Since seeing all Biblical material as equally binding seems to be one obstacle to a wider embrace of universalism, I offer this three page attached case that Jesus changes some of the Old Testament’s fundamental ideas, particularly in moving from an emphasis on externals to a focus upon deeper internal realities: HOW JESUS TURNED THE BIBLE.docx (38.6 KB)
Excellent points and perspective, thanks. I can use this in discussions I have with a few friends of the ‘Theonomy’ school of thought, along the lines of Greg Bahnsen’s “Theonomy in Christian Ethics”. Your essay gets to the heart of the difficulties I have with their views.
I always find your writings illuminating and helpful. This latest one is of particular interest to me at the moment because I am definitely in a quandary as to how to view some of the OT writings. However, I hope you don’t mind if I question a couple of things further?
My problem with the alternative perspective (which I have to admit I hold to) is where do I stop ‘picking and choosing’ what I like or what fits in with MY chosen theology? For example, though I struggle greatly with portions of the OT, there is nothing in the OT which inhibits my embrace of universalism but there are several portions of the NT which do present me with problems.
In your article I can fully agree with your comments on ‘prosperity’ and ‘place’ which, once again I find illuminating and helpful but considering eg ‘power’ is it true that Jesus was changing the OT ideas? Specifically when Jesus says love your enemy isn’t this exactly what the OT commands?
In Matt 5 when Jesus says ‘You have heard it said… you should hate your enemy’ surely this is a pharisaic saying and not to be found in the OT at all? It is true that eg the Caananites earthly lives were cut short (and the NT confirms that we should not place priority on this earthly life) but similarly in the NT Ananias and Sapphira’s lives were also cut short, others were offered ‘over to Satan’ and I take these to be possible acts of ultimate love.
I mean, doesn’t the OT also command that we love our enemies?:
Exo 23:4,5 If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.
Pro 25:21 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
Pro 24:17 Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:
And if we look a few verses earlier in Matt 5 don’t we read:
Mat 5:17-20 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven
So, in this instance at least, rather than changing some fundamental ideas in the OT, wasn’t Jesus confirming the plain straightforward reading of the OT commands and dismissing the erroneous pharisaic teaching?
Which is exactly why “fulfill the law” cannot in this context mean “carry out the commands of the law.” For is that were meant, Jesus might as well have said, “So disregard all that I am going to tell you now!” (verses 21-48). Also, the commandments to which He referred were not those of the Mosaic law, but his own commandments which He was about to give, as found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
From Jesus’ teachings and practice, He fulfilled the law by showing that the law of God was quite different from the law of Moses.
“It was said to you of old…, but I tell you…” He didn’t even say “God commanded of old” but “It was said to you of old” as if it had a different source.
Some of his commandments were even stricter than the Mosaic laws. He showed that righteousness was not merely the avoidance of particular external acts, but also a matter of the heart.
Jesus was accused of going against God’s commands:
- He broke the Sabbath. Indeed He seemed to take every opportunity to do so in order to model the fact that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
- He ate together in fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes which was forbidden.
- He touched a man who had leprosy (that act defiled a person according to the Mosaic law), and then through that touch healed the man.
- A prostitute was caught in the act. The Mosaic law said she was to be stoned. If Jesus had been “fulfilling” the Mosaic law in the sense of keeping it, He would have said, “The law is clear! She must be stoned to death,” and then picked up the first rock to throw at her. Instead, He shamed those present who were ready to stone her, and then said to her, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin not more.” Jesus had mercy on the sinner. This does not mean that He “let her off the hook”, so to speak. But He encouraged her to have a change of heart and mind, and therefore be healed from her form of livelihood.
Thanks Pilgrim, Here are some too simple responses to your excellent challenging and complex questions.
I find Jesus’ “You’ve heard it said,” can explicitly quote the O.T. (and as Paidion says, thus suggest his “fulfilling” the Scripture can’t mean to keep its’ letter; see on Mt. 5 my “How the Gospels Interpret Jesus”). But on “enemies,” I perceive the verb “love” is never used, even for friendly non-Jews, nor is there any explicit command to hate them. Your texts nicely show the Biblical diversity. Yet I suggested the ‘Pharisaic’ reading seems justifiable, since in many contexts, opponents are to be annihilated, and thus writers share explicit hatred of enemies, with no contextual correction of such approaches. So I’d say that Jesus changes such fundamental outlooks, by regularly siding with the kind of texts that you cited.
