The Eschatology of Hebrews 2:1-4:
A Theonomic Response
Lane G. Tipton
|1 The central tenet of theonomy is simple: civil magistrates in all ages and places prior to the consummation are morally obligated to enforce both the positive precepts and penal sanctions of Old Testament civil law found in the Pentateuch. For a good summary of the theonomic position, see Greg Bahnsen's By This Standard (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 341-350. For a more extended defense of the position, see Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1977); "M. G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply," Journal of Christian Reconstruction 5 (1979): 195-221; and No Other Standard (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991). Other theonomic literature appears in Rousas John Rushdoony's The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1973), and Gary North's Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, Texas: Institute of Christian Economics: 1990). Helpful critiques of the theonomic position can be found in M. G. Kline's incisive and probing analysis, "Comments on an Old-New Error," WTJ 41 (1978): 172-80, along with the helpful articles in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988).||"Civil law" is not "found
[only] in the Pentateuch." For example,
Gary North derives civil law against currency
debasement from Isaiah 1:22 ("Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with
water"). The New Testament refers to all of the Bible as "Law": In John 15:25
a Psalm fulfills a prophetic function but is still labeled "Law." In 1
Corinthians 14:21 the prophecy of Isaiah is called "Law," and in 1
Corinthians 14:34 an obscure reference to perhaps Genesis 3:16 (or some other historical
narrative) is called "Law." All Scripture is Law. Every
Word of God is Law.
Kline allowed his "Old-New Error" article to be published in the Westminster Theological Journal only with assurances from the editors of the Journal that Bahnsen would not be allowed to refute Kline's article in the pages of the same Journal. Bahnsen's reply to Kline appeared in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, and is listed at left. Kline concedes that Bahnsen's thesis is pretty much the view of Reformed Theology in general and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms in particular.
Before we continue replying to Tipton's article, here is
A Summary of "Theonomy"
|Greg Bahnsen wrote a book entitled, Theonomy
in Christian Ethics.
He summarizes the book in this way:
The terms of the Old Covenant included God's Law as the foundation of the coming New Covenant. The relationship between the two Testaments is not adversarial. The Old Covenant predicted that the New Covenant age would be a Theonomic age:
"'. . . that He may teach us about His ways
An argument can be made that the term "judgments" refers to "civil sanctions." They clearly were not to be done away with in the New Covenant. The very purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit was to empower the saints of God to resist the idolatries of Empire in obedience to God's Law! The New Testament confirms that the distinctive mark of the New Covenant believer would be his changed heart, with the statutes of God written upon it, even as the prophet Jeremiah had spoken:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel after those days, saith the LORD; I will put my laws into their mind and write them upon their hearts. And I will be to them a God and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for all shall know me from the least to the greatest.
This is Theonomy. Covenantal continuity.
Jesus did not come to abrogate the Old Testament; He came to purify it (in opposition to Pharisaical distortions) and put its intentions into force (Matthew 5, esp. vv. 17-20) by empowering His People to obediently fulfill its promises.
These passages establish prima facie the Theonomic thesis. We should assume that "the Scriptures" (as Paul wrote to Timothy) are still the authoritative Word of God and morally obligate believers today. Having set forth a prima facie case, the burden of proof now shifts to the opponent of Theonomy to prove that God's Commandments in "the Scriptures" ("the Old Testament") in have been annulled or destroyed, and that the only force they have is in their repetition in that part of the Scriptures known as "the New Testament." (Technically, everyone who wrote or was written about in the pages of "the New Testament" was living in "the last days" of the Old Covenant.)
The Theonomic thesis acknowledges that the New Testament has definitely qualified many Old Testament laws, most notably the laws concerning animal sacrifices. There are no more temple sacrifices, no more Levitical priesthood (and there never will be again), and the New Testament explains why (e.g., in the book of Hebrews).
In some cases we don't even need the New Covenant to tell us that some Old Testament laws are no longer letter-applicable: the Old Testament itself tells us about the dramatic change of priesthood that was to occur with the coming of the Messiah; many laws would someday obligate no more. As Bahnsen puts it,
Of course, in a sense, all of the Old Testament Laws are still binding upon us. For example, we are still responsible to bring before God the blood of a sacrificial lamb. But we also know that that Lamb is Christ (John 1:29). It makes sense, then, to expect, for example, that most of the Old Testament laws concerning the shedding of blood find their satisfaction in Christ.
The difference between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant is not the Standard of Righteousness, but the priestly path to forgiveness of sins (violations of that Standard), and the Spiritual ability we have to obey it (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:27; Jeremiah 31: 31-34 + Hebrews 8:8-13; Romans 8:3-5 + Ephesians 4:13).
|Here is how Bahnsen summarizes the Theonomic thesis in his book No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics (another version of this summary is in the 2nd edition of Theonomy, and it has been published in numerous other works by Bahnsen):|
|This is really pretty standard Reformed ethics.
It should be surprising that "Theonomic ethics" should be at all controversial in
evangelical circles. But evangelicals can be pretty worldly. By far the most popular
objection to Theonomy comes from those who do not want to be considered
"homophobic" by their peers, followed by those who are disturbed by the fact that
adultery demanded the same response as murder. Watch the column at left to see if there is
any indication in the book of Hebrews that God's moral standard is being relaxed in any way
under the New Covenant.
The bulk of Bahnsen's lengthy treatise on Theonomy does not discuss politics or civil government, but only the basic concept of the abiding validity of the Old Testament generally. Indeed, the section which does address politics is called "Application of the Thesis to the State" (p. 315). Bahnsen's particular application of Theonomy to the State is not the Theonomic thesis itself, but only an "application of the thesis." Ditto for applications made by R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North.
Bahnsen writes in his summary volume, By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today,
Leaders of the "Christian Reconstruction" movement have had their disagreements on the application of the Theonomic thesis. Rushdoony and North disagreed to such an extent that they weren't even talking to each other! Bahnsen disagreed with Rushdoony on several issues. Based on the Theonomic thesis, I personally do not believe in "capital punishment" for any crime. That might surprise many opponents of Theonomy, who assume that "Theonomy" means nothing if not the execution of homosexuals. With regard to summary point #11 above, I have raised the question, based on some comments by James B. Jordan, about the concept of "civil law" or "judicial law." I'm inclined to think there is only "moral law" and "ceremonial law." But this is consistent with the overall Theonomic thesis.
There are many misunderstandings of Theonomy floating around the Internet these days. Consider this law:
Here is a non-Theonomist claiming that
The explanation is made that in Old Testament Israel, people often had flat roofs and entertained friends on their roofs. A "parapet" or fence was required so that people wouldn't fall off the roof. But, it is said, we don't live in "Old Testament Israel," so this law is no longer binding.
This is confused, non-legal thinking. If your roof is flat and you entertain people on your roof, you are required by this "Old Testament" law to have a rail or other safety fixture. If you don't, and one of your invited guests falls off the roof, you are obligated to pay their medical bills. If you live in an A-Frame cabin, and there is no reasonable expectation that anyone will be walking around on your roof, no "parapet" is required by this law in Deuteronomy 22:8. The law is "binding" when it applies. The Bible does not require you to have a safety fence around an area where no human beings ever go.
The article at left is another example of inaccurate, non-legal thinking, though dressed up with more footnotes and fifty-cent words than our blogger above.
|Here is the question
being posed by this article:
Should Christians attempt to exert an influence over civil officials to persuade these officials to observe God's Law (Theonomy)?
Stated another way, If a civil official is converted to Christianity, should he implement Biblical Law in his capacity as a civil official?
Or try this: You are born into a nation governed by a hereditary monarchy. In fact, you are born the next monarch. Should you consider yourself obligated to obey the Scriptures as Timothy was obligated, including laws that would apply to your kingdom?
The article at left answers No.
Psalm 72 would have been part of "the Scriptures" of which Paul spoke to Timothy. In that passage God commands "Theonomic Theocracy." Does the article at left prove that Hebrews 2 abrogates that kind of "theocratic" thinking? That's the big question in a nutshell. I think it's obvious Hebrews 2 doesn't even begin to try to answer that question.
|Here is the text with a
It should be fairly easy to read the first two chapters of Hebrews and ask, "If I were a civil magistrate, would I read this passage as a command to release all criminals from temporal sanctions?" The answer is No. That's not the purpose of the text.
|Here's is Bahnsen's rebuttal to Tipton's argument as it was advanced a few years ago by another writer:|
|Has the New Testament Revoked the Sanction
Against Apostasy? (Hebrews 2, 10)
Greg L. Bahnsen, NO OTHER STANDARD - THEONOMY AND ITS CRITICS, Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991, pp. 177-180.
At one place in his monograph, [Lewis] Neilson does offer an attempt to find a more specific Biblical repeal of the selected "religious" offenses mentioned in his critique. Since this is the sort of counterargument to the theonomic position which alone can succeed, if any can, it is incumbent upon us to give it due analysis and reflection. Has Neilson presented a divine authorization in Scripture for an exception to the general validity of Old Testament laws or penal sanctions - that is, a New Testament revocation for part of God's law?
Neilson first contends that in Hebrews 2:2-3 and 10:28ff. "there is some plausible intimation that Moses' law for apostasy has been repealed." He construes the passages "as contrasting a former temporal judgment for violating the Old Testament law with a now far greater judgment at the great day for neglecting the finally revealed salvation in Christ"; the punishment for apostasy has now been "relegated to the eternal." These two passages in Hebrews, according to Neilson, teach that a particular sin which used to be given civil punishment is no longer to be punished in that way, but now awaits only eternal condemnation. The particular sin in mind is that of "rejecting Christ," "apostatizing from Christ," or "neglecting the ... salvation in Christ" -- although Neilson would need to speak of the Old Testament analog in somewhat different words. It would appear that these two passages in Hebrews could be made to teach what Neilson claims only by numerous alterations or misconceptions.
