When I taught a course through the Psalms last Fall, I knew I would need to return to Psalm 89 later. It is a Psalm about Yhwh’s character and His king, it refers to the divine council, it is artfully arranged, and is unusual in reversing the lament->praise formula, resulting in a challenge to God to be faithful to His promises. There is a lot going on here! What’s more, it is mysterious. To whom or what does this Psalm refer? In this post I want to briefly summarize the Psalm, and then investigate two intriguing options with the Psalm’s referent: the demise of the Davidic line in the exile, or the death of the Messiah.
The Structure of Psalm 89
Psalm 89 has three major sections, with the Selahs marking further sub-divisions.
- Introduction (v1-4)
- Praise (v5-37)
- Lament (v38-52)
The introduction (Ps 89:1-4) sets the stage for the Praise section (Ps 89:5-37) by introducing its major themes.
- v2. Praise of the Lord’s character (developed in v5-18)
- v3-4. The Lord’s covenant with David (developed in v19-37)
Ethan has artfully tied these themes together by scattering key words throughout the introduction: steadfast love, forever, faithfulness, all generations, built/build, and establish (see above). This also occurs throughout the rest of the Psalm, where key words in v5-18 are found in v19-37 and words from v5-37 are also found in the lament in v38-52. The abundance of these inter-connections deserve their own post.
Noting the connections in v1-4, this Psalm literarily binds Yhwh’s character to the Davidic covenant. If the latter fails, so does the former. The covenant specified David an eternal, worldwide kingdom (Ps 89:25, 27, 29, 34, 36-37). However, it must be remembered that God will punish the king’s sin (Ps 89:30-32), but this does not mean absolute rejection (Ps 89:33-34).
Verse 38 brings an abrupt accusatory change (Ps 89:38-45). “You” have rejected Your anointed. His strongholds are in ruins. His enemies mock and plunder. Ethan then moves to questioning (Ps 89:46-48): “how long” will this go on? The Psalm ends in an appeal for Yhwh to act true to His character extolled in v1-18 by remaining faithful to His promises to David in v19-36 (Ps 89:49-54).
Failure of the Kings or Death of the Messiah?
To what does this Psalm refer? I see two strong possibilities, and, frankly, am having difficulty deciding between them! On any given day I see one as more persuasive than the next.
1. The Psalm refers to the failure of the Davidic kings that resulted in Israel and Judah’s exile.
The verses that speak of potential sin of the king (Ps 89:33-34) could indicate that this is the reason for the Psalm. If we accept the view that the Psalter is intentionally arranged, and follow the general consensus that Book III speaks to the destruction of the exile, then placing Psalm 89 at the end of the book naturally fits the context. The kings have failed and Israel is exiled. However, Yhwh promised David an eternal kingdom, so His character is in question. The Lord must not leave Israel in this state; He must act and restore Israel and the king.
Holding this view does not deny messianic meaning. In fact, it retains a strong messianic flavor, as a faithful Davidic king is the only resolution to the crisis in the Psalm. See William Pohl’s JETS article (PDF).
2. The Psalm refers to the death of the Messiah.
What if this Psalm instead referred to the death of the Messiah? In fact, David Mitchell in his Message of the Psalter holds both ideas; that the death of this king would result in a further exile after the Assyrian-Babylonian exile. Whether one accepts Mitchell’s ideas as to a latter-exile, there are some reasons to think this Psalm speaks to the death of the Messiah.
- The death of the king seems to be in view (Ps 89:45) and questions as to whether there is any hope of recovery from Sheol (Ps 89:48).
- There are parallels between Psalm 89, Zechariah and Isaiah, and the latter two (arguably) refer to the death of the Messiah. “Defiled” (Ps 89:39) can also be translated as “pierced”, the same word used in Zech 12:10 of the Davidic king, who is also called firstborn (Zech 12:10; Ps 89:27). Isaiah also speaks to an individual scorned and bearing the insults of the people (Isa 53:3, 5, 11, 12; Ps 89:50).
- There are NT allusions to this passage. The king is called firstborn (Ps 89:27), a common title for Jesus (Col 1:15; Rom 8:29; Heb 1:6). He is also to be higher than the kings of the earth (Ps 89:27), which may be alluded to in Rev 1:5, which also refers to Jesus as firstborn. The “footsteps of the anointed/messiah” in Ps 89:51 could be alluded to in 1 Peter 2:21.
