Monday, 23 October 2017

Will There Be Law In Heaven?

This is the question I recently posed in two of our New Covenant Theology groups on Facebook, inviting thoughts and discussion. I will reveal my reason for asking that, along with my own thoughts. Interestingly, the response from both ‘sides’ of the ever-ongoing ‘law for believers’ debate is in agreement – a resounding ‘No’! In support of that, the consensus seems to argue that as law is to do with the control of sinful behaviour, and there will be no sin in heaven, there will thus be no need for God’s law. Indeed, Paul says to Timothy:

“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 1 vs 9 – 11)

It is not difficult to see where this conclusion comes from, and I agree with the argument. But, strangely, I do not agree with the conclusion. I think there will be law in heaven. Follows my explanation.

Priesthood and Law

Hebrews is key when we are considering the old covenant. There is an important statement in chapter 7 which, I believe, helps us to answer my question. Verse 12 says:
“For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.”
The writer’s argument is contained in the preceding verse:
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”
So he is establishing that there is an inseparable union between ‘the law given to the people’ and the priesthood. Why? Because it is the law that ‘establishes’ the priesthood. We can actually state this two ways:

  1. The law determines the priesthood, and,
  2. The priesthood enacts and administers their law

The one is completely interwoven with and interdependent on the other – you cannot pull them apart.

The purpose of a particular priesthood, its‘raison d’etre’, is to put into effect its particular law.

We see this very clearly with the Levitical priesthood. Intricate instruction is given to Moses concerning the appointment of the Aaronic priesthood. There are no exceptions. And of course, this requirement was adhered to throughout Jewish history, even following the Exile. Strict lineage had to be proven beyond doubt for all who would function a God’s priest.

Secondly, the functioning of the priesthood exegetes and applies the Mosaic Law to the community of Israel – they 'publish' and they ‘police’ it.

So, Hebrews argues, if the priesthood is replaced by another (the meaning of the word ‘change’ means ‘replaced’ not just ’altered’), there must also be a replacing of the law. If, and only if, the old law was still in place, and continued to function, would the old priesthood order continue.

A New and Better Priesthood

Hebrews goes on to demonstrate that in the covenant of Christ, we have such a change occurring. Jesus is a High Priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (vs 11, 17). Thus the Levitical priesthood is dispensed with – made obsolete – by its replacement. And gloriously, we see that He is the ‘substance’ of which the old covenant priesthood and law was just a ‘shadow’:
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (vs 18,19)
So along with the obsolescence of the old priesthood, the Law of Moses is no more. It is replaced by whatever it was the ‘shadow’ of, whatever acts in the place of ‘law’ in the administration of Christ - the 'better hope' of which the writer speaks. And about this, Hebrews, of course, has much more to say, all of which exalts and proclaims the unique, singular, wholely effective functioning of Christ as our High Priest. He is now, for each and every believer; for the church through all the ages, the only Priest we will ever need. He is the eternal High Priest, who ministers in the very presence of the living God on our behalf. He is the eternal High Priest  …
‘on the basis of the power of an indestructible life’ (vs16), 
the Son, who has been made perfect forever.’ (vs 28). 
Praise be to His Name!

Thus, we are presented with the eternal credentials of the ever-living Son of God.

High Priest – Forever

Now here is the intriguing thing. If the priestly ministry of the Son is eternal, then so must be whatever acts for ‘law’ (the 'better hope') in His ministration. We see that ‘covenant’ is the ‘wrapper’ which defines all of these components, explaining clearly how God is relating to its members. The covenant is God’s established, regulative outline of how He acts within it. Whilst the covenant endures, so does the component priesthood-and-law combination within it. The New Testament – the revelation of God’s Son, and the subsequent ‘unpacking’ of that ‘super-nova’ of God’s truth – makes it clear that the institution of the new covenant (with all of its components) has made the old redundant – all of it. And that this is God’s final word. There will be no further covenant. There will be no new priesthood. And there will be no ‘new law’.

In other words, what functions in the community of the glorified saints of Christ then will be no different to what functions in the community of the justified-but-not-yet-glorified saints now. What WILL differ is our state of being. But Jesus – the risen, glorified, ascended Lord – will be just as much our great High Priest then as He ever was. Douglas Moo argues that it is not that we are in some kind of interim state in anticipation of the resurrection glory to come. But rather, that in and through Christ, and the Spirit He has sent to the church, God has already begun His kingdom work in us – the Gospel inaugurates it. That will be revealed – not begun – when Christ returns. And this means that heaven will not be the start of a new ‘order’ or dispensation. Rather, it will be the consummation of the current one.

So what does this mean for our question?

Eternal ‘Law’

I would suggest that whatever you take to be ‘the Law of Christ’ as Paul refers to in Galatians 6 vs 2, is actually ‘eternal law’. It is functional from its institution, and it will not end, neither will it be replaced, because the Priesthood of Christ will never be replaced. There will be no further ‘change’ in the priesthood, therefore it follows that there will be no further ‘change’ in the ‘law’ which

a) Institutes the priesthood, and
b) Is regulated by it.

And this has some interesting ramifications. It means that whatever commands of the New Testament, as the word of God for us, relate to our pre-glorified condition only, cannot be a part of the ‘eternal law’. Because they will pass away at the end of this present age. Two observations:

  1. Commands relating to how we live, in Christ, which deal with sinfulness, cannot be included in ’the Law of Christ’.
  2. Commands relating to evangelising in the fallen world, also, cannot be included in’ the Law of Christ’.

… simply because these two circumstances will not exist in heaven, all New Testament imperatives which concern themselves with these two considerations will not be required – they are temporal and temporary, not eternal.

Conversely, it can be argued that any aspects of what we are commanded within our covenant which will carry over into glory are at least ‘candidates’ for what could be called ‘the law of Christ’, because they will also be true and active under the ongoing Priesthood of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is concerned with differentiating what will ‘remain’ from what will ‘pass away’ He says:
“ Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (vs 13)
So Paul actually identifies a third category of commands which cannot be a part of this ‘law of Christ’ – that which relates to the gifting of the church for her functioning within this word; these gifts are not required in heaven; they will be unnecessary.

It follows, then, that the new commandment of Jesus, that His disciples love one another as He has loved them IS the hub of this ‘eternal law’, because it endures beyond our mortal lives, and beyond the dissolution of this heavens and earth, and the new creation of the heavenly ones. We WILL carry on both loving God and loving one another throughout eternity. Perfectly so!

I leave this with my brothers and sisters to think and pray through. I have my own views on what Paul intends by his singular use of the phrase ‘law of Christ’ in Galatians 6. What I have attempted to do here is to demonstrate that whatever view is taken, it must be coherent with the ongoing priesthood of Christ – it cannot be for this life only. I believe that such an examination will lead us on to understand it more, in the light of the Biblical hermeneutic, whatever our starting point.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Living for the Lord - Bareback!

Thinking about the difference between old covenant lifestyle, under the Law of Moses, and new
covenant lifestyle in the Spirit of God, perhaps we struggle to find the agreement between obedience and our freedom in Christ. The vigorous, ongoing debate between the respective views over whether there is or there  is not a 'law' in play for believers contrasts two legitimate desires.

