What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament? Part 2.

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By Rob Lampard

Recap

This blog continues my series entitled What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament?  In part 1 we considered why this is an important question for us and looked briefly at how the New Testament itself answers our question.  In this part we’re going to take a more detailed look at the following topics: the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in.

A New Teaching, A New Authority

Mark chapter 1 records for us an incident early in Jesus’s Galilean ministry:

 

21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’

25‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ 26The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’

The first point to note here is the ordinary people’s surprise at the confidence with which Jesus taught.  The extended passage known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), contains a number of examples of such teaching.  The Old Testament prophets constantly used the introductory words, “This is what the LORD says”.  They spoke to the people in God’s name.  But in this sermon, Jesus repeatedly uses a different introductory formula: “I tell you”.[1]  Whilst fully aware that he only ever says what the Father has commanded him to say,[2] he nevertheless also consistently speaks on his own authority.  His hearers were fully aware that this was something new.

 

The second point is that this authority was demonstrated by the effect Jesus’s words had in the spiritual realm.  Not only did his words convey to his hearers his confidence in what he was saying.  They also had an observable spiritual impact.  Evil spirits obeyed his commands (v26).  And they also knew that he was somebody special, unique even, ‘the Holy One of God’ (v24).  More than a few commentators have noted that this was not imparted, second hand knowledge on the part of these spirits, but intuitive, first hand knowledge.  All this is certainly new.

The New Covenant

The topic of covenant in the Bible is a substantial one.  Simply put, a Biblical covenant between God and man can be defined as follows: God says, “I promise to do A for you; and in response I expect you to do B.”

 

The New Covenant is initiated by Jesus at the time of his arrest, execution, resurrection and ascension (Luke 22:20, 1Corinthians 11:25).  This covenant is first explicitly spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

 

31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,  “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  32It will not be like the covenant which I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, and I turned away from them,” declares the LORD.  33“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  34No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the LORD’.  For they will all know me from the greatest to the least.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

 

The first thing to notice here is that this covenant is declared to be ‘new’ in contrast to the one God made with the people of Israel (through Moses) when he ‘took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt’ (v32).  (See the entire book of Exodus and Hebrews 9:19-20.)  There is no suggestion that this ‘new covenant’ in any way replaces or supersedes the covenants God made with/through Noah, Abraham, or David, all of which are declared to be everlasting.[3] [4]  Hence, when Hebrews 8:13 says: ‘by calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete,’ that can only be referring to the Mosaic covenant.

 

This contention is confirmed when it is noted that the first characteristic of this new covenant will be a new location for the law (v33).  No longer will it be written on tablets of stone as it was in the time of Moses.  Instead it will be written by the Holy Spirit in our minds and hearts.  For more on this, see Paul’s extended exposition in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3.

 

Its second characteristic will be fellowship with God.  This is expressed in the common covenantal statement, “I will be their God and they will be my people,” which in itself is nothing new.[5]  What is new is that all participants in the covenant will ‘know God’ (v34a; cf John 17:3).

 

The final characteristic will be total forgiveness of sins (v34b).  How this improves upon the forgiveness extended to sinners who employed the extensive sacrificial remedies detailed in Leviticus 1-7 is the subject of the lengthy passage in Hebrews 9:11-10:18.

New Birth, New Life, New Life-style, New Creation

Jesus’s conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus is probably one of the more well known passages in the New Testament, especially so because it contains the famous John 3:16 verse, which reference has commonly been displayed on banners at football World Cup matches in the past few decades.  Earlier in the same conversation comes the saying, “You must be born again” (John 3:7b).  In the same context Jesus three times refers to this process as being ‘born of the Spirit’.  The new birth that he speaks about is a spiritual rather than physical birth.   In his first letter, Peter says that this new birth results in God’s elect receiving a living hope, a new inheritance and new joy (1Peter 1:3-8).  Further, since he directly connects this new birth with Jesus’s resurrection (v3), it would be reasonable for us to describe this new birth as a type of resurrection as well.  On this point, see also Romans 6:4.  Later, 1Peter adds that ‘the living and enduring word of God’ also plays an essential part in the bringing about of this new birth (1:23).  All this is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:25-27.

 

It is no surprise to find that this new birth results in new life.  An angel instructs the apostles, “Go and stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.” (Acts 5:20).

 

Nor is it a surprise to find that this new life must and does bring about a new life-style in the born again person. The New Testament writers spell out the details of this new life-style in considerable detail and such teaching occupies at least ⅙ of the entire New Testament.[6]  Detailed examination of this material is beyond the scope of this article.  The briefest summary is presented in the next paragraph.

