Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The "Ceremonial Restorative Law"

However, the meaning and intention of these laws is equally valid under the Older and New Covenants, even though the former manner of observation is now "out of gear." The restorative law of the Older Testament declared that there is no remission of sin apart from the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The truth of this law, its axiomatic content, could not be set aside, even though the way in which it is observed could. The meaning was secure. "Therefore, it was necessary" that the Older Testament copies be cleansed with blood because they anticipated the cleansing of the heavenly things by Christ's sacrifice (Heb. 9:23-24). Christ did not cancel the requirement of the restorative ceremonies; He once and for all kept them so that we might observe them in Him. He is our sacrificed passover (1 Cor. 5:7), our redemptive lamb (1 Pet. 1:19), etc. It is "impossible" to be saved now by any other sacrifice (Heb. 10:4). [Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 210]

One rather strange view advocated by Greg Bahnsen is his take on the ceremonial law. Now, no one can deny the distinction between the ceremonial laws in the Old Testament and the other laws, since the book of Hebrew especially made it clear that Jesus did away with the sacrifices since He is the mediator of a better covenant (Heb. 8-9). The ceremonial laws have been done away with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. So if we are told of the "abiding validity of the Law in exhaustive detail," then what are we to make of the ceremonial law, since it seems rather obvious from passages like Hebrews 8:5-7 that the ceremonial law is likened to a shadow that is passing away?

Bahnsen has a rather ingenius way around this conundrum. The ceremonial law(s) according to him are "restorative law," because they function in order to restore Man to God. That was after all what for example the sin offering does. Since the ceremonial law is restorative in nature, Christians still observe it, in Christ. Christ fulfills the restorative law and thus when we depend on Christ and his intercession, we are obeying the restorative ceremonial law.

Now all of this sound nice, but it suffers from a big problem: ceremonial law is not restorative law. The whole idea of OT ceremonies is to function as pictures of salvation. That is why Hebrews 8:5 speak about the tent and tabernacle as being a shadow of the heavenly realities. This is not to say there is an actual physical tabernacle in heaven, but that the building on earth mirrors the functional realities in heaven. As Hebrews utilizes the analogy, Christ has entered into the Holy Place (Heb. 9:12), analogous to how the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies once per year on the Day of Atonement. The function of the earthly High Priest is to enter God's presence to offer up a sweet aroma and atonement for the sins of the people. Likewise, Jesus in this functional analogue comes into God's presence and show ("offer") the atoning work ("sweet aroma of atonement") to the Father. This Jesus did once for all in contrast to the repeated sacrifices of the earthly High Priest (Heb. 9:25).

The ceremonies of the OT therefore do not actually do anything before God, as if God is appeased with the blood of goats and lambs (Heb. 10:4). Rather, they are a picture of the only sacrifice that can accomplish anything, that is Christ's. As pictures, they do not restore anyone to God, but rather they "restore" only because of what they point towards; they have nothing besides what God has designed them to point towards. In other words, Christ is the only reality; the ceremonies are shadows and pictures. Here, we do not start with the "restorative ceremonies," but rather we start with the reality; Bahnsen's reasoning is the wrong way round, reasoning from the reality to the shadows!

Bahnsen is driven to his unnatural way of interpreting the ceremonial law because of his a priori commitment to his central thesis of the "abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail." However, here is where we see the value in interpreting Matthew 5:17-20 eschatologically. Interpreting the Matthean passage correctly in its context and applying it to this issue, we see how the ceremonial law is being fulfilled by Christ eschatologically, showing us the reality behind the types and shadows. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law because He IS the reality behind the sacrifices. All of the ceremonial laws are pictures of Christ's work for us. We do not have to come up with some strange interpretation of how we are still to observe the "ceremonial restorative law," but rather we let Scripture tell us that we do not have to do any of them because Christ has did it all, Him being the culmination all the ceremonies were prefiguring.

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