PASSING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH IN MATT. 5:17

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.

Reader’s question

“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?”

My reply

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.”


Covenantal Theonomy
(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.

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8 thoughts on “PASSING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH IN MATT. 5:17

  1. Harold April 10, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    The Old Man hates the perfect holy and just Law of GOD, and is always searching for loopholes, or a way to do away with it all together.

  2. David Hillary April 10, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    The reader’s question does pick up on significant and valid issues for the Mosaic Christian theonomy position.

    Your answer seems to assume that the Old Covenant passed away at the cross, however Jesus put the passing of heaven and earth with the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Mat. 24). So the teaching of Jesus is not about what would happen in 1 or 3 years from his sermon on the mount, rather, he is anticipating the fulfillment of the Old Covenant system at the passing away of the Old Covenant, including its temple and the political authority and judicial system of the Jerusalem temple.

    The sermon on the mount has many clues that it is about the fulfillment of the old law at the fall of Jerusalem and the perfection of the New Covenant at that time. For example, the house build on sand is taken away by the flood, this is closely connected with Daniel’s ‘the end’ that comes as a flood at the abomination of desolation.

    Another example is the target of his rhetoric and polemic: it is the persecuting power Israel who persecuted the prophets of the Old Testament and who would persecute the followers of Jesus (Mat. 5:11-12.). It is the scribes and Pharisees who reject the kingdom by not following its commands and who fail to enter the kingdom (Mat. 5:19-20).

    The pacifist teaching and rhetoric also supports this connection: Jesus teaches non-rebellion, and compliance the Roman impositions from their enemies (Mat. 5:41-45). This was the major division among the Jews leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and her temple.

    The prayer for the kingdom to come is an imprecation against their persecuting enemies, the unbelieving Jews who persecuted them and who would be destroyed and judged in that event, again at the fall of Jerusalem and her temple (e.g. Luke 21:31).

    The treasures on earth (Mat. 6:19-21) just happen to match the treasures in the temple that the Romans stole, triggering the rebellion, war and destruction of the temple.

    The passing away of the grass in Mat. 6:30 is the passing away of the flesh; Old Covenant Israel is described as grass passing away in James 1:10-11, 1 Pet. 1:24 and Rev. 8:7.

    The pigs trampling wisdom underfoot and turning and attacking the Christians also seems to match the Zealots rejecting the wisdom of peace and trampling underfoot Jerusalem, and attacking those who opposed the war and the rebellion.

    The cutting down of the bad trees who did not bear good fruit is another image of Israel going her own way, rejecting God and rebelling, and perishing in the war.

    The workers of lawlessness are very similar to the outbreak of lawlessness Jesus said would accompany and precede the fall of Jerusalem in Mat 24.

    Your reply that there are two fulfillments of the passing of heaven and earth is without foundation. It is an interesting theory and speculation, but there is nothing in scripture teaching such a distinction of a fulfillment at the fall of Jerusalem and another fulfillment later. For example the Olivet Discourse specifically says that in that everything that was written would be fulfilled, and that all the things in the discourse would take place in that generation. This makes and slicing and dicing approach to prophecy extremely problematic and proposes to us the obvious alternative: all the events were to take place in the same generation and through the same series of connected events at that time.

    The next part of your reply addresses the principal issue of theonomy which is the identity and nature and content of the law. Specifically, which laws and commandments does it mean which pass away when heaven and earth pass and everything is accomplished, and which laws and commandments does he mean when he refers to those that must not be relaxed or annulled in the kingdom of heaven?

    Your reply assumes that these are one and the same. However, the nature of the sermon on the mount is antithesis and fulfillment. The old is passing away, and a new standard and practice is being instituted, namely that of the kingdom of heaven. The eschatological event of the coming of the kingdom implies and requires a new law and a new priesthood and the content of these laws are expounded and instituted in the sermon.

