Does the Passover Demonstrate Definite Atonement?

At various point through the years, I have investigated the idea of “definite atonement.” As I’m now reading through From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective a few reactions have come to mind. I recognize the topic is broad, and takes in many different aspects of theology, so I don’t want to diminish the complexity of it by coming to some summary conclusions in this post. The book moves to discuss the scriptural evidence for definite atonement in the second section, and the chapter by Paul R. Williamson entitled “Because He Loved Your Forefathers: Election, Atonement, and Intercession in the Pentateuch” considers (among other things) whether the Passover institution foreshadows it. I say foreshadows because Williamson forthrightly notes “while definite atonement is nowhere explicitly mentioned, [in the Pentateuch] there are certainly hints of the concept embedded within this body of literature.”[1]

One of the first he considers is the Passover. Williamson says:

“The amount of flock animal consumed was to be directly proportionate to the number in each household (Ex. 12:4), suggesting that each animal slain provided for only a limited number of individuals. Its apotropaic effects were thus restricted to a carefully qualified group of people within each household. Each lamb served a specific body of people and redeemed a prescribed household. Moreover, only those who actually participated in the Passover meal could find refuge behind the blood-smeared door frames (12:7–13, 21–23).15 There is thus no idea here of an all-embracing sacrifice, but rather one that served a specific goal for a specific group.”[2]

Williamson finds at least an impression of particularity, and limitation, but I wonder if he has imposed this on the text. The instructions to Israel were that they should be careful that there be no lamb left over, but the idea of limitation—there there is only so much lamb to go around—is not there. If a house had more people than a single lamb could feed, the instructions are, get another lamb, and create another family unit to eat that lamb. There is a natural limitation on how many people a lamb could feed, and Williamson seems to draw from this the idea that there is only so much atonement available in the Lord Jesus (?) But advocates of definite atonement have almost always agreed that any consideration of the idea is not because there is a lack, or an insufficiency in the death of Jesus. They almost always say that had God wanted to, he could have designed an atonement sufficient for all. The instructions are the opposite of Williamson’s suggestion. As many Israelites as there are, this determines how many lambs are needed. The distribution is “according to the number of persons.” Ex. 12:4.

Secondly, Williamson speaks of a “carefully qualified group of people within each household.” But where is this in the instructions to Israel? On the contrary, “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb.” (12:3) and “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” (12:6) It is, rather, an indiscriminate group, an all-encompassing command—all the congregation and the whole assembly. What would fit here is an affirmation of the formula of Peter Lombard, the medieval theologian who is first credited with the explanation that the death of Christ is sufficient for all, but efficient for some. It is easy to see in the command to the whole assembly a “sufficient for all” idea.

The other point Williamson makes is that “only those who actually participated in the Passover meal could find refuge behind the blood-smeared door.” Here, too, it is easy to see this as the exercise of faith, the very thing that those on the other side of the question from Williamson aver to be happening in the atonement. To partake in it requires faith. In the Passover, there is no merit in the Israelites, and there is no idea of election of some only. Later in the chapter, Williamson does expand on the idea that to be part of the nation of Israel alone was not enough to be truly elect. This comes as he discusses the covenant idea, and that there are those in the covenant, who are not truly elect. But whatever support there is for this in the history of Israel, it is not shown by the Passover. Why? Because the Passover is all-inclusive, and the distinction is not whether one is truly elect or not, but simply whether one is in the house. The Israelites who believed God’s Word were in a house with blood smeared on the door.

But we should also note that the Passover itself is not a general judgement, that is, it wasn’t all those in the house who were subject to death, but only the firstborn. Nor was it all the Egyptians who were killed, but only the firstborn. This further removes the rite from a one to one equivalency with atonement and redemption as Williamson wants to posit.

Finally, the New Testament clearly indicates the Passover as a type. “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.” One can run into difficulties in constructing doctrine from pictures, that is, from being specific about New Testament doctrines from Old Testament types. There is simply not this level of equivalency. In the establishment of the Davidic covenant, God tells David
“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Sam. 7:12-14)

Solomon is thus a type of Christ. The Psalms contain this idea as well. But if we insist that the details of the type must reflect the antitype exactly, then we have this: “When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men.” (2 Sam 7:14) This was true of Solomon, but it is certainly not true of Christ. Seeking doctrine from types is thus fraught with challenges.

