I have one further subject to consider in this short evening series of sermons which I have entitled, “How my Mind has Changed.” The concern has not been to document changes in my opinion but to alert you to the various differences in viewpoint that exist among PCA ministers. Our new minister may hold an opinion in regard to such matters that is different from mine. It is, I would think, almost inevitable that at one point or another he will think differently than I do and have taught you to think. We’ve considered church government, children at communion, the Bible’s tension-laden pedagogy, and, last time, the balance between the objective and subjective dimensions of the Christian faith and life.
Tonight I want to consider a subject about which, once again, my thinking is not shared by the majority of PCA ministers and ordinands, that is, men ready to enter the ministry. I am speaking of the unity of the Bible. To one degree or another every PCA minister believes in the unity of the Bible, but, the phrase means different things to different men. The Reformed faith, as you know, has always emphasized the unity of the Bible and the unity of the covenant of grace. It is a distinctive affirmation of Reformed theology that the way of salvation has been the same and will be the same from the fall to the consummation of all things. There has always been but one savior, one atonement, and one faith. Reformed theologians have always acknowledged certain changes in form from one epoch to another, but they have always insisted that the substance of the message and of the salvation itself has always been the same. Our Westminster Confession of Faith is typical.
“There are not…two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.” [VII, vi]
That is an immensely consequential conclusion. It is the foundation of our practice of infant baptism, for example, but, most significantly – because it affects to so many different subjects – it unifies the Bible. We understand the Bible to be Holy Scripture from beginning to end. Well, that doesn’t sound controversial, but what we are saying is that whether Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Hosea, Matthew, or Romans, it is all the Word of God to be believed and obeyed. That is a teaching so obviously true, a conviction so obviously shared both by the Lord and his apostles, that it amazes me that there are so many Christians who do not believe it. After all, the Scripture Paul was speaking of when he said that “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” was primarily the Scripture we today call the Old Testament!
But even in the Reformed tradition, what is given with the right hand is far too often taken back with the left. Even champions of the unity of the covenant of grace are likely to go on to say that nevertheless there are substantial differences between the ancient epoch and that introduced by Christ and his apostles. Our Confession once again is typical.
“…under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, then believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.” [XX, i]
In a similar vein we read in the Larger Catechism (Q. 35)
“Under the New Testament…grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy…”
The proof-texts offered by the divines to prove these assertions do nothing of the kind, but it is the unstudied assumption of most Christian theologians and most Christians that when we move from the OT to the NT we move up into, at least in some respects, an improved spiritual world, a higher realm of Christian experience and spiritual achievement.
Why do we think this? I long ago came to believe that the principal reason was that we attached the names “Old Testament” and “New Testament” to the first 39 and last 27 books of the Bible respectively. The Bible does not attach those names to those parts of the Bible; we did that, or Melito of Sardis did that in the later years of the 2nd century. That terminology is freighted with unspoken but unavoidable implications. “Old” in the Bible is a pejorative term. The “old man” is not the godly man who lived in the days before the incarnation. The old man is the spiritually dead man. “New” on the other hand is an adjective used to describe a variety of characteristics of God’s grace and salvation: the new man, the new covenant, the new song, the new Jerusalem, and so on. The Old Testament, therefore, was thought, at least to come degree, to describe and represent an inferior form of our religion – that’s why it was called “Old” — one that needed to be replaced by that introduced by Christ and his apostles, a better one, and so called “New”. More than this, the fact that the Bible was divided into two parts inevitably suggested that there was some important distinction between them. Moving from Malachi to Matthew we must be moving across some important frontier. What that difference was was a question left to theologians and preachers to answer – and they answered it in many different ways – but clearly there must be a real difference; why else would separate names be given to these two parts of the Bible?
Now Christians were never consistent in this view of the inferiority OT. When in trouble they prayed the psalms. It never occurred to them to ask whether since the psalms were representative of an inferior spiritual understanding or experience they could still be used by Christians who lived in the epoch of the Holy Spirit. They drew lessons for their lives from the narratives of the Old Testament, never wondering whether those lessons even applied to someone who breathed the rarefied air of the Christian age. No doubt they used the OT as positively and naturally as they did in large part because the NT so obviously teaches them to do just that. In fact, Christians have always been very selective about what they assume has become outmoded, keeping the parts they like and dropping only those parts they imagine they are better off without. They keep the beautiful psalms but drop the imprecatory ones, even though there are imprecations in the NT also. They keep tithing because the church needs the income, but they drop Sabbath observance because it interferes with what they want to do on Sunday. But, however inconsistently, they were still ready to believe that the first 39 books of the Bible in some way described a spiritual world inferior in important ways to the one we inhabit today.