    This becomes obvious when we look at some of the specifics. For example swearing oaths. Jesus forbade this entirely, whereas the law of Moses regulated them. This cannot be reinterpretation or correction of misinterpretation, this is a change of the law. Oaths had some recognised and legitimate functions under the law of Moses, for example, in lawsuits and settling disputes about missing chattels. Jesus said that this judicial and procedural law was being changed to remove or make redundant the practice of sweating oaths. When we look at the civil and judicial laws that Jesus did institute and develop and teach, we see that the procedure is completely different from the earlier system: There are two or three witnesses, but no oaths, and no capital punishment, the most severe sanction is excommunication (Mat 18:15-20).

    We cannot ignore these seismic shifts in the civil law, as taught by Jesus as compared to the Mosaic system.

    This same seismic shift is seen in the fulfillment of the eye for eye law in Mat. 5:38-40. The law of Moses instituted eye for eye as the coercive imposition of restitution upon the liable party. The injured party would sue the respondent, give his testimony be swearing an oath, and if he prevailed in his suit, the court would award him damages, and those damages could be collected by coercive remedies such as slavery, seizure of property or debtor’s prison. Jesus rejects and replaces all of this: the resort to the suit (in this coercive forum) is prohibited (7:1), the suit itself is now a means and a species of oppression (5:25-26,40), the oath is prohibited (5:34), and the coercive remedy is prohibited (5:38-39). The kingdom of heaven civil procedure is completely different, as mentioned before and as set out in Mat 18:15-20.

    The law of eye for eye is also the law of life for life. Jesus taught that that law would be fulfilled at and in the destruction of Jerusalem in Mat. 23:29-39. When those who shed the blood of the prophets had their own blood shed, in fulfillment of the Song of Moses:
    Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
    for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
    he will take vengeance on his enemies
    and make atonement for his land and people.

    The law of Moses was fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem, according to Jesus. Jesus gave us a new law to live by, a new civil and judicial model that is highly decentralised and non-coercive. In this law, each side chooses one adjudicator, and together they choose a third. These adjudicators constitute an ad-hoc tribunal imbued with the power of heaven itself, the assembly, the church of the three. This is what Jesus instituted in place of the Mosaic civil law in Mat 18:15-20.

  3. Richard April 11, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    The first thing that came my mind was Jer 31 which you got to in #7. The written law will pass away because there will be no need for it, but the law will never pass away because it is a reflection of God Himself.

  4. Kenneth Gentry April 16, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Your observations and applications of NT verses seem more like random exercises in stream of consciousness, rather than exegesis. Jesus’ back and forth regarding the law’s application in the Sermon on the Mount is a rebuttal of the Pharisees and what they “said” (oral interpretation), not a change in the law of God. The ceremonial laws were fulfilled in the complex of events from Christ’s death until the destruction Jerusalem. The ceremonial laws were distinguished from the moral laws even in the OT.

  5. David Hillary April 16, 2018 at 8:50 am

    I’m not sure why you hold my comment in moderation for nearly a week so that you can provide such a perfunctory reply, Dr Gentry. If you want to make a substantial reply, please grace us with your scholarship and learning.

    If you look through the supposedly ‘random’ comments you will see a significant amount of it addresses the text itself of the Sermon on the Mount, showing that you can’t just dismiss it by waiving your hand and saying no, it is about the Pharisee’s oral law interpretations rather than the law itself. You didn’t touch any of the cases I mentioned where Jesus set forth not an interpretation of the old law but a new law that was inconsistent with the old law entirely. It can only be harmonised by accepting that the new age of Messiah renders a whole system of law obsolete and surpassed by the new law of Messiah. Which means that the commands Jesus insisted must be kept without leniency are those of his for the Messianic age rather than what Moses gave the children of Israel for the preliminary age. And this totally destroys your position. Why would you fail to address that, if you have the learning and knowledge to do so, can’t you share it with us? Or perhaps you do need to recognise the problem and reconsider your position.

    I am not sure how the contradiction and inconsistency could be more obvious, Dr. Gentry:

    Moses:
    “If a man gives to his neighbour a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the Lord shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbour’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. (Ex. 21:10-11)

    Jesus:
    “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Mat. 5:33-37)

    Jesus said don’t take an oath at all. Moses said take and oath and use it judicially. The Torah teachers quoted here taught nothing more nor less than what Moses instituted, so how can he be correcting their interpretation? He wasn’t. You can’t interpret a regulation for doing something as a prohibition on doing that thing! Honestly, what more could he do to contradict what Moses regulated here?