This new life-style includes, but is not limited to, the following characteristics.  Sexual immorality is not to be tolerated in the church (1Corinthians 5:7).  Truthful speaking, not allowing anger to cause us to sin, abandonment of stealing, wholesome talk, kindness, compassion and forgiveness are all enjoined (Ephesians 4:21-29, 32); bitterness, rage, brawling, slander, and malice are all forbidden (4:31).

 

Such a life-style is possible because the new birth makes believers ‘a new creation’ (2Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15).  And though applying at an individual level, this new creation also operates on a corporate level.  Those who were formerly hostile to one another become ‘one new man’ in Christ (Ephesians 2:15).

 

In its original context Ephesians 2:15 applied specifically to the breaking down of the centuries long divide between Jew and Gentile, the godly and the heathen.  At least 2000 years before the time of Jesus, God had promised to Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3).  More than a thousand years after the time of Abraham, God spoke several times through the prophet Isaiah about one he called his servant.  Here’s one of his statements:

 

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  (Isaiah 49:6)

 

So in itself, the idea that Jews and Gentiles alike and together would equally share in experiencing God’s salvation was nothing new.  The new thing was that, as a result of the ministry of Jesus, the things promised to Abraham and prophesied through Isaiah began to be seen to be happening in practice.  To the Jews of Jesus’s day, the meaning of these prophecies had become so veiled that they had no understanding of what their fulfilment would look like.  Hence Paul was able to observe later in Ephesians that this was a mystery (or secret) who’s meaning the Holy Spirit had not previously revealed:

 

‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.’ (3:6)

 

Further, in the new society God was establishing, the breaking down of barriers equally applied to other long standing divisions between peoples, whether racial, religious, gender-based, or societal-role-based (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

[1] Matthew 5:18, 5:20, 5:22, 5:26, 5:28, 5:32, 5:34, 5:39, 5:44, 6:16, 6:25, and 6:29.

[2] John 12:49-50

[3] Genesis 9;6, 13:5, 17:7,48:4, 2Samuel 23:5, 1Chronicles 16:15-18.

[4] This fact calls into question the helpfulness of us dividing the Bible into only Old and New Testaments, since doing so suggests that the New Testament has replaced or superseded the whole of the Old.  Detailed exploration of this thought will need to wait until another document.

[5] This phrase, or variations thereon, occurs repeatedly throughout the Bible.  See, for example, Genesis 17:17-18, Exodus 6:7, 2Samuel 7:14, Jeremiah 7:23, 31:33, 32:38, Ezekiel 11:20, 14:11, 36:28, 37:23, 37:27, 2Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3, 21:7.  As the last two examples, amongst others, show the exact word form in which this idea is expressed keeps changing so that it is not easy to identify the complete set of such references.

[6] The New Testament comprises 27 books: 5 historical books, 21 letters, and one prophetic book.  By word count, these three sections comprise approximately 60%, 33.5% and 6.5% of the total respectively.  (Detailed word counts for each book of the Bible are available at https://www.thelastdialogue.org/article/bible-statistics-and-facts/).  Using the assumption that about half of the material in the letters is instruction on how to live the Christian life gives us the ⅙ figure quoted.   This is of course only a rough figure.  And it excludes any such teaching in the other two sections.  Hence, my statement, ‘at least ⅙’.  This figure is, I submit, adequate for the purposes of this article.

How Islam hangs together

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By Rob Lampard

Islam claims to be God’s final revelation to mankind, made known through the prophet Mohammad.  This revelation comes partly through Mohammad’s way of life, known as the Sunnah; partly through his sayings and teachings, known as the Hadith; and supremely through the book of Islam, the Quran.  This Quran was imparted, in a manner with similarities to direct dictation, to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel.[1]

 

The six pillars of faith in Islam (not to be confused with the five pillars of Islamic practice) are:

  • belief in God,
  • belief in angels,
  • belief prophets (those who convey God’s message to us),
  • belief in books (scripture revealed to us by the prophets and recorded so that its message might be preserved for future generations),
  • belief in judgment,
  • belief in the hereafter.[2]

In more detail, Islam holds that throughout history there have been two types of prophet: the nabi and the rasool.[3]  The latter term is often validly translated ‘messenger’ or ‘apostle’.  The difference between the two is this.  ‘A messenger is one who receives the revelation of a new law and a prophet (nabi) is one who is sent to confirm the message of the one sent before him.’[4]

 

In accordance with this definition, Jonah[5] is a clear example of a nabi.  He is sent by God to the people of Nineveh to warn them that God is about to bring judgment on them because their way of living does not conform to God’s previously revealed standards.  He brings no new revelation.  He simply calls people back to adherence to the message which previous prophets, especially Moses, had revealed.

