22 December 2005

Is Moses' law a simple, seamless garment?

Is there any sound biblical basis for differentiating between the moral aspect of Moses' law and its ceremonial features?

I believe there is. In fact, I would argue that some sort of distinction like that is necessary before you can make good, thoughtful sense of some pretty basic biblical texts, including Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:14-15; 1 John 3:4; 1 Timothy 1:8; Leviticus 18:24; and scores of other key passages.

I'm not going to try to prove the whole argument in one post, because too many of my posts are overlong already. But I'm going to start with a very narrow focus and try to build my case one small point or two at a time.

I would simply ask commenters who are itching to argue against my position to stay with the point under discussion and not try to anticipate arguments I haven't even made yet. No fair jumping the gun and trying to turn the discussion to some larger question that's not even on the table yet. And it's especially not fair to for anyone to pretend I'm claiming that a couple of very simple posts dealing with a narrow issue are all that's needed to make the whole case for my position. That is not what I think; I make no such claim; and those whose reflexive counter-argument always begins with the accusation that I haven't been thorough enough are welcome to give that old workhorse a rest this time—at least until we get ten or fifteen posts into the topic.

(By the way, the itch to jump the gun seems to be a peculiar tendency of some commenters at my blog. It's is how the modern-prophecy discussion got derailed before it really even got started. I haven't forgotten my promise to come back to that topic. I'm just going to wait for my charismatic friends who are spoiling for a fight about the larger and more academic issue of cessationism to calm down first, so that we can get back to the fairly simple, more practical question that I initially raised—regarding whether anyone is actually receiving reliable messages directly from God on an ongoing basis today. But that's not the subject of today's post; the law is.)

Anyway, I fully realize there are some terms vital to this discussion that are just crying for technical definitions, and I haven't even tried to define them yet (including the crucial but often ambiguous expression "moral law"). Please stay with me and try to be patient. We can get through this.

But let me start with a very simple question for those who insist that the Mosaic law must be seen as one seamless garment with no legitimate categorical distinctions between its various precepts. (I've noticed that people these days especially seem to be passionate in their opposition to the famous threefold taxonomy of the law's moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, XIX:3-5. Perhaps we can take up the issue of the threefold division before we are done, but here my focus is even narrower than that. I just want to challenge those who insist that the law is all one indivisible unit whose precepts are therefore all basically of equal import.)

Here's the question:

Are there not clear biblical distinctions made repeatedly between the "weightier matters" and the external features of the law (Matthew 23:23); between "mercy" and "sacrifice" (Matthew 12:7); between "the knowledge of God" and "burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6); between "obedience" and "the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22); between "justice" and legal ritual (Proverbs 21:3); between the putting away of evil and "vain oblations . . . incense . . . sabbaths . . . feasts" (Isaiah 1:11-17); between true righteousness and the "noise of . . . songs" (Amos 5:23-24)?

As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13). Doesn't that suggest that one aspect of the law takes moral precedence over another?

To put the same question another way: Why would Jesus criticize the Pharisees and other teachers of the law for straining out the gnats of ceremonial defilement while swallowing the camels of injustice and cruelty (Matthew 23:23-24) if there really is no legitimate distinction between any different aspects of the law?

Those very contrasts are some of the key distinctions I see between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the law. So before anyone tries to sweep this whole issue aside by putting his fingers in his ears and reciting the mantra about there being "no exegetical proof for any divisions in the law," please note that the distinctions I'm speaking of here are spelled out in Scripture, not in the Confession of Faith.

Furthermore, all the texts I have cited assume that we ought to be able to see and understand certain distinctions between various aspects of the law, even though (as far as I can see) there is no single proof-text that spells out a list of those distinctions for us, whether in fine detail or in convenient shorthand.

The weight of so many admonitions and condemnations aimed at people who seemed oblivious to the differences between gnats and camels only increases my certainty that God holds us accountable not merely for the explicit statements of Scripture, but more importantly for the true sense of those statements—as well as for any sound inferences that can be deduced from them by good and necessary consequence.

And incidentally, that's why I'm not easily persuaded by the bare assertion of one commenter who declared ("for the record"!) that "there is NO exegetical basis for dividing the Mosaic code into these nifty little component parts. NONE!"

For future reference, that sort of histrionic dismissal of centuries of mainstream Protestant opinion isn't the kind of "argument" I find particularly persuasive. I realize it's becoming more and more the norm, but it still doesn't get much traction around here.

Phil's signature


Sharad Yadav said...


1) The narrow point you're trying to make is one that I think everyone should concede: one can make categorical distinctions in the Law. There is indisputably different subject matter in the Law that can be categorized in various different ways: one could deal in categories of content (Sexual purity laws, food laws, etc), or in categories of principles (laws which emphasize pecularity, laws which emphasize devotion, laws which emphasize justice) etc. The real question is how should these categories legitimately used in doing theology? The problem with making distinctions in the Law is that there is conceptual overlap between categories (all of the Law governed the nation politically and thus were civil, all of the Law served to empower Israel as a kingdom of priests and is therefore ceremonial, and all of the Law served to regulate a relationship with God and is therefore moral). Abstract categories like these aren't the only (and perhaps not the best) way to understand the Law.

2) As to your question about biblical distinctions made concerning the Law:

Mt. 23:23 -- The distinction that Jesus makes here with the "weightier" matters of the Law and tithing doesn't support a categorical distinction within the Law itself. Using the verse that way does violence to the context in which it is situated. Jesus' point is that there is a heart/spirit/intent to the Law which the Pharisees are missing in their hypocritical show of obedience - that's why they should attend to that spirit which undergirds the ENTIRE Law, including Laws concerning tithing. The rebuke actually UNITES the Law by saying they should have attended to the heart of it, even in their tithing.

Mat. 12:7 -- This passage is in the context of being confronted by the Pharisees for eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus again is pointing to the Pharisees ignorance of their own Scriptures by showing how the OT narrative vindicates David in feeding his men consecrated food. Jesus then quotes Hos. 6:6 beside this precedent to vindicate himself. The reference to David is Messianic in that David's act of nourishing his men occurs in the context of David's rise to kingship while in pursuit by Saul. Jesus puts himself in the place of David and implicitly puts the Pharisees in the place of Saul in their resistance of His claim to David's throne. The reference to Hosea also has echoes of Israelite rejection of God in their religious presumption. By bringing these texts together Jesus is rebuke the Pharisees refusal of the Messiah in their twisting of the Law. In other words, this doesn't make a distinction between the LOYALTY required by the Law and the SACRIFICES required by the Law, it makes a distinction between the loyalty required by the Law and FEIGNED LOYALTY of INSINCERE sacrifices. Interpreting this as a distinction between the parts of the Law which require "loyalty" and the parts which require "sacrifice" would seem to miss the point, not only of Hosea, but of how Jesus is using Hosea.

I'm not sure what verse you were referring to with "Malachi 6:6" - did you mean Hosea 6:6?