    I could write more doing the same thing about coercive remedies and other matters where the change is not only radical it is obvious and unavoidable. The earliest Christian traditions were NOT Mosaic-theonomist, they were Messianic and pacifist and against the death penalty.

    Now the death penalty is something that Moses wrote as clearly as it is possible to write about. He mandated it in the most unambiguous of terms, and he prohibited payment of money to redeem the life of the murderer.

    But the Jews of Jesus time weren’t so keen on practicing it. They jacked up the burden of proof to impossible levels. Intentionally. And Jesus used their anti-death penalty stance to argue for clemency for those guilty of lesser evils in Mat 5:21-26, whilst also making a barb against the lawless Romans who put people to death on crosses for insulting Roman officials and disposed of their bodies unburied outside the city in the rubbish dump. Jesus taught the fulfillment of the law of the death penalty for murder in Mat. 23:29-39, and he said it would be fulfilled at the fall of the Jerusalem temple. He said heaven and earth pass away and everything is accomplished at the fall of Jerusalem and her temple in Mat. 24 and Luke 21. You didn’t say a word as to why the passing of heaven and earth didn’t mean the fall of Jerusalem, nor why this isn’t a perfect match for the time and meaning of Mat 5:17-20. Your preterism is very partial, Dr. Gentry.

    The orthodoxy of the reformation is a whole different political and social ethos from the earliest Christian witness. If Jesus was going to re-introduce the death penalty he had every opportunity to address the failure to follow the law of Moses by his contemporaries on the matter. But he didn’t. Did you ever entertain the possibility he didn’t do it because he didn’t come to reinstitute the ministry of death but to bring it to its end, its fulfillment? To give his life rather than to take life?

    He was numbered among the transgressors. Jesus said that would be fulfilled when his disciples rejected his message and sold the cloak he told them to bring, and to buy the swords he told them not to bring (Luke 22:35-38). Jesus was the one who was the suffering servant, the one who had done no violence (Is. 53:9). He was pierced for our transgressions. By his stripes we are healed.

    Why do we need to continue to sell our cloaks and buy swords? To put to death? Jesus said two swords was enough, enough to meet the requirements of the law of Moses for evidence that his disciples were transgressors and rejected his message and denied him. Why do we need to add more by continuing to reject his message?

  6. Kenneth Gentry April 16, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    The reason I delayed in responding to you was that I originally chose not to reply, due to your bizarre observations. But I finally decided I would offer a brief response, after all. The reason I almost did not reply to your most recent note is due to its arrogance and condescension.
    In your previous note you claimed that the passing away of the grass in Matt. 6:30 is the passing away of the flesh, that the pigs trampling pearls pictured the Zealots in the Jewish War, and so forth. Apparently you can engage in “waiving your hand” (your words) with these unique observations.
    Despite your sweeping assertion that the new law of Jesus is “inconsistent with the old law entirely”: is it the case that Jesus’ law is “entirely” opposed to “thou shalt not kill?”
    I will just briefly reply to something you believe to be a telling argument, but which I believe misses the point entirely. I would point out the following about oaths and Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:33-37:
    (1) Jesus is setting his word (“but I say unto you”) over against Pharisaic tradition (“you have heard that it was said”). Note the problem he highlights in Matt. 23:16-22. He is not setting himself over against God’s written law, which law he always affirmed. Interestingly, most of the oaths in the OT were made by God himself (cf. Luke 1:73; Acts 2:30; Heb. 7:20-22, 28)!
    (2) Jesus is calling upon his disciples to speak truth at ALL times, not just when under oath. Jesus is teaching that effectively, our word should be our oath, which should not even require a formal oath to validate it. This is the point he presses as the climax of this statement (Matt. 5:37). Jesus is calling for absolute truth at ALL times, contrary to side-stepping nature of Pharisaic practice.
    (3) Paul himself took oaths (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; Gal.1:20). As does the angel (Christ!) in Rev. 10:7.
    (4) Swearing is also engaged in vow-taking (note his reference to “vows” in Matt. 5:33), and vows are common spiritual commitments in the church, as well as in the community (wedding vows, officer ordination vows, etc.). Are you opposed to ordination vows? marriage vows? court oaths?
    I must reject your claim that the death penalty no longer prevails in the new era. We see it affirmed in Rom. 13:4; 1 Tim. 1:8-10 (cp. Acts 25:11).
    You note that I did not “say a word as to why the passing of heaven and earth didn’t mean the fall of Jerusalem.” But you make it sound like the burden of proof is on the side of those who say “the passing of heaven and earth” means “the passing of heaven and earth.” Actually the burden of proof is on you. And I believe you are mistaken.
    Though you do not realize it, Matt 24:34-36 effects a transition from the first century (AD 70 events) to the last century (the final judgment at the second advent), as I have argued elsewhere. That is why the statement “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” occurs 61 verses before the end of Jesus’ discourse (i.e., before Matt. 25:46): because it is not declaring all that FOLLOWS will occur in “this generation.” Rather all the PRECEDES will do so.