There are some arguments for definite atonement—but the Passover is not among them. Indeed, I think Williamson has, if anything, scored a basket in the other team’s hoop. The details in Exodus 12 would make a better case for unlimited atonement. I continue my study of the topic, and I know many writers and scholars I respect hold to definite atonement. I’m not there, and the Passover won’t get me there.

[1] Paul Williamson, “Because He Loved Your Forefathers: Election, Atonement, and Intercession in the Pentateuch” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, eds. (Wheaton, Crossway, 2013), 228.

[2] Williamson, 231-232.

The Gospel is in Leviticus

“Moses and all the prophets” includes the 3rd book of the Torah.

It’s somewhat of an evangelical applause line to say that you’ve tried to read through the Bible in a year, but got bogged down in Leviticus. Brothers and sisters, I’d like to issue an appeal that we stop disparaging the book as some cryptic, impossible-to-understand work that we somehow tolerate because it’s part of the Hebrew Bible. Instead, let’s look at Leviticus as the rich trove of symbols and types of Christ that it is. A few things to keep in mind:

1. The book is not hard to understand.
Many give the impression that the words and language of Leviticus are so difficult, so hard, that understanding the book is almost impossible. It’s simply not the case. Our English Bible translations of Leviticus make it no more difficult than Genesis or Exodus. Are there cultural differences that we might not readily understand? Of course, but that’s quite different than saying the words make no sense. Much of the Old Testament is culturally foreign to us, yet there is blessing in reading, and striving to understand it.

2. Jesus himself ratifies our study of it.
In Luke 24, Jesus twice points the disciples to the writings Moses—which includes Leviticus—as christological.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 24:27

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 24:44

The offerings, which take up the first 6 chapters of the book, are pointing forward to the one offering of Jesus. He is the burnt offering, wholly given over to do his Father’s will, “a pleasing aroma.” (Lev 1)
The Lord Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses. (Lev 5, the trespass offering.) Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Lev 17:11) is gospel truth, and it is here in Leviticus.

3. Other parts of the New Testament reinforce Leviticus as christological.
By contrast, we learn that what the high priest does on the Day of Atonement (Lev 23), Jesus has done once for all.
Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:25-26)
Indeed, one can make that the case that a clear understanding of the book of Hebrews, and the truths it means to convey (all the “betters”) is only possible when we understand the things Leviticus sets forth.

There are certainly parts of the book that have to do with the life of Israel in the land, but even then, we can still draw lessons. God is interested in the holiness of his people, that they keep separate from sin.
If you stop reading once you reach the end of Exodus, you’re missing out on some truth the Holy Spirit wants to teach you.

The Red Sea Crossing in the Psalms: Returning to Redemption

One of the notable things about the Psalms is the frequency of citations to the crossing of the Red Sea when Israel came out of Egypt. This event was a climax in the life of the people of God in the Old Testament. They were spared God’s judgment in the Passover, when he killed all the firstborn of Egypt. Following this, not only did Pharaoh let them go, he compelled them to leave. They stood at the banks of the Red Sea, seemingly trapped between the water in front of them, and the Egyptians behind them.
But of course God intervened, and parted the waters. Exodus 14 records the denouement:
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Ex. 14:27-29.
When we come to the Psalms, the writer returns again and again to this. Beginning in Ps. 66:5-6:
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
 
Also, Ps. 78:12-13:
 
In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
 
Other places where this is found are, Ps. 74, 77, 106, 114, 136.
 
The writers of Psalms return to this event so frequently because it is seminal in the life of God’s people. It is a visible deliverance from their enemies. In a way, it is is the public declaration of the separation God effected in the Passover. Going back to what God did in letting Israel pass through the waters, even as he judged the Egyptians, is an encouragement to the people to remember God’s mighty works. Even as he did so long ago, so will he do again. For the Christian, the cross and the resurrection are these events. Paul does indeed link the death of Christ to the Passover, but he doesn’t explicitly link the Red Sea crossing with resurrection, so I hold this picture loosely. He does indeed speak of being baptized into Moses, and elsewhere baptism is a presented as a picture of death and resurrection, but it is a connection to a connection.
 
