Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts

Friday, August 25, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Whole of the Law

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

For those who have never heard of Aleister Crowley, a short bio culled from information available at Infogalactic.

Crowley was born into a wealthy Plymouth Brethren family in Warwickshire, England in 1875, and rejected Christianity to become an occultist, poet, painter and novelist. A practicing bisexual, he founded the religion of Thelema, promoted a form of Satanism, traveled the world, climbed mountains, experimented with hallucinogens and claimed to be a prophet of the Egyptian god Horus. In his day, he was referred to as “the wickedest man in the world”. In 2002, the BBC ranked him as the 73rd greatest Briton of all time.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Picking and Choosing

Back in April, Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason wrote a helpful post about the Old Testament law. Koukl says critics accuse Christians of picking and choosing from Old Testament laws. They claim we apply some and not others, and do so at our own convenience.

So how should we answer people who object to the use of a verse from Leviticus to condemn, say, homosexuality, because “Christians are no longer under law”?

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

What Does Love Look Like?

When I go shopping with somebody I love, I pay careful attention to all the purchases they don’t make, especially when they look at an item with great interest, then put it back on the shelf with a sigh because they can’t afford it right now or have other financial priorities. Why? So I can come back later, pick it up and stick it in the closet for the next Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthday celebration.

Mostly this is a favor to myself: I hate the pressure of having to run out at look for a gift at last minute. But it also means I don’t waste much money on presents people don’t really want or won’t use.

Let me suggest we treat the Law of Moses that way.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

On the Supposed Misuse of the Old Testament

Online commentators argue that the apostle Paul misuses the Old Testament.

Some of these are garden-variety cranks, determined to prove all English versions of the Bible inaccurate. They insist reading the Jewish Tanakh is the only way to go. There’s really no placating people like that. Others set Paul against Jesus, maintaining that only the words of Christ really matter, and that the writings of the apostles are unreliable, inferior and downright wrong. Still others, like Pete Enns, object particularly to Paul, arguing that he read the Old Testament out of context, failing to respect what its authors intended to communicate.

How does the average Christian reply to such accusations?

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

God-Shaped Heart Surgery [Part 2]

The God-Shaped Heart by Timothy Jennings has quite a bit to commend it. Yesterday I detailed five of its better features. If you haven’t read that post, some terms I will use in today’s post will not make much sense.

Unfortunately, there are also a few yawning mineshafts to be avoided in Jennings’ book, some of which are more obvious than others. For this reason, I would be cautious about commending it despite the fact that it contains some helpful observations about God’s law and a useful analysis of the various ways in which human beings may respond to it.

In short, Christians who lack the ability to assess Jennings critically in the light of scripture should probably steer clear.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

God-Shaped Heart Surgery [Part 1]

Timothy Jennings is a Tennessee-based psychiatrist who is convinced Christians don’t really know God as they should. His 2017 book The God-Shaped Heart is perhaps best described as a minor controversy: minor because it failed to crack ECPA’s Top 100 bestseller list in any of its first five years of publication; controversial because Jennings takes a view of substitutionary atonement that rubs a fair number of his critics the wrong way, this reader among them.

If you read the reviews, it’s evident those who love the book really love it. And to be fair, there are some useful thoughts amidst the yawning mineshafts. You just don’t necessarily want to recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have his or her feet firmly planted on solid rock.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Present Perfect

Everybody likes gifts, they say. Still, some are better than others.

A funny story: My in-laws were on their way to a wedding. Along the roadside, a hack artist was selling a number of truly horrible original oil paintings. (Doubtless this poor soul labored under the delusion he was some sort of Michelangelo.) Anyway, my relatives pulled over for a look. These ‘masterpieces’ were supposed to be landscapes, but they all looked like they’d been painted with a really fat brush using earth tones, pale blues and dark blacks. (If you imagine an explosion in a factory that produces toothpaste, peanut butter and licorice, you’ve roughly got the aesthetic here.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fisking the Clickbait

For the uninitiated, is the online equivalent of those tabloid news rags you find next to the gum and chocolate bars at grocery store checkouts — perhaps not quite so tacky, but at least as trivial. Today’s brilliant bits of journalistic intrigue include pieces on where Elvis is buried, how Vladimir Putin feels about religion, what happens to your body when you choke to death, and — my personal favorite — how David Hasselhoff is connected to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Come on, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t click on that! Which is the whole point, of course.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: See You in Court, Brother

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Wow. Christians going to court with one another.

