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Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Antinomianism

Glossary 25 Antinomianism

Antinomianism. Simply stated, antinomianism means “against [the] law.” One would think that this term applies to law breakers—depraved people who act as if they are above any law or standard that would compel them to conform to its demands—but it has come to define various theological perspectives about the “law,” some of which may actually lead to a deterioration of Christian virtues or an incomplete grasp of Christian doctrine. Like the term “legalism,” antinomianism has surfaced during the history of the church as a charge against those whose view of “law” differs from the accepted norm. While some variances in opinion about the law are minor—and unsuitable to be called antinomian—other viewpoints lurk at the door of churches poised to undermine sound doctrine and conduct. It is one thing to be free from the law in terms of guilt and punishment, and quite another to be against the law as a moral guide or source of sound doctrine. According to one theological dictionary, antinomianism is the doctrine “that it is not necessary for Christians to preach or obey the moral law of the OT,”[i] suggesting that it is possible for someone to be a Christian without the moral instruction of the OT. Others have described antinomianism as “an old heresy which technically means opposition to the law [and] embodies the view that since men can be set free from sin by grace alone, obedience to the law is irrelevant to salvation.”[ii] There is a subtle difference between these two definitions. As we shall see below, the term came to encompass a wide range of theological issues besides the relationship of the Testaments, such as justification, sin in the life of the believer, repentance, the effects of grace, sanctification, and of course, what Christ accomplished in His life and through his death. The topic is broad and still relevant to the church.[iii]

The first use of the term “antinomian” is attributed to Luther, elicited by his disdain for the aberrant theology of one of his students, Johann Agricola (1494-1566), who denied that the Mosaic law was needed or useful in Christian sanctification or ongoing repentance because the gospel was enough (Rom 2:4; cf. Rom 11:22). “He condemned the Ten Commandments as an unnecessary carryover from the Old Testament and too similar to the Catholic doctrine of good works,” and he believed the Decalogue should not be a part of Reformed theology.[iv] “Agricola denied even [that the moral law convicted one of sin], believing that repentance should be induced only through the preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.”[v] Both Luther and Melanchthon responded in a series of debates with Agricola during the 1520s and 1530s,[vi] leading to a refinement of their own understanding of the relationship of the law and gospel. This culminated in the paradigmatic “three uses of the law” presented in the Formula of Concord, published in 1576.[vii] The Formula alludes to the controversy: “For some have contended that the law ought not to be taught at all among Christians, but that men should be invited to good works by the doctrine of the gospel alone.”[viii] As should be obvious, this type of antinomianism is intellectual or theoretical, and does not necessarily lead to licentiousness. Ironically, Luther was also accused of teaching against the law. “Martin Luther responded with such a fierceness against the law that some people have thought he meant to teach that it has no ongoing role in the Christian life. Nothing could be further from the truth.”[ix] “Luther, on the other hand, had been accused—like the Apostle Paul before him (Rom. 3 31)—that the zealous performance of good works had abated, that the bonds of discipline had slackened and that, as a necessary consequence, lawlessness and shameless immorality were being promoted by his doctrine of justification by faith alone. Before 1517 the rumor had already spread that Luther intended to do away with good works.”[x]

Linder cites the 1637 Puritan trial of Anne Hutchinson as the second most famous antinomian controversy. Due to her favor of the covenant of grace as taught by John Cotton and her outspoken reaction to what she thought was an overemphasis on law, she was condemned as an antinomian and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “The New England clergy probably misunderstood her main concerns and overreacted to what they perceived to be a threat to the unity and internal security of the Puritan community.”[xi] Authors Withington and Schwartz describe her antinomianism as a belief “that a man’s behavior on earth offered no clue to his fate after death” and further insisting that “good conduct was no sign of salvation and bad conduct no sign of damnation.”[xii]  However, it is not clear from the trial records that these particular views were the subject of controversy, as much as the freedom to hold a religious opinion at variance with those in power.

Turretin (1623-1687) proceeds to teach against the antinomians who “maintain that there is no use of the law any longer under the New Testament” and that believers “are now freed from the direction and observance of the [moral] law.”[xiii] As Turretin explains, it is one thing to be under the [whole] law as a covenant as were the Jews, but another to be under the [moral] law as a rule of life, to regulate our morals piously and holily,” as Christians should be, guided by the gospel. The sense is that these antinomians were not looking for a loophole to live libidinous lives, but rather they believed they could live piously and holily with new testament teachings alone. On a certain level, they were naïvely dismissive of the OT. Turretin quotes a 1600(?) Mennonite confession as stating, “all Christians, in matters of faith, ought to have recourse necessarily only to the gospel of Christ.”[xiv] Granting that the Mosaic economy is and was abrogated, that Christ reformed our understanding of the law, and that there exists differences between the Old and New Testaments, Turretin concludes that these do not affect the importance, pertinence, and utility of the OT in guiding both doctrine and practice. Yet, the 1632 Mennonist Confession at Dordrecht is not as explicit in disfavoring the OT; it mentions only the law of Christ, but it does include OT references for doctrinal assertions.[xv] Current Mennonite Statements of Faith adopt the historical Protestant view of Scripture,  for example: “We accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the authoritative guide for faith and practice.”[xvi]

Concurrently, the term “neonomianism” arose when Isaac Chauncy (1632-1712), a Congregationalist, criticized the views of Daniel Williams (1643-1716), a Presbyterian, who apparently considered the gospel to be a new law, which was milder in its demands, allowing Christians to attain a righteousness of their own. As Ramsey reflects on the history of this controversy, he believes that Williams’ doctrine of justification was “easily misunderstood and confused with Arminianism/Neonomianism.” Less than a century later, controversy arose again regarding the relationship between the law and gospel in salvation. With neonomians in authority in Scotland, evangelicals who taught that “only union to Christ can give us power to be holy” and that sinners could immediately call upon God for salvation and be assured of eternal life, were considered dangerously antinomian.[xvii]

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) minimizes the impact of antinomianism within Reformed churches in the sense of promoting “loose views of moral obligation” due to its teachings on justification. Instead, he says the rationale for such a lifestyle is due to lowering the demands of the law in one’s life, or thinking that one’s imperfect obedience is enough or that rituals can pardon sin—the definition of neonomianism.[xviii]  His son, A. A. Hodge (1823-1886) describes two types of antinomianism. The first is the practical antinomianism mentioned above: “that Christ has so satisfied the law for us that it is abolished… and we may do as we please.” The second is “a substitution of a new and lower law for the infinite law of God” which he labels neo-nomianism.[xix] The viewpoint of Agricola resurfaced in the mid-nineteenth century; however it was motivated by an increasing skepticism about the veracity of OT literature, to which Moody exclaimed, “May God deliver us from the one-sided Christian who reads only the New Testament and talks against the Old!”[xx]

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) explains that neonomianism “generally characterizes that sentiment that posits the ground for the believer’s justification, not in the imputed righteousness of Christ, but in the believer’s own, sincere, though imperfect, righteousness.”[xxi] As with similar heresies, Christ merely made it possible to justify yourself by your works. Rushdoony (1916-2001) criticized and labeled as an antinomian fundamentalist Cornelius Stam (1908-2003) whose dispensationalist ideas led him to conclude that baptism was unnecessary for Christians.[xxii] Horton (1964-) equates neonomianism with legalism (as noted above) and with the idea that the gospel is a new law rather than a free announcement of forgiveness and justification in Christ alone. Antinomians, he asserts, seem to contrast New Testament commandments (which they consider spiritual and loving) with Old Testament commandments (which they consider rigorous and condemning).[xxiii] Finally, Jones demonstrates that antinomianism may be a response to legalism and that even legalists may be antinomian in practice. Furthermore, he believes that not only does antinomianism expose a misunderstanding of Christ, but it also reveals issues of heart and mind.[xxiv] Yet, simply teaching the gospel still incurs the accusation of antinomian heresy. DeHaan reminisced, “If the believer is delivered from the law… does this mean he can do as he pleases… and still go to Heaven unpunished? This is a perennial question which is repeatedly raised by those who do not understand either the nature, purpose or the ministry of the law. We receive hundreds of letters from listeners who accuse us of preaching license to sin, and being antinomian.”[xxv]

The fulcrum point of antinomianism is God’s law [moral law, law of Christ, universal morality]. The idea of substituting God’s law with an inferior, achievable law of one’s own making is displayed by the number of unmarried professing Christians who casually have sexual relations or decide to live together for years prior to marriage, asserting that the Bible’s antiquated code no longer works for them. God’s word is depersonalized to them. The idea of a universal moral code is no longer the declaration of righteousness from the creator and final judge of humankind. Instead, the Bible is merely a collection of religious sayings compiled thousands of years ago that may or may not have value today. People who once professed Christ find a new way to live life as they please, yet they claim that it is morally reprehensible or unloving to “judge” them, i.e., point out that they are disobeying God. They begin with a perversion of biblical doctrine and digress to a rejection of Christianity, as demonstrated in the lives of Frank Schaeffer or Joshua Harris.[xxvi] This kind of antinomianism is unfortunately a pathway to apostasy (2 Tim 4:4; Heb 3:12).

Paul’s doctrine of redemption is that by God’s grace [in sending His only-begotten Son to die in our place on the cross] we exercise faith [believing in the veracity of God’s work and word] and become children of God [a supernatural experience through the legal declaration of freedom from the guilt of sin] (Rom 5:1). Believing is contrasted with doing, as the “instrument” of redemption (Eph 2:15). As a former Pharisee who advocated law-keeping as the basis for establishing righteousness, Paul explains that the assurance of righteousness by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new teaching (Rom 4:9-25). Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith, prior to the giving of the [Mosaic] law. Paul asserts that a person is saved by faith apart from the works of the law. This begs the questions that Paul answers in his letter to the Romans. Should one continue to sin and receive more grace? Should one continue to sin because he/she is no longer under the law? (Rom 6:11, 15). The thrust of the questions arises because of the new covenant perspective on the value and use of the [Mosaic] law.

The apostles were often accused of teaching against the law of Moses (Acts 6:13; 18:11-16; 21:27-28; 25:7; Rom 3:8), an accusation that Paul denied even though he largely forbade Gentiles from getting circumcised as an act against the gospel (Act 15; 25:8). In his letter to the Romans, Paul anticipates possible arguments that could be brought against his teaching on justification,[xxvii] that if a person is no longer “under the law” then he/she may live their life without regard to the law. In this hypothetical situation a believer in Jesus Christ could live in sin while concurrently claiming to be righteous. This could be described as a practical antinomianism, a “freedom from the law in the form of licentiousness.”[xxviii] Like Paul, Berkoff shrugs off the allegation that the doctrine of justification is “ethically subversive, because it leads to licentiousness.”[xxix] Paul questions the plausibility of such a belief, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Rom 6:21). However, we might note that the dissolution within the Corinthian church (1 Cor 5), while not attributable to an antinomian doctrine, per se, would certainly give the onlooking world the impression that Christians tolerated sexual immorality because of the doctrine that they were no longer “under the law.” Rushdoony asserts unequivocally, “The problem in Corinth was antinomianism, a disobedience to God’s law, in particular, sexual and marital law.”[xxx] He goes on to explain that antinomians are professors of Christ, but they maintain a moral indifference to sinful actions and that they fail to see sin as sin. This type of antinomianism he describes as “easy believism.” At the same time, “antinomian” should not be synonymous with “sinner.” That is, all humans are sinners through disbelief and disobedience to God’s law, but not all are “antinomians.” The charge of antinomianism should hinge on a doctrinal viewpoint respecting either the Mosaic law-covenant or a universal moral law and the extrapolation of that viewpoint that leads to immoral conduct or questionable doctrinal propositions.


