By Brad Finkbeiner
Published May 2, 2008
A Side Note
Rogers seemed a bit surprised that I have not attacked the Theonomic use of the so-called “civil laws.” He noted it was quite Protestant to use the Decalogue for sanctification. True enough. Yet if none of the Law is binding, then none of the Law is binding, for Christian sanctification or civil regulation. If I happen to hamstring the standard Reformed view  while taking out the Theonomic view, please don’t let that be a distraction.
A careful comparison of my opening with Rogers’ reply will reveal that he left many of my points unanswered. I gave numerous exegetically grounded reasons for rejecting Theonomy. If Roger’s disagrees with my exegesis then he is obliged to explain where I went awry. I’ll gladly repent should he succeed in doing so. Yet he gave no counter to any of the relevant texts. He ignored them. For example, though I anticipated his appeal to Jeremiah 31 and explained why it does not support Theonomy, Rogers saw fit to quote it without responding to my preemptive arguments. This evasive maneuvering was especially obvious in regard to my arguments against the Law’s perpetually binding status. He stated “My opponent has argued that Christ ‘abolished’ the Old Covenant.” Having read that I expected him to then prove how my exegesis was incorrect. Instead, Rogers began dragging a bag of red herring before the noses of our readers (he went on to talk about salvation!). He later wrote: “My opponent uses the argument that since the New Covenant’s glory is greater than the Old Covenant, the ‘Old Law of God’ has faded away.” Once again I expected Rogers to follow this point up with some criticisms of my exegesis. But once again Rogers went off trail. Our debate was entitled “Is Theonomy Exegetically Sound?” Thus far Rogers has not answered the question. I have tried showing that Theonomy is exegetically bankrupt. True, perhaps I’m missing something. But until Rogers shows me what that something might be, I have every reason to maintain my opposition to Theonomy.
I) Some Further Thoughts On Christ’s New Law
I need to make a clarification. Rogers stated “…neither does [Christ’s] law of love nullify God’s commandments.” I did not argue that Christ’s new law was the principle that nullified the old law. I argued that Christ’s death was the means by which OC members were severed from the OC obligations-a point I’ll elaborate on later. My thesis that the Law has been abolished was not intended to depend on my claim that Christ was requiring us to love in a greater manner. This clarification is addressed to those will undoubtedly challenge that claim. For if they assume that my thesis was based on that claim, then their rejection of that claim will lead to their rejection of my thesis. So let me make it perfectly clear that even if they should succeed in proving that Christ required nothing new of us, they would NOT have thereby undermined my thesis. (Keep this well in mind).
To the contrary, my case for the Law’s abrogation rested on three basic points: (1) the obvious fact that the Old Covenant was abolished; (2) Paul’s teaching that Christ abolished the Law by His death, as well as his related teaching on abrogation; and (3) Paul’s teaching that the Jewish Christians were no longer under the Law. The focus on Christ’s new law was intended as an explanation of how God could set aside the old standard without leaving us in an anarchic or antinomian situation, as well as an explanation of how the new standard excels the old one.
Even so, the mere fact that Jesus introduced a “new” law raises serious questions about the ongoing validity of the “old” one. Surely the NL does imply that the OL has been set aside. In point of fact, the reality of the NL contributes a good deal to the overall force of my thesis. This is especially so when we stop to cognize the fact that Jesus mentioned this new law while discussing His new covenant! Those who count this a mere coincidence are just not giving it enough thought. Christ’s simultaneous provision of a “new covenant” and a “new commandment” is sufficient proof that he is instituting an entirely new system, a replacement of the old system. Before I proceed to add further confirmation of this claim, I want to take one last shot as persuading the readers that Christ’s law required a substantively new sort of behavior.
Rogers says that “the law of love was not introduced for the first time in the Gospels.” But can we speak of “the” law of love? This widespread assumption is vulnerable to serious questioning.
