfillment happens through expressing love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8-9), which God and Christ did on the cross (Mt 5:44; Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; Eph 5:2; Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 4:9).

So the Christian's relation to law is summed up in Rom 10:4 with respect to righteousness and thus relationship to God (#4)—law is not heeded for purposes of gaining or maintaining righteousness. Laws (or commands, the difference being the latter does not necessarily have a punishment involved) based on ethical matters simply help describe (via a prescription) that which is always right, and so Christians should follow such laws because they simply reflect the character of God that we should be walking in by design (Rom 8:4; Eph 2:10). Similarly, laws (even human ones) that do not violate God's ethics become moral also, even for a Christian, but they still do not determine righteousness (1 Pet 2:13-17).

So Christians ought to be a moral, law-abiding people (of all laws/commands given by those who may be over them); so long as such laws do not violate ethical requirements grounded in God's character or expressly given by God in his Word. But also, recognize that some laws God gave were grounded in His character, so those are timelessly valuable to heed; other laws were situation based (dispensational based), and God can rescind them if He chooses. Obedience to any law (God or man given) should never be considered as working toward a righteous standing, for no one has such through works (Rom 3:10-12) but only through faith (Rom 4:5). Keeping love foremost is what allows a Christian to fulfill the law (#7), even when no law has been codified for a situation. And violation of law will not jeopardize one's ultimate relation to God by faith, though it may still bring a temporary relational strain that needs reconciled (1 Jn 2:1) and even corrective measures by God (Heb 12:5-9).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

josh p's picture

Personally I find Ryrie's position to be correct. I haven't read Houghton's book though. Snoeberger has a good paper on this as well: 

http://archive.dbts.edu/journals/2013/2013Combs.pdf

 

From my perspective, one needs to be careful about putting too much emphasis on grace and law as if they are in contrast to each other. This is a mistake that I believe Chafer and Scofield before him made. So while we are not under law the OT saints were still under grace in the salvific sense. No one here would disputed that of course but we should be careful with our word choices.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a good point - when I read the Pentateuch, I see love for God as being the real motivation for following the law (cf. Deut 6:5). I see the Sermon on the Mount, in large part, as Jesus providing a commentary on this from the Old Covenant law. That is, I believe love has always been the impetus for obedience to God's commands, in either covenant, in any time.

What do you think?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Scott, do I understand you to say that eating pork is equivalent to murder, based upon James 2:10?  It seems to me that James 2:10,11, better supports the position that civil and ceremonial law are not the same as moral law.  Isn't James writing to New Covenant believers?  Do you think he is telling them that to violate any of the 613 requirements of Mosaic law makes one guilty of murder and adultery?  Wouldn't it be better to understand James as saying the moral law (adultery, murder, etc), is what is binding on NT believers, and breaking any part of the moral law equals breaking the whole?

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

You put your finger right on the heart of the issue right here:

Isn't James writing to New Covenant believers? 

Dispensationalism, as a system, has never been quite sure what to do with the New Covenant. I believe if we look at this from the perspective of Old and New Covenants (not the covenants of Works, Grace and Redemption) then we may have a good way forward for understanding the law and the Christian.

Of course, this would require breaking with the usual dispensational way of handling the New Covenant. I think Rodney Decker was on to something in his contribution to The Book several years back.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

G. N. Barkman asked:

Do I understand you to say that eating pork is equivalent to murder, based upon James 2:10?

I believe James is using OT principles (law) to discuss the NT emphasis of mercy over judgment. One ought not to judge with partiality (James 2:2-4, 9), for all are equally violators of law (in this case, emphasizing poor vs. rich as equally so). Rather, believers are to see that faith is what matters (James 2:1, 5), and we ought to treat others of faith on equal terms as being judged "by the law of liberty" (James 2:12), that is, liberated from the punishments of the law itself by faith and liberated to do good works because of that liberty (James 1:25). Such a view shows mercy, not judgment, on others, and mercy is especially how one should be handling those that come to assemble in faith (James 2:2, 13). James is not making the argument at all from those verses that the moral law is binding on a Christian because it is law, but rather that morality is binding on the Christian because it is right to not do wickedness (James 1:21-22), especially in light of the liberty found in Christ (James 1:25), that allows one to really fulfill "love your neighbor as yourself" (James 2:8) through a living faith manifesting in works (James 2:14-18).