“Legalist” and “antinomian” are terms easily put upon those with whom one disagrees about the place of law in the Christian’s theology and practice. But there are historical circumstances surrounding the use of these terms that should be considered—that these terms are meant to describe heretical doctrines and their resultant effects on a Christian’s spiritual apprehensions and behavior. Gamble introduces her sweeping research with this definition: “Antinomians can be described as those who deny in some way the ongoing relevance of some part or even the whole of the moral law. English antinomianism, however, was more complex and multifaceted than the simple denial of the continued use of and obligation to follow the moral law.”[xxxi] Her definition, and those above, emphasize the antinomian’s rejection of “moral law” which may not be the most accurate definition. In the case of Agricola, in his shortsightedness, he thought that the gospel was enough to convict sinners and lead them to repentance (maybe it is[xxxii]), but Luther called him an antinomian. It wasn’t that Agricola was against the law of Moses only; he apparently dismissed the entire OT which contains the history, law, prophets and poetical writings. Perhaps he was better called an anti-vetus-testamentarian. It is not known whether Agricola was against the Mosaic law, natural law, moral law, or ceremonial law in terms of holy living, or whether these views developed to the point of defending the practice of immorality—the connotation of being “against the law.” But as a theologian, by his rejection of the OT, he irrationally denied the very basis for his understanding of the NT.

Jones affirms that Luther was no “antinomian”; that is, “he was not against God’s law—specifically, the Ten Commandments,” because he taught the ten commandments.[xxxiii] Here is the syllogism.

  • Antinomians are against God’s law, specifically the Ten Commandments
  • Luther taught the Ten Commandments.
  • Therefore, Luther was not an antinomian.

But Luther did not teach that the Lord’s Day was to be modeled after the Sabbath. Luther did not observe the Sabbath. He did teach from the Ten Commandments, as this was the customary method to inculcate good morals and sound doctrine. However, he was clear that the Sabbath commandment was a ceremonial law, and that if any morality was to be found in it, it was that some time should be given to God. So, this is the real issue: that if the Ten Commandments are perceived as the moral law of God, then any view that challenges that assertion is branded as antinomian.  In the eyes of those who keep the Sabbath, anyone who does not observe the Sabbath commandment is an antinomian, someone who dismisses a portion of the “moral law” of God.

McMahon, on A Puritan’s Mind website, recognizes antinomianism in churches today. “Walk into any 21st Century church this Sunday and inquire about what it means to keep the Sabbath holy? How does a person follow the 4th commandment? The people would look at you perplexed. They would see you as a Legalist. And if you had not raised the question, it would have never entered their mind at all. Even as they sit through the Sunday School lesson, the singing of a psalm or two, and the hearing of the sermon, they await the final benediction during Sunday Church and never realize what the Sabbath is even about. That is a travesty; it is sin.”[xxxiv] In the mind of this Sabbatarian, a church-going Christian is sinning if they don’t appreciate the supposed connection between the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath. He shares the opinion of Murray that a conception of the Lord’s Day without a Sabbath rest is piosity, as opposed to piety.[xxxv] McMahon also applies the antinomian label to those who seem to emphasize a discontinuity of the Mosaic law with the new covenant. For example, McMahon cites some catchphrases, such as, “we are a new testament church” or “we are not under law but under grace,” as indicators of antinomian beliefs that lead to disobedience of God’s law, specifically the Sabbath.[xxxvi] These antinomians, he tells us, have actually said “that a person can be saved and never have to worry about living a life of obedience because we are under the grace of Christ.” That appears to be textbook antinomianism, but this may be an exaggeration of their viewpoint, since he admits these same people do go to church on Sunday—they just don’t know about the Sabbath.

Ultimately, resting 24 hours on Sunday and calling the day of worship the “Christian Sabbath” has become a litmus test of the Reformed to charge Evangelicals of antinomianism. Interestingly, Saturday Sabbath worship is a litmus test of Seventh-day Adventists to classify Sunday-worshippers as apostates. Reformed Sabbatarians deride the non-Sabbatarian defense that the NT does not reiterate the obligation to observe the Sabbath, as if this argument were grounded alone on the premise that moral commandments should be repeated in the NT. It is not that this rule delivers a coup de grâce to Sabbatarianism, but the absence of any obligation to observe the Sabbath in post-resurrection Scriptures is a surprising and telltale lacuna in new testament imperatives. That is, if the Sabbath were half as important as Sabbatarians exclaim, then we would expect to see clear teaching on the repositioned and remodeled Sabbath in apostolic texts. The objection to calling the Lord’s Day the “Christian Sabbath” is not because of an antinomian view of the law, but because it has been fulfilled by Christ. This maintains a high view of the law that coincides with the Lord’s, who sees the law as an instrument of fulfillment (Matt 5:18) and the benefits of His great redemption as the fulfillment of the anticipated rest (Matt 11:28). No less than Paul, who was wrongly accused of being against the people and the law (Act 21:28), non-Sabbatarians see no inconsistency in both affirming the [nature and purpose of Mosaic] law and urging non-compliance to ritual laws [of the Mosaic law-covenant].


[i] Linder, R. D. “Antinomianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Baker House, 2001) p.70-72 [ii] Withington, Ann Fairfax, and Jack Schwartz. “The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 2, 1978, pp. 226–240. ;JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/364308. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020. [iii] Jones, Mark. Antinomianism-Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guest (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013); Fergusen, Sinclair. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016); Gamble, Whitney. Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) [iv] Traver, Andrew G. “Agricola, Johann” in Renaissance and Reformation, 1500- 1620: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Jo Eldridge Carney, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001) p. 4-5. It should be noted that none of Agricola’s writings are extant, and that what we know of his teachings are delineated in the criticisms of his detractors. [v] Linder, R. D. “Antinomianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Baker House, 2001) p.70-72. [vi] Bente F. “Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions” https://bookofconcord.org/historical-17.php (accessed 4/30/2020) [vii] Hodge, A. A. Evangelical Theology, 1890 (Repr., Southhampton, Great Britain: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), p. 282. [viii] Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, p. 122, 134. [ix] Parson, Burk, ed., “The Antinomian Error” in Tabletalk Vol. 41 No. 7 (July 2017): 39. Commenting on Rom 6:15-23. [x] Reu, M. Introduction to Luther’s Treatise on Good Works. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/418/418-h/418-h.htm. Accessed March 22, 2020. [xi] Linder, R. D. “Antinomianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Baker House, 2001) p. 70-72. [xii] Withington, Ann Fairfax, and Jack Schwartz. “The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 2, 1978, pp. 226–240. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/364308. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020. [xiii] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol 2, James T. Dennison, Jr. ed., (Phillipsburg, New Jersey:  P&R Publishing), p. 141-143. [xiv] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol 1, James T. Dennison, Jr. ed., (Phillipsburg, New Jersey:  P&R Publishing), p. 98-99. [xv] https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dordrecht_Confession_of_Faith_(Mennonite,_1632) Accessed August 28, 2020. [xvi] https://usmb.org/confession-of-faith-4/. Accessed August 30, 2020. [xvii] Kelly, D. F. “Marrow Controversy” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Baker House, 2001) p. 745. [xviii] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, 6th Repr. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013) p. 241. [xix] Hodge, A. A. Evangelical Theology, 1890 (Repr., Southhampton, Great Britain: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), p.308. [xx] Moody, Dwight L. Pleasure and Profit in Bible Study, 1895, (repr., Bibliotech Press, 2020), p. 23. [xxi] Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3 “Sin and Salvation in Christ” 4th printing; (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic: 2009), p. 532. [xxii] Rushdoony, Rousas John. P. “God’s Son, Israel: The Typology” in Law and Society, (vol. 2 of Institutes of Biblical Law; repr. 1986; Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982) p. 597-600. [xxiii] Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), p. 664-677. [xxiv] Jones, Mark. Antinomianism-Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guest (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), p. 1-2. [xxv] DeHaan, M. R. Law or Grace (Zondervan, 1965), p. 69. [xxvi] Of Frank Schaeffer: https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2008/marapr/1.32.html (accessed 11/14/20) and https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=132#note2 (accessed 11/14/20). Of Josh Harris: https://albertmohler.com/2019/08/01/joshua-harris (accessed 11/14/20) and https://albertmohler.com/2019/08/01/joshua-harris (accessed 11/14/20). [xxvii] Longnecker, Richard N. The Epistle to the Romans, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), p. 609. [xxviii] Parson, Burk, ed., “The Antinomian Error” in Tabletalk Vol. 41 No. 7 (July 2017): 39. Commenting on Rom 6:15-23. [xxix] Berkoff, L. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941) 8th printing, 1962. p. 524 [xxx] Rushdoony, Rousas J. Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II “Law and Society” repr. 1986 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), p. 579ff. [xxxi] Gamble, Whitney. Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018). [xxxii] Regardless, a gentile convert may know only that Christ should save him from his sinful self and establish a spiritual communion with God by faith, but eventually he will learn from the OT. [xxxiii] Jones, Mark. Antinomianism-Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guest (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), p. 5. [xxxiv] C. Matthew McMahon. https://www.apuritansmind.com/the-christian-walk/the-tract-series/what-is-the-difference-between-legalism-and-obedience-by-dr-c-matthew-mcmahon/ (accessed August 8, 2020). [xxxv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, p. 219. [xxxvi] C. Matthew McMahon. https://www.apuritansmind.com/the-christian-walk/the-tract-series/what-is-the-difference-between-legalism-and-obedience-by-dr-c-matthew-mcmahon/. Accessed August 30, 2020.

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Judaizer

 

Glossary 22 Judaizer

Judaizer. Paul described a situation wherein Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers (Gal 2:11-21). Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was severely rebuked for communicating to Gentile believers that they were not fully accepted in Christ unless they “live like Jews.” Hence, Paul concluded that Peter, by practicing table separation, was compelling Gentiles to “Judaize,” that is, to behave like Jews. The error, by one in authority, had the potential to create two separate churches—one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles—an outcome inimical to Christ’s goal of reconciling both Jew and Gentile into one body (Eph 2:14-18). The partition was taken down by Christ; yet Peter’s actions could potentially re-erect it. The implication of Peter’s actions with respect to the sufficiency of faith alone in Jesus Christ warranted the public challenge and was called by Paul “playing the hypocrite” (Gal 2:13). After all, Peter had fellowshipped with Gentiles before (Gal 2:12, 14).