In the first place, Neilson either does not properly understand the Old Testament penal sanction for apostasy, or else he conflates two separate matters when he speaks of apostasy receiving divergent treatment in Old and New Testaments. What is the apostasy in view in Hebrews? It is a change of belief and commitment, a retraction of profession, and a forsaking of the assembly - and all of this as centered on the messianic person and work of Jesus. What is important to observe is that the Old Testament law did not assign civil sanctions for this kind of sin in the first place. When we speak of the civil punishment of "apostasy" in the Old Testament, we are not speaking merely of a shift in religious conviction but of political defection from, or subversion of, the law order of Israel's society by renouncing its highest authority through acts of public idolatry. But the specific kind of sin mentioned in Hebrews 2 and 10 did not receive civil punishment in the Old Testament any more than it does in the New.
Moreover, the civil crime and sanction on public idolatry from the Old Testament is not particularly mentioned in the relevant Hebrews passages. The broader denotation in Hebrews 2:2 is "every transgression and offense"; in Hebrews 10:29 the object is generally "the law of Moses" (with an indirect allusion, perhaps, to Deut. 17 in particular). If Neilson's interpretation were correct, then, the Hebrews passages would end up teaching the substitution of eternal damnation for the civil sanctions of every punishable offense in the Mosaic law - which clearly reduces the interpretation to absurdity. Since the Old Testament civil sanction and the sin dealt with in Hebrews pertain to different things, and since Hebrews does not focus on the civil sanction for public idolatry anyway, the Hebrews passages appealed to by Neilson simply do not say that Old Testament civil sanctions for a particular sin have been laid aside, so that punishment for this same sin has now been relegated to the eternal. The contrast regarding a single sin or sanction is just not there in the text.
The Hebrews passages do not say anything about a change of penal policy, nor do they say that the civil sanctions of the Mosaic law used to be followed in the past, but no longer should be. All of this is simply read into the text by Neilson. There is no suggestion of substitution of standards in the text; actually such a notion is denied by the text. Neilson tells us that these verses teach eternal damnation in the place of (previous) civil punishment -- "relegated to the eternal." But, again, we know that eternal punishment from the hand of God was not a liability or threat absent from the Old Testament; criminals were punished by the civil magistrate and by God after death. So the New Testament does not assign eternal punishment in the place of an Old Testament penal picture devoid of eternal jeopardy. Moreover, Hebrews 2 and 10 do not present the substitution of exclusively eternal punishment for Old Testament civil sanctions. The notion of cancellation and restriction and the notion of replacement are missing in these passages.
To the contrary, what we find is an a fortiori argument which builds from a lesser point to a greater one. Hebrews argues that we need to give "greater heed" today, for if even the (lesser) law demanded just recompense for offenses, the (greater) gospel will all the more do so - there will be no escape from God's wrath (2:1-3). Hebrews 10:29 makes the a fortiori thrust of the thought even plainer, beginning with the words "of how much worse punishment will be thought worthy...." So the Old Testament civil penalties are not being set aside but rather established by this line of thought - established as the premised foundation for the justice and inevitability of eternal punishment for apostates. It is precisely because those (lesser) civil sanctions are valid and just that one must see that the (greater) eternal sanction will be valid and just. The eternal is not put in place of the civil; it is argued on the basis of the civil! If the civil sanctions could be mitigated or set aside in any way, one might perhaps hope that the eternal penalty might also be avoided; if the civil sanctions were somewhat arbitrarily harsh, then perhaps the threat of eternal damnation might turn out to be likewise overstated. But the author of Hebrews takes away all such false hopes. God's penalties are never unjust or set aside, even in the civil sphere - in every case they specified a "just recompense" (Heb. 2:2) which any criminal had to endure "without mercy" (Heb. 10:28). If this is true of God's civil code, how much more will it be true of His eternal judgment! It will justly and without mercy condemn the apostate. So the point in Hebrews builds upon, rather than replaces, the civil sanctions of the Old Testament. If those civil sanctions could he removed, as Neilson suggests, then the argument of the author of Hebrews would actually fall to the ground! Apostates might have some hope after all.
It should also be pointed out that Hebrews 2:2 begins by asserting that "the word spoken through angels" - that is, the Mosaic law (cf. Deut. 33:1ff; Ps. 68:17; Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19) - was steadfast. The Greek word for this attribute (bebaios) and its cognates is used both in Biblical and secular literature of the period for something which does not lapse, which is permanent, which has secure validity; one ought not to challenge the binding character of something which is bebaios. It is firm and legally guaranteed (see Moulton & Milligan, and Arndt & Gingrich). The word connotes the surety of God's word in the very next verse of Hebrews (2:3), as well as in Romans 4:16; 15:8; 2 Peter 1:19; Philippians 1:7; and Hebrews 6:16 (c£ 9:17). The Mosaic law, according to Hebrews 2:2 then, has a firm and legally guaranteed character; it is steadfast and permanent. Interestingly, the offender spoken of in Hebrews 10:28 is one who "sets aside" the law of Moses. The Greek word (atheteo, and cognates) speaks of removing something by annulment, attempting to thwart the validity of something, or nullifying it - for instance, invalidating a will (Gal 3:15), breaking a pledge (I Tim. 5:12), or setting aside the commandment of God by following a contrary tradition (Mark 7:9). While God may annul His particular commandment (Heb. 7:18), men are condemned for treating God's laws as invalid by breaking them (Ezek. 22:26, LXX). Hebrews 10:28 is something of a threat to those who would not recognize or keep the laws of Moses, particularly (in this instance) those laws whose violation brought the death penalty. The two verses to which Neilson has gone to show that certain penal sanctions in the Mosaic law have been repealed begins, therefore, by asserting an entirely contrary thought - that the law is legally guaranteed or steadfast in its validity, and that setting aside the Mosaic law or treating it as nullified is a dangerous thing. From such a platform it is not likely that the passages will proceed to repeal the law's provisions!
|Watch to see if Tipton does any better than Nielson.|
IntroductionThe book of Hebrews functions as a parenesis to a group of Jewish Christians tempted to revert to the ceremonial externalism of the Old Covenant. Building upon prior argumentation designed to vindicate the superiority of Christ over angels (1:5-14),2 the pericope under investigation (2:1-4) warns of the consequences which follow if any ignore such a great salvation announced and attested by the ascended Christ (and his apostles).
A "parenesis" is an "exhortation."
"Ceremonial externalism" is expressly prohibited by the Old Covenant.
|2 More specifically, the argument shows that the Son's role as Mediator of the New Covenant both fulfills and surpasses the angels' role as mediators of the Old Covenant. Thus, the argument moves from a typological form of covenant administration in the Old Covenant, which was meditated by angels, to an eschatological form of covenant administration in the New Covenant, which is mediated by the Son. The movement from a typological to an eschatological kingdom (i.e., the movement from typology to semi-realized eschatology) is the fundamental theological perspective articulated in the book of Hebrews.||The Book of Hebrews is about the Mediator. It
is not really about Theonomy (God's Law). We learn that the priesthood changes from
Levitical to that of Melchizedek, and so the priestly laws change, as the Old Covenant
specified they would (Psalm 110:1,4). But there is nothing in Hebrews that suggests that
God's social laws will be relaxed. If anything, Hebrews says they will be intensified.
This footnote is hoping that the word "eschatology" will carry a lot more weight than it actually will. The argument being made is that God's social laws (laws obligating society as a collective, specifically applied by any magistrates or political officials) were "typological" of eternal punishment in the "eschaton." The reader might anticipate that this refers to life after death or after the consummation of human history, but the article is slippery, and wants to argue that consummated eternal life is now "semi-realized," and therefore all the social laws found in the Bible are non-operative.
Why is the movement only "semi-realized?" Is Christ not really, or only partially, our Mediator?
There are three levels of eschatology, which are confused by Tipton's article:
The presence of (2) or (3) does not abrogate the responsibility of the civil magistrate to attend to (1).
|The first warning appears in the Old Covenant period, which was mediated through angels, and was accompanied by temporal (i.e., typological)3 sanctions (v. 2).|
|The second warning appears in the New Covenant period, which is mediated through Christ, and was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit (vv. 2-3). Both warnings have an eschatological focus, that is, both warn of eternal judgment against acts of covenantal apostasy. The warning of the Old Covenant occurs as "every disobedience and transgression" receives an immediate recompense; but the warning of the New Covenant threatens a future consequence which obtains if a person rejects such a "great salvation."||False antithesis.
The warning of the Old Covenant was also a future consequence.
The warning of the New Covenant threatens a future consequence, but there is no evidence (thus far) that an "immediate recompense" was excluded or prohibited from those who would have applied such in the Old Covenant.
3 By typological, I mean simply a temporal feature which points beyond itself to an eternal reality.
|Watch to see if Tipton proves that the focus is "eternal judgment," which presumably means something only or "wholly" after death, in the next life.|
|In other words, eschatological or final judgment—the climax of covenant history—provides the ultimate focus in both the Old and New Covenant warnings. The real puzzle in the pericope appears in vv. 2-3 and requires careful explanation. Precisely what is involved in the marked shift from the Old Covenant sanctions, which punished every disobedience and made punishment a present reality to the apostate members of the Old Covenant community (v. 2), to the announcement of such a "great salvation," which places punishment in the future for the hearers who reject the message (v. 3)? This essay will attempt to answer that central question.||
As stated above, there are actually three judgments.
