What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
A covenant is a contract, an agreement, between two parties. When God is one of those parties, it is a very serious contract, a sacred agreement. In fact, God looked at the Old Covenant as a "marriage" contract between Himself and Israel. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He tells Israel, "I am married to you" (Jeremiah 3:14). He considered Israel to be His wife! Almost a millennium after the covenant's ratification, Jeremiah quotes God as He remembers the events of Mount Sinai: "the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness" (Jeremiah 2:2).
In Ezekiel 16:8, the prophet Ezekiel, quoting God, connects the Old Covenant with marriage:
When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.
Searching for Israel (Part Three): The Old Covenant
This could be called the preface to the Old Covenant, as it presents in stark terms what the covenant is about. He lists its three main facets:
1. They were to obey His commands and keep His covenant. Recall that God chose Abraham because he would teach his children how to keep His way. The covenant set out the terms for their doing this. This was the Israelites' primary responsibility under the agreement.
2. They were to be a special treasure to Him—a people unlike all others in their relationship to God. The Israelites were to submit to God, and He in turn would help them, blessing and protecting them as only the great Creator God could. Thus, the covenant contained reciprocal responsibilities and benefits.
3. They were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This implies two additional concepts:
a. As a kingdom of priests, they were to fill the role of mediator or liaison between God and the other peoples of the earth. Just as He would work through the Levitical priesthood to the children of Israel, God would work through the people of Israel to the rest of the world.
b. As a holy nation, they would be set apart or separate from all other nations. He would require of them, as the people with and through whom He would work, that they be different, a cut above, of a higher standard. They had a responsibility to be a model for the Gentiles to observe and emulate.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)
Some time ago, in his "A Moment of Hope" radio commentary, a local preacher spoke of the power of words and how, if we want our lives to be hopeful, we need to keep our speech positive. He then quoted Proverbs 18:21 as wisdom on the subject: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit."
So far, everything was fine—and then he went and spoiled it by saying (paraphrasing), "You can find that in the Jewish Testament of your Bible."
The Jewish Testament? What is that? There is no such thing! We could call the Old Testament "the Hebrew Testament" with some legitimacy because it was written in Hebrew, but what would make it Jewish? Was he trying to say that, if we read only the Old Testament, we would become followers of Judaism? Or, that the Jews somehow own the Old Testament? Or, that because the Old Testament is revered by Jews as their holy book, it is somehow inferior to "the Christian Testament?"
Certainly, the Bible never calls the Old Testament "the Jewish Testament." Paul calls it "the Holy Scriptures" in II Timothy 3:15. Jesus calls it "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms" in Luke 24:44. In many places, the writers simply refer to it as "the word [of God or of the Lord]" or "the Scripture(s)." The only hint that the Old Testament "belongs" to the Jews is a misinterpretation of Romans 3:2, "to them were committed the oracles of God." This means only that the Jews are responsible for their accurate transmission throughout history, not that they apply only to Jews or that Jews exclusively possess them in some way.
No, this all stems from the mistaken idea that the Old Testament is the Old Covenant, "becoming obsolete and growing old . . . ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13), while the New Testament is the New Covenant. Thus, to a "Christian" under the New Covenant, anything that appears in the Old Testament is of lesser value than what appears in the New Testament. This error has led to countless misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the message Jesus brought to mankind.
In fact, the New Testament cannot be understood without the foundation of the Old Testament—and not just in historical terms. Paul is not overstating things when he says the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). After His resurrection, Jesus "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, . . . expounded to [the disciples] in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27). Later, "He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures" (verse 45). Which Scriptures? The Old Testament, of course, the only ones written at the time!
Just these few verses say that we New Covenant Christians cannot understand Jesus Christ, His doctrine, His church, and God's plan without the Old Testament. We can see this by how frequently the apostles quote from the writings of Moses, David, and the prophets to support and fill out their doctrinal teachings. There is hardly a page in the New Testament that does not have a quotation or allusion to the Old Testament on it. It is a vital part of New Covenant—New Testament—Christianity!
Lack of space does not permit an explanation of the differences between the Old Covenant and the New. However, let it suffice to say that the major problem in the Old Covenant was the people with whom God made it (see Hebrews 8:7-12; Romans 8:3). The New Covenant is modeled after the Old with its basic law, the Ten Commandments, retained in all its force and wisdom. In fact, Jesus makes it plain that He added intent to the law's scope so that it is now stricter under the New Covenant (Matthew 5:17-48)!
In the end, we must conclude that the Bible is a whole with two parts, which came as a result of the ministry of Jesus Christ and the languages in which the two parts were penned. The theology and the goal of the instruction in the two are the same. The same God who never changes rules, acts, and speaks in both. Those who believed and lived by faith in both eras will receive the same gift of eternal life (I Thessalonians 4:14-17; Hebrews 11:40).
Please be aware of this false notion of the Old Testament's inferiority to the New, as it colors a great deal of "Christian" biblical commentary. The Word of God is God's Word, whether spoken in 1400 BC or AD 60. Above all, remember our Savior's instruction, quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Essays on Bible Study
Forever does not always mean "without end" in biblical usage, but it does here. Sometimes forever means "as long as conditions exist." Here, we are talking about a covenant, commandments, and about righteousness that endure forever (verses 3, 8-10—and strongly implied in verses 5 and 7). In six out of ten verses, various words indicate "time without end" and reinforce "forever and ever."
The covenant of which the psalmist writes is the New Covenant, the one that will endure forever—not the Old Covenant. In Hebrews 8, the Old Covenant is declared to be obsolete! The important point is that God's commandments are connected to the covenant that will last forever. The commandments are definitely not done away with the coming of the New Covenant. In this Psalm—likely written during the time of Ezra—God says that His commandments are not done away with the coming of a covenant that will last forever.
However, the notion in Protestantism is that, since the Old Covenant is done away with, then God's law is also done away with. So, Protestant theologians decisively deal with the Old Covenant and the law of God in one fell swoop, but it is not correct. It does neatly get God's law out of the way, revealing an attitude behind their theology.
Their teaching continues by stating that a reason it had to be done away is that God's law is too difficult to keep—that it is harsh and enslaving. They leave one with the definite impression that the reason it did not work - the fault, the flaw in the whole mix—was God! Human nature is certainly agreeable to this because it is ever willing to shift the blame elsewhere to justify its conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)
Jeremiah says that God never commanded offerings and sacrifices when the Old Covenant was made! He is talking about the generation to whom God gave His law and with whom He made the Old Covenant. It is easily understood why no other sacrifices are given in the Old Covenant except for the Passover (see Exodus 23:18). God does not mention them because He did not require them under the terms of the Old Covenant. All He wanted Israel to do was to keep the Ten Commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that He had already given to them with one exception—the Passover, the only sacrifice that He required!
This is one reason why the New Covenant did not perpetuate the other sacrifices, even though the Old Covenant became obsolete: The sacrifices were never a part of it in the first place. In terms of Passover, the symbols changed to bread and wine, but we still keep it.
There are three reasons why true Christians keep Passover even though it is also part of the Old Covenant. First, like the Ten Commandments, they preceded the making of the Old Covenant. Passover was commanded in Exodus 12, enforced, and practiced before Israel ever got to Mt. Sinai. Second, it is commanded in the New Testament and shown by the example of Christ and the apostles. Third, Passover is included within the statutes of God as a corollary of the fourth commandment. It is a festival and therefore to be kept.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seventeen)
As early as the seventh century BC, during the lifetime of the prophet Jeremiah, God assured humanity that He had prepared a new covenant, which was ready to be presented and ratified between God and men. The specific time of its institution was not revealed then, only that He would make it with a reunited Israel and Judah. However, the Bible shows that God did not wait for physical Israel and Judah's reunification into one nation, but instead, He introduced the New Covenant into the Christian church as a precursor agreement through and under Jesus Christ as the church began. This was part of God's Plan, and He is continuing to use its standards to prepare a people within the present-day church to fulfill its operations under Jesus Christ when Israel and Judah reunite after His return (Revelation 14:1-5).
The New Testament teaches that the Temple sacrifices and ceremonies commanded under the Old Covenant are indeed set aside. But God's setting aside of the ceremonial focus, as explored and expounded in the epistle to the Hebrews, does not automatically do away with any other laws dealing with public and private behavior relating to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
God's institution of the New Covenant within the church has been a more intimate and effective guide for producing higher-quality relationships with Him and His Family than the Old Covenant. When combined with His appointment of Jesus Christ as our spiritual High Priest, this system features a personal, anytime, all-the-time relationship with Him that enhances the creation of the spiritual characteristics that God desires in His children. These elements allow us access to God that those under the Old Covenant did not have. We can approach Him anytime through Christ!
Much of the book of Hebrews is, according to chapter 8, focused on Jesus Christ's qualifications for fulfilling His responsibilities within the spiritual process that God has instituted under the New Covenant. Jesus Himself teaches us about our vital need of Him in John 15:4-6.
The close intimacy of the relationship with Jesus Christ that the New Covenant provides for us makes it extremely valuable to us. In turn, our spiritual relationship with the Father and Son influences our life's activities. His role is to assist us in making good spiritual use of the gifts God has made available to us when we accepted the New Covenant (Romans 5:1-5). Our goal now is to bring glory to God by yielding to His creative genius and power as we live our lives, being formed into Christ's character image. Jesus Christ never sinned. It is this quality of righteous living that honors the Father. Thus, we are called to walk in the steps of our Savior. Peter writes in I Peter 2:21-22, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.'”
