R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience

I don’t think there’s any more important text in all the New Testament that defines the work of Jesus than this one. That Jesus was sent to fulfill all righteousness. And what that meant to the Jew was to obey every jot and tittle of the Law. Because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself, but for His people. And if His people are required to keep the Ten Commandments, He keeps the Ten Commandments. If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf. Because the redemption that is brought by Christ is not restricted to His death on the cross.

-R.C. Sproul
“Jesus and His Active Obedience”
from an excerpt of his teaching series, “What Did Jesus Do?”
Ligonier.org

The video and transcript (you can access both by clicking the link above) were posted online on February 16th, and a Facebook friend (amazingly, someone I’ve actually met once face-to-face) posted the video and some commentary on his own Facebook page (I’m sorry I can’t actually embed the video into this blog post, since I can only find code to do that compatible with YouTube).

I don’t normally weigh in on this sort of thing, and I’ve been trying to distance myself from constantly reviewing and criticizing Christian sermons and teachings, but I’ve heard of Dr. Sproul before in relation to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference of a few years back, and I even reviewed Sproul’s Strange Fire sermon, so naturally, I was curious.

r.c sproul
Image: Ligonier.org

The video is less than four-and-a-half minutes long, so I figured it wouldn’t take up too much of my time to hear what he had to say. Besides, the people commenting on this snippet seemed mostly favorable of it.

Sproul offered two competing doctrinal positions as the core of his sermon: Passive Obedience and Active Obedience.

In Passive Obedience, all Jesus had to do was obey God by suffering the pain and curse of dying on the cross so that we would all be absolved of our sins. Our sins are transferred to Jesus, he takes on the penalty of death for all our sins so that we don’t have to die, and we become innocent before God.

Sproul says we would be innocent but not righteous, sinless but with no track record of obedience, and thus not able to become righteous.

So what has to happen to make us innocent and righteous?

Sproul doesn’t think Jesus had a three-year ministry for nothing. In those three years, post his baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, Jesus lived a life consistent with Jewish religious and lifestyle praxis, but doing so perfectly, observing all of the mitzvot that applied to him as a Jewish male living in Israel during the late Second Temple period with an active Levitical priesthood and Sanhedrin court system (a lot of the mitzvot can’t be obeyed by a Jew living outside of Israel or in the absence of the Temple, the priesthood, and the Sanhedrin).

Active Obedience, according to Sproul, is Jesus deliberately observing all of the relevant mitzvot perfectly and without fault, failure, or even an occasional omission. He did so because his Jewish people were unable to be perfectly obedient. Thus Jesus was obedient for his people. His righteousness transferred to the Jewish people making it as if they had been perfectly obedient.

sefer torahSo what’s all that got to do with the rest of us, that is, we non-Jewish believers?

Sproul skips over the impact to Jewish Israel and goes into what this does for the modern Christian:

What does Jesus do? He obeys the Law perfectly, receives the blessing, and not the curse. But there’s a double imputation that we will look at later at the cross, where my sin is transferred to His account, my sin is carried over and laid upon Him in the cross. But in our redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us—which righteousness He wouldn’t have if He didn’t live this life of perfect obedience. So what I’m saying to you is that His life of perfect obedience is just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross. Because there’s double imputation. My sin to Him, His righteousness to me. So that, that is what the Scripture is getting at when it says Jesus is our righteousness.

So somehow, Christ’s perfect obedience of the mitzvot, which made him perfectly righteous, transfers to us, we non-Jewish believers in Jesus, while his death on the cross allows our sins to be transferred to him, and thus Jesus died in our sins so we wouldn’t have to pay the penalty ourselves.

A nice, neatly wrapped little package. However, the package has a few holes in it.

Sproul didn’t tie any of this back to the New Covenant, particularly the New Covenant language we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, nor did he account for the fact that Jeremiah 31:31-34 states that the only two named participants of the New Covenant are the House of Judah and the House of Israel. The non-Jewish nations are not included (it takes a lot of study to actually find the connection, so you might want to review this summary for some of the details).

