06 October 2005

Did Jesus change the moral law?

Pyro v.s PacifismChristians who embrace radical pacifism face a serious dilemma when they come to the Old Testament, because the historical narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with instances when the Lord commanded the Israelites to go to war.

In one famous incident, God commanded Israel to wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth (1 Samuel 15:3), and then He punished king Saul for Saul's failure to follow those instructions to the letter (vv. 18-23).

So the Old Testament clearly does not support a radical pacifist worldview.

Pacifists therefore usually take one of two approaches to interpreting the Old Testament: either they attack the authority and reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures, or they devise a theology that accommodates some sort of massive shift from the ethical and moral standards of the Old Testament to a supposedly new and higher standard in the New Testament.

The former approach is patently liberal and quickly degenerates into some variety of deism or Socinianism. The latter approach is really no less problematic. It undermines one's approach to both hermeneutics and systematic theology at a foundational level. It opens the door for creeping liberalism, too.

Most of the Christian pacifists with whom I have dialogued have defended some version of the second approach. Some of them are Anabaptistic, some advocate a variety of dispensationalism, and (more recently) several have adhered to one style or another of "New Covenant Theology." The common belief of all of them is that the New Covenant era is governed by a whole different moral standard from the Old Covenant era. They typically argue that this is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about: Jesus was modifying the moral content of the Law. Some even claim He nullified the Law itself, despite Jesus' own explicit disclaimer in Matthew 5:17-19.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount skillfully refutes those views. I won't repeat all his arguments here, but they are well worth reading—and conclusive, in my view.

The bottom line, however, is that the moral demands of Moses' law are no more or less stringent than, and in no way fundamentally different from, the New Testament ethic of love. The Sermon on the Mount simply amplifies the moral content of the OT law, but it does not abrogate or change any of it.

To be clear: Jesus "amplified" the law by making its true meaning clearer, not by adding anything that wasn't there before, and certainly not by changing the moral principles of the law.

The same pacifist gentleman with whom I dialogued in Tuesday's post strongly disagrees. His response to my Tuesday comments deals with precisely this issue.

In our dialogue, I explained to him from Scripture itself why I cannot accept the notion that the moral principles of the New Covenant are different from the old. What follows is the conversation that ensued. (Again, his words are in dark red; mine in black):

You're wrong about The Sermon on the Mount. No less than six times in a row, Jesus' teaching does alter the moral standard of Moses' law. Christ explicitly changed the law, set it aside, and made new laws which are more stringent—such as the rules against remarriage and the swearing of oaths.

Let's see, shall we? I believe it's clear that Jesus was correcting the excesses and distortions of rabbinical tradition, not changing the law. And this is demonstrable from the Old Testament itself.

Not so. Jesus didn't even mention "rabbinical tradition." Virtually all His quotes in Matthew 5 are straight from the Pentateuch, and the changes He makes are big changes, and flat-out contradictions—not mere affirmations of the OT.

They are not "changes." But neither are they "mere affirmations." They are expositions of the true intent of the law.

No. I'm convinced that Jesus' repeated expression, "But I say into you..." is the interpetive key to the passage. It proves he was altering the moral standard.

The expression "But I say into you..." doesn't necessarily imply any repudiation of the principles cited; in most cases it merely introduces a further elucidation of the moral principle underlying the law. To paraphrase: "The law says don't commit adultery, but I tell you that lust violates the same moral principle." It's actually quite clear that there's no contradiction between Moses' standard and Jesus'; after all, lust was sinful in the OT, too (Proverbs 6:25). So this is hardly a "big change."

In fact, it's no change at all.

Read again: In no less than six pairs of verses (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41) Jesus flatly contradicts, or substantially alters, Moses' law, replacing it each time with a more strict new commandment.

There is no contradiction of any OT law in any of those verses, but rather a clarification of its true meaning. Look at each passage you have cited:

vv. 21-22: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
  • Moses: "Don't kill."
  • Jesus: "Don't hate."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Killing is still wrong in the NT, and hatred was wrong in the OT (Leviticus 19:17).

vv. 27-28: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
  • Moses: "No adultery."
  • Jesus: "No lust."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Adultery is still wrong in the NT, and lust was wrong in the OT (Proverbs 6:25).

vv. 31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
  • Moses: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement...." But he "...may not take her again to be his wife" (Deuteronomy 24:4).
  • Jesus: "Divorce for any reason other than porneia constitutes adultery."

Again there is no contradiction, and no change in the standard. Moses' instructions about divorce emphasized its gravity and permanence. Jesus' emphasized that divorce is an extraordinary remedy allowed by God only in certain extreme cases. But even in the OT, God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). So the two statements are not in conflict.

vv. 33-34: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. . ."
  • Moses: "Don't break your oaths."
  • Jesus: "Better not to swear at all."

What Christ was prohibiting was the common practice of peppering one's everyday speech with indiscriminate oaths (often combined with the superstitious notion that if one did not swear, it was OK to lie).

Jesus is teaching that in our daily conversation as believers, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no, no. He is not prohibiting lawful oaths, such as those required of court witnesses, etc. (Jesus Himself testified after being placed under an oath—Matthew 26:63-64. The Apostle Paul even included an oath in the inspired text—2 Corinthians 1:23. And God confirmed His own Word with an oath—Heb. 6:13-18; Acts 2:30.)

So again, there is no change and no contradiction. The OT also prohibited frivolous oaths (Deuteronomy 23:21).

vv. 38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
  • Moses: "An eye for an eye."
  • Jesus: "Turn the other cheek."

The eye-for-an-eye standard of the OT law (Leviticus 24:19-21) was designed to limit the civil penalties that could be exacted for crimes. It was a principle of mercy, teaching that the punishment should fit the crime, and not exceed it.

But rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance. It was meant to regulate penalties administered by legal authorities; but it was being misused as a rationale for deliberate acts of private retaliation. Jesus forbade that.

As shown in Tuesday's post, however, the NT elsewhere expressly affirms the right of governments and government agents to use the sword to mete out retribution to evildoers. So both standards ("an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek") are valid in their proper contexts in both OT and NT. No contradiction, no change.

vv. 43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
  • Moses: "Love your neighbor."
  • Rabbinical gloss: "Hate your enemy."
  • Jesus: "Love your enemies."

No change; no contradiction. This is just a correction of a serious Rabbinical error. The truth is that Moses' law also demanded love for one's enemy (Exodus 23:4-5).

In each case, the true meaning of the New Testament perfectly accords with the true meaning of the Old, and vice versa. So the Sermon on the Mount offers no proof for the thesis that the moral standard changed in the NT.

Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants.

Phil's signature


Theologica said...


Just for clarification, do you take the traditional approach of disecting the Mosaic Law into moral, ceremonial, and civil?

If so, do you believe the ceremonial and civil have been abbrogated? Thus leaving the moral component as the only "lasting" feature of the Mosaic still extant, and for all eternity?

Phillip M. Way said...

Great post, Phil. Thanks for the clear defense of Scripture and God's Law.

I do have one question for you though - how does what you have posted here work its way into the debate over the Fourth Commandment, keeping the Sabbath?

There are those who will claim that Rom 14:5-6 and Col 2:16-17 set aside the Fourth Commandment. And yet you have argued that the "moral" law has not been changed in the NT, but amplified.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on the matter if you are so inclined.


David Rudd said...

good stuff, phil.
i don't disagree at all, but would you think it wrong for a Christian to be a pacifist while living in America? not to be "anti-war", but to be unwilling to personally fight the war? sounds inconsistent, but i think that's where i am.

regarding the sabbath, i think hebrews also needs to be considered when working through this issue. What does it mean that Jesus is our sabbath?

