Friday, April 19, 2019

A Good Friday Lesson Involving a New Testament Use of the Old Testament

by Michael J. Vlach


It just so happens that my study of "New Testament Use of the Old Testament" intersects with Good Friday today. This involves the quotation of Psalm 31:5 in Luke 23:46.

Psalm 31 describes David’s trust in God while in distress. While in turmoil, it is the Lord in whom David takes refuge; and it is the Lord who is David’s rock and fortress (Ps. 31:1-3). With verse 5 David declared: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth.” David trusted the Lord with his life.

Centuries later just moments away from death, the ultimate David, Jesus the Messiah, quoted David’s words of trust in Psalm 31:5 as described in Luke 23:46:

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. 

This was no coincidence. The first David trusted God during troubling times, and now the ultimate David, Jesus, trusted His life to God in the ultimate moment of darkness on the cross as He bore the sins of the world. Pao and Schnabel point out that Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 31:5 reveals two truths.

First, it demonstrates that Jesus’s death fulfills God’s purposes in the midst of darkness.

And second, it reveals “that he [God] will rescue him [Jesus] from his enemies and raise him from the dead.” Thus, Jesus’ final words are more than nice famous last words; they were “a gesture of confidence.” They were a statement of trust in God to decisively vindicate Him and raise Him from the dead.

Psalm 31 expresses David’s heartfelt trust that God would deliver him. While Psalm 31:5 probably is not a direct prophecy of what Jesus would say on the cross, it was appropriate that Jesus used the words of the first David concerning trust in the Lord as His earthly life as the ideal David expired. This is a contextual use of the OT. As Pao and Schnabel note: “The appropriation of Ps. 31:5 in v. 46 does not violate the original context and meaning in the psalm.” It takes David’s trust of God in life and extends it to death, in this case the death of the Messiah.

These are sober and encouraging words to think about on Good Friday. 

Quotations are taken from, David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 399.


Monday, April 1, 2019

The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19, Part 4: The Meaning of "To Fulfill"

By Michael J. Vlach
@mikevlach


In my previous post I addressed the meaning of “to abolish” in Matthew 5:17. Now I interpret the meaning of “to fulfill” in 5:17 with a view to understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (emphases mine).

What Jesus meant by “to fulfill” has been the subject of much debate with several differing views offered. At first, I considered discussing the various views and then presenting my particular understanding all in one post. But that is far too much for one entry. So my purpose here is to positively present the view I think is accurate.

Pleroō in the New Testament
The Greek term for “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 is plērōsai, coming from the verb, pleroō. A form of pleroō occurs 90 times in the New Testament. There are several ways the word is used (list is not exhaustive):

--To fill up
--To fill to the full or top
--To complete or accomplish
--To carry through to the end
--To make complete or perfect
--To show a correspondence with heightening
--To realize or bring something to realization

Because the term is used 90 times, sometimes in differing contexts, the interpreter must determine which sense of pleroō is the precise meaning in any given example.

More narrowly, pleroō is found sixteen times in Matthew outside of 5:17. Within Matthew the term is used in four senses:

(1)  the literal accomplishment of an Old Testament prophecy (1:22; 2:23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9, 35);

(2)  a correspondence with heightening between an event in Israel’s history and an event in Jesus’ life to connect Israel with Jesus (2:15, 17);

(3)  the bringing to fruition of something or making something happen (3:15);

(4)  a filling to the top or making full (13:48; 23:32).

The most dominant use in Matthew is the first option mentioned above concerning the accomplishment of Old Testament prophecy. But what does Jesus mean by plērōsai (“to fulfill”) in Matthew 5:17? That is the main issue before us.

We do know that plērōsai is an active infinitive verb, indicating that Jesus actively takes it upon himself to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament). He is not passive, but active in this process.

The Meaning of “Fulfill” in Matthew 5:17
With Part 2 I argued that “Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 and “Law” in 5:18 refer to the Old Testament in its entirety. Thus, I think “to fulfill” in 5:17 relates to the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures as a whole. Remembering this point is important since many assume that Jesus is only referring to Mosaic Law commands. But Jesus is referring to the entire Old Testament Scriptures with His “to fulfill” claim in 5:17.

Before getting into the details, I state my view upfront:

I believe “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 means “to complete,” “to come to pass,” or “to accomplish.” In this context, Jesus declared that everything stated, promised, and predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures must come to pass or be accomplished in all its details because He takes it upon himself to bring these to completion. I call this view the “Everything written in the Old Testament must happen because of Jesus” view. There is no matter too small that will not occur.

By stating “everything” in the Old Testament must happen, this seems to include the following:

--all messianic prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament

--all prophecies and eschatological details in the Old Testament, including Day of the Lord and Kingdom predictions.

