Why They Followed the Law (Part 1)

Getting the Law Wrong?

The entire book of Galatians is consumed with the problem of what to do with the Old Covenant law. What does “following the law” have to do with personal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

A large party of Jewish Christians, most of them likely from Jerusalem and former Pharisees, believed you had to follow the Old Covenant law and repent and believe in Christ (Acts 15:1-5). Luke, in a very understated fashion, observes “Paul and Barnabas had no small discussion and debate with them.” The Apostle has little time for this kind of terrible error. He calls this teaching “a different Gospel,” (Gal 1:6). He speaks of the Galatians “deserting Him who called you,” (Gal 1:5). He said this is a perversion of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).

Did these Pharisees actually understand the message of the Old Covenant scriptures? Why did God’s people follow the law, anyway?

This article has one simple purpose — to explain what the real impetus was for following God’s law, both then and now. In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

If we don’t get this point, we’ll never understand the Old Covenant, we’ll never understand the book of Galatians and we’ll never understand a good bit of the Gospels, either.

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way

Jesus and the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:28-34)

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28)

This goes to show you that stereotypes aren’t always accurate — a scribe is the one who asks this question. The context which prompted the question is Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees about the validity of the resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). This man is a Pharisee.1 He’s somebody who is very concerned with the letter of the law. So, naturally, he wants to know what the greatest commandment is — so he can follow it!2

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:28-31)

Here is the content of Jesus’ answer, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.3 Consider what it tells us about why God’s people should obey His law.

  1. Our God is the Lord.

God is your master. He is in complete charge of your life, your soul, your blessings, your cursings, your destiny. If you’re a Christian, God created you as a new person in Christ “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). You were saved in order to serve the Lord, and work for Him.

God is your Lord! If He saved you, then you are now a willing and enthusiastic slave for righteousness.4 This is the foundation for Jesus’ answer.

  1. The Lord is One

There is only One legitimate Lord you can serve — everything else is a pagan counterfeit. He is the God of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures. He is the God of the First Covenant and the God of the New Covenant

  1. You will love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

You must love God with everything you have, with every fiber of your being! These terms are not synonymous (we could look at each of them individually), but together they express a simple concept — a complete, all-encompassing love for God!5 Anything done for a reason other than this is counterfeit, and God is not pleased by it.

  1. You will love your neighbor just as you love yourself

Who is your neighbor? In the context of Leviticus 19:18 (which Jesus quoted from), your neighbor is a covenant brother and sister — including a believing Gentile (cf. Lev 19:34). In short, Jesus is talking about “brotherly love,” (cf. 1 Jn 4:20). You should love and value your Christian brothers and sisters just as much as you love and value yourself.

All of the Old Covenant law can be summed up in these two commands (cf. Mt 22:40). God is your Lord, therefore you exist to serve Him. Your Lord is One, therefore any other worship is idolatry. So, you must love God with everything you have. This is the only appropriate motivation for service.

  • You serve God because He saved you from yourself, knowing who you are, what you have done, what you are doing now, and what you will do in the future.
  • Because you’re so grateful and love Him so much, you’ll want to serve Him with your life.
  • And because all this is true, you also love your covenant brothers and sisters — because, together, you’re each part of God’s family.

Jesus refers to these two commandments as one singular commandment6 because, together, they sum up the entire teaching purpose of the law.7 They’re inseparable. If you love God, then you’ll love God’s children, because they’re your brothers and sisters.

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:32-33)

Why does the scribe have such insight? Isn’t he supposed to be a legalistic hypocrite!? This is why we must always remember that we can’t read the Bible like it’s cardboard. This is the story of real people, with real minds of their own, who act like real people would actually act. It’s always dangerous to over-generalize about people; it’s true today and it was true then.

Most of the scribes were legalists like the Pharisees, but not all of them were! This scribe seems to be genuinely sincere.8 It is likely God was drawing this man to saving faith. I like to think he repented and believed one day. After all, some of the Pharisees did believe (e.g. Nicodemus, Acts 15:5).

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question (Mk 12:34; cf. Mt 22:34-40)

This is Jesus’ inspired statement about why God’s people should obey God’s law; especially the Old Covenant law. You obey God’s law because you love Him, and want to serve Him. Real salvation produces real fruit. That fruit is whole-hearted love for God, which proves itself by action.

More next week …

Notes

1 William L. Lane suggests the man could be a Sadducee, because that group had its own group of legal interpreters (The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 431). I doubt this. I’m not aware of any place in the NT where the phrase γραμματεύς refers to the Sadducees; however, the reference to “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk 2:16) is intriguing, suggesting different sects may have had their own scribes.