To a Theonomist, the book of Hebrews sounds very Theonomic:
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This is not the relaxing, or annulment of God's Law. Just as Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount intensified and clarified Theonomic requirements ("You have heard it said ... but I say unto you...."), so does the letter to the Hebrews.
|For pedagogical purposes, we will examine the warnings from three distinct, yet interconnected, points of reference: (1) the Old Covenant; (2) the New Covenant; and (3) the Consummation. To be precise, consummate judgment is the focus in each covenantal order; nevertheless, a three-fold division will help us see the different way in which the Old and New Covenant penalties relate to the consummate judgment against covenant apostasy.||Jewish rejection of Jesus as Christ was arguably
an "apostasy" from the religion of Abraham.
In the book of Hebrews we see that God's social judgment (Deut. 28/Lev.26) was imminent. Not an individual "penal sanction." but a covenantal judgment upon the Jewish (Christ-repudiating) nation as a whole.
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of living in "the last days" of the Old Covenant, and only believers in Christ would be "saved" from the imminent society-wide judgment of those Jews who refused to enter into God's New Covenant rest. This judgment would occur in just a few years, culminating the fiery destruction of the temple in AD 70. God's Judgment of those who rejected His Son would also be the termination of the Old Covenant temple era.
Notice these examples of imminent social judgment in "the last days" of the Old Covenant when Christ's salvation is fully revealed as the temple scaffolding of the Old Covenant is burned up:
The coming of the "Eschatological Jesus" meant the coming of Theonomic Judgment on His enemies.
After developing the argument from the text of Hebrews 2:1-4, we will then examine the problems the text poses for the theonomic thesis. In particular, we will examine the problems in Greg Bahnsen's exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4, and explore the bearing of the semi-realized eschatology of the passage on the theonomic thesis as a whole.
The Warning From the Old Covenant (v. 2)
|We can summarize the first warning along three interrelated lines of thought. The warning derives from the Old Covenant period, which was mediated through angels, and accompanied by temporal (i.e., typological) sanctions. For purposes of clarity, let us take each of the three points in turn, beginning with the Old Covenant period as the redemptive historical context for the first warning.||Watch as you read to see if the "temporal = typological" equation is proven; that is, "exclusively typological" in a way that transgresses Jesus' Theonomic mandate in Matthew 5:17-20.|
|We can see the need to begin this section of argumentation
(Heb. 2:1-4) by an appeal to the Old Covenant for at least two reasons.
First of all, the heart of the problem which the hearers face consists in a temptation to revert to Old Covenant externalism, instead of continuing in the New Covenant substance which has arrived in the Son. Given this context, an appeal to the Old Covenant period would find special receptivity in the recipients of the epistle.
Second, the argument up to Hebrews 2 consists in a forceful presentation which takes for granted the authority of the Old Covenant revelation, but attempts to prove that Christ both fulfills and transcends that revelation. Christ is the eschatological Son who speaks a definitive word which the prophets of old could not speak (Heb. 1:1-2); and he is the ascended Lord who will return to renew the heavens and earth, something no angel or group of angels could conceive of accomplishing (1:5-14).4 Therefore, given the nature of the temptation facing the hearers and the structure of the argument up to the point of chapter 2, it seems quite natural to expect a reference to the Old Covenant.
"externalism" doesn't sound like it's a good thing. What exactly is it? We saw the word above, without any clear definition, and here it is again, but this is the last time we see the word in this essay, though the concept may remain. What, exactly, is the concept? Sacrificing a lamb to God rather than trusting in the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God? This is a thoroughly Theonomic concept.
Watch for the proof that the writer to the Hebrews is "attempting to prove" that crimes need not be punished in this age.
No Theonomist denies that the revelation and authority of Christ is greater than any thing in the Old Covenant. To say "the New Covenant is more glorious than the Old Covenant" is a thoroughly Theonomic thing to say, and does not in any way establish an anti-Theonomic conclusion.
4 See Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1956), 18.
|We see further confirmation that the redemptive historical epoch in view is the Old Covenant, as well as proof for our second point regarding the mediation of angels, by virtue of the reference to o di' angelon laletheis logos (2:2a). References to Deuteronomy 33:2, Psalm 68:17, Acts 7:38, and Galatians 3:19 confirm the notion that angels played some role in the mediation of the Old Covenant.5 Note also that the divine passive laletheis ensures that God is still the speaker, but di' angelon shows the mediated character of God's speech through the agency of angels.6||God's angels were guardians over Israel, while
"the nations" were guarded by fallen
angels, who nevertheless ultimately took orders from God. These are the "higher
powers" in Romans 13, over whom Christ
Note: God is still the speaker. This means we're talking about the Word of God.
God's Law was mediated through angels in the Old Covenant, and through Christ in the New. This premise cannot lead to the conclusion that what Christ said in Matthew 5:17-20 is not valid.
Lane, Hebrews 1-8 WBC (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1991).
6 Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977), 74. Grammatically, di' angelon is a genitive of agency.
|In particular, we learn that the message mediated through angels proved bebaios. This term can mean sure, reliable, steadfast, legally binding, or certain. In juridical contexts, the term acquires a decidedly legal sense. William Lane notes the "most striking feature of v. 2 is the accumulation of juridical expressions ('proved legally valid,' 'every infringement and disobedience,' 'received appropriate punishment')."7 Therefore, added to this Old Covenant arrangement mediated by angels is the idea that it is legally valid and binding on those under its authority.||This sounds fairly theonomic.|
|7 Op. cit., 37.|
|Notice also that the sense in which the word spoken through angels is legally binding finds elucidation in the following clause: "and every violation (parabasis) and disobedience (parakoe) received a just punishment (endikon misthapodosian)" (2b). The first conjunction in the second clause (kai) is used to demonstrate a general-specific relationship between the clause in 2a and the clause in 2b. In other words, the legally binding character of the word spoken through angels finds specific substantiation in the imposition of temporal sanctions.||Theonomic|
|Therefore, we have shown that the first warning derives from the Old Covenant, which was mediated through angels and accompanied by temporal sanctions. We have spent only a short amount of space developing this stage of the argument because it is preliminary to the main thesis and uncontroversial for most readers. Therefore, let us move on to the next stage of the argument, where we develop the typological character of the temporal sanctions, which foreshadow impending eternal sanctions.||Is there anyone in the history of commentary on the book of Hebrews who has claimed that the "first warning" derives from anything other than the Old Covenant? "uncontroversial" indeed.|
|So far, there is no proof (no argument at all, really) that anything in the Old Testament which was "typological" was not also temporal and therefore still obligatory today.|
The Warning from the Consummation (v. 3a)
|Let us now examine the second warning which derives from the consummation, finds expression in both the Old and New Covenants, and will be accompanied by inescapable and eternal sanctions. We will begin by an analysis of the specific way in which Old Covenant sanctions typify the eternal sanctions of final judgment.||Old Covenant sanctions typified final judgment. Yet they were still imposed by civil authorities. Why should God's commandments not be the standard for civil authorities today?|
|In 2:3 the writer shows us the redemptive historical function of the judicial penalties in the Old Covenant (Mosaic) period. As the apodosis8 of the conditional begun in v. 2, 2:3a shows us the proper inference to draw from the presence of temporal, judicial penalties in the Old Covenant, i.e., the inescapability of eternal sanctions against apostasy from the covenant. Inherent in the structure of redemptive history is the dynamic of an Old Covenant type designed to communicate something about its counterpart, the eschatological anti-type. We see such a pattern begun in 1:1-2 regarding the Son as the eschatological prophet, whose office both builds upon and transcends its Old Covenant analogue. This pattern informs the general hermeneutic of the entire book of Hebrews,9 and we see the same hermeneutic applied to the judicial sanctions in the Old Covenant.||The argument that seems to be emerging here is
that "temporal" judicial penalties in the Old Covenant were "types" of the
"eternal sanctions" we will receive
Of course, those penalties spoke of "eternal sanctions" even in the Old Covenant period -- that doesn't mean they weren't to be applied during that period.
Beyond that, is Tipton saying that there are no temporal consequences to sin in this life because all sanctions are postponed for eternity? Really?
|8 The apodosis is roughly the second part of an "if, then" statement. Hence, the apodosis corresponds to the "then" segment of the "if, then" statement.||"parenesis" didn't get a footnote, but "apodosis" does. Go figure.|
|9 This hermeneutical dynamic clearly operates in Hebrews 1:1-2, 8:5, 9:24, and 10:1.|
|Becoming more specific, we see that the idea of escape (ekpheuzometha) becomes future as opposed to a present or past reality.10 This is a significant point, because the future tense suggests that the truth communicated by the judicial sanctions has eschatological implications for the recipients. If the sanctions alluded to in v. 2 are operative in the present situation in the same way that they operated in the Old Covenant situation, then the context would require a present (customary, present-extending-from-past, gnomic) use of ekpheugo. The logic of the argument would then run as follows: if every disobedience received a just reward in the Old Covenant, and the sanctions are more rigidly and effectively applicable today, then you have no hope of escape at this present time. However, the author argues the Old Covenant sanctions mentioned in 2:2 serve a typological and pedagogical function regarding a wholly future consequence which obtains if a person rejects the gospel of Christ. That is the force of the future tense of ekpheugo.||Why is the penalty for rejecting Christ "wholly" future? Even if they are future, what evidence is there that the sanctions are wholly eternal, rather than covenantal/social at the soon coming "days of vengeance?"|
|10 ekpheuzometha (cf. v. 3) is a future active indicative, used in a predictive sense.|
|Confirming this argument, we see at the end of 2:1 that we must not "drift away"11 into apostasy. In other words, the contrast in view turns on the fact that apostasy in the Old Covenant received immediate retribution in terms of temporal sanctions. But apostasy in the New Covenant receives delayed retribution in terms of eternal sanctions which emerge at the climax of covenant history.12 The very fact that we can drift away from our covenantal commitments assumes that a disanalagous situation obtains between the Old and New Covenants, since in the Old Covenant order every violation (including drifting away) received an immediate temporal sanction which proved inescapable. In fact, if the Old Covenant sanctions are intended to apply in the same way in the New Covenant as in the Old Covenant, drifting away into apostasy would not be possible without incurring a more swift, certain, and immediate punishment than we find in the Old Covenant period. Therefore, the a fortiori force of the argument cannot refer to the present application of temporal sanctions; the text simply will not allow such an interpretation.||There are several problems here.