The New Covenant does not abolish the Ten Commandments at all. Jesus' life proves that. We are to follow what He did. God's appointment of Jesus Christ as High Priest to aid us and His institution of a more effective system for preparing us for His Kingdom removed the typical Temple system of animal sacrifices and ceremonies. He replaced them with the far superior personal, individual, and spiritual attentions of Jesus Christ. At the same time, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raises our behavioral responsibilities, teaching us to keep the commandments in their spirit. This elevated standard makes them more refining and restraining than they are in the mere letter.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Two)
We are obviously dealing with a marriage relationship between God and Jerusalem, representing all of Israel. The woman Israel was not faithful, and harlotry entered the relationship. From verse 15 on, the marriage relationship described here, the harlotry, the fornication, and the adultery of the woman is either inferred or directly stated in virtually every verse in this long chapter. In one verse after another, God is telling how she committed harlotry and why.
The liberal Interpreter's Bible Commentary says, "Israel here is portrayed as a wife who became a pagan temple prostitute." That is a possibility, but I think the more conservative commentaries are more correct. She is portrayed as an unfaithful wife whose unfaithfulness is displayed in a far wider range of life and activities than just religious.
Israel—the nation and wife—is unfaithful in every area and activity of life that a faithful wife or nation would normally be involved in. The sexual orientation of what is written of her sin is used because sexual sins are the most common way unfaithfulness in marriage is shown to the public. It is something that everybody can relate to. However, the real spiritual sin behind all of these sexual terms is gross idolatry. Verse 59 says, "For thus says the Lord GOD; I will even deal with you as you have done, which have despised the oath in breaking the covenant." She broke the marriage covenant and became a harlot.
Israel simply did whatever she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it, and in the manner that she wanted. Her harlotry is clearly the breaking of the terms of the marriage covenant, and it is unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and spiritual in nature. It is primarily idolatry, but all other sins are included. Israel was unfaithful in conducting business, both domestically and internationally. Israel was unfaithful in managing God's great green earth; unfaithful in forgetting who her blessings came from; unfaithful in the way they treated one another in their personal marriages; unfaithful in their childrearing practices.
We all know that the relationship being described here is between God and Israel, and the marriage entered into was the Old Covenant proposed and ratified at Mount Sinai. What God proposed to Israel, and to us under the New Covenant, is an entire way of life. It is not just religion. It is everything that the church ought to be, the example and teacher of things that are right and true.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Five)
Ezekiel 44 takes place either during the Millennium or the Great White Throne Judgment. However, from certain details, it seems that God is referring to the actual ancient Israelites who failed Him under the Old Covenant.
It appears that, when the Israelites rise in the second resurrection, God will make them perform what they failed to do originally! He will give them a chance to repent of their unfaithfulness, to make up, as it were, for the sins of the past. They will know every time they lift a bullock onto the altar, every time they keep the gate, every time they make the showbread, every time they fulfill any of their responsibilities to God, that they failed in their first attempt to keep the terms of their covenant with God.
That is bearing iniquity! They will be reminded in every action that they have sinned and are a sinful people. It will be a hard lesson for Israel, but they will learn it well.
God says in Isaiah 43:21, "This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise." Finally! In the end, when God gives them the complete package of spiritual blessings, the Israelites will glorify God as He intended from the beginning, fulfilling their ultimate purpose.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)
Amos refers to part of the Old Covenant: "If it is torn to pieces by an animal, then he shall bring it as evidence, and he shall not make good what was torn" (Exodus 22:13). If a lamb was stolen from the flock, the shepherd had to repay the owner for it. If a lamb was attacked and devoured by a beast, however, he had to bring proof that he had not stolen it himself. He had to show evidence that what had previously existed had been destroyed.
Whenever Israel is destroyed, the evidence of her demise will not be a leg or part of an ear, but bits of furniture like couches and beds. When others look for proof of this great nation's fate, they will find all the accouterments of opulence, luxury, self-indulgence, indolence—products of their self-concern and self-satisfaction. But they will find no effects of godly spirituality—righteousness, justice, and mercy.
The illustration of the bed and couch may be an ironic reference to Israelite sexual exploits with temple prostitutes and other ritual sexual practices (Isaiah 57:3-9). Additionally, God shows Israel committing spiritual adultery by trusting in other nations rather than God (Isaiah 31:1-3), and the destroyed bed and couch would depict His destruction of the nation for her unfaithfulness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
Condemnation would have meant the death penalty because "the wages of sin is death." Jesus provides us an example of righteous judgment under the terms of the New Covenant. First, let us consider who He is, so that we can see His authority. He is Immanuel—"God with us." If anybody understood the application and administration of the law of God for the church under the New Covenant, it was Jesus of Nazareth. In addition, He is not only Immanuel, He is also the Head of the church.
Why does He make this judgment? Under the terms of the New Covenant, the church is not a civil entity, meaning that it has no civil authority to carry out the death penalty. But does this mean that the law of God is done away? No. Romans 6:23 still says, "The wages of sin is death." Death for sin is merely delayed under the New Covenant. The sin and the death penalty are still there, but the church is in a peculiar position in relation to law. The law of God is not administered by the church as it was by Israel when they made the Old Covenant with God. Both covenants have the same laws, but different administrations.
Are adultery and lust (two sins involved in this episode) still sins under the New Covenant? Absolutely! So is the breaking of the other eight commandments. But the church, out of necessity, has to administer it differently. Forgiveness of this woman is implied, as Jesus, Immanuel, said that He did not condemn her. Even though it is not stated directly, He forgave her.
But did He say, "Go, and don't be concerned about committing adultery again"? Certainly not! As the Head of the church, He said, "Go, and don't break that law again!" He justified her in relation to this one law, and warned her, "Don't break it." His forgiveness did not do away with the law! It is ridiculous, on its face, to conclude that, when grace clears us and brings us into alignment with God and His laws, that it eliminates the law! Only when there is a clear statement or example in God's Word that a law has been put aside should we make such a determination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Four)
Some ministers would like us to believe that justification and salvation by grace through faith just suddenly appeared when the Son of God lived and died in the first century. They imply that God changed His approach to saving men—that He was either losing the battle to Satan, or the way He had given man was just too hard. It also implies that men under the Old Covenant were saved by keeping the law.
Once a person has sinned, he is under the penalty of the law, and his righteousness is not sufficient to justify him before God. Since all have sinned, the whole world is guilty before God. It takes a righteousness apart from lawkeeping to do this.
Then Paul says that this righteousness is revealed in the Old Testament Law and Prophets! The teaching has been there all along, all through the centuries from Moses to Christ and down to our time! God never changed His course. In the first century, He only openly revealed the means, Christ, through whom would come the righteousness that will justify one before God.
Men have always been justified and saved by grace through faith. People who were saved during Old Testament times looked forward in faith to this being accomplished. We look backward at it as a promise and as fulfilled prophecy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God a False Minister?
In Romans 5:6, the apostle Paul declares that “Christ died for the ungodly.” The Greek word for “ungodly” is asebes, meaning “those without any reverence toward God.” The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, showed little reverence toward God. They were heedless when He warned them of the deadly outcome of their disobedience (Genesis 2:17; 3:3).
Since then, all humans have followed their example, falling from God's favor because of unbelief, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Essentially, man is unwilling or unable to recognize God's sovereignty and holiness, which causes him to fall short of being what God intends him to be.
The countermeasure for man's sinfulness is the perfect, sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, culminating in our opportunity for justification (Romans 4:25). The objective of justification is not merely to render a guilt-free verdict for the repentant sinner, nor does it provide a special certificate of eternal life to its recipient. Instead, it is a spiritual act—part of a spiritual process—with spiritual effects that open the way to salvation and eternal life.
Martin G. Collins
The Fruit of Justification
The context of Romans 8 is somewhat different than the context in Hebrews 8, but the principle Paul deals with is similar. Flesh in Romans 8:3 refers to people. The problem with the Old Covenant was not with its laws, but with one of the parties who made the covenant—"them" (Hebrews 8:8). Obviously, he refers to the people who made the covenant. They would not keep its terms!
This is confirmed by the Old Testament record, which shows that Israel never kept the Old Covenant except for brief periods of time. This is why there are so many references in the Old Testament to their being stiff-necked, being fornicators or adulterers, or filled with iniquity.
It was not that Israel could not keep the terms of the covenant but that they would not. God's intent in making the Old Covenant was limited. Israel should have been able to keep its terms. To think otherwise is to accuse God of being unfair in His proposition and having taken advantage of Israel's ignorance. Human nature is always looking for ways to shift blame.
We must be careful, or we might be guilty of doing the same thing under the New Covenant. We could say that it is too hard, and use our complaint as a justification for our failures and bad attitudes. Jesus anticipated this.
In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, He gives five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to a third. The response of the person to whom He gave one talent is, "I knew that You were a hard man, and that You reap where you do not sow. And therefore I hid it" (Matthew 25:24-25). He is saying, "God, You were too hard!" He essentially shifts the blame to God. Jesus understood that human nature never changes: It always wants to shift the blame!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)
1 Corinthians 7:19
Here the apostle Paul tells us that we are to keep the Ten Commandments under the New Covenant. It cannot be refuted. The Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant too. That part is not obsolete; we are still using it in the brand new model. The moral law is still in force and effect. To break the commandments is sin, while to do them is righteousness.
That includes all ten - not just nine. Remember Jesus' declaration that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law. If Jesus speaks the truth, how can people say that the fourth commandment is done away? They directly refute their Savior. It is really quite silly.
Most of the rest of the law, that is, part of the terms of the Old Covenant, still directly apply. How about tithing, part of the Old Covenant? We find that tithing supersedes the Old Covenant. What about the food laws, also is part of the Old Covenant? The New Testament records that they were still being kept by people who should have known better if they were done away. Many of those laws still directly apply.
Even those that may only indirectly apply are still applicable in their spirit, in their intent. Intent suggests "the stretching out." Those laws help to define sin and righteousness in specific situations. Their positive intent is always to bring us to holiness - to the image of God.
