What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
We could easily think of integrity ("righteously" in NKJV) strictly in terms of law and pursue it no further. But when we see how this word is translated elsewhere, we add a dimension that helps us better understand how we should act toward our fellowman.
In Luke 23:41 and I Thessalonians 2:10, the same word is rendered "justly," meaning right, proper, or fair. This is the adverbial form of the Greek dikaios, meaning "to be conformed to that which is right," which Plato said is inseparably bound to the word translated "sober" above. A person who is dikaios neither selfishly nor forgetfully transgresses the bounds of what is right. He gives everyone his due.
To Christianity, this translates into "my duty is my right." This concept branches out into areas of life like civility, consideration, concern, and respect and has little or nothing to do with what we normally consider as "law." I Corinthians 13:4-7 is a clear example of such instruction.
The grace of God obligates us to these duties in our relationships with others. To conform to them fulfills what Paul means by living with integrity in Titus 2:12. It encompasses keeping the commandments, of course, but it also involves such virtues as probity, honesty, goodness, irreproachability, fairness, nobility, and being just and sensitive to another's needs, including giving correction in kindness and mercy (Galatians 6:1-2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
Is God fair in His dealings with man? Consider this: Has God warned man what he is going to earn in the way of a death penalty if he sinned? Consider this list. In Exodus 21, we are warned that striking or cursing parents will result in death. In Leviticus 19, He says that if you desecrate a sacrifice, you are going to die. In Leviticus 24, He said that if you murder somebody, you are going to die. In Exodus 21, He says that if you kidnap somebody, you are going to die. In Leviticus 20, He says if you sacrifice a child in the fire, you are going to die. In Leviticus 24, He says, "If you take My name in vain—if you curse Me, if your use blasphemous statements about Me—you are going to die."
In Exodus 35, He issues the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath. In Leviticus 20, He issues the death penalty for consulting mediums. In Leviticus 20, He says that if you are practicing homosexuality, you are going to die. In Leviticus 20, if you practice incest, you are going to die. In Exodus 22, if you practice bestiality, you are going to die. In Deuteronomy 22, He says that if you rape somebody, you are going to die. In Deuteronomy 13, if you give a false prophecy, you are going to die.
In Exodus 22, if you practice sorcery, you are going to die. In Exodus 22, if you sacrifice to a false god, you are going to die. In Leviticus, if you commit adultery, you are going to die. In Numbers 4, if you desecrate a holy thing, you are going to die. In Numbers 16, if you disagree with God's judgment, you are going to die. In Leviticus 21, if you are a priest's daughter and you play the harlot, you are going to die.
This is only a partial list. God has clearly made known the penalty to mankind. Is God acting fairly? The penalty for some of these offenses really sounds harsh to modern minds. Death for a false prophecy? Death for committing adultery? Death for bestiality or homosexuality? All of these penalties are given in the Old Testament. By contrast, there is no corresponding list of penalties in the New Testament, which misleads some who are close to being biblically illiterate into thinking that they prefer the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old Testament. But the God of the New Testament is exactly the same Being as the God of the Old Testament; He says, "I change not" (Malachi 3:6). "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Those of us who are living under the New Covenant need to begin to think seriously about the way we conduct our lives, and especially in reference to our own relationship with God. We cannot deny that the New Testament list of capital offenses would appear to be a dramatic reduction from the Old. What we fail to consider is that the Old Testament list above is a massive reduction from what appears at the beginning of the Book, as in Genesis 18. The list, mainly out of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, represents an astonishing measure of grace from how things began.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Justice and Grace
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
This statement could be considered to be a lamentation that things would be different. However, God knew this before He entered into the Old Covenant; He was not surprised that Israel did not keep it. If anything may have grieved Him, perhaps their rebellion was worse than even He expected it would be.
To get a clear picture, one only has to recall the creation of Adam and Eve and the subsequent events in the Garden. God did not create Adam and Eve with an evil heart. Every biblical writer has recognized an innocence in the initial natures of Adam and Eve. They hid themselves from God only after they sinned. "Who told you that you were naked?" God said (Genesis 3:11).
They were confronted with choices and chose the evil way, to sin, and something happened to their minds after they sinned. This is very instructive. Their nature at creation was made impressionable, so that as they made choices, their minds or their dispositions became or conformed to the nature of the choices that they made. A conscience, a perspective, and a character began to be formed.
I Corinthians 2:11 shows that our natural mind is strong in gathering, understanding, and using material knowledge but weak in gathering, understanding, and using spiritual knowledge. In the same manner, babies are not born evil, but they become evil as a result of the influences of life in their environments.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eleven)
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)
The solution to the Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 conundrum involves the converted person's faith in God. At the same time, it also heavily involves his fear of God and applying thoughtful wisdom to ensure he analyzes the situation accurately. Two of these spiritual qualities are directly named in Ecclesiastes 7, while faith, which is not directly named, is critical to the right solution. Influencing all three qualities is knowing God well enough from within the relationship to activate them all correctly. Consider II Corinthians 5:4-7:
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
God is preparing us for entrance into His Kingdom in a similar way a human instructor prepares a school student for graduation and service. There are two major differences though: We must matriculate our lessons by faith, and in our case, the purpose—to be clothed with glory and eternal life—is huge by comparison.
These verses assure us that God has made a contract with us—the New Covenant—in which we are responsible for carrying out assigned duties. He is preparing us to fulfill those responsibilities to a far greater extent in His Kingdom. As He is preparing us, we must live by faith.
Luke 14:26-27 reminds us of the seriousness of the pledge we made to Jesus Christ at baptism, to live by faith while carrying out our responsibilities. This serious commitment works in our favor. Knowing God's character from the midst of this close relationship, we can always confidently be reassured that God is in control despite how difficult events look to us. This truth became the foundation for the psalmist's victory in his situation (Psalm 73). Our responsibility is to trust Him as the psalmist did, to walk by faith, not by appearance or physical observation. God is faithful!
Paul, then, clearly establishes what our aim should be no matter the circumstances in our lives. We should desire to please God by being faithful to Him in return as demonstrated by trusting Him. He reinforces this by stating that we must be ready to answer for our choices.
Romans and Ephesians make it clear that God accepts us in His presence at conversion and at all times during conversion only upon the meritorious sinless works of Jesus Christ. This is because, as Paul shows in Romans 7, sin stains all our works no matter how meritorious they may seem to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion
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)
God will destroy the nations to which Israel and Judah are scattered, and He will correct Israel and Judah in measure, as verse 11 says. But when the punishment is done, He will bring His people back to the land that He promised them and give them rest and peace. A number of other prophecies concerning the Second Exodus relate how God will bless the land, which will once again produce abundantly. Israel and Judah will have the Promised Land, they will have peace—because this time their enemies will be completely destroyed, which Israel failed to do the first time—and they will have prosperity. They will also be blessed numerically, as the remnant begins to multiply.
But this time the peace and prosperity will last, because two factors will be different. First, Israel and Judah will have perfect leadership: Jesus Christ will be King, and David will be His prince (Ezekiel 37:24-25; Jeremiah 23:3-7; Hosea 3:5; Micah 2:12-13). Corrupt or ambivalent leadership will no longer lead Israel astray; instead, the leaders will set the example of righteousness for the people to follow. Additionally, the twelve original apostles will be resurrected and sit as judges over the twelve tribes, ensuring that proper judgment is given (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30).
