Friday, August 18, 2006

Apostasy and Scripture

Anonymous asked Steve a good question. It bears showing up in its own thread. S/he writes:

What would you consider passages that demonstrate the treatment of apostates vs. the treatment of believers? Jesus had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees and scribes, but I don't believe they would count as "apostates" per se.but I don't believe they would count as "apostates" per se.

On the contrary, when Jesus says those things, he is treating them as the ones responsible for the apostasy of the nation from the covenant. The previous generations had apostatized through antinomianism. This generation had apostatized through legalism. Both are equally dangerous. In addition, the presence of sickness and demonism in the nation is a sign of apostasy from the covenant, because these elements are indicative, according to the Law, of curses and consequences of apostasy from the covenant. The trajectory of the gospels is one of a prophetic lawsuit. The lawsuit procedure is the same throughout the OT and Jesus is pictured as using it again in the NT. In the OT, God visits the covenant community through a prophet (or in a theophany), observes, interviews, sometimes heals and teaches, gauges the reaction, then renders the verdict. In the NT, after the temptation, Jesus follows the same procedure. When He goes to the Temple, He is interviewed by the religious leaders, and they think they are interviewing Him as a way to find something against Him. In reality, He is interviewing them, and then He pronounces judgment upon them and that generation. That's the whole point of the cursing of the fig tree and the Olivet Discourse. Because of the leadership of these individuals, that entire generation is rejected, the same way the Exodus generation was rejected and the Exile generation was rejected. They had apostatized from the covenant and assumed that God would treat them otherwise as long as they maintained the Temple. Just as at the time of the Exile, the destruction of the Temple was a sign the nation had apostatized to the level that warranted the rejection of the generation. However, at the same time, the Temple is replaced, in that Christ is the new Temple and, in His physical absence, the church functions in His place, so that pious Jews "of the heart," drawn from the Jews and Gentiles as a whole can participate in the New Covenant.

As to Scriptures dealing with apostates, these have been posted here before, though it has been quite some time.

Acts 8 (New International Version)

20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

1 Timothy 1 (New International Version)

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Hebrews 10 (New International Version)

26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

2 Peter 2 (New International Version)

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

13They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

17These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

Jude 1 (New International Version)

3Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

5Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

8In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. 9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" 10Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

11Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion.

12These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

14Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." 16These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

Very few people criticize the sermon on the mount, or matt 6, etc. They (95% of the time or better) criticize something Paul or one of the OT characters wrote.

Mr. Morgan, thank you f0r noticing this, but all this does is highlight the manifest inability for them to read the OT and the Matt. 6, and their cherrypicking the Sermon the Mount but not the commission to the Apostles both of which fall from Jesus' lips, thereby authorizing them to speak for Him after He is gone (ergo, there is no competition between Paul and Jesus to be found). The Sermon on the Mount itself is a repetition of the OT Law. It is the basis of the lawsuit Jesus brings in the rest of the gospel. So, when you pull from the OT Law itself to complain about it, yet hold out the Sermon on the Mount and extol its virtues, all you do is manifest your own incompetence and inconsistency, particularly when you talk to Calvinists. You criticize the OT Law, yet then you say think that the Sermon on the Mount is a wonderful thing. Presumably you'd not have much of a problem being governed by it. But the Law and the Sermon are not at all contradictory.

Calvinism is largely tied to Covenant Theology, and Covenant Theology, unlike the dispensational tripe that most of you unbelievers were taught, is built on the unity of the testaments, through the unity of the covenants. So, when you make these objections, you have to first establish that the covenants and the testaments are discontiguous. This assumption underwrites your objections, but you never justify it. We affirm CT, because the text itself does this, so you can either attack the CT hermeneutic, or you can offer a counterexegesis of the texts in question.

I'll explain. Let's take a quick tour of the Sermon on the Mount. The common belief of all of these objections is that the New Covenant era is governed by a whole different moral standard from the Old Covenant era. They typically argue that this is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about: Jesus was modifying the moral content of the Law. Some even claim He nullified the Law itself, despite Jesus' own explicit disclaimer in Matthew 5:17-19.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount skillfully refutes those views. I won't repeat all his arguments here, but they are well worth reading—and conclusive, in my view.

