Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Importance and Difficulty of the Relationship between the Mosaic Law and the Christian

I was recently asked on a job application what I thought was the most controversial or difficult theological issue in Scripture. I decided that when Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley agree on something, I better listen.
Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the greatest theological mind America has produced, said, “There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ, as stating of the precise agreement and differences between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.”[1] John Wesley, commenting on the same topic, said: “Perhaps there are few subjects within the whole compass of religion so little understood as this.”[2]
As interpreters come to the text of the Old and New Testaments, they bring presuppositions; this is now a consensus among evangelical scholars. One presupposition is how the interpreter views the continuity and/or discontinuity of the Mosaic law with Christians. An exegete’s conclusion on this issue will affect how he interprets many passages in the New Testament; a theologian’s conclusion on this issue will affect many doctrines; an ethicist’s conclusion will affect many practical decisions he makes. Douglas Moo (one who favors discontinuity) said that a main reason that “Christians disagree about the place of the Mosaic law in the life of the believer [is] because the New Testament itself contains statements that appear to support opposite conclusions.”[3] Similarly, Ryken said: “Few things are more difficult to master than the biblical teaching about the law in its relationship to the gospel.”[4] Finally, Schoeps says that Paul’s view on the law is “the most intricate doctrinal issue in his theology.”[5]
Therefore, I’m going to write on one specific problem in the law-gospel problem: tithing. Many choose to tackle the issue of Sabbath … an issue I have also spent much time on. However, I believe tithing can serve as a good test case to discover if the theory of one’s law-gospel can be applied consistently. I plan on posting over the next few weeks some posts on historical views on tithing. This has been one of the most fascinating studies I’ve done in many years. The conclusions I came to shocked me. I hope you’ll find them interesting also.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, rev. and cor. Edward Hickman, vol. 1 (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1974), 465.
[2] Quoted in David A. Dorsey, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” JETS 34, no. 3 (1991): 322.
[3] Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Wayne G. Strickland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 319.
[4] Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 9.
[5] Hans J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (London: Lutterworth, 1961), 168.


Alan Bandy said...

Great stuff Dave! Your posts tend to be a bit too long for mass consumption, you may want to shorten them.

David A. Croteau said...

Point taken! Thanks.

ali said...

I'm just wondering where I can find the info you mentioned about 'the results might shock you'
thanks :)