We need to discipline ourselves never to look at a law of God - whether it is civil or ceremonial - and assume it has no application for us, as if God just intended it for the Israelites back then. Far from it! God's law (and its intent) is always love and eternal, which is why Jesus says that none of it would pass until all is fulfilled.
Obedience to those laws can neither justify nor save us, but they are the wisdom and the love of God, given to guide us. We should be studying them to understand how to make our lives holier than ever before.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Nine)
1 Corinthians 10:11-13
The high-achievers of this world have many of the same run-of-the-mill problems that everybody experiences. Going to the moon did not change the kind of person that Neil Armstrong would have been anywhere: withdrawn and enigmatic, a puzzling person who just wanted to be alone, as he was described.
It is the same with others. Their fame, the fortune, the academic and professional accomplishments have not proved to be an advantage to help them avoid the very kinds of things that trouble us, so all of their accomplishments, their fame, and their money are not the solutions. They have these things, yet they face the same kinds of problems. In most cases, they cannot meet them well. So, having more brains, money, ease, and fame has not insulated them from divorce, withdrawn and alienated children, emotional breakdowns, and health problems.
By "common," used here in verse 13, God means that the problems are nothing exceptional. They are not beyond the powers of endurance. The word translated "taken" or "overtaken" adds to our understanding of the kind of problem. It is written in the perfect tense and indicates a lasting condition—something one has to deal with every day, a chronic problem. It just does not go away.
"Escape" indicates a way out of a defile, a tight spot, as if surrounded. The word "temptation" is one of the more interesting ones in this whole series of verses because, interestingly, it indicates something designed and unavoidable. It suggests a trial that could become a temptation—something that has been designed and is unavoidable rather than being merely a difficult happenstance, such as a "time and chance" occurrence. It is a test such as a teacher would give. One cannot avoid tests when a student in school.
Overall, because God is faithful, it shows that we can successfully meet our difficulties in life, so there is a great deal of assurance here for those whom God has called. It leaves those He has not called out of this assurance. Life is difficult, but being a high-achiever in this world does not guarantee that one will escape difficulty.
The lessons of the Feast of Pentecost have a great deal to do with pointing us in the right direction to enable us to endure and overcome these lasting, chronic problems common to mankind.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Rejoice in What We Are
2 Corinthians 3:5-9
The subject here is not the doing away with laws but the change in administration of existing laws. Remember that Jesus said not one jot or tittle will pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). In Hebrews 8:10, where the context is the Covenant, the New Covenant is shown to have laws, which will be written in our hearts.
Paul is making a comparison, showing the superiority of the ministry's responsibility under the New Covenant to the priesthood's responsibility under the Old. He compares ink with spirit, stone with flesh, letter with spirit (or intent), and death with life.
The "ministration of death" was Israel's civil administration for punishing violations of civil law. The laws were not done away, but the Old Covenant administration and enforcement of the law was set aside because the church does not have civil authority. It is that simple.
The church does not have civil authority over the state. However, the ministry has the opportunity to play a large part in the ministering of life to those God calls—through teaching and administering God's Word. Thus, the letter killed because the Old Covenant could not provide for life. Words—even of divine origin—cannot produce life. A vitalizing Spirit must be present to charge the words with transforming power.
Under the Old Covenant, God did not promise His Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sin, access into His presence, or eternal life. Jesus raised the civil law from its merely carnal application to the nation of Israel to its spiritual application to the church, which would be drawn from all of mankind, including, of course, the Gentiles.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)
2 Corinthians 3:7
When Paul speaks of "the ministry of death," he refers to the administration of the Old Covenant rather than the Ten Commandments. The Levitical priesthood, a carnal priesthood based on physical descent from Levi, administered the Old Covenant. This covenant provided no promise of eternal life and no means for sinners to receive forgiveness because "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, the people lived and died under the condemnation of the law, and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Another reason why Paul refers to the Old Covenant as "the ministry of death" is that God required the Levitical priesthood to execute those who transgressed certain laws. God's law mandates the death penalty for certain sins like murder and dishonoring parents (Exodus 21:12-17), Sabbath-breaking (Exodus 31:14-15) and certain sexual sins (Leviticus 20:10-13). The priests were responsible to enforce the death penalty by actually putting such transgressors to death in the proscribed manner. In this sense, the Old Covenant ministry was indeed a "ministry of death."
However, why did Paul say that the "ministry of death," the administration of the Old Covenant, was "written and engraved on stones"? Was it not the Ten Commandments that God wrote on two stone tablets? Even though the Ten Commandments were not the covenant itself (a covenant is simply an agreement between two parties), they were the terms of the covenant. Because the Ten Commandments constituted the part of the agreement between God and Israel that the Israelites agreed to keep, the Old Covenant became synonymous with the Ten Commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:13 Moses writes, "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tables of stone." To put it another way, "keeping the Old Covenant" was the same as "keeping the Ten Commandments."
A paraphrase of the first eleven words of II Corinthians 3:7 helps to clarify what Paul means: "But if the administration of the Old Covenant, [the terms of which were] written and engraved on stones. . . ." The Ten Commandments undergirded all the laws that God gave to Israel—laws that the Israelites could not keep. The responsibility to teach these laws to Israel and enforce penalties for disobedience, including the death penalty, fell to the priests.
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11)
When Moses went up Mount Sinai the second time to receive the Ten Commandments, he wrote God's statutes and judgments in a book, and God wrote the Ten Commandments on two tables of stone. This, in essence, finalized the "contract" that God made with Israel.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:27-28)
Verses 29-35 then describe how Moses face shone when he delivered the Ten Commandments and the book of the law to Israel.
So what is passing away? Hebrews 8:13 provides the answer: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The Old Covenant and the Old Covenant ministry, the Levitical priesthood, are passing away, not the Ten Commandments!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Have the Ten Commandments Passed Away?
The account of Acts 15 shows that it is not necessary for salvation for Christians to be physically circumcised. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith without works is dead. We cannot "work" or "earn" our way into the Kingdom of God. The privilege to be a part of the eternal Kingdom is one that God bestows according to His will. Nothing we can do will make God indebted to us or require Him to do something for us, such as grant us admission into His Kingdom.
But at the same time, if we are within the salvation process, we must show forth works, or fruits, that demonstrate our repentance, our attitude, and our desire to live by the rules of His Kingdom. We must live now in the same way that we will be living for eternity—by the laws of God's Kingdom. Our works do not save us; they demonstrate that we are being saved.
Under the Old Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances were primarily physical, and the spiritual aspects were implied. Under the New Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances are primarily spiritual, and the physical aspects are implied. For example, there is no record of Christ ever performing an animal sacrifice, even though the Old Testament requires one in the morning and in the evening. Under the New Covenant, the physical rite is not required, yet the basic law is still there, and is thus manifested in morning and evening prayer, a sacrifice of our time and energy.
In the same regard, the council of Acts 15 shows that circumcision is not one of the works that is required to demonstrate the salvation/sanctification process. When considering eternity and the spiritual bodies that we will have at that time, circumcision is almost insignificant. What is truly important is whether or not the heart has been circumcised. The physical rite was a reminder to the children of Israel that they were separate and distinct, but even in this God was looking for a change of heart so much more so than a modification of the flesh.
David C. Grabbe
The Old Covenant was not added to the Abrahamic Covenant-it was an additional covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant was one covenant, and the Old Covenant was a separate and additional covenant of its own.
These two covenants stand in relation to each other much as the special Sabbath Covenant (Exodus 31:12-17, showing it to be a separate covenant) stands in relation to the Old Covenant. The Sabbath Covenant establishes that the Sabbath is the sign of God's people. It is a separate covenant in addition to the Old Covenant.
This verse explains why the Old Covenant is not added to the Abrahamic Covenant. One cannot add to a contract that has already been signed, sealed, and delivered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Seven)
Galatians 3:17 confirms that, when Paul was talking about the law, he was also talking about the entire Old Covenant. He uses "law" synonymously with "covenant."
The translators have difficulty deciding whether the "covenant" refers to the Mosaic covenant or the one made with Abraham. Most modern translations connect "covenant" to the one God made with Abraham. However, the more literal translations such as the King James version and Young's Literal Translation put the word "covenant" in the sentence so it refers to the Mosaic covenant. The Emphatic Diaglott translates it as, "Now this I affirm, that a covenant-engagement previously ratified by God, the Law, issued four hundred thirty years afterwards does not annul, so as to invalidate the promise." Thus, Paul viewed the law as the symbol and embodiment of the Old Covenant and used the terms "law" and covenant" synonymously.
This agrees with the way the covenant was sometimes referred to in the Old Testament. In II Chronicles 6:11, Solomon says, "And there I have put the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which He made with the children of Israel." Only the two tables of stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments were in the ark (II Chronicles 5:10).
Moses writes, "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13; see Exodus 34:28). Even without this evidence, it is very clear that Paul refers to the two covenants, not just to what we would consider the law itself.
Further, notice how Paul uses the term "law" in Galatians 4:21-23. The births of Ishmael and Isaac are recorded in Genesis 16 and 21. Though this happened long before the Ten Commandments and the other laws were given through Moses, Paul refers to this portion of Scripture as the law! Obviously, Paul uses "law" to mean the entire Pentateuch or Torah (the first five books of the Bible), not just the Commandments. In Galatians 4:24, he specifically mentions the Old and New Covenants.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
At this point in his epistle, it occurs to Paul that it would only be normal for someone to ask the question, "What, then, was the purpose of the Old Covenant?" Thus, verse 19 begins with, "What purpose then does the law serve?" This broad question covers many more specific ones: Why was it needed? Why did God call Israel out of Egypt? Why did God write His Ten Commandments on tables of stone with His own finger? Why did God have Moses write the statutes and judgments in a book? Why did God establish the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle/Temple worship, the washings, oblations, and the sacrifices? What was the purpose of all the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant? Such questions would naturally come to the mind of anyone reading Paul's letter since he emphasizes that our salvation through Christ fulfills the promise made to Abraham. What need is there for another covenant?