If Jesus was not requiring anything more than the old law to love one’s neighbor as oneself, then why did He call it a “new” commandment? Why would John continue to specify Christ’s command as “new” unless he thought there was something substantively different about it (1 Jn 2)? Why would Paul twice use the phrase “law of Christ” if Christ was merely repeating the law of Moses?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Jesus was merely requiring us to love others as ourselves. We could then reread His new law thus: “A new commandment I give to you, to love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, had we been a fly on the wall of the upper room, we would have certainly seen the disciples turning to one another with a look of perplexity; they would have justifiably wondered why Jesus called that a “new” commandment.
But that is not what Jesus did in fact command. He said this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also have love for one another” (13:34, italics mine). This was no insignificant nuance. For He later repeated the law: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (15:12, italics mine). Nor is it any coincidence that He immediately followed that statement with this one: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (15:13, italics mine). He is clearly indicating that His love is greater than what they were use to. The emphasis on the greater degree of love can be borne out of the broader context.
Recall how John introduced the upper room discourse: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of his love” (13:1, italics mine). John is here contrasting the degree of love Christ had already shown for His disciples to the degree of love that He is about to show them. In other words, Christ had not yet shown the “full extent” of His love. John then tells us how Jesus washed their feet to leave us an example. The act was significant. As v.8 makes clear, Jesus was thereby requiring His disciples to bear one another’s spiritual burdens, as He Himself bore theirs.’ The law of Christ was Christ’s “new commandment.” By washing His disciples feet Jesus was providing them with a foretaste of how the “full extent” of His love would ultimately purge the filth of their sinful hearts.
This is almost certainly what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2). Paul spoke of the Christian as a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12). He elsewhere compared his own life to a “drink offering” sacrificed for the sake of others (Php 2:17). Recall his exhortation to the Ephesians: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (5:1, italics mine). Here Paul tells us to model our lives after God incarnate-not Moses. He tells us to love as Christ loved-a clear application of Christ’s new law. Therefore, just as we would expect, this love is defined in terms of sacrifice and self-denial.
We should bear it well in mind that immediately after Christ’s first mention of His new law He says this: ““By this all men will know that your are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35). That is, we will distinguish ourselves as Christians only by loving as Christ loved. Only Christlike love can distinguish Christians from all the “nice” people of society.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is indeed the fulfillment of the old law. But is it the fulfillment of the new law? Christ required a “greater” kind of love, i.e., to lay down one’s life for others. This sort of love requires us to love our neighbor’s more than ourselves. In allowing His enemies to nail Him to the cross, was our Savior merely doing unto others what He expected others to do unto Him? His crucifixion was the expression of the greatest love ever known. Far from allowing Christ to love Himself, that love required Him to utterly deny Himself. Significantly, we are told to follow Him by taking up our crosses! If Paul thought that he needed only to love his neighbor as himself, would he have been led to suffer for others the experiences mentioned in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:23-28)?
It is no wonder that we are told to look to Christ as our model for suffering in the service of others. Christ’s sacrificial love was not commanded by Moses; we can learn of it only by focusing on Christ; we can exhibit it only by relying on His power.
II) The Old Law Cannot Bind If The Old Covenant Was Abolished
In my opening I argued that the abolition of the old covenant entailed the abolition of the old law. Perhaps I did not make it clear enough that this argument is a logical truism; the very definition of “covenant” necessitates that conclusion. A covenant is a binding agreement between (at least) two parties to perform the mutually agreed upon actions. The OC was a suzerain-vassal treaty; God was the suzerain (king) and the Israelites were the vassals (subjects). God agreed to bless them if the Israelites agreed to obey Him. The significant point here is that the laws simply defined the actions the Israelites agreed upon; the laws delineated all that they agreed to perform. Therefore, to abolish the covenant is to dissolve the agreement and thus the legal obligation of performing those formal stipulations. It is therefore unintelligible to suggest that one can abolish a covenant without abolishing its laws. That would be to suggest (in other words) that one could dissolve an agreement without dissolving what has been agreed upon. Of course that does not even make sense.
There are actually two distinct reasons for maintaining that the OC system was done away with: One pertains to Christ’s death and the other pertains to the death of national Israel. I’ll consider this in reverse order.
