The “bondage” of the civil law?

A common view is that the civil law of Moses was a bondage to Old Testament saints. This understanding leads people to view passages which speak of freedom from the law as meaning that saints are now “free” from the “bondage” of the civil laws of the Old Testament. In my opinion, this view is erroneous. Whatever you may believe about the civil laws of the Old Testament, you cannot biblically defend the view that the civil laws were a burden. You may attempt to make arguments against applying the general equity of the civil laws to societies today, but you cannot cogently use any argument that implies said laws were a form of bondage to Old Testament saints. Please allow me to explain.

One of the arguments against applying the general equity of the civil law in the Bible is that Mosaic obligations, with their inherent “bondage,” have passed away in the New Covenant. Since Jesus came and clearly fulfilled and ended the ceremonial system, it is argued that he must have abrogated the application of the general equity of the Mosaic case laws as well.

Passages that are sometimes quoted in support of the view that the New Testament teaches the abrogation of the general equity of the civil laws in conjunction with them being a form of bondage include Romans 6:14 and 7:6.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)

“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

The reason these passages are used is that the civil laws are presented as being for a specific people living under the “bondage of the law.” The civil laws, therefore, are seen as fetters which kept the people of God in bondage. This would lead some to say that the New Covenant releases us from “the bondage of law that was intended for a national people for a specific time.” Furthermore, because we are no longer required to apply the general equity of God’s law to society, we have been “freed from its [i.e. the law’s] bondage and condemnation.” We are now “free to live by the Spirit according to the spirit of the law, rather than the Mosaic letter.”

However, a closer look at these passages (and the Bible as a whole) paint a different picture. Romans 6:14 speaks of the the glorious truth that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ leads to victory over sin in the believer’s life (Romans 6:5-6). In fact, in Romans 6:13 (the verse immediately preceding the verse in view) the Apostle Paul says that we are to present our members to God as “instruments for righteousness.” Righteousness cannot be defined apart from the law of God. This is why the writers of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith clearly communicated that one of the greatest blessings of the gospel is obedience to the law of God. Whatever they understood from the statement that we are “not under law but under grace,” they certainly did not understand it to mean that we are not to obey the law.

[We believe] that the Moral Law of God [ten commandments] is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that it is holy, just and good; that the inability which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen men to fulfill its precepts, arises entirely from their love of sin; to deliver them from which, and to restore them through a Mediator to unfeigned obedience to the holy law, is one great end of the gospel… (New Hampshire Confession of Faith)

Now, one may say, “Yes, of course, we are not freed from keeping the moral law even though Romans 6:14 says we are ‘not under law.'” Well and good. But you cannot then use the same verse to say that we ought not to apply the general equity of the civil laws—after all, the civil laws are clearly applications of the moral law (laws concerning honoring parents, murder, theft, adultery, false witness, etc). In fact, in Romans 6, Paul clearly teaches that we must oppose lawlessness (v. 15 and v. 19), and rather seek to be obedient (v. 17), presumably to God’s law (after all, Paul elsewhere clearly upholds the law as good). Rather than teaching that Christians are no longer in “bondage” to the civil laws, Paul is teaching that Christians are not “under law” as a means of attaining righteousness or favor with God. Furthermore, Christians are not enslaved to sin because Jesus paid the debt for sin on their behalf. They do not stand “under the law” as guilty sinners; they have been forgiven in Christ. The problem was never with the laws of God in the Old Testament, but rather with the hearts of man. We have been freed from the power of sin and given new hearts, and with those new hearts the ability to obey God’s laws (cf. Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 8:8-13).

Romans 7:6 is used in a similar manner, suggesting that the coming of Christ has set the world free from the “bondage” of the civil laws of the Old Testament. However, in the book of Deuteronomy, God clearly says that when other nations see Israel’s laws, they will be amazed at the wisdom and justice of her laws.

“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)

The other (pagan) nations could only say that Israel’s laws were “righteous” if they were reflections of God’s moral law which was written on their hearts. Remember, God’s moral law was (and is) written on the heart of every person in every pagan nation. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 explains it in this way: “God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart…The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai” (Chapter 19, portions of sections 1 and 2). Forget about the people of God for a moment: the civil laws of God were not even viewed as a form of bondage by pagan nations.

Interestingly, the London Baptist Confession also has something to say about the “bondage” of the law. In Chapter 21 (Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience), the confession speaks of the liberty (i.e. freedom) that Christ has purchased for believers. Included in this liberty is the freedom from the “rigor and curse of the law.” However, this does not mean that believers are not required to obey God’s law. In fact, earlier in the confession it states that the law of God “binds” believers and requires obedience. Furthermore, it is made clear that “neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation” (Chapter 19, Section 5). Therefore, the freedom from the “rigor and curse of the law” is to be understood as freedom from having to justify oneself by obeying the law (cf. Galatians 3:10-14). We are not justified by obeying God’s law, but we are still required to obey it. After listing numerous other aspects of the freedom believers have in Christ, the confession states that such freedoms were common to saints in the Old Testament, but that “under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected” (Chapter 21, Section 1). Note well: the civil laws (or the “judicial law”) are strikingly absent from this discussion of what aspect of the law may be viewed as a “yoke” or bondage. (What is presented, however, is what is clearly taught in the New Testament: the ceremonial laws have been “abrogated and taken away.”)

The London Baptist Confession (which is almost identical to the Westminster Confession) does indeed explicitly speak of the civil laws given to Israel, but it never speaks of them as being a bondage or yoke. What it does say is that the civil laws given to Israel still apply today (their general equity) due to the moral nature of the laws. The full quote reads as follows:

To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use. (Chapter 19, Section 4, emphasis added)

The fact that these laws “expired together with the state of that people” suggests that they were not simply abrogated or annulled by virtue of Christ’s coming, but rather expired when Israel ceased to be a nation covenanted with God. Furthermore, the phrase “by virtue of that institution” highlights the fact that certain laws may have only applied to Israel by necessity of her historical context. Nevertheless, the confession is clear that the general equity of every law may be applied to every culture in every generation. There is certainly debate about the extent to which the writers believed the judicial laws should be applied, nevertheless they all agreed on a statement that made it clear that the judicial laws are still to be applied in some manner. Such a statement about the continuing application of the law is lacking from the confession’s discussion on the ceremonial law.

Kenneth Gentry wrote a very informative article on the meaning of “general equity” in the Westminster Confession. It can be read here. I would like to include one quote to highlight the importance of the fact that the writers of the confession highlight the ongoing use of the judicial laws:

Without equivocation the ceremonial law is declared ‘abrogated’ (19:3).  But the judicial law is said to have ‘expired,’ except for the ‘general equity.’  Why was it not declared ‘abrogated’ and reference made to the New Testament for judicial principles? Or to pre-Mosaic directives, such as the Noahic Covenant?  And why do the judicial laws appear in the proof-texts for the Larger Catechism exposition of the Ten Commandments?  Samuel Willard (1640-1707), pastor at Boston’s Old South Church, in his Compleat Body of Divinity (posthumous, 1726):  ‘With respect to the Judicial Laws, we must observe, that these were Appendices, partly of the Moral, partly of the Ceremonial Law: Now such as, or so far as they are related to the Ceremonial, they are doubtless Abolished with it.  As, and as far as they bear respect to the Moral Law, they do, eo Nomine, require Obedience perpetual, and are therefore reducible to Moral Precepts.'” (Kenneth Gentry, “Theonomic Ethics and the Westminster Confession”)

Perhaps one example will help clarify this concept. Deuteronomy 22:8 says, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” This law is clearly rooted in the commandment, “You shall not murder.” In answer to the question, “What is required in the sixth commandment?” the Westminster Shorter Catechism answers, “The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” Clearly, God is concerned with protecting life. Therefore, in a culture where people hosted company on their roofs, a railing (parapet) was required by God. It seems that there was no civil punishment for disobeying this law if no one ever fell from your roof, however if someone fell off your roof because you failed to obey this law, then you would face the legal consequences of death by negligence (cf. Exodus 21:29). Using sound reasoning, we can conclude, for example, that the general equity of this law would require someone who is a landlord of a high-rise apartment to ensure every balcony has a secure parapet.

Making such application is not always as easy as making a paper airplane. In order to apply the general equity of the civil laws in the Bible, some assembly is required. However, the fact that there may be interpretive challenges does not disprove the need to apply the general equity of the judicial law. If that were the case, the argument could be made that we should not apply anything from the New Testament either because it takes work to interpret and apply the Bible and a lot of people disagree on how to apply the New Testament.

Perhaps one way of looking at Old Testament laws would be to consider which ones are clear applications of the moral law of God and then work to understand and apply the general equity to our day. Yes, folks, it will take some work. However, if we truly believe that all of God’s Word is profitable, we will do more than give mere lip service to the entirety of God’s Law—we will actually study it and try to apply it faithfully.

Nowhere in Scripture (or in the two main Baptist confessions) is the general equity of the civil laws viewed as bondage. How could it be a form of bondage to ensure that balconies are safe for little children (Deuteronomy 22:8)? How is it bondage to require a thief to pay restitution to the victim of his crime (Exodus 22:1-4)? How is it bondage for a rapist to be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:25)? How is it bondage for people to be required to use sound money (Deuteronomy 25:13)? The list goes on.

The civil law of Israel was never a wall of separation between her and pagan nations. It was never viewed as a burden, yoke, or bondage. On the contrary, it was to be used by God to draw the pagans into the land because they would be subjected to the same standard of fairness and justice:

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

“You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:22)

The civil laws of the Old Testament are rooted in God’s justice and fairness. There is no partiality or injustice in God’s laws (cf. Exodus 23:8). To say that applying the general equity of the judicial laws is a form of bondage is to not only disregard the scriptural teaching on the subject, but it is to suggest that there is some other corpus of laws (by necessity created by man) that would be more freeing and desirable than the good and holy law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments and applied throughout the Old and New Testaments (cf. 1 Timothy 1:8-11). The writers of Scripture never even suggest that the civil laws are a form of bondage. My plea is for Christians to stop suggesting that they did.


42 thoughts on “The “bondage” of the civil law?

  1. That’s a rather one-sided analysis of the civil law and misses its point and hardly stirs the soul. The civil law of Moses expired with the state of that people … supposedly. So, in 70 A.D. when that people and its state was totally destroyed, the civil law just … well … expired. It wasn’t fulfilled. It just gave up the ghost and died. There was no significance in its expiry. It was just a local and national matter of tidying up loose ends in the scheme of redemption, with Israel having been cast off as God’s chosen people at the cross (many would say).

    But it didn’t really die, it lives on in ‘the general equity’. Still the ministry of death is alive and well, the murderer (and the rapist according to your example) still are to suffer death at the hand of man, through the organised and centralised and coercive civil magistrate.

    So the civil law of Moses in particular expired, but the civil law of Moses in general remains.

    This is unsatisfactory on so many levels.

    Jesus taught that *all* of the law would be fulfilled, and that none of it would pass until it was all fulfilled. The notions and concepts you presented are that the law passed (or at least some of it passed) without being fulfilled.

    Let me suggest that there is a better way. I’ve been studying that and I have drafted a paper on the typological fulfillment of the civil law of Moses that I think provides a more satisfactory approach to the issues, you can see it here:
    https://www.academia.edu/34013537/Typological_Fulfilment_of_the_Civil_Law_of_Moses

    I hope it may be of interest or assistance to those who are serious about understanding the civil law of Moses and its fulfillment in Christ

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    1. Thank you David for carefully reading my post and for your gracious and kind words. I downloaded your paper and look forward to reading it over and considering the labor you have done in considering God’s holy, just, and profitable law. We need more examination on topics such as this. Thanks!

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      1. I hope you find it worthwhile, Chris.

        There is very very little on the typological fulfillment of the law of Moses, so I expect you will find my work covers a lot of ground that is seldom or never looked at as typology, nor used as a way of addressing social-legal-political issues. But I just found something that invokes the same approach and addresses the same school of thought here:
        https://www.the-highway.com/theonomy-hermeneutic_Irons.html

        But it doesn’t develop the specific elements of typology and nor does it set out a rival social-legal model.

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    2. David, it appears you are arguing that the “ministry of death” refers to capital punishment in OT Israel. Is that correct?

      I am curious, do you have a biblically informed answer to the question: what should happen to a rapist?

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      1. Hi Tuckelbutton, yes, I think you are correct in saying that I view the ministry of death as ‘capital punishment in OT Israel’ although I guess I would probably want to cast the net a bit wider than that to include ‘the death penalty’ as a civil law or remedy, as well as lesser coercion under the civil law. The ministry of death is the whole complex of organised coercion.