Ray said...

Good post -- "...rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance..."

The Sermon on the Mount was clarifying the law. "You have heard it said..." would have been clear to the people that Messiah spoke to; He was addressing not only the law, but it's teaching in the rabbinical circles...

Also, if one looks at these passages, He is making statments that are very bold, when rabbis were giving an 'interpretation' of the Law, they would quote other rabbis, i.e. "Rabbi Hillel says that Rabbi X says..." Whereas the Messiah taught as one who had authority, and He says I TELL YOU!

To this day, rabbinical hedges are in place around the Law, and Messiah was clear in the fact that He was NOT getting rid of the Law, but FULFILLING it; removing the manmade hedges, and false thoughts and teachings, and putting into place the proper perspective that the Law was given in.

The same can be seen when the Messiah heals on the Sabbath, or the disciples eat grain on the Sabbath.

Truth be told, were He standing in stark contrast to the law, His ministry would have been invalidated. The Sanhedrin would have been able to easily put Him down. As it was they had to fabricate a case against Him.

How could a person claim to believe in a Trinitarian God and yet somehow believe that the Trinity was not working in concert throughout the ages? For that is what is being stated here.

Anyway, I wanted to add a small piece about my perspective on Sabbath. Being Jewish, I have struggled with this for years, but as I studied I saw several things. One, the Messiah makes the claim that the Sabbath is for man, not vice-versa. He was teaching against making the Sabbath an idol. Well, in many of today's more orthodox communities, that is exactly what has happened; Sabbath -- the QUEEN of Heaven has been elevated to an improper place in many lives.

While I love the concept of Sabbath, I believe that, again, the truth has been expanded. Whereas Sabbath was given as a day of rest, Messiah is the true rest, the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest, hence everyday we can, and should, enter into this special rest that God has provided.

While there is more to my thoughts on the Sabbath, I think this is long enough for now...

Thanks for another good post Phil...

LeeC said...

As to the Sabbath it is more fully fullfiled in what it foreshadowed, Christ is our rest is He not?

Hebrews 3:7-4:16

I am not a pacifist, nor do I hod to any of the argumets you say that they generally do, but I do have an isue with one thing when using Old testament warfare to justify modern.

God was clearly declaring the warfare shown in the Old Testament. He used these conflicts for His specific purposes declaring judgement etc.

James Anderson said...

Nice post, Phil. If you're not already aware of it, you (and your readers) may be interested to know about
Greg Welty's critique of Carson's influential NCT-ish exposition of Matthew 5. Welty provides a persuasive defence of the traditional Reformed interpretation of the SotM, similar to your own.

BTW, I'm sure I'm not the only one to be somewhat amused to find you arguing like a theonomist against your Anabaptist critics, only weeks after arguing like an Anabaptist against ECB advocates! ;)

Wayne Hatcher said...

What did you mean by the label "New Covenant Theology"? It appears you are saying that pacifism is at least partially a defining trait of "NCT". In light of some of the comments asking about the Sabbath issue could you elaborate?

"John Piper" has a good piece laying out the different views on the subject. The article reminded me of another "NCT"er, "John Reisinger", who, as I recall, has taken quite a bit of heat for his views in recent years from the "Covenant" crowd.

Phil Johnson said...


1. See The Hall of Church History: The Anabaptists for an explanation of where I agree and where I disagree with Anabaptist ideas. In a word, I am no fan of Anabaptist pietism or soteriology. Some would say I'm a devoted foe of most strains of Anabaptist thought. That's probably not too far-fetched. But I don't think they were wrong about everything.

2. What I've given here is a defense of the continuity of the law's moral requirements. "Arguing like a theonomist" would entail a defense of the continuity of the law's civil code (and the church's duty to enforce biblical civil law on all of society in order to bring Christ's kingdom to fruition), and I have made no such argument.

3. In my arguments about the postmodern evangelical obsession with political remedies for society's moral decline, I expressly dsclaimed a number of Anabaptist notions.


Pacifism is not a necessary aspect of NCT. Most NCTers I know are not pacifists. But some pacifists have embraced NCT, because it comports well with their belief that moral law in the NT era is radically different from the moral law that governed the OT.

Steve said...


You really should be doing more than just editing for MacArthur...you really should be writing your own books. I don't say that lightly.

Thanks for a clear and succinct defense on this matter.

Jim Dandy said...

You might want to bone up on your understanding of 1st century history. You often claim that Jesus (or Paul), was disputing with rabbinic law (or something similar) yet rabbinic law was not codified until 200 C.E., was this what Jesus/or Paul was disputing with, or was it with the Pharisees, Sadducees, or other contemporary Judaic movements. The pseudepigraphy and the apocrypha are NOT examples of rabbinic works, but rather the Mishnah, Balbi, etc…

I am curious if you have even engaged the work of Yoder or Hauerwas when dealing with pacifism? I know this is just a blog but the effort would be beneficial to all.

Romans 13 simply does not have a plain sense, but is itself multifarious; is it divine right, or is it subject to God, do chapters 12 and 13.8 frame the passage and thus relativize (is this a word?) what is said in 13.1-7, or does 13.1-7 stand on its own. These interpretive decisions all have an effect on how the passage is interpreted.

A term like liberalism no longer signifies, you need to define what you mean. What is a liberal? Can a Christian be a liberal? Are there degrees of Liberal? It has become a nonsensical term when used to mean anyone who differs on my interpretation of the scriptures.

I have always wondered if you consciously try to look like Spurgeon?


Ray said...

Jim Dandy -- Actually I am fairly familiar with Jewish 1st century thinking... I was steeped in it for much of my formative years...

While rabbinical thought was not codified until later, it was clearly being taught and expressed in the days of Messiah. The schools of Hillel and Shammai were very much alive and well. Shammai was one of the major contributors to Mishnaic writings.

Much of today's rabbinical thought would have been unknown and unaccepted, even by the Pharisees in the days of Messiah, but the kernel of what BECAME rabbinical teachings were already in place and being espoused regularly.

Yes, there would have been no discussion on the concepts of the Zohar and other later writings, but the Oral Law and its associated hedges were being taught...

Sharad Yadav said...

Phil, you’re an intelligent, articulate and witty guy. But when it comes to academic discourse, you can be a cold fish in a clown’s pants. It seems to me that you’re confident that your audience is unfamiliar enough with the literature on a given topic that you don’t really have to read it or carefully evaluate it in order to make authoritative pronouncements. The most prominent pacifistic theologians today don’t employ either one of the strategies you mention for handling the OT. And whether one agrees or disagrees with them, characterizing a position properly is an important requirement for academic refutation (though apparently not for popular persuasion). It seems that, as is usually the case, there is a fear of fair characterization being mistaken for advocacy. Consider the following a move in the former direction, not the latter.

