Archive for the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Category

Horton vs. the Sermon on the Mount (take 2!)

May 28, 2011

In a previous post, we saw how Horton exegetically blundered in asserting that “In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel.”

Horton is at again. This time he writes:

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces a “regime change” from the civil laws of the theocracy.

This kind of interpretation of the text (I hate to call it exegesis) demonstrates that Horton still does not understand the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount was not about regime change. The Sermon on the Mount did not discuss the civil law. It did not suggest that the civil law is obsolete, abrogated, or irrelevant. Nor did the Sermon on the Mount foretell such an event. Even if the civil law is obsolete, abrogated, or irrelevant now, that’s not what the Sermon on the Mount was about.

Moreover, Jesus’ teachings at the Sermon on the Mount were – at least in general – continuous with the Old Testament teachings. They express a continuity and explication, not a discontinuity.

For example, Jesus said:

Matthew 5:21-22
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Notice the old time vs. Jesus is one in which Jesus enhances and clarifies the law. He is not providing a regime change, but greater light.

Matthew 5:27-28
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Again, there is more light and clarification. Jesus’ rule is even stricter than the Mosaic civil law. He’s explaining the moral law – personal morality.

Matthew 5:33-37
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Again, more light and clarification is provided. Moreover, here there is warning of danger on a practical level of personal morality.

Matthew 5:38-42
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

This example one might think is contradictory, but Jesus is actually shedding more light. “Eye for an eye” is a principle of legal justice, not a norm of personal morality. We are not required to demand an eye from someone who blinds us, though a judge is required to enforce the law.

Matthew 5:43-47
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Here Jesus is correcting a misinterpretation of the requirement that we love our neighbor. Recall Jesus’ explanation from the case of the good Samaritan.

The theme of all this discussion can be summed up by what comes before and after:

Matthew 5:19-20 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Within these bookends, we see that the theme is not “regime change” but greater revelation of the revealed will of God. Moreover this entire passage from one bookend to the other is the explanation following Jesus’ comment:

Matthew 5:17-18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

One could hardly imagine a less “regime change” comment than that, particularly in light of what follows. There is a heightening of our understanding of the moral law thanks to Jesus’ self-revelation.

Horton continued:

Instead of driving out the enemies of God, the True Israel—those united to Christ—are to endure suffering for the gospel and to pray for their persecutors.

Jesus did not make that distinction. Moreover, driving out of the Canaanites was a one-time requirement of the Israelites within more or less specific geographic boundaries. They were given Caanan, not the world. They were called to execute God’s judgment on the specific nations that lived in that specific region, not all nations everywhere who refused to obey God.

Horton appears to make a false dichotomy based perhaps on the comment about “eye for eye” (quoted above). Yet Horton’s false dichotomy is seen to be false when one considers:

Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

The point in Matthew 7:1 cannot reasonably be thought to be a prohibition on Christians serving as judicial judges, just as the the exhortations to meekness and mercy in chapter 5 are not commands to the civil magistrate, but rather they explain proper adherence to the second table of the law (love thy neighbor as thyself).

Indeed, Jesus himself explains:

Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Notice that Jesus does not say “for this replaces the law and prophets” or “this is a regime change from the law and the prophets,” but “this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus is teaching more clearly what the law and the prophets already taught.

Horton continued:

God’s common grace is shed on the just and the unjust alike in this age.

God’s common grace is shed on the just and the unjust alike by definition. Moreover, the classical example of common grace is this:

Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Considering that is part of the Sermon on the Mount, one assumes that Horton has that in mind. But the rain has been falling that way at least since the days of Noah. There’s nothing regime-change-ish about common grace. It’s not something new to the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace.

– TurretinFan

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An Example of the Exegetical Blunders of Horton’s View of the Two Kingdoms

May 3, 2011

Prof. Michael Horton has an article entitled, “The Death of Osama bin Ladin: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?” Horton takes the occasion of bin Ladin’s death as a chance to attempt to propagate his unhistorical view of the two kingdoms. I don’t mean to suggest that the idea of two kingdoms is not historical. What I am suggesting is that the view of the two kingdoms that one sees from Escondido today is a view contrary to that of all the original Reformed confessions (at least, all the major ones, and particularly the big two: the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession). More importantly, it is contrary to Scripture, Natural Law, and sound reason.