So, “Judaizer” is a biblically derived term from Paul’s animadversion of Peter who attempted to bring Gentile Christians under the spell of bygone Jewish laws (i.e., separation, circumcision). Hendrickson, elaborating on the above event, believes that a Judaizer is a Jew “who had indeed confessed Jesus but insisted that in order to attain salvation—at least complete salvation—it was necessary for all, Gentile as well as Jew, to keep the law of Moses, with special emphasis on circumcision.”[i] But the reality is that Peter did not believe for a moment that Gentiles were not saved by faith in Christ or that they had to keep the laws of Jewish identification, as these matters were settled in congress before this (Acts 15:7-11). Instead, he lapsed under pressure and reverted to Jewish law that accentuated the difference between Gentile and Jewish believers. Or, as Bruce apprehends this, it was as if, for Gentile Christians, their faith in Christ was not enough, they needed to go a step further in “conformity to Jewish law or custom: they must, in other words, ‘judaize’.”[ii] From this context, a Jewish believer who compels a Gentile to live like a Jew is a Judaizer, and the Gentile who adopts those behaviors peculiar to Judaism is Judaizing. Peter and the other elders were violating the conscience of Gentile believers by intimating, with subtle judgmentalism, that their participation in the commonwealth of Israel (i.e., now the church) required more than the bond of faith.

The meaning of this term has widened to embrace situations where non-Christian Jews, in their association with the church, attempt to convince Christians, both Jew and Gentile, that certain Jewish laws are required either for complete salvation or as a necessary component of pleasing God, such as circumcision (Acts 15:1; Gal 6:12) and the observance of holy days, including the Sabbath (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16). Paul also refers to these infiltrators as “false brethren” (Gal 2:4) and “dogs” (Phil 3:2), motivated by “a show of the flesh” (Gal 6:12). So, Peter and other Jews, were swayed and carried away, by a false doctrine. “At one point, the Judaizers opposed and briefly affected Peter.”[iii] Hence, “Judaize,” which comes from Ioudaizeïn, “to live like Jews” (Gal 2:14), is to obey laws specific to the Jewish religion,[iv] or to assimilate to the Jewish culture, with the belief that this obedience or assimilation is necessary for salvation, meritorious for sanctification, or simply that the exterior rites of Judaism are beneficial or optimal—a mindset that is essentially antithetical to salvation by grace through faith. “Calvin undoubtedly was correct that from Paul’s point of view, first-century Judaism, and the Judaizers in particular, had a faulty understanding of the role of the law in justification.”[v] “The Jewish customs and manners that are meant are religious ones, observances that are prescribed by the Torah (circumcision, Sabbath and festival, abstention from pork, etc.).”[vi] “What was formerly obedience to the law is now mere Judaism.”[vii]

“Judaize” is sometimes used even more generally to describe the compulsion of Christians to perform religious rites or traditions without reference to Judaism; that is, to conform to a set of rules that define a sectarian culture, usually without biblical authority, such as abstention from meat on Friday, preventing priests from marrying, and declaring a day to be holy. “They prescribe observances which are in a great measure useless, and are sometimes absurd; secondly, by the vast multitude of them, pious consciences are oppressed, and being carried back to a kind of Judaism, so cling to shadows that they cannot come to Christ.”[viii]

Cohen distinguishes between the original intent of “ioudaizeïn” (to be like a Jew) and the later use of the term by Clement (to become a Jew).[ix] Moo disagrees.[x] Cohen further notes that “Judaizing” is a pejorative label most often used in situations where actual Jews are not integral to the debate, and so advises against the current use of the term. However, he does not take into account the influence of Messianic Jews and the Jewish Roots Movement within the Christian community which practice Jewish customs and laws for various spiritual, physical, or social reasons.[xi] Yet, it is not only a direct connection with Judaism that leads to Judaizing, but the indirect influence of emerging theological concepts bolstered by contemporary values. For example, the development of Seventh Day Baptist congregations in the seventeenth century followed the intensifying emphasis on a direct relationship between the Sabbath and Lord’s Day;[xii] but the result would have been the same if a Jewish believer led the movement. At present, the Western focus on health and diet has caused many Christians to adopt the dietary laws of the OT; and again, the result is no different than if a Jewish Christian led the movement. As such, the term is properly used to describe the practice, by non-Jews, of cultic OT laws that were clearly abrogated by the NT. One should not claim to be a beneficiary of the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ and then practice the abrogated laws of the old covenant as if they conveyed or merited some spiritual benefit.

Judaizing is a pejorative term, and rightly so, because it describes a mindset or behavior that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can be supposed that Peter was not intending to divide the church nor did he did he feel ill-will toward Gentiles, but the fruit of his Judaizing (compelling Gentiles to behave like Jews—You are not accepted unless you get circumcised) would lead to division, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.

Regarding the Sabbath, the LD camp would view most forms of Sabbath-keeping to be Judaizing. Keeping a Sabbath is keeping a Jewish law, and to obey it as if it were a required activity or spiritually beneficial is Judaizing. Keeping the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, with the misapprehension that only the day of the week was ceremonial, is still Judaizing. Calling Sunday or the Lord’s Day the “Christian Sabbath” is certainly a misnomer, for what is a “Christian Sabbath” but a modified Jewish Sabbath observed on the wrong day. If a Christian mom wants to keep her Sunday afternoon free of ordinary duties (or any other day of the week), that is her prerogative, but it is not the same as keeping the Sabbath. And she does not have to invoke Sabbath law to give her afternoon rest an air of spirituality. But the moment she becomes proud of her chosen expression of personal piety and looks down on those who do not share her enthusiasm, or, worse, she criticizes others as Sabbath-breakers, then she is a Judaizer.

The history of the development of Sabbatarian thought has been thoroughly documented.[xiii],[xiv],[xv] Parker correctly relates that the early Reformers (1520-1530) questioned the Catholic Church’s stance that Sunday church attendance was based on the fourth commandment, but within forty years, subsequent Reformers began to “reassert the divine imperative to observe one day in seven.”[xvi]As one would expect, the emphasis on the Sabbath as a paradigm for Christian worship would inevitably lead to controversy. In the 1580s, the Dedham Classis considered the same matters that are under discussion here: whether Christian worship on Sunday is of divine decree, what is expected of believers on this day, and how to enforce compliance. The latter point is only necessary if the State has the power to compel its subjects to attend church services, which it did at the time. As Sabbatarian practices increased during this time, it became known to King James I, in 1617, that magistrates in Lancashire had ordered “rigorous restrictions” and “a total prohibition of Sunday recreations,”[xvii]and in response issued the first “Book of Sports” in 1618 that would allow the populace, should they desire, to perform “lawful” recreations, such as piping, dancing, archery, vaulting, and rushbearing, while continuing to prohibit “unlawful” pastimes, such as bearbaiting.[xviii] Heylyn noted the King’s Declaration “occasioned much noise and clamor” causing Sabbatarian ministers to urge even more seriousness for the Christian Sabbath; for example, teaching that to make a feast or wedding dinner on the Lord’s Day was as great a sin as for a father to take a knife and cut his child’s throat.[xix] The obvious inconsistency is that the State would not be willing to execute Sabbath-breakers like murderers—but they did levy fines. Should a butcher kill an animal and sell the meat, his fine would be about $150 in today’s currency. A person who drives a herd (a drover) or uses a wagon would be fined the equivalent of $200 for doing so on the Christian Sabbath.[xx]

800px-J. Traske -pilloried_300dpi

Building upon the Sabbatarian doctrines of the Precisionists (Puritans), John Traske came to believe the Sabbath should be kept on Saturday just as the fourth commandment requires, a teaching that earned him the pillory at Westminster and then  three years in prison before he recanted.[xxi] So strict were the Puritans, that King Charles I republished the Declaration of Sports in 1633 hoping to prevent the Puritans from punishing those who practiced archery, danced, or gathered for May-games or wakes (dedications of a church). But when the Puritans took power in 1643, they ordered the burning of this document.[xxii] This is but a glance at the plague of controversies aroused by Judaizing the Lord’s Day.

Even though we experience more liberty to worship according to our beliefs, North observed palpable judgmentalism within Sabbatarian churches:  “They [Sabbatarians with few rules] think of the others [Sabbatarians with many rules] as ‘legalists,’ while extremists [Sabbatarians with many rules] who follow the implications of their position naturally view their weaker brethren [Sabbatarians with few rules] as ‘latent antinomians.’”[xxiii] This is the inevitable outcome of Judaizing: judging those who do not adhere to your set of rules. But any good Sabbatarian must defend what they do or not on their Sabbath day as a spiritual necessity derived from good and necessary inference intended to obey the fourth commandment. How one keeps the Sabbath cannot be neutral or optional because it is a moral imperative apparently based on the most faithful interpretation of God’s word. One would expect all good Christians to agree 98% on what is required by the fourth commandment, but the topic is given to disputation and discombobulation. Is it sinful to sleep late the night before Sabbath? When does the Christian Sabbath begin and end? Is it a violation of the fourth commandment to wear a watch, celebrate a wedding, use the microwave, write a check, bake a roast, go to a restaurant, play or watch sports, play a musical instrument, read the newspaper, buy Monday’s newspaper, study for school, milk a cow, buy some aspirin or some bread, repair a broken fence, or dress in your best clothes on your Saturday or Sunday Sabbath? All of these were considered Sabbath-breaking by some Christian Sabbatarians at some point in history. Furthermore, may the “magistrate” punish those who do not go to church on Sunday or Saturday, or otherwise break the Sabbath?

Has any other moral commandment produced the same fruit of discord, disharmony, and disunity as Judaizing the Lord’s Day? Where are the books written during past 400 years attempting to define whole doctrines about what constitutes adultery or stealing, bearing false witness or coveting? Are there ongoing controversies about whether tête-à-têtes between a married man and a female co-worker are a violation of the seventh commandment—ultimately leading to church divisions? Have any new denominations been established due to a hullabaloo over the propriety of claiming a tax deduction given to a charity that has yet to obtain a 501(c)(3) non-profit status? What churches have decided to withdraw fraternal relations because of different opinions about the motivations behind those who gossip, or because some church said in their statement of faith: “It’s not gossip if you pray about it”? What large church faction developed after a brouhaha over the pastor exclaiming at a car show, “I’d love to get my hands on that 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe”? Churches get embroiled about a good number of things, but not about divergent understandings of moral commandments.

Past centuries and this present age demonstrate that the attempt to apply the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day has only stirred up strife, controversy, judgmentalism, confusion, and division in God’s church. This is not the fruit of the Spirit; it is of the flesh.


