Theology Thursday - More from Reformed Baptists on the Christian & the Law

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. 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).

From Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: RBAP 2004), 41-47 (excerpts).

The first and central practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said this: We learn the delusion and danger of divorcing law and grace. Law and grace must be distinguished, but they must never be divorced.

Not a few in the history of the church have been guilty of divorcing law and grace and setting them at odds with one another. But in the last century and a half in Britain and America not a little of the blame for this problem must be laid at the feet of Classic Dispensationalism. It is a necessary and very logical outworking of that system. As we noticed in chapter one, it divides Israel and the Church and thus sunders the Old and New Testament. Thus, it is no surprise that many Classic Dispensationalists divorce law and grace … The divorcing of law and grace is a frontal assault on the very terms of the New Covenant. In light of this, several practical warnings are appropriate for us to consider.

Beware of Divorcing Law and Grace in Conversion

Grace is perverted when it is set over against, or made the opposite of obedience to commands. Faith both rests in Christ and works through love. Though faith does not justify through its obedience to God’s law, it is a kind of obedience and leads to obedience (Rom 1:5; Gal 5:6).

When it is taught that men may be saved without confessing and submitting to Christ as Lord, that is a dangerous divorcing of law and grace in conversation. Sad to say, such teaching is not uncommon among many Evangelicals … With such teaching so prevalent, it is no wonder we hear over and over again in Evangelical testimony meetings, “I received Jesus as my Savior first, and then several years later, I received Him as my Lord.”

Those who think this way have divorced grace and faith from having anything to do with practical submission to the laws of Christ, the Lord. They will even tell you that to insist on such submission for salvation is legalism and even heresy. Such teaching is a twisting of Scripture and a turning of the grace of God into license for sin. It is clearly Antinomian.

Beware of Divorcing Law and Grace in the Regulations of Your Life

This happens when men refuse to govern their lives by anything in the Old Testament law. This refusal is often justified by a false understanding of Paul’s assertion that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14). Such a divorce of law and grace manifests ignorance of two vital and basic Gospel distinctions.

First, we are not under the law as a way of justification, but as a rule of life (Rom 10:4). Second, we are not under the Ceremonial and Judicial Law as a rule of life, but only under the Moral Law (Jer 31:33; Rom 13:8-10; Eph 6:1-4; Jas 2:8-11).

The tragic thing about the neglect of the Moral Law as revealed in the Old Testament and the Gospels is that the mass of biblical teaching on right conduct is found in those parts of the Bible. No wonder the lives of so many Christians manifest so much folly, sin, and misery when modern teachers have so mutilated God’s instruction manual for the Christian life.

Avoid Confusing Law and Gospel

Those who fall into the trap of exalting law over grace often fall into another very serious error – confusing law and gospel. This happens when the Christian begins to live as if his obedience to God’s law is the ground of his acceptance with God. This, in effect, turns the law into another gospel and it is a practical repudiation of the work of Christ. It dishonors Christ, is a practical denial of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, cripples the soul and destroys assurance.

In our zeal to uphold the law of God, we must never allow obedience to it to become our basis for initial or subsequent acceptance with God. the Lord accepts us in His beloved Son based on what He did for us and not on what we do for Him.

If God’s law has been written on our heart, we will be humble. We will walk in a manner that properly balances law and grace. And when we don’t, we will go to the God of the law and the God of all grace for pardon and help in our time of need.    

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's much to agree with here but also a good bit of category confusion.

An example

When it is taught that men may be saved without confessing and submitting to Christ as Lord, that is a dangerous divorcing of law and grace in conversation. Sad to say, such teaching is not uncommon among many Evangelicals … With such teaching so prevalent, it is no wonder we hear over and over again in Evangelical testimony meetings, “I received Jesus as my Savior first, and then several years later, I received Him as my Lord.”

The excerpt does cite some genuine errors of separation of law and grace. But the "Evangelical testimony" part is something else: usually nothing more than non-scholarly imprecision of communication. All most of these people mean is that there were major turning points in their lives as believers where their growth took the form of a major step forward (maybe including physically walking an aisle).

Theologians are constantly forgetting that the people in the pews are 99% non-theologians... and non-systematic thinkers of any sort. They don't devote much time to sifting through abstractions and figuring out how they relate to one another. (Which is sad for them, really, but it has nothing to do with law vs. grace.)