On the One Hand ...

Those who want to insist there is such a law are concerned with our obedience to God, in committed and specified choices and activities in our Christian living. Thus, they say, there have to be law-like commanding going on in the New Testament Scriptures which function in the same way as Mosaic Law did in the old covenant, binding the believer in law-like function, and holding him accountable. There is, then, a definitive prescribing in God's word for our lifestyle, which stand against any thought that we can just do as we 'feel' the Spirit is leading us.

... And On The Other ...

Those who want to emphasise that we are not under law, but rather under grace, and that we are to live lives led by the Spirit who indwells us are concerned to explore, to the glory of the risen Lord, all the joy and freedom, within the parameters of a holy life, unrestricted by the law-keeping of the old covenant. In its place, they argue, is the guiding hand of the Spirit, who imparts not only God's standards, but the very desire to live to them.

Concessions and Allowances

There needs to be grace on both sides. For the concern on the other is good. But the tendency is for both 'sides' of the argument to push the conclusions of the other to extremes, and then to accuse accordingly. Law-obedience tends to legalism (but doesn't have to end up there). No-Law living looks like, or could lead to, licence and licentiousness (but, again, doesn't have to end up there).

On Both Hands!

I have recently discovered what appears to me to be an excellent - and in my view, quite beautiful - analogy to illustrate this difference. It comes from an area of life I know very little about. Horseriding.

Cowboys and Native Americans!

We are used to seeing riders on horseback, if not in the flesh, on the TV. We view them adequately equipped with all the 'tack' which has become part and parcel of that scene. Saddles, stirrups, bits and reins all contribute to the horseman or horsewoman's control of the animal they are mounted on. But my mind goes to the Wild West movies of my youth. When the cowboys rode as described. But the 'native Americans' did not. They rode - bareback! Vastly different styles of riding, I am sure you will agree. The question arises; how do riders control their mounts without any of the 'gear'? And this is what I researched. The answers are intriguing. A quote from the website
"The Native American Nez Perce Indians were some of the greatest horsemen on the Plains. They rode their bareback horses with such skill as to be the envy of Lewis and Clarke, the settlers of the Old West and the American cavalry too."
How did they do that? Here's how it works. I quote again:
"Developing as great sense of balance isn't the only benefit to riding bareback. You will find a beautiful channel of communication opens up between you and your horse. Without several inches of blanket and leather saddle between you and your horse, you will feel their every move. Your horse was always been moving and sending signals to you, but now you are suddenly much more aware of them. When bareback, you can feel your horse’s intentions clearly and respond faster. This channel of communication goes both ways. The horse can feel your every move as well. With such close contact between horse and rider, you’ll find yourself responding too and sending out ever more and more subtle signals. This beautifully silent communication between horse and rider becomes nearly invisible to the observer. Horse and rider are like one. It doesn't get any better than that!"
Essentially, the artificial aids may make life easier for the rider to control the horse, but that is the lazy way. What they do is to impose several 'layers' between horse and rider, which destroys much of the communication between two living beings. Bareback riders learn how to so interact with their animal, that the horse responds to subtle signals - and co-operates. Something in the horse's makeup delights to do so, to please its master. And vice-versa. Because their is no intervening, sensory depletion in cues which flag the horse's behaviour, the rider can anticipate and respond accordingly in a speedy manner. The summary above is apt. The horse and the rider are as one.

Spiritual Horseriding

This seems to me to exactly illustrate the way that external, law-command-and-keep dynamics work in the old covenant. God's law imposes His will on a people who are resistant in their nature to obedience to it. Structure and function make it work. Even where the hearts of those within the covenant are faith-filled and complicit, yet this law is an imposed law, not-natural to those it is placed upon. The requirements of God may well be called 'demandments' rather than 'commandments'. This Law  is described in the New Testament as "a burden neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15 vs 10). Faith in those time points God's true Israel, the remnant within physical Israel, to the day when the love of God's standards will be implanted within the hearts of His own children. When the Messiah came and the Spirit was poured out.

But the way the poured-out, Christ-exalting Spirit of God now works within believers is no longer like that. What God has done is to remove the intervening insulating and artificial 'saddlery' from His interaction with the believer. The Spirit-believer relationship works like the bareback rider-horse does. The will of God for us is communicated by this amazing presence of God, right within our being, in the Person of His Spirit. He speaks still, authoritatively, from His word, and its importance and place in all of this is unquestioned. But because of the 'skin-to-skin' contact, He is able to relate to us - and from us - all that Christ wants for us in our new life in Him. We become 'as one'.

Thus the picture of obedience within each and every believer is still that of volitional and active response and responsiveness - and responsibility (and 'response-ability'!). And yet, there is also an intensely personal 'woven-in' experiential aspect of this which employs our faculties. Paul counsels, in Ephesians 5:

"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (vs 1&2)

and ...

" Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord." (vs 9&10)

'Follow God's example' - 'Christ's example'.
'The way of love' - 'all goodness, righteousness and truth'.
'What pleases the Lord'

'Understand what the Lord’s will is'
'be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.'

The intimate interface between our spirit and God's Spirit is a part of what is essentially new in the new covenant. God does not drive us from His 'saddle', as the old covenant had Him do. God rides 'bareback.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

No Law! Yes, Really

David Gay has issued, and very quickly published, in pdf and audio-sermon form, a critique of my comment in the New Covenant Grace group. Sadly, every single one of his criticisms is flawed and invalid. He quotes me:

No Law!

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control against such things there is no law (Galatians 5 vs23 ESV). This verse is indisputable. It cannot be implied that Paul only intends to say that the law of Moses alone is not in play – he plainly says ‘NO LAW OF ANY KIND And this indicates that when he says, so many times, elsewhere, that the believer is not ‘under law , he also means ‘ not under any law Not merely ‘no longer under the law of Moses , as some would like to have it, although the Gentile never was anyway.

Comments on DG’s pdf. His words in bold:

1. I freely admit that the phrase ‘the law of Christ is not used in any of those passages, but what else can they be referring to? (Quoting various passages)
Note: So this is a presupposed conclusion, from elsewhere, which has been imposed on these texts. I, and others, have commented on the passages he mentions elsewhere, and shown how they do not indicate or imply that they belong in a collated 'law of Christ'.

2. 1. If these two believers are right, this can only mean that believers, not being under any law, are not under the law of the land in which they live, and they do not have to obey it.
Note: This is quite evidently not what the original statement is about. The ‘no law’ statement in Galatians 5 is concerned with God’s law, not man’s law. This is a rather spurious observation.

