Inerrancy vs. Authority

An assertion I frequently see made by proponents of the doctrine of inerrancy is that Jesus espouses an inerrant view of scripture in Matt 5:18–19 and John 10:35. I can’t agree with this reading of those two scriptures, and disagree that inerrancy is found anywhere in the ancient world. Here are the texts (RSV):

Mat 5:18–19: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

John 10:35: If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken . . .

Neither of these scriptures, however, asserts anything about infallibility. Rather, the texts asserts the inviolability of the scriptures. Their authority is supreme. Inerrantists frequently conflate the two notions without argument, but the fact that authority does not imply inerrancy is evidenced in the Ketiv/Qere readings in MT. The Masoretes viewed the text as inviolable, and so they would not alter it, but they certainly recognized errors within the text, which they corrected (to the best of their ability) in alternate readings in the margins.

Additionally, there are rhetorical reasons for the assertions made by these two texts. Thom Stark discusses this in his book, The Human Faces of God:

By the time Matthew’s gospel was written, there had already been mass conversions of Gentiles to Christian Judaism. The policy of Paul and others was that the laws of Moses did not apply to the Gentiles, and this policy was highly controversial. Many Jewish Christians dissented from Paul’s position, arguing that the laws of Moses were still in effect. Matthew’s gospel seems to take that stance of opposition to the policy of Paul and other gentile churches. In Matthew, Jesus says that “until heaven and earth disappear, not one letter, not even a stroke of a letter, will disappear from the law.” This phrase, “until heaven and earth disappear,” is an idiom in Hebrew which basically means, “until forever.” In other words, in Matthew, Jesus says that the laws of Moses will never become irrelevant. There will never be a time when they should not be obeyed.

Luke’s position is the opposite. He states, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail,” but he also states in the verse preceding, “The law and the prophets [were] until John.” For Luke, it is difficult for the law to fail, but it happened when John began preaching the gospel. The two gospels preach opposite positions on the question of the role of the law of Moses in nascent Christianity, putting their arguments in the mouth of Christ for maximum rhetorical impact.

John 10 is also of little help to the inerrantist position. Not only does it refer to the text’s authority and not its infallibility, but it also couches the notion in a conditional phrase. “If he called them gods, and if the law cannot be broken” (the “if” is elided in the subordinate conditional clause). In this case, one can’t even assert that what we have is Jesus’ position. He is taking up the position of the Jews regarding their law in trying to show their charge to be scripturally groundless. At most, we could say he might agree with the propositions he forwards.


27 responses to “Inerrancy vs. Authority

  • Rick Wadholm Jr

    Actually the passage from Matthew would seem to support much along the lines of what such a statement as “The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy” actually itself does. You seem to be referring to a “strawman” of inerrancy…though perhaps it is a form that you traditionally have encountered. The form that is found in the Chicago statement affirms instead something along the lines of the intent and content rather than the actual notion of the something like the kethib/qere. It seems somewhat curious to me that you would not have known this, but perhaps you have not been engaged in such discussions about inerrancy or infallibility about what Scripture claims as opposed to the orthography of Scripture. Just thought I would pass that along for whatever it is worth. Perhaps you will disagree with my assessment, but I wasn’t sure why you would lump inerrancy into such a strange notion as this.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for the comment, Rick. I’ve not been exposed much to the Evangelical tradition or directly to different takes on inerrancy, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the topic recently. My post here is not so much addressed at the textual minutiae of inerrancy as at the notion that Christ can be shown to espouse an inerrant view of scripture. Basically I’m arguing that he espouses a view of scripture as authoritative, but not necessarily inerrant. I brought up the Ketiv/Qere readings as an example of how other later Jews viewed the text as authoritative but also as not beyond error. This is not to say inerrancy needs to be viewed that way, but to say that no such concept existed back then.

      If I am understanding you correctly, you’re pointing out that expressions like the Chicago Statement argue for inerrancy in the autographs, not necessarily the received text. In light of that, again if I read you correctly, you’re pointing out that the Masoretes are interacting with the text on much the same level. That is, they are providing what they believe to be the original reading over and against a textual corruption. If this is your position, I would disagree that such an intention is supported by the evidence. First, there’s no data which points in that direction. The conclusion must be assumed. I would also point to texts like 1 Sam 13:1, where the obviously erroneous, “Saul was one year old when he began to rule, and he ruled for two years,” was not emended by the scribes. If they took a view like that of the Chicago Statement, and restored textual corruptions, why is this corruption not fixed?

