Archive for the ‘Covenants’ Category

No More Mosaic Law? A Response to a Seminary Professor’s Position

This is part of a series that began here.

In my last post I wrote about an article I read earlier this week about the transforming power the book of Leviticus has on our hearts and worship.  The article led me to a short series of Leviticus Q&A videos the author had also done. I really enjoyed the first four videos, but I was disappointed by the answers presented in the fifth.

The fifth question was: Are Christians inconsistent with their use and application of Old Testament law today?

Dr. Jay Sklar, professor of Old Testament and dean of faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, gives his perspective on this question below.

I was sad that the unity of heart I was experiencing with Dr. Sklar up to this point regarding Leviticus was dashed by what I felt was such a scripturally weak response.

Here are four issues I had with it:

1) Pitting the Old Covenant against the New Covenant

Around 1:50, Dr. Sklar points out that the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai was the Old Covenant and that Jesus came to establish a New Covenant. He says that the laws of the Old do not necessarily apply in the New.

But this is in direct opposition to what the LORD Himself says will happen in the New Covenant.  He says with the New Covenant, “I will put my laws within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God gives no indication that certain chunks of His law will suddenly vanish in this New Covenant. In fact, the major differentiation between the two covenants seems to be that in the old the laws were external to the people whereas in the new the laws would be internal – in their hearts.  So, it’s not a removal of the law, but an internalization of it that seems to differentiate the two covenants.

Our Savior also gives no indication that certain chunks of the law would vanish after He ushered in the New Covenant.  To the contrary, He said that He didn’t come to abolish the law or the prophets and that not an iota or a dot would pass from the law until heaven and earth pass away.  He went on to say that whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. (Mathew 5:17-19)

Paul, the one most credited for leading us out of the “bondage” of the Mosaic law, said that we should by no means overthrow the law by our faith in the Messiah.  On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

And the saints of the last days are called to endurance.  Who are those saints? Those who “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12)

2) Only the Laws Repeated in the New Testament are in Effect

Around 2:20, Dr. Sklar takes the angle that only laws that are repeated in the New Testament are binding on believers today.

But, again, there is no scriptural basis for making such a claim.

Our Savior said that those whose will is to do God’s will, would know whether the things he taught were from God not.  Those who had it in their hearts to obey the commandments of God would know that Jesus’ teachings always matched up with God’s.  He never spoke on His own authority. (John 7:17)

If He had come to change God’s laws or to revise which ones were applicable, He would have been a false prophet. The Father clearly warned His people that only false prophets would speak against His commandments (Deut 13:1-5, especially note verse 4).

So, to say that Jesus or any other New Testament writer had the authority to revise the application of God’s law is completely contrary to scripture.  This is a big deal!

3) Values Stand but Ritual Laws Are Unimportant

Around 2:45, Dr. Sklar says that the values we see through the Old Testament laws are ongoing and are still able to teach us about life today.  He points out that the laws about clean and unclean animals given in Leviticus 11 were meant to teach us something on a moral level.

While I wholeheartedly agree with this principle of things in the physical teaching us things in the spiritual, I cannot agree that once we get the spiritual meaning we can then choose to disregard the physical command.

Just because I understand that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride doesn’t mean that I can then disregard my physical marriage.

Just because I understand that baptism is a picture of my death and resurrection in Christ doesn’t mean that I can disregard the physical practice of baptism.

And just because I understand that clean and unclean animals are pictures of clean and unclean things I must distinguish between morally doesn’t mean that I can disregard the physical practice of abstaining from eating unclean animals.

We are both physical and spiritual beings, and our heavenly Father asks for our obedience in both the physical and spiritual realms.

(Here is a great video that highlights the physical and spiritual truths in God’s clean and unclean animal laws.)

4) Jesus Declared All Foods Clean in Mark Chapter Seven

Around 4:06, Dr. Sklar uses Mark 7 to prove the point that the physical law was no longer important; only the moral law still stood. In fact, Dr. Sklar goes so far as to say,

“Jesus says, Mark chapter 7, ‘Look, in the New Covenant you no longer need to make those distinctions ritually between clean and unclean animals.'”

Is this really what Jesus said?

