Continuity and DiscontinuityThis is an ongoing review of Continuity and Discontinuity, edited by John S. Feinberg. Read the previous posts: Introduction, Systems, Hermeneutics, and Salvation.

The question of how the Christian relates to the Mosaic law is a very complex and controversial one. Christians take varying positions and, for the sake of space, only two could be represented here in Continuity and Discontinuity. (For a broader range of views on this subject, check out Zondervan’s Five Views on Law and Gospel).

Knox Chamblin presents a Reformed view with more continuity, and Doug Moo presents a modified-Lutheran view with more discontinuity.

Continuity and Discontinuity
Chapter 8: The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ

Does Christ abolish the Mosaic law? Are Christians under the Mosaic law? For Chamblin, the answers lie in studying the relationship “between God’s law as given, respectively, through Moses to Israel in the OT and through Jesus and the apostles to the church in the NT” (p182). Chamblin sees the relationship as fundamentally one of continuity. The Law of Christ is not a different law from the law of Moses, thought it is “newly administered” and “deeply expounded” (p182) in Christ.

Chamblin gives a bird’s eye view of the law in this chapter in four large sections:

  1. The law before Christ’s coming
  2. The NT basis for the exposition of the law
  3. The NT exposition of the law
  4. Hermeneutical principles for understanding the law
I won’t cover these four steps in depth, but I will say that breaking the issue down in this way effectively allows Chamblin to show the progression of continuity in regards to God’s law and the believer. Chamblin defends the tripartite division of the law (civil, ceremonial, and moral) and sees Eph 2:15 as Christ abolishing only the ceremonial elements. Chamblin sees Rom 6:14-15 not as teaching that Christians move from the law to something else, but rather from the law to a “deeper personal union with the lawgiver” (p189). The age of the law is over, but not the law itself. The teaching of the NT still draws from the law, and often expands it. The law still serves the Christian, but in a new way; we must now see discern how the principles behind the law apply to us. The law is now internalized and made more personal within the Christian (2 Cor 3-4). So the Christian’s relationship towards the law has changed, but overall this change is marked by continuity.

My thoughts

This was a great chapter. Chamblin somehow managed to be broad enough to touch on a lot of topics, and yet it didn’t feel like he only skimmed the surface. Anyone wanting a good understanding of the Reformed view of the law would do well to read this chapter. I enjoyed it and gained a better perspective on his view.

The idea that the Christian doesn’t follow each of the Mosaic laws, but ought to find the governing principles and reflections of God’s character behind them doesn’t appear to be so radically different in practice from a discontinuity perspective such as Moo’s or even Brian Rosner’s in his recent Paul and the Law (see my review). While the exegetical and theological foundations for these views are vastly different, how different are they in function, aside from some of the more obvious individual differences (Sabbath, infant baptism)?

Chamblin overviews how the NT uses the Mosaic law or is consistent with it. For example, each of the ten commandments is addressed in the NT, often with a deeper revelation, but not necessarily a contrary revelation. Chamblin sees this as consistent with his view that the Law of Christ does not replace the law of Moses, but I find it interesting that in none of these contexts (except perhaps Eph 6:1-3) are the ten commandments ever quoted as law that the Christian is under. Instead – and I’m drawing heavily from Rosner here – they seem to be used as principles for conduct rather than law to be obeyed. This seems like more discontinuity than Chamblin himself holds.

Lastly, on a more practical note, Chamblin makes an interesting comment regarding the law and Christian maturity, “The extent to which believers (considered both corporately and individually) need external rules and regulations is directly related to their level of spiritual maturity” (p201). He goes on to say that as we grow in holiness we internalize the law and don’t need these rules.

Now I think I appreciate what he is saying to an extent. At our college we enforce rules to regulate student behaviour but the more mature students don’t need these rules. Not only that, but some of the rules are for the sake of the less mature, in a Romans 14 sense. Smoking and drinking are disallowed, not because Christians can’t do those things, but because some of the other students believe they can’t and so would be discouraged and distracted by others’ freedom – therefore we have the rule. If this is what Chamblin means by the above quote, then that’s fine. However, if Chamblin means that our relationship with God itself should be regulated this way, with a law relationship for the less mature, I disagree that the NT teaches this. Paul, for example, teaches grace and freedom as a motivating factor for holiness. Anything else seems to be dangerously close to legalism, suggesting that our relationship with God is determined by law. Who decides on the immaturity of a believer and when they need more laws? Who enforces these laws? Perhaps I misunderstood Chamblin here, so this could just be an unfortunate lack of clarity.

Chapter 9: The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ

Doug Moo takes a position of discontinuity in regards to the law. He sees the Mosaic law as fulfilled/abolished in Christ but still having relevance for the believer, but in a different role. Rather than taking a big-picture view, Moo opts instead to address in detail three main points that “are central to the question of the degree of continuity in the law between the OT and the NT” (p204):

  1. What Jesus means by saying He “fulfills” the law and prophets in Matt 5:17
  2. How to understand Christ as the τέλος (end or goal) of the law in Rom 10:4
  3. What it means that Christians are no longer “under the law”

By tackling these three main points, Moo focuses in on the heart of the issue. Any position must deal with these ideas. Moo exegetes each one of these passages in detail, representing alternate views and giving reasons for his conclusions. However, Moo doesn’t focus in on these issues to the neglect of others, he draws on texts from the OT and NT as he develops his position. He sees Matt 5:17 as saying that the law pointed prophetically to Jesus and now must be seen in light of its fulfillment in Him. Romans 10:4 agrees, Christ is the goal of the law and where it finds its culmination. The law has ceased to play the central role it once occupied. Moo argues that Christians are not “under the law”, for example, Paul “fails to apply OT laws to the Corinthians, even though he is deeply concerned to combat their libertine tendencies” (p216). Instead, the law is used as guiding principles for conduct, just not as law.

My thoughts

Both chapters were excellent representations of their respective positions, though I slightly preferred Moo’s. He chose his three-pronged argument well and stuck closely to it. It was very easy to follow and nothing felt insignificant to his thesis. I found myself nodding in agreement far more often with Moo than Chamblin, though that wasn’t necessarily surprising since I fundamentally agree with Moo’s position. I don’t have much to say since this chapter was very good and didn’t really raise any flags for me.

I do wish that Moo had gone a little further in explaining difficult texts for his position and the practical questions on what his position means for holiness. He acknowledged that both of these questions were not treated with as much detail as he would have liked, though they were addressed somewhat. Both Moo and Chamblin seemed surprisingly hesitant to explain how their views actually play out. The law is a tricky subject and I found it interesting that both proponents were quite wary and almost uncertain of taking that next step to teasing out the implications of their views.

Lastly, as with all the chapters in this book, it’s growing increasingly frustrating to have all the notes at the end of the book. It requires ignoring them entirely or having a finger in the back the whole time. Footnotes would have been a far better choice; considering this is such an academic book with plenty of notes, I don’t understand why Crossway opted against footnotes.

Anyhow! Moving on…

Comments are encouraged! I’d love to hear any feedback or thoughts.

Next up Israel and the Church