Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

In the ongoing debate between atheism and Christianity the moral argument is a persuasive defense of the Christian position. Transcendental morality outstrips any moral standard located in the created universe. The transcendental argument for God (TAG) is thus an excellent argument in the defense of Christianity because the answers to metaphysics, morality and epistemology are all located outside the created universe — in God.

Yet Christians are not united on what their moral standard might be. While they recognize its origin, it is the details of that standard that remain elusive for many. There is a very simple reason for this: Christians cannot agree on how the Bible should be interpreted. So all kinds of views are presented along with their proof texts. But it is worth remembering that a text out of context is a pretext.

In this essay, I’ll explore one presentation of Biblical morality and how it fails the test of consistency — consistency to the whole counsel of God. Instead, what it does is create contradictions by suggesting some verses of the Bible supersede or replace what other verses teach. In other words, there is a failure to use the laws of logic, especially the law of non-contradiction, as the rules of engagement.

The laws of logic are the rules that allow meaningful presentations of ideas. But it is surprising how much biblical interpretation breaks the rules of logic by offering one verse at the expense of another. In effect, the interpretive ideas make the Bible contradict itself. And so this kind of contradiction is a healthy indicator that the idea presented perhaps is not what the Bible actually teaches.

Dispensationalism Alive and Well

Thus it is my intention here to look at the presentation by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum of Ariel Ministries, who has a particular view about the relationship of the Old and New Testaments and biblical morality.[1] Whereas for centuries it has been the practice of Christians to rely on the Old and New Testaments as the source for contemporary morality, Dr. Fruchtenbaum is keen to dispel this idea. In order to do so, he adopts a version of dispensationalism that allows him to cut up the Bible to avoid the charge of inconsistency.[2] Yet those dispensations as described by Dr. Fruchtenbaum come with their own arbitrariness. For example, the ‘key person’ he identifies in his Dispensation of Law that covers the period from Exodus 19:1 up to Acts 1:26, is Moses. You would have thought the key person would be Messiah, given the Old Testament prophecies and the Gospels. Even David might be a contender for ‘key person’, especially since the Messiah is in the lineage of David, not Moses. But for Dr. Fruchtenbaum the key person is Moses, not the Messiah, a rather strange choice. In fact, in Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s theology, the Messiah does not become the key person until the seventh dispensation, which covers the period of Revelation 20:1-10. In other words, in the scope of biblical revelation and human history, most of the time the Messiah is not a key person, according to this view.

What you find in Dr. Fruchtenbaum is a presentation of dispensational theology. It is not my intention to review dispensationalism here and show its weaknesses. That’s already been done by Greg Bahnsen and Ken Gentry in their book, House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology (1989), or by Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn in their book, Dispensationalism, Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (1985).

The fact of discredited dispensationalism is hidden from many people and not made obvious in the writings of evangelical organizations such as Creation Ministries International who rely on Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s theology for some of their arguments, especially when CMI science lecturers stray from their field of scientific expertise to the field of general theology. This can be seen in article by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, All Foods Clean, where he argues that Mark 7:19 is a release from the dietary laws of the Old Testament. When taken in context, however, Mark 7:19 says no such thing. More on this later.

Now I am certain that Dr. Fruchtenbaum says many good things about Messianic prophecies, and CMI writers have selected many of those for use in their articles. But, when it comes to ethics and morality, Dr. Fruchtenbaum has left his readers with a notion that the Law of Christ replaces the Law of Moses. In other words, in true dispensational fashion, he cuts up the Bible in such a way that ultimately makes nonsense of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. It’s nonsense because it makes the Bible contradict itself.

Since the time of Christ there has been a dispute over the Old Testament and its relevance. Competing idea are offered in order explain the Scripture. But how are we to know which of the competing ideas is the correct one? The usual answer is that you ‘search the Scriptures’ and while that is a good idea, it really doesn’t answer the questions that might be asked. All it does is tell you where you’ll find the answer. It is necessary to remember the dictum of Dr. Keith Matheson: All appeals to Scripture are appeals to an interpretation of Scripture.[3] Getting the interpretive criteria correct, then, is important.

Did you know the Bible contains these words: “There is no God”? On the surface this seems to say that atheism is the correct view. But it is not until you take these words in their immediate and broader context that their meaning becomes clear: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” That’s the immediate context. But even without that, the first chapter of Genesis is evidence for the existence of God. So you cannot abstract ‘There is no God’ out of the Bible and try to make it a stand-alone idea. Such an abstraction would run foul of the law of non-contradiction: God cannot be said to exist and not exist at the same time. Neither can God be said to affirm the law in one instant (Matt. 5:17ff) but deny it soon after (Mark 7:19).