3. 2. If these two believers are right, why do the Scriptures stress that believers are bondservants of Christ?
Note: This is a logical fallacy. It reasons:
a. Believers are under the ‘yoke’ of Christ
b. The Jews were under the ‘yoke’ of the Law Moses
c. Therefore the Law of Moses was a ‘yoke’
d. Therefore, all ‘yokes’ are laws
e. Therefore believers are under the law of Christ

This is a logical fallacy of the kind
a) All dogs have four legs
b) Cats have four legs
c) Therefore, all cats are dogs

A ‘yoke’ was the coupling device used to tether animals together to pull, for example, a plough. The plain, analogous meaning is a picture, not a definition. There is no reason to equate it with ‘law’. This is imposed upon it, and it stretches the analogy to suit DGs purpose. Are ploughing oxen ‘yoked’ with law? Does ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ mean ‘unequally lawed’?

Another objection. When Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28 - 30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

... He is quite obviously talking about the 'yoke' of learning. In the rabbinical schools, pupils signed up to a particular teacher, accepting their particular 'take' on the Law. That was referred to as 'taking up the yoke' of that particular teacher. So what Jesus alludes to in this analogy is not to do with bondserveants at all. We cannot infer by this that what Jesus is doing is replacing old Law with new law. The whole point is that these Rabbis had such stringent and proliferate teaching on what the Law requires, which placed such burdens upon those who followed them. By contrast, Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Further, the character of the great Teacher makes learning from Him a joy.

This is yet another example of where DG seems to read 'law' meaning into everything - whether it is actually there or not.

4. 3. If these two believers are right, why do the Scriptures stress that believers are married to Christ?
Note: Again, this is a picture -an illustration. And its point is that believers have ‘died to the law’. Nowhere does it state that subsequently they are ‘married to another law’. Paul says they are now 'married to Christ', not to 'the law of Christ'. DG reads that into the illustration.

5. 4. If these two believers are right, this can only mean that believers never sin.
Note: Again, a ludicrous accusation. It is patently obvious that I made the statement and yet I do not hold that believers never sin. Our display of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is a ‘work in progress’ – we are not always consistent. Paul is saying that ‘against this fruit-manifesting display of the Spirit’ there is ‘no law’, as I have explained in my comment. Not that against any aspect of the believers life, there is no aspect of discipline ever required. Sadly this typifies DG’s extremising (see my book “Love – not Law”) – of pushing someone’s statement to an unwarranted extreme, then criticising them as if they said it!

Second, DG ignores Paul’s argument in Romans 2 and 5, which plainly states that there are two ‘kinds’ of sin – sin where there is a definitive command, and sin where there is not. Paul never says that the ‘law of conscience’ (a confused representation of what Paul actually says) was given ‘as law’ by God. Pagans are said to be 'without excuse' because their inward, moral sense points them in the same direction as 'what the Law requires'. Their conscience bears witness to this by either accusing OR EXCUSING them. This is no action of a God-given law - it is self-law. Pagans sin because of wickedness. Not because they break law. This is why the world was destroyed by God in the Flood. Genesis 6 refers.

6. 5. If these two believers are right, why did the apostle say what he did in 1 Corinthians 9:21?
Note: This has been addressed in my book “Love -not Law”. The use of anomos (without law) – and ennomos (in-lawed) need to be studied carefully, and they most certainly do not lead to the conclusions DG reaches. There are also articles on these two studies on my blog.

DG closes his ‘Stop Press’ alert with this:
“Finally, as I said, what might be the consequences if believers pick up the assertions on that Facebook thread, and run with them? Is there any danger that the idea of being law-less might morph into being lawless? How serious that would be!”

My answer –
DG is arguing with Paul himself, and with Scripture. Read Galatians 5 again!
And wait! DG has total ignored the rest of what I wrote. Here is the whole post:
No Law!
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22‭-‬23 ESV‬)

This verse is indisputable. It cannot be implied that Paul only intends to say that the Law of Moses alone is not in play - he plainly says 'NO LAW OF ANY KIND'. And this indicates that when he says, so many times, elsewhere, that the believer is not 'under law', he also means 'not under any law'. Not merely 'no longer under the Law of Moses', as some would like to have it, although the Gentile never was anyway.

The truth consistently taught throughout is that the believer in Christ lives by the operation of the Spirit in his/her heart and not by the 'dynamic' of obedience to God-given law of any description. That when this is so, and the child of God is keeping 'in step' with Him, the fruit He brings forth will be evident in their life, to the great glory of God, and the fleshly desires will be put to death, even as the flesh has been already crucified with Christ. That when this singular, nine-fold fruit is the abundant harvest of the saint, the appearance of obedience will also be there as a matter of course, for fruitfulness such as this shines Christ-likeness which far exceeds mere outward conformity. For love alone fulfills all of the old law, and even fulfills what Paul calls 'the law of Christ'.

Thus such a Godly, Christ-exalting lifestyle satisfies, fills out to overflowing, and exceeds anything any paltry law could ever be seen to require. Better try to bottle the bright shining of the sun than to attempt to define such Spirit-rich exuberance in terms of obedience to laws! And God's word does not do so.The truth consistently taught throughout is that the believer in Christ lives by the operation of the Spirit in his/her heart and not by the 'dynamic' of obedience to God-given law of any description. That when this is so, and the child of God is keeping 'in step' with Him, the fruit He brings forth will be evident in their life, to the great glory of God, and the fleshly desires will be put to death, even as the flesh has been already crucified with Christ. That when this singular, nine-fold fruit is the abundant harvest of the saint, the appearance of obedience will also be there as a matter of course, for fruitfulness such as this shines Christ-likeness which far exceeds mere outward conformity. For love alone fulfills all of the old law, and even fulfills what Paul calls 'the law of Christ'.


Monday, 11 September 2017

A Crucial Question

Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
This is the question asked by the enquirer we have come to refer to as ‘the rich, young ruler’.

Who was he?

Mark just calls him ‘a man’. Matthew tells us he was a ‘young man’. Luke tells us he was a ruler. And all three gospels identify that he went away sad at Jesus’ answer ‘because he had great wealth’.

How did he address Jesus?

Mark, with his normal attention to important eye-witness details, tells us that he ‘ran up to Jesus’. Two gospels say that he addressed Jesus as ‘good teacher’. The third, that he asked about ‘what good thing must I do’.

What did he ask?

Two gospels say he asked what he must do to ‘inherit’ eternal life. Matthew just says ‘get eternal life’.

How did Jesus answer?