By returning to God’s mighty works, his accomplishments in the cross and the empty tomb, we encourage our hearts that just as he did so long ago, the same God is there for us. We have an advocate at God’s right hand, we have one who has passed through death, and who makes intercession for us. God’s past actions are indeed a demonstration that he can and will work on behalf of his people in the future.

Notes from the Resistance: How the Old Testament Continues to Assert its Value

I have written before about the “unhitching” of the Old Testament from the New, and the furor caused by some suggestions Andy Stanley made in his preaching. My previous post considered some statements he had made in public speaking. Having now read his book, Irresistible, I want to consider some of what’s in it and whether it offers a better explanation of his public preaching. There was a strong reaction against Stanley, and the invocation of “Marcionism” over what he was saying. I don’t believe he has embraced full blown Marcionism. Stanley is not claiming there is a separate God in the Old Testament from the God of the New, but at the same time, I can’t go with him in his suggestions that Christianity does not need the Old Testament.

The Mosaic Covenant and the Christian

Stanley is absolutely correct in highlighting the differences between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. He enumerates the long centuries of Judaizing that have plagued the church, including some discontinuities between Old and New Covenants. “Why do some churches have priests?” (p. 90) Stanley points out the temporality between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. (“Jesus had come to put in place something designed to fulfill and replace all that had been in place before.” (p. 77) The types and shadows of the law find their fulfillment in Jesus, as Hebrews explains) and the Mosaic Covenant is brought to an an end by Jesus, as 2nd Corinthians 3, among other places, explains. Stanley also is right in saying that the Old Covenant is an all-or-nothing proposition. You can’t cherry pick it. (p. 143) (Though this is indeed what many people do with the laws of the Mosaic Covenant.)
He correctly notes the real continuity is between the Abrahamic Covenant (a covenant that preceded the Mosaic) and the New. “The inauguration of a new covenant signaled the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.” (p. 85)

The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian

Earlier in the book, Stanley writes, “I’m not discounting the importance of the Jewish Scriptures. When it comes to Jewish sacred texts, I’m with Jesus, his view is my view.” (p. 69) But the later parts of the book undercut this statement, and indeed, demonstrate a view that is quite different from the one Jesus had. At the core of much of what Stanley worries about is the way in which the Old Covenant can “get in the way” of our evangelizing. (This is my paraphrase of his concern.) In short, if we have to explain why there is so much violence, arcane rules, in short—defend the harmony of both Testaments, it is something that too few Christians can do in a way that convinces non-Christians or new believers. The result is that those who hear the gospel balk at so much of what is in the Bible, while new Christians can end up “de-converted” because the tension has become too great for them to reconcile.

The problem with this approach is that it is not the way Jesus or the apostles dealt with the Jewish Scriptures. Stanley too often conflates Old Covenant with Hebrew Scripture. “Christianity has a compelling, verifiable, historical story to tell. The moment we anchor our story to an old covenant narrative and worldview, we lose our case in the marketplace.” (p. 158) Perhaps Stanley is just being inexact here, not distinguishing enough between Mosaic Covenant and Hebrew Bible, but it does bring the mind what Jesus himself said in Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” While the reference to Moses includes the history of Abraham, the inclusion of “all the Prophets” makes it very likely that Jesus spoke of all 5 books of the Pentateuch and the rest of Israel’s history, too. That is, he leveraged the Jewish Scriptures to demonstrate that he, the Christ, is found throughout. That is even more undeniable by what Luke records later in the chapter. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Lk. 24:45. The Lord Jesus himself shows how even in the law—obsolete as it is—points us to him.
Paul wrote that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully. Without question, there is a lot of unlawful and unwise use of the law today, but Paul also showed how justification by faith is found in the “law” as well, that is, in Moses. But Stanley dismisses this sort of use of the Hebrew Scriptures with such statements as “The Jewish Scriptures describe God’s activity in connection to one particular people group.” (p. 161) This is at odds with apostolic use of the Jewish Scriptures. When Paul writes that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to justification by faith, and that this justification is for both Jew and Gentile (Rom 3:21-23) it is not a description of God’s activity only with the Jews.