        The power to kill is the power to coerce and the power to tax is the power to destroy. That is the power that Jesus came to break. He said that the powers of the heavens would be shaken (Mat 24:29) in connection with the fall of Jerusalem in his generation. I think this is the same as the destruction of him who holds the power of death, that is the devil (Heb 2:14), who Paul said would be crushed under the saints feet shortly (Rom 16:20). And that is the same as the shattering of the power of the holy people in Dan 12:7, the power of darkness of Luke 22:53, and destroying every rule, every power and every authority of his enemies when he put them under his feet in 1 Cor 15:24-25 and the power of sin that was The Law (1 Cor 15:56), and the power of the lawless one from Satan (2 Thes 2:9). It is all referring to the same thing: the breaking of the power of the ministry of death at the fall of Jerusalem. The old order of things passed away and the new order was consummated.

        What should happen to someone guilty of sin X? That is not really the mode of thinking needed in the new order. The new order is not based on fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 Jn 4:18). The new order is based on love, as explained in Romans 13:8-10. Debts should be paid, willingly and voluntarily. If they are not paid, the creditor still owes the debtor a debt of love. And love is defined as do no evil to another. So, you can do whatever you like to collect the debt, but not evil, and not threats of evil. That is the ministry of death. That is what belongs to the old order. Jesus gave us his civil procedure in Mat 18:15-20. And it does not resort to evil, rather to truth and honour. The new order is based on truth and honour, rather than coercion.

        It requires a new way of thinking about civil and criminal affairs, and social order, security, welfare and it is focused on preventing evil and forgiving evil and healing evil rather than punishing it. I don’t think you can ‘get’ the new way of thinking by asking for a list of crimes and punishments. There is a place for listing wrongs and remedies, but it should not be at the expense of shifting our minds and mindsets to higher levels of analysis and order.

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      2. David, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! If I understand you correctly, I would agree that a world with no punishment is the ideal. However, because of sin, we still need laws and “coercion” in order to show love to our neighbors and protect people. If there were no sinners, then we would not need to discuss the need for civil law. However, the law was given especially for the lawless and disobedient (1 Timothy 1:9; Galatians 5:19-21, 23c). I am not sure if you are doing this, but I think it is a category error to claim that the death penalty is “evil.” Jesus’ parables do not condemn the judgment of sinners (both temporally and eternally). We have to consider sin X, because God calls us to love our neighbor and see that justice is done. If someone is murdering people, for example, the state is called of God to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).

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  2. Hi Chris, Thanks for taking the time to review my comments and reply.

    The concept of ‘ideal’ is often part of political and legal debate, however, if we are disciples of Jesus Christ our mandate is not to simply ‘believe’ or ‘have faith’ and not to subscribe to ideals but to ‘do everything commanded.’ This includes our ‘private’ conduct, as well as our conduct when dealing with other people’s affairs, including seeking or granting or carrying out remedies. If our command is to prohibit coercion and evil, even on the guilty, well that is our obligation and we have to deal with the worries and affairs of our lives and our communities honoring that constraint (cf Mat 6:25-34 in the context of the commands in the Sermon on the Mount).

    Taking the life of another human being is evil. We can’t re-name killing as ‘love’, as Augustine did, because love is doing no harm to another (Romans 13:8-10). The meaning of love is not channeling our desire for revenge and repayment through the ‘proper’ forum of the state, have a look at Romans 12:12-21. The alternative to taking revenge is not appeal to the civil magistrate, rather it is doing good to enemies. Feeding them. For what purpose and effect? To shame them.

    You have suggested that calling the death penalty evil is a categorical error. I suggest you look into the matter further. When we are called and commanded to not to repay evil with evil, and when we are commanded to love our enemies, killing our enemies or the guilty is excluded. This is the evil that is not to be dispensed by us, or anyone at our application, to repay evil done to us or to those we are seeking remedies for.

    I suggest you review the critical question of whether the commands to love and to do no evil to another, and not to take revenge etc. are conditional or unconditional, whether it has exceptions. Have a look at the language used to command these things and to prohibit taking revenge.

    The law was given to and for the ungodly, you quoting 1 Tim 1:9. However, if you look at the context of 1 Tim 1 you can identify who is the target of Paul’s sharp rhetoric: it is the Jewish teachers, teaching the Christians about the ongoing validity and applicability of the Law of Moses. These included Hymenaeus and Alexander, who taught that the eschatological consummation and the resurrection has been achieved while the temple in Jerusalem still stood and while the sacrifices were still being offered. Jesus taught that the eschatological consummation was at *and through and by means of* the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple and that old Jewish religious system.

    In this context, and against this error, Paul taught that the law was not being used correctly, and that the law was for the ungodly. His focus is on the execution and the fulfillment of the law at and through the destruction of the old Jewish political and religious system. The death penalty of Numbers 35 would be applied to the old body, the persecuting enemy as Moses predicted (Deut 32). And as Jesus had predicted (Mat 23:29-39).

    If I understand correctly, the theonomists take 1 Tim 1:9 as targeting not the old Jerusalem system, but evildoers generally. I guess it fits their idea of the law but I don’t think the passage is dealing with that issue, nor that it actually teaches that. The same could be said about the context and application of the passage you quoted in Galatians.

    It is interesting that you mention Jesus’ parables. Some time ago I watched Don K Preston’s series on the eschatology of the parables in youtube and I was stunned by the wealth of material he went through. I’ll never look at the parables the same again! I also purchased a copy of Jesus v. Jerusalem by Joel McDermon, who is a theonomist, but his explanation of the parables as Jesus’ lawsuit against Jerusalem is excellent! The punishments in the parables are focused on the fall of Jerusalem, and that is my application and interpretation of them.

    I guess that also gets us back to Romans 13:4 which you quoted and applied to ‘the state’ carrying out wrath and punishment on murderers. I did cover this extensively in my paper, so I have to refer you there. In summary the application Paul makes is against the persecuting power, the Jewish persecuting system that is the cause of the problem addressed in Romans 12:12-21. Paul then introduces the means, God’s agent of wrath, against Jerusalem, as the prophetic and eschatological solution to the problem, quoting the Song of Moses. He applies the Song of Moses against the persecuting power, through the Roman state in Romans 13:1-4. He predicted the Jewish Revolt in 13:2 and that it would trigger judgement. The application and the role of the state in Romans 13:1-4 was fulfilled in A.D. 70. If you want to make a case for the civil magistrate today I think you need to look elsewhere. Or you can drop the idea of legitimised coercion in the New Covenant.

    In rejecting coercion and killing we are not rejecting the idea of law or debt or accountability or consequences for wrongdoing. Rather we are providing for those things and addressing those issues by gentle means, the civil institutions Jesus gave in Mat 18:15-20. I believe that social and economic resources and human customs and practices and institutions are flexible and adaptive, and that we can have effective management of credit risk and evildoing, and even a culture and community of righteousness without resort to coercion. And I believe this is what we are called to build and to find life and life abundant in and through obedience to the gentle and meek way our Lord gave us, living in his kingdom.

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    1. David, thank you for responding. Several questions for you:
      1.) What is the purpose of the “sword” of Romans 13?

      2.) When God commanded the Egyptian’s son be executed for blasphemy in Leviticus 24, was God “channeling [his] desire for revenge” through the state?

      3.) Was God encouraging man to take revenge in Genesis 9:6? Was he commanding men to be “hateful” through their obedience?

      4.) Suppose someone steals three candy bars from three different grocery store owners. One owner forgives the debt, one requires the thief to repay two candy bars, and another wants to cut off the thief’s hand. Which victim is loving the thief? And what standard are you using to determine your answer?

      I have many more questions, too. But this should suffice for now.

      Thank you again for the dialogue!

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      1. I’ll try to give you some quick replies:

        1). The purpose of the sword is to do mass killing. This is the sword of war. This is the sword of Mat 10:34; Mat 26:52; Luke 21:24 / Is 3:25; Deut 32:41-43; and Is 65:11-15. Since Paul is quoting the Song of Moses, and introduces the sword as the solution, it must be the same sword against Israel Moses spoke about in Deut 32:41-43.

        2). The death penalty under the Old Testament laws was eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Obviously this is taking revenge and channeling hate through the judicial process. It is regulated killing. It is avenging bloodshed by the avenger of blood, albeit after due process of law. And death for contempt of court and breaking the Sabbath etc. See the paper on the typological fulfillment of the civil law of Moses for analysis of this topic. This is a topic with subtleties and nuances that are easy to miss when you pick a text and just take it literally and apply it and assume it meant that they were killing everyone who picked up sticks on the Sabbath.

        3). Some people consider Gen 9:6 something like a proverb or observation. I think it is more than this, I think it is more of an institution or mandate. But it is not our mandate, and it is not the last word on that topic. Our mandate is to live by and to apply the final mandate of the New Covenant, not the old system(s).

        4). Love is defined as do no evil to another (Rom 13:8-10). That is the standard, the new law, for us, which is the fulfillment of the old law, according to Paul in Romans 13:8-10. Evil is not conditionally prohibited, but unconditionally, so the facts of the case, the guilt of the target and the availability or effectiveness of other remedies do not control the meaning or application of the law of love. Love is the opposite of fear. That is fear of evil a.k.a. punishment. The old system is a penal system, based on fear of punishment: All Israel shall hear and fear! The new standard of love is non-penal, 1 John 4:18.

        Requiring a debtor to pay a debt is not evil, nor is it punishment, it is simply debt collection. Paul required that debts be paid (Romans 13:8). But if the debtor does not pay, the creditor still owes the debtor a debt of love. And love is defined as do no evil to another. So the creditor cannot do evil nor threaten evil as a means of collecting the debt owed by the debtor. The debt of money does not cancel the debt of love, since the debt of love is always owed.

        Another way to illustrate this is the institution of slavery. Slavery represents, or it can or should represent the payment of debt by labour rather than money. That was what was regulated under the law of Moses: slavery as debt service. Many people are puzzled as to why Jesus and his apostles never sought to abolish slavery. But Paul did command that slaves not be threatened (Eph 6:9). What threatening is he referring to? Obviously it has to be beatings and like force and coercion. Paul prohibits not only carrying out such evil against slaves, he even prohibits threatening such. So what does that do to the institution of slavery? It makes is non-coercive. If the debtor is required to work to pay off his debt, he should do so. But if he doesn’t, the master (or creditor) cannot resort to beatings or threats. Perhaps this illustrates the meaning of gentleness and meekness and love quite well: it does not deny debts and obligations, but it prohibits harsh, coercive and evil to collect debts or to recover value from slaves.

        Jesus gave us a civil debt collection procedure in Mat 18:15-20. And there is no evil-dispensing or evil-sanctioning to the debtor for non-payment. It is absent. What is the standard of love, judicially? The answer is in Mat 18:15-20. If we live under and by the law of love, we follow the standard of love judicially, and we follow the judicial and civil procedure of Mat 18:15-20. This provides some objectivity and concreteness of application and administration. It is a practical nuts and bolts of steps and procedures to be followed. And it is unlike the old law. Jesus established a new jurisdiction, his assembly, his church, and gave it judicial and civil power. It has full jurisdiction, and its judgement is honored even in heaven. It is the kingdom of heaven. It is heaven coming down to earth in a judicial institution.

        But when we look into the details of it we note the absence of both coercion and of centralisation. The court he established is the court of the three. This not the same as the judiciary of Moses with a hierarchy (Ex 18), this is the judiciary of the three sages. And this is what it meant: each side would choose one sage and together they would choose a third. The three formed an assembly or church, with a judicial quorum to make legal decisions on behalf of heaven.

        If you really analyse and study and develop what is here you can see that the new judicial and legal model is decentralised and does not resemble modern (or ancient) coercive states and kingdoms.

        To develop and understand it, we need to move beyond the old system, and move beyond a crimes and punishments schedule.

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  3. Thank you, David. For some reason, it won’t let me reply to you directly, so I am just posting below your comment in the hopes that you see my response.

    1.) What, in the text of Romans 13, requires the sword to be only for “mass killing”? If Paul is discussing God’s judgment on Israel, why did he begin the chapter by saying that “everyone” should be subject to the governing authorities? Is not the entire letter to the Roman church written to mainly Gentile believers…in Rome? It seems strange then that Paul would warn gentile believers living in Rome to fear the sword of a “mass killing” that would happen a thousand miles away in Jerusalem – to unbelieving Israel.

    2.) God said of his OT law: “What great nation is there that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I have set before you today?
    But you say, “Obviously this is taking revenge and channeling hate through the judicial process.”

    I don’t understand this. It appears you are saying that Israel’s great benefit as a nation having received God’s law was so that, instead of taking personal revenge, they could “channel hate” through…due process? THIS is the essence of what constituted Israel’s “light to the nations”?