[i] Hendrickson, William. Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, 1962 (NTC, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, 4th Printing) p. 150.
[ii] Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) p. 133.
[iii] Rushdooney, Rousas John. Romans and Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), p. 331.
[iv] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Jew(s)” p. 616. Wilson, M. R., “Judaizers” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed, p. 638, Ed. Elwell; Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001.
[v] Silva, Moisés. “Galatians” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 803.
[vi] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847. Eds. Collins and Harlow; Grand Rapids, 2010.
[vii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Bible Commentary, Vol 3. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008) p. 379 (Gal 2:14).
[viii] Calvin, Institutes, 4.10.11. (p. 421)
[ix] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847-848.
[x] Moo, Douglas. Galatians (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 151.
[xi] These comments should not be interpreted as anti-Semitic. I went to a church with a Hebrew-Christian emphasis, and participated in paschal seders and the Purim play. These were done to introduce goyim, like me, to the rich history and traditions of Judaism. This is entirely different from compelling goyim to perform rituals, as a Jew would do, for the betterment of one’s spiritual life.
[xii] Bauckham, R. J. “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 332-334.
[xiii] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018).
[xiv] Carson, D. A., ed. From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[xv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete.
[xvi] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1988), p. 24.
[xvii] Ibid. p. 150-151.
[xviii] Rushbearing was an annual resurfacing of church floors on the anniversary of the church’s dedication. Following a religious ceremony, the event turned into a festival with games, sports, drinking, and dancing. Bearbaiting was a spectator event during which a bear was tethered to a pole and tormented by viscious dogs, which also suffered during the contest.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath; 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018) p. 435, 427. Note Chantry’s observation of this same phenomenon of “authoritarian oversight” in today’s Sabbatarian churches: “Elders are determined to insist that church members keep the Sabbath in detailed specific application” (p. 80).
[xx] Ibid., p. 442.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 434.
[xxii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question, Vol. 1; 1865, (repr USA), p. 163.
[xxiii] North, Gary. “The Economics of Sabbath-keeping” in The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 828.

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Continuity/Discontinuity

Glossary 21 Continuity/Discontinuity (of the Law)

Continuity/Discontinuity.  This is an important theological discussion point—indeed, a Gordian knot—that addresses the relationship between the old and new testaments. “The first question in the interpretation of Scriptures after acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ is how to relate the Hebrew Scriptures to the ‘New’ Testament.”[i] “Any true biblical theology must recognize the centrality of the relationship between the testaments.”[ii] The answer to this question will ultimately affect your understanding of an array of key biblical concepts and topics, such as soteriology, the law and the gospel, Israel and the church, and eschatology.

There are several contemporary systems of thought that attempt to define the relationship between the testaments, the prevailing views being covenant theology and dispensationalism.[iii] These systems have developed over time and as a result of continuing biblical studies and dialogue a considerable variety of thought exists within each hermeneutical structure.[iv],[v] Both camps agree that certain aspects of the OT are discontinued and other aspects do continue; however, they may have different rationales behind any agreement. And, of course, the differences are preserved because the adopted systems 1) color the interpretation of key verses, 2) affect how biblical terms are conceived (i.e., “commandment,” “new,” “law,”), and 3) introduce constructs that delimit more freedom of thought (i.e., “covenant of grace,” “church as a parenthesis”). Covenant theology claims a position that favors “continuity” and dispensationalism adopts a position tending toward “discontinuity,” but these terms are rarely defined. What does continuity or discontinuity look like?

  • Continuity describes something that changes little or not at all over time. There is a connection or succession in its state over time. Its state is uninterrupted, while at the same time, there may be progression and improvement, even arriving at a state of completeness or wholeness. Unbroken, consistent. The office of the President of the United States demonstrates continuity, though different individuals have held that office with differing political goals.
  • Discontinuity embraces the idea that breaks or gaps occur, that a loss of cohesion takes place. Something comes to an end or arrives at its termination, often to be replaced by something new and different. There are jumps, intervals, separation, or breaches that upset the status quo. Things change in significant or radical ways, or something revolutionary appears for the first time. The Declaration of Independence marked the end of the colonial period and the beginning of the autonomous rule of the United States.

From these definitions, it is apparent that God is best described under the rubric of continuity, for He does not change or vary (Heb 13:8; Jas 1:17). Yet He introduced discontinuity into His eternal state with a six-day creation-fest. He didn’t change, but there was something strikingly other. Next, the fall of Adam marked an early and significant discontinuity in the perfection of God’s creation, yet God remained true to His holy character. The fact that we recognize the covenant with Noah and the covenant with Abraham as significant events is because of the discontinuities with what went before them. Heating water demonstrates a continuity that can be measured in degrees, but upon reaching its boiling point, a discontinuity occurs even though it is still dihydrogen oxide (water).[vi] When something significant happens in history, it often marks a discontinuity because of the radical changes that follow. The promulgation of the Law of Moses was a discontinuity for the life of the Israelites who previously were subject to Egyptian rule (Deut 4:34). The enthronement of King David was a discontinuity in the regime of Israel, replacing the period of judges. Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer 31-31-32), that conveys the sense of a radical change. While there is a premise of continuity as it pertains to God’s gracious character and the progression of biblical history, there is at the same time marked discontinuities evident in the outworking of His will for His people and mankind.

The ideas of continuity and discontinuity are also discussed in psychological theories dealing with the maturation of a person from birth to adulthood. The viewpoint of continuity is likened to a positive incline—a wheelchair ramp—whereas discontinuity is likened to steps. As an outsider to the theories of developmental psychology, it would appear that the maturation of the individual contains elements of both continuity and discontinuity. Many biblical scholars would admit the same seemingly bipolar relationship of the OT and NT. Interestingly, the NT describes Israel’s relationship to the law as a temporary tutelage or guardianship that would be changed at the point of maturity (Gal 3:23-25). And now that Christ has come as the mediator of a new covenant, the language of Scripture employs the metaphors of human growth, health, status, and maturation to describe the redemption of souls effected by the work of Jesus Christ. Salvation is likened to a new birth (Jn 3:3), a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), or the adoption into a new family (Gal 4:5); vision being restored to the blind (2 Cor 4:4) or a debilitating defect being healed (1 Pet 2:24); freedom being granted to the enslaved (Gal 4:7, 31), the release from the oversight of a pedagogue (Gal 3:25); the attainment of great spiritual riches (2 Cor 8:9) and indeed, coming to spiritual life (Col 2:13). None of these metaphors can be compared to an adjustment of but a few degrees or a simple change of administration. These describe sweeping, monumental changes, and markers of discontinuity with what went before. Clearly, it would be a distinct step, or discontinuity, for a Jew to adopt the phrase “the law of Christ” in favor of “the law of Moses,” or to subscribe to the conditions of the new covenant while relinquishing the demands of the Sinaitic covenant. It is doubtful anyone can be a member of both covenants simultaneously (Gal 4:8-14; Heb 2:1-4; 10:29). If Peter stumbled at this, then we can be assured that this was not a smooth transition for the Jews.[vii] Hendrickson, commenting on this passage noted, “The clear revelation of God’s love revealed in the birth, teaching, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to bring about a mighty change on earth… Compared to the rivulet of grace during the old dispensation there was a mighty stream now.”[viii] Whenever something “new” happens there is some discontinuity with whatever came before. “We do not have a situation in which a variety of new perspectives are added to the staple of old things that constitute Judaism, causing only minor readjustment. On the contrary, the new that comes is an eschatological turning point in the ages, of such great consequence that we must be prepared for dramatic shifts.”[ix] Calvin is even more direct in delineating the discontinuity of the law: “Paul compares this law first to a prison, and next to a schoolmaster. Such was the nature of the law, as both comparisons plainly show, that it could not have been in force beyond a certain time.”[x]

Baxter wisely begins his commentary affirming the unity of Scriptures—“one in the progressiveness of the revelation which they collectively unfold, one in the harmony of the structure which they collectively constitute, one in the spiritual unity of the message which they collectively declare.”[xi] But the unity of Scripture does not necessarily mean the operational continuity of every legal aspect of the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant. “The new covenant has some similarities to the old, but it is a new covenant.”[xii] Nor does it mean that the promises of God in the OT will be fulfilled precisely as they were understood in their given context.[xiii] Because scholars maintain different concepts about the OT/NT relationship, they vary in their approach to identify the basis for Christian morality, ethical norms, church life, and holy living. The following chart displays four models regarding the relationship of the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant in terms of God’s commands (Mosaic law). Each model takes on a different hue when answering the question: “How should we then live?” The focus of this discussion is how the [Mosaic] law/covenant is affected by the introduction of the new covenant.

A.      The Mosaic covenant continues concurrently with the new covenant, either in full force or to a modified extent. For example, the promises to national Israel are still in effect literally, which will impact the future of the church. Jews are still bound by the Mosaic covenant if they are not in the new covenant.

B.      The Mosaic covenant comes to an end; however, aspects of it continue in force as part of the new covenant (or alongside the new covenant), such as the Ten Commandments, civil laws, all moral laws, or the promises to Israel.

C.      The Mosaic Covenant, all preceding covenants, and the new covenant are all parts of the construct called the Covenant of Grace and are therefore continuous with one another and essentially the same, except for their “administration.”

D.      The Mosaic covenant comes to an end when the new covenant is established; however, there are features of commonality between the covenants because they are consistent with God’s holiness and His eternal and gracious plan of redemption. The new covenant will draw upon the OT as it conforms to the law of Christ.

Besides the above concepts, there are two other factors that impact our understanding of the relationship between these two covenants: typology/fulfillment and the categorization of the laws and precepts. Various laws foreshadowing Christ, His work, and His people were fulfilled with His advent, and therefore are no longer required because they possess no spiritual value (i.e., circumcision). See Ceremonial Laws. Fulfillment, then, must be examined to determine its effect on Mosaic law(s), not only cultic, ceremonial, or external laws, but moral injunctions and the covenant as a whole. See Fulfillment.

The other important factor is how the laws of the Mosaic covenant are classified—if they are to be classified at all. Brogden does not find the terms of the tripartite division helpful because they imply the non-morality of so-called ceremonial and civil laws[xiv]: “A Jew obeyed the law of God in its entirety. He did not make sure to keep certain laws because they were on the moral list, while not worrying too much about observance of other laws because they were on the ‘ceremonial’ list.”[xv] While acknowledging that the [Mosaic] law should be recognized as a unity and infused with the righteousness of God (Rom 7:12), it is apparent that certain laws are of a different character than others; i.e., not eating shellfish (Lev 11:10) compared with not having sex with your granddaughter (Lev 18:10).[xvi] “Assigning priority to the moral aspect of the law over both its civil and ceremonial aspects can be observed in a plethora of passages found in the prophets.”[xvii]

Some would also distinguish civil laws and induce from them societal norms and values incumbent on every culture.[xviii],[xix] For example, the law of the parapet (Deut 22:8), literally understood, positively commands the building of a parapet, or fence, on the habitable roof of one’s dwelling in order to prevent accidental injury or death. Maimonides inferred from this law that homeowners are responsible to ensure the safety of their guests by removing any object that could potentially cause injury.[xx] Some Christians advocate “continuity” of this law, albeit as a principle. Others would argue that this particular law is discontinued because the whole law has been upstaged, but that the royal law of love requires the same thing, and this particular law is merely an example of the love for neighbor contained in the [Mosaic] law. As this example shows, the terms continuity and discontinuity are meaningless if both groups end up agreeing on the practical application for the church. “Christians have long debated about what parts of the OT law, if any, carry over into the NT. Many in the past have categorized the law into three parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral. Although this has no exegetical basis, it is a broadly helpful way to conceive of the law. Many scholars disagree with such a tripartite classification of the law and see it as being overly simplistic. The attempt to fit the law into these three categories is indeed a complex issue, and it needs more nuanced argumentation…”[xxi]

