"Whether the writings of the old testament are as valid for christians as those of the new": swiss brethren perspectives.
In 1571 leading theologians of the Reformed Church in the Palatinate met with representatives of the Swiss Brethren in Frankenthal for a disputation on the theological differences that divided the two groups. The proceedings of this disputation were published by the established church later that same year.(1)
Central to the whole debate--implicit if not explicit in all of the thirteen articles--was the relationship of the Old Testament to the New.(2) The question had been at the heart of Reformed dialogues with the Anabaptists for decades. When, for example, Berthold Haller, city pastor and leading Protestant reformer of Bern, was preparing for a disputation with the Anabaptists in the spring of 1532, he wrote to his colleague Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich that a main tactic of the Anabaptists was "to reject the Old Testament and to distort the New with unique cunning."(3) In reply, Bullinger insisted that this point--the Anabaptist understanding of Scripture and specifically the relationship of the Old Testament to the New--was of paramount importance. "What counts," Bullinger wrote, "is to define at the very beginning with what weapons the battle is to be waged, lest in the midst of the proceedings things which should have been taken care of. . . rise up to obscure and confuse completely what is being discussed." It is crucial, he continued, that other points of discussion not be pursued until the Anabaptists agree that whenever "conflicts arise between Christians concerning matters of faith, they should be decided and clarified with Holy Scripture of Old and New Testament." This way you can "wring it out of them if anywhere there lurks a negation of the Old Testament."(4)
For the reformers, at stake in defining the relationship of the Old Testament to the New was not merely abstract theological questions regarding the sovereignty of God or the meaning of the incarnation, but the very foundation of Christian ethics and the orderly authority they regarded as essential to a stable society. Similarly, for the Anabaptists, the ultimate authority of the New Testament went to the heart of their radical dissent--it was the basis for virtually all of their distinctive teachings on such matters as baptism, the sword, the oath, and the Christian magistracy. Thus, it was not surprising that the first article debated at Frankenthal in 1571 should have focused on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New.
Apparently, however, the responses of the Anabaptist representatives at Frankenthal did not fully satisfy several of the Swiss Brethren leaders. Thus, several years later, probably around 1573, an anonymous Swiss Brethren writer--or more likely, writers--composed a lengthy review of the thirteen articles debated at Frankenthal that elaborated on the Anabaptist position in greater detail. Embedded in a 366-page manuscript that included several additional texts, the response bore the title: "A short, simple discourse on the thirteen articles that were debated in 1572 [sic]5 at Frankenthal in the Palatinate, composed for all those to consider and pass judgment on, who, beloved by God, desire the truth and want to be without human bias; also written as a justifiable warning, founded upon God's Word, to all magistrates who claim for themselves the Gospel and the name, Christian, yet who attempt at the same time through coercion to force and compel people against their wills into faith."
Clearly, one central concern of the writer was a plea for the freedom of religion and conscience--a plea reiterated near the beginning of the first article, that the claim of the law find its fulfillment "not by means of pressure and coercion, but through the power of his Holy Spirit, and that this is called a new law."[degrees] But the primary concern of the opening two articles of the 1573 manuscript focused on biblical hermeneutics and, specifically, on the question of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New.
Given the centrality of this question for the Swiss Brethren and other Anabaptists, the translation that follows includes the two articles from this remarkable manuscript that deal directly with this question. A full translation of the whole manuscript is in preparation for publication at a later time.
The first article, "Whether the Writings of the Old Testament Are as Valid for Christians As Those of the New," may be divided into five segments: 1) the three parts of Old Testament law; 2) that these parts need to be interpreted christocentrically; 3) the Old Testament compared with the New Testament; 4) sum and substance; and 5) conclusion. Summarizing their central theme, the authors posit this thesis:
If now the writings of the Old and the New testaments were held to be equal, so that [both parts] were to be equally binding for Christians, then the Lord Christ himself would not have borne witness to such a transformation, and likewise the prophets, prophesying and foretelling the same--which the Son of God himself then established, as is already noted above and as will be verified below, loudly and clearly.(7)
Several themes emerge throughout the article as being of the Anabaptist essence. The three parts of Old Testament law are either fulfilled or annulled by Christ, who has transformed all that had preceded (the old covenant) into the "new Law" of Christ, namely, the new covenant.(8) Following Christ in daily discipleship necessarily meshes with nonviolence, peace, and noncoercion. The text mentions Christ's kingdom four times--the reference to Christ's kingdom rather than the "kingdom of God" seems an intentional attempt to refute the established church's understanding that the kingdom of God engages in violence as found in the Old Testament.