Pacifists aren’t squeamish about violence – they’re opposed to it on theological grounds of various sorts. Violence is usually accounted for in contemporary pacifist views without appealing to abrogation in favor of a higher law or diminishing the authority of the Old Testament; it is instead explained in terms of God fighting for His people. The conflicts of the Old Testament differ in kind from modern armed conflict in several important ways, least of which is the expressly divine sanction for them as part of God’s saving and judging kingdom prerogatives – something which is done through the heralding of the Gospel by a non-national entity today (namely the Church). But more importantly, the battles of the OT were exemplary of the same faith we share in God’s victory over evil today – namely, that one must believe and rest in God in order to share in God’s victory in expanding His kingdom. When Israel believed God and did what He said, He was with them and granted them victory. When they didn’t, He didn’t. God fights for His people. He saves and judges, and His people must trust in Him. In the OT His saving and judging had overt military expressions because His people belonged to a national entity, unlike His international people do today. But the unifying point is that God will fight for His people (whose salvation or judgment is requisite for possibility of the world’s salvation or judgment); in the OT He did this through Israel and in the NT he does this in the embodiment of Israel, Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus’ sermon on the Mount wasn’t an amplification of OT moral law – it is the end to which the OT law was directed. It describes the kingdom of God which, through God’s restoration of Israel and the turning of the nations to her, would cover the earth, as in the Isaianic vision of new heaven and new earth depicts. Jesus was saying that this was beginning to take place even now – but those who participate in this coming kingdom weren’t who the religious leaders of the day thought they were – they were the poor, meek, mourning, etc. This coming kingdom the OT describes will be free from not only violent actions and treachery (like lying and adultery), but it will be free from the root of these actions, namely the corruption of human hearts. To say that this kingdom is already here with King Jesus is to say that those who live according to this reality are blessed; those who reject it or ignore it (like the religious leaders of the day) aren’t.

Your “amplification” method of looking at the Sermon on the Mount is categorically the same as the second pacifistic view you profess to reject (NT as a “higher law”); it may differ in degree and import from the silly position you’re refuting (which bears very little resemblance to academic treatments of pacifism today), but not it does not differ in kind. It really does help to read the literature before coming to a position. Usually the most obvious objections to very old theological controversies like pacifism (such as the ones you’ve offered) have been seriously dealt with ages ago. It’s very common to come at these kinds of topics like you’re the first one to really see the issues – everyone wants to be a Martin Luther. But usually there’s a few centuries of Christian discourse you’re missing, and your objections have been voiced a long time ago. That’s not to say intelligent critique and rejection of different views isn’t possible; it’s only to say that it requires more homework than it seems like you’re willing to do.

James Anderson said...


Of course, my comment about theonomy was tongue-in-cheek, but thanks for the reply. Still, I'd say this earlier statement of yours wouldn't be at all out of place on the lips of a theonomist:

"Note that the principle grants rulers authority to use deadly force against those who 'do evil.' Scripture -- not public opinion or some dictator's personal whim -- gives the only reliable and authoritative definition of who is an evildoer and how much force is justifiable in which situations."

I wonder which passages of Scripture you have in mind, if not primarily the OT civil law?

I imagine your argument against pacificism would require some defence of "the continuity of the law's civil code" -- a partial or qualified continuity, at any rate.

Sharad Yadav said...

By the way, any view of the Law that entertains moral/civil/ceremonial distinctions seems dubious to me. ALL of the Mosaic Law was moral, and violation of ANY Mosaic codes was considered "unrighteous". ALL of the Old Testament's laws are civil, given the fact that they govern the life of a national entity and they function as the nation's constitution and law of the land. All of OT Law is also ceremonial, given the priestly nature of the Israel's role in the world. To argue for continuity of arbitrarily defined "moral" codes over against arbitrarily defined "civil" and "ceremonial" codes is an outmoded and unworkable thesis that doesn't do justice to the OT. Richard Hays has a helpful reframing of how the testaments relate to one another in His "Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of of Paul" that I would heartily commend for your interaction. The key to unlocking the continuity and discontinuity problem is an ecclesiological one. Unity can be found in the priestly purpose and function of Israel, and diversity can be found in the differing political expressions of God's people/kingdom in the Church (international vs. national, multiethnic vs. ethnic, nongeographical vs. geographical).

Jumping into this topic is catching up on as much conversation as you've missed in the pacifist one!

Winston Smith said...

C'mon, folks. Cut Phil a break. He's trying to feel his way through this pacifism vs. fighting thing, carefully navigating his way between sending his wife to fight Duke the Receptionist in his stead and going hand-to-hand with Osama bin Laden in his head. It's a difficult tightrope to walk.

Sharad Yadav said...


No offense, Winston, but based on the posts that Phil has drawn our attention to at Little Geneva, you're a twit. Maybe it's because I'm Indian, and maybe it's because I long for the peace of God's coming kingdom - but hereafter when I recognize your name in the posts here I'll follow suit with most of the others who have read your comments "over there" -- I'll summarily skip over them.

Phil Johnson said...

James: "I imagine your argument against pacificism would require some defence of "the continuity of the law's civil code"—a partial or qualified continuity, at any rate."

Well, at least an affirmation of the equity of OT civil law, which I am happy to affirm. But that affirmation alone isn't really enough to make me a full-fledged theonomist. I'm not ashamed, however, to borrow theonomist arguments on the points where their arguments seem sound enough to me. I'll say the same thing I said about Anabaptists: I don't think theonomists are wrong about everything.

Bluerajah: I'm quite happy to bow to your superior academic skills. Shall I add a statement to that effect on my blog template?

I just want to point out, however, that my blog makes no pretense of being a repository of "academic discourse." Perhaps you haven't noticed the artwork. Look around.

This particular post was essentially a reply to one guy's e-mail. And if you'll read the dark red parts, you'll notice that he was employing the strategy you said the most prominent pacifists today don't use. I do appreciate the heads-up. But since I was responding to this guy and not offering an "academic refutation" of whatever book you have been reading, it seems a little far-fetched (not to mention highly ironic) for you to scold me about "characterizing a position properly."

Also, please read the big red letters where I expressly defined what I meant by "amplification." The view I'm defending is not "categorically the same as the. . . NT as a 'higher law'" view. I'm expressly arguing for 100 percent continuity in the moral law across both Old and New Testaments. And that is a difference in kind, not "degree," from "the silly position [I'm] refuting."

Finally, while I do appreciate and greatly admire the dogmatic certainty with which you assert your conviction that the threefold distinction of the law is sheer and utter nonsense, I think 1) your own remarks reveal a misunderstanding of the position you have rejected, 2) you may be mistaking your own unfair characterization of the threefold division for an academically sound argument.

There may be an academically sound argument for your assertions. You haven't given it here. Normally, that wouldn't bother me. But if you're going to come on here like a cold fish in a schoolmarm's dress, you ought to practice what you preach.

Sharad Yadav said...

Thanks Phil. You're right; in reading over my post it was a bit self-congratulatory. I took you to be raising (and refuting) the issue of pacifism in general, of which your latest post was only a further argument. In any case, I'm sorry for coming off so heavy-handed. I think my frustration comes from the fact that you seem to raise academic issues and refute positions in a way that makes it look easier than it really is, and that doesn't provide answers for people who've really investigated some of these topics.

As for my convictions about the Law, you'll notice I said, "It seems to me". If you'll show me how I mischaracterized your position I'm perfectly willing to hear how and eager to correct my mistake (that's not a sarcastic comment). Since I'm after the Truth and not just the defense of my position, I actually would like to hear your take, if you'll give it to me. As for the academic soundness of my assertions, I'm not sure where they fail (and again I'm hoping for specifics, since getting critical feedback is the point of commenting), since I intended to give a rough sketch of an other way of handling the continuity and discontinuity issues (at least as rough a sketch as you gave). In any case, how about pulling the sushi out of our pants and actually interacting with me (after accepting my apology for being a jerk about it)?

Winston Smith said...

Blue Raja,
I'm crushed. By the way, I've been to your country three times, and it's truly a lovely place (no sarcasm intended). I've never felt an evening breeze anywhere that quite matches the one coming off the Arabian Sea. There's nothing else like it.

Steve said...

Jim Dandy said: "You might want to bone up on your understanding of 1st century history. You often claim that Jesus (or Paul), was disputing with rabbinic law (or something similar) yet rabbinic law was not codified until 200 C.E., was this what Jesus/or Paul was disputing with, or was it with the Pharisees, Sadducees, or other contemporary Judaic movements."