This attack on the historic Reformed faith is bolstered by extremely tenuous “exegesis” of Scripture. I am using quotation marks, because I think the label is generous to a fault. Perhaps a more accurate assessment would be “prooftexting.” Here’s Horton’s argument:

Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word “above all earthly pow’rs.”

Notice the techniques that Horton uses. Horton makes an emotional appeal to a threat of danger. Yet the most dangerous cultures of the 20th century were Communist Russia and Communist China, neither of which invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Israel, by contrast, in the same century invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Whether one favors them or not, their six day war was one of the least bloody wars of the century (total causalities apparently less than 50,000).

Horton’s next statement about Christians having no biblical basis for defending holy land through holy war on the basis of holy text is unclear. There are various things he could mean. If he simply means that there is no “promised land” for Christians in this world (instead, we wait for the next world), he is correct. If, on the other hand, he means that the Bible cannot justify the defense of Christian lands (lands occupied by Christians), he’s mistaken.

Where Horton blunders is his next line: “In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel.” I realize Horton threw his “clearly” in there as a way of pounding on the lectern at this particularly weak point in his article. Nevertheless, no – the Sermon on the Mount does not abrogate either the civil or the ceremonial law.

I am hesitant to paste all three chapters of the sermon here. Perhaps it suffices to illustrate the point to quote the following:

Matthew 5:17-18
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Does Horton think that Heaven and Earth had already passed at that time? Surely not. Even though the ceremonial law would later be abrogated, it was not yet abrogated at this time. How can we know? Well, in chapter 8 (immediately after the conclusion of the sermon) Jesus instructs an ex-leper to follow the ceremonial law:

Matthew 8:4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

Moreover we know that Jesus kept the passover.

Matthew 26:18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.

Need I go on?

The clean/unclean distinctions of the ceremonial law were abrogated by a vision given to Peter. Recall:

Acts 10:28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

It was not, therefore, abrogated in the sermon on the mount, as Horton alleged.

Moreover, the civil law of Israel continued to be in force until Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus himself commanded his disciples that they should obey the Sanhedrin, justifying that command on the basis that they “sit in the seat of Moses,” that is, they occupy the role of legislators.

So, neither was the civil law abrogated at the Sermon on the Mount nor even by the cross itself.

Indeed, we distinguish (in Reformed theology) between the abrogation of the ceremonial law (which was fulfilled in Christ), and the expiration of the civil law (which was appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, and which was, as a nation, destroyed though a remnant was spared). Moreover, unlike the ceremonial law, the general equity of the civil law endures. That is because Justice is one of God’s attributes: and the laws of Israel were just laws given by a just God.

Horton continued his blunders this way: “Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses.” If we are to understand by “common grace” what has been always understood by that term, God sending the rain upon the just and the unjust, then every time period has been the era of common grace. If by “common land,” Horton means that we Gentiles don’t have a specific land grant from God, that too has always been the case. If Horton means that we today live with unbelievers amongst us, that too has always been the case.

Except where obeying pagan rulers involved disobeying God, the people of God have always obeyed pagan rulers when pagan rulers were over them. Recall Daniel and Jeremiah as examples of this in the Old Testament – or Jesus himself in the New Testament.

The law of Moses didn’t actually constitute the civil kingdom of Israel. There were elders of Israel before Moses, there were elders during the time of Moses, and there continued to be elders even during the times of the kings.

Nevertheless, the law of Moses did order the civil laws of Israel in accordance with the principles of justice and equity. The laws of Moses had, in theory, supreme power like the U.S. Constitution is supposed to have. However, both before and after Christ the people of God have often found themselves under regimes in which the law of God was not honored by the monarchs, elders, or people. That is true both of regimes in which the law of God was honored with the lips of the rulers, and also in regimes in which it did not even receive lip service.

Horton concludes (this particular paragraph) with: “As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word ‘above all earthly pow’rs.'” Paul doesn’t specify that the powers are “secular.” Paul says

Romans 13:1-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Notice that Paul calls the powers that be “of God” and “ordained of God” and repeatedly calls the ruler “the minster of God” and “God’s ministers.” Their duties are not the duties of the ministers of the gospel, but they are still ministers of God. There remains an intimate connection between theology and the civil magistrate, therefore. Their laws are called the “ordinance of God,” even their very unpleasant tax laws.