Second, Israel and Judah will both make the New Covenant, meaning that they will be given the Holy Spirit, which will enable them to keep the law in its spiritual intent (Jeremiah 31:31-34). They will be given a new heart, and will finally be able to know their God (Ezekiel 11:17-20; 36:24-29).
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Two)
This passage is repeated almost verbatim in Hebrews 8:8-12. Jeremiah lived in the sixth and seventh centuries before Christ, some six hundred years before the New Covenant became a reality. The covenant that God commands forever in Psalm 111:9 is the covenant prophesied here in Jeremiah 31:31. It will endure forever, and it is the one associated with the law (the commandments of God).
In this prophecy, God shows that the New Covenant will be made with political entities—nations (Israel and Judah). In addition, it is obviously different from the one that Jeremiah's contemporaries were living under, otherwise there would be no need for a New Covenant. Hebrews 8 informs us that the reason for the New Covenant is to address the fault in it.
Please understand the major differences in the New Covenant that Jeremiah 31 brings out. God's laws will be written in the hearts of those who make the New Covenant. It is clear that the law was not written in the hearts of the ancient Israelites. Second, under it, there will be access to God and a personal relationship with Him.
Further, it strongly implies that there will be no privileged class who alone are set apart to teach. There will be no class distinction due to age or rank in the community. This is all encompassed within "every man shall know Me," meaning that everybody will have access to Him.It does not mean that there will be no ministry, as it is obvious from the New Testament that God gave—as a gift to the church—the ministry as a teaching vehicle. And finally, He mentions right at the end that sins will be forgiven.
Each of these elements is a promise of something not included in the Old Covenant. The average Israelite did not have access to God. They could not go into the place where God symbolically lived. They could not approach any closer than the court of the priests, who were intermediaries, a "privileged" class of men who went into God's presence for them. Nor could the blood of bulls and goats forgive sin (Hebrews 10:4). However, the New Covenant addresses these matters.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)
The Israelites could have been the world's perpetual premier nation if they had done as God asked. But they failed, proving that no nation, no people - even with the righteous examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and with the great laws of God - could solve humanity's problems and live peaceful, abundant lives without a special ingredient only God can supply.
Men say, "With enough time and enough knowledge, we can solve any and every evil." But the record of humanity, foremost in Israel, has proved that it cannot be done. Even with God as their King, Israel could not succeed in this. Something was missing.
What was missing? God's Holy Spirit! It was evident, even during the days of the prophets, that the Old Covenant was insufficient, that its terms could not redeem a person from his sins or deliver eternal life. A new and better covenant was needed. God will make a New Covenant with Israel, one that will include an element whereby He can write His law on people's minds and hearts. By this means, His way of living will be their way too, and they will be faithful to Him.
Paul comments on this in Hebrews 8:7-8, adding that the failure of the Old Covenant lay in the Israelites themselves. They had hearts of stone on which God could not write His way of life. While that covenant was in force, He purposely withheld the vital, heart-softening ingredient, His Spirit, from them as a whole to depict to mankind that peace, prosperity, and redemption are impossible without a spiritual relationship with Him. He must be personally and individually involved in their daily lives.
One day, in the Millennium, He will give Israel that ability - that right heart - and allow them to succeed in the areas in which they failed. This is prophesied in Ezekiel 37:21-23, 26-28:
Thus says the Lord GOD: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. . . . Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore."
Israel will then be given the New Covenant. They will be allowed wholesale access to God through His Holy Spirit, and they will keep His laws along with the statutes and the judgments. They will not just pay them lip-service. This time they will keep their covenant with God.
Moreover, the nations will notice when Israel finally does what it was chosen to do. The Gentiles will begin making the right connections. They will see that God has sanctified the Israelites by setting them apart, giving them His Spirit and His law, and blessing them abundantly for their obedience. They will say, "Maybe we should be doing this too!" and begin to fulfill Isaiah 2:1-4. Thus, during the Millennium, Israel will perform its original purpose as a model and mediatory nation for the rest of the world.
It will take time, maybe generations, but slowly, surely, the whole world will see in Israel, then part of God's church (see Galatians 6:16), how it should live under God. There will be conversions by the thousands - perhaps even by nations, as they realize what wonderful peace and prosperity can ensue when a nation obeys God and lives the way that He teaches!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)
(See also Ezekiel 37:26; Jeremiah 50:5, 20)
Jeremiah 31:31-34 provides an encouraging conclusion to the saga of Israel and Judah once they have repented and returned to the land. These verses, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17, show that this is the same covenant that the church has already made with God. Rather than doing away with the law of God, the New Covenant gives the people the means, not merely to obey it, but to accept it and make it a part of their lives. God will give the people of Israel and Judah new hearts, and they will finally be able to follow God consistently and have real relationships with Him. God will forgive their sins, and Israel will finally begin to be the witness to the rest of the world that God intended her to be (see Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 62:1-2).
Even though God makes this covenant primarily with Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31), it is not exclusive. Through Isaiah, God shows that Gentiles who submit themselves to Him can and will also make this covenant. Of particular interest is the requirement that the Sabbath be kept by those wishing to do this (Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8).
Ezekiel 11:17, 19-21 foretells of Israel and Judah receiving from God a new heart—a spiritual heart that will enable them to keep His commandments and statutes.
Throughout its history, the essential difficulty in Israel's relationship with God has been one of the heart. God exclaims, "Oh, that they [Israel] had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). In Hebrews 3:10, God again identifies this problem: "Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (emphasis ours throughout).
The heart or spirit of a man is the center of his thought, reason, and motivation. Because of human nature, the natural—unconverted—heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). It has an innate, powerful pull toward the self, always making evaluations based on what it perceives as good for the individual regardless of the effect on others. Humanity has had approximately 6,000 years of such self-centered and destructive living, proving that man is simply unable to govern himself for very long. He needs direction and leadership from another—divine—source.
The Old Covenant that God made with Israel was a good agreement as far as it went, because all of God's works are good. The problem was not with its terms, but with the people who made it (Hebrews 8:7-8, 10). They lacked the right heart that would have allowed them to follow God truly and obey His laws. God, though, will give a new heart—a new spirit—to repentant Israelites, along with any others who desire to covenant with Him.
This "new spirit" is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit (see also Jeremiah 32:37-42; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). It is the same Spirit that Jesus told His disciples they would receive, the power that would allow them—through their words and especially through the conduct of their lives—to be witnesses of God (Acts 1:8; see Luke 24:49). It is a Spirit "of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7)—a mind that is balanced because God's concerns reside at its core. It is a mind inclined to obey God and to seek Him as the only Source of true solutions in a world that does not have the means or inclination to live in a way that is good for everybody and good eternally.
As Israel becomes God's model nation, due to her new heart and Spirit, the rest of the world will see that God's way—including His commandments, statutes, and judgments—produce peace and abundance. It is the nature of God's laws that, because of their Source, they bring good, prosperity, health, abundance, peace, and contentment (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Yet, it takes the same spirit—heart—as the Lawgiver for one to understand and keep the laws in their true spiritual intent.