1 Sam. 15:22 - The context here sets up the choice between obeying a direct order from God to not spare a living thing from the sword and to offer a self-styled act of worship (what verse 19 calls "an act of evil") instead. Drawing upon this to make a distinction in the Law is inappropriate.

Prov. 21:3 -- The idea is that God desires these qualities in a man's heart and life more than sacrifices from a man who is devoid of these qualities. See Ecc. 9:2, where the righteous, good and clean is also identified as "the man who offers a sacrifice". This isn't drawing a distinction between sacrificing according to OT expectations (which include instructions about the motives and heart of the participant) and obeying other non-ceremonial precepts.

Is. 1:11-17 -- Again, I think using this passage to make a distinction within the Law is to be completely insesntive to the context of these verses and hopelessly inconsistent with the rest of the message of Isaiah. In chapter 19 it speaks of sacrificing as a sign of true worship and "knowing the Lord" (11:21). See also 43:22-24, 56:7.

Amos 5:23-24 -- Verses 25-26 make the point here pretty clear -- sacrificing to Yahweh while being loyal to false gods doesn't constitute obedience.

The distinctions made in these verses are never between categories inherent in the Law - they are ALL in the context of true obedience to the Law (in its dictates of justice, righteousness and mercy) versus hypocritical observance of only parts of it in neglect of these other demands.

The problem with the hypocrites rebuked in these passages is emphatically NOT that they couldn't see distinctions which the Law itself made, but that they excused themselves from heeding the very heart of the Law which undergirded its every commandment - namely the love of God and the love of neighbor (both which manifest themselves in righteousness, justice, mercy, loyalty, etc).

3) All of the prophets you mentioned above sought to bring Israel back into faithful (not formalistic) obedience to the covenant, including its sacrificial and ceremonial provisions. In other words, these words should be read as an EXPOSITION of sacrificial requirements and the true nature of them, not as in COMPETITION with them.

You (and this view) have made the mistake of equating disobedience to the Law (the hypocritical sacrifices are condemned in all the passages you cited) with the essence of the Law itself. That's not only a theological no-no in the Westminster scheme, but an exegtical one too, in my judgment. It'd be interesting to hear some more substantial defense of this point (the Bible weighs some parts of the Law heavier than others) from the verses you cited.

GeneMBridges said...

Mat. 12:7 -- This passage is in the context of being confronted by the Pharisees for eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus again is pointing to the Pharisees ignorance of their own Scriptures by showing how the OT narrative vindicates David in feeding his men consecrated food. Jesus then quotes Hos. 6:6 beside this precedent to vindicate himself. The reference to David is Messianic in that David's act of nourishing his men occurs in the context of David's rise to kingship while in pursuit by Saul. Jesus puts himself in the place of David and implicitly puts the Pharisees in the place of Saul in their resistance of His claim to David's throne. The reference to Hosea also has echoes of Israelite rejection of God in their religious presumption. By bringing these texts together Jesus is rebuke the Pharisees refusal of the Messiah in their twisting of the Law. In other words, this doesn't make a distinction between the LOYALTY required by the Law and the SACRIFICES required by the Law, it makes a distinction between the loyalty required by the Law and FEIGNED LOYALTY of INSINCERE sacrifices. Interpreting this as a distinction between the parts of the Law which require "loyalty" and the parts which require "sacrifice" would seem to miss the point, not only of Hosea, but of how Jesus is using Hosea.

I would also say He is pointing them to the way they had set the Law at odds within its own text. Why was what He and His disciples and what David and his men did within the Law's boundaries? Why did the OT narrative of David vindicate Him?

The text of Deut.23.24 - 25 tells us:

When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket.

When you enter your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain.

This defined the "work" as "harvesting with the sickle" not "picking heads of grain for personal consumption." The rabbis has constructed an unlawful definition of what constituted "work." and the text refuting them is within a section of Deut. that delineates the meaning of the 6th and 7th Commandments. They effectively set off Exodus 34:21 : You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. against the text of Deuteronomy. One was prohibited from harvesting on the Sabbath, but what David and his men and what Jesus and His disciples were doing did not meet the Law's definition of "harvesting."

Hosea's statement, "I desire loyalty rather than sacrifice" is valid because it showed that the Pharisees were disloyal for setting the Law against itself, and emphasizing one portion (Exodus) over another (by going further than the Law itself on what constituted work of "harvesting" on the Sabbath), not simply refusing Him as Messiah. That is what made them presumptious. They were holding the Lord to a standard the Law itself defined, and, in fact, directly contradicted.

Gordan said...


My hand instinctively covers my wallet when I see people using a flood of words to show how the Bible doesn't really mean what it clearly says.

"Weightier matters" of the Law is not Phil's terminology. It came from the Lord of the Law.

But the above comments have multiplied words to show how what Jesus REALLY meant is that it's all of equal weight after all.

Methinks some doth protest too much.

Gordan said...

One more (short) answer to the above posts.

In the episode in which Jesus plucks grain on the Sabbath:

Your point is well taken that the Pharisees were rebuked for wrongly setting the Sabbath laws in a place of priority over the rest of the law.

Okay, but the corrective that Jesus offers is not to say, "The law is a unit and all the commands are equal."

His corrective to their wrong priorities and distinctions within the Law was to offer His own, CORRECT, priority. Mercy over sacrifice.

Darel said...

I agree Gordon. When the Bible says that Christ "is the end of the Law", then that's what it means. It certainly doesn't say "the end of some parts of the Law".

It also says that He "came to fulfill [the Law]".

ful . fill - To bring to an end; complete.

So, let's just take the Scripture at its word, neh? The Law is done, finished, nailed to the cross, completed, ended. It is all of these things to the children of God, since they have died to the Law so that they can live to Christ.

Jim Dandy said...


Mercy over sacrifice, granting you that interpretation, was not new to Jesus; rather, it was well established in the Scriptures of Isreal


'telos' does not always mean end. It is not as easy as taking the bible by what it says, beacuse what it says is often what is debated.

David A. Carlson said...

Was Jesus saying the moral is more important than the ritual (ceremonial), or was he saying you cannot ignore the moral while following the ritual?

In other words, was he really pointing out that while following the rules of the law, (as they should) they were unrightously ignoring the bigger picture of the intent of the law. In effect they had swung completely to one side of the equation. But the point is not that what they were doing was wrong, but that it was incomplete.

Did Jesus and his disciples not celebrate passover? If the ceremonial was done away with, would he of not done away with that celebration?

Just an idea.

Jim Dandy said...


Your GIF for gracelife podcast is coming out too large for your matchstick image. Sorry for posting it here I thought you might want to know.

Firfox Browser

Chuck said...

This is indeed a hard topic, and one I will enjoy reading. I agree with nearly everything theblueraja said. As far as what Darel said about Christians being dead to the Law, I agree. The question is "What does it actually mean that Christ fulfilled the Law?" Ay, and there's the rub: I am not convinced we all answer it the same way. When Scripture speaks of the Law being fulfilled it is not speaking of the Law going away. Jesus Himself specifically states in Matthew 5 that the Law will remain until 'heaven and earh pass away' and 'all is accomplished.' It seems that when we are called 'dead to the Law', it is speaking not of the actual acts of obedience to the Law but being dead to pur obligation to perfectly act in accordance with its strictures. One thought I have often had is this: If the goal of our life after regeneration is to become conformed to the image of Christ, and Christ perfectly kept the Law, then should not our lives begin to mirror that in an ever-increasing fashion until we leave this world?
This whole thing should informative.

