Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Four Flaws in Chris' View: A Case-study in Evangelical Hermeneutical Error

Chris has been nice enough to comment on our blog. He has been reading for months now and expresses concerns about the theology being presented here. Chris' view is representative of many evangelicals—especially evangelicals in the US. That is why I thought it worthy of a more thorough response. Here are four hermeneutical flaws in Chris' view:

Flaw #1) The Assumption of Congruence Between the First and New Covenants

The covenant that God made with the Hebrew people is not binding on disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul and the writer of Hebrews are clear on this matter (Gal. 3—particularly vv.23-25; Heb. 10.1-3). Disciples of Jesus Christ are recipients of a new and better covenant that supersedes the First Covenant. (Heb. 7.18-22, 8—particularly vv.5-13)

Chris' view assumes congruence between the First Covenant and the New Covenants that Scripture clearly shows is absent. Where Chris seeks to find sameness, Scripture teaches distinction and newness. Jesus demonstrates this clearly:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… (Matthew 5.17)

You have heard …but I tell you… (vv.21-22)
You have heard …but I tell you… (vv.27-28)
It has been said …but I tell you… (vv.31-32)
…you have heard that it was said …But I tell you… (vv.33-34)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (vv.38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (vv.43-48)

Do you notice a pattern? Is it congruence with the First Covenant, or incongruence?

Whether God used war to punish or judge humanity in the First Covenant is irrelevant to the fact that God has, in these last days, revealed Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as the Lamb who conquers through self-sacrificial love. (Heb. 1.1-3; Rev. 5.12, 7.10, 12.11)

Flaw #2) The Assumption that the Revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible is Equal to Revelation of God in Jesus Christ

The Hebrew Bible, the Law and the First Covenant, point to Jesus—Jesus is revelation perfected. (Col. 2.17) The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is superior to the revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible—the Law and the Prophets—because Jesus is the "exact representation" of God's being—the final Word of God. (Heb. 1.1-3) In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Col. 1.19, 2.9)

Flaw #3) The Assumption that God's Judgment of Humans Permits or Prescribes Christian Judgment of Humans

Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by God directly (or indirectly)—with no mention of Jesus Christ I might add. Nowhere in this account is there any prescriptive or permissive application for disciples of Jesus Christ. God is humanity's Judge and is justified in requiring of a person his or her life. It does not follow, however, that this in any way exists as a command for Christ's followers to kill or even to do violence to human beings.

Disciples of Jesus Christ—that's us—are to "follow Jesus Christ." This is what it means to be his "disciples." Jesus suffered injustice, loved unconditionally, sacrificed his life for his enemies—this is our example to follow. (I Pet. 2.19-24) Jesus does not strike people dead, nor does he permit his disciples to even injure them. (Mt. 26.50-54)

God is humanity's Judge; disciples of Jesus Christ are forbidden judgment. (Mt. 7.1-2)

Flaw #4) The Assumption that God's Unchanging Nature Requires that God's Engagement of Humanity Must Not Change

God's essential nature is perfect and unchanging. (James 1.17) God can and does change how he engages humanity (e.g. "New" Covenant).

A change in God's engagement of humanity is not a change in God's essential nature. God's nature is free. Therefore, God can and has chosen to engage humanity in a "New" way in these last days. Namely, God has chosen to send Jesus Christ to be the Mediator of a "New" Covenant. (I Tim. 2.5; Heb. 9.15)

To recap:

1) The "New" Covenant is New—not a continuation of the First Covenant

2) Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God's nature—not the First Covenant

3) God is the Judge of humanity—disciples of Jesus Christ are expressly prohibited from judgment

4) God's essential nature is unchanging—God's engagement of humanity has changed radically in the New Covenant


  1. Would you look at that, a whole blog post dedicated to me, awesome!

    Tc, like I said, I've been poking around here for awhile now and hace, up until this point, refrained from jumping into the fray...you know extraneous debate and all. With that said, I'm not going to get into a long drawn out back and forth, but I would like you to address a couple things if you would be so kind.

    1. Could you please clarify your view of the Trinity. You mentioned that God, and God alone struck down Ananias and Sapphira, that Jesus had no hand in that action. Do you not beleive that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in the same?