But yes, there is also some theology that encourages this sort of second receiving as Lord rhetoric. So there is a third category implicit in the part I quoted: errors in understanding the role of repentance and surrender in conversion.

... also not really about law vs. grace.

One more example of category confusion...

This happens when men refuse to govern their lives by anything in the Old Testament law. This refusal is often justified by a false understanding of Paul’s assertion that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14). Such a divorce of law and grace manifests ignorance of two vital and basic Gospel distinctions.

The category of "law" and the category of "Mosaic covenant" are not the same, though they overlap a great deal. So agreeing w/the apostolic teaching that Moses has been fulfilled and set aside entirely (2 Cor. 3.7) is not rejecting "law." The latter still exists and it's what the Spirit is bringing us into conformity with in Romans 8. It's what existed for centuries before Moses was born. (And exists to some degree among those who have never even heard of Moses: Rom. 2:14)

So setting aside Moses as binding on the body Christ (but still full of meaning for us, understood in its context) is not the same thing as setting aside obedience to the law of Christ.

(It is interesting that the excerpted portion doesn't attempt to explain what Paul did mean in Rom 6.14)

Anyway, as much as they've got right here, all the lumping of dissimilar things into the same category is sure to breed confusion.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree with Aaron's remark about theological imprecision - wholeheartedly!

I agree that the issue of "the law" and the Mosaic Covenant overlap, but are not really the same. These discussions often seem to home in on the Old Covenant, without accounting for the fact that "law" existed before Sinai.

I think a watershed is how you view the New Covenant, with all the resulting implications for the new relationship of the NC Christian to the Mosaic Law. All the other discussions are merely window-dressing for this one issue. Just because you are not under the direct jurisdiction of a particular law code does not mean some of its laws are not binding in your new context. I recently compared the UCMJ and the laws of the State of Washington as a parallel to the New Covenant Christian and the Old Covenant law.

Waldron wrote:

Not a few in the history of the church have been guilty of divorcing law and grace and setting them at odds with one another. But in the last century and a half in Britain and America not a little of the blame for this problem must be laid at the feet of Classic Dispensationalism. It is a necessary and very logical outworking of that system.

In general, I think Classical Dispensationalism fails to explain the law and the Christian well. I am sympathetic to some of what Bro. Waldron wrote. I think Myron Houghton's book is perhaps the best the classical dispensationalists have to offer on this, and I have trouble actually understanding his arguments. I've read the book three times. I think the arguments are bad. But, maybe I just don't get it.

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?

Andrew K's picture

I don't think the issue is so much over whether or not the Mosaic Covenant in toto is the Moral Law as whether the Decalogue is the timeless Moral Law--or at least the clearest expression of it--which predated Moses. That's the key here: Waldron embraces the 3-fold distinction of the OT Law, with the Decalogue comprising the purest expression of the moral component. If we're not dealing with the validity of that distinction, I don't think we're on the same page with him.

Bert Perry's picture

Not only do we have eternal Moral law, as well as civil, ceremonial, and moral components of the Mosaic Law, but we also have the commentaries on the law that became the "traditions" Jesus spoke of, and then the Midrash/Mishnah/Talmuds.  All very complicated, and the various stripes of commentary on the law in the various churches often makes the issue worse.  

For my part, the three parts of the Torah is a distinction that I can pretty much go with, with the caveat that even if we are not bound by it, we can learn a lot from the civil and ceremonial parts about the character of God.  The problem is made somewhat easier by the fact that most of the Mosaic moral law is repeated in the NT. 

Or perhaps the people that formulated "civil, ceremonial, and moral" inferred this very division from the NT's stance?  I'm not sure.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

AndrewK wrote:

That's the key here: Waldron embraces the 3-fold distinction of the OT Law, with the Decalogue comprising the purest expression of the moral component. If we're not dealing with the validity of that distinction, I don't think we're on the same page with him.

Appreciate the clarification. Hodge, for example, spent over 100 pages using the Decalogue as a springboard for his entire discussion of the law in his systematic. I've skimmed through it, but haven't read it. I need to read it, so I better understand where Reformed folks are coming from on this.