It is this kind of logic I am going to use in my analysis of Dr. Fruchtenbaum and see how he stands in relation to the law of non-contradiction. He has made the claim that “The clear-cut teaching of the New Testament is that the Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative with the death of Messiah; in other words, the Law in its totality no longer has authority over any individual.” His proof-text is Roman 10:4 which he backs up with Gal. 2:16 and then Heb. 7:19. I’ll return to these texts, but before I do, it is important to look at one of the key assumptions he uses for his method of interpretation. it is this:

The Law of Moses has been done away with, and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2, and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the commandments applicable to a New Testament believer.

Law of Moses or Law of God?

Interestingly, he never refers to the Old Testament law as the Law of God or, in the words of the Psalmist, the law of the LORD, but persists in referring to it as the Law of Moses, as if the OT law is owned by Moses. This helps mask the assumption he has proposed about the nature of God. However, since God is a Trinity of Persons and there is no subordination of those persons to each other, whatever is said in the Old Testament may equally be called the ‘Law of Christ’ or the ‘Law of God.’ In fact, the Messiah refers to the Law of God (Old Testament) as ‘my commandments’ (John 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”) According to Dr. Fruchtenbaum, it is at Christ’s death that the sudden change of the law takes place. So Jesus here can only be referring to the Old Testament law (Torah) when he speaks of ‘my commandments’.

If you go to the Old Testament itself, you find that the reference often used to the law is “the Law of the LORD.” (e.g. Psa. 1:2; 19:7, etc). So to try and confine the descriptive name of Old Testament law to the words ‘Law of Moses’ is already a step to suppress that fact that Old Testament is really the Law of God. The problem is that Fruchtenbaum speaks of the Law of Moses possessively — as if Moses is the ‘owner’ of the 613 laws of Torah. But the true ‘owner’ is God, and since Christ is God, to exclude the Messiah as the ‘owner’ of Old Testament law is an exclusion bordering on heresy.

It’s getting real close to the heresy of Marcion who suggested there were two Gods — one found in the Old Testament and then there is Christ found in the New Testament. Now I don’t think it is Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s intention to go that far. But he is certainly heading in that direction with his juxtaposition of the ‘Law of Moses’ over against the ‘Law of Christ’. It is not possible to abstract the laws of God in the Old Testament from his person and then suggest there is a change to the law in the New Testament. God declares of himself, “For I the LORD do not change” (Mal. 3:6). What Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s view requires, however, is change in God, changes in his knowledge, and changes in the way he deals with man. So ultimately, he is suggesting a change in the nature and character of God took place at the time of Christ’s death when the Law of Christ replaced the Law of Moses. This is nonsense.

Sin and its Origin

But even before we get to this issue there is another important part of the Bible that helps us understand what the Bible really says about morality, and that is found in the third chapter of Genesis, the fifth verse. In the temptation that comes to Eve, the Serpent suggests that if she eats of the fruit she will not die, but be ‘like’ God and ‘know’ the difference between good and evil. The Hebrew word translated ‘know’ here has the broader of meaning of definition: to know something in this sense is to determine it. Eve would ‘know’ good and evil be becoming the definer of what was good and what was evil.

With this as backdrop, it is relatively easy to understand why the Law, the Torah, appears so early in Scripture. For over against man’s attempts to define good and evil, God has laid down his Law of the standards for what good and evil really are. In other words, God confronts the idea of human autonomy in morality by presenting his law as the standard of right living.

To suggest that this law is now ‘inoperative’ and replaced by the ‘Law of Christ’ is an act of question-begging on behalf of Dr. Fruchtenbaum. He has to show that the verses he relies on for his position can only be interpreted one way — his way. If there are other possible interpretations that are available, then he has not proved his point at all. So he needs to explain why his particular interpretation is correct and the others are wrong. He hasn’t done that; he has merely presented his view as if it is the correct one.

The ‘End’ of the Law

Let’s take, for example, his use of Rom. 10:4: “For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone that believes.” In explaining this verse, Fruchtenbaum says, “Very clearly, Christ is the end of the law, and that includes all 613 commandments; hence, the law has ceased to function. There is no justification through it.” What is evident is that Dr. Fruchtenbaum is using the word ‘end’ (Gr: telos) in the sense of ‘came to an end.’ However, the Greek word here has a much broader meaning, and can be translated end, or goal, or purpose. Thus Strong includes “(a) an end, (b) event or issue, (c) the principal end, aim, purpose, (d) a tax.” And so we ask why does Dr. Fruchtenbaum assume (a) when he could equally take (c) as his meaning of telos and come up with a different conclusion? Unless, of course, he can identify within the context of Scripture that ‘an end’ is the only possible understanding of Rom. 10:4. He hasn’t done this, and I don’t think it can be done without running foul of the law of non-contradiction, given what the Bible says elsewhere. Various translations of the text say Christ is the ‘culmination’ of the law, which is different to saying the law has come to an end. The NLT translation of Rom. 10:4 reads, “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given,” which is consistent with the rest of Scripture but contrary to Dr. Fruchtenbaum. Christ is thus the telos of the law.

