Greg Bahnsen`s Response to Fowler`s Critique

P.B. Fowler's Critique of Theonomy
(I will respond to elements of Fowler's paper, identifying them by page number and
paragraph number.)
p. 1 @1: The issue is broader than the Mosaic law, for one must also ask whether
the ethical stipulations found in the poets and prophets are binding today, especially
in light of very common evangelical practice of citing them with authority for present
day believers. Since the poetic and prophetic ethic is rooted in the Mosaic law,
can we today continue to use the former while ridiculing and rejecting the latter?
The issue, then, is the entire Old Testament law, and PBF is skirting a major question
(or else fails to perceive its bearing on his discussion).
Of course all scholars (Reformed or not) agree that the 'moral law" is continuing
in its validity. That thesis is true by definition, for a command is deemed part of
the moral law in virtue of its continuing validity (cf. Larger Catechism -93). The
question is which of the O.T. commands are "moral" in this sense.
The question to be answered cannot be reduced to the particulars of the Mosaic
adninistration"' (by which PBF says he means the ceremonial and judicial laws). The
_ is just as much part of the issue facing Reformed and covenantal theologians
as is the ceremonial or judicial law of Israel. One cannot suppress the fact that
the decalogue is not given in Scripture outside of the context of the Mosaic administration. The moral/judicial/ceremonial distinction is an appropriate and convenient
theological distinction which can summarize our biblical study at the end, but it is
not at all evident exegetically in the text of God's word; nor can it be imposed at
the outset of one's investigation. That would be to beg some very important and
unavoidable questions. PIT will have to present an argument from Scripture that
dismisses the Mosaic law without simultaneously dismissing the decalogue as part
of that Mosaic law. The way he defines the question (looking only at the judicial
and ceremonial laws) skirts the difficult problem facing him and all Reformed
thinkers who ask about the continuity of the O.T. law in the present era. It is not
at all uncommon to take things for granted here, but the things taken for granted are
precisely part of the issue facing us. how can one consistently appeal to the
ten commandments (as Mosaic as anything) and ignore or reject the case laws which
explain and apply those decalogical requirements? Moreover, what would the exegetical
basis be for that discriminating appeal--especially in light of the inductively
ascertained practice of the N.T. writers to appeal indiscriminately to decalogue
and case law alike? PBF's opening paragraph reveals that he has not yet grasped
the difficulty, complexity, and true character of the question before us all.
p. 1 @2: PBF does me a terrible injustice here, misrepresenting what I believe by
means of uncontextual allusion to portions of my book. It is simply not true that
I consider anybody who doubts my thesis "a latent antinomian." The text clearly
identifies a latent antinomian as one who rejects portions of God's revealed law
without scriptural justification (see, e.g., p. 309). Men such as John Murray
would have disagreed with me about the penal sanctions of the O.T. and not at all have
been latent antinomians: the reason is that such men attempted to base their rejection
of that portion of the law on what they considered to be biblical teaching. Not all
theologians--even distinguished ones like Hodge—have sought exegetical justification
for their dismissal of some of God's commandments. When someone presumes to abrogate
God's commandments without God's word for doing so, then he is at least latently
antinomian (even though law-abiding in practice otherwise). PDF has misconstrued
what is said in my book, thereby prejudicing his readers against it. What is
distressing to me is that this error was publicly corrected at a meeting where
PBF was present in July, 1978. He should know better now than to say that I call
everyone who disagrees with my thesis a latent antinomian: it simply is not true,
as he has already been told. Thus his apparent sensativity to this descriptive
label is overdone. Likewise, it is irresponsible to portray me as holding that
anyone who does not strive to live by the details of the Mosaic law--judicial and
ceremonial law according to PBF's usage--has rejected Christ's Lordship. Regarding
the ceremonial law, I clearly say that its outward observation in O.T. manner is
irrelevant after Christ's work and opposed to Christian faith (pp. 212-213). And
with respect to the judicial law of !loses, one can obviously misread the teaching
of Scripture regarding its continuing validity and not thereby reject Christ as
Lord! To portray me as thinking that genuine Christians are infallible is to set
up a straw-man for easy dismantling. The quotation given in footnote 3 does not
substantiate anything like that. It comes from a chapter which summarizes the
findings of previous inductive studies in Cod's word, among which studies we learned
that true knowledge of Christ and love for Him call for a willingness to obey
whatsoever He has commanded, and that included the keeningof even the least command from the O.T. law. No Christian should have trouble with such a remark, for
a disobedient spirit that does not acknowledge that Christ's claims take precedence
over all else is in fact out of accord with a biblical understanding of submission
to the Savior. We may not agree as to whether Christ-teaches us to obey every jot
and tittle of the O.T. law, but ought not to disagree that following Christ calls
for full obedience to the Master. The quotation, even in its summary form, says
that true believers will aim at full obedience to the whole law of Cod as revealed
in God's word. If PBF is confident that, as revealed in God's word, some portion
of the law need not be outwardly observed today, he still should not disagree that
the whole (continuing) requirement of God is the goal of Christian living. His
sensativity to my remark manifests either a distortion of what I say (and its
previous, extensive elaboration from God's word) or a disaffection with some of
the strong teachings of Scripture at this point (e.g., I John 2:4: Heb. 5:9;
Prov. 23:9; John 15:14).
In footnote 3 on page 1 PBF correctly says that the term "theonomy" is not
exclusively the vocabulary of my school of thought. Every believer has some
explicit or implicit doctrine regarding "God's law," and thus there can be many
uses of the term. My book is entitled, not simply Theonomy as rendered by PBF,
but Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Its announced purpose is to examine the place
of God's law within the sphere of Christian ethics--a subject on which there is
much disagreement among Christians. The common association of the word "theonomy"
with my thought is a natural development, but is nothing for which I have any zeal.
Also in footnote 3 PBF groups together Hodge, Calvin, and Ridderbos in a
supposed common view of God's law, but that is hardly accurate. Hodge and Ridderbos
would strongly disagree with Calvin's views (especially on freedom of religion,
the execution of blasphemers like Servetus, etc.), and they would have disagreed
with each other on other important points of theology regarding the law. Moreover,
even if there were a common doctrine among these theologians on the difficult
questions about God's law today, it is mistakenly self-serving for PBF to designate
this (supposed) consensus as the "Reformational" view of the law over against me.
For better or for worse, the historical fact remains that Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger,
Knox and others were much closer to my own theonomic perspective regarding the
civil use of the Mosaic law than to either Hodge or Ridderbos. The Reformers argued
from the Mosaic extradecalogical commands as though they were currently applicable:
they also lived in terms of them (e.g. recommending death for adulterers, etc.).
Hodge and Ridderbos would have great qualms about such things, but I would not.
They might be right in the long run, but they are departing from the Reformational
and Puritan past.
Finally, an equivocation that is lurking within footnote 3 should be noted,
lest later discussion he confused and misleading. Previously PBF had spoken of
my commitment to the full "details" of the Mosaic law, refering thereby to the
"particulars of the Mosaic Administration," which in turn he specified as the
judicial laws of Israel. Such a detail or judicial law would be, "You shall not
tempt the Lord your God" (Deut, 6:16), and the question is whether such a command
is binding in the N.T. (which it obviously is: Matt. 4:7). However in the footnote
PBF now speaks of the "details of the judicial law"--not simply the detailed laws
themselves (particulars of the 'Mosaic Administration). A detail of a judicial law
would be, for example, the mention of an ox in "You shall not muzzle the ox when
he treads" (Deut. 25:4). If the question is whether such a "detail" as this is
the binding content of the law in the N.T., then the answer is "Not necessarily"
(cf. I Cor. 9:9). By speaking of legal "details" in these two different ways-details which are judicial laws and details of judicial laws--PBF has introduced
a crucial ambiguity into his discussion. Moreover, this ambiguity leaves the
cautious reader wondering just exactly what I mean now in saying that the Mosaic
is binding "in exhaustive detail." Do I argue in favor of the detailed laws,
thereby upholding the principle that the Lord is not to be tempted and the principle
that workers are worthy of support, or do I argue for cultural details to be
re-enacted, such as oxen treading out our grain? It makes quite a difference!
We have not gotten beyond the first page of PBF's critique, and we already
have serious reason to doubt the value of his discussion. He has skirted the
basic, difficult issues: he has misconstrued the question before him, equivocated
on key terms, misrepresented other writers such as Calvin and myself, and left
the sober reader wondering just exactly what the viewpoint is that he is opposing
(and thus what the viewpoint is that he is proposing to defend also). Such a
weak beginning lays little or no foundation for later reasoning and argumentation.-p. 2 ,11: There is little noteworthy in this paragraph, but perhaps it would be
well to observe two things in passing. First, PBF does not set out to demonstrate
that my exegesis of Matt. 5:17-20 is mistaken or wrong, but only that it is
"tenuous." That is, he seems to excuse himself from the outset, implicitly admitting
that he cannot disprove my thesis: his meager aim is to cast doubt upon the support
I offer for the thesis, thereby leaving himself free to disbelieve it. Yet the
thesis (and supporting exegesis) is not overthrown or refuted--a task that would
far more be worth PBF's effort and our reading. Second, PBF claims to summarize
"the basic reformed Biblical Theological approach" to the covenants. The implicit
assumption of a single, reformed school of thought here is pretentious and unhistorical
Moreover, the presumption that "Biblical Theology" is a specific and well-defined
discipline (such that there could be the reformed "Biblical Theology") is equally
as fault-ridden. The term "Biblical Theology" dates from 18th century. German
pietism. In the context of the Enlightenment, those who did "Biblical Theology"
had discovered the "historical" character of the Bible and used it as a battering
ram against orthodoxy. One cannot properly understand Biblical Theology without
noting that it has traditionally been understood in terms of the historical-critical
method; especially has it been a label for the pursuit of internal conflicts within
the Biblical material. Kuyper forthrightly rejected Biblical Theology as a tool of
unbelieving scholarship, used to undercut the divine origin and unity of Scripture,
and as a supporting device for rationalistic religion. Only the coming of Vos to
Princeton's new chair of Biblical Theology opened up for conservative Calvinists
the possibility of a reworked kind of Biblical Theology. The Biblical Theology
movement does not date any earlier than the 1933's, when it was still widely caught
in liberal categories of thought and an existential methodology. Since the 1960's
"Biblical theologians" have come under severe scholarly attack, and the field has
splintered more and more; perhaps one unifying feature has been the use of source
criticism to completely wither any vestiges of biblical authority. Conservatives
must, in all candor, be said to have done little better with "Biblical Theology"
as a discipline. As already indicated, only recently has B.T. been accepted as
an approach to the Scripture. Yet definitional and methodological problems have
remained unresolved from the outset. The honorific and proud use of the terminology
of "Biblical Theology" has been wide, yet thoroughly obscure. What is the subject
matter of "Reformed" B.T.? The history of the covenant, of special revelation, of
redemption, of true religion, all of the above, none of the above, or just what?
