do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

13 Responses to “do this and live”

  1. 1 Rose
    December 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    John, I am certainly not well-read on the matter, but it seems to me that the reason the Law is not viewed as a Covenant of Works has to do with the fact that “by the works of the law no flesh is justified.” It is a mistake to think that the law, standing by itself apart from the Cross and the outpouring of the Spirit, brings, or ever brought, life, but the law tells us what life looks like in the Spirit. It does have that relationship to life, though it could never give life. In Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, etc. a view of the law that imagines that righteousness and life could come from keeping the law is denounced. Further evidence for this appears in

    I Tim. 1:3-11
    “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

    We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

    The law has some very specific purposes it serves within the one Covenant, and it is good, if it is used for those purposes. It might be loosely referred to as a Covenant itself, but it was never intended to stand by itself.

    Galatians 3:15-25
    “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed, ”meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

    What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

    Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

    Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christh that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

    I think that the passage in Jeremiah you referenced needs to be understood as discussing not an entirely new and distinct covenant from the “one that they broke,” but as setting forth a renewed Covenant, one that both surpasses and establishes the one that was broken. It is the same covenant that was promised to Eve, made with Abraham, renewed to various patriarchs, and supported by Moses’ administration. It is the Covenant that is made with the second Adam, the Covenant of Grace, distinct from the Covenant of Works made with the first Adam.

    The problem addressed in both Galatians and Hebrews involves a failure to continue to walk in the Spirit, the outpouring of which is the unique mark of the New Testament church. A similar problem arises in circles where the Atonement is so emphasized as to marginalize the Spirit, who was not sent until the Son ascended to the Father. Though we are called to take up our cross daily and follow Christ, it is he who has borne our sins. They are removed them far from us. Because of this, the burden we bear is light.

  2. December 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm


    Thanks for interacting. I agree with much you say. Perhaps I would wish to nuance it here and there.

    1. I would say the new covenant fulfils the old covenant but it does so by by contrast at the fundamental level of principle. That is, the new covenant can be a fulfilment precisely because it turns a covenant of works into a covenant of grace.

    2. I agree that a covenant of grace runs through the OT. When you refer to Eve I am assuming you are referring to ‘the seed of the woman…’ prophecy. This is not really a covenant; it was neither addressed to Eve nor accompanied by covenant paraphenalia (blood sacrifice for one). However, I agree it was the first indication of a redemptive promise. Abraham I take to be the first redemptive covenant of promise/grace. By that I mean it depended entirely on God. This is further developed in the Davidic Covenant and finally realized in the new covenant which subsumes these previous ones.

    3. The Sinain Covenant was not as I’ve tried to show, a covenant of grace (though it had gracious elements within it such as the sacrifial system). It was predicated on ‘works’. It does not assume life but promises life upon obedience: ‘this do and live’. As the Scripture from Galatians you quote says, ‘it was added because of transgression’. I take this to mean, it was added to make sin more serious and obvious; to give a knowledge of sin. That is, sin existed before the law but when the law came and expressly commanded, disobedience became not simply sin but ‘transgression’ – a breaking of an explicit law. Also, as the text you cite points out, the law acted as a pedagogue/disciplinarian (someone put in charge of children to control their behaviour) until the arrival of the gospel/Christ/the new covenant, or as the text says, ‘faith’. Not that faith was absent in the OT. Anyone ever saved is saved by grace through faith in God’s promise, however, Paul is thinking epochally or dispensationally; the era of law functioned as an era of law because the Sinain covenant was not one of faith but works.

    4. Although the old covenant of works at Sinai gives place to the new covenant of grace and the law which was once external is now internal (as Jeremiah points out), it would be a mistake to see the difference as simply what is commanded in the OC is created in the NC. This is fulfilment seen in its barest and most reductionistic sense. It is a perspective arrived at by looking only at the OT. When we come to the NT we see that fulfilment involves much more. In a word, it is new creation. Fulfilment or new covenant takes us outside of this world through death and into a new realm or order or world in resurrection. It seats us with Christ in heavenly places. Indeed, I would argue it calls for a morality beyond law. It calls for us to lay down our lives for our brothers. Christian obedience is modelled not on law but Christ. Christ’s obedience to his father went much further than the law demanded. It involved him giving up rights, including the right to live which the law gave him, out of self-sacrificial love for his enemies. This is morality beyond law. Thus while the law ‘shadows’ life in the Spirit, life in the Spirit so eclipses law as to make the latter disappear at every level.