Just because rabbinic law wasn't codified until 200 C.E. doesn't mean it wasn't being disputed in Jesus and Paul's time. The codification of biblical law--and the canonization of the Pentateuch--took place a good few hundred years BEFORE the Christian Era. From then onward, rabbinic law was developed, explained, expounded, and applied orally. What you have in 200 CE is merely the first code dealing with the entirety of the Halakah, the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi.

Steve said...

That last post was missing an important word, which I've capped here:

What you have in 200 CE is merely the first WRITTEN code dealing with the entirety of the Halakah, the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi.

Jim Dandy said...

Not to quibble Ray, the post was intended for Phil, but to use the term rabbinical for the 1st century is a bit confusing.

You say you were steeped in it (1st century rabbinics?), and that while the figures of Shammai and Hillel do have place of prominence in the Mishnah, the Mishnah itself was not codified until 200 C.E., thus while there may be a kernel of what the various schools believed, the majority of what the Mishnah discusses deals with the contemporary disputes during the time of codification.

You say…

Much of today's rabbinical thought would have been unknown and unaccepted, even by the Pharisees in the days of Messiah, but the kernel of what BECAME rabbinical teachings were already in place and being espoused regularly.

I would like to press this further even to the time of the Mishnah, thus much of the Mishnah’s thought would have been unknown and unaccepted in the 1st century C.E..

On the Oral law this is obviously a disputed subject within Rabbinic Judaisms, while the textual evidence is scant to place the oral law before 70 C.E., it is obviously taught that it was delivered to Moses with the Torah.

The problem of importing rabbinic texts into discussions of the NT in order to show how the rabbinic law had muddled things up, is not only grossly anachronistic, but propels the myth of a normative Judaism.


Sled Dog said...

It's amazing how much hubbub we can create when the truth about peace and pacifism just don't seem so difficult to attain (IMHO). A cursory scan of the Scriptures gives me a simple theology about all these issues:

1. PEACE IS A GOOD THING "Blessed are the peacemakers." "As long as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." "Live at peace with everyone." I think God likes peace...a lot.

2. HUMANS (CHRISTIANS INCLUDED) OFTEN CHOOSE CONFLICT AND AGGRESSION WHEN, IN REALITY, THEY OUGHT TO PURSUE PEACE. We're often driven by anxiety, fear and pride rather than the Holy Spirit, the producer of love, peace, gentleness, self-control, etc.

3. CONFLICT HAPPENS. In the case that conflict occurs, we still must pursue sinlessness. "Do not let the sun go down on your anger."


5. GOD DOESN'T ASK ME TO SIMPLY LAY THERE WHEN SOMEONE IS POUNDING ME WITH A BEEF CHUB AT COSTCO. This kind of thinking takes the Biblical call to peace and pushes beyond what God intends. It reminds me of the Pharisees who felt that if 10 commandments were good, why not add a whole slew of laws to the list! I see hard-core pacifists falling into the same trap.

Peace, out...

Sled Dog said...

But for the sake of theological debate, ad naseum, one queston does remain: What if the hyperbolic chub beating is taking place at Sam's Club?

*rubs chin, squints and says, "hmmmmm"*

Phil Johnson said...

Bluerajah: Fair enough. I do want to deal with "the threefold division" issue, because so much seems to hinge on it. Theologica raised the question in the first comment on this post, and it's a good one.

But I haven't even offered any real definition of the expression "moral law" yet, nor did you in your earlier comment. You just dismissed the concept out of hand. (That's why I thought your remarks fell short of the academic standard you yourself were pleading for.)

But everything in its time. This series of blogposts is not offered as an academic treatment of anything. These posts are drawn from an informal e-mail dialogue with my pacifist friend, and the basic dialogue is already in the can. The meaning of the expression "moral law" is the next item on the agenda. I promise that after I've posted the complete series, there will be plenty of fodder for you to annihilate my intellectual and academic credibility. So there's no need to jump the gun.

On the bigger issue of "academic discourse" (and this is not aimed at the Rajah or anyone in particular):

For the record, I make no pretense of being an academician. I have no impressive degrees and am too old to earn any. I'm happy with that. My interest in doctrine and Scripture is not in any sense "academic." Nor do I demand that my commenters register any academic credentials before being permitted to post here.

Personally, I'd much rather read a great, classic sermon or commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (even from someone at the academic level of Bunyan or Spurgeon) than the typical 21st-century theological journal article by some well-trained but spiritually ambiguous "scholar."

In case anyone is unclear about this: I don't have very a high degree of confidence in the postmodern approach to academics. I despise both anti-intellectualism and intellectual snobbery with equal fervor. And hopefully the blog reflects that. My goal, actually, is to keep it stylistically at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical theological journal, while maintaining the deepest possible respect for and commitment to biblical and theological truth as objective concepts.

So if I or any of my regular commenters get carried away and state something ignorant with too much dogmatism (and it probably happens on at least a weekly basis), feel free to correct us, rebuke us, instruct us, admonish us, verbally remonstrate with us, or even express a general disgust about our mulishness.

But cheap, personal clown-pants-type insults whose sole purpose seems to be the drawing of lines in an academic caste system aren't usually going to get much traction here.

theological said...

"Did Jesus change the moral law?" I do not see a biblical basis for dividing up the OT law. It was given as a unit (James 2:10). Those who make such a division will inevitably end up talking about the "moral law" versus some other kind of law (e.g civil or ceremonial). What exactly do you mean by this? Is there such thing as an "immoral or amoral law?" Aren’t all of God's laws moral by definition? That is to say, once a law is given by God, to obey that law is moral, to disobey it is immoral - is it not? As to dividing the law of God – what is your authority for dividing the law when the scriptures do not teach that we are to divide the law? Advocates of the continuity of OT law into the NT period are fond of quoting Mat 5:17 (“I have not come to abolish the law . . .”) but I have yet to see these advocates do justice to the next verse (“not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law”) – surely this verse prohibits dividing the law into parts!

Sled Dog said...

Phil wrote:

"My goal, actually, is to keep it stylistically at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical theological journal, while maintaining the deepest possible respect for and commitment to biblical and theological truth as objective concepts."

I can't speak for Blueraja, and don't know if he had any intent for insult, but I wonder if his "cold fish/clown pants comment was more of an observation of what you stated above.

Phil Johnson said...

Jim Dandy: "The problem of importing rabbinic texts into discussions of the NT in order to show how the rabbinic law had muddled things up, is not only grossly anachronistic, but propels the myth of a normative Judaism."

Except for these things:

1. I cited no rabbinic texts—you're the one that imported that topic into this discussion.

2. I made no reference to any "rabbinic law," (codified or otherwise).

3. The context of the NT itself is all one needs to see that Jesus was constantly at war against "the tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:2).

4. When He remonstrated with the rabbis of that day, Jesus Himself referred to the teachings He rejected as "your tradition" (vv. 3, 6; Mark 7:9).

So from the standpoint of purely biblical usage, the expression "rabbinical tradition" doesn't really seem quite as far-fetched as you suggest. Perhaps it doesn't accord with the way some recent scholars want to define the term. But it strikes me as a rather picayune point to belabor—a dispute about mere words with little profit in it.

Steve said...

Phil said: "My goal, actually, is to keep it stylistically at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical theological journal, while maintaining the deepest possible respect for and commitment to biblical and theological truth as objective concepts."

And there's definitely a place and a need for that. The vast majority of Christians are non-scholars who work a 40-hour work week and have a multitude of additional responsibilities connected with family, serving in the church, etc. This majority doesn't have the time or training to sort through all the scholarly hairsplitting that seems to have become all the rage (especially on the blogosphere).

