“But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” – Hebrews 8:6
Why don’t Christians follow the Bible if it’s suppose to be true and inerrant? The Bible says to stone people who work on the Sabbath. Why are Christian not still stoning law-breakers?
Those unschooled in Scripture and theology often levy such attacks. It is, however, a good question. Unbelievers hear Christians talking about how the Bible is inerrant, how the Bible is our epistemology, or how the Bible is our authority. Thus, when the unbelievers read portions of Scripture that talk about stoning people for Sabbath-breaking, they see a discrepancy. “If the Bible is your authority,” they say, “why don’t you actually follow it?” To them it might look as though Christians are picking and choosing which portions of the Bible to believe is true and which to reject as “out dated.” Therefore, a relativizing is seen and Christianity becomes more subjective, loosing all grounds to claim objective truth.
When you study Scripture, however, you discover that what is being unfolded in the pages of Scripture is redemptive history. That is, God is progressively redeeming His people, through various stages throughout history. Covenant theology seeks to discover this unfolding and progress of redemptive history (see: Covenant Theology: Baptist or Presbyterian?).
To summarize, in eternity past the Trinity decreed a plan (this is called the Covenant of Redemption) to rescue fallen sinner by the cross of Christ (Luke 22:22; John 4:34; 6:37-38; 10:29; Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28, Eph. 1:4-6, 11; Col. 1:16; 1 Pet. 1:20-21; Rev. 13:8). God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8). He condescended by way of covenant and told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (this is called the Covenant of Works). Adam sinned and in him all of humanity sinned with him (c.f. Hos. 6:7; Rom 5:12-21), because he was our federal head (i.e., representative). After humanity fell, no one was able to fulfill the Covenant of Works because it demands perfect obedience; after the Fall no one is saved apart from faith in Christ. Thus, immediately after the Fall, God revealed the Covenant of Grace, which is the New Covenant (Gen. 3:15). The New Covenant would not be enacted until the death of Christ, but it was revealed throughout the Old Testament in order that people might believe in the One who was to come (John 8:56). Before Jesus came, God prepared His people through various means. He entered into a covenant with Abraham that promised land and a people, He entered into a covenant with Moses that gave further laws to God’s people, and then God entered into a covenant with David that established a king and kingdom. It is important to note that the covenant made with Abraham had two sides to it: one physical and one spiritual. With the physical side, God gave a covenant of circumcision, which mandated that all male children had to be circumcised (Gen. 17). This was a type of covenant of works. It did not promise eternal life if kept, but it was conditional for covenantal blessings or curses. In a way, the covenant with Moses was an extension of this covenant. The law reminded the people of the Covenant of Works, it imprisoned them under the law (Rom. 5:20), which was to show them their desperate need for a Savior (Gal. 2:16). When it had pleased God, He sent forth His Son to fulfill the Covenant of Works, die as a substitutionary sacrifice, and conquer death through resurrection. (see: Recovering a Covenantal Heritage ed. by Richard Barcellos).
The pertinent thing to note is that the law given to Israel was to govern them in the land of Canaan. Not every law of God is the same. For instance, you have the moral law of God, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments and written on our hearts; and then you have positive laws (e.g., civil and ceremonial) that are temporal and covenant specific. The positive laws pointed to Christ, typologically, and were fulfilled in Christ. For instance, the sacrifices pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice, the cleanliness laws revealed the holiness of God and sinfulness of man, etc. As per God’s plan from eternity, the Mosaic covenant was abolished (Heb. 8:13). We now live under the New Covenant, mediated by Christ, which is what all the other covenants in the Old Testament were pointing to. (see: From The Finger of God by Philip Ross).
Moreover, it must be said that the science of interpreting the Bible (called “Hermeneutics”), is not simply a subjective thing, but seeks to discover the Authorial intent within the redemptive-historical and literary context in which the text in question is found. When you come to a passage of Scripture, there are many things to uncover. Does the Greek or Hebrew syntax reveal insights into what the passage is saying? What did the divine author will to convey by the words used? Whom did God write through (i.e., the human author), and what are some characteristics of the author? Where else in Scripture is this topic addressed? In what redemptive period does this text occur? What is the genre of the passage? What is the historical background of this text? These (and others) are questions one asks when interpreting passages of Scripture.
In sum, we do not stone people for breaking the law (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), we do not sacrifice goats (Heb. 10:4), and we do not observe strict dietary laws (Acts 10:9-16), because these were the mere shadow of what was to come. Under the New Covenant, the reality of those things is present. We do not come to the Scriptures with an odd hermeneutic that doesn’t take into account what the Scriptures themselves say: That it is all about Jesus and His plan to save sinners (Luke 24:44-47; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).
“For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” – Hebrews 7:12
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© copyright J. Brandon Burks