The themes of Christocentrism and love of enemy are also significant within the Swiss Brethren argument. On this first theme, two significant passages on Old Testament hermeneutics justify being quoted in full, arguing that the only way to interpret the Old Testament is in the light of the New--in effect, through the eyes of Jesus:
Therefore, although the New Testament is grounded in the Old, and the New must and ought to be proven through the Old, we still read that the temple, the priesthood, the way of life and law of the heavenly temple, as well as the promise, turned out to be entirely different, with much of the old needing to come to an end and something new needing to be established [in its place]. If, therefore, certain things came to an end and something new was established, with certain other things also modified and improved upon, how then can the writings of the Old Testament be binding for the Christian in the same manner as those of the New? For since a person's most recent will and testament in the law of the land preempts the validity of an earlier version, who then will not be led to believe that the Old must give way to the New, and that the Old must be judged according to the New, but not the New according to the Old?(9) We have now, in our small way, placed before the eyes of the God-fearing reader the distinction between the Old and New Testament. We also desire to remain with and accept this incontrovertible and valid distinction to the same degree that Christ and his holy apostles remained with and accepted it as incontrovertible and valid. For this we are being unjustly and unfairly maligned by the mendacious pens of the scribes, who state that we indiscriminately reject the Old Testament and do not honor its validity.(10)
Another element especially crucial to Anabaptist thought is love of enemy. Here, the claim by state church theologians that love of enemy was also in the Old Testament evoked an extended, spirited Anabaptist response that also merits an extended quotation here:
Some individuals will spitefully reproach us for our views, saying that since Moses also commanded the love of enemies (Ex. 23[:4-5]), therefore Moses' teaching and Christ's teaching in Matthew 5 are one and the same. Given this pretext, they mix Moses and Christ together, through which the true spiritual meaning and understanding remains hidden behind the curtain and under cover so that the Mosaic power and sword may be maintained and defended in the church and community of God. . . . For if this were to be understood as being between Israel and the Gentiles, where did God tell them they could abandon their vengeance and hatred against the Gentiles, their enemies? Therefore, since [this Mosaic love of enemy] is to be understood as applying only among the Israelites, it is therefore contrary to the teaching of Christ (Mt. 5[:4344]; Lk. 6[:27-31], 9[:52-55], 23[:34]) which speaks [equally] to the Jews and Gentiles and to all peoples on earth (Mt. 28[:19]). Therefore [the Mosaic love and the teaching of Christ] cannot be interpreted as being one and the same.(11)
The short second article in the "Short, Simple Discourse" is a response to the question, "Whether the believers in the New Testament formed one community and people of God with the believers in the Old Testament."
The answer, summarized, is that there has indeed been one community of God, encompassing both the Old and New Testament eras, yet ruled by God in three different ways: before the time of Moses (pre-Law); during and after the time of Moses (through the Law); and since the time of Christ (through the Gospel). Two final observations round out this introduction to the remarkable treatise that follows. First, the presuppositions and developing argument of these first two articles closely mesh with the biblical theology of the Marpeck circle, and, in striking ways, also with the articles of Schleitheim.(12) Second, the conversation between Anabaptists and the established church, 450 years ago, is still relevant today in the context of current ecumenical dialogue. Here, the 1573 Swiss Brethren treatise on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New can serve well as an Anabaptist theological keystone and backdrop to contemporary interdenominational conversation--a foundational theme undergirding virtually all such exchange of ideas.
The First Article: Whether the Writings of the Old Testament Are as Valid for Christians As Those of the New"(13)
[THE THREE PARTS OF OLD TESTAMENT LAW]
It is not fitting to say yes or no to this question unless one specifies which part of the Old Testament Scriptures one is speaking of. For it is clear to all parties that the Old Testament is not a single entity, but rather is divided into three parts. One part [of the law] teaches how a person should act toward God and humankind--as is taught in particular through the Ten Commandments.
This is without doubt the part that the Lord himself referred to, when he said that he had not come to annul the law, but rather to fulfill it. Therefore he sharpened the law in Matthew, Chapter 5, as we will hear in due course, desiring to have it written in the hearts of human beings rather than only on stone tablets, and furthermore, [that it find its fulfillment] not by means of pressure and coercion, but through the power of his Holy Spirit, and that this is called a new law.(14)
This is not to say that the law was absent earlier, but that the Lord had taught the law in a manner different from the way in which Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets and high priests were accustomed to teaching it in their time.
The second part of the law, then, would be the segment that teaches how priests and Levites from given lineages, and also civil judges and authorities, chosen from among their own people, were to be established. They taught the law, enforcing it with the sword, to all of Abraham's seed--and also to the others who wished to live among them--punishing the transgressors not only with words, but also with the sword. (89>(15)
But this was without a doubt that part of the law about which the Lord said, that "the law and the prophets prophesied until John [the Baptist] came,"(16) when the kingdom of God would be proclaimed anew through the Gospel. With these words the Lord without a doubt wishes to say that, although the harshness of the law and the prophets demanded and acknowledged the stoning of the idolater, the transgressor of the Sabbath, the adulterer, the disobedient son, and all who do and promote evil--eye for an eye, hand for a hand--that in his church and community this must cease. For the kingdom of God is proclaimed, from the time of John [the Baptist] and thereafter, through the Gospel--namely, in a different, happier, and less-severe mariner, as noted above.
Therefore John the Baptist opened the door to the kingdom and community of God to harlots and open sinners (which the law would have stoned), if they confessed their sin and repented--people who otherwise, according to the law, would not have been able to enter even into the third generation.(17) The Lord himself says to the Pharisees that "the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you,"(18) that is, if they mend their lives in true repentance.