The answer he gives is a key to understanding much of everything else he says in Galatians: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." "It was added" means that the Mosaic covenant was in addition to the one God had made with Abraham. But what "transgressions"? Abraham obeyed all of God's laws, commandments, statutes, and ordinances (Genesis 26:5). He taught God's laws to Isaac, who taught them to Jacob. However, after Israel was in Egypt for many years, they forgot them and lived in ignorant transgression of them. Having absorbed so much Egyptian culture in their sojourn, they were even ignorant of the Sabbath day. Paul explains that God "added" the Old Covenant because Israel had gone so far into sin when they lived in Egypt.
Therefore, God had to call Israel out of Egypt and teach them His laws all over again to prepare them for the coming of Christ. He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and Moses wrote the statutes and judgments in a book so that Israel would have a permanent record of His laws and statutes throughout the centuries. God gave them rituals of worship that made them different from other nations, and He forbade them to have anything to do with foreign, pagan customs. Circumcision identified them as a separate and distinct people. These rules and regulations put a hedge around Israel (Isaiah 5:5; Matthew 21:33) to preserve them pure for the coming of Christ.
Just prior to the scripture Paul quotes in Galatians 3:12, God says in Leviticus 18:3,
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
For years, people have wondered how anyone could have transgressed the laws before they were given. Simply put, Paul is talking about the laws of God which have been in full force since creation! When he writes that the Old Covenant was added "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made," he means that the Old Covenant was temporary; Christ would replace it with the New Covenant. Rather than saying that any of God's laws had become obsolete, he is explaining how important it was to preserve the knowledge of God's laws in Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
Throughout his writings, Paul uses the terms "law" and "covenant" interchangeably. One has to use the context to determine whether he is talking about a single statute, a body of laws, a covenant/agreement, or the Pentateuch. Notice how Paul uses the term "law" later in the book of Galatians:
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)
The births of Isaac and Ishmael are recorded in Genesis chapters 16 and 21, hundreds of years before the Old Covenant was given. Yet, Paul refers to that portion of scripture as "the law"! Obviously, in this example Paul uses "law" to mean the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), not just the commandments.
The end of Galatians 3:19, as well as verse 20, show that the "law" here was not just instruction to a group of people by a superior; the reference to a mediator shows that there was an agreement being discussed rather than a decree or a body of laws. If a king makes a law, there is no need for a process of mediation because the matter it is not open for discussion with the people. A mediator is only necessary when both parties have to agree to something, which clearly indicates a covenant rather than just a decree or law.
The Old Covenant was in addition to the one that God made with Abraham ("it was added"). It was not the first time that God's law had been taught, though; the Bible says specifically that Abraham kept God's commandments (Genesis 26:5). It shows Abraham and Jacob both tithing. It shows Abel and Noah already having an understanding of clean and unclean animals. The Sabbath harkens back to Creation (Genesis 2:1-3), and was given to Israel again after they left Egypt but before the Old Covenant was proposed (Exodus 16). Reading through Genesis and Exodus, it is very clear that there was a codified set of rules—laws—long before they were officially recorded at Mt. Sinai.
The Old Covenant was added because of the sins of the people. It was added, not to provide a means of justification, but to demonstrate to Israel what was right and wrong, because their "moral compass" had been badly damaged through their experiences in Egypt. The children of Israel sojourned in Egypt for centuries, during which time they lost the knowledge of God's way. They forgot His instructions to such a degree that God had to teach them all over again the way of life that was pleasing to Him. They had been so immersed in the pagan Egyptian culture that all of these laws, statutes, judgments, instructions, etc., were completely new to them. God added the Old Covenant to the one He made with Abraham as a sort of "booster shot"—Israel was so off track that God had to realign them with His ways by means of this temporary covenant.
Paul says that the Old Covenant is "becoming obsolete and ... ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). However, even though the agreement is ready to vanish away, that does not mean God's law has become obsolete. The law and the covenant, in practice, describe two different things. The law is the codified standard of conduct God gave to His people; the covenant was the agreement in which Israel agreed to abide by God's laws. A change to the agreement, though, does not abolish the standard of conduct! The New Testament abounds with examples of God's law still being in effect (Matthew 19:17; 23:23; John 14:15,21; 15:10; Acts 21:24; 24:14; 26:19-20; 28:23; Romans 3:31; 6:1-2,15; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; Ephesians 5:5; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 8:10; James 1:22-25; 2:8-12; 2:14-26; I John 2:3-6; 3:22-24; 5:2-3; II John 1:6; Revelation 12:17; 14:12; 22:14).
Christ Himself stated clearly that He did not come to destroy the law, but to show how to fulfill it—to keep it in its entirety (Matthew 5:17-20). He then goes on to demonstrate the intent, or spirit, behind some of the laws. James admonishes each to "fulfill the royal law of liberty"—and there is no hint that he means we should individually "do away" with it!
The Old Covenant was "ordained" by angels (Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2; Acts 7:38; Psalm 68:17; I Corinthians 10:4). "Ordained," diatageis (Strong's #1299), usually means "to arrange," "to dispose in order," and is commonly used with reference to the marshalling of an army. A similar word, diatagas (Strong's #1296), is used in Acts 7:53, where it is translated "disposition." It properly means the "constituting" or "arranging" of an army; disposing it into ranks and proper divisions. Hence, it has been supposed to mean that the Covenant was given "amidst" the various ranks of angels being present to witness its transmission.
Deuteronomy 33:2 also shows God with His "holy myriads"—literally "ten thousands of holiness." God was attended by a vast army of intelligent beings, witnessing the ratifying of the Old Covenant with Israel and helping with prescribing, ordering, and arranging the covenant.
The covenant was "in the hand" or "under the control" of a Mediator, one who intervenes between two parties, either as an interpreter, intercessor, or reconciler. In the New Testament, in all the places where it occurs, it is applied to Jesus Christ, the great Mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).
David C. Grabbe
A mediator is only necessary when there is an agreement for two or more parties to agree to or discuss. God's promise to Abraham, and the inheritance that will come from that in the future, was not something that had to be negotiated. A mediator was not necessary, because there was only one party—God—who was agreeing to do a certain action. God's promise was His intent to carry something out, and so it was not necessary for there to be a mediator.
The Mosaic covenant required a mediator. Moses stood between the Rock and the children of Israel. The Israelites did not want to deal directly with God (Exodus 20:18-21) and instead requested that Moses speak with God and then speak to the children of Israel. The Old Covenant was set up with a high priest as an intercessor, who would stand between God and the people. The system, the covenant, did not allow for a personal relationship to develop between God and an individual, except in the rare exceptions where God made it happen. But it was not available to the average Israelite.
God's promise is sure! Abraham and the others in the "cloud of witnesses" all died without receiving the promises in their entirety. But the spiritual children of Abraham still stand to inherit eternal life, the earth, etc. This was not an agreement or covenant, but a promise.
When the covenant was ratified at Sinai, Moses was the mediator for only physical Israel. The Gentiles, the rest of the people who would be the spiritual descendents of Abraham, were not represented. Because of this, the agreement made at Sinai could not affect the unrepresented people. This is why the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Covenant, is not binding anymore: Christ, the Seed, came to earth as a man, and the temporary covenant between God and Israel became obsolete.
God's law did not become obsolete, though—God does not change, and so His definition of what is right and what is wrong does not change. If it was wrong for the Israelites to commit adultery or fornication, it is still wrong now. If it was wrong for the children of Israel to break the Sabbath, it is still wrong now. Obedience to God's law was a condition of the covenanted agreement, but doing away with the covenant does not do away with God's law!
David C. Grabbe
The word is at the beginning of this verse is not in the original Greek. This is significant, because the rest of the verse is entirely in the past tense: "had been," "given," "could have given," "should have been." Given that the context has been the Old Covenant, and not God's eternal codification of right and wrong, if a word needs to be added to make the meaning more clear, the word "was" fits the context better: "Was the covenant against the promises of God?"
God's promises to Abraham were not contrary to the covenant. God's promises to Abraham and God's covenant with ancient Israel accomplished different things! The Old Covenant was a temporary agreement, given until the Seed arrived. It had health, wealth, national strength, and military protection and dominance as its benefits. The promises to Abraham had physical components as well, but with the promise that includes eternal life (see the notes at Galatians 3:14) comes a plethora of other benefits. The promises and the Old Covenant were not in disagreement with each other, but rather the Old Covenant was an auxiliary to the promises, to further the plan inherent within the promises so God would have a nation to send His Son to in order to begin the church—the Body of Christ, which will become His Bride.
God's Law is an extension of His very character and nature. When He codified it and set it before Israel, one of the results was that it showed anybody who was willing to look that mankind does not naturally gravitate to God's way; it is exceedingly difficult to live God's way because our human nature wants to fight it at every turn. The Old Covenant demonstrated to Israel, and to anybody who reads Israel's history, that man needs a different heart in order to come into alignment with God's intent for him. It also demonstrated that the blood of innocent animals was not sufficient to really take away the sins of the people. Those animal sacrifices were only a shadow of the reality to come—Jesus Christ. The whole system was on a physical level, without spiritual promises. The Holy Spirit was not generally available, and so all of Israel's experience also demonstrates that without the right heart, without the same intent and desire as God, it is impossible to come into alignment with Him. And that new heart is only available to those with whom He makes the New Covenant.
