D.A Carson’s reply to a jewish question

Kansanlähetysopiston Apologiaforumilla 15.-17.4.2016 D.A Carson vastasi kysymykseeni Sapatista. Tässä kysymykseni Carsonille ja Carsonin vastaus:

Why do christians not keep the Sabbath? I’m asking this from a jewish perspective, I’m not interested in the adventist debate. The fourth commandment (Lutherans count third) tells us plainly to keep the Sabbath. OT passages promising a new covenant all speak of a covenant where the law (Torah) will be in effect (Jer 31:33, Ez 11:20). Where do we find any hint in the Bible that the Torah will be abolished? Jesus himself says that he does not abolish the Torah (Mt 5:17), why do christians not listen to their master? Accepting a covenant where the Torah is void is simply not an option for a jew.

D.A. Carson’s reply:
That’s a serious question and an important one. And christians across the centuries have been somewhat divided on how to answer it. But let me make a stab at it, but this will be too brief for a question so serious. It is important to remember that Jesus did clearly abolish some elements of Torah. For example in the discussion that you can read about in Mark chapter 7 Jesus said certain things making all foods clean. So Jesus was prepared to change certain things. Moreover the passage the questioner quotes namely Mt 5:17 and following (this is gonna get complicated) does not say “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to maintain them” but rather “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them“. In other words, if the text had said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to maintain them” then you would expect that all the stipulations of the law and the prophets should be maintained under the teaching and the authority of Jesus. But that’s not the terminology that Jesus uses. He says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them“. Matthew uses the verb to fulfill, plerao in Greek, more than anybody else in the new Testament. And in every case Matthew uses it to mean to bring to fulfillment that which has in some sense been predicted. In other words christians are used to the notion of prophecy and fulfillment.

For example Micah 5:2 insists that there will be a redeemer out of Betlehem – that’s a verbal prediction and we would argue that it is literally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus in Betlehem. But Jesus seems to be saying in Mt 5:17 that it’s not only verbal prediction that may prophesy but that law may prophesy! Law and prophets both prophesy. That is repeated in Matthew chapter 11 where Jesus says the law and the prophets prophesied until John. Not “the law legislates and the prophets prophesy” but “the law and the prophets prophesy”. In NT terms I would argue that it works along the line that I showed in the typology regarding the passover, that is, christians argue that the event of the passover and the laws regarding the maintaining of the passover themselves become prophetic of the ultimate passover. So that when the laws are given in the context of the Tanakh, the hebrew old testament, in the context of Torah, Jesus insists that they fit within a pattern which itself points forward to something more something different or something that brings it to fulfillment.

So the OT law says for example you shall not commit murder. It says you shall not commit adultery. What is interesting about Jesus’ treatment of adultery and murder in the sermon on the mount right after that passage in mt 5:17 and following if Jesus is interested in how those laws are fulfilled, he says the real fulfillment of the commandment not to murder is not to hate, the real fulfillment of the commandment not to commit adultery is not to lust. Likewise I would argue that hebrews 3 and 4 which we looked at earlier, is arguing that the ultimate rest is not Sabbath or Sunday, the ultimate rest is that to which Sabbath and Sunday and the rest of God point – that is when you see the trajectory of those things in scripture including creation, the giving of the law, the entrance in to the promised land, and psalm 95 and so on, there is a whole trajectory that is asking how this is ultimately fulfilled in ultimate rest.

Now as I said, christians have long argued about the details of this. For example there has been a minority of babtists who call themselves 7th day babtists. Just as there is a denomination today called 7th day adventism. And they are using a lot of the argumentation built in to the very question. But others have argued that the early christians started meeting on the first day of the week, one day in seven, precisely because it was the day of the resurrection. In other words they observed one day in seven, but did a transfer to the first day of the week simply because it was the day of the master’s resurrection. But whether one accepts that argument or not, what I would argue, is that on the basis of Jesus’ insistence that the law must be fulfilled, and not merely obeyed, you see the direction in which it is pointing, the trajectory of rest ends up in the rest of God bound up with salvation itself. To make things even more confusing I wrote a book about that too, from Sabbath to the Lord’s day, it’s still in print.