This letter is a response to David’s comments – you can read them here –
I find this conversation to be most instructive so I have taken the liberty of making it into its own post. I will request that no one comment on this post unless it is directly related to the subject at hand.
We disagree over several points. You take issue with my assertion that the office of prophecy is subject to the Law of Moses and thus subject to decisions made by the authorized arbitrators of the Law of Moses.
There are two different points that we disagree about.
1 – A) The entire concept of prophecy being under any jurisdiction sounds wrong to you. Isn’t prophecy God talking – how could God be placed under anybody’s jurisdiction? B) As a derivative of this position you believe that prophets can deliver a new Law while I believe that prophets cannot deliver a new law without contradicting the Law of Moses. C) I am not sure if you stated the following but its seems that you believe that Moses has no more authority than any other prophet – after all it is all God’s word so how can one word be more authoritative than another. D) You further believe that the obligation to obey a prophet is a duty toward God that stands apart from the Law of Moses while I believe that the obligation to obey a prophet is dictated by the Law of Moses.
2 – You don’t believe that the arbitrators of the Law have any authority aside from disputes that are presented to them in the realm of bloodshed or perhaps monetary disputes. You seem to believe that any aspect of the Law in which the Scriptures do not explicitly grant the arbitrators authority is outside of the jurisdiction of the arbitrators.
We also disagree about the canonization of Scripture. Since you believe that the Law does not legislate anything about the office of prophecy – this brings you to the conclusion that the Law of Moses provided no guidance on the canonization process and that the arbitrators of the Law played no role in this process. When I asked you for the basis of your acceptance of Scripture you responded – because the books themselves show that they are from God and because the Jewish people accepted the books of Scripture.
I demonstrated to you that these answers are not answers. A chain cannot be stronger than its weakest link. If your acceptance of Scripture is based on your own assessment of the books – then whenever you are quoting Scripture – you are in essence quoting yourself – it is as if you are saying: this book is God-given because I so decided so you better obey what it says here. There is no reason that anyone should take you seriously when you quote Scripture to them. Your second answer is no answer because you have not provided a reason to accept that which the Jewish people accepted.
Another area in which we disagree surfaced in your last comment and that is that you believe that the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah must mean a new Law. The Scriptures testify against this belief of yours as we shall see.
When I say that the Law has jurisdiction over prophecy I obviously do not mean that the Law dictates to God how He should or shouldn’t speak to the people. What I mean is that the Law dictates to the people how they should receive or reject claims to prophecy.
The Law of Moses dictates to the people when it is that they should reject a claim to prophecy. This in and of itself tells us that the status of Moses as a prophet is inherently higher than that of subsequent prophets. To illustrate – if a prophet arises and stops the sun in the sky as did Joshua and then claims that a prophet could have a prediction fail to come to pass and still be an authentic prophet – Moses tells us that this man is a liar. And we believe Moses over this man because of Exodus 19:9.
Now, again, God’s word is God’s word and there is no hierarchy in God’s word but the credibility of Moses as a prophet was more openly established by God than God would do for any subsequent prophet. Therefore, if a prophet attempts to establish his or credibility through a miracle and then contradict Moses, we know that the miracle is a test from God to see if we love Him and God does not want us to follow the teaching of this new prophet.
We know that Moses’ law is eternal because Deuteronomy 30 makes it clear that even into the time of restoration it is Moses’ Law that is relevant (see also Deuteronomy 29:28 and Malachi 3:22). No authentic prophet ever gave us a new set of rules to follow. They predicted that various things will happen but they did not give a new set of instructions. Their instructions were always to follow the Law that has already been given to us. In some instances the prophets gave instructions that were relevant to the people they were talking to on a short term basis – and obedience to these prophetic directives is subsumed under the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15.
Your “proof” from Jeremiah 26:4,5 fails simply because the word “and” is not present making it clear that obedience to the prophet is subsumed under the Law. Furthermore, if this would be proof that obedience to a prophet is separate from the Law then you would have to acknowledge that observance of the Sabbath is separate from the Law as “evidenced” from Ezekiel 20:11,12 as well as Nehemiah 9:12,13. It is obvious that the fact that when one detail of the Law is stated apart from the general Law it is still subsumed under the general Law.
Now, I acknowledge that God didn’t have to operate this way. Before Moses came along God delivered instructions through prophets that He expected people to keep (such as to Noah and Abraham). And God delivered messages to nations that are not under the Law of Moses through prophets (such as Jonah’s message to Nineveh). But since Israel was granted the Law of Moses, God dictated all of their activities including the reaction to claims to prophecy, through the Law of Moses.
Now let us approach your problem with the authority that I attribute to the arbitrators of the Law. First let me attempt to articulate my position in this matter. My understanding is that the Law is applicable both to individuals and to communities. Just as an individual needs to use his or her faculties of comprehension of the Law when confronted with a situation such as a claim to prophecy and this individual is enjoined by God through the Law of Moses to set aside other persuasions, this same applies on the level of the community.
For purpose of illustration:
A prophet arises and claims that he was sent by God. As a sign that he was sent by God, this prophet stops the sun in middle of the sky for six whole hours. Then a minor prediction of this prophet fails to materialize. The magnitude of the miracle of stopping the sun may persuade us to ignore the failed prediction but the Law dictates otherwise. If the person would choose to follow God they would be exercising their power to comprehend the Law and to apply it.
When a community attempts to obey the Law they also turn to their communal ability to comprehend the Law and to apply it and this ability resides with the arbitrators of the Law. Not because of their authority, but because these are the people that the community recognizes as possessing a superior understanding of both the spirit and the letter of the Law. Yes, I agree, that if an individual sees that the arbitrators of the law are ruling against the Law then this individual is obligated to reject their decision. But God’s promise to our community is that there will always be a covenant community that is loyal to Him and to His Law so there will always be arbitrators of the Law that are in line with God’s Law.
When the Law dictates that we execute a violator of the Law it is clear that this injunction is an injunction to the community and not to every individual – the commandment of Deuteronomy 16:18 makes no sense otherwise. A community is not a mob. It functions under guidance of leaders.
In a situation where the recognized central leadership of Israel rendered a decision then the Law of Deuteronomy 17:11 would require that we obey that decision. If as you claim that this is limited to matters of bloodshed and monetary disputes – why would the one who disobeys them be put to death? Let him pay up.
The reason I accept Scripture is because I trust that God guided the covenant community right when they rendered their decision on these prophets and their books. But you believe that the covenant community can be completely mistaken – I know this because you accept Jesus, a man who was rejected by the covenant community. This being the case, you have no basis for accepting the Jewish Scripture. Your argument that the Jewish followers of Jesus represent the true covenant community was refuted by God when He allowed the covenantal signs of Sabbath observance and circumcision to disappear from that community.
One last point before I close off- a new covenant is not a new law. If it would be a new law you would need to find a new law in Deuteronomy 28:69 and in 2Kings 23;3, – and since there is none – it is obvious that a new covenant simply means a new commitment not a new law.
I imagine you will take issue with what I have written here and I encourage you to keep on writing. Please try to articulate why you disagree with me. Because it is discussions such as these that lead us all to greater clarity and to a deeper understanding of the truth.