  1. Jesus questioned the question. He queried the young man’s use of the word ‘good’. Whether ‘good teacher’ was polite and respectful, or ‘good thing’ was a generalisation, Jesus evidently wanted to make plain that ‘goodness’ is not a relative thing – it is absolute. And only God Himself is ‘all good’. Everything and everyone else which or whom we might consider eligible for that description is flawed in some way. I think Jesus was getting the young man to think “Why am I asking this Jesus about this? Why do I think He is qualified to answer?”
  2. Thus the Lord turns the focus of the question from ‘the thing to do’ to ‘the person to ask’. Himself. And implicit in the consideration of this is the stunning conclusion that Jesus Himself is God!
  3. Jesus then points to what the man already knows (“You know the commandments”). Pleasing God, in the old covenant, was about keeping the commandments. Again, the gospel writers vary in which commandments they record Jesus as mentioning. All are from the ‘second tablet’ – to do with relationships between man and man (whereas, traditionally, the first four commandments in the Decalogue are to do with relationship between man and God, and were thought to have been written on the first stone tablet). But in addition to the quoted commandments from ‘the Ten’, Matthew adds that Jesus mentions ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – which is not one of the Decalogue. “Do this”, Jesus says, “and you will live”.
  4. When the man responds that he has kept all of these “from my youth up”, Mark tells us something quite unique:
  5. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
  6. The Lord then proceeds to inform him of the ‘one thing’ he lacks – the most critical of all. He is to abandon his riches – distribute it to the poor – and become a follower of Jesus. The consequence is that he cannot see himself doing that because he has great wealth, and he departs crestfallen.There follows Jesus’ remarks on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

My Comments

  1. In consideration of this account, we need to take the story as a whole and look at it ‘in situ’, rather than extracts to which we apportion meaning which the Lord never intended. We have to bear in mind:
  2. That Jesus is dealing with a Jew, well versed in the Law, and meticulously observant of it. Thus He speaks to Him in his own terms.
  3. That Jesus ministers at the ‘junction’ of the covenants. He leads away from and out of the old, and into the new, for which he prepares the way. Consequently, it is a mistake to take what He says about commandment-keeping as a viable alternative to getting eternal life
  4. That there are things here that we do not and cannot know. Both about what Jesus says and about the young man. In my view, it isn’t legitimate to prejudge him and the thoroughness or otherwise of his law-observance.
  5. We must not over-interpret. When the young man says he has ‘kept all of these commandments from my youth up’, it is not necessary to think he is claiming perfect adherence. And Jesus does not castigate him for a false claim. Must we, then? Will we do more than Jesus does?

So, conclusions and lessons from the account:

  1. Quite evidently, law-observance has not been sufficient to give this earnest seeker assurance that he has eternal life. But he knows he wants it. 
  2. The Law, though, has done the job God intended in his life. It has brought him to Jesus.
  3. It is not a sin to be a ruler. It is not a sin to be young. And it is not a sin to be rich. Some take the last of these as an indication of covetousness – thus stating that he WAS breaking a commandment. But Jesus doesn’t even hint at this. Jesus elaborates later, and exposes how riches get in the way of discipleship. This is a 'new covenant' problem, not an old covenant one.
  4. The Lord displays and illustrates His ‘mission statement’ – that He did not come to condemn, but to save.
  5. We need to explore what it was that prompted (the also young) John Mark to comment that Jesus looked on him and loved him.
  6. This is very ‘NCT’, is it not? A clear demonstration that the Law brought condemnation, but was powerless to give life. Only the living Lord could do that, and nothing should get in the way of our following Him. 

To whom else should we go?

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Law Was Given Through Moses

Because some are asserting that God’s law is expansive – even eternal – so that all men everywhere and at all times are always under some version or other of that law, I want to spend some time examining what the Bible knows about these various ‘Laws’. The insistence, as far as I can see it, is threefold:

  1. That law and law-keeping is a fundamental and essential attribute of man’s relationship with God, in whatever covenant, or even no covenant, he happens to be.
  2. That certain of God’s moral requirements, expressed as commandments (laws), overarch the whole of human history, and that they have always been ‘issued’ for mankind to obey in some form or other.
  3. That the breaking of God’s law is always the definition of ‘sin’, and ‘sin’ is always that.

I want to suggest that God’s word only knows of one, complete, God-given Law – the Law of Moses – whatever other commands and communications there were to others at various times. That the designation of that as God’s Law was unique and never repeated. And that the heart of the new covenant – Christ’s covenant – is completely contrasted to it, not paralleled.

‘THE’ Law

My first argument is simple. It is seen, for example in this verse from John’s gospel prologue:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. …

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”(John 1 vs 14; 16-18)

The contrast in the bolded statement is clear:
The law was given … – Grace and truth came

We see, then, that the heart of the new covenant is Jesus Himself, rather than a suite of commandments sent via a mediator. But this is not my point. The thing is that it is a noticeable and consistent reference pattern of the New Testament writers to refer to ‘THE law” – indicating the Mosaic covenantal law. Implying that there is no other ‘law’ which is of interest to the writers to set alongside the new covenant. Indeed, going even further, perhaps implying that there was, only and ever, one, God-given law.

So Paul, in Galatians 3, says:
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  … What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.” (Galatians 3 vs 16,17)

Do you see?
‘The promises’ – and the qualifier (to distinguish from other promises spoken to anyone else) – ‘spoken to Abraham and his seed’

‘The law’ – and the qualifier is not ‘given to Moses’ (to distinguish it from other ‘law’ given to anyone else), but – ‘introduced 430 years later’.

‘Introduced’ means that it was not there, in any shape or form, before this. This was the first incidence of it.

It could be argued that this is only because it is this Law of Moses that is ‘in focus’. But I think it is significant that no other kind of law is ever mentioned. At all! This is Paul’s statement from Romans 2 – and he is talking to Gentiles as well as Jews:

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2 vs 12 – 16)

Note that there are no qualifiers. At no stage in his argument does Paul say anything like “but they DID have ‘the Law of Adam’ or ‘the Law of Abraham’”. It is just, starkly, Jews had the law and Gentiles did not have the law. Quite evidently, he speaks of the Law of Moses. But no alternatives are mentioned.

This goes further. If, in fact, the Gentiles had some kind of God-given law, his argument in this passage does not make sense at all. He is saying that despite their NOT having God’s ‘given law’, nevertheless they had a law-like function in their hearts which makes them tend (imperfectly) to do the same things that the Law actually requires.

‘The Law of Moses’

Second, the designation ‘the Law of Moses’ is distinctive. We are never told anything about ‘the law of Abraham’ or ‘the law of Noah’ or ‘the law of Adam’. No collection of God-given laws assigned to any of these people is ever referenced in the Bible. The new covenant is new because the old covenant was old. And the old covenant, Moses’ covenant, was a law-covenant. As John 1 vs 17 says, the new covenant is a grace-and-truth covenant, a Jesus-covenant.

The Law of Sinai

Third, the occasion for God’s giving of this special Law, with all of its detailed commandments about tabernacle construction, priestly attendance and service, sacrifices, and the social rules of behaviour for the people in Canaan, is remarkable. It is given with great and fearsome displays of power and majesty, along with terrifying warnings and prohibition. Such a ‘giving’ is unparalleled. Surely, if God gave law anywhere else, it would be reasonable to expect similar display. Certainly, He would not just ‘slip it in to the statute books’ unnoticed and unannounced. When God gives law, those for whom it is intended hear what is going on, so that they are under no illusions that THEY are under that law. It is published and made both clear and available, so that it can be read and read again, and understood. It is to be proclaimed by the priests. It is to be ‘in the mouth’ of the leaders of Israel. It is to be ‘bound on their foreheads’ and affixed to the doorposts of their houses. The law of God is a very public affair indeed.

And, chiefly, we are completely logical to expect such occasions as the giving of God-law to be attested in His word – the word of the revelation of His dealings with man throughout history. But after or before Sinai, there is absolutely no equivalent at all. No other law-giving.