- While the context of Book III may be Israel’s exile, the immediately preceding Psalm 88, appears to speak of the death of an individual in language very applicable to Christ’s suffering.
- Jewish tradition spoke of two messiahs: Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David. The Messiah ben Joseph would die and rabbinic texts that speak of this allude to Psalm 89. This is defended in David Mitchell’s papers and forthcoming book on the subject.
However, this view has some difficulties and uncertainties.
- Assuming the Psalm indicates the death of the king (Ps 89:45; also Ps 89:48, 38-39, 43), this does not necessarily require a Messianic referent. In fact, the references to battle (Ps 89:43), and especially breaching of the walls (Ps 89:40) indicate another traditional/historical battle.
- Is it placing too much weight on the shared vocabulary (“pierced”) to interpret the Psalm in light of the Isaiah-Zechariah contexts?
- The NT connections are also inconclusive. The title “firstborn” may not be exclusively messianic if it applied to all kings in David’s line. Perhaps the title is applied to Jesus not as an exclusive messianic title, but since He is the ultimate Davidic king. What’s more, there are no clear NT quotations of the lament section of the Psalm, the passage that speaks of death. This is an argument from silence, but one would expect more if this were clearly about the Messiah’s death.
- How would this idea work with the exile setting of Book III? Of course this matter is not decisive, as the Psalm must be interpreted in its own light before larger context is considered, and the apparent exilic theme of Book III is not set in stone. But still, it harmonizes better with the surrounding Psalms (expect perhaps 88) for this to be exilic in referent.
Is it possible that the Psalm has two referents? That the moral failure and death of the Davidic kings foreshadows the death of the Messiah for sins not His own? If so, this Psalm could apply to both. As attractive as this would be, it is speculative.
Either way, this Psalm is fascinating and only Christ is the answer to how Yhwh will remain true to His promises to David.
As I’m still working through this, and thoughts would be appreciated!
Though I don’t want to understate the complexities in Psalm 110 and I realise I am swimming against the stream of scholarship, still, I am perplexed by evangelical attempts to avoid Davidic authorship of Psalm 110 and/or find its fulfillment in anything but an exclusive and direct reference to the Messiah. This is even more odd considering evangelical scholarship indeed affirms Jesus at very least as the “ultimate” fulfillment of the Psalm.
The Non-Messianic Psalm 110?
As one example, DTS Professor Gordon Johnston in Jesus the Messiah refers to Psalm 110 as a “royal enthronement psalm” (p91) that is applied to any and all kings from the line of David. However, since Jesus is the ultimate Davidic king, Psalm 110 applies to Him ultimately, though indirectly.
Johnston argues that though the Psalm was not originally directly about the Messiah, when Ps 110 was placed in the Psalter, it took on an eschatological and messianic meaning since the Psalter was completed after the exile. A Psalm originally about David’s son now expresses hope for a future son. I would agree with Johnston’s approach here with reference to some of the other Psalms, but I think there are serious problems with such an approach with Psalm 110.
(I don’t mean to pick out Johnston and demonize the guy. This rant could apply to any of the many evangelical scholars who take this view. I simply chose Johnston as I was re-reading his work on the Psalms while preparing for teaching Ps 110).
As to the origin of the Psalm, Johnston considers two non-messianic options as possible:
Option #1. A prophet delivered this Psalm to David on the day of his enthronement in Jerusalem. The Psalm is thus not “by David” but “about/concerning David”. Messianic fulfillment comes through reapplying a Psalm about David to each future king, culminating in the final king.
The original Hebrew would allow such a translation but it runs into problems.
- While the Hebrew behind “by David” could legitimately be translated as “concerning David”, it is unlikely since we do not translate other Psalm headings in this way. For example, the Psalms by Asaph are not “concerning” him, they are clearly “by” him.
- Most conclusive in my mind, is the attestation in the New Testament that David is the author (Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34).
