Monday, November 24, 2008

Chapter 8: The Main Clause Of The New Covenant

Caution Point 1: Where did Joseph Prince (JP) get the idea to “divide the Word”?

Previously on chapter 5, JP tried to make the case for the need to divide Biblical passage into old covenant of law and new covenant of grace. But review on chapter 5 has shown that 2 Timothy 2.15 is not about dividing God’s Word.

JP claims that “some of the words which Jesus spoke in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are part of the old covenant. They were spoken before the cross as He had not yet died. The new covenant only begins after the cross, when the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost… Some of what Jesus said before the cross and what He said after the cross were spoken under completely different covenants." (Bold are original, p.92)

Where did JP get the idea of separating Jesus’ words in such way?

Caution Point 2: JP approaches the Bible with unchecked literalism and hence he misses the main point of some passages in the Bible, for eg. Matthew 5.29-30.

JP thinks that the reason why believers do not follow what Jesus said in Matthew 5.29-30 is because Jesus “wants us to rightly divide the Word, and understand who He was speaking to in that passage and what He meant”. (p.93)

JP continues,

Jesus said all that to bring the law back to its pristine standard, a standard that ensured that no man could keep the law…so that man would come to the end of depending on himself and begin to see that he desperately needs a Saviour. So when we read the words of Jesus in the four gospels, it is necessary for us to rightly divide the Word and understand who Jesus was speaking to.” (Bold original, p.93)

Three things. First, not sure there are Biblical texts asking believers to divide Jesus’ words into old covenant and new covenant. Second, Jesus was speaking to the general public in Matthew 5.29-30, hence it is to both believers and non-believers alike. Third, the fact that we do not amputate ourselves is not because we ‘rightly divided’ the Word, but simply because we understand that Jesus was speaking figuratively just as his first hearers did; if not his apostles and many of his followers would have amputated themselves.

Caution Point 3: JP’s starting point for understanding Jesus, his gospel, Paul and Paul’s letters is problematic.

Let me quote JP at length,

Paul’s letters were written to the church and are thus for our benefit today. God raised him up to write the words of the ascended Jesus… That is why, when it comes to reading the Bible, I always encourage new believers in our church to begin with the letters of Paul. (Many new believers like to start with the book of Revelation or Genesis, without first getting a foundation in the gospel of grace through reading the letters of Paul.” (p.94)

First, God raised all the authors of all the books in the New Testament to write to the church and for our benefit today. That is especially the case when we want to understand what was Jesus’ message, mission, and hence his significance to us.

Second, without first understanding the message of Jesus, which is recorded in the 4 gospels in the New Testament, one can hardly appreciate the implication that St. Paul was unwrapping for his congregations in his letters.

St. Paul’s teaching to the churches is rooted in his knowledge of Jesus. Hence to understand St. Paul, we have to find out what was his understanding of Jesus. And since it is demonstrable that St. Paul’s understanding of Jesus is rather similar with the 4 gospels, then anyone who is interested to learn about the new covenant should start reading from the gospels in order to grasp a more comprehensive account of Jesus first. Not Genesis, Revelation, or St. Paul’s letters.

Thirdly, all of St. Paul’s letters dealt with specific issues raised by specific congregations at that time. St. Paul customised his response according to each different situation for different churches in each letter. If not careful, new believers may puzzled over certain teachings found in those letters.

For instance, the command for women to cover their head in 1 Corinthians 11 do seems rather weird to some. Other letters such as the epistle to the Romans or the epistle to the Galatians cannot be understood by reading just the letters themselves.

If one really wants to follow St. Paul’s argument in those letters, one has to equip oneself with some background knowledge of the socio-political situation and the religious milieu of that time. Therefore I do not think the usual new believers are apt to understand these letters.

To follow JP’s recommendation is to put the cart before the horse, or in other idiom, to run before one learns to walk. Both situations often end with confusion and messiness.

Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.


Andrew Chapman said...

I think one can read Matthew 5:30 quite literally. Let's say that one is using one's right hand to get drunk. Drunkards have no inheritance in the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10), so a) it would indeed be better to chop of the hand rather than carry on drinking; b) when faced with the choice of chopping off the arm, or stopping drinking, just about everybody would choose the latter, however hard it would be. Sure it may be impossible in one's one strength, but the Lord will help those who cry out to Him in desperation for the ability to resist sin.



HH Wally said...

Just listening to JP on "ShineTV" in New Zealand, it strikes me he really hates those who want to keep G_d's law, eg Messianic Jews, and is radically dispensationalist.
Very strong on sexual morality, but then so are RC's.