Contradictions and Dispensations

One of the more challenging aspects regarding God’s law is helping others understand the divisions between the laws found in our Bibles. While everything we have collected of God’s message is in a single bound volume, it’s not all one law. In order to understand which passages we should view as binding to ourselves as Christians, we need to understand those different sets of laws, who they apply to, and the time frame surrounding that system.

The Basic Dispensations

Where I am right now in my studies, it seems most logical to divide the Bible up into three distinct eras that contain their own laws and expectations. In theology-speak, we call those time periods dispensations. They are as follows:

  1. The Patriarchal Dispensation. This is contained roughly between Genesis 1 and Exodus 12. There’s room for debate about when this period actually started, but this range is a simple ballpark. During this period, there was no recorded law. God spoke directly to holy men that then made His will known to their families and tribes. This period ended with the delivery of the Mosaic law and the binding of the covenant at Sinai.
  2. The Mosaic Dispensation. This begins in Exodus 12, and it ends with the crucifixion. There is almost certainly a grace period after the crucifixion as the church does not come into existence until Acts 2. This time period is perhaps the most well-known set of laws as it contains the Ten Commandments. This is also the part of the Bible that contains the numerous feasts and sacrifices as well as things like stoning.
  3. The Christian Dispensation. This is where we are right now. This era really gets under way in Acts 2, but Jesus’ teachings prior to Acts 2 certainly inform the expectations of this new covenant. Unlike the Mosaic Dispensation, we don’t have a strictly codified law, but Jesus and His apostles set out a definite code of conduct those bearing the name Christian should follow. If they do not follow that code, Jesus makes it clear that they are not really Christians.

Within the first two, you can divide things up a bit more. During the Mosaic Dispensation for example, some laws adjusted depending on whether God’s people were yet to inherit the Promised Land, were already living in the Promised Land, or were in exile.

Keeping Things in Context

Romans 7: 1 – 6:

Or do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Using marriage as an illustration, Paul is making the point that you cannot be both under the law of Moses and the law of Christ at the same time. The latter fulfilled and replaced the former. This is one of the main points of the entire book of Hebrews. We Christians live under a new and better covenant than God delivered through Moses. With the institution of the new covenant came a new law.

Hebrews 7:11 – 14:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

A new covenant brings a new priesthood, and a new priesthood brings a new law. Nothing written in the law of Moses binds us today for we are under a whole new system. Our authority and our code of conduct comes from Jesus Christ and the word revealed by inspiration to His chosen apostles.

Dispensations and Doctrine

One of the things that can be confusing is that there are similarities between the dispensations. The promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the age of the patriarchs carry through the Mosaic Dispensation (in which they are partially fulfilled) and find themselves completely fulfilled in the Christian Dispensation. Furthermore, there are certainly similarities between the expectations and laws in each of these time periods.

However, because some laws and themes carry over from one to the next, it does not mean all do — especially where we see apparent contradictions between the covenants. In those cases, the words of Christ and His apostles carry greater authority than the words given through Moses. Take the food restrictions of Leviticus as an example.

Leviticus 11:1 – 8:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

Now contrast this to Acts 10:9 – 15 when God assures Peter that he should take the gospel to the Gentiles:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Here, the subject is really the fact that the gospel is to be delivered to Jew and non-Jew alike, but it also signals the end of the dietary restrictions God placed on His people during the Mosaic Dispensation. This principle is also reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is not a contradiction in God’s law; it is merely a new law replacing the old.

Here’s one more example — this time regarding adultery — from Deuteronomy 22:22 – 23:

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

In the New Testament, Jesus also clearly condemns adultery in Matthew 5:27 – 30:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Here the difference is more nuanced. Moses instructed a direct physical consequence for those caught in the act of adultery. Jesus requires no such action, instead turning our minds to the eternal spiritual consequences of such actions. In fact, nowhere in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament is there any indication that the church should harm or kill anyone for punishment of sin. Therefore, while we Christians should hold ourselves to Christ’s standard regarding morality, we are out of line if we preach as necessary physical Mosaic punishments on those who fall short of the standard. Whenever we find discrepancies between the laws of Christ and those set forth in previous covenants, Christ’s law is always what we defer to.

The Takeaways

  1. Most sources of apparent Biblical contradictions come from misunderstanding the divisions between dispensations.
  2. Each new dispensation brought new things for God’s people. This includes new laws.
  3. Where apparent contradictions exist, we defer to what we find in the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

When approaching passages that contain contradictory instructions, this should hopefully keep things clear in our heads.