But I don’t believe it. I don’t think the Bible teaches us anywhere to believe that. I think that the spiritual world is the same, living faith is the same, the savior and his salvation are the same, and the believing life is the same from Genesis to Revelation. I certainly don’t deny that extraordinarily important developments occurred at the beginning of the new epoch and that we have some advantages as believers, therefore, that the saints of old did not have. We live after the incarnation and the cross; we know more about how our salvation was accomplished than they did. That’s a wonderful blessing and an advantage. We know about the triune nature of God in a way the saints of the ancient epoch did not, and so on. But none of this means that our spiritual world is different than theirs or that our spiritual experiences are different than theirs, or that we live on a higher plain of spiritual achievement than was ever possible for them. It is highly interesting that the New Testament writers never once mention these advantages – obvious as they are, such as that we live on this side of the cross, we know how it all turned out – or refer to them as motivations for faith and obedience. Certain texts are often thought to teach that they do, but even a superficial inspection reveals it not to be the case.
Let me give you one example among the many I might choose. People refer, in regard to this particular question of the difference between the ancient epoch and the new, to the Lord’s remark in John 7:38: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” We then read that this remark concerned the coming of the Holy Spirit “whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This text is very often thought to mean that you and I will be more spiritual than believers were before Pentecost; will have the Holy Spirit to a greater degree than Abraham did or David did or Hannah did or Jeremiah did.
Well, in one way that is of course correct. There is a before and after in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that plainly. But it has nothing to do with our spiritual experience, with our faith, or with our godliness. The text explicitly says that the result of the Holy Spirit’s coming will be that Christians will become the means of saving grace to the world. Out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water. The whole world is going to know about Jesus Christ and his salvation and will learn of these things from us. We’re going to tell the world. Until Pentecost believers were under no obligation to evangelize the world. There is no great commission in the OT. There are many indications in the OT that the world will eventually be reached by the gospel, but no commandment that God’s people take the gospel to the world. Pentecost is the church’s equipment for this new ministry. It does not have to do with the Spirit’s ministry in us, but his ministry through us. More on this later.
Long-timers here at Faith have heard this before, but some of you will not have. There is a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society in which the Robin Williams character, a prep school English teacher, asks one of the boys in his class to read the opening sentence of the introduction to poetry found in their textbook. When the student finishes reading the teacher says to him, “Rip out that page.” The boy, of course, thinks his teacher is kidding; but he repeats the instruction, “No, I mean it; rip out that page.” Well, you don’t have to tell adolescent boys more than twice to rip pages out of their textbook. The teacher didn’t like the view of poetry taught in that introduction and wanted to impress his class with the strength of his opinion, and what better way than to rip the offending page out of the book.
Well, believe it or not, there is a page in your Bibles that I would like you to rip out. It communicates a view of the Bible and its teaching that is, in my judgment, not correct and, in fact, sinister in its consequences. What page? I’m speaking of that single white page between Malachi and Matthew, the only page in your Bible that the Holy Spirit did not put there – the publisher put it there – the only page that represents an interpretation of the Bible, not a translation of it. The terms OT and NT, in this usage, as descriptions of epochs in the history of salvation and of their attendant Scriptures, are not biblical. The Bible never refers to itself with this terminology. It did not become familiar in the church until the third century. And it suggests something that, in my view, the Bible most definitely does not teach about itself, in fact, it suggests an approach to the Bible that is diametrically opposed to the Bible’s own teaching about itself. Obviously this is a very large issue and one can approach it from many different directions, but let me at least summarize my argument.
- The first thing I began to notice when I put my mind to this issue was that the Bible never says what Christians so often say about the Old Testament.
It never says that the spiritual life of the ancient epoch was inferior to that we enjoy today. If that were the case, one would think the Bible would say so in several different ways, but it never does. What is more, it never identifies any particular dimension of the godly life that is different than what it used to be. Every time I considered the various texts that are supposed to teach such a distinction between the OT and the NT I found it quite obvious that the texts taught no such thing. An assumption was being imposed on them rather than their natural meaning being read out of them.