Academics and self-styled psuedoacademics might look down their nose at Phil's goal (and others who share that same goal), but quite frankly, it's those who are making God's truth more accessible by placing it on the bottom shelf who are going to have the greatest impact in encouraging God's people toward genuine spiritual growth.

As someone who has a bird's eye perspective of the Christian book marketplace and all the peripheral appendages more or less connected to it(seminary journals, blogs, etc.) I constantly despair at the fact that MOST of today's Christian teachers and spokespeople are more and more clustered at two extremes: the polemic scholars who glory in splitting theological hairs, and the energetic, attractive Christian conference speakers who look good and sound good but base all their sound-bite platitudes on an incredibly shallow or ignorantly errant understanding of God's truth.

Fewer and fewer of today's teachers and writers are in that wonderful "middle ground," drawing from a well that is dug deeply and firmly into God's Word, and at the same time, dispensing their teaching in a way that's clear, simple, practical, and relevant so that the everyday Christian can TRULY grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

May their tribe increase a hundredfold.

Sharad Yadav said...

Thanks, Phil. I'm not an academician either, and I share your disdain for the postmodern "let's all just sit down and have a tea-party" attitude. As for my cheap, personal clown-pants insult, I hope you'll see my apology as a sincere one. I don't like recieving them anymore than you do, and I shouldn't have let it come to my mind, much less my fingers.

But I detect some lingering sensitivity with your comment about my ongoing intent to "annihilate your intellectual and academic credibility". To be clear, that's not my goal, my previous tone and comments were inappropriate, and I hope you'll see my groveling apologies as having adequate measure of sincerity behind them.

My frustration has nothing to do with postmodernism or even "academic integrity" as divorced from just plain old integrity. There are weaknesses with your view of the Law, whatever it is (unless its some undocumented mind-blowing new proposal). There are several differing presentations of the Law available for evangelical consideration, which can be demonstrated even from the Master's Seminary's offerings on the subject. Walter Kaiser's winterim, for example, held a contrary view from John Feinberg's winterim on the subject. Both of these differ from Stanley Toussaint's understanding of it at his winterim. Some professors have a more progressive dispensational leaning, while others have a more classical leaning. All that to say that there is plenty of "academic discourse" to be had on the issue, because some things in Scripture aren't as clear as others and some views have been advanced which may explain the data better since Spurgeon was walking (or floating above) the earth (and that wasn't directed at you, Phil). Be honest about the weaknesses, and deal wiht the strongest (not the weakest) arguments of opposing views. I'm not saying "Don't land anywhere forcefully" or "don't be dogmatic". But at least demonstrate an awareness of the strongest criticisms of your view, especially if its a highly controverted topic! Otherwise your confidence in it will begin to appear pretty cheesy.

I love the classics too - but there's a reason I've got MacArthur in my library, and it's not just because he edits the classics and summarizes them for me. He has genuine insight into the text. So do others who haven't been dead for 500 years. Hearing them, every bit as much as hearing the "classics" can sharpen an interpreter in mining the truth from the text. They may also dull him, every bit as much as the classics can. Not all 21st C. scholars outside the GCC/TMS walls are "ambigious" postmodern fluffy-puffs.

What has never been at stake in any of my own commments is a commitment to "biblical and theological truth as objective concepts" (I can't speak to whoever else you may be referring to). If you believe your comments here apply to statements I've made (and I'm not sure that you do), I'd have to respond by saying, "Give me a break." Be wary of using your "pomo scape-goat" for every dissenting view or interpretation offered in contrast to your own. I think your views on why pacifism is unbiblical are weak. Stronger cases could be made that actually deal with the strongest of their arguments instead of their proponents, not the weakest (as reflected in your dialogue).

Furthermore, I think that the continuity approach to the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned previously does BETTER justice to the biblical texts (like the sermon on the mount) than your own continuity approach, and is MORE reflective of the actual, objective theological truth than your own view. You haven't yet given any reasons I should think they aren't true.

I gave you some reaosns for why i think your approach is wrong. You said I mischaraterized you. If you will tell me how, I can modify my critique to be more accurate, and I'll be genuinely grateful for the service you've done me. If you go on to put forth your own views, showing them to be impervious to these criticisms, perhaps I'd be more inclined to your view. Those sorts of responses are constructive, helpful, and actually build me up by sharpening my perspective on the objective truth of the Biblical teaching. But only dealing with the sickliest version of opposing views, brushing aside my understanding of the text without interacting with it, or refusing to show me from the text exactly why it won't work doesn't do me much good.

I admit (AGAIN), my comments in the previous post were snot-nosed. But this sort of interaction I've described is all I'm asking for. Now you could deny me that if you want. It's your website. You could say, "That's not what we do here. We find the lamest arguments for contrary views and demolish them to illustrate why I'm right. If you want informed responses that actually deal with the most serious objections to our views, go somewhere else." But I don't think that's something you'd want to do if you were really as pumped about objective biblical and theological truth as you say (and I believe) you are. This sort of interaction has nothing to do with "postmodern" approaches to academics or intellectual snobbery; it's the opposite of "postmodern" celebration of contradictory viewpoints and the demonstration of plain old fashioned (not just academic) integrity.

I wouldn't mention it if I didn't believe you actually were capable of representing the stronger critics of your views (I'm sure you are) or if you didn't have any integrity to begin with (which you obviously do). I'm not lecturing you or trying to be condescending here, Phil. I'm just hungry for you to answer more "But what about . . ." sorts of questions in your posts and responses.

Sharad Yadav said...

By the by, when you talk about a "moral law" I assume that you mean a timeless ethical framework rooted in God's own character that manifests itself in different concrete commands within various dispensations. Is that right?

Winston Smith said...

You're right. I can't remember who wrote it (I think it was J.I. Packer, but I could be wrong), but someone wrote (paraphrasing) "The humblest believer, in simple reliance upon the Holy Spirit, can discern spiritual truths that elude the lettered seminarian who approaches Scripture minus the Holy Spirit."

Along these lines is the experience of Abijah Metcalf Ide, an 1860's Attleboro, Mass. farmboy who wanted nothing more than to be a poet. Unable to attend college or otherwise acquire formal training, Abijah wrote to the literary giants of the day to ask their advice on pursuing poetry. They all wrote back. The response of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow expresses your sentiment. Longfellow wrote:

"Were I a farmer, as you are, and had at the same time the gift of song, as you have, I would cling to my position in the world with pride and gratitude.

Hold fast, therefore, to your inheritance. Be both a farmer and a poet, and give us your song, the scent of wild flowers and the new-turned soil and the roar of the forest. Of city poets there are enough. Let us have one good vigorous athletic bard with thick shoes and a brown hand. That's what I should aim at being were I in your place."

Professional religious leaders who are "all light and no warmth", splashy Christian entertainers who are just imitations of secular counterparts, and those who try to combine the two to gain popularity have done and continue to do incalculable damage to God's church, and have always erected obstacles between God and His people. God bless those pastors and teachers who have no motives to the praise of men or financial gain, but teach God's Word in simple sincerity, spending time in their closets and on their knees, rather than on their butts in front of the newest flat screen, and who spend time in homes, joining their hands in prayer with God's people, rather than hanging out in an office pecking a keyboard.

Ray said...

Jim Dandy -- Talmudic and rabbinical writings, was where I spent time.. I am no expert on these writings, but spent much time in them.

I did not say that I believed that we should import texts from rabbinical teaching, I believe that I said that rabbinical teachings were being discussed/argued at the time. Both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel had already been well established by the time of Messiah's ministry, and their disciples would have been around and teaching.

