Old Doxoblogy

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A response to the Pyromaniac

The following is an excerpt from an article by Fred Zaspel entitled, New Covenant Theology and the Mosaic Law. I post this in response to Phil Johnson's post earlier today, Did Jesus Change the Moral Law?
While I am normally in agreement with Phil (and Wrigley), I must let Fred speak when necessary. :-)
In this excerpt I think that Zaspel has proven himself most faithful to the text. And so I must move to the 'New Covenant' side of the road on the issue of the nature of the fulfillment of the law in Christ.
Heeeeere's Fred!

A Denial: "Not To Destroy"
When Jesus says "I came" He speaks in reference to His Messianic mission. This fits well in Matthew's Christology and follows naturally the infancy narrative, the voice from Heaven at His baptism, etc. The phrase "the law and the prophets" refers to (OT) Scripture as a whole. The verbs "destroy" and "fulfill" (katalusai, plerosai) are both telic, or purpose, infinitives. Jesus is addressing and clarifying the goal of His mission in relation to the Scriptures.
The definitions of "destroy" offered in the standard lexicons are almost endless, and for this reference (5:17) "abrogate," "abolish" or "annul" are generally offered by lexicographers and commentators alike. "Destroy" stands in contrast to "fulfill," and while the contrast may not be absolute (cf. 10:34) the strong sense of purpose is evident. Moreover, the parallel in verse 18 speaks of parts of the law "passing away" (parelthe) and likewise reflects the idea of accomplishment of intended goals: the law will not "fall to the ground." Kataluo ("destroy") is used five times in Matthew (5:17 (twice); 24:2; 26:61; 27:40) and always by Jesus (or when His words are being quoted). The other references (outside of chapter 5) refer to "destroying" the temple, and that usage illustrates well the meaning here (as KJV). He has not come to "tear down" or "disassemble" the law in the sense of destroying that for which it was intended. He has not come to make it fail its intended design. He will not render it invalid. Liddell and Scott offer several definitions that may fit: cancel, dissolve, dismiss, make useless, cast down. Perhaps "overthrow" fits best. Simply put, Jesus denies that He has come with cross-purposes to the law. He will not invalidate the Scriptures which God has given; He will allow them to stand, and their purpose will continue to be served.
Aside: An Implication
There is an assumption in Jesus' words which has significant implications concerning His Person and authority. "I did not come to destroy the law" would be unnecessary verbiage coming from anyone else, but from Jesus the denial assumes the possibility. His words are freighted with implications of the authority He has as Messiah.
This fits very well within the larger Matthean Christological themes highlighted earlier. And it is directly related to Jesus' claim in Matthew 12:8: "The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day." This is one more opportunity for Matthew to emphasize that Jesus is "greater than Moses," and it falls at a crucial point. As it relates to the law, in precisely what way is Jesus greater than Moses? And how will that authority be evident?
It has already been shown that in vv.21-48 He will take the law of Moses in whatever direction He sees fit. But in those various directions, what is the cohesive factor? How can His treatment of the law be explained and identified?
The answer to these questions lies in the next infinitive, plerosai ("fulfill"), the key word to the entire discussion.
An Affirmation: "But To Fulfill"
pleroo ("fulfill") in Matthean Usage
With all the press Matthew gives to this word the question of definition becomes greatly simplified. Of particular significance are the "fulfillment quotations" in which the "filling up" is that of God's purposes in redemptive history. In these Matthew follows up a narrative of some event associated with Jesus' life, cites a specific passage from the Old Testament, and declares it to be "fulfilled." Each of these "formulas" makes clear announcement that God's purposes have reached their culmination in Jesus. The sense of "fulfillment" is a broad, redemptive-historical one. Often it is the "prediction / verification" sense which is prominent (eg., 21:4-5). But often the connection is more subtle (2:15, 17-18). "[T]he kind of typology varies considerably. Yet the perception remains constant that the OT was preparing the way for Christ, anticipating him, pointing to him, leading up to him." With His arrival God's purposes expressed in the Scriptures are reached.
Matthew's understanding of "fulfillment" is, from the standpoint of many interpreters, very elaborate. At times it seems almost embarrassingly fanciful. Who would have expected that God's calling up of Israel out from Egypt was a prefigurement of the return of Jesus from Egypt (Hos.11:1; Mat.2:15)? But this is Matthew's outlook: he very casually looks across the history of Israel and sees it all as typologically prospective of Jesus in some way. His conviction is that in Jesus "all the rich diversity of God's relations with his people in word and deed converges; that is what 'fulfillment' means for Matthew."
So to say that Jesus is the new Moses, David's greater son, etc., or to say that He holds supreme authority, is entirely right -- but it is not enough. He is still more. He is the outworking, the full measure, the goal, and the accomplishment of the Divine purpose. In short, He is the "fulfillment" of redemptive history. This is precisely the outlook which pervades Matthew's Gospel, and he goes to great lengths to show it. It is entirely arguable that Matthew's whole theological motivation in writing his Gospel may be summed up in this one word -- fulfilled (pleroo, 17 times in Matthew; teleo, 3 times). This is his trademark, his primary thrust emphasized over and again even without the use of the term. For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the expectations regarding David's and Abraham's Son, and He is the one who "fills full" all the promises made throughout Israel's history. Speak of Bethlehem, Galilee, the Messiah, the King of Israel/the Jews, the suffering Servant of Jehovah, the Son of Man, or any of a host of other terms pregnant with expectation, and Jesus is the Fulfiller, the answer and goal of them all.
Within this context it would be surprising if chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel would be any different. Indeed, it is not. Jesus' Sermon text, the basic proposition which He proceeds to expound, is precisely that: He came "to fulfill." It seems, then, from the general Matthean use of "fulfill" (pleroo), that Jesus' claim is intended to be understood in an eschatological sense. Curiously, the only parallel to this statement found elsewhere in the Gospels is Luke 16:16-17 which clearly points in this same direction.
"The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fall."
Again it is Jesus Himself who specifies that the law had a prophetic/prospective function; it anticipated Him who brought about its expectations. In doing so, the law did not "fall" (pipto). The parallel holds even in detail. Christ brought to final realization the "full" eschatological realization of the law.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Fred Zaspel
You can read the whole article by clicking here.