What kind(s) of relationships are involved in the "progress" of this history? How
is the common "organic" metaphor to he explicated for precise purposes? What method
does "Reformed" B.T. utilize? Structural, diachronic, lexicographical, thematic,
a mixture of these, none of these, or just what? What are the kinds of evidence
and argument which are determinative for "Reformed" B.T.? Why do debates between
schools of B.T. appear so fruitless and unresolvable? If objectivity in the sense
of a community of method among inquirers into a specifiable subject matter is a
necessary condition of that inquiry constituting a science (which I firmly believe),
then the much touted "Biblical Theology" of many is no science at all! (This is
a fundamental critique of the ostentatious and self-serving claim of some people
to be doing "Biblical Theology"--not by any means a rejection of certain concerns,
say, for the distinctiveness of revelatory periods or persons, the history of
God's work of redemption, etc.) What Dr. Fowler will later give his reader is
not at all "the reformed Biblical. Theology," but only Dr. Fowler's Biblical Theology.
Whether that theology is strictly biblical or reformed is for every individual
to judge, and every individual can,whether or not he has been initiated into the
murky proceedings of "Biblical Theology." You need only compare what you are
told with the word of God itself, totally apart from the "priestly" direction of
the theologians.
p. 4 @ 3: PBF is perceptive and accurate to note that the development of my book
revolves around the foundational chapter dealing with Matthew 5:17-19; the book
has a purposeful cohesion. (It is the book, by the way, and not the "thesis,"
that revolves around this text.) PBF is, nevertheless, mistaken to confuse the
stylistic structure of the book with the argumentative structure of my thought
here. Contrary to PBF's apparent suggestion, my thesis does not stand or fall
with the interpretation of this one text. I do not for a moment wish to communicate
doubt about my interpretation of that text, but neither should it be thought that
such a text--relevant and important as it undoubtedly is--constitutes the sole ground
for the convictions and conclusions I set forth in the book. My thesis would not
really become "suspect" (as PBF says) merely by casting doubt on aspects of my
interpretation of it, and that is because my interpretation is not"crucial" to
the book's thesis (as PBF says, p. 5 n1). I feel that Matthew 5:17-19 is the
clearest biblical expression of my theological thesis, and I have utilized it as
the starting point and cohesive factor in the writing of my book. However the
thesis can clearly be established on many other grounds. Indeed, my book argues
the point on many other grounds which PBF overlooks completely--theieby short-cutting
the work of his critique, failing to deal With substantial issues, and greatly
diminishing the significance of his discussion for us. I believe that Christians
have a detailed obligation to the full word of God--including His ethical commands-in the Old Testament. I believe that Jesus said as much in Matthew 5:17-19, but
even if He did not say that there, my thesis is supported theologically and
inductively (from particular scriptural passages) by: (1) the unchanging moral
character of God in chapter 5, (2) the exemplarly behavior of God's Son in chap. 6,
(3) the work of the sanctifying Spirit in chap. 7, (4) the continuity of the covenants
in chap. 8, (5) the biblical conception of faith and love in chap. 11, (6) the
use of the law in New Testament practice in chap. 12, (7) the apologetical results
of metaethics in chap. 14, (3) the pointed illustration of civil ethics in chapters
16-22, and (9) the promised benefits of the law in chap. 24. Each one of these
arguments separately establishes my thesis and leaves a heavy burden of proof_ on
any opponent to demonstrate from Scripture that some element of God's law can be
ignored or disobeyed today. My argument is many-faceted, thoroughly reinforced
at many levels, and by no means dependent completely on the direct teaching of
Matthew 5:17-19. By reducing everything to that text, PBF makes his job much
too easy and ineffective. He has at least nine other lines of proof to surmount,
which I do not believe he can do and retain both consistency and Reformed doctrine
Matthew 5:17-19 is the locus classicus pertaining to Jesus and the law, but it is
not logically the indispensable locus of argument in my book.
As indicated above, however, I am not willing to relinquish Matthew 5:17-19
as one of the biblical supports for my thesis. I believe that my general interpretation of the passage is sound and defensible, even if there be "flaws" at
particular points which (as PBF says) "need to be pointed out." What I have said
about this passage in God's word has not been difficult for a host of others to
see as well. Apart from differences of opinion on specific exegetical matters,
everyone should be able to discern that Jesus emphatically dismisses the idea
that His coming has the effect of abrogating the Old Testament commandments. In
vv. 13-16 He speaks of doing good works; naturally a Jewish listener would understand
the O.T. law to be God's standard of such good works or righteous living. In v. 17
Jesus denies abrogating that standard. In v. 18 He asserts the permanence of that
standard. In v. 19 He makes it clear that His pointed interest is in the O.T.
commandments--even the least of them. Writers from many different times and with
greatly differing theologies have been able to see the thrust of Christ's teaching
here as being the confirmation of the law. Theonomy contends that Jesus did not
relax the validity of the U.T. law but rather confirmed and restored the full
measure, intent, and purpose of it (e.g., p. 64). Despite their detailed
differences, personal inconsistencies, or qualifying remarks, a large host of
scholars have found the same thrust in Matthew 5:17-19. Long ago Calvin said
that here Jesus confirmed and ratified the former covenant (Harmony,
oes p. 277)
so that nothing is taken away from God's inviolable law (Institutes 2:7:14). In
1645 Bolton, a Westminster divine, said that this passage fully and plainly speaks
for the continuance of, and our obligation to, the law; rather than abrogating the
law here, Christ strengthened and confirmed it (True Bounds of Christian Freedom,
pp. 61,62). In 1864 Plumer said of the same passage that in it nothing is said
to depreciate, supercede, or contradict the law: instead, Christ came to establish
the whole will of God as the law and prophets especially enforced it (The Law of
God, pp. 82,84,36,92-93). Fairbairn held that in these verses Christ substantiates
the law, standing in a friendly and by no means subversive relation to it because
there is no antagonism between the new and old order, anyone who does not discern
and appreciate the righteousness embodied in the smaller things of the law is out
of accord with the new economy, he said (The Revelation of Law in Scripture, pp.
223-225). With respect to this passage Bevan saw that Jesus gives the law its
proper exposition rather than giving new laws or a better way of holiness (The
Moral Law, pp. 70-71). According to Warfield, in Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus asserts
that the law in its smallest details remains in undiminished authority so long
as the world lasts ("Jesus' Mission According to His Own Testimony," Princeton
Theological Review XIII, 1915, p. 553). Carl Henry found the "eternal oneness
of the law" presented in this passage (Christian Personal Ethics, p. 310).
Such views of the general thrust of Matthew 5:17-19 are not restricted to
these respected and biblically astute theologians from the past to the present.
Many commentators have said as much also. Among those who explicitly say of this
passage that Jesus confirms the trite demand of the O.T. law instead of abolishing
it can be found George Campbell, David Brown, Charles Spurgeon, Hans Windisch,
W.C. Allen, Herman Ridderbos, and John Murray. J.A. Alexander said in commentary
on these verses that the Messianic age does not mean a change of moral principles,
for Christ teaches the immutability of God's law without the least subtraction
from it (Gospel Acc. to Matthew, pp. 125,128-129). Christ insists that He is in
no way contradicting the Mosaic law, said R.V.G. Tasker (Gospel Acc. to St. Matthew,
p. 64). He demonstrates a zeal for the commandments, great and small (A.B. Bruce,
Expositor's Greek Testament I, p. 104), not at all attempting to undo the revelation
of His Father's will (Plummer, Gospel Acc. to Matthew, p. 76) or to detract from
the obligations of the law (Lange, Gospel Acc. to Matthew, p. 110). According to
Lloyd-Jones, what Christ teaches is in absolute harmony with the entire ethical
content of the 0.T.; God's law is presented by Christ as absolute and eternal,
for it can never be changed or even modified to the slightest extent (Sermon on
the Mount, pp. 181,185,186). The covenantal scholar, Kendriksen, observes in
Matthew 5:17-19 that kingdom righteousness is in full accord with the moral
principles enunciated in the Old Testament, nothing being annulled or cancelled
iel_of Matthew, pp. 288,292)--even as the dispensational scholar, Gaehelein,
finds in the passage "the confirmation of the law" (Gospel of Matthew, p. 120).
The passage exemplifies the central theme of Judaism--viz., the inexorable nature
of the law of God--said Jeremias (Sermon on the Mount, p. 4), and Ridderbos notes
that Jesus did not destroy the law but made plain its full demand (Matthew's Witness
to Jesus Christ, p. 32). Thus both older and contemporary, German and American,
covenantal and dispensational, critical and conservative scholars have agreed with
Theonomv's main concern and its view of the general thrust of Jesus' teaching in
Matthew 5:17-19. That thrust is understood by theologians and commentators alike.
I am not claiming, of course, that a list of authorities renders my view correct,
much less that each author cited is in complete agreement with my treatment of the
text. That is not important here. The point is that this general consensus that
Jesus upholds rather than abrogates the full Old Testament law--regardless of how
different authors respond to, qualify, or apply that general observation--is precisely
(and most consistently) supportive of the thesis of theonomic ethics. One need not
argue over every exegetical detail. The basic sense of the text cannot be missed
(or at least not easily, without strong preconceptions). However one treats each
particular in these verses, the thrust of the passage's teaching leaves a tremendous
and unavoidable burden of proof on any Christian who desires to shave away or nullify
portions and details of the Old Testament law. Christ fully upheld the law, and
He made no qualification about it--every jot and tittle, and even the least of the
commandments, in the Old Testament was the object of His concern. What right or
justification do we have to detract from the standard of the Lord? Minimally, my
treatment of Matthew 5:17-19 advances that argument and challenge. If Christ does
not abrogate the O.T. commands, and if He does not restrict our obligation to a
portion of them (indeed, a very small portion of them such as the decalogue), then
we must assume the validity of them all.