Thus I’d plead guilty to a kind of “choosing,” and can’t see that anyone can avoid that. One cannot “pick” the Bible itself as final authority, or assert that everything in it is equally binding, without assuming that he has some ability and external basis to make such choices. And I think the reason traditions among those who choose that stance still have countless differing theologies and interpretations is that (perhaps unconsciously) they each choose to accentuate certain texts, and play down others.
Indeed, I have no idea what would result if we tried to make no ‘choices.’ E.g. if I say it’s equally binding that those who bash their enemies’ children’s’ heads in are the blessed ones, and that enemies must be loved, what infallible guidance would I have? I feel more integrity in conceding that I make a choice to go with Jesus, more than with the Psalmist’s blessing upon hatred. But these are stimulating puzzles, and I hope you will feel free to push back and pursue your quandary.
Grace be with you,
I’m not sure that God did that to those babies in the Psalms. I agree that Jesus told us to love our enemies and as I already stated elsewhere we are to love our enemies. God makes it rain on the just and the unjust alike. But we are to do good to all - ESPECIALLY to those who belong to the household of faith. This is clearly a distinction. God is patient towards all. But there is coming a time when His patience will be over. Vengeance belongs to God. We are trust God. This is what Jesus did.
Moreover, on the personal level we can love and pray for our enemies. But on the public level we pray for justice to be done. Indeed, we our to visit those in prison and minister to them. But if they commit a crime they are to be brought to justice. The hatred of God in the Bible refers to His justice. If someone murders my son He is to brought to justice. Not personally by me for vengeance belongs to God. God gives some of His authority to the governing officials.
Michael, Thanks for your viewpoint. I believe God’s love does not suspend the principle of reaping and sowing. So I agree that God being just (and thus loving righteousness) means times often quickly come when his desire to restore us to a righteous path means his judgment lets us experience the painful consequences of our perverse choices (Romans calls this regularly turning us over to his wrath).
My only qualm is whether your statement that “God’s ‘patience’ will be over” is asserting more than this divine pursuit of righteousness. Since patience is treated Biblically as an fruit of love, your words can sound like you believe a time is coming when God’s nature as love will no longer love or pursue love’s goals for those made in his image. Do you have particular texts that specify that God’s “patience” or “love” as what will come to an end. My own hope is that Scripture will prove to be correct that “God’s steadfast love will endure forever,” and that since 1 John says love is essential to God’s nature, that His love will always remain, and prove to be as good as ours is to be in 1 Corinthians 13, the type of love that “always protects… always perseveres… and never fails,” in demonstrating that “love is patient,” and will never “pass away.”
I can’t imagine that God loves me, but that his love for the lost is contingent on their response and performance. So my concern is that if we envision God’s own love as running out of patience toward his enemies, we will be more tempted to justify seeing our desire for our enemies to receive a ‘justice’ that is not truly defined as bringing them as well as us into a righteous position, but is actually our carnal desire for them to receive a vengeance that is only about pay back, and has nothing to do with love.
God’s nature is light and love. God’s love is a holy love. If God is love then He must hate evil. When The Bible says Jaccob I loved but Esau I hated it shows this clearly. God’s patience is over for those outside of Christ on Judgement Day not for those in Christ. We see this hatred not only in Romans but the testimony of Scripture makes it clear that God not only hates evil but evil doers. Yes we are made in God’s image but since the fall that image has been clouded. Not totally erased but clouded.
For those in faith union with Christ God’s wrath and hatred are removed. He is their loving father. We love because He first loved us. When we stumble He doesn’t condemn but convicts us and brings us back to Himself. There is no condemnation for those in Christ. But the scripture is clear that for those who don’t believe God’s wrath remains on them.
So, I agree that love protects. This is why those outside of Christ are not in the new creation. God is protecting His children from harm.
Thanks for amplifying on my challenge that God’s love is never “over.” Here’s some response: You argue that Romans 9’s ‘hating’ of Esau shows that God hates evil. But most Bible students see that this is explicitly applied to Esau before he did anything, and expressly has nothing to do with him being more evil than the scoundrel, Jacob. They realize that this language of ‘love’ vs. ‘hate’ (as with Jesus’ call to ‘hate’ our parents) is a Semiticism which indicates which party is given a different place of priority in God’s plan, and has nothing to to with rejecting agape toward the other party (When we properly ‘hate’ our parents and put God first, we are precisely most diligent to obey God’s command that we love and honor them). The Scripture says that Jacob saw the face of God in Esau, and I cannot see that the story of God’s provision for him shows that God does not love him, or rejects him as too evil for redemption at all.
