Archive for the ‘Stephen Garrett’ Category

Clarification on the Tri-Partite Division of the Law

December 12, 2008

I have received a few comments from readers on my previous post on the three-fold division of the law given by Moses (link).

A first comment comes from Stephen Garrett, who asked:

Where is your scriptural support for dividing the law into those three categories of moral, ceremonial, and civil?
Are we under the lawgiver Moses or the lawgiver Christ? The Old Covenant or the New? Or, perhaps a little of both?
Is the sabbath law moral, ceremonial, or civil? How much of the Sabbath laws are binding on Christians of the New Covenant?
Is there a command in the New Testament to observe Sabbath or a condemnation for doing so?

(minor changes for spelling/formatting)I answer:
The three categories are useful bins, as it were, among which the various laws given by Moses can be organized. Many more sub-bins could be created. For example, within the bin of “moral law” there are two sub-bins: “first table” and “second table,” and then within those bins, the bins of “first commandment,” “second commandment,” etc. It’s mostly a matter of helpful organization of what the Old Testament provides. If someone wanted to use other labels for these categories, we wouldn’t object. If someone wanted to try to understand the Bible without these categories, we think they would have more difficulty, but we wouldn’t insist that making these distinctions is a core tenet of orthodoxy.
We are not living in Old Testament Israel. The Nation of Israel was destroyed around A.D. 70 by the Romans. Their civil laws consequently are not binding on us. We are not under Moses in that sense. Recall that Jesus himself told his disciples that the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat and consequently were to be obeyed. There was not necessarily a tension, therefore, between being obedient to the civil laws of Moses and being a follower (disciple) of Christ. Nevertheless, as I already said, the nation of Israel was destroyed as such, and even if the civil laws of Moses should apply to the modern nation-state of Israel (something I don’t want to get into), most of us don’t live there and consequently are not under those civil laws.
Christ was not an earthly king. As he said, “My kingdom is not of this world….” (John 18:36). Thus, Christ did not provide a new civil law or usher in a Christian nation-state. Accordingly, with respect to the civil law, there is no “updated” form.
With respect to the moral law, Christ republished the Mosaic law both by identifying as the greatest commandment to love God and as the second commandment to love one’s neighbor. Additionally, we find each of the other ten commandments republished in the New Testament, confirming their continued applicability.
With respect to the ceremonial law, Christ fulfilled the law, and on his death “the
the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” (Luke 23:45) Those shadows are gone, since we now have the reality. Accordingly, it is not only not required that we sacrifice animals, it would be an act of impiety for us to do so, since it would suggest that we do not understand that we have a better sacrifice: Christ the Lamb of God.
So, the dichotomy of “Moses the Lawgiver vs. Christ the Lawgiver,” doesn’t seem proper.
The law of the sabbath (one day in seven to be a day of rest and worship) is not, strictly speaking, a Mosaic provision. It was republished by Moses, but it was a Creation ordinance, like marriage. It does point forward, but it points forward to heaven. It is part of the ten commandments and properly considered “moral,” for that reason. It is a blessing, something “made for man.” (Mark 2:27) Christ did not come to take away that blessing. The other sabbaths would appear to be mostly civil, relating to land use and slavery. I would love to get into those issues in more detail some other time.
Hopefully, these responses answer Mr. Garrett’s questions.
I had written in another (but related) post, “The prohibition on garments of mixed fibres was a ceremonial law pointing to separation and physical purity. It was fulfilled in Christ, who was free from impurities.”
Mr. Gene Bridges responded: “Actually, this would, as I recall, be a concrete instance of the moral law. Wearing clothes of two fibers would have been, in that society, a signal one believed in sympathetic magic. It’s on the same level as the prohibition of boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk.” The main problem with this analysis is that one could say the same thing about the dietary laws, since a number of the Canaanite nations evidently used unclean animals (such as the pig) in their sacrificial systems.
Recall that the New Testament approach is still not to participate in the pagan religions (whether by drinking blood or eating things sacrificed to idols – see Acts 15:20 and 29) although when purchasing food, no investigation was required (1 Corinthians 10:25).

In any event, while there may have been an underlying moral reason for the various separation-related customs, those customs are not themselves moral laws. Keep in mind that, in the first context, the prohibition on mixed-fiber garments was together with a prohibition on making mules and co-mingling crops (Leviticus 19:19) and in the second context was together with not co-mingling seeds in vineyard planting, plowing with an ox and an ass, and making fringes in the four quarters of one’s garment (Deuteronomy 22:9-12). This supports the point I had made that these customs relate to the image of separation from impurity.

Recall as well as the mixed-plowing prohibition being used by Paul as an illustration of improper partnership between Christian and non-Christian.

Mr. Bridges continued: “The most severe penalty would, indeed, have been death for the impenitent. There isn’t, IMO, as concrete a separation between uses of the law as many think.” (minor spelling change) I don’t see anything in the Mosaic law permitting death for someone who, for example, stubbornly refuses to stop wearing mixed-fiber clothes. I’m open to being corrected, but so far I haven’t seen it.