Most recently (1973) there have been further, diverse indications from scholars
that in Matthew 5:17-19 we do not find a detraction from the O.T. law but rather a
substantiation of its authority. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount,
John R. Stott says of this passage that Christ's purpose was not to change the law
or to annul it, but to declare its radical demands; the enduring validity and
permanently binding nature of the O.T. commandments is set forth here (Christian
Counter-Culture, pp. 72,73,74).- A Catholic, New Testament schOlar with a critical
view of Scripture, G.S. Sloyan, has written a challenging book entitled, Is Christ
the End of the Law? (published by the less than orthodox Westminster Press). In
the passage of concern to us he finds a rabbinic axiom about utter fidelity to the
law--as the law is ultimately exposited and truly interpreted by Christ (p. 49);
the prescriptions of the Mosaic law, he says, are assumed here to be true and are
upheld, such that nothing of the law is to pass and it is to be kept with perfect
obedience (pp. 50,51,52). In the same year an evangelical press (InterVarsity)
published a collection of essays on morality and law, among which we find the
relevant observation that in Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus was not at odds with the Torah
but upheld and strengthened the law; instead of abolishing it, He gave the law
its full meaning and (prima facie anyway) inculcated obedience to the smallest
commandment in the law (Robin Nixon, "Fulfilling the Law," in Law, Morality and
the Bible, pp. 56-57). During the same time R.D. Congdon published an article,
1 Did Jesus Sustain the Law in Matthew 5?," in Bibliotheca Sacra (vol. 35); his
dispensationally oriented conclusion was that Jesus confirmed the O.T. legal
injunctions instead of abrogating them--for the Jewish people living before
Calvary (p. 125). Again, whether covenantal or dispensational, critical or
evangelical, scholars continue to find the relevant and theologically important
thrust of this passage to be supportive of the O.T. law. As such, the main
challenge of my chapter on this passage continues to be forceful. Since Jesus
unqualifiedly validates the commandments of the Old Testament, how can believers
excuse themselves from the detailed demands of the law? Nowi scholarssuch as
Sloyan and Congdon had little difficulty perceiving the strong support Jesus
gives the O.T. law in Matthew 5:17-19. Troublesome or disliked sections of that
law, nevertheless, do not become a problem for them due to their particular theological
sympathies. Having a critical view of biblical authority, Sloyan can recognize
the demand for utter fidelity to the law in Matthew 5:17-19 and still dismiss it
as unauthoritative. Having a dispensational view of the Bible, Congdon can recognize
the confirmation of the law in Matthew 5 and still dismiss it as pertaining to
the Jewish people prior to Calvary. Things are not so simple, however, for Dr.
Fowler if he does not wish to view sections of the O.T. law as binding today.
He believes in full biblical authority, and he is not a dispensationalist. Consequently, his only alternative is to make an effort by exegetical discussion to
alter the prima facie thrust of the text itself. Contrary to what so many people
and scholars find apparent in the text, PBF must strive to show that Jesus does
exempt us (in some fashion) from observing the full law of God today. PBF must
find some reason why the "details" of the O.T. law are not obligatory (even though
the general principles of the decalogue are). I for one do not find his attempt
cogent or convincing overall, and in that case he would not even have deprived
Theonony of one of its numerous lines of argument in support of the full validity
of God's law today. Although I have no jealousy for each particular element of
my treatment of this text, it does not seem that PBF's case against my view of
Matthew 5:17-19 is either telling or significant for refuting my ethical point of
view. I am still willing to defend the basic exegesis of the passage, and PBF's
criticisms do not overthrow the argumentative confirmation this passage gives to
theonomic ethics. He has not found an adequate way to escape the prima facie
thrust of the passage, thereby leaving us good° reason to think that every command
of the
Ar Old Testament is profitable for our instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
andAa word from Cod by which we should live (Matt. 4:4).
p. 6 top: PBF's remark that Jesus refers to the entire O.T. corpus and not simply
the Mosaic law in Matt. 5:17 is correct. See Theonomy, pp. 4R-5I (e.g., "Jesus
phrases His teaching in such a way as to embrace the entire canon of the Older
Testament," p. 49). This fact does not detract from the ethical focus of the
entire pericope however (e.g., good works in v. 16, the legislative character of
"abrogate" in v. 17, the specific mention of the law in v. 18, the application to
the commandments in v. 19, the issue of righteousness in v. 20, and the illustrations
from perversions of the O.T. laws in vv. 21-48). Hendriksen notes well the
paramount interest of Jesus in the ethical directions of the entire O.T. according
to this passage: "It was his aim that in the lives of his true followers the
spiritual requirement of the Old. Testament would receive its due, that is, that
in these lives the vessel of the law's (hence also of the prophets') demand would
become filled to the brim" (p. 289).
p. 6 @1: Again, PBF's remark that Matthew 5:17 serves to clarify Jesus' mission
is correct. Cf. Theonomy, p. 52: the verse expresses "the purpose of Christ's
coming with respect to the law." If we consider the context and semantics of
the verse, we should not overlook that Jesus is clarifying His own stand vis-a-vis
the law of the Old Testament--not initiating a programmatic or systematic overview
of His mission on earth. Many other ways of expressing His mission or many other
facets of it are not touched upon here (e.g., Mark 10:45). Christ's specific
interest is to state what His coming as the Messiah means with respect to the law's
validity during the Messianic age (i.e., between His coming and the passing away
of heaven and earth). "Here our Lord introduces this whole question of the
righteousness and the righteous life which are to characterize the Christian,"
and to do so He first "deals with this specific matter of His relationship to
the law and to the prophets" (Lloyd-Jones, pp. 180,184). As before, we should
not lose sight of the focus and purpose of Jesus' words.
p. 6 @2: There may be various difficulties in interpreting this verse as it is
considered from different angles, and indeed the understanding one has of "fulfill"
is among them (Theonomy deals with six main alternatives, expressed by a wide
range of interpreters!). However PBF's remark may give the impression that, with
respect to the question before us and the focus of the passage, the difficulty of
translating plarosai is determinative. That would be incorrect, for Jesus does
make very plain what His relationship to the standing O.T. law is--even if we
struggle somewhat to understand the exact sense of "fulfill." Indeed, for present
purposes (viz., finding out what authority the O.T. law has in the N.T. era) we
could forego a complete exposition of the verse and table whatever difficulties
attend the word "fulfill." Whatever sense one wishes to attribute to the word,
it cannot have the function of expressing abrogation of the law. The emphasis of
the verse lies on Christ's twice denyinE in categorical terms that His coming
abrogates the O.T. law. This point sufficiently establishes what is central to
the theonomic position--totally apart from arguments over "fulfill." The O.T.
law is still valid today and cannot be dismissed as a bygone standard of morality
because Jesus emphatically states that He does not abrogate that law. I wish to
go on and respond to PBF's treatment of my interpretation of "fulfill," but the
matter is secondary; and it does not bear directly on the basic theonomic thesis.
The verse may not be made self-contradictory, and Jesus says "I came not to abrogate."
When PBF comes to portraying my own treatment of plarosai, two things should
be noted. First, I would be perfectly happy simply to translate the word as
"fulfill." I feel that I understand that translation, especially in its context,
and such a translation would have the benefit of unifying the various uses of
the underlying Greek word as it appears in English translation. The problem is
that the English use of that word in this particular place is prone to ambiguity,
divergent opinions (some quite creative), and misunderstanding. The effort to go
beyond "fulfill" and to give the Greek original a more specific sense is thus
appropriate. "It is not obvious at first sight what Christ means by 'fulfilling
the Law" (Plummer, p. 76). "Christ protests that He came not as an abrogator,
but as a fulfiller. What role does He thereby claim?" (A.B. Bruce, p. 104). In
order to make clear the precise sense intended by plarosai and to indicate the
role of Jesus in "fulfilling" the law, my book investigates the matter further.
Second, when PBF portrays my view of the intended sense of "fulfill," he hardly
does it justice. While "confirming" the law is suitable enough as an undetailed
shorthand for my view, it hardly does the job of conveying a full impression of
what I contend. The first introduction of my suggested alternative already
indicated that the word would have the sense of "confirms and restores" (p. 53).
When I begin my discussion of this alternative I say, "Jesus says in Matthew 5:17
that He came to confirm and restore the full measure, intent, and purpose of the
Older Testamental law" (p. 64). On the same page I straightforwardly state
that the Greek verb "should be taken to mean 'confirm and restore in full measure.'"
Because of the distortion of the law at the hand of the Pharisees and scribes,
Jesus confirmed the full measure of the law's demand over against them. Thus
I say that the sense of "fulfill" is "to make plain (the law's) full demand, true
content, and purpose in contrast to the Jewish interpreters; such was the effect
of Christ's confirmation of the Older Testament law" (p. 72). PBF does not convey
this view to his reader and to that extent fails to give an adequate portrayal of
his opponent's perspective. I for one feel that it sheds important light on the
verse to see that Jesus not only supports the validity of the law (confirms it),
but gives the law its proper and complete understanding (confirms it in full measure).
Or to put it another way, Jesus "fulfills" the law.
On p. 7 (top) PBF claims that by translating plarosai as "confirm," I
seek to establish "the Scriptural foundation" for my thesis. I can quickly
respond by simply noting what has already been observed above: (1) my thesis
does not rest on the single support of this passage; (2) the general thrust of
this passage as supporting the authority of the O.T. law is not at all unique
to me, and it is this thrust which sufficiently supports my thesis; and (3) the
clear and emphatic element of Matthew 5:17 which substantiates my central point
is that Jesus by no means abrogates the standing law of the O.T., thereby allowing
that law to retain its moral validity for us today. Therefore, PBF's attempt to
reduce my argument to a debate over the precise translation of plarosai is both
inaccurate and ineffective as a method of critique. Nevertheless, as insignificant
as the discussion is theologically, I would still defend my treatment of this
single Greek verb.
p. 7 @2: PBF begins his narrow critique by wishing to discuss "nuances" for the
verb simply translated "fulfill." I really do not know whether I should stop to
make the following observations or not, but because PBF has previously shown a.
misconception of what is transpiring in the scholarly debate regarding theonomy
(skirting the difficult questions, resting on ambiguity, misconstruing matters
of argument, etc.) I am not sure just how much stock he is placing in his concern
for "nuances" as he criticizes my interpretive handling of the Greek verb in question.
He may not mean anything important by this at all, or he may think something particular is gained by discussing matters in such terms. You see, his stated aim is to
criticize my translation of plarosai, and it would be helpful to know if he is
aware of the issues at stake in argumentation over translations (in general). For
instance, is he aware of the difference between lexical and precising definitions?
Is he familiar with treatment of various kinds of meaning, in particular sense
and reference? Does he distinguish between the understanding of connotation in
literary study and philosophy of language? How does he react to various debates
pertaining to continuity, discontinuity, sameness, difference, relation, subordination, part and whole with respect to the sense (intension) of words? What
doctrine of synonymity does he subscribe to? How do such questions bear on
parallel concerns regarding the referential meaning of words? A host of other
issues come to mind: sign/interpretant, type/token, illocution/perlecution,
expression/designation, behavioral meaning, regimentation of translation,
functional equivalence in the target language, etc. etc. in general, I am not
certain whether Dr. Fowler is prepared to argue matters of translation in such
terms or whether he perceives their significance in his discussion. But they
do affect his method of argumentation (e.g., is it at all crucial to appeal to
a single, conventional lexical authority? After all, on what basis do the authors
of a lexicon gloss a translational sense for a word? Should not that be the
basis of argumentation rather than appeal to such authors themselves?) and one's
evaluation of the importance of his remarks (e.g., do alternative translations for
the verb in question cancel, contradict, supplement, or implicitly contain the sense
against which he argues?). I am led to ponder such matters here because of Dr.