--all aspects of the covenants of promises (Abrahamic/Davidic/New) in the Old Testament. (This includes the promise that the New covenant would supersede the Mosaic covenant (Jer. 31:31-34))

Of the three categories mentioned above, the first—all messianic prophecies about Jesus—could be primary. Note the similarity between Matthew 5:17 and Luke 24:44 below:

Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

Luke 24:44:  “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

These two verses above are the only cases where “Law,” “Prophets,” and “fulfill” are mentioned together, and with Luke 24:44 Jesus’ emphasis is on the fulfillment of messianic prophecies about himself.

With Luke 24:25-27 Jesus stated that messianic prophecies about His suffering and glory were predicted by “Moses” and “all the prophets”:

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (emphases mine).

Again, when it comes to what Moses and the prophets predicted, Jesus emphasized the fulfillment of messianic prophecies. A similar statement is found in Luke 18:31:

Then He [Jesus] took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.”

Here Jesus actively takes it upon himself to go to Jerusalem and accomplish what was predicted by the prophets.

Also, when it comes to Jesus and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about His sufferings, note Acts 3:18 and Peter’s words:

But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled (emphases mine).

I am not saying that only messianic prophecies are in view with “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17. As mentioned earlier, there are other matters that must be fulfilled as well. But so much emphasis in the New Testament is given to the fulfilling of messianic prophecies, it is difficult not to see this category as being a major part of Jesus’ meaning in Matthew 5:17, especially when He mentions messianic prophecies about himself on several other occasions.

Matthew 5:18 as the Explanation of 5:17
Matthew 5:18 is a major reason why I believe “to fulfill” means the accomplishing of all things stated in the Old Testament. To know what “fulfill” means in 5:17 we need to grasp what verse 18 means, especially the word “accomplished.” The conjunction “for” (gar) early in verse 18 connects the word “fulfill” with what Jesus means by “fulfill”:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill18 For [gar] truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (emphases mine).

Why do I mention that verse 18 is the explanation of verse 17? In my opinion, discussions of “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 often miss this point. Sometimes when I read scholars comment on “to fulfill” in 5:17 they appeal to the various nuances of pleroō found in lexicons or dictionaries. Or they offer broad theological statements on what they think it means for Jesus to fulfill the Law. Now, I’m certainly not against looking at lexicons or engaging in broader discussions of Jesus and the Law. But the immediate context is the most important factor here. We can look at Jesus’ explanation in 5:18 to know what He meant in 5:17.

Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:18 is that every part of the Old Testament must come to pass as stated. This involves “the smallest letter or stroke.” In fact, the universe cannot pass away until everything stated in the Old Testament happens.

Note that there is a close connection between “fulfill” in 5:17 and “accomplished” in 5:18. So much so, that I think “accomplished” is the explanation of “fulfill.” As we discover what “accomplished” means in verse 18, we can understand what “fulfill” means in 5:17. As I will assert below, when “accomplished” is linked with prophets or prophecies by Jesus, the meaning involves the completion or coming to pass of prophetic and eschatological details.

“Accomplished” in Matthew 5:18 is the Greek verb, genetai, coming from ginomai. Forms of ginomai occur around 460 times in the New Testament, and 75 times in Matthew. In Matthew 1:22, ginomai and pleroō are used together concerning the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 concerning Jesus’ virgin birth:

Now all this took place [ginomai] to fulfill [pleroō] what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (Matt. 1:22-23) (emphases mine).

When dealing with the details of prophecies or events, the word ginomai often has the idea of “come to pass” “happen” or “take place” concerning these details (Matt. 21:21; 24:6; 26:56). In the great prophetic message of the Olivet Discourse Jesus declared:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place (genesthai)” (Matt. 24:6) (emphases mine).

Here Jesus says eschatological details must happen. When discussing detailed eschatological events in Luke 21:32 Jesus said:

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place [genetai]” (emphases mine). 

Again, Jesus used ginomai to indicate fulfillment of all prophetic details in His discourse.

Significant for our purposes is this—when ginomai is used by Jesus in reference to prophets or prophecies, the literal accomplishment of prophetic details is often on His mind. And that is what we see in Matthew 5:17-18 where Jesus explicitly mentioned “the prophets” (5:17) and then referred to “accomplished” (5:18).

Again, I am not limiting “fulfill” or “accomplished” to just prophecies. But the idea of fulfillment of prophecies seems to fit well in Matthew 5:17-18. In the book, The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian (Zondervan, 1993), Wayne Strickland observed, “That fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament is in view is signaled by the phrase, ‘until everything is accomplished’ in verse 18” (258). I agree with Strickland.