In fact, I noticed that not once, anywhere in the NT, does the Bible compare the spiritual life of believers before and after the incarnation as you would certainly expect it to do if there was a great difference between the spiritual life before and after. Never once does it say that believers used to be this, but now they are this; used to be able only to do this but now can do this. Never once do we find the a fortiori argument one would think inevitable if there were such a distinction between OT and NT. That is, never do we find a New Testament writer saying, in effect, “if the faithful of the ancient epoch could believe and obey as they did without all of your New Testament advantages, surely you can believe and obey much better. If they could do what they did – believe as Abraham believed, pray as Hannah prayed, endure as Jeremiah endured – how much more should you NT Christians in the age of the Holy Spirit be able to believe, pray, and endure. Find me if you can any such statement in the New Testament.
- The second thing I noticed was that everywhere the writers of the last 27 books of the Bible positively identify the situation before and after the incarnation, they don’t distinguish them. That is, they say the situation was the same now as then.
We might have thought that it would be otherwise, given the titles we put on the two parts of the Bible, but it is not. You know, of course, that Paul calls what God said to Abraham the gospel. He doesn’t say it was a proto-gospel, or the shadow of the gospel. He says that it was the gospel. He says in Romans 10, after citing a text from Deuteronomy, that what Moses taught was the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the necessity of faith in him. The author of Hebrews similarly says that Israel had the gospel preached to them in the wilderness but it didn’t do them any good because they didn’t believe it. And then he goes on to say in that same chapter 4 and throughout his letter that the gospel won’t do us any good either unless we believe it and continue to believe it all our lives. Hebrews has been thought by a great many Christians to teach the obsolescence of the OT and its replacement by the new situation that Christ has established for those who believe in him. In fact, it teaches nothing of the kind, as more and more biblical scholars are coming to realize. It identifies believers in the OT and the NT, that is, it treats them in the same way, it urges us in the new epoch to imitate those of the ancient epoch in their faith, it identifies the gospel preached today with the gospel preached by Moses, it identifies the faith the gospel requires today with the faith it required in the ancient epoch, it places us with the believers of old in the same situation; together with them we are waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled and needing to trust in the Lord through the entire course of our lives, lest we fail to receive what was promised. At no point in that great letter is there any distinction drawn between faith and believing life old and new. The distinctions drawn in Hebrews are between faith and apostasy – whenever a person lived or lives – and between this world and the next world. The ancient saints too were looking for the heavenly country, they too were looking for the better resurrection. We are told to do what the ancient believers did and not to do what the ancient apostates did and are told that if we persevere we will get what God promised to us at the same time the ancient believers get it. Where is the difference? Hebrews doesn’t say, if difference there is.
In fact a great many texts from the OT are cited in Hebrews, but not once are we told that such and such a text has now been fulfilled or that since the situation has changed that text no longer applies. In Hebrews the OT is cited as the living Word of God to be believed and obeyed. Also, in Hebrews, as a number of times elsewhere in the NT, Jesus Christ is identified with Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel. Moses suffered for Jesus’ sake we read in 11:26; it was Jesus who gave the law at Sinai we read in chapter 12, Jesus who built the house in which Moses served we read in chapter 3, Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Israel may not have known the Lord by his incarnate name, the name he was given as a human being, but believing Israel trusted the same Lord as we do today.
Do you appreciate how much in the New Testament you have to ignore and how little attention you have to pay to the striking ways in which NT writers identify the spiritual world, the nature of faith in Christ, the obligations of Christian obedience and service, and the ups and downs of spiritual experience from the beginning of the Bible to its end if you wish to think that there is some significant difference between the two epochs, that epoch before and that epoch after the incarnation of the Son of God? Wouldn’t it be strange, if the Holy Spirit were actually supposed to lift God’s people up to new heights in the life of faith and in the experience of communion with God, and yet, already according to the witness of the NT, all the same problems that appeared in Israel’s life were once again found in the life of the NT church. In the history that followed, as we know only too well, apostasy occurred and still occurs on a far greater scale than ever it did in the ancient epoch? Was the blessing and benefit of the Holy Spirit really so small that we can’t see it? That wouldn’t make much of the Holy Spirit would it, if we can’t even detect the difference he was supposed to make? But, of course, no matter people’s assumptions, the NT never actually says he was to make that kind of a difference.