    3.) I don’t agree, but ok.

    4.) You quote Romans 13:8-10 to say that “love” is the fulfillment of the law. In verse 9, it lists a few commandments and then says that “any other commandment” is summed up in this word: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Ok, since “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is actually from Leviticus 19:18, would “any other commandment” in Romans 13 include Exodus 22:18, when God says “You shall not permit a sorceress to live”?

    If so, per Paul, would Israel have been “loving their neighbor” by obeying the command to put a sorceress to death? If the answer is no, on what basis is God’s command in Exodus 22:18 excluded from the law of God while continuing to include Exodus 20 as well as Leviticus 19 (but only parts of it, presumably – and certainly not the chapter before it)?

    If you have addressed all these issues in your lengthy paper, then pardon my ignorance and unnecessary questions. But I am not convinced from what you have written that your thesis is worth my reading 40+ pages on it.

    Thank you, though, for your time!

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    1. The sword in Romans 13, what does it mean? That is a very good question. How shall we answer it? what is the standard by which we determine the meaning of words?

      Context is the principal basis upon which we should determine meaning. For me I find the best and strongest arguments to be based on the flow of argument. If an author is making an argument, if we can follow his reasoning and argumentative and rhetorical strategy, we can get the best nuance of what he means by the individual words or parts of his argument.

      So, what is the contextual meaning of sword in Romans 13? The best answer is the one that makes sense of Paul’s argument. What is his conclusion and how is he trying to persuade you to agree with him?

      Paul wheels in the Roman state in Romans 13:1 to address the concerns discussed in Romans 12:12-21. The main concern was persecution of the Christians. Rome didn’t persecute Christians until 64, so in 57, the time of writing, the audience relevance requires us to identify the persecuting power as Jewish. This persecuting power was headquartered in Jerusalem, but was not entirely organised, a lot of it was spontaneous yet systematic persecution from Jews throughout the empire of Christians. Christians being mostly Jewish rather than Gentile. Mark Nanos has written a lot about the Jewish community background of the letter to the Romans, and about tensions between believing and unbelieving Jews in common synagogue fellowship. I think his insights are very good, although I think he probably understates the degree of animosity and persecution.

      If we can agree that the concern being addressed in Romans 13:1-7 is Jewish persecution of Christians, then the passage makes a lot of sense. Paul provides a prophetic solution from the Song of Moses, which is against apostate Israel and promises last days judgement upon those responsible for shedding the blood of the prophets. This is the same people responsible for persecuting the Christians and that Jesus said would be repaid at the fall of Jerusalem (Mat 23:29-39).

      So, if the Song of Moses promises the avenging of the blood of the martyrs through the sword (of Gentile power(s)), and Jesus said it would be fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem, then if Paul is discussing the fulfillment of the Song of Moses against unbelieving Jews, by the sword, then Paul must be using the sword to refer to the Roman military sword.

      The more immediate context further reinforces that interpretation:
      First, Paul writes in favour of submission and against rebellion. This suggests that the issues involved are not civil obedience but revolution and revolt. The sword against the revolt is not the sword of civil administration, it is the sword of war.

      Secondly, Paul expressly predicts the rebellion would be followed by judgement in Romans 13:2. Paul is discussing the fulfillment of the Song of Moses against Israel. Paul had previously predicted a rebellion in Jerusalem in a different letter, and he said it would be absolutely crushed in a fiery judgement (2 Thes 2). So the judgement he is referring to in Romans 13:2, via the sword of Romans 13:4 is:
      And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thes 2:8

      This is the same judgement described thus:
      This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thes 1:5-8)

      Paul taught that the judgement was to come to provide relief to those then suffering, i.e. in their life-times. And it would come against their persecutors. And if there is any doubt who they were you can consult 1 Thes 2:14-16 or Acts 17.

      And, Paul’s rebellion teaching is from our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, that also predicted the rebellion in Jerusalem and the sword of military judgement:
      He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

      Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. …

      ‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:8-24)

      Understand what Jesus predicted: war, revolution, rebellion, false christs (i.e. rebel political figures), the siege of Jerusalem, and the punishment of the sword. And the sword part is a direct quote of Is 3:25, which predicted destruction by the military force. And to top it off, Jesus said it would happen to fulfill ‘all that has been written’!

      So, again, if Jesus said prophecy would be fulfilled, including the one of the sword against Jerusalem, at the fall of Jerusalem, in punishment and vindication of the blood shed by Israel, including the blood of his own prophets that he would send her … well how can you turn around and suggest Paul is invoking the same prophecies being fulfilled against the same persecuting power and say Paul is talking about something different?

      The later context emphasizes the immanence of the events being discussed. Paul said that the night was far spent and the day was at hand (Rom 13:11-14). Paul said that they about to be (Greek: mello) vindicated by the revelation of glory, that would come as the solution to the birth pains (Rom 8:18-26). Same birth pains Jesus said preceded the fall of Jerusalem (Mat 24:8). Paul said that the God of peace would soon crush the Adversary under their feet (Rom 16:20). These immanence texts suggest Paul is talking about the impending rebellion and fall of Jerusalem, and so his sword in Romans 13:4 is the sword of judgement and siege.

      Finally, we can do a word-study on ‘sword’ and note that it is not used for the just civil administration of the civil magistrate. When the sword is used for ‘capital punishment’, it is used for persecuting the saints (e.g. Acts 12:2).

      Israel’s light to the nations was fulfilled through the New Covenant gospel going to the nations (Acts 13:47; 26:23). How about Old Covenant Israel, how well did they uphold God’s name? Paul understood that Israel’s actual record was dishonour: For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:24)

      Israel’s light was a shadow in the Old Covenant. It pointed towards the real body of Christ. We can’t just take the whole system of law and all the commandments and all the administrative and judicial regulations and make them the reality when they only pointed to it.

      The New Covenant is a new body, a new deal, a new system, a new dispensation and a new administration. For the new body to be born, the old body had to die. What you plant is just the seed. The body of the plant doesn’t even look like the seed! As Paul explained:
      And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor 15:37-40)

      Paul’s point is that the bodies differ. The old body had glory, but the new body has a different degree and kind of glory.

      We have to look at the narrative as a whole. The failure and the death of the old body is part of the narrative. The new wine breaks the old wine skins.

      The fulfillment of the law is what Paul explains is the fulfillment of the law in Romans 13:8-10. It is not 613 commandments, plus a few new ones, less a few abrogated ones. It is and it means what Paul said it is and it means. We need to confirm our understanding to the New Testament teaching about what the fulfillment of the law means.

      Jesus said the fulfillment of the law and the prophets means the passing of heaven and earth, and the system of New Covenant law set out in the Sermon on the Mount. It does not look like 613 commandments, plus or minus a few alterations. Its a whole new deal.

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      1. Thank you, David,

        So it’s your contention that Paul was telling Gentile believers in Rome that the reason they pay taxes is so that God could destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70?

        Btw, I don’t think you answered my question about “love” and the punishment of the sorceress.

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      2. Yes, Paul is giving an argument, of sorts, for payment of taxes to Rome. It is a curious argument he makes, and you have hit the nail on the head: they shouldn’t feel too bad about paying taxes to Rome, because Rome was the agent of wrath to repay the persecuting power.

        However, he does present the argument as a moral argument which is very curious indeed, because it is such a bad argument it appears he doesn’t expect it to be accepted at face value. He then confirms he didn’t really mean it as a moral argument by completely destroying it by saying that under the law of God there is only one obligation, and that is not to pay taxes, but to do no evil to another.

        I think the only way to make sense of the argument is to see Paul deliberately over-extending his argument to show that it really can’t be taken that far. He can then make a contrast between that moral argument and the moral-social-legal system that is the law fulfilled.

        The moral argument he develops for payment of taxes obviously doesn’t work, and the recipients, those tempted to rebel against Rome rather than pay taxes to her, would not be convinced by it. Paul argues that taxes should be paid because they are solely used to punish those who do evil and commend those who do good. At best this is an argument for part-payment, since Roman tax money was used for all manner of other things including punishing the good, commending the evil, building aqueducts, roads, palaces, monuments, pagan temples, invading foreign lands, oppressing people, paying grain doles, providing circuses etc. Paul obviously isn’t meaning that taxpayers should sit down and calculate how much they owe on the basis of the use of tax money, and to only pay the amount that goes towards commending the good and punishing the evil, and to resist payment of the balance.

        The situation Paul is writing in and to is of animosity and rivalry between three powers: the Old Jerusalem / unbelieving Jews, Rome, and the Christian church. So Paul has to direct them how to relate to both other powers. They have to suffer persecution from the Jews without retaliation and without repaying evil for evil, and they have to submit to Rome and pay taxes, because she also has a role in this rivalry and power contest. He lays out that role and predicts the resolution of the drama: Jerusalem rebels, Rome crushes the rebels. So, on that basis, yes, taxes should be paid to Rome. But not really as a moral obligation: the Christian system is tax exempt (Mat 17:26). Tax has no place in the Christian system, which operates on a different law: do no evil to another.

        Jesus also provided an argument for payment of Romans taxes in Mat 22:15-22 that is at least somewhat similar. Jesus was asked about the lawfulness of the Roman taxes. Jesus indirectly pointed out the status of Caesar under the law: he was a foreigner, not an fellow Israelite, and a blasphemer and an idol maker, a man claiming to be the son of the divine Augustus. So, under the law of Moses, he was disqualified to be Israel’s king. But also under the law of Moses, he was the means of God repaying Israel for breaking his covenant, and he would in turn break Israel: ‘He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.’ (Deut 28:48).

        I have provided a lot of material about the death penalty, both here and in my paper, that is applicable to all capital crimes. But here is some more for you:

        The alternative to the ministry of death and the penal approach is the ministry of reconciliation. Let’s have a look at Paul’s teaching on the matter:
        From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

        Paul is clear in making a contrast between the old creation and the new creation. The old creation is penal. The new creation is not penal: not counting men’s sins against them. And so, instead of the ministry of death we have the ministry of reconciliation. Our task is to take the leaves of the tree of life for the healing of the nations. The new creation is obviously the new heaven and the new earth, which is heaven coming down to earth and providing us with its sanctuary. Outside the sanctuary are the dogs and evildoers and our ministry is not to condemn the world but to reconcile the world (see Rev 21-22).

        Let’s have a closer look at the sanctuary:
        For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:1-5)

        The sanctuary is the new clothing, the new house, made without hands, eternal in the heavens. This is replacement of the old building, the Jerusalem temple. The destruction of that temple did not leave the saints naked, rather it clothed them with the new sanctuary. To exchange the old sanctuary for the new requires the new birth, the groaning is birth pain, referred to by our Lord in Mat 24:8 describing the persecution and turmoil leading up to the destruction of the old temple.

        The arrival of the new sanctuary, at the fall of the old sanctuary, is the resurrection: the swallowing up is from Isaiah 25:6-8, where the messianic wedding banquet feast is promised. This is the feast of the reversal and the judgement of Old Covenant Israel of Isaiah 65:11-15, that Jesus said would happen when the sons of the kingdom were thrown out (Mat 8:12), and when the king was angry and he sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city (Mat 22:7). In Rev 19:1-9 we have the same thing: the wedding is at the fall of the Great City, ‘Babylon’. The Great City is where the Lord was slain (Rev 11:8).

        The new heaven and the new earth is where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). So if we want a just and righteous society, how do we get it? James explains:
        Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18).

        If we want righteousness, we have to sow peace, not war. We need to be peacemakers who sow in peace, in order to reap righteousness. Peacemakers sowing peace means the rejection of fighting and conflict and war and coercion. It means forgiveness and reconciliation. It means not counting men’s sins against them.

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    2. Something else in the text suggests the sword is the sword of invasion, siege, conquest and war: Paul describes the Roman state as God’s servant (Romans 13:4). However, Paul, in doing this is recalling and repeating the judgement against Israel pronounced by Jeremiah, where Nebuchadnezzar is described by God as ‘my servant’ (Jer 25:9). In context, the appointment and designation of the world empire Babylon and its king Nebuchadnezzar as ‘my servant’ involved the following against Israel:

      “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jer 25:8-11).

      There is no doubt what is meant by God appointing Nebuchadnezzar as his servant: he was not just to rule, he was to conquer and take into captivity and destroy.

      But in this same passage, the use of the word sword means this mass killing:
      Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

      “Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’

      “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’

      So, the Old Testament precedent, in addition to the source in the Song of Moses, is that the sword is mass killing.

      The same can be said of the command to submit to the imperial authority:
      Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

      “‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. (Jer 27:2-8)

      This provides Old Testament precedent for the command to submit meaning that those who resist his power will suffer the sword of mass killing: invasion, siege, conquest, total destruction and exile.