We are left to conclude that if law there is other than the Mosaic law, it is of a completely different kind. And of law of any other nature, again, there is no indication whatsoever in God’s word.

The Law of God’s New Land – Canaan

Lastly, Mosaic Law is physical in nature because it is ‘land-law’ – law given for a physical people occupying a physical country. They are not to be merely a replica Egypt. They have grown up under the law of Pharoah. They are now to adopt the law of God. It institutes not only laws for worship and approach to God, but also laws for their living side-by-side with each other. But in the new covenant, we are ‘living stones’, built into a spiritual – not a physical – temple for a dwelling-place for God. Essentially, non-visible. The true realities of which the old ‘shadows’ only hint.

The Visible Law

God tells Moses:
“I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” (Exodus 19 vs 9)

And vs 16 – 19 relate the phenomena which accompanied God’s communication:
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”

Hebrews 12 draws out this contrast between these two covenants. This is the Sinai covenant:
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” “ (vs 18 – 21)

And the Christ-covenant:
“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (vs 22 – 24)

We see that ‘the mountain that can be touched’ – visible, audible, tangible, physical – is compared to the as-yet immaterial realities of the ‘substance’, the heavenly Mount Zion. And belonging to the first is a physical set of laws engraved on very-physical stone tablets. But in the new, no mention of new law. It is, however, there, written on the hearts of the ‘spirits of the righteous made perfect’.

Here, then, is how God gives His law. Where else do we see it? Nowhere.

Heart Law

In Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, God promises a new covenant, even in the midst of the chaos Israel had made of the old one. He says it would be a Spirit covenant, where a new heart would be given to His people – a heart where He would put His law. It would be ‘not like’ the covenant which Israel broke so completely. Hebrews 8 tells us that “the new covenant is established on better promises.” Not, you will note, ‘better law’. Obedience there would be. But when the Son of God gives us His commands, whether through the mouth of the incarnate Word, or those of His appointed Apostles, we are to obey not because they are our law, but because He is our Lord, and we love Him.


I still love that old Coca Cola ad. One has to see how clever these people are who draw our attention to what they want us to buy. There were many other ‘colas’. But only one original, against which the competitors came a poor second. Why be content with ‘also-rans’ when you could have … “the Real Thing”?

So we see that God’s law, as given through Moses, is unique in its many respects, and it was given only once. Nothing else is referred to as ‘the law of God’. And Biblically, nothing should be. What it promised is fulfilled in Christ. It is replaced by ‘the real thing’, of which it was a record only of the copies. God does not, again, ‘give law’. And what He gave to Moses was not ‘eternal law’ – it was not durable; it would be replaced by something – someone – who would vastly outstrip and surpass it. Who would fulfil it. And we would know, in no uncertain terms, that that was what He was doing, if it was, just as it was an unmistakable publishing on Mount Sinai. The laws which comprised it would be delineated and numbered, clearly identified as our rule-book for new covenant living. We would have a “however-many-a-logue”. But, as Hebrews 10 tells us:
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.”

The reality is the givingof God's Son and the giving of His Spirit.

To refer to ‘the law of Christ’ as a substitute ‘law of Moses’ actually diminishes both. And destroys the super-eminence of the Son of God and the outpouring of His Spirit, which now lies at the centre of all we are as believers, members forever of the true Israel of God.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Elusive Gay Gene

The Elusive Gay Gene

I write this as a response to various discussions in which I have been involved. As a professing Bible-believing Christian, I hold the view that God intended and created marriage as the vehicle in which sexual union is licenced between one man and one woman. And that the Bible quite plainly teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage is not in accord with His intentions – His ‘blueprint’ for mankind. Inevitably, in our current social climate, this exposes me to accusations of ‘homophobia’, bigotry – and many other appellations which accompany the outrage which is stirred when someone declares a belief that goes against the ‘PC’ ruling. I refuse to be ‘speech-policed’ or ‘thought-policed’ by bullying attitudes and reactions which will not tolerate disagreement. But I do wish to lay out, so that it can be clearly seen and understood, some of the thinking behind the view I hold.

First let me say that my personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ has imbued my old, stubborn, selfish heart with new life and new love. That happened over fifty years ago. I can honestly say that I bear no hatred whatsoever for any other mortal man or woman. Indeed, God’s Spirit within me presses me to do good indiscriminately to all, even to those with whom I disagree on any count. So the accusation that because of what I believe about sexuality, and the fact that I hold that homosexual activity goes against the moral directives of God to man, as explained in the Bible – the accusation that this causes me to ‘hate’ gays is totally false and unfounded. Indeed, those who have made that accusation online have no grounds or basis to do so; they know relatively nothing about me, and thus their attitude is judgmental in the extreme. So I refute that I am 'homophobic' in any way, shape or form.

Second, let me say that the reason I hold what I hold is because the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles in the New Testament leave me no alternative to believe otherwise – I am convinced that this is what the text says. And as a Christian, I view the Bible as God’s infallible word – His prescription for all I believe and how I live out my faith. If anyone would persuade me that I am wrong, let him (or her) do so from these Scriptures. Passages such as Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 vs 9 and 1 Timothy 1 vs 10. I have read arguments that seek to explain away these direct references to the issue. I do not find those arguments any more than poor efforts at exegesis and exposition. They ‘fudge’ the text in order to reach conclusions they have already decided they wish to reach. That is not the way to read God’s revelatory word.

Third, and this is my main reason for writing here, I do not find that current or previous efforts to isolate and identify a genetic predisposition to homosexuality have been successful at all. And this despite the apparent common acceptance that it has been ‘proven’ beyond doubt. This assertion turns out to be an ‘urban myth’. There is no such absolute conclusion that has been reached on the subject.

When we examine the studies that have been conducted, we need to be careful that we do not swallow wholesale everything that is put before us. If we are not to be hoodwinked, there are some things to bear in mind. I will suggest a few:

1.       Media reporting – even the BBC – is often biased and prejudiced, and this bias will not always be either declared or obvious. The presentation of facts is often selective and incomplete. Thus we cannot rely on TV reports, newspapers or Internet to give us a reliable base without knowing ‘where’ they are coming from.

2.       The studies themselves will have been conducted by scientists or researchers ‘with an agenda’. The whole methodology of hypothesis-antithesis sets out to prove/disprove something. The statement of that ‘something’ will have been formed by a human mind with its own limitations and restrictions. To properly evaluate the results, we need to know the ‘slant’ that is being placed on the results.

3.       This means that the facts brought to light by experimentation/observation must be what we look at, not just the conclusions the experimenters have drawn from those facts, which will display (betray?) their particular bias.

4.       Experiments are not infallible. Methodology can be flawed, sampling can be biased, and unconsidered factors can intrude. Thus reproducibility of results is one of the requirements before the results of any one experiment can be accepted as valid.

With all this in consideration, my current awareness of the state of play to date is as follows:

1.       No single gene which disposes homosexuality has been identified, despite many decades of its being searched for.