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

This is not helpful at all in talking about the law. As Aaron points out, it has some category confusion and it misunderstands dispensationalism. It is true that dispensationalism rejects the OT Law as authoritative for the church. It is not true that dispensationalism is therefore antinomian in the broad sense of the term. Dispensationalism does believe in obedience. It simply rejects the idea that the Law given to the nation of Israel is the standard of obedience for those who are not in the nation of Israel. It's one of those things that we all recognize in daily life. No one suggests we are responsible to obey the laws of a country we don't live in. Until you get to some Christians, but they only apply it to one particular country--an ancient, agragrian country. I wonder why these Christians don't insist that Americans live under the laws of Iraq? Or why the French don't live under the laws of China? I would suggest it it because they understand the point. They just don't apply it. 

With respect to the Decalogue, no it's not in force as the Decalogue. All but the fourth commandment is in force because of it's nature as moral law. It is similar to the idea that two states may have a similar, if not identical law. You are charged under the law of the state in which you broke the law. So if you steal something in New York, you are not charged under the theft laws of California, even though they may be substantially the same. You are charged under the which is authority at the time and place you broke it. 

So we certainly need clearer thinking about the law, the Law, and the Christian. This kind of stuff is not helpful, at least in these excerpts. Maybe the fuller version is more clear. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Alva MacLain made a big deal about how Reformed theology puts Christians "back under the law." I don't see that. I never understood, practically speaking, how that charge could be made. I've never read anything from any Reformed-minded person which suggests this. Consider what Waldron wrote:

Those who fall into the trap of exalting law over grace often fall into another very serious error – confusing law and gospel. This happens when the Christian begins to live as if his obedience to God’s law is the ground of his acceptance with God. This, in effect, turns the law into another gospel and it is a practical repudiation of the work of Christ. It dishonors Christ, is a practical denial of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, cripples the soul and destroys assurance.

I'd be interested if somebody can actually point to a Reformed(ish) writer who disagrees with Waldron. I think, in his discussion, both sides are often talking past each other.

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?

Andrew K's picture

Larry wrote:

This is not helpful at all in talking about the law. As Aaron points out, it has some category confusion and it misunderstands dispensationalism. It is true that dispensationalism rejects the OT Law as authoritative for the church. It is not true that dispensationalism is therefore antinomian in the broad sense of the term. Dispensationalism does believe in obedience. It simply rejects the idea that the Law given to the nation of Israel is the standard of obedience for those who are not in the nation of Israel. It's one of those things that we all recognize in daily life. No one suggests we are responsible to obey the laws of a country we don't live in. Until you get to some Christians, but they only apply it to one particular country--an ancient, agragrian country. I wonder why these Christians don't insist that Americans live under the laws of Iraq? Or why the French don't live under the laws of China? I would suggest it it because they understand the point. They just don't apply it. 

With respect to the Decalogue, no it's not in force as the Decalogue. All but the fourth commandment is in force because of it's nature as moral law. It is similar to the idea that two states may have a similar, if not identical law. You are charged under the law of the state in which you broke the law. So if you steal something in New York, you are not charged under the theft laws of California, even though they may be substantially the same. You are charged under the which is authority at the time and place you broke it. 

So we certainly need clearer thinking about the law, the Law, and the Christian. This kind of stuff is not helpful, at least in these excerpts. Maybe the fuller version is more clear. 

Leaving aside the question of whether Waldron accurately represents (Classic) dispensationalism or not, I don't think you understand where the essential difference lies: Waldron, I believe, would hold that the Decalogue is the purest expression of the moral law, given in a negative form, then later summarized in a positive form by Christ's two Great Commandments. Thus he would see the 4th commandment as binding on today. Most here would hold that the Decalogue, while containing elements of the moral law, also contains one extra stipulation, viz. the remembrance of the Sabbath. That is, the fact that the Decalogue was given to Israel as a law for them does not indicate it has no share in the universal moral law. Interestingly, recall that when Paul appeals to a moral law in the hearts of the Gentiles, he appeals to the Decalogue.

So I think that's where the real debate lies. I think most here could agree that the Decalogue serves as an excellent negative statement of the timeless moral law with that one exception. For the Reformed, that is not an exception: a Sabbath principle exists that has been part of the moral law from the beginning and continues in force.

Larry's picture

Moderator

That is, the fact that the Decalogue was given to Israel as a law for them does not indicate it has no share in the universal moral law.