God is faithful in His promises. For Abraham to have a "great nation" come out of him, and for him to have a "great name" through his posterity, and for him to be a blessing, God had to enact a system by which an unlearned people could live in accordance with the natural laws that would bring about the desired results. The Israelites, after living in Egypt—sin—for so many generations, had that sin implanted into their national character, and it was perpetuated by their generations even after they left Egypt. God made the Old Covenant because of their sins, to show them just how far off course they had gotten.
This covenant also was to be a preparation for Christ's first coming and the New Covenant. If they had used the covenant properly, it could have given them a head start when the Seed arrived, and they could have seen what God was working out. Paul shows in his writings to the Romans that the Jews (Israelites) had "first dibs" (Romans 1:16; 2:9-10), but that the opportunities were no longer exclusive to the chosen people. Paul also shows that the Old Covenant was a means by which to preserve the knowledge of God's laws in Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ! In this way Christ could return to a people already familiar with His laws and statutes, rather than coming first to a Gentile nation that He would have to teach essentially from scratch.
When He came as a man, He came to a people and a culture that had a long history of at least familiarity with His laws, if not complete obedience. They clearly did not understand the true intent behind the laws, and even abused them to the point of thinking they could be justified by keeping them, but this way of life was not entirely brand new to them in the way it would have been if Christ first appeared in Africa or the Orient. There would have been no hope of those Gentile nations recognizing how Christ fulfilled and personified the law. Without the history of the Old Testament, Christ would have meant very little to them, although He would have undoubtedly been worshipped as a type of deity because of the miracles He performed. But He was not seeking worship—He was seeking a people who would live as He lives.
David C. Grabbe
The Old Covenant - the agreement between God and ancient Israel - was a "guardian" or "custodian" for the children of Israel. It provided a means by which the Israelites could have health and wealth and many of the good things this life has to offer - if they would have followed the laws contained within that covenant. For example, the law of the Sabbath has tremendous physical benefits, for man, animals, and even the land. The law of tithing teaches good financial handling, and when it is done in faith it ensures financial stability. The laws which were a part of the covenant agreement would have kept Israel heading in the right direction, and would have helped prepare a people who should have recognized and accepted their rightful Ruler when He was born a man - except their hearts were not changed. God wants a change of action that proceeds from a change of heart - not a change of action just for the sake of the action.
The Old Covenant was a legitimate system, ordained by God, with fantastic physical benefits - if Israel had obeyed. That contractual agreement was meant to be a means to an end, and not the end in itself. It was meant to teach the people and hedge them in, to prepare them for the next stage of their existence - just like a guardian teaches and prepares a child to take over a business or inherit an estate. The covenant - not God's holy, spiritual law - was a step in the process, but that agreement became obsolete when the Master arrived and began His instruction. However, many of the laws contained within that covenant pre-dated the agreement with Israel, and thus are just as relevant today as they were for Israel.
Even though God's law is eternal and thus still required to be kept, justification has always been by faith. Abraham was justified by faith, even though God says he also "obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." (Genesis 26:5) His obedience to God's law did not justify him, for his obedience was not perfect. Justification has always been on the basis of faith, because the instant a man sins - as all men have (Romans 3:23) - it becomes impossible to come before God on the basis of sinless perfection. Faith in the Savior is thus required for justification, and the law then lights the path the repentant and justified sinner must walk in order to keep from sinning further.
The Old Covenant was a system ordained by God to include His "royal law" (James 2:8) for the purpose of teaching Israel how to live. Even though the Old Covenant is obsolete, that same royal law is at the core of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13) because it teaches us how to live. But since we have transgressed that law, faith in the Savior is required for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be justified before God.
David C. Grabbe
With the arrival of Jesus Christ on the scene, there was no need for the agreement—the Old Covenant—to continue. This does not mean God's laws are obsolete, but that the agreement between God and the physical children of Abraham is no longer necessary because there is now a New Covenant that far exceeds the old one in terms of promises and benefits, in addition to the fact that God has divorced Israel (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8). No longer is property or homeland a goal but the entire earth. No longer is physical health an aspiration but a new spiritual body that is not subject to disease or decay.
Christians are not bound by the Mosaic covenant, that "guardian" that was intended to keep Israel pointed in the right direction until there was a means by which they could receive a new heart and have access to God through the Holy Spirit. So the Old Covenant is not what we have agreed to, but it should be noted that the laws contained in "the law" (Pentateuch) still have paramount merit, because they are an extension of God's character and mind. There is no need for animal sacrifices, because Christ has fulfilled that, but there are still many lessons that can be learned through contemplating those laws. Other laws, such as the purity laws, may indeed still have a physical application as well as a spiritual one. God recorded those statutes and judgments for our admonition (I Corinthians 10:11), and they help us to see how God lives when we examine them in the light of Christ's ministry and teaching. Obeying them does not make us righteous in God's eyes or earn us salvation, but "a good understanding have all they that do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10). By them, we can learn to live as God lives (Matthew 5:17).
David C. Grabbe
Paul uses an analogy that is similar to Galatians 3:23-25, where he likens the Old Covenant to a tutor meant to teach, but his application is very different. He says, "Now I say," indicating a different approach to his instruction.
As long as an heir is a child, as long as he is immature and unable to inherit, he is not much different from a servant. The child's potential is much greater, and his future is much brighter, but in day-to-day activities, he is restricted, limited, and controlled just as much as a servant of no lineage. The net effect of the immaturity is the absence of control. The child, like the servant, can only respond to what happens to him rather than having any power over his well-being or destiny.
Galatians 4:2 shows that the immature child is ruled over by others until the father, the one who gives the inheritance, decides that the heir can be freed from the grasp of the tutors and governors. This does not mean that at the "appointed time" the heir actually inherits from the father, but rather that at the appointed time he is no longer under the control of somebody else.
In this analogy, Paul does not say that the "tutors" and "governors" are positive elements, or that they are good for the child. He only says that they restrict the child and make him little better than a servant. Verse 3 likens the "tutelage" and "governance" to bondage, not like the schoolmaster of Galatians 3:24-25, which was meant to train and prepare.
In this series of verses, Paul is showing that until God the Father decides to drag someone out of this world (John 6:44), even though it has been preordained that they have a chance to "be a lord" and to inherit eternal life and other promises from the Father, they are powerless against the "elements of the world"—the rudiments of the cosmos, the world apart from God. These elements are demonic in nature. Before God called the Gentile Galatians, they were in bondage to sin and to Satan. Even though they had a higher potential—to inherit the Kingdom of God at the resurrection—until the appointed time when God saw fit to remove the shackles, they were just as controlled and powerless as the average servant of Satan.
Similar imagery is found in Colossians 2:20-22, where Paul was arguing against Gnosticism and asceticism:
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles [rudiments, KJV] of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—"Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
Paul is clearly not referring to a commandment of God, as verse Colossians 2:22 shows. He is referring to false, pagan teachings that are considered to be the "basic principles" or "rudiments" of the cosmos.
This is also shown in Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Before God redeems a man and "quickens" him—makes him alive—he walks according to the course of the cosmos. This passage shows clearly that the cosmos is ruled by the "prince of the power of the air," Satan the Devil. His spirit works in the children of disobedience, and they serve him. They are powerless in his grasp until God pays for them with the blood of His Son.
The "elements of the world" in Galatians 4:3 cannot be a reference to the Mosaic law, because the Gentile Galatians were never exposed to it until after their conversion—after God had ordained that they be taken out of the control of the "governors of this world" (Ephesians 6:12). The "elements of the world" are those basic things that make this cosmos what it is—a world apart from God. These elements are sinful, rebellious, and pagan.
It is blasphemous to say that anything that God ordained as a way to live (e.g., the Old Covenant) would put a man in bondage, when God's every intent is to free mankind from the bondage of Satan, sin, and human nature (Exodus 6:6; 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; 13:5,10; John 8:33-36; Romans 8:15). Would God liberate the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 1:14; 2:23; 6:5; Deuteronomy 6:12; 8:14; 26:6; Acts 7:6-7) only to shackle them again? On the contrary, He had their best interests in mind, providing for them a "schoolmaster"—the Old Covenant—which would be in effect until the Messiah came. Those who declare that the law of God brings one into bondage are pronouncing that they are anti-Christ: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
God's law is not a burden. It is a definition of right and wrong and an extension of God's own character. It is the way that He lives, and there is no Being in the universe that has more freedom than God! James refers to the law of God as the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25), not the "law of bondage." He also calls it the "royal law" (James 2:8), not the "weak and beggarly law." Further, the apostle John was inspired to write in I John 5:3 that "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous [burdensome]." It is the height of carnality and blasphemy to consider God's perfect, royal law of liberty to be a weak and beggarly element that keeps mankind in bondage.
Some have tried to use Galatians 4:3-5, 9-11 to argue that God's law in general, and the Sabbath in particular, has been "done away with." They twist these scriptures to try to say that God's law kept us in bondage, but now Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the law so we no longer need to keep the Sabbath(s) holy. This is ironic, because one of the fundamental meanings and symbols of the Sabbath is redemption and liberation—not from any moral law, but from slavery and bondage to Egypt (sin):
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work ... And remember that thou [were] a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out [redeemed, rescued, freed] thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-13,15).
God had to instruct the Israelites about the Sabbath again because they had been in Egypt for centuries and had forgotten the instructions to their fathers. The Sabbath was reintroduced right after they were brought out of Egypt (Exodus 16), long before God made a covenant with Israel (Exodus 20). So, while the Sabbath command was a requirement included in the Old Covenant, its validity, importance, and necessity by no means ended when the Old Covenant became obsolete.
David C. Grabbe
Was Jesus Christ born under the law and thus bound to keep all of the Old Covenant rules and regulations? From this verse, some attempt to show that Jesus Christ was under the law from His birth. They conclude that Christ was duty bound from His birth to do many things that we do not have to do.
