Four Types of Heresy – Rejection of the Law


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During the time of the Gnostic crisis, it was common for Gnostic writers to reject the Law and most of the Old Testament. The reason the Law was rejected was that it:

a) showed all humans were sinners

b) showed one must engage in physical acts to be holy as well as non-physical acts

c) showed a God that interacted with creation

d) showed a God that created the physical world

e) showed that a Messiah would come

There are multiple groups that John lists as falling under the heresy of rejecting the Law or the Old Testament. John was not advocating following the Law, but merely acknowledging its moral value and that it was given by God. The Law stands as a testament that we need God and that God interacted with us.

In the modern world we rarely, if ever, see a pastor teach out of the Old Testament. In theological discussions if you quote from the Old Testament, the opponent can say, “Yeah, well that’s the Old Testament.” This is somehow seen as the end-all to a discussion.

What is worse is we hardly ever study the actual Law. This leads to confusion on what is applicable and what is not. On one side, we have people who still say we are bound to follow the Law, but that it no longer saves us (truth be told, the Law never did save us). On the other side we have people who say that because it’s the Old Testament, it is passed away. They go so far as to say that the Ten Commandments no longer stand.

We can think of all those debates over homosexuality. If you bring up Leviticus, you are immediately met with an argument that has been going around for nearly a decade. The argument says, “Yeah, I agree! But should I also kill my neighbor for working on Sunday? What about slaughtering a calf to God? Should I stone my daughter for having premarital sex?” The argument looks at the Law and sees that some of the practices are not followed and/or are abolished by the New Testament and quickly assumes that everything in the Law must hold the same status.

The rejection of the moral code of the Law is one of the most common heresies of modern Christianity. The devaluation or “second-class-citizenship” given to the Old Testament is likewise common and occurs among both liberals and conservatives. It is a heresy because it devalues a word given to us by God.

The problem is people often think that the actions of Christ somehow nullified the Law. The reality is that His actions had no such effect. We are still “bound” by the Law in a different way. By accepting Christ, we fulfill the requirements of the Law because we put our faith in the One who truly fulfilled the Law. That is what grace means, that we are not bound to follow the Law because Christ has followed the Law for us. If we rejected Christ, then we must perfectly live the Law in order to be saved, but such an act is impossible.

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12 thoughts on “Four Types of Heresy – Rejection of the Law

  1. Actually, if the Old Testament is mostly only good for typological and allegorical exegesis, which was the normative approach the Fathers followed to work on the test, and if it is primarily about pointing to Jesus Christ, then it is actually NOT surprising that Christianity, under the dominance of Gentiles, has devalued the Law and Israelite Scripture. This is, in fact, what we would expect. It is unfortunate, but it is in fact the overall history of Christianity.

    1. Correction: “…the normative approach the Fathers followed to work on the test.” “Test” should read as “text.” I should proofread better before I submit my comments ^_^

  2. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; -Eph 2:15

    ’nuff said

    1. Mats,

      I think that discussion about the Law of Moses is a slightly convoluted discussion because of the various ways the New Testament uses nomos when talking about the Law, especially Paul. It seems possible to abolish the Law in some senses yet uphold it in other senses.

      Consider Ephesians 2.15, which you have quoted, which says that Jesus’ human existence, specifically the crucifixion of his flesh, resulted in the abolition of the Law, which allowed for the Gentiles to be integrated with the Jews into the people of God, which is now reconfigured around Jesus rather than Torah.

      On the other hand, though, we have Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5.17-18, which says that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. And even when Paul talks about the Law in Romans, he says that the gospel does not abolish the Law; in reality, it establishes or upholds it (Romans 3.31).

      Clearly, then, we are talking past one another when one says the Law is to be rejected while another says that it is not to be rejected. Clearly, we are not aware of the range of meaning nomos can take. In fact, I have an interesting article on Paul and the Law; the author makes the observation that, for Paul, the Law could use nomos to mean scripture, the pentateuch specifically, or the Mosaic covenant. In a Christian framework, then, we can refer to it from 3 perspectives: scripture, Israel’s covenant with Yahweh, and a typological and predictive function foreshadowing Jesus Christ. For this article, go here:

      http://bibliatheologica.blogspot.com/2006/02/21-theses-on-paul-and-law.html

      – CK

  3. CK,

    Thanks for your well thought response. I’ll read the article you linked at a later moment, I’d be curious as to what light it might shed.