Rose~ said...

This is a very interesting article. I have always thought that Christ came to fulfill the law (fill up) in the way that Mr. Zappel is saying. This aspect did seem to be missing in that Pyro guy's discussion. However, don't you think he was trying to approach the argument with a valid truth ... that God's moral standard for societies hasn't really changed? I think in dealing with this pacifist, he was just limiting his mode of reasoning so as to be effective ... that is not always bad, is it?

Joe said...

I haven't yet read Pyro's post. I will.

However, being the ultimate philoso-theolog on the subject, I would put it something like this:

Total obedience to the Law, both physically and motivationally, is impossible for us. But the Law MUST be fulfilled in our lives in order for us to approach a perfect God.

Therefore, Christ fulfilled the Law both physically and motivationally on our behalf.

So it is not done away with. The law is fulfilled by and in Christ.

How'd I do?

John Rush said...

Just a comment--not a treatise.

Jesus was the goal, the end, the telos of the Law.

Now that He has come and left us His Spirit, we are no longer under the law, as Christians. We've been wed to someone else.

I fear those who over-emphasize the unity between the Old and New Testaments. There are differences. But that admission may put us in the hated "dispensational" category. And we don't want to do that! There is no deeper insult than being called a dispensationalist!


J. Wendell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J. Wendell said...

Mr. Rush,

I thought being a dispensationalist was complimentary. I'm gona have to change my position now!

standing firm,
your brther John

Bhedr said...

Note that David who was a man that spilled blood was not allowed to build the temple. Solomon, a man who was said to be a moma's boy was given this task. The Philistines called one another to great courage against the one true God knew their task. Gideon who was hiding was called to war. These are all object lessons to grow us into a greater revelation of Who YHVH is.

We are all now living stones being built up by a King who allowed himself to be slain and called us to have the same mind and one day soon he will make war and judge. Right now He is building a living temple which is not to be tainted with blood or war. We are the living stones. We are called to war but not against flesh and blood.
Yes we need civil government and I would protect my family against evil but I don't think I would protect myself. As Jim Elliot and Nate Saint who had guns allowed themselves to be killed and a living temple was built in Ecuador among the Aucas and the man that killed Jim later baptised his daughter. I think we err to critique the Ana-Baptist in calling them passive. Maybe they do go to far in areas, but they had a greater understanding of this then the State Church governments that killed them. The temple is not to be built with blood. Consider the spirit in which some of the reformers killed the Ana-Baptist. I remember hearing Dr. Jeremiah quote when one of them was killed in Switzerland."If he be a Baptist then let us give him plenty of water to drown him in!"
Folks, this is not the Spirit of God. Also to say that the Ana-Baptist were passive and had no courage is not fair. It took more courage to be abandoned to God as they were than anything, yet they recognized the strength came from God. Were the reformers right in their theology? Yes in many ways except pedo-baptism, but many seemed to lack love and a full understanding of the living temple being built.

As a guitarist, I grew up learning chords and scales, but I never seemed to progress. I did well but my mind was limited. Later when I learned music theory everything came together and I had more understanding. In much the same way the reformers were right about a lot of things, but they seemed locked therenot wanting to understand the living temple that God was building and the depth of truth found in Christ.