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Three)
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)
Two parties are needed to make a new heart. The "new man" is the New Covenant man. He is the man to whom God has given a new heart and in whom He has placed a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Here, God takes the initiative; it is His doing.
Yet, notice the change in terminology in Ezekiel 18:31: The responsibility becomes ours! "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves [make you, KJV] a new heart and a new spirit." In this passage, it is man, not God, who creates the new heart and the new spirit. Ezekiel 18 and Ezekiel 36 do not contradict; by Himself, God cannot create the new man in us. He needs our cooperation.
The Hebrew word translated "make" in Ezekiel 18:31 (KJV) is asah. God uses it some 2,625 times in the Old Testament. The translators render it a number of ways.
» To make in the sense of fabricate or build:"God made the firmament" (Genesis 1:7); "And you shall make holy garments for Aaron" (Exodus 28:2); "I did not make an end of them [the children of Israel] in the wilderness" (Ezekiel 20:17). Asah does not imply creation out of nothing - the Hebrew word bara, used only 60 times in the Old Testament, carries that meaning: "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). God is always the subject of bara, but as we can see from the examples, He is not always the subject of asah.
» To execute in the sense of "to do": "[Y]ou have established equity, You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob" (Psalms 99:4). "Remove violence and plundering, execute justice and righteousness" (Ezekiel 45:9).
» To keep: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8); "Because you . . . have not walked in My statutes, nor kept My judgments, . . . I . . . am against you" (Ezekiel 5:7,8).
» To prepare, especially a sacrifice: "And when you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering, or as a sacrifice to fulfill a vow . . ." (Numbers 15:8; see also verses 5, 6, 12). "For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, . . . what He ha[s] prepared for him that wait[s] for [H]im" (Isaiah 64:4, KJV).
» To work: "He has filled them with skill to do [KJV work] all manner of work of the engraver" (Exodus 35:35); "Then Jonathan said, . . . '[I]t may be that the LORD will work for us" (I Samuel 14:6); "So we built the wall; . . . for the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6).
» To commit: "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die" (Ezekiel 18:21).
» To do: "And I gave them My statutes, and showed them My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them" (Ezekiel 20:11). "I am the LORD your God: walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 20:19).
The conclusion is inescapable: asah, translated "make" in Ezekiel 18:31 (KJV), is synonymous with keep, do, work, and similar verbs. We "make [ourselves] a new heart" by what we do! Specifically, the action God requires of us is keeping His law, doing His commandments. This is a Christian's work.
By its meaning of "prepare," asah describes both sides of the covenant agreement. It describes what God does for us and what we must do for ourselves if we are to receive the promises of the New Covenant.
God, for His part, has prepared unimaginable glory for us, as Isaiah 64:4 makes plain in the KJV (see I Corinthians 2:9). We are to prepare ourselves just as an Israelite prepared an animal sacrifice (see Numbers 15). It is up to us, as "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1), to prepare ourselves for the marriage of the Lamb by putting on clean clothes - the new man (compare Revelation 19:7-9 with Colossians 3:9-10).
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)
The Seventy Weeks Prophecy is perhaps best known for its descriptions of the future Beast. However, because of the poetic, non-linear style in which it is written, many are erroneously waiting for the Antichrist to make a peace treaty with the Jews for seven years. This misunderstanding results from the fact that the descriptions of the Messiah and the Beast are interwoven in verses 26-27. The Messiah is described in the first halves of verses 26 and 27, while "the prince who is to come" (the figure commonly known as "the Beast," "vile person," and "little horn") is described in the latter parts of the same verses (see "Seventy Weeks Are Determined . . ." Forerunner, December 1994.)
But in the first half of verse 27, it is the Messiah who is prophesied to "confirm a covenant with many for one week." Recall that Jesus told His disciples, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many," and Hebrews 9:28 confirms this connection: "Christ was offered . . . to bear the sins of many." So, even though it is not specifically called the new, eternal, or perpetual covenant in Daniel 9:27, as it is in other places, this is the covenant that is being described. This covenant radically alters the lives of those making it, for under its terms sin is forgiven, the Holy Spirit is given, God's laws are internalized, eternal life is granted (because it gives us personal, experiential knowledge of the Father and the Son; see John 17:3), and there are more instances of divine grace than can be counted.
A large controversy in the early church dealt with the fact that Jews and Gentiles were on equal terms under the New Covenant, since it made salvation available to anyone who is called and responds in faith. In fact, when the Messiah began confirming this covenant, Israelites in general did not want to have anything to do with Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11-12).
After the leaders within Israel rejected Christ, the apostles began to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Then, on the road to Damascus, Saul, renamed Paul, was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles. Clearly, the prophecies regarding salvation for the Gentiles were coming to pass, showing that they were included in the New Covenant.
This is where we in the church are now. It matters not whether we are Israelite or Gentile—we are the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest and already beneficiaries of a superior covenant with extraordinary promises.
David C. Grabbe
Finishing the Week
Protestants try to ascribe the covenant of verse 27 to the Antichrist because "he," they say, refers to "the prince who is to come." But this cannot be! Remember the poetic organization! The key is the word "many." It is literally "the many," and whenever it is used in the Old Testament, it refers to either the covenant people Israel or to the saints, that is, true believers. Jesus says in Matthew 26:28, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Christ makes the covenant, not Antichrist!
Confirm means "strengthen" or "make firm"—almost to the point of being unbreakable. This helps substantiate its reference to the New Covenant, an everlasting covenant that strengthened the basic requirements of the Old Covenant. Significantly, when Christ in the Olivet Prophecy gives His disciples the signs of the end, He does not mention a covenant or treaty to be enacted between the Antichrist and the Jews, Christians, saints, or anyone! He does mention both of the events Gabriel mentions here: the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:2) and the abomination of desolation (verse 15).
What about the final three and a half years of the seventieth week? They have yet to be fulfilled, but Gabriel leaves us hanging regarding when they occur. He does not mention them. When could they be fulfilled?
- The seventieth week has been completely fulfilled by the three and a half year ministry of Christ. This seems to be the least likely of these options.
- Christ will complete His ministry in the first three and a half years after His return, before Satan is locked in the bottomless pit. But the Bible does not indicate that any time elapses between His return and Satan's binding in Revelation 19 and 20.
- They are the years of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, during which Christ will complete His ministry through the Two Witnesses and/or to the church in the Place of Safety. Again, this is only speculation—although Paul's training in Arabia may provide a precedent (Galatians 1:11-18).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'
The young man's question to Jesus is "How can I have eternal life?" In connecting it to the New Covenant terms in Hebrews 8:10, w can see that the writing of the law on the heart is a two-sided affair. Only those who have 1) made the New Covenant with God, and 2) met the terms within the framework of the time that they live, will be given eternal life. The Boss—Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, the Messenger of the Covenant, our Savior, the One who preached the gospel, who knows what He is talking about—says, "If you want to have eternal life, keep the law!"
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)
According to tradition, when a young Hebrew man and woman were to be betrothed, the groom poured wine into his cup and invited the woman to drink of it. It was up to her. If she drank from it, she was considered betrothed to him. If she did not, no marriage would take place. Paul tells the church in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. ForI have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." When the bride drank of the cup, she drank of the marriage covenant or contract, accepting it.
