A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

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One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
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Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading

“Disciples Make Disciples”: A Vital Truth That Needs Further Elaboration

trekking-299000__480.jpg“Disciples make disciples”

It’s an axiom that is thrown around by Christians who rightly make “making disciples” a priority for genuine discipleship. But is it really true? Do disciples make disciples? Or is there more to the story?

Based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, we might think that Jesus words give definitive answer: Yes, disciples make disciples.

Yet, Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel are not the only word on the subject. And in fact, as we seek to make disciples—as we are commanded—we should remember that our calling to make disciples is part of God’s larger work of redemption. This should both encourage us, motivate us, and remind us that the work of making disciples is not the mission of few committed “disciple-makers,” it is the calling for all those who call Jesus “Lord,” and thus something we should all strive to grow in. Continue reading

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

joel-filipe-241154-unsplashWhat is the Sermon on the Mount about? And more basically, what is the Sermon on the Mount? Is it a newer, more stringent law for Christ’s disciples? Is it an ideal which drives disciples to seek mercy? How should we understand it?

Many answers have been given, but I believe the best understanding of Jesus’s Sermon in Matthew 5–7 is that it is an exposition of the new covenant. Rather than a new law that exceeds that of the old covenant, I would propose that it is the eschatological word of Christ which fulfills the Law and the Prophets. And in what follows I want to outline seven reasons for that view.

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

For sake of space, I am not going to expound every point with exhaustive detail. Rather, I will trust that the points are somewhat familiar and that stringing them together has the cumulative effect of proving the Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the way Jesus expects his kingdom disciples to walk according to the new covenant he is bringing. Continue reading

The Blessed Christ: How Jesus Exemplifies All His Beatitudes

bruno-martins-442303-unsplash.jpgAll the beatitudes that Jesus uttered in the Gospel,
he confirms by his example, exemplifying what he taught.
— Origen

If we want to understand what the Beatitudes look like in action, we should look to Christ. And if we want to embody the Beatitudes, it will require a long and loving gaze at our Lord. Why? Because as we see him, we gain wisdom to know how to walk as he walks, and more importantly, when we look with faith at Christ our hearts grow in affection for his way of life. This is how the Lord sanctifies us and transforms us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

What follows, therefore, is the slimmest confirmation of Origen’s assertion (cited by Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Catechism, 69)—namely, that in the Gospels and Epistles we find evidence that all that Jesus commends in the Beatitudes are displayed in his life.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Luke 23:46

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last

Acts 10:37–38

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Matthew 12:28

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 17:20–21

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Isaiah 53:1–3

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

John 11:34­–36

And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”[1]

 

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 11:28–30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 21:5, citing Zechariah 9:9

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

  

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 3:13–15

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

John 4:31–32

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  

 

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 9:27

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

Matthew 15:22

22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Matthew 17:15

“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.

Matthew 20:30–31

30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Luke 7:47–48

47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Psalm 24 (cf. Psalm 15)

A Psalm of David.

1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. 3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah

John 1:18

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 6:45–46

45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

 

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 

Ephesians 2:14–17

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Hebrews 2:10

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

 

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 27:15–23

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

2 Corinthians 5:21

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 3:18

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

Seeing the Mountain-Like Structure of the Sermon on the Mount

jeremy-bishop-248837-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, we considered the way Matthew organized his Gospel with careful literary structures. Today, we look more closely at one part of his work, the Sermon on the Mount. And in that section of Scripture (4:23–8:1), we learn a number of things about how Matthew organized Jesus’ sermon in order to direct our attention to the main point of the sermon—namely, communion with the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

Returning to the helpful work of Jonathan Pennington, we see in his The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, that he organizes Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount into a chiastic structure that looks something like this—this arrangement here abbreviates his original outline (see pp. 132–33). Continue reading

In What Did Old Testament Saints Believe?

daniel-mccullough-539577-unsplash.jpgIn discussions about salvation and interpretation of the Old Testament, two related questions are often asked.

  1. How were the Old Testament saints saved? Or, in whom or what did they believe?
  2. How much did the Old Testament know about the coming Christ?

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Recently, in reading through The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, I came across a succinct, if slightly archaic, answer to these questions. In conversation form, Fisher explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ through the types and shadows of the Law. In short, he answers that the salvation we possess is of a piece with those under the old covenant. There are not two ways of salvation, but one, as Hebrews 11 suggests.

The difference between Israel and the church (which is today composed of Jews and Gentiles) is less about how they are saved, but how they came to know the one savior, Jesus Christ the Son of God. The former saw Christ through a veil of old covenant shadows and types; the latter have seen him in the substance of his person and work, now proclaimed through the witnesses of his apostles.

As always, such questions require elongated consideration about the whole Bible. But for short answers, what follows helpfully explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ. Continue reading

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us: A Biblical Theme That Comforts Scared Sheep

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Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

Dorothy Thrupp’s “Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us” is a powerful hymn that drinks deeply from the biblical imagery of God as Shepherd. While many are familiar with the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) or Jesus’ identification as the Good Shepherd (John 10), the theme actually extends the length of the whole Bible. To help see that, let me share a brief roadmap that traces this soul-comforting, biblical-theological theme.