    I tend to think that Paul’s view of the law was an issue of two different laws, one of the flesh leading to death (the law of commandments contained in ordinances, ie the Torah) and the law of the spirit (a law guided by conscience, ie Christ). A perfect law vs a fallen law, one instituted by Jesus and one instituted “by angels”.

    This view seem to me to be very explicit in Paul’s writings. Take 2Cr 3:3 as an example “[Forasmuch as ye are] manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

    Again in Rom 7:10 he makes this clear “And the commandment, which [was ordained] to life, I found [to be] unto death.” He again criticizes the sacramental system instituted by YHWH in 1Cr 10:20, “But I [say], that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” Early witnesses have “… things which they sacrifice” referring to the “Israel after the flesh” mentioned a couple of verses before. So in context this seem to me to be the more correct rendering of the text.

    It is telling that after the meeting Paul had with James and Peter in Acts 15:29 where they supposedly agree that Paul’s followers are to at least “abstain from meats offered to idols, … and from fornication”. Paul addresses both these issues and in both instances he adds the qualifier that “all things are lawful”. Paul seem to not care much if his followers do either as long as they don’t flaunt it around those who might be offended (particularly the Jerusalem church).

    The clearest indication that Paul does not mean the Torah when he speaks of the spiritual law comes from Rom 2:14, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” Going over the 613 commandments of the Torah it is impossible to argue that anyone can by nature follow the law as Paul said the gentiles can. Even if one where to restrict the law to the ten commandments it would be hard to argue it would be possible.

    While Paul is very explicit, Matthew seem to imply a similar view when he talks about the law that is not to be abolished. If Matthew’s “law” was the law of commandments contained in ordinances it would render Jesus a sinner at best and a hypocrite at worst. If one where to mix in the orthodox doctrine that Jesus is YHWH it becomes even more absurd (compare Numbers 15 and the poor stick picker with Jesus tacit approval of his disciples picking grain on the sabbath). On the other hand if Jesus was referring to the spiritual law and not the Torah it would be perfectly possible for Jesus to break the Torah while continuing to be sinless.

    So to recap, Paul’s struggle was not a struggle against a “Gnostic crisis” but a Jewish crisis, a crisis that had James and his posse trying to force a fallen and flawed law upon the freedom that Paul and his church had received through Christ.

    Sorry for my ramblings, I’m not much of a writer and gathering my thoughts on paper is hard for me.

    In Christ Jesus,

    Mats

    1. Mats,

      Thanks for your response. Two things. First, I should have been clearer when I referred you to that article. When I said, “I have an article…” I meant that I have it in possession that I printed from that website I gave you; I am not the author of the article (as you will see when you visit the site), but I just wanted to clarify that fact.

      Second, you gave a long and interesting response, and I would like to respond to it with thought and detail, so it might be a few days before I can get one to you. I hope that is okay.

      1. Rather a well thought out reply than one done in hurry. Take your time, I look forward to your response.

    2. Mats,

      Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I’ve been busy with a new job and trying to figure out things relative to that. I’ve also been pretty tired lately. And others things have been bothering me. So, needless to say, I’m late in replying, and I can’t offer as comprehensive or well thought out a reply as I first wanted. But I hope it will be sufficient.

      I think before we assess the Law of Moses in the New Testament, we have to be cognizant of a fact that is obvious but is nonetheless too frequently forgotten: that the first Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jew, Jesus’ disciples were Jews, and Paul was a Jew. This helps us better understand what Paul has to say about the Law.

      First, I don’t think Paul sat down one day and came up with a whole theology of the Law relative to God’s fresh revelation in Jesus. I think he developed that theology in stages, and there are 4 stages that I am confident we can identify that shaped Paul’s thinking about the Law:

      1. Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and the commission with which Jesus entrusted Paul

      2. The situation recorded in Acts 15.1-4 and the Jerusalem Conference

      3. The crisis in Galatia, to which Paul responds with the fatherly letter of Galatians

      4. The situation in Rome, where bad news about Paul and his gospel already made it to Rome ahead of him, to which Paul responds and introduces himself with the letter of Romans.