Fowler's interest in "nuances" for a word, Just what does he have in mind here?
"Nuances" are not a precise matter of general discussion in linguistic science or
philosophy of language, so we stop to wonder what PBF's "nuances" correspond to
in technical study. Even more generally, "nuances" (etymologically: shades of
color) deal with subtle distinctions. In arguing about the sense to be properly
given to "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17, is PBF really only touching on something he
deems a subtle shade of difference? What logical relations hold between a word's
nuances for him? I really cannot tell whether such remarks and observations are
beside the point in dealing with PBF's work (since he does not intend his argumentation
to be a matter of technical scholarship) or whether he is attempting to demonstrate
something significant (yet with an unconventional and as yet unclear set of categories,
functions and terms).
PBF says that one should be made wary of my treatment of p,larosai because the
"nuance" I suggest is not listed in Arndt and Gingrich. Is that seriously intended
as an argument against me? What does PBF think Arndt and Gingrich have done in
their book? Laid down absolute prescriptions or exhaustive descriptions of how
Greek words are translated? Since Dr. Fowler's doctorate is in N.T. studies I
hesitate to pin such a mistaken conception on him, but since he proposes to argue
in this fashion from a Greek lexicon (and a single one at that) I cannot easily
dismiss the possibility either. Lexicographers write (essentially) history books,
the history of how some words have functioned. Lexicographers are fallible historians
who use particular lines of evidence to determine what they think foreign words have
meant (note that lexical entries for the same foreign word vary and change from one
lexicon to another). Not all such fallible historians have the same goals, audiences,
or degree of specificity in mind when they author their lexicons, moreover. When PBF
chooses to debate a translational matter with me, he forces us to think and perform
and reason like other lexicographers would do (even though we have not written
systematic works covering wide ground like the others have). The principles and
procedures by which lexicographers make their entries are the principles and procedures which determine the outcome of the argument between PBF and myself--just
as they direct the arguments between the lexicographers generally. Appeal to one
of these other authors or lexicons is not telling at all: it only brings one more
person (or book) into the debate--it cannot settle the debate. As good as Arndt
and Gingrich are, they (and Bauer before them) do not aim to exhaust all possibilities,
do not achieve the degree of detail sought by others, and do not pretend to be
infallible: they have been known (by their own admission, and by comparing their
results with the work of other N.T. scholars) to leave out matters from their
particular history book of N.T. Greek words. PBF's appeal to Arndt and Gingrich
does nothing to invalidate or cast suspicion upon my detailed and specific suggestion
of a sense for the relevant Greek verb in the particular setting with which we are
concerned. This is not the way in which a translational dispute is settled.
The far less important (but perhaps more embarrassing) point to be made here
is that, even if it should be appropriate to argue on PBF's own grounds, he has
not read his authority very cautiously. He attempts to prejudice his reader against
the way I take "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17 by saying: "it may be noted that Arndt
and Gingrich, the major New Testament Greek dictionary..., does not even list 'to
confirm' a possible nuance. This should make one wary of such a translation
from the start" (p. 7). Not only is PBF's methodology faulty here, but his claim
that "to confirm" is not even listed by Arndt and Gingrich is simply incorrect. On
p. 677, column b (toward the bottom) of Arndt and Gingrich's lexicon, one will find
"confirm" entered and italized as one possible sense for the verb in question--and
that sense is listed precisely under A&G's discussion of the use of this verb in
Matthew 5:17! If we were to put as much stock in Dr. Fowler's appeal to A&G as he
apparently does, then the argument between us on the incidental point of how to
translate plarosai should now be over. PBF may be predisposed against my treatment
of this word from the outset, but the reason for that is not to be found in the fact
that his favorite lexicon fails to mention my view as a relevant possibility.
p. 8: Again, PBF is simply wrong to hold that I offer a classification of various
scholars according to alternative interpretations of "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17. It
is interpretations that are classified, not authors; those interpretations are not
followed by a categorizing of scholars (which would be an irrelevant task anyway)-as PBF suggests in saying "Various scholars are then classified...." Rather, the
key possibilities for interpretation are illustrated by footnote references to works
in which that possibility is mentioned or advanced (as the reader is clearly told
by the use of the conventional "E.g."--"for example"--before citing these works in
each footnote). Nothing at all is said or implied, moreover, to give the impression
that "each of these men fits only" under the specific interpretation or sense that
he is said to illustrate. That various authors have "more complex" views than the
particular sense for which they are cited is irrelevant (indeed, it is their own
problem that they indefensibly try to make the word mean more than one thing in
a single place!). I do not indicate otherwise or even take a position on such a
matter. The fact remains that these authors do illustrate at least the specific
sense for which I cite them, all further "complexity" (and problems) aside. Thus
PBF's strained attempt to make me out to be "creating straw men which are easy
prey" is a scholarly faux pas. Whatever problems exist here are completely of
his own making and imposition. Besides, this section of my book is not at all
a critique of men (point by point dealing with their written material as such,
in the way I am replying to PBF's paper here) but of distinct ideas (which come
to expression in various ways and combinations perhaps in relevant books). No
straw-men have been created or are even needed here. (PBF seems especially concerned
that Lloyd-Jones' complexity is denied by me, even though it obviously is not: p.63 n74.
p. 9 @1: I cannot find that PBF has offered any reason whatsoever to hold that
my classification of various possible senses for plarosai is either "illegitimate"
or improperly "pre-determined." I have simply listed distinct ideas of what the
pointed sense of "fulfill" is in Matthew 5:17; without separating such suggested
senses for individual attention, one's discussion would quickly lapse into confusion
and ambiguity. These suggested senses were not pre-determined (how would one
guess in advance what relevant ideas will appear in the literature on this verse?).
Nor is it illegitimate to evaluate each distinguishable sense on its own merits.
PBF says that I should have listed the various possibilities "in an ascending
scale of plausihility." It is unclear why I should be bound to do things according
to PBF's preferred style, but more to the point I would simply respond that I did
list my alternatives in this fashion. The first one (viz., to put an end to the
law) is the very least plausible suggestion; the last one (viz., to confirm and
restore the law) is the best suggestion, I believe, and the second to last one
(viz., to enforce the law in his followers) is the next best suggestion, etc.
But so what?..._.. PBF says further that what I should have done is to deal
individually with scholars who have contributed to the discussion. Well, I
surely should not have done that, unless I was writing a completely different
kind of book. I am interested in the thought of the passage and its application
to the topic of Christian ethics, not in a survey of personal opinions. In
analyzing and discussing the various ways in which a passage can he taken, it
is far more important to cover the alternative ideas that may be associated with
it than to go through an irrelevant list of authors who may have talked about
those ideas. Doing firsthand analysis in the original subject is a higher priority
than sifting through the secondary sources in print, for in the end my responsibility
is to consider and present what Scripture says about ethics--not what others have
said about Scripture here.
In footnote 22 PBF engages in another speculative and fruitless attempt to
find some "impression" I am communicating by my simple listing of alternative
senses for "fulfill" and footnoting illustrations of that sense being appealed
to by some author(s). lie claims that my approach portrays the whole evangelical
and reformed world as hopelessly divided into five irreconcilable approaches to
"fulfill." Well, I have nothing so grandiose in mind at all! I simply offer some
illustrations in a few footnotes. How does PBF fihd in that conventional practice
an attempt to cover "the whole evangelical/reformed world"? Further, isn't his
reasoning a bit fallacious to move from the fact that certain senses for a word
are distinguishable to the claim that the Christian world is hopelessly divided?
Why would the division be a hopeless one anyway? And where does he get the idea
that the approaches to "fulfill" which I set forth ate all "irreconcilable"?
(In point of fact, I explicitly indicate in my book that various distinguishable
senses for translating the word are compatible: see pp. 59 n.67, 63-64.) As
before, one gets the impression that Dr. Fowler is really stretching matters a
bit in order to find a point to make.
p. 9 @2: PBF claims that I do "not even mention the most prominent use of" the
verb "fulfill" in Matthew's gospel—namely, of fulfilled prophetic promise. Once
again, though, he is not at all accurate in his reading. I most certainly do
mention and discuss this use of the verb--on pp. 68-69 of my book. Moreover,
the very list of illustrations of this usage which PBF footnotes is also footnoted
by myself when I take up this matter (see footnote 84, p. 69)! As these obvious
mistakes continue to come before us--mistakes which a mere cautious reading of
Arndt and Gingrich or my own book could prevent--we lose further confidence in
PBF's discussion. Even a predisposed, hostile dispensational scholar would be
able to avoid these kinds of error in dealing with my book. Of the three major
points PBF has endeavored to bring against my treatment of "fulfill" thus far,
two rest on patent oversights in reading; the other one was a strained misreading
of my book. As uncomfortable and awkward as it is to do so, I really must request
A more responsible manner of treatment from Dr. Fowler; his reader's time, if
nothing else, is not profitably used in reading a study subject to these obvious
kind of corrections. (Another example--though less emphasized by PBF--is found
in his footnote 23, where he claims that my study does not consider Matt. 3:15.
Yet the sense of that verse is in fact acknowledged by me on p. 60; cf. p. 150.)
p. 10 @1: In the section of PBF's critique which begins here he attempts to
indict me for transgressing "the proper method for doing a word study" (p. 12 @1).
He emphatically declares, "This method defies all the rules for doing word studies!"
(g. U. @I). But to be accurate and fair, we really must inquire as to whose
method and whose rules for word studies Dr. Fowler is following--his own? a former
teacher's? Which school of thought does he endorse--Kittel's? Barr's? etc. There
is no more a single proper method of word-study with a well defined set of absolute
rules than there is a single school of Biblical Theology (recall the discussion
above). PBF escalates his own outlook and priorities into "the proper rules" for
word-study which no scholar dare violate. But until he can show why his own procedure and emphases are alone valid and beneficial, they will have no dogmatic
authority over us. The simple claim to be championing "the proper method" and
to be defending "the rules" of word-study does not make it so. We need a bit
more reasoning and argumentation and a bit less self-serving labels. The fact
is that no scholar or school of thought can presume to have such authority as
to establish the one and only way to conduct the study of a word. Moreover, the
way in which I examine the meaning of plarosai is well in accord with the procedures
of respected biblical scholars (my study has passed favorably through the professorial
inspection of more than one). There may be other things which could be said and
done in studying this Greek verb which I omitted in the published version of my
study, but nothing I have done is either out of accord with accepted practice in
respected circles or contrary to anything discerned through these other means.
Thus we can safely ignore PBF's appeal to the single proper method and rules for
word study (as non-existent) and pay attention instead to the actual handling
of our relevant word (the substantial matter before us).