First, the sin described in Hebrews 2:1 does not describe any crime in the Old Covenant which was punished by the civil magistrate.
Second, even if it did, that does not mean that the Roman magistrate followed the Old Covenant "judicial law." The Jews believed Jesus deserved to be executed based on Old Covenant law, but the Jews could not act as magistrate, which is why they appealed to the Roman magistrate. There is nothing in the New Covenant which prohibits civil magistrates from following any Old Covenant laws which might apply to the sin described in Hebrews 2:1. That Rome did not do so proves nothing about what God requires of magistrates.
But in fact, Hebrews is teaching imminent retribution in the lifetime of the readers. This is the retribution prophesied in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. It is not the same thing as the individual "penal sanctions" meted out by civil officials.
Eternal punishment does not abrogate civil punishment of individual offenders in their
|11 mepote pararyomen is a hortatory subjunctive which is accordingly used for exhortation. The aorist is a constative which views the action as a whole in summary fashion (cf. Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 753.||How is this footnote logically necessary for this argument against Theonomy?|
|12 We need to note that we are dealing in Hebrews 2:1-4 with eschatological sanctions in relation to typological sanctions. The hermeneutic which Hebrews 2:1-4 assumes will require in principle that the Old Covenant sanctions cannot apply in the New Covenant in the same way that they did in the Old Covenant. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 5 confirm this hermeneutic and provide further corroboration against the theonomic error of a presumed continuation of the Old Covenant sanctions as normative for common grace magistrates. In fact, 1 Corinthians 5 (see v. 5) understands discipline in the church in non-theocratic categories (i.e., no death penalty) on account of the fact that Jesus will administer ultimate death sanctions (if repentance is lacking) on the last day.||This footnote, on the other hand, contains
virtually the entire argument against Theonomy, but simply asserts the argument
rather than proving it and its many presuppositions.
"Common grace magistrates" seems to refer to non-Christian magistrates. The Theonomist believes that non-Christian magistrates have a duty to repent and become Christian magistrates, and conform their exercise of magisterial power to God's commandments for civil magistrates. Does the letter to the Hebrews in any way contradict that conclusion?
|We can find an additional line of confirmation of the same point in Hebrews 10:26-29. Continuation in deliberate sin has as its outcome "a certain terrifying expectation (ekdoche) of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume (esthiein mellontos) the adversaries" (10:27). What is the redemptive historical precedent which grounds the certainty of this terrifying display of God's justice against his adversaries? Verse 28 provides the answer: "Anyone who set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or more witnesses." In other words, the Old Covenant, Mosaic death sanctions typify and anticipate the eschatological manifestation of God's righteous judgment against his enemies. The eschatological (i.e., climactic and eternal) focus of the New Covenant death sanction appears in the next verse, where the writer asks rhetorically, "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved (axiothesetai) by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?"(10:29). Notice the future tense of axiothesetai plays a key role in the a fortiori force of the argument.13 The significance is obvious: if apostasy occurs under the New Covenant, it will merit a future, eschatological sanction which will consume the adversary. Hence, the death sanctions under the Old Covenant anticipate and typify the New Covenant analogue—the eternal anti-type which remains future and coincides with Christ's parousia (cf. Heb. 9:28).||
Hebrews 10The subject of this passage is not judgment by civil magistrates, but rather the imminent judgment of God upon "this generation." This passage in no way suggests that non-Christian magistrates who convert to Christianity should begin following God's Law instead of pagan law. This passage in no way suggests that Christians should not attempt to influence pagan magistrates to obey God's Law (Theonomy).
Tipton concedes that civil judgments in the Old Covenant typified eternal punishments. Tipton never proves that the New Covenant only has eternal punishments but no temporal civil judgments.
|13 Future, passive, indicative from axioo, which means to count worthy or deserve.|
|Even more directly, the same thought emerges in Hebrews 12:25-29. A protasis14 which begins in 25b grounds the warning in 25a. The connecting gar introduces the conditional as proof for the warning and reads: "For if those did not escape (ouk exephugon) when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less shall we escape him who warns from heaven?" The warning from heaven points forward to a time when "once again I will shake not only the earth, but the heavens" (12:26). That the "shaking" in view is final and therefore eschatological is obvious from v. 27: "And this expression, 'Yet once more,' denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things." Hence, the sort of judgment which will occur if a person refuses the one who warns from heaven coincides with the shaking of all things created, that is, the consummate judgment. Hence, it is obvious that the Old Covenant warnings prefigure the eschatological warning of the New Covenant; the former is provisional and preparatory, while the latter is final and eschatological.||
The "shaking" of Israel took place in AD 70. The Kingdom of God was taken from one nation and given to another (a holy nation, 1 Peter 2:5,9) bearing the fruit thereof (Matthew 21:43).
The sin is greater in the New Covenant. Why is the punishment relaxed? Why no civil punishment at all? Which verse of Scripture really proves Tipton's point?
|14 The protasis (roughly) is the first part of the "if, then" statement. Hence, the protasis corresponds to the "if" side of the "if, then" statement.||Another gratuitous footnote. "parenesis" didn't get a footnote, but "protasis" does.|
|From these observations it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the consummate judgment against covenant breakers is clearly in view from the vantage point of Old Covenant revelation. Old Covenant death sanctions warned against apostasy by applying provisional, temporal sanctions which anticipate on a typological level the corresponding eternal and climactic sanction coterminous with the consummation, from which the apostate can find no escape.||It was "hard to avoid" the conclusion
even without Tipton's observations.
The fact that stoning murderers might be typological of hell did not mean that murderers didn't get executed in the Old Covenant, nor does it logically follow that murderers should not be executed today, and dispatched to hell (or whatever judgment awaits them).
The fact that the hand of God's judgment against national apostasy was warned against (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; AD70) does not logically relate to the execution of murderers by civil magistrates.
|We still have no proof (or even a sustained argument) that temporal sanctions in the Old Testament (which also prefigured eternal sanctions) are not to be imposed today.|
The Warning from the New Covenant (vv. 3b-4)
|The contrast between the warning of the Old and New Covenant is striking indeed. The Old Covenant situation warns against apostasy by virtue of an appeal to typological sanctions, which prefigure eternal judgment. However, the New Covenant announces the same eternal judgment, but in a different way. The New Covenant warns against apostasy by referring to a great salvation telikautes . . . soterias (2:3a). This is clear from the context that the inability to escape stems from a disregarding (amelesantes) of such a great salvation. In other words, the impossibility of escape finds its a fortiori force from the emergence of eschatological salvation on the horizon of redemptive history.15||Still no proof at all, or even an attempted argument, that civil authorities in the New Covenant should not follow God's Law, which in the Old Covenant also typified eternal judgment. The clearer revelation of God's great salvation would seem to intensify rather than relax God's standards of judgment. Tipton is arguing for a relaxation of temporal judgments. But on what basis?|
15 Cf. Hebrews 9:12, which makes clear the eternal and therefore eschatological character of the salvation in view.
|Here is Hebrews 9:12:
No doubt, revelation of God's salvation was greater in the New Covenant than the Old, and so judgment was harsher and more certain. But how does this verse teach a civil magistrate not to punish crimes?
|Notice, then, that we see a radical transition from the Old Covenant focus on typological sanctions to the New Covenant focus on a "great salvation." What is the basis for such a transition? 3b tells us that this salvation "was first announced by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard." We will now explore the nature of the warning from the standpoint of the New Covenant in regard to the certainty and inescapability of the wholly future, eternal sanction which awaits all apostates and covenant breakers. The analysis will lead us directly into the warning threatened in the New Covenant period, which is mediated by Christ, and was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, apostolic revelation, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit.||"Focus" is subjective. See John M.
Frame's critique of "emphasis."
Where did Tipton ever prove that sanctions against sin are now "wholly future?" Go back here and read his article again. The proof is not there.
|Returning to the question regarding the transition from the Old Covenant focus on the typological sanctions to the New Covenant focus on a great salvation, we need first to determine the rationale for such a transition. As we noted earlier, the transition begins when the salvation archen labousa laleisthai dia tou kyriou upo ton akousanton . . . . (2:3b). Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes notes that "in verse 2 o di' angelon laletheis logos is precisely matched by etis archen labousa leleisthai dia tou kyriou. In both cases laletheis and laleisthai are divine passives,"16 indicating that it is God who speaks on both occasions. Therefore, God has spoken once through angels, and at another time through the Lord.17||Christ never spoke a word that indicated that civil magistrates should stop punishing sins as they were commanded in the Old Covenant. What Christ the Lord said is that those who teach men not to observe God's Law are "least" in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:17-20).|
|16 Op. cit., 77.|
|17 It is hard to miss the connection here between God's former speech and his current word through the Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2).|
|A question emerges at this point: What is the temporal reference point of 2:3a? As archen makes clear, this is a reference to Christ's proclamation of kingdom salvation at the time of his earthly ministry.18 Verse 4 then speaks of Christ's proclamation at the time of his heavenly ministry (i.e., as ascended Christ): "God also bearing witness (synepimartyrountos) by signs (semeiois) and wonders (terasin), various miracles (dynamesin), and the distribution of the Holy Spirit, according to his will." Synepimartyrountos is a present active participle,19 which suggests that the time of the action of the participle is contemporaneous to [sic] the time of the action of the main verb (ebebaiothe). In other words, the attestation of the truth of the message to the apostles (3b) is concurrent with the witness of the ascended Christ on the day of Pentecost (4a). And both stand in closest continuity with what Christ announced first (archen labousa) during his earthly ministry (3a).||Recall our question:
I'm a king or other civil authority. Should I read God's Word like kings were commanded
(Deuteronomy 17), or should I release criminals on their own recognizance and let them run
free until the final eternal sanctions are imposed in the next life?