That is exactly my point. The law against theft, for instance, is a universal moral law. It is found in the law codes of the US, England, France, Germany, ancient Israel, ancient Rome, ancient Babylon, etc. The question is simply which expression of the law against theft is binding and chargeable? The answer is the jurisdiction in which you break said law. The Christian is not part of ancient Israel, and thus is not bound to obey that particular expression of the law. That doesn't mean stealing is okay. The Decalogue was part of the expression of God's will for that people in that time. We live in a different time under a different jurisdiction. I think people are missing that the Mosaic Law was, to Israel, what the US Code is to us in America (or wherever one happens to live). It was for the governance of civil life, which in Israel, included a religious element to it. 

BTW, the admission that there is one added law to the moral law (i.e., the Sabbath) gives away the farm I think. 

Ed Vasicek's picture

This article was pretty crummy.  IMO, no one has really nailed it completely when it comes to the relationship of the Law (the Torah) to the believer.  Maybe it cannot be nailed down?

Attempts to divide the law into 3 seems enticing, but many such divisions are purely subjective (e.g., tattoos, the Sabbath).   Dispensationalists H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice (Dominion Theology: Curse or Blessing?) have one of the clearest possible paradigms: The eternal Law of God, based upon His character, is always to be enforced. The laws specifically given to Israel are not applicable -- at least directly -- to the NT believer. The only way to find out what from the Law God demands the Christian to obey is to read the NT.  Since 9 of th e 10 Commandments are repeated, the Sabbath Day command (which is omitted) is not part of the eternal law.

It is not perfect, but at least it isn't as subjective as trying to peg each of the 613 Torah commands into one of three categories.  Because a majority of evangelicals embrace the idea of doing this adds zero weight to the argument.  Truth is not something we vote upon.

House and Ice argue we gain wisdom from all the Law, and we learn principles that we can apply.  The issue at hand is the constraints God puts upon us.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

Waldron has more points, but this was the most I felt comfortable using without permission! This is a short book, but it is thought-provoking.

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?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Andrew K wrote:

I don't think the issue is so much over whether or not the Mosaic Covenant in toto is the Moral Law as whether the Decalogue is the timeless Moral Law--or at least the clearest expression of it--which predated Moses. That's the key here: Waldron embraces the 3-fold distinction of the OT Law, with the Decalogue comprising the purest expression of the moral component. If we're not dealing with the validity of that distinction, I don't think we're on the same page with him.

My question would be why should any portion of the Mosaic Covenant be the timeless moral law? Where does Scripture tell us to expect this? There is no question that the decalog is set apart from the rest, but we are not told why.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Attempts to divide the law into 3 seems enticing, but many such divisions are purely subjective (e.g., tattoos, the Sabbath).   Dispensationalists H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice (Dominion Theology: Curse or Blessing?) have one of the clearest possible paradigms: The eternal Law of God, based upon His character, is always to be enforced. The laws specifically given to Israel are not applicable -- at least directly -- to the NT believer. The only way to find out what from the Law God demands the Christian to obey is to read the NT.  Since 9 of th e 10 Commandments are repeated, the Sabbath Day command (which is omitted) is not part of the eternal law.

It is not perfect, but at least it isn't as subjective as trying to peg each of the 613 Torah commands into one of three categories.  Because a majority of evangelicals embrace the idea of doing this adds zero weight to the argument.  Truth is not something we vote upon.

House and Ice argue we gain wisdom from all the Law, and we learn principles that we can apply.  The issue at hand is the constraints God puts upon us.

I think that pretty much sums it up, and it's really pretty simple, though I would not use the word "enforced"... but I think I understand what you mean there.

God always has requirements for His creatures and some of them seem to be unchanging and to underly much of the temporary Mosaic Covenant as well as specific applications we find in narrative, etc. So God's standard of righteousness is absolute and unchanging and this is law, but not The Law or really any part of The Law. Mosaic law is a reflection of it as are the requirements given to Adam and Eve and to the church post-mosaically.

Andrew K's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

Andrew K wrote:

 

I don't think the issue is so much over whether or not the Mosaic Covenant in toto is the Moral Law as whether the Decalogue is the timeless Moral Law--or at least the clearest expression of it--which predated Moses. That's the key here: Waldron embraces the 3-fold distinction of the OT Law, with the Decalogue comprising the purest expression of the moral component. If we're not dealing with the validity of that distinction, I don't think we're on the same page with him.