Is their power finite? Of course it is. None of God’s ministers (neither ministers of justice nor ministers of the gospel) have infinite power. Yet both are – or ought to be – servants of the same God, aiding the people in a complementary way.

Horton goes on in the article (be sure to click through to page 2page 3 is just bio) to actually quote from Romans 13. Horton writes:

First, it means that we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities. “For [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. … Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:4, 7). Yet the divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God’s eternal law.

There is, of course, no need to qualify God’s justice as “common.” We only qualify “common grace” that way to distinguish it from saving grace. God’s justice is one of His eternal attributes, as Horton ought to know:

Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Horton even has the temerity to quote from Calvin (whose view of the two kingdoms is incompatible with Horton’s):

In view of the image of God stamped on every person, justice must always be tempered by love. Commenting on Genesis 9:6, John Calvin reminded us that we cannot hate even our most perverse enemies, because of the image of God in them. In one sense, the creation of every person in God’s image provokes the temporal sword against murderers. Yet in another sense, it also restrains our lust for revenge. “Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.”

Notice that this deals with issues related to our personal vindication. But for most of us, Osama was not our personal enemy. He did not burn down our houses, kill our loved ones, or even badmouth us on a blog. Instead, Osama was an enemy of Christian nations, of Christians, and of Christ. He was God’s enemy. While I would have rejoiced even more to see Osama converted, I rightly rejoice in seeing God’s justice meted out by the servants of God – the ministers of His wrath.

After a brief appeal to Ezekiel (which I have substantially answered already), Horton makes a comment that we ought urgently fulfill the mandate to preach the gospel. I agree! (For that matter, I agree with lots of things that Horton says. I just don’t agree with his promotion of his two kingdoms view in contrast to Calvin’s two kingdoms view. That doesn’t mean I consider Horton a heretic, but rather a brother in Christ with whom I sharply disagree on a particular point.)

Horton concludes:

So as we take satisfaction in the honorable service of U.S. forces in bringing a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city, let us never dare to confuse this with “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

I have two issues with this. First, he’s laying on the metaphors a little thick. The SEALs did bring this terrorist leader to justice. It is justice in God’s eyes, for God declared:

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

There is no need to qualify this justice in terms of “the temporal city,” but we cannot really object to him saying that, for this life is indeed temporal. We must point out, however, that this justice is exactly the same in substance as the justice meted out by the law of Moses. Those who died for murder under the law of Moses may have died in a different mode (stoning rather than being shot in the head), but the punishment they received was the same: physical death.

This justice was not meted out in court. It was meted out in the field. Obviously, I think Horton meant that metaphorically. Nevertheless, in this kind of context, those metaphors can tend to have the effect of confusing rather than enlightening.

That confusion seems to be compounded by Horton’s reference to the city whose builder and maker is God. That city is heaven. Surely Horton does not seriously worry that people will think that this present life is heaven. Instead, it appears that Horton is trying to position the city whose builder and maker is God as being a “here and now” thing that could be confused with the “secular” world. Yet Horton’s position is undermined by the very text he quotes.

After all, Abraham is described this way:

Hebrew 11:9-10
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Abraham was not looking for something “here and now” but something “not yet.” Abraham was looking forward – on this point – to heaven itself. He was a pilgrim on the earth, as are we. There is a continuity, not a discontinuity, between us and Abraham on this point.

Indeed, Scripture itself declares:

Hebrews 11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

And Jesus testified:

John 14:2-3
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Finally, let me touch on Horton’s concluding sentence:

In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

This statement is ambiguously worded, so that is not clear who it is Horton views as merely professing Christians. Horton’s main opponents with respect to these points would seem to be Evangelicals, either modern (who perhaps have simply gotten caught up in the fever of patriotism) or historic (who reject on Biblical grounds Horton’s view of the two kingdoms). If Horton is calling those groups merely professing Christian, this is quite troubling. If not, it is unclear who Horton thinks might be disagreeing with him.

Of course, ambiguity is not a crime. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if Horton could be more specific about who he doesn’t view as his Christian brother. Despite my principled disagreement with his departure from the historic Reformed position, I still consider Horton a brother in Christ. I hope he feels the same way.

-TurretinFan


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