So how can Christ’s righteousness because of his Torah obedience have anything to do with us? At best, it would transfer to the Jewish people across all time because he perfectly obeyed the mitzvot when Jewish people aren’t always perfect (who is?).

Sproul also missed this definition of righteousness:

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6 (NASB)

AbrahamGranted, the issue of righteousness is more complex than this, but it would seem that at its core, having full trust in God is the very essence of righteousness. Everything else flows from that trust.

Beyond all this, Sproul doesn’t say what happens to Torah obedience post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. If Sproul is a traditional fundamentalist Christian Pastor, he most likely believes that once Jesus “fulfilled” (annulled) the Sinai covenant God made with Israel, it ceased to have any continued function for the Jewish people. Since no one but Jesus could keep the commandments perfectly, no one could earn perfect righteousness on his or her own.

Nor did they need to. All they had to do was come to faith in Jesus Christ, his obedience to God through the Torah, and his atoning death on the cross, and he or she would merit full righteousness and total forgiveness of sins (In other words, Jewish people would have to give up Jewish religious practice, stop being Jews, and convert to Christianity, all in order to worship their own Jewish King).

Sproul does weave a tale that has Jesus living the life of a totally obedient and observant Jew, but only for the purpose of attaining perfect righteousness that could then be transferred to his believers.

If you are a regular reader of this blogspot, I’m sure you realize that I disagree with Dr. Sproul about the nature of the covenants and the part the New Covenant plays in the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people and national Israel.

I told one of my sons the other evening (his mother is Jewish, so he’s Jewish) that Jews are the only people who are born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not.

I realize that, relative to Genesis 9 and the Noahide covenant, the same could be said for all humanity, but most of humanity doesn’t know and doesn’t care about the covenant God made with Noah and its presumed relevance to us today.

On the other hand, even a secular Jew is at least aware of the Mount Sinai event, the covenant made by Hashem, and the stated set of responsibilities and obligations the Jewish people have to God, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel, to humanity, and to the planet. They just choose to disregard those responsibilities (or most of them) for whatever reason.

MessiahRav Yeshua (Jesus) is the mediator of the New Covenant. Yeshua’s coming was indeed a pivotal point in not only the history of the Jewish people, but human history. He came as a messenger to demonstrate that all of the New Covenant promises God made to Israel would indeed come to pass over the course of time. Hashem sent Yeshua to make a partial payment on those promises.

Those down payments are highlighted in a sermon review I wrote a year-and-a-half ago:

He also said that the sign of the New Covenant is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we see famously in Acts 2 with the Jewish Apostles and Acts 10 with the Gentile Cornelius and his entire household. We also know from 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:5, and Ephesians 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit given to believers is but a down-payment, a token, a small deposit on the whole sum that will not be delivered in full until the resurrection.

Click the link above to find out more about the purpose of Rav Yeshua’s life in Israel, walking among his people, observing the mitzvot, and developing a following as a Rav.

I don’t mean to bang on Dr. Sproul. He’s probably a very nice man who really believes everything he says, but without the slightest thought to what it does to the Jewish people, the primacy of Israel in God’s redemptive plan, and all of the “Old Testament” prophesies that don’t happen to jibe with what he believes about Jesus.

I can’t allow myself to care about all of the different opinions out there that don’t agree with mine held by hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of Christian Pastors worldwide, whether their influence extends only to the four walls of their local church or, like Sproul, whose influence extends to anyone with Internet access. If I let all that bug me, I’d probably go nuts.

R.C. SproulBut some people who I know or at least am acquainted with, seem to think Sproul has the corner market on the purpose of Jesus relative to the Torah, to the Jewish people, and to the Christian Church. I don’t believe, for the reasons I stated above, that Sproul is teaching a Biblically sustainable doctrine in this short video excerpt (and that statement probably sounds astonishing to some).

I’m writing this to say there’s another way to look at scripture that I think is more sustainable and that takes all of the Bible into account as a single, unified document. No carving up or allegorical interpretations are required.