As I had just agreed, the N.T. does say that we remain subject to God’s wrath until we repent. So we agree that God hates the evil in people, and stands in opposition to it. But you argue that God also hates the persons themselves. Yet your reliance on O.T. texts confirms the whole contrast that I argued.
Many agree with you that God finds that some people should be loved, and others not, because they are evil. But my paper shares my impression that this is precisely the Pharisaic reading that Jesus profoundly challenges and reverses. I showed that he argues that the real test of true agape is precisely the commitment to love the evil enemy who least deserves it. And as I documented, I am especially stuck that he argues that the basis for this is imitating God who has such loving kindness toward the wicked. Thus I do not believe Jesus’ love is the kind that does not “endure forever,” or does not “always persevere.” Indeed, I perceive that he does gloriously embody that very Biblical kind of divine love.
Grace be with you,
Thanks for your response and further detailing of your thoughts. I think I can only agree with you. I just wondered that if you presented your case in certain quarters (which perhaps I have been too familiar with), the readers/hearers minds may have been pushed towards those counter-examples. There is a metanarrative running through scripture but I also see a progression of continued revelation fulfilled in Christ.
Another good read. May God continue to bless your ministry.
Paidion, thanks for your reply. I’d just like some clarification. I take your point re the word ‘fulfil’ but are you alsosaying that ‘the law’ in Matt 5 17+ is not referring to the Pentateuch?
I have to say I really do appreciate your kindness to me. I agree with you about the passage about hating our parents. But that’s not the context here. The context is that Jaccob receives God’s blessing while Esau doesn’t. It’s the old sinful self that God hates. We are crucified with Christ and baptized into His death and given new life. The old self is destroyed. The old sinful self. I agree we are subject to God’s wrath until we repent. But I don’t think the reprobate repent. But neither do I think His anger lasts forever. I’m holding to annihilationism at the moment. It’s only those who are in faith union with Christ who have repented. I think there is a time a place for everything. I don’t go hang out in drug town for instance because it’s dangerous. If you hang out with a pig your going to smell like one. Jesus hung out with sinners to bring healing to them and minister and counsel. I figure if someone want’s help they will seek it out. We are both loved and hated by God before we repent. When we repent and come to God He is our loving Father. God’s essence is love and light. It’s a holy love. God tells us to be holy just as He is holy. I can hate evil doers and want them to be locked up in prison because of their evil. But at the same time I can take the message of hope to them because I love them as well.
I take the word “Law” in “the Law and the prophets” in verse 17 as a reference to the Pentateuch. But I am suspecting that in verse 18, Jesus is using the expression “the Law” as denoting the deeper Law of God which existed long before the Mosaic Law was established, and also the law which Jesus was about to give his disciples. Then in verse 19, “these commandments” refers to the commandments of Jesus which He is about to give, and which sometimes contrast with the Mosaic law, and other times is even stricter than the Mosaic law. The scribes and Pharisees presumably kept the Mosaic law down to the last detail. But it is recorded in verse 20 that Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Thanks for hanging in there yourself with my puzzling challenges! You realize that I support many of your affirmations, but focus on the more interesting items where we seem to differ. E.g. You assert that you don’t think the ‘reprobate’ can repent. If “reprobate” means sinners, I think they are the only sort who can repent. If you are just assuming a Calvinist interpretation, and mean God chooses certain people to have no chance at redemption, that’s a whole subject of its’ own that all my Bible professors taught me, but which I think defames God and find unBiblical.
Romans 9-11 is crucial for Calvinists, universalists, and Arminians. When you say that Romans 9 uses “hate” differently to mean that God chooses that Esau will receive no blessing because God hates the old sinful self, I so do not see that in the text, that it’s difficult to engage your claim. I’d first have to then assume that God’s hatred for the sinful self would require hating Jacob’s extreme perversity and insure that he received no blessing. The whole thing would become incoherent, unless you are just asserting that God displays an arbitrary partiality.
But most Bible students do not see this text as about arbitrarily choosing which individuals God will love or bless or save, but about the family line that God sovereignly chooses to create the nation of Israel. The Biblical narrative presents Esau very much as one who God loves and blesses, even though His grace chooses especially sinful Jacob as the one through whom He brings His promises to create Israel and bring their Messiah. The clear upshot of this is not that those ‘hated,’ hardened, and cut off are hated, or beyond blessing. It is explicitly just the opposite. God’s choice of using a sinful Jacob shows that he can have compassion on anyone he wants to, and can yet graft back in the most hopelessly hardened folk, even insuring that “all Israel is saved.” Understanding these great chapters adequately really requires going through verse by verse. But if you’d like this reading of it amplified for your critique, you can find it in Tom Talbott’s book on God’s Inescapable Love, and Robin Parry’s Evangelical Universalist.