 

On this basis an interesting exercise to ponder who in Judeo-Christian history was a rasool.  Islam itself holds that there have been 124,000 prophets, ‘among whom the messengers were three hundred and fifteen, a large number.’[6]  al-Ashqar goes on to list five whom he designates ‘messengers with firm determination’.  These are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad.[7] In the author’s experience, these five are commonly named as rasool by present day Muslims.

 

The alert Bible student will note that the common defining characteristic of the ministries of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus is this: they are all prophets with or through whom God made covenants.  On this basis, we would want to add Adam and David to the above list.  It also begs this question: what is the content of the covenant which God made through Mohammad and how does it exceed those made through Jesus?  Consideration of this question is beyond the scope of this document.

[1] It is interesting to note that the most obvious parallel to this mechanism in the Bible is the book of Revelation – see the introduction to that book (1:1-2).  On this basis, the equivalent messenger to Mohammad in Christianity is not Jesus, but the apostle John.

[2] See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iman_(Islam), section: The Six Articles of Faith

[3] Both are mentioned in Surah 22:52.

[4] Dr. ‘Umar S. al-Ashqar, The Messengers and the Messages, International Islamis Publishing House, 2005,
p 37; quoting in turn Tafseer al-Aaloosi, 17/157.

[5] The book of Jonah is the fifth of the twelve minor prophets whose books finish the Old Testament.  He is mentioned in 4:163, 10:98 and 37:139 in the Quran and Surah Yunus (Surah 10) is named after him.

[6] Dr. ‘Umar S. al-Ashqar, ibid, p 41.

[7] Dr. ‘Umar S. al-Ashqar, ibid, p 47.

What is new about the New Testament? Part 1.

posted in: Bible 0

By Rob Lampard

Introduction

What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament?  For anyone interested in the message of the Bible, this is a question worth considering.  Here’s another reason why it should provoke Christians in many parts of the world.

 

Islam claims to be God’s final revelation to mankind, made known to us through the prophet Mohammad.[1]  If that is so, an obvious question is this:  How does the message of the Quran improve on that of the Bible?  That, of course, is a question for Muslims to answer.  But this is not a credible question for Christians to put to Muslims if Christians don’t themselves know how the message of the New Testament develops and exceeds that of the Old.

A Summary Answer

On a simple level, the answer to our question might seem obvious: Jesus is new.  The promised Messiah has arrived in person.  That which was foreshadowed in the Old Testament has become, or more accurately begun to become, a reality.  On another level, the Old Testament is a very large document.  So surely we might be able to develop this theme in more detail – probably considerably more detail?  And how does the New Testament itself answer our question for us?

 

Here’s a simple list of ‘new’ things which the New Testament itself references, listed in the order it mentions them:

 

  1. New wine (Matthew 9:17 = Mark 2:22 = Luke 5:37)
  2. New treasures (Matthew 13:52)
  3. New teaching (Mark 1:27, Acts 17:19)
  4. New languages (Mark 16:17)
  5. New Covenant (Luke 22:20, 1Corinthians 11:25, 2Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:8, 8:13, 9:15, 12:24)
  6. New birth (John 3:3-8, 1Peter 1;3)
  7. New commandment (John 13:34, 1John 2:8)
  8. New life (Acts 5:20, Romans 6:4)
  9. New access (Romans 5:1-2, Hebrews 10:20)
  10. New way of life (Romans 7:6)
  11. New life-style (1Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 4:23-24, Colossians 3:10)
  12. New creation (2Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 2:15)
  13. The New Order (Hebrews 9:10)[2]
  14. New Heaven and Earth (2Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1)
  15. New name (Revelation 2:17, Revelation 3:12)
  16. New Jerusalem ((Revelation 3:12, 21:2)
  17. New song (Revelation 5:9, 14:3)
  18. New everything (Revelation 21:5)

 

Beyond that, there are doubtless many allusions to new things where the exact word is not used.  This is perhaps especially so in the books of Hebrews and Revelation, to which we’ll devote specific consideration in part 3 and 4 of this blog.  Before that, part 2 will expand on the topics of the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in.

 

[1] For a more detailed description of how Islam hangs together, see my separate blog of that name.

[2] Some readers might detect echoes of the film Star Wars 7 here.  Unlike in that film, the New Order mentioned here is a wonderful rather than threatening thing.

The importance of Sabbath.

posted in: Bible, Living Faith 3

One of my daily scripture readings this week was Ezekiel 20.  I was surprised by what I read.