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22 thoughts on “R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience”

  1. I’m sure you’re aware of this already – Christians of the Reformed, Confessional persuasion (WCF Presbyterians, LBC Baptists, etc…) are somewhat unique in that they don’t perceive their soteriological models and doctrines to be just that – models – but rather to be synonymous with scripture. Thus, to disagree with the model is to say you disagree with scripture. If word of this gets out, you will no doubt receive a flurry of less-than-charitable responses. 🙂

  2. I realize I’m sticking my neck out a bit Daniel, but it’s not the first time. I’ve already noticed that two people have stopped following my blog since I posted this “meditation,” so it’s already having some small impact.

    I know that disagreeing with a model or a prized teacher, to some folks, is the same thing as disagreeing with the Holy Scriptures, but I’m hoping most people will understand that the Bible is interpretable. R.C. Sproul and his contemporaries have one such interpretation, but other valid perspectives exist. If people would start reading the literature of modern New Testament scholars, they’d realize that there isn’t as much agreement on Christian doctrine and theology going on in Christian academic studies as they might imagine. All I want to do is to bring that discussion down to the level of the blogosphere.

    So far no one has responded to my comments or the link to this blog post on the Facebook page I mention in the body of this missive. I imagine there may be some “passionate” comments made there as well.

  3. So, Dr.Sproul wishes to describe a mechanism whereby Rav Yeshua collects a sufficiently large pile of righteousness that it might be dumped onto his unrighteous disciples — because, I presume, he doesn’t share the Jewish view that righteousness is an individual pursuit that can be achieved even after failures have occurred and been dealt with by following HaShem’s prescription for righteousness. Given his lack of confidence in such a pursuit, even with its reliance on HaShem’s help and active provision, I can’t blame him for wanting a neat package that doesn’t depend on it. I do marvel at the ingenuity that some people will apply to prop up a doctrine that lacks a suitable base.

    I could suggest for him an alternative way of looking at Rav Yeshua as “our righteousness”, of course, as well as an explanation for the mechanism whereby trusting in HaShem’s provision allows righteousness to flow from a sacrificial symbol. One can find a clue about how it works by meditating on how the ancient sacrifices worked, because the animals and other offerings had neither intrinsic nor earned righteousness in themselves, but still they enabled righteousness to flow out of the repentance and re-dedication that they ratified. The difference between an earthly sacrifice and a heavenly one is, of course, that the former occurs only once and briefly, hence its effect is also temporally limited — whereas a heavenly sacrifice, such as presented in the symbology of Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom, has no time limits on its effectiveness. It is always “there”, to be perceived and to focus our trust on HaShem’s forgiveness and His encouragement toward our progressive success at pursuing sanctification. Thus the righteousness is an unending fountain overflowing onto all who place their trust in HaShem’s acceptance of this sacrifice.

    One might note some similarity between this description and that which the writer of the “Hebrews” letter presented; and note also that presenting or trusting in the effectiveness of such a sacrifice is just as effective for non-Jews as it is for Jews, not unlike when gentiles might bring an acceptable offering to the Jerusalem Temple. It is the trust that activates the repentance and re-dedication which lead to righteousness, not only an immediately imputed and declared righteousness but also that which results over a period of time by learning better ways of thinking and walking in the light (i.e., the study and understanding) of righteousness. There is nothing in the scriptures to suggest that writing the Torah on a Jewish heart, as described of the new covenant in Jer.31:31, is an overnight or instantaneous process; nor that the heartfelt embrace of HaShem’s covenant with the Jews, by gentiles who have been drawn near by His lovingkindness, should instantaneously re-write all of their internal software (to borrow a computer metaphor in place of a biological one). The “turning around” of repentance induces one degree of change, and the process of walking in the right direction induces further degrees of such change. In actuality this walking requires continual course corrections — but that’s ultimately just a technical detail representing continual recourse to the ever-present sacrifice and its corresponding fountain of righteousness. But I’m sure you get the idea …

  4. @PL: I don’t think the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and the later two Temples can be compared directly to Rav Yeshua’s symbolic sacrifice. There is no sacrifice for deliberate sin at the Temple. There can only be sincere repentance. King David famously wrote about this in Psalm 51.