At this point, I anticipate the objection that the Mosaic Law, not prophecy, is in view in Matthew 5:17-18. In the same book mentioned above, Greg Bahnsen mocked Strickland for claiming that Jesus included prophecies in 5:17-18:

But the alert reader must cry out: “Where is there any mention or discussion of Old Testament prophecies in this passage or its local context?” The fact is that there is not so much as a word about Old Testament prophecies to be found. Strickland fabricates that this is the subject under discussion and then imports it into the passage from the outside. Any reader can see that Christ is not discussing prophecy but ethics, at this particular point—indeed, extending up to the end of the sermon[1] (emphases in original) (299-300).

Also disagreeing with Strickland, in the same book, Moo said the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 and Jesus’ statement that love of God and people is linked with the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:40) shows that that “Law” and “the Prophets” is focused on commands and not Old Testament prophecies (Moo, 314). Moo also claimed that Matthew 5:21-48 revealed that Jesus’ emphasis was on commands (314).

My response to these objections is twofold. First, as we have seen, when Jesus mentions “Law” and “Prophets” together, He often does so with messianic prophecies about himself in mind. That He also does so in Matthew 5:17-18 is likely. Note that Jesus mentioned “prophets” in 5:17, so the prophets are in the context, contrary to what Bahnsen claimed above. Perhaps the question could be asked back to critics: “If Jesus mentioned ‘Prophets’ in 5:17, why would we not believe prophecies were on His mind, especially when He does this on other occasions where the Law or Moses are mentioned too?” Second, we must remember that the books of Moses also contain major prophecies and prophetic details, some of which are messianic such as Genesis 49:8-12; Numbers 24:17-19; and Deuteronomy 18:15-18.

Also, this idea that pleroō is linked with the literal accomplishment of messianic prophecies fits well with the dominant use of the term in Matthew. As mentioned earlier, pleroō in Matthew often refers to the accomplishment of prophetic predictions concerning Jesus (see Matt. 1:22; 2:23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9, 35). So for messianic prophecies to be part of the meaning of “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 makes sense.

Conclusion
In sum, my view of “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 is that “everything written in the Old Testament must happen because of Jesus.” While not exhausting the meaning of “fulfill,” this primarily involves messianic prophecies about Jesus. I think this understanding can be defended from the immediate context of Matthew 5:17-18, and it can be supported by other passages in which Jesus and others link messianic prophecies with the Law and Prophets.






Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19, Part 3: The Meaning of “Abolish”

by Michael J. Vlach
@mikevlach

Below is Part 3 of an ongoing series on “The Meaning of 
Matthew 5:17-19.”

With my last post, I argued that “the Law or the Prophets” and “Law” in Matthew 5:17-18 referred to the Old Testament in its entirety. This is contrary to the popular idea that Jesus was addressing the Mosaic Law only, especially with Matthew 5:18. The purpose of this post is to examine the term, “abolish,” in 5:17. What did Jesus mean when He said that He did not come to “abolish” the Law or the Prophets?

A Word about Word Studies
This study and the one after this will focus on the meanings of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17-18. But first a note about words and word studies is appropriate.

As with all words, there is usually a range of meaning for a term depending on how it is used. If used extensively, most words have two or more meanings. That is how language usually works. For example, the Greek term pneuma in the New Testament, often translated “spirit,” can refer to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), wind (John 3:8), breath (2 Thess. 2:8), the immaterial part of a person (Luke 8:55; Acts 7:59), angels (Heb. 1:14), demons (Matt. 8:16), and other things. Context will decide which sense was in the author’s mind.

Obviously when Jesus said, “The wind [pneuma] blows where it wishes” in John 3:8 we are not free to plug in any of the options we want. “Wind” is the clear meaning here based on the context. Jesus did not mean “demons” or the “immaterial part of a person.” So while consulting dictionaries and lexicons for meanings of words is definitely helpful, ultimately the meaning of a word must be determined by the context in which it is used.

This point will be particularly significant when we look at the word pleroō, translated “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17. There are several ways pleroō is used in Matthew’s gospel and the New Testament. So we have to balance two things with word studies. First, we pay close attention to how a word is used in Scripture. But two, ultimately meaning is determined with the immediate context. This warning is not that big of an issue with the word “abolish,” since the meaning of this term is quite obvious in Matthew 5:17. But it will be more of an issue with “fulfill” since there are several different views of what this term means in 5:17.

Meaning of “Abolish” (kataluō)
The word “abolish,” which is used twice in Matthew 5:17, is the Greek term kataluō. In 5:17 the term is an infinitive verb, katalusai:

 “Do not think that I came to abolish (katalusai) the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish (katalusai) but to fulfill.” 

Kataluō is found 15 times outside of Matthew 5:17. Eight of these involve the idea of “destroy” or “demolish” concerning a temple. For example, Acts 6:13-14 states:

They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man [Stephen] incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy [katalusei] this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:13-14).

Concerning the Jerusalem temple in Matthew 24:2, Jesus said:

And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down [kataluthēsetai].”

We are accurate to conclude that the idea of “destroy,” “demolish,” “overthrow,” “abolish,” and “tear down” is the meaning of katalusai in Matthew 5:17. The NASB, ESV, and NIV all interpret katalusai as “to abolish.” The HCSB translates it “to destroy.” Any of these descriptions works. This is a case where the term in Matthew 5:17 fits very closely with most uses of this term in the New Testament.

In order for Jesus to makes such a statement there must have been an accusation that He sought the destruction of the Law and the Prophets. But Jesus combats this idea. He did not come to abolish, destroy, or tear down the Law or the Prophets. He came to fulfill them.

In sum, when we combine the meaning of “abolish” with “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 the idea is this: Contrary to what some of His opponents asserted, Jesus did not come to abolish, destroy, or tear down the Law or the Prophets (i.e. the Hebrew Scriptures).


With my next post I will explain what it means for Jesus to “fulfill” the Law or the Prophets. Concerning this term much more debate exists.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19, Part 2: Understanding “the Law or the Prophets”

by Michael J. Vlach
@mikevlach

In Part 1, I mentioned that a decision must be made concerning what Jesus meant by “the Law or the Prophets” in Matthew 5:17 and “Law” in 5:18. While this issue might not seem that significant at first glance, it is important for a correct understanding of Matthew 5:17-19. The purpose of this post is to survey the issues here and comment on what I think is the best understanding.

Before we start, though, I understand that the issues we are beginning to discuss are heavily debated And reasonable people can disagree with my findings.

To begin, note Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17-18:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” 

Meaning of “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17
Ten other times, “Law” and “Prophets” are coupled in the New Testament—Matthew 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23; and Romans 3:21. The joining of “the Law” and “the Prophets” together refers to the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament. The “Law” in this context refers to the Torah or first five books of the Bible. And “Prophets” refers to the rest of the Old Testament books. As Grant Osborne observes, “‘The law or the prophets’ means the whole of Scripture” (Matthew, 181).

Jesus’ mention of “or” (ē) instead of the usual “and” (kai) when connecting “the Law” with “the Prophets” does not change this reality. The point is that Jesus did not come to abolish “the Law” as part of God’s Word “or” “the Prophets” as part of God’s word. Together, there are no parts of the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus came to abolish. In sum, we are on solid ground to view “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 as referencing the entirety of the Old Testament.

Meaning of “Law” in 5:18
But determining what Jesus meant by “Law” in Matthew 5:18 is more challenging and debated:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (emphasis mine).

Here Jesus mentioned “Law” but not “Prophets.” What should we conclude from this? Is Jesus drawing specific attention to the Mosaic Law commandments only? This is the majority view among commentators. Or is He using “Law” here as shorthand for “the Law” and “the Prophets” just mentioned in 5:17? With this understanding, this second use of “Law” also refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole.

Three arguments exist for the ‘Mosaic Law only’ view. First, Jesus just mentions “Law.” By leaving out “Prophets” here He is focused solely on the Mosaic commands. Second, the context indicates He is focused on Mosaic Law commands. In verse 19, Jesus will mention “these commandments.” And in verse 20, He will discuss a righteousness needed to enter God’s kingdom. Then with Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus will bring up six Mosaic commandments showing that the Law was His emphasis. Third, most uses of “Law” in the New Testament focus on Mosaic Law commandments.

On the other hand, some believe “Law” in 5:18 is shorthand for the entire Hebrew Scriptures. So the Old Testament as a whole is in view, not just Mosaic Law commands. Several arguments exist for this view. First, since Jesus just mentioned “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 it seems unlikely that He would exclude “the Prophets” in 5:18. Second, the conjunction “for” (gar) connects the “Law” and “Prophets” of 5:17 with 5:18. So the message of 5:18 seems to be an explanation of what was stated in 5:17. This would have to include Hebrew Scriptures outside just the Mosaic commands. Third, with 5:17 Jesus speaks of fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, and in 5:18 He speaks of accomplishing all the details of the Law. It seems odd that the accomplishing of 5:18 would be distinct from the fulfilling of Matthew 5:17. Fourth, while it is true that “Law” most often refers to Mosaic commandments, it is not uncommon for “Law” to be used of the Old Testament as a whole. As Schreiner observes:

In some texts “Law” alone seems to refer broadly to the Old Testament Scriptures (Matt. 22:36; Luke 10:26; John 7:49; 10:34; 12:34; 15:25; 1 Cor. 9:8-9; 14:21, 34; Gal. 4:21), though in some of these texts a particular precept from the Mosaic law may be in view as well (John 7:49; 1 Cor. 9:8-9; 14:34) (Schreiner, 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, 21).

Fifth, in the only other case where the three elements of Mosaic Law, Prophets, and “fulfill” occur, the emphasis is on prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled, not just Mosaic Law fulfillment:

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

In looking at the two views, I think the second view is more convincing and is more likely to be accurate. It seems best to view “Law” in 5:18 as shorthand for “Law” and “Prophets” and to see Jesus as including the entire Old Testament corpus with His second use of “Law.” With 5:17-18 Jesus addressed more than Mosaic Law commands. He made a statement about the fulfillment of the entire Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps Jesus includes the prophecies, covenants, messianic predictions, and principles of the entire Old Testament. With Luke 24:44 we know that He included prophecies about his death and resurrection.

But what about the argument that the context of Matthew 5:17-48 is focused on the Mosaic Law commandments? There are several responses. First, the broader view of “Law” does not exclude the possibility that Jesus could make statements about the Mosaic Law. A statement about the “Law” does not mean the “Prophets” are excluded from the discussion. Second, as will be shown in a later post, “these commandments” in 5:19 might not refer to Mosaic Law commands. A reasonable case could be made that “these “commandments” refers to the entirety of the Old Testament instruction. Or, “these commandments” could refer to Jesus’ authoritative words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). At the end of the Sermon, Jesus draws attention to “these words of Mine” (Matt. 7:24, 26). Also, while Jesus will bring up six Mosaic commands in 5:21-48, He could be doing so to contrast Mosaic Law instruction with the New covenant instruction He is now offering. The main point here is that it cannot be assumed that the context of Matthew 5 demands that “Law” in Matthew 5:18 means only the Mosaic Law.  

The Debate on This Issue
This debate concerning what Jesus meant by “the Law or the Prophets” and second use of “Law” in 5:18 was tackled by the contributors in the book, The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian. Taking the broader view that Jesus was referring to the entire Old Testament Wayne Strickland stated:

In Matthew, the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” refers not simply to the Mosaic law, but to the entire Old Testament (cf. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40). Thus the term “law” in the following verse [5:18] is an abbreviated way of referring to the same Old Testament. It should also be noted that the explicit reference to “Prophets” indicates that the author is speaking of prophecy. That fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament is in view is signaled by the phrase “until everything is accomplished” in verse 18. (p. 258)

Douglas Moo pushed back on Strickland’s understanding saying Strickland’s view “skews not only the meaning of this passage but one’s general theological synthesis” (p. 313). Moo says the phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” “focuses not on the prophecies of the Old Testament but on the legal, or commanding, aspects of the Old Testament” (p. 314). Thus, Moo thinks the context supports a narrower understanding concerning Mosaic commands.

But if “Prophets” are in the near context of Jesus’ discussion in 5:17 it makes sense that Jesus includes the Prophets in 5:18. That is hardly a skewed understanding, but a contextual one. Also, I am not sure how a statement that the Old Testament Scriptures must be fulfilled in their entirety is a threat to a “general theological synthesis.”

Conclusion
In sum, I believe “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 and “Law” in 5:18 refer to the Old Testament as a whole. I would not say this understanding is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt or that reasonable people cannot disagree. But I think this understanding is more likely than not, even probable. I certainly think it is reasonable and worthy of consideration. On the other hand, I think the Mosaic Law-only view is harder to prove. I also would be cautious of any theological system or view that bases the weight of its validity on a narrower understanding of “Law” in Matthew 5:18.

My next post we will look at the meaning of “abolish” and “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17-18 and how these terms relate to “the Law or the Prophets.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19: Part 1

by Michael J. Vlach 
@mikevlach

I have had a desire for some time to write on the meaning of Matthew 5:17-19. As I began to construct a blog post, it quickly became clear that a one-part entry would not be sufficient. So I am addressing this passage in a series, with this being Part 1. 

The purpose of this post is to introduce Matthew 5:17-19, and point out five key interpretive decisions that must be made here.  

For clarification, I am not offering a comprehensive biblical theology or systematic treatment of the Law of God in the Bible. That would take a large book. Nor is this a comprehensive examination of every view of Matthew 5:17-19, although I will mention some of the various views later. My goal primarily is to understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17-19. We must let an accurate understanding of Matthew 5:17-19 inform our understanding of the Law and not force a predetermined view on this text.

Let us begin by reciting the text:

Matthew 5:17-19
 In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus states:

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, 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 (NASB).

Jesus’ words here reveal His understanding of the “Law or the Prophets” and His relationship to them.  

5 Major Interpretive issues

There are five parts of Matthew 5:17-19 where a significant interpretive decision must be made. How one decides on these will influence how one views this passage as a whole. Also, a wrong move on any of these five areas could mean an incorrect understanding of the passage. Precision of interpretation is crucial here.

First, what does Jesus mean by “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17? Is Jesus singling out the Mosaic Law code for a specific explanation? Or is He referring to the entire Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians often call the Old Testament? This issue is very strategic for understanding what Jesus is doing.

Second, what does Jesus mean by “Law” in 5:18? Does He mean the same thing as “the Law or the Prophets” in 5:17 (i.e. the Hebrew Scriptures) or is He specifically focused on the Mosaic Law code here? 

Third, what does Jesus mean by “abolish” in 5:17? He uses this term twice, but what does this term mean?

Fourth, what does Jesus mean by the term “fulfill” in 5:17? Does he mean “establish” or “uphold”? Does He mean “deepen” or “extend”? Does He mean “fulfill” in the sense of finding completion in Him? Or does He mean that a literal fulfillment of what was stated must be accomplished? Grasping the meaning of plerōsai here is very important for an accurate understanding.

Fifth, what does Jesus mean by “these commandments” in 5:19?  Why does Jesus shift from nomos (“Law”) to entole (“commandments” or “instructions”)? Are these terms parallel in meaning or different? Does “these commandments” refer to the commandments of the Mosaic Law legal code? Or does it refer to the instructions of the entire Old Testament? Or does it refer to the words of Jesus from 5:21 through chapter 7? Again, the implications of this issue are significant.

My next post will start addressing these questions and issues.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Case For Premillennialism

by Michael J. Vlach

I have presented a case for Premillennialism in two forms.

One is a book.

The other is a chapel message I did at The Master's Seminary (49 minutes).

Since Premillennialism is linked with so many Bible passages I focus mostly on a positive case for Premillennialism.

These two sources can be found below (click on links):

Premillennialism (book)

Chapel Message

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Is Jesus Currently on David's Throne?: Peter's Use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30

by Michael J. Vlach 
Twitter: @mikevlach

The purpose of this blog post is to examine Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 with a view toward grasping Peter’s understanding of the throne of David concept.

Acts 2 describes the baptizing and filling ministry of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. This is all related to Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, who currently is at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the One who has poured forth the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The culmination of Peter’s argument in Acts 2 is found in his declaration that God has made the resurrected Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Three quotations from the Psalms are found in Acts 2:29-36— Psalms 16, 132, and 110. The focus of this blog post, though, is on Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 and how this relates to the throne of David issue. Peter declared:

And so, because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:30).

Much debate exists on the implications of this verse, mostly concerning whether it implies that Jesus is currently sitting upon David’s throne today in heaven. Does Peter’s quotation of Psalm 132:11 indicate a change or advancement concerning the concept of David’s throne from a physical-earthly reality to a spiritual one. This topic involves both how Peter uses Psalm 132:11 and what this means for understanding the throne of David.

To understand Peter’s uses of Psalm 132:11 I will present both the context of the Old Testament passage and the New Testament situation in which Psalm 132:11 is quoted.  I will argue that Peter quotes Psalm 132:11 contextually, and he is not transcending or changing the meaning of the throne of David from its normal meaning of an earthly throne. Thus, Acts 2:30 is an example of a New Testament person quoting an Old Testament prophetic text contextually with the expectation that this Old Testament text will be fulfilled literally in the future.

Psalm 132

Psalm 132 is a psalm of ascents where the psalmist pleads with God to remember David and the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Sam. 7). As The Moody Bible Commentary states, “This psalm is the climax of the Psalms of Ascents. In it the psalmist emphasizes that all of Israel’s future hopes are dependent upon the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant” (p. 866).

After noting the humility of David (vv. 1-9) the author of Psalm 132 states:

For the sake of David Your servant,
Do not turn away the face of Your anointed.
 The Lord has sworn to David
A truth from which He will not turn back:
“Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.
“If your sons will keep My covenant
And My testimony which I will teach them,
Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever” (vv. 10-12).

Peter will focus mostly on verse 11 and its statement that God will set a descendant(s) upon David’s throne. The context of the Davidic Covenant and Davidic throne is 2 Samuel 7 (cf. 1 Chron. 17). Second Samuel 7:16 states, “Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” Thus, Psalm 132:10-12 is reaffirming key aspects of the Davidic Covenant first given in 2 Samuel 7.

An inductive study of various Bible passages reveals that the throne of David is related to both function and location. Functionally, it will involve both kingly authority and rule. Concerning location, it will involve an earthly geographical realm. The one who functionally rules from David’s throne will do so from and over the location of Israel. These two aspects are found in Luke 1:32b-33 when the angel Gabriel told Mary:

the Lord God will give Him [Jesus] the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32b-33).

Thus:
            Function: “He will reign”

            Location: “over the house of Jacob”

On multiple occasions, the throne of David is linked geographically with Jerusalem and Israel. Second Samuel 3:10 speaks of “the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” With 1 Kings 9:5 God told Solomon, “then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” Jeremiah 17:25 links the throne of David with “Judah” and “Jerusalem.” On nine occasions David’s throne is called the “throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:4; 8:20, 25; 9:5; 10:9; 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12; 2 Chron 6:10, 16), emphasizing that this throne is earthly in location. It should also be noted that this throne in Israel will eventually impact the whole world. Psalm 72:8 indicates that the reign of the Messiah will extend throughout the whole earth:

May he also rule from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

This locational emphasis concerning David’s throne is important since some have tried to argue that this throne is only about function, not location. But this is not true and is a false dichotomy. Both function and location are important.

Also, since the Davidic throne is established by God it is called “the throne of the Lord” in 1 Chronicles 29:23. This indicates the throne of David has the Lord as its source. It is the Davidic throne that the Lord has established on earth. First Chronicles 29:23 is not a statement that the Lord’s throne in heaven is blurred into the Davidic throne so that there is no distinction between them.

Acts 2:30-36

With Acts 2, Peter argued that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah and Lord who has poured out the Holy Spirit upon His people. Just prior to Acts 2:30, Peter quoted Psalm 16 to show that David consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-29). Then with Acts 2:30-32 Peter stated:

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 

Peter said David was a “prophet” who consciously predicted the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, we have inspired commentary from Peter concerning what David believed about the coming Messiah. David possessed a specific messianic hope and predicted the resurrection of the Messiah we now know as Jesus.

With Acts 2:30-32 Peter quotes both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 16:10. The former is a Davidic Covenant verse, and the latter emphasizes God’s “Holy One” who will not undergo decay.

Concerning Psalm 132:11, Peter draws upon the truth that God swore to David to sit one of David’s descendants on David’s throne in Jerusalem. So when Peter combines Psalm 132:11 with Psalm 16:10 he seems to be saying this: Since David knew the Messiah is destined to sit upon and reign from David’s throne forever, the Messiah must be raised from the dead. A dead Messiah cannot sit upon David’s throne, so the Messiah must be resurrected. Peter is not saying that Jesus currently is upon David’s throne, but the resurrection means God’s promise to seat a descendant of David upon David's throne forever is alive and well. 

Peter’s understanding of the Davidic throne in Acts 2 is consistent with the meaning of Psalm 132:10-12 and 2 Samuel 7. Nothing in Acts 2 indicates a change or addition has occurred concerning the Davidic throne concept.

Addressing the Heavenly Davidic Throne View

This understanding above concerning an earthly Davidic throne seems natural and likely. But not everyone accepts it. Some believe that Peter’s quotations of Psalm 132:11 (in Acts 2:30) and Psalm 110:1 (in Acts 2:34-35a) indicate a reinterpretation of the Davidic throne from an earthly reality to a heavenly reality. This is often seen in non-dispensational understandings of the kingdom in which physical realities are often spiritualized or reinterpreted to spiritual realities. For example, concerning Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 2, George Ladd said: “This involves a rather radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament prophecies, but no more so than the entire reinterpretation of God’s redemptive plan by the early church” (A Theology of the New Testament, 373).

For some theologians, David’s throne is now a heavenly entity and no longer refers to an earthly throne or position of authority in Jerusalem. Another view is that Peter is adding a spiritual dimension to the Davidic throne while not denying an earthly aspect of it in the future (some Progressive Dispensationalists). Both understandings, though, affirm that a heavenly Davidic throne is in view in Acts 2:30-36.

The argument that Peter is viewing David’s throne as a heavenly reality in Acts 2:30-36 is sometimes linked with the fact that Jesus’ session in heaven coincides with Peter’s reference to David’s throne in Acts 2:30. This understanding seems to rely on the following logic:

            The resurrected and ascended Jesus is now heaven.
            Peter quotes a passage involving the Davidic throne
Therefore, Jesus must be sitting upon David’s throne in heaven. 

But instead of simply linking heaven with David’s throne, it is more likely that Peter is making a cause-and-effect argument here. Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a step in the process to Jesus reigning from David’s throne in the future, which is what Psalm 110:1-2 actually predicts. Thus, the correct link between Jesus, heaven, and David’s throne is this—the resurrected Jesus who currently is in heaven is destined to reign upon David’s throne.

Notice that Peter does not say Jesus has been exalted to the throne of David in Acts 2:33. Instead, Peter says Jesus has been “exalted to the right of hand of God.” The Scripture consistently presents God’s throne as existing in heaven. Isaiah 66:1a states, “Heaven is my throne.” Psalm 11:4 declares, “the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” Yet David’s throne is consistently presented as an earthly reality involving Israel and the nations upon the earth (2 Sam. 3:10; 1 Kings 2:12; Jer. 17:25; Luke 1:32-33; Matt. 25:31).

Also, Peter’s emphasis in Acts 2:33b is not on Jesus reigning. Instead, Jesus is receiving and pouring forth the Holy Spirit. One would expect a statement about Jesus reigning if Peter linked the right hand of God with the Davidic throne. In addition, after Acts 2:30-36 there are thirteen statements that Jesus is at the “right hand” of God, but none say He is sitting upon the throne of David. The New Testament writers seem intentional about identifying Jesus as being at the right hand of God but not on the throne of David.

Thrones and Sitting

Another argument for the heavenly Davidic throne view concerns the issue of sitting, which Peter mentions concerning both David’s throne and the right hand of God:

David’s throne: to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:30).

God’s throne: “Sit at My right hand, (Acts 2:34).

Since both Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 110:1 speak of the Messiah as sitting in these contexts some think the Davidic throne of Psalm 132:11 and the right hand of the father of Psalm 110:1 must be the same. Or to put another way:
           
            Psalm 132:11 speaks of a descendant of David sitting on David’s throne.
            Psalm 110:1 speaks of the Messiah sitting at the right hand of God.
            Therefore, David's throne and the right hand of the Father are the same.

But the act of sitting alone does not imply the two thrones are the same. The act of sitting can apply to the Father’s throne in heaven (Psalm 110:1) and David’s throne in Jerusalem (Psalm 132:11). In fact, Jesus makes such a distinction in Revelation 3:21:

He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne [David’s throne], as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne [Father’s throne].

So the two thrones are distinguished. Also, it appears that the act of sitting applies to two different thrones at two different times. Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father now (“I also overcame”), and will in the future grant to overcomers the right to sit upon the throne of David (“I will grant to him”).

Another point to consider is that Jesus himself placed His Davidic throne assumption in the future in Matthew 25:31:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

Here Jesus’ sitting upon His glorious throne must be future since it is linked with His coming in glory with His angels. Matthew 25:32 then links this throne with the judgment of the nations, which is a future event on earth.

Matthew 19:28 also teaches that Jesus’ Davidic throne reign is future and connected with other future events such as the coming “regeneration” or renewal of the earth (palingenesia) and the rule of the apostles over the twelve tribes of Israel:

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Finally, Psalm 110:1-2 explicitly teaches that the Messiah would have a session at God’s right hand in heaven “until” the time Messiah begins His earthly reign from Jerusalem. So why would a quotation of Psalm 110 by Peter be taken to mean that Jesus is upon David’s throne in heaven now? Psalm 110 predicted that a session of the Messiah at God’s right hand (v. 1) will eventually lead to a reign from Jerusalem (v. 2). Also, Hebrews 10:12-13 states that Jesus is at the right hand of God “waiting” to reign:

but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of Godwaiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet

The right hand of God is linked with God’s throne in heaven. It is not simply a place of authority with no regard for a locale. In Acts 7:49, Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1 saying, “Heaven is My [God’s] throne.” Then while being stoned we are told that Stephen saw “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and then he said, “‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God at God’s heavenly throne. So just as David’s throne has a locale in Jerusalem, the right hand of God has a heavenly locale at God’s throne in heaven. These thrones are not the same—one is heavenly and the other is on earth.

Conclusion

The purpose of Acts 2:30-36 (and all of Acts 2) is to show the people of Israel that the resurrected Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. Jesus is at the right hand of God and He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon His followers. Peter is not stating that Jesus has assumed a transcended, heavenly Davidic throne to rule over a redefined spiritual kingdom.

In sum, Peters’ quotation of Psalm 132:11 in Acts 2:30 is contextual and relies upon the literal meaning of Psalm 132:11 which speaks of a descendant of David sitting upon the Davidic throne in Israel. Peter argues that Jesus is the One destined to reign upon the Davidic throne on earth. Because of this, Jesus could not remain dead after His crucifixion. He must be resurrected. So Peter’s use of Psalm 132:11 is an example of a New Testament person (Peter) relying upon the literal meaning of an Old Testament text (Psalm 132:11), and seeing the fulfillment of this passage as needing to occur in the future.

This understanding does not mean there are no Davidic Covenant implications in this age. Jesus, the ultimate Son of David, has been manifest and we know who He is (Matt. 1:1). He is now at the right hand of God in heaven as David predicted (see Psalm 110:1). Also, the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit which stems from the Messiah is being poured out on all believers today. Gentiles, in addition, are experiencing messianic salvation as Gentiles in this age (Acts 5:14-18; with Amos 9:11-12). But to hold that Acts 2:30-36 indicates Jesus is sitting upon and reigning from David’s throne in this age goes beyond what Peter in Acts 2 is saying.