However, this assumption overlooks the true meaning of this verse, which is often obscured by the interpretation given by modern translators. The word translated "born" in modern translations is from the Greek word ginomai, which can have many different shades of meaning depending upon the context. It primarily means "to cause to be" or "to come into being." The King James Version translates it: "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law."
Jesus Christ was physically born through the normal process of human birth to the virgin Mary. But God did not inspire Paul to use the Greek word for "born," gennao, in Galatians 4:4 because He wanted to focus on the miraculous conception of Christ and the overwhelming significance of Jesus' sacrifice.
God emphasizes His Son's humanity in this verse. Like all other men, Jesus was born of a woman; He was flesh and blood. Hebrews 10:5 verifies this: "Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offtering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.'"
Another point of note is that the original Greek text does not read "the law," but simply "law." The definite article is missing! Paul is speaking of law in general, not specifically the law of God. The apostle thus means that, when Jesus became a man, He was subject to the same terms, forces, and conditions that any other man is. It simply becomes another reference to His humanity like Hebrews 2:10-18.
The verse does not support the idea that Jesus was bound by the Old Covenant because He was born into it. The deeper meaning of Galatians 4:4 is that Jesus Christ came into being through the divine miracle in which God the Father caused Mary to conceive by the Holy Spirit. Also, by another miracle, God the Father caused Jesus to be placed under the law - under the death penalty - at the time of His crucifixion. Note the King James' rendering of Galatians 3:13: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made [ginomai] a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree."
Jesus Christ was never under the law except at the time of His crucifixion when God the Father laid the entire burden of the sins of the world upon His head (II Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:4-12). He led a perfect life. Therefore, the Old Covenant rules and regulations did not apply to Him because they were designed to remind the people of Israel of their sins and their need for a Savior (Galatians 3:19).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was Jesus Christ Born Under the Law?
The common, traditional explanation of Galatians 4:9-10 is that Paul is reprimanding the Galatians for returning to Old Testament observances that were a form of "bondage." Insisting that Paul taught that the Old Testament law was "done away" (Colossians 2:14), they conclude that Christians should not keep the days that God had commanded Israel to keep. In verse 10, Paul mentions observances of "days and months and seasons and years." Some contend that these observances refer to God's Sabbath and holy days commanded in the Old Testament. But this interpretation overlooks many foundational points.
Galatia was not a city but a province in Asia Minor. The church membership was undoubtedly composed mainly of Gentiles, and the males were physically uncircumcised (Galatians 5:2; 6:12-13). In looking at Paul's initial dealings with these people, we find that they had a history of worshiping pagan deities. In Lystra, a city in Galatia, God healed a crippled man through Paul (Acts 14:8-18). The people of the area were so astonished at this miracle that they supposed Barnabas and Paul, whom they called Zeus and Hermes (verse 12), to be pagan gods! They wanted to sacrifice to them, and would have, if the apostles had not stopped them (verses 13-18). This shows that the people in Galatia were generally superstitious and worshiped pagan deities.
The major theme of the Galatian epistle is to put them "back on the track" because someone had been teaching "a different gospel," a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The Galatians had derailed on their understanding of how sinners are justified. False teachers in Galatia taught that one was justified by doing physical works of some kind. The majority of evidence indicates that the false teachers were teaching a blend of Judaism and Gnosticism. The philosophy of Gnosticism taught that everything physical was evil, and that people could attain a higher spiritual understanding through effort. It was the type of philosophy that its adherents thought could be used to enhance or improve anyone's religion. In Paul's letter to the Colossians, we read of this same philosophy having an influence on the church there. It was characterized by strict legalism, a "taste not, touch not" attitude, neglect of the body, worship of angels, and a false humility (Colossians 2:18-23).
What, then, were the "days, months, seasons and years" that Paul criticizes the Galatians for observing? First, Paul nowhere in the entire letter mentions God's holy days. Second, the apostle would never refer to holy days that God instituted as "weak and beggarly elements." He honored and revered God's law (Romans 7:12, 14, 16). Besides, he taught the Corinthians to observe Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (I Corinthians 5:7-8), and he kept the Sabbath and holy days himself (Acts 16:13; 18:21; 20:6; I Corinthians 16:8).
When the scriptures in question are put into context, the explanation of what these days were becomes clear. In Galatians 4:1-5, Paul draws an analogy in which he likens the Jew to a child who is waiting to come into an inheritance and the Gentile to a slave in the same household. He explains how, before the coming of Christ, the spiritual state of the Jew was no different from the Gentile because neither had had their sins forgiven nor had they received God's Spirit. Prior to the coming of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles were "in bondage under the elements of the world" (verse 3).
The word "elements" is the Greek stoicheion, which means any first thing or principle. "In bondage under the elements of the world" refers to the fact that the unconverted mind is subject to the influence of Satan and his demons, the rulers of this world and the authors of all idolatrous worship. Satan and his demons are the origin, the underlying cause, of the evil ways of this world, and all unconverted humans are under their sway. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Paul is saying that both Jews and Gentiles had been in bondage to sin.
In Galatians 4:8, Paul brings up the subject of the idolatry and paganism that they had participated in before their conversion. "But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods." This obviously refers to the worship of pagan deities (Acts 14:8-18). He is making it clear that God had called them out of that way of life. Paul continues this thought in verse 9, where his obvious concern was that the Galatians were returning to the way of life from which God had called them. The "weak and beggarly elements" were demon-inspired, idolatrous practices, NOT something God had commanded. "Elements" here is the same word, stoicheion, translated "elements" in verse 3. An extension of stoicheion can refer to the heavenly bodies that regulate the calendar and are associated with pagan festivals. The apostle condemns the practices and way of life that had been inspired by Satan and his demons, the principal cause of all the world's evil. Paul recognized that the Galatians had begun to return to their former slavish, sinful practices.
It is evident that the "days, months, seasons and years" Paul refers to in verse 10 were the pagan, idolatrous festivals and observances that the Galatian Gentiles had observed before their conversion. They could not possibly be God's holy days because these Gentiles had never observed them before being called, nor would Paul ever call them "weak and beggarly." Rather, they were turning back to their old, heathen way of life that included keeping various superstitious holidays connected to the worship of pagan deities.
Far from doing away with God's holy days, these scriptures show that we should not be observing "days, months, seasons and years" that have their roots in paganism, such as Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween, and any other days that originated from the worship of pagan gods.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Does Paul Condemn Observing God's Holy Days?
Abraham actually had more sons through Keturah, but for the purposes of Paul's allegory, he focuses on Ishmael, the son through Hagar, and Isaac, the son of promise through Sarah.
Given that the false teachers were trying to convince the Galatians to turn to a Gnostic form of Judaism, Abraham would have been a character who would have been highly respected in their eyes (the Jews in Jesus' time trusted in descent from Abraham for salvation). Paul uses the example of Abraham throughout this epistle because he (Abraham) simultaneously served as someone that they would have looked up to, as well as a testament that they (the Galatians) were approaching this the wrong way—different from the way Abraham did.
Physical descent does not matter as far as the spiritual promises are concerned; Christ castigated the Jews for thinking that they could rely on being physical descendants of Abraham as a means of gaining favor with God. Christ showed that where it really counted was in behaving like Abraham—which the Jews did not.
Paul, in an attempt to help the Galatians to understand the covenants, is likening the Old Covenant to being born to a "bondmaid" (a female slave or servant) while the New Covenant is compared to being born of a "freewoman" (someone who is a citizen; unrestrained; not a slave; exempt from liability; at liberty). The carnal mind, as described by Romans 8:7, leaps to the conclusion that the New Covenant gives freedom from the confines of law, while the Old Covenant keeps one in bondage to a set of archaic rules. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The apostle James twice refers to the law as the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). He could do this because when God was giving the Ten Commandments to Israel, He prefaced them with the declaration, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). This—bringing Israel out of bondage—set the context, the foundation, for the giving of the law. Clearly, it is not God's definition of right and wrong that keeps us in bondage; the law was given as a guide to the right way to live. The "bondage" that we are subject to derives from Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3; 6:12; II Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9), this world (Exodus 6:5-8; Deuteronomy 5:6), sin (John 8:33-36), and our own human nature—our carnal mind and heart. Our bondage is to sin (John 8:33-34)—not to God's definition of it.
The Old Covenant did not provide a way to overcome these things. Even though the Old Covenant included God's royal law of liberty, it had no provision for ever truly escaping the clutches of sin. God's law, which is also a part of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34), merely defines what sin is, so that one may avoid it (Romans 3:20; 4:14-15; 5:13; 7:7, 12, 14). It neither enslaves, nor frees. The Old Covenant—the agreement, rather than the law that was its core—provided no means for overcoming the evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12, 19; 8:7-8), and so Paul compares it to a bondwoman. In verse 24 he says that it "engenders"—gives birth to—bondage. He does not mean that the agreement between God and Israel was bondage, nor that God's definition of right and wrong keeps people in slavery, but rather that the temporary covenant made no provision for true spiritual freedom. It "gave birth to" bondage because, without addressing the incurable sickness of the heart, the only possible outcome was human degeneration back into the bondage from which they had been freed.
The New Covenant addresses these problems:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them [the weakness was with the people, not the agreement or the law], He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." (Hebrews 8:7-12; see Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The New Covenant allows God's way of life (law) to be internalized (put into the mind and heart). It allows for a personal relationship with God, rather than going through an intermediary. It allows for complete forgiveness of sins through repentance and accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
In another place, God promises,
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
Through the justification and forgiveness of sins available under the New Covenant, it is possible for the heart to be changed, and for human nature, which drives us to sin, to be overcome. Thus, true spiritual freedom is offered under the New Covenant, while absent under the Old.