Option #2. David composed the Psalm for Solomon, “recounting God’s address to Solomon at the time of his enthronement in Jerusalem” (p93). But how can David call Solomon his “lord” (Ps 110:1)? It is simple, “as David relinquished the throne to his son, it would have been appropriate for him to refer to Solomon as ‘my lord’ on that occasion” (p93). This is how any of Solomon’s other subjects would have addressed him (1 Kings 2:38; 3:17, 26), so why not David as he passed on the crown.
How would messianic fulfillment work, then? Johnston argues that Scriptures’ silence on the identity of the individual was a “divinely inspired vagueness” that allows for an ultimate messianic fulfillment. That is to say, since the Psalm could be applied to any Davidic king, it can be applied fittingly to the messiah: “God’s address to the original Davidic king applied equally – if not ultimately – to [the Messiah] in a generic sense” (p94). While this option appears more reasonable at first, I think it is untenable when considered further.
Psalm 110 in the New Testament
I think that the NT’s use of Ps 110 makes Davidic authorship and Messianic referent certain.
First, Peter in Acts 2:34-35 reads “sit at my right hand” literally, and infers that since David did not ascend to the heavens but Jesus did, that Jesus is the exclusive referent of the Psalm.
The second point requires more unpacking. Here is Mark 12:35-37:
And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.’
David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.
If we want to read the Scriptures as inspired, I think these texts make Johnston’s suggestions impossible for two simple reasons:
- Jesus says the Psalm is about the Messiah, and no one objects (Mk 12:35). Johnston thinks his view of the original referent being unnamed explains and justifies the New Testament assertion that God spoke to the Messiah in Ps 110:1 as “theologically and hermeneutically valid” (p94). But I think Jesus goes further. He doesn’t say His reading is “hermeneutically valid”, He expects His hearers to agree the referent of Psalm 110 is the Christ. Why not take the NT’s assertions more plainly?
- Jesus’ argument for direct fulfillment was irrefutable. Matthew closes his account, “no one was able to answer him a word” (Matt 22:46). In the context, Jesus is responding to the questions from His opponents intending to stump Him by asking a question of His own. How can the Messiah be David’s son if David calls the Messiah his “Lord” (Mk 12:35-37)? In other words, how can the Messiah be David’s greater (“Lord”) if he is David’s lesser (“son”/descendant)? Here’s the rub: no one can answer Him! Jesus’ question stumped His hearers. However, if Johnston is correct, Jesus’ hearers had an incredibly simple answer that would totally undermine Jesus’ head-scratcher:
“David wrote Psalm 110 originally about Solomon, and it’s natural that David called Solomon his lord since he had just taken the throne. Simple.
Gee, that was easy; got another one, Jesus?”
Now in no way do I think Johnston (and others like him) would be so dismissive toward Jesus, but I think his view leads to such a conclusion. So what does Johnston say about Jesus’ use of the passage?
Granted, it was unusual for one who was the king and founder of a dynasty [David] to refer to a descendant [Solomon] as his lord. Yet the unusual nature of this setting is why Jesus later raises the question about his passage and ultimately, he was right to raise the question and contemplate its significance.
Nevertheless, this did not mean that David had not originally addressed his son Solomon (94).
See what this view does to the Jesus’ question-argument? It totally deflates it.
This. just. doesn’t. work.
The interpreter is left with two options:
- The NT misreads and misuses the Psalm. Typological reading, though applicable elsewhere, is out of the question, given the logic of the above NT quotations. Also, the popular idea of a further and new divine revelation of the Psalm’s meaning to the NT authors is also out of the question as the authors don’t appeal to further revelation, but argue for original authorial intent of the Psalm.
- The NT reads Psalm 110 rightly as a direct prophecy of the Messiah.
Leviticus is a difficult book. The Levitical land is littered with detailed and verbose laws concerning cleanliness and uncleanliness, priestly garments, proper and improper food, bodily discharges, and the proper way to kill an animal. What’s more, scattered across the landscape are bodies of well meaning poor souls who resolved to read the Bible in a year. As difficult as the Bible can be at times, I am a firm believer that the books that demand a little more patience and hard work from their readers are always rewarding. Such is the case with Leviticus, a book that – along with 1 Maccabees – is often the punchline response to, “hey, what are you preaching from this Sunday?”. However, as with many foreign lands, Leviticus is in fact a rich and beautiful place once you begin to understand the accent and customs. L. Michael Morales has journeyed long in Leviticus and lived to tell the tale, and he has written a guide for us interested travelers through this treacherous terrain. This book is Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (hereafter Who Shall Ascend) in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series; a series that is as excellent as its covers are bland.