      Alternatively, you may be referring to the Chicago Statement as a view of inerrancy that focuses on the conceptual level of the text rather than on the textual. If this is your position, I have to disagree. Article VI states, “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.” Additionally, the following comments from the exposition are problematic in that light (if it is what you are saying):

      The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.

      This undermines the notion that their statement is conceptually rather than grammatically/orthographically focused. Additionally, it asserts that inerrancy must be presupposed no matter what evidence undermines it, making their statement unfalsifiable. To put it the way Stark put it, the Chicago Statement asserts, “Errors notwithstanding, the Bible is obviously inerrant.”

      It’s not unlikely, however, that I’m still misunderstanding you. If that’s the case, would you mind stating with a bit more clarity what exactly your position on inerrancy is, and why my discussion of the Ketiv/Qere readings misses the mark? I don’t mean to patronize, I just want to make sure I do not misunderstand.

  • John Meade


    What is Stark’s evidence for his interpretation that “until heaven and earth pass away” means “until forever”? Where exactly is the Hebrew expression he is referring to? I’m sure you are aware that Matthew himself has two temporal clauses in the text. How do you interpret the second: ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν· ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται?

    The second temporal clause seems to qualify the first, indicating that there will be a time when all is accomplished or comes to pass. Furthermore, Matthew has an internal answer to this question at the end of his gospel, since the heavens and the earth are shaken at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus the apokalyptic language of Matt 5:18 and the fulfillment of the Law covenant finds its fulfillment in the death of Christ, which is actually consonant with the entire witness of the NT (Col. 2:13-14; Eph. 2:14-15; Rom. 10:4; Heb. 8:13; James 2:5ff et al.).

    Matthew’s point is that the Law covenant was in force for the old creation. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, he has brought about a new creation and a new era of redemptive history (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 5:17) and the Law of Christ, which basically contains the righteousness found in the old Law without the old covenantal structure.

    These are magnanimous questions about how to read the Bible as a whole. I suggest that Stark, as presented at least, does not seem to have the answer for Matthew’s relation to the whole Bible. Presuppositions play a major role in this discussion, and one will need to wrestle with this issue. What one sees as contradiction, another sees as harmony. Rarely, if ever, are there brute (self-interpreting) facts in a discussion like this one.

  • Thom

    John, thanks for your comments.

    First, it’s methodologically unsound, from a historical-grammatical perspective, to use Paul, Pseudo-Paul, Hebrews, James, or anyone other than Matthew to control the interpretation of Matthew. Matthew might be in harmony with others, but, as Daniel stated, using “scripture” to interpret “scripture” is not the methodology I take up, and I provide several reasons why we ought not to, if/when we are going about the task of understanding the various texts historically-grammatically. If our aim is not to read the texts historically-grammatically but canonically, then using scripture to interpret scripture is fine. But these are two different hermeneutical approaches entirely.

    Second, the clause, “until everything is accomplished,” must include the events depicted in the Olivet Discourse, and there, in fact, is where we see the apocalyptic scenario envisioned which corresponds to the apocalyptic language in 5:18. I deal with the Olivet Discourse extensively in my eighth chapter. Matthew 27 includes no end of the world apocalyptic images, no new creation images, whatsoever.

    Furthermore, we mustn’t read John 19:30 into Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus does not say, “It is finished.” John represents a realized eschatology, whereas in Matthew the eschatological scenario is still yet to come. This is evinced in Matt 28:18-20, which you cite in support of your reading. In fact, Matt 18:20 makes it clear the “the end of the age” is still ahead. Matthew emphatically does not equate the “end of the age” with the death and resurrection of Jesus. See p. 166 of my book for a diagram (figure 2) that explicates how Matthew envisioned the eschatological timeline.

    I never made any claim that there are “brute (self-interpreting) facts” here. I don’t believe in such things. But the data, as I have argued here and much more extensively in the book, do not allow for the interpretation you ascribe to them.

    Anyway, that’s how I see it.

    Thanks again!

  • Thom


    A few further comments on your scripture citations.

    You cite James 2:5ff. I’m not sure why. James also takes a position counter to Paul on the law. Those verses display that quite clearly. James and Matthew both affirm that the law continues to be in effect.

    You cite Hebrews 8:13. You’ll note there that Hebrews states clearly that the Old Covenant is still present: “In speaking of ‘a new covenant’, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”

    Note that the Old Covenant, though obsolete, is yet to disappear. This also corresponds to Matthew’s eschatological timeline, in which the New and Old ages overlap, until the Old is finally done away with at the parousia. It hasn’t disappeared. Rather, it “will soon disappear.”