Generally, however, the scribes are associated with the Pharisee party. Add to it that Jesus had just handily dispatched the Sadducees’ ridiculous argument against the resurrection. If this particular scribe were a Sadducee, one would not expect him to engage in a discussion over which commandment was first of all! This is a Pharisaical question, through and through. A Sadducee would likely be smarting over the discussion which had just ended. “Most scribes aligned with the Pharisees in their theology, including their teaching on the resurrection and the authority of Scripture,” (Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 541).    

2 There is more to this question, but I don’t have time to go into it here. See Lane (Mark, 431-432) and James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 370-371.

Lane observed, “Both the question and its presuppositions stem from a piety of human achievement, supported by scribal interpretation of the biblical mandates (Lane, Mark, 431). 

3 The UBS-5, TR and BYZ are each identical to the LXX (Rahlfs) here. Very interesting! This phrase can be rendered in a variety of ways, depending on how you interpret the nominatives — just look at the different English translations. I rendered it, “Jesus answered that [the] most important is, ‘Listen, Israel! Our God is Lord. [The] Lord is one.”

4 “Jesus demands a decision and readiness for God, and for God alone, in an unconditional manner. Clearly this cannot be the subject of legal enactment. It is a matter of the will and action. The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship,” (Lane, Mark, 432-433).  

5 See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 — 16:20, in WBC, vol. 34b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 264.

6 The Greek is clear here: μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν (“there is not another command greater than these”). Strauss, however, disputes this point grammatically (Mark, 546 [fn. 11]).

7 Evans suggests they sum up the Decalogue (Mark 8:27 — 16:20, 265). I don’t have time to elaborate that here. 

8 Walter W. Wessel, Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 736.

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There are 29 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, Tyler, for these good thoughts.  I look forward to your insights in the days ahead.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

I've never attended a non-dispensational church, so I can't speak about whether this is a problem in other circles. But, I will say that there is a pervasive misunderstanding in dispensationalism about why OC saints followed the law. Beginning with Scofield, through Chafer, and down through some flavors of dispensationalism (usually, classical dispensationalism), there has been a false belief that OC saints followed the law to gain merit and be justified before God - or because you fear Him and don't want to die. This is a terrible error. It misreads the text so badly.

This error is also why (I believe) dispensationalists (at a lay level, at least) often misunderstand the Book of Galatians. They take it to mean Paul is slamming the OC law. He isn't. He is attacking the false perversion of it that was characteristic of his times; the version the Judaizers were peddling in Galatia. His remarks must be seen in that light. I just finished teaching 1 Pet 1:13-16 in Sunday School, and Peter quotes Leviticus very approvingly. The law is useful and good, provided you interpret it correctly in light of the New Covenant. That is, if you think the NC is actually here (another DT issue!) Smile

I was taught some watered-down variations of the Scofield/classical dispensationalist answer throughout the years, here and there. It couldn't be further from the truth. As the years go by, I am moving further and further away from a more strict dispensationalism. I agree with Ryrie's infamous sine qua non, but I'm less and less satisfied that the fine details of the system really capture what the Bible teaches. Like Paul Henebury (i.e. "Dr. Reluctant"), I find myself to be a "reluctant dispensationalist."    

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

I'm told that in the streets of Gotham and elsewhere, you'll find small RVs with Hasidic Jews in them who go around finding non-observant Jews and giving them the materials they need to honor the commandments, or Mitzvahs.  The RVs go by the name "Mitzvah tanks".

It strikes me that most of the Pharisees in Scripture are fulfilling this role, warning the people about not obeying what they think God said in various regards.  Many of those times--e.g. hand washing--it appears that what's really going on is adherence to what Jesus would have called "their traditions."  Follow all these minute laws and.....you'll be OK with God.

But of course, that's not what we would conclude from the actual written Torah.  So I tend to agree with Tyler that there's a bit of a disconnect there--perhaps it is that "we dispensationalists" have failed to clue in to the fact that the "Law" of the NT is not that of Moses?  

And in the light of the Pharisees running "Mitzvah chariots" at that time, the scribe asking what the greatest commandment may not be simply an academic exercise, but would rather reflect his desire to systematize the Torah--and in doing so, what he's trying to achieve is to make the Torah simpler to understand, letting the air out of the tires of the Mitzvah tanks.  I agree with Tyler that he may have come to Christ.

josh p's picture

I do attend a non-Dispensational church and the only people that I have ever heard characterize dispensationalists as believing that OT saints were justified by law keeping are non-dispensationalists. I have attended some VERY Dispensational churches and done a lot of reading in dispensationalism and never run into it. Granted Scofield and Chafer made some pretty clear statements that way early on but they publicly repudiated those ideas later on. I can understand a person leaving dispensationalism but that is just not a good reason to do so.