David C. Grabbe
Verse 18 appears as a summary statement in light of all that Paul wrote previous to this. It needs a bit of defining. According to what the apostle wrote earlier, to be "under the law" includes three areas:
1. Most obviously, it means to be under the law's penalty because we have sinned. Jesus died so that we can be freed from that penalty.
2. It means to be striving to achieve justification through lawkeeping, which is what the main body of this epistle covers.
3. The third meaning is also covered but less thoroughly: that a person is trying to earn God's election and salvation by becoming a member of the Old Covenant. Chapter 5 covers that to a very small extent.
Paul's statement, then, must be seen in context of all that has been written before. Notice what Kenneth Wuest writes in Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Volume 1, page 156. This is a typical Protestant statement regarding verse 18.
The exhortation is therefore, to be led by the Spirit. The assurance is given those who do so, that they will not be living their lives on the principle of legalism. The Spirit and the law are here contrasted, and are shown to be methods of living a Christian life that are diametrically opposed to one another. The law is not only no safeguard against the flesh, but rather provokes it to more sin. Therefore, the believer who would renounce the flesh, must renounce the law also. Thus, the flesh and the law are closely allied, whereas the flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed to one another. (Author's emphasis.)
To understand this truthfully, all he needs to do is reread what Paul wrote. What the apostle contrasts is Spirit with flesh, and Spirit with those under the law—not the law per se. But this commentator made no attempt to define what Paul means by "under the law," as Paul himself uses it in the epistle. Also, there was no attempt to define what the author of the commentary means by "legalism."
We have already seen what Paul means by "under the law." To these people, legalism is "the belief that one is obligated to obey the law." The key word in that definition is "obligated." They hate it (Romans 8:7), and therefore lawkeeping is seen as a burden, a yoke of bondage, despite the undeniable fact that God (through James) says it is a "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Eight)
Notice two important factors he links to hope in Ephesians 2:12. First, in the time before God called the Ephesian Gentiles into a relationship with Him, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise."
The commonwealth of Israel could be either the nation or the church because under the Old Covenant ancient Israel established a relationship with God, received a small measure of His promises, and possessed the hope of the Messiah. However, the primary meaning here is the church; those who have made the New Covenant with God are the Israel of God and a holy nation (Galatians 6:16; I Peter 2:9). The New Covenant contains God's confirmed promises—confirmed in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.
Being part of ancient Israel under the Old Covenant did not give a person access to many promises that would have given him reason to hope. The Old Covenant promised no forgiveness of sin, no access to God, no promise of the Holy Spirit, and no promise of eternal and everlasting life, all of which we have. We have continuing, never-ending hopes because the New Covenant ensures a continuous relationship. Our relationship necessarily involves the other part of Ephesians 2:12: Before our calling, we were also without God in the world. Our hope is not merely in the fact that we have made a covenant, but more importantly, with whom we made it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope
A vital principle to remember concerning the Old and New Covenants is that what did not originate with the Old Covenant did not die with it. The gist of the argument in Hebrews 7 is that, since the Levitical priesthood has no authority under the New Covenant, the ritual laws pertaining to the priesthood are no longer valid. The priesthood has been conferred on Christ, now our High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20). This "change of the law"—the ceremonial law of sacrifices, ritual washings, and other rites pertaining to the Tabernacle/Temple and priesthood—applies only to the administration of tithing (verse 12). Since the tithing law predates the Levitical priesthood, and is thus still in force, tithes are now to be given to Jesus Christ, our High Priest, for use by the church. The church is commissioned to preach the gospel free of charge. The tithe pays for this important responsibility.
The principle of supporting the ministers of God's work is still in force in the New Testament church (Matthew 10:8-10; 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; I Corinthians 9:13-14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Note the plural pronoun "them." To this time, there was only one covenant, so if he were referring to the covenant, he would have had to say, "for finding fault with it." But God did not find fault with the Old Covenant. Everything that God does is of the highest order, and the covenant He gave to Israel was more than adequate for His intention at the time. It was not the covenant that failed. It was them—the people—who failed. They did not live up to what the covenant stipulated.
Everything God does is pure, right, and true. People who say the law is done away and the Old Covenant was a failure imply that there was something wrong with what God gave the people to do. God does not do things like that! We cannot afford to allow that kind of thinking to get into our minds because it puts us on the trail to error and will not help us in our relationship with God. It will greatly affect the way we approach the Bible—the Word of God.
The Old Covenant is part of the Word of God, and Proverbs 30:5 says, "Every word of God is pure." Therefore, the problem was not with the covenant but was in the people. Specifically, the problem was in their hearts; they were uncircumcised, to use the Bible's term. Their hearts were filled with self-will and therefore rejected what God had to say.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)
The word "new" is translated from the Greek word kaine. This is interesting because, while it does mean "new" in terms of time, the emphasis in the use of the word, when compared to something of the same kind, in this case, covenants, is on quality - not time. Hence, the emphasis in the use of kaine is on this covenant being better rather than being newer.
In Jesus' Parable of the Old and New Wineskins, kaine also appears. Using this understanding of kaine, the difference between the wineskins is not necessarily age (though that is implied) but quality. One wineskin is dried and cracked, while the other is supple and resilient. Though it may also be newer, it is decidedly better.
Putting this into a modern context, we can make a comparison between a 1910 automobile and a 1995 automobile. The 1995 automobile is a continuation of the same general kind as the 1910 automobile. Both have the same necessary parts: engine, wheels, steering wheel, seats, transmission, brakes, lights, and a nut behind the wheel. But the 1995 model has made the 1910 model obsolete as a viable mode of transportation.
So it is in the comparison between the Old Covenant and the New. Both have the same necessary parts, so that they may be considered of the same "kind," but the New Covenant is so much better and has so much more going for it that it has made the Old one obsolete.
Is there a difference between a testament and a covenant? The word "testament" does not even appear in English translations of the Old Testament, but it appears thirteen times in the New Testament. The Greek word is quite interesting because it does not even mean "covenant" as we think of it. In fact, researchers have been able to find only one usage outside of the Bible—in classical Greek—in which this word is used in the same way that the English and the Hebrew words are. The Greek word is diatheke, and it is the equivalent of our English word "testament" or "will"—not "covenant."
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. The emphasis in on the words "agreement" and "parties." However, a diatheke is a testament or will. As in English, it is a unilateral—a one-sided—declaration of the disposition of property that a person makes in anticipation of his death. Before we die, we usually draw up a declaration of what we want done with our property, and most people do not consult with the people they want to leave their possessions to. It is usually a private matter.
Paul used this singular word—diatheke—where two different words normally would have been used. The interesting thing is that the Greeks have a word for a covenant, suntheke, "a bilateral agreement," but the apostle did not use it.
The use of diatheke—which seemingly does not fit—has given the translators great difficulty trying to determine when Paul meant "covenant" and when he meant "will" or "testament." Why did he even do this when he could have used suntheke? The overall reason is encouraging. Paul wanted to emphasize how much God has done unilaterally—that is, that He took upon Himself to do without consulting with others involved in the covenant—to tip the scales drastically in our favor for the purpose of our keeping the covenant and making it into His Kingdom.
For instance, "God so loved the world that He gave" Jesus Christ in our stead! It was a completely voluntary act on His part. God gives us grace and forgives our sins, and we are justified on the basis of that sacrifice and on the declaration of our faith and repentance. God gives us access to Him in prayer, again based on the work of Jesus Christ. God gives us the very faith that saves. God gives us His Spirit, which is a down-payment of eternal life and empowers us to keep His laws. God gives us gifts, by that same Spirit, to serve Him and the church. He promises never to give us a trial that is too great—which translates into His giving personal attention to each of His children! He promises never to forsake us and to complete the work that He has begun in us.
Some of these unilateral gifts—in a very limited form—appear in the Old Covenant. But it is no wonder that Paul wanted to emphasize better rather than "new." The Old Covenant (because of what God has unilaterally done) is but a pale shadow of the New in terms of what God is working out. It is nothing more than a pale shadow of the promises and the hope derived by those who understand the New Covenant's terms.
To the unconverted who study the Bible, these terms are so enticing that it lures them into concluding that the believer need do nothing. Some will go that far! They will declare that Jesus has done it all for us. They can read the terms, but they reach the wrong conclusion. It leads them to say such things as, "There is no law," and "You don't have to keep the Sabbath. It's just ceremonial." However, the truth is that the covenant is so one-sided, so much to our benefit, that it leaves us without excuse for failure to keep the terms—and those terms include lawkeeping.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)
The theme of the Day of Atonement is reconciliation, becoming at one with God through the forgiveness of sin. It starts the salvation process off. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, Israel's sins were symbolically transferred to the Tabernacle by having the first goat's blood sprinkled on it. The blood symbolically contained their sins. The blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, transferring their sins, then, to God's throne, where they were forgiven. That is the picture behind this.
So the author says that the Tabernacle, all of its furniture, and all of its ceremonies and rituals used to accomplish atonement (at-one-ment) with God were types. These symbols stood in their place with good purpose, but only until they were replaced with a more effective reality. Christ went into the Holy of Holies with His own blood.
Now we need to put this into a bigger context, the whole book of Hebrews. The overall theme of Hebrews can be described by such words as better, superior, greater. Chapter 1 begins by telling us that Christ is greater than angels. Chapter 2 shows us that the goal given to us in the gospel of the Kingdom of God is so far superior to anything man has ever been offered before that there is no comparison.
In chapter 3, Christ is far greater than Moses. Beginning in chapter 4 and on into chapter 6, the comparison is made with Aaron, and again, Christ is greater. In chapter 7, we find a comparison with the Melchizedek priesthood and the Levitical priesthood. The Melchizedek priesthood is greater, superior, better than Aaron's.