Evangelical books said...

Hi Phil,

I hope you are not going to open up a can of worms here. I have heard your sermons on the 10 commandments and have corresponded to you before concerning this issue - the Law of God.

Will you be addressing in the next few blogs your novel interpretation of the 4th commandment?

Steve Sensenig said...

I see others have already said much more eloquently what I was thinking, but here is my two cents:

I never saw the passages used by Phil as separating the law into different segments, therefore allowing some of the Law to remain in force today. I saw it as what theblueraja explained: the difference between outward obedience and inward heart attitude.

The Law, in my understanding, was never meant to replace the heart. I can't remember the passage off the top of my head, but I know that somewhere in the Old Testament, God actually expresses disgust over the sacrifices and their stench. Yet, these were the very sacrifices He asked for! The point seemed to be that when a sacrifice was offered without the appropriate heart attitude, it was offensive to God.

I'll be looking forward to reading Phil's further posts on this. Maybe I'll be convinced to see it his way!

steve :)

Phil Johnson said...

Rajah: Yes, I meant Hosea 6:6. Thanks. I fixed that reference.

Jim Dandy: I can't see what you mean about the .gif. That's actually a breakaway wooden match, so the actual match itself is a lot wider than the other matches (nearly twice as wide, actually). But it seems be displaying correctly for me, even in Firefox. If you are describing something different from that, can you send a screen capture of what you're getting? Otherwise, I'll probably make a new .gif first chance I get, so that the match doesn't appear so hideously deformed.

Anonymous said...

It would seem to me that if there is no division in the law that would cause problem in Christ.

Read the first part of the Law - Leviticus. It's all about sacrifices. But Christ is THE sacrifice.

The first part of Leviticus is about how the priests mediate. But Christ is our mediator.

In chapter six, it gives the regulations for burnt offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings. If the entirety of the Law is for us today, why do we not do those things?

Deuteronomy 14 is about clean and unclean food - how do we deal with that, if the Law is for us today?

And the tithe...the law says to eat our tithe.

Find the Law and read the introduction. Then ask the report questions: who, what, where, when, why?

Daniel said...

Like theblueraja, I too acknowledge that we can divy the law into multiple overlapping "families" - my concern is not whether it can be done, but rather to what purpose one would do it.

The only reason I have ever seen anyone make such distinctions in the law of Moses is as a precursor to declaring some laws "in effect" and some laws "abolished" Typically a subjective distinction is made between between "ceremonial" and "moral" law, and from that point on when scripture says the law shall not have dominion over you - it is assumed to mean the subjectively defined "ceremonial" law no longer has dominion over you - but the Moral law still does.

Dangerous stuff.

I look forward to seeing your "rightly divided" thoughts on the matter Phil.

Dave said...


It seems that the basic argument in this post has a flaw. You identify your central point as, “I just want to challenge those who insist that the law is all one indivisible unit whose precepts are therefore all basically of equal import.” Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but it seems that you have conflated two issues into this one sentence. Whether “the law is all one indivisible unit” seems to be a distinctly different issue than whether all of its “precepts are therefore all basically of equal import.” And it does not logically follow that believing it is indivisible means you consider all the precepts to be of equal import.

It is quite possible to view the Mosaic Law as an indivisible unit while acknowledging that this same Law considered some requirements and violations matters of greater consequence. Arguing that there are “weightier matters of the Law” does not prove your point unless you are prepared to argue that the lesser matters of the Law have no moral significance whatsoever. The appeal to many of the texts you cite seems to come up short in that the point of contrast isn’t between two points of Law, but a disposition of the heart versus mechanical performance. The contrast isn’t between moral versus some other type of law, but to the fact that God sought something more than mere legal compliance, particularly since the legalistic mindset usually focuses on those points which are easily maintained (e.g., the tithing in Mt 23:23). OT texts which seem to minimize sacrifice should not be interpreted as demeaning the sacrificial system per se, but as highlighting the fact that sacrifices apart from faith and its evidence were insufficient.

To state my objection to your argument positively, I believe that the Mosaic Law is presented in Scripture as an indivisible unit and I believe that there clearly are indicators that not all matters within the Mosaic Law are considered of equal import. I do not believe that this second assertion leads to the distinction of moral from civil or ceremonial. I would also suggest that denying these distinctions in the Mosaic Law does not mean that one denies that there are timeless moral principles expressed consistently throughout God’s progressive revelation (i.e., pre-Mosaic and post-Mosaic). In other words, I don’t believe that my view leads to antinomianism.

Bethany said...

I'm really excited for this discussion..this was something I was researching myself..thanks Phil, I look forward to more posts!

Gordan said...


The only reason I've ever seen anyone insist on a total abrogation of the law as a unit, is because it spoke out against something they enjoyed doing.

If there are eternal, moral aspects that are consistent throughout the Scripture, AND are plainly spelled out in the Law, what's the harm in referring to those and claiming they are normative?

Dave said...


What exactly did the Apostle Paul enjoy doing that led him to argue that we are no longer under the Law?

Heidi said...

Dangerous Stuff, that we are to obey God's law? I find it more dangerous to suggest that we are without law. God Himself, as Mr. Johnson pointed out in the last post, is not without law. One part of the law speaks to the Creator/creature relationship, and as such, is still applicable. I do not see the difference between taking this part of the law as informative or as law: either way, it tells us what we are and are not to do. Perhaps the only difference is an undermining of the Creator/creature paradigm: aside from all considerations of the goodness of the law (and incidentally, we know that the law is good if we use it lawfully), and from the image bearing aspect- God has the right, because of all that He is, to tell us what to do. The New Testament reiterates God's commands: if we are not to understand these in the framework of "laws" that we are bound to obey - then what are we to understand? That God really wants us to do these things, but He leaves it up to us? That His authority only extends over a heart in a high state of grace? (why then are people going to hell?) That He has relinquished His majesterial glory for a more relaxed atmosphere? Shouldn't the grace of regeneration teach us to honor, rather than dismiss, His absolute rights? If we are not to commit fornication, no matter which way you turn it, that is a law. And it is the same law, because it is the same Creator, and we are the same kind of creatures, that was laid down in the ten commandments. (I think the ten commandments reflect God's character as all other things do to our creaturely minds - analogically.)

Dave: regarding 'not under law' the issue under discussion here is just that 'law' can be understood in different ways, and in what context we are to understand it. Again, if we are without law in any sense, then we are free to commit fornication. And if we are not free to do that, then we are not without law.

Dave said...


I agree completely that the point of the discussion is understanding what we mean by "law." This accounts for my consistent use of the term Mosaic Law (and for capitalizing it in the intentionally sarcastic post to Gordon).