    5. Lastly I am unsure whether I would call God’s command to Adam a covenant (though Hosea may possibly point to this). Certainly there is no hint of covenant categories in Genesis 1-3. I suspect the category of ‘covenant’ really belongs to a fallen world for it suggests agreements secured by oaths and blood necessary only where sin is present. Be that as it may, the Noahic covenant is definitely a covenant and is largely a repetition of the promise to Adam (though it now includes a promise not to judge by flood and the freedom to eat meat). The Noahic covenant is not, in my view, a redemptive covenant. By that I mean it does not promise salvation. It simply promises God’s Creatorial goodness so long as the earth remains; in it God is Provider not Saviour.

  3. December 15, 2010 at 9:17 pm


    Reading your comment again I should perhaps add that the Law is a covenant of works because it promised life for the person why kept it. That no-one could (apart from Christ) does not make the covenant any less a covenant of works. In fact, I would argue that it was never intended to bring life but rather to expose sin and so make the need for messianic salvation all the more patent.

    The Law, in this sense, like his judgement is God’s ‘strange’ work (Isa 28;21). They are ‘strange’ in that laws-promising-life and judgement are in some ways not what we expect of a gracious God who loves his people.

  4. 4 Rose
    December 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    1. The contrast between the old covenant, improperly understood as it was by the Jews to whom Hebrews and Galatians are addressed, and the new covenant is not a contrast between the old covenant given in revelation and the new covenant. There is a contrast, but it is between the truth, revealed throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and falsehood, believed by those who were abusing the law.

    2. Yes, I am referring to the promise made to Eve. That is why I said this one covenant of grace was “promised to Eve, made with Abraham, renewed to various patriarchs, and supported by Moses’ administration.”

    3. You are making the same mistake the Jews did. They thought they could be saved by keeping the law. They thought that life would be the reward of obedience. Paul and the writer of Hebrews demonstrate from Old Testament revelation that they had misunderstood. “This do and live” is not a promise of reward, but an observation that doing this is living, it pleases God.

    4. Christ is revealed in the law. Christ is glorified by the law. The law does not “disappear” because of this and more than Christ increasing and John the Baptist decreasing makes John disappear. Otherwise, awesome paragraph. I am with you 100%.

    5. The Noahic covenant is also a peek into the Covenant of Grace made with Christ. The Adamic covenant is sometimes called the Covenant of Works, but it also was gracious.

  5. December 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm


    Well here we must disagree.

    1. The Law was a covenant of works for all the reasons quoted in the article. I may add the following:

    Matt 19:16-22 (ESV)
    And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

    Notice the man assumes a covenant of works and Jesus takes him up on that ground. He says ‘If you would enter life keep the commandments’. The man’s mistake is working on the premise that men are basically good and can keep the commandments. Jesus points out only God is good – thus flagging his own deity and emphasizing human sin.

    I am not for a moment saying that God intended Israel to seek ‘life’ through the law. Those in Israel who truly had ‘life’ had it by faith. All men at all times are justified by faith; but this throws back to the covenant with Abraham. It is not ‘Judaism’ that Paul says ‘is not of faith, it is ‘the law’, the revealed covenant. It did not ask for faith it asked for works.

    The purpose of the law then (and so far as it in any principle applies now) was to flag up sin and show Israel (who represents fallen man cultivated and given every opportunity from God to live a godly life ie the cultivated vine that produced only sour grapes Matt 19, 12) that humanity, even the most privileged humanity, could not obey God. Any attempt at fruit bearing by humanity was bound to fail; trees can only bear fruit according to their nature. Paul in Roms 3 assumes the whole world is guilty partly because if Israel privilged by God in every way is guilty then the rest of humanity must be guilty too.

    Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
    Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

    2. Eve is not addressed in the ‘seed of the woman…’. It is the serpent. This is no covenant. It is an indirect word of promise.

    3. I’m sorry you don’t agree that ‘do this and live’ is describing the nature of the covenant. At the moment I can’t try to further persuade you on this point. By now means is this simply God’s promise to believers that this is the life that pleases God and that as they keep it they will experience ‘life’. It is not a covenant that says they have ‘life’ and is simply instructing them how to live it out the new life (the new covenant is this). It is a covenant where life is contingent on obedience.

    4. Rose, actually I think the NC in Christ does make the OC ‘disappear’ I rather like your analogy with John The Baptist because John represents the law and the prophets (the law and the prophets were until John says Jesus). Of course to disappear does not mean that we no longer know of or read about John. John is included for us in the pages of Scripture. Nor do we cease to study and learn from the OT. However, we do live primarily in NT revelation with its fuller clearer light. This seems to me to be what the writer of the Hebrews is saying to the Jewish believers reluctant to move beyond the OT revelation into the greater light of the new.