The Lord has more to say (Mt. 5[:38]) about the annulment of this part of the law in the New Covenant within his church that gathers together by means of the Holy Spirit: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a hand for a hand.' But I say to you, (90) Do not resist evil," even though up to now you have interpreted the law as including [resistance to evil], and carrying this out in practice.
That you should be acting and teaching otherwise, as noted above, is also indicated by the prophets Isaiah and Micah where they say, He will teach the nations peace, and that on his holy mountain no more will one person harm or abuse another.(19) Zechariah also speaks to this (9[:9-10]): "Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter Zion! Shout aloud, 0 daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations."
In agreement with this is also the royal prophet, David, who speaks through the Spirit of God (Ps. 46[:8-9]) as follows: "Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the wagons with fire." Likewise (Ps. 76[:2-3]): "His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion. There he broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war, Selah."
Now if in the last days, Zion, Jerusalem and (91) Ephraim signify [Christ's] church and community, as is clearly noted here, then we certainly are hearing with what weapons and armor those who truly wish to participate therein are to clad themselves.
The third part of the law included circumcision, the paschal lamb, many and various food sacrifices, sacrifices of drink and incense, together with their feast and holy days, through which they, when they sinned, believed themselves to be purified and made righteous. As long as they had or knew nothing better and they used these as they were supposed to, then such worship was acceptable, about which the Lord afterward gave witness many times from heaven, lighting the sacrifice and turning it to ashes. When they did not use them properly, however, they also were often clearly punished for it, as were especially the sons of Aaron.(20) Now and then, as one says, [the Lord] looked through his fingers at them, patiently enduring them for a time. Finally, when even after a long period of warning and admonishing, they did not correct themselves and instead despised the Lord and his prophets, the Lord21 kicked out the bottom of the bucket and allowed his wrath and punishment to fall upon them, burning the only place and temple wherein they were allowed to sacrifice and to celebrate feast and holy days. He thereby indicated to them to what degree he valued their sacrifices and ceremonies when outwardly they conformed to the letter [of the law] yet did not purify themselves within, from the heart, (92) nor set things right with their neighbors before they had offered their gift on the altar.
Since this part of the law is predominantly tied to a specific place, a specific race, and a specific era, the Lord annulled--or as it is said, fulfilled--it, since he wanted, in these last days, to call out to the very ends of the world, offering himself to all races to be their God. For since it was impossible to remove sin through the blood of oxen, calves, and goats, as the Epistle to the Hebrews clearly testifies, he himself became the blood sacrifice and through this, brought to an end this part of the law.(22)
[THESE THREE PARTS NEED TO BE INTERPRETED CHRISTOCENTRICALLY]
Therefore, as much of each part of the law and writings of the Old Testament Christ and his apostles regard as binding, the exact same is what god-fearing Christians will also regard as binding. But whatever he rejects and annuls, they are not to establish on their own authority; for they should recognize that if Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, as he indeed does call himself, then he is also Lord of the law.
The fact that [Christ] annulled and established the law in the manner just described, however, is also additionally testified to by the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 where he says, behold, "the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors (93) when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, for which I punished them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will plant my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord" [31:31-34].
Paul speaks to this in the epistle to the Hebrews?- in the eighth chapter, where he says: "In speaking of a 'new covenant,' he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear" [8:13]. Likewise he says in the same chapter, "But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one" [8:6-8].
Therefore, although the New Testament is grounded in the Old, and the New must and ought to be proven through the Old, we still read that the temple, the priesthood, the way of life and law of the heavenly temple, as well as the promise, turned out to be entirely different, with much of the old needing to come to an end and something new needing to be established [in its place]. If, therefore, certain things came to an end and something new was established, with certain other things also (94) modified and improved upon, how then can the writings of the Old Testament be binding for the Christian in the same manner as those of the New? For since a person's most recent will and testament in the law of the land preempts the validity of an earlier version, who then will not be led to believe that the Old must give way to the New, and that the Old must be judged according to the New, but not the New according to the Old?
Some ask, however: If one does not accept all those things as valid and good for a Christian, which according to the Old Testament were good and blameless, does this not mean that the Holy Spirit has changed? To this we say no. [The Holy Spirit has not changed;] the times, however, have changed. The time for those in the Old [Covenant] was morning; for us, however, the time is afternoon. In their time the world was beginning and growing green, but in our time it is drying up and wearing out. And just as a wise and intelligent father will overlook many things in his child because of its youth, yet punish that child for the very same things when it becomes older, in the same way God, the Holy Spirit, dealt in a special way with the world when it was still in its best age, and deals in a special way [with the world] now that it has fallen into the Pit.(24) Just as the above-mentioned father--who deals with his young child differently than he does when it becomes older--remains unchanged, so also the Holy Spirit, in this regard, is by no means to be blamed, lectured to, or sent back to school by human cleverness and sophistry, even though [the Spirit] did allow certain things in the Old Testament (95) which it now forbids, or forbade then what it now allows.
That not everyone can reconcile this difference is no wonder, for it also vexed the Jews, being a great stumbling block to them. Therefore the Lord himself said he had come into this world for judgment so that the blind would see, and that those who could see would become blind.(25) The prophets also said the same about him: he was the stone one strikes against, (26) a stone one stumbles over, leading to the fall and resurrection of many in Israel.