 

My question would be why should any portion of the Mosaic Covenant be the timeless moral law? Where does Scripture tell us to expect this? There is no question that the decalog is set apart from the rest, but we are not told why.

Again, I would say that the NT's assumption of continuing moral force of at least 9/10 the Decalogue (the issue of the 4th being the only item in question) argues this very thing. Where does the NT suppose the timeless, moral nature of not eating pork? Honestly, if carving the decalogue in stone, frequent references to it by the NT, etc. doesn't at least assume a greater prominence/significance, what else could it mean? Let's start there.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Again, I would say that the NT's assumption of continuing moral force of at least 9/10 the Decalogue (the issue of the 4th being the only item in question) argues this very thing.

Have you considered that the "continuing moral force" is not of 9/10 of the Decalogue, but of the principles that existed before the Decalogue. The engraving on stone was for Israel's benefit, not ours, and I would be cautious of using that to make any statement about the significance of it. To enforce the Decalogue is to do the very thing the NT says you can't do, namely, divide the Law.

Andrew K's picture

Larry wrote:

Again, I would say that the NT's assumption of continuing moral force of at least 9/10 the Decalogue (the issue of the 4th being the only item in question) argues this very thing.

Have you considered that the "continuing moral force" is not of 9/10 of the Decalogue, but of the principles that existed before the Decalogue. The engraving on stone was for Israel's benefit, not ours, and I would be cautious of using that to make any statement about the significance of it. To enforce the Decalogue is to do the very thing the NT says you can't do, namely, divide the Law.

Of course I did! The Decalogue is an expression of those timeless moral principles which predated it, and a useful one at that. Can we really improve upon, "You shall not covet?" How does that need to be decontextualized? I truly don't understand the argument here. I'm not arguing that the Decalogue was the foundation of the moral law by any means. That makes no sense.

But to your other point, God Himself divided the Law by putting 10 words on two stone tablets, separating it from the rest. And keep in mind that Jesus recognized that some matters of the Law are "weightier" than others.

Larry's picture

Moderator

 I truly don't understand the argument here.

My point is that we don't not steal (???) because it is in the Ten Commandments. That was Israel's law. We don't steal because of God's creative principle of the right of private property that predates and postdates the law. The Decalogue proper belongs with the dress codes, the farming codes, etc. Those were for Israel. And that system of law stands or falls together.

God Himself divided the Law by putting 10 words on two stone tablets, separating it from the rest. And keep in mind that Jesus recognized that some matters of the Law are "weightier" than others.

That's not a division per se. And weightier is certainly true, but that doesn't mean that we can simply dispense with the others. 

 

 

 

Andrew K's picture

Larry wrote:

 I truly don't understand the argument here.

My point is that we don't not steal (???) because it is in the Ten Commandments. That was Israel's law. We don't steal because of God's creative principle of the right of private property that predates and postdates the law. The Decalogue proper belongs with the dress codes, the farming codes, etc. Those were for Israel. And that system of law stands or falls together.

God Himself divided the Law by putting 10 words on two stone tablets, separating it from the rest. And keep in mind that Jesus recognized that some matters of the Law are "weightier" than others.

That's not a division per se. And weightier is certainly true, but that doesn't mean that we can simply dispense with the others. 

 

 

 

And my point is that God put it in the Decalogue because it's a universal moral law that predates and postdates Moses. It doesn't get much more basic than "You shall not steal."

Can't dispense with them? Do you tithe mint, dill, and cumin? I hope you haven't dispensed with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Wink

But where else, in antiquity, can you find the Moral Law based in God's eternal nature expressed? Just because it is in people's consciences doesn't mean it's a given in a culture--far from it. When God provided a clear negative expression of it in 10 words, He gave Israel a great blessing of incalculable value.

Larry's picture

Moderator

And my point is that God put it in the Decalogue because it's a universal moral law that predates and postdates Moses. It doesn't get much more basic than "You shall not steal."

Exactly, but that's the point. We don't tell people "Don't steal" because it's in the Decalogue. We tell them that because it is outside the Decalogue. Paul's point in the NT is that if you enforce any of the Law, you have to keep all the Law. You can't divide it. So the Decalogue is not authoritative for the church. The decalogue simply happens to be the same as something that is authoritative, not just for the church, but for all humanity. 