For experienced Christians, keeping these in mind helps us to rightly divide the truth. Throughout the letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, the writers of the New Testament make the distinction between the new and old laws clear. Paul and others had to deal with topics of circumcision, of feasts and observances, and of food restrictions. They even condemned those who would try to bind the tenets of the Mosaic Law upon Christians as lasting requirements to be pleasing to God.

We who preach and teach God’s word should be careful about doing the same. It sows confusion among those who are not as Bible literate, and it undermines the better covenant Christ died for. It is right to stand for Christ and hold fast to His teachings. But let’s be careful about keeping the law of Moses where it belongs: in the past. Through it, we can learn many qualities of God, and it reveals a shadow of the better things to come. The law and the prophets point to Christ. Now that Christ has been revealed to us, and He has provided us the perfect and spiritual covenant leading to salvation, let’s keep our faith in that and that alone.

I have a computer again after a particularly long period living primarily off my iPhone. It’s a great device, and I rely on it for numerous tasks. Writing, however, is not one of them. Now that I’m back in the land of keyboards, I hope to get back into the swing of things here.

The Day Between

barred-door

It’s a little late to be posting this, but as I sit here awake in the middle of the night, I find myself wondering about the apostles on this same night some 1,970 years ago. How many of them were having problems sleeping? Jesus had been crucified the day before. He wouldn’t raise agin until tomorrow. In between that was a long and lonely Saturday where it seemed all hope had been lost.

A Fearful Day

Between the gospel accounts, we see that some visited His grave, like Mary and Martha. Others, like the disciples in John 20:19, were in hiding, fearful of what might happen to them. Of course, these things happened after the Sabbath Day, on the Sunday when Jesus would rise from the grave. The Bible is conspicuously silent about Saturday, but, based on the events leading up to the cross and what we see after, one thing is clear: many of Jesus’ closest followers had lost hope.

When the mob took Jesus away from Galilee, pretty much all of the apostles scatter. Peter follows at a distance, but he then goes on to deny any association with Jesus. The only apostle we see near the cross is John. Even after the apostles reunite and Jesus appears among them, Thomas still doubts — Thomas who once pledged to die with Jesus. They had lost sight of Jesus’ promises. They had lost sight of His hope.

Waiting for His Return

We too live in a day between our Savior’s departure and His return. Each of the gospel accounts ends with Christ lifting into the sky. He departs this world to return to Heaven, but we have promises that He will return.

“Men of Galilee, they said. “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:11 (right after Jesus’ ascension)

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”

Acts 3:19-21

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Revelation 22:20-21

And there are several more passages like these. Our Savior has risen, and we await His return. But the challenge to us is the same as to those first disciples the day before the Resurrection — to not lose faith, hope, or sight while we wait.

Keeping Perspective

When Jesus appeared before the apostles, how foolish do you think they felt for being so fearful the day before? Likewise, how foolish will we feel when the Lord returns, and we realize how much time and energy we’ve spent focusing purely on the things of this world? Sure, we have longer to wait than the apostles, but, in the context of eternity, this life will seem no more than a day — a day where we either waited on the Lord or a day where we let the cares and concerns of this world choke Him out of our lives.

Those early disciples were legitimately fearful that the Jewish leaders would have them killed as they had Jesus. Likewise, the concerns of this life can feel equally legitimate and immediate, but they don’t have to rule us. Fears stoked by politicians, by health struggles, by tragedies, by terror — these are all tools of the devil to keep our eyes planted on the here and now rather than the hereafter. They can cause us to lock ourselves up spiritually. They can make us forget the promises we have.

Instead, let’s learn from the mistakes of our spiritual forebears. Let’s keep focused on our hope and faith. Let’s keep our eyes on Christ’s promises. Let’s stay focused on His return. That should then put everything else in perspective. It should break the locks on our hearts. It should drive fear away, and that enables us to then live like Him and tell others about Him. We should be living with a hope that none can take away. We don’t know when our Lord will return, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are ready.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.

Titus 2:11 – 14

Lucifer

Jupiter and Venus

image by Thomas Bresson on Wikimedia Commons

How you are fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit on the mountain of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. Those who see you shall gaze at you, they shall consider you: “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble, who shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?”

All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house. But you are cast forth away from your tomb like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, who are thrust through with the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit; as a dead body trodden under foot. You shall not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people; the seed of evil-doers shall not be named forever.

Isaiah 14:12 – 20

This passage is not about Satan. I know some translations say Lucifer is being addressed here, but have you ever wondered why we even call Satan Lucifer? Basically, it’s because of this passage, but why do we apply this passage to Satan? Because it refers to something called Lucifer. It’s completely recursive.

So Who Is It About?