A) The Significance of National Israel’s Death
The Mosaic Covenant was a binding agreement between two parties, one God and one nation. The vassal nation agreed to obey the Suzerain in exchange for protection and blessing. This also involved an agreement to be punished as a nation in the event of disobedience. This was the covenant curse.
The Israelites rebelled (i.e., the golden calf) soon after the covenant was ratified. God then said to Moses “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Ex 32:10). God was leading Moses to believe that He wished to annihilate the nation and start from scratch. It is noteworthy that from the earliest stages of the covenant relationship God began talking about killing His rebellious covenant partner (see also 33:3). All throughout the history of this nation we find them on the verge of being utterly wiped out-it is an awesome display of God’s patience. Even when He warns them of being exiled He notes that they will be returned from the place of their captivity: “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God” (Lev 26:44). This claim reveals that the destruction of the nation would entail a “breaking” of God’s covenant. But this raises a question: If God would break His covenant and thus compromise His veracity by destroying the nation, then why does He continue to threaten the nation with utter destruction? Was God being insincere? The answer turns on the distinction between two covenants: the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham, which could not be broken, and the conditional covenant God made with the nation of Israel, which could.
God could not have dissolved the former covenant relationship because the permanence of that bond was dependent upon Himself. After God put Abraham to sleep, thereby excluding a bilateral agreement, God proceeded to pass through the carcass on His own. He swore by Himself (Heb 6:13) to undergo the fate of the animal (death!) in the event that He should fail to fulfill His promise to Abraham. But a careful reading of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 19ff) shows that it was a bilateral agreement in which the two parties consented to perform different actions in exchange for different returns: If the vassal agreed to obey, the Suzerain agreed to bless. National blessing was thus conditioned upon national obedience. But there was a flip side to this coin. If the nation disobeyed they would be cursed, i.e., destroyed. For example: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deut 4:26) And again: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse” (30:19). The covenant curse was death, national death. Therefore, far from breaking the Mosaic Covenant by destroying the nation, God would actually fulfill the demand of that covenant.
Now here is the significant point: Since the OC was a covenant between two parties, its existence depended on the existence of both parties. Should one party die the bond would obviously dissolve-a widower is no longer married. Obviously God cannot die, but the nation could. In fact, if the nation did not stop its adulterous ways, God promised that He Himself would kill His covenant partner; death would be the only means of Israel’s release. Consider this bit of divine sarcasm:
“Therefore thus says the Lord, ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor. Behold, I am proclaiming a release to you,’ declares the Lord, ‘to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine; and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts, the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf, I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth” (Jer 34:17-20).
Israel was in effect saying, “Not Thy will but my will be done.” And God was in effect saying: “Your will be done, then-get ready to die.” Israel would be released, released into the hands of their enemies for destruction.
Over and over the nation rebelled; over and over God extended mercy to the harlot. Yet He also continued to threaten them. His prophets were His lawyers; they brought His covenant lawsuit against the nation. The threat of destruction was given time after time, e.g., “‘But if they will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 12:17). John the Baptist, the last of these lawyer-prophets prior to Christ, had this to say to Israel: “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mat 3:10). Christ Himself had stated: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Mt 23:27). We elsewhere read that when Jesus approached Jerusalem “He saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19:41). The national rejection of the Messiah was the last straw. There would be no more mercy. Looking to the massive temple complex, Jesus forewarned His disciples of the looming judgment: “Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Mt 24:2). In 70AD God finally “released” the nation by handing them over to the ruthless forces of Rome. Having thus killed His covenant partner, the covenant itself was done away with.
By destroying the nation God did not break the OC; He fulfilled it. But what about the Abrahamic covenant? We noted that God could not destroy the nation without breaking that covenant. So by destroying Israel did He undermine His promise to make an everlasting nation of Abraham’s seed? It would seem so; that is, unless one understands the role of Christ. Paul clearly teaches that the Abrahamic promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3); He was the seed to whom the promise was made. And all those who unite themselves to Christ by faith, all those who constitute His spiritual body, the New Covenant Church, all of these are heirs of the Abrahamic promise; they become the everlasting nation promised to Abraham.