The bottom line, however, is that the moral demands of Moses' law are no more or less stringent than, and in no way fundamentally different from, the New Testament ethic of love. The Sermon on the Mount simply amplifies the moral content of the OT law, but it does not abrogate or change any of it.

The expression "But I say into you..." doesn't necessarily imply any repudiation of the principles cited; in most cases it merely introduces a further elucidation of the moral principle underlying the law. To paraphrase: "The law says don't commit adultery, but I tell you that lust violates the same moral principle." It's actually quite clear that there's no contradiction between Moses' standard and Jesus'; after all, lust was sinful in the OT, too (Proverbs 6:25). So this is hardly a "big change." In fact, it's no change at all.

Read again: In no less than six pairs of verses (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41) Jesus flatly contradicts, or substantially alters, Moses' law, replacing it each time with a more strict new commandment.

There is no contradiction of any OT law in any of those verses, but rather a clarification of its true meaning. Look at each passage you have cited:

vv. 21-22: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

* Moses: "Don't kill."

* Jesus: "Don't hate."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Killing is still wrong in the NT, and hatred was wrong in the OT (Leviticus 19:17).

vv. 27-28: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

* Moses: "No adultery."

* Jesus: "No lust."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Adultery is still wrong in the NT, and lust was wrong in the OT (Proverbs 6:25).

vv. 31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."

* Moses: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement...." But he "...may not take her again to be his wife" (Deuteronomy 24:4).

* Jesus: "Divorce for any reason other than "porneia" constitutes adultery."

Again there is no contradiction, and no change in the standard. Moses' instructions about divorce emphasized its gravity and permanence. Jesus' emphasized that divorce is an extraordinary remedy allowed by God only in certain extreme cases. But even in the OT, God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). So the two statements are not in conflict.

vv. 33-34: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. . ."

* Moses: "Don't break your oaths."

* Jesus: "Better not to swear at all."

What Christ was prohibiting was the common practice of peppering one's everyday speech with indiscriminate oaths (often combined with the superstitious notion that if one did not swear, it was OK to lie).

Jesus is teaching that in our daily conversation as believers, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no, no. He is not prohibiting lawful oaths, such as those required of court witnesses, etc. (Jesus Himself testified after being placed under an oath—Matthew 26:63-64. The Apostle Paul even included an oath in the inspired text—2 Corinthians 1:23. And God confirmed His own Word with an oath—Heb. 6:13-18; Acts 2:30.)

So again, there is no change and no contradiction. The OT also prohibited frivolous oaths (Deuteronomy 23:21).

vv. 38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

* Moses: "An eye for an eye."

* Jesus: "Turn the other cheek."

The eye-for-an-eye standard of the OT law (Leviticus 24:19-21) was designed to limit the civil penalties that could be exacted for crimes. It was a principle of mercy, teaching that the punishment should fit the crime, and not exceed it.

But rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance. It was meant to regulate penalties administered by legal authorities; but it was being misused as a rationale for deliberate acts of private retaliation. Jesus forbade that.

The NT elsewhere expressly affirms the right of governments and government agents to use the sword to mete out retribution to evildoers. So both standards ("an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek") are valid in their proper contexts in both OT and NT. No contradiction, no change.

vv. 43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

* Moses: "Love your neighbor."

* Rabbinical gloss: "Hate your enemy."

* Jesus: "Love your enemies."

No change; no contradiction. This is just a correction of a serious Rabbinical error. The truth is that Moses' law also demanded love for one's enemy (Exodus 23:4-5).

More examples could be multiplied. In each case, the true meaning of the New Testament perfectly accords with the true meaning of the Old, and vice versa. So the Sermon on the Mount offers no proof for the thesis that the moral standard changed in the NT. Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants, and when your side of aisle trots out objections to the Law while extolling the Sermon on the Mount, you only prove our arguments for us.


  1. It should be noted that a disparity exists between the understanding of "neighbor" in the cultural context of the Torah and in the cultural context of the Roman empire of the 1st CE.

    Elsewise, I don't think I'd have to go into much detail as to how to reconcile this idea of "love your neighbor" [put their welfare first] in the OT with some of the commands as to how to treat those who would lead them astray...would I?

