Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crossing the Line

How do we fit together the Old and New Testaments from a Christian point of view? Many differ over what does and does not still apply to the Christian church today. How should we approach this question?

Various groups deal with this issue by building up complex systems. However, these systems are read into Scripture rather than taught in Scripture. It is true that it is appropriate to coin words to describe things taught in Scripture (for example "Trinity"). But we must be sure they are there in Scripture. Scripture has key transition points, such as the Fall (Genesis 3) or the call of Abraham (Genesis 12), and there are specific covenants like the Noahic (Genesis 9) or the Davidic (2 Samuel 7). Also, Scripture has universal themes like the sanctity of life (Genesis 9:6) and the balance of law and grace (Romans 6:14). But nowhere in Scripture are these brought together to make a system. If someone sees some proposed pattern of ages or covenants, they are welcome to hold it as a theory. But to divide over it or interpret Scripture by it is a problem. Scripture should be interpreted by what Scripture says, not forced into our system.

Then what about the transition from the Old to the New Testament? I would like to propose a somewhat simplistic solution. Those things which the New Testament says still apply, still apply, and those which it says do not, do not. As the commandments against murder and adultery (Romans 13:9) and the way of salvation (Romans 4:1-8) are reaffirmed, they remain. If commandments about foods (Mark 7:19) and various days (Colossians 2:16) and the Temple ceremonies (Hebrews 8:13) are said to have passed away, they have. There are a few odd commandments left, such as plowing with two types of beasts (Deuteronomy 22:10) or taking a mother bird with the chicks (Deuteronomy 22:6). These I take as no longer applying, though they may be illustrative of some principle (like not muzzling the ox when he treads out grain; see 1 Corinthians 9:9).

There is also the issue of the ordinances. While there is continuity between the Old and New Testament ordinances, this does not justify transferring whatever applies in the Old Testament to the New. There is a connection between the Lord's Supper and the Passover. This does not mean we should only serve communion on the 14th of Nisan or serve it with bitter herbs. Any attempt to establish something regarding a New Testament ordinance based on the Old Testament needs to be demonstrated.

In the final analysis, what does and does not carry over from the Old Testament must be argued on its merits. Sometimes things in the New Testament which are thought to be a conflict with things in the Old Testament can be reconciled when carefully studied. But we should resist the temptation to explain the Scripture by our theories rather than the other way around.

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