How do you know what you know?

A lot of Stanley’s method is to get beyond a mere reliance on things like “the Bible says” in order to convince unbelievers of the truth of the Christian gospel. “As part of my shift, I stopped leveraging the authority of Scripture, and began leveraging the authority and stories of the people beyond Scripture.” (p. 314) But this is wordplay. How do we know what Jesus said, or what Paul said? We only know it because of what we have written in Scripture. Appealing to eyewitnesses was valid as long as there remained living eyewitnesses. But now we have the record of those eyewitnesses, and to suggest the written record is somehow less valuable, less trustworthy, is dangerous. I can’t help wondering about Stanley’s view of the power of God’s word. That is, in his concern to be relevant to the surrounding culture with the gospel, he seems to dismiss God’s ability to use his word to convict and convert, as if our time and culture are unique. I don’t believe they are, nor do I think the gospel somehow faces longer odds than it ever has. God’s word is still powerful, living and active. We don’t need to accommodate it to the culture, we need to preach it.

Love above all

One of the things Stanley points out in the stark difference between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant is that love is the guiding principle of our ethic now. How do we treat others? With love. Why do we not murder? Not because the 6th Commandment says not to, but because as followers of Jesus it is wholly unloving to do so. Indeed, Paul exhorts us “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Eph 5:1-2. All of this is true, but if we cast aside the authority of Scripture, what keeps us from applying the love principle not as God defines it, but as we do? In other words, what prevents someone from saying that just as the Hebrew Scriptures have no lasting applicability to believers now, in fact, neither does the New Testament have any such applicability. What matters above all else is love, and if we want to win in the marketplace of ideas, we have to go to what they understand. Much of Western culture is decrying Christianity and the ethic that accompanies it as intolerant and unloving. I see no reason at all for someone who takes Stanley’s logic about the Hebrew Scriptures from doing the same thing with the New Testament. Indeed, there are examples all around of many who have done just that.

Stanley hints at the proper solution to the dilemma he addresses, and that is, to rightly divide the Word; to see what is applicable to Israel, and what is applicable to Christians. But that is not the same as casting aside the Hebrew Bible as no longer relevant. Paul wrote to Timothy that “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:15) Paul is talking about the Hebrew Scriptures when he says that are able to make wise unto salvation. In other words, there is gospel in the Old Testament.
No one doubts that reconciling the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament presents challenges, but the solution to this is not capitulation, but further study. The faithfulness of God to his people in the Old Testament is a vivid portrait to us of our promise-keeping God. The sentiments expressed in the Psalms, while not all of them are those we can echo, are yet a rich trove of praise to the God whose lovingkindness endures forever. Christians today need encouragement that there is inestimable value in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are as surely God’s Word as the latter 27 books.

Is a Threefold Division of Law Valid?

Making sense of the Mosaic Law in the current age is not an easy task. While there are many opinions, one that is more common across several different traditions is to treat the law in a threefold way. That is, the commands of the Old Testament are grouped together into moral, civil, and ceremonial. One can see that the law prohibiting the eating of shellfish or fish lacking scales (Lev 11:10) is a ceremonial law, as are the regulations governing the sacrificial offerings in the first six chapters of Leviticus. One could say that the cities of refuge, outlined in Numbers 35 deal with civil matters, for they stipulate a matter of administering justice in Israel.

When it comes to moral law, it becomes more difficult. Are the laws governing various aspects of life in the holiness code of Leviticus 18-22 not moral?