You’d think this issue would be put to bed speedily by even the most cursory glance at Matthew 5:25-26 or 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. But no, believers are keeping their lawyers on speed-dial in significant numbers. It used to be the primary reason was child abuse, but last year it was something new: property rights.

Tom: Here I thought we’d all be meeting in cell groups in homes sooner than later as a result of lawfare trial balloons from the transgender, feminist or gay lobbies. But no, this is even stranger: we’re doing it to ourselves, Immanuel Can; not just as individuals, but whole congregations. And most of it involves issues related to church buildings.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Responsive Law

Much is made of the fact that Christians are not obligated to keep the Law of Moses, and those who have come to understand the freedom believers experience in Christ are immensely grateful that the unbearable burden of compliance with its innumerable regulations has not been placed on us as a condition of salvation.

That said, disconnecting from the concept of law altogether, as certain modern evangelical preachers encourage us to do, is an impossible task.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Built-In Self-Destruct Button

If you have spent a lot of time reading the Old Testament and trying to get into the mindset of the average law-abiding Jew, you probably agree with me that Christian freedom is a marvelous thing.

The believer’s relationship to the Law of Moses is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christian life, notwithstanding statements like “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” and “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

But freedom is not something we human beings do easily or naturally. We prefer rule-keeping.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Anonymous Asks (108)

“Why do we follow some Levitical laws and not others?”

Whenever we associate living the Christian life with following the Law of Moses, we run the risk of becoming very confused. Surprisingly, the relationship between Christianity and Old Testament Judaism is still much misunderstood today, even though the matter was conclusively sorted out very early in church history. It’s a situation made worse today by systems of theology that conflate the church with Israel.

But if we have our theology right, we will find Christians do not “follow Levitical laws” at all.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Redistributionism and Jubilee

The Great Isaiah Scroll. Wrong chapter,
but you get the general idea ...
Howard Bess is a retired Baptist minister from Alaska whose novel application of the Bible’s teaching about the Jewish Year of Jubilee to issues of social justice in twenty-first century America has attracted a lot of positive attention.

“Thank you — what a beautiful interpretation of that passage,” gushed one reader. “I love the sense of Judaism and Christianity out of which Bess operates. It immediately recommends itself to me as wholesome and authentic,” enthuses another.

But despite the alleged aura of wholesomeness and authenticity, it seems to me that Bess doesn’t so much reinterpret Luke 4 as miss its real meaning as completely as did the citizens of the Lord’s hometown of Nazareth, his original audience.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

What Scripture Doesn’t Tell Us

Yesterday in this space I mulled over the question of whether or not pets go to heaven. The post was mostly speculative. Why? Because, as is the case with so many other topics of interest to us in this life, the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. God chose not to weigh in on that one, at least not directly. Sure, there are hints and clues and principles in scripture which we can draw on to lead us to some more-or-less-satisfactory conclusion, but nowhere do we find plain teaching that settles the matter beyond controversy.

This is true of many, many other subjects of interest to Christians today.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Whole of the Law

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Present Perfect

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

On the Supposed Misuse of the Old Testament

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

On the Mount (11)

After questioning the Lord Jesus, the high priest stood up before the Jewish council and asked, “What is your decision?” Mark’s gospel tells us, “they all condemned him to be guilty [enochos] of death.”

That same Greek word, usually translated “guilty” or “liable”, appears four times in the Sermon on the Mount. It is legal terminology. The Sanhedrin had no problem delivering its verdict, but it lacked sufficient clout to carry out its sentence without Rome’s ratification.

In the kingdom of heaven, however, there are no such inconvenient limitations.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

On the Mount (10)

“It was said ...”

So begins our next distinct section of the Sermon on the Mount, and since it’s a lengthy one, I won’t reproduce it here in its entirety but simply link to the relevant “paragraphs” or “subsections” for convenience.

I’m going to need to make a few general comments about this section before diving into its subsections individually, because they have so much in common.

There are six of these, a number which in scripture makes me go “Hmm ...”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

On the Mount (9)

The website Judaism 101 lists every one of the 613 Mitzvot, or commandments of the Law traditionally recognized by the rabbis from Genesis through Deuteronomy. If you’re planning on trying to keep them all (an undertaking I don’t recommend), it’s quite a daunting read.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is first baptized by John, then tempted in the wilderness by the devil. On the heels of successfully frustrating Satan, the Lord begins his ministry formally with the declaration “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and follows it with the “good news of the kingdom” preached in the synagogues and streets of Galilean towns and villages and accompanied everywhere by miraculous works that authenticate his message.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On the Mount (8)

If the chronologists have it right (and they seem to agree more than they disagree), the Sermon on the Mount was preached less than halfway into the Lord’s ministry, probably during its second year.