There is really nothing in this article which refutes a Theonomic presupposition for civil authorities.
|18 Labousa is an adverbial aorist participle modifying etis and has a temporal use, especially in construction with archen. Laleisthai is an infinitive of purpose. The archen labousa laleisthai construction occurs in Biblical literature only in Hebrews 2:3. Elsewhere in secular literature the precise meaning of the construction is uncertain (Ellingworth, NIGNTC [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983], 140). The sense seems to be that the salvation which became a reality upon Christ's resurrection was first announced by him during his earthly ministry. In turn, those who experienced Christ's earthly ministry confirmed the truth of the message, based on the resurrection, to the second generation. Verse 4 then has the sense that the witness of those who heard is joined by the witness of Christ as eschatological Spirit.||Ditto the previous paragraph.
The "eschatological Spirit" confirms and intensifies God's Word in the earlier Scriptures. The Scriptures promise that the great work of the Holy Spirit would be to change people's hearts and make them love God's Law! The same prophets who upheld and applied the Law of God in Israel prophesied of the work of the Spirit:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them. Ezekiel 36:25-27
The very purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit was to empower the saints of God to resist the idolatries of Empire in obedience to His Law! The New Testament confirms that the distinctive mark of the New Covenant believer would be his changed heart with the statutes of God written upon it, even as the prophet Jeremiah had spoken:
The Scriptures promised a Theonomic eschaton.
|19 This is a genitive absolute.||So?|
|The action described in Hebrews 2:4 clearly refers to the witness of Christ on the day of Pentecost. The reference to semeois te kai terasin is the same kind of language used with reference to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16, 19). Dynamesin is the promise which Christ guarantees to his disciples prior to his ascension (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8), and the reality which he provides for his disciples after his ascension (Acts 3:12; 4:7). The distribution of the Spirit (pneumatos agiou merismois) is a clear reference to Christ coming to his church as eschatological Spirit.20 This objective use of the genitive, which renders the meaning as "the distribution of the Spirit," comports with the idea that we receive "the promised Holy Spirit" as the down payment of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14). Moreover, it is Christ who "receives the promised Holy Spirit", and as a consequence pours out his Pentecostal witness (Acts 2:33), which includes the presence of the Spirit (Acts 2:4). When this insight is conjoined with the statement in Paul that Christ has "become a life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45), we see that Christ comes to his church as the eschatological Spirit, bringing the fullness of salvation to her as the ascended Lord and Christ.21||Recall our question:
I'm a king or other civil authority. Should I read God's Word like kings were commanded
(Deuteronomy 17), or should I release criminals on their own recognizance and let them run
free until the final eternal sanctions are imposed?
How does this link to Pentecost instruct civil magistrates?
As we saw above, the "eschatological Spirit" is Theonomic. The Spirit gives Theonomic obedience to believers.
Always beware of theological papers which try to refute a doctrine by repeatedly stating an uncontested doctrine. The unwary reader might assume that the contested doctrine is erroneous because it denies the uncontested doctrine. But this is never proven. No logical nexus between the contested doctrine and the uncontested doctrine is ever established. Theonomy doesn't deny a single syllable in the paragraph at left. The writer is waxing eloquent about a concept (a connection between Hebrews 2 and Penetcost/giving of Spirit) which is not in dispute.
|20 Ellingworth, in his commentary on Hebrews, notes two grammatical options for pneumatos agiou merismois: (1) genitive absolute; (2) objective genitive (taken as referring to the gifts of the Spirit) (NIGNTC, 142). It is possible to take the Spirit himself as the one who is distributed. On this interpretation, the objective genitive provides us with a reference to the Spirit himself.||Ditto the previous paragraph.|
|21 For a fuller discussion of what I here treat in a cursory manner, see Richard Gaffin's excellent discussion of Christ's relationship to Pentecost in Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1979), 14-20. Gaffin makes a cogent case for the fact that Christ at Pentecost has become (functionally, not ontologically, of course) the eschatological Spirit as the Lord of the New Covenant. Also, I do not treat the apostolic testimony here on account of space. Gaffin does so adequately in the book just mentioned.||So? How does this fit in the argument we're all looking for: that there are no temporal punishments for crimes today?|
|Returning to the point at issue then, we see that Christ both speaks the New Covenant word of witness (v. 3b) and attests to that New Covenant witness with signs and wonders, various miracles, and with the coming of the eschatological Spirit (v. 4). The author of Hebrews understands this complex of events as a greater warning than the Old Covenant typology regarding the certainty and inescapability of eternal sanctions. The movement from typo-logy to semi-realized eschatology is the key movement in view.||"Returning
to the point at issue." Yes, because the previous issue (Pentecost) has nothing to
do with Hebrews 2 and Theonomy.
Doesn't "a greater warning" imply a greater (not a lesser, or an abrogated) punishment? Why not?
|Let us examine exactly how the salvation attested by the Lord relates to the temporal sanctions operating in the Old Covenant. We have already noted that the temporal sanctions in the Old Covenant typify the eternal sanctions of the final judgment. The question at hand is this: how does the proclamation of salvation by Christ affect our understanding of the Old Covenant sanctions which typify the reality of eternal sanctions? The answer to our question is two-fold.||Yup, this is the question. Now, after all the gratuitous footnotes, maybe we will actually see a sustained argument in defense of the proposition that Hebrews 2 refutes Theonomy.|
|We begin by noting that the prerequisite for securing the salvation mentioned in v. 3a is a satisfaction of the eternal sanctions which the Old Covenant typified. When Christ entered the world as the Second Adam, resuming the eschatological program (which is now a redemptive eschatological program) on behalf of his people, the central task for him as Mediator consisted in removing the eternal sanctions which stood against all whom he came to redeem. In other words, in order to secure salvation on behalf of his people Christ must in the nature of the case endure eternal sanctions through his death. Christ's priestly work of mediation is clearly referenced in Hebrews 2:9-10, which speaks of him tasting death for his own. Hebrews 2:17 reminds us that Christ as High Priest must propitiate the wrath and anger of God in order to satisfy the demands of justice.||OK, so now we go to heaven instead of hell. How does that change the requirement for civil magistrates?|
|Elsewhere we read that Christ, by his obedience and satisfaction, has obtained an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). This is why Christ's sacrifice is explained as occurring "at the consummation of the ages" (Heb. 9:26). That is also the reason why it is appointed for a man to die once, and then comes judgment (9:27). After death comes eschatological judgment. So it is in the case of Christ (9:28a). In other words, the eternal realities of consummation judgment provide the context for understanding the obedience and satisfaction of Christ. Eternal salvation is the result of bearing eternal sanctions and triumphing over those eternal sanctions in resurrection and ascension (cf. Heb. 6:13-20; Gal. 3:10-14; Matt. 27:45-46) .||Actually, it is a perplexing question why, after the work of the Second Adam, we who have been born again through the imperishable seed of the Second Adam must die. But that's another debate.|
|The conclusion we need to see from this line of reasoning is as follows: the eternal sanctions typified by the Old Covenant sanctions have found fulfillment in their application to Christ in his satisfaction of divine justice on the cross.||The civil laws of the OT pointed typologically to
the punishments that await us after death. But if, by faith, OT saints trusted in God's grace
through a coming Mediator, they didn't have to worry about eternal
punishments. But they still suffered punishments at the hands of civil magistrates if
they committed crimes. Civil magistrates were required to maintain social order by following
God's commandments. So now that the Mediator has come, and we have a greater revelation of
God's mercy in Christ, how does that change the need for civil order before we die?
"Abraham looked forward to My day" Jesus said (John
Civil magistrates enforced God's Law in the Old Testament, even while those laws also spoke of God's eternal sanctions. A greater understanding of those eternal sanctions that came with the New Covenant revelation does not invalidate OT typology.
No civil magistrate should assume that the Law has been relaxed or abrogated. Certainly not based on Hebrews 2.
|This application of the eternal sanctions to Christ represents the first phase of the application of the antitypical sanctions. In other words, the already of the eternal death sanction typified by the Old Covenant counterpart finds its telos in Christ in his first coming to bear sin (Heb. 9:28). This is the rationale for the transition from temporal sanctions in the Old Covenant to great (i.e., eternal) salvation in the New Covenant. This also explains how Christ's obedience and satisfaction displaces and replaces the temporal death penalty issued under the Old Covenant, since Christ bears the reality to which the temporal death penalty pointed. The reality typified by the death sanctions has already arrived in the death of Christ. Hence, we no longer operate on the level of typology, but enter into the domain of semi-realized eschatology, which proves a greater pointer to the eternal reality, because that eternal reality has actually arrived and is no longer anticipated in the modality of typology.||Where is "the
transition" from "being held accountable for crimes by a civil
magistrate" to "going to heaven when you die?" OT saints went to heaven, but
they still had civil order.
If Christ's shedding of blood fulfills the shedding of blood in the Old Covenant, then every Theonomist will agree that there needs to be no more shedding of blood. But that doesn't prove that there need not be any civil laws. Are we no longer required to make restitution if we steal? Does Christ's ultimate restitution absolve us from temporal and civil liability?