    You cite Rom 10:4. This is precisely the position that Matthew rejects, that Christ has put an end to the law.

    You cite 2 Cor 5:17. Note that only those who are in Christ are a part of the New Creation. This also corresponds to the idea that the Old and New ages overlap, until the eschaton when the Old Age will finally be put to bed. Both Matthew and Paul agree here. Where they differ is on the question of whether the law should remain in effect until the end (which they both believe is imminent). Matthew says yes. Paul says no.

    You cite Col 2:13-14 and Eph 2:14-15. Here again is the position that Matthew rejects.

    A further note on Ephesians. Most scholars believe that Ephesians is Pseudo-Pauline, although there are some notable scholars who are in the minority who dissent from this position. One of the main reasons the majority sees Ephesians as Pseudo-Pauline is that in the undisputed letters, the exaltation of the saints is yet to come, whereas in Ephesians the saints are already seated with Christ on the heavenly thrones. Ephesians seems to represent a realized eschatology whereas the undisputed letters of Paul clearly articulate an unrealized eschatology. I’m not putting down stakes here, just pointing out the problematic nature of appealing to these texts as if they all represent the same view.

  • John Meade


    Nice to make your acquaintance :). Let me qualify a few things, now that I am speaking with you directly, well, as directly as one can on a blog :).

    First, it’s not quite fair to say that I jumped to other places in the NT to interpret Matthew’s view of the Law before dealing with Matthew first, when I did try to account for Matthew’s view in the first place. Matthew 5:17-20 is a crux criticorum in Matthean studies and the interpretive options ranges far and wide as you well know. I take the view that verse 18 borrows from apocalyptic language and that Matthew himself attempts to paint the culmination of all things at the death of Christ. He is the only Gospel writer to describe the shaking of the earth and a resurrection of many bodies. We can debate the historicity of this event later, but the present point is that this account serves a literary purpose and that is to bring resolution to the accomplishment of all things. That is my view. I’m not convinced that Matthew 24 has to be brought into the interpretive framework for all to be accomplished and I’m not appealing to John 19:30. The two temporal clauses are satisfied in the apocalyptic account of the death of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It is interesting that Matthew 28:1 begins with the “first of the Sabbaths.” I wonder if this can be interpreted beyond “first day of the week” as Matthew commenting on the Sabbath rest of the new creation, which is now found in Jesus alone (Gen. 2:1-3; Matthew 11:25-12:8). Thus there is a passing away of the old order/creation, and the new order and the new creation have come (Matt 28:18-20). The great commission now fulfills the creation mandate of Gen. 1:26-28. The end of the age refers not to the OT era, but to the end of the New era. There is enough evidence in Matthew for me to see that he is describing Christ’s first advent as fulfilling the old era. He presents Christ as the new Israel, the new and fulfilled Son of God. The events surrounding his birth are associated with the New Covenant in Jer. 30-31. He is the new and fulfilled Sabbath etc. These things are so, only if Matthew sees Christ’s coming as the end or fulfillment of the old era.

    Thus I agree with your method. You may disagree with my exegesis of Matthew and we can continue to discuss your infallible interpretation of Matthew 5:17-20 :), but I have tried to give you my accounting for the fulfillment of the Law in Matthew. Do you address verse 5:17 in your book? I would be interested to see what you say about “the Law and the Prophets”. Matthew has already given several examples of fulfilled prophecy on the part of Jesus in the first four chapters. Therefore, I wonder if he is not doing the same with the Torah, since Matthew does have Jesus saying that the Law and Prophets prophesied until John in Matt 11:13. I think Matthew has a termination or a teliologic view of the Law and the Prophets. The OT was not set aside according to Matthew. It accomplished the function, which God gave it. It was fulfilled by Christ, and therefore it was not abolished. This is Matthew’s terminology and we do well to pay close attention to it. We cannot project Matthew’s abolition language on Paul in Eph. 2:15 and cry contradiction. Unity in diversity must be heeded in my view. Paul has a teliologic view (Rom 10:4), but this view does not prohibit him from talking about the abolition of the Law covenant (νομος in Paul).