It is wrong to conclude that being out from under the Mosaic Law means being out from under law. I did not suggest this, nor do I believe that is Paul's argument in Romans and Galatians. But that is moving beyond the narrow point in Phil's post, which focused on the question of whether the Mosaic Law must be viewed as an indivisible unit.

I probably should not have posted the comment to Gordon since it may lead the discussion away from Phil's point. His point is an important one and should be discussed without opening all of the over aspects of this subject. Sorry Phil.

Phil Johnson said...

Dave: The expression "under the law" in the Pauline epistles has a specific meaning defined by Paul himself. It doesn't mean he believed the entire law was utterly abrogated as a rule of life. I'll deal with that issue in an upcoming post.

Sharad Yadav said...


If lengthy explanations make you grab your wallet, do terse assertions without justification make you whip it out? Of course if you assume Phil's conclusion, these texts seem to support it. But my fundamental point, namely that Jesus distinguishes between proper and improper uses of the Law NOT between important and unimportant portions in the Law, has gone unchallenged, as have the verses I mentioned from the OT about the importance of RIGHTEOUS sacrifices as opposed to unrighteous ones.

As for the corrective that Jesus offers, it's NOT "Mercy OVER sacrifice" - the text actually says, "these things you should have done without neglecting the others". The text he quotes from Hosea reinforces this point (loyalty rather than INSINCERE sarcifices) in its own context.

What I attempted to do, Gordan, was engage the topic exegetically and show how the proof texts that Phil used were fallacious references that could never support divisions inherernt to the Law of Moses. These texts won't hold the theological weight that Phil's trying to put on them.

If you don't like my explanations, what have you said which interacts with these texts? What explanations do you offer beyond, "It obviously means what I think it means"?

"Protest" is about all that thou seem to doeth . . .

Rich said...

Okay, I'll bite. Yes, Phil. I can agree that one could carry out the "physical act" aspect of the law (legalism/ritual) while missing the moral aspect (heart).

I am playing by your rules here. I am honoring your request NOT to jump the gun.

However, I simply ask that my tacit agreement here not be resurrected as a logical inconsistency in future posts. I am trying to hope the best here but I see these questions going the way of, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Forgive me for my pessimism.

I think this question, like Raja points out, can be very short sighted if not pressed to question of the intent and character of Suzerain-Vassal treaties.....but I am playing along...for now.

Heidi said...

If I can throw out one more thought (on topic: I apologize if my last remarks went off to the side)- Blue Raja, what you said (if I am understanding correctly) makes sense to me, but I was kind of going to ask the same question as is suggested by what Rich said: whether recognizing that there were distinctions necessarily implies disunity or opposition, or whether it merely suggests that one part of the law commanded the inward uprightness required in the observance of all of it, more directly than others? (& so 'weightier') Also, how would this play out in the Romans passage?

Sharad Yadav said...

ME: Son, you need to do your homework before you can play on the computer. It's important to be responsible and do the things you have to do before you do the things you merely want to do.

Later . . .

ME: Shouldn't you be doing your homework?

SON: (playing on his computer): I finished my homework! It's right there on the desk!

ME (looking at his homework): But this is terrible . . . you didn't even try to get it right! You obviously just rushed through it so that you could play on your computer.

SON: But I did my homework just like you asked me to!

ME: It's more importatnt to have your integrity than to just say you "finished" your homework.

SON: But I finished it! It'd done!

ME: But go learn what this means: "I desire integrity, not homework".

He who has ears to hear, let him hear . . .

Sharad Yadav said...


That's a great question, and I think I'd answer by pointing out that atomizing statements which attempt to get at God's desire in giving the Law from the ordinances which the Law itself requires would make the same mistake as saying "Telling my son to have integrity is one thing; telling him to do his homework is another".

In other words, the Law isn't presented in the OT as a peanut -- with the nut of righteousness, mercy and justice in the middle covered by a shell of ordinances. It's presented as a tree - with the roots being these "weightier matters" from which the ordinances grow. You can say that the roots are one thing and the rest of the tree is another, but to what end? The tree needs the roots, and roots without a tree isn't a tree. It's an essential unity.

As for how this all plays out in Romans, I'm afraid that's a smidge off topic, and I don't want to push my luck with Philys on that one - I've had my hands slapped more than once! But suffice it to say that I believe the Law in Romans is speaking about something more historically situated than in the abstract categories of eternal rules in which moral principles are meat and all else is "husk". I beleive that Romans deals with a theological narrative of Israel, and unless this is understood, bits of it will remain exegetically puzzling (though most of its central ideas may remain intact).

Darel said...

Jim Dandy,
This is probably lost in the sea of comments, but...

My Greek lexicon shows these meanings:

# termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
# the end

1. the last in any succession or series
2. eternal

# that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
# the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose

(Also can be a toll, or custom tax.. which makes no sense in the context of the sentence)

I firmly believe that from Noah to Darel, those who have hearts regenerated by the work of God look at Christ as the "telos of the Law". That is, the end, the aim, the purpose, the close, the fulfillment if you will, of the Law in those people's lives.

This does not, in any way, mean that I think the Law is finished for those who are not. If they do not have a heart for Christ, for God, then they are subject to the Law and its penalties. We are born under the Law, and its goal is to bring us to Christ. Once we have come to Christ, the Law has fulfilled its purpose in our lives.

I don't mean we are done with justice, mercy, compassion, etc. I mean we are done with "Thou shalt not murder". We have no need for "Thou shalt not murder", since we have replaced it with compassion. We have no need for "Thou shalt not commit adultery", since we have replaced it with faithfulness. We have no need for "Thou shalt not bear false witness", since we have replaced it with truthfulness. As children of God, "we have this mind that is in Christ", so that we live not by the Law, but by the Spirit.

Jim V. said...

I just want to make sure I'm reading you correctly. When you speak of different divisions of the Law, are you saying that, since the "civil" and "ceremonial" portions are actually outworkings of the "moral" aspect that this demonstrates a division point?

Neil said...

Scanning your blog and comments at the end of a yucky day in the office. Wow, lots of heat here today. Haven't had the chance to read through everything yet. But my answer to the title of the entry is NO, the law is not a seamless garment. And of course it's not Moses' law either, but I know you know that.

Among the *many* purposes of the law:
- shine forth a moral code for man to strive towards
- shine forth a moral code to show just how depraved and unworthy of heaven mankind is on his own
- shine forth the justice and mercy of God
- shine forth an amazingly detailed and beautiful foreshadowing of the Messiah, and the work he would do.
- and last but not least, give us proper instructions on how to de-mildew our houses, and to tell the priest how to certify the house is mildew-free.

Not all of The Law is still in force (unless you think we should be sacrificing goats and turtledoves regularly).

Not all of The Law (especially the moral aspects) is abrogated. (unless you think it's okay to lie and murder)

But we are not judged by any of The Law. If we want to be judged by The Law, then we need to be judged by the whole Law (so in this respect The Law *is* a seamless garment).

I'd quote you some scriptures but I can't even remember if I'm supposed to bring home milk tonight, let alone verse, reference, and context.

Heidi said...