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:13-14)

Why was Israel prohibited from doing these things? Because they were wrong, immoral. Can we make such a clean division between moral, civil, and ceremonial as most people assume? Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum observe the following:

It is common to categorize and classify the laws as (a) moral, (b) civil, and (c) ceremonial, but this classification is foreign to the material and imposed upon it from the outside rather than arising from the material and being clearly marked by the literary structure of the text. In fact, the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws are all mixed together, not only in the Judgments or ordinances but in the Ten Words as well (the Sabbath may be properly classified as ceremonial).”[1]

While it’s possible to assign the Mosaic laws to various aspects of life in Israel, this becomes quite problematic when the three categories are used as a foundation for the Mosaic law in the lives of believers today. In other words, we can catalog the laws according to these divisions, but we cannot use those divisions to say that two out three are gone, but the third remains, and Christians are obligated to obey these laws.

This is important because when it comes to moral law, the Ten Commandments are for many, the shorthand for this. However, we’ve seen this to be incorrect on a couple of points. Moral laws certainly exist outside of the Ten, and even within them, the Fourth Commandment is regarded as ceremonial by almost everyone. Even if it’s not, it’s treated with such flexibility and looseness that those who say they are keeping it are in fact not doing so. (The Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday and if you’ve ever tidied up the house on Saturday, you’ve broken the Sabbath.)

An objection one often hears is that “Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament.” Indeed, they are, but the question is how they are. Consider Romans 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Paul’s citing of the commandments is almost parenthetical here. His true interest is in promoting love among these believers. Love, he says, is the fulfillment of the law. But note what is not here. He does not say “You must keep these commandments.” They are not inconsistent with his own teaching, but love goes beyond this. I could keep the law, but yet still not love. Paul most commonly uses the commandments as illustrations, as wisdom, but he never says believers must obey the Ten Commandments.

Paul also quotes the fifth commandment to the Ephesian church: “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” It is important to note that this citation comes after his own command to these believers: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1). In other words, Paul does not begin with the Mosaic commandment, but rather with his own apostolic instruction to the church. He quotes the fifth commandment to demonstrate that his own application is consistent with what the Decalogue requires, but goes beyond it.

Everywhere in the New Testament, the law is treated as a unit, and indivisible. Paul speaks only of law, not of moral, ceremonial, or civil. And indeed when he makes his most definitive statements about believers released from obligation to law, he draws his examples from those very portions styled “the moral law.” In Romans 7, Paul quotes the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” and goes on to say, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

Is Paul speaking of something civil or ceremonial? Clearly not. The Tenth Commandment is part of the “moral law,” yet just a few verses before this Paul has said “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ.” (Rom. 7:4) We can only conclude that when Paul says we have died to the law, he means all of it, including the Ten Commandments. Christian holiness is measured on a different axis from the Mosaic Law. It is conformity to Christ, walking by the Spirit, and indeed, being free from the dominion of sin because we are not under the law. (Rom 6:14) For a fuller discussion, see If One Uses It Lawfully: The Law of Moses and the Christian Life.

[1] Gentry, Peter John, and Stephen J. Wellum. Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), p. 384.

Is it for Oxen that God is Concerned? Using the Law Wisely

The way we understand the law of Moses in the Christian life is a perennial topic. The current dust-up with Andy Stanley’s view that the Old Testament is not relevant for Christan faith has complicated this. While Stanley has made statements that proclaim the Christian’s freedom from the Mosaic Law, a position that is demonstrable from the New Testament, he has confused the issue with his views on the Old Testament itself. In their critiques of Stanley, several writers have picked up on this theme and countered with the traditional Reformed view that the law remains a standard for believers. Doesn’t Paul cite several commandments in Romans 13 when writing to these Christians? Doesn’t he refer to the 5th commandment when writing to the Ephesians? He does indeed, but one can’t look to these passages alone to arrive at a coherent view of the Mosaic Law in the New Testament. And a careful examination of just these two examples will show that Paul doesn’t make an explicit appeal to obey the law. Rather, he cites the law as consistent with his own teaching, but it is apostolic instruction, not Mosaic statute that remains authoritative for the Christian.