Lastly, the primary reason for studying this topic is practical—How should the NT shape and define the normal Christian life and what laws from the Mosaic covenant appear to apply and if so, in what way and to what extent? The New Testament validates the practical necessity to engage the narratives of the Old Testament (Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:15-17; Heb 4:11), therefore, a “New Testament Christian” should be well-grounded in Old Testament history. Indeed, the Christocentric motif of the OT is able to effect spiritual renewal (Matt 4:4; Jn 5:39-47; cf. 2 Ki 23:2-3). In addition, Jesus repeated two Mosaic laws (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18) that epitomize our spiritual duties to God and fellow man. These laws were for the nation Israel while they were in the land, and obedience to them would bring personal and national blessings, but they are authoritative even for [believing] Gentiles. James claimed that believers would also reap blessings contingent on their obedience to this “royal law” (Jas 2:8). But equally significant is that the apostles did not urge obedience to laws such as: the prohibition against mixing materials in clothing, scourging a man for having sex with someone else’s concubine, the prohibition against eating the fruit of a new tree for three years, the prohibition against shaving or making tattoos, keeping the Sabbath and reverencing the sanctuary, standing in the presence of an old man, and the like. Certainly, for the follower of Christ, the relationship to Mosaic law is profoundly different. There is a picking and choosing of OT material as it suits the mission and goals of the new covenant, and there is a right way and a wrong way to relate to the law. Paul reminded Timothy that the purpose of the commandment is to “love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith,” and that some supposed teachers of the law fail to understand it and focus their attention on unedifying topics. Furthermore, the law (as a moral mirror) still identifies sin so that the gospel may save sinners (1 Tim 1:3-16), yet Gentiles may still be saved without its use (Rom 2:12-16). “Nevertheless, the Gospel is a glorious superseding of and advancement over the Mosaic administration with its ceremonial ordinances.”[xxii]

Most outward Christian activities are affected by the answer to the earlier question, either consciously or subconsciously. Should a Christian vote, join the military service, or promote Israel? Should the church baptize infants, organize denominations, make religious art, or build elaborate structures for worship? May a Christian own a slave? Are Christians required to pay a tithe to the church? Are there roles for men and women both in church and in their community? Should children be present during the sermon? May our children marry at age 14? And, of course, are Christians required to abstain from all manner of work on the seventh day of the week? “As sure as it was His (Jesus’) to win and ascend the throne, it is His to prove His dominion in the individual soul. It is He, the Living One, who has divine power to work and maintain the life of communion and victory within us. He is the Mediator and Surety of the Covenant—He, the God-man, who has undertaken not only for all that God requires, but for all that we need too.”[xxiii]

In the context of continuity/discontinuity discussions, covenant theology (Reformed) generally favors the continuation of the Sabbath while dispensational theology (Evangelicals) does not. However, there are exceptions in both camps. The point is that neither system logically compels its supporters to adopt a particular view about the Sabbath. However, once someone identifies with a system, they are generally obliged to embrace the consensus or doctrinal position of that system. In other words, people accept the historic position of their denomination as a settled matter, assuming that its position is consistent within that theological framework and with the teaching of the Bible.

One argument for the continuity of the Sabbath comes from the maxim that OT laws continue into NT times unless they are specifically abrogated. For example, Bahnsen contends, “Indeed, the Bible teaches that we should assume continuity between the ethical standards of the New Testament and those of the old, rather than abbreviating the validity of God’s law according to some preconceived and artificial limit.”[xxiv] Of course, the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach us to assume this rule. It is merely a man-made rule to bolster the position of covenantal theology. If anything, one could reason that because God is a moral being who does not change, we should not expect His definition of morality to change from one covenant to another. Additionally, one could reason that if God commands anything, it would always be a moral command. Therefore, none of the laws of the OT should change with the institution of the NT. However, the Bible does teach us that the NT introduces phenomenal changes respecting laws of the OT, leading others to advise, “When we read a command given to the Jews, we do not assume that we must do it, too.”[xxv]

Bahnsen restates his position, “Our attitude must be that all Old Testament laws are presently our obligation unless further revelation from the Lawgiver shows that some change has been made.”[xxvi] Of course, were it not for the explicit NT teaching that the OT law of circumcision is now nothing, we would not be faced with the idea that any OT [formally considered moral] laws could change. In fact, it became immoral to require circumcision of Gentiles. This paradigm shift requires believers in Jesus Christ to redefine “morality,” so that even Jews could be free from laws that were previously considered moral obligations for a holy people. To explain this change, the earliest Christian apologists recognized that a parcel of OT laws were prophetical or eschatological in nature and were fulfilled/abrogated with the coming of Christ. So, our attitude must be to recognize at least two classes of Mosaic law: those that reflect God’s holy will from the beginning (i.e., moral, universal, or natural) and those that were introduced on a temporary basis to foreshadow Christ (ceremonial, cultic, or Jewish). The apostles distinguished between “royal” (Jas 2:8), “righteous” (Rom 8:4; Php 3:6), and “spiritual” laws (Gal 5:22-23), and another breed of ”fleshly” (Heb 7:16), “partitioning” (Eph 2:14-15), “weak and beggarly” (Gal 4:9), and “shadowy” (Heb 10:1) laws. For a first century Hebrew-Christian this realization must have been a jaw-dropping experience.

McKay reiterates, “The laws of the Old Testament are to be assumed to be fully in force unless there is a specific indication in the New Testament to the contrary.”[xxvii] In other words, would it not be wise and pious to err on the side of observing all OT laws that are not specifically annulled by a doctrinal argument in the NT? But those who state this rule cannot live with its application because great specificity is required to remove the force of a Mosaic law. None of the theologians who regurgitate this rule wear tassels with a blue cord even though great spirituality is associated with this law (Num 15:38-39). They don’t let the land lay fallow one in seven years even though the Lord punished Israel severely for ignoring this law (Ex 23:10-11). And they have no qualms about lighting a fire or driving for miles on their “Christian Sabbath,” let alone finding a NT teaching specifically moving the Sabbath to Sunday.

“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? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb 7:11-12). The people received the Mosaic law under the authority of the Levitical priesthood, and the church received a “changed” or new law under the priesthood of Jesus Christ. “This text may suggest that in the mind of the author the law as a whole is bound up with the priesthood.”[xxviii] “The priority of priesthood over law is thus clearly affirmed.”[xxix] Indeed, Christ was not eligible under the [Mosaic] law to act as a priest for Israel. God the father appointed Jesus Himself, as High Priest for the new covenant (Ps 109:4). Whether the Levitical priesthood was the condition necessary for the giving of the law, or the law itself was the source of authority for the Levitical priesthood, the relationship is inseparable, such that the imperfection of the priesthood implies the imperfection of the law,[xxx],[xxxi] which in turn necessitates a change of law. “The best that the old covenant could offer was not good enough.”[xxxii] The end point or goal of the [Mosaic] law was the perfection of the people, but being unable to achieve that, a new priesthood and law were necessary. “With the appointment of the new order, the old is abrogated.”[xxxiii]


[i] Peterson, Rodney. “Continuity and Discontinuity: The Debate Throughout Church History” in Continuity and Discontinuity, ed. John S. Feinberg; p. 17. The ‘New’ Testament is also “Hebrew Scriptures.”
[ii] Osborne, G. R. “New Testament Theology” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. ed. Walter A. Elwell, p. 835.
[iii] To these very broad categories could be added the distinctives of Catholicism, Lutheranism, Messianic Theology, New Covenant Theology, Federal Vision Theology, Reconstructionism, Covenanters, Hyper- and Ultra-dispensationalism, and who knows what else.
[iv] Blaising, C. “Dispensationalism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. ed. Walter A. Elwell, p. 344.
[v] Karlberg, Mark W. Covenantal Theology in Reformed Perspective, p. 341-352.
[vi] And yes, science nerds, I know about super-heating. This illustration relates to the ordinary physical properties  that people can observe and measure when boiling water.
[vii] Kruze, C. G. “Law” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology; T. Desmond Alexander, et. al., eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) p. 635.
[viii] Hendrickson, William. Commentary on the New Testament, Vol 9, p. 147. (Gal 3:24)
[ix] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 118.
[x] Calvin’s Commentaries (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), Vol 21, p. 106-107 (Gal 3:23).
[xi] Baxter, J. Sidlow. Explore the Book, p. 12.
[xii] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002) p. 40.
[xiii]Berding, Kenneth and Jonathan Lund, eds., Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
[xiv] A moral law is not ceremonial or civil; a ceremonial law is not moral or civil; a civil law is not moral or ceremonial.
[xv] Brogden, Stuart L. Captive to the Word of God, (United States: Parables, 2016), p. 105.
[xvi] I was going to say “sex with your daughter” only to discover that Mosaic law does not explicitly condemn it. It may be inferred, with good reason, but at the same time, it is not specifically proscribed.
[xvii] Kaiser Jr., Walter C. “God’s Law as the Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 189.
[xviii] Bahnsen, Greg L. “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, pp. 93-143.
[xix] Rushdooney, Rousas J. Law and Society (vol. 2 in Institutes of Biblical Law; Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982)
[xx] Sandberg, Ruth N. Development and Discontinuity in Jewish Law, Lanham, MD: University Press of America 2001, p. 144-145.
[xxi] Beale, G. K. A New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 871.
[xxii] Bahnsen, Greg L. “Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 99.
[xxiii] Murray, Andrew. The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, London: James Nesbit & Co., 1899, p. 91.
[xxiv] Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard, p. 2. (emphasis in the original).
[xxv] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002), p. 9.
[xxvi] Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard, p. 3. (emphasis in the original).
[xxvii] McKay, David. The Bond of Love: God’s Covenantal Relationship with His Church, p. 192.
[xxviii] Moo, Douglas. “The law of Christ as the fulfillment of the law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, Wayne G. Strickland, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 374.
[xxix] Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIGTC, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 373.
[xxx] Ebrard, John H. A. Biblical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, John Fulton, trans., 1853 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), p. 227.
[xxxi] Johnson, Luke Timothy, Hebrews (New Testament Library) (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) p. 185.
[xxxii] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002), p. 52.
[xxxiii] Macaulay, J. C. Expository Commentary on Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978) p. 105.

Book Review of “Continuity and Discontinuity,” Part 2: Focusing on the Law

Focusing on the Law

I already provided an overall review of this book, but purposely left out my discussion about the two entries dealing with the “continuity” or “discontinuity” of the law from the Reformed and Dispensational perspectives. I am familiar with both, but an expert of neither. The terms are associated with two systems of thought—Reformed Covenantalism and Evangelical Dispensationalism—but each camp has owned a term, such that the term (either continuity or discontinuity) comes to stand for the theological framework. However, when the terms are taken for what they ordinarily mean—continuity means something continues uninterrupted and discontinuity means something comes to an end or is changed—then both camps acknowledge a wide range of viewpoints. As such, a sound bar best illustrates the mixture and gradations that any one person holds. Yet, even this example is too over-simplified to fully express the wide range of opinions on these topics.