  2. There is no contradiction, Mr. Morgan, because the laws against apostasy and the treatment of apostates in the NT are drawn from the same set of OT commands. Apostasy presumes you apostatized from something, namely the covenant. So, the treatment of apostates in these Scriptures is no different from the treatment of apostates in the Law.

    Ah, but didn't the Law allow for stoning apostates? Yes, it did, and in the New Covenant, we put apostates out of the fellowship, cutting them off from the means of grace. No change, no contradiction.

    The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew is written to Jews, not Gentiles. What's more Matthew quotes quite extensively from the Hebrew, not the Greek text of the OT. Ergo, there is, once again, no contradiction between the understanding of "neighbor" in the Torah and the cultural context of Hebraic Jews living in the first century, who were living under the Law and fighting to maintain their cultural idiom. The variances that might exist between their understanding and that of the Torah point to the very reason that the Sermon repeats the Law itself, the legalism of their leaders, to refocus upon the Law itself, not the cultural context and do nothing to overturn the text as exegeted above.

    The Torah most certainly recognizes that the foreigner is a neighbor. Exodus 23:4-5 also show up in the Sermon on the Mount. However, it does not recognize this right to "love your neighbor" as excluding the rest of the Law. The very law proclaiming "love your neighbor" includes a command that you may surely reprove your neighbor. You may not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your people (that's the covenant people). Then, and only then, does the next say "love your neighbor."

    For example, the foreigners are driven out of the land in the OT because they are occupying land they have stolen from the Hebrews in their absence. ANE culture recognizes the right of primogeniture, and in Genesis all those wanderings of the Patriarchs also serve as a game of "plant the flag" for their descendents. When entering the land, the Hebrews follow the altars and memorials of their forefathers, so the entire book of Joshua is a case of them taking back what was their own and what those occupying the land knew to be their own. What's more, those occupiers are told to leave and they refuse.

    Once again, your understanding of Scripture doesn't seem to rise about the level of a 7th grader.

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  4. Nathan Burbalinski8/18/2006 5:13 PM

    Once again, your understanding of Scripture doesn't seem to rise about the level of a 7th grader.


    In my opinion this phrase could have been left out. I think this is the kind of thing best left to 7th graders. Let the atheists do what they will, can't we just drop some of this kid stuff?

  5. Ergo, there is, once again, no contradiction between the understanding of "neighbor" in the Torah and the cultural context of Hebraic Jews living in the first century, who were living under the Law and fighting to maintain their cultural idiom.


    Yes or no, were the Jews out stoning the Romans for worshipping pagan gods?

    The Torah most certainly recognizes that the foreigner is a neighbor.

    What follows this makes no sense of reconciling how we "love" the foreign neighbor (with his foreign gods) by stoning him. Sorry. I suppose it's my pathetic 7th grade-level understanding...sort of like...that of a know, that whole Matt 19 thing?

  6. Nathan,

    Gene is simply showing us how it is possible to simultaneously "love" an apostate and "reprove" him at the same time -- Gene is such an exemplification of Scripture!

    No, there is no contradiction, Nathan, or else you have the Scriptural understanding of a 7th grader...

    Be careful, or you may be the next target ... moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha ...

  7. In dealing with how the Jews interacted with the Romans, two things must be noted (and this has only a very limited application today). The first is that the Romans were an occupying millitary power. Stoning a Roman was not a good idea. You'd end up being dragged before the procurator, if not just killed. In fact, the death penalty during the Roman Occupation of Israel was reserved to the Romans. This is one reason why the Jews thought they'd got an absolute hum-dinger of a test for Jesus with the woman taken in adultery (I assume they must have okayed Stephen).

    The second is that Israel was a seething, boiling pot of resentment during the Roman occupation. Terrorists, the ancient equivalent of IEDs, etc abounded. Eventually it all blew up in the Jewish revolt that led to the destruction of the Temple in AD. 70.

    Again, there was an attempt to drive the foreigners from the land. Trouble was, the foreigners were bigger and stronger.

    How do we love and reprove at the same time? Well, prents do it all the time. Now, there is a difference between reproof and beating up. We all know that, and sadly in debate often the line is crossed. That is delorable, but it happens, even in arguments between friends. In fact, it is more likely to happen in honest debate between mature adults than in debate between two people who are trying to avoid all offence.