I am interested to read the rest of the series but my understanding of Galatians is that Paul was criticizing the Galatians (really Judiazers) for introducing the law as a means to justify themselves. IOW it wasn't a criticism of the law but it was a criticism of placing oneself under its restrictions as a means of being right with God.

TylerR's picture

Joshp

I think many Christians are confused about the OT. In the pews, I have found many people are very hazy about the OT saint's motivation for service. Many people seem to assume "you had to keep the law to be blessed . . .and God said He'd kill people who disobey . . .and now we're not under law, but grace" and are just very confused. Dispensationalism badly taught doesn't help. I've taught Galatians myself, and just finished sitting through somebody else teach it - these are recurring issues, in my experience. 

I'm not sure whether this is a DT problem. On a side note, I've run into very educated people on SI who are hardline classical DTs who believe OT saint's served God out of fear, so they'd get blessings. I think a watered-down version of this is a defacto position among many Christians. It really stems from a terrible misreading of the OT, both by the congregation and the pastors. 

In my experience, I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. Dispensationalism poorly understand and even more poorly taught
  2. General ignorance of the OT, both in the pew and the pulpit. How many pastors preach expositorily through OT books?

I'd be very interested to hear a perspective from a non-dispensationalist about how his/her congregation generally understands the law. I know somebody is out there, lurking in the shadows, reading this post. Lemme know what you think! Smile

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Almost all of the preaching I've heard on OT saints has been centered on their Godly lives and how those lives are examples for us to follow. Believers have been exhorted to follow their examples, sometimes to the point where I can understand how some come to the conclusion that "obeying produces righteousness". 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jim's picture

When J. Alec Motyer was questioned about the relationship of Old Testament Israel to the church, after saying something about the discontinuities, he insisted that we are all one people of God. Then he asked us to imagine how the Israelites under Moses would have given their ‘testimony’ to someone who had asked for it. They would have said something like this:

We were in a foreign land, in bondage, under the sentence of death. But our mediator – the one who stands between us and God – came to us with the promise of deliverance. We trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the lamb, and he lead us out. Now we are on the way to the Promised Land. We are not there yet, of course, but we have the law to guide us, and through blood sacrifice we also have his presence in our midst. So he will stay with us until we get to our true country, our everlasting home.

Then Dr Motyer concluded: ‘Now think about it. A Christian today could say the same thing, almost word for word.’

 

---------

Source: A Christian's Pocket Guide to Loving The Old Testament: One Book, One God, One Story, forward by Tim Keller, p x. Dr Motyer passed into glory this August. A tribute here.

TylerR's picture

Jim:

I agree with that, whole-heartedly. There are some real discontinuities between the Old and New Covenant, to be sure. But, I see many more continuities on key issues.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rolland McCune's picture

        OLD TESTAMENT LAW LIVING

This subject has been (for me) of deep interest in coordinating dispensational matters as well as explaining life under the Mosaic covenant in general. I do not intend to get involved here in individual interpretations of proof texts or simply the personal opinions of bloggers. I would only suggest some load-bearing theological points of the bigger picture, or perhaps a paradigm of what I think a proper approach to the subject might look like.

1. Theocracy.

   The idea is that Israel was a kingdom comprised of a theocratic union of "church and state" with a civil religion incumbent on everyone within the covenant. The "pledge of allegiance" was the Great Shema of Deut 6:4-6. This way of life was a product solely of the Law of Moses. Necessary factors would include continuing divine revelation as interpreted by prophetic and priestly functions; there was no individual soul liberty. Approach to God was through the Levitical forms and personnel of the central altar; there was no individual priesthood of the believer. Nor were there satellite temples scattered about. The efficacy of the Levitical sacrifices is a crucial dimension of OT religion. The continuance of divine miracles was also a main pillar that upheld the theocratic state; e.g., the double (and triple) produce of the land the year before it was to lie fallow during the sabbatical and jubilee years.

2. Motivations.

   Two components seem to apply here. (1) Motivated by love: i.e., blessings of a physical nature for obedience, such as rain, fertility, family, full barns, et al., and also blessings of a spiritual nature for covenant loyalty and obedience. This latter is a much larger problem. There is a large number of divine promises for "life" or "living," some of which seem to equate life with justification itself.  This requires careful treading of course. Note these texts: Rom 2:13; 7:10; 10:5; Gal 3:12; Lev 18:5; Deut 4:1; 5:28-33; 16:20; 30:6, 19; Ezek 20:11. The usual interpretation as physical life (as in # 1 above) becomes difficult to sustain for some of these references. But the alternative is even more difficult. This life factor would seem to be applicable to understanding the incident of the rich young ruler (Mt 19:16 ff). This narrative could be interpreted in infinitely more than physical categories.