Understanding this symbolism, it is no wonder that Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 26:28, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." As we drink of His cup, we accept His invitation to be betrothed to Him and to be forgiven of our sins so we can be like He is—sinless, spotless, and without fault in His presence at the Marriage Supper.
Yet it means far more! Remember that "drinking the cup" meant to accept whatever that cup represented. When the mother of James and John approaches Jesus with her request to have her sons sit on each side of Jesus when He came into His Kingdom, Jesus replies with a question:
But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you [James and John] able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." (Matthew 20:22)
They do not take the cue from Jesus that they may have to drink more than they care to swallow! They answer affirmatively before they realize what Christ's cup contained. Jesus continues in verse 23:
So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."
What happened to them? James the son of Zebedee was the first apostle martyred, early on by Herod (Acts 12:2). Though John was the longest-lived of the twelve, apparently living nearly 100 years, he certainly suffered greatly at the hands of persecutors. Not only did he spend many years in exile on the Isle of Patmos, one tradition says he miraculously survived being boiled in oil! Beyond this, he had to watch the church disintegrate through apostasy and persecution.
Part of what Jesus' cup entails is suffering. When we drink of His cup, we are saying we are willing to suffer with Him and experience with Him whatever He ordains for us. We symbolically pledge that we are willing to walk down the same path He walked, with similar consequences.
We do not just drink the wine at Passover—we drink "of the cup" of Passover, meaning we are proclaiming our willingness to share in similar trials as Jesus did. We proclaim we are willing to endure whatever He has appointed for us as our lot.
We are also identifying ourselves with Him exclusively: We are cupbearers to the King of kings and to Him only. Psalm 16:5 says, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you maintain my lot." The Eternal is our cup! Do we grasp the meaning of this? We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We cannot simultaneously identify with Christ and Satan. Our lives, our actions, our words, our thoughts, continuously announce which is our father, God in heaven or Satan. Drinking of Jesus' cup means to live His way of life and renounce Satan's ways.
Are You Drinking of the Master's Cup?
Each year in the spring, when we observe the Passover, we partake of the wine, which symbolizes the shed blood of Jesus Christ. When He instituted this new Passover symbol, He explained it by saying, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many" (Mark 14:24). When we come under the blood of Jesus Christ upon our baptism and acceptance of Him as our Savior, we enter into that New Covenant.
Considering how important the New Covenant is, there are surprisingly few references to it within the New Testament—and even fewer explanations. What references there are—largely in the book of Hebrews—depend heavily on quotations from the Old Testament prophets. In fact, the New Testament teaching of the New Covenant relies entirely on one already having an understanding from reading the prophets. Without those prophecies, we would not understand what we actually enter into.
The New Covenant is mentioned in numerous places (Isaiah 54:9-10; 55:3; 59:20-21; 61:1-11; Jeremiah 32:36-41; 50:4-5; Ezekiel 16:60-63; 20:33-38; 34:23-26; 37:15-28), but perhaps the clearest description—and the one quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17—is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
David C. Grabbe
Finishing the Week
On the physical level, a finely aged wine is obviously preferable to a new wine. One year at the Feast of Tabernacles, I had the rare opportunity to sample a Bordeaux bottled in the late 1970s or early 80s. Suffice it to say that the wine's depth and complexity of flavors would put to profound shame anything bottled recently.
Curiously, though, in this parable, the new wine is the one that is to be preferred! This may seem incongruous at first, until we remember what these things represent. The new wine of Christ's sacrifice, of the New Covenant, and of God's Spirit being poured out on us is infinitely more valuable than anything before conversion. Whether the old wine represents physical abundance or the headiness of what Babylon entices us with constantly, nothing can be compared to the new wine—if we have God's Spirit.
However, because we are still human, and the old man still remains in us to some degree, at times the old wine seems better. The old wine seems more gratifying to the senses. Before conversion, we certainly had no interest in this new wine because the old wine suited us just fine, even if it was making us miserable. Even after conversion, we sometimes reach for the old wine.
When we are under that influence, we do not find the new wine appealing because we are hooked on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:16). It requires spiritual sobriety to recognize the true blessing of the new wine, but we cannot do that easily—if at all—when the old wine is on our palate. It is only in abstaining from the old wine that we can truly appreciate the uniqueness and superiority of the new.
David C. Grabbe
Clothing, Wineskins, and Wine
Here, the difference between God's Holy Spirit and our spirit is noted. God's Spirit (His Word, His thoughts, His way) always produces life—eternal life—the way God lives. Jesus was made a life-giving Spirit, and He is the High Priest. As High Priest, He is in charge of the administration of life (see II Corinthians 3). The difference between the two covenants is that the priesthood under the Old Covenant could not administer life, but the Priesthood under the New Covenant administers life by providing the Spirit of God to the mind of man. Demons and men cannot truthfully claim what Jesus claimed here, that His Spirit is life. Man's spirit, like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, produces death, because it produces sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)
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 4)
John 15:1-6 deals with the productivity achieved in our lives after conversion begins. This teaching begins to make abundantly clear how much we need Him. Interestingly, what Jesus teaches in John 6 about being the bread of life—which also shows how much we need Him—occurred fairly early in His ministry. The exhortation here occurs at the end of His ministry, speaking to His disciples following His final Passover observance. He confirms that what the Father desires to be produced in our relationship cannot be produced apart from Christ. This passage is a final admonition for us to make every effort to remain "in" Him, not allowing what just happened with Judas to happen to us. By betraying His Savior, Judas abandoned the responsibility imposed by the New Covenant.
For the moment, consider the beginning of the relationship. We can overlook the arresting fact that, without Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, there would be no future except for death. Without it, there would be no looking forward to a joyous and productive life in the Kingdom of God. In fact, there would be no relationship at all. Without Him providing this for us, there would be no hope at all. Could we pay the penalty for sin and continue living?
Understanding the symbolism Jesus used is helpful in grasping how much we need what Christ did and does. To glean as much as we can from this, we need to tie it to its wider context, Jesus' final Passover with His disciples. Certain references to bread are made as part of Jesus' change of the Passover symbols, which helps to tie the symbolism together with His crucifixion for our forgiveness. Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:23-24:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
In John 6, bread plays an important role. It is frequently used as a metaphor for Christ Himself. I Corinthians 11 clearly ties bread, also named in John 13:18, to the giving of His body in the crucifixion. I Corinthians 11:25-26 adds:
In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying. "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
This second symbol is important to grasping what Christ teaches in John 15:1-6 correctly. The vine He speaks of is obviously the grape vine. He clearly states that He is the vine and that we are the branches attached to Him. Just as grapes can be produced only by a shoot that remains attached to the vine, we can produce spiritual fruit that pleases the Father and thus be in the Kingdom of God only if we remain attached to Jesus Christ. In this illustration, all nourishment that results in fruit must come from the vine. He not only pays the penalty of our sins, but He also supplies the spiritual nourishment to produce fruit that glorifies the Father and prepares us for life in God's Kingdom.
John 8:31-32 reminds us that continuing in His Word is the key to knowing the truth and becoming free. This greatly enhances the production of fruit. Thus, if we fulfill our responsibility, we are in that sense in partnership with Him in performing our duties under the New Covenant. A wonderful additional benefit of remaining in Christ is that those who faithfully fulfill their roles are not gathered up and cast into the fire, as John 16:6 warns.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)
God gradually unfolds before us what the conditions for conversion are. Layer upon layer of truth, or revelation, is needed to get the fullness of a subject.