So that is the context I see of James. Now specifically to answer your question:

YES: Eating pork was a sin for the Jew and doing so was a breaking of the Law, and made one just as much a "transgressor of the law" as committing murder. From the standpoint of breaking God's law, they are equal, and so:

  1. from the standpoint of trying to use the law to be righteous, violating either one would make one fail to be fully righteous,
  2. from the standpoint of keeping the covenant with God, they broke covenant.

So in this way they are on equal moral ground.

NO: Eating pork and committing murder, however, had different consequences within the Law, and in this sense it was not equal. Murder required the death of the murderer (Num 35:16), whereas eating of pork made one unclean, requiring the washing of clothes and remaining unclean until evening (Lev 11:24-28). But being unclean in touching a carcass of one of these creatures, even unawares (Lev 5:2), had the additional attendant consequences of a trespass offering for atonement (Lev 5:5-6) and an inability to partake of a peace offering (or if a priest, to go near holy things) while unclean without more severe consequences (Lev 7:20-21; 22:2-3). Another difference is that the eating of pork was a non-ethical morality (based purely on the law God laid down in covenant), while murder is an ethical morality (based on God's character, as He does not kill indiscriminately nor unrighteously); one law can be rescinded, one cannot.

So in these two ways, they are not equal.

I hope that clarifies my understanding for you.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Larry's picture

Moderator

Dispensationalism, as a system, has never been quite sure what to do with the New Covenant. 

Huh? I think dispensationalism has handled the New Covenant quite well, far better than the alternatives. Here's a good article on Dispensationalism, The Church, and the New Covenant that will be helpful to those who think dispensationalism doesn't know what to do with the new covenant: http://archive.dbts.edu/journals/2003/Compton.pdf

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

When I wrote that, I mean that dispensationalism has in the past century had:

  • Some who think the NC has nothing at all to do with the church
  • Some who think there are two New Covenants; one for the church now and another for Israel later
  • Some who think the church participates in the soteriological aspects of the New Covenant only, with the full thing applied to Israel in the future (Compton's view)
  • Others who think the church fully participates in the NC now (Decker)

In sum, dispensationalists don't know what to do with it. Ask a dispensationalist church member about the New Covenant, and see if you get more than a blank stare. Ask a dispensationalist Pastor, and see the pain appear on his face and the fidgeting begin. Ask a dispensationalist professor, and watch him exhale heavily and ponder how to navigate this morass in a timely manner.

Dispensationalists don't know what to do with the NC. Compton's view is the most popular one today, I believe.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Scott, do I understand you to say that eating pork is equivalent to murder, based upon James 2:10? 

I won't answer for Scott, but James 2:10 is pretty simple in its context: If you keep every part of the Law and don't love your neighbor (show partiality), then you are a lawbreaker. The point is that the law is a whole and when you break part of it, you are guilty of all of it. It is not that eating pork and adultery are equivalent sins. One can look at the penalties and see that isn't the case. It is that you can't be a law keeper if you are a law breaker. And keeping 612 of them won't offset breaking one of them.

Wouldn't it be better to understand James as saying the moral law (adultery, murder, etc), is what is binding on NT believers, and breaking any part of the moral law equals breaking the whole?

No, James' point is you aren't a law keeper because you only commit adultery but not murder. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Tyler, Your comment makes no sense to me. The fact that dispensationalists don't all agree on what to do with the New Covenant doesn't mean they don't know what to do with it. As a dispensationalist pastor, you won't see any pain on my face or any fidgeting about it. I don't know any dispensational pastors who would be pained or fidget about it. As you can see, dispensationalists have dealt with it and give answers for it and reasons for it. They deal with it as well as anyone does. I think Compton's view is the best one because it takes full account of the Scriptures. I think the view that the church fully participates in the New Covenant now is easily disproven simply by reading the New Covenant passages, since they clearly involve Israel being restored to the land in peace. That is not true now, and certainly not true of the church. Therefore, at best, we can say that the church participates in the soteriological parts of the New Covenant. We cannot in any sense say that the church participates in the full New Covenant now.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm saying there is widespread disagreement, going back a century, about the New Covenant among dispensationalists. There is even disagreement among faculty members at fundamentalist seminaries. It is not even close to being a settled issue. This is why RBP published a three views book on the issue back in 2012 - it's one of dispensationalism's most pressing problems. 