2.       Experiments and studies which claim positive or significant results in this light have subsequently been challenged on various counts, and have not been possible to reproduce. Without exception!

3.       There has been indication that multiple genetic factors may – may – dispose humans towards sexual preference. But these, even when accumulated, can be easily overridden by choice or ignored. In other words, this combined genetic ‘prod’ amounts to nothing more than a mild influence, not a driving force.

I ask that others correct me if they know different. But the conclusion I have to reach here is that despite vigorous and intensive looking for ‘the gay gene’, nothing has emerged which is in any way convincing. And claims to the contrary are exaggeration or just wishful thinking.

Bottom line – no-one is ‘born gay’.

As an addendum, let me say that the argument that we observe homosexual behaviour in the animal kingdom is also unconvincing. Why this should dispose humans to act in the same way, or to excuse their doing so, is beyond me! Certainly there are other ways in which animals act that we would never dream of emulating or excusing - like fighting to the death to eliminate competitors for leadership, for example. And anyway, studies show that where same-sex acts are performed by certain animals, this does not exclude 'normal', heterosexual activity which is essential for their continued survival. There are no exclusively 'gay' animals. And there are assuredly no progeny of such creatures, even if they do exist!


Monday, 8 May 2017

The Ultimate Imperative


Having spent quite some time thinking about the New Testament's use of the imperative mood, and after exposing what a wide range of meanings it is used for, from requests to military-style commands, my thoughts turned to what could be called the ultimate imperative. Which is, of course,God's own use of the command. The proclamation which does not ask for obedience because His word in and of itself has power to achieve what it declares. For example, the creation word which begins the whole Bible, and the book of Genesis - the book of 'beginnings'.

"And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light."
(Genesis ch 1 vs 3)

That's some imperative. Literally, it says "LIGHT - BE!" We just don't have the tense flexibility to represent it properly. When you think about it, this is command at a level which is not possible for humans at all. Only God's word can accomplish what He sends it forth to do - without agency. When we humans issue commands, we are completely dependent upon someone else receiving our command and executing it - an 'agent'. Even if it is just the dog! Another living being has to be the recipient of the command and decide, whether coerced or not, to fulfill it. Without which, it doesn't get done. But God doesn't have that restriction at all.

The Faith Factor

 In fact, the whole essence of faith is the realisation that everything depends on this invisible word of the Almighty. Hebrews tells us:

"By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (ch 11vs 3)

That can only be 'seen' by faith. It's a tacit realisation that this is the way things work. Mind-blowing, isn't it, to appreciate that what we perceive as the so-solid, physical universe actually relies for its existence on something completely intangible. Faith says 'what God says goes. And comes. And is!'

So when we hear the promises of God concerning and unseen future, or our unseen hearts, or our unseen Lord, it is faith that insists that even though we can't perceive these things with our five senses, nevertheless they are realities. And we trust them completely. That faith rocks the world!

The Mystique of Magic

The history of our race demonstrates the preoccupation many have had with 'magic'. Childrens' fairy stories and adult fiction too entertains us with the idea of someone, somewhere being able to control the inanimate with a word of command - a spell. Harry Potter. Witches and wizards. Superstition. All ideas about our own tight control over our environment, and bending it to our will. But of course, it's just impossible, and may be our hankering after wanting to be our own God. To be able to do for ourselves what He does.

God's Perogative

As believers, we attribute great majesty to Him for this very thing:

"I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? " (Jeremiah 32 vs 27)

And of course, when Jesus stands in a fast-filling boat in the midst of a stormy sea and commands 'peace' to the winds and the waves - and all is still, He is demonstrating that He has this power of command, and thus He is God. Well might the disciples frame their question.

The centurion, of whom Jesus marvelled at his faith, got this, didn't he? Remember what he says to Jesus? Luke 7:

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it."

He sees - amazingly - that this is none other than God in human form, and that He has the power of God-speech. If Jesus just 'says it', it will be!

Indeed, the Lord didn't even have to utter words. When the devil throws in His face the worst case of demon-possession there ever was, the demons are reacting before He even speaks out loud:

"For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”"
(Mark 5 vs 8)

God-speech for the New Creation

But it isn't just the creation 'ex-nihilo' of our universe. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4, has this to say about our new life in Christ:

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ."

Which brings the whole thing right home to us. We are a 'new creation' And God has brought this about by the same means - by commanding in our very being "let there be light" - that oh so powerful ultimate imperative. And there WAS light - there IS light. In you. In me. The light of the glory of God.

God-speech in Transformation?

So when it comes to Christian obedience, I wonder whether more is going on in our Spirit-filled hearts than just the process:

1. God speaks
2. I hear
3. I obey (or not)

I wonder whether the command-voice of God is at work here too. That when we 'hear' an instruction to do with our living out the life He has given us, there is that same empowering - on an ongoing basis, as we walk in the Spirit. And that whereas the process I have just outlined is how law works, this is precisely what the New Testament means when it insists that believers are not 'under law'. And that this is why His word is described as a 'living word'. So, we get what Paul says in Philippians 2 vs 12 & 13:

"... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

- which really reads as:

"... continue to demonstrate in your lives your salvation ... for it is God who energises you to will and act ..." (two different words for 'work')

Hmm - food for thought!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

John's use of 'anomos' in 1 John 3


Various ‘agendas’ make some want 1 John 3 vs 4 to read as the KJV and other translations have it:

“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”

The trouble is that the original Greek does not have the words ‘transgress’, ‘transgression’ – these were added by the translators, and place a specific interpretation upon the text. The ESV is the preferred translation:

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (vs 4)

Literally, John says:

“Everyone who is doing the sin is also doing the lawlessness and the sin is the lawlessness”

I have argued that this is indicating precisely the adverse – ‘transgression’ requires the law to be present, whilst ‘lawlessness’ indicates that there is no law in play. That said, some will still insist on arguing that ‘anomia’, the root word for ‘lawlessness’ means the breaking of law rather than the lack of it – and it can! So the matter must be decided upon other grounds, and, as always, context is prime.

John’s Argument

The issue, then, is not what we would like it to say in order to support some over-riding doctrinal persuasion from elsewhere. What is John’s point?

Lawlessness vs righteousness

Prominent and obvious is his use of a parallel expression by contrast:

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” (vs 7)

Or literally,

“Whoever is doing the righteousness is righteous.”

We can see that the sentence structure is identical. The point being that it is the ‘doers doing’ that indicates the nature of the ‘doer’. Plain and simple.

The Argument

Following John’s line or argument from the beginning of the chapter, we can see him saying:

1. That we are called the children of God demonstrates His great love for us

2. Thus as with Him, so with us – the world does not know us

3. We are His children now, and what we will be ‘has not appeared’ yet

4. But when He ‘appears’ (same word) we will be like Him

5. This hope means we purify ourselves as he is pure (so that we are like Him)

Now, this point:

6. Those whose lifestyle is ‘sinning’ are also doing ‘anomian’; sinning is ‘anomia’

7. (But)   Christ appeared to remove our sins – in Him is no sin

8. No-one who is in Him (therefore) can carry on sinning – to do so demonstrates that they are nothing to do with him

The line of logic plainly indicates that John is not making a statement about ‘law’ at all. He is elaborating “by their fruits you will know them”. The nature of the children of God cannot result in a perpetually sinning lifestyle. Where we see that lifestyle, we are to conclude that those are not God’s children.