Yes, Judaism as we know it was not fully formed, but it was certainly in its embryonic stage.

Sled Dog said...


If you are indeed suportive of the views espoused at the Little Geneva website, then you are neither light nor warmth.

Brad Huston said...

Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants.

Phil, I still don't understand where you are making your case biblically against the pacifist. As Romans 13:4 doesn't speak to self-defense or justifiable aggression but is nestled in a passage that has to do with the believer's submission under authority, I have yet to see any other biblical asseriton that gives a believer the right to take measures along the lines of what you seem to be arguing the Scripture does teach. The apostles certainly didn't live lives or teach self-defense as each fell into the hands of the same authority mentioned in Romans 13:1-6, and save John, were each killed without raising so much as hand in their own defense - not to even mention Christ Himself.


Winston Smith said...

Sled Dog,
Even though that was the mildest insult I've fielded in a long time, for which I thank you, let's stay on topic here, and the topic isn't me.

Phil Johnson said...

Brad: "Romans 13:4 doesn't speak to self-defense or justifiable aggression but is nestled in a passage that has to do with the believer's submission under authority."

The issue you are raising is a good one, Brad, because it goes back to what is really the main point. My time is extremely limited this afternoon, so I'm going to try to reply quickly. Please don't take the brevity of this as a brush-off or curt answer:

1. I'm not using Romans 13:4 as a simple proof-text for "self-defense." I'm using it, actually, as part of an argument against strict pacifism. The argument is complex:

a. the text clearly authorizes government to use "the sword" to punish evildoers, and refers to this as a ministry of God for "good."

b. this disproves the claim that violence is inherently evil and always forbidden, because there's no way to employ a "sword" against evildoers—even as a mere "threat"—unless you really are prepared to use it (if necessary) in a violent way. And since God Himself authorizes the use of the sword and refers to it as a ministry for good, it's unreasonable to portray every kind of violence that comes at the hands of another human as inherently and necessarily evil.

c. in other words, if violence has a "good" ministry in even one case, there's no way biblically to justify the sort of rigid pacifism that says all violence is inherently evil.

d. in our nation, the government sword is normally wielded in various ways by policemen, soldiers, FBI agents, ATF agents, executioners (in rare cases), and border-patrol guards (in really rare cases).

e. in extraordinary circumstances, however, our government implicitly delegates the right to bear the sword to individuals who are acting in self-defense against criminals. If my dry-cleaner shoots an armed robber in the commission of his crime, he does so with the approval and implicit authority of the government.

f. so, at least tangentially, Romans 13:4 might well apply to self-defense in some cases (though the point I was originally making wasn't really about self-defense at all; it was about debunking radical non-violence. It just came around to the self-defense issue because of some of the points that were being made in the comments.)

2. I do realize (as BlueRajah has reminded us) that this simple but biblical argument against strict pacifism doesn't necessarily provide a comprehensive answer against every type of pacifism, but it is an adequate answer to the kind of pacifism represented by the guy I was corresponding with.

3. I also realize (and, frankly, would have assumed that every thoughtful person would understand) that a defense of non-pacifism isn't necessarily a justification for using extreme violence in every act of self-defense. For example, to argue that killing is sometimes justified in self-defense is not to suggest that killing (or even violence) is automatically justified on any and every occasion where self-defense is called for.

4. The non-resistance of Christ and the disciples who were martyred is the proper response when you are suffering for righteousness' sake. But total passivity is an ungodly response if your wife or children are suffering at the random whim of a mad sex criminal and you have at your disposal the means to defend them by using violence against the attacker.

5. All of that said, it is still true that God specifically blesses peacemakers, and that is primarily what Christians are called to be. All humor aside, I do affirm that violence should always be a final resort. And even when justifiable, it should not be carried out with relish. There's something seriously wrong with you if you love violence for violence' sake.

6. Still, to celebrate justice, even when it comes with violence; to enjoy a film or a book even though it contains fictional violence; or to tell a joke that involves an imaginary act of violence—those things do not necessarily constitute evil relish for the violence per se.

I frankly think some of the melodramatic expressions of shock, indignation, and outrage that have been posted here and on other blogs about the utter unChristian awfulness of a wholly imaginary Costco beef-chub bastinado fail to take into account the kind of graphic language Jesus Himself used in His parables (cf. Matthew 24:51).

LeeC said...

If I may point out something I am fairly familiar with the sword is rather unique as far as weapons go in the ancient world. It is one of the few weapons that did not evolve from some other tool, but is strictly created for the purpose of combat.

More specifically offensive combat. Swords are not defensive weapons, especially not the ones common in the 1st century.

If we are to take a strict pacifist sense to Scripture then we must also adhere to the Anabaptist custom of not being in government positions, thus abdicating temporal justice purely to unbelievers.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I think you have misinterpreted Matthew 5.
The point Jesus is making is that He alone fulfills the Law. He says,"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to FULFILL them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law UNTIL all is ACCOMPLISHED.
(Mat 5:17-18)
Since we believe that Jesus accomplished the fulfillment of the Law, we also believe that the Law has passed away because of that fulfillment. The Law and the Prophets were UNTIL Jesus. Since then the kingdom of Heaven is preached and we press into it.
As to your statement,
"The very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants",
I know that one of the covenants you refer to is the new covenant, but is the other covenant you refer to the Mosaic covenant? If so we must remember that the Mosaic covenant was a political covenatn made with a specific people at a specific time which was only abserved in a specific region.

Wayne Hatcher said...

Phil, I'm sorry if my question about "New Covenant Theology" got the discussion off to a bad start. I just wanted to know what you meant (thank you for the clarification.) and was curious where you came down on the covenant issue. Still, it was a very good piece, comments included.

blueraja, it's not polite to call someone a twit, you leather-headed moron.

Keith said...

In my view, this kind of reading of scripture is good example of what happens when you take away Jesus as the interpretative criterion of scripture--you turn into an opponent of Jesus by using the scriptures themselves against him.

Here's to those who recognize that God's ultimate revelation is Jesus Christ, and that all other revelation should be interpreted in light of him.

Brian said...

What do you all care about the law anyway? This is a Christian blog right?

I can sum it up for you (and you already know this)...Love your neighbor as yourself.

Christ fulfilled the law, all of it. Praise be to God for that because nobody can keep the law. The law was merely a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.

Galatians 3:23-25 NET. Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

I suppose I should clarify myself so I am not misunderstood. I don't want anyone thinking I am saying that we should sin because of our freedom.

Romans 6:14-15 NET For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. (15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

Romans 7:6-7 NET. But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code. (7) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law...

It is one thing to say that the law is good, yet another entirely different thing to say that Christians are still under it.


Jim Dandy said...

Perhaps it is hair splitting, but you have made such mistakes in the past, and in print none the less (in ‘A defense of the Old Perspective’ where you chastise the proponents of the NPP as basing their claims on ‘extrabiblical rabbinical sources’, I assume you mean the apocrypha and the pseudepigraphy here, which are not representative of Rabbinical Judaism much less normative Judaism).

I did import the discussion here, but only because of your reference ‘Jesus didn’t even mention rabbinical tradition’, you insinuate that there is such an extant tradition that Jesus could have mentioned. I know it doesn’t have anything to do with pacifism, but I assume clarity is important, regardless I don’t think you really mind that I imported it.

Again when you say that Jesus is at war with ‘traditions’, are you not insinuating that these are the same traditions that Rabbinic Judaism(s) hold, if not then it is unhelpful to use the term Rabbinic, because it is natural to associate the ‘traditions’ Jesus speaks about with modern day ‘traditions’, or even the traditions of the Mishnah?