Next, it must be observed again that PBF has not understood and thus has
misrepresented my method of argumentation in dealing now with the verb plarosai.
Indeed, his misconstrual is of no small proportion. In the first place, I never
contend in my published argument that therein I am "doing a word study," as PBF
claims. The elementary word-study work was background and research for my argument,
but I do not spread it all out before the reader (or even claim to do so). PBF is
already pursuing the wrong line in dealing with the argument I have placed in print.
There is no need to labor over elementary and (in many ways) irrelevant matters of
background in presenting a specific and pointed argument for a certain translation.
PBF is already predisposed to treat that linguistic argument for something that it
is not (a survey of uses). In the second place, he does not pay attention to the
full character of my discussion. For instance, he portrays my "first" step as
the notation of strong contrast between "abrogate" and "fulfill" (p. 10), and he
portrays my "final step" as finding verses where the possibility of my translation
is substantiated (p. 11). Such a portrayal is terribly truncated. In point of
fact, my discussion begins with a contextualizing consideration of theological and
historical setting for the saying in question, indicating thereby the presumed
movement of thought expressed with the help of the verb we are studying (p. 64).
I next present a technical linguistic argument (also misrepresented by PBF, as
we will soon observe), and then finally my discussion concludes with the further
consideration that my suggested sense for the verb ("confirm in full measure")
conforms with the evident function, use, or purpose of the saying--as observed
by scholars such as Calvin, Windiscb, Campbell, Brown, Spurgeon, Ridderbos,
Allen, Murray (and we could add: Bolton, Gaebelein, and Lloyd-Jones). PBF has
not only mistaken the first and final steps in my argument, he has suppressed
a significant portion of the whole (ignoring its initial evidence and confirming
conclusion)! In the third place, the linguistic argument that is the core of
my discussion is badly misrepresented. This argument is not set forth as a word
study or as a complete analysis of the linguistic token being considered. It is
explicitly pointed out that I am presenting what I believe to be, not everything
that might be said, but rather "the best indicator" of the meaning of plarosai in
this context; I propose to go to the heart of the issue and narrowly offer a
deciding argument for my suggested sense of the word (in contrast to merely surveying
matters and speaking tc interesting but indeterminative issues relevant to the word).
Apart from other things that might be said, my strict and immediate aim was to
give sufficient and necessary grounds (p. 71) from contextual and linguistic considerations (p. 70) for deciding in favor of the translation "confirm in full measure."
PBF does not seem to have understood that. Even more, he appears to be completely
confused as to the place and function which English word authorities have in my
argument. (By the way, at the appropriate time I do not go merely to "an authority
in English word usage," as PBF says, but to the three common and leading reference
works in the field: Webster's, Roget's, and Hayakawa.) He claims, quite preposterously, that I am so uneducated as to go to English word authorities "to
establish the meaning of" the Greek verb in question. Wouldn't that be an embarrassing
school-boy mistake! After all, the Greek words do not even appear in the English
dictionaries, so how could I be so deluded as to hope to settle the dispute by
appeal to them?! (One might have desired that PBF would hesitate to attribute such
inanity to his opponent, reading him instead "in the best possible light" before
attacking--and reconsidering whether he himself has not rather misunderstood what
is going on in the argument.) By no stretch of the imagination do I attempt
"to establish" (p. 10) or "to determine the precise meaning" (p. 11) of the Greek
term by simply reading an authority in English word usage. The English authorities
have a very circumscribed and appropriate use in my discussion--namely, to suggest
what would merely be a suitable contrast accomodatin the requisite antithesis
with the English translation of "abrogate" (p. 67). Moreover, once that suitable
possibility is located, I do not pretend that my ultimate conclusion has been
established. In fact, I openly indicate in the midst of looking at the English
antonyms that my "line of thought to this point" has been such and such. I have
not claimed to establish the precise meaning of the Greek word by means of this
discussion of English antonyms, but merely to have found a suitable possibility
for an English translation. Having done so, it is obviously necessary to ask
whether that possible translation--as appropriate as it may be as far as an
English contrast to "abrogate"--accords with the Greek usage of the verb itself.
Thus I then examine Greek word usage,. finding the suggested sense was in fact
expressed by the relevant verb; from the LXX and NT it is evident (by inductive
linguistic examination) that the requisite contrast, "to confirm," was a sense
given the Greek verb in that day and thus available to Jesus and Matthew (pp. 67-70).
Far from being as ridiculous as PBF attempts to portray it, the consulting of
the English word authorites is both proper and necessary--so that one can gain
a correct functional equivalence in the target language of his translation (cf.
p. 66 in Theonomy, where this is straightforwardly explained before I consult the
English authorities). By falsely claiming that I used English dictionaries to
establish the meaning of a Greek word, PEE only gives his knowledgable reader
reason to think that this critique must resort to utter distortion and caricature
in order to stay alive.
One wonders, if PBF were operating as a scholarly linguist, why he would object
to my narrow linguistic argument and method for settling on a specific sense for
plarosai in Matthew 5:17. Granted that it is not a full-blown study or even meant
to be, it is nevertheless a sound argument for determining an answer to the particular
question before us. (1) The precise function of the Greek verb in this passage
itself (rather than some other one) and the internal syntactics and semantics of
this particular passage (rather than a survey of extraneous other uses) is made
strictly determinative for the meaning of the verb in translation. (2) In the
given syntactic setting, the syncategormatic logical connective ally is of such
a character as to yield a semantic rule for translation of this saying: "any
semantic term proposed as an elucidation of 'fulfill' in Matthew 5:17 must be,
not merely different from 'abrogate' in some possible sense, but interchangeable
in all contexts salve veritatae with precisely 'not abrogate" (Theonomy, p. 66).
(3) Then one must choose from the available senses of the Greek term in English
translation that particular sense which is the best functional equivalent in the
target language--paralleling the precise use of the term In its original, syntactic
and semantic construction. Which of these principles would PBF care to challenge?
They are all important and proper guidelines in the translational task before us
and endorsed by worthy linguists. If PBF accepts such principles (as he should),
then on what ground does he propose to rebut my argument for the sense of "confirm"
being expressed by plarosai? (If he wants to argue on separate grounds that there
is more to the sense than that, he is welcome to do so. But can be demonstrate that
"confirm" is to be excluded from any part of the complex sense he proposes?) I cannot
see that he has approached anything like a refutation of my method or conclusion.
He has simply ridiculed his own misrepresentation of my argument.
p. 11- @I: How is it that PBF presumes to know that neither etymology nor the
use of the Greek verb in Matthew "played a role" in my "search" for the verb's
meaning? They most certainly were considered, even though they are not given
lengthy discussion in the published text; not all of my background studies were
included in the writing up of my conclusions or arguments. Etymology is not
determinative in a dispute over the meaning of words as modern linguists recognize;
nevertheless, the etymology of "fulfill" does show through in my suggestion of
"confirm in full measure." Secondly, the use of "fulfill" elsewhere in Matthew
has been considered (e.g., p. 69 n. 84), but this cannot properly be made the
deciding factor in identifying the precise sense of the word in the text before
us. This should be obvious. Matthew, just as any other author, uses words in
more than one specific or narrow sense (e.g., "land, ground, and earth" for the
same Greek word in 4:15;5:18; and 13:23). No rule can be imposed from the outset
that Matthew must avoid using the same word in a variety of senses, nor is there
a rule to the effect that anytime he uses a particular sense he must use it at
least twice! And in that case, as interesting and enlightening as a survey of his
uses elsewhere may be, they cannot limit or determine what the particular sense
must be for the word in a specific context. (Implicitly PBF recognizes this fact
already; although he proposes his own interpretation of "fulfill" on the basis
of usage outside of Matthew 5:17, even his associational word study does not
incorporate the use of the word for "filling" a net with fish or "filling" a
measure in 13:48 and 23:32.) We must respect the integrity and distinctness of
each separate context in which a word functions, and therefore--contrary to the
misleading style of Kittel (cf. Barr's cogent critique of its word-study methods)-the meaning of a word in a particular pericope is not somehow a corporate reflection
of its uses everywhere else! So then, PBF could not be in a position to say that
my search for the proper sense of "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17 did not include a
consideration of etymology and Matthew's use elsewhere; he sees only the selected
and relevant portion of my studies which I published in my book. Emphasis was not
placed on these matters in my book because they are not the deciding issue in
the translational dispute at Matthew 5:17 in particular.
p. 11 @2: PBF claims that there is no adequate reason why we should not see the
meaning of katalusai as "to destroy"; he proceeds on the assumption that this is
its proper sense in Matthew 5:17. But until he answers the reasons set forth in
Theonomy (pp. 47-48,66), there is no further rebuttal called for concerning his
mistaken claims here. In the verse before us Jesus is not speaking of "destroying"
(literally, "demolishing" or "annihilating," as one does to a building) the Law
and Prophets, for what could that possibly mean? (Tearing apart the scrolls on
which the O.T. is written?) The verb in this context (as in similar Koine contexts)
has the sense of "abolishing, annulling" the content of the O.T. revelation, and
consequently PBF's argument falls to the ground. We must be sensative to the
category of Jesus' discourse as that of legislative pronouncement (cf. J.A. Alexander,
Dykes, M. Dibelius). This is likewise a common usage of the Greek verb in settings
which do not refer to physical objects. Consequently my linguistic argument pertaining
to "fulfill" retains its force: Jesus fulfills the law in some sense directly contrary
to that of annulling its validity.
p. 12 top: PBF's alleged counterexample from Matthew 5:19 is completely fallacious.
First, the contrast expressed here is not as "equally strong" (as he claims) as
the contrast in 5:17. The latter utilizes elle, while the former utilizes only de;
the adversative conjunction in 5:17 expresses direct contrast, but the conjunction
in 5:19 is weak and general (and could even be translated "and," without losing much
force). PBF appears to have overlooked the significance of my argument in terms
of these different conjuctions (pp. 64-65). Second, PBF commits the same error
as Delling (see pp. 64-65 n. 78) in assuming that a complex word has the same
meaning as one of its simple elements. Even if the contrast in 5:19 were equally
strong as that in 5:17, the fact remains that 5:17 speaks of kataluo, while 5:19
speaks of luo. A word could be the antonym of one without at all constituting
an antonym for the other! (This is obvious enough in English, if one thinks of
such combinations as to vent/to prevent, to ride/to override, to prize/to surprize).