    Second, James has a view of the Perfect Law of Liberty in 1:27, which 2:5ff is of course a part of. This Law is the Law of Christ as a comparison with the data in James to the data in the gospels makes plain. James does not see the old covenant law as in force apart from a Christological interpretation of it. Note in James 2:5ff, on my view, indicates that James has a view of the Kingdom as here and now. 2:8 refers to the Kingdom/royal law, which I think reflects Christ’s interpretation of that law. James 4:12 says there is only one lawgiver and judge, and James 5 represents Christ as the judge. I take it that James has a view that Christ is the lawgiver. Therefore, I understand James to have a nuanced view of the Law. I think he understands the law for the Christian to be the fulfilled Torah or the perfect law of liberty. This is no different than Paul assigning the 5th commandment to the church in Eph. 6, but modifying the scope of the promise. I would say that Paul and James have a similar if not identical hermeneutic when it comes to understanding whence the New Covenant Law and a similar interpretive framework for the old covenant torah.

    Third, I think you need to go back and take another look at Heb. 8:13. Briefly, my view is that the verse is referring to Jeremiah’s prophecy, thus “When Jeremiah says new, he made the first obsolete and what was obsolete and growing old was near disappearance.” The only verb in the verse is perfective “it has made the first obsolete,” but the rest of the clauses are verbless. I understand the verse to past in orientation. It is the prophetic word in Jer. 31:31 which made the old obsolete, not the word in Hebrews 8. Like a snake whose head is cut off, it is dead, but is also dieing, the old covenant announced its own obsolescence, but it took time to fade away. The rest of the book locates this during the time of Christ (7:11-12 et al.). To argue that Hebrews perceives the old covenant living at the same time as the new covenant until the end of the age is to miss a major shift in redemptive history, one that the author perceives as having taken place (Heb. 12:18ff; et al.).

    Fourth, Rom 10:4 is not contrary to Matthew perception in my view.

    Fifth, again I think 2 Cor. 5:17 fits with Matthew’s conception.

    Sixth, Paul takes a teliological and abolitional view of the νομος or law-covenant. Matthew takes a fulfillment or teliological view of the νομος, which seems to land him in a similar place depending on one’s view of the antitheses in chapter 5:20ff. I think Matthew describes Jesus as setting aside some of these laws through a deepening of them, but for Matthew this is not abolition, it is fulfillment. Through a different vocabulary, I see Matthew and Paul in the same place at the end: Christ is the end of the Law according to Paul and The Law and the Prophets prophesied until John according to Matthew. Both these authors mean the law-covenant or νομος, not the individual commandments. The old covenant era has passed away via fulfillment in Christ, but the righteousness enshrined in that covenant continue on. This last point is clearer in Paul than in Matthew, but I account for this by appealing to the genre of each one.

    Seventh, no doubt there are different viewpoints. Yet, I think we need to allow for even the viewpoint of Paul to grow from Galatians to the Pastorals. Just my two cents there.

    So this was a long response. Hopefully, we can continue the dialogue.

  • Thom

    Thanks for the reply.

    Matthew 27 has some apocalyptic signs (the earthquake, the resurrection) but this is NOT the unmaking and remaking of heaven and earth. That is what is envisioned in the Olivet Discourse. The earthquake and preliminary resurrections are metaphors for the imminent end of the age, and they are signs of its imminence; they are not the end of the age itself. Proleptic signs of the kingdom are a feature of all Second Temple apocalyptic sects.

    It is not true that the end of the age is the end of the New Age. The New Age breaks in and overlaps with the Old, but at the parousia, the Old ends and the New continues on. The kingdom is present proleptically, but that does not mean it has been consummated. That is, in the apocalyptic script, always what the unmaking and remaking of heaven and earth refers to: the consummation of the kingdom at the time of the final judgment. That’s what’s depicted in Matt 24 and not in Matt 27, and that’s what corresponds to the apocalyptic language in Matt 5. Matt 27 has no reference whatsoever to the end of an age. I think you’re doing eisegesis there. Matt 28 explicitly says that it is yet to come. If Matthew believed the New Age would end, and that then there would be a NEW New Age, he’d be the only one in all of Second Temple literature.

    I agree that Matthew sees Jesus as fulfilling the law and the prophets, but again, they are not fulfilled until the end of the age. Moreover, to fulfill them is not to set them aside, as Paul does.

    To say that James has a christological interpretation of the Torah is a given, but that is still very different from setting it aside as Paul does. Most apocalyptic Jews believed something along the lines of a scenario in which the Messiah (or some other eschatological figure) comes and interprets the law correctly. This is not setting the law aside. This is recovering the Torah from corruption—taking it more seriously. James and Paul are at odds.

    I don’t need to go back and look at Heb 8:13 again. Perhaps you misunderstood me. I didn’t argue that Hebrews takes a Matthean position over against Paul. I just pointed out that the Old Covenant is still around until the end of the age, in Hebrews. Indeed, it sees it as obsolete (but this also has to be understood within the context of the destruction of the temple), but it still awaits the end of the age to make that a firm reality. I wasn’t saying that Hebrews took the same view on Torah as Matthew. Just pointing out the parallel ideas about the relationship between the Old Age and the New, and the imminent end of the former.

