Do you stone your child for talking back?
Do you stone adulterers?
Do you kill witches?
~ Actual questions from skeptics asked on some forums
Does God work with people in different ways down through the ages? Individuals are different. Groups of people differ all the time. We do see certain changes in how God dealt with people to reflect those differences? However, that does not make Dispensationalism true. This notion that God has radically changed down through time ignores the fact that He has set up a general framework from which He deals with all people. Otherwise, God’s justice can be called into question.
In Part 1, we examined that many of the things that we see prior to Moses correlate quite well with the notion that the Law existed prior to Moses’ time. However, we also saw that there seemed to be one law which “was added” according to Gal 3:19. Since it was in force “til the [S]eed should come”, but it only started 430 years after Abraham (v 17), then it must have been a law that was not previously spelled out explicitly. But, which law? Since it was “added because of transgressions”, and the shedding of blood is the only thing that can bring about the forgiveness of sins, then it must be a reference to the sacrificial system. Once the Seed came, they stopped.
However, is that the only change? No, actually, there was another temporary change. However, this one is even clearer, and it was necessary even in order to set up the sacrificial system.
Think about it. Sacrifices existed prior to Moses. We know that the shedding of blood looked forward to the time when Christ’s blood would be shed for all. Cain and Abel, or at least Abel, even brought firstfruits. Already there was the notion of what, when and how to sacrifice. How formal was it? We cannot know for sure, but it seems that most if not all of it would have been known. Evidently, Abraham knew more than just the law, for:
Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
~ Ge 26:5
So, what really changed? One change that could have been would have been the formalizing of some of the rituals along with the sacrifices. Certainly, the tabernacle was a change. That doesn’t seem like a very complete answer, though. And, indeed changes are needed to support the tabernacle and later the temple.
Since Abraham obeyed God, then so did Isaac and then Jacob, we see the patriarchal system at work. The patriarchs were the heads of their households. That means they were the government ruling their tribe. They were not just the civil government, either. They were the priests of their tribes, even offering sacrifices!
Later, Israel moved to Egypt and became a great nation within a nation. It was so large that Egypt tried to eradicate them by killing their offspring and working the rest to death. They still had a more or less patriarchal mentality, though. Each tribe had elders within it who ruled, albeit under the Egyptians.
When Moses came out of Egypt, his father-in-law persuaded him to setup a system of judges before Moses wore himself out (Ex 18:13-26). Israel had become too large for patriarchal rule. It needed a civil government.
Later, God consecrated the line of Aaron for the priesthood (Ex 28:1). This is an even more significant change. Prior to Israel going to Egypt, the patriarchs sacrificed to God. Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, who was the High Priest. Hebrews makes it clear that this was Jesus Christ. Therefore, the change in the Law spoken of in Hebrews was a change to the administration of the priesthood. However, when you realize that the Melchizedek priesthood existed prior to Moses, then the change from the Levirate priesthood to Jesus Christ, of the line of Judah, was a change back to the original priesthood!
So, what was combined in one person in the patriarchal period, the civil and religious authority, was now split. Even when a king was later setup, the civil and religious authority was divested into two: the king and the high priest.
So, while it is pretty evident that the formal sacrificial system was added when you compare Gal 3:17-19 and Ac 7:41-42, a change in the priesthood was needed to accommodate that change. After Jesus took back the priesthood, we see the sacrificial system suspended until the Millennium. At the same time, we see a formalizing of the civil government.
Why is it important to recognize this split? It is important because you have to realize what portions of the Law are carried out by individuals, what portions are carried out by the priesthood and what portions are carried out by the civil government.
In other words, I don’t run around stoning adulterers because according to God’s Law, I have to have 2 witnesses to sentence a person to death. Witnesses means a trial. A trial means a judge. Since our civil government fails to keep God’s Law, in either spirit or letter, adulterers go unpunished. The Bible does not give me, an individual, the authority for vigilantism.
The admonition throughout the New Testament is that a Christian is responsible for their area of control. A Christian is not responsible for what the civil government does or does not do, any more than Lot was responsible for what the citizens of Sodom were doing. A Christian can speak out, voice their opinion, etc., but in the end the government will be held accountable for its actions. The fact that we don’t get to choose what nationality we are born into only underscores this.
As a Church, however, we are responsible for carrying out what we know to be correct. If an individual becomes too heretical, the Church is responsible to separate that individual from the rest in order to protect the body (and, hopefully to bring repentance from the individual). If a church becomes too heretical, an individual is in a much harder spot. If continuing means breaking God’s commandments, then it is best to separate and find another organization, if possible. Whether one stays or one goes, a Christian has to be sure they are on a firm foundation (“prove all things”) and then remain steadfast in the truth (“hold fast that which is good”).
Notice what did not change in any of this: The Sabbath (last act of creation), the Holy Days (remember Ge 1:14) nor the food laws (even Noah knew the difference between clean and unclean animals).
So, during the time of Moses, we saw a split in the religious and civil authorities, both exercising control over different portions of the Law. We saw a change in the high priesthood from Melchizedek to Aaron. We will next look to the period of the judges to Jesus, with most of the changes in the civil government, which should provide proof enough for any remaining doubter as to why modern Christians do not have the authority to dictate the OT civil laws.
In the next part, we will look at “The Lie of Dispensationalism, Part 3: The Law from Moses to Jesus“.