Here are the conditions: We have to be called (John 6:44). We have to repent. We have to believe the gospel. We have to believe in Jesus Christ. We have to begin obeying God, because God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (John 14:15-18; Acts 5:32). We have to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We also have to have hands laid on us (Acts 8:14-17).
This should help us to understand that the "writing of the law on our hearts" (Hebrews 8:10) is a cooperative effort. It is not something done only by God, but it absolutely requires what God does. It also requires that we do something. When a person does these things, he is meeting the terms of the New Covenant - not all of them yet.
Were there terms like this in the Old Covenant? No. What a difference exists between the two! It is no wonder that the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). It is no wonder the Old Covenant could not be kept (Hebrews 8:7). There is such a flaw, a fault, in every one of us (Hebrews 8:8). God knew this when He made the Old Covenant with Israel. Since God is love, He left us an example of how much the New Covenant means to us, so that we could look back on history and understand what awesome gifts have been given to us. By that, He hopes to create within us a deep sense of thanksgiving and of obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twelve)
The Gentiles' conversion resulted in a serious controversy in the church over whether they should be required to be circumcised. This major issue resulted in the convening of the first ministerial conference in the history of God's church (Acts 15). At this conference, the ministry was led to decide that the Gentiles do not need to be circumcised.
God revealed to the apostles that, under the New Covenant, He makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Regardless of race or ethnic origin, He extends the promises of salvation to any and all whom He chooses to call. Under the New Covenant, physical descent from Abraham no longer matters because God is concerned only over the person's repentance and faith in Christ. Those who receive the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism become "the seed of Abraham." Additionally, because the purpose and meaning of physical circumcision have been superseded by the New Covenant, there is no need to inflict pain and possible psychological distress on an adult male through this operation.
Peter emphasizes that God looked upon the hearts of the Gentiles and saw their repentance. Although they were not circumcised, God forgave their sins because of their repentance and faith in Christ and granted them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were, therefore, justified by faith and spiritually circumcised, that is, in heart and mind (Romans 2:28-29). During the Jerusalem conference, God revealed to the apostles that justification fulfilled the spiritual symbolism of circumcision.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Why We Must Put Out Leaven
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?
God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. However, in order to worship Him in this way, one must have the Spirit of God! In Matthew 26:41, Jesus says, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. A person's flesh can respond to something inspirational and even say, "Yes, I want to do right." But if his heart is not circumcised, a person lacks the resolve to do right consistently. The New Covenant was designed by God to circumcise the heart!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seven)
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)
Paul makes a strong, urgent appeal to Christians to devote their lives to sacrifice. Sacrifice suggests the giving up or forfeiture of something or oneself for something or someone considered to be of greater value. In this context, the "Someone" is Jesus Christ and the "something" is God's way of life. The apostle is urging those of us who have had the revelation of God given to us to devote ourselves entirely to living it.
He urges us to sacrifice our bodies. He does not mean to imply giving up merely our skin and bones but the totality of what we are—our entire beings including our minds with all of their character, energy, knowledge, experiences, skills, perspectives, and attitudes—with nothing held back, since we are likely to hold a portion of our life in reserve just for ourselves. In other words, he is asking us to consecrate our entire lives to God. Note that Paul does not call this "extreme," but "reasonable."
Why would one even consider taking on the potential for such costly pain? No one really grasps the fullness of what God asks of those who make the New Covenant with Him at baptism. This witness in Romans 12:1-2 is nonetheless part of His Word to testify against us. There is a good reason, succinctly given in Romans 5:5: "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." We do it because God's love for His Son has been given to us and is growing. His investment in us, His grace, is beginning to be returned.
The love of God, the biblical love, is not a mere affection but an outgoing concern equal to or greater than self-concern. This love, which we do not have by nature but is given by God as a gift, will sacrifice itself for the well-being of others. It will pay the costs of forfeiture of self-interest for the well-being even of enemies. It will choose to lay down its life following the pattern shown in Jesus' life.
The love of God is an unearned, dynamic gift from God that influences one who has it toward oneness with God and fellow man. It must be deliberately chosen, though, in order to be put to use.
At this juncture, its costs come to the fore because, despite conversion, human nature remains. Though considerably weakened, it still exerts its influences toward the self (Romans 7:14-23; Galatians 5:16-17). We must overcome human nature's influences, but in virtually every case, we must make a sacrifice to fulfill the influences of the love of God. Sacrificing almost always involves the potential for loss, at times a considerable loss.
A number of verses reveal that, in one sense, choosing whether to sacrifice oneself in obedience to Jesus Christ is not a realistic option to anyone who claims to love Him. In John 14:15, Jesus says, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." He adds in John 14:21, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me." Verse 15 is a direct command and challenge to anyone claiming to love Him, and verse 21 says that one's following through in submissive obedience is the proof that the claimant loves Him. I John 5:3 adds a resounding confirmation to verse 21 by providing the Bible's definition of love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."
Love comes at a high price, but it is also rewarding because, as we make the sometimes costly choices to please God by following Jesus Christ, we transform more fully into His image due to following the pathway our Savior blazed before us. Becoming a living sacrifice is one of the costs that observing Passover should recall to our memories, giving us substance for sober reflection aimed toward revitalizing our understanding of the significance of this important day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Love
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 11:25-29
Verse 25 reads, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." It employs a figure of speech in which the word "cup" is a metonymy, meaning that the cup represents what it contains: literally wine. The wine symbolized His blood, thus, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood."
A covenant is an agreement, a contract, between two parties. It is a device to bring people into a binding relationship to accomplish some undertaking. This particular covenant is unusual in that it is in His blood.
In his commentary on I Corinthians 11:23-34 (p. 104), William Barclay makes a very interesting comment on this. He changes a few words and provides proof that the change is grammatically legitimate. He paraphrases it in this manner: "This covenant cost Me My life." This agreement, the New Covenant, is made at the cost of the most precious, the most valuable and dearest Life that has ever lived on the face of the earth, that of our sinless Creator. It did not come cheaply.
Barclay's paraphrase is justifiable because the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:14). The giving of that specific Life by His shed blood made possible the establishment of a covenantal relationship with God. This relationship is the fruit of Christ's sinless life and subsequent death. Passover portrays what makes salvation a reality for us because justification before God is its fruit. We can consider Christ's making this relationship possible the most important accomplishment of all that He has done through His death.
Our relationship with God is our salvation. We could have no salvation unless the relationship existed because we would still be cut off from God. Once established, this relationship must be developed and to be developed, it must be continued! "If you continue, you will become free," says Jesus. This begins the process of truly coming to know God, and to know God is eternal life (John 17:3).
Within the context of I Corinthians 11, a major point deals with people not properly discerning the sacred gravity of what the symbols represent. Some in Corinth were making a mockery of the Passover. The church members gathered for a meal, and some were getting drunk, others ate in a gluttonous manner, while a few received little food because others were hogging it all. What they did edified the body not at all! They experienced very little of the right kind of spiritual fellowship.