BlueRaja, I think a lot of what is done with the distinctions has to come down to the Romans passages - interestingly Romans uses a tree analogy, with us being grafted onto the roots: I'm not sure if that will have any bearing (onto what are we grafted? ...I agree that a peanut doesn't work.) I think it is impossible to make sense of all that Paul says without both elements - the historical as well as the timeless (universal) statements Paul is making out of the narrative. Mr. Johnson had mentioned the Romans passage in the introduction, but I'll wait to hear more about that as it probably gets into a much wider area. Thank you for your response.

Albert said...

Forgive the length of this post. I hope it's helpful to the current discussion...

Practically speaking, the Mosaic Law was everything to the nation of Israel. As both a personal code of conduct (Deut. 31:12; 32:46) and a national constitution (Ex. 19:4-6), the Law distinguished them from the surrounding nations (Lev. 20:22-23; Deut. 28:1). It articulated God’s expectations for His people—detailing the proper guidelines for worship (Lev. 1:1-7:38), purity (Lev. 11:1-16:34), and holiness (Lev. 17:1-27:34). Moreover, it established the Hebrew justice system, explaining how specific crimes were to be punished in the theocracy (Ex. 19:1-24:18; Deut. 4:44-28:68). Every aspect of Jewish life, from the personal and religious to the public and municipal was affected. Thus, for the Old Testament Jew, the Law was a single, all-encompassing way of life. And while it certainly covered moral (Ex. 20), civil (Ex. 21-24), and ceremonial aspects of life (Ex. 25-31), "it is wrong [for New Testament scholars] to divide it into three laws, or as is popularly done, divide it into two laws, the one moral and the other ceremonial" (Alva J. McClain, "What is 'The Law'?" BSac 110/440 [Oct. 1953]: 334-35). After all, "although this three-fold division of the law is quite popularly accepted in Christian theology, the Jews either did not acknowledge it or at least did not insist on it" (Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," BSac 124/495 [July 1967]: 240).

Instead, the Jews divided the individual commands given in the Law (of which they counted a total of 365 negative commands and 248 positive commands) into twelve categories or families. Ryrie explains:

"The twelve families into which the law was categorized were according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. These were further subdivided into twelve families of affirmative and twelve of negative commands. The affirmative families concerned: (1) God and His worship, (2) the sanctuary and priesthood, (3) sacrifices, (4) cleanness and uncleanness, (5) alms and tithes, (6) things to be eaten, (7) Passover and other feasts, (8) rule and judgment, (9) truth and doctrines, (10) women and matrimony, (11) criminal judgments and punishments, and (12) judgments in civil causes. The negative families concerned: (1) false worship, (2) separation from the heathen, (3) things sacred, (4) sacrifices and priests (5) meats, (6) fields and harvest, (7) house of doctrines, (8) justice and judgment, (9) feasts, (10) chastity, affinity and purity, (11) marriages, and (12) the kingdom" (Ibid., 240-41).

Yet, even in categorizing the Law as they did (for the sake of teaching and memory), the Jews nevertheless saw the 613 commands as a single unit (see Joshua 1:8; 8:30). After all, "the Law of Moses never divides itself into these categories, but views itself as a single unit. The prophets of Israel also viewed the law as a unit, not to be broken in any one particular" (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Israelology—Part 1 of 6," CTSJ 5/2 [April 1999]: 43). Furthermore, the categories that were given often combine moral, civil, and ceremonial instruction into the same family. In other words, any artificial dichotomy between moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws (while helpful for understanding) has no biblical precedent.

The New Testament also views the Mosaic Law as a single unit. "Paul argued that all who were circumcised were 'under obligation to keep the whole Law' (Gal 5:3). And James insisted that whoever proposes to keep ‘the whole law and yet stumbles in one point . . . has become guilty of all’ (James 2:10)" (Robert P. Lightner, "Theological Perspectives on Theonomy—Part 3: A Dispensational Response to Theonomy," BSac 143:571 (July 1986): 238). In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul cites the fifth of the Ten Commandments and refers to it as "the first commandment with promise." Since none of the other Ten Commandments have promises attached to them, Paul must be referring to the whole Law as a larger unit (and not just the Ten Commandments or "moral law"). First Corinthians 9:9; 14:34; Romans 7:7; Galatians 3:17; Colossians 2:14-17; and Hebrews 12:18-21 also evidence a similar understanding. (See Roy L. Aldrich, "Has the Mosaic Law Been Abolished?" BSac 116/464 [Oct. 1959]: 322-24. Concerning Galatians 3:17, Aldrich argues that Paul is referring to the whole Sinai event and thus the whole Law. On Colossians 2:14-17, he notes that "ordinances" must refer to more than just the ceremonial Law since Paul includes "Sabbath" in his description of "ordinances." See also McClain, "What is 'The Law'?" 333-34.)

Of course, scholars must be careful to identify exactly what the New Testament author is referring to when using the term "law." Walvoord, for example, cites six different nuances of the word as used by Paul in the book of Romans alone (John F. Walvoord, "Law in the Epistle to Romans—Part 1," BSac 94/373 (Jan. 1937): 20-23. See also Brice L. Martin, "Paul on Christ and the Law," JETS 26/3 (Sept. 1983): 272.). Nevertheless, McClain maintains that the vast majority of New Testament references to "law" point directly to the Mosaic Law code. In each of these cases, he argues, the New Testament writer has the entire Mosaic Law in view (McClain, "What is 'The Law'?" 334). In light of the evidence, then, it can be safely asserted that both the Old Testament and the New Testament view the Mosaic Law as a solitary whole. It cannot be artificially divided or categorized. As Aldrich aptly summarizes:

"Thus orthodox Jewish tradition, able commentators, and the Scriptures themselves recognize that the law of Moses is an indivisible unit. This presents an insurmountable problem for any degree of Mosaic legalism. No modern legalist wants to climb to the top of Mount Sinai with its fire and thunder but many think it is a good thing to take a short hike up its foothills. But to touch the mountain at the bottom was as fatal as climbing to the top (Heb 12:18–21). The unity of the Mosaic law leaves only two alternatives—either complete deliverance from or complete subjection to the entire system" (Aldrich, "Abolished?" 325).

In other words, if part of the Law is still binding today, then all of the Law is still binding today—and vice versa.

Sharad Yadav said...


I think your understanding of the purposes of the Law completely de-historicizes (perhaps even "demythologizes"?)the Law into something that is less particular than the OT actually describes. You describe the Law as though it were given to humankind - but of course it was given as a covenant with Israel to fulfill a very particular function among the nations. You mention that it was given to show how depraved and unworthy of heaven mankind is - but heaven isn't even mentioned in the giving of the Law. The idea of the "kingdom of God" is, though. Yes, the Law was meant to shine forth the justice and mercy of God - but through the vehicle of a national covenant. You mention that the Law was to foreshadow the Messiah - but whose Messiah? Why did the Messiah come from Israel? Does it matter that the world's Messiah should be a Jew, and not a Brit? Is all of the historical particularity of the OT just God's random choice, or does it have any signifiance? Why did should this work for the world's salvation in Jesus be through the nation of Israel's expected king? Your explanations make the OT story nothing more than a glorified "illustration" that doesn't really do justice to the way the OT tells it's own story (as God's way of reclaiming the world for Himself).