   The "love" motivation, in my thought, needs to beware of emotional or glandular implications, a common problem in NT categories of the Christian experience, and a much greater problem when such are extrapolated into the OT milieu. There is a big difference in personal and practical living between the administrations of Law and Grace. It is doubtful people sang "On the Vic'try Side" under Law. Life in general, including the liturgical aspects of the Law, was of an austere nature.

   (2) Motivated by "fear." "Fear" generally appears as a synonym for genuine faith in the God of the covenant. But at times there seems to be a certain sense of being afraid of the penal sanctions inherent in the Law of Moses. There were numerous capital sins under the Law. Most sanctions were of a physical nature, such as illness, famine, pestilence and disease. Even the inevitability of death itself was not welcomed for various reasons. See especially the Book of Ecclesiastes. There was no 1 Cor 15 to turn to.

3.  The fundamental difference between Law and Grace. 

   While all Scripture is God-breathed and thus profitable for all, the NT declares a monumental difference between Law and Grace, Israel and the Church, Moses and Jesus Christ. The dictum "we are not under law but under grace" not only explicates a turning point between the two, but an abolition of the Law that interjects itself into NT theology and spirituality; e.g., salvation, sanctification and the whole distinctly Christian experience.

   While the OT believer's life and outlook had its complex darker side compared to NT living, there were reasons and special occasions for joy and happiness, even exuberance. See the Psalms for example. But I would caution making these his normal spiritual experiences, especially if such incidents are interpreted  by essentially NT criteria. 

Hopefully food for thought.      

 

Rolland McCune

TylerR's picture

Dr. McCune mentioned three paradigms for understanding "why they followed the law:

  1. Theocracy. Of course; certainly no argument there.
  2. Motivation. This is a point where there is a lot of discontinuity, but there certainly is a lot of continuity, too. See, for example, the admonitions about the Lord's Supper, what happened to Ananias & Sapphira, Peter's warning (1 Peter 1:17), or Heb 12:5ff. Some NT theologians (for example, my NT professor) sees the classic warning passages in Hebrews as being warnings about temporal punishment for believers who are not obedient - a sort of parallel to the blessings and cursings from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, but individualized. 
  3. Law & Grace. I'm not convinced this is a very helpful distinction. Ryrie had to devote an entire section to his book about how this doesn't mean DT's think there was no grace in the OT. This could be due to critics not understanding the issues, but it likely also means the distinction is a bad one to hang your hat on. It's ripe for misinterpretation and misunderstanding - a possible reason why many Christians don't understand the OT. I believe Old Covenant vs. New Covenant is a much better paradigm. I'm curious why you caution against making joy, happiness and exuberance normal spiritual experiences for the OC saint. That seems . . . odd, to say the least. 

You also wrote,

I do not intend to get involved here in individual interpretations of proof texts or simply the personal opinions of bloggers

Hopefully you weren't referring to me. If you were, then you'll disregard everything I said, obviously Smile

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rolland McCune's picture

Tyler:

No problem with an interchange of ideas. I was thinking more of the structure of OT living rather than extended controversy over individual texts.

RE: NT warnings such as Ananias and Sapphirah, I see little or no real parallel between that scene and OT capital punishment and other sanctions of  a physical nature from Mosaism. Nothing of those sorts are part of NT teaching, Christian living or local church discipline. God may shorten a believer's life because of persistent disobedience, but this is not comparable to Mosaic capital prescriptions and practice. I personally would not appeal to 1 Pet 1:27 or Heb 12:5ff on this.

RE: Law and grace, the NT is quite clear on the antithesis between the two and its far-reaching implications. The accusation of no grace under law nor of some principles of the law under grace is not the crux of the issue. We are talking about administrations of God's revelation, not about the mere presence of each in Law and Grace. In Law-Grace contexts, the thought about Law is the Law of Moses. The NT is clear that there is no Law of Moses in existence and functioning since the 1st Century AD (Col 2; Gal 3). Talk about discontinuity! Granted, there are NT "carry-over" (Ryrie's term) principles from Law, held in isolation from the Mosaic legal system itself, but I would not understand them to entail huge load-bearing importations/extrapolations of revelational continuity.