So "semi-realized eschatology" means "anarchy" in the sense of no civil order, no social responsibility, no temporal restitution in cases of theft? Criminals run rampant, as we all await death? No civil order? Seriously?
|The second phase of the application of the eternal sanctions emerges in the "not yet" dimension of the consummation. When Christ returns a second time, there will be no escape from the eternal sanctions he brings against the apostate and unbelieving. Hebrews 9:28 helps us see the already/not yet dimension of Christ's work relative to the sanctions. Christ's first coming focused on bearing eternal sanctions on behalf of his people in accordance with the semi-realized eschatological framework (9:28a "Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many"). However, when Christ appears "a second time for salvation without reference to sin" (28b), he brings eternal salvation (9:12) to those who eagerly await him.||
What bearing does this have on the laws to be enforced by civil magistrates? How does this overthrow the Theonomic thesis?
|The corollary of this point is simple: for those who do not eagerly await him, he will bring eternal judgment. If the eternal sanctions are not met vicariously by faith in Christ in the time of realized eschatology, there is no hope for escape from eschatological judgment. At his parousia (i.e., in the time of future eschatology), Christ will enforce and apply eternal sanctions. He will consummately bless his people and definitively punish his enemies. To summarize, we must understand that the already/not yet dynamic of eschatological fulfillment in Christ determines the mode of application for the eternal sanctions which were portrayed typologically in the Old Covenant Mosaic order. That mode of application is bifurcated: the eternal sanctions befall Christ in his obedience and satisfaction at the beginning of the interadvental period, and they befall all apostates and unbelievers at the end of that period (i.e., the parousia).||Sure, believers escape eternal punishment,
unbelievers don't. But are believers absolved from civil liability if they destroy another's
property? Are civil magistrates only to apply God's civil laws to unbelievers?
Nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- in this paragraph demonstrates that civil magistrates should stop enforcing God's Law.
|Interestingly, the author argues that what we have just explained was confirmed by those who heard (ebebaiothe, cf. 2:3b). This is the same verb applied to the word of angels in 2:2 and applied to the Old Covenant (Mosaic) order. In short, the author argues that the legally binding Old Covenant, mediated by angels, gives way to a legally binding New Covenant mediated by Christ. As such, Christ's warning displaces and replaces the witness of angels regarding the certainty of eternal judgment against covenant apostates. As such, we see once again Christ's superiority to angels as the antitype is superior to the type.22 We also see in the strongest possible way that the legally binding character of the New Covenant, with the God-man as mediator, provides the basis for the fulfilling and surpassing of the Old Covenant order in general, and the Old Covenant sanctions in particular.||"gives
way" is a slippery phrase. Christ's superiority to angels does not prove that
having no law is superior to God's Law. The writer to the Hebrews says "much
more" shall it be enforced.
Tipton can only show that the "certainty of eternal judgment" is greater in the New Covenant, not that the certainty of temporal punishment is less. The writer to the Hebrews says it will be temporally "much worse" for criminals under the New than under the Old.
|22 We need to remember that bare superiority of Christ to angels is not the main argument here. Rather, the superiority of Christ to angels obtains in terms of the relationship of type to antitype.|
Critical Assessment of the Theonomic Thesis
|Let me briefly outline Dr. Greg Bahnsen's exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4 and assess the cogency of his claims. Dr. Bahnsen summarizes the basic thrust of the pericope as follows:|
The argument of the author of Hebrews is that if even the civil penalties of the Mosaic law (in general) are immutable, how much more will be the threat of eternal damnation (for apostasy in particular).23
|23 No Other Standard (Tyler Texas: ICE, 1991), 178.|
Notice a few features of Bahnsen's summary.
As we saw above, the concept of Pentecost has nothing whatsoever to do with the Theonomic thesis. So there is no surprise that Bahnsen doesn't mention it. The suprise is why it's mentioned in the article at left.
"the category of semi-realized eschatology" is the mistaken notion that temporally-enforced laws which typified eternal sanctions in the Old Covenant should not be temporally enforced in the New Covenant. But there is no reason why this should be true. So there is no reason why Bahnsen should allow this unScriptural concept to "inform his understanding."
Nothing in the word ebebaiothe suggests that murderers should no longer be temporally punished by the civil magistrate.
Typological sanctions were fulfilled in the Old the same way they are in the New. Sanctions performed both a temporal and eternal function. They still do today, even if the eternal function is clearer and more glorious.
|24 Dr. Steven Baugh pointed out to me that Dr. Bahnsen has slipped in the adjective immutable here. As we pointed out earlier, bebaios refers to a legally binding relationship, but this does not entail that the relationship is immutable. We need to note also that the covenant which is legally binding is a covenant mediated by angels. The New Covenant, contrary to the Mosaic covenant, is mediated not by angels but by Christ (I Tim. 2:5).||The writer to the Hebrews says,
10:28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law [mediated by angels] dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God?
There is no logic to the article at left.
|However, let us take a more careful look at Dr. Bahnsen's exegetical argumentation defending his summary:|
What we find is an a fortiori argument which builds from a lesser point to a greater one. Hebrews argues that we need to 'give greater' heed today, for if even the (lesser) law demanded just recompense for offenses, the (greater) gospel will all the more do so—there will be no escape from God's wrath (2:1-3).25
|25 Ibid., 179.|
|Notice in this quotation that Dr. Bahnsen sees the intermediate step necessary to make the a fortiori inference (i.e., "the greater gospel"). Hence, Dr. Bahnsen's summary could have at an implicit level a reference to semi-realized eschatology. Is this the case? Not quite. Notice that while Bahnsen sees the step necessary to make the a fortiori inference (i.e., the greater gospel), he misses the rationale for the a fortiori force inherent in the nature of the greater gospel. The a fortiori force of the argument derives from the reality of the initial phase of the application of the eternal sanctions to Christ. As a result of this oversight in Dr. Bahnsen's exegesis, he misses the semi-realized eschatological fulfillment of the typological sanctions in Christ. In other words, Dr. Bahnsen correctly sees an a fortiori argument in the pericope, but he misses the realized eschatology which informs the a fortiori inference.||Bahnsen does not believe in "semi-realized eschatological fulfillment." That is, he does not believe that the Gospel abrogates temporal punishments just because it reveals eternal punishments more clearly. The writer to the Hebrews says that temporal punishments were inflicted with the testimony of two or three witnesses, and it will be "much worse" for sinners in the New Covenant age -- not easier.|
|Notice in the remainder of Dr. Bahnsen's argument we see no evidence of a correction of this fundamental oversight:||The "oversight" is not "fundamental."|
So, the Old Testament civil penalties are not being set aside but rather established by this line of thought—established as the premised foundation for the justice and inevitability of eternal punishment for apostates. It is precisely because those (lesser) civil sanctions are valid and just that one must see that the (greater) eternal sanction will be valid and just. The eternal is not put in place of the civil; it is argued on the basis of the civil. If the civil sanctions could be mitigated or set aside in any way, one might perhaps hope that eternal damnation might also be avoided. But the author of Hebrews takes away all such false hopes. God's penalties are never unjust or set aside, even in the civil sphere—in every case they specified a 'just recompense' (Heb. 2:2). If this is true of God's civil code, how much more is it true of his eternal judgment!26
|26 Ibid., 179. In another work, Dr. Bahnsen makes an almost identical argument: "After all, if God has not insisted upon the universal, unchanging justice of the lesser (civil penalties), how much more could we expect that he would relent upon the justice of the greater (eternal penalties)! This would be a perverse reversal of the very point made by the author of Hebrews" (Theonomy: An Informed Response, 131 italics his). In response, we need to note that the penalties of the Old Covenant were not universal. The text states that they served a typological purpose for the covenant community, not a universal purpose of prescribing penalties for crimes. Second, Dr. Bahnsen has construed the Old Covenant sanctions as merely judicial, but the sanctions must be understood first and foremost in terms of typology, and then only secondarily as judicial. Therefore, the justice of the typological sanctions depend on the eternal sanctions to which they are designed to point, and not the other way around. Hence, Dr. Bahnsen has reversed the very point that the author of Hebrews makes. With that being said, we will deal in more detail with the arguments from No Other Standard, since they represent Bahnsen's most mature thought on the subject of Old Covenant sanctions in light of an exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4.||Old Testament penalties were both civil (temporal) and eternal. Bahnsen knows that temporal penalties also typified eternal penalties. Laws can serve more than one purpose.|
|Rhetoric aside, we see that Dr. Bahnsen's thesis is simply not dealing with all of the evidence and argumentation the passage provides. Let us examine the problems in a bit more detail.||Not all of the evidence and argumentation in the book of Hebrews is relevant to the Theonomic thesis.|
|First, by failing to allow semi-realized eschatology substantially to shape his understanding of the relationship between temporal sanctions27 in the Old Covenant and eternal sanctions in the New Covenant period, Dr. Bahnsen has stripped the passage of its eschatological framework. As a result, he advocates the present application of typological sanctions, which Hebrews tells us are fulfilled in the eternal antitype which has arrived in Christ. In short, the eternal sanctions will be applied by Christ himself at the end of the age (not typological sanctions by a magistrate in the present age!). Perhaps Bahnsen's fundamental flaw turns on a failure to distinguish clearly between typological and semi-eschatological categories in covenant history. The basic movement of the argument's a fortiori force, then, is from the domain of typology to semi-realized eschatology.||Again, to repeat, "semi-realized eschatological fulfillment" means no temporal fulfillment. This is an unBiblical premise. Typological sanctions were enforced by a magistrate in the previous age, while typifying eternal sanctions applied by Christ. That can also be enforced in the present age and still typify eternal sanctions as well. The article keep repeating unproven arguments.|
|27 Whether we speak of an eternal sanction (singular) or eternal sanctions (plural) with respect to Christ's obedience and satisfaction, the basic point remains the same: Christ bore the eternal, final, eschatological reality to which the Old Covenant typological sanctions pointed.||Christ bore this reality for Old Testament saints as well, but they (and we) still must make restitution in a civil, temporal, social context.|
Second, notice that Dr. Bahnsen argues that the "eternal is not put in place of the civil; it is argued on the basis of the civil."28 We have seen from our exegesis that this statement is simply not true. The civil sanctions are subservient to typology,29 and the typological depends in the nature of the case on the eternal. If not, then the typological has no corresponding eternal reality to which it points. Moreover, the eternal does replace the temporal. The eternal sanctions which befall Christ in terms of semi-realized eschatology displace and replace the types (typological sanctions). Dr. Bahnsen therefore argues that the eternal does not replace the temporal on the mistaken premise that the eternal judgment is wholly future, a premise which clearly denies the semi-realized intrusion of the eternal sanctions in the obedience and satisfaction of Christ (cf. Heb. 9:26).
|The eternal side of sanctions can be more
important, but nothing in the book of Hebrews says that the eternal nature of punishment
completely trumps the temporal nature. Both existed simultaneously in the Old Testament, and
they continue to do so in the New.