A. Israel
B. Torah/Law
C. Prophets/Annointing
D.
Forgiveness/Salvation
E. Land/Holiness
F. Eschatology/Fulfillment
G. Church

Knox Chamblin (1935-2012), then an instructor at Reformed Theological Seminary, presents a Reformed perspective that emphasizes “continuity” of the law. Douglas Moo, on the other hand, favors “discontinuity.” Moo was also a contributor in the book “Five Views of the Law and Gospel” (1993) and he stated that he presented a Modified Lutheran perspective. While his view of the law may be similar to the viewpoint of other dispensationalists, Lutheran theology does not support the end-times scenario proposed by Darby and Scofield.

Comparison would be a good way to decide what continues and what doesn’t. Should we count the Mosaic commands and the NT commands and enumerate the differences? Are the gospels counted as OT or NT? Are we restricted to the literal meaning of a command in the historical context or are we allowed, for modern times, to spiritualize it or to imagine some continuing moral principle? Do historical events describing the positive and negative behaviors of the people of old count as commands? Do proverbial sayings count as commands? Since the Reformed folk feel that near all ethical obligations are contained in the Ten Commandments,[i] can we assume that there are only ten OT commands to compare? Christians maintain that Mosaic laws can be divided into two or three groups. Is this viewpoint defensible? If so, how shall the details of “ceremonial” commands be counted? Does continuity or discontinuity best label a ceremonial command that is abrogated but a principle within it is followed? None of these ideas are explored and none of these questions are answered by Chamblin or Moo.

Reformed. As Chamblin recognizes, there is a Jewish way and a Christian way. But law is given to God’s people within the context of a covenant, and so there is a continuity on a fundamental level from Mosaic law to Christic law. It is not a different sort of law, if we think of the law enjoining love of God and love for fellow man; however, since the advent of Christ there is discontinuity in the law because it is “newly administered and more deeply expounded than ever before” (p. 182).[ii] The new administration is related to the threefold division of the law—rather “dimensions”—and this is discovered by the New Testament use of Mosaic law.

So begins Chamblin’s discussion of the law before Christ and after Christ. Since mankind cannot keep the law, there needs to be a means to gain forgiveness. This was provided through a system of cultic performances that were an integral part of Mosaic law. Those who believed the Scriptures as delivered by Moses, should be ready to believe Jesus. The reason for the existence of the Mosaic law was to prepare Israel “for a new, more glorious order” (187). Jesus is the object of the Mosaic law, its Lord, and its teacher. His arrival marks the end of the age of the Prophets and the Law, which He fulfills, not abolishes. As the object, He accomplished and brought to fulfillment the anticipatory figures. Scriptures move from the law to the lawgiver, which was the highest purpose of the Mosaic law. The law is not the enemy, but sin is. The law was a tool of sin and now becomes a means of grace with our new Master. Bound to Christ we are bound to His law. The NT does not abolish rules and regulations per se, only the tendencies to supplant God’s law with traditions or to become proud of one’s obedience (p. 189). The details of the law confirm the “childhood” status of the people of God, but now we can convert rules into principles. Jesus does not replace the law, but exegetes it. This brings the age of the law to an end, but not the law itself (p. 190). Jesus does not declare a new law but goes to the heart of the existing law. One rediscovers the command to love, but it is not a new law. Loving one another is new because of the revelation of Christ (p. 191). The Holy Spirit amplifies rather than replaces the witness of Moses. The very law inscribed on stone is now inscribed by the Spirit on our hearts, so we are liberated for the law (p.192). We are not forced by an external command of Mosaic law to obey, but inwardly by the Spirit to obey the heart of Mosaic commandments. Law rests on grace and law is an expression of grace.

Chamblin then continues by discussing the three “dimensions” of the law. With respect to morality, there is continuity. With respect to redemption, there is discontinuity. Obedience to the Decalogue is the same thing as obedience to moral law. In typical Reformed style, he reviews the morality of the Ten Commandments which continue into the “dawn of the great sabbath age,” but there are new mercies and new severities when it comes to divorce (p.197). With regards to the ceremonial law, there is continuity of its inseparable relationship with moral law in both testaments (p. 198). The new covenant is not de-ceremonialized, but re-ceremonialized. Baptism is the counterpart to circumcision, but better because women can do it and it’s not painful. Fasting is encouraged and protected. The temple motif is not discarded but transformed. Tithing is not overturned. The civil dimension, for Chamblin, displays continuity too, but it is a re-civilizing and transformation, because there are new graces, relationships, and obligations (but no mention of new severities).

Finally, Chamblin discusses the “emerging” hermeneutic he uses to bring clarity to his conclusions, one he advances “in a very tentative fashion.” He denies that the NT warrants the idea that moral commands continue and ceremonial/civil commands discontinue. “In some sense, the entirety of the [Mosaic] law remains in force.” At the same time, “the whole [Mosaic] law is… just as surely transformed and reshaped” (p. 200). Interestingly, he lends credence to Kaiser’s (a discontinuity man) framework for determining what particulars of Mosaic law are still relevant to believers. If we use the “ladder of abstraction” from the “level of specificity” to the “level of generality” then we can reject the two opposing axioms that Reformed and Evangelicals have asserted best answers this question.[iii] Chamblin reiterates that law for the Christian is merely a better understanding of Mosaic law, as Christ interprets it.

Analysis. Chamblin’s essay was replete with theological propositional statements. At times I concurred; other times, I was puzzled or in disagreement. It is difficult to discuss the Mosaic law in its historical context without the influence of the perspective of the new covenant. As Chamblin stated, “apart from [Christ, the law] cannot be fully understood” (188). But “the law” in the OT period meant one thing, and “law” in the NT period has a wider range of meaning because of the enactment of the NT. And the gospels hold a unique position because Jesus was living under the [Mosaic] law (Gal 4:4) while at the same time fulfilling it (Lk 1:1; 4:1).

Chamblin’s failure to carefully define “law” (besides it being a “rule of life,” p. 181) and his inconsistent use of the term “law” led to statements that were difficult to assess. He understands that law is given in the context of a covenant but he doesn’t make the connection that the law is the covenant. For example, in his final paragraph discussing the law before Christ, we read this:

“The ‘new covenant’ of Jer 31:31-34 will actually achieve the forgiveness of sins, will entail not a new law but a new and more personal administration of the old (Mosaic) law, and will accomplish, chiefly by those two means, that purpose for which the Sinaitic Covenant had been established and the Mosaic Law given—namely, the deepest mutual knowledge between Yahweh and his people.” (p. 187)

In other words,

  • The old covenant did not actually provide forgiveness of sins [So far, so good, from the NT perspective]
  • The old law was delivered under a less personal administration [Okay? Moses wrote down what he experienced and what God told him vis-à-vis apostles wrote down what they experienced and heard with Jesus]
  • But these particulars were not the real purpose of the old covenant [Okay… Did the Jews really know what the real purpose of the law was?]
  • Yet a new administration of the old covenant will provide forgiveness and a deeper relationship with God [What!? The NT is the OT administered in a new way?]

Chamblin states that a new covenant does not require a new law (“not a new law”); that forgiveness will actually be achieved by the Mosaic law under a new administration. However, Hebrews (Heb 7:12) states emphatically that the change of the priesthood (which is the end of the Aaronic priesthood) necessitates a change of the law (which is the end of the old Mosaic law). After all, which priesthood was involved in the Christian’s sin-debt settlement? There must be something wrong with Chamblin’s system if the outworking of it makes him contradict a clear passage of Scripture. Is there a new covenant with its own priesthood and law, or is it really the continuation of the old covenant with an upgraded priesthood that reinterprets the same old law? If the OT is so great, why does it have to be reinterpreted and re-administered?

If Chamblin’s statement is to be understood in the historical context, then it is true that the new covenant would bring a greater measure of obedience and forgiveness, and a deeper relationship with God. The Lord explained to Jeremiah that the reason for a new covenant is because the Mosaic covenant was already broken by the people of God. And it remains a broken law-covenant (Ps 119:126). A new covenant, under these circumstances, cannot simply be a re-instatement of the former covenant. However, if the “law” that will be imbedded in their heart and mind is the very law that they received at Sinai, then the change is very small. Along these lines, we should then expect that the new covenant will be for the same people and in the same land as Jeremiah prophesied. “New” is not a radical, essential change, but an improvement and continuation of previously established covenants that brings Israel into the millennial kingdom. As Rabbi Federow stated: “This new covenant that Gd speaks about in Jeremiah 31 is not talking about a new covenant, a new contract, and He does not mean a new set of laws, a new Torah, a new scripture. It means the covenant between Gd and the Jews and the laws of that covenant are eternal.”[iv] Now that sounds like “continuity.” But as the New Testament understands this passage, the institution of the “new covenant” stamps the [Mosaic covenant] obsolete (Heb 8:13). That sounds like “discontinuity.”

Despite Chamblin’s acknowledgment that the [Mosaic] law is unable to provide redemption, he emphasizes continuity to such an extent that the covenants are nearly equalized. Referring to John 1:17 (law from Moses), Chamblin says the [Mosaic] law is as much about grace and truth as is Jesus, and to see Jesus is to see Yahweh as He revealed Himself at Sinai (p. 188). So much for a more personal administration. He struggles to avoid admitting any shortcoming or “disparagement” [to reduce in esteem or rank] of Mosaic law. However, Calvin, commenting on this verse, sees this as an antithesis between the old and new testaments. “[John] reminds [the Jews] that what [Moses] brought was exceedingly small, when compared to the grace of Christ. It would otherwise have been a great hindrance that they expected to receive from the Law what we can only obtain through Christ.”[v] When it comes to grace and truth, you’ll find it in spades with Jesus, the testator of the new covenant.

Dispensational.

The discontinuity viewpoint is presented by Douglas Moo, who acknowledges the complexity involved in presenting an answer to the question regarding the relationship of the law to both testaments. He decides to give an overview of his opinion that the NT leans more toward a discontinuous attitude toward Mosaic law, while focusing on the likely meanings of Matt 5:17, Rom 10:4; and Gal 6:2 (p. 204).

Beginning with Jesus’ statement that He has not come to “abolish” the law but to “fulfill” it, Moo examines the idea that Jesus merely means to establish or uphold the law, but finds it inadequate a position in view of the contextual contrasts in Jesus’ sermon. While some of Jesus’ teachings are directed against perverse Jewish traditions, most of His demands “go considerably beyond any fair exegesis of … of the actual texts he quotes; nor do most of his demands find support anywhere in the OT” (p. 205). Jesus positions Himself as a new authority. Moo prefers to think that “fulfil” [Gk. πληρόω] means “deepen” or “extend,” and not simply to bring to pass an OT prophecy, nor to validate the law as a code of conduct. “The continuity of the law with Jesus’ teaching is thereby clearly stressed, but it is a continuity on the plane of a salvation-historical scheme of ‘anticipation-realization’.” While the law is to be taught, it must be interpreted and applied in light of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul’s view of the law sometimes resembles what Jesus taught.