I think we should probably seek to understand the OT on its own terms before we seek to understand how the apostles understood it. Our view of the OT can be reshaped and enlarged at that point, but in order to understand the apostle's appropriations of it we've got to do business with it on its own terms. Good call on the Romans "tree" analogy. And I agree that we need both a local/historical AND a cosmic persepctive in understanding God's unfolding work of redemption in Romans, and the Bible in general. But I think if we're going to avoid reading our own theology into these texts, the cosmic siginifcance should be worked out of the historical narrative, and not the other way around.

Sharad Yadav said...

I think a lot of what you've said is helpful, Albert, but I don't think it escapes the trappings of making universal categories out of the Law the same way the civil, ceremonial and moral distinction does. For the "Law to still be binding" would mean that God is still working with God's people on an ethnic, national, geographical basis. In other words, to affirm the "binding" nature of the Law isnn't just to "judaize" the church - it's to eliminate the possibility of the Church and revert the identification of God's people into Israel in exile. The OT is still an authoritative guide for Christian living (it's a source of instruction to "us upon who the ends of the ages have come" - see 1 Co. 10:11 and Ro. 15:4) but it doesn't function as a national constitution for God's covenant people any longer. The life of Israel has converged upon the life of Jesus such that being in Him is being a child of Abraham, and Christ becomes our pattern for living out the purposes of the Law. He fulfilled the Law and is its end in the sense that He perfectly served the purposes of the Law for Israel (to be a light to the Gentiles, reconcile creation to God and display the righteous character of God) in His life and removed the curses upon Israel in His death.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I'm with Gene.

Neil said...

I think I’m also with Gene on his comments. Amos 5:1-24 is God’s lament for Israel, that they continued to keep the outside fixtures and ceremonies of the Law, while ignoring and flouting its “weightier” non-ceremonial aspects. That is, they were not loyal to the most important parts of the law.

Blueraja: I need to paraphrase our host and say that I have not told you everything that I think about the law in one quick comment. Yes, it was absolutely historical and part and parcel of the fabric of the life and religiousity of every ancient non-idolatrous Israelite. And yes, it was given to that particular nation at that time for particular purposes. But it was also given to us for our edification, as per 2 Timothy 3:16. All regenerate people can and should learn from all parts of the Pentateuch, and most of the regenerate people that have ever lived, whether they be of Israel or the nations, have lived in the past 100 years, a time far removed from when the law was given to the historical ancient Israelites. The law was always meant to be universal God’s covenant with his chosen people, and it was also always meant to be way more than that.

There is only one Messiah, only one Anointed One of God that the law is foreshadowing. If we don’t acknowledge that the law is all about Jesus the Christ, and the work he was going to do (see John 5, and verses 39-47 in particular), then we are arguing against the words of Jesus, and are doing nothing but going down bunny trails, which is what Phil has respectfully asked us not to do.

Heidi said...

BlueRaja, did you read Leithart today? He points out that the ten commandments alone were kept under the mercy seat; and discusses how the 'Mosaic law' is specifically related to these commandments in 1-2 Kings. I find the mercy seat point very intriguing, and also a point about Josiah, who 'did all that the Lord commanded through Moses with his whole heart' as perhaps connecting obedience from the heart specifically with the ten commandments (given the other references).

I thought this interesting in light of understanding the OT on its own terms. (I agree that we should not approach Scripture backwards, though I do not believe we can interpret one part of Scripture independently of any other.)

Sharad Yadav said...

Bugblaster said:

"Amos 5:1-24 is God’s lament for Israel, that they continued to keep the outside fixtures and ceremonies of the Law, while ignoring and flouting its “weightier” non-ceremonial aspects. That is, they were not loyal to the most important parts of the law."

Are you saying that God required the ceremonial ordinances as only an outward ritual such that they could be done even with contempt and still be called "obedience"? That kind of reductionism misses the point of the ceremonial ordinances, and that was God's problem with it - their sacrifices weren't regarded as obedience, even INCOMPLETE obedience, but as covenant treachery! That's why the prophetic imagery of a restored Israel includes RIGHTEOUS sacrifices (Zech. 14:21).

Bugblaster said: "I need to paraphrase our host and say that I have not told you everything that I think about the law in one quick comment".

I would have never supposed so. That's why I only addressed the points you raised. Morevoer I affirmed the usefulness of the Law for Christians and that Jesus is the end to which the Law was directed.

Far from "going down bunny trails" I'm actually speaking to the legitimacy of making distinctions in the Law and what it might mean for how parts may or may not "apply" today. I think the way you're speaking of the Law "applying" or "not applying" is too generic. The Law isn't just a universal standard of morality for all men - it's one of the particular vehicles God used in His plan for redemption. For the Law to "apply" would mean that God is still working out His plan of salvation through Israel instead of through Jesus and the Church. I guess I'm arguing for a salvation historical signifiance to the Law as opposed to a systematic construction? In any case, I hope that clears things up a little. I'm curious to see what Phil's got cooking for the next post in light of this discussion.

Sharad Yadav said...

Very insightful, HZ! Thanks!

Albert said...

Blue Raja,

I’m not sure I totally understand what you’re saying, nor am I sure that you totally understand what I’m saying.

My point was that in both the OT and the NT (as well as in nonbiblical Jewish sources) the Mosaic Law is viewed as a solitary unit. Thus, it is either fully binding on the Christian or it is not binding at all.

My personal persuasion is that, since Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law in every aspect, those who are “in Christ” (a phrase often used by Paul to speak of Christians) are no longer subject to the Mosaic Law. What Christ fulfilled, the Christian no longer needs to fulfill. Instead, New Testament believers are subject to the Law of Christ (also called the Law of the Spirit—Romans 8:1). (This contrast is made especially clear in Galatians 3:19-4:7 and 6:1-2. In denouncing those who cling to the Mosaic Law, Paul upholds those who live by the Law of Christ. Clearly, the latter has replaced the former. See, Richard N. Longenecker, “The Pedagogical Nature of the Law in Galatians 3:19-4:7,” JETS 25:1 [Mar. 1982]: 71.) With this in mind, Robert Lightner identifies six passages that discuss the New Testament believer’s relationship to the Old Testament Law: Acts 15:1-29; Rom. 6:14; 2 Cor. 3: 6-13; Gal. 3:17–25; 5:18; Hebrews 7:11-12 (Robert P. Lightner, “Theological Perspectives on Theonomy—Part 3: A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” BSac 143:571 (July 1986): 241-43).