The fact that "does" is placed over against luo in Matthew 5:19 gives no support
to the contention that "does" is an appropriate and direct contrast to kataluo in
5:17 as well. The contrast in 5:19 is between breaking and doing the commandment;
in 5:17 it is between abrogating and confirming the O.T. revelation. Thus PBF's
counterexample dissolves upon examination: the expressed contrast and the utilized
vocabulary are both different between 5:17 and 5:19.
p. 12 @1: What PBF now calls "the proper method of doing a word study" is: irrelevant,
not in contrast to my research method, and not the determining or decisive factor in
identifying the precise sense for "fulfill" in the specific saying before us. These
things have been observed and discussed above. My published aim was not to present
a word study. Background work to my argument included surveying and analyzing Matthew's
(aad other's) use of the term elsewhere. And it would be fallacious to assume that
the sense expressed in other passages must be the sense intended here.
p. 12 @2 p. 13 @I: PBF now offers a summary of my view that in Matthew 5:17 Jesus
is speaking specifically of His doctrine (pertaining to the law) rather than His
behavior. This is a point so evident from the context of the Sermon (cf. Calvin's
direct observation: "Here he treats of doctrine, not of life" Harmony p. 275) that
it should hardly require discussion. In PBF's discussion my view is painted too
extremely—in a way that is untrue to my exposition. First, he gives the impression
that it is somehow necessary for me to avoid the word "fulfill" if I am going to
protect my position. This is completely mistaken (see related remarks above).
Second, he says that in my view this verse is so limited to Jesus as a teacher
that it does not pertain in any way to His life. This is a misconception and
overstatement, as will be obvious when I give parallels from my book to PBF's own
remarks on this issue. There are ways in which this verse pertains to Christ's
life, to be sure, but that is not the focus or specific intent of His use of
plarosai in this individual, particular setting. Third, he wants somehow to make
this (overstated) point "critical" to my interpretation of the verse. This is
directly contrary to what is explicitly said in the book however. The opinion
that Jesus states in this verse His intention to obey the law in His life is
compatible with the point I draw from it: namely, the abiding validity of the full
O.T. law--which would be presupposed by Jesus' statement on this interpretation(p. 64).
In fact, we could even further End note that, if Christ keeps the law perfectly
and is our moral example according to the New Testament, then His keeping of the
law has the effect of substantiating the law's validity (cf. Fairbairn, p. 224).
So then, I could happily translate plarosai "to fulfill," but that would do little
to resolve the debate over its interpretation. My concern is with the precise and
intended sense of the verb, but I have no desire to deny various connections or
connotations it may have pertaining to Jesus' life. And even if one could prove
(which is far from what PBF does) that the verb must specifically mean "to obey in
life," that would not be destructive of my theological argument from this passage.
Let us examine now the various comments made by PBF in favor of his view that
"fulfill" emphasizes the life and behavior of Jesus.
p. 13 @2: PBF says that the "central figure" in Matthew 5:17 is "Jesus and His
mission." Obviously he more exactly means the "central concern or issue" of the
verse is this, for nobody proposes that some other person is a figure in the verse
(and, besides, a "mission" is not a figure at all). Well then, is the mission of
Christ the central concern of the verse? Yes and no, for that question is not
a full statement of what is involved. As discussed earlier, the verse is not a
programmatic remark about either the person or work of Christ; it deals pointedly
with the mission of Christ as it bears on the O.T. revelation of God's will. Thus
PBF's attempt to play off Christ's mission against the O.T. law as the "central
figure" of this passage is a misleading and fallacious manner of discussion; one
does not have to choose between the two, for it is precisely the relation between
them that is taken up by the statement of Jesus.
When PBF next claims that Jesus' use of "I came" suggests strongly that Jesus'
task is to actualize the will of God in His life, we can only respond that PBF is
confusing and conflating two different things. The simple use of althon says
nothing at all about the purpose or character of the "coming" which it expresses.
Moreover, "I came" has no bearing on the specific semantic sense (intension) of
"to fulfill"; it could be as readily used with the sense of "to fill," "to finish,"
"to pay," "to complete" as with any other. Thus PBF's comment is either a mistake
(about what althon lingusitically suggests) or an irrelevant argument (about what
the different word, plarosai, would have to mean). PBF's leans too heavily on
the presence of the verb "I came"; it does not settle or even suggest the correct
interpretation of "fulfill."
As will become increasingly evident as we read along in PBF's discussion,
he wishes to pack into "fulfill" a great wealth of connotation about the life
of Jesus (in the richest sense, including but exceeding His moral behavior);
according to PBF, God's appointed full measure as indicated in the O.T. revelation
(demand, promise, history, type, etc.) is "reached in Him." The full measure is
Christ Himself, according to this manner of expression (which is repeated for
emphasis in PBF's conclusion, p. 16). Although the vague or metaphorical quality
of such a thought is subject to alternating forms of expression (note how the
statement that the whole O.T. declaration of God's will is filled to the full in
Christ /p. 16/ grammatically suggests that the Old Testament is the object of this
filling), it is obvious that PBF--along with myself and many other theologians-intends to communicate that everything deposited in the O.T. (the full O.T.
anticipation) finds its full realization in Jesus Himself. He is the fulness
of all that the Old Testament intended. Christ is the full measure, not the
Old Testament. This is a beautiful and important theological truth; it is one
that deserves to be made. however it is not the precise point being made in
Matthew 5:17. Strictly speaking, the object of the "filling" (to remind us of
the literal sense of the verb) is not Jesus here at all; He is not said to be
filled up, to be the fulness, to be the full measure. Rather He is the one doing
the filling up to full capacity, and the object which is said to be "filled up"
is the O.T. will of God. As Ridderbos perceptively notes about plarosai in this
particular verse: "The word suggests a vessel that is being filled. The 'vessel'
of the law is given its rightful measure. For this purpose Jesus has come"
(Coming of the Kingdom, p. 294). Here it is not Christ who is the filled-up fulness,
the full measure, or the vessel which is metaphorically implied. Rather Christ
gives the full measure to--or "fills up"--the vessel of God's law. Therefore,
the point Christ is making is about the O.T. law, not so much about His own life
or behavior. What relation does His mission (His "coming") have to the previously
revealed standard of God's will? Christ answers that He came to give the law its
full measure--over against the cheapened and incomplete measure offered by the
Pharisees and scribes (Matt. 5:20-48). Christ confirms the full measure of the
law by interpreting its demands properly and requiring complete conformity to its
every requirement (v. 19). This seems quite evident from the immediate context
and from what Christ's statement is about. His life and behavior are not pointedly
in view here.
pp. 14-15: On these two pages PBF offers an interesting homily on the appearance
of "fulfill" in a few passages prior to Matthew 5:17. He does seem to me to push
some questionable points of interpretation (e.g., by mentioning the baptism at
the Jordan River, does Matthew really intend to harken back to Israel's crossing
the Jordan and her unethical experience in the land?), and he does suggest mistakenly
that the full context--along with unmentioned and unprovable allusions found therein-can somehow be "packed into" Matthew's use of the verb "fulfill," such that each
mention of that word carries an accumulated load of connotations. However his
key point is that when Matthew uses the word "fulfill" it covers more than the
mere fulfillment of prophecy (as such); it also pertains to Christ's life as an
antitype of events in Israel's history (the type). I do not wish to dispute the
point, even though it is overstated and weakly supported in places (the most likely
evidence would be instances in chapter 2). I would observe, however, that this
point is not one which I. have somehow overlooked. I too can state that Jesus
Himself is the law's fulfillment (pp. 41-42), and that He Himself is the "actual
embodiment" of "the whole process of revelation deposited in the Older Testament"
according to Matthew's Christology (p. 64). These are not new insights, and PBF
is mistaken to suggest that I have not even considered or referred to them (p. 15
of his critique). The relevant point is that Matthew's interest in typology does
not determine the "primary usage" of the Greek verb in question (as PBF alleges);
it is used more often simply of fulfilled prophecy as such, used sometimes very
mundanely (e.g., for filling a net with fish), and even when used of types does
not create a new semantic sense for the word. The study of uses (and contexes)
of the verb in other places is interesting, but we are wandering. The specific
issue is the meaning of the verb in the particular saying and context of Matthew 5:17.
This question cannot be answered by looking elsewhere. It must be answered by
a linguistic examination of the syntactics, semantics, and immediate context of
the verse in question--not by a loose and inexact, literary consideration of what
niaht hP tunnlnaly 4n nthor
p. 15 @1: PBF's next reply to me is the observation that Jesus' teaching and life
can never be divorced. Of course, I never said they could or should be. On the
contrary I make a point of observing that Christ's life and teaching are a unity;
His life exemplifies His teaching (p. 51). But this is beside the point in trying
to determine the linguistic sense of "fulfill" in the verse before us. Christ's
life was not divorced from His teaching, to be sure; yet His life (behavior) and
teaching (doctrine) can obviously be distinguished (e.g., that angels do not marry,
Matt. 22:30, is part of His teaching; that Jesus sat by the sea side, Matt. 13:1,
is part of His life). Many inseparable things are distinguishable! (e.g., the
color and the size of an apple; the heads and tails of a coin; Mark Twain and
Samuel Clemens). In Matthew 5:17 the distinct interest of the gospel writer is
the doctrine of Christ regarding the O.T. law, not the overt behavior of Christ;
Jesus speaks of His viewpoint on the law, not focusing on His lawful life and
conduct as such. (Obviously, He also lived according to His teaching, but that
is not the point here.) When PBF asserts that "the real meaning" of "to fulfill"
cannot be found "divorced from real life" (as opposed, apparently, to the less
than real "world of thought"), he makes two mistakes: (1) he misses the specific
intent and context of Christ's sermonic words here, and (2) he confuses a theological
truth about the integration of Christ's teaching and life with the lingusitic matter
of a particular word's pointed meaning. I have demonstrated in my book that among
the senses for plarosai which the word expressed is that of confirmation. I have
also indicated that if Jesus wished to speak of His own personal obedience to the
law, other words were more readily available which directly expressed that thought.
Furthermore, I have argued at length that the context of this saying is not that
of Jesus' personal behavior and life, but rather that of His teaching as the Messiah
on righteousness. There are no allusions to prophecy in the pericope. Throughout,
it is the promulgation of God's will by the Messiah that is paramount. Matthew
further stresses the moral authority of Christ's teaching stance (noting the "but I
say to you" formula; cf. Matt. 7:28). Christ is legislating from the Mount (even
as Moses previously did) regarding the status of the law within the kingdom. His
own relationship to the former law is the leading question of the passage, a passage
set within a Sermon that sets forth the righteousness acceptable to God. In this
way He defines the standard of "good works" just mentioned in v. 16. He puts double
stress on a denial of "abrogation," a thought with obvious legislative character.
The direct contrast with this would not be a matter of personal disobedience or
obedience in overt behavior, but rather a question of authoritative teaching on
the law's legal or moral status in the eyes of the King. Christ's doctrine about
the law (not His behavior) is explained in v. 18 (notice the opening "For...") by
reference to the eternal validity of the law. In vv. 20-48 Christ corrects the
mistaken teaching of the scribes concerning the law's meaning and full demand.