The Common Use of ‘Anomia’

We must allow common usage of language in and around the time that the various New Testament documents are written and circulated to inform how we read them. What did the original recipients understand by what is said? For that will be our basic meaning too. Davison has this to say:

“In sum, anomos and its cognates almost always mean evil, wicked, or sinful in Jewish literature before 70CE, and the vast majority of examples refer to Jews or to the wicked in general and not to gentiles.”

So we see that even Jews – who had the Law – can be ‘lawless’.

From “The Encyclopaedia of Identity”:

“Anomia re-emerged in the Greek Old Testament around the 3rd century BCE as a translation for about 20 different Hebrew words that corresponded to English terms such as wickedness, evil, sin and iniquity. Anomia was seen as a general moral term and the polar opposite of moral law. In the New Testament, the meaning of the term was extended to include unbelief and the rejection of Christ as the son of God”

‘A general moral term’, then, for wickedness, evil, sin, iniquity.

From Gutbrod:

“In Judaism ho anomos or hoi anomoi is a common term for gentiles. Here it is hard to distinguish a mere affirmation that they do not have the law and a judgement that they are sinners. In general the latter view seems to predominate.”
So, predominantly, a derogatory - or, at least, contrasting - term meaning ‘sinners’.

One more – from “A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach” by Birger Olsson:

"… the letter does not support viewing the reference as an offense against the Law of Moses. … In apocalyptic texts the word anomia most readily carries the sense of lawlessness, godlessness, rebellion against God. The evidence for such an apocalyptic content is manifold … the sense of transgression against the Law of Moses is not attested in the NT."


Thus it would seem the consensus agrees that ‘anomia’ generally is synonymous with ‘wicked’ and ‘anomos’ means ‘wickedness’ – moral deficit. It is not a specific reference to the law of God being broken … UNLESS the context, as in Romans 2, indicates specifically that that is what is being spoken of.

To impose that meaning on the text contorts it and makes it say what it does not say.

Imperative Imposters?


Some New Covenant Theology adherents want to insist that even in the new covenant, whilst
expounding vigorously that believers are not under the old covenant Law, nevertheless they ARE under a new kind of law. They would call this 'the Law of Christ', using Paul's phrase from Galatians 6. When asked how we are supposed to discover what, precisely, this law contains, various answers are given. A common one is to assert that 'the Law of Christ' is made up of all of the 'imperatives' of the New Testament - the command-style statements made through those writings. And that these are the new-law 'commandments' which we are supposed to be obeying. However, on closer examination, this definition proves to be woefully inadequate on various counts. And one problem is the Greek use of the imperative 'mood'. Here is a quick survey of Greek verbs:

"Ancient Greek verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural).

In the indicative mood there are seven tenses: present, imperfect, future, aorist (the equivalent of past simple), perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect. (The last two, especially the future perfect, are rarely used). In the subjunctive and imperative mood, however, there are only three tenses (present, aorist, and perfect). The optative mood,
infinitives and participles are found in four tenses (present, aorist, perfect, and future) and all three voices. The distinction of the "tenses" in moods other than the indicative is predominantly one of aspect rather than time."

Greek, then, is much more precise than English, and sometimes our translators have struggled to adequately represent what is being said. They do a valiant job. Just, sometimes, we need to know a little more so that we do justice to all that the text is saying.

Imperatives have 'strength'

We must also see that all imperatives are not equal. They vary in ‘strength’. In other words, there are ‘levels’ of commanding, and this can be quite adequately seen in English. James L Boyer says:

“Much popular exegesis of the Greek imperative mood rests on unwarranted assumptions. Analysis of the actual usage of the imperative in the NT reveals that many common exegetical conclusions regarding the imperative are unfounded. For example, a prohibition with the present imperative does not necessarily mean "stop." And when it does, it is context, not some universal rule of the imperative, that determines the meaning. The imperative mood has a wide latitude of meanings from which the exegete must choose in light of contextual clues. The temptation to standardize the translation of the various imperatival usages should be resisted.”
Grace Theological Journal 8.1 (1987) 35-54.

Even in our own language, we can see that imperatives can be used in different ways. Let’s take a single-word imperative – “Go!” – and see if I can illustrate.

  1. Encouragement – “Go for it” (implies ‘you CAN do it’)
  2. Exhortation - “Go on – shoot!” (as my football team’s striker nears the goal)
  3. Direction - “Go left at the next junction” (Satnav command)
  4. Authoritative - “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”
There are probably others. What determines? Context, of course. Boyer, again:

"Commands include a broad spectrum of concepts--injunctions, orders, admonitions, exhortations--ranging from authoritarian dictates (a centurion ordering his soldier to go or come, Matt 8:9), to the act of teaching (Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5:2, cf. 12ff.). Commands are distinguished from requests as "telling" is from "asking." The distinction, however, is not made by the mood used but by the situation, the context. They are used in the language of superiors to subordinates and of subordinates to superiors, and between equals."

To reiterate, Greek is far more ‘analytical’ than English. It has more tenses. And tenses have moods. As an example of this, there is a ‘mood’ in Greek called a ‘hortatory subjunctive’. It converts an imperative into an exhortation – usually translated ‘Let us’. But it is still an imperative. See, for example, Galatians 5 vs 26 

“Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another”. 

So what we might conceive of as New Testament ‘laws’ aren’t to be read indiscriminately as such, even if we take the view that the ‘law of Christ’ consists of all of its imperatives. For example, there are imperatives in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Are we, then, commanding God? Of course not.

Simply, imperatives are not always ‘imperative’! Read Boyer's article.

An Inadequate Definition

What I am seeking to demonstrate is that if this ‘law of Christ’ is going to be loosely defined as consisting of “all of the imperatives of the New Testament”, this is woefully inadequate. It does not give us enough basis for us to be able to decide what is ‘in’ and what is not. Which imperatives? How do we know? Second, we have no information about what the first church considered to be a part of it, and no way of deciding that. And what happens, without exception, with those who hold this is that they utterly fail to even attempt a definitive description. It is simply left as an extremely loose assertion, which is somehow expected to be convincing.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Paul's Use of "Ennomos" in 1 Corinthians 9

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes this intriguing statement:

" To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law." (vs 21)
Elsewhere, he repeatedly and pointedly states that believers are not 'under law'. It might seem, therefore, that he contradicts himself. But if we have a consistent view of God's word, we know that this cannot be so. It is the Holy Spirit who is the author behind the author of every written part of our Bible, and it is inconceivable that He argues against himself. So, we who take this view must seek to understand what is going on here.