      These situations confronted Paul, challenged his traditional Jewish heritage and theology, and forced him to adjust his schema. For Jews before the advent of Jesus Christ, the centerpiece of Jewish faith was Torah (the covenant with Moses), which created Israel as the people of God and was the primary medium of his revelation and their knowledge of him. However, with the Christ event, Paul was forced to reconfigure his theology and transfer the center from Torah to Christ. This was a major schematic shift and one that had huge implications that would take time to unravel, explain, and implement.

      So, what was Paul’s problem with the Law? I think the answer may be more simple than contemporary scholarship would imagine: it is not Jesus Christ. Even Jesus himself recognized that he was the new locus of God’s eschatological revelation and righteousness. In John 1.1-18, Jesus is presented as Wisdom who, as Logos, is an extension of God and who communicates God to man. When Jesus confronted the religious leaders, he accused them of looking for eternal life in the Scriptures (and by implication the Mosaic covenant) when the Scriptures (and thus the covenant) pointed to him as the source of life. So even Jesus was cognizant of the fact that he was the new centerpiece of God’s plan and God’s people, not Torah.

      As for Paul’s view of the Law, I think you have overestimated the negativity Paul had toward the Law, when in fact I don’t think he had any to begin with. In Romans, Paul says that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7.12). The next verse later he also calls the Law “good” (Romans 7.13). In 1 Timothy 1.8, Paul says that the Law is good if it fulfills its proper function. Even if Paul did not write the Pastorals, they still clearly reflect Pauline thought (see Brevard S. Childs, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus, 69-75). And given that Paul was a Jew and that most of his opponents were Jewish, and given the context of the statements, it is clear that Paul has in mind the covenant with Moses, not some spiritual law of the new covenant.

      What about the statement in 1 Corinthians 10.20? You suggest that Paul is actually saying that the things which the Jews sacrificed, they sacrificed to demons, thus demonstrating the carnality and unspiritual nature of the Mosaic covenant, and your main basis for that case is the textual critical uncertainty at this point in the text. But I think you are mistaken, both in terms of textual criticism and interpretation.

      It is true that the USB 4th edition of the Greek NT adopts the following reading: “but that the things they sacrifice, [they sacrifice] to demons and not to God. . .” But they only give that reading a C rating, expressing their uncertainty about it. While it has some support – primarily Vaticanus – the evidence for the alternative readings, which supply ta ethne, is very impressive, including Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Ephraim, and probably p46 (ca. 200). Even if the original reading leaves the subject of the verb thuousin unspecified, the textual evidence above demonstrates that the earliest readers understood Paul to be referring to the Gentiles, and I think the context itself demonstrates this.

      In 1 Corinthians, Paul has no beef with the Law or Judaism; it is not even a circumstantial or peripheral concern as far as we can tell. Furthermore, Paul brings in Israel-after-the-flesh to make a comparison between them and the Corinthians. Just as the Jewish priests were partner with the altar because they ate the food of the altar, in the same way the Corinthians are partners with the demonic altars of paganism when they partake of its food. But that is where the point of comparison stops; Paul does not say that Israel worshiped demons just as the Corinthians were worshiping demons. In fact, in light of 1 Corinthians 8.1-6, Paul would have repudiated the thought that Jews worshiped demons.

      And what about Romans 2.14? I think Paul does have the Law of Moses in mind there. The context suggests that much. Paul refers to a law that the Gentiles do not have. In light of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the first century, Paul’s missions to both Jews and Gentiles, his goal at reconciling the two groups in the body of Jesus – the Church, and the topic material and flow of argument in Romans, the only possible law that Paul has in mind is the Law of Moses. And Paul goes on to state this unequivocally: in Romans 2.17, he refers to the Jew who has this law that the Gentiles lack, and he refers to some of its basic commandments, such as the prohibitions against stealing and adultery and worshiping idols. I don’t know how someone could miss this.