The apostle writes his epistle to correct a corrupt situation. His point is that, in doing what they did, they were not discerning the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If they had truly understood their significance, they would not have acted in this manner. They were not properly interpreting and applying the meaning to their own lives. In treating Christ's sacrifice in a frivolous manner, their application especially went awry. They went through the motions of taking the Passover but without appreciating the reality that the symbols represented.
The word "unworthy" in I Corinthians 11:27 means "lacking in merit or worth." The Corinthians had no appreciation of the precious value of what the symbols represented to their personal salvation. They were missing the eternal character of what they were observing, caring little about who had died and grasping almost nothing of the love that went into His act. They were truly profaning the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ and putting Him to an open shame.
A major point of understanding about observing Passover is that our attitude toward Christ's sacrifice affects our approach to life in general. Above all, it will affect our relationship with the Father, as well as with one another, because the strength of our obligation to submit to Jesus Christ will be diminished. We will not feel it all that important to submit in obedience.
If God wants us to understand anything by our observing the Passover, it is 1) the tremendous costs it took to free us and to maintain that freedom, and 2) how far Jesus Christ, our Example, was willing to be "pushed" without giving in to sin in even the smallest of matters. Let us take Passover soberly, with the serious significance of what it represents at the forefront of our minds.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Love
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 word translated here "foolish" means unintelligent or unwise, and by implication sensual. This implication is very interesting when considered in light of what the letter to the Galatians is fundamentally about: The Galatians were trying to use the rites and ceremonies and physical requirements of Gnostic Judaism to "work" their way into God's Kingdom. Their emphasis was on what they were doing, rather than on God's work in them. Their focus was on things dealing with the senses; things that would be, by definition, sensual—not in terms of being sexual or provocative, but rather indicating the emphasis on the physical senses.
This word (anoeetoi—Strong's #453) is a derivative of a negative particle and noeo (Strong's #3539), which means to exercise the mind, observe, to comprehend, heed, consider, perceive, think, or understand. So the word foolish is the opposite (because of the negative an) of all these things. The Galatians, then, were not exercising their minds; they were unobservant, uncomprehending, unheeding, inconsiderate, imperceptive, non-thinking, and non-understanding. They were not thinking things all the way through, and not fully considering all of the aspects of the way they were living. They were unable to see that their ideas and views did not add up—that there were some obvious gaps in their understanding that had brought them to the condition they were in.
Paul here is continuing with a theme from Galatians 1:4-9—namely, that the Galatians were falling away ("so soon removed") from the original teaching that had been given to them by God through His human servants. The very foundation of the New Covenant with God is that we can build a relationship with God directly—because of the sacrifice of Christ. For them even to make the covenant with God properly, it was a requirement that they understand that justification by means of a sinless sacrifice was the only way it is possible for us to come into God's presence! Our own righteousness is as "filthy rags" in comparison to God's; our works simply do not amount to enough to even out the scales. But this does not negate the necessity of working! The Galatians' problem was that they thought their personal righteousness was sufficient—and if that was the case, then truly there was no need for Christ to die.
Paul refers to the Galatians being "bewitched." This word means "to malign," or "to fascinate by false representation." The Galatians were drawn in—their fascination was piqued by these Jewish and Gnostic ideas. It did not take long for them to begin slipping spiritually, and a large part of this was because of their misplaced faith. They had more faith in themselves, in their own works, to save them than they had in Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession! They did not see or know God clearly enough, and the absence of Him in their lives created a void that was quickly and easily filled by these false ideas.
This is the only place in the New Testament where this word ("bewitched") is used (Strong's #940), but numerous other verses speak of this principle. Paul is speaking of this principle when he says in Galatians 1:7-9 not to deviate from this gospel message even if an "angel" from heaven gave them different instructions! The Galatians were weak enough in the faith that they could be easily deceived and drawn away if one of Satan's angels were to appear before them.
Matthew 24:24 speaks of false Christs—false ideas, pictures, impressions about Christ—arising, as well as false prophets, who will be able to manifest terrific signs and wonders to the extent that even the elect of God could be deceived. This is why we have to have such a concrete picture in our minds of what "Christ" is comprised of so that when we begin to hear about or see miraculous things, our faith will not be shaken as the Galatians' was.
David C. Grabbe
In all of mankind since Adam, only one person has qualified to receive the inheritance of the promises that were made to Abraham—Christ.
We can see the requirements as early as Genesis 17:1, where God says to Abraham, "Walk before Me, and be perfect." Some Bibles translate it, "Be blameless," which means the same thing; "Be without sin." Christ, at the end of His life, was found to be blameless; therefore, He qualified to receive the promises. He met every condition of the Covenant, and then became the Inheritor.
Verse 29 is explaining that, if we are "in Christ" (in union with Him), then we become co-heirs with Him. We become co-inheritors with Him, if we have met the conditions the Bible gives: God has called us; we have unconditionally surrendered to God; we believe the gospel; we believe in the blood of Jesus Christ; we have been baptized; we have received the Holy Spirit; we have had hands laid on us. Then we also become "in Christ." The picture is as if we were part of Christ's body, and we are "in" Him. That is not actually what has occurred, but we are within the church.
Christ, being the Inheritor of the promises, then made out a will, as it were, prior to His death for the forgiveness of our sins. This will is also the New Covenant, which includes all the promises and blessings the Scriptures show us.
Christ had to die for a number of reasons. First of all, He was physical; and it is given to all men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). Another reason is that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and when our sins were placed on Him, He then came under the law and the law claimed its penalty—He died. Another reason is that He had to be transformed, glorified by means of a resurrection, because, as long as He was in the flesh, He could not inherit the promises either. One has to be eternal to inherit them; "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 15:50).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Thirteen)
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
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
This statement would have been a bombshell - and high heresy - to the average Jew of Paul's time, who would have had it in his mind that the people of Israel were the only children of God. Paul here is beginning to explain that physical lineage is not relevant where God's calling is concerned, because under the New Covenant only God can give the summons (John 6:44), and if He summons a Gentile, it is just as valid as if He gave it to an Israelite.
The faith of Jesus Christ is the important factor rather than heredity. This faith is also a part of what God gives (Ephesians 2:8) - again, only to those whom He chooses. But if God has given this living faith (James 2:20) to a man, that man is then a begotten - but not yet born - child of God. God is the real father, rather than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
David C. Grabbe
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
Webster's Dictionary defines allegory as "to speak figuratively, a symbolic representation." Unger's Bible Dictionary defines it as expressing or explaining one thing under the image of another and showing a second and deeper meaning than would seem apparent. Again, it is similar to a parable.
Paul—addressing the New Testament church, which he calls "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16)—shows that the Old Covenant points to and helps explain the New. He writes that Jerusalem is a figure, forerunner, type, and present-day symbol of the New Covenant and church today (see also Hebrews 12:22-23, Romans 9:1-8; I Peter 2:9). We can then read both the history and prophecy regarding Jerusalem, the physical capital of Israel, and apply much of it to the church, the spiritual "Jerusalem, . . . mother of us all."
This makes this principle regarding Gentiles very specific. Not only were they "without Christ" before conversion, they were also aliens from Israel. Tying this together with Romans 9:4-5, they were also separated from the Covenant, were they not? Now, because of their conversion, they were near to the additional blessings that would come from being near to Israel. The inference is that they were no longer aliens.