    Heb 6:1-3 (ESV)
    Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

    The ‘elementary doctrines of Christ’ I believe to be the revelation that the OT gave apart from the new. The Hebrew writer wants them to grasp NT truth about a risen reigning Priest-King in heaven. Of course he can show them this Christ by shadow in the OT but he wishes them to grasp the reality as it is revealed in the NT.

    5. The noahic covenant is gracious in that it is always gracious of God to be kind to humanity, especially fallen humanity. But it is grace in creation not redemption.

    Good to chat.

  6. 6 Rose
    December 16, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I will just leave Points 1-3 and 5 alone for now, for I really could only repeat what has already been said, and, with regard to point 2, we don’t disagree, I’m just using language you don’t like. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is. I know the “promise” to the serpent (I don’t think it is such a stretch to describe it as a promise to Eve) isn’t a covenant. I just think the promise anticipates the covenant, though it is strange, in our looking back perspective, to view it as anticipation, in that the covenant was already made at that point. But it had not yet been revealed.

    However, I would like to say something about how you have interpreted Hebrews 5:11-6:12. I do not think it is reasonable to understand “the elementary doctrines of Christ” to be OT teachings about Christ. Heb. 6:4-6, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace,” is describing people who need to be taught again their need and God’s provision in Christ. They need to be taught the first things, that Christ died for their sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again, according to the Scriptures. These are the elementary principles of Christ that they should not be taught again and again in order to get people to repent of dead works. The writer of Hebrews will not do it, for it is pointless.

    Furthermore, though he speaks in this way, he is confident of better things concerning the Galatians. Therefore, God willing, he plans to move past the doctrines of “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment,” to things like he does go on to discuss through the rest of the book, that is, showing how Christ is a high priest at the right hand of the majesty on high and the mediator of a new covenant, not given in types and shadows and rigorous details of observance, all of which pointed to Christ. In fact, he goes on to discuss what the OT, including Moses, teaches about Christ! These are the things about which he has much to say, but it is difficult to explain, because they have become dull of hearing. They have gotten stuck on trying to be saved by keeping the law and have missed what the Spirit teaches in the law, which is much more than those who had the Spirit in smaller measure could have imagined.

  7. December 17, 2010 at 12:19 am


    I should be sleeping – almost was a little time ago – its midnight here in the UK. I will try to respond to your letter tomorrow (or later today, as it now is). But I had a thought – its probably mistaken – i wonder if when God describes his relationship to us as Creator he speaks of himself as gracious. I know he is a faithful Creator who gives good gifts. ‘Good’ is a word used to describe what he created too. Is grace a word used to describe his act in lavishing his creator benefits on us or is grace used only to describe his actions in redemption?

    Probably a silly question. Probably lots of references to a gracious Creator. Will try to research this in the morning or later in the day.

    But, of course you are wrong about Hebs 6. :) He speaks about things that belong to the time of infancy or immaturity, that is the OT (Cf Gals 3,4). The list of elementary doctrines Paul cites are OT truths. repentance from dead works… faith in God (not Christ)… baptisms (not christian baptism but ceremonial washings)… but I must get to sleep!

  8. December 17, 2010 at 10:39 am


    The ‘elementary doctrines of the Christ’ or ‘the first principles of the Messiah’ were the things about which Christians Jews and Non-Christian Jews could agree. These Hebrew believers were getting stuck in OT truth – it probably made life easier for them. Spiritual infancy as I noted is the condition of OT believers (Gals 4:1-7). The writer wants to take them into more explicitly demarked gospel truth to do with an invisible and ascended Christ. To stay (for a Jew) in the safe waters of OT revelation is to remain immature.

    He is not, in my view, referring to the things of first importance..Christ died for our sins was buried and raised on the third day. In fact he goes on in the letter to speak of just these. He will show that Christ is the true sacrifice for sins and his whole aim in the letter is to bring out the truth of resurrection and its implications in terms of Christ’s reign as King-Priest. We never move on from these. When Paul says they are of ‘first’ importance he doesn’t mean they are of ‘initial’ importance or a merely ‘elementary’ importance but of ‘primary’ importance, ‘critical’ importance.