    How the death of Rav Yeshua, the greatest tzaddik, atoned for the sins of his generation and indeed for all Jews, is a deeply mystical mystery whose meaning is at least difficult if not all but impossible to grasp. When Christianity compares the Rav’s death to the death of animals in the Temple, I believe they expose their grave misunderstanding about Korban vs. how Yeshua’s death operated on a metaphysical level.

    I can’t say that I have any insights beyond what I wrote over five years ago (see the link above), except to say that Hashem promised to take away Israel’s sins as part of the New Covenant blessings, and I believe Rav Yeshua’s death was the mechanism by which He has done and will do so.

    It is only by Hashem’s grace and mercy that we Gentiles are allowed to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant, but only by attaching ourselves to Israel through our fealty to Yeshua and the worship of the God of Israel.

    One of the reasons Christianity baffled me when I used to go to church back in the day, is that the Church couldn’t show in the Bible how Yeshua’s death took away sins. They presented a doctrine, as Sproul has done, but there were no direct prophesies in the Tanakh that acted as a “smoking gun”. It was if the death on the cross taking away sins just appeared out of thin air with no direct Biblical support.

    This is an unfortunate affect of the Church Fathers radically refactoring the meaning of the events recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures in order to elimiate any Judaism from Rav Yeshua, his teachings, and particularly the teachings of Rav Shaul. They had to make up a lot of stuff or allegorize it so much it appears to be more fantasy than scripture.

  5. @James — The fact that Rav Yeshua’s symbolic heavenly sacrifice is more comprehensive than the set of sacrifices available to the earthly sanctuary should not change the way the mechanism operates. If the earthly sacrificial system is to have meaning, in terms of why HaShem would bother with such a system at all, one must infer that it had exemplary value. In other words, if one can understand how it worked, one may extrapolate the mechanism to understand the operation of any sacrifice based on that pattern. The nature of the relationship between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries was precisely that the former was patterned on the latter. As for the language about “taking away” sins rather than merely “covering” them, I would suggest that this is the distinction between sanctification and sacrifice (korban). As the process of repentance that a sacrifice ratifies “covers” any given sin, so the re-dedication that empowers the process of sanctification leads to the removal of the impetus which originally motivated that sin — not to neglect the corresponding value of acquiring knowledge with which to counter or guard against that sin. It is Rav Yeshua’s teaching and perspective which empowers that sanctification process. Hence his symbolic sacrifice covers and his instruction and attitudinal adjustment takes it away.

    Looking at the processes in this way also goes a long way toward explaining how some folks miss it or seem not to apply it to their lives.

  6. While there were other complications in what this teacher said or stands for, the the specific indication of the title for this post and conversation is something toward a good direction. Passive/active: it does make sense that how Yeshua lived, not only that he died, matters.

  7. I have a different take on this altogether. After studying the Levitical sacrifices from Scripture (without the overlay of commentaries, systematic theologies, etc), I’ve come to a conclusion/understanding different from either “camp”.

    In my mind, the problem with the whole “Levitical Priesthood vs Yeshua’s Priesthood” paradigm is faulty from the get-go. It’s not one or the other as if they are mutually exclusive.

    The Levitical Priesthood was given to create and maintain “holy space” for God’s Glory Presence WHILE it physically existed on the Temple Mt. This allowed the Israelites to experience God in an outward, tangible, real-time way when they came to worship on the Temple Mt.

    Messiah’s Priesthood has a DIFFERENT purpose. Messiah’s Priesthood was given to create “holy space” for the human conscience so that we can experience God’s Presence inwardly, continually, and eternally.

    The two Priesthoods are DIFFERENT priesthoods with DIFFERENT purposes. The “method” of blood purging is necessary for both priesthoods. The animal sacrifices of the Levitical Priesthood generally DID NOT atone for sins of moral failure. They atoned for “ritual impurities” so that the Israelites could enter “holy space” on the Temple Mt. The sacrifice of Yeshua on the other hand DOES atone for sins of individual moral failure.