Gentiles must become a part of Israel because that is with whom the New Covenant is being made (Hebrews 8:8)! Conversion, then, having access to God, putting on Christ, entering into the Covenant, having promises and hope, and being part of Israel, all go together in one package. God does not disrupt the patterns that He Himself established.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eleven)
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
An alternate translation may help us to understand what Paul is getting at here: "These are a shadow of future things, but the reality [what is real or firm] belongs to Christ."
Old Testament activities or types point to spiritual realities under the New Covenant. He is not saying that Old Covenant activities no longer have to be observed, but rather that they need to be raised—elevated—to be understood and applied in their God-intended, spiritual sense.
Protestant scholars understand this fact, and they will even remark on it in their commentaries. Notice Conybeare and Howson's The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, page 346: "The festivals observed by the apostolic church were at the first the same with those of the Jews; and the observation of these was continued, especially by the Christians of Jewish birth, for a considerable time."
On page 574, they write: "Nay, more. He himself [Paul] observed the Jewish festivals." This clarifies that Colossians 2:16-17 is not telling us that the festivals—those so-called "Old Testament laws"—are done away. Rather, he is saying that they are to be raised, elevated, understood in a spiritual sense, rather than something that is merely material and physical.
Conybeare and Howson's conclusion is that, contrary to the common misunderstanding of these verses, the Bible and history show that the apostolic church kept God's holy days. Congregations dominated by Gentiles were the first to break away from them, as being too "Jewish," and begin to keep festivals like Christmas and Easter.
However, did keeping pagan festivals show forth the praises of God? The apostles clearly did not think so, or they would have kept them. It begins to become clear that Old Testament activities contain valuable instruction for the new covenant church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)
In Hebrews 3:12, the apostle Paul reports of Israel's "evil heart of unbelief," the fountain, the source, that gave birth to her irrational, erratic, unreliable spiritual and moral behavior. She could not be trusted to remain firm to her commitment to be faithful in keeping the commandments and thus God's way of life. Had the making of the covenant been a literal marriage between two humans, her conduct would have been as God called it, harlotry. However, this was an agreement between a holy, spiritual God and the human nation He chose.
Though she transgressed every commandment in multiple ways, collectively, the spiritual sin through which her unfaithfulness is most frequently demonstrated is gross idolatry. Israel simply serves herself, following the whim of the moment, so that she might "have fun." Her lack of belief grants her nature free rein to exhibit itself in the self-endowed liberty to follow the lust of her flesh, the lust of her eyes, and the pride of life. She rejects her divine Husband as her Ruler because she wants a king "just like" the other nations.
Except for the occasional times when Israel had good leadership, she conducted her affairs, whether personal, domestic, or international, in the Babylonian manner. Israel, despite her great advantages, became just another kingdom of this world. While God has remained faithful to His agreements and promises through the centuries, she has maintained a hypocritical "God's people" stance toward the world, palming herself off as a "Christian nation."
With the founding of the church following Christ's resurrection, God's spiritual focus turned to the church. Having made the New Covenant with God, our charge now is to be faithful while living surrounded by Babylon the Great. Though it is literally physically impossible, we have the responsibility to come out of her, and we can come out spiritually by being faithful to God and His commandments. We must not fail as Israel did, for the stakes for us are much greater. The New Covenant is a better covenant than Israel made; it contains better promises, enabling us a much better opportunity to be faithful and grow. However, those greater advantages also render us more responsible than even Israel, God's only chosen nation, because the church of God is God's only chosen church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible
God says through the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." God does not want to lose us. Yet, He is creating His holy, righteous character in us. For that to be done, He must put us through tests and, in a sense, take the risk that He will lose us in one of them. He also lets the leash out, as it were, little by little, increasing the intensity of the tests as years go by. In this way, we experience life together with Him.
Herein is exposed the weakness of the Old Covenant. Romans 8:3 tells us that the law "was weak through the flesh." The marriage covenant between God and Israel was entered into before the qualities necessary for a successful union were ever developed in the Israelites. God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, took them to Mount Sinai, and then He proposed to them. In three days, the marriage was entered into, and Israel became God's (see Exodus 19-24). It was a marriage doomed to divorce from the very beginning, illustrating that no person—even one as great as God—can create a successful marriage if the other party does not agree, refusing to walk with them or to conform to recognized standards. Despite God's lovingkindness and patience, Israel never trusted Him! That is what Hebrews 4:2 says.
However, the New Covenant solves this problem! These matters will be ironed out before the covenant is completed, which will not happen until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—not until the children of God are resurrected. Then two who are "on equal footing," let us say, will marry. They will have experienced life together over long periods of time and will have come to know and trust one another. They will know each other's actions and reactions—the other's mind and heart—and a trust will have been built that will enable the marriage to succeed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
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
In verses 8-12, Paul quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. The writer begins by telling us that God found fault with the men of old, and this leads to the quotation from Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8:8.
From the failures of the past, Jeremiah turned his vision to the future. There are four significant things prophesied by Jeremiah and quoted by Paul about the new covenant in verses 10-12:
First, the New Covenant is inward and dynamic: It is written on the hearts and minds of the people. A shortcoming of the Old had been its outwardness. It had divinely given laws, but it was written on tablets of stone. Jeremiah looked for a time when people would not simply obey an external code but would be so transformed that God's own laws would be written in their inmost beings.
Second, there is a close relationship between the God who will be "their God" and the people, he says, who will be "My people." The change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is that while the formula of the covenant remains the same from age to age, it is capable of being filled with fresh meaning to a point where it can be described as a "new" covenant. "I will be your God" acquires fuller meaning with every further revelation of the character of God.
Third, all who enter it will have knowledge of God. There will be no need for a person to instruct his neighbor. The word rendered neighbor in verse 11 means "citizen," and thus a "fellow-citizen." Jeremiah moves from the wider relationship in the community to the narrower relationship in the family, saying that in neither case will there be a need to exhort anyone to know God because everyone will know Him.
This does not mean that under the conditions of the New Covenant there will be no place for a teacher. There will always be the need for those who have advanced in the Christian way to pass on to others the benefit of their knowledge. Rather, the meaning is that the knowledge of God will not be confined to a privileged few (as with the priesthood of ancient Israel). All those under the New Covenant will have their own intimate and personal knowledge of their God.
Fourth, under the New Covenant, sins are forgiven. Following repentance of sins and acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, sins are forgiven. The superior sacrifice of Christ is offered once and for all, paying the penalty of sin for those who repent.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Many hold the mistaken belief that the New Covenant transforms living by faith and glorifying God into a far easier task than under the Old Covenant. “Easier” is an erroneous descriptor. Even though a convert is forgiven of past sins and receives wonderful gifts from God, including the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant also requires him or her to become a living sacrifice. Sacrificing one's life in humble submission to God is not easy, as the New Testament attests. Jesus lists some requirements in Luke 14:25-27:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Almost all who call themselves Christian today hold the opinion that, through the New Covenant, God has made salvation much easier to obtain. The central pillar in their belief seems to be that since Jesus kept the laws perfectly, and since He paid for the forgiveness of our sins through His sacrifice, when one accepts Him as Savior, the convert's obligation to meet the New Covenant's demands is somehow magically reduced or even eliminated. People carelessly say, “Jesus did it all for me.”