I did a study on Mark 7, because this section of scripture does seem to seal the deal on the clean/unclean issue.  It was one of the big ones I needed to wrestle through.  Here’s a condensed version of what I found:

The sentence, “Thus He declared all food clean” is NOT in the original text! (Check it out for yourself.)

In fact, the context had nothing to do with what could be eaten as food. The beginning of chapter seven shows us that the context was all about hand-washing.

Some Pharisees, who adhered to a very strict, totally man-made system of hand-washing, saw that Jesus’ disciples ate without washing their hands at all. This made them indignant.

It’s important to note that God never outlined any method of cleansing hands before eating.  Our Savior and His disciples were not breaking any God-given instruction. But the Pharisees were professional extra-Biblical rule-makers. And they were furious when anyone refused to follow them.

The definition of what counted as food was never in question.  God only created certain animals to be eaten. Everyone involved in this conversation was on the same page on that issue.

So, in Mark chapter 7, the Savior did not challenge Mosaic law by changing the definition of food.  He merely challenged the man-made notion that eating with dirty hands would defile you.

(Here is a study looking into the top five New Testament verses used to discount the dietary laws.)

Summary

I still have a great deal of respect for Dr. Sklar based on the other things I’ve read and heard from him.  I love that he finds treasures (applicable to his life today) in Leviticus and that he’s helping others to find those same treasures for themselves.

Where I diverge in understanding from Dr. Sklar is in how to respond to those commands we, as a people of God, haven’t followed for millenia.  I think we need to dig even deeper and question more fully the commandments from which we’ve allowed ourselves to stray.

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A look at seven biblical covenants and what they mean for us today

My family receives a magazine called Yavoh each month.  It’s always fun for me to read articles included in it.  Though I don’t always agree with everything written, I appreciate many scriptural connections it brings to light. I have come to see that many men have good insights into the Word, and few can possibly agree on every matter.  It is up to every believer to test everything we read, hear, and see to the Word of God.  We must be willing to let incorrect words we encounter from men to fall away so that only the Word of God stands.

With that disclaimer made, I wanted to highlight an article included in the October 2011 issue that fascinated me. It was based on Romans 9:4-5:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The article addressed each of the seven underlined sections above. The whole thing was enlightening, but one particular section struck me more than the others.  It was about the covenants contained in Scripture.  I am going to re-post that section in this post, but you can read the full article here. (Scripture references and emphasis were added by me.)

Many Christians have been taught there are only two covenants: the Old and the New. However, Scripture tells a much different story. There are not two covenants, there are seven. Only the book of Hebrews and Christians lump the first four together and call them “old.” Let’s review those covenants.

God made His first covenant with Adam. He would have to labor by sweat and his wife would bear children in travail (Genesis 3:16-19). The world we live in today is the same that was for Adam and Eve with sweat and travail. This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Noah at the conclusion of the great flood. God judged the world by water then, but He promised Noah that He would never judge the world by water again (Genesis 9:8-17). To seal this covenant, God placed a bow in the sky for everyone to see. We call it a rainbow. To this day, a rainbow means exactly as it did when God showed it to Noah for the first time. God is still promising not to judge the world by water. The Remnant today is reminded of God’s promise every time they see it as well. This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8), Issac (Genesis 26:1-5), and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15). This covenant included the promise of a kingdom. The kingdom is defined by three things: the land of the kingdom, the servants of the kingdom, and the King of the kingdom. Abraham was shown the land of the kingdom, the land of Israel. Abraham was promised a son. Isaac was the first of those promised sons. Finally, Abraham himself promised the “Lamb of God” who would be the king (Genesis 22:8). This is the same place that Abraham offered Isaac, where God placed His name – Mount Moriah at Jerusalem. You cannot be the Remnant of Israel unless you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as your fathers and yourself as their promised descendant (Ephesians 2:12-13, 19). This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Moses and the children of Israel when they left Egypt. This covenant was made at Mount Sinai where God gave His commandments. This is when He made the Sabbath to be a sign between the children of Israel and Himself. God defined this covenant as eternal extending to all generations (Exodus 31:12-18). The Remnant of Israel may be small at times, but they remain to this day. This covenant also remains to this day.