No. It doesn't matter whether the eternal side of judgment is wholly future, semi-future, or wholly present. Civil magistrates are still obligated to obey God's Law. A revelation concerning eternal punishment does not abrogate temporal punishments.
|28 Dr. Bahnsen also makes a philosophical mistake in his comment that the eternal is argued "on the basis" of the temporal. It is a violation of the Christian theory of reality ever to predicate that the eternal is conditioned by, determined by, or based upon the temporal. Although unintended, this concedes the basic point of Post-Enlightenment historicism, which is Kantian to the core. Moreover, Bahnsen's slip undermines the Van Tillianism which he so passionately and effectively defended elsewhere. Even if the theonomist persists in maintaining the universality and morally obligatory character of the Old Covenant typological sanctions in a New Covenant context, we must warn him of the dangers of this sort of reasoning. It is disastrous to a truly Christian metaphysic.||This is nonsense. The writer to the Hebrews is
saying that if sin was met with temporal sanctions, how much more will sin be met with
eschatological sanctions, whether in the imminent eschaton of God's judgment against the
nation of Israel at the hands of Rome, or after this life.
If sin was met with temporal sanctions before Christ came, how much more should sin be punished now that Christ has been revealed.
Again, no relaxation of sanctions is in view here.
|29 Note that Bahnsen does not understand the civil function as a subset of the more basic category of typology. This, in my opinion, is a fundamental mistake.||It has never been proven that because something is a type of something, that it must evaporate. Civil sanctions were a type of eternal punishment in the Old Covenant, and they are a type of eternal punishment in the New Covenant. In both covenants, civil/temporal/social restitution is both required and looks forward to eternal restitution.|
|Third, we know from our preceding point that "eternal damnation" cannot be set aside on the basis that it has already befallen Christ who bears the eternal damnation in his first coming, and dispenses eternal damnation at his parousia. In other words, eternal damnation cannot be set aside because of considerations pertaining to eschatological and christological fulfillment, not on account of the abiding socio-political applicability of the Old Covenant, typological penalties. In other words, the eternal sanctions have intruded into time, displacing and replacing the typological sanctions, while simultaneously confirming more certainly the inescapability of God's eternal justice. Eternal damnation is inescapable because Christ has guaranteed by his resurrection the certainty of judgment against all covenant breakers (cf. Acts 17:30) and apostates (Heb. 2:2-3; 10:26-31; 12:25-29). Hence, Dr. Bahnsen once again misses the a fortiori force of the inescapability of eternal judgment, because he fails to consider the centrality of semi-realized eschatology in the author's argument.||There is neither a logical nor a Biblical
basis for saying that with the Advent of the promised Messiah, the "socio-political
applicability" of the Scriptures has been lessened,
relaxed, abrogated or destroyed, while the "eternal sanctions" have been made more
certain. Hebrews says both have been made more certain.
In His "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus never said "Relax, kick back, this is semi-realized eschatology time!" He heightens the obligations of the Old Covenant Scriptures compared with the Pharisaical interpretations. (Actually, He only re-states and clarifies what the Scriptures were saying all along.)
These insights help us see perhaps the fundamental hermeneutical difference between the orthodox biblical theologian and the theonomist. The entire Old Covenant Mosaic order is a typological kingdom, which has definite implications for the nature of its sanctions. I have attempted to draw attention to the specific typological function of the penal sanctions within that economy. We need to point out, however, that the debate centers upon a more profound hermeneutical disagreement of which the penal sanctions are merely a case in point.30
|I love that antithesis. (Sarcasm. It is slippery,
disingenuous, and misleading. M.G. Kline, to whom Tipton tips his hat, admits that "the
orthodox Biblical theologians" who compiled the Westminster Standards were Theonomists.
See the "Summary of Theonomy" above.
"The entire Old Covenant Mosaic order" -- what is that? "Entire" means "all," but "Mosaic" limits. Does it include the command to Noah to execute murderers? Why or why not?
There is certainly a "profound hermeneutical disagreement" here.
|30 See Meredith Kline's Kingdom Prologue (privately published) for a compelling development of the biblical theological hermeneutic of Israel as an old Covenant kingdom distinguished by three traits: (1) national election; (2) typological kingdom; and (3) typological works covenant (i. e., maintenance of dominion over the land in the Typological kingdom depends on the corporate obedience of Israel). Kline demonstrates the hermeneutical significance of redemptive typology in a penetrating and engaging way.|
|But the question now arises, "Is the argument presented from Hebrews 2:1-4 sufficient to undermine Dr. Bahnsen's theonomic thesis as a whole?" Bahnsen himself provides some clear criteria which, if met, he claims would successfully undermine his thesis. They are as follows:|
Critics who aim to disprove the validity of some portion of the law by appealing to some special feature (F) about Old Testament Israel must (1) define clearly what is meant by F, (2) delineate on principle the intended segment of the law, (3) show that F was actually and uniquely the case, and especially (4) demonstrate that the validity of this law rested solely on F.31
|31 Preface to the Second Edition of Theonomy in Christian Ethics (p. xxiii).|
|I believe that the thesis set forth in this essay satisfies Dr. Bahnsen's own criteria and therefore undermines the theonomic thesis as a whole. Let me explain why.|
|First, the special feature (F) which I identified in this paper is the typological character of the Old Covenant sanctions relative to their eternal counterpart. The typological sanctions served as an Old Covenant warning of eternal judgment against apostasy from the Covenant. In my view, this is a clear definition of F. Therefore, the thesis meets Bahnsen's first criterion.||Nope. No Old Testament verse has been cited in this entire paper to identify the civil sanction being discussed. The whole paper hinges on the unproved assumption that governments should not punish crimes as commanded by the Scriptures because the Second Coming of Christ has already been "semi-realized."|
Second, I have delineated on principle the intended segment of the law, since the text in view (Heb. 2:1-4) deals specifically and exclusively with the segment of Old Covenant law which pertains to typological sanctions. We learned that the Old Covenant warning regarding the eschatological reality has been displaced and replaced by Christ's New Covenant proclamation of a "great salvation" as eschatological Spirit. Therefore, we have a principial distinction both with respect to redemptive historical epoch and the specific segment of the law delineated. Hence, I have met Dr. Bahnsen's second criterion.
|He says "we learned," but this has
never been shown.
Tipton doesn't understand Bahnsen's challenge. Bahnsen is challenging non-Theonomists to take a specific provision of the Old Testament to discern whether it is still obligatory in this age. Tipton has never specified any specific provision of the Law; he's talking about the entire Old Testament as a vague generality.
|Third, according to Hebrews 2:1-4, typological sanctions provided an Old Covenant warning in regard to the certainty and inescapability of covenantal judgment against apostasy. Because apostasy from the covenant is in view, this is unique to the covenant community of Old Testament Israel. Consequently, I have met Dr. Bahnsen's third criterion.||The Letter to the Hebrews says that apostasy from the covenant is worse in the New Covenant than in the Old. See Hebrews 10 and 12. There is nothing to suggest that the Civil Magistrate should relax punishments for any crime in the more glorious New Covenant.|
|Fourth, remember that Hebrews 2:1-4 construes the validity of the Old Covenant sanctions in their parenetic function (i. e., regarding the inescapability of eternal sanctions against apostasy). Once the reality to which the sanctions pointed arrives (the eternal reality), the type has served its purpose. We then operate in the modality of semi-realized eschatology, which displaces and replaces the modality of typology. Put differently, the fulfillment of the Old Covenant sanctions, in terms of a two-phase application of the eternal reality to Christ in his first coming and by Christ at his parousia precludes the soundness of Bahnsen's thesis. The Old Covenant sanctions have found semi-eschatological fulfillment in Christ in his first coming (i.e., rendering the believer's judgment as a past event), and will find consummate fulfillment at his parousia (i.e., rendering the unbeliever's judgment a certain, future event). Therefore, the fourth criterion has been met in the sense that if the argument developed in this essay is sound, it would principially undermine Dr. Bahnsen's thesis. Of course, I don't want to rule out the fact that his thesis can be challenged from other exegetical and theological lines of thought.32||"Parenetic" is defined
as "Hortatory; encouraging; persuasive."
Hebrews 2:1-4 does not "construe the validity of Old Covenant [civil] sanctions in their [persuasive, encouraging] function." Whatever that means.
But here is the heart of the argument:
While a law against theft or murder points to eternal punishment in a typological way, there is nothing in the Bible to say that civil government should not punish theft or murder according to the blueprint of "the Scriptures" at any point before eternity. Tipton says that the First Coming of Christ is sorta kinda like the Second Coming of Christ, which will usher in eternity, so now eternity is "semi-realized," so governments should not punish any crimes.