Can't dispense with them? Do you tithe mint, dill, and cumin? I hope you haven't dispensed with justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  [Wink]

Context. He is talking to Pharisees who are very particular about tithing mint, dill, and cummin, but not so particular about justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Remember the end of that comment from Jesus? "These are things you should have done and not left the others undone." In other words, Jesus wasn't dividing the Law. He was condemning those who had divided the Law. He is telling them they must do it all.

But where else, in antiquity, can you find the Moral Law based in God's eternal nature, expressed?

I am not an expert in ancient legal codes (or anything else for that matter), but I think many ancient and modern law codes contain provisions of God's moral law that is based in his eternal nature and his will for his creation. 

When God provided a clear negative expression of it in 10 words, He gave Israel a great blessing of incalculable value.

I agree. He gave it to Israel. (And we can eavesdrop on it in a fashion.)

Greg Long's picture

We are under the Law of Christ as contained in the NT, not the Law of Moses as contained in the Torah. The reason we are under 9/10 of the Decalogue is because those 9 commands are in the NT.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Andrew K's picture

Greg Long wrote:

We are under the Law of Christ as contained in the NT, not the Law of Moses as contained in the Torah. The reason we are under 9/10 of the Decalogue is because those 9 commands are in the NT.

So then, how would those early believers have known the content of the moral law before the NT was given? Btw, I don't think I would say we're under the Decalogue. That could lead to confusion. I would say we are to obey the moral law, which is expressed in the Decalogue and summarized by Christ in the two Great Commandments.

Greg Long's picture

Apostolic teaching

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Rolland McCune's picture

Greg is right. I would include this teaching to come from the apostles, NT prophets, and all others that had divine enablement to give special revelation before it was put  in written form. There was no shortage of the knowledge of God's intentions.

Rolland McCune

Andrew K's picture

Rolland McCune wrote:

Greg is right. I would include this teaching to come from the apostles, NT prophets, and all others that had divine enablement to give special revelation before it was put  in written form. There was no shortage of the knowledge of God's intentions.

...but not from OT prophets or revelations, because they had nothing to say about the content of the moral law. Wink

Rolland McCune's picture

I'm having difficulty tracing the argument here.  I don't think we have the same ground rules or criteria for the interaction. The Q and A between the two positions seems not to advance the issue. May I list a few of mine?

1. The Law of Moses was the written Mosaic code, a covenant given to and was incumbent on and enforced solely by the nation Israel (Ex 19:3; Lev 26:46; Ps 147:19-20;Mal 4:4; Rom 9:4); it was not given to any Gentile peoples (De 4:8; Rom 2:12-14).  

2. The Law consisted of three general aspects (civil, ceremonial, moral) but was an indivisible whole. Technically, the Law was interpenetrated, and thus governed, by the infinite morality of Yahweh the Lawgiver. Therefore each proposition and rubric was a moral principle in its own right, and each infraction (even if calibrated by humans as "small") thus incurred infinite moral liability because it excited the wrath of the One who gave all the Law (Jam 2:10).

3. The Law had inseparable penalties (Gal 3:10) with culpability determined by the code, or given by direct revelation if guilt was uncertain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36). Dr. McClain often intoned the statement by (Daniel Webster??): "A law without penalty is simply good advice."

4.The Law of Moses was the constitution or charter that formed Israel into a theocracy (a union of "church and state") with Yahweh worship as the compulsory civil religion (De 6:4). Redress for infractions (i.e., sins) was through the Levitical forms at the central altar as administered by the designated clergy (e.g., high priest, priests, Levites) who had been appointed by Moses as the civil ruler or king in effect.

5. To be "under the Law" means to be under "the entire Mosaic legal system in its indivisible totality--subject to its commands and liable to its penalties" (Alva J. McClain, Law and Grace, p. 43).

 

If this is all true, the phrase "(the believer) is not under the Law but under grace" (Rom 6:14) or "the Law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17) would seem to have a self-evident meaning and solution to the present discussion.

 

 

 

 

Rolland McCune

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Part of what muddies the waters so much is folks using "law" where they mean "the Law" (i.e., Mosaic Cov.) or using "the Law" where they mean "law" (i.e., God's standard of righteousness, His commands).

Nobody in creation is ever out from under law, but only Jews were ever under the Law.