    There is a middle way, but like all middle ways, it is deviated from all too often. If a Christian is ever to convince an unbeliever it must be done in love. If one of the reasons why the Debunkers feel they must debunk is because they were treated in an hysterical way by their former Christian friends, then that is to be deplored. However, Daniel seems to be equally one who feels he must share his discovery with the world. John Loftus, I suspect, does it in part because folks were mean to him.

    Lastly, on stoning. Gene indicates that in Christianity the equivalent is people being ejected from fellowship (i.e. membership) if they apostasise. That said, why someone who has become an atheist would want to remain a church member is beyond me, unless the reason was to try to make converts from within (see fifth-columnism). And if someone is taking it upon themself to teach contrary to the church leadership, then there tend to be negative consequences.

  8. Hiraeth,

    The first is that the Romans were an occupying millitary power. Stoning a Roman was not a good idea. You'd end up being dragged before the procurator, if not just killed. In fact, the death penalty during the Roman Occupation of Israel was reserved to the Romans.

    I do understand that, Hiraeth. That was my emphatic point. The Mosaic Law was not being applied in the same way, because the societies were vastly different...but according to Gene, the cultural context doesn't matter and/or wasn't an issue.

    So doesn't that reinforce my point about how the Jews had to interact with their "neighbors", some of whom were certainly foreigners, and many of whom in their own ranks "fell away"? Think Maccabean revolt a few decades earlier...

    If one of the reasons why the Debunkers feel they must debunk is because they were treated in an hysterical way by their former Christian friends, then that is to be deplored. However, Daniel seems to be equally one who feels he must share his discovery with the world. John Loftus, I suspect, does it in part because folks were mean to him.

    I was not mistreated by my friends. We have all been mistreated by someone at one time or another who was a Christian, and that doesn't change whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. I'm not so silly as to be blinded by hysteria from that fact.

    I'm unsure of what you mean by "discovery"? My own skepticism, and inability to believe that Jesus raised from the dead, or that the Scriptures are infallible/divinely-reliable has little to do with whether I share it with you or not, and whether it infuses and takes root in you or loss of faith preceded "discovering" ways to answer my old questions in new ways [a process I'm still in].

  9. Open question: Would you say that the Jews were compromising their faith, or that they were doing what GOd wanted them to do, by not living by the Mosaic Law and enforcing their own punishments and rules without the Romans' oversight?

    Just wondering...

  10. Daniel, in no particular order:

    1. I deliberately left you out of the 'mistreated by friends' category as I assumed you had not been so mistreated.

    2. By 'discovery', I meant your loss of faith, and I in no way meant to imply that this was in any way dependent on your sharing it, merely that you appear to have a zeal to do just that.

    3. On the question of the Jews, as you have noted, there was a wide variety of reaction, from embrace of terrorism to collaboration. The Christian response was clearly that the believer should accept the Roman occupation but not compromise with the religious practises of the Romans.

    As for the Jews themselves, clearly the context of occupation was a changed context, just as the exile in Babylon had been. I somehow doubt that the Jews had been allowed to police themselves independently in Babylon, either.


    'Would you say that the Jews were compromising their faith, or that they were doing what GOd wanted them to do, by not living by the Mosaic Law and enforcing their own punishments and rules without the Romans' oversight?'

    The Jews were compromising, no doubt about it. The real question is, to what extent and how far this was an offence against God. I'd argue that the punishments prescribed in the OT were relevant only in the Jewish theocracy. That had vanished with the exile to Babylon. Thereafter the Jewish people really only existed as tributaries of more powerful states. Given that the death penalty is the ultimate sanction, this would normally be reserved to the higher power.

    Like the Babylonian captivity, the Roman occupation would have been viewed by some Jews as punishment for the sins of Israel, and thus accepted as God-given, albeit to be ended by the coming of Messiah, bringing in a new Kingdom in which the law would be restored.

    As it was in the Sermon on the Mount, which I think Gene is saying.

  11. Equally, while undoubtedly compromising, the Jewish leadership were realists. With a Roman fortress in Jerusalem and the Parthians over the border, they needed the Romans.

    For the politically savvy, it was clear that Israel could not exist as an independent state, as in the Cold War, the question for a small, millitarily weak state was not independence or servitude, but which power bloc to belong to.