If now the writings of the Old and the New Testaments were held to be equal, so that [both parts] were to be equally binding for Christians, then the Lord Christ himself would not have borne witness to such a transformation, and likewise the prophets, prophesying and foretelling the same--which the Son of God himself then established, as is already noted above and as will be verified below, loudly and clearly.
But if the Lord Jesus had come, utilizing such ingenuous and sophisticated reasoning as did Moses, King David, Solomon and Elijah, and living according to their ways, sanctions and prohibitions, and had he enjoyed great prestige and splendor which worldly human reason esteems so highly--if he had established [his kingdom] in the manner of the worldly kings and powerful princes--then people would have been more disposed to believe in him and his signs and wonders than was actually the case.
But since [Jesus] (96) crucified no one, and instead allowed himself to be crucified, suffered in the flesh, and left us an example as Peter says, (27) therefore such a Christ, with his teaching and his life, became the downfall of the Jews and a resurrection for the believing Gentiles. May it please God not to treat the would-be Christians of today in the way that he treated the Jews back then!
[THE OLD TESTAMENT COMPARED WITH THE NEW TESTAMENT]
Examples of the disparity [between the Old and New Testaments], however, are easy to find. Jacob took as his wives two sisters, something Moses had forbidden before the time of Christ, although Moses did permit two and even more wives, and a letter of divorce. Christ forbids all this for those who wish to be his disciples. Moses killed an Egyptian; Samuel, Agag the king; Elijah, the priests of Baa1.(28) Christ would not extinguish the glowing wick or break the bent reed. He also would not grant the disciples' request that they command fire to fall down upon those who would not receive them, as Elijah had done. He restored the ear of his enemy and adversary after Peter had cut it off; he also prayed on the cross for his enemies, and taught us in his Word and Holy Gospels that we should be his followers. (29)
In the Old Testament, the people of God are likened to a small daughter that God the Father in his mercy has taken into his house, educating her properly and decently until she has reached marriageable age, (97) at which time he gave her his own Son as bridegroom.
The people in the New Testament are married to Christ through faith; they have entered into a covenant with Christ and are a bride of Christ, and will share in all his goods and gifts. God the Father sends out an invitation regarding his Son's wedding to all peoples within the whole circle of the earth.
Up to the time of Christ, the people in the Old Testament had been preserved under the law, which played the role of taskmaster. They had outward ceremonies and worship practices, and were given the promise of temporal and earthly goods and gifts, of a land flowing with milk and honey.
The New, however, holds forth something much better--namely, spiritual and heavenly goods and an eternal kingdom. It has a spiritual and divine law, the perfect, inalienable law proceeding out of Zion, converting and bringing back the soul. It is established and revealed through the Son of God himself, to those whom the Father has established as heirs of all things.
The Old Testament kingship and priesthood was (98) imperfect and pompous. It leaned on someone [other than God] for security and relied on retribution.
The New Testament kingship and priesthood is perfect, lacks nothing, is not pompous, and forsakes the old as =necessary for the sake of something better, thereby ensuring that [the new] does not lapse. For in it, all physical cravings and needs become superfluous.
The Old Testament kingship and priesthood was only a shadow, a figure, temporal, and coming to an end.
The New Testament kingship and priesthood is heavenly, eternal, and without end, eternally a clear light and torch held high.
The Old Testament manifests a harsh and severe spirit, the spirit of coercion and fear and of the crossbow, leading to a heavy and uncertain conscience, fearing death, the devil and hell.
The New, however, affirms a meek and a good, gracious, and peaceable spirit; the filial, child-parent spirit; and the power of joy and love, including a joyous, confident conscience that hopes for eternal life.
The Old Testament has an external, temporal people characterized by an external religious sign of the covenant--namely, circumcision, through which one was to identify its people outwardly.
The New, however, has an inner, spiritual people and an inner mark--namely, the sealing of the Holy Spirit. One cannot correctly single out this people from everyone else solely through external means, for its life is hidden with Christ in God.
The Old Testament affirms an outer, coerced form of worship, Sabbath, customs and ceremonies, which, being bound to place, time, and person, burdened the conscience.
The New, on the other hand, affirms a new, inner, free (99) and personally chosen form of worship, fulfilled in believing and reborn hearts.
This is not to say that after the coming of Christ the outer word, sacraments, or ceremonies were consequently rejected or canceled in the light of the practices of the New Testament, [which they were not] as long as they were entered into in a way consistent with their true spiritual meaning. Rather, through them the believing conscience is directed beyond itself directly to God through Christ. For without the true, real, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, all external sacraments and ceremonies are not useful, but rather are harmful to people's souls.
The power of the Old and first Testament was found solely in works, in holding to the letter of the law, in human holiness, in worldly piety, and an appearance of outer righteousness seen as irreproachable by the people (c.f. Heb. 9[:1-10], Rom. 10[:5] and Phil. 3[:9]).
The power and fulfillment of the New and last Testament, however, resides in faith and the true acknowledgment of Jesus Christ. It is found in spiritual holiness, in divine love, in heartfelt piety and inner righteousness which are valid before the face of God (Mt. 5[:1-48]; Rom. 3[:21-31]; Phil. 3[:7-21]).