Though I can't supply examples at the moment it seemed that in my Romans study, there were places where "law" (no definite article in Greek, which may or may not be a pattern) refers to God's authority/commands/standard of righteousness generally rather than Moses in particular. Rom. 2:14 would be a good candidate.

I really thought some of that was going on in Rom. 7 as well, if memory serves. 

And it has to be going on in Romans 8.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Rom 8:2)  

Then later you have 8:4.

in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Ro 8:4)  

In particular, can 8:4 possibly mean "law of Moses"?  (8:4 does have the definite article, by the way, so that answers my earlier musing about whether there was a pattern. I was kind of hoping to see that nomos without article was not Mosaic Cov. but nomos with the article was Moses. That would be too easy. Smile )

Anyway, there is definitely more than one use of "law" in the NT, so when we're theologizing, we've got to be clear about what sort of sense of "law" we mean... especially when generalizing.

I believe when Paul says we are not under law but under grace, he is saying "We are not under the Mosaic Covenant, but under grace." We are still very much under "the law of the Spirit of life" and the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).

TylerR's picture

Editor

I had the exact same thought this morning, Aaron, as we discussed Gal 3:24 during Sunday School. It really depends on the context. 

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?

Rolland McCune's picture

Given the distinction, how would this impact the present discussion on the NT Christian's relation to the Mosaic Law, such as the Decalogue (or 9/10 of it), or the OT moral prescriptions and the like? Texts such as Jam 2:10; Rom 2:14; 6:14; 8:4; Gal 3:24; et al.

How would it affect my ground rules/criteria and the conclusion above? I would also like to see more proof that Classical Dispensationalism divorces Law from Grace and divides the biblical Testaments, and the like.

Rolland McCune

Aaron Blumer's picture

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I think the distinction just may help in general in a few ways. (a) It can sharpen/clarify the language everybody uses when talking about how Moses relates to NT Christians, and (b) to a lesser degree it may help those who react against dispensationalist understandings of how Moses realites to NT believers, and (c) help clear up some of the confusion we see nowadays in Reformed variants of "nomophobia."

I don't expect epiphanies all around and everyone suddenly saying "Oh, now I understand what you mean" or even "Oh, now I get it, but you're still wrong." But I do often see people talk past eachother, react, over react, etc. because of unclear language.

Dispensationalism has a lot of enemies on this point. Sometimes because they're just not listening. Other times, we've made it easy to misunderstand.

As for this particular discussion, ground rules, etc., I completely agree with...

If this is all true, the phrase "(the believer) is not under the Law but under grace" (Rom 6:14) or "the Law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17) would seem to have a self-evident meaning and solution to the present discussion.

I think Andrew is having some difficulty seeing the distinction though maybe, between Moses and "law" in the broader sense.

Andrew, if you're still tracking this one, I offer an analogy... imperfect but maybe helpful.

Suppose I wrote a letter to my first child containing much of my advice for living. Later, for three more of my children (I only have two, so we're very much into thought experiment land here), I wrote a second letter, and this one was much longer and more detailed and included a good bit of more functional information about how to repair cars, manage accounts, plant gardens, manage large quantities of snow, etc.

But in my second letter, I quoted verbatim, several parts of my first one.

Finally, years later, for my grandkids, I wrote a third letter on the life well lived. It quoted much of my first letter, parts of my second letter and had some new material as well.

  • A. Would it be accurate to say I want my grandkids to follow "letter #2"?
  • B. Would it be accurate to say I want my grandkids to follow "part of letter #2"?
  • C. Would it be accurate to say I want my grandkids to follow "letter #3 and the parts of letter 2 that are repeated in letter 3"?

It should be clear that...

A. would just be needlessly confusing.
B. would be similarly unhelpful.
C. Is accurate enough, but redundant... why bother?

It's enough to say "follow letter #3, and sure, parts of it are also in #1 and #2, but that isn't really your concern."

If we say the ten commandments "are" God's moral law, we're saying that ten items (really only 9 of them) that were expressed in one form or another before the ten commandments and expressed again, in so many words, after the ten commandments are "the ten commandments."

In other words, we're saying the parts of letter 1 and 3 that are also in letter 2 are all really letter 2. It's arbitrary... and ultimately not fair to the intent of letter 2 (much less letters 1 and 3).

I don't know if that helps, but it's a start. I'm sure a better analogy is already out there somewhere... or I'll come up w/a better one myself eventually.

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