In 1 Corinthian 9, Paul cites the law of Moses to make a point that those who serve in the gospel ministry have a right to make their living by it, to be supported in their work. But Paul chooses an odd passage to illustrate this.
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4, and there are a few observations we can make from Paul’s use of this. First, the idea that there is a division in the law between moral, civil, and ceremonial is not sustainable from the biblical evidence. Paul only speaks of “law,” he never has these other categories for it. While it’s popular to say we’re released from the civil and ceremonial law, and the moral law remains, nothing Paul says indicates this. He says simply, “We are released from the law.” (Rom. 7:4) Second, he is using the law here as wisdom, as instruction, and applying it in a way that is not legal, but rather typological. The apostle asks the question “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake?” He answers it by saying “It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?” (1 Cor 9:10-12)
The other place where Paul quotes this 1 Tim 5:18, and the context is similar. Paul affirms that those who have given themselves to the work of the gospel should be supported. The ones who labor in preaching and teaching are worthy of double honor. We honor them with respect, but the double honor is to pay them as well.

In his excellent work Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, Brian S. Rosner points out that this is one of the things the apostle Paul does with the law, he reappropriates it as wisdom and prophecy, but for Christians, it is no longer a binding covenant. This is important as we consider how the Old Testament relates to the New. It is not necessary to jettison the entire Hebrew Bible (as Andy Stanley trends toward) in order to say that the Mosaic Covenant—all of it— is gone. Keeping the law is not how Christians relate to God. Nevertheless, the Old Testament contains the law and has instruction for us that it did not for the original audience. In each case where the Mosaic law is cited in the New Testament, there is this sense of using the law as wisdom, of reappropriating it in a way the nation of Israel did not, and could not. They were bound to obey it in its plain sense. Christians are not. For those who insist that Christian’s are obligated to keep the law, even if they limit this only to the Decalogue, the question is, what happens when we break it? Is there the punishment that attended the law in the Old Testament? No, because we are free from condemnation. Indeed we are free because we are free from the law as a whole. A treatment of the Mosaic law that says Christians must keep the Ten Commandments, but admits there is no consequence for breaking them, is not really law. And this is where all points on the spectrum should agree, we don’t actually keep the law because there is no punishment with the inevitable breaking of the law. We use the law in other ways, we reappropriate it in other ways. We use it for guidance, for wisdom, but in the age where we walk by the Spirit, we are not under law. A fuller exposition of this is found in my book, If One Uses It Lawfully: The Law of Moses and the Christian Life.

Historical Adam and the Doctrine of Salvation

The early record of Genesis is the locus of all manner of speculation, from young earth creationists to allegorical views that see the book as little more than one tribe’s attempt to explain the mysteries of the cosmos. Aside from how God has created all things seen and unseen is the question of whether the first man was an actual being, or whether he is simply a genus, a middle eastern explanation of humanity. The question, in short, is whether Adam is an historical figure. If there is no historical Adam, it alters much more than cosmology. The doctrine of soteriology is likewise affected. Apart from what is in Genesis itself, one has to consider other parts of Scripture as commentary.
Adam as federal head
 
The record of the fall includes Adam eating of the tree, but he does so after Eve presents him with the fruit. She had already eaten, but the race was not plunged into sin when she did so. Adam, as head, acts representatively when he sinned and thus we read “For as in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22) Because he was first created, Adam is in a position of headship—and of greater responsibility. Culture cannot alter this creation order. Adam as the head of the human race plunged his progeny into sin by his rebellion. In Romans Paul is equally clear as he is in 1 Corinthians. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” (Rom 5:12) This presupposes an historical Adam, one man. Our experience of sin and its consequences is not metaphorical or allegorical, but actual. This, too, argues for an historical Adam.
 
Christ as federal head
 
Again in 1 Corinthians, Paul quotes from Genesis 2:7 when he says “Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. He makes the connection between Adam and Christ. The one, a living being, an actual man, and the second a life-giving Spirit, but importantly he is called the “the last Adam.” That parallelism is present in Romans 5 when Paul speaks of “the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Rom 5:14) Adam, acting representatively is a type of Christ, who also acted representatively. A few verses lated, Paul says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17) There is nothing mystical or figurative about Adam’s sin here. It is the trespass of one man. Since that trespass is real and its consequences could scarcely be more serious for Paul, it requires an historical Adam. The fact of Adam leads to the fact of the incarnation of the man Christ Jesus and his life-giving sacrifice. It was a true and real body he had that suffered on the cross and a true and real resurrection that justifies those who trust in him.
 
