Thursday, January 15, 2009

Did Jesus' death end the law, or is it more complex?

Jesus' death and resurrection did fulfill the law, but did not end it. He provides the way, and the way costs us dearly. "Take up your cross and follow me", "Let the dead bury their own dead", "Whoever puts their had to the plow and turns back is not fit for the kingdom of God", "Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect" leave little room to say that his act is the end of our responsibility. The fulfilled law still applies, we just know more about its living richness.

However, the fulfilled law has the same words, but new meanings: those of love. With each law, we must study it in great depth, with its literary and cultural contexts intact, its linguistic complexities acknowledged, and its meaning in our very different world, and then we must ask "How is this loving, how can I be loving with this, where is love in this?" Then, we must pray, because there is a new guide -The Holy Spirit- who can teach us the lessons of the new times, the path of love, the path of justice. Then, and ONLY then, can we even approach the full meaning of The Way of Jesus Christ. And we cannot do it alone. We must do it in Community. ANd the community must be able to move when The Spirit moves, because if the source of life moves, and you fail to follow, you die.

Joe DeCaro wrote:
I've heard the same thought (translated)from Rev. Moon who claims to complete the process of salvation begun by Jesus, but it's not nearly worded as well as your excellent post.

Jesus either fullfilled the law or He didn't, period; otherwise it sounds like something out of Vatican I, or even Galantianism, i.e., Jesus "plus".

and MiddleWay replied:
Following your logic you can do whatever you please, you are already covered...

So I go to the Bible, and Thayer's Greek Definitions:

Thayer Definition:
1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full
1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally
1a1) I abound, I am liberally supplied
2) to render full, i.e. to complete
2a) to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim
2b) to consummate: a number
2b1) to make complete in every particular, to render perfect
2b2) to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking)
2c) to carry into effect, bring to realisation, realise
2c1) of matters of duty: to perform, execute
2c2) of sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish
2c3) to fulfil, i.e. to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment
Part of Speech: verb
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G4134
Citing in TDNT: 6:286, 867

This is the translation note for the Greek word Matthew uses in Ch. 5 v. 17 that is translated most commonly as "fulfill". It includes some very helpful interpretation notes as well. Jesus goes on to talk about
Matt 5:18-22 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.

And so we see unavoidably that Jesus' fulfillment does not free us from the law, but rather raises us up to a new level of responsibility and mature involvement. Paul explains thusly:
Gal 4:1-5 What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

We (humanity) were under a paedogogos, a teacher/caretaker, "the law" until we were mature enough to handle the more complex realities. To re-cast Paul's explanation to our modern context: when you were a child, your parents had rules. These rules were black and white, simple to follow, simple to see when they were broken. As you got older, those rules changed. They became more complex. "Be home by 10" became "Be home at a reasonable time." "Don't hit" became "Defend yourself and others when needed" and "Do as I tell you to" became "Do what is right."

Just the same, God gave us the law to train us in the basics, the simple things we as primitives could handle. They began very very simple: be fruitful and multiply, don't eat from this tree. Then they got a bit more complex: make a sacrifice to God, don't kill. Then still more complex: the 10 Commandments. And more complex still: Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Now we've gotten to the "child" stage. All the laws have been spelled out that can be spelled out, and in their most direct way. Following the letter of these laws will keep us safe, help us grow, and help prepare us for the next level. Then Jesus came, and told us about the next level of complexity in understanding the Way of God. He told us:
Matthew 22:36-40 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

as well as the many many other teachings about love, anger, judging, the Beatitudes, and the like.

The old law was not "wrong", Paul tells us earlier in Galatians, but incomplete and oversimplified: fit for children. Now that Jesus has brought forgiveness and we have gained some maturity, we are ready for the new Law, the greater Law, the more complicated and challenging Law: the Law of Love. A Law that our now adolescent world can handle, or at least begin to. "Adolescent" describes our world very well, don't you think? As we continue to struggle to understand our world, ourselves, and our God, we wrestle with these new laws, learning the deeper truths within and behind the old laws. And someday, when Christ comes again, we will be mature: adult children of God as we were meant to be.

In Christ,

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