Paul taught that Christ is the “end” or “goal” [Gk. τἐλος] of the law for righteousness. Moo asserts that neither word is adequate in itself as we understand them in our language. But it is clear that “end” does not mean the law ceases to function in all regards. The law pointed to Christ; it was a key element in God’s redemptive plan, but not the ultimate provider of righteousness. (p. 207). Paul introduces a new term—the law of Christ—now that Christ has come fulfilling that for which the law was designed (Gal 6:2). Again, Moo reviews a variety of interpretations of this phrase. To assist the reader in understanding this phrase, he elects to review two other concepts: 1) how love is the fulfillment of the law (Gal 5:14), and 2) how Christians are no longer under the law (Gal 5:18).

The quandary throughout the church age is how a Christian is “free from the law” and at the same time expected to be obedient to God’s moral standard. Clearly, to the Jewish mind, if a Christian is free from the law of circumcision, then he is at the same time a law-breaker. Paul’s answer is not so complex as to enumerate which laws from Moses are legitimate and which are not, but to provide a more basic grid to evaluate moral choices in relation to Christ’s demonstration and advocacy of love. Love may thus summarize the law, but acting in love fulfills the law (p. 209). The Christian’s attitude toward the law is elevated through the Spirit, for in one sense the law has already been fulfilled in us, so as we continue to act out of love, we continue to fulfill the law’s purpose (p. 210). This can be done even when excluding such a commandment as circumcision.

Paul also asserted that believers are not under the law. Moo clarifies that the phrase cannot be taken to mean “the law as perverted by men into a means of salvation” (p. 210). Better, it means that Christians are “not being directly subjected to the ordinances of the law of Moses (p. 212). Moo continues to describe the law as a pedagogue and its relationship to the Gentiles. The law was not only culturally specific, it was temporally confined. Moo examines all occurrences of “under law” and sees a consistent contrast with the Christian’s lifestyle, but at the same time cautions against the tendency to totally separate oneself from the law. While the NT stresses discontinuity of the law, the Christian is nevertheless bound to God’s law or the law of Christ. “No commandment, even those of the Decalogue, is binding simply because it is part of the Mosaic Law” (p. 217). Moo concludes with saying, “any approach that substitutes external commands for the Spirit as the basic norm for Christian living runs into serious difficulties with Paul” (p. 218).

Analysis. Moo’s presentation was certainly coherent, moderate, and discursive; and I found myself more in agreement with his understanding of the law. He focused on a handful of verses that are crucial to this topic, and was true to his stated goal to suggest general ideas that give shape to the puzzle as he sees it. I noticed that he did not discuss God’s law prior to the Mosaic covenant or even the concept of moral law (there were a few “brushstrokes”), and he did not delve into the NT teaching that Jesus is the substance of various OT laws or the necessary classification of Mosaic laws. It was as if he intended to explain the apostolic position at their point in time as they promoted the concepts of walking in the Spirit, the virtue of love, and the example of Christ. This is all before the church tried to explain this position with a breakdown of moral, ceremonial, and civil commands.

The Jews moved from one form of slavery to another (2 Cor 3:9). They could not experience the full measure of freedom in their deliverance until the fullness of times arrived. “Their rest was a memorial of the Lord’s sinless seventh-day rest and a token of the future eternal rest; it was a reminder that their inward state of sinfulness must be despised as a slave despised his mistreatment and that they must call out to God for redemption from their sins as a slave would call out for redemption from slavery.”[vi] This, I believe, is what Paul meant by calling the law a pedagogue-someone to provide instruction for the greater matters of adulthood. Once maturity is attained, there is no longer a need for such an authority figure.


[i] i.e., “Directions for handling [lawsuits] are found in the Decalogue…” (p. 199)
[ii] So discontinuity relates to “newness.”
[iii] Reformed: “Every law in the OT continues unless specifically abrogated” (but Chamblin does not believe in abrogation). Evangelical: “Only those laws repeated in the NT are valid” and it’s corollary: “Free to do anything that is not specifically prohibited by the NT.” I questioned these two axioms myself in The Sabbath Complete: “Unfortunately, the regulative principle has been turned around to produce the very thing that it was meant to correct: elevating the traditions of men (formulated through deduction) to the unequivocal level of God’s precepts” (229). “The alternative, called the liberal or permissive principle, common in Lutheran and Evangelical churches, is to allow anything in worship that is not specifically prohibited by Scripture. Even this principle has its flaws” (232).
[iv] Federow, Stuart. http://www.whatjewsbelieve.org/prooftext7jer3131.html.  Accessed October 4, 2018.
[v] Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Calvin’s Commentaries, Baker (2009) Vol. XVII, p. 52. (John 1:17).
[vi] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, p. 101.

Part 2d: What Are The Terms? New Covenant

New Covenant.  The concept of covenants is part and parcel of the OT, and this includes the “new covenant.” Within the historical context of the Mosaic covenant, Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant the Lord would establish with Israel (Jer 31:31-40). The writings comprising the NT describe the events leading up to the inauguration of the new covenant/testament and its significance for Israel and the world.

“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 that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.”

The Lord acknowledges the sinfulness of Israel (v. 37) and even though they are undeserving, the Lord God is absolutely unwavering in His commitment to them and the land. But the Mosaic covenant is not enough, there must be a new covenant that supersedes it, loftier in its attributes and consequences. When God choses to enact the new covenant, a faithful Jew would be a fool not to enter into it through a new blood vow. In other words, a Jew could not hope to continue in the former [Mosaic] covenant and please God when the better covenant is placed into effect. The benefits of the new covenant clearly lay in the relationship between God and His people. They will have an inward compulsion to assent to and obey God’s law [What law would that be?]. There will be a new means of knowledge and understanding of who God is [What means would that be?]. The people of the covenant will encompass all classes [Who can they be?]. Sadly, the people will continue to sin yet find complete forgiveness [How can this be?]. Finally, the people of God will dwell in a larger region of holiness untouched by human warfare [How can that be?]. Because this covenant will remain forever, there is no covenant that could ever surpass it. In other words, the new covenant is the final and fullest covenant that God will make with His people, surpassing and completing all the covenants that have come before. At the telling of this prophecy, God determined that a new covenant is necessary for Israel; however, He would wait until a particular time to ordain it [When would that be?]. The Jewish sages could only wonder about the answers to these questions and hope in their God until he brought it to pass. However, when the Lord did enact the new covenant, the years of speculation and expectation made it difficult for law-entrenched Jews to comprehend the simplicity, grandeur, and grace that characterized it.

The four gospel narratives of the NT joyfully proclaim the events leading up to the institution of the new covenant and the remaining literature describes the implications and outworking of the new covenant for the people of God living in the world. The gist of Jeremiah’s prophecy is one of contrast: “not according to the covenant made at Sinai.” However, since concepts contained in the Mosaic covenant appear to remain constant—such as Israel (the people of God), God’s law, sinfulness and the need for forgiveness, holiness (by virtue of God’s presence) and the land—the difference appears to be a contrast of superiority. But even then, the eventual revelation of the new covenant was strikingly different than what the Jewish people had expected (Rom 16:25-26; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Eph 3:8-11; Col 1:24-27). So it is no surprise that even Christians arrive at differing conclusions about the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the Christic covenant.[i] Furthermore, Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant is specifically contrasted with the covenant made with Israel, and seems to leave intact and unaffected the covenants with (Adam), Noah, Abraham, and David. As such, the NT teaches that the new covenant 1) makes full the covenant with Abraham, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14), and 2) makes obsolete the Sinaitic covenant, “Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13).

The term “new covenant” occurs in six NT texts (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8; 9:15; 12:24) and it is clearly addressed by Paul in Galatians (Gal 4:19-31). Allusions to the prophecy of Jeremiah have also been acknowledged by commentators in Matt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26 (institution of Lord’s Supper); Jn 6:45 (Jesus as teacher); Jn 8:37-47 (knowledge of God); Jn 16: 7-14 (gift of the Holy Spirit); Acts 5:31 (forgiveness of Israel); Rom:11:27 (forgiveness of sins) Gal 3:14 (gift of Holy Spirit); Heb 7:22 (better covenant); Heb 9:16-22 (related to first covenant); Heb 10:16-17; Heb 13:20 (blood of everlasting covenant); and 2 Thess 2:1 (future gathering). These and other NT passages help answer the questions that derive from Jeremiah’s prophecy.

OT Concepts

Question for the New Covenant

Answer/Fulfillment

Israel: a nation Who can they be? The nature of the people of God. Church comprising both Jew and Gentile
Matt 16:18 I will build my church
Jn 18:36 My kingdom is not of this world
Rom 1:16 to the Jew first and also to the Greek
Rom 11:7 Israel has not received, but a remnant has
Gal 3:28 you are all one in Christ
1 Pet 2:9 you are a holy nation
Torah: written law What law would that be? The nature of the law Law of Christ/ Liberty/Love
Jn 8:36 Son makes one free indeed
2 Cor 3:6 not of letter but spirit
2 Cor 3:17 liberty with the Spirit
Heb 12:25 speaks from heaven
Gal 2:4 liberty in Christ from circumcision
Gal 5:14 loving neighbor is epitome of law
Gal 5:1 stand fast in liberty
Gal 6:2 loving neighbor is Christ’s law
Jas 2:8 loving neighbor is royal law
Heb 7:28 appointed by oath after the law
1 Jh 3:11 Christian gospel begins with love
Prophets/
Annointing: ad hoc human ministers speaking for God
What means would that be? The nature of knowing God. Christ the Prophet and Mediator/
Annointing of the Holy Spirit
Lk 4:18 Christ anointed by prophecy
Jn 6:41-51 To know God is to know Jesus
Jn 8:31 Jesus speaks truth from the Father
Jn 14:9-10 Jesus has authority from God
Jn 16:7-14 The Spirit of God takes Jesus’ place
Gal 3:14 receive the promised Spirit through faith
Eph 4:20-24 new man in learning Christ with Spirit
Heb 7:25 come to God through Him
Heb 9:15 He is the Mediator
1 Jn 2:20-27 believers anointed with Holy Spirit
Forgiveness: by blood atonement How can this be? The nature of fellowship with God. Blood of Christ
Lk 22:20 covenantal blood
Acts 5:31 Jesus gives repentance and forgiveness
1 Cor 11:25 both priest and sacrifice
Heb 7:27 sacrificed once for all
Heb 10:18-18 no more offerings, boldness to enter
Heb 13:20 complete through the blood
Land/Holiness: specific boundaries and place worship How can that be? The nature of the kingdom of God. Spiritual/ Eternal Kingdom
Jn 4:23 day coming of decentralized worship
Jn 18:36 My servants would fight if worldly kingdom
2 Cor 3:11 more glorious
Heb 9:8 way into Holiest revealed
Heb 11:16 a better country, a heavenly one
Heb 12:28 receiving a kingdom
Gal 4:26 Jerusalem above is free
Restoration When would that be? The nature of eschatology. Two Advents/Already and Not Yet
Rom 8:30 predestined to glorified
1 Cor 11:28 til He comes
Eph 2:5-6 we are raised and sit in heavenly places
1 Thes 4:14 Christ died and rose, and will come again
2 Thes 2:1 man of sin first, then Christ will appear
Heb 9:28 He will appear a second time

There is a new balance and emphasis when it comes to the concept of “law.” The OT Scriptures are cited to reinforce the ethic that derives from Christ’s ultimate sacrifice not just for sin, but for people. This sacrifice is founded on the love of God in sending His Son (Jh 3:16) and the love of the Son for His friends and brethren (Jn 15:13). And this love should also extend to enemies, for even we were once enemies of God (Col 1:21). The law of Christ begins with love, and just in case the pious Jew is confused by this, there are examples of godly love commanded in the Mosaic law that are consistent with the new emphasis now that Christ has come (Ex 23:4-5, 9; Lev 19:18, 34; Deut 10:18; 32:35). It is not just an external commandment in a code book that we are to obey, but now we are internally compelled to demonstrate love because we have experienced first-hand the ultimate expression of love. The Israelite was told to reflect on the fact that he was once a slave in Egypt, but this mindset reaches its pinnacle in the Christian’s reflection that he was once a slave to sin and now made free to serve Christ. This new covenant freedom far outshines the freedom of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.