The passage is talking about an unnamed king of Babylon. Pretty much all of chapter 13 is condemning a king of Babylon. Isaiah takes a break in the first couple of verses in Isaiah 14 to reassure the children of Israel they will return from captivity, and then he gets back on the Babylonian king’s case. Isaiah doesn’t change subjects until he gets to verse 24, where Assyria becomes the subject of judgment.

Also, look at some of the language. “You are cast forth away from your tomb … You shall not be joined with them.” This is a reference to kings being traditionally buried with their ancestors. Also, “Is this the man who … shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?” This is a description of a conquering king, possibly Nebuchadnezzar II or a whole line of Babylonian rulers.

So What’s Up with the Lucifer Thing?

When the first English translations of the Bible started popping up (the Tyndale Bible and the original King James Version among the most notable examples), some of the translators chose to anglicize certain words instead of directly translating them. βαπτιζω (pr. baptizo) is one such word. Baptize didn’t exist in the English language prior to the Bible being translated, and it came from anglicizing a Greek word. If it had been simply translated, everywhere we read baptize would instead read submerge.

The same basic thing happened with Lucifer. Lucifer is the Latin equivalent to הֵילֵל (pr. Heylel). It literally means “morning star” or “bringer of light” and makes reference to one of the brightest objects in the morning sky. We would call it the planet Venus. In the context of Isaiah 14, this king’s fame makes him shine brightly in the minds of the nations around him. He has grown proud because of this reputation, and Isaiah calls him by a name that reflects the magnitude of his pride.

How Did We End Up Making This About Satan?

I half-jokingly wrote that Satan getting pegged with the name Lucifer is recursive reasoning, but there’s probably a bit more at work here. First, we could be seeing some influence of Roman mythology (which has a lot of influence on many Catholic traditions). Prometheus was the bringer of godlike knowledge to man as symbolized by fire. He was a light-bringer. Satan does something similar in the Garden story. Therefore, the “bringer of light” in Isaiah 14 could easily be connected to Satan via Prometheus.

Canaanite mythology could be influencing tradition here as well. Ancient Canaanites called the morning star Attar, and Attar was a god who tried to overthrow Ba’al. He failed and instead went to rule the underworld. Historically, Satan has been depicted as an angel who wanted to usurp Jehovah. Perhaps this Canaanite legend melded with ancient Judaism and informed how Satan has been interpreted through the ages. (There are other similar legends throughout ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.)

Then there’s a small passage from the pseudepigraphic book of II Enoch:

And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.

Here Satanail with his angels was thrown down from the height.

And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.

II Enoch 29:2 – 4

Even though many Christians today don’t consider books like II Enoch to be canon, their influence can be felt in a number of traditional mythologies we carry alongside our faith. Here is a perfectly encapsulated retelling of the common Satan tradition, and, if you substitute Satanail with Lucifer, it would feel right at home in Isaiah 14. (Also, Prometheus imagery again. Just saying.)

I don’t know exactly when Lucifer became synonymous with Satan. It certainly wasn’t common in the time of Augustine. However, both Calvin and Luther condemn interpreting Isaiah 14 as referring to the devil. So the name became popular sometime after Saint Augustine of Hippo but before Martin Luther’s writings. That gives us a possible window of something like a thousand years.

What’s the Point?

We Christians should be making a habit of differentiating the Bible’s teachings from popular trends and mythology. We live in a culture where we share posts and images on social media without first checking the veracity of the content, and we therefore perpetuate popular myths and urban legends without thought. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard — even moreso in matters pertaining to faith.

Instead of simply repeating what we’ve heard from pulpits or read from others’ writings, we need to be able to separate faith from fiction. And no matter how long we have held to a certain story, belief or doctrine, if the scriptural evidence doesn’t back it up, we have to be OK with letting it go. Let’s strive to be more like the Bereans of Acts 17 who not only received the apostles’ teaching with gladness but then also researched God’s word for themselves. Then we will all have far fewer confusions like this.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

I John 4:1

The Spiritual Battle

Lessons at South Boone: The Spiritual Battle

lion-wallpaper-03

We are involved in battle every day. This battle, however, is not one over resources, freedoms, representation, or any of the other numerous reasons people may wage war in this life. It’s not a battle where artillery, drones, body armor, or any other physical means of offense or defense will be of any use. Instead this conflict is a spiritual one, and each and every one of us is a battlefield where the object of conquest is nothing less than our souls. This is a conflict that looks very different from what we think about when we typically think of physical battles.

This is another lesson series I helped with. I delivered the first and third lessons in the series: Preparing for Our Spiritual Battle and The True Enemy.