While the Law is a tutor that leads us to Christ, it is not binding on us because we are no longer under the Law of Moses but under the Law of Christ.
This is not to say that I believe the Mosaic Law to be of no didactic value to the Christian. The apostle Paul, for instance, is clear that all Scripture, including the Mosaic Law, is profitable for the New Testament believer (2 Tim. 3:16). For contemporary theologians to then claim that certain parts of the Law are no longer relevant to Christians in any sense goes contrary to the New Testament evidence. After all, Paul (the apostle most outspoken regarding the abrogation of the Law) found great delight in the Law of Moses. Dorsey explains:

“When Paul addresses himself specifically to the question of the value (and not the legal applicability) of the law, he expresses nothing but the highest regard for it. He considers the laws to be God’s laws (Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; I Cor 7:19). They are “good” (Rom 7:12–13, 16; I Tim 1:8), “holy and righteous” (Rom 7:12), and “spiritual” (7:14). He views the laws as embodying a standard of righteousness that we Christians are called upon to achieve by walking in the Spirit (8:4). He considers the laws valuable in the identification and conviction of sin in one’s life (3:20; 7:7 ff.). He teaches, as did Jesus, that each individual law of the Mosaic corpus (and not just a certain category of laws) fleshes out the one overarching law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (13:9; Gal 5:14). Paul holds the corpus in such high esteem that his inner being delights in it. Most significantly for the present inquiry, he maintains that the individual laws (speaking specifically of the law dealing with muzzling the ox; Deut 25:4) were given “for us” and are written “for us” (1 Cor 9:8–10). In no instance does he imply that only a particular category of laws possesses such high value” (David A. Dorsey, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” JETS 34/3 [Sept. 1991]: 331-32).

So how can one reconcile the importance that the NT places on the Mosaic Law with the fact that the Mosaic Law is no longer binding for the NT believer? I would propose the following: the overlap between the Law of Moses (which ended at the cross) and the Law of Christ (which began with the Church) can be explained in that both laws share the same Lawgiver. Although the Mosaic Law has no jurisdiction over the New Testament believer, the apostolic authors nonetheless appeal to it because it clearly depicts the moral character God Himself. After all, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. Because God never changes, and because His own moral essence is the basis for His commandments in any age, the Old Testament provides rich didactic material for New Testament saints—even though the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in effect. In other words, while God’s specific expectations for Israel (based on His character, essence, and being) are no longer binding (because God is not currently working through Israel), the Mosaic Law remains a goldmine for learning about the moral attributes of God. Moreover, because these same attributes are also the basis for His expectations in the church, the theological insights derived from the Law have immediate bearing on the lives of New Testament believers. Of course, the specific application may be different, but the basis (God Himself) is the same.

Sharad Yadav said...

I'm trackin', Albert, and I agree with you - I just think that there's something more to the OT than sharing the same Lawgiver. Thanks for your clarification!

Borderlandcross said...

When Christ stated His answer in Matt. 22:36-40 He was responding to the Pharisee lawyer who wanted to split the law up and know which part was the most important to obey. The Pharisees were testing Him. Christ's answer is that there are two commandments that are the most important (both are moral aspects), but that on those two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. He does not say that on those two commands hang all the moral parts of the law. He includes everything. One unit. If you do not love the Lord and your neighbor then the entire law is broken.

Neil said...

Blueraja, you said:
Are you saying that God required the ceremonial ordinances as only an outward ritual such that they could be done even with contempt and still be called "obedience"? That kind of reductionism misses the point of the ceremonial ordinances, and that was God's problem with it - their sacrifices weren't regarded as obedience, even INCOMPLETE obedience, but as covenant treachery! That's why the prophetic imagery of a restored Israel includes RIGHTEOUS sacrifices (Zech. 14:21).

No I’m not saying that. I’m saying the opposite. It’s not obedience if the rituals are done with contempt. That was what God was saying in Amos. I think we agree completely on this.

By bunny trails, I was mostly referring to your “why Israel” and “why not a Brit Messiah” questions. Wasn’t interested in answering but the host says keep commenting, so here goes: the quickie answer is: Israel, just because God chose them. We don’t know the reason why Israel, any more than we know why God elects certain people today, and not others (sorry to all! Not trying to muddy the waters! And I’m not saying that every Israelite was saved). It’s not fruitful to try and figure out why Israel. And not a Brit Messiah, because God didn’t chose Britain. He chose Israel, and through Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and the Word Jesus, successively unfolded the redemptive plan for the whole world, but starting with Israel. The Messiah was part of that plan (and not only part, but the culmination, the lynchpin). He was Israel’s Messiah first and foremost. But also ours (Jew first, then Greek).

I’m way too dumb to put forth a systematic construction. But unduly emphasizing the salvation historical significance of the law at the expense of applying the whole Bible profitably seems off to me.

I’ve probably misunderstood you, but that’s okay, it’s going to happen several more times today at work. Have a good day!

Rich said...


Well stated. One question. You quoted extensively from the strong Disp. camp. Have you interacted with those outside of that camp who would agree as well?

I can see some saying, "Of course Walvoord and Ryrie are going to say that (including Fruct, Showers, etc.) because that is their system." Not that it diminishes their view, just wondering about the whole presupp. argument.

Again, nicely summarized.

Dave said...


Douglas Moo's views on the law are very well developed on exegetical grounds and are, I believe, generally consistent with what Albert has posted.

Sharad Yadav said...

Hi Bugblaster - thanks for your clarification. I'm surprised we agree that half-hearted obedience isn't obedience - if that's so, how can you say that: "they continued to keep the outside fixtures and ceremonies of the Law, while ignoring and flouting its “weightier” non-ceremonial aspects. That is, they were not loyal to the most important parts of the law"? If what we're saying is true, they plainly WEREN'T keeping the ceremonies of the Law in that they weren't doing it in consonance with the weighty portions of the Law - this supports a fundamental unity, not division, in the Law. I apologize for the opaque questions about the significance of Jesus "Jewishness" - I was trying to get at the fact that a view of the Law that sees it as man's general moral standard or the substance of his conscience, or God's generic requirements for righteousness not only glosses over the weird particularity of it's commands, but it misses the specific function that it was to serve for the nation of Israel in God's plan. It leads, in my view, to a hellenized, Josephus-like distortion of the Law. Moreover it uses systematic distinctions (which isn't bad) that don't seem to be consistently maintained within the OT itself (which is bad).

As for "unduly emphasizing the salvation historical significance", I would contend that this is how the Bible does theology. If the form of my theology doesn't take into account the actual form of Scripture, I start to get a little queasy. That's not to say we can't make systematic judgments, but it is to say that I don't believe God revealed Himself in narrative (most of the Bible), poetry, parables, Gospels, situational letters etc. so that we could peel away these forms and translate Scripture into the only language we seem to think can carry truth - namely a 1050 page systematic theology with an index.

Frustratingly (for the systematician, anyway), the Bible itself unduly emphasizes salvation historical categories rather than those of modern dogmatic categories. If Romans (or Hebrews, for that matter) was written like the Westminster confession I'm not sure there'd be a debate. But it's not - so maybe we should attempt to work by the categories it entertains rather than the ones we've construed from a scholastic theological tradition (e.g. Francis Turretin et. al.).

Daniel said...