As is the case with other Bible books in the NSBT series, Who Shall Ascend is not a commentary on Leviticus per se, but rather a “theological entry into Leviticus in the context of both the Pentateuch and the New Testament” (p9). As such, more space is in fact devoted to Leviticus’ placement and impact in the canon (ca. 180 pages) than walking through Leviticus itself (ca. 100 pages)! Though I was first suspicious when perusing the table of contents, I now see the error of my ways. By concentrating on the context around Leviticus, Morales strikingly reveals it to be a theologically foundational book to the message of the Bible. Indeed, as D. A. Carson reflects in the preface, “[Who Shall Ascend] promises to give us not only a theology of Leviticus, but also a richer theology of the Pentateuch and finally of the whole Bible” (p8) or in Morales’ words, “[our] understanding of Leviticus is foundational for grasping the story of the Bible in its depth and beauty” (p9).
The structure of Who Shall Ascend is simple enough. In Chapter 1, Morales finds Leviticus’ place within the Pentateuch, arguing provocatively that Leviticus is not merely the middle book of the Pentateuch, but that Leviticus is the very centre of the Pentateuch; “the very heart of the Pentateuch’s narrative” (p27). What’s more, the Day of Atonement (chapter 16) is “the book’s literary centre” (p27), and thus the very apex of the Torah, as without atonement, entrance into Yhwh’s presence is impossible. Next, Morales establishes Leviticus’ narrative context by tracing the theme of God’s dwelling in Genesis (chapter 2) and Exodus (chapter 3). Far from a appetiser preparing the way for the Levitical meat (lamb, of course), the chapters on Genesis and Exodus are a hearty meal in themselves. Whereas, Genesis is seen to tell a story of journey from “fullness of life to death”, and “alienation from the Presence of God” (p74), Exodus records Yhwh’s redemption of Israel from a place of death to a place of life, achieved through His very Edenic presence in the tabernacle.
Next, Leviticus is divided into three chunks that represent key narrative stages in the unfolding of its theology: Leviticus 1-10 (chapter 4), Leviticus 11-16 (chapter 5), and Leviticus 17-27 (chapter 6). Leviticus 1-10 is seen as the “dramatic resolution” (p113) to Moses’ inability to enter the tabernacle in Ex 40:34-35. If Israel’s mediator cannot enter Yhwh’s presence, then what can be done to turn His dwelling place to a meeting place? Following the commands given in Lev 1-10 opens the way to experiencing Yhwh’s Sinai presence in the climactic Leviticus 9:23-24. Unfortunately, Nadab and Abihu reverse the climax of chapter 9 by defiling the tabernacle in chapter 10. Leviticus 11-16 then answer this crisis through providing the answer to two relevant questions: 1) how can the sanctuary be cleansed and 2) how near may one approach Yhwh’s presence. Leviticus 17-27 further develop the response to Nadab and Abihu’s sin, recognizing the limitations of the ritual system and that “authentic holiness” is the only “lasting safeguard” in the presence of Yhwh (p186).
The next two chapters follow the reverberations of Leviticus in the remainder of the Old Testament (chapter 7) and then in the New (chapter 8). The Old Testament reflects the journey from Sinai to Zion and Israel’s expulsion from the latter. Hopes of return to Zion are presented as a return to Eden, where God will complete His plan to dwell unreservedly in a new heavens and earth. The New Testament chapter investigates the death, resurrection and ascent of Christ, as well as the descent of the Spirit, through the light of all that was seen in Leviticus, revealing that “[until] heaven descends to earth, [Jesus] has opened the way for earth to ascend into heaven” (p259).
Once in a while I will run into a book that feels like a revelation. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission (also in the NSBT series) was such a book; Who Shall Ascend is without a doubt another. Though the two overlap at a few points, both must be read. In fact, they could be seen as companion pieces. If Beale’s is about the dwelling place of God throughout Scripture, Morales is about what God has done to enable us to dwell with Him!