      And yet there is more:
      Paul said that resistance against the Roman empire was against God decree (Rom 13:2). So the sword that would be used against the rebels was from the Law of Moses. God’s law provided for curses for breaking it (Deut 28). These curses were invasion by foreign powers and siege of cities. Therefore the sword of the foreign power is the sword of mass killing: the mass killing involved in invasion and siege of the cities of Israel.

      Unless you can point to another decree of judgement of the sword from the Law of Moses, then I think you might need to accept that the sword of Romans 13:4 is the sword of Deut 32 against Israel, the sword of mass killing and not civil administration.

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    3. Some more evidence that the sword of Romans 13:4 is for mass killing and not for restrained civil administration is that Paul expressly says that he does not bear the sword in vain.

      Paul could have said that the sword was held to be used, he said it was not held not to be used. He uses a double negative. Why?

      According to Roman propaganda, the sword was idle:
      With me the sword is hidden, nay, is sheathed; I am sparing to the utmost of even the meanest blood; no man fails to find favour at my hands though be lack all else but the name of man. (Seneca, On Mercy, I. i. 2-5)

      The merciful sword is the restrained sword, it is the civilised and peaceful sword of the Pax Romana.

      Paul rejects that propaganda and says, by implication, that he means the sword of mass killing found in the prophesies against last-days Israel.

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  4. “Jesus said the fulfillment of the law and the prophets means the passing of heaven and earth, and the system of New Covenant law set out in the Sermon on the Mount. It does not look like 613 commandments, plus or minus a few alterations. Its a whole new deal.”
    So is bestiality wrong?

    While you have clearly thought this out, it appears that you have a theological premise being overlayed onto a clearly hortatory text in Romans. The entire pericope is addressed to individuals of the Roman church. It isn’t a prophecy about Israel. And even if it were an allusion (a stretching of that word, in my opinion) to such, it wouldn’t take away from the fact that at the very least it was meant to provide direction to individuals. If that entire pericope can be reinterpreted to have a purely prophetical meaning and no bearing upon us today, then why stop there? Why isn’t the rest of chapter 13 done away with as well?

    Besides all that, I can’t get past the fact that you appear to have taken the purpose of “civil government” and flipped it on its head. Rather than seeing it as a restraining influence on sinful men, you see it as an inherently evil institution designed to “channel hate” for the purpose of personal revenge. This is totally antithetical to God’s proclamation of His law as righteous and good and wise in Deuteronomy 4.

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    1. “He has told you, oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:23-24

      How can Micah and Jesus tell us we have to do kindness/mercy and justice at the same time if they are not complimentary? And within the context of both of these verses, what is the standard of ‘justice’ that the hearers were familiar with?

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      1. There is no conflict between justice and mercy. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We do justice not by using coercion or killing to extract eyes, teeth, lives, money, but by forgiveness and mercy. We don’t count men’s sins against them.

        To really understand this requires a shift of focus and to think through the issues at a higher level. We have to recognise the context of theological, social, political and legal development that had happened by the time Christ walked the earth. If we take the law of Moses in a woodenly literal manner and ignore 1300 years of development, sorry we just aren’t going to ‘get’ what is being taught by a legal expert to his contemporary legal experts and practitioners. If you read the paper you will see some analysis of this around two issues: the death penalty and divorce. Also see my paper on divorce here: https://www.academia.edu/33357911/Critique_of_the_David_Instone-Brewer_Divorce_and_Remarriage_Theory

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    2. I’m not sure where or why you get such a dichotomy between exhortation and applied prophecy. Paul is exhorting them to submit and not to rebel. And not to repay evil with evil. This is as applicable today as it was then, although not all the applications and situation and reasons are the same now was it was to them.

      But the reasons he gives are, at least partly, prophetic. The fundamental reasons for the injunctions are because this is the gospel of peace and the law of Christ concerning dealing with evil and persecution. To that extent it is not prophetic.

      But the discussion about repayment, wrath, the governing authorities, the rebellion, the sword and payment of taxes is fundamentally prophetic. It is to give them, the original audience, some perspective and some guidance on their suffering and the relief that was promised in their generation.

      So we can’t take from its prophetic elements and project that onto and into a theory of ‘the civil magistrate’, ‘under God, over the people’ etc. and any application to such is anachronistic and inappropriate.

      Paul’s theory and exposition on the fulfillment of the law is applicable to us, since we are in the messianic kingdom age. And since that age has no end, the teaching and application is permanent and always relevant to us now. Paul told them to live, as in the daytime. They were still in the last hour of the night, but Paul told them to live as in the daytime (Rom 13:11-13). We are in the daytime, so his words and commands are applicable to us.

      What many people try to do is turn Paul’s theory and exposition on the fulfillment of the law on its head. They say that there is not one obligation, do no harm to a neighbour, but also the super-added obligation to pay taxes.

      The theory of civil government is the restraint of evil. Sure, I can grant you that. But how well did that work out …? How does that actually work in practice? The governmental power system is the colour of the greatest evils ever perpetuated against the human race. What system and what institutional structure murdered the Lord? What institution structure was responsible for mass murder in the 20th century? It doesn’t really work as it is claimed and theorised to work. Limited government is not feasible, it morphs and grows into oppressive, tyrannical government. If you don’t have any worldly knowledge and awareness of these things and need some biblical basis you can check 1 Sam 8, Judges 9 etc.

      This failure and this tendency is the whole point of the narrative! Not just as an observation or a truth, but a remedy for it, in Christ, and in the resurrection body. The old body is corruptible. Morally corruptible. The new body is incorruptible. The new body is incorruptible because it is decentralised and it eschews the coercive power that is the seed of corruption.

      God’s law is holy and good, but the original system and set of laws, given to Old Covenant Israel, is not the real thing. It is the shadow. It points to the real thing, the law of Christ. The continuity between the old and the new is type-antitype, prophecy – fulfillment, shadow – real thing.

      That is not to say that the old law wasn’t comparatively better than the laws of the nations. In a sense the law of Moses is quasi-anarchist, highly decentralised, humane and gentle. But it still contained some royal elements that grew like a cancer, the seed of the serpent was sown in that world, and it grew into the persecuting power that killed the prophets and even tried to be the great imperial power over the nations. That conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is what Christ came to win through the harvest, the gathering into the bundles to be burned with fire and the gathering of the saints into the house of God.

      The Christian faith is focused on the means of righteousness. It is by sowing peace, making peace, refusing war, refusing killing and coercion, not repaying evil with evil. The end, the goal, is the same righteousness that was the goal of the Old Covenant. But Christ is the end of the law. The law is fulfilled in him and in his body. We should live righteous, holy lives not because of fear of the death penalty at the hand of man and of the state, but because we have been cleansed, healed and given the newness of life. Because we belong to the community and assembly of the holy ones, and our character is conformed to the likeness of God’s son, who did not return the threats and insults made to him. He is our model.

      The law is inspired and profitable, but it has to be handled right. And that it through Christ, not through coercion.

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      1. Thank you, David, for the response.

        I am not asserting that there is a natural dichotomy between applied prophecy and exhortation. It appeared, from my understanding of what you said regarding Romans 12, that Paul was exhorting individuals to “love one another” vs 8, but exclusively prophesying (of the destruction of Jerusalem) in vs 3-4. The flow of Paul’s thought, however, gives no indication of this from within the text itself. It all appears to be a practical exhortation for Christians – both then and now – about our proper response those who persecute us, those in authority over us, and every one else around us.
        If I have misunderstood you, then I apologize. However, if I have it raises even more questions. For starters, it makes me wonder in what sense you can affirm that vs 3-4 is applicable to the “governing authorities” today while denying that they are. If I have understood you correctly, then the only way this makes sense is to overlay your theological premise to make some verses prophetic and others exhortative. This, on the face of it, makes the entire paragraph beyond the understanding of most people, save those people who already believe as you do before they ever read it. It calls into question, in my mind, the perspicuity of scripture.

        “We do justice not by using coercion or killing to extract eyes, teeth, lives, money, but by forgiveness and mercy.”
        This is an overly literal reading of the lex talionis – which is basic to a right understanding of justice proper. If justice isn’t about recompense, then I am not sure why Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins. But besides that, what you are effectively saying is that the OT law was not about justice, and Deut 16:20 is telling Israel to not follow God’s law in order to obtain the blessings. It doesn’t make any sense. In what sense can a law-order based on “channeling hate” through due process be said to be “perfect” Psalm 19:7, and “pure” (vs 8)?

        “God’s law is holy and good, but the original system and set of laws, given to Old Covenant Israel, is not the real thing. It is the shadow.”
        But that is to miss the fact that OT law was originally given to a highly decentralized social order in Israel – a social order that was supposed to be a light to the nations as such. It was the Israelites that traded “God as King” for an earthly King (1 Sam 8). In that sense, they had as perfect a legal order as can be had as long as sin remains on earth. In a totally glorified Christian world, a government would not be needed because individual government under King Jesus would be perfect. I understand your eschatological perspective wants to go there, but there is still work to be done. There are still enemies to be trampled underfoot. There are still disciples to be made.

        Just for the record, I am a theonomist and, as a result, very libertarian. So I am not imagining a centralized government with prisons, big armies, etc. However, I do imagine a libertarian-style social order where God-fearing judges adjudicate cases and hand down justice based on God’s law, not arbitrary “NT-only” Christian or liberal definitions of “love”. God is love, and he commanded the sorceress not to live. Not because he wanted to “channel his hate through due process”, but because that was/is/always will be the loving thing to do – towards both God and man. For “love thy neighbor” is fulfilled in “any other commandment” that God has given, per Romans 13:9. As contrary to our modern western ears as that may seem.

        “So we can’t take from its prophetic elements and project that onto and into a theory of ‘the civil magistrate’, ‘under God, over the people’ etc. and any application to such is anachronistic and inappropriate.”
        On the contrary, he is speaking both before and after this about loving both enemies and friends alike. He is talking about lawful living. And he mentions several OT laws as examples of how to do that. The implication is simply that “governing authorities” (whoever they may be) are supposed to follow the same standard. What is that standard? “Love thy neighbor”, which is illustrated in “any other commandment” God has ever given.

        Much of what else you write I can agree with to a certain extent, save the fact that I am not a full-preterist.

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      2. There are a number of elements of Romans 12:12-13:13 that are based on New Covenant standards and laws that will never expire and that are always applicable. These include:
        1. Love for everyone, and seeking peace, not repaying evil for evil. This is the Sermon on the Mount kind of stuff repeated. As interesting and overlooked as the eschatology of the Sermon on the Mount is, mostly people take it New Covenant standards that are always applicable, or at least are applicable today as then.
        2. Submission to power and non-rebellion. We respond to evil and to worldly and coercive power by submission. That is not because we accept or endorse evil or coercive power, but because the alternative responses are prohibited: rebellion, taking up arms, hitting back, repaying evil for evil.

        I have to confess, that it took me a very very long time to figure out the teaching on submission in the New Testament. I went to a bible study once, not expecting to learn anything profound and was surprised to hear the topic was about submission. This is going to be interesting! I thought. I figured I would not agree with hardly anything that was said or taught. But, to my surprise, he taught that submission is not the same as obedience. And I think the main text was 1 Pet 2. Finally the penny dropped! The slave was commanded to submit to the harsh master, not to endorse either coercive slavery nor harshness, but for some other reason! If we can understand that other reason, we can understand why slavery and paying taxes and submission to impressment etc. is commanded or not to be met with the resistance we normally assume is appropriate for things we disagree with ideologically. Finally I could reconcile the subversive themes and material in the Bible with the submission teaching.

        So we can understand texts such as Romans 13, 1 Pet 2, Mat 22:21, Mat 5:41 etc. as not providing any institutional or ideological support for slavery, the state or organised coercion. If we press these texts into service to endorse and accept and promote and justify these things, we have missed the principle upon which they derive and the sense and meaning of these texts. And we are probably mystified as to how Jesus got executed for being a subversive.

        The prophetic elements of Romans 12:12-13:13 are required by the principle of audience relevance. We must first identify the meaning of the texts to those people. So we have to ask what their situation was, and what was the situation or question or issue of theirs that was being addressed. This step is traditionally skipped entirely or glossed over or misunderstood when we modern people study this text today.

        To correctly identify their situation and their issues, we need to understand the wider context of Judaism and early Christianity, and this is where the work of Mark Nanos, for example, can be very helpful (although his commentary on Romans 13:1-7 is very much at odds with his own framework). We need not just the historical context, but the prophetic and doctrinal context about the repayment of Old Covenant Israel in that generation at the fall of Jerusalem, and as the vindication of the blood of the martyrs and as providing relief to the persecuted saints of that time. This is where the preterist approach to prophecy is immeasurably helpful, for us to understand the nature of that material, and the significance of that conflict and of the fall of Jerusalem.