Dr. Fruchtenbaum has a witness against his view in the very book of Romans he is quoting from. In Rom. 3:31, after explaining the meaning of faith, Paul asks this question: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?” Please take notice of his answer: “By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Why Paul would try to uphold the law earlier in his letter only to later tell the Romans they no longer have to keep the law is a ‘mystery’ that Dr. Fruchtenbaum creates. He creates it because he arrived at the position that the OT law was only temporary; now he is trying to justify its ‘end’.

To help us understand how Dr. Fruchtenbaum arrives at this position, we need to look at his second point as to why the Law of Moses is rendered inoperative. For him, “the Mosaic Law was never meant to be a permanent administration, but a temporary one.” Yet, according to the Psalmist, “Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever” (Psa. 119:152). Now, who are you going to believe? Dr. Fructenbaum who says the law was a temporary arrangement, or the Psalmist who declares they are a permanent arrangement? Notice also to whom the Psalmist is referring when he says “you have founded them forever.” Whom did the Psalmist have in mind: God or Moses? If God founded them forever, then we have yet another key to understanding why Fruchtenbaum’s reference to the ‘Law of Moses’ possessively is misplaced.

Not only that, but we see in the Gospels a consistent theme from the Messiah, expressed in these words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23). Lawlessness here can only refer to Torah, so Christ is actually affirming the Torah. This would be a strange thing to do if he intends within less than three years to abolish this law and make it inoperative. You would at least think he could give the people some warning about the temporary nature of ‘my commandments’ in order that they might be prepared for what comes next. But no such advance notice is given or even hinted.

But Dr. Fruchtenbaum has a point to prove, and he says he has other texts to back up the conclusion that the OT law “cannot function in either justification or sanctification.” Now no one has suggested that OT law functions in justification, as Gal. 2:16 indicates. But how are ‘good works’ to be defined except according to the Law of God? Is there some other standard that defines good works? The framers of the Heidelberg Catechism didn’t think so. So they ask, Q. 91: “What are good works?” And the answer: “Only those which are done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for God’s glory; and not those based on our own opinion or human tradition.” The alternative to God’s law is our own opinion or human tradition. Is this what Dr. Fruchtenbaum is offering us? Ultimately yes, as we shall see. Meanwhile, he has up his sleeve the ‘Law of Christ’ as an alternative to the misnamed and misdescribed ‘Law of Moses’.

Now this ‘Law of Christ’ “contains all the the commandments applicable to a New Testament believer.” And so we ask, what are these applicable commandments? Where are they found in Scripture? We only get one or two example from Dr. Fruchtenbaum: stealing is wrong; thou shalt not kill is apparently a law of Christ, whereas the prohibition of eating pork is a law of Moses and not applicable today. We could build a list of OT laws, such as the prohibition on usury, the requirement to tithe, etc. which Dr. Fruchtenbaum will tell us are no longer applicable because he cannot find them in the NT. In fact, it is not even the whole NT he is prepared to look at, since he has already discounted the gospels as belonging to the dispensation of Law. Thus, anything the Messiah might have said on earth is no longer applicable, unless it comes through the mouth (or writings) of Paul.

The ‘Law of Christ’ is Inadequate

Yes, Dr. Fruchtenbaum is adamant that you don’t even need to keep the Ten Commandments. Under the heading, “The Principle of Freedom,”, Dr. Fruchtenbaum assures the reader that “the believer in the Messiah is free from the Law of Moses. This means that he is free from the necessity of keeping any commandment of that system. But on the other hand, he is also free to keep parts of the Mosaic Law if he so desires.” He even cites Paul keeping of OT law as examples of a non-obligatory example of keeping Mosaic Law (Acts 18:18; 20:16; 21:17-26). This, however, leaves a question hanging over this alleged Law of Christ which apparently we are obligated to keep. And the question is this: Why would it be necessary for a believer to select some of the OT laws to keep? The only reason for doing so is because the NT offers no similar commandment. And right there, we have before our eyes an admission that the NT ‘Law of Christ’ is incomplete or inadequate for the whole of life. It apparently needs to be supplemented, not out of necessity, but out of freedom.

But in this do we not detect a return to Gen. 3:5 and the temptation that if Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they will be like God, choosing for themselves what is right and wrong? If this is the sin principle, then Dr. Fruchtenbaum is merely supporting the serpent’s contention that it is now OK for the believer to determine his own moral standard. Since the Law of Christ is inadequate, in the areas where it does not speak, then man remains autonomous in his determining what is right or wrong. To be sure, he may freely choose from the OT if he wishes. But apparently he might also freely choose from any other source, such as human tradition or his own opinion. Yet these were the very doors that were shut by the framers of the Heidelberg Catechism.