    Yeshua’s sacrifice is far greater in that while the Levitical sacrifices could only provide atonement so that the Israelites could access the Temple Mt’s Glory Presence for the moment, Yeshua’s sacrifice provides atonement so that ANYONE can access His Presence inwardly, continually, and eternally.

    HOWEVER, contrary to popular opinion, as per Jer 33:17-22 the Levitical Priesthood has NOT been abolished (put on hold perhaps, but not abolished). It will be renewed in the Millennial Age as Ezekiel 40-48 clearly (and in much detail) expresses. It is not currently operational now because there is no temple or Shekineh present to which the Levitical sacrificial laws pertain. But in the Millennial Age, when the Glory Cloud returns, it will be up and running!

  8. Shavua Tov, Merrill — You’ve effectively reiterated the bicameral nature of earthly and heavenly sanctuaries that I presented, though I do need to emphasize that the Levitical sacrifices were not merely a matter of maintaining “holy space” or addressing “ritual impurities”. Moral failure in the Torah does bring with it impurities that interfere with a relationship with HaShem, and a number of sacrificial offering types address these (notably the “sin” and the “wholeness” offerings). I think James pointed out that Rav Yeshua’s sacrifice offers more comprehensive coverage than the Levitical system, but their effects are not as neatly separated as you described.

  9. Shavua Tov PL,

    I agree that there is a need for a “bicameral” approach to viewing the two “systems” of the Levitical Priesthood and Yeshua’s Priesthood. And, yes, the former represents the latter. The “fault” with the Levitical system (as per Hebrews 8:5-10) is that it could not/never did/never will atone for sins of personal moral failure in significant (and frequently violated) areas. There were no animal sacrifices available to atone for adultery, murder, idolatry, cursing parents, sorcery, defiant Sabbath violations, etc. However, this does not mean that the Levitical system does not still have a function for the future. It does. But its function (as far as I can see) is only necessary when the temple is up and running and there is a Glory Presence to which it pertains. The Glory Presence returns in the Millennial Age as per Isaiah 4:3-6, etc. (That’s my take as I’ve studied this. I realize you see it differently.)

    Note: The Glory/Shekineh Presence is a physical (sometimes even visible) manifestation. It is deadly to humans if not approached in the proper way. It is important to realize however that the Glory Presence is NOT to be confused with God’s invisible Spirit Presence that resides in the heart of the believer. These are two DIFFERENT manifestations of HaShem. The two different “Presence” manifestations require DIFFERENT spatial parameters in order to be received. (The language/descriptions/terms I am using here aren’t as precise as I would like. So thank you for bearing with me as I try to articulate, what is to our ears, arcane subject matter.)

    Blessings to you, James, and Marleen.

  10. Another thought after re-reading the OP….

    James said: “On the other hand, even a secular Jew is at least aware of the Mount Sinai event, the covenant made by Hashem, and the stated set of responsibilities and obligations the Jewish people have to God, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel, to humanity, and to the planet. They just choose to disregard those responsibilities (or most of them) for whatever reason.”

    I can’t speak for all secular Jews, but for me it was never explained (let alone emphasized) what “covenant” obligations meant. The Sinai event was considered more fictional than reality. A “good Jew” in my family (and I in the many other Jewish families we knew/know) basically meant being a “good person”, following the general spirit of the Ten Commandments ( with Sabbath not considered as obligatory), loving Israel, and identifying culturally with the Jewish people. Basically these were the only “requirements”. (The other “requirement” was never to believe in Jesus because He was for the gentiles, not us.)

    On another note, I don’t believe Scripture teaches bilateral or “dual Covenants” when it comes to soteriology. ( It may teach “dual praxis” but not “dual soteriology”. )

    Just some thoughts, and again I realize you see this differently. But it’s nice to share in conversation as we sort out these things.