RE: OT Expressions of joy, exuberance, etc. I am certainly not "against " them as such. I simply would not  understand them as necessary or regular items of either OT religion or NT Christianity. I would not hold them up as ongoing components of the Christian experience, or one's happiness, joy, and exuberance as conscious objects of living for Christ. They are by-products. Many of those emphases are inherited from the holiness, deeper life, Wesleyan and Keswick-type movements of centuries ago. Expressions of love, happiness and spiritual exuberance are most often actually produced by the glands and not the enlightened intellect, which is the control center of the human personality. "The Lord spoke to me about . . . ," "I have finally got 'peace' about . . . " and a host of other cliches Christians often use are experientially suspect and biblically/theologically vacuous.  That is what I find odd.

Rolland McCune

TylerR's picture

A few more random thoughts:

  • Warnings.

The large difference I see in the NT is that the discipline for deliberate disobedience is not so much corporate any longer, but individual. More could be said, but my basic point is that there is still a clear mandate to faithfully obey God, at the risk of divine discipline. I think God's motivations for discipline in the Old Covenant (i.e. the Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant in Christ are the same - discipline for our own good. I think Deuteronomy has a whole lot to say about this. I bring out some of it in my next installment, where I do a brief survey of several OT passages.

  • Law & Grace.

I agree the real issue is more than the mere presence of law and grace; but one of the reasons I find this a bad description is because it takes so much effort to get people to understand what you're not talking about. My main point in this short series is to demonstrate that God's people, in the OC and NC, have always followed His law with the same motivations - we love Him, so we serve Him. My own experience is that the "law vs. grace" distinction simply confuses people. It doesn't confuse DT theologians or scholars, but it does confuse Pastors and Christians in the pews. I think it's a bad paradigm, and dispensationalists have not done a good job explaining themselves.

I've read Houghton's book Law and Grace three times - I haven't the foggiest idea what he's saying, and wouldn't dare recommend a lay Christian read the thing. I've read McClain's Law and Grace about six times - it's better, but not by much. I realize some may consider this to be akin to heresy, but there it is. Smile

To zoom out to the bigger conceptual framework, I find "law and grace" a bad framework to hang your hat on. As I said before, I think "Old Covenant" and "New Covenant" is a better, richer, an far deeper framework to work with (note - I'm not referring to the artificial divisions in our bible's table of contents, but the actual covenants!). I think dispensationalists have neglected this framework because there is a great disagreement in DT circles over what on earth to do with the New Covenant. I owe a great deal of my thinking on this to Paul Henebury, and my own preaching through Hebrews and several OT books.

  • Exuberance

Not sure how we jumped from this to a discussion of Wesleyan/Keswick topics, but we managed to do it. My short answer is this - "the Lord spoke to me, told me you are wrong, and I have peace about that decision." (Yes, that is a joke . . .)

My long answer is this - I assumed you were saying OC saints didn't live lives characterized by joy, happiness and contentment in the Lord's salvation. If that isn't what you meant, no worries. If it was, I'm still confused. I'm with you on the bad evangelical cliches, and so is the Lord - He spoke to me and told me He was.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Larry's picture

We were in a foreign land, in bondage, under the sentence of death. But our mediator – the one who stands between us and God – came to us with the promise of deliverance. We trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the lamb, and he lead us out. Now we are on the way to the Promised Land. We are not there yet, of course, but we have the law to guide us, and through blood sacrifice we also have his presence in our midst. So he will stay with us until we get to our true country, our everlasting home.

Then Dr Motyer concluded: ‘Now think about it. A Christian today could say the same thing, almost word for word.’

This perhaps illustrates the issue better than Jim (or Dr. Motyer) intended. The only way a Christian could casy the "same thing almost word for word" is if the meaning of the word changes. Israel was in Egypt; the Christian is not in a "foreign land" in any sense (except ex-pats perhaps). The mediator is actually two different people (Moses vs. Jesus) and one of them was wholly inadequate to the task. The Promised Land is two different lands. The Law is either two different laws or doesn't guide the Christian. 

One of the constant issues is over these basic hermeneutical principles of meaning. Using the same words does not make one mean the same thing. So to me, this seems to prove the point that dispensationalists have long made, and in fact that everyone makes unless they are either academic literature professors or covenant theologians. 

TylerR's picture

I doubt any conservative Christian really convinces another by appeal to systematic theology. I prefer to first turn to a passage. Let's go back to the passage in the article (Mk 12:28-34):

  1. The Pharisee asked what the greatest commandment was
  2. Jesus replied, "The Lord is your God. The Lord is One." He explained a covenant member must love God with everything He has.
  3. He also added, "love your neighbor as yourself."
  4. He explained the entire Mosaic Law could be summed up in these two precepts.