Moses, given his charge, was not able to do more than communicate the consequences of sins, or [warn] that the transgressor would be punished.
Christ, on the other hand, takes this further for his own, making it possible to avoid and eliminate one's inner fleshly cravings, carnal desires, and passions of the heart (2 Tim. 2[:20-26]).
The Old had an outer, human mediator, namely, Moses; it had an outer priesthood, outer unction, an outer kingdom, an outer sword, law and judgment.
The New has an inner, spiritual mediator, namely, the person of Jesus Christ. It has an inner kingdom and priesthood, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ which he establishes in the newly-reborn person, in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14[:17]). It has an inner sword that cuts away evil desires from the heart, dividing and separating all that leads away from God, namely, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6[:17]; Heb. 4[:12]).
In the Old Testament a physical, figurative political authority was established that belonged to God's testament. It looked after and enforced the law of Moses and all that pertained to it, and served the figurative matters of God with the sword and other such things.
In the New Testament there is a spiritual authority--namely, our Lord Jesus Christ who says On. 18[:361), (30) "My kingdom is not of this world;" [he is the one] whom God the Father placed over all things as head of his church (Eph. 1[:22]). [Jesus Christ] reigns, defends, protects, and represents his people and his teaching, which is the word of the cross and the Gospel of the grace of God in the Holy Spirit--not the bract clhium seculare [the secular arm], or the (101) calling up of worldly power, but rather, the patience of the saints, the ministration of Christ, and the dispensing of the mystery of the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 4[:1]). For the weapons of our knighthood, says Paul, are not physical, but mighty before God to destroy the fortifications, with which we overcome all attacks and all the forces that rise up against the acknowledgment of Christ (2 Cor. 10[:3-6]).
In the Old Testament it was decreed, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, ox for ox.31 Likewise, you should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.32 Therefore, also the Jews, as a figurative illustration, fought against the Hittites, Amorites, and other Gentiles, and expelled and eradicated them as their enemies, since they were to have no fellowship with them, to make no covenant with them, or to show them any favor (Deut. 7[:1-2]).
In the New Testament Christ says, "Resist not evil; rather, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer your other as well, and if someone takes your coat, offer him your cloak as well." Likewise, "love your enemies and bless those who persecute you," (33) and do good to those who hate you: "Repay no one evil for evil. . . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves."(34) Here the church is not fighting in a physical way, but in a spiritual way against sin, death, hell, Satan, and against all evil desires. And since the Apostle knew this, as a field marshal in such a war, (102) he gave a command to the knights of Christ, saying: Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand the cunning attacks of the devi1.(35)
Nevertheless, some individuals will spitefully reproach us for our views, saying that since Moses also commanded the love of enemies (Ex. 23[:4-5]), therefore Moses' teaching and Christ's teaching in Matthew 5 are one and the same. Given this pretext, they mix Moses and Christ together, through which the true spiritual meaning and understanding remains hidden behind the curtain and under cover so that the Mosaic power and sword may be maintained and defended in the church and community of God.
To this we answer, whoever desires to jest and toy with Holy Scripture, distorting and interpreting it according to his or her own understanding,36 such we must sadly allow to happen. However, that Christ's teaching (Mt. 5[:43-45]), and Moses' (Ex. 23[:4-5]) are one and the same teaching, this cannot be adduced if one simply allows Holy Scripture to remain in its clear meaning. For the loving of enemies as commanded by Moses was to be observed only among the Israelites themselves--those living next to each other--and concerned their oxen and asses. Therefore this had to do solely with their own, and not with the asses or oxen of the Gentiles who were their enemies. Just as the Law (Lev. 19[:17-18]) says, you are not to avenge or hold a grudge against the children of your people, (103) the meaning here is has also just been noted in Exodus 23[:4-5]--only for and among the children of Israel. King Solomon also taught doing good to the enemy in this way (Prov. 25[:21-22]). For if this were to be understood as being between Israel and the Gentiles, where did God tell them they could abandon their vengeance and hatred against the Gentiles, their enemies? Therefore, since [this Mosaic love of enemy] is to be understood as applying only among the Israelites, it is therefore contrary to the teaching of Christ (Mt. 5[:43-44]; Lk. 6[:27-31], 9[:52-55], 23[:34]), which speaks [equally] to the Jews and Gentiles and to all peoples on earth (Mt. 28[:19]). Therefore, [the Mosaic love and the teaching of Christ] cannot be interpreted as being one and the same.
The Old Testament has to do with children according to the flesh, stemming from the first birth.
The New Testament, however, has to do with children according to the Spirit--children of rebirth and of the promise, to whom God the Father reveals his mysteries, which also has to do with the kingdom of heaven (Rom. 9[:22-26]; Jn. 3[:3]; Mt. 18[:1-6]).
The first (children) persecute the second, (37) (Gal. 4[:29]), as did Cain to Abel, Ishmael to Isaac, Esau to Jacob, and as the Pharisees did to Christ.(38)
But the children of the Spirit persecute and hate no one. Rather, the faith and patience of the saints reigns among them (Rev. 14[:12]), and also the love of God and the patience of Christ (2 Thess. 3[:131) as it does with those who truly know that they, following their Lord Christ, must enter the kingdom of God, going through much suffering and tribulation (2 Tim. 3[:12]).