The institution of the nation Israel is one-upped by the institution of the church of Christ. There is still a nation called Israel,[ii] but even in its best times and highest glories, it could never attain the status of “true Israel” which is the church, comprised of both Jew and Gentile under a new covenant and a heavenly kingdom. Israel brought in a few Gentiles through circumcision, but it has been overshadowed by a more encompassing community called the church. Also, there was no nation or international community of God before the calling of Israel, so it is not beyond the intent of God to call into existence something radically different than Israel to become the people of God (Hos 2:23; Rom 9:21-24). From the beginning, the Lord’s elect were traced through faithful individuals and their families (like Adam, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, and Abraham); then it progressed to a select nation from Jacob (Israel)—but now it comprises people of faith throughout the whole world. In times past, there was always a remnant, a pocket of those who trusted in God (1 Ki 19:18; Isa 1:9); but now, the yeast of His calling has blossomed to produce a wholesome loaf of children of God (Hos 1:10; Matt 13:33; Rom 9:22-29)—not born from the physical lineage of Jacob, but born again by the Spirit through belief in Jesus as Messiah. Israel gestated within a pagan land and was released from servitude to live and rule in their own land. But members of the church are gestated by the telling of the gospel and freed from sin; released to serve God wherever they are, endeavoring to live at peace within their host nation guided by the law of love (Rom 12:18-13:10).[iii]  See Continuity/Discontinuity.

“[The new covenant] is the fulfillment of the promises of the old covenant and is better by degrees than that former covenant by virtue of its clearer view of Christ and redemption, its richer experience of the Holy Spirit, and by the greater liberty which it grants to believers.”[iv] “The old dispensation was temporary and preparatory; the new is permanent and final.”[v] “The entirety of Paul’s theology is a juxtaposition of old and new, just as Paul is a unique combination of old: rabbinically trained Jew; and new: Christian apostle and witness of the resurrected Jesus.”[vi] “That is, the use of the word “new” implies that the one which it was to supersede was “old.” New and old stand in contradistinction from each other. . . The object of the apostle is to show that by the very fact of the arrangement for a new dispensation differing so much from the old, it was implied of necessity that that was to be superseded, and would vanish away.”[vii] “As far as Christianity is preferable to Judaism, as far as Christ is preferable to Moses, as far as spiritual blessings are preferable to earthly blessings, and as far as the enjoyment of God throughout eternity is preferable to the communication of earthly good during time; so far does the new covenant exceed the old.”[viii] “If, therefore, God proclaimed a new covenant which was to be instituted, and this for a light of the nations, we see and are persuaded that men approach God, leaving their idols and other unrighteousness, through the name of Him who was crucified, Jesus Christ, and abide by their confession even unto death, and maintain piety. Moreover, by the works and by the attendant miracles, it is possible for all to understand that He is the new law, and the new covenant, and the expectation of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God.”[ix] “From the fact of one covenant being established, he infers the subversion of the other; and by calling it the old covenant, he assumes that it was to be abrogated; for what is old tends to a decay. Besides, as the new is substituted, it must be that the former has come to an end; for the second, as it has been said, is of another character. But if the whole dispensation of Moses, as far as it was opposed to the dispensation of Christ, has passed away, then the ceremonies also must have ceased.”[x] The first covenant demanded obedience, and failed because it could not find it. The New Covenant was expressly made to provide for obedience.”[xi]

The controversy about the applicability of the Sabbath under the new covenant is between the beneficiaries of the new covenant. That is, Christians who entered into the new covenant with God by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ differ as to whether the Sabbath must be observed.[xii] The Christian’s view of the new covenant appears to hold a uniformly lofty position whether one is a Seventh-day Sabbatarian, a Sunday Sabbatarian, or a non-Sabbatarian. So, are these different approaches Sabbath observance related at all to one’s understanding of the new covenant?  That is, is there something about the new covenant that directly affects one’s view of the Sabbath?

This question would appear to take on two paths. 1) If the new covenant doctrine itself has no impact on the matter, then the argument for or against the Sabbath would not begin with the new covenant or the relationship between the old and new covenants. The arguments would be based on a separate rationale that only loosely ties into one’s understanding of the covenants. 2) If there is some subtle understanding about the new covenant that separates the various positions, then we would expect the argument for or against Sabbath-keeping to center on this difference. So, when Sabbatarians or non-Sabbatarians address this topic, do they count on their understanding of the new covenant to frame their argument or some other reference point? Where a proponent of each viewpoint begins can be telling.

Ratzlaff is a former SDA (SS) writing from the LD position. He begins his book “Sabbath in Christ” with discussions about the old and new covenants. The relationship between the covenants is central to his thesis that the Sabbath has been abrogated.[xiii] O’Hare’s (LD) “Sabbath Complete” surveys the topic as it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation. While the various covenants are discussed throughout these pages, it is not until the new covenant is established with the death and resurrection of Jesus that the rationale for a fulfilled Sabbath is presented.[xiv] Morrison’s (LD) argument in “Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing” also follows the biblical timeline to present the Sabbath as one of many calendar observances of the Mosaic covenant that were rendered obsolete by the new covenant.[xv] On the other hand, Ray (CS) begins with the Fourth Commandment in “Celebrating the Sabbath” and his enlarged concept of the Sabbath gets transferred to the Lord’s Day by the new covenant.[xvi] To escape the effect of the new covenant on ceremonial laws, the Sabbath is claimed to be a commandment for all mankind since creation. Pipa’s (CS) “The Lord’s Day” begins with the Sabbath commandment and an argument against “anti-sabbatarians” who on the basis of their understanding about the new covenant believe it has been set aside.[xvii] Acknowledging the fact that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant and contains ceremonial aspects, Pipa simply asserts that the Sabbath is still morally binding. Bacchiocchi (SS) presents his thesis via an historical analysis, yet he sets up the Sabbath as an enduring commandment despite its symbolic and typological meaning—“not the literal abrogation but the spiritual valorization of the commandment.”[xviii] Observance of the fourth commandment, he posits, was lost to Christianity by the co-opting of pagan Sun-day worship. A more historically oriented work by Heylyn (LD, 1636) recounts the history of Christianity up to his time to demonstrate that after looking through the annals of Christian history no Sabbath observance was found, not until “forty years ago, no more, some men began to introduce a Sabbath thereunto, in hope thereby to countenance and advance their other projects.”[xix]

By this brief review and my awareness of the arguments, it appears that CS and SS theologians assign certain values and interpretive rules to the Sabbath before the new covenant comes into the discussion, and these notions insulate it from the effects of the new covenant. The heightened Sabbath of the CS position is preserved but shifted to Sunday by virtue of the new covenant. Some in this camp would agree that certain ceremonial aspects enjoined only during the Mosaic covenant were done away with by the new covenant. Sunday Sabbatarians (CS) give credence to the historical practice of the church to gather on the first day of the week but they deny the historical findings of Heylyn. On the other hand, the esteemed Sabbath of Saturday Sabbatarians (SS) is unchangeable, so first-day worship must be a theological error introduced early in the history of the church.

What are the values and interpretive rules assigned to the Sabbath by SS and CS advocates that in the end prevent them from recognizing or comprehending the nullifying effect of the new covenant on the Sabbath that the LD community believes? This is the same question as: what principles or facts are the LD failing to comprehend that makes it difficult for them to accept a moral and eternally obligatory Sabbath, which they must ultimately observe on Saturday or Sunday?

  • The Sabbath was instituted at creation. Because this predates the Mosaic covenant, the new covenant cannot undo it. It is not a ceremonial law but a creation mandate.
  • The Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments. God placed it in the Decalogue because it is a moral command, and therefore, the new covenant cannot annul it. The new covenant only put an end to the ceremonies tied to the Sabbath under Moses.
  • Jesus obeyed the Sabbath and corrected misunderstandings about it. Jesus would not approach the Sabbath in this way unless it was an enduring commandment.
  • Sure, the Sabbath is symbolic and typologic, but since the final rest has not yet occurred, the practice of it must continue through the church age. Marriage is also moral and symbolic of a future reality, and it is unchanged by the new covenant.
  • The Sabbath cannot be abrogated by the new covenant except by explicit instruction, which is denied. The mention of the Sabbath in Colossians must not be referring to the weekly Sabbath.
  • The resurrection was of such importance that it is the reason for moving the Sabbath to the first day of the week.


[i] Can there be alternative names for the new covenant? It is the covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. As the preceding covenants were named eponymously, I think it can be called either the Christic or Messianic covenant.
[ii] There was no Jewish “nation” from 73 to 1948 CE. Israel was not a nation (1,865 years) longer than it was a nation (about 1,382 years, not counting the past 70 years).
[iii] The history of the church demonstrates its struggle with the concept of living in the world as a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) of a different order or character.
[iv] Rayburn, R. S. “Covenant, New” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Ewell, ed., p. 301.
[v] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 377.
[vi] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 118.
[vii] Barnes, Albert.  Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1861), p. 181. (Heb 8:13).
[viii] Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible, (Heb 8:6). Biblesoft Electronic Library.
[ix] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 11 (ANF 1:200).
[x] Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 193 (Heb 8:13)
[xi] Murray, Andrew. The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, London: James Nesbit & Co., 1899, p. 115. Italics in the original.
[xii] On the fringes, it is also a conflict between believers and pseudo-Christian cults.
[xiii] Ratzlaff, Dale. Sabbath in Christ. LAM, 2010.
[xiv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, Wipf and Stock, 2011.
[xv] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing. Writers Club Press, 2002.
[xvi] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath. P&R, 2000.
[xvii] Pipa, Joseph A. The Lord’s Day. Christian Focus, 1997.
[xviii] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 69.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath, ed. Stuart Brogden (2018), p. 379.

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