        If we have these elements, then we can follow Paul’s line of argument, his rhetorical strategy and his application of the prophetic material to the contemporary situation of the Christians in Rome (and elsewhere).

        I think most people don’t see the text the way I do because a) they don’t identify the source of the persecution faced by the audience and b) they don’t identify the specific application of the prophecy Paul quoted as relating to the fall of Jerusalem. For this reason, when I write on this passage, I have to develop a significant amount of material on both these topics (see https://www.academia.edu/33357808/Pauls_Repayment_Theology_in_Romans_13 for example, at 16 pages).

        It is not uncommon for people to link the taking of vengeance prohibited to the saints in Romans 12 with the work of the governing authorities in Romans 13. I think this is fairly natural and appropriate. The problem comes with the application of this linkage. The non-pacifist statists are happy to seize on it by saying it means that the saint must use the judicial and criminal system of the state to seek remedies for wrongdoing against them, and even to participate in it. Whereas the pacifists insist that the saints aren’t to be involved as they are prohibited from that in Romans 12, and Romans 13 is about what the evil non-Christians do that God somehow condones and uses. To correctly understand the flow of argument and the meaning of the elements in the argument we need to get that prophetic and audience situation right and then it can be followed much more naturally.

        Justice is about recompense, but not only that. It is also about compliance. If a man gives his due to others and pays his debts, that is a just and righteous thing to do. A society of honour and of decency and where most people most of the time act honestly and fairly and in compliance with their agreements and duties is a more just society than one where almost everyone is trying to cheat and steal from everyone else most of the time. Justice is also about peace and reconciliation and healing. Sure, a man should pay compensation for injuring his neighbour. We are not proposing that a man pay his debts at a discount. Eye for eye and tooth for tooth can be understood and applied to mean that debts should be paid and that mutual debts can be offset also. The difference under the New Covenant is the means of compliance and the means of debt collection.

        The debt problem Jesus came to resolve is not our debt to God. Our debt was to the flesh and to the old law, which enslaved us and made us sick, crooked and corrupt. Jesus came to ransom us from that bondage. He paid his life as
        a ransom to the captor, who wasn’t the Father. The captor was the devil and his kingdom.

        The law’s self-testimony is not the last word.
        Revelation of Christ contradicts the law’s self-testimony
        Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
        Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the deep?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim (Rom 10:1-8)

        This example shows Paul taking the teaching of the law of Moses in the opposite sense from what Moses would appear to have meant:
        The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
        Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it. (Deut 30:9-14)

        Moses wrote, about the law, that it was the source of life, and that it was easy to obey, and that it was easy to understand: it only required obedience and commitment to bring life and prosperity – even following periods of sin and apostasy. Paul’s interpretation of Moses is liberated and creative. The people of Israel, Paul says, in seeking to do what Moses told them would bring them life, and even seeking to do it with zeal, do not have the knowledge required to understand it even though Moses told them it was plain and clear. As a result of lacking knowledge the law that Moses promised would bring them enlightenment and life brought them blindness and death.
        Paul’s solution to this lack of knowledge is the same as what Moses proclaimed: God has already sent Jesus from heaven and brought him back from death, so now that we do have the knowledge the recipients of the law did not, we have the message of faith and we proclaim it. Christ fulfils the law by adding to it the knowledge that was previously lacking; even though it claimed sufficiency, we now know it was insufficient without Christ.

        This comment is getting a bit long, so I will post another to continue

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      3. So, you’re a libertarian, and a preterist, but not an anarchist, and not a full preterist, it appears. They say partial preterism leads to full preterism, and I guess the same could be said about libertarianism. If you believe in and care about freedom, then I would hope you would figure out that the idea of freedom is incompatible with the idea of the state. And if you can see the fulfillment of prophecy at the fall of Jerusalem, and care about the contextual meanings of apocalyptic language etc. I guess you might well end up seeing the fall of Jerusalem as the consummation.

        May I recommend the work of John Hasnas on the rule of law and anarchy.

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  5. Thanks, David,

    Just a couple of things:
    “The difference under the New Covenant is the means of compliance and the means of debt collection.”
    See, I just can’t bring myself to see that capital punishment was loving for the Israelites to do but sinful for us to do. It brings too much positivism into the nature of God’s law. Especially considering that God’s law originally had no King, no bureaucracies, etc. as a formal kind of ‘state’ – and yet still commanded these things be done.

    “the idea of freedom is incompatible with the idea of the state”
    But again, that assumes that the ‘state’, properly functioning according to God’s law, does not provide freedom. I don’t think that’s true. It doesn’t appear James does, either (James 1:25). Nor did God, when He brought Israel out of bondage only to give them His law – which includes an extremely limited place for the ‘state’ to coerce evil-doers. Assuming you are correct, God brought Israel out of bondage only to put them back in. They put themselves back in, there is no doubt. But God did not.

    Thank you again for the comments and information. You have been most gracious. I appreciate all that you have written and the spirit in which you have done so.

    God bless

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    1. Friend, perhaps it will help if you think of salvation as a story. It has a lot of twists and turns along the way, protagonists and antagonists, quirks, blind alleys, flawed heros and darkness and shadows. We have the benefit of seeing the story as a whole and how it ends in particular. And so when we examine any small part of the story, every element, we need to put it in the context of the big picture and the grand conclusion.

      There is a lot of progress in the story, and the resolution of the story is to approach the problems at the higher level. The higher level allows us to resolve the inconsistencies and the conflicts that dominate the story at the earlier stage when things are being debated and worked out at the lower level.

      The problem of violence and oppression is the major theme of the story. Think of it like a raging forest fire. People try all kinds of fire-fighting tactics, removing the fuel, moving the fuel around, blocking the flow of air, coating the combustible materials with fire retardants etc. Somewhere along the line the firefighter or the narrator has a seemingly brilliant idea to fight fire with fire. By selectively applying fire, and with the right management approach, fire becomes a useful servant rather than a harsh master. At least that is the line of thinking, the theory. And it is put into practice and lo and behold it works. Kind of. Man has mastered the fire! Or God has mastered the fire, whatever.

      But the story doesn’t end there. It turns out that this fire management business is a bit more complicated than first thought. Sometimes it seems to work wonderfully, but it seems that the fire management system attracts closet pyromaniacs who end up having a lot of fun playing with fire, all the while claiming to be the anti-fire heroes. The reign of fire turns out to be a highly dangerous place, and entire cities burn to the ground, not occasionally, but systematically.

      Now that people are ready to learn that fighting fire with fire is not feasible, then comes the lesson: water dissipates fire and it doesn’t cause more fires in doing so. Now, it turns out that the people already knew about water in earlier times, but the fire idea somehow seemed more sexy most of the time and by making a place for it, they made fire their master.

      The water teacher repudiated the fire doctrine, and said water the only solution. And some of the other anti-fire methods were still usable and profitable, but the fire doctrine was reversed.

      Now the history of that people and their heroes becomes a bit complicated. The good guys were involved in the old fire practices. They were even involved in some of its more notable failures, but they were still recorded as heroes and part of their tradition of fire-fighting.

      The idea of fighting fire with fire does not rely entirely on a particular institutional fire management system. Although it is generally associated with it, and fire theory was that it should be institutionalised. I guess there could be voices saying not to do it like this, too.

      But the change in doctrine affects both institutional and non-institutional fire practices.

      The law of liberty is not the same as the law of Moses. The law of Moses fulfilled, yes, but the law of Moses as originally given, no. That old law was a slavery system (Gal 4:25). Those who said they were the children of Abraham were slaves (John 8:31-37). The sting of sin is death, and the power of sin is the law (1 Cor 15:56).

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      1. Thank you, David, I appreciate the analogy.

        It seems to me, however, there are category conflations going on here. I agree the ‘law of Moses as originally given’ was a system of slavery IF – and this is crucial – it was to be used as a way of earning righteousness. It was never meant to be a tool for justification – only sanctification. Which is why God redeemed (justified) Israel first and then gave them the law of liberty for their sanctification.

        If we say the law of Moses was innately about enslavement, then God brought the Israelites out of bondage only to lead them back in. In the sense that you are arguing, I simply cannot agree. However, in a sense, of course, this is true. God redeemed Israel from bondage to Pharoah so that they could be in bondage…to Him. Even after redemption, they were still in bondage. But no more so than Paul becoming a “slave to Christ” means he was brought out of bondage only to be put back in bondage. His bondage to Christ was bondage that was altogether good and perfect because his heart was changed and his motive for obedience was love for God and neighbor and not, as in the case of the Pharisees/Judaizers, to earn God’s favor.

        The law of God is “perfect” (Psalm 19:7). Not relatively, but absolutely.

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      2. I think you are on to something and have identified perhaps what’s holding you back from a more radical politics / social theory / legal theory / theology.

        I don’t view righteousness as something that can be earned or credited, contrary to most ‘Reformed’ thought and the penal substitution theory of the atonement. These theories of earning, crediting, imputing, substituting righteousness and punishment are not the classical Christian understanding of the atonement or righteousness. And they support an individualistic understanding of salvation. For example, the question of predestination is understood by Reformed people as individual: either a person is personally and individually predestined to be ‘saved’ or ‘damned’. Again, I don’t view salvation in that way: I think the salvation the scriptures are talking about is as a body, the new man, rather than as a personal binary ‘eternal destiny’ as if that is some ‘place’ people go after they individually die or rise again. If you remove the individualism blinkers (and the Platonic dualism) you might notice that you don’t find any talk about saving your immortal soul from eternal torment, nor discussion about ‘where do you go when you die’ or ‘where will you spend eternity,’ one’s ‘personal’ resurrection body or even one’s ‘personal’ relationship with God in the bible.

        So what is the alternative to that individualistic presumption we get from Sunday school children onward in our culture and tradition?

        Righteousness is inherently about society and law: do we live in peace and harmony (shalom) or not? The law of Moses was a social and legal system that was geared towards righteousness. And to some extent it attained it, but not in fullness. Its glory was great, but compared to the glory of the new covenant, it was not fully glorious.

        In a typological sense, you are perfectly correct: Israel was in slavery, and was redeemed from Egyptian slavery and given the law of liberty by Moses. But those events were not the real thing, and that law was not the real thing, it was typological. Our concern as Christians is to follow the real thing, the thing to which those types pointed forward to prophetically.

        The typological freedom of the law of Moses was real slavery, from which redemption was required in the second exodus, into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Paul taught explicitly in 1 Cor 10:1-11 that the first exodus was typological, and that the second exodus was the real thing that had come upon his First Century audience.

        Peter wrote that the diaspora were redeemed or ransomed from the empty way of life handed down to them from the fathers (1 Pet 1:18). These fathers were the Israelite patriarchs and Moses. Peter wrote that they had been redeemed or ransomed from that. Therefore they were enslaved to that system that promised freedom but didn’t deliver it. (compare: ‘The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.’ (Rom 7:10))

        That old futile way of life is the old body, the old man, that held us captive. That old body is what Paul called his readers to die to, that they might live not under the law but under grace (Rom 6). Thus we can understand these are equivalent:
        The futile way of life handed down by the fathers
        The old body
        Sin
        the law

        These are all the master that held men captive as slaves. We can’t distinguish and separate these from each other because they are speaking of a common system: the old system that was doomed to a fiery judgement that would kill it. We can’t split it up between civil, moral and ceremonial, it is an integrated system, a body, the old creation.

        Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom 7:4-6)

        Note that there is no qualification of the law, as ceremonial, civil or moral. It is just one system, one body, that they were called to die to (before it would die). The law that was being spoken of was the written code, the letter. There is no discussion about ceremonies, rituals, sacrifices, food laws, festivals, offerings, tithes or anything else that can link this to a narrow part of the law that modern theologians call the ceremonial law. This law is the law as an integrated system, a body. This body is also called the ‘flesh.’ The old way is the flesh, and the new way is the spirit. The old way is geo-political, the new way is decentralised and spiritual body that is not tied to territories of the physical land.

        The way of righteousness and the place of righteousness is in the new heaven and new earth (2 Pet 3:13). The old heaven and earth is the civil, political, judicial and ritual system of the temple, i.e. the law of Moses, and it would pass away with that temple in the First Century (Mat 5:17-20; 24:1-35). This proves that the righteousness that the New Testament talks about is not personal and individual, but in the new body, the new creation, which is spiritual in nature. Salvation is by grace. But that salvation is by resurrection in the new body, together with Christ, i.e. it is a collective salvation in the new creation (Eph 2:4-9). By forgiving others rather than resorting to punishment, we are sowing peace and by that sowing, at the harvest time, righteousness is harvested (2 Cor 9:10; James 3:18). But the harvest is at the end of the age (Mat 13:39). But the end of the age is at the fall of Jerusalem and her temple (Mat 24:3).