One can hardly miss the fact that in this context the paramount issue is that of
the Messiah's moral authority, pronouncement, and direction. All of these arguments
are advanced in my chapter on the subject, but PBF does not address even one of them.
p. 15 @2: In fact, it seems that PBF has again severely truncated my argumentation
in this regard. Having contended that Christ's behavior (His life or doing) must
be part of the reference in the meaning of "fulfill" (on fallacious grounds discussed
above), PBF gives his reader the impression that I have only one counter-argument
to this opinion. He completely omits a consideration or answer to the line of
thought rehearsed above, which is central to my discussion and point of view! He
narrowly focuses on a contention which I make that is not even the full sentence
in which it appears (the first part of the compound sentence is suppressed in which
my main line of argument is summarized before I add a final closing note). This is
by no means adequate as an answer to your opponent; further it tends to misrepresent
he other author's thought in the eyes of your reader, making it much easier to
ebut than it actually is. Short-cuts aside, PBF has not even seen the main thrust
f that truncated consideration which he addresses. Having lingusitically and
ontextually argued against plarosai taking the sense of active doing, I add that
his sense of the term "always" takes the passive voice, whereas the active voice
s used in Matthew 5:17.(p. 61). PBF very properly corrects this overstatement
y pointing to two counter-examples. With Arndt and Gingrich, I ought to have
aid that the notion of fulfilling by deeds "almost always" stands in the passive.
et even with this proper correction of my mistake, the point of my closing observation
emains the same: viz., it is at least unusual for this sense of the term to appear
n the voice that it does. That does not conclusively prove anything, of course,
rd it is far from my only or even my main line of argumentation. It is merely a
inal and supporting observation, giving us some reason to doubt the fulfillment-byctivity interpretation at this point. For some reason, PBF not only suppresses
ar central line of thought (context and alternative vocabulary), he fails to address
he final observation once its overstatement has been corrected. Although refined,
he thrust of my argument at the end remains the same, and it still has not been
mswered (either on its own or as the appended remark that it is).
(As follow-up reading on the fact that Matthew 5:17 deals not with fulfilled
)rophecy or with Christ's doing of the law, but rather with His moral teaching or
.nterpretation regarding.the law, one might consult: R. Bultmann, History of the
;yaoptic Tradition, p. 138; Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom, pp. 295-296; Murray,
'rinciples of Conduct, p. 149; Bornkamm, Barth, & Held, Tradition and Interpretation
hi Matthew, p. 68; H. Alford, Greek Testament, I p. 42; A. Jones, Gospel Acc. to
;t. Matthew, p. 79; Plumptre, Ellicott's Gospel Acc. to St. Matthew, p. 54.)
16 @1: As PBF comes to his "conclusion" regarding Matthew 5:17, let us look back
it what we have found. First, PBF failed to place his discussion in a proper
framework: he misconstrues the difficulty and character of the underlying theological
Lssue, often misrepresents my own position, complicates the discussion with ambiguity
and imprecision, and often presses presumptuous labels instead of argumentation.
Second, he improperly ignores the structure and full extent of my book's argument,
reducing it merely to Matthew 5:17-19, and then staking the issue simply on one
word therein; this not only misses the book's complete thought, it also misses the
unavoidable thrust of the chosen passage (despite exegetical questions on particulars).
Third, he has made five observations in an attempt to cast doubt on my treatment of
one Greek verb, but not one observation can stand upon cross-examination: (1) that
krndt and Gingrich fail to mention "confirm" is both irrelevant and inaccurate;
(2) that I pigeon-hole scholars who have written on this verse is nothing less than
a misreading of my text; (3) that I do not mention Matthew's use of "fulfill" in
connection with prophecy is simply mistaken; (4) that I fail in an attempt to do a
word study because etymology, Matthean usage, and a counter-example are ignored is
baseless (as to my aim, research, and a legitimate linguistic examination of the
alleged example), and the reproach that I use English word authorities to establish
the meaning of a Greek word is a ridiculous caricature; (5) that Christ's life and
teaching are inseparable is conceptually and linguistically irrelevant here, and
PBF's leaning on althon and typology in Matthew does not help his case at all. Moreover,
apart from correcting one subordinate and overstated point, PBF does not address or
overturn my own extensive argumentation with respect even to "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17.
We must judge his critique, then, to be unsuccessful--both negatively, positively,
aad as to its significance for the basic theological question regarding God's law.
In his two paragraphs of conclusion (and the last sentence of the preceding
lie claims
paragraph) PBF makes categorical claims that invite some response.
that the interpretation which sees Jesus specificially teaching the law's "confirmation"
(i.e., distinctly promulgating a doctrine of the law's confirmation, rather than
speaking of His own behavior as embodying the O.T. revelation) "must be rejected."
But why must it? PBF has not refuted that interpretation in any of his remarks,
and I am far from the only writer who has feels the plausibility of this view.
Examples of scholars who find the focus of Jesus' saying as His doctrine of the
law (rather than His own behavior) have been given above--from Calvin to Bultmann-as well as in my book. A large number of scholars explicitly say that Christ's
point in this passage is the "confirmation" or ratifying of the O.T. law; these
scholars cover a wide range--as old and covenantal as Calvin and as recent and
dispensational as Congdon, as liberal as Allen and as conservative as Murray.
Jesus definitely did not "invalidate" the law (the translation preferred in the
Kittel wordbook); instead, "Jesus refers to the function of validating and
confirming the law and the prophets" (says Murray, Principles of Conduct, p. 150).
Or as Lloyd-Jones says, "Our Lord Jesus Christ in these two verses confirms the
whole of the Old Testament" (Sermon on the Mount, p. 187). Not only is the concept
of confirmation recognized in the saying of Jesus here, the translation of the very
word plarosai as "to confirm" is countenanced as legitimate by reputable New Testament
scholars like Arndt and Gingrich (who also list Delman and Hatch) and George Eldon
Ladd; the latter says, "The word translated 'fulfill' can mean to 'establish, confirm,
cause to stand' and need mean only that Jesus asserted the permanence of the Law..."
(Theology of the New Testament, p. 124), and he cites Branscomb as advancing this
view. This surely strikes many worthy scholars as a viable and likely alternative.
Why, then, does Dr. Fowler so denounce the idea as one which must be rejected? He
pronounces further: "Verse 17 simply does not teach what Dr. Bahnoen says it teaches:
the establishment by Jesus of the Old Testament law." But where, then, are his
telling criticisms against the idea? To this point he has offered virtually nothing
but inaccurate, baseless, or irrelevant remarks on the subject. A categorical
rejection of what I claim the verse says ought to be accompanied with some really
weighty arguments against it; yet we find none. Respected scholars have found in
this passage the complete establishing of God's will according to Jesus' teaching
(Bornkamm, Barth, & Held, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew, p. 68), and
some have ventured to say that plarosai should be understood in the sense of
"to establish" (e.g., D. Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, p. 128). So then,
why does Dr. Fowler emphatically assert that the verse "simply does not teach" this?
His attempted critique is far from commensurate with such a response. When he
offers his own conclusion about the meaning of plarosai, PBF continually makes use
of the word "fulfill" and thereby renders his opinion quite unhelpful. We wish to
know the precise sense in which Christ "fulfills" the law and prophets as a
declaration of God's will. PBF answers by repeating the very word that is in
question. He says that Christ fulfilled kingdom righteousness (alternatively,
fulfilled God's Word, or the whole Old Testament, law and prophets) "in His life
and teaching." Yes, but in just what sense? PBF's argument for including a
reference to Christ's life or behavior in this saying has been seen to be quite
weak and uncontextual, but even more we must note that the linguistic sense for
plarosai has not actually been advanced at all. Finally, for whatever faults we
have found in his criticism of the confirmation interpretation and in his own
particular viewpoint, we must still ask what effect his discussion would have
even if it were spotless as to its scholarship. That is, even given PBF's
attempted critique and alternative, how would it do any damage to the basic
theonomic perspective that God's O.T. commands are still morally valid today?
Is PBF's paper, even overlooking its lapses, of sufficient weight to do any
damage to this thesis? It would not seem so, no matter how PBF wants to
translate plarosai. As the reformed, N.T. scholar, Ned B. Stonehouse observed:
"The explicit and emphatic affirmation of the authority of the law and the prophets
excludes the interpretation of 'fulfillment' and 'accomplishment' as euphemisms
for 'relaxation,' or 'invalidation,' or 'spiritualization" (The Witness of Matthew
and Mark to Christ, p. 202). For whatever else may be said about it, this
passage certainly does not give anyone grounds to treat Cod's commandments as
somehow invalid! Even if Christ were saying that He "fulfills" the law by keeping
it or embodying it, that would lend no support to anyone's flight from his own
moral obligation to keep the law as well. That law--to its very smallest details-is eternally authoritative, such that we arc prohibited from teaching that even
the least commandment in the Law and Prophets is not to be kept today (Matt. 5:18-19).
PBF's critique has been ineffective to this point as an effort to undermine theonomic
ethics for the believer.
pp. 17-24: PBF now turns his attention to verse 18 in Matthew 5, where the dispute
between us is over the panta genatai clause. Because his own view is woven in and
out of his criticisms of my view I will not respond to his discussion paragraph by
paragraph; rather, I will deal first with his critique of my position and then
turn to a criticism of his own. According to him, my attempt to "fuse" the two
heos clauses in Matthew 5:18 as "functional equivalents" (pp. 19-20) is "fraught
do not think that he has shown this to be the case,
with problems" (pp. 20,24).
although he has beneficially pointed out a proof-reading mistake for me in the process.
In Theonomy I observe that pants in Matthew 5:18 does not have a definite referent or
antecedent, pointing out that its gender does not agree with preceding nominal
expressions: namely, "law'...'jot' or 'tittle" (p. 81, cf. p. 79). PBF quite
correctly points out that the neuter pants does agree with the neuter gender of
the Greek word for "tittle" (p. 21 @1). My assertion should read that pants does
not agree in gender with "jot or tittle" (as a phrase standing together in the
text as the subject of its clause; note that this is the way it is treated just
two sentences later in my discussion). Again, this is a minor refinement of my
statement which needs correction, but it will hardly affect the argument (as we
will see below). Apart from this help, PBF's discussion will be found to lack
force. As before, he has a tendency to misrepresent my thought: e.g., saying that
I attempt to make the two heos clauses "read as one" (p. 24) and that I "translate"
genatai as "become invalid" (pp. 22,23). Such remarks confuse referential identity
with connotational sameness (i.e., I contend that the heos clauses have the same
denotation, but they certainly do not "read" as one because of their separate senses),
or they confuse parallel thought or effect with translational assimilation (i.e.,
I take cne interpretation of heos an pantas genatai to "create" the effect of
invalidation for the law and prophets, but I by no means propose that as my own
translation, p. 81). PBF also continues his tendency to ignore some weighty aspects
of my argumentation (e.g., the way Christ's statement about the law's eternal validity
correlates with proverbial expressions, Jewish literature, and Old Testament theology
which formed the mindset of his hearers--such that if His saying is not to be
taken in this sense, one would have expected some cautious qualification in His
wording). Refinements, misrepresentations, and skirted issues to the side, though,
we must focus on the criticism of and alternative to my position which PBF advances.