B) Release From The Law Through Union To Christ’s Death
Recall that Paul identified the Old Covenant with “present Jerusalem” (Gal 4:25). In light of this we might infer that the continuing existence of old Jerusalem represented the continuing existence of the OC; as long as that city remained, the OC remained in force. But once that city was obliterated in 70AD the covenant itself was dissolved, for one of the covenant members was no longer alive. Obviously, then, no surviving Jews would have been obligated to the OC after 70AD. Since there was no more nation of which they were a part, there was no more covenant to which they were bound.
But if the OC system was not destroyed until 70AD, then how could Paul (and all other Jewish NC members living prior to that time) have been out from under that system before then? Why weren’t the Jewish crossovers to the NC committing an act of adultery against the OC? To be sure, their entrance into the NC required their prior release from the OC. But how could they become released from the OC before 70AD? The answer is basically the same-through death. Yet there is a difference; they would find release through Christ’s death.
Suppose you were a first century Jew cognizant of your status as a covenant breaker. You realize that the covenant demands your death, that you owe the Suzerain your life for having violated the oath. Knowing that covenants do not bind dead people, you realize that you can be freed from those covenantal bonds only by paying the penalty for having broken them, i.e., only be dying. By dying you will become free from its demands, but once you die you’ll stay dead. This is not the sort of price you were hoping to pay. But then you hear that Christ took the curse upon Himself. You hear that by faith you can partake in His death and thus free yourself from the covenant curse. But is freedom from the penalty all you will partake in? No. You are also free from all former covenantal obligations. Again, covenants do not bind dead people. And just as the covenant would not bind you once you died for your own sins, so too it would not bind you once you died in Christ. This is how you could gain freedom from the Law’s obligation without committing adultery. This is precisely what Paul was trying to communicate through his marriage analogy (Rom 7). He wrote “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound…” (italics mine). Although Jewish believers were formerly married to the Law, that covenantal bond was severed when they died in Christ. Hence their marriage to Christ’s covenant\law could not be considered adulterous because the former tie had been dissolved. Recall Paul’s related claim: “Through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God” (Gal 2:19, italics mine). Significantly, Paul died to the Law precisely because he was “crucified with Christ” (20). Since Christ died to the Law and since Paul died with Christ, Paul himself died to the Law; he was freed from the Old Covenant and thus no longer bound to perform its stipulations.
That severed tie was made possible through Christ’s death. Paul clearly taught that Christ abolished the Law in His death -”…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph 2:14, italics mine). Elsewhere he stated that Christ made us alive by “having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and he had taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13,14).
In his letter to the Galatians, in which Paul says that Jewish believers are no longer under the Law, Paul assaults those Jews who want to remain under the Law, i.e., those who do not want to trust Christ. In wanting to remain in the earthly Jerusalem, these Jews despised the offer of a new citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. And in clinging to the OC in spite of the NC, they were like stupid sheep going to their slaughter. For by not trusting in Christ’s penal substitution, these Jews were getting ready to take the covenant curse upon themselves at the hands of Titus and the Roman legions.
Have I contradicted my claim (in my opening argument) that the OC and NC cannot be simultaneously binding? No. I meant only to say that they couldn’t be simultaneously binding on the same person. Though Jews living under the NC before 70AD were not under the jurisdiction of the OC, the unbelieving Jews evidently were.
It was because Christ fulfilled the Law’s demands that He was free to establish a new covenant with a new law-(Heb 9:15ff). All those who died His death were likewise free to join in His glorious resurrection, a resurrection into newness of life (Rom 6), into a life lived under a New Covenant and a New Law-that is pure Christianity.
 John Calvin’s view that only the Ten Commandments were still binding was arbitrary and methodologically inconsistent. I suppose his authority keeps people from seeing that.
|ROUND||Jay Rogers||Brad Finkbeiner|
Your comments are welcome!
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