Blessings as you seek to make sense of issues like annihilation and God’s enduring love which believers have long debated and puzzled over.
Grace is unmerited favor and never owed to sinners by God. Sinners don’t want Christ. Therefore, God doesn’t owe grace to them. If they don’t want to come to Christ they don’t have to. But God is never obligated to give such a person the gift of grace. It’s the Divine prerogative for God to have mercy on whomever He pleases. Just as a philanthropist is under no obligation to buy six people a house just because He does it for two. How much more so this is true for a sinner who doesn’t want to have anything to do with Him. I think God’s love does endure forever. But this is for His children. By protecting His children from harm in destroying the reprobate His love endures forever. Love protects. And since God is love He’s going to protect His children. God has always had a chosen people (Israel) but now it extends to His sheep throughout the whole world to all nations. All Israel will be saved but Israel is the spiritual Israel of God’s church. God loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Christ died for His sheep who were His enemies. The Bible doesn’t teach that He died for the goats in the same way He died for the sheep. He is the good shepherd and He lays His life down for the sheep. It’s not arbitrary. He does it according to the council of His will. For those He foreloved He predestined and those He predestined them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. God works everything together for good for those that love Him. Notice this is only for those that love Him. The chain is unbreakable.
You again add additional familiar notions. some of which I find Biblical, and others not. But I’m not seeing how you are interacting with the issues raised about the interpretation of texts you raised (such as Rom. 9-11), much less that you engaged my original post’s texts or arguments about Jesus’ view of who God loves, and that the test of enduring godly love is precisely whether it loves wicked reprobate sinners. You just repeat your assertions that God’s innate love is only devoted to his saved children, only for the redeemed sheep, Jesus crucified love was only for select ones, etc.
Again, you are simply repeating the familiar assertions of your fundamentalist Calvinism, such as my old classmate, John Pipe’s. Herein I have earlier documented texts that show God loves the whole world, sinners as well as saints, citing how the epistles speak of those who reject Christ as those for whom he died, etc. You suggest that God is entitled to display partiality in who he chooses to save, even though Paul explicitly repeats that God will never be guilty of such partiality. But again, if you want to change the post to a challenge of my view of Calvinism or Rom. 9-11, I’ve offered the texts that develop this view, and I’d welcome your critique.
The one citation you do comment on Is Rom. 11’s “all Israel,” arguing that this refers to the (largely Gentile) church. In my recent Galatians exegesis class with Durham’s John Barclay, he described an Australian meeting of the world’s N.T.scholars where a speaker argued this interpretation, and found that NOT ONE of those devoted to Pauline studies was convinced. They saw that the context of “all Israel” is Paul’s burden for explaining what will happen to his kinsmen, ethnic Jews who reject Christ. The only thing that explains his celebration of God’s glorious plan that follows cannot be that God saves from disaster only select churchly kinsmen. The immediate context defines ‘Israel,’ as those who killed the prophets, as those not the Gentiles, as those loved on account of the patriarchs, and as Paul’s “own people” that he wants to be aroused to envy. It appears plain to me that “Israel” refers to Jews, and that your interpretation is incorrect. I would go with the consensus of Bible students on this. So if you want to defend the interpretation your view depends on, you’ll need to show in the exegetical context, that Paul does not mean his kinsmen here.
Alright Bob I leave it at that but let me just clear one thing up that you you said. I think the church includes Jews and Gentiles. God shows no partiality in the sense of race nationality and gender.
It’s not every single individual but people of all races and nationalities scattered abroad the world.
So, I would agree with Paul that God shows no partiality in this sense. What God does in the end is destroy Satan and those who have them as their spiritual father. It’s sinners that God annihilates. It’s because they’re sinners not because of their race gender or nationality.
Michael, I think everyone sees that the church is both Gentile and Jew, and I’m glad you agree. My objection was just to your view that God displays the partiality of offering a saving love to only to a limited number of Jews and Gentiles. If it’s thus possible that God loves me, but doesn’t choose to love the children I love, I see no way to perceive that as Biblically moral, or as an intelligible conception of true ‘love’ for me.
I think you answered this already though Bob. You mentioned above that we are to love Christ above our families. I agree it will hurt if my son doesn’t make it heaven but God will heal me and wipe away all tears from my eyes. We need to depend on God. The more we depend on God the more independent we will become from earthly things as well. This is what Job did when He lost His family. It hurts but God will carry us through it. It is the joy of the Lord that is our strength.
The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)