  11. Shavua Mitsuyan, Merrill — I appreciate your listing of sins lacking atonement by sacrifice, including “adultery, murder, idolatry, cursing parents, sorcery, defiant Sabbath violations, etc.” However, the Torah as practiced included two features in addition to direct atonement. One was a form of plea-bargaining, whereby the full force of penalty against a blatant presumptuous sin could be mitigated by finding means whereby the failure could be viewed as an error of less significant proportion, due to repentance and correction of the sinner and persuasion of the witnesses who must have brought the charges that the matter was not as black-and-white as it appeared. This is not unlike what occurs in a modern courtroom trial. Further, protections were enacted to ensure that the accused was fully aware of the consequences of a non-atoneable action and that he had been warned clearly before committing the “crime”. It reminds me of the modern requirement to acquaint an accused with his “Miranda” rights. This constitutes the other form of protection to which I alluded, which is prevention of the sin by other members of the community. The laws and judgments outlined in Torah are more complex in their operation than they appear on the surface.

    Thus the “Law of Liberty” to which Yacov referred in Jam.1:25 & 2:12 represents a very serious implication. This concept was cited directly from the rabbinic interpretation of Ex.32:16 in the “Ki Tissa” parashah, which we just read this past shabbat. There the un-pointed Torah text refers to the Torah that was written on the tablets by HaShem as “חרות”, which may be read as ‘harut (inscribed) or ‘heirut (freedom). In Hebrew that constitutes a pun or double-entendre, and it teaches us that the purpose of Torah is not condemnation, but rather that it is to set us free from “the sin that so easily entangles us” (cif:Heb.12:1).

    Thus also the Torah continues to function even when the earthly Temple cannot do so, and the “Kvod HaShem” (“the Glory of the LORD”), or the “Kvod haShechinah” (“the Glory of the Presence”), must withdraw to a safe distance (e.g., to the heavenly sanctuary) lest death should ensue. Nonetheless, this “Glory” was never intended to function as anyone’s executioner, hence he has withdrawn until the purity of the Temple and its participants may be restored (which is a task to which the Torah also will contribute its part). Meanwhile the “judges and magistrates” will continue to stand in for the Temple’s Cohanim and Levi-im to administer the Torah, and it is, perhaps, the responsibility of the rest of us to help them to do so in accordance with the perspective of the heavenly sanctuary insofar as possible.

  12. PL said: ” I appreciate your listing of sins lacking atonement by sacrifice, including “adultery, murder, idolatry, cursing parents, sorcery, defiant Sabbath violations, etc.” However, the Torah as practiced included two features in addition to direct atonement. One was a form of plea-bargaining, whereby the full force of penalty against a blatant presumptuous sin could be mitigated by finding means whereby the failure could be viewed as an error of less significant proportion, due to repentance and correction of the sinner and persuasion of the witnesses who must have brought the charges that the matter was not as black-and-white as it appeared…”

    PL: If you are referring to examples of “lesser” intentional sins (such as stealing or swearing falsely as in Lev 6), I realize this. Only VERY FEW “intentional sins” however could be mitigated via repentance whereby the violator then became eligible for forgiveness through animal atonement. However these cases DID NOT include adultery, murder, idolatry, sorcery, etc. If the violator was convicted before a court the penalty was death or excommunication. There was NO animal atonement available for these crimes. Sincere repentance did not lessen the penalty in these cases.

    In the case of David’s commision of willful adultery and murder or the case of Mannaseh’s wilfull idolatry, both of these individuals were graciously forgiven by HaShem. BUT NOTICE: they were both forgiven APART from the Levitical sacrificial system! This shows us that there already existed a method of atonement available to cleanse the penitent heart even for the “greater” sins. The method however for their atonement was NOT the animal blood given under the Levitical sacrificial system. It was/is YESHUA’S BLOOD that was given which acts/acted retroactively for all sins committed prior to Yeshua’s death (Hebrews 9:15).