I understand you like Compton's view. So do I; it's a whole lot better than the "no participation" view! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

J. Baillet's picture

What role does "righteousness" play in salvation in this context? Whose righteousness? How earned? Credited to whom? How do the answers to these questions bear on the meaning of the phrase "end of the law?" What is Paul's usage of telos in the Epistle to the Romans? Termination or culmination?

JSB

Larry's picture

Moderator

I'm saying there is widespread disagreement, going back a century, about the New Covenant among dispensationalists. There is even disagreement among faculty members at fundamentalist seminaries. It is not even close to being a settled issue. 

But that doesn't mean they don't know what to do with it. Other alternatives have similar issues with various things. There are always these kinds of debates about issues. 

You make it sound like dispensationalism is totally at a loss to explain the New Covenant, and the truth is that they are not in the least bit hardpressed to explain the New Covenant. It is actually the alternatives views such as amillennnialism that have a hard time explaining the New Covenant.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Larry wrote:

You make it sound like dispensationalism is totally at a loss to explain the New Covenant, and the truth is that they are not in the least bit hardpressed to explain the New Covenant. It is actually the alternatives views such as amillennnialism that have a hard time explaining the New Covenant.

When I'm talking about dispensationalism, I'm talking about it as an entire theological framework and skeleton you interpret the Scriptures by. Amillennialism is simply a particular view of eschatology, a subset of a theological system.

Regarding the dispute about the New Covenant within dispensationalism, I believe it is a much larger issue than you give it credit for. I'm actually thinking of asking Ed to run a survey on this. RBP published an entire book on it. I suspect if you polled every Professor at Maranatha, Central, Detroit, Faith and Piedmont, you'd get the entire spectrum of positions I outlined above. This means the men who graduate from these institutions will reflect this disparity.

You may run in circles where Compton's view is the prevailing one. I came from circles where nobody even knew what the "New Covenant" was - beyond a reference to the Lord's Supper! There are still plenty of classical dispensationalists out there who teach the church has absolutely no relationship to the New Covenant. Dr. Randy White, founder of Dispensational Publishing House (for example) holds and promotes this view.

I get what you're saying, Larry, but this issue is far from settled. I'm not saying some dispensationalists haven't provided answers. I'm saying most disensationalists cannot even agree on this point; we're badly split into different camps on this one. You are lucky to come from an orbit where this is a settled matter - I never even knew what the "New Covenant" was. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

I was planning to share this via a message with Tyler, but thought I'd post 'em for everyone.

 The Law and the Christian,IMO, is quite complex.  I don't know if you are familiar with the view of H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, and some of the many views out there advocated by various Messianic Jews and their friends, like Dr. Ron Mosely, for example.  There are so many.  D.A. Carson's (editor) 2 volume set, Justification and Variegated Nomism is good stuff when it comes to the relation of the Torah to salvation, but not the specific issue we are discussing..  

House and Ice are particularly interesting. They view God's eternal Law as grounded in His character, and, if you see where the Torah and the New Testament converge, that represents His eternal Law, while the difference (things not repeated) refers to God's special purposes for Israel or the church, respectively.  Their argument is that it is impossible to separate the moral from the ceremonial from the civil -- how do we know which is which? Is forbidding tattoos a moral issue, or a ceremonial issue, for example.  How do we know wearing fabric of one garment is ceremonial?  

Mosely suggests that the Jewish rabbinical understanding of which Torah commandments relate to gentile believers (who are not full converts to Judaism) comes to bear.  Some good thoughts in all of these, yet some viewpoints are not well known.  Some Messianic Jews believe the Torah is still the standard for Messianic Jews and gentiles, others believer for Messianic Jews only, while others believe being Torah observant is an option (but not a requirement). Others believe that Messianic Jews have no special relationship to the Torah.

Although some "neat" systems seem to satisfy folks, I personally have yet to see one that is fully adequate.  Anyhow, looking forward to your further thoughts.