And this line of "reasoning," he says, "precludes the soundness of Bahnsen's thesis." Go read that summary again. Compare it with the claim that heaven and hell have already been "semi-realized" and therefore governments should not punish any crimes.
|32 In this sense, then, I would object to Bahnsen's formulation of the fourth criterion.|
Summary and Conclusion
|I have not attempted to say everything that needs to be said either about the pericope or its application to the theonomic thesis set forth by Dr. Bahnsen.33 However, I have attempted to sketch the main lines of thought in the pericope in order to discern how eschatology determines the mode of application for the eternal (in relation to typological) sanctions mentioned throughout the book of Hebrews.|
||replaces it with what? How should criminals be punished?|
|I have argued that the writer warns against apostasy by appealing to three distinct epochs in redemptive history. The first warning derives from the Old Covenant period, consists in a warning mediated through angels, and is accompanied by typological sanctions. The second warning derives from the consummation, finds expression both in the witness of the Old and New Covenant, and will be accompanied by inescapable and eternal sanctions. The third warning derives from the New Covenant period, consists in a great salvation announced through Christ, was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit. I argued that with the coming of Christ, the typological sanctions in general are replaced by the arrival of the reality to which they point. This means that the epoch-changing character of Christ's atoning work comprises the first phase of the application of the eternal/eschatological sanctions typified in the Old Testament economy. At his parousia, Christ will enact the second phase of the application of the eternal sanctions against all apostates and unbelievers.||It is true that when unbelievers are sent to hell, hell replaces any punishments in the Old Covenant. But this happens at the future "Second Coming of Christ," not the First Coming, right?|
|One of the consequences of this position is as follows: anyone who affirms the need to apply and enforce the Old Covenant typological sanctions in the New Covenant period in the same way that they were applied in the Old Covenant situation, tacitly denies that Christ has fulfilled the eternal reality to which the Old Covenant sanctions pointed. That is, he has missed the covenant historical difference between typology and semi-realized eschatology.||I don't "tacitly" deny that we are
already in hell, or that "the eternal reality" has already begun; I explicitly
I deny the existence of "semi-realized eschatology." There is temporal and then there is eternal.
|The advocacy of the continued application of the Old Covenant sanctions in spite of their two-phase eschatological application to Christ and by Christ implies a denial of their semi-eschatological fulfillment, an error to which the consistent theonomist remains dogmatically committed. Even if the theonomist does affirm that Christ has borne the eternal sanctions which the Old Covenant sanctions typified (which we suppose he must affirm), he does not see the antitype replacing the type. As such, the theonomic position is parallel to a position which would advocate the continuing validity of typological animal sacrifices in spite of the fulfillment of those sacrifices in the antitypical sacrifice of Christ. Clearly, the latter is beset by serious problems, and so is the former.||The need for the shedding of blood continues today, but only Christ's blood fulfills this need. The need to make restitution if you steal your neighbor's TV was not "fulfilled" by Christ. You can't say "I don't need to make restitution, Christ paid it." Tipton's "semi-realized eternity" theory means no crimes demand any response by the civil magistrate or anyone else.|
|Roslyn, Pennsylvania||Do two things:
How does the passage in Hebrews show that "the Scriptures" are no longer God's will for our lives? How has God's Word spoken through angels been annulled (rather than strengthened and approved) by virtue of God's Word spoken through His Son?
Jesus commanded His followers to be pacifists, but He Himself was the Enforcer of God's Laws against God's enemies, and this vengeance took place in the lifetime of those who rejected their Messiah (Matthew 16:27-28; Luke 21:20-22; Matthew 24:34). Here is a completely non-Theonomic description of "the Eschatological Jesus."
The pacifist Jesus and the violent Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew | Sim | HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies
Matthew also inherited a common Christian tradition that the risen Christ would return from heaven and that this event would initiate the universal and final judgement. But while most other Christian texts do not emphasize these end–time events and are rather vague about their precise details, Matthew both focuses intensely upon them and provides a colourful description of them. Much of his portrayal is redactional (Sim 1996:93–147). It is important to note how the evangelist describes the return of Jesus, because it is quite unexpected in the context of his presentation of the earthly Jesus. The clearest depiction of this event is found in Matthew 24:29–31. In this redactional text, Matthew describes the returning Jesus in overtly military terms (Sim 1996:100–108). He comes on the clouds of heaven with power and glory, with a military standard and a trumpet call, accompanied by an angelic army (cf. the reference to legions of angels in 26:53). This is a far cry from the pacifist earthly Jesus who appears in the rest of the Gospel. Jesus is no longer meek and mild, but the leader of an army of angels whose primary task is to oversee the universal judgement (25:31–46; cf. 7:24–27) and execute divine justice. The evangelist spells out the fate of the righteous in a number of pericopes (Sim 1996:140–145). They will be transformed into angels (22:30; cf. 13:43) and be given eternal life (19:16; 19:29; 25:46). The righteous will also participate in the messianic banquet (8:11–12), a very common Jewish eschatological theme and will live in peace and harmony in the presence of God (5:8; 18:10).
It is, however, the opposite notion – the fate of the wicked – that is of more concern to Matthew and his views are the harshest that we find in the New Testament (Sim 1996:129–140). Matthew can at times speak of their fate in very general non-descript terms. They will meet with condemnation (12:41–42), destruction (7:13) and eternal punishment (25:46), but he also provides specific details. The wicked will be sent to a place of complete darkness. In three redactional sections, the evangelist states that they will be consigned to the outer darkness (8:12; 22:13 and 25:30), a result of their removal from the presence and the light of God. The main theme, however, is that the wicked will burn for eternity and many of the evangelist’s references to this topic are the result of his editorial activity.
The Matthean Jesus identifies the place of fiery punishment as Gehenna (cf. 4 Ezr 7:36; Sib. Or. 4:186). When referring to this terrible place, he most often simply refers to Gehenna (5:29–30; 10:28; 23:15, 33) or its Greek equivalent Hades (11:23; 16:18), though at times he uses the more descriptive ‘Gehenna of fire’ (5:22; 18:9). On other occasions he speaks of the wicked being cast into the eternal fire (3:7–12; 7:19; 18:8; 25:41) or the furnace of fire (13:42, 50). When we tally all the Matthean texts that refer to the theme that after the final judgement the wicked will be punished by burning forever in the fires of Gehenna the evidence is impressive. It is even more so once we consider that most of these references are redactional, either inserted by the evangelist into his sources or created outright by him. While this was a very common theme in Jewish eschatological circles (Sim 1996:47–48), it is not so prominent in the Christian texts of the New Testament (Sim 1996:130–134), though it is found in the book of Revelation (Rv 19:20; 20:10, 14–15).
But Matthew says even more than this about the end–time punishment of the wicked. He emphasises that the fate of the wicked will involve torment and torture. The story of the Gadarene demoniacs in Matthew 8:28–34 is relevant here. In this story, a number of demons ask Jesus if he has come to torture them [basani/zw] before the time (or before the judgement). These supernatural figures understand what awaits them (cf. 25:41), and they ask Jesus if their torment is to begin before the judgement. While it is true that the torture to which they refer might simply be the burning by eternal fire, there may be more to this motif than that. A common theme in Jewish eschatological circles was that the wicked, in addition to being burned eternally, would also be tortured by angelic tormenters (cf. Sir 39:28–31; 2 En. 10; T.Ab. 12:1–2; T. Levi 3:2). Matthew, too, seems to reflect this theme (Sim 1999:707–715). In the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23–35, a servant who was forgiven a large debt by his master failed to show similar mercy to those who owed him money. When his master learned of this, he delivered the servant to the torturers [oi( basanista…]. The parable ends with the message that God will do likewise at the judgement. These torturers can be identified with the angelic tormenters of the wicked. The same motif probably underlies the strange parable of the wicked servant who is dissected at the eschaton (Sim 2002a).
Matthew’s intense focus on the eschatological plight of the wicked is further evidenced in the delight he appears to take in their reaction to their punishment. He says on no less than six occasions, five of which are redactional, that the wicked will weep in misery and gnash their teeth in rage as they realise the terrible nature of their eternal fate (8:12; 13:42, 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
We are now in a position to compare Matthew’s earthly Jesus with his eschatological Jesus. Whereas the Jesus of the past was characterised by non-violence, non-retaliation, mercy and forgiveness, the future Jesus has none of these qualities. He will be a military commander at the head of his angelic army and in this capacity he will subject the wicked to considerable violence after they have been judged unworthy at the final judgement. They will be placed well away from the light of the divine realm into Gehenna, where they will certainly be punished by eternal fire and probably punished by angelic torturers as well. In this end-time scenario, there is no emphasis on peacemaking; there is warfare between the forces of righteousness and their evil counterparts. There is no room for meekness, pacifism, non-retaliation and turning the other cheek here as the heavenly Christ seeks vengeance against his enemies in a particularly violent fashion with an emphasis on pain and torture. The concepts of forgiveness and mercy, so integral to Matthew’s portrayal of the earthly Jesus, have given way to the concepts of payback and vindictiveness. The wicked are given no opportunity to repent, either at the judgement or later. Their punishment is eternal, which precludes any future acts of mercy or forgiveness on the part of Jesus (and God). This gruesome and disturbing aspect of Matthew’s Gospel, which a number of recent studies have highlighted (Reid 2004; Carter 2005; Neville 2007), requires explanation. Why did the evangelist transform the pacifist and merciful historical Jesus into this violent and vengeful eschatological fantasy figure?
Timothy was raised by Godly parents and grandparents who taught Timothy "the Scriptures." Paul exhorted Timothy to continue following "the Scriptures."
The Scriptures, of course, were "the Old Testament" as we think of them today. Paul was telling Timothy to continue being a Theonomist.
This was the view of Jesus to "the Scriptures" (the Old Testament):
The Apostles shared this view: