Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Proof of the New Testament

When we think of proofs for the New Testament (NT) as the very Word of God, our thoughts usually turn to the miracles and fulfilled prophecies of the NT. We might also think about its wisdom and how faith in its Gospel message has transformed lives and societies. We might even point to extra-biblical testimony, including archeological finds. However, many are unaware of another highly impressive body of proofs – the NT/OT (Old Testament) harmony.

Jesus expressed this harmony to the Pharisees in terms of the correspondence between Himself (and what He taught) and what the Hebrew Scriptures had always taught:

  • “You do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:38-39)
His declaration meant that He and His message didn’t represent innovations – creative outpourings – but the very message and Person of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was the embodiment of everything that the Pharisees should have understood.

The Apostle Paul said the same thing but in a different way. While making his defense before the Roman governor, Festus, and King Agrippa, Paul asserted:

  • “I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22-23)
Paul explained that, far from deviating from the Jewish revelation, he was opening it up to show its fulfillment in the promised Messiah.

At this point, the Jewish scholars and rabbis alike will protest. In The Jew and the Christian Missionary, Gerald Sigal dissents:

  • The New Testament misinterprets our Hebrew Scriptures claiming that the Mosaic Covenant kills and is superseded by a new one. Instead, Scripture teaches that God’s Word doesn’t change (Isaiah 40:8) and that the Commandments impart life (Psalm 119).”
God’s Word certainly “doesn’t change.” In line with this fact, we find much OT evidence that the “Mosaic Covenant” came to perform only a temporary ministration by preparing a way for the promised Messiah. For one thing, it placed everyone under a curse, teaching Israel that their lives depended upon the sheer, unmerited mercy of God:

  • "Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deut. 27:26)
The Prophets of Israel also revealed that the mosaic covenant was temporary:

  • "Return, O backsliding children," says the LORD; "for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days," says the LORD, "that they will say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore.”  (Jeremiah 3:14-16; also Isaiah 65:17)
Jeremiah cryptically revealed that the Mosaic Covenant had a limited place in time. The “ark of the covenant” would no longer be remembered, sought, visited or made. The ark contained the Ten Commandments and represented the Covenant with Moses more centrally than any other symbol.

Other evidences reveal that the life of this Covenant was specifically related to a particular people and a particular land:

  • You shall not at all do as we are doing here today--every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes-- for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut. 12:8-9) 
Although some requirements of the Mosaic Covenant (MC) were in place as the Jewish nation wandered the desert for 40 years, it is also obvious that Israel was free in regards to much of the Covenant. They were doing “whatever is right in [their] own eyes,” because they had not yet entered the land. Instead, it was the promised “seed” of the woman (Gen. 3:15) who would have universal and eternal application. It was the “branch” coming from the lineage of David who would set up an everlasting kingdom to which even the Gentiles would come (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-10). It wouldn’t depend on the success of Jewish law-keeping under the MC, just as the NT reveals!

Consistent with this, the OT never once describes the MC as “eternal” or “everlasting.” Instead, it is the other covenants that are described in this way:

1.                  THE COVENANT GOD GAVE TO NOAH—“The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." (Genesis 9:16)

2.                  TO THE PATRIARCHS-  Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:19; Psalm 105:9-10; 1 Chron. 16:15-17)

3.                  TO DAVID- "Although my house is not so with God, yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; will He not make it increase? (2 Samuel 23:5; Isa 55:3)

In contrast, for the Orthodox Jew, everything rides upon the MC. Consequently, Jewish scholar, David Klinghoffer writes,

  • Theologically, we may put the truth in one word: Sinai. Jews have always considered the meaning of their existence to be summarized in the event before the mountain of God where they encamped…to hear God’s commandments. It was the moment of birth for the Jewish people…There was no other purpose to Jewish existence---To abandon those commandments [as becoming Christian would cause them to do] was to abandon the whole meaning of Jewish existence. (Why the Jews Rejected Jesus)
Although Moses’ “commandments” were regarded as “the whole meaning of Jewish existence,” the Hebrew Scriptures do not seem to agree – never once indicating that the MC would endure eternally. In fact, Jeremiah explicitly tells us otherwise:

  • "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
This “new covenant” would not resemble the MC. Jeremiah adds:

  • “Then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
By itself, the MC lacked the provisions to keep Israel from departing from their God. The “new covenant” would change all that, guaranteeing that God would never turn away from them.

And Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet to talk about this ultimate hope of Israel – a brand “new covenant.” Perhaps all of the prophets, if not explicitly, pointed in the direction of this Messianic hope. The Prophet Ezekiel wrote:

  • “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them…Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:26)
The Prophet Hosea reveals just how extensively the new covenant would depart from the old:

  • “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy.” (Hosea 2:18-19)
This prophecy about the NC must have been shocking to Israel. They would become the wife of God – so utterly different from the MC! Such intimacy was utterly unthinkable under the MC, where an Israelite was forbidden to even enter into the presence of God! Something would have to radically change! Israel’s God promised that He would no longer be angry with them:

  • "For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has mercy on you. (Isaiah 54:9-10; 59:21; 61:8-9)
But what would change to take away this anger and bring Israel into intimacy with their Savior? Ezekiel explained that God would have to provide a mysterious atonement:

  • I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed… And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done," says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 16:60-63)
Of course, the NT recognizes this atonement as Messianic – the very blood of Jesus the Messiah! Of course, the rabbis will strongly protest this conclusion. The rabbis of today even dispute the idea that blood atonement is necessary. Rabbi David Rosen writes:

  • Judaism does not accept the idea of vicarious atonement. We can only atone for our own sins and are responsible for our own actions.
  • Our ancient sages affirm that… “sincere repentance and works of lovingkindness (charity) are the real intercessors before God’s throne” (TB Shabbat 32A) and that “sincere repentance is the equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar and the offering of all the sacrifices” (TB Sanhedrin 43B). In terms of Jewish understanding of the sacrificial rites in the temple, while the blood of the sacrifice did indeed represent life, it was seen precisely in a representational role symbolizing “the complete yielding up of the worshipper’s life to God” (citing Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorahs)
David Klinghoffer adds:

  • The idea that penitence was not enough would have come as a surprise to the large majority of first-century Jews, who lived in the Diaspora and therefore had no regular access to the Temple rites. In not availing themselves of these rites at all times, they were relying on scripture, which taught that forgiveness could be secured without sacrifice.
Klinghoffer is probably wrong that this idea would have surprised 1st century Jews (John 11:50). However, in any event, substitutionary atonement blankets the entire MC. Animal sacrifices weren’t gentle suggestions; they were mandates. If Israel failed to offer an atoning animal, they would bear their sins and their consequences. However, this wasn’t the atonement that God had promised Israel. It was a special atonement – one that God Himself would make on behalf of Israel (Deut. 32:43; Psalm 79:9), as He had revealed to Abraham on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22). A child would be born, rejected, and sacrificed for the sins of the world:

  • He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
 This is the Messiah of whom all the Prophets pointed to, the Messiah revealed in the NT. Of course, the present-day rabbis protest that this account couldn’t be about the Messiah. However, the ancient Jewish sage Maimonides was of a different mind:

  • “Yet he carried our sicknesses, being himself sick and distressed for the transgressions which should have caused sickness and distress in us, and bearing the pains which we ought to have experienced [53:4): But we, when we saw him weakened and prostrate, thought we were healed [53:5] – because the stripes by which he was vexed and distressed will heal us: God will pardon us for his righteousness and we shall be healed from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers.”
Likewise, the highly esteemed Zohar states:

  • The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. Whence do we learn this? From the saying, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.” (NUMBERS, PINCHUS 218a, - Isaiah 53:5).”
I find it incredible that the uneducated writers of the NT – simple men - displayed such an accurate understanding of the OT Scriptures - the traditional domain of only the highly educated! Meanwhile, the highly educated profoundly misunderstood them. How can we explain this? Jesus explained it this way:

  • He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:11)
For those of us who approach the Scriptures with an open mind, this truth has become very clear.


No comments:

Post a Comment