Does this not indicate the motivation for following the law is because of who He is, what He's done for you, which produces whole-hearted love, the practical outworking of which is sincere love for the brethren? Why or why not?

Let's take this out of the clouds and back to the text.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Greg Long's picture

Tyler, how can you be so adamantly opposed to drawing a distinction between law and grace when that is what Paul does throughout his letters? "You are not under law, but under grace" has to mean something.

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

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

I don't think Rom 6:14 is referring to the Mosaic Covenant, else you'd have to conclude that, under the Mosaic Law:

  • sin reigned in your mortal body to make you a slave to its passions (Rom 6:12)
  • they could not yield themselves as slaves for God's righteousness (Rom 6:13)
  • and that sin had dominion over OC saints (Rom 6:14) 

The reason why Paul can assure the Roman Christians that sin will no longer have dominion over them, that sin no longer reigns in their mortal bodies to make them its slaves for unrighteousness, is because (γάρ) they are no longer under the authority of the law, but of grace. In this context, off the cuff, I have trouble seeing how the Mosaic Law made sin reign in their mortal bodies, enslaved people to unrighteousness and had complete dominion over OC saints. I prefer to see Paul referring to the "law of sin and death" (cf. Rom 8:2), referring to the rule and authority of the "law of sin" in one's life.

I'd prefer to chat about the motivation for following the law, from Mk 12:28-34. Otherwise, this discussion will continue to bounce around like a renegade ping-pong ball, solving nothing, advancing nothing, because we're being too abstract. I made some brief forays into dispensationalism in my comments (above) because I believe dispensationalism badly taught is one reason why so many Christians misunderstand the Book of Galatians, and the motivation for OC saints to serve God in general. I was hoping some non-dispensationalists would stop by and give a perspective from their side of the fence. I know they're out there, reading this, but not posting . . . Sad

But, back to the main issue - does Mk 12:28-34 support the idea that OC saints obeyed the law out of fear, or something other than a wholehearted love for the Lord? This is Jesus' inspired interpretation about the law. It has to mean something. That's why I chose the text. What does it mean? Why did they follow the law, from this passage? If you can get "fear" out of the passage, then lemme know how. As I read the prophets (e.g. Hosea), I see such continuity with Jesus' teaching. Am I wrong? He quoted from Hosea in another context, as He condemned superficial, external conformity! 

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

I've never attended a non-dispensational church, so I can't speak about whether this is a problem in other circles. But, I will say that there is a pervasive misunderstanding in dispensationalism about why OC saints followed the law. Beginning with Scofield, through Chafer, and down through some flavors of dispensationalism (usually, classical dispensationalism), there has been a false belief that OC saints followed the law to gain merit and be justified before God - or because you fear Him and don't want to die. This is a terrible error. It misreads the text so badly.

This error is also why (I believe) dispensationalists (at a lay level, at least) often misunderstand the Book of Galatians. They take it to mean Paul is slamming the OC law. He isn't. He is attacking the false perversion of it that was characteristic of his times; the version the Judaizers were peddling in Galatia. His remarks must be seen in that light. I just finished teaching 1 Pet 1:13-16 in Sunday School, and Peter quotes Leviticus very approvingly. The law is useful and good, provided you interpret it correctly in light of the New Covenant. That is, if you think the NC is actually here (another DT issue!) Smile

I was taught some watered-down variations of the Scofield/classical dispensationalist answer throughout the years, here and there. It couldn't be further from the truth. As the years go by, I am moving further and further away from a more strict dispensationalism. I agree with Ryrie's infamous sine qua non, but I'm less and less satisfied that the fine details of the system really capture what the Bible teaches. Like Paul Henebury (i.e. "Dr. Reluctant"), I find myself to be a "reluctant dispensationalist."    

Tyler,

It sounds like you are on a slippery slope. Whether your journey leads you out of dispensationlism (as it did for me) I appreciate your commitment to and pursuit of the truth. 

Steve

TylerR's picture

I've been told my views are more in line with progressive dispensationalism. This is ironic, because I haven't read anything specifically on progressive dispensationalism. It just hasn't been an area of interest for me. I plan to read Bock's work one day. All I've read about it is from critics who see it as a betrayal.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Are OT saints "in Christ"?

Are they excluded from the marriage supper of the Lamb? (Do they eat post shift?)

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

I've been told my views are more in line with progressive dispensationalism. This is ironic, because I haven't read anything specifically on progressive dispensationalism. It just hasn't been an area of interest for me. I plan to read Bock's work one day. All I've read about it is from critics who see it as a betrayal.

