Contradictions to Smooth Over, or a Pharmacy and a Tool Box?

An anonymous reader left the following comment on “The Law will Disappear when ‘It is finished!'” It touches on something I knew I would address eventually, and now is a good time to respond at least briefly.

I just found your site through a friend. I want to say first off that I am not a Christian, I’m tied most closely to the Jewish faith, so please excuse any ignorance that I might have when dealing with Christian Scriptures. I enjoy studying the Scriptures of other religions. My question is this: Doesn’t Jesus also say in Luke that not one stroke will pass from the law until heaven and earth pass away?

Luke 16:16-17: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

According to this declaration, wouldn’t the law still be alive because heaven and earth have certainly not disappeared? He says the law is proclaimed until John, but also says the least stroke of a pen is not being dropped out. It seems to me that he is somehow affirming an eternal aspect to it. Again, Jesus’ final verdict on the issue doesn’t affect my life personally, but I wanted to ask out of curiosity because of his statement in Luke. Thank you for your time.

The commenter quoted only Jesus, yet mentioned three possible understandings of the Law (The Law will last until John; the Law will not pass away until heaven and earth pass away first; the Law is eternal). When we bring Paul into the discussion, with his “mission-to-the-gentiles” perspective, we have a really raucous mess. At one end of the spectrum are Marcion and Anne Hutchinson (alleged “Antinomians”) and in very recent history we’ve got R.J. Rushdoony, a Calvinist, who would have instituted a literal theocracy, imposing (by force) the Torah on an unwilling population, with the death penalty for Sabbath-breaking and blasphemy–the works.

The commenter pointed out what some people would call a contradiction or a tension in the Bible. I don’t believe it is necessary to track down every alleged “contradiction” and explain it. I approach the Bible as multivocal, a library of books by different authors.  Many voices speak in the scriptures, hundreds in fact. (Those hundreds being a myriad writers, editors, copyists, etc.) To force the hundreds of voices that have spoken in the scriptures into one, harmonious whole–perfectly consistent and without contradiction or tension–is a fool’s errand. The task of “reconciling the apparent contradictions in the Bible” has wasted untold amounts of time, energy, and human lives.

I refuse to do violence to any verse or portion of scripture to force it to fit into the theological system of some “great mind.” I will not force an “eternal security” verse to say what it doesn’t say, or force a “you can lose your salvation” verse to back down and forget it was written. Each must have it’s say in our well-stocked pharmacy.

The Bible is pharmacy. One patient has hemophilia, but another has a problem with blood clots.  If the only blood medications you dispense are Coumadin and Plavix (blood thinners), you’re gonna kill the hemophiliac. Or if the only blood medications you dispense are Hemophilia A & B, you’re gonna kill the person with heart disease.

The Bible is a tool box. If all you have is a set of Craftsmen screw drivers, there are a lot of household jobs you can’t do. On the other hand, as they say, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I don’t believe we can write a treatise on the Law that will wrap it up in a nice tidy package with no loose ends.  Forgive me, but if God had really intended us to have a book of systematic theology, that’s what we would have. But we don’t. We have a library of sixty-six books (oops, there’s the Protestant coming out), each written in a time and place (and for many, in a number of times and various places).  I know the conclusions I’ve reached, and they are sufficient for the tasks God has given me at this stage in my life.

Some people need nice tidy packages, and that’s why Christians provide a place for people like Aquinas, Calvin, and their friends to do their work without interruption. Providing that space is a wonderful example of Christian charity and kindness.

While I don’t have a comprehensive system like the Great Minds (there’s a no-duh, for you!), I do bring verses and passages together in a way that makes sense to me. And they are usually verses and passages that are frequently ignored. That’s why they interest me.

Almost all of Christendom (Catholics and Protestants, from liturgical and low churches) decided centuries ago to ignore and explain away Paul’s very clear negation of the Law. Preserving the Law in their theological systems is as essential for them as the air they breathe. They’ve been doing it for two thousand years. It seems to me that the last thing we need is one more scribe arguing for the scribal way of life. Let’s give Paul a chance to speak his piece.

Often we hold Paul and Jesus in tension, or we elevate Paul above Jesus or Jesus above Paul. My experience is that people whose institutional instincts are strongest tend to emphasize those parts of Paul and Jesus which inconvenience their institutions the least, or support their hierarchies the most. And vice versa.

[For a list of posts on the Cessation of the Law, go here.]

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Antinomianism, Bible, Christianity, Pastoral Ministry, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Contradictions to Smooth Over, or a Pharmacy and a Tool Box?

  1. Wayne Johnson says:

    The quote doesn’t say what it is often thought to say. “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

    It is NOT an endorsement of the law. It is merely a statement that the text cannot be changed. That does not mean that Jesus approved of it, agreed with it, or thought it was good that it cannot be changed.

    When I read this passage, I hear him lamenting the fact that people were stuck in it. He routinely broke or pushed the edges of the law. It seems to me he was actively calling for civil disobedience as protest.


  2. Patrick Mahoney says:

    Well reasoned and expressed. So many people assume that the Bible needs to be read and understood as if it were a systematic theology text written like a puzzle. If we just fit all the pieces together the right way, it teachings will be seamless and consistent. Your article about the Bible would be required reading in my theocracy. I have often thought before trying to study the Bible as scripture, it ought to first be studied as literature. What an amazingly diverse collection of literary material to be found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The way it is used to promote fear, bigotry and closed-mindedness is disturbing.


  3. Man, I love me a good metaphor or two … (-:


So what are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s