If we want a Savior whose sacrifice can be applied to the many, we need to see that Scripture likewise presents the first man whose sin applies to the many. To reject this is to reject a major thesis of apostolic doctrine about salvation. The early chapters of Genesis are not just about creation, but about new creation as well.

The Old Covenant is not the Hebrew Bible: The Hitch in Andy Stanley’s Recommendation

A recent sermon by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has a lot of people criticizing him for everything from poorly worded teaching to Marcionism. Stanley doesn’t have a single text he preached from but loosely bases his sermon on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and Galatians 2. His points are not well stated, and this is the source of the trouble. He wants to echo the sentiments of the apostles to say that when Gentiles come to faith, it is not necessary that they keep the law of Moses. This was the judgment of the Council and the substance of the Galatian epistle. Had Stanley stuck to that, his message wouldn’t have raised much ire. But he goes on say some things that are untrue and unhelpful. I don’t think they rise to the level of heresy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t problematic.
 
Christianity is tethered to the Hebrew Bible
 
Stanley’s ministry is a seeker-sensitive model, and that informs how he presents his teaching. For people who haven’t grown up in the church, the Old Testament is a foreign country. To provide a more pleasant journey, Stanley seems to want to stick to what’s essential and drop what isn’t. And this is where he first goes wrong. At 4:06 in the message, he says this:
“When the church launched, the foundation of the faith of the early Christians was not a book (they didn’t have one.) It wasn’t the Bible, (there wasn’t one). It wasn’t the Old Covenant, or what we call the Old Testament or what they called the Law and the Prophets, because that didn’t tell the story of Jesus. The foundation of the faith for the early church was an event, it was the resurrection of Jesus.”
 
This sets up a false dichotomy. The resurrection of Jesus is the founding act of the church, but that doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is not the foundation of the church. Indeed, when the apostles preach the gospel in Acts, they constantly appeal to the Hebrew Bible (which they had) as the proof for the gospel. It is untrue to say the Jews had no Bible. When Paul writes to Timothy about the Sacred Scriptures he knew from his youth, he is referring to the Hebrew Bible. And when Jesus himself speaks to the two on the Emmaus road, he says “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:47)
The church cannot do without the Hebrew Bible because every doctrine of Scripture is there. Without question, there is progress in revelation, but the New Testament completes and does not negate the Old Testament. At a time of widespread biblical illiteracy, Christians should pay more, not less attention to the Old Testament.
 
The Mosaic Law is not the standard for Christians
 
The ironic and sad part of this controversy is that Stanley’s main point is an entirely valid one. Christians do not relate to God on the basis of the Mosaic law. While there is a continuum of views on this point, to some extent all Christians agree with Stanley on this. We do not insist on circumcision as a Christian ordinance, we do not keep the dietary laws, and we do not keep the vast majority of the other parts of the Mosaic code. While it’s convenient to dismiss a large part of the Mosaic law by partitioning it into moral, civil, and ceremonial, the apostle Paul and the New Testament never do this. The law is a unit in the New Testament, and when Paul tells the Romans that they have died to the law, there is no caveat that of course, the moral law remains. This is what makes Stanley’s remarks unfortunate. He notes that the standard for believers is actually much higher than the law of Moses. That is true, but it got lost in his denigration of the Hebrew Bible as Scripture.
 
If we read apostolic teaching carefully, Paul affirms we are released from the law, but when he tells the Galatians, he argues for this by saying “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (Gal. 4:21) What does Paul mean by the law? It’s clarified later in the chapter. “But what does the Scripture say?” (Gal 4:30) We need the Hebrew Bible as the foundation of our faith, but it’s equally true that the New Testament clarifies that our relationship to the law is not what it was for believers under the Mosaic Covenant. When Stanley says “Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures” he conflates two things he should not. We are not under the law of Moses is by no means the same thing as dispensing with the Jewish Scriptures. We cannot do without with the Hebrew Bible and maintain the foundations of the Christian faith. In other words, the Old (Mosaic) Covenant is not the same as the Old Testament Scriptures. I hope Andy Stanley takes the opportunity to make this clear.