Reading your Bible may align your thinking with PD without reading the books. I do think that for many, Progressive Dispensationalism becomes a station on the way out of Dispensationalism. There are other stops along the way. My problem has been that although I lean historic premill (I have difficulty seeing multiple phases of the Second Coming and multiple resurrections) with some affinity for elements of amil, I see some in both systems I can't reconcile with the Bible. After 40 years I'm still trying to figure it out Smile but am content to know that Jesus is coming again and will reign forever and ever. That is abundantly clear to me. 

Bert Perry's picture

TylerR wrote:

I've been told my views are more in line with progressive dispensationalism. This is ironic, because I haven't read anything specifically on progressive dispensationalism. It just hasn't been an area of interest for me. I plan to read Bock's work one day. All I've read about it is from critics who see it as a betrayal.

The word "betrayal" reminds me of a time when I asked my pastor about whether there were any references he knew of that fairly described the "other side."  He didn't even flinch when he said no.  We gotta do better than this.  Progressive dispensationalism may or may not be correct, but it is not a "betrayal." 

On a side note, or perhaps more accurately as a main point, it strikes me that if I read any significant amount of the Old Testament, I see salvation by grace through faith, especially in the prophets and Psalms, and to a degree as well even in the Torah.  

TylerR's picture

Ron:

My family went through Revelation 4-22 last year, verse by verse, during family devotions. I essentially taught through the book. I also preached through Rev 21-22 a few years ago. My stance has softened on some traditional DT positions:

  • Who is at the marriage supper of the lamb?
  • Will this world be reformed, or scrapped and replaced entirely?
  • Will the New Jerusalem be around in the tribulation?
  • Will Israel exist as a separate, ethic people in eternity, after the tribulation?

This isn't a reaction against something, but a sharpening of my own understanding through study. I think Robert Thomas' Revelation commentary is a real jewel - by far the best that DT has produced on this important book. It is a sane and reasoned interpretation. I think Walvoord sometimes went too far into speculation. So did Unger, in his commentary on Zechariah.

Regarding the rapture, my own take is that it is the interpretation that has the fewest problems. That isn't a glowing assessment, I know, but that's where I'm at now. I'm teaching 1 & 2 Peter in Sunday School, and his eschatology is pretty bare bones - Jesus will return and deliver us! It would be an interesting study to take 1 & 2 Peter, and his sermons from Acts, and write a paper on Peter's eschatology. 

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Greg Long's picture

Tyler, that's fine.

-------
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

Tyler:

I fully understand the dichotomy you write about. Systematic theology is the "cloud" and the brass tack is the passage. But I'm sure you know and were taught that Bible study, exegesis, exposition, et al, don't/can't stop with a simple passage; there is the task of coordination--harmonization or systematization, if you please.  But I do note that you have gone from Mark 12:28-34 to paradigmatic conclusions. That's what I am pushing for as well. Systematics and "passages" are good friends. But the passages clamor to leave exegetical incubation and rub shoulders with myriads of other passages "out there" in the world of biblical consistency, away from the gnomic aorist, moveable nu  and/or enclitic mem nests.

Speaking of passages, I would like to see your handling of some of the passages I mentioned under the "motivations" rubric, and harmonize them with those that seem antithetical to them; e,g., Rom 2:13; 7:10; and Lev 18:5.

And, back to the Law-Grace distinction, a good exegesis of John 1:17 would seem to make such a distinction valid if not better. I guess I don't see where the strength of Old Covenant-New Covenant language is superior and somehow makes dispensationalism understandable, especially given the problems with the hermeneutics surrounding the New Covenant.

 

Rolland McCune

TylerR's picture

Dr. McCune:

I'll get back to you with some comments on the texts you mentioned this evening. I'm at work, writing up a fraud case right now! Smile  

Yes, systematic theology is necessary - and everybody has some kind of a systematic understanding of theology, even if it isn't very systematic! But, before we systematize our doctrine, we must first begin with some explicitly didactic passages that address the question under discussion (e.g. "why did they follow the law?") - thus Mk 12:28-34.

In the meantime, until I respond to your texts this evening, do you have any thoughts on my brief discussion of Mk 12:28-34?

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rolland McCune's picture

Tyler:

In going over your article again, I find nothing of substance with which I could really disagree. Who can fault serving God with his whole being? As you note, this has always been the divine requirement, going from Eden to the present day. Divine moral standards could demand no other than absolute moral perfection. God has no sliding scale of different strokes for different folks. This is also the genius of the Law of Moses. The divine prescription that permeated the entire Mosaic system was the complete obedience of the whole person to the totality of the Law, all of the time, and with perfect motives. Anyone who did that could "live" (Lev 18:5). Some would question the assertion of "duty faith," i.e., the idea that God demands repentance, faith and moral perfection from every single member of the human race, but I think it is legitimate (Acts 17:27). Every deviation from His holy will and person calls for infinite redress.