    Rom 10:4 is contrary to the Matthean position, in my view.

    2 Cor 5:17 is not itself directly at odds with Matthew. It doesn’t speak of the Torah there. Like I said, Matthew and Paul agree that the Old and the New overlap. What they disagree on is what to do with the Torah in the period of overlap. Since 2 Cor 5:17 isn’t talking about that question, it does not, by itself, directly contradict the Matthean position.

    Matthew’s Jesus doesn’t set aside laws; he makes them more rigorous. Paul sets aside laws, and the Law.

    Anyway, all of this is a minor point in my book. And my purpose in discussing Matthew 5 is not so much to prove that it’s against Luke as it is to point out that it is not evidence for Jesus’ belief in the inerrancy of scripture.

  • Thom

    One further comment. Even if I were to concede your reading of Matthew 5 (which I’m not inclined to do for the reasons stated above), it is still at odds with Luke. Luke says that the law ended with the preaching of John the Baptist, not with the death and resurrection of Christ. Luke says that when John the Baptist began preaching the kingdom, the kingdom was opened to the Gentiles and the law was no longer in effect. That’s a point he reiterates with his narrative when John is portrayed as preaching the kingdom to Gentile soldiers.

  • John Meade

    Thom –

    I take the earthquake and preliminary resurrections along with Christ’s initiating of the New covenant in his blood as signs of an inaugurated eschatology in Christ. Thus the old era has reached its fulfillment in Christ and the new era has dawned, though it has not been consummated. You did not comment specifically on your view of Matthew 5:17 and 11:13. It seems to me that Matthew perceived of the Law and the Prophets as prophesying until John (taken as the forerunner of the Messianic age and the New exodus of Isaiah 40). This verse does not seem to support your view that Matthew believed that the old law would be in force until the end of the age (the parousia on your view). There is not a setting aside of the Law in Matthew but a view that Christ has fulfilled its prophetic function and he has interpreted it aright and it times his interpretation transcends what the people would have expected.

    I don’t think Matthew has a New new age in mind that would come after the old one. I think Matthew has in mind the consummation of the age, inaugurated by Christ’s first coming. The kingdom is inaugurated, waiting to be consummated. This does not mean that the old era failed. It simply means that it has been exhausted in Christ per Matthew 11:13 and 5:17ff.

    Now, you say, “Moreover, to fulfill them is not to set them aside, as Paul does.” Does Paul set aside the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6:1-3 (assuming he is the author of these verses)? Or does Paul set aside the law in Romans 13:8-10? It seems he does not. This is why one must introduce the distinction between the old law-covenant and the righteousness in the covenant or the Torah. Thus Paul actually applies the commands of the Mosaic covenant to new covenant believers because there is an overlap in the righteousness of these commands. Thus I reject your contrast between Matthew and Paul here. Paul sets aside the law covenant in a nuanced way, not the righteousness of the law. That abides into the new covenant. Romans 10:4 is the key in my opinion. It shows that Christ is the goal or τελος of the law covenant. Thus Paul does not have a mere replacement theology. Paul has a theology which accounts for the New’s fulfillment of the Old in Christ. (cf. Rom. 1:2, 3:21ff.).

    Again, I do not see Paul setting aside the righteousness of the law, only the old covenant structure. Thus I see room for more agreement between Paul and James on the Law. Both seem to employ a similar hermeneutic for understanding the moral norms of believers, since they both seek to understand the Law in light of Christ’s teaching.

    I think you are mistaken in your interpretation of Hebrews. Hebrews clearly speaks of the consummation of the ages in 9:26: νυνὶ δὲ ἅπαξ ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς ἀθέτησιν [τῆς] ἁμαρτίας διὰ τῆς θυσίας αὐτοῦ πεφανέρωται. The first coming of Christ, the coming to do away with sin is considered to be the consummation or the end of the ages. The Old covenant era is done away with in Christ. It is possible to understand Hebrews 8:13 in light of the destruction of the temple in CE 70, but it seems to me that even would signal the end of the Old Covenant, which was already rendered obsolete in the OT and was fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, I see Hebrews as having a fundamentally similar eschatology as Paul and Matthew. They talk about the same event differently and they emphasize different aspects, but so far I’m not convinced that there is contradiction in these sources. Matthew, Paul, James, and Hebrews seem to have an inaugurated eschatology, which means that they all view Christ’s coming as fulfilling the old era, bringing it to its intended end, and they all hold that Christ has significantly altered the interpretation of the law.