God’s kingdom is mentioned eight times in the Sermon’s three chapters. In these studies we have tried so far to ensure we don’t ignore the elephant in the room: the Sermon’s original, primarily Jewish audience.

As a nation, Israel did not take up the Lord’s offer to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: See You in Court, Brother

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Six times in Matthew 5 (v21, 27, 31, 33, 38 and 43), the Lord Jesus refers to things his audience had heard said. Some of these things are the direct commands of God through Moses in something very close to their original wording. Others appear to be rabbinical interpretations that expand on the originals.

In all cases, the conventional rabbinical readings are inadequate. So instead, the Lord infers from the Law of Moses principles of conduct and modes of thought by which his listeners might strive to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Hearsay, it appears, was not good enough.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Elementary, My Dear Christian

The giving of the law to Israel through Moses at Sinai was a truly spectacular event, attended by “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them,” as the writer to the Hebrews so eloquently puts it.

The law that God gave on that grand occasion is described in glowing terms by the psalmist: wondrous, delightful, sufficient for all sorts of situations, sweeter than honey, perfect, sure, right and true. Of all legal codes by which men have ordered their societies down through the centuries, the law of Sinai was the very best.

But law itself did not originate at Sinai. Laws were no new thing.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Some Deliverance

Divine law was not given to mankind simply as a means for us to avoid God’s wrath (though obedience to the law in any generation may defer judgment for a time).

Neither was divine law given only so that men would live happier and more productive lives (though history and the evidence of our eyes tell us societies in which God’s laws are obeyed are better places to live than societies where God’s laws are not).

Still less was divine law given as a means of justifying ourselves in the court of God. That one has never worked.

No, the law was never an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. The desired end was a flourishing relationship with the God who gave it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Still Ticking Boxes

How many times have you heard that Christians are not under law, we are under grace?

A fair number, I’m guessing. But living by the Spirit rather than by the letter of the law requires more than just ticking boxes. We cannot read instructions in the New Testament in the same way many Israelites read their law; as if, having observed all direct commands, we are now free to behave however we may please.

Life by the Spirit just doesn’t work that way.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Playing Word Games

Keeping laws cannot save us, as we were reminded earlier this week. God gave his law to Israel for the purpose of demonstrating to mankind our total inability to consistently abide by whatever rules we might make for ourselves, not so that we could accumulate sufficient spiritual brownie points to inspire St. Peter to open the gate of heaven just a crack and let us squeak through.

That being understood, laws still serve a very useful purpose. They cannot by themselves reclaim a single lost human heart, but a society in which the majority of citizens recognize and respect the rule of law will do notably better over the long term than a society that operates only on the principle of the will to power.

We are currently observing the abandonment of the rule of law south of the (Canadian) border.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

That Wacky Old Testament (9)

“The law of the Lord is perfect ...”

Not only perfect, but more desirable than gold and sweeter than a honeycomb. So says the word of God, and I believe it. But perhaps we ought to ask ourselves exactly what the Psalmist intended to convey with the word “perfect”. Because when people today examine what the law of Moses says on the subject of slavery, or the role of women, or animal sacrifices, they seem to find an awful lot to quibble about.

They would argue — quite forcefully, I might add — that the law of the Lord is far from perfect. Primitive, even.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Weights and Mirrors

In two previous posts, I’ve tried to distinguish between: (1) historical narrative in scripture, and (2) the commands of God — basically, between description and prescription.

Why? Well, because people frequently crack open “holy books” in search of answers to questions that are very personal, and reading historical narrative as if it is God’s direction for your life can lead to considerable confusion — like the atheist who thinks the Bible says ritual castration will get you into heaven. I suspect the Lord would prefer that we not experience that sort of muddled thinking. My advice is to read commands as commands, and history as history.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and point out a fly in my own ointment, if you will.

Monday, July 25, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (5)

Mothers have this thing about their sons. It’s natural, it’s powerful and it’s often entirely irrational.

Take, for instance, the mother of the Palestinian terrorist who killed an Israeli teen asleep in her own bed. Mom says her son was “a hero” who made her “proud”.

Okay, that’s a little extreme. But the mother of the Bataclan bomber who inadvertently self-detonated told reporters her son never meant to hurt anyone and may have been “stressed”.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

“We Should Only Allow …”

I’m reading a twenty year-old article on the subject of divorce written by a Christian whose judgment and understanding of scripture I respect and whose personal conduct as a believer is excellent.