In chapter 8, the covenant is introduced. The New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant. The theme continues right on into chapters 9 and 10, because they are concerned with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ to the things of the Old Testament - the Tabernacle, its furniture, and all of its ceremonial systems. But they were only imposed for a time, until something better was provided by God. It is clear, then, that God's intent with the sacrificial system was that it would only be imposed temporarily.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)
The subject involves food and drink offerings and various washings imposed until the time of reformation—not the entirety of God's law. In His mind's eye, whenever He gave them these rituals, there was a grandfather clause. A grandfather clause is stipulation attached to a law that causes it to expire either under certain conditions or at a certain time. These rituals were imposed until the time of reformation. This is the grandfather clause. These requirements, legally forced on the Israelites, were to last only for a certain period of time.
Jeremiah 7:22-24 says that when these people made the covenant with God, He did not speak about sacrifices. He only said, "Obey My voice." However, because they transgressed, something was added—imposed on them. It was as though these rituals were a penalty because they transgressed God's voice, yet it was to last only for a certain period of time.
This is similar in concept to what we have today when a convicted person is required to check in with a parole officer for a given number of years, sentenced to perform a certain number of hours of community service, or ordered to attend certain classes and to refrain from engaging in particular privileges for a stipulated period.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)
This passage makes a distinct statement about the comparison between Christ and everything or everyone who came before He arrived on earth to complete the work of God. Jesus' teaching, leadership, and personal example is reality compared to the misty shadows cast by everything else.
The key term throughout Hebrews, then, is “better.” The author uses the comparative “better” a number of critical times: Hebrews 1:4 (“so much better than the angels”); Hebrews 7:19 (“a better hope”); Hebrews 7:22; 8:6 “(a better covenant”); Hebrews 8:6 (“better promises”); Hebrews 9:23 (“better sacrifices”); Hebrews 10:34 (“a better and enduring possession”); Hebrews 11:16 (“a better . . . country”); Hebrews 11:35 (“a better resurrection”); and Hebrews 11:40 (“something better”).
Not only is “better” emphasized, but “greatness” is also mentioned several times: Hebrews 2:3 (“so great a salvation”); Hebrews 4:14 (“a great High Priest”); Hebrews 7:4 (“how great this man was”); Hebrews 9:11 (“the greater and more perfect Tabernacle”); Hebrews 10:32 (“a great struggle with sufferings”); Hebrews 10:35 (“great reward”); Hebrews 12:1 (“so great a cloud of witnesses”); and Hebrews 13:20 (“that great Shepherd of the sheep”).
The author draws the Hebrews' attention to the contrast between what they gave up in converting and what they gained: Christians have “a great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14); “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19); and an exclusive altar (Hebrews 13:10). Christians are also exhorted to look forward to “the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5); to “the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5); to the New Covenant being made with the united houses of Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8:10); to “the good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11); to Christ's second appearing for salvation (Hebrews 9:28); to the receipt of the promise at His coming (Hebrews 10:36-37); and to a future heavenly city (Hebrews 11:14-16; 13:14).
Everywhere a reader turns within Hebrews, by means of sheer repetition of comparisons revealing the superiority of Christ, Christianity, and the New Covenant, he or she is quietly but forcefully drawn to one overriding reality. The center of Judaism was the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices, all of which were fine teachers and good experiences as God intended them. Even so, they are not what God desires for His children at this time within His purpose. They are not good enough for His children now. The author writes in Hebrews 8:4-6, 13:
For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. . . . In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Though the Jewish converts were indeed deprived of the distinctive symbols of the past, they were but shadows, symbols, mere copies of heavenly things. Through God's calling and the gifts He provides, they were then, as we are today, dealing with realities and preparing for the realities of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Three)
"Foods" represent physical, ritual observances. God is the author of rituals as well, and they have their place. Paul is referring to the ritual observances, the ceremonies, of the Old Covenant, as food was involved with them. But over the years, people came to have a superstitious attitude toward such things—that if, for instance, they ate of something that had been offered in sacrifice, it would impart to them some spiritual strength. Of course, it could not. We receive spiritual strength from spiritual things.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
The apostle presents Christian living as a two-pronged endeavor that we can perhaps simplify or summarize even more. The first is doing good works: visiting orphans and widows in their trouble. The second prong is to become holy or build righteous character in ourselves in cooperation with God.
We could also divide it into the practical and the spiritual sides of life. Obviously, when a person does good works, it is a practical application of what he has learned and put on as spiritual character.
Another way to look at it is to say that James divides it into the outward and the inward. Part of Christian living goes on inside an individual, and something—a work, an action—comes out of him as a result.
However we want to name this two-pronged approach, we must realize that neither of these prongs is sufficient alone, which is why James presents them together. It is "pure and undefiled religion" to have an inward and an outward aspect or a practical and a spiritual aspect.
The apostle John agrees with James in I John 3:16-19. Pure religion requires both of these elements:
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
He says that, if we do not manifest God's love by giving, helping, and caring for others, then we have not fulfilled anything. We cannot be sure that the love of God is actually in us if it is not coming out in some sort of physical work that we do, some act of love.
In this church's teaching, we tend to stress only one of these prongs. It is not that we do not talk about the other, but we tend to stress the inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous character part—the second prong that James shows in James 1:27. There is good, sound, solid, biblical reason for this. Basically, it is that the spiritual aspect is the more important of the two.
The inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous-character part of Christian living is the foundation—the wellspring, the fertile soil—out of which good works grow. One could go so far as to say that effective and truly good works cannot be done without godly character or a right relationship with God.
This means that we must have godly character before we can even begin to do good works properly! Without godliness, good works are simply common and rather empty, humanistic philanthropy.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"
Why does the apostle “[weep] much”? Was he emotionally overwrought because his desire to see the scroll's contents was denied, or is there more to it? His weeping signifies something momentous taking place. John, probably in his 90s at this point, had already seen and experienced extraordinary things. Given the amount of time God had worked with him, he must have attained a level of spiritual maturity of the highest order. Yet, this faithful servant—not given to whimsy—sobbed over what was at stake. Something shook him to the core—something far beyond mere disappointment over not having a prophecy opened.
In Revelation 5:4, John gives the primary reason for his weeping, and the issue is one of worthiness. Isaiah describes a similar circumstance where the prophet also has a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6:1). Seraphim are praising God, and at the sight of all this, Isaiah becomes unglued (verses 2-5), painfully aware of his uncleanness. He knows that in his state he is not worthy to look upon the Lord of Hosts.
However, a seraph touches Isaiah's mouth with a coal, removing his iniquity and purging his sin (verses 6-7). Then the prophet hears the Eternal asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah eagerly answers the call and receives his commission (verse 8). With cleansing, he was fit—worthy—for God to use him to take a message to Judah.
However, in John's vision, something like a call goes out, but nobody answers it. Even with the cleansing that God is willing to do for His people—as He did for Isaiah—nobody can be found who is worthy. John, looking forward in vision to the Day of the Lord, sees that no angel in heaven, no servant of God on earth, and no spirit under the earth can open the scroll.
The matter of worthiness, then, must go beyond the matter of sin, because heaven is filled with angels who have not sinned, yet they still are unworthy to take the scroll. Likewise, as with Isaiah, God can purge the sin of His servants, but something even above sinlessness is needed to be worthy to open the scroll of Revelation.
What, exactly, makes this scroll's worth so great? John's reaction to it indicates that he was not ignorant of what it was; instead, he felt the full weight of its significance and expressed great distress over the absolute need for it to be opened. The apostle greatly desired the scroll to be opened, suggesting he knew that it contained something of tremendous worth, in addition to including judgments like the other prophetic scrolls.
David C. Grabbe
Worthy to Take the Scroll
Several passages can provide insight into this scene. Obviously, the aged apostle was familiar with the Scriptures, so when he saw this vision of God's throne, the One who sat on it, and a sealed scroll, several writings of the prophets probably came to his mind.
For example, in Daniel's vision, thrones are set up, the Ancient of Days takes His seat, and books are opened (Daniel 7:9-10). We tend to focus on the four beasts in this vision, but the more significant theme shows the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven, given dominion, glory, and a kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14, 27).
In Revelation, John sees the Ancient of Days likewise seated on a throne. Remembering Daniel's vision, John knows that court's purpose is to remove the dominion of man and the satanic power behind him and to give the Kingdom to the saints of the Most High under the Son of Man.
The prophet Ezekiel provides another related record. He also had a vision of the divine, including cherubim and a throne of God (Ezekiel 1:1-28) as a prelude to his commission to warn the rebellious house of Israel (Ezekiel 2:1-8). His vision contains another, similar scroll to the one John saw:
Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9-10)
Like Ezekiel's scroll, the one John saw had writing “inside and on the back” (Revelation 5:1), but there are some differences as well: Ezekiel's scroll was the symbol of a commission to a human servant, while the one John saw was not. Also, Ezekiel's scroll was open and readable, while in Revelation 5, the scroll is sealed. Both scrolls, though, do involve “lamentations and mourning and woe.”
Zechariah 5:1-4 contains another vision of a scroll, which may also have flashed through John's mind when he saw the scroll in the right hand of the Most High. An angel explains that Zechariah's scroll, also written on both sides, is “the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth”—specifically, a curse on thieves and perjurers. When John sees the divine scroll opened, it likewise contains a judgment for sin, but it affects far more than just thieves and perjurers.
Each of these scrolls symbolizes the judgments contained within them. In addition, each is written on both sides, indicating that nothing further will be added. The contents of each scroll are complete for its purpose, and once the scroll is opened, everything written on them will occur until God's purpose is fulfilled. As He says in Isaiah 55:11, “My word . . . goes forth from My mouth [and] it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thingfor which I sent it.” Nothing more needs to be added, and nothing will change the judgment that has been decreed.
David C. Grabbe
Worthy to Take the Scroll
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