  13. Here’s a good general rule of thumb for sorting out the difference in purpose between Levitical (animal) atonement and Yeshua’s atonement:
    Levitical atonement is effective for “purifying the flesh” so that God’s Glory Presence can be experienced and accessed in a specific locality at a specific point in time ( Hebrews 9:13). It necessitates a functioning Temple system with the Shekineh being present in real-time/space. Yeshua’s atonement is effective for “purifying the conscience” so that God’s Presence can be acessed and experienced at any moment and for eternity (see Hebrews 9:14). Access to God’s abiding Presence (experienced in the believer’s heart via Yeshua) is not confined to time and space. Access to God’s physical Glory/Shekineh is. And just as animal blood was necessary for “cleansing the flesh” in the past when the Shekineh was present, they will be necessary again when the Shekineh returns in the Millennial Age.

  14. Hi, Merrill — I think you made my point for me by citing David’s adultery and second-degree murder. These charges were never brought to trial due to HaShem’s gracious forgiveness. None of the potential witnesses brought forth accusations to any portion of these actions, hence from the perspective of the Torah’s legal system, they were not entered into that system as events to be adjudicated or atoned by means of the system (which, of course, would have to have condemned rather than atoned or forgiven). But that gracious reticence about how events were or were not entered into judgment was also a part of jurisprudence under the Levitical legal system (not really “apart from” that system). Claiming proactive benefit of Yeshua’s symbolic sacrifice is not really arguable, except as a fictional fig-leaf to satisfy someone’s sense of outraged justice (as you cited from Heb.9:15). Even granting to David some prophetic vision that a heavenly sacrifice had been offered on his behalf, all he could really experience existentially was his trust in HaShem’s ‘hesed, that He had covered the matter. In all likelihood David wrote Psalm 51 as his own meditation upon the matter, whereby we might perceive particular poignancy in verses 1, 9, 14, & 16.

  15. PL said: “None of the potential witnesses brought forth accusations to any portion of these actions, hence from the perspective of the Torah’s legal system. ”

    True PL, and what does this say about how well Torah’s legal system worked, or how strictly the letter of the Law was followed? Why weren’t King David’s sins brought before the court at that time? Was David above the Law? Was it commonplace for witnesses to turn a blind eye? Was justice frequently not served? It’s curious that in Tanakh there are no recorded events of capital punishment being carried out within Israel (by a court) after Sinai. There was certainly plenty of opportunity for it. And yes I realize just because there are no incidents actually recorded, that they didn’t take place at times. But apparently for whatever reason they have not been recorded for us. I find that curious.

    But getting back to King David. If I didn’t know better I would think God “bent the rules” for David. This would make God a “respector of persons”.But we know this is impossible as it violates His very nature/essense/character.

    I now see that this incident (of David’s being forgiven, along with other similar indents in Tanakh where capital sins were forgiven) provided evidence which hinted very strongly that there ALREADY existed a WAY operating (beyond animal atonement) whereby “greater sins” were eligible for atonement. It hadn’t yet been revealed what this “system” was, but it was none-the-less very much operating proscriptively from Heaven’s perspective.

  16. PS: Regarding the relationship between repentance and atonement,
    here’s how I see it:

    Sincere, heartfelt repentance makes one ELIGIBLE for atonement. Repentance is the INITIATOR which opens the WAY for atonement to be procured. But it’s the atonement itself that SECURES the forgiveness (as per Heb 9:22). Repentance is the initiator, atonement is the mechanism.

    In short: Repentance+Atonement= Forgiveness.

    Repentance is what happens on our end; atonement is what happens on God’s end. Repentance without atonement won’t secure forgiveness. Atonement without sincere repentance won’t secure forgiveness. BOTH are necessary.

  17. Something you ought to understand about the nature of law, Merrill — and this is true for modern legal systems as much as for Torah — is that law is always a last resort to be employed only when problems cannot be resolved by other means. Consequently, I would evaluate the Torah’s legal “system” as operating very successfully. The most successful legal system is one in which problems are resolved without actually employing legal sanctions. They may be resolved or “settled” by arbitration, by voluntary restitution, or by outright forgiveness. It is the *threat* of legal sanctions that sometimes is needed to persuade potential litigants that they should resolve matters more amicably. Justice is not a mathematical formula to be applied from a written code. That is why judges are employed to evaluate the circumstances of individual cases. Only when justice is based on a comprehensive evaluation and tempered with mercy can it truly accomplish the goals of righteousness.