If one is a rabbi because one is called a rabbi, then Jesus himself was a rabbi, so were these also his traditions that he castigates?

It is interesting that you mention the phase, “your tradition,” ‘your’ in fact limits the word tradition, if there was a normative Judaism in the 1st century such a phrase might infer that Jesus was ‘remonstrating’ all the Jews of that day. But since a normative Judaism is just a nasty chimera that makes protestant preachers disregard what the first century texts actually say, he is probably remonstrating a more limited audience, but I digress...

I imagine that with one who is so aghast at the postmodern turn, you would subscribe to the notion that words do in fact mean something. So when you claim that there is little profit in such wrangling over mere words, I infer you to mean, in light of your arguments concerning pacifism.

I for one think precision is important, and to use the term rabbinical in reference to the disputes Jesus had with ‘some’ of the Pharisees is sloppy, and thus a potential misreading of the texts.


agonizomai said...

Wow, you guys make it all seem complicated to a poor sheep like me. My old head is spinning.

As I understand it all, Christ is the fulfilment of the law for those that are in Him. Those who are in Christ are regarded as having fulfilled the law perfectly and are no longer under the law but under grace. We died with Christ and we now live in Him by the Spirit, free from any condemnation and keeping the law of love (a much higher law, as Phil pointed out).

I hear the point. The law most certainly has not been done away with. Everybody who is not in Christ is still under the moral law of God which accuses them all day every day because they do not and cannot live up to it.

Everybody who is in Christ abides in His (not their own) perfect keeping of the law. It is His perfect keeping of the law that enables us to learn experiential righteousness without condemnation when we fall.

If the moral law had been abolished then God would have no basis upon which to both judge and condemn the unrepentant and the reprobate.

On the question of sabbaths, I fall into the camp that believes that Christ is our sabbath and that every day is holy into the Lord. We live in the perpetual sabbath of the rest of He Who said, "It is finished!" Glory to His Name!

Ruprecht said...

Jim Dandy, for someone who "assume[s] clarity is important" and "think[s] precision is important," you sure make your points hard to follow.

I'm having a hard time figuring out what you meant by what you just said.

Steve said...

Jim Dandy: Phil didn't insinuate a connection between the rabbinic tradition Jesus "fought against" and the rabbinic law that was codified in a systematic manner around CE 200. You're foisting that connection upon him. That said, it's NOT at all unreasonable to contend that many of the traditions extant in Jesus' time did, in fact, get passed down orally till they were written (and codified) in the second century. Ancient Jewish scholars and rabbis were fastidious about preserving the teachings of the law and their interpretations of those teachings way back to the time the Pentateuch was canonized, which happened well before the Christian era.

The simple point Phil is making is this: The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day had misconstrued the intent and meaning of the law...and Jesus corrected them on that on a number of occasions, including in the Sermon on the Mount.

Finally, the question you ask, "If one is a rabbi because one is called a rabbi, then Jesus himself was a rabbi, so were these also his traditions that he castigates?" has a remarkably simple answer. The mere fact Jesus was a rabbi--a teacher--does not mean He adhered to the unscriptural, manmade rabbinic traditions that were widespread in His day. There are teachers who are faithful to a right teaching of the Scriptures, and there are teachers who take the liberty to encumber God's laws with their own traditions and interpretations. Jesus was the former, and those whom He rebuked were the latter.

dogpreacher said...

doxoblogist: In your rebuttal of Phil's Matt:5 interpretation, respectfully I think you are wrong. If the law was UNTIL Jesus only, wouldn't He have said, "With these 2 great commandments, the others are abrogated"? Instead, He said, "On these 2 HANG ALL the law & the prophets".

This shows that the 2 great commandments contained all the others, not abolished them.

BTW, I believe your understanding is wrong because of your presupposition that Jesus did away with the law.

IF you ACCENT the word ALL & ACCOMPLISHED, while looking at "until heaven and earth pass away", you see that He was not talking about the time of His crucifixion, but the 'end of the age', thus the "heaven & earth....
& all/accomplished parts of that verse.

Phil Johnson said...

I gather "Jim Dandy" is someone who is piqued and has a point he wants to make about something I said in one of my reviews of NT Wright's What St. Paul Really Said.

Jim, hang around awhile. Eventually, I'll probably make a post about Wright or his New Perspective, and you can make whatever point you want about it. Dragging a reference from my Wright review into this discussion confuses everyone over an arcane point that's not really all that germane to the subject under discussion.

Since you brought it up, however, I do want to respond to one thing you wrote, which is terribly misleading:

The phrase "normative Judaism" is another phrase you did not get from anything I have ever said in any context. Nor would I ever think to employ those words to describe a complex religious culture that included a mix of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Your scorn for that phrase is not even remotely germane to any point I have ever made in any of my responses to Wright or the NPP.

As a matter of fact, the impression I get from Scripture is that the Judaism of the apostle Paul's generation was (in many important ways) not terribly different from "evangelicalism" today.

So what's "mainstream" right now? Christianity Today? Those who affirm historic evangelical principles? TBN? The vast array of opinions represented by the Evangelical Theological Society? There is no single "normative" evangelicalism.

Still, two thousand years from now, if someone digs up a record of my blog and characterizes me as a critic of 21st-century evangelicalism, and surmises from what I have said here that I oppose the many manifestations of semi-pelagianism and man-centered religion in the evangelical movement, etc.—she will be quite right.

But if someone else comes along and argues, "no, there was no such thing as 'normative evangelicalism'"; "evangelicalism in the 21st century was not actually Pelagian"; "many 21st-century books have much to say about grace"; "evangelicals as a rule specifically disclaimed works-salvation"; etc., etc.—that person might be technically correct, but he would be completely missing the salient point.

Royal said...

Hey Phil,

I am sorry I did not take the time to read so far all 48 comments.

Jesus set the bar of our moral standards higher and gave us the power to live them out. The OT laws of Moses focused on the outside actions while the NT commands of Jesus focus on the inside change that comes from the new birth.

We obey Jesus with gratitude and because of His love and under His grace. The laws of Moses were followed, or an attempt to follow was made, out of fear.

Anonymous said...

I haven't posted here in a while, but I thought I would just testify to something. Very early into this comments section, someone told Phil that no leading Pacifist uses the argument of New Covenant Theology. However, I know of a professor (he has actually been my professor in the past) who is a "biblical pacifist", as he likes to call himself. He is a very intelligent man to say the least; most of the students love him and many young "objective" freshman guys will often conform their views to his to be... I don't know... cool (?). Moreover, I am almost sure that he has a great influence in the world of academia, as he has even debated his pacifist views.

My point is this: he uses the VERY argument Phil is talking about. Imagine that... for the argument to be so out of touch with reality or otherwise irrelevant (according to some in here), isn't it odd that this very influential college professor uses that exact one?

Great post, Phil... I've been doing homework the past few weeks, but I'll try to catch up on your blog some while you're away. Keep up the great work. I have often experienced the critics one can pick up when he makes any of his views public (namely from my Calvinism blog), but I encourage--more as a pupil to a teacher--to keep up the good work. Though Christ is my Lord and His Word my ultimate authority, I need men like you to look to and learn from as I myself seek to follow the Lord into whatever ministry he has prepared for me after college (and even in college). Keep standing for your convictions without shame!

Kay said...

I know it's after the fact and all, and that Phil is off on his busmans holiday now, but hey, I don't need to be affirmed by Phil reading this...

About the law... my understanding was that the moral law existed way before the ceremonial and civil law, and so while it was possible to fulfill the last two categories, the moral law is a different sort of thing, more the foundation upon which the other two were built. That was where the distinction between them happened, as far as I knew..

I'm still learning, though. Aren't we all..