I had high expectations from a study of Leviticus and Morales did not disappoint! Every page is filled with multiple insights, some of them profoundly impacting. Morales revealed so many insights that it quickly became apparent that we all – scholars included! – have a deficient understanding (or none at all!) of Leviticus and its impact on the Bible’s theology.
One such eye-opener, though not stated directly in the book, was realizing the significance of our being raised with Christ (e.g. Col 3:1), the meaning of which having long eluded me. How can we be raised with Christ (Col 3), and yet we are waiting to be raised (Rom 6)? What does that even mean? The theology of Leviticus makes this clear. The Levitical High Priest would pass through the clouds into the Holy of Holies, “ascending to heaven” as it were, and, as their representative, bring the people of Israel into communion and worship in Yhwh’s presence. Jesus, our new High Priest, has done the same in His ascension (Dan 7)!
Though Morales is thoroughly scholarly and clearly an expert in Leviticus, he also writes with a devotional and pastoral heart, wanting Who Shall Ascend to cause “a renewed glorying in [one’s] heavenly access to the Father through the new and living way” (p9). This content just crying out to be preached. Yes, as sermons. Yes, at church! A cleansing and renewing soak in all the Scriptures is just what our church needs today.
The NSBT series is of very high quality – although several recent volumes were quite disappointing – but Who Shall Ascend sits alongside Dempster, Beale and Rosner as one of the absolute best (am I missing one?). Who Shall Ascend has the potential to revolutionise one’s reading of the Bible, and cause a hereto obscure book become understandable, even treasured. One can forgive Morales for pursuing a few (most interesting, some fascinating!) side-trails loosely related to his main points, as an excited tour guide is wont to do. At the risk of overstatement, Who Shall Ascend was so impacting that my reading of the Bible has been forever changed. Do yourself and Moses a favor and read this book; who knows, maybe next year we can survive the journey and bring others too!
Many thanks to IVP UK, and SPCK for providing a copy of this book for an unbiased review.
Buy Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord from Amazon
In my own lifetime I have seen the technology of the internet advance in leaps and bounds. I remember the dial-up sound. I remember the first mp3 that I downloaded, thinking that a 2-3 megabyte file was large and wondering why I would even want a song on my computer. I remember when streaming videos were only watchable for those with particularly powerful internet connections. If possible, downloading (and waiting hours!) was the better option. How far we have come! Today, there is a proliferation of good (not to mention terrible…) content at one’s fingertips and even in one’s pocket.
When it comes to Biblical resources, we are in an exciting time. Third Millennium and Biblical Training offer free seminary-level courses. Many seminaries offer free content, even entire courses. Logos Mobile Ed picked up this idea and professionally polished it (see my review), and now N.T. Wright Online has appeared on the scene (hereafter NTWO). What does it offer? How is it different?
N.T. Wright Online, as one may expect, is entirely devoted to courses taught by N.T Wright. These courses are hosted on Udemy. They are filmed specifically for the site and courses vary in content from summaries of Wright’s books (Simply Good News) to Biblical books (Galatians and Philippians). In this post I have the pleasure to review the first course, Galatians.
The Galatians course consists of a total of 4.5 hours of video content split over 36 lectures, embedded PDFs of the Biblical text in N.T. Wright’s own translation, quizzes on the content, and discussion questions.
Video and Sound
The video is streamed (but can be downloaded on iOS devices). Quality is crisp and can be switched between either 360p or 720p. Playback speed can be adjusted (0.5x – 2x). Bookmarks can be added at chosen points of the video. The whole interface runs smoothly.
Wright is recorded by two cameras; one angled at him and one from the side. It appears to be recorded at Wright’s own desk, which adds to the personal feel. However, speaking personally, I found this distracting as his workspace had loose papers that drew my eye. This is particularly seen from the side shots (see below). At times Wright also looked down and scanned through his notes. He does it rarely and is to be expected from a lecture, but having the notes behind the camera would have kept Wright’s eyes on the camera and improved the experience. At times, hand gestures are partially or completely off screen (see above). I am not sure how this compares to future courses and others will no doubt find these observations trivial.
The quizzes are simple and contain a handful of multiple-choice questions to encourage the viewer they are on track.