    2. You will get no argument from me on the nature of our Lord. He is the "Prince of Peace" after all. However, how do you reconcile the Lord that preaches peace, with the God that "in righteousness He judges and makes war." in Revelation? Me, I have absolutely no problem accepting the fact that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit can and does exist in a dimension where both ideals are not only possible, but actually happen.

    I guess that's it. I appreciate your time and responses. Thanks and God bless.

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  3. Chris,

    Just to clarify: this is possibly where TC and I might differ on some of our interpretation.

    I would personally leave open the possibility that in the case of Ananias and Sapphira God very well may have struck them dead. I'm of the opinion that although man has no right to take life, God still does reserve the right to takes lives in complete justice and righteousness. However, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the scripture doesn't specify that God took their lives. It simply says, "When he heard this, he fell down and died." I suppose you could read this to mean any number of things. For instance, that Ananias was so grieved and ashamed of his sin that he died of a heart attack or something like that.

    As for Revelation: My understanding is that in the final judgement Jesus will lead a holy war against the devil as is depicted in Revelations 19. I believe that the only "holy" or permissible wars are those that God very literally leads, not because they are just or are for "good" reasons, but because God wills it. I don't believe we have seen a war like this since before Jesus time. I also have to leave open the possibility that Revelation makes reference to a spiritual warfare, since the book was written with the use of heavy metaphor.

    Either way, I wouldn't read Revelation as prescriptive. It wasn't written with the intention of teaching us how to live. I would suggest that it was instead written to give us confidence in God's eventual judgement and victory.

    TC, do you think we would disagree on these points?

    Thanks for your input!

  4. @Chris: First, to reduce the doctrine of the Trinity to—the three Persons of the Godhead are "one and the same" is far too simplistic, and unbiblical. The thee Persons of the Godhead indeed share one divine nature. Nevertheless, we are not permitted scripturally to evaporate the distinctiveness of the Three into One. The Trinity is unity and diversity. The Persons of the Godhead work together in redemption fulfilling distinct yet cooperative roles. Jesus Christ died on the cross to reconcile humanity to God, the Holy Spirit did not, the Father did not. Yet Hebrews tells us Jesus offered himself to God "through the eternal Spirit." (Heb. 9.14) Jesus Christ lived a life in the flesh that we are specifically called to emulate. The same cannot be said of the either the Father or the Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Person of the Godhead by whom we approach the Father through the Spirit. Scripture explicitly states that Jesus Christ is our example and we are commanded to be his disciples.

    Second, "war" in Revelation cannot be in any way equated to the wars of either the Hebrew Bible and especially not wars waged by nation-states in modern times. Neither can Revelation's war be used to justify war among human beings nor violence against human beings by disciples of Jesus Christ. This is simply a non-starter. God's "war" is utterly unlike any war we could or would wage. The weapons of divine warfare are not human. (II Cor. 10.4) Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. (Eph. 6.12)

    Finally, the matter of whether disciples of Jesus Christ are called to kill other human beings in war (or otherwise) is a matter that cannot be taken lightly. When Scripture warns us against involving ourselves in extraneous debate, I'm fairly certain matters of life and death—whether to kill others or not—based on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ are worthy of debate and should be discussed by his disciples. We should refrain from debating whether to celebrate holidays and eat certain foods, yes. Should we refrain from debating whether we should be faithful to the teachings of our Master—and what those teachings entail? No.

    @Tim: I'm not sure where you are seeing a strict disagreement in our views. Perhaps what you meant to say was that we might disagree in our interpretation of Acts 5. You are correct to point out that one needn't necessarily interpret Acts 5 to mean that God struck A & S down *directly*. Regardless of whether or not this particular passage demonstrates God's right to require human lives, the principle remains the same. God is Creator and therefore maintains rights over creation. As creatures, we do not. Our *view* is the same, whether we agree on God's role in the death of A & S or not. (BTW: I'm not entirely opposed to your interpretation. Perhaps it would be more precise for me to have said God was "at least indirectly involved in their deaths, even if God does not strike them down directly."