    When in 6:1,2 he speaks of going on to ‘maturity’ the word ‘maturity’ is the code-word ‘perfection’ that he has been using throughout the book. The book contrast the ‘imperfect’ with the ‘perfect’. The imperfect or incomplete is the OT revelation and status. It is infancy. In Hebs 11 all the great OT examples of faith belong to the imperfect and only when ‘something better arrives’ (gospel realities or NT revelation of Christ) will they find perfection (Hebs 11:40)…’ since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.’

    The OT could make nothing ‘perfect’ (Hebs 7:11,19; 9:9; 10;1) Children receive milk but solid food is for the ‘perfect’ (5:14). Perfection did not lie in the visible earthly tabarnacle it lay in the invisible heavenly tabernacle that Christ had entered not made with hands (Hebs 9:11). Zion (the new covenant) not Sinai (the old covenant) brings perfection (Hebs 12:23). Christ (the NT revelation to which they must take heed) has been perfected in death and resurrection and become the author of eternal salvation (Hebs 5:9) for by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified (Hebs 5:9).

    The book of Hebrews is a constant contrast between the imperfection of the OT revelation and experience to which these Christian Jews were tempted to return and the perfection of the NT revelation and experience which they were tempted to reject and reluctant to fully embrace. The message of hebrews is that te old must give way to the new; the partial to the complete; the inferior to the superior; the infancy to the maturity; the imperfect to the perfect.

    The writer is urging the Jewish believers in Ch 6 that they have the courage to move beyond the rudiments of faith found in the OT and embrace fully the perfection of the new.

  9. 9 Rose
    December 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Your “wonderment” about grace in creation is part of the Common/Particular Grace debate. Interestingly, one of the passage at the center of that, Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” talks about being perfect.

    There are some who insist that grace is reserved only for the elect and that to talk of Common grace is to go against the “I” part of TULIP. However, I think that God is genuinely good even to those who reject him. That is why Romans talks about their being without excuse for refusing to give him thanks.

    I will think about what you’ve written above. I tend to regard the OT and NT as more of a unity than do you. I think I’ll share with you the memory that was jogged when you wrote that faith in God (not Christ) is an elementary doctrine of OT truth. When my oldest son (now 26) was very young he used to talk about “God dying on the cross for us.” I always retrained the urge to correct and say, “Christ died on the cross,” for surely it is true that Christ is God. Anyway, I’m not putting forth an argument here. It was just a memory I had. Also, when in another place you were discussing the joy of obedience, I was reminded how this son used to pray, “Help me love the things that you love and hate the things you hate.” I think he got it from someone else, but it became one of his standards, as it were. This son is now living in NYC and working on a PhD in Musicology. We are really looking forward to having him home in Michigan for a few weeks.

  10. December 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm


    Great to see in the midst of difficulties you have sources of joy in life too. God is good (and gracious).

  11. 11 Rose
    December 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I do have one question. If I am taking up too much of your time, just ignore, or if you want to get back to me sometime later, that would be great.

    How is it that the word translated “of first importance” in I Cor. 15 is translated simply “first” a few verses later when it is applied to “the first man Adam” and “the carnal is first, and after that the spiritual”? Why wouldn’t the word be better “first in time” at the beginning of the passage, where it is said, “I passed on to you first of all”? What makes it “of first importance”?

  12. December 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm


    You make a good point about the actual meaning of ‘first of all’. The meaning may well be ‘here is what I taught you when first I was with you’. This makes sense against v5

    1Cor 15:11 (ESV)
    Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

    He is speaking aboiut what he already had taught. I think my emphasis (following ESV) was probably mistaken. Teaches me to do a little more research before I write.

    That being said, he is not saying we now move on to other things for he regularly stresses the implications of the death and resurrection of Christ throughout the book.

  13. 13 Rose
    December 17, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks, John. I agree that, “his whole aim in the letter is to bring out the truth of resurrection and its implications in terms of Christ’s reign as King-Priest,” especially the implications part. But I do think that the “elementary doctrine of Christ” and maybe also the “basic principles of the oracles of God” are the death, burial and resurrection on the third day (and where these are “according to the Scriptures). Probably the “basic principles of the oracles of God” refer to the correct way to understand the OT, not the way they understood it. That’s why they need someone to teach it to them again. The description of someone who has tasted the Spirit and fallen away make me think the “elementary doctrine of Christ” must be fundamental aspects of the gospel. The need to move on to perfection, which I think you express very well in your response from this morning, could also be enjoined upon those who prefer to rehearse over and over again the doctrine of Christ’s death and never go on to life in the Spirit, the new creation.

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the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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