MT has responded to recent criticisms of his posts that I have interacted with here lately. I wish I could say that it has cleared matters up. It doesn’t. Secondly, MT doesn’t speak to whether or not his views are merely a republication of Lee Irons views — views for which Mr. Irons was brought to church court proceedings in the OPC.
All that aside, this post is dealing with how MT speaks about “the law.” We want to set support the idea that we are confused on this score precisely because MT’s writing is confusing.
MT writes here,
Are Christians Under the Ten Commandments?
“… the Ten Commandments are the centerpiece of a specific legal document, a covenant often referred to by theologians as the Mosaic Covenant and described in the New Testament simply as “the Law.” Neither Jews nor Christians have ever received them simply as a timeless statement of ethical principles, which is why Jews do not view the sabbath law as binding on Gentiles…”
From the same article a few paragraphs later,
“Even here, it is clear, it is the moral substance of the commandments that is viewed as binding on all people, not the Decalogue itself as given to Israel.“
So, the ten commandments are not a timeless statement of ethical principles which apply to all people but the timeless principles in the ten commandments (the moral substance of the ten commandments) are viewed as binding on all people.
Question — Where to we find the moral substance of the ten commandments written down? Epistemologically speaking, how are we to distinguish the kernal (moral substance) from the husk (ten commandments)?
“2) When scripture uses the word ‘law’ it ordinarily refers to the law given at Sinai, that is, the Mosaic Law, representative of the of the whole Mosaic Covenant as a unit, encompassing all three categories of what later theologians called the moral, ceremonial, and civil law.”
Here MT identifies “law” as with the whole Mosaic Covenant, including the moral law.
“3) Scripture decisively, explicitly, and repeatedly identifies the Ten Commandments as the Sinai (or Mosaic) covenant itself. The Ten Commandments were the “tablets of stone” placed in the ark of the covenant.”
Here we have an explicit identity of the Ten Commandments with the Mosaic covenant itself.
4) “Scripture never identifies the Ten Commandments in this way with the timeless, eternal moral law of God, despite the substantial degree of overlap between the two.”
Now we have scripture NOT identifying the ten commandments with the moral law, even though he says they “overlap”, whatever that means. Given that overlap likely means that there is consistency between the two the question remains, “By what standard do we determine what part of the ten commandments remains binding and what parts do not?”
5) “The New Testament writers decisively, explicitly, and repeatedly direct our attention from “the law” to Jesus, whether as the true fulfillment and interpreter of the law (Matthew); as the one who, in contrast to Moses as the giver of the law, brings grace and truth and directs his followers to “my commandments” (John); as the one who has made a new and “better” covenant and thereby rendered the old one “obsolete” (Hebrews); as the one who has fulfilled and abolished the law, creating in himself the new man (Paul).”
Now here we have the “law” which he previously identified with the whole Mosaic covenant, including the moral law, as being “abolished”. So that leads to his conclusion of just “following Jesus”.
Most recently MT offers,
Second, in my articles I carefully explained that when I refer to “the law” I am referring to the Sinai Covenant, or the law as a whole, which Scripture declares is represented by the Ten Commandments. When Question 91 declares that what is good “conforms to God’s law,” on the other hand, it is referring to the moral law.
MT is just wrong about HC q. 91. Question 91 is not appealing to a Moral Law that is distinct from the ten commandments. Ursinus in his commentary refers the reader to Ezekiel 20:19 as a proof text for Q. 91 at this point,
19 I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;
The context in Ezekiel makes it clear that the statutes in question are God’s ten commandments.
When we come to question 92 of the Heidelberg Catechism we see that Ursinus equates the moral law with the Decalogue. On page 496 (first full paragraph) we find,
“But the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned. God continually, no less now than formerly, requires both the regenerated and the unregenerated to render obedience to his law. This may be proven:
1.) From the end for which Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. This was that he might make us, who were delivered from sin and the curse of the law, that temples of God; and not that we should persist in sin and hatred of God.
2.) We are bound to render obedience and gratitude to God in proportion to the number and greatness of the benefits which he confers upon us. But those who are united to Christ by faith, receive from the hands of God more and greater benefits than all the others; for they do not merely enjoy, in common with others, the benefit and creation and preservation, but enjoy in addition to this the grace of regeneration and justification. Therefore we are more strongly bound to render obedience to the divine law than others, and that more after regeneration and justification than before.
3.) From the testimony of Scripture: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17) This is spoken, indeed, of the whole law, but with special reference to the moral law, which Christ has fulfilled in four respects…”
That HC q. 91 is not talking about some moral law that is distinct from the ten commandments is seen in question 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
“Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?”
As a side note it is interesting that HC 115 has it that we preach the ten commandments so closely with the purpose that we might be more conformed to the image of God, thus suggesting that there is a harmony between esteeming God’s law (ten commandments) and being conformed to God’s image.
So, in the spirit of collegiality I want to offer an attempt of what MT might be saying. MT might simply be affirming that the ten commandments are not to be absolutized apart from Christ for Christians in the new covenant. We agree. MT might also be simply saying that the provisional elements of the Mosaic covenant (what we call the Ceremonial law and the Civil law — general equity being maintained ) does not apply in the new covenant. If that is what he is doing then he is in the same stream as that of Reformed Theologians over generations. Yet, if that is what he is doing, he is most confusing in the doing of it. It seems to me that he is doing something other than this because of his ongoing insistence that we must realize that, in his words, “the Christian Life Is About Following Jesus, Not the Law”.
Reformed Theologians, while always agreeing that aspects of the Mosaic covenant have been fulfilled in Christ and so are not continuing, not very many Reformed theologians have been insistent on abstracting a Moral law that is distinct from the ten commandments. This is one aspect of MT that is curious. One wonders what the purpose of this move is? What advantage does it bring in interpreting scripture?