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Scott, my point in questioning the pork/murder pairing was to highlight that James is writing to New Covenant believers.  I don't see how he could be equating eating pork with adultery and murder after the coming of Christ.  To say eating pork was as much a violation of the Law of Moses as murder under the Old Covenant is true.  I have no problem with that equation.  However, to use this text to support your contention that there is no distinction between civil, ceremonial, and moral law in the Old Covenant misses the point.  James is not talking about the Old Covenant, and therefore could not be supporting the point you are making.  (Unless I am misunderstanding something here.)

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

What I find particularly interesting about James is that he cites OC law as if it is perfectly applicable for the NC believers he's addressing - and he doesn't bother to explain the distinctions on how to apply them. Something basic and fundamental seems to be assumed; that is, the "whole law" is in some way applicable to them. They "have become" (perfect tense-form, active voice) guilty or liable for all of it. 

I recently re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and James sounds precisely like Jesus. He speaks of the OC law as being perfectly applicable to NC believers. This is very interesting stuff. Something for me to ponder. Perhaps, like the Grinch, I shall puzzle and puzzle, 'till my puzzler is sore . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JD Miller's picture

Tyler as you ponder how applicable the OC law is, make sure to do a thorough reading of Galatians.  I say this because I have recently run into a number of Torah followers in a variety of settings who want to take the church back under the Mosaic law (I do not say this to imply that is what you are suggesting).  In case you or anyone else runs into such teachers, the book of Galatians is very effective in exposing their heresy.  Ch 4 even talks about a couple of contrasting OT covenants.  Then ch 5 shows the application to the NT believer and leads up to vs 18 where we are shown that if we are led by the spirit we are not under the law.  Then right after that the works of the flesh are contrasted with the fruits of the spirit showing that being led by the spirit does set us apart from those who have totally rejected God's expectations.

TylerR's picture

Editor

JD:

You are right about Galatians. One thing I am cautious about, however, is that Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant as it actually was. He was arguing against the perversion of the Old Covenant which was being propagated by the Judaizers. I am with you (and the Bible!) that nobbody can be justified by the works of the law - Galatians 2:21 is perhaps my favorite verse! 

But, I worry sometimes that dispensationalists who cite Galatians forget that Paul wasn't arguing against the Old Covenant law as it was meant to be interpreted - he was arguing against the perverted, apostate form of it which had become common by his day.

I think we all probably need to take the Sermon on the Mount as inspired commentary to Old Covenant believers on the how the law was really meant to be applied. It's not an external thing; it's an internal love for God which produces external obedience because of that love. 

My puzzler isn't quite sore yet, but it is getting there . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

To G. N. Barkman and Tyler R.

James is writing to ethnically Jewish Christians (James 1:1), so as Tyler noted, "something basic and fundamental seems to be assumed" by James, but I do not think it is "the 'whole law' is [emphasis added] in some way applicable to them," as Tyler went on to state, but rather that it was applicable. That is, I do not see that James is even specifically equating "adultery and murder after the coming of Christ" in this passage, for he is using that equation as an example of how the OT law worked: that it was a single whole. So because he is referring to OT law as OT law, that is why (1) the statement still implies eating pork was sin just as adultery or murder and (2) why the civil, ceremonial, and moral distinction within the law is a false distinction, since it was all moral, whether the individual command related to civil matters, ceremonial worship, or interpersonal relations.

He is using this illustration of OT law to contrast to these Jewish Christians, for they will not be judged by that Law, but rather the "law of liberty" and should walk as such (James 2:12).

So that is how I see the tie in to the pork/adultery/murder equation and the tie in to the improper civil/ceremonial/moral distinction.

Still not sure if that is clear, but maybe so.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Editor

Scott, you wrote:

I do not think it is "the 'whole law' is [emphasis added] in some way applicable to them," as Tyler went on to state, but rather that it was applicable. 

How do you get a past-tense flavor with no ongoing consequences from the perfect tense-form of this verb? The entire passage (Jas 2:1-12) is predicated on a violation of Lev 19:8, and James seems to indicate that violation of this law results in one becoming guilty ("has become" - perfect tense-form) for violating all the law.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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