        If you want to refute the identification of the law that held in bondage as the law of Moses (entire), you need to show why the law being referred to is limited to ceremonial law. But when we look at what was killed to make way for the new system, the new order, we see that it was the total civil, legal and political system, not just the ceremonial instruments. If all that was required was the abolition of the ceremonies, should not the old Jerusalem be the capital of the new kingdom, and should not it, minus the rituals, be the capital of the world, the centre of the kingdom, and from where the law of Moses (minus the rituals) goes out to the uttermost parts of the earth? *That* (disregarding the issue of rituals) was the key difference between the Jewish rebels and the Christians. The former expected the prophecies to be fulfilled in and through Jerusalem with her civil jurisdiction and civil laws. It was the latter who said “No!”

        You have to wonder what their problem was with their Jewish brethren if they agreed in the ongoing applicability of the civil law as a system. When you look at the history and the issues you realise how strong that conflict was and how far it extended into the civil and political realm.

        We really don’t want to be on the wrong side of that issue in seeking to rebuild the system that produced death and lawlessness and wickedness and that was decisively brought to an fiery end by the one to whom authority to judge had been given. Aren’t we the disciples of him who judged that place and brought that system to its utter destruction?

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      3. Some further comments in response to:
        ‘His bondage to Christ was bondage that was altogether good and perfect because his heart was changed and his motive for obedience was love for God and neighbor and not, as in the case of the Pharisees/Judaizers, to earn God’s favor.’

        We need to take care when invoking the Pharisees as the perennial bag guys of the New Testament. Paul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), as were most of the Christians at the time the New Testament was written (cf. Acts 15:5). The Shammaite school of the Pharisees seem to be the most separatist and strict and the most in conflict with Jesus and most instrumental in having him killed. But even some of these followed Jesus and it is probably these who were those referred to in Acts 15:5 — note that the text says not all of the Pharisees, but some of the Pharisees who were holding that position, i.e. other Pharisees who were Christians did not. Although the Christians different from the other Hillelites on the question of divorce, on most issues the Christians followed Hellel. (The Christians disagreed with the Shammaites also on the issue of divorce also, if only in going further to prohibit it entirely rather than restrict it to certain causes.)

        We also need to avoid mis-characterising the Pharisees and their views on winning favour from God by keeping the law. Sure the Pharisees believed in keeping the law, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in the need for God’s forgiveness and mercy. The basic Pharisee theology is the hope and prayer for God to show mercy, forgive Israel’s sin, send the Messiah who would institute the New Covenant, and set up his eternal kingdom, at which time and by means of which there would be the resurrection, i.e. the rising up of Jerusalem/Israel to new life. This is precisely what Paul appealed to, in agreement with the other Pharisees, when on trial to enlist their support (Acts 23:6-9; 26:4-8). The Hillelites believed in love for God and for neighbour as the first and second greatest commandments, just as Jesus taught. Jesus wasn’t unique in teaching this in the First Century.

        Where do you have Paul distinguishing himself from the Pharisees on account of motivation? We have to be careful not to just pick up Christian traditions about what the Pharisees taught and reproduce them just because this is what we were taught in Sunday School as children. It is ironic, really, that the Christians teach that the Pharisees were wrong to honour the traditions of the sages and teachers, and then they go on to make up and teach traditions about the Pharisees that are highly inaccurate.

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  6. David, thank you for the reply.

    A couple of things in response:
    1.) The idea of religiosity and “works righteousness” rather than pursuit of “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23, Isaiah 58, etc.) is a theme that runs throughout scripture. It isn’t really in dispute that the Pharisee (and the Israelites before them who were not “circumcised of the heart”) were “whitewashed tombs”, believing they were “children of Abraham” because of their blood relation to Abraham or that their ceremonial observations made them thus. This is a well-established fact of scripture save among New Perspective guys who have – once again – a premise that needs to be overlayed onto texts. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t write them off just because they have a different perspective on justification. I appreciate what Wright, Dunn, et all have brought to the table – to a certain extent. But the traditional view of justification cannot be easily dismissed as “Sunday School” for the modern-day Pharisees.

    2.) By mentioning the Pharisees as those with the wrong motivation to obey the law, I am merely harkening back to Jesus “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matt 23:27)…to give but one of the numerous examples.

    But this is really a foundational aspect of all unbelieving worldviews. The idea of atonement is driven by a deep need for penance. And because penitential atonement cannot fully atone, unbelievers are only left with trying harder to obey. Every religion, including that of faithless Judaism, is fundamentally one of works-righteousness. The ‘traditional’ view of the Pharisees isn’t the Reformed’s excuse to make them our favorite whipping boys nor a convenient justification for penal substitutionary atonement, it is simply the proverbial cherry-on-top example of the problem with every other Christ-rejecting worldview out there. And the evidence for such a conclusion is abundant throughout scripture, the world, and history.

    I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is MORE to justification than a simple transaction of sorts, but to deny the contrast between works-righteousness and grace is, in my estimation of scripture, just plain wrong.

    3.) “Note that there is no qualification of the law, as ceremonial, civil or moral. It is just one system, one body, that they were called to die to (before it would die).”
    I never made this distinction. I don’t think it’s an accurate way of dividing the law. The civil law clearly had moral components to it – as did the ceremonial. The “general equity” is what we are after – not the “letter”, as you say.

    But I think, if you want to carry your argument to its logical conclusion, then the “moral” law is also done away with. Is that really what you want to say?

    4.) ” But when we look at what was killed to make way for the new system, the new order, we see that it was the total civil, legal and political system, not just the ceremonial instruments.”
    But, in a sense, the political system was destroyed long before this, as was the observance of land laws, etc. Even as far back as 1 Sam 8, we have an indication that Israel had already forfeited the blessings of the covenant by rejecting God as King. One could even go further back to when they failed to drive out the Canaanites. Anyway, the point is that AD 70’s significance certainly had a finality to it, but concepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness were both inherently wound up in the law and continue to be binding going forward. To argue otherwise is to say that bestiality is ok. Or, at the very least, to refuse to say whether it is or not since all standards for right and wrong have been replaced by an undefined “law of Christ”.

    5.) “I don’t view righteousness as something that can be earned or credited, contrary to most ‘Reformed’ thought and the penal substitution theory of the atonement.”
    Well on one level I agree it cannot be earned, but the idea that it cannot be imputed I disagree with. Phil 3:9 comes to mind. Of course, I understand the “righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) may refer to our relationship (collectively) with Christ in God, but that does not preclude the former from also being true – and necessarily so.

    6.) “If you remove the individualism blinkers (and the Platonic dualism) you might notice that you don’t find any talk about saving your immortal soul from eternal torment, nor discussion about ‘where do you go when you die’ or ‘where will you spend eternity,’ one’s ‘personal’ resurrection body or even one’s ‘personal’ relationship with God in the bible.”
    Well, I certainly agree there is an over emphasis on individualism in today’s modern church. But there is also an overreaction against it into an entirely collectivist view of salvation. Both, I think, are wrong. There are two ditches. Be careful the rejection of one doesn’t lead you into the other. I could trot out scriptures that indicate I believe teach all those things you say I won’t find (save maybe the last one), but likely it will go back to exegesis.

    Thanks for the dialogue. But as this continues, it appears to me our differences run much broader than we realize.

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    1. I am not surprised you find broad differences, if you identify as ‘Reformed’ it means you come from a different tradition, and my ‘tradition’ … well you can hardly call it a tradition, although I’d insist its 90% common with the earliest Christian writers as far as I understand them.

      The works-faith dichotomy seems to be a big deal with Reformed people, and it seems to be an issue that gets read into scriptural texts quite hard, and into various issues and also into the Pharisees quite often. The Reformed people seem to think that the Pharisees epitomize and represent the salvation-by-works idea of their opponents whenever they are criticized in the gospels. Even if they are being criticized for hypocrisy rather than doctrine. Of if they are being criticized for doctrine X, then doctrine X has to mean salvation-by-works somehow rather than what the text actually says.

      Last time I looked into that debate, I noticed that most of the texts enlisted to show that salvation was not by ‘good works’ actually don’t say ‘good works’ but ‘works of the law’ e.g. Rom 3:20, 27, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:2,5,10. Some people say the works being discussed relate specifically to circumcision. And there is a good argument for this, but I think the works of the law and circumcision are being used as a stand-in for the old system as a whole. So this very much includes the civil law system that was unable to deliver righteousness in a social, legal and political sense. Thus the main thrust is that the old civil and legal system was imperfect and typological, and pointed towards the new system, the faith in Christ and membership of his new body. By doing all the ‘works of the law’ including judicially we can’t get righteousness, peace, shalom, resurrection life, the messianic kingdom. That life comes through adopting the new system of grace (forgiveness, mercy, clemency). So we are saved by grace (mercy, clemency, forgiveness, not counting men’s sins against them, love rather than punishment and fear), through faith (the new system). And this salvation is the righteousness of the new heavens and new earth (2 Pet 3:13), and the resurrection of Israel (Rom 11:15).

      I have never said that the moral law was done away with. I say that the law of Moses as a whole was fulfilled and passed away. And that it was typological in nature. The particular embodiment of the law, at the civil and political level, and its means of civil action, and its penal system in particular, were what was to pass away. The problem with the general equity theory is that it generally gets expanded to include the penology and the coercive legal remedies that Christ spent a good amount of his teaching ministry addressing. For example, Jesus said that the coercive civil remedy system was itself a sign of the evil times he came to end (Luke 12:54-59). But you will never hear any theonomist or Christian reconstructionist develop and apply this passage because it doesn’t fit their model that the civil law of Moses, including its coercive civil remedies, is still binding and applicable today. So they just go to other texts that they say means that the old law applies, in a literal civil sense, today against lawbreakers as if they settles it, without justifying why or who those lawbreakers were, or how and when the law would be applied against them. These issues I develop in my paper.

      I don’t think I am avoiding saying whether sins such as bestiality are still wrong. The issues is not the rights and wrongs, it is the remedy. What is the remedy for sin? “Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins.” – Clement of Alexandria. But it appears we can’t agree with Clement here, most who name themselves as Christians today are all for coercive remedies against sin. But I am with Clement and the earliest Christian writers in insisting our faith is gentle and eschews the force and the coercion of the law as the remedy for sin.

      I note your agreement with the corruption of the body of Moses, to the point of making a centralised political and power system. The issues seems to be, with the death of that body, what remains? What is the standard, and what are the institutions and the system of the New Covenant. I believe we need to take Mat 18:15-20 as our blueprint. We need to very seriously develop and understand that text. And not Numbers 35, at least not literally and without the benefit of understanding its requirements typologically as I develop in my paper.

      And I don’t think you have even attempted to address the typological fulfillment of the death penalty at all. Have you even read my paper?

      If your model of salvation and judgement is personal and literal, then you are likely to end up with a penal substitution view of the atonement, and with the idea of imputing guilt and righteousness as some kind of accounting transaction in the ledgers of heaven. The problem is that God the Father is angry with sinners, and requires satisfaction of his wrath and justice by blood sacrifice. And that requires Christ to die at the hands of the Father, and to satisfy his wrath and justice, and for the magical imputation accounting transaction where Christ’s ledger has a particular debit for the sins of particular predestined to be saved people, for their personal sins, and a particular credit of Christ’s innocence back to those individuals. Then, at the judgement day, there is supposed to be a literal and personal accounting exercise, where the ledgers are closed and whoever has a debit balance is sent to eternal personal conscious torment, and whoever has a credit balance is sent into an eternal personal conscious literal heaven-place of joy forever.

      In this model, the community and the society is never really healed. Rather, there is this giant personal predestination lottery being run, to us it all looks random, but God has predestined which balls will be drawn and saved, and which will be damned. The winners get to go somewhere else to receive their prize money and live a life of bliss, while the losers get baked and tormented forever.

      If we object to this and if we can identify correctly the social, legal and political nature of the issues being addressed in the bible, then this whole scheme and system become a comical and tragic distortion of the message and system of life, healing, reconciliation, peace and gentleness being developed. If this is all too radical and too far from your tradition and where you are coming from and where you are, well I guess I understand that the gap is too big. But if you want to stay ‘orthodox’ and ‘Reformed’ and within the fold of your tradition, sorry, I have to assess you as on the wrong side of the big issues of the Christian faith. The Protestant Reformers were as violent and warring as the Roman Catholics, their politics was as just as statist and bloody. The Reformers didn’t restore the traditions of the earliest Christians against war, the death penalty, swearing oaths, or coercive civil litigation / remedies.