God speaks through His prophet explaining the reasons for his judgement on the people of Israel.

He explains what he had done for Israel,

Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.

And then how Israel responded

They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws—by which the person who obeys them will live—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the wilderness. 

He keeps repeating this throughout the prophecy, again and again he says he gave Israel the laws and the sabbath, but they have continually rebelled in each generation by ignoring the law and desecrating the Sabbath.

What surprised me was the emphasis on the Sabbath, how important keeping the Sabbath holy, not desecrating it, was to God. It caused me to reflect on is it as important to me? To the church?

I considered what does it mean to keep the Sabbath? Is it just about not shopping on a Sunday, and spending a whole day at Church or at least focusing on God? All I have read over recent years have convinced that is not what it is about.

Israel whilst in Egypt were slaves, they had to work every day to survive. They were now free. However, it is not straightforward to live in that freedom, their only experience was as slaves. Hence the Sabbath, a day when you no longer work. A day when you live in freedom, no longer wanting or needing to earn money, or status or respect or anything else we work for. A day where you celebrate that you are no longer a slave.

Israel did not live in that freedom; they were unable to celebrate what God had done for them. That was what was so important to God, that they no longer lived as slaves but as people living in the freedom won for them by God. That is what this prophecy and others means when it gives such an emphasis on the Sabbath.

This brings me back to how important is it to me? To us? Do I live in the freedom that Christ has won for me? Am I able to celebrate that or am I continually drawn back to live as a slave? Do I feel I have to spend all the time working for money, status, respect, value etc? Embracing Sabbath is an indication, a sign that I am living differently to those caught up in the madness, the slavery of our world.

God thinks this is important. I need to ensure I do too.

Learning from John the Baptist.

Matthew 11

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

I have been reflecting recently on the above passage of scripture, feeling it has important truths for me. I have been trying to imagine myself in John the Baptists shoes. What would I feel like if I were in prison following doing my best to serve God? What would be my primary concern and focus? What would I be praying about, what questions would I be asking God?

I think I would be asking mostly why questions. Why am I in prison? Why haven’t you protected me, or even performed a miracle to get me out of prison? Why hasn’t the revival I had been preaching for not come about? I would also be asking God to get me out of here!

However, that is not what John asks of Jesus, not what is most important or pressing to him. Instead, he asks, are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?

If Jesus is the promised messiah, the one who is to come, then nothing else matters. John can cope with being in prison, can cope with not being able to preach and serve God as he wanted. John knew that it is all about Jesus. If Jesus is the Messiah everything would be ok, everything would eventually turn out fine. Even if he, John, lost not just his liberty but also his life that was under the shadow of the truth that God had come in the person of Jesus. He would put everything right.

We know that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus, that Jesus was the one that the Old Testament said would come to make all things right. That is more important than anything. More important than us being released from our prison of being victims of a virus or anything else. Nothing can take away that truth, nothing is more important than that truth.

We have a lot to learn from John the Baptist.

What is the purpose of the church and how do we achieve it?

2020 was a challenging year. Not out of the woods yet, but there is light at end of the pandemic tunnel. There are however some positives, e.g., we have earned what is profoundly important, as so much has been taken away. As we move from this season into a new one, I think it is crucial we remember what we have learnt, what is important. Our relationship with God is top of the list. When so much else has gone we have discovered He is enough. I also believe we have learnt lots about church, what is the real essence of church. What is the purpose of church, as we have had to do things so very differently?

Coming into the new year we will start a new sermon series starting on Sunday 17 January. This series that will take us up unto the middle of March. It will explore what is the purpose of church and how do we achieve this purpose. This series has been months in preparation and many of the preaching team will be contributing. We hope it will lay an important foundation for the new season we expect to be arriving throughout this year.

Alongside the preaching series may I commend to you a book, Letters to the church by Francis Chan. A few of us have read the book and found it extremely helpful. It is easy to read whilst being profoundly challenging, dealing with similar issues to those we will be covering on Sundays but in a different way. Our midweek material will be drawn from this book. You do not need to read the book to benefit from the Sunday teaching and midweek discussion. However, if you did read it I know you will get even more out of the series. One important thing to say is that Francis Chan, at the end of the book, describes the structure of his church and how they seek to apply the contents of the book. It is not what we believe is right in our context. We wanted to say up front that we have no intension of copying his way of doing church. As he says each church needs to apply the teaching in a way God leads them. That is what we intend to do.

I am looking forward to all that God has for us in the coming year and to be journeying with you.

God Bless,

 

Tony Thompson

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