      When Paul says that the Gentiles do by nature the things in the Law, he does not mean that they perform the 613 commandments. He is saying that the thrust of the Law – as exemplified, for example, in the 10 commandments, which communicates general morality of which most humans are aware in some form or another – is evident even to Gentiles, and that without having the Law of Moses, they still do it.

      As for Matthew 5.17, when Jesus refers to the Law, he does not have in mind the covenant with Moses per se, but Torah as Jewish scripture as a whole.

      As for Paul, though, he sees the Law from three vantage points, and thus any given text where Paul interacts with and mentions the Law, we need to determine which perspectival interpretation he is employing. First, Paul sees the Law as scripture, which is binding on all people because it is inspired by God and is an expression of him and his will. Second, Paul sees the Law as Israel’s covenant with God. Third, Paul sees the Law as having a typological and predictive function that foreshadows Jesus Christ. See the article I recommended you.

      Whichever of these perspectives Paul adopts in a given discourse will determine how we interpret his view of the Law. Paul most definitely affirms the new covenant, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which has set people free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8.1-2). What Paul means is that the new covenant in Christ has set people free from the predicament under the Mosaic economy as illustrated in Romans 7.14-25. But in that passage, Paul is viewing the Law as Mosaic covenant from an eschatological perspective and understands it as preparatory for Christ (see Galatians 3). I think 2 Corinthians 3 and Romans 7 probably refer to the same issue.

      These are some of my thoughts, but I can’t solve all the problems because I don’t have the time or intelligence to do so. But I hope this offers at least a few satisfying explanations. Again, sorry that my respond was late.

  4. actually Gnostics were the first Christians. they were around long before constatine created what is modern day western chriatianity. the Bible that whe read was edited By Constatine who was a pagan.

    1. Alright, I was just going to let you give enough rope to hang yourself on this argument, but this is just too good to pass up.

      Here’s why your argument is wrong:

      1) We have manuscripts that pre-date Constantine that match up with what we have today
      2) Constantine had nothing to do with the Bible. It’s in history. Look it up.
      3) Constantine’s call at Nicea was to end the debates concerning the deity of Christ. If Christianity were to be a state religion (which it wasn’t made an official state religion until long after Constantine) then it needed to be defined.
      4) How do you handle the multiple Church Fathers who pre-date Constantine but combat against proto-Gnosticism and Gnosticism? How do you handle Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and so on, all of whom claim that Jesus was God in the flesh and condemned Gnosticism?

      Nemo, I welcome you to post on my site, but be forewarned, I have a low tolerance for teachings that lack historical and logical backing.

    2. Nemo,

      To add to what Joel said, Gnosticism was an amorphous philosophical trend with certain tendencies and features that was widespread. There was no religion called Gnosticism. In fact, many scholars think we should abandon the word Gnosticism because it is not that useful of a term. The ideas that led to the formulation of Gnosticism as we think of it – that mature, 2nd and 3rd century system of, say, Valentinus – were current long before, but they had no definite shape and were not systematized. Furthermore, Gnosticism is not a specifically Christian heresy. It may incorporate Christian ideas, but it is not a variant Christian system itself. There were gnostic Judaisms as well. Gnosticism was synthetic – it sought to incorporate other religions and their ideas and reformulate them so that they were consistent with Gnostic philosophy, such as dualism, primacy on gnosis, etc.

      And I agree with Joel: Constantine did not create modern day Western Christianity. Faith in Jesus Christ is from the first century (which should be obvious, since Jesus lived in the first century, and since the documents collected in the New Testament were almost certainly written before 100 CE). We have Church Fathers who were probably second generation believers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp, which means they lived ca. 100 CE and slightly afterward.

      And Constantine had little if anything to do with the Bible. As Joel pointed out, the First Council of Nicaea had nothing to do with the Bible; it had to do with philosophical speculation about the ontological relationship between God and Jesus, which was mostly sparked by a debate Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, had with his bishop.

      While there is no doubt that politics played a huge role in the development of what is now orthodoxy, the scenario you have sketched is not credible. I would recommend to you the following two sources:

      Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1988.

      Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. 5th Edition. Prince Press Edition. Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 1978.

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