Jeremy Weaver said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Mosaic law was given to a specific people at a specific time in history for a specific purpose. That purpose was to bring us to Christ.

Jim Dandy said...

You may or may not read this.

The only reason I imported the discussion is because you were not careful in your terms, perhaps my points were unclear, or I did not connect all my dots concerning my argumentation. But let me emphasis that I think it is important to use terms carefully and your use of ‘rabbinical’ is not careful, nor clear.

True I first saw this error in your ‘Old Perspective’ review, but was reminded of it again in the aside you made in your blog, while not germane to pacifism, I thought it worth bringing up.

On normative Judaism, I am glad that you see the 1st century much like evangelicalism of the 21st century, but it was probably more like ‘christianity’ of the 21st century. But your point about normative evangelicalism is fair and rather good. You would never be so careless to say all evangelicals are semi-pelagianism, or that evangelicalism is man centered (although you might have a good point here), just as you are being careful in the terms you use when you protest against such modern day things that bug you, I suggest you be equally careful when discussing the 1st century Judaic systems. I suggest using terms like some, these, or other limiting terms, that show you don’t mean all. You are right you never used the term ‘normative Judaism’, and I did not mean to infer that you did, but by not being precise this is what one gathers from your writings.

It is a rather small point to make, and a rather small concession that will actually help you argue against the NPP, in the future. It’s not that ‘you’ can’t say some of the Pharisees were hypocrites (Sanders says as much), it is when you say Pharisees are hypocrites, and then hypocrite becomes a synonym for Pharisee, and then the poor chap in the pews thinks all the Jews were hypocrites (this is hypothetical, you never to my knowledge said such things). But I hope you see my point.

Those who say there was no normative Judaism, my self being one, say such things so as to have a more fruitful discussion. In your concluding example you say:

But if someone else comes along and argues, "no, there was no such thing as 'normative evangelicalism'"; "evangelicalism in the 21st century was not actually Pelagian"; "many 21st-century books have much to say about grace"; "evangelicals as a rule specifically disclaimed works-salvation"; etc., etc.—that person might be technically correct, but he would be completely missing the salient point.

I agree that if that was the persons point it would be rather banal, but if after making these broad statements went on to discuss the teachings of GCC compared to the Crystal Cathedral that there might in fact be some important distinctions, and perhaps a worthwhile investigation. That is what I hope you would do for the 1st century.


Brad Huston said...


Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Much to chew on and consider, enjoy the next two weeks.


Ruprecht said...

Jim Dandy" goes--

"But let me emphasis [sic] that I think it is important to use terms carefully"


Funny how you admit that your own criticisms against Phil were basically generalizations, and he "never to [your] knowledge said such things," and blah, blah, blah. And your whole point supposedly is that you want HIM to be fair and precise and clear.

And even though YOU aren't being fair or precise or clear, you just keep coming back and repeating all the same accusations over and over and over.

Since you're so worried about how the ignorant, unwashed masses might perceive what SOMEONE ELSE says, speaking as one of them, let me just say... YOU come across like a major smart-alek.

Hacksaw Duck said...

If the morality of the New Testament era is no different than the Old, where are all my extra wives and concubines? I'm missing out.

Also, Jesus said, "Love your enemies," which would seem to preclude killing them in a dispute between political entities.

Do we really need to invoke such razor-sharp scholarship here when common sense will do?

Daniel said...

My eight year old son asked an interesting question this morning during his devotional time - and I immediately thought of this thread.

He asked why in Adam and Eve's time children were allowed to marry their siblings, but now God forbids it. Was it at one time a morally acceptable thing, but now it is immoral?

He is only eight, so I was quite impressed by the depth of the question.

Any takers?

Jim Dandy said...

Ruprecht I am sorry I came across less than generous it was not my intention to discuss with Phil in a polemical manner.
And I am too not above mistakes, it is always humiliating to make a mistake like that when speaking of clarity, if I could edit it I would, but I can’t so I should have been more careful (sheepishly looking for a place to hide).
I pointed out where Phil said such things, I admitted that he never spoke of ‘normative Judaism’, but tried to show that his manner of speaking could lead less educated people to draw such conclusions.
Being less educated is not meant polemically, but Phil has a bit more knowledge than the average attendee in his fellowship group, as a teacher he is responsible for the things he teaches, and for doing the proper research that that entails, for the most part Phil does a wonderful job; I was just offering an area where he could benefit from being more precise.
I don’t think I was making any false accusations against Phil, it is in print. I may have drawn generalizations that Phil himself would, and did, disagree with, and in an effort to be fair I acknowledged them and congratulated him for that (congratulations are not meant as polemics, and I am not insinuating a higher status, I was sincerely encouraged to see his response).
I am sorry to come across as a smart-ass, but that would imply that I am not serious about what I have to say, and would insinuate that I am using mere rhetorics to pick a fight with Phil, I want to convince him. I am sorry if my tone was less than congenial and for that I apologize.

Ephraim said...


That is an interesting question. Perhaps it falls under the purview of "progressive revelation". As the requirements of YHWH became known in greater detail, things which existed before that level of detail was known might be considered ok, as in "not sin", then, as the detail increased, so did the accountability.

An example could be Yeshua saying that looking upon a woman with lust in your heart was the same as committing a physical act. Previously it would have only been the act itself which could bring condemnation and judgement.

Besides, from a practical standpoint, you (as Creator),have just created two human beings and told them to populate the earth. At that point you either have to create more of those human beings to allow the type of relationship you were going to approve of in the future, or, you could just let things take their course. I've not found any reliable text to support either scenario. But my personal guess would be the latter.

The revelation of Torah brought about intense struggles at the human level. It was a major change in the requirements of behaviour before the Creator. What constituted obedience could no longer be debated in the light of Torah. It could be twisted into pretzels if a portion did not seem clear, but that's another discussion. Which brings us back to parts of this current discussion.

If the behaviour of those who put their trust in Messiah Yeshua cannot be defined by anything other than a contextless concept of "love", then why even think that there is some kind of moral component to the modern Christian version of what passes for faith?

Once you set the boat adrift, and give up the use of the oars, you become part of the current. Pretending otherwise would be very frustrating for the most part.

Daniel, you must be teaching your children well for a question like that to form in the mind of an 8 year old.

May YHWH bless your work.


Daniel said...

Ephraim - thanks for the comments. My son loves the bible and reads a lot for his age (six chapters a day every day).

He asked my wife the question first, and she didn't have an answer - so I went in to talk with him. I didn't really have a ready answer for him - it wasn't something I had even considered myself. But I believe in reasoning things out as I go along - so I just sat with him for a while and we talked about it.

There is a small amusement park called "Tinkertown" that our children have been to. My son has vivid memories of one ride in particular because it has a height requirement, and he used to be too short to ride it.

We reasoned together that even though the height restriction hadn't changed on the ride, yet my son now is able to ride it because he is taller. The rule hadn't changed - yet the adminstration of that rule no longer affected my son.

We began with a presumption that if there is no shadow of turning in God - that is, if God does not change as scripture teaches, then God's morality is eternally unchanging as well - which is represented well by the height requirement of the ride. I then explained that even though the height requirement hadn't changed yet because my boy had become taller than he was previously - now the restriction was loosed. We then projected that reasoning as a possible solution to scripture - that is, that at some point a restriction that was always there began to take effect.

We didn't really work it out however. I made it plain that were couldn't be sure of how it worked out - but that I personally had faith that it did work out, since even he and I were able to draft a quick and possible solution. I was likewise quick to assure him that it is more useful to meditate on than to speculate on the word of God - so we left it hanging there.

I was/am thankful for your reply. Children are awesome.