I’ve twice heard professors of biblical theology, men for whose theological and exegetical judgment I have immense respect (Bruce Waltke in the OT and Richard Gaffin in the NT) say that they know there is supposed to be such a difference between the life of faith in the new epoch and that of the old, but that they can’t actually identify the difference! Why can’t they? Because the Bible doesn’t actually anywhere say that there is such a difference or define such a difference should there be one. The fact is the OT has the NT’s teaching everywhere in it and sometimes gives us that teaching in a still more beautiful and powerful form; and the NT teaches the very things we have often been taught to think were peculiar to the OT, the things that were supposed to have become obsolete in the new epoch. It is a matter of simple fact that neither Jesus nor Paul, in their controversy with first century Judaism, ever said that the Pharisees were right but they are right no longer because things have changed. On the contrary, their argument is always: you people don’t understand your own Bible!
Let me make the issue easier for you to grasp by using John Calvin’s teaching as we find it in his Institutes (II, x, 2). No one is more representative of the Reformed tradition than Calvin. He begins by asserting what all Reformed teachers will, viz. that the covenant that God made with Abraham and then with Moses is the same as the covenant under which we Christians live today. He rests his case on three arguments: 1) that the covenant in all its successive revelations made a promise of eternal life; 2) that it was a covenant of grace; and 3) that its mediator was Jesus Christ. He proves the point in each case and his argument is rock solid. It has been made still more solid by modern study. So far, so good.
But then Calvin argues that this single covenant of grace differs in its mode of administration (II, xi) from period to period and, in particular, the form of the covenant under which we live today differs from that revealed through Moses in five particulars.
- The promise of the OT, while it as a promise of eternal life, was displayed “under earthly benefits” while the Lord now in the NT leads our minds more directly to the contemplation of the future life, leaving aside “the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites.” (II, xi, 1-3)
This idea that the OT is a simpler, more childlike form of revelation, sometimes leads Calvin into problems. For example he argues in his commentaries that the use of musical instruments in worship was suited for those “yet tender, like children” who had been trained under the law, but was no longer necessary since Christ’s coming, when religion had left behind its stage of infancy. [Comm. Pss 31:2; 81:2] Apparently, when we get back to heaven we return to a second childhood, for they use instruments there, as we read in Revelation!
But is any of this so? Does the OT employ a more childlike form of instruction in the faith? Have you found the OT so easy to understand because it’s so childlike in its form, in its simplicity? Doesn’t Hebrews 11 say that the OT saint looked right past the earthly blessings to the City of God? Doesn’t Paul in Eph. 6:3 teach that God’s eternal blessings are still foreshadowed by temporal ones? Doesn’t James promise healing to those who call on the elders to pray for them? Didn’t Jesus make a point of promising a hundred fold return for faith in him while a believer was still in this world? The OT is much longer and more repetitive, I grant you; but is its message really different in this respect? Prove it. Calvin’s exegetical demonstration of this point is very unpersuasive. (By the way, the new literary interpreters of the OT narrative, as we are learning in our study of Genesis, are proving how theologically sophisticated both the writers and the readers of the Scripture were in that ancient epoch.)
- According to Calvin the second difference in mode of administration is to be found in this: “In the absence of reality, it showed but image and shadow in place of the substance; the NT reveals the very substance.” (4-6)
Now, this is no doubt true to a certain degree. The OT prophesied the cross, but now the cross has occurred and we have the record of what happened. Revelation is progressive and the sacrifices were types, enacted prophesies of Jesus Christ. But it requires further nuance.
- This is true of only some things revealed;
- It is only relatively true (many of us would use Isa 53 before we would use Rom 3 to explain the gospel to someone);
- It remains equally true of the NT in comparison with the consummation.
- And, revelation must not be confused with reality. God did not begin to be triune at the incarnation! God’s people learned of the Trinity only after God the Son came into the world, but God had always been Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Similarly believers did not first trust in a Redeemer only after Christ had died on the cross.
- But Calvin’s main support for this difference in mode of administration, from the shadow to the substance, is Hebrews, and Hebrews does not teach that at all. The author of Hebrews does what the OT prophets did in their day, dealing with the sacrifices (which he describes as “weak and useless”) under the view of them being entertained by his readers, viz. as a way of salvation in and of themselves. Hebrews doesn’t say that the sacrifices were shadows to explain their relationship to the new epoch; he says they were shadows to prove they can’t take away sin or make us perfect before God. Hebrews says nothing good or positive about the sacrifices. The author of that letter writes as preachers in the era of the Reformation preached, speaking about the Lord’s Supper in their day when they realized they had before them in the sanctuary people who were trusting their participation in the Mass for their salvation, rather than living faith in Jesus Christ. In that sense, the Lord’s Supper is also a shadow! But Hebrews also says that the sacrifices are shadows of the good things that are coming (10:1), not of the things that have already come. Hebrews always points us forward to the consummation; it never once draws the line between the time before the incarnation and the time after the cross!