My original post on this thread simply suggested the need for an atmosphere or a theological, dispensational, revelational and historical context  to understand what it was to live under the Law of Moses. This would also impact living under the following dispensation, Grace, in a continuous or discontinuous motif.  In rereading your main post I still think there is much that would add clarity and precision to the basic proposition of this thread--which concerns moral living under the Mosaic Law Covenant. To wit:

1. The Great Shema (Deut 6:4-6) and the appeal to it in the era of the Gospels are actually in the same administration historically, i.e., Old Covenant Law (1445 BC to ca AD 30) (Mt 22:40; Mk 12:18-27). This would seem to cloud or stymie an argument for a basic continuity of moral obedience between Law and Grace (or the OC vis-a-vis NC configuration).  A clear reference to a strictly Grace or NC source would seem to be preferred to complete the comparison/contrast.

2.  The necessity of perfect obedience to God's person and will in both Law and Grace inevitably generated multiplied incidents of disobedience and the need for forgiveness and restoration. The OT saint had only one venue for this--the Levitical system that functioned at the place where God had "placed His name." With the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ came also the individual priesthood and soul liberty of believers. I.e., living for and loving God with one's whole being changed radically.

3. Perhaps greater than all was the changed pattern of daily obeying God. Under Law daily life was tightly regimented as to what could be eaten, the threads of fabric in garments, the animals that pulled the farm machinery, the paying of various tithes (two tithes each year, an extra tithe every 3rd year [termed "the year of tithing"!]), attendance at the three pilgrimage feasts at the central altar (for the men), and the whole festal calendar and the somewhat complicated sacrificial system, to name a few. Living under Grace could not have a greater contrast, it would seem.

4. There were, of course, very happy occasions for those under the Law. The Psalmist could declare his love for the Law; some of the holy days were very festive. Going to the house of the Lord (the Temple) could bring great gladness and very fulfilling spiritual experiences (e.g.,thirsting urgently for God [Ps 42:1--note the centrality of the altar in this quest--when could the Psalmist "come and appear before God" at the central shrine with a suitable offering, possibly a peace offering?]).

But…there were divinely-mandated procedures that caused sadness and fear that also become part of the overall scenario of living under Law. E.g., the sinner was personally to slit the throat of his substitute victim at a sin or trespass offering. Or consider someone who had to watch his son being executed  by stoning for cursing his father and/or mother.

The above points were noted somewhat off the cuff but were designed simply to suggest a larger and clearer picture of what living under the Law of Moses included, or how the mandate of Deut 6:4-6 was impacted.

 

Rolland McCune

TylerR's picture

You're right about the Levitical issues, of course. There are differences in context between the Old and New Covenant believer.

This short series (which will be somewhere between 3-4 parts) is designed to re-direct some Christians who perhaps overemphasize the discontinuity. The series is actually a Sunday School lesson I taught recently, after we finished studying the Book of Galatians. It was designed as the capstone to direct Christians towards a correct understanding about the real motivation to serve God. It has always been because of love.

Going further into the weeds, the remarks you're making about the Levitical system vs. the New Covenant in Christ are surely correct. I'm focusing on the larger picture, and the series was designed and taught for "normal" (for lack of a better word!) Christians.  

A few more points:

  1. Mk 12:28-34 and the Old Covenant. My point wasn't so much to say, "See! The NC believer should serve God because he loves Him!" My point was to say, "See! Jesus believed the OC; He just interpreted the motivation for obedience the CORRECT WAY - not the way the Pharisees did!" As I read the prophets I see a continual condemnation of superficial externalism, and a call to return to the law in sincerity. Jesus' quotation of Hosea 6 (and context) make this clear. There are numerous examples I could cite from the prophets where externalism is meaningless without inward devotion driving the outward act. The Book of Malachi, for example. I could even preach Malachi, contrasted with the true procedure and motivation for burnt offerings from Leviticus 1, and make a pretty good series out of it. Smile
  2. Changed patterns of daily living. Yes, I agree.

I'll come back with some more on your passages, which I promised I'd do a few days ago. I hope to do some of that this evening, but I must go and ponder the mysteries of the Qal Participle right now . . . Sad

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rolland McCune's picture

TYLER

Thanks for the expeditious reply. And, in the words of our departed but venerable friend from Geneva, good luck with the Qal participle.

Rolland McCune

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