      Let me ask what you mean by salvation. Who or what is saved, and from what, and when and how?

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  7. David, it appears you claim to follow the ‘tradition’ of the early church fathers. Many were chiliasts, as you are probably aware. And some believed in baptismal regeneration, among other things. If justification is meant to be taken in a collective sense, it seems to me you should be very comfortable with collective sanctification as well. In that vein, it seems ironic that you would cling to the early church fathers as a sort of final authority on issues of crime and punishment – not to mention numerous other doctrines on which they were unclear or worse.

    “most who name themselves as Christians today are all for coercive remedies against sin.”
    That is true. I don’t agree with the Christians who – out of ignorance or otherwise – want to give the government a blank slate to legislate morality. But what does God consider a mere ‘sin’ and what does God consider a ‘crime’? This isn’t an unanswerable question, thankfully. God has given us a blueprint. And it’s going to take more than a premise of typological fulfillment to suggest that that blueprint is irrelevant. I mean, are we to believe that before Christ, God considered murder a ‘crime’ but after Christ, he considers it only a ‘sin’? At the very least, this contradicts the idea of God’s law being perfectly just (Psalm 19:7). Since justice is moral in nature, this has a cascading effect on our understanding of morality entirely. Either capital punishment for murder was just, or it was not. It can’t be just one minute (from Noah to Christ) and unjust the next (after Christ) without making morality entirely arbitrary.

    “I have never said that the moral law was done away with. I say that the law of Moses as a whole was fulfilled and passed away. And that it was typological in nature.”
    On this, you and I agree to a certain extent. But the question is: if the civil laws in their entirety (and that includes the moral components of those laws, or the ‘general equity’) are done away with, then on what basis do we say that the moral components of the laws pertaining to personal holiness have not also passed away? My point was that to be consistent, either the moral components of all the laws have passed away, or the moral components of all the laws (whether ceremonial, civil, or otherwise) are still binding. These two positions are the only two consistent ones.

    “In this model, the community and the society is never really healed.”
    On the contrary, the accomplishment of justice by the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ is, in fact, true healing. It is the ministry of reconciliation – not having to do with civil crimes – but having to do with the heavier crimes of rebellion against God. That is where the ideas of the ministries of death and reconciliation find their proper contrast. But God is not reconciled to unrepentant men. Nor do the consequences (namely, physical death) of sin necessarily go away just because one becomes born again in Christ. This is why consequences are still appropriate this side of glory.
    And the healing that comes from reconciliation with God shows itself in reconciliation with one another. The outworking of individual and collective sanctification demonstrates that over time. Besides, I fail to see how ‘healing’ would come from letting murderers, rapists, pedophiles, thieves, etc ravage the weakest in society while we Christians stand around and insist the victims owe the perps a ‘debt of love’. Sorry, that ain’t healing. And it isn’t loving, either.

    Salvation is, simply put, new life in Christ – both collectively and individually – by grace through faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross for my sin (individually) and the sin of the elect (collectively). It’s both/and, not either/or on the collective/individualist question. I think the Bible clearly speaks to this effect. Ultimately, any Biblical view that cannot maintain the balance of the one and many isn’t fundamentally Trinitarian. Or, at the very least, isn’t properly applying such a fundamental proposition.

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    1. I’m not sure if you can say I follow the tradition of the early church / Christian writers, but I do take some comfort from the areas of agreement that are more than superficial. The earliest Christian witness is quite a different social, legal and political ethos from later Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestant positions. Now within any tradition or community there is always going to be a significant degree of variation and I think we need to be comfortable with that, whilst also noting the broader ethos and the glue that held them together as a body.

      The distinctive positions that separated them from and resulted in persecution from the two other powers, first unbelieving Israel/Jerusalem, and later Imperial Rome, I see as largely political and legal.

      The Christians rejected political Jerusalem, and revolutionary and zealot false christs that sought a political salvation in the coercive earthly kingdom by force of arms. For this they were persecuted as traitors to the Jewish cause and nation (while others more cosy with Rome persecuted them as a threat to the unsteady peace between Rome and Judea, invoking Roman power to do so with little success.)

      The Christians rejected Imperial Rome, and its power system. Rejected civil litigation, swearing oaths, and the power of the sword. Refused to say Caesar is Lord, refused civil rituals paying homage to the Emperor’s genius etc. and for that were persecuted by Rome as athiests and anarchists and subversives etc. disloyal to the Empire.

      Those second generation Christians, after the fall of Jerusalem, and with the difficult task of challenging the Roman empire’s power and ways, is where some glimmers of legitimacy for Rome start to be seen. In the apologetic argy-bargy, some Christians argued that they were not against the Roman empire per se, that they prayed for peace in the Roman empire, but just didn’t think Christians should be involved in the use of arms and in the spilling of human blood. From this smallest concession grew a new tradition. We have the beginnings of the two kingdoms doctrine, where the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar are somehow separate manifestations of legitimate power, not locked into mortal combat after all. The Christian world was compartmentalised into a Christian realm, the church, and a secular realm, the Roman empire. Even if Christians at this early stage weren’t to participate in a lot of Roman imperial activities, mostly those involving bloodshed and idolatry, there was somehow a legitimate place for non-Christians to bear the sword and shed human blood. The Christians pray for Caesar to have brave armies and for success in battle.

      Over the generations, the Christian community grew larger in the Roman world, to the point of having a significant proportion of the population. The legitimacy of the Roman empire in Christian theology grows to the point that an Emperor can feign conversion to Christianity and then Christianise the Roman empire officially. By that time, the Christian theological accommodation of Rome had developed so much that it morphed into the idea that the Kingdom of God was now reaching its full development in an officially Christian Roman Empire. Christianity had won, its Kingdom had conquered both the earlier enemy Jerusalem and the later and longer-standing enemy Rome! At the time of these developments, the Christians end up being not only allowed to serve in the Roman army, by both the church and Rome, Rome required that only Christians could so serve, and then we have Christian armies killing other Christian armies over the usual kinds of power disagreements that characterise political power throughout history.

      Now all this happened so slowly and progressively that it takes a comparison between the first and the much later writers to appreciate just how far the position had shifted.

      But what tends to happen is that advocates of pacifism or advocates of the state and just war tend to go fishing over considerable periods of time to find support for their respective positions. In doing so they are picking up such a range of material both sides seem to find plenty of supportive material and also have to deal with a significant amount of problematic material too. As a pacifist and anarchist, I don’t think this is particularly helpful, and the better approach is to see the development and change of the positions held over time, and to argue that the original Christian teaching didn’t have any of the development demonstrated later to have appeared. We should not expect the people who lived 50-200 years after the apostles died to have preserved the tradition perfectly, especially on matters of theory and explanation. Practice is more stable and a better indication than explanation, and the earliest practice seems resolutely anti-military, anti-killing, anti-Roman and anti-litigation. That for me best explains what was going on during that time and the mixed material of that period.

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    2. Now, on the early Christian theology. Sure you can pick up on a good number of issues where you might say the early Christians developed some novel ideas unsupported from earlier foundations. As in my earlier comment, I put more weight on practice than explanation.

      However there are two areas where I see a particular source of contrary ideas: as the gentiles flooded in to the church after the fall of Jerusalem a lot of Greek ideas were brought into the Christian community and the Greek culture was missing the necessary background context to follow Jewish apocalyptic imagery and language correctly.

      The body-soul dualism of Plato, foreign to the Jews who viewed man as a single being of living flesh, had come into some parts of Judaism in the pre New Testament period, came in strongly with the Gentile converts to Christianity after the fall of Jerusalem. But I don’t see that strand in Jesus and the New Testament writers, and don’t agree with that ‘development’. But at least I feel we can account for that development in terms of source and the force of numbers and influence in the Christian community at the times soon after for fall of Jerusalem.

      The difficulty with Jewish apocalyptic language by Gentile converts to Christianity after the fall of Jerusalem is likewise explicable. I make no apology for insisting on our need to work quite hard to recover the necessary linguistic, cultural and cosmological system to interpret the eschatology and apocalyptic literature of the New Testament, nor do I feel the need to defend the eschatology of the early church / Christian writers.

      We can also explain fairly easily and naturally how the developments occurred. At the fall of Jerusalem I am fairly confident that the Christians of that time understood the full significance of the event as the consummation. The Adversary had been crushed under their feet. They had no reason to explain the significance, because that wasn’t in dispute.

      But later Roman persecution brought a similar pastoral and polemic situation as the earlier generation had suffered at the hands of the Jews (and Nero). Naturally, the same texts of comfort would be employed. At first the anachronism was muted, they were not suggesting that the consummation had not taken place, rather they were drawing from the more longstanding tradition and values of suffering persecution correctly whatever the time, situation or predicted outcome. This is actually proper and correct biblical interpretation: we understand what the texts meant to the original recipients, then we abstract from that the general principles and teachings relied on, which are then applied in an appropriate way to new circumstances and people.

      But of course there is always the temptation to skip that step and directly apply ‘someone else’s mail’ to yourself and your personal situation. What might at first have been spoken of new enemies as echos of language used to address old enemies, later was mistaken to be interpretations that those texts meant the later enemies were being addressed in the earlier texts (or that a series of enemies were being addressed).

      As the memory of the original recipients and meanings faded, and the pressures of the current problems mounted, some people began to seriously believe that those texts written a generation earlier were directed to them and were intended to address their problems and enemies. Whether this was correct interpretation or not wasn’t an issue to argue about because the new problems were the pressing issue instead.

      Combine that with lack of cultural and linguistic background for interpreting Jewish apocalyptic language and the result isn’t surprising.

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    3. ‘If justification is meant to be taken in a collective sense, it seems to me you should be very comfortable with collective sanctification as well.’

      I feel that there is some forensic connotation with your use of these terms. The idea seems to be that the problem is that God discerns man as sinful, and the solution is that God adjudicates man as righteous, and then further adjudicates man as holy (for example on the basis of some kind of sin-punishment innocence-righteousness imputation accounting transactions).

      I don’t think that is a helpful way to understand the issue. The issue is that man is sick and entrapped in oppression and violence. The solution is not to change God’s mind about man’s status, it is to break the power of oppression and violence and to heal man’s institutions and customs and to bring peace and life. Although the concept is largely collective, it operates at the personal level through regeneration and faith and repentance and education and discipleship. I don’t see any conflict between collective and personal. If if we are not focused on God’s forensic judgement of man individually or collectively, the conflict doesn’t seem to arise.

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    4. in reply to:
      ‘I don’t agree with the Christians who – out of ignorance or otherwise – want to give the government a blank slate to legislate morality. But what does God consider a mere ‘sin’ and what does God consider a ‘crime’? This isn’t an unanswerable question, thankfully. God has given us a blueprint. And it’s going to take more than a premise of typological fulfillment to suggest that that blueprint is irrelevant. I mean, are we to believe that before Christ, God considered murder a ‘crime’ but after Christ, he considers it only a ‘sin’? At the very least, this contradicts the idea of God’s law being perfectly just (Psalm 19:7). Since justice is moral in nature, this has a cascading effect on our understanding of morality entirely. Either capital punishment for murder was just, or it was not. It can’t be just one minute (from Noah to Christ) and unjust the next (after Christ) without making morality entirely arbitrary.’

      So you don’t want to give state power a blank cheque? Unfortunately the bank of other people’s money tends to pay whatever cheques are drawn on it without following the mandate. All the bank terms and conditions look lovely and formal, but the fine print and the vicissitudes of interpretation and application grow like a cancer to the point that the bank is entitled to develop practices and policies to entitle it to pay virtually anything and to maintain the debits associated with it.

      The distinction between a sin and a remedy for sin is fairly natural and appropriate to maintain. The idea of sin is stable, but the idea of remedy for sin is not. The remedy comes to us in stages and as a story. The penal laws are laws about remedies.

      The Old law’s self-testimony about its life-giving ability and perfection are repudiated in the New Testament, for example Romans 10:1-9 and Hebrews 7. The Old law’s self-testimony are not the last word.

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    5. I’ll try to finish with this comment to your last one.

      There seems to be a lot of moving parts with all this talk about ‘propitiatory sacrifice.’ Although I’m not sure what you really mean by that, or how you connect it to our issues, I think the general idea of a ‘propitiatory sacrifice’ is that God and his wrath had to be appeased by the shedding of innocent human blood, in order to have a magical sin-guilt-punishment duck-shoving exercise to keep the moral universe in balance while rendering Christ guilty and sinners innocent.