Genesis 48:15–16; 49:24

In Genesis flocks go back as far as Genesis 4:4. And throughout the book of beginnings, God’s people are often seen around and among sheep. Accordingly, God’s people were very familiar with the mannerisms of sheep and what it would take to be a shepherd. It’s not surprising then, the imagery of God as a shepherd began from the beginning. (For a full treatment of this shepherd theme with application to pastoral ministry, see Timothy Laniak’s Shepherds After My Own Heart). Continue reading

The Church as Christ’s New Creation: How a Multi-Ethnic Church Fulfills God’s Promises to Israel

tung-wong-70780This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:6 —

In Ephesians 2 Paul spends a great deal of time explaining how the Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided by covenant or country, but instead have become in Christ ‘one new man in place of the two’ (v. 15). This “two becomes one” theme culminates and crystalizes in Ephesians 2:18–21, when he says that the temple Christ is building is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. He writes,

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Amazingly, in these verses, Paul highlights at least three ways in which the temple is comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

  1. He says that Christ preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near (v. 17), which is to say Christ preaches peace by his Spirit to far off Gentiles and near(er) Jews. There is not a different message for each group and there is certainly not a different covenant. Rather, the same message of Christ-centered peace is offered by Christ to all people—whether Jew or Gentile.
  2. He says both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Indeed, in Christ those who were once near do not have a greater access than those who were far off. Like John and Peter (John 20:4), one may have arrived at the empty tomb sooner than the other, but the first one to Christ did not get a greater blessing. So it is with Jews and Gentiles in Christ—both have access to the triune God and neither have more access than the other.
  3. He says Gentiles, who were once separated from the blessings of God (Ephesians 2:11–12), and Jews, who once clearly had multiple advantages over the Gentiles (see Romans 3:1–2; 9:4–5) are now fellow citizens. Indeed they are fellow members of the household of God, such that only with one another can the temple of God be joined together.

In short, Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2 of reconciliation makes clear that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but instead there is one new covenant people who possess all the same blessings in Christ. Continue reading

On “Speaking Allegorically”: An Engagement with Friedrich Büschel in the TDNT

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[Here is the first in a few blogposts following up from today’s Sunday School lesson on Galatians 4:21–31 at Occoquan Bible Church.]

In the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Friedrich Büchsel notes how “allegorical exposition” is common among ancient people including “Indians, Mohammedans, Greeks, Jews and Christians.”[1] In particular, allegorical interpretation arose when something in the text brought modern offense, as is the case of Homer. This too carried over in Christian interpretation. Where various Old Testament texts seemed to oppose accepted theology, allegorical interpretations were made to smooth out the differences. Büschel notes, “In method, . . .  the Jewish and Christian interpretation of the OT is dependent on this allegorical exposition of Homer.”[2]

Büschel goes on to report Aristobulus as the first Jewish interpreter to adopt an allegorical approach and he learned it from the Greeks: “It can hardly be doubted that he took over the allegorical method from the Greeks, for he is saturated with Greek culture and uses the same method to interpret Greek poetry.”[3] Still, the greatest name associated with allegory is that of Philo. Philo may have been influenced by Greek culture but never at the expense of the literal sense. If anything, he upheld the literal sense of the Law and then went beyond the literal sense. This kind of polyvalent approach adumbrates that of other known ‘allegorists’ like Origen. In his own day, Büschel calls Philo “a theologian of the centre who avoids extremes and can combine diverse elements.”[4] In fact, it would be misleading to label Philo an extreme if that implied he forsook the legal requirements of the Law. Rather, as Büschel concludes,

In this matter we should bear in mind the highly complicated nature of Philo’s theology. It maintains an artificial balance between a legal and literalistic Judaism on the one side and an intellectual and spiritualistic mysticism on the other, never inclining too much to either the one or the other, but keeping the two in equilibrium.[5]

While Greek approaches to literature influenced Aristobulus and Philo, it also impacted the Jews in Palestine. For instance, one positive fruit of this allegorical approach was the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon. “Only by means of allegorising could this collection of love songs be understood as a representation of the love which binds Israel to God.”[6] Additionally, the nature of “allegory” is different in Palestine. “Among the Palestinians allegorical interpretations are both rarer and less arbitrary; the distance between the literal meaning and the allegorical is much less.”[7] This difference stems from the Palestinians distance from Greco-Roman philosophy and from their closer adherence to the text. Nevertheless, it is apparent that among Jews there is a polyvalent approach to the text (“For the Palestinians, too, it is in keeping with the dignity of Scripture that it has many meanings”[8]), and thus an openness to reading the Scriptures allegorically. Continue reading

Understanding the Spiritual Gifts: A Few Translation Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

focusFirst Corinthians 12:1–11 is a glorious passage but also intensely debated. As I prepared to preach this passage on Sunday, I found that it is more than the theology that is challenging in these verses; it is also the translation of the text.

What follows are a few notes on what Paul is saying in these verses that help hone in on who he is speaking to and what God is doing. As we will consider this passage again next week, I will try to put up a few more translation notes as we consider this challening passage.

1. The ‘Spiritual Ones’ (v. 1)

The ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) all translate πνευματικῶν as “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1. Others (e.g., CSB), however, have recognized the ambiguity of Paul’s language. While 1 Corinthians 12–14 pertains to spiritual gifts (χάρισμα = 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31), there is good reason for rendering πνευματικῶν as “spiritual things” or “spiritual persons.” Let’s see why. Continue reading