In the Old Testament certain foods and drink were specified as being the only ones the people were permitted to partake of. And when (104) they ate or enjoyed other foods, they were considered unclean.
In the New Testament, Christ teaches that what enters the mouth does not make a person unclean, but instead, what proceeds from the mouth.
In the Old Testament it was taught that a transgressor was to be stoned (Deut. 18, 22);39 some were to be burned (Lev. 20[:14]); some were to be beaten with rods (Deut. 251:1-2]); some to be punished by taking their possessions; some were to be exiled from the community (Lev. 18[:28-29]).
In the New Testament, on the other hand, Christ teaches us to avoid and depart from those who do not wish to accept the teaching of the Gospel, and as a testimony against them "even shaking off any of their dust that clings to our shoes" (Mt. 10[:14]; Lk. 10[:10-11]). Furthermore, regarding those who have accepted the Gospel yet do not live and walk according to the same, one should admonish them on the basis of the Word, a first, and then a second, and [even a] third time. Where such admonition does not help, one is to separate from them and treat them as Gentiles (Mt. 181:15-17]; 1 Cor. 5[:1-13]; 2 Thess. 3[:6, 14-15]).(40)
The Old Testament taught the righteousness of the law regarding the conquering and taking possession of the Promised Land. If, however, the righteousness of this law had been permanent, "there would have been no need to look for a second one" (Heb. 8[:7]).
The New Testament teaches the righteousness that enters the kingdom of heaven as being better than the righteousness of the law, about which Paul speaks regarding the Son (105) of God, the true lawgiver from Zion, saying, "But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one" (Heb. 8[:6-7]).
The Old Testament teaches that those who acknowledge their sins and are sorry for them need to offer all sorts of food, drink, and incense, with which they believe themselves to be cleansed. Paul also speaks about this when he says, "Since the law contains but a shadow of the good things to come and not the essence of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, they would have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once and for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10[:1-4]). Therefore, this cleansing was also too limited.
The New Testament teaches that those who acknowledge their sins and are sorry for them place their hope and comfort in the merit of Christ, the unspotted Lamb. As Paul states (Heb. 10), a sacrifice offered for sin is one which is valid eternally. It fortifies the hearts of his faithful ones with the renewal of his Holy Spirit and not with food and drink, as was the case with Moses.
The Old Testament served the sons of Abraham alone, and those who submitted under them to circumcision and the acceptance of their practices.
The New Testament serves all peoples on earth, and yet at the same time, only the new person who submits with good will to the obedience of Christ.
[SUM AND SUBSTANCE]
Even if this simple and true teaching of Christ and also of his holy apostles, which differentiates between the Old and New Testaments, might well be interpreted and exegeted by many in a different way, as quite a few have done--God knows with what zeal!--still, for our part, in our simplicity we cannot embrace this highly sophisticated, human, learned philosophy that only darkens the Word of the Lord. Therefore, our greatest certainty is to remain with the words of the Lord Jesus and his holy apostles, through which we have before our eyes a crystal-clear differentiation between the Old and New Testaments as has already been shown adequately and at length, with Holy Scripture.
St. John also says this in chapter 1, that the law was given through Moses; grace and truth has come through Jesus Christ. From this it may clearly be noted that just as the law embodied the spirit of justice and revenge (Deut. 7[:1-5]) in rooting out sin, unrighteousness, and the transgressor of the law alike, so also has Christ reversed all this in his grace.
Therefore, in this era, rich in grace, the spirit of [Old Testament] righteousness does not continue in its severity and vengeance, as was the case under the law. The Lord also communicated this transformation (107) to his disciples when they wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritans, as Elijah had done, when they did not want to accept the Lord with his healing teachings. (41) There Jesus differentiated for them, on the one hand, between the spirit of the law (42) of vengeance and also of justice, which on Judgment Day will punish the world, (43) and, on the other hand, the spirit of the era of grace and peace and of the one who prayed on the cross his entreaty for his enemies, and who also said, "Do you not know to which spiritual children you belong? The Son of Man has not come to destroy the human soul, but to preserve it."(44)
Now, whoever desires to discredit the Son of God and send the Wisdom of God back to school could ask whether, then, there are two Holy Spirits since he said, "Do you not know to which spiritual children you belong?" Here, at least for a moment, would be room for jesting, but very soon we would need to foolishly become like them.
For our part, we have confessed above that there is only one Holy Spirit. But through the Savior, the Prince of Peace and the King of heaven and earth, the Spirit's harshness has been transformed and tempered by way of grace and mercy, through the eternal providence of the unchangeable God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--who established it from eternity. This is incontrovertible. [To understand it otherwise] would turn the Lord's own words upside down, interpreting and exegeting them contrary to their meaning.
Therefore in this time, rich in grace, the severe and vengeful spirit of justice is not applicable or carried out, as was the case under the Law, (45) and this will continue until the end of the world. (108) When this time of grace comes to an end, then this one Spirit of the Father and the Son will punish the world's evil.