This is an area where NTWO sets itself apart from the other options: community is an integral part of the experience. Students ask questions and interact with one another and the course supervisor David Seemuth. It appears that Seemuth addresses each and every question.
I viewed the entire course between my iPhone and iPad, using the Udemy app. The experience was seamless and enjoyable and every element (video, interaction, quizzes, etc) worked flawlessly. Videos could be pre-downloaded to the device for seamless and/or offline viewing.
I have saved this for last, though for many it will be the key factor. The reality is that if one has heard Wright speak, they will know he is a top-notch communicator. His friendly and clear way of speaking is always interesting, even (especially?) when being slightly controversial. Complex ideas are made simple, and the big picture is ever in view.
I leapt at the chance to review Galatians since Wright holds to the New Perspective on Paul and I wondered exactly how he would handle key sections, especially in a teaching format. In fact, I found little of import with which to disagree. Indeed, the course was impacting and filled with Wright’s usual unique applications. The content was phenomenal.
N.T. Wright Online shares most similarities with Logos Mobile Education, as both are comprehensive, top-notch, and paid experiences. They differ in some key areas, however. First, Mobile Ed has a multitude of courses and speakers, where as NTWO is entirely Wright talking about his (admittedly, broad) areas of expertise. Second, while Mobile Ed has a community aspect, NTWO’s is far easier to navigate and I found it more fruitful. Third, while Mobile Ed required and suggested reading may include a few or several (expensive) books that the viewer does not own, NTWO’s Galatians course only required Wright’s inexpensive Paul for Everyone Galatians commentary. Fourth, Mobile Ed splits its videos into bite-sized 3-8 minute chunks, often devoted to one topic or idea (even when the course is a Bible book). This is all are particularly great for teaching environments. NTWO, however is much more tailored for the individual, and videos range 15-25 minutes. Both Mobile Ed and NTWO are equally excellent and play different roles by meeting different desires and needs.
I can recommend without reservation N.T. Wright Online for any interested potential students.
Many thanks to David Seemuth for providing access to this course in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Joshua Jipp’s Christ is King has garnered much discussion and rightfully so: he argues against a common dismissal of Christ as being a royal title, by comparing ancient royal discourse (Jewish and Greco-Roman) to the writings of Paul. Along the way, he also presents some unique exegetical insights. In this post I want to present one of these insights that potentially unravels a very knotty problem: to what does Paul refer when he speaks of “The Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:22)?
Common views of “the Law of Christ”
The Law of Christ is interpreted in diverse and often mutually exclusive ways:
- The Law of Moses
- The Law of Moses, but transformed
- A new Torah to replace the old
- A principle for Christians to follow
- The teaching of Jesus
For Jipp, this question will not be properly understood unless read “within the context of ancient kingship discourse, particularly discussions devoted to the relationship between king and law” (p45). When consulting this literature, one discovers that,
the best governance is not one in which the law rule supreme, but one in which the virtuous king submits himself to the laws and thereby internalizes them such that he himself becomes an embodiment of law – a “living law”…whereby the king’s subjects imitate the king who provides the perfect pattern for their own character
In other words, the law must be read in light of the king, who internalizes and embodies the law, thus providing a perfect example for his followers. So the king’s subjects (re)interpret the law in light of the king and his faithful example.
Jipp provides much examples through Greco-Roman and Jewish literature. These are well worth reading (buy the book!), but I want to draw attention to the interesting suggestion for reading Galatians 5:14.
Galatians 5:14 as Christ’s Embodying the Law
For Jipp, one must understand the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) in light of Galatians 5:14.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Reading these passages in light of one another results in the following insights:
- The Law of Christ cannot entirely exclude the Torah, since it is quoted in Gal 5:14
- Both passages refer to “fulfilling” the Law
- Gal 6:2 sees the fulfillment as a potential future
- Gal 5:14 has the fulfillment in the passive perfect tense. Jipp translates Gal 5:14 as “the whole law has been fulfilled”.