Hebrews chapter 7 unlocks a great deal of this. I encourage us all to read it and come to an understanding of the type Melchizedek and the person of Christ and his work of graduation.
Please study this chapter guys?

BTW, I guess I have a little time for comments on weekends but not for full time blogging. See ya later.

Bhedr said...

BTW, I am a Marine(once a Marine always a Marine) and a Gulf War veteran so please don't say I am passive. I fought for this nation and would gladly do so again as we are a protector of Israel. If we ever change sides and set our faces against Israel then I would be one of those objectors. Sorry guys thats just what I believe as truth. Israel is the seat of God's throne and Kingdom. It houses Yeshua's conerstone that we as living stones are being built on.

Also Jim Elliot and his friends had guns with them but did not use them.

bluecollar said...


Thankyou! New Covanant Theology seems to be getting more attention these days---Great response!

BAG said...

What's wrong with being a dispensationalist (progressive ;)?

"Hated dispensationalist," by who? Why?

Pretty strong language for being so assertive.

Jeremy Weaver said...

John is a Dispy. He was just being sarcastic.
Hey, we're from the southeast where even the Catholics are Dispies.

BAG said...

Woops, thanks for the clarification :).

There's just not enough of us dispensationalists blogging--I get so defensive :)!

J. Wendell said...

For my next post... "Is being Amillinial the End of the World?" or "Premillinial Pros and Cons" or "The Panmillinial Position: It Will All Pan Out In The End!"

cheering for His team,

brother John

Jeremy Weaver said...

I myself fall squarely in the Dispensational-Covenantal-New Covenantal camp. None of those systems really provide me with a clear view of Scripture. I kind of think that New Covenant theology comes closest though to the relationship of Law and Gospel.
Where Dipensationalism says the law is irrelevant and Covenantalism says the law is still in force (I'm generalizing, of course), New Covenantalism sees the law in a mediating place between the promises made and the promises fulfilled.

Jeremy Weaver said...

God is always God. He is always just. His requirements for righteousness never change.
But we as sinful beings have a problem. We are not God. We cannot live up to the standard of righteousness that God has revealed, even before Moses.
Pyro and I agree on that (I think).
But I do not agree with the argument that God's perfect standard of righteousness equals the Law.
But to your question, Pyro did not limit his mode of reasoning, he made the Law God's standard of righteousness. For me this has far reaching implications, such as salvation by Law, the unnecessary death of Christ since we can be saved by Law, etc.

Rose~ said...

THANKS for answering my question.

[Please bear with me, Jeremy. I have never gone to Bible college. I read a lot and I want to keep learning. People like you are a great resource. I don't mean to be like a gnat flying around your head. Am I? I respect you as a theologue and a blogger (especially after all the time and patience I saw you give to mike) and I really want to know what you think about certain things. John is most helpful to me, and I like to get another perspective also - he doesn't mind, in fact he encourages it. I hope you don't mind.]

OK, maybe I didn't grasp what the Pyro was saying as well as you did. (I'm not slow, just thick!)
Re: your comment above: From my limited understanding . . . (and it really is limited, I have just in the last year, learned the difference with dispensational/covenant theology) . . . God's standard of perfect righteousness IS the law … (with Christ's insights as to what is REALLY there - Matthew 5) … but that we are utterly incapable of really keeping the whole law in its jot and spirit. That is why there was the sacrificial system given WITH the law. Then … Christ kept the law perfectly AND was the perfect sacrifice AND fulfilled the law ... thus by being IN HIM, we can become righteous by receiving his righteousness. But even if the law could save a person, it would have to be an alien from outer space, because no fallen sinner would ever be ABLE to keep the law. Is that different from your understanding? Answer if you have the time, but I understand that time is limited, and the gnat thing and all . . .

Breuss Wane said...

Zaspel writes: "the law had a prophetic/prospective function; it anticipated Him who brought about its expectations."

This is a reality all too quickly forgotten in most discussions about the Law. The Law, though its truths are timeless, was merely a revelatory/prophetic shadow pointing to Christ.

Rose~ said...

I think I am getting it better now. Thank you Chad. This must be one of the points that differ between the Dispensational school of thought vs. Covenant Theology thought. If I get it:

Disp. believes that God was truly dealing with the Israelites and dispensing His grace in a certain way at that time, through the blood sacrifices of animals which really "pointed to Christ", but the law was legitimately offered to the Israelites and had merit in and of itself. (including the sacrificial aspect.)

Covenant Theology would say that the law was ONLY there as a prophetic instrument and ONLY to "point to Christ", not as a picture of what God would say is the moral law for society and not His perfect standard of righteousness.
Hope I get it. Bye.