      I find it impossible to reconcile this penal-substitution model of the atonement with the doctrines and practices and ethos of Christianity. But it seems you are valliantly seeking to harmonise the two.

      The blood of Abel cried out for vengeance and revenge. It called for blood to be shed to recompense and punish the Cain for the blood he spilled. But God said no, and put his mark on Cain, so that no one who found him would kill him. And he provided a different kind of bloodshed as the remedy (Heb 12:24): instead of transferring guilt from the sinner to the sacrificial animal, the scapegoat, instead of killing the innocent to spare the guilty, God provided the voluntary laying down of life has his solution. The innocent gave his life *to* the guilty. He prayed not for vengeance of his blood but forgiveness. He gave a sacrifice to end the cycle of bloodshed. Although he did predict and promise vengeance for his blood, that bloodbath was not the means of redemption but the proof of irredeemable rejection of his way of peace (Luke 19:41-44).

      The book of Hebrews is not just about the passing of rituals and ceremonies, it is about the change in the kind of bloodshed and the model of atonement. It is a new framework for addressing the problem of violence and bloodshed on the earth. Unless we can ‘get’ this shift, this development, we might be in danger of clinging to the very system he warned his readers not to.

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    6. Sorry for yet another reply to your last comment but there is quite a lot in there to unpack:

      ‘It is the ministry of reconciliation – not having to do with civil crimes – but having to do with the heavier crimes of rebellion against God. That is where the ideas of the ministries of death and reconciliation find their proper contrast.’

      Why would you say that the ministry of reconciliation is not to do with civil crimes?

      The term ‘ministry’ implies a response to a problem. We can respond, in terms of ministry, to problems by a) killing people or b) seeking, finding and making reconciliation, and teaching a new way of life and making disciples of peace and holiness. If it is not murder that finds two solutions a) killing and b) reconciliation, then what is it?

      Where and for what did the law prescribe the death penalty, that was not to be remitted to a financial penalty, except for murder?

      Let’s look at the text:
      competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:6-11)

      I don’t think we can deny that the ministry of death is equated with the legal system of Moses. The legal system of Moses prescribed death, and would accept no other penalty for just one crime, murder.

      If you want to insist that something else is meant and implied and intended, the burden is on you to do some exegesis, to develop the source text and show that it properly means what you say that it means. I don’t think it is acceptable to give you a free pass just to assert that it is not talking about the civil law of Moses and the penal sanction of the death penalty under that law.

      ‘But God is not reconciled to unrepentant men.’

      Hence the need for the ministry of reconciliation, to compose disputes, to make peace, to sow peace and harvest righteousness. The means of promoting repentance is ‘not counting men’s sins against them’ (2 Cor 5:19). This is incompatible with a coercive penology you seem determined to maintain.

      ‘Nor do the consequences (namely, physical death) of sin necessarily go away just because one becomes born again in Christ. This is why consequences are still appropriate this side of glory.’

      That is quite funny, that you want to quote ‘glory’ when Paul appeals to the glory of the New Covenant as the basis for surpassing the old system in the passage we quoted above, 2 Cor 3. Paul’s message is that the greater glory had arrived in the New Covenant. So are you suggesting we are still under the Old Covenant? You are suggesting we are still under the Old Covenant laws for the ministry of death, the letter that kills, against the murderer, and, if I understand your position correctly, the rapist too and maybe even the son who curses his parents. This is *exactly* the opposite of what Paul spells out so clearly, it would seem.

      So clearly you do invoke the consequence of physical death — the death penalty — as the ‘consequences’ of sin such as murder. This consequence is an institution, a law, a ministry.

      The consequence and the penalty for sin in the greater scheme of things is not physical death. Man was made mortal, from the dust of the ground, outside the garden. He always was, at the personal and individual level, a mortal being. God brought him into his presence, his sanctuary, his temple, the garden of God, where he would — as a race — live forever, in peace and in fellowship with God and in peace with other people. God commanded the man to multiply and fill the earth. The life in the garden was collective life of the race.

      Man rebelled against God and was promised death in that day that he sinned. And in that day he did not die physically, but he was expelled from the sanctuary, from the presence of God. The death that he brought into the human race was the life of conflict and tyranny and oppression and hard labour. It was life dealing with the seed of the serpent, the weeds, the thorn bushes.

      The promise we have is for restoration to that sanctuary, that we can be reconciled to God and live in his presence. That promise is the New Heaven and the New Earth of Isaiah 65. But in that place there is still children being born and still generations dying at advanced ages.

      It follows that physical death is not the punishment for sin, and personal literal immortality is not the promise or hope of believers. Individually, our life is but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). The immortality we are promised is in the body, that is the body of Christ, the church, which will not be overcome by the gates of death.This is the life of the human race in the sanctuary of God.

      If Christ’s physical death paid for your sins, why should you die physically?

      We are not teaching that there are not consequences for sin under the New Covenant. Jesus gave us his civil institution and procedure for litigating sin in Mat 18:15-20, and it has no ministry of death involved. Why don’t you examine this passage and either accept my teaching on it, or refute it? You seem to just ignore this powerful text that proves that the civil law of Christ has no coercion in it at all.

      When you say consequences are still appropriate, why don’t you provide an exegetical basis for showing why the consequences Jesus set out in his law in Mat 18:15-20 are not sufficient and that it does not exclude other legal and judicial consequences and procedures applicable to put murderers to death?

      Sin has its own consequences built in, as well. The civil jurisdiction of the new law is not alone in bringing consequences for sin, the sin itself is and contains and brings forth its own trouble and consequences, providing a motivation to self control and making viable a culture and a community life of harmony and righteousness and goodness.

      ‘Besides, I fail to see how ‘healing’ would come from letting murderers, rapists, pedophiles, thieves, etc ravage the weakest in society while we Christians stand around and insist the victims owe the perps a ‘debt of love’. Sorry, that ain’t healing. And it isn’t loving, either.’

      That you fail to see alternatives to coercion to manage the harms of sin is quite an admission. That said, when Jesus gave his laws against coercion in the Sermon on the Mount he saw fit to address the worry resulting from application of that teaching (Mat 6:25-34). The New Testament writings include a lot of material on these things. We are called to remove the veil and to see the new economy, the new system, the new order, the new creation, the new body, the new covenant, the new man, the new Jerusalem, the New Heaven and the New Earth, the new dispensation, the new birth, the new hearts and the new life in the New Testament. It is not the same order and system we find in the Old Testament. I am not sure what else is required to open your eyes to see how much is changed, and how new the new order really is. But I urge you to continue to study and consider. That you may fix your eyes on the unseen power, the subtle feedback and the dynamism of life in Christ and his kingdom and the power of the gospel. These things require the eyes of faith that see the invisible King.

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      1. Way too much to respond to, David, and, frankly, most of these hyper-preterist ideas have been ably refuted elsewhere. I don’t in the slightest feel like I need to respond to your attack on the penal substitutionary atonement. Your ‘system’ or ‘tradition’, if carried to its logical end (as you appear to want) cannot be considered orthodox.

        I will just make a few observations:
        “So you don’t want to give state power a blank cheque? Unfortunately the bank of other people’s money tends to pay whatever cheques are drawn on it without following the mandate.”
        Then explain how God’s law – IN PRINCIPLE – didn’t do exactly what you are suggesting. The reality is, institutions in OT Israel didn’t have an IRS or standing police force with which to coerce ‘taxes’ against people’s will. In that regard, you are not arguing with me by suggesting that it always ends up tyrannical. Rather, you are allowing your anarchist ideology to rule out the logical possibility of any ‘good’ civil government structure (Mosaic or not). That is just plain wrong, and God’s commendation of His law, as well as his rebuke to the children of Israel for forsaking it in 1 Sam 8, says as much.

        “Why would you say that the ministry of reconciliation is not to do with civil crimes?”
        Your entire post is one huge confusion of categories. Paul’s concern in 2 Cor is clearly not about civil society. When he references “ministry of death” he is referring to the law’s effect in condemning us to both physical and spiritual death apart from faith in Christ. The ‘ministry of reconciliation’, then, is doing the exact opposite – reconciling us to God through faith in Christ. It is a spiritual reconciliation through justification before God – the exact opposite of the condemnation that came through the revelation of our sin before God’s holy law. This is straight forward. Either you know this stuff, and are just wasting my time, or you have a very serious false sense of confidence in your unorthodox view of salvation, having never taken the time to actually study what Christians have thought historically. Besides all this, if Paul was so convinced that the ‘ministry of death’ had to do with punishing civil crime, then how do you explain Acts 25:11? He clearly was ready to submit to death “if the charges be true”.

        “Jesus gave us his civil institution and procedure for litigating sin in Mat 18:15-20, and it has no ministry of death involved. Why don’t you examine this passage and either accept my teaching on it, or refute it? You seem to just ignore this powerful text that proves that the civil law of Christ has no coercion in it at all.”
        Jesus is addressing the church, not civil society. It is that simple.

        “Although he did predict and promise vengeance for his blood, that bloodbath was not the means of redemption but the proof of irredeemable rejection of his way of peace (Luke 19:41-44).”
        Colossians 2:13-15 says “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
        Sinners are not ‘sick’ David, they are dead. Until, that is, they are made alive again in Christ through faith in the shedding of his blood for our sins. Our sins, and our legal indebtedness, was nailed to the cross. This is all very clear in scripture.

        Look, you obviously are not in any sense orthodox if we define that in terms of the counsels and creeds of the church. The fact that your final response is soaking with a sort of fake-ignorance as to what I believe is silly. You know what the historic church has taught about these things (or at least, you should) and yet you have rejected it for a ‘new’ theology about sin, death, the future, salvation, and many other basic doctrines of the faith.

        Next, no doubt, you would be asking where in the world I get this ludicrous idea about hell. As if these ideas are just totally foreign to someone who has even a semblance of familiarity with either the Bible or historic Christianity.

        Thanks again for the dialogue.

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      2. Oh the irony! Let me assume I know your theological system and commitments as being of the ‘Reformed’ tradition. Oh the irony: here is a man who comes from a tradition of Reformation, a tradition that says that the historical faith of the church, the Roman Catholic church accumulated a whole bunch of dubious and erroneous stuff about purgatory, veneration of the saints, Mary the Mother of God, papal authority, and so on.

        Supposedly, the Reformed tradition threw out a thousand years plus of church tradition and theological system building as so completely errant that it was commonly identified as the prostitute of the book of Revelation, a view you probably don’t hold, although I think it was in the original Westminster confession.

        And you have the temerity to suggest that I’m wrong because I reject large amounts of Reformed (and Roman Catholic) ideas about atonement, redemption, salvation, eschatology and the civil law?!

        Sorry tuckelbutton, I never claimed to be traditional, not credal , Reformed, Roman Catholic, Evangelical or whatever standard you wish to esteem.

        It seems to me that you are more committed to being Reformed and limited-government-ist than being open to considering other traditions and interpretations and applications on their merits. You have generally avoided any actual exegesis or counter-exegesis of the key passages and have resorted to summaries of Reformed or traditional positions and writing off other traditions or approaches with words and labels like hyper-preterism or anarchism being too busy to actually study what the person you are having a discussion with actually believes and why.

        For example, you didn’t even read my paper on the typological fulfillment of the law of Moses which addresses the passage in Acts you cited on the death penalty. Too busy to analyse, too busy to engage with the materials and arguments, too busy to do exegesis, too busy to stop and consider if perhaps there are some issues in your own system that might be better addressed with a different approach being presented by the person you are having a discussion with.

        I’m open to hear your rebuttals, and for your to identify weaknesses and issues in anything I write. I’m sure there are some problems and issues that could be developed and maybe you have some solutions or alternatives. But what I’m seeing here is a retreat to your traditions and creeds as your primary commitment.

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  8. First of all, David, you are the one that began quoting early church fathers as authorities. I have done no such thing, nor have I quoted any creeds or confessions. I have simply acknowledged the broad agreement from the beginning of the church until now on some of the basics of the faith. I have engaged with your arguments and not resorted to creeds or confession until it was absolutely clear you have departed from historic Christianity. And even then, I was simply saying that your feigned ignorance of what those creeds and confessions taught about these basics was insincere – as if these things are just totally foreign to you as a student of the word. I am confident that these ideas are not. You have simply rejected them. Ok then.

    I have spent my entire adult life reforming my own views and being open to alternative views. I went from what was essentially a dispensational baptist to a Reformed, Theonomic, Covenantal Pedobaptist. However, as a student of the Word I see no reason for embracing your entire rewrite of Christian theology.

    I have engaged in plenty of exegesis, I have quoted numerous scriptures, and I have several detailed questions. The only reason I mentioned ‘hyper preterism’ and ‘anarchism’ is because you identified yourself within those camps.

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