For God did not send his Son into the world in order to judge the world,(46) but that the world might be saved through him, since he is the Savior. For when they brought the adulterous woman to him, who according to the letter of the law had earned the death sentence, he did not condemn her or wound her further according to the dictates of the law, but rather offered her his grace and healing medicine, since he had come to heal, saying, "Go and sin no more." (47)
That the Lord says, however (Jn. 5[:22]), "the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son," from this we must note carefully who is wasting this time of rich grace through sin and vice and does not want to accept this Savior and King with a sincere heart. When this time of rich grace--during which time Christ is sitting in judgment of no person, who instead is a mediator between God and humanity--will be over and comes to its end, such a person will be punished when the world comes to an end for all his or her wickedness and lack of repentance by the aforementioned one Spirit of the Father and the Son, when the Son of Man will stand in judgment. For Christ says (Mt. 16[:27]): (48) "It will come to pass that the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father and his angels, and then he will repay each according to his works."
We have now, in our small way, placed before the eyes of the God-fearing reader the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. We also desire to remain with and accept this incontrovertible and valid distinction to the same degree that Christ and his holy apostles remained with and accepted it as incontrovertible and valid. For this we are being unjustly and unfairly maligned by the mendacious pens of the scribes, who state that we indiscriminately reject the Old Testament and do not honor its validity.
For throughout time, even if the two testaments have shown themselves to be unequal, as has been verified above repeatedly at various places, they both still posit the Spirit of God as reality and truth throughout the time and revelation of the eternal, unchangeable will of God in Christ Jesus, and in this regard, are certainly equal. The Spirit of God alone--and a spiritual person taught by God--knows how to seek out the Old Testament witness concerning Christ and his kingdom and, utilizing a spiritual judgment, how to draw the truth from the figurative symbols and apply this gloriously to Christ.
The Second Article: Whether the Believers in the New Testament Formed One Community and People of God with the Believers in the Old Testament
Answer: Holy Scripture testifies that God is not only the God of the Jews, (110) but also of the Gentiles, and that he handed over to Christ his Son all the kingdoms of this world and all the extremities of the earth, so that all tongues--all Gentiles and peoples--shall fall down at his feet, bow down and worship him, both the past and the coming world; for there is but one flock and one shepherd who guides and leads all those who are to be his into one sheep stable.(49)
However, just because the Lord ruled those who lived before Moses without the law, solely through enlightenment and the power of his Holy Spirit; and just because he ruled those who lived in Moses' time and following through the coercion and force of the law; and is ruling those who have lived since the time of Christ through the Gospel--it does not follow from this that the reign during these three epochs was either one and the same; or that the Holy Spirit of God changed; or that there is not, or will not be, one community of God. All this has been adequately explained in the preceding article concerning the writings of the Old and New Testaments.(50)
Much has already been laid out above, but there is more to be said about these contrasting eras of [God's] reign: the one before Moses that was without the law; the second that was under the law; and also the current one, our final era of grace in which the true and genuine believers are ruled through the Gospel. In this regard, the Lord God does not desire to justify himself for permitting something in one given era, while forbidding the same in another era. For us to request this from him is as poorly justified as it is for those who complained to him, believing it to be unjust that he equalized the day's wages so that those who had just arrived at the eleventh or last hour in his vineyard (111) received the same wage as those who had arrived early morn and who had had to suffer the scorching heat all day long. For, as he says in the same passage, he has the power to do what and how he wishes, with what belongs to him.(51)
For he has so decreed, deciding to rule the earth in this manner in his eternal election, through his eternal boundless wisdom by which he had already scrutinized and searched through everything in all of eternity before the foundation of the world was laid, in such a manner as noted above. Therefore he is the eternal, almighty, immutable, unshakable God, (52) the same yesterday as he is today and in all eternity. However, times do change, as has been sufficiently noted.(53)
If the Father has not changed, then the Holy Spirit also has not changed.
(1.) Protocol': Das 1st, Alle Handlung Des Gesprechs Zu Franckenthal Inn Der Churfurstlichen Pfalz Mit Denen so Man Widertauffer Nennet, Auff Den 28, May Angefttngen 'Vnd Den 19. lung Dises 1571. jars Geendet. Was Fur Artickel Des Christlichen Glaubens Inn Disem Gesprech Verhandelt Warden Das Weset Das Volgend Der Chuiturstlichen Pfalz Aussschrieben Auss. Jetzt Wider Auffs New Getruckt LInd Mit Fleiss Gegen Dem Rechten Original Collationiert (Heidelburg: J. Mayer, 1571).
(2.) Arnold Snyder provides an extensive description and interpretation of the details surrounding the 1571 Frankenthal Disputation, and especially the manuscript texts that emerged among the Swiss Brethren in response to that encounter.--cf. "The (not-so) 'Simple Confession' of the Later Swiss Brethren. Part 1: Manuscripts and Marpeckites in an Age of Print," The Mennonite Quarterly Review 73 (Oct. 1999), 677-722; and "The (not-so) 'Simple Confession' of the Late Sixteenth-Century Swiss Brethren. Part The Evolution of Separatist Anabaptism," MQR 74 (Jan. 2000), 87-122. Snyder agrees on the central significance of the question of how the Old Testament relates to the New: "At the heart of the Frankenthal disputation was the question of the relationship between the testaments and how scripture was to be interpreted, understood and applied."--Snyder, "Simple Confession.' Part II," 88. Snyder's guess as to the date of the treatise (1573) is based upon internal evidence. See Snyder, "Simple Confession.' Part I," 682.
