PMW 2018-029 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
A reader has written to ask me about the implications of Matt. 5:17 for new creation theology. I thought our interaction might be helpful to PostmillennialWorldview readers.
“I have a question for you that has bothered me off and on. As a partial preterist, I defend the interpretation of “New heavens and Earth” as the figurative establishment of the New Covenant and the passing away of the old heavens and earth as the passing of the Old Covenant. But as a reluctant theonomist, this puts pressure on my understanding of Matt 5:17 (Jesus saying that the Law will not pass away until the heavens and earth pass away). Because that would seem to indicate then that the binding authority of the Mosaic Law DOES pass away with the Old Covenant if we maintain a consistent interpretation of the ‘heavens and earth’ metaphor as covenants. See what I mean? How do you understand this conundrum?”
The theology of the new heavens / earth parallels that of the resurrection. There is a spiritual dimension that begins in the first century. Then there is the consummate, permanent condition that comes at the end of history. We are spiritually resurrected beginning in the first century; we will be physically resurrected at the end (see John 5:25-29. Likewise there is the spiritual new creation that begins in the first century but that ultimately finds its consummate perfection at the end. Likewise the kingdom came in the first century, and will find consummate perfection at the end.
God’s Law Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Summary for the case for the continuing relevance of God’s Law. A helpful summary of the argument from Greg L. Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
This theology is the “now / not yet” theology of historic Reformed orthodoxy. In fact, the very notion of a spiritual resurrection, new creation, kingdom virtually demands a consummate, perfected, permanent resurrection, new creation, kingdom.
We see this now / not yet dimension at work in the victory of Christ. Christ has subdued all things: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” Eph 1:22
But in another sense (eschatological, permanent future), this awaits the final subduing of all things as per Heb 2:8: “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” Hebrews 2:8
Reader’s follow-up question
“But as I think about this some more, if the old heavens and earth is the old covenant passed away, and Jesus is linking the binding authority of the Mosaic Law to that passing, then does this not discredit the theonomic thesis that the Mosaic Law is still binding except for NT changes? “
My second reply
This approach is not possible. Jesus is not speaking of the passing away of the Old Covenant in this context. Rather he is speaking of the coming of the consummate New Heavens and New Earth in its final condition:
(1) It is unreasonable to think he is teaching: “Do not even begin to think that I have come to destroy the Law or prophets, for I will not do so for three years.”
(by Ken Gentry)
A defense of theonomic ethics against a leading Reformed critic. Engages many of the leading objections to theonomy.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
(2) It cannot be that he connects the passing of the Law with the closing of the old covenant because he expressly mentions that those in the Kingdom of Heaven must teach and keep it (Matt 5:19), and it his ministry that brings in, initiates, starts, establishes the Kingdom of Heaven as a new spiritual (new covenantal) reality that we now dwell in. Note that:
He associates the Law promotion and Law keeping with the Kingdom of Heaven:
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19
And note that he is bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven:
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17.
(3) In Jesus’ explanation of his teaching after declaring Matt 5:17-19, he goes into great detail showing the intensification and deepening of the Law in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:20ff). None of what he teaches there (which requires the Law as an abiding reality) sounds as if it were only temporary for the next three years. It sounds like a permanent call and condition.
(4) In Matt 5:18 the phrase “passing away of H/E” does not stand alone. It parallels the “accomplishing of all things” (i.e., the end of God-ordained history wherein the plan of God is completed. See: Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics.
(5) Remember that the theonomic argument does not depend on this one passage. See my Covenantal Theonomy, including its citations from Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Other passages demand that the Law of God prevails in the New Covenant era: Rom 3:19, 31; 7:12; 1 Tim 1:8-11. Including the indwelling of the Spirit in the New Covenant age, which indwelling causes us to keep the Law: Rom 8:3-4.
(6) It leads to absurdity: Will Christ dis-establish the Law of God, including its core, the Ten Commandments? Yet the Ten Commandments (and other specific legislation) is repeatedly promoted in the Epistles. All agree that the Ten Commandments is the core of the Law. If the Law is dis-established, surely its core, central identifying element will pass away, too.
(7) Even the New Covenant itself (Jer 31:31-34) portrays the New Covenant condition as involving the Law of God. The difference in the Old Covenant and New Covenant (in Jer 31 and elsewhere) involves its putting the Law in the heart, at the controlling core of our being, so that it is not merely imprinted on stones.
I hope this is helpful. You might want to survey my Covenantal Theonomy and Bahnsen’s exposition of Matthew 5:17-20 in Theonomy in Christian Ethics.