God made a covenant with King David (2 Samuel 7:1-17). It involved the city of Jerusalem, the temple mount, and the permanent alter where the temple was built. While David did not build the temple, he was responsible to acquire the land and the materials. David was also promised that a son from him would be the Messiah. It was the “son of David” Solomon who actually constructed the temple in Jerusalem. In the same way, it was the “Son of David” the Messiah who built the temple of God in believers’ hearts. The Remnant of Israel must hold to the city of Jerusalem and God’s promise to King David. The city of Jerusalem still remains and this covenant still remains to this day.

The Messiah brought us the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31. The redemptive work of the Messiah is the fulfillment of the PROMISES God made to those previous including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. But the fulfillment in no way renders the promise null and void. Nor does the “New” covenant replace an “Old” covenant. There is no “Old” covenant to replace. Instead, the Messiah made the PROMISES even greater. On those promises our faith in the Messiah is established which leads to forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. Without the promises there would be no Messiah. Without the Messiah there is no forgiveness or hope of eternal life. The Remnant of Israel believes in those promises and in the deeds of the Messiah. Therefore, their faith is counted for righteousness just like Abraham and everyone following his example. To this day, men are acquiring this same faith in God’s promises, coming to know the Messiah, and proclaiming His work of redemption and hope for the kingdom. Therefore, this covenant remains to this day.

There is a final covenant promised by God that has not yet been revealed. It is called the Covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54 and Ezekiel 37:15-28, specifically mentioned in verse 25). According to the prophets, the Covenant of Peace will be part of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom upon His return. This promise still remains to this day.

The Remnant still believes in the promises of God, the ones of the past, the present, and the ones yet future. The future covenant still awaits us according to God’s plan.

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant

For many years I struggled to understand the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  It has only been in the last year that it has begun to crystallize for me. Here’s what I understand about the relationship between these covenants at this point.  It’s soooo exciting!

The Problem with the Old Covenant

The whole problem with the Old Covenant was the people not the instructions or laws themselves.

“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says:

Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord,when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people …”  (Hebrews 8:7-10, emphasis mine)

This is a HUGE thing to keep in mind when reading about the problem of the Old Covenant.

The problem was that the people didn’t keep it in their hearts. They disobeyed the instructions and brought a curse onto themselves just as the law promised.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deut 28:1-2)

“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statues that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:15)

The Curse of the Law

The phrase “curse of the law” was another thing that caused a lot of confusion for me for a long time.  When Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal 3:13), I heard, “the law itself is a curse from which we are now freed.”

I’m pretty sure lots of people have this same idea.  But that’s not at all what the phrase means.

As we read above, the curse comes in forsaking the wisdom of God’s instructions, not from walking in them.

The curse comes when we turn away and disobey.

And interestingly, the curse was always meant to drive the people back to God.

The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 30 is dedicated to showing how wonderful life will be for His people once they experience the curse, remember the covenant and return to it (30:1-2), gain the Lord’s compassion (30:3), are regathered (30:4-5), have their hearts circumcised (30:6) and walk in obedience (30:8).

So, yes, the letter of the law all by itself without love and faithful obedience will kill.

Yes, the covenant turns into a ministry of death when we stubbornly turn from it, refusing to obey.

Yes, the covenant condemns disobedience.

But this is not a surprise.  God has always declared these truths.  And He has always declared the promise of a changed heart that would obey His instructions joyfully, that would follow Him in love, that would rejoice in His wisdom.

But What About the Laws of the Old Covenant?

In the New Covenant, God writes His laws in our hearts.  We get a heart transplant so that we will now embrace and love His righteous and gracious instructions. We now have hearts that do not want to turn away from His law.

The New Covenant doesn’t dismiss the laws of God.  It can’t.

Doesn’t it make perfect sense that when John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), he meant that the law of God, all of the words of God, took on flesh and became the man of Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah?  It all fits!

This is why He didn’t come to abolish the law.  He WAS the living, breathing law.  He taught and displayed it in its fullness, as it was always intended to be.  He stripped away the fences that man had erected to “protect” the law, which actually hindered people from properly understanding it.  He dismantled the traditions that had overturned the law. He restored it to its proper state and then bore the penalty we deserved for abandoning and spurning it.

The Glorious New Covenant

The New Covenant is what it was always promised to be: an internalization of the original law and instructions of God on a heart fully committed to loving God and His ways.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declared the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Here is another great teaching on the New Covenant.