(3.) Heinold Fast and John H. Yoder, "How to Deal with Anabaptists: An Unpublished Letter of Heinrich Bullinger," MQR 33 (April 1959), 84. See also, John D. Roth, "Harmonizing the Scriptures: Swiss Brethren Understandings of the Relationship Between the Old and New Testament During the Last Half of the Sixteenth Century," in Radical Reformation Studies. Essays Presented to James M. Stayer, ed. Werner 0. Packull and Geoffrey L. Dipple (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), 34-40.
(5.) The Frankenthal Disputation actually took place in 1571.
(6.) See below, Article One, second paragraph.
(7.) See below, toward the end of the authors' christological section.
(8.) The word "covenant" is used fourteen times in this article. This suggests, as Arnold Snyder also underscores throughout his analysis of these articles, the influence of the Marpeck circle upon later sixteenth-century Anabaptism in Switzerland, where "covenant theology" was also central.
(9.) See below, under the segment "The Three Parts need to be interpreted Christocentrically."
(10.) See below, under the segment "Conclusion." Emphasis added.
(11.) See below, under the segment "The Old Testament Compared to the New."
(12.) See Snyder, "Simple Confession.' Part I," passim, for the Marpeck connection. On Schleitheim see John H. Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution: A Companion to Bainton (Elkhart, Ind.: AMBS Co-Op Bookstore, 1983), 180-192, 281, 291.
(13.) Translated and edited by Leonard Gross. This translation is based on the careful transcription made by Arnold Snyder, using Codex 628 (Berner Burgerbibliothek). Snyder also critiqued the first draft of this translation. It is hoped that the whole of the manuscript will be published in book form in the near future (Leonard Gross translated pages 1-149, and Abraham Friesen, pages 150-366). Bracketed material in the text has been added by the translator-editor. Footnoted material is not found in the original text, except for that which is in italics--e.g., material that was written in the margins of the original manuscript or comes from a parallel sixteenth-century manuscript: Andreas Gut's "Einfaltig Bekanntnus" (hereafter cited in the footnotes as "G"). This manuscript, too, has been transcribed by Arnold Snyder. Also deeply appreciated and helpful have been John D. Roth's careful critique of the whole, and his suggested revisions within the introduction.
(14.) Margin: The prophets did not teach this as applying to their time, but foretold and prophesied these things, to find their fulfillment in our time.
15. Bracketed numbers throughout refer to the original Swiss manuscript (Codex 628) pagination.
(16.) [Mt. 11:13].
(17.) [See, e.g., Ex. 20:51.
(18.) [Mt. 21:311.
(19.) [Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:1].
(20.) [Lev. 10:1-3].
(21.0 G adds: as they say.
(22.) [Heb. 9:11-14].
(23.) At the time this was written, Paul was generally assumed to be the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews.
(24.) [See, e.g., Isa. 14:15; Ps. 28:1; 40:2; et all.
(25.) Un. 9:39].
(26.) [Isa. 8:14-15; 1 Pet 2:8].
(27.) [1 Pet. 4:11.
(28.) [Ex. 2:12; 1 Sam. 15:33;1 Kings 19:1].
(29.) [Isa. 42:3; 2 Kings 1:10, 12; Lk. 9:54; Jn. 18:10; Lk. 23:34; Mt. 10:38; Jn. 12:26].
(30.) Margin: My kingdom is not of this world (In. 181:361).
(31.) [Ex. 21:24-321.
(32.) [Mt. 5:43].
(33.) Margin: Mt. 51:39-40, 441; Lk. 61:29].
(34.) G adds (Margin): Rom. 121:17, 19].
(35.) [Eph. 6:11].
(36.) G adds: and to paint on another color.
(37.) G adds: those born according to the flesh lpersecutel those born according to the Spirit.
(38.) G adds the prophets and to, after "as the Pharisees did to," and and his apostles, after "Christ."
(39.) Probably Deut. 13:10, 21:21.
(40.) G adds: In the Old Testament if is said, You are not to swear false oaths, but are to carry out the oaths you have made before God (Mt. 5).
(41.) G adds (Margin): Lk. 9[:54-551.
(42.) G adds (Margin): Lk. 23. (Probably an incorrect reference.)
(43.) G adds (Margin): Acts 7. (Probably an incorrect reference.)
(44.) [Lk. 9:56].
(45.) G adds: out of the eternal providence and pleasure of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as mentioned above.
(46.) Margin: In. 3.
(47.) [Jn. 8:11].
(48.) Ms. has: in. 16.
(49.) [Rev. 15:4, 4:8-11; Jn. 10:16].
(50.) Margin: The Holy Spirit is immutable and unshakable.
(51.) [Mt. 20:1-161.
(52.) G adds: in his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
(53.) G adds: and said.
*Leonard Gross is an executive director emeritus of the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church.
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|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2014|
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