  7. David Hillary April 16, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Thank you for explaining your delay and reply, Dr. Gentry.

    In making a list of clues, that does not fairly constitute waiving one’s hand at a text or argument to dismiss or disagree with it without offering a good argument or considering that perhaps there is something to these clues even if you consider them unique. If you read the sermon on the mount looking for clues, some are going to be subtle and cryptic and many will be debatable. Does that make it wrong to look for clues to help determine whether a possible context is present?

    If you want to come at the text with a need to rebut and reject an idea or suggestion, perhaps you aren’t being open minded and may have somehow got stuck on the wrong conclusion.

    I never said that the law of Christ was entirely inconsistent with the law of Moses. The law of Moses mandates the death penalty for murder, the law of Christ does not, per my understanding. Does that make the law of Christ, in rejecting the death penalty accept or allow or legalise murder? This is the kind of superficial and unsophisticated legal and textual analysis that is the problem here. The difference between the law of Christ and the law of Moses is focused on remedial law, i.e. what do we do in response to sin or lawbreaking judicially. Resort to litigation under the Old Mosaic system and its Gentile and modern analogues is wrong precisely because those systems bring to bear remedies that the law of Christ forbids.

    The focus on resort and remedies is easy to show and hard to disprove. Let’s count up the texts here that are more than clues, they are commands or teaching or positive statements:

    Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mat 7:1-5)

    Here we have a command: do not ‘judge.’ What is the judgement that is the context here? It is the remedial law aspect of resort to the coercive remedies found in the jurisdiction and the forum of Moses and the Gentile and modern analogues. How can we judicially dispense death and coercion as the remedy for death and coercion? The focus of Jesus’ teaching and law here is judicial hypocrisy, as we will see further.

    How did the earliest Christians understand and teach about legal matters and litigation? the forbade worldly litigation entirely. Shouldn’t that give us pause before we reverse that rule entirely, and potentially violate the law of Christ by ‘judging’?

    The first thing you do when you sue someone is a worldly court that dispenses coercive remedies is to give sworn testimony against the respondent, your adversary. To do that requires one to swear an oath. But, Jesus forbade that too. The judicial context of the command is more than suggestive: the lawsuit in the Sermon on the Mount it a form of oppression in both 5:25-26 and 5:40. The lawsuit in the Sermon on the Mount is the problem, not the solution.

    The other passage forbidding oaths is in James 5:12. James also refers to the lawsuits as the source of oppression in James 2:6. Can you see a pattern here or is it waiving one’s hand to connect the dots here?

    The non-judicial use of oaths is not forbidden, as Paul shows in his use of oaths for rhetorical purposes. The focus of the prohibition is down here on earth dealing with wrongs and sins, not in heaven’s court or in rhetorical documents.