In plain language, a high percentage of professing Christians accept as true that God's law is essentially done away. They believe that Jesus kept it for us. While that idea contains truth, it has been twisted into a misleading concept: that we need not be as concerned about keeping it as those who lived under the Old Covenant. Nothing could be further from the truth! Why? Our willing, devoted, and careful participation in keeping His law is absolutely necessary to be created in God's image!
The reality is that the New Covenant establishes what we might call graduate-level requirements of keeping God's law. However, God compensates for our weaknesses by providing the spiritual tools to reach those levels. Jesus did keep the commandments for our benefit, in that God is mercifully willing to accept His righteous life and death to pay our debt to Him for our sins because we do not have sufficient righteousness to pay the cost to have the death penalty removed.
But something is missing in people's misunderstanding of this reality, so their trust in it is also skewed. What is missing is what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”: the truth that godly character is not imposed but built, created, with the willing and dedicated assistance of the person being transformed. The world's flawed conclusion dismisses the fact that God's creation of each person into His image is only just beginning at the individual's forgiveness and baptism into the church and the Family of God.
Anyone thinking of baptism should consider—if we have little need to be concerned about sin—why Jesus is so solemn and stern in His admonition in Luke 14:25-27 about His disciples following such high standards. Not being discussed at this point is that, despite Christ's wonderful gift in sacrificing Himself to pay our indebtedness to God, the reality is that the wages of sin, death, remain because the existence of the laws continues.
What we find is that God not only forgives us, but in our calling He also gives us the spiritual tools to fight and win the spiritual battles we engage in to keep sin from re-enslaving us. The fight against sin continues. God provides the tools for us to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-2) if we will believe in them and use them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
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 decidedlybetter.
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 Covenantandthe New. Both have the same necessary parts, so that they may be considered of the same "kind," but the New Covenant is so much betterand 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 covenantis 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 very 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 on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. God gives us the very faith that saves. God gives us His Spirit, which is a downpayment 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 Him 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.
Now, brethren, some of these - 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 (covenant) in terms of what God is working out. It is nothing more than a pale shadow of the promises and of the hope that is derived by those of us who understand the New Covenant's terms.
To the unconverted who read the Bible - who look into these things - these terms are so enticing that it lures them into saying that there is nothing that we have to do. Some will go that far! They will say that it has all been done for us. They can read the terms, but they reach the wrong conclusion. It leads people to say, "There is no law," and "You don't have to keep the Sabbath. It's just ceremonial." However, the truth is that it 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 10)
Justification and sanctification are both essential to God's purposes regarding salvation. However, most are far more familiar with justification.
Some believe that justification preserves one's salvation through to the resurrection. This cannot possibly be so, though, because that would mean that justification is salvation. In Hebrews 6:1, this same author writes, "Let us go on to perfection." At the time one is justified, the perfection or maturity of which he writes is still future.
Sanctification is the inward spiritual transformation that Jesus Christ, as our High Priest, works in a convert by His Holy Spirit following justification. I Corinthians 1:30 informs us that Christ is not only our righteousness but also our sanctification. Hebrews 2:11 names Him as "He who sanctifies," and in the same verse, His brethren are called "those who are being sanctified." During Jesus' prayer in John 17:19, He says, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also [the converts] may be sanctified by the truth." Ephesians 5:26-27 adds, ". . . that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."
If words mean anything, these verses—and there are many more—teach us that Jesus Christ undertakes the sanctification of His brothers and sisters no less than He does their justification.
Hebrews 10:14 is apt to be misunderstood. Perhaps this illustration may help: Imagine an observer, who, looking to his left, sees a perfect work—Christ's sacrificial offering for our justification—already completed in the past. On his right, he sees an ongoing continuous process—our sanctification—stretching off into the future. The author of Hebrews is showing that Christ's one offering is so efficacious that nothing can be added to it. It will provide a solid foundation for the continuing process of godly character growth to holiness for all mankind for all time.
In the Old Testament, the words translated as "sanctify" and "holy" are derived from the same Hebrew root, and in the New Testament, they come from the same Greek root. In both languages, they are used in essentially the same way, meaning "to be made or declared clean or purified." Because of the sense of cleanliness, both imply being different from others of their kind that are not holy, and thus they are separated or set apart from what is common. One author suggests that the cleanliness of something holy makes it "a cut above."
Justification is essentially a legal operation on God's part by accounting Christ's righteousness to us because of faith on our part. Romans 4:1-5 confirms this:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
No works on our part are acceptable for justification. There is no way a sinner can "make up" for his sins. By contrast, we are deeply involved in the sanctification process, where works are very important. Ephesians 2:10 from the Amplified Bible clearly states our responsibility following conversion:
For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].
After being justified, we are required to live obediently, to submit to God in faith, glorifying God by overcoming Satan, the world, and human nature. Sanctification is normally the longest and most difficult aspect of salvation. Real challenges, sometimes very difficult ones, abound within it if we are to remain faithful to God, the New Covenant, and His purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
Listen! Hear Him! Believe what He says!
The author of Hebrews has presented us with the facts that Christ is greater than angels, greater than Moses and greater than Aaron; that the New Covenant is superior in every way to the Old Covenant. He addresses this presentation to Christians who stand, not before a physical mountain in the Sinai, but a spiritual Mount Zion in heaven. Nevertheless, we still have the potential to refuse to hear, even as the Israelites who had just come out of Egypt did not hear. Now, they knew—they knew—that it was the voice of God that they heard, and they refused to hear because they believed they could not endure what He commanded!
Do we see the parallel?
It is possible for Christians to cherish their own will—which they know to be diametrically opposed to the will and purpose of God—and to stick to their own desires, thus stifling the voice of the Almighty God Himself! And thus, we can wrench ourselves away from the voice because we feel uncomfortable going against our resolve.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 4)
When God separated Abraham and his family from his family and his country, and when God separated Israel from Egypt, their sanctification was also geographical. He literally moved them from one place on earth to another. His purpose was to establish a new community of people all involved in the same purpose.
With the church, our separation is not geographical but spiritual, moral, and ethical, while still living geographically within the system that we were born into. We must become separated from the way, from the manner, from the lifestyle, from the attitudes of the system that we were born into and moved (motivated) to make God's way, His manner, His system, His attitudes ours. That is how we "come out" of Babylon.
Abraham and Israel literally moved geographically. Some of us may move geographically, but that is not really what God has in mind. He desires a spiritual, moral, ethical, and attitudinal departure from our friends, neighbors, family, the gang we ran with, or whatever. We are called to be different.
The concept of God's separating, making holy, and establishing a new community, is not lost. The community aspect is merely reserved until a later time. Under the New Covenant, the community is the Kingdom of God. It is a goal we are moving toward as He prepares His set-apart people to enter that new community.
So where are we headed? To the Kingdom of God. Are we headed there geographically? No. We stay right where we are, but we still "come out" of Babylon in a spiritual sense. We are still sanctified by a change of attitude, of practice, and of conduct. Instead of immoral, we become moral. Instead of being unethical, we become ethical. Instead of being spiritually anti-God as Satan is, we become spiritual in the way God is spiritual.
That is how we "come out." We are set apart for that purpose. At this time, geography has little or no part in the sanctifcation of the overwhelming majority of God's people.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1)
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