Hopefully this addresses Brother Bridges’ concerns. Next, we have a comment from Nick:

I am [Roman] Catholic, but I think the key problem in discussions with Protestants is that we don’t understand each other when it comes to ‘faith versus works of the law’ (Rom 3:28).
You said the Judaizers looked to impose some/all of the ceremonial law, but I think that is inaccurate.
They pushed circumcision because circumcision was formally subscribing to embrace the whole Mosaic Covenant, not just ceremonial parts (Gal 5:3).
Thus, when Paul said we are saved apart from works of the Law he meant the whole Mosaic Law, not just ceremonial.
I think this issue hits at the heart of the Protestant-[Roman] Catholic dispute, because it clarifies why Paul was arguing for justification apart from the Law. From my reading and discussions with Protestants, they basically propose an ‘either/or’ message for Paul in the form of: ‘Either you obey the whole Mosaic Law or you trust Jesus did it for you.’
This is where the “Righteousness of Christ” comes in, and I think where the Protestant side has it seriously wrong and foreign to Paul’s thought process. The issue for Paul was that the Mosaic Covenant cannot save, while only the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit can and does. This makes the notion of imputation and the “righteousness of Christ” non sequitur in Paul’s teaching.
I’d like to see your thoughts on this issue, because I think once these issues are clarified the [Roman] Catholic position will agree with the Biblical evidence.
p.s. are you the Tur8in guy from AOmin?

(minor spelling and formatting change; the “Roman” in brackets is, of course, my own insertion) I answer:
Last things first, yes, I am the same Tur8inFan from the Team Apologian blog at Alpha and Omega Ministries (link).
Nick said, “I think the key problem in discussions with Protestants is that we don’t understand each other when it comes to ‘faith versus works of the law’ (Rom 3:28).” This can occur. Of course, it is important to distinguish between some sort of broad category like “Protestants,” and focus on the Reformed position here, because “Protestants” has become more of a basket for non-Roman Catholic than anything else.
The Reformed position is that it is not anything that man does that saves man. This seems to be the point of Paul in Romans 3:28.

After all, Paul declares, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” This conclusion is the conclusion to the fact that boasting is excluded (Romans 3:27) by the law of faith. Rather than working for our salvation, we trust in the finished work of Christ.

This is where we part ways from the Roman and Arminian views of salvation. We hold that by faith we trust in the work of another: Christ. Thus, we view “works of the law” as broadly corresponding to all activity undertaken by men to please God.

Nick wrote, “You said the Judaizers looked to impose some/all of the ceremonial law, but I think that is inaccurate. They pushed circumcision because circumcision was formally subscribing to embrace the whole Mosaic Covenant, not just ceremonial parts (Gal 5:3).” I don’t see anything to suggest that they also wanted to impose the civil law. One would have to check to be sure, but I think the diaspora Jews did not attempt to enforce the full scope of the civil laws of Moses on their host communities (and how could they, being a minority?). I doubt the Judaizers would have exceeded the diaspora Jews in that regarded. Obviously, the Palestinian Jews continued to live under the civil laws of Moses (in a somewhat modified form in view of the Roman laws) until around 70 A.D. (in Jerusalem). Circumcision was a token of the ceremonial parts of the law.

Nick wrote, “Thus, when Paul said we are saved apart from works of the Law he meant the whole Mosaic Law, not just ceremonial.” It’s even broader than that, I think. He meant not just by obedience to the Mosaic law itself, but by any obedience. Obedience is not what saves. Recall that it is not that there was a defect in the law of Moses. If any law could have saved, it was that law.

Nick wrote, “I think this issue hits at the heart of the Protestant-[Roman] Catholic dispute, because it clarifies why Paul was arguing for justification apart from the Law. From my reading and discussions with Protestants, they basically propose an ‘either/or’ message for Paul in the form of: ‘Either you obey the whole Mosaic Law or you trust Jesus did it for you.'” Perhaps an even more important clarification should be made here. There are various types and forms of “Protestant.” I certainly don’t speak for them all. I am Reformed. The Reformed alternatives are either you perfectly obey the moral law of God, or you trust in Christ to save you by his righteousness. Since one cannot perfectly obey the moral law of God, one must trust in Christ to save one.

That is Paul’s point: either one must perfectly obey God’s law, thereby seizing the Covenant of Works by his own acts, or one must trust in the Perfect Mediator of the New Covenant, and him alone, for salvation.

Nick wrote: “This is where the “Righteousness of Christ” comes in, and I think where the Protestant side has it seriously wrong and foreign to Paul’s thought process. The issue for Paul was that the Mosaic Covenant cannot save, while only the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit can and does. This makes the notion of imputation and the “righteousness of Christ” non sequitur in Paul’s teaching.” The issue of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is clear in Paul’s teaching. For example:

Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

And elsewhere:

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a blessing.

Psalm 51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

The Holy Spirit’s indwelling is a token or promise of blessings to come:

Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Ephesians 1:13-14
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Notice that word “earnest.” That is sort of the downpayment or bond on the inheritance of glory to come. The Holy Spirit is also consequently referred to an official stamp or seal, testifying to the same purpose:

2 Corinthians 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

And evidence of the Spirit can be seen in the fruit that Spirit brings forth in our lives:

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Ephesians 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

Nick concluded, “I’d like to see your thoughts on this issue, because I think once these issues are clarified the [Roman] Catholic position will agree with the Biblical evidence.” Actually, the Biblical evidence is rather one-sided in favor of the Reformed position. There is a genetic reason for this: the Reformed doctrines were derived from Scripture, whereas the Roman Catholic position was not. The Roman Catholic approach to theology has not been exegesis, leading to some serious concerns particularly beginning at the start of the 20th century regarding the relationship between exegesis and dogma. Even now, there is still work being done to try to harmonize the work (in Catholicism) of theologians and exegetes. As you may or may not know, in Catholicism, the theologians role is to find support for doctrines of the church in the sources of revelation. In contrast, the exegete (and theologian in Reformed theology) begins with Scripture and derives doctrine therefrom.

That’s why the Reformed churches have the Biblical edge.

-TurretinFan

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