    We could discuss whether Matthew makes laws more rigorous in light of Matthew 11:25ff, but I do not want to get us off topic. I think we agree that in some sense, Christ fulfills the Law in Matthew, but we seem to disagree over the timing. I see the Law as having completed its function with the coming of Christ, but you take the end of the age in Matthew to refer to the parousia.

    Thanks for the dialogue. I appreciate the way in which it has been conducted. If you are able, let’s keep talking.

  • John Meade

    Thom –

    The text in Luke is also in Matthew 11:13. If John is Elijah, the voice crying out in the wilderness, then all this means is that Isaiah’s New Exodus is being inaugurated. It is the tip of the iceberg, the axe at that foot of the tree etc. John announces the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

  • Do Matthew and Paul have Different Views of the Fulfillment/Abolition of the Old Covenant? « LXX Studies

    […] and I are discussing issues of inerrancy over on, you guessed it, Daniel O. McClellan’s blog here. Daniel has a way of pushing my buttons by raising these important issues. Thom is arguing that […]

  • Thom


    I’m finishing a paper on a deadline. I plan to come back to this conversation as soon as I’m able. Sorry for the delay. It may be a few days.

  • John Meade

    Thom –

    That’s great. I have subscribed to this thread, so when you are able, chime back in.

  • Ben S

    I haven’t read the book in question, but I found Enn’s review of a book on inerrancy helpful in framing this question.

  • Thom


    Sorry for the late reply.

    The question is precisely whether the New Covenant means the dissolution of the law. Jeremiah 31 does not envision a dissolution of the law, and I contend that Matthew doesn’t either. But the reality is that there is still no correspondence between the “end of heaven and earth” in Matthew 5 and the proleptic signs of the end in Matthew 27. Only in the Olivet Discourse do we see language that corresponds to the language in Matthew 5.

    You did not comment specifically on your view of Matthew 5:17 and 11:13. It seems to me that Matthew perceived of the Law and the Prophets as prophesying until John (taken as the forerunner of the Messianic age and the New exodus of Isaiah 40). This verse does not seem to support your view that Matthew believed that the old law would be in force until the end of the age (the parousia on your view). There is not a setting aside of the Law in Matthew but a view that Christ has fulfilled its prophetic function and he has interpreted it aright and it times his interpretation transcends what the people would have expected.

    Correct and incorrect. Matthew does not envision a setting aside of the law, as Paul does. Matthew envisions a heightening and proper interpretation of the law in Christ. But Matt 11:13 does not mean that the requirements of the law ceased with the preaching of John. He is saying that the Torah spoke of the Messiah (which is a standard view among apocalyptic thinkers). That does not mean that the requirements of the law ceased to be in effect once the Messiah came.
    For Paul, because Christ fulfilled the law, the law’s requirements have been annulled. This is not the case for Matthew. For Matthew, the law’s requirements remain in place.

    Matthew 11:25ff says nothing as far as I can tell about the more rigorous nature of Torah. Jesus, like other reformers, made a distinction between the Law and the manmade laws of the various factions, which were needlessly oppressive.

    I think that about exhausts our differences in interpreting these texts. It’s a minor point for me, but clearly important for you. For an exhaustive argument that the historical Jesus did not advocate for the abrogation of the laws of Moses, see the recent fourth volume to Meier’s Marginal Jew series.

    Grace and peace,

    • John Meade


      Thanks for your reply.

      My time grows scarce, so this will have to be the last installment in this important discussion.

      First, you might be interested in the article by Don Garlington (“Oath-Taking in the Community of the New Age (Matthew 5:33-37)” Trinity Journal 19.2 (1995): 139-170.) This article does connect Matt 5:18 to the events of the resurrection in Matt. 27. It is also important to keep in mind that Matt. 24 is not as straightforward as you assume. Perhaps the timing of “all things come to pass” is not as you suppose, the end of the creation as we know it.

      Second, Jeremiah 31 envisions a new covenant, not like the covenant made with the generation lead out of Egypt. There will be overlap between the commands of old and new, since the righteousness of the old comes into the new, but I would suggest that Matthew has Jesus setting aside the Sabbath command in chapters 11-12. This corresponds with Paul in Col 2 and Romans 14.

      Third, I think Matthew does envision a ceasing of the Law and the Prophets with the coming of John and with him the coming of the Messianic Age or Isaiah’s New Exodus. The Old Covenant (the covenant proper in the Pentateuch and the oracles of the messengers of the covenant) have been fulfilled and they no longer prophesy as they once did.