  18. I’m going to suggest turning your formula around, Merrill. Repentance plus forgiveness yields atonement. Atonement has been defined colloquially in English by parsing its syllables as: “at-one-ment”. That is to say, it is the making of two disparate elements to be at one common state. Thus it is the motion of repentance from the party at fault, and the motion of forgiveness from the wronged party, that brings them together at one place.

    Of course, in Hebrew a “korban” (“sacrifice”) is what “brings close” (“makriv”), the party expressing “repentance” (“tshuvah”, returning), to the party expressing “forgiveness” (“slichah”), under the “covering” (“kaparah”) which is atonement. In other words a sacrifice ratifies or expresses that a state of repentance exists, which when met with forgiveness achieves atonement, whereby all prior conflict has been smoothed-over under its covering.

  19. My “formula” is not exhaustive. I am suggesting it as a general rule of thumb. Part of the “formula” which I did not mention btw includes reparations to the injured party. But sometimes reparations are impossible to make, humanly speaking. This is where RANSOM related atonement comes into play. I realize that not all animal sacrifice offerings are ransom related (many are not), rather they are for the purpose of drawing close to God as you mentioned. But this is not the particular type of animal atonement I was referring to. The type of atonement I am referring to is the type which is ransom related. The type of sacrifice Yeshua displayed on our behalf is most certainly “ransom” related.

    There is a principle in Scripture where misdeeds (aka: sins) incur “debt” to the one’s account (Romans 6:23). If the debt is not paid by the violator (or another party who steps in as a “ransom”) the debt remains. The colloquial term “at-one-ment” (being at one with God) is NOT the same as ransom. Personally, I don’t like this term because it really doesn’t do justice to what atonement really means. “Atonement” should not be confused with “forgiveness”. Atonement is an action which brings restoration to the relationship (i.e. “forgiveness”). “Atonement” and “Forgivenss” are not the same thing.

  20. PL said: “I would evaluate the Torah’s legal “system” as operating very successfully.”

    It can only operate successfully if it is not corrupted. For much of Israel’s history it seems it wasn’t exactly operating as intended. Law might be a deterrent but it only “deters” when just penalties are carried out.

    As far as things being settled outside of court, “settlements” only work when both parties are in agreement. And it still they entail an “adjudication” of sorts that takes place between the parties involved.

  21. I’ve been kind of busy lately and haven’t been able to give this discussion, especially between PL and Merrill, the attention it deserves. I can’t add anything to what’s already been said on the topic (which actually seems “off topic” but worthy of presenting here). Very good presentation of your understanding of the earthly and heavenly Temples and their roles.

  22. Thank you James.
    I realize this is a tangent to the original subject. I guess my personal beef is that people on both sides of the issue (i.e. Covenant at Sinai no longer applies (=Sproul and most of Christendom) vs Covenant at Sinai still applies ) is based on a faulty understanding of the Sinai Covenant.
    I know “I’m sticking my neck out here” (as you like to say) and that I’m sort of a “maverick”, but I don’t think people on either side really understand the purpose for the animal sacrifices of the Sinai Covenant, and this is where the confusion lies. When it comes right down to it (generally speaking) the Levitial sacrificial system was not DESIGNED for the purpose of cleansing from personal moral failure. Nor was it designed to provide eternal salvation for the individual soul. Perhaps if people truly understood the purpose for each Covenant (along with the purpose for their respective sacrifice/sacrifices) there wouldn’t be so much theological confusion (along with resulting disagreement).
    The New Covenant doesn’t “fulfill” the Levitical Covenant so that “it is no longer needed”. Rather the New Covenant SUPPLEMENTS the Levitial Covenant with “greater promises” which extend to all nations (including and beyond Israel).

    Thanks again for letting me share/vent. 🙂 I continue to read your meditations from time to time and this one defintely got me going (even if it was slightly “off topic”)…

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