    Keeping with remedial law, the eye for eye and tooth for tooth is exactly that. When someone breaks the law and sins and causes injury or loss, what we do about that is called remedial law. Jesus is not saying it is OK to cause injury or loss to your neighbour, rather he is talking about what we do in response to such. Moses said we use the institution of the courts, which are structured hierarchically (Ex. 18) to hear cases and the judgement debts are to be collected coercively, as shown by the ‘life for life’ law that mandated the death penalty for murder. Jesus didn’t discuss misinterpretation and misapplication of the eye for eye law, he said don’t resist the evil one. Resisting, in this context, is judicial. We aren’t to resort to the kind of evil we are opposing. We don’t repay evil with evil (Rom 12:17,21, 1 Pet. 3:9). We don’t do evil that good may result (Rom. 3:8), i.e. we don’t use coercive remedies for the good cause of deterring and punishing sin and collecting financial compensation. And we don’t even resort to fear motivation (1 John 4:18). The contrast with eye for eye here is overwhelming, for it says:

    “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deut 19:15-21)

    Notice what is being addressed here: witness testimony. This is sworn testimony. The reason it is sworn is because it is to be used to award coercive remedies. Because of the coercion involved, this requires safeguards. Those safeguards are sworn testimony from two or three witnesses. In swearing oaths, they are invoking the very coercion their testimony can invoke upon others back upon themselves, should they lie. And should they lie, the coercion comes upon them without pity, up to and including death. And the result is fear motivation, all shall hear and fear!

    ALL OF THIS IS CONTRADICTED AND OVERTURNED BY NUMEROUS NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS! There is not a single element of this coercive system that is not surpassed and fulfilled in the new testament.

    For example, where Jesus invokes the testimony of two or three witnesses, this is in the context of instituting an alternative judicial system, the court of the three in Mat 18:15-20. This alternative judicial system is what Christ commands us to use. This is not an exhortation, it is not a suggestion, it is a command. And the court of the three looks nothing like the hierarchical court system of Ex. 18. Each side chooses one adjudicator, and together they choose a third. And there are no appeals. And there is no swearing oaths. And there are no coercive remedies, the most severe remedy is to instruct others to reject and not associate with the one in contempt of heaven’s court instituted in an ad-hoc manner on earth. The witnesses here are not giving testimony to condemn, rather they are ministers of reconciliation and restoration, they are investigators and gather evidence and persuade adversaries to listen.

    I don’t think we can look at all this material and say that there is nothing to see here and that the law of Moses continues on and that Christ and the New Testament writers didn’t institute and teaching something quite different.

    Of course the rejection of sworn testimony and coercive remedies is not to undermine promises and engagements and liabilities and commitments. Paul teaches clearly that all debts are to be honoured in Romans 13:8-10. But he also says that the debt of love is always outstanding. And that the debt of love means no harm to another. We need to really think this through and develop this, because it is extremely powerful. The debtor owes the creditor a debt of money. But the creditor owes the debtor a debt of love. The debt of love is always outstanding. So if the debtor fails to pay the debt, the creditor still owes the debtor a debt of love. So he must not do any harm to the debtor, even the delinquent one. He may collect the debt or attempt to collect the debt, so long as he does no harm to the debtor. So, for example, he may not kill the debtor. He may not put the debtor in debtor’s prison. He may not violate the command of Christ by swearing oaths to get the court to do the evil to the debtor or threaten the same to make the debtor pay. He may use the law of Mat 18:15-20, in fact he must, since it is a command.

    If the debtor finds he loses access to credit from the creditor and from other credit providers, this is not any evil done by the creditor to the debtor, rather this is the effect of disassociation that is the outcome of rejecting the law in Mat. 18:15-20.

    The concept of debt and obligation and commitment is not coextensive with availability of and resort to coercive remedies.

    You have quoted Romans 3:4 in support of the death penalty. I can’t even see why you would do that, perhaps you meant to appeal to some other text. You also quote 1 Tim 1:8-10 which refers to the use of the law lawfully, and its use against evildoers. This begs the question, as the question is what is the law and what is its lawful use against evildoers. The lawful use of the law for Paul is not coercive, since he rejected the idea of using evil to do good in Romans 3:8 and he forbade the resort to repayment of evil with evil in Romans 12:17,21. And he commanded love and defined love as doing no evil in Romans 13:8-10. And he said Christ came to end the ministry of death in 2 Cor. 3:7. And he said Christ abolished death in 2 Tim 1:10.

  8. Kenneth Gentry April 16, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    For my other readers: with your note, I rest my case.

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