      Fourth, in order for your contradiction between Paul and Matthew to stand, you must indeed show that Paul advocated for a dismissal of the Torah. I understand there to be a distinction in Paul between νομος “law-covenant” and the commandments of that covenant. The former, as a covenant, has been fulfilled or met its end (Rom. 10:4), while the latter remain in force (Eph. 6:1-3; Rom. 13). Paul’s view of the law-covenant reaching its end in Christ (Rom 10:4) is no different than the Law and the Prophets prophesying until John in Matthew. I also think that you have undervalued genre in this discussion. Given that Matthew is a gospel and Paul wrote letters, it is very difficult to assert that we have either of these authors whole view of this matter. I think what we have constitutes harmony, while you obviously don’t.

      Fifth, anytime one posits contradiction of the Word of God, it is an important matter. It may be a minor point for you, but for those who believe that the Scripture cannot be broken, and that God is a faithful, covenant keeping God, who cannot lie, and who stands behind the Text of Scripture as its Author, contradiction is a serious charge.

      You are trying to do justice to the humanity of the text of Scripture, but even still I do not think you have listened very long to the sources themselves. I have laid out a very simple synthesis of Paul’s view of Christ’s coming to the old covenant. He wants to dismiss it and maintain it, but in very different senses. Until you wrestle with this point, Matthew and Paul, and James for that matter will always seem worlds apart.

      I enjoyed the conversation. I apologize for the seeming harsh tone in the last two paragraphs, but as you can see this is an important point for me :).


  • Thom


    Garlington undermines his claim that the earthquake and darkness at the crucifixion represent the passing away of “heaven and earth” when he subsequently acknowledges that the elements do not pass away until the end of the age (Matt 28:20) which has not yet come. He merely asserts that Matt 27 corresponds to Matt 5, but his assertion is undermined by his own admission that heaven and earth had not yet passed away.

    I don’t “assume” anything about Matthew 24. In my book I’ve made an extensive argument about the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, an argument I _assume_ you haven’t read.

    You’re still conflating the Torah’s prophetic role (this is pesher interp) with its legal codes, and this is an unjustified and unjustifiable conflation, as is your distinction between the Law and the Law’s tenets in Paul. It is precisely the tenets of the Law which Paul says are no longer in effect. You cite Rom 13 to support your claim that Paul still supports the tenets of the law. This displays your confusion. Paul advocates for obedience to the laws of the land; he does not advocate for obedience to the tenets of the Law of Moses. That is what is at issue here.

    I am well aware of the difference between the gospel genre and the epistolary genre. But we’re dealing with didactic teaching in Matt 5, not narrative exposition. It’s not as if I’m deriving Matthew’s theology from his narrative allegorically or something. This is didactic teaching placed on the lips of Jesus. Paul is doing didactic teaching in his epistles as well. So the genre distinction in this case is irrelevant. You happen to be the one trying to use narrative elements in Matthew (27) to argue for an explicit theological position, so I would turn your accusation against me back against you. You’re not paying attention to genre. I derive my position from didactic teaching and interpret the symbolic narrative features in light of that explicit didactic teaching (Matt 5 and 24 are didactic teaching).

    As for biblical contradictions being a “serious charge,” I have argued extensively in my book that the pre-commitment to inerrancy is really what does violence to the text of Scripture. It forces you to harmonize what is not in harmony, and thus to do violence to the different voices in Scripture. Because of your commitment to a certain understanding of what the divine inspiration of Scripture must mean, it is inevitable that you will do violence to the text, and that, to me, is a serious thing. I’d encourage you to read my book to see the arguments I’ve made against your presuppositional approach to the Bible.

    You charge me with not “listening very long to the sources.” I say three fingers are pointed back at yourself on that one. But that’s about as far as this conversation will take us.

    Thanks for your time.

  • John Meade


    In Romans 13:8-10, Paul cites from the Decalogue and Lev 19:18 in LXX form. How is this the law of the land and not the Law of Moses? This does not display confusion on my part, but on yours. How does Paul say the Law is abolished/fulfilled and that its commandments are in force at the same time? I can think of no other way to reconcile these ideas than in the way I already have.