Some have taken this verse and, standing it alongside Galatians 6 vs 2, which speaks of believers 'fulfilling the law of Christ', have constructed a kind of 'believers' law' which stands in the new covenant where the Law of Moses stood in the old. But what of Paul's emphatic insistence that those who are in Christ are NOT under law?

Countering this argument, others have noted that the actual words used in 1 Corinthians 9 are not 'hupo nomos' - 'under law', but 'ennomos', which, strictly translated, means 'in-lawed' to Christ. Their opponents argue back that this is splitting Greek hairs, and that the two terms are virtually synonymous. I have considered this discussion for some time, and have recently come across something which may well throw all the light on it that we will ever need! But before I reveal this enlightenment, let me explain why I am not happy that this verse speaks of believers being 'under law'.

The Perspicuity of Paul

Historically, Protestants have argued for a doctrine known as 'the perspicuity(clarity) of Scripture'. This states that:
...those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (1646 Westminster Confession of Faith)
So, within this, we can also expect Paul to be plain in what he says. It would be no exaggeration to describe this learned, skilled Apostle as 'God's mastermind'. It is not for nothing that God used him to write 13 of the 29 documents which comprise our New Testament. Their contribution to our understanding of our faith is inestimable. And we can trust utterly his grasp, and his expression, of what God commissioned him to communicate - to the first church and to us. His extensive Jewish scholarly background, his understanding of the cultures of the churches he was writing to, and, not least of all, the enlightenment and Godly training of the risen Christ in his life had sharpened this finest of 'God's tools in the toolbox' to the nth degree and fit him for God's purpose. And yet he knows he writes to untrained men and women, non-scholars, in the various places in which God has used him to plant and nurture churches. So he, and the Spirit through him, ensures that his language is, as far as possible, plain and succinct. He writes to be understood!

When it comes to him using a different word from the usual and expected one in the context of 1 Corinthians 9, then, my suspicions are aroused. Why does he not just say,
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law."
... using 'huper nomos' as would be perfectly reasonable? Surely, if he wanted to make that point abundantly clear, beyond the realms of conjecture, he could so easily have done so. But what he does is to state,
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but in-lawed to Christ."
Notice that what has happened is that the object of the sentence is different to the way most of our translations present it - Paul's object is Christ, not law. I don't think that is accidental. 'In-lawed' at least, here, becomes descriptive of the way he, as a believer, is related 'to Christ' - he is not 'under ...', he is 'in-lawed'. Whatever else is going on, that at least, is significant, and I don't think we can reasonably just shrug shoulders and say "but he meant 'under the law ...'"

And then again, if the maxim of believers yet being 'under law' is so important, why is it not everywhere and all through his letters, employing this word freely and liberally? Why only once, and only to Corinth?

All Greek To Me

So here is the shaft of bright sunlight! I am indebted to a very thorough study by Fred Naiden in his book titled "Ancient Supplication". It gets a bit technical, but I will try to keep my explanation simple.

First, note that Paul is writing to the church at Corinth - a Greek church. For many years, that great city functioned almost as the capital. Their society had inherited the full complement of the Greek pantheon of gods, and now, added to all of them, were the extra Roman ones. Temples abounded, and the practice of the worship of their gods was 'sewn in' to their society - extremely deeply embedded.

When we examine the way that their religious system operated, we will immediately notice that for both Greeks and Romans, there was no distinction between 'politics' and 'religion'. In other words, the two were intertwined, and the ruling authorities legislated in matters of worship. As a member of that society, the plan was first to choose the right god for the right cause, the right occasion. You then had to gain their attention somehow, and present your particular request for their benevolence, in whatever way you needed it. This was a complex business. If you got it wrong - by presenting the wrong oblation, on the wrong altar, at the wrong time - you could incur wrath and blight instead of the favour you sought. And ... not only for you, but for anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity at the time your displeased deity was visiting his/her wrath on you (think Jonah in his storm-beleaguered ship). So it was expedient for the government to do whatever they could to make sure that only those who 'qualified' could actually even get to the altar. They had to 'apply', and they were called 'suppliants'.

Here is what Naiden has to say:
Supplication incorporates divine sanctions against perjury and against the expulsion of the innocent from altars and divine injunctions to allow a suppliant to approach and have his request heard.
… it also incorporates numerous regulations passed by the assembly of any given community, notably Athens. For their part, the gods endorse sanctions, injunctions and regulations. For its part, the assembly addresses every part of the practice. Besides regulating how citizens deal with one another and with the community, it regulates how the community deals with the gods."
Their application was duly considered by a Council, or an Assembly. And if they were found to be ok - guess what

- their 'supplication' was said to be 'ennoma', and they were said to be 'ennomos'! Naiden again (he is taking specific examples from Greek literature to illustrate his point):
No matter what the suppliant’s station and request, the supplication that he or she makes must be ennoma, or the suppliant must be ennomos – the Samian formulation. The moral side of these terms appears in the assertion that Dioscurides is worthy. But the legal side is larger and more complex. In regard to the first two steps, ennoma or ennomos means that the suppliant is eligible to supplicate and has done so at the right time. Ennomos in the Samian inscription supplies the first meaning, “eligible to supplicate”, and ennoma in the Attic inscriptions supplies the second meaning, which is presenting oneself at the right time. In regard to the last two steps, ennoma complements hiketeuin as a verb of speaking and means that the suppliant has made a lawful request. Finally, since the lawful request has led to the passage of a decree granting honours, annoma also means that the supplication has proved “valid”, a sense of ennoma in other legislative contexts."
Thus, we see that the word 'ennomos' has specific meaning for Paul's hearers, within the Graeco-Roman religious culture of the day. It is in common usage, and it is transparently understood.

1 Corinthians 9 vs 21 in New Light

Paul loves playing on words. And he is not averse to 'borrowing' a word or two from the current climate and making it work for him. He does it in Galatians with the Roman practice of 'paedagogue'. And it is my persuasion that he does it here too. This also explains why

a) It is done specifically with the Greek-backgrounded church of Corinth

b) He never uses this rather loaded term again elsewhere. Perhaps he can get away with it once, because these people knew what he was referring to (and now, we do!). But doesn't want to make it major.

So what is Paul doing with this word in this verse?

First we see, that this use is as an illustration of his main point, which is all about Christians foregoing their 'rights' out of love for one another. He says to the Corinthians, "and this is what I have done in my preaching of the gospel - I have 'become all things to all men'". Then follows the Jew/Gentile/weak elaboration. And he wants to emphasise that becoming like a Jew does NOT mean coming again under law. And then, that becoming like a Gentile does not mean being 'outside (the meaning of the old English word 'without') God's law'. Rather in respect of God's law, he is 'ennomos' - he has been granted 'licence', or 'legitimate status' to supplicate to Christ - to present worship and prayer to Christ. Here, then, is as much of 'law' as Paul is wanting to make claim to, and what it gives him is the right of approach; of full access. And not just to a god who is no god, but to the risen Christ.

Thus we can see that even though it makes reference to both 'law' and to 'Christ', this verse, in all probability, has nothing to do with what Paul speaks of in Galatians 6, and that to 'patch' those two verses together actually makes something of nothing.