So it’s hard to explain why I feel a bit irked as I work my way through it. I think it has to do with the phrase: “We should only allow …”

I wonder, who is “we”, and what is the biblical mechanism by which we choose to “allow” or “not allow” certain sorts of choices to be made by other believers?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

This Is Interesting ...

Well, it’s interesting to me anyway.

The giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai occurred on the third new moon after the people of Israel had left Egypt. God addressed them directly in a thick cloud from the peak of a fiery, quaking mountain amid thunder, flashes of lightning and the sound of a trumpet.

The people were understandably petrified.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Amping Up the Leafy Greens

In doing research for our “Wacky Old Testament” series (which exists to demonstrate that it isn’t wacky at all), I’ve already come across several different kinds of difficulties people run into when reflecting on the Old Testament laws.

You get people who claim to be Christian (or at least religious) and “just don’t get it”. You get people whose particular brand of systematic theology has confused them about the applicability of the Levitical law to Christians today. Their attempts to graft watered-down versions of God’s commands to Israel into a modern setting are labor-intensive, occasionally funny and more than a little sad.

Then you get people like Valerie Tarico.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Present Perfect

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fulfilling or Destroying

A couple of days ago I posted some thoughts on the place of the Law of Moses in the life of the Christian.

Most Christians who have read Romans or Galatians understand that we are not under law but under grace. However, because the teaching of the Lord Jesus is traditionally bundled with our New Testament, some believers have difficulty recognizing that things like the Sermon on the Mount are really addressed to people living under and seeking to obey the rules of the Old Covenant.

Confusion on this subject leads to inconsistent interpretation and maybe even inconsistent living. It’s worth a careful and prayerful look.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Redistributionism and Jubilee

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

‘Sola Fide’: Can It Be Enough Just To Believe?

Many denominations and sects teach that putting faith in Christ is not enough to save.

They claim that in order to gain or to keep one’s salvation it is necessary to try and keep at least part of the Old Testament Law. 

So what does Scripture say?

Since the beginning man’s pride has driven him to try and please God by his own efforts. The Bible says that man must cease wanting to boast of his own righteousness and recognize that he can do nothing to merit God’s favor: salvation is by God’s grace alone.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Present Perfect

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christians and the Law: Repercussions

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But what were the consequences of the Apostles’ attempts to deal with the controversy?

The Consequences 

When the meeting at Jerusalem concluded, Barnabas, Paul and their new companions Judas and Silas promptly carried the apostolic letter to the church at Antioch, where it was received with great rejoicing.

Although the issue of whether or not circumcision and Law-keeping were necessary to salvation remained a hotly debated one in the Christian community for some time afterward, and Paul was soon forced to write a lengthy epistle to the church at Galatia to counteract the grievously effective work of the Judaizers among them, there could no longer be a doubt as to the opinion of the leading apostles and elders on this question. 

The official statement had been made: Gentiles were justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and neither circumcision nor observance of the Mosaic Law was necessary to complete their justification.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Christians and the Law: Answering the Challenge

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But how did the apostles deal with this challenge to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Peter’s attempt to persuade his brethren was based on his personal experience of how God had worked in the hearts and lives of the Gentiles who had believed through his ministry. He described how God had not only directed him to share the gospel with pagan people, but had showed His approval by bestowing the Holy Spirit on those who had believed. By giving the Spirit He had clearly shown that in His sight the Gentile believers were no different from and no less privileged than the Jewish believers.

This being the case, what grounds were there for saying that the uncircumcised Gentiles were inferior in God’s sight and needed to do more to complete their salvation?

Had God Himself made a mistake in giving the Spirit prematurely to people who were not truly saved? 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Christians and the Law: Controversy

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But why was it such a crucial matter for the early church?

Paul’s background as a Pharisee certainly gave him a ready understanding of the Judaizers’ position, but on the basis of his knowledge of the gospel of grace, he strongly opposed their teaching. Years later he would explain to the Galatians:
“A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus ... by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified ...  if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Galatians 2:16,21)
Paul and Barnabas fought the Judaizers in Antioch for some time before it became clear that the debate must be officially resolved. At last the church at Antioch decided to send a delegation, led by Paul and Barnabas, to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders there.

Whatever was decided at the council would determine the practice of the Gentile believers throughout the Roman Empire and throughout subsequent history.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Christians and the Law: Why the Confusion?

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But where did this controversy originate?

The Cause 

In order to trace this issue back to its roots, one must go back to the Old Testament and consider what it has to say about the relationship between Jew and Gentile.