Rather than reading Gal 5:14 as synonymous to Rom 13:9 (i.e. all the laws are summarized by Lev 19:18), Jipp suggests that Gal 5:14 goes one step further. Since the language of “fulfillment” often has eschatological overtones of carrying out God’s covenantal purposes (Gal 4:4), Jipp suggests that Rom 8:2-4 is a better parallel. That is, the law is brought to completion through Christ. In other words, yes, the entire law is summed up in Lev 19:18 (Rom 13:9), but Christ best embodies Lev 19:18 in His self-giving death (Gal 5:14). By perfectly embodying the intention of the law, Christ brings the law to fulfillment and completion (Rom 8:2-4), and provides an example for believers to follow, and thus fulfill in their own life-contexts (Gal 6:2).
This means there are elements of both continuity and discontinuity between the Law of Christ and the Law of Moses. Christ’s example “[brings] Torah to its completion” by “supremely embodying the love of neighbor called for by Torah“. This means that Christ is now “the supreme focal point of imitation for Christians” (p61).
On a related note, this seems to fit fairly well with Brian Rosner’s pedagogical tool in Paul and the Law (my review). Christ fulfils the Law, bringing it to completion (repudiation), but reconfiguration of it through His example for believers (replacement), but retaining the Mosaic Law as a witness to Christ and source of wisdom for embodying Christ (reappropriation).
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We are working through B&H’s Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. See my introduction and other posts in this series. This post summarizes the responds to the Progressive Covenantalist viewpoint of Tom Pratt and Chad Brand.
Overall, there is not much disagreement. Primarily, Raymond upholds infant baptism. He responds that “because the sacramental continuity of the two Testaments is so strong, not to baptize infants of believers in this church age, just as God commanded Israel to circumcise its eight-day-old male children, would require an explicit word of repeal” (p281). Since the authors reject infant baptism, they “cease to be covenantal and become themselves dispensationalists” (p281), a conclusion that to my mind does not logically follow.
Thomas rightly critiques the authors characterization of dispensationalism as presenting multiple ways of salvation. He also takes issue with the authors’ hermeneutics, concluding that “they eschew traditional principles of the grammatical-historical approach” (p287). A case in point: they see Christ as head of the body (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18) as oddly fulfilling Deut 28:13. Thomas also takes issue with the authors’ identification of the “Israel of God” as the church (Gal 6:16) and “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 as elect Jews and Gentiles.
Thomas is concerned with the authors’ use of New Perspective authors, which “raises questions about their dating of synoptic Gospel origins”, since “New-perspective authors date the [synoptics] later in the first century AD and assign their authorship not to the traditional authors but to redactors who lived in significantly alter periods” (p290). I’m not sure that the New Perspective requires any dating of the Gospels. What’s more, this seems impossible to prove, as the existence of one New Perspective scholar who holds to early dating of the Gospels invalidates Thomas’ claim. What’s more, the usage of New Perspective scholarship in one area doesn’t mean acceptance of their views in another.
First, Saucy denies that dispensationalism holds multiple ways of salvation but that one’s expression of faith will differ in different stages of redemptive history. For example, “for the Jew living under the Mosaic covenant [a proper expression of faith] was obedience to the laws of sacrifice whenever that was possible” (p293).
Saucy then responds to each of the five points in Brand and Pratt’s chapter:
- Yes God is one, so His people are one. But God is a Trinity, so His people can have unity and diversity. Therefore, this does not exclude the identity and future of national Israel.
- Yes God’s people are such by election and spiritual birth and await the eternal city. However, “I fail to see how this eternal hope negates a future earthly restoration of Jerusalem” (p295).
- Romans 11 teaches that Gentiles are grafted into the root of the Abrahamic promises, not Israel herself; therefore, “Abraham’s seed includes believing Gentiles without their becoming ‘Jewish’” (p296)
- God’s people are marked by the presence of the Spirit, but this does not answer the disciples’ question about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6-8)
- Yes God’s people are the body of Christ, but this can become messy when the church is considered the new Israel.
Saucy’s response is interesting in that he agrees with the broad unity between Israel and the church found in Progressive Covenantalism, except when that unity undermines specific national promises to Israel.
Phew! This has turned into a mammoth series, so I will not offer a concluding post. I will simply state that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt that overall the chapters were solid. I highly recommend it as the most thorough, recent, and well articulated representation of these viewpoints for anyone interested in the topic. I hope that the conversation continues.
Many thanks to B&H for a review copy.