- Calvin’s third difference in mode of administration is that the OT is literal and the NT is spiritual. He is referring to the distinction between the letter and the Spirit that we find several times in the writing of Paul (7-8). This is now widely regarded as a blunder. In Paul that distinction has nothing to do with the chronology of the history of salvation. It does not refer at all to two epochs in the revelation of the covenant of grace. Paul means by “the letter” the gospel shorn of faith and turned into By “the letter” Paul refers to unbelieving Judaism, to Pharisaism, to the viewpoint of the enemies of the gospel of Christ, not the true message of Moses, which everywhere Paul says is his own message and nothing other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember, the contrast between the letter and the Spirit is never a relative contrast. Paul writes that the letter kills, but the Spirit brings life. If the letter refers to the authentic message of the OT then the OT message killed; it did not make alive. But Paul and other NT writers often refer to the gospel and the living faith of the ancient church. Calvin’s exegetical demonstration of this understanding of letter and Spirit is weak and unpersuasive; he assumes, he doesn’t demonstrate. Few of our men follow him here.
- Calvin’s fourth difference in mode of administration between the OT and the NT is that the OT engenders bondage to fear while the NT engenders freedom. We find that idea also in our Westminster Confession of Faith.
Is it so? When you want a statement of the glory of salvation and the mercy and grace of God and his willingness to forgive, no matter how many times his people have sinned against him, do you go first to the NT? I doubt it. You go to those statements we use again and again and again in our morning worship from the Psalms and Isaiah and Micah. Here again Calvin uses texts (such as those in Galatians and Hebrews) as if the distinction they drew were between two epochs when it is in fact between two spiritual states or conditions. The problem is sharply posed by the fact that Calvin turns the absolute and very sharp contrast drawn in Galatians and Hebrews, as do many following him, into a relative contrast. For example, he says of this difference, “our analysis distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation of the Word that had preceded it.” But in the texts he is talking about the contrast between old and new is never a relative one between good and better; the contrast is always between no salvation at all and salvation in Christ, between death and life, between unbelief and faith.
Further, Calvin requires us to believe that the ceremonial law of the OT was per se a bondage, which the OT does not allow us to believe and the NT, in fact, never comes close to teaching. Paul was worshipping in the temple 30 years after he first put his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and was glad to be there. He hurried home so he could participate in te Passover. It is true that the Jews of the first century, as Israel too often before them, had turned the law into a heavy yoke, too heavy to bear. But that was their corruption of the law, their weighing it down both by a universe of rules – read the Mishnah if you don’t believe me – and with a theory of works righteousness that left the individual having to earn his way to heaven by his or her obedience. There was no yoke of the law, no burden of the law in the teaching of the OT. We are reminded repeatedly in the ancient Scriptures that the law of God is one of God’s greatest gifts to his people and one of their supreme blessings: his fatherly instruction in how to live a holy and happy life. It was no more a burden than wings are a burden to a bird! In both the OT and the NT the law of God is a wonderful thing so long as its purpose is rightly understood and so long as it is rightly used. So said Jesus; so said Paul.
- Calvin’s fifth difference of administration is that the OT has reference to one nation and the NT to all nations (11-12). Bingo! There is the difference the Bible itself draws between the two epochs in the history of salvation and the only difference! There is the difference that is both comprehensively, clearly, unmistakably taught in the NT and also copiously illustrated. There too is a difference you and I can see as clear as day today. How many Jews do we have here today? How many Gentiles? You and I, Gentiles almost all of us, have eternal life today because of Pentecost. The epoch began with 120 Jews gathered in a room in Jerusalem. By the time of Constantine, it is estimated that 1 in every 10 inhabitants of the Greco-Roman world was a Christian. It is now the world’s largest faith. No one can ignore that difference or the extraordinary historical development that it represented. It was the last message this world should ever have believed, and yet it ticipate in te Passoverave theattention as the great man passes by. In keeping the commandmets of God there is a ely graciouis believed by millions upon millions, and hundreds of millions of people today, and it was the Holy Spirit who did it! Of course this expectation was everywhere in the OT and even in the OT, if the door was not wide open, it was at least ajar. But this is what the Bible says Pentecost means; it is the obvious point of the great sign miracle of tongues, when people from all over the Mediterranean world heard the gospel being proclaimed in their own language. Pentecost was a missionary event, as John Stott puts it. And it was this that leaves its mark on every page of the NT. The distinction is not a difference in faith or in message or in spiritual experience; the distinction is that before the faith was confined almost exclusively to one nation. Now it is the faith of the whole world. The distinction between the ancient epoch and that introduced by Christ and his apostles is not qualitative, it is quantitative.