When Dr. Fruchtenbaum suggests it is no longer necessary to keep the Ten Commandments, he displays a genuine ignorance of the Torah. The Ten Commandments, or Ten Headings, are the headlines under which the remainder of the laws are subsumed. So if you do away with the headings, how will you now understand a commandment such as Lev. 19:35-36, the keeping of just weights and measures? Historically, this is has been seen as an application of the Eighth Heading, Thou Shalt Not Steal. But if it is not a part of this principle of prohibition against theft, what is it? It can only be some abstract law that has a limited application to do with just weights and measures.

Now this is how Dr. Fruchtenbaum views the OT law. It is merely 613 abstract laws, not Ten Headings with 603 examples of how to apply the law. If you don’t hold this view of the law, you end up with ‘only’ 613 commandments that apparently leave whole areas of life unaddressed with God’s moral code. And this is how Dr. Fruchtenbaum presents his ‘Law of Christ’ as being an inadequate law code for the whole of life. So the believer is free to add to it as necessary — even taking from the OT law if he so chooses.

Dr. Fruchtenbaum is thus at odds with the historical view of the Law of God as expressed in the Reformed Confessions. Not surprisingly, Dr. Fruchtenbaum makes no attempt to suggest he is Reformed. That in itself is not a crime, but it is a clear example of someone who has selected a set of presuppositions that cannot be supported from Scripture.

Dr. Fruchtenbaum suggests that whereas the OT prohibited the eating of pork, the NT now permits this. But I have studied and written on the major NT passages (Mark 7, Acts 10-11, Col. 2) used to argue that the believer is now free from the dietary regulations. In each of the cases, the context is very clear that the dietary laws are not annulled. Mark 7, for example, is speaking of the laws of cleanliness, not the laws of kashrut.[4] So the conclusion “thus he declared all foods clean” is not an abolition of the dietery laws but a correction of the Jewish concept of cleanliness which is the focus of Mark 7:1-20. Col. 2, is not a declaration that the believer is now free from the Law of God, but a reminder that it is not the laws of men who must guide us, but the Law of God. Thus, let no man tell you what to do. But, on the other hand, please let God tell you what to do. Acts 10, everyone’s favorite text for rejecting the dietary laws falls in a heap of contradictions with passages such as Matt. 7:17ff if interpreted the popular format. The very fact it raises a contradiction within Scripture is sufficient to put a huge question-mark over that interpretation and look for an explanation that maintains the unity of Scripture.

This leaves Dr. Fruchtenbaum with still one verse up his sleeve, Heb. 7:19, which in the ESV begins with this parenthetical statement: “(for the law made nothing perfect)”. Now throughout Dr. Fruchtenbaum equivocates on the meaning of the law. He says the law did not justify. He is right, it never did. Here, the writer to Hebrews says the law made nothing perfect. So why, then was the OT law given? If it doesn’t justify and it makes no one perfect, is the Torah just a useless relic? If it is, then why is not this alleged ‘Law of Christ’ similarly a useless set of regulations for the believer? And the answer is found in the true purpose of the law, as I have indicated above in my discussion of Gen. 3:5. The Law of God/Christ does not justify or make us perfect, but it does answer the question, “How, then, should we live.” In other words, it tells us the difference between right and wrong actions which mankind is unable to determine autonomously.

Conclusion

So we have seen that Dr. Fruchtenbaum has not established a biblical basis for his view at all.  He has presented ideas that contradict what Scripture says in other places. And dividing the word into arbitrary dispensations and then suggesting that the Word of God in one dispensation overrules the Word of God in another dispensation, is not an established hermeneutical procedure for understanding the Bible. The testimony of the church throughout history bears witness to this.

By suggesting the Law of Christ in juxtaposition to the Law of Moses, Dr. Fruchtenbaum has created a false dichotomy. The alleged Law of Christ, in Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s view, is not a comprehensive law structure like the Torah, which really does cover the whole of life. Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s protestations to the contrary, there is no ‘Law of Christ’ that is an alternative to the Law of God because God and Christ are one. That is the testimony of the church through the centuries. And there is no reason to abandon this historic view.

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Dr. Fruchtenbaum is a Jewish Christian. His PDF article, The Law of Moses and the Law of Messiah can be found here. There is a slightly smaller version in HTML format that can be found here. There are many Messianic Jews who would not agree with Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s view of the Torah.↵back
  2. Click on the link for The Dispensations of God. See in particular V:The Dispensation of Law and VI:The Dispensation of Grace.↵back
  3. Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.↵back
  4. Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Kosher refers to food that may be consumed according to Jewish law.↵back
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