Saturday, June 11, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Law/Gospel distinction

Law and Gospel

We affirm that those in rebellion against God are condemned both by His law, which they disobey, and His gospel, which they also disobey. When they have been brought to the point of repentance by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that the gracious nature of all God's words becomes evident to them. At the same time, we affirm that it is appropriate to speak of law and gospel as having a redemptive and historical thrust, with the time of the law being the old covenant era and the time of the gospel being the time when we enter our maturity as God's people. We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate.

We deny that law and gospel should be considered as hermeneutics, or treated as such. We believe that any passage, whether indicative or imperative, can be heard by the faithful as good news, and that any passage, whether containing gospel promises or not, will be heard by the rebellious as intolerable demand. The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart.

-The Joint FV Profession

The denial of the Gospel by the Federal Vision comes in the form of a totally alien system. A denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction results in an arrogant presumption to build doctrines upon a certain view of the Trinity, which even if correct is a violation of the regula fide. From this denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction is added an extremely externalist view of the church with the flattening of the concept of the church, and a divorce of the covenants of God from the decrees of God.

In the light of this essentially Medieval system, the Gospel is redefined, beginning with the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction.

It must be stated that the Joint FV Profession in speaking of the Law and the Gospel does include this statement: "We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate." It denies however that Law and Gospel are antithetical to each other, but that what is Gospel to a believer can be Law to an unbeliever and vice versa. Therefore, any Law/Gospel antithesis is merely experiential not ontologically true.

The problem with such a denial of the Law/Gospel distinction is two-fold: Logical and Biblical.

Logically, the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction necessitate that any passage in the Bible can be used as Gospel and any passage in the Bible can be used as Law. The Good News therefore can refer to the proclamation of passages such as Lev. 18:5 which states "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord." Does the Gospel therefore include the view that law-keeping causes a person to merit life before God? Lev. 18:5 is furthermore quoted in Gal. 3:12 as follows:

But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (Gal 3:12 ESV)

ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς. (Gal 3:12 BGT)

καὶ φυλάξεσθε πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ πάντα τὰ κρίματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά ἃ ποιήσας ἄνθρωπος ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν (Lev 18:5 LXX)

The quotation of Lev. 18:5 in Gal. 3:12 shows that the principle of Lev. 18:5 applies equally in the New Covenant. Those who want to have eternal life must obey the commands of God. Is this really part of the Gospel? Do the FVists really think that the Gospel is a message of keeping the Law or rather "Glawspel" to earn eternal life? Such is Pelagianism and is the logical consequence of denying the Law/Gospel distinction.

It can be argued that perfect obedience is not what Gal. 3:12 has in mind. Here we will turn to the biblical evidence. Gal. 3:12 uses the plural form "them" (in both the Hebrew and the Greek) to denote all the commands and law of God. In the context of Lev. 18, Lev. 18:5 can be said to be a summary of the Law and its requirement. To say that Israel did not die even though she was not perfectly obedient is to interpret the verse backwards. The reason why Israel did not die was because forgiveness of sin is offered (typologically) through the various sin and guilt sacrifices instituted for Israel (Lev. 3-4:7). Even then, no sacrifice for sin is possible for sins like murder (Num. 35:30-34), or deviant sexual immorality (Lev. 18:24-30). Lev. 18:5 and therefore Gal. 3:12 have in mind perfect obedience in order to gain eternal life, as such a person must keep all God's commandments and judgments to live, with sacrifices available to expiate some sins only not all.

The first part of Gal. 3:12 is also very explicit in contrasting the Law and the Gospel. As it is written, the Law is not of Faith. The Law is not partly of faith and partly of works, and it is not of faithfulness. However one wants to translate πίστις, the Law is not "of πίστις." Thus, even if one were to eisegete πίστις as "faithfulness," the Law has nothing to do with "faithfulness." Rather, the context is very clear that the contrast here is between the Gospel which is by faith in verse 11 and the Law which is not of faith in verse 12. The contrast is a strict negation one over the other. Whatever is of faith is not of Law and vice versa.

Much has been said over the so-called New Perspective understanding of "works of the law" and understanding of πίστις as faithfulness. The main issue here however should be on the text of Scripture itself. It is an entirely fruitless endeavor to attempt to say that Judaism is a religion of grace and that Paul was only concerned about "boundary markers" etc. if the entire reconstruction has no connection with the text of Scripture. Paul has made it abundantly clear that the Judaizers' view was "beginning with the Spirit and completing by the flesh" (Gal. 3:3), which sounds very much like the E.P. Sanders' idea of 'covenantal nomism'. Whether one thinks Paul is mistaken in his analysis of the Judaizers' beliefs is one thing (which of course is always interesting when one sees a scholar 2000 years removed claiming to know more about the Judaizers than their contemporary Paul knows about them), what Paul is arguing against is another ball game altogether.

The fact of the matter is that whatever the merits of Paul's concerns over the Judaizers, the epistle to the Galatians is clear that Paul is arguing that the Judaizers' error can be anachronistically labeled 'Semi-Pelagianism' — teaching that one begins the Christian life by faith and completing by works. Paul also teaches that Law and Gospel in antithetical to each other. To say that other passages have a more positive view of the Law does not mean that we tone down the Bible's express teaching here. It is not our job, much less the FVists', to alter the teachings of the Word of God just because it does not fit into their nice monocovenantal scheme. Our theology must change according to the teachings of God's Word, not the other way around. The job of systematicians is to reconcile all of the teachings of God's Word after collecting all of the biblical data relevant to the topic, not to create a Procrustean bed in which biblical data have to fit or be fitted to match.

The denial of the Law/Gospel distinction by blending them into a monstrosity called "Glawspel" begins the FV error on the Gospel. And as we will continue to see, this extreme "continuity" hermeneutic destroys the Gospel message in the hands of the FVists.

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