  • Thom

    John, you didn’t cite Rom 13:8-10, you just cited Rom 13, so I misunderstood your reference. But you know better than this. Paul disregarded the majority of the Mosaic laws and isolated a few principles as normative through the filter of the law of love. He disregarded dietary laws, feast days, circumcision—all Mosaic laws. This is precisely where the point of controversy lies in the early church, as any New Testament scholar will acknowledge openly. Matthew did not disregard sabbath laws. He disregarded pharisaic additions to the sabbath laws. This is not difficult to grasp. That Jesus made exceptions to certain laws by appealing to a greater law (as he did with healing on the sabbath) is a common feature of second temple legal interpretation. It has nothing to do with a new covenant superseding an old covenant. It represents standard Jewish debates about interpretation and application of the law, not of its abrogation. Jesus was by no means the only legal interpreter to contend that certain laws were weightier than others and therefore overruled others where two were in conflict. This is standard stuff. This is not what we see in Paul. Paul represents a very novel interpretation of the law, in which the law is abrogated. Read Galatians 3-4. He is only able to do so by reference to pesher and allegory. This stands in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew.

    This conversation isn’t going to get us anywhere, because you are predisposed to reject any interpretation of the Bible that pits one biblical perspective against another.

  • John Meade


    Of course I know better than that. This is why I have been keeping old covenant and Torah/righteousness separate from the beginning. The Torah is not identical to the covenant, and Paul keeps this distinction. He removes the items distinctive of the old covenant (note that Sabbath is the sign of the old covenant according to Ex. 31:17). James does the same in 2:5ff. I would argue that Matthew would do the same, if he were exhorting Christians to live the devoted life in an epistle. He certainly has Jesus speaking of the weightier matters of the Torah in chapter 23. Which is it, Thom? Does Paul hold a continuation of the weightier matters or righteousness of the law-covenant through the lense of love or does he abrogate the Law? You have said that Paul abrogates the Law on this thread. Now, you are claiming that he only disregarded the majority of the laws of Moses (Jewish boundary markers, which incidentally are the laws intrinsically tied to the old covenant). Which is it? I contend that Paul talks in sweeping statements regarding the fulfillment and abrogation of the old covenant, but that he maintains a continuity of the righteousness of the law expressed in those few commands.

    Thom, this conversation is not going anywhere because I can’t figure out your view of Paul and the Law. Until this last comment, you have been claiming that Paul speaks only in terms of abrogation with respect to the law. Now you are claiming that a few Mosaic principles read through the lense of love remain. This tiny distinction allows for more agreement between Paul and James on the continuation of the righteousness of the Law. It also allows for a reinterpretation of Matthew’s view of the law.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      If I may, I read Paul as doing everything he can to assert his Jewishness while advocating the higher law of Jesus’ gospel. This grants him a lot more latitude when it comes to preaching to Jews. I believe this is why he would have submitted to the authority of those who sentenced him to be scourged. His Jewishness was a valuable asset to which he appealed when it served his needs. At the same time, he’s got to move Jesus’ gospel beyond the strictures of the Law if it is to succeed in non-Jewish arenas. He could hardly jettison the law and the scriptures in the process, however. Christianity needs the Hebrew Bible to assert its roots in God’s covenant with Judaism, but it doesn’t want to be bound to its pronouncements about the eternity of certain principles (like the Law of Moses). Thus we see in him the first attempts to allegorize and typologize the Hebrew Bible. The Law and the history and the prophecies are rudimentary signposts to a higher, more spiritualized law. Thus we see a great deal of creative rhetoric about leaving the law and yet not leaving the law.

      In the end, according to my reading, Paul clings to the law insofar as it allows him to assert his Jewishness, but argues for moving past it in Christian/Gentile contexts (of course, I don’t think this is an intentional dichotomy, but in each context he finds rhetorical value in emphasizing different points, resulting in a division). In his epistles these approaches are reconciled through rather complex doctrinal expositions, as in the early chapters of Romans. Through this process Paul hammers out his view of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism.

      Just my view.

      • Thom

        I’d say that represents the growing consensus, Daniel. 🙂

        I never meant to deny that Paul maintained his Jewishness in Jewish contexts. My discussion of Paul’s abrogation of the law has assumed the background of Gentile Christianity.

      • John Meade

        So is Paul’s abrogation of the Law-covenant simply pragmatic in your view, Daniel? Are there no theological reasons, such as his meeting with the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road, for his doing so?

  • John Meade


    :). I guess its time to consider the proverbial chess board flipped?

  • Thom

    If it makes you feel better.

  • The Biblical Studies Carnival LVIII « כל־האדם

    […] McClellon (Daniel O. McClellon) raises the issue of inerrancy vs. authority in Jesus’ own hermeneutic, after which John Meade (LXX Studies) and Thom Stark (Religion at […]

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