Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

site banner


There are many, especially online, who are hailed as “Bible teachers”. Some qualify for the title, others don’t seem to have a clue, but a large number seem to be good at a few things but not so good at others. The last group is where I’d like to focus today.

In an answer to a question at Grace Through Faith about whether Christians are under “the Law” (the OT laws of Israel), respected prophecy teacher Jack Kelley responds in a way that I think illustrates how someone can be very careful and well-reasoned on one topic, and then seemingly abandon every principle of such study on another. Here is the question:

Q. I’ve been having this debate with some local church friends. One of them argues that Ephesians was written AFTER Matthew and that the scripture in Ephesians 2:15 says that Christ died on the cross to “abolish the old law.” I revert back to Matthew 5:17 which says that Christ did not come to abolish the old law. If He did, why would we still be reading the Old Testament? Can you help clarify?
Here is the answer, with my comments interspersed:
Although it was written by several people, all of the Bible is the word of God. Therefore there can’t be any differences of opinion.
Several? The Bible is the Word of God, but more than “several” people were used to write it down; there were approximately 39 of them. But how does this mean that there can be no difference of opinion on the matter of whether the Law was abolished? Certainly the teacher must understand that the question is not about what God wrote, but people’s opinions on how to interpret those words. The questioner was not asking whether God was allowing us to choose whether we’d like to stay under the law. This response just doesn’t make any sense.
What Jesus and Paul said have to be in harmony, and they are.
No dispute here. But the teacher seems to be setting up a false dilemma to solve, rather than pointing out that the context of each was quite different. But before we go on, we need to remember a point which I’m very surprised was completely overlooked here: that non-Jews were never under the Law at all. At most we might study whether Jews who have become Christians would still be under it, but for those Christians who were never Jews this is a non-issue. Jesus said that His primary mission was to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt. 15:24), and so we would expect that almost everything He did and taught was directed at the Jews. The ekklesia was still in the future, and not even Jesus’ disciples grasped what was to come.
Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law and that’s true, because in effect Romans 3:20 says where there is no Law there is no sin (sin being a violation of God’s law) The Church is admonished not to sin, and unbelievers will be judged for their sins. So the Law must still be in force.
Here is his syllogism:

P1 - Where there is no law there is no sin. P2 - Christians must not sin. C - Then Christians must be under law.

This is a non-sequitur, caused by equivocation on the word “law”. That is, not only are there two “laws” in Paul’s discussions (Rom. 2:14 and 3:20 show the unwritten law and the written one), but the conclusion is not a necessary result of the two premises. And both Jew and Gentile are being discussed as groups outside of the ekklesia; inside, what matters is the heart (Rom. 2:28-29).

In addition, since the teacher says unbelievers will be judged for their sins, are they under the OT laws too? Not even the most legalistic Christians have taught anything like this, but it is what we must conclude if the teacher is following his own syllogism. That is,

P1 - Where there is sin, there is law. P2 - Unbelievers will be judged for their sin. C - Then unbelievers are under law.

As the Rom. 2:28-29 ref. shows, they are under a law— but it’s hardly the OT law; see also Eph. 2:12, where Gentiles are said to be “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise”. And what of verses 14-15? “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.”

This is the equivocation again; what law are we discussing, that the teacher is arguing Christians are under? It should go without saying that all human beings will be judged by God for their deeds, but just as clearly, not all human beings are or were under the specific written laws of the OT. So appealing to statements about the unwritten laws is not a valid way to argue that Christians are under the written ones.

Some may say that there is no difference between the two, but that’s the point under debate, not one of the premises. And if we re-read the original question, we see clearly that this is supposed to be about the written law, not the unwritten. So far the teacher has only confused the issue.

So what did Paul really say in Ephesians 2:15? He said that Jesus abolished in His flesh the law with it’s commandments and regulations, which is not the same as abolishing the Law. His similar statement in Colossians 2:13-14 helps clarify this.
Eph. 2:15 is clearly about the OT law, but I can’t make any sense out of “Jesus abolished the law but that’s not the same as abolishing the law”. He tries to clarify with Col. 2:13-14 and concludes thusly:
What that means is the Law still stands, but by dying in our place, Jesus took away the penalty due us for breaking the Law, giving us immunity from prosecution. So Jesus didn’t abolish the Law. In effect Paul was saying say He abolished the consequences for breaking the Law. But Paul also argued passionately that we should adopt behavioral standards that in fact are consistent with God’s Law. Not because we’re accountable for doing so, but because it’s the best way to expresses our gratitude for the fact that we aren’t.
So which is it? Are we under the OT law or not? This final paragraph seems to admit that we are not, even though everything he wrote before this seems to argue that we are. And what about passages such as Gal. 4, where Paul makes a strong case for the OT law having been like a custodian to guard the heirs till they came of age?

And after all this, the teacher never really touched on the actual question asked: “I revert back to Matthew 5:17 which says that Christ did not come to abolish the old law. If He did, why would we still be reading the Old Testament? Can you help clarify?”

First, let’s consider that the context of Mt. 5 is about Jesus fulfilling prophecy, as well as keeping the law so He could be the perfect sacrificial Lamb. Here is a paraphrase by Glenn Miller of Christian Thinktank that helps clarify:

Do not think that I have come to dismantle the superstructure of promises and predictions recorded in the writings of Moses and the Prophets— leaving them unfulfilled. On the contrary, I have come to fulfill every single prophecy therein. In fact, let me repeat this for emphasis: No matter how long it takes - even to the end of the universe - no prediction in the Old Testament, great or small, will fail to occur. Period.
So since the OT law has been fulfilled in Christ, we who are “in” Him have already fulfilled it too, such that continuing to try and stay under it is actually insulting to Christ and a waste of time! So when Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the OT law, He wasn’t saying that it would remain in force, but only that He would end it legally. Either way, it is ended, and nobody is under it who is in Christ.

As for the final part of the question, why do we read the OT, the NT tells us in 1 Cor. 10:11 that at the very least we can learn from what we see there. There are both good and bad examples for us to study, and we learn about God’s unfolding plan through history, about the path along which He took humanity in order to bring about our salvation. And of course, without the OT we would not even know why we needed salvation in the first place. It is the account of creation and the entrance of sin, the promise of the Savior and the history of God’s dealings with people. And for a prophecy teacher, one would think he’d have pointed out that without knowing the OT, we would not know what is yet to come. Furthermore, it is the fulfillment of many prophecies in the past that is the stamp of divinity on the whole Bible.

I am grieved that the simple question asked was made so confusing, and that a great opportunity to motivate someone to study prophecy was lost. But most of all I am grieved that people still have no clue how Jesus has freed us from legalism and given us the new law of love, a simple command without the need for scribes and Pharisees or a professional priestly class. We have been freed as well from not only the penalty of sin, but also from its allure and power, since we have the very Spirit of God in us.

What can we do to get the truth out? I wrote Reconciled and blog all I can, but it’s like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. We need “more workers for the harvest”, starting with educating the teachers.

Posted 2010-08-01 under prophecy, law, legalism, Bible