Gordon said, "If there are eternal, moral aspects that are consistent throughout the Scripture, AND are plainly spelled out in the Law, what's the harm in referring to those and claiming they are normative? "

While the law was the previous codified "standard" by which Israel was to live, God's true plumbline (c.f. Amos 7:7-8) - the standard by which we are to live - is not "the law" - but Jesus Christ. All the OT scripture (not just the law) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness - the law itself setting a standard so high that it acts as a schoolmaster - teaching us that we are sinners and in need of a savior - a tutor that leads us to Christ.

The "harm" in subjectively disecting the law into those components that are to be kept, and those that can be discarded is that you are removing Christ God's the plumbline, and replace Him with a set of moral ordinances.

There is no harm in referring to the OT law for instruction in morality - scripture teaches us to do just that. The harm is in putting on the yoke of the law. The New covenant is not simply a patch that is sewn onto the old covenant - it is a new garment altogether.

HZ said: "Dangerous Stuff, that we are to obey God's law? I find it more dangerous to suggest that we are without law. "

I think you mistake me. I think it is dangerous stuff to set Christ aside as the plumbline and conduct ourselves instead according to the law - and not the whole law, just some part of it that we subjectively define as being binding upon us. Scripture is not unclear - we are no longer under dominion of the law. Paul had to immediately defend that assersion because a charge of antinomianism would surely follow his teaching.

My point was not that it is dangerous to have a moral standard but that it is dangerous to regard the law as binding upon Christians - either we are in the old covenant or the new - and if we are in the new we are no longer under the law - it can still instruct us, but the law no longer has dominion over us, because we are under grace and not law.

That is not a license for liberty, and so I wouldn't consider it something to be regarded as "dangerous"

Albert said...

Rich (and the Blue Raja too),

While it is true that I cited primarily strong dispensationalist sources, my own view is slightly different that the standard dispensationalist viewpoint.

Here is my own take on the essential question: How are Christians practically to approach the Old Testament Law? Clearly, they are not to follow all of its restrictions, for the Law of Christ has replaced the Law of Moses. Yet, at the same time, they are not to completely ignore the Law. After all, the apostles often invoked the Law, appealing to it as a source of authority for many of their teachings. Furthermore, Christians cannot artificially subdivide the Law—saying that Christians are still subject to the moral law (usually defined by that which is repeated in the New Testament) while not being subject to civil and ceremonial laws. The Bible gives no precedent for this type of externally-imposed division.

In my opinion, Dorsey’s four-fold approach best explains the biblical data, avoiding the pitfalls of some of the other interpretations. (David A. Dorsey, "The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise," JETS 34/3 [Sept. 1991]: 332-34. For a similar approach see J. D. Hays, "Applying the Old Testament Today," BSac 158/629 [January 2001]: 21-35.)

Following these four steps allows the New Testament believer to find applicable instruction in any of the Old Testament laws—including those clearly abolished by the apostolic writers.

1) First, Dorsey contends that believers must recognize that the Mosaic Law is not binding for Christians. This includes all of the individual precepts that make up that Law. These commands, whether deemed moral, ceremonial, or civil, were part of God’s covenant with Israel. They are not part of His covenant with the Church. Thus, the Mosaic Law must be interpreted in the same grammatical-historical method as the rest of the Old Testament. Those who seek to understand it must begin by putting themselves in the shoes of an ancient Hebrew. After all, this is the audience to whom the Mosaic Law was originally intended.

2) Second, Dorsey argues that the interpreter must determine the original meaning, purpose, and significance of the individual command. Within the original historical context, why did God give the commands that He did? What were the apparent reasons or motives behind His various expectations?

3) Third, Dorsey notes that Christians must determine the theological significance of the individual command. In other words, what does this specific law reveal about the moral character, essence, and being of God (the Lawgiver). Dorsey explains:

"What does this law reflect about God’s mind, his personality, his qualities, attitudes, priorities, values, concerns, likes and dislikes, his teaching methodologies, the kinds of attitudes and moral and ethical standards he wants to see in those who love him? In spite of the fact that these 613 laws were issued to another people who lived at another time under very different circumstances than ours (again, like the prophetic oracles of Jeremiah), they come from the God whom we too serve, and they represent a vast reservoir of knowledge about him and his ways" (Dorsey, 333).

4) Finally, Dorsey adds that New Testament believers must determine the practical implications (application) of the theological insights found in the individual Old Testament command. Granted, the New Testament application is often quite different than the Old Testament application. Nevertheless, the theological truth behind the command is applicable in any age because it reflects the moral essence of the immutable God.

I don’t think this would be too far from (though perhaps not identical to) Moo’s view—namely, "that the Christian is free in Christ and not encumbered with an external code. But he is not free from the authority of the OT and what it reveals to us about the nature and character of God and his will for his people" (cited by Gary Hall at http://www.lccs.edu. See also Douglas Moo, "A Modified Lutheran View" in The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian: Five Views; D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, Jr, Cracking Old Testament Codes [Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995]; George L. Klein [ed.], Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992]; David Baker, Two Testaments, One Bible [Downers Grove: IVP, 1991]; and Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ From the Old Testament [Eerdmans, 1999].)

I hope this makes sense. And I also hope it delivers my previous posts from the (often negative) perception that they were nothing more than an uncritical regurgitation of standard dispensationalism.

Heidi said...

Daniel, thank you for clarifying. I can't agree with your use of the word 'subjective' -the OT itself makes distinctions (witness the way the different parts of the law were given in the first place), and the ten commandments have a special significance. The law language in different contexts in the New Testament is at the very least ambiguous, reflecting these distinctions. If we do not recognize any distinctions, then law is categorically opposed to grace. This is to make an opposition where no opposition exists: it did not exist in the previous dispensation of the covenant of grace (and it does not exist in the present dispensation of the same). If law is categorically opposed to grace - then to say that we are accountable not to commit murder (by whatever standard) must be equal to saying that we are damned. This is the problem you get into on your view, by confuting the economy of the previous dispensation and the statements made specifically regarding an abusive return to that economony with the entire category of law. I think we do have to understand these statements in the history in which they occur (and also to understand where Paul is demonstrating universals, and where he is demonstrating particulars.)

Sharad Yadav said...

Allow me to drop my flannel button-ups and paint a big red target on my can:

Has anyone read N.T. Wright's "Climax of the Covenant", and if so, what did you think?

Rich said...

Thanks Albert. I'll pull up the Journal CD and read those articles.

P.S. I was not belittling the original post. Just noticed that it was all dispys, of which I am one...but more like John Mac type -leaky. ;o)

Anonymous said...

I'm late for the debate, but here is a good point by the Puritan Anthony Burgess:

“How probable can it be, that God, delivering the Law by Moses, should intend a temporary obligation only, when the matter is perpetual. As if it had been thus ordered, “You shall have no other gods,” but till Moses his time: “You shall not murder or commit adultery,” but till his ministry lasts, and then that obligation must cease, and a new obligation come upon you. Why should we conceive that, when the matter is necessary and perpetual, God would alter and change the obligations? None can give a probable reason for any such alteration. Indeed, that they should circumcise, or offer sacrifices till Moses’ ministry lasted only, there is great reason to be given.”