So, I would say, in distinguishing the OT from the NT as eras or dispensations or revelations, Calvin is wrong in 3 ½ particulars and right in 1 ½. He overstates the importance of the progressive character of biblical revelation, though there definitely is a progression – though the Bible never makes it evidence of some difference in spiritual life – but he is absolutely right that while the OT concerned itself, at least at the time, with one nation, the NT concerns itself with all nations.
Now, as I conclude, let me remind you that this is not simply an issue of theological precision, of getting the data properly organized and understood. The unity of the Bible has immense practical implications.
Our faith and the practice of our faith will be significantly diminished if we draw our teaching only or even primarily from the last 27 books of the Bible. We will miss so much that is supremely valuable to the Christian faith and life. One of the reasons for Protestant evangelicalism’s weak view and spotty practice of the sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper – is that there is so little in the New Testament about them or about their meaning and practice. That doctrine had already been taught in the first 39 books.
The view of the Sabbath that many Bible believers entertain is almost entirely due to the fact that they suppose that the OT law was a burden, a heavy yoke. Of course the Lord would deliver us from such a burden. But the OT never says that the Sabbath was God’s way of testing his people to see if they would be willing to be miserable one day of the week to prove their loyalty to him. Are we really better off without a holiday, which is what the OT Sabbath was? We learn to live as God would have us live as much from the first 39 books as from the last 27. One of the reasons that Protestant worship is all over the map today is because no one takes seriously the comprehensive instruction in worship we are provided in the Bible because almost all of it is found in the OT. There is a hymnbook in the Bible, but it is in the OT! There is liturgical instruction in the Bible but it is found in the OT. But what difference does that make? That instruction is found in the Bible! That is all we need to know. Necessary changes may have to be made, as the writings of Jesus and his apostles make clear, but the burden and substance of the teaching do not change and never will.
So much of the Christian worldview is laid down in the first 39 books of the Bible, the consequences of faith for every area of life: art, culture, work, politics, war, and so on. Our weaknesses in all of these areas as a Christian community are due in some significant part to the fact that we don’t read the OT with the same reverence that we read the New. There is very little of this in the NT. Most of the Bible’s teaching about marriage, family, sex, money, work, and so on, is found in the OT. So much of the flesh and blood illustration of the believing life is likewise found in the first 39 books of the Bible. And I could go on and on. The more subtle lessons of the life of faith and the practice in wisdom are usually found there.
Now, I appreciate that there are perhaps some texts that you may feel teach the distinction that I am denying between religion in the ancient epoch and in the era introduced at Pentecost. I would be happy to talk to you about them. I’ve studied them all. I know what others say about them, though the fact is, the problems with the traditional interpretations are so obvious that many of our men know better than to interpret those texts as if they taught some distinction between the epochs of the history of salvation, even if they still go on to assume that there must be such a distinction.
But, take my point. The problem is not that the doctrine of the unity of the Bible has not been confessed. It certainly has been. The problem is that we haven’t stated that doctrine as forcefully as we might have and as the Bible teaches us to state it. The covenant is more one than we knew, more the same in all of its epochs than we realized. That realization adds sparkle and authority and extraordinary interest to every page of the Word of God. We really do have a single Bible that teaches a single message from Genesis to Revelation. We can learn the gospel from every part of the Bible and the Christian life as well. And we learn many important things almost exclusively in what we call the OT, but which the Bible simply calls “the Scripture.”
There are comparatively few of our men in the PCA today who emphasize the unity of the Bible as strongly as I have come to do. Our new minister is more likely than not to hold the majority opinion, that is, biblical unity with some significant qualifications. But, then, you’d be glad to have John Calvin for your next minister and so would I!