PBF says that there are four problems with my view that the two phrases,
"until heaven and earth pass away" and "until everything comes to pass," are
functionally equivalent, even as their syntactic and semantic (heos an) parallelism
suggest. "Problems" two and four can be quickly dismissed as inaccurate and strained.
Eoth matters raised here deal with my translation of genatai. PBF claims that I
"translate" this verb as "become invalid," which would be lexically wrong (p. 22),
and he says that only in this way can a trivial tautology result from the interpretation that the relevant clause is speaking of Christ's realization of all the
law's jots and tittles (pp. 21-22). As indicated briefly above, this is a mistaken
treatment of my discussion. I am not translating but dealing with the effect created
by the interpretation of some commentators who say that Christ's observing of the
law implies its subsequent invalidation, Moreover, I am dealing with the clause on
the common assumption of its parallel to the previous clause, "until heaven and earth
pass away" (an assumption recognized by PBF on p. 22!). As long as this parallel
has not been disproven, and as long as commentators continue to draw their fallacious
inference to the law's invalidation, then the interpretation before us does in fact
create a tautology (viz., the law's details will not pass away until--according to
parallel and deduction--all the details pass away). But the most important point is
that this is not part of my view at all. I do not translate genatai as "become invalid.
"Problem" number four as advanced by PBF is that I translate genatai with the words
"has taken place" due to my assumption of functional equivalence (p. 23). He claims
that this contradicts my allegedly previous translation of "become invalid." Well,
since I do not use the latter translation, the only contradiction to be found is in
PBF's imagination. He also claims that the translation "has taken place" is both
forced and inappropriate for an indefinite temporal clause such as this, but he does
not give us any reason why. Since he is silent in explaining this criticism I am
only surmising that PBF is objecting to the past tense in my translation. However
I have absolutely no zeal for such wording, and it is by no means crucial to my point
of view. I am merely following Arndt and Gingrich for convenience when they render
the clause in Matthew 5:18 as "until all has taken place (=is past)" (p. 157b).
Given PBF's previously noted deference to A&G, he should be satisfied that I was
not smuggling anything unique or necessary to my interpretation into the proposed
translation of this clause! Indeed, when he chides me that I should take Campbell's
advice to translate genatai as "come to pass," I am more than happy to do so! (I was
the one who brought up and quoted this advice to begin with.) My view is not altered
thereby in the slightest: "until heaven and earth pass away" has the same denotation
as "until all things come to pass"--namely, the end of the world. (Although it is
not relevant to his point about my translation of genatai, PBF wonders why I am
concerned to criticize the use of "fulfill" both for plarosai in 5:17 and for genatai
in 5:18. As explained earlier, translating plarosai as "fulfill" is no problem for
me; it simply needs further precision to settle disputes among interpreters. My
point is that Bible versions which choose to use "fulfill" for the two different
Greek verbs mislead and prejudice the English reader.) So then, "problems" two and
four with my treatment of genatai are purely fabricated. Nothing hinges on my
particular translation in the book, and I can readily agree to read the verb in
the sense of simple happening ("come to pass"). Two of PBF's four criticisms of
my treatment of Matthew 5:18 are unnecessarily strained and can be dismissed from
the outset.
Criticism number three against finding functional equivalence in Matthew 5:18
is really a handful of unrelated remarks on PBF's p. 22, none of which are even
argumentatively relevant. He says "most commentators" do not see functional
equivalence between the relevant clauses in this verse. Well, given my limitations
as to a knowledge of all foreign languages, as to availability of every relevant
book written down through history, and as to accesibility even to all such books
now in some library somewhere, I really do not know what "most" writers have said
on this subject (and either does PEP, really). But it is not at all relevant, for
truth is not based on a nose-count. The fact is that plenty of commentators do
recognize the functional equivalence in question here, and those who do not have
objective and insuperable problems of a grammatical and logical nature to deal with.
PBF next cbserves that parallelism (which is.evident in Matthew 5:18) does not
automatically imply functional equivalence. I never said it did, but the presumption
is surely in its favor. PBF goes on to say that the fact that the verb changes
between the first heos clause to the next one (from "pass away" to "come to pass")
indicates that something new is being said. Such a remark is simply fallacious,
failing to distinguish between what is said and how it is said. The use of a
different verb can mean that something new is said or that the same thing is being
said in a new way (e.g., is "hungering" after righteousness and "thirsting" after
righteousness in Matt. 5:6 referring to different things, or saying the same thing
in two ways? When Matthew uses three verbs in 5:2--"opening his mouth," "he taught,"
"saying"--is he speaking of three different actions or of one action with three
expressions for it? Is the change of wording from "straight is the gate" to "narrow
is the way" in 7:14 a matter of saying something different or differently?). Moreover,
since what I contend is that the clauses in Matthew 5:17 express parallel thoughts,
PBF's remark about different verbs within those clauses is all the more irrelevant;
nobody is arguing that the verbs must be parallel for the assertions to be identical
in denotation. Finally, as best I can understand, PBF's last remark in this paragraph
amounts to an argument against my paralleling of the heos clauses on the basis of
a preferred parallel--viz., between the position and function of "fulfill" in 5:17
and that of "come to pass" in 5:18. But preference is not argumentatively decisive.
More importantly, the syntax and wording of these two verses are not nearly so
obviously parallel as they are within v. 18 itself. The heos clauses are syntactically
parallel to each other vis-a-vis the main clause, and both are identically introduced
with heos an. Whatever vague possibilities for suggested parallels exist elsewhere,
this one within v. 18 cannot be suppressed exegetically. Therefore it turns out
that the scattered remarks under "problem" number three present no difficulty at
all for the view that functional equivalence holds between the heos clauses of this
verse. PBF has not even done anything to cast doubt upon that supposition, much
less to refute it.
This leaves, then, just one final argument in FBI's arsenal to be used against
my interpretation of Matthew 5:18. It is "problem" number one both in order of
mention and in remaining significance as found in PBF's discussion. I have taken
panta in the second heos clause of Matthew 5:18 in the absolute sense of "all things,
everything" (cf. Matt. 11:27); what Jesus says is that the law will not become invalid
until heaven and earth pass away, which is to say, not until all things come to pass.
This kind of functional equivalence, says PBF, would hold only if panta had no
antecedent (p. 20); however, he contends, panta does have an antecedent (namely,
"one jot or one tittle") and thus the functional equivalence is defeated. Accordingly
PBF's last argument against my view amounts to the case which he wants to make in
favor of his own alternative view. If PEF's view can be found wanting or at least
very implausible from a grammatical and logical standpoint, then he will he left
with no argument at all against the theoncmic interpretation of Matthew 5:18. It
is thus appropriate here to turn to a critique of PBX's own remarks about this verse.
According to PBF,for one who is quite familiar with Greek grammar, panta
"obviously" refers back to the phrase "one jot or one tittle" (p. 21, cf. the
paraphrase on p. 19). This is not at all "obvious," however because of the lack
of agreement between panta and that phrase, both in number and gender; consequently
PBF rightly pushes on to argue and support the "obvious." His case for this tenuous
opinion runs like this. Pants is plural as to number so as to agree with "jots
cud tittles" (in an inclusive sense), and it is neuter in gender so as to agree
with "one jot" which hes commanding position within its own phrase. One should not
contend that this is absolutely impossible. It is quite contrary, nonetheless, to
common Greek grammar and to the semantics of the passage before us. PBF's remark
about the plural number of panta changes the wording and sense of its alleged
antecedent; whereas Matthew treats "not one jot or one tittle" disjunctively and
mentions two separate items (note how the adjectival qualifier "one" is repeated
instead of used once to cover both items) for the sake of emphasis (thus rendering:
one jot will not pass away or one tittle will not pass away), PBF's interpretation
requires a change to a conjunctive and inclusive treatment of the phrase (thus now
grouping the items together: "jots and tittles"). This is not strictly true to
Matthew's sense and syntax, and thus the change to a plural conception is read into
the verse. PBF's remark about the neuter gender of pants is more clearly a violation
of Greek grammar; he says the neuter was chosen to agree with the first mentioned-and thus commanding--item in the phrase "one jot or cne tittle." This is wrong on
two scores. Greek literary style allows for a climactic order of listing, and thus
"one jot" need not be deemed to have "the commanding position"; in fact, there need
be no commanding position at all when repitition of items is for the sake of emphasis.
(Besides, gender agreement is not decisively governed by "commanding position" anyway.)
Secondly, Greek grammar has a fairly regular pattern for agreement in the case of
compound nominal expressions, and PBF's suggestion runs counter to it. You see,
the Greek word panta is actually an adjective functioning in a substantive fashion.
On PBF's view panta is elliptical for "all the jots and tittles," and consequently
he treats it as an anarthrous adjectival attributive (with a pronominal force). In
such a case, with "all" referring back to and qualifying "one jot or one tittle,"
its gender would ordinarily agree with the last mentioned item in the complex subject;
as closer to "tittle," "all" would be expected to be in the feminine gender (as is
its antecedent). Blass and Debrunner's Greek Grammar of the New Testament puts it
this way: "Attributives which belong to two or more connected substantives customarily
agree with the nearest" (section 135). Therefore, if PBF's supposition were correct
that "all" refers to the phrase "one jot or one tittle," even if we suppress the
disjunctive force of that phrase, "all" should agree in gender with "one tittle."
However it does not. Neither his explanation for the number nor the gender of panta,
then, are convincing; in both cases there is a forced bending of the rules or a
distortion of sense and syntax.
Although not cogent, the preceding explanation by PBF for the neuter plural
form of panta (taken as referring to "one jot or one tittle") strikes me as his
most hopeful line of thought. As much as I would like to treat it as his main
(and best) argument, it is unfortunately an explanation relegated to a footnote
by him (number 40 on p. 21). His key argument appears in the body of the text,
but it is even weaker. Because pants is neuter plural, PBF must find some way
to treat "one jot or one tittle" as a neuter plural unit as well, thereby qualifying
as a possible antecedent for pants. His argument is that a grammatical rule for
Greek dictates that a neuter plural subject takes a third person singular verb,
which is what we find in the verb accompanying the relevant phrase (viz., pareltha:
third person, singular, second aorist, subjunctive); he concludes, therefore, that
the subject of this verb--"one jot or one tittle"--is deemed a neuter plural unit
of speech and is "obviously" the antecedent to pants (p. 21). There are a variety
of mistakes incorporated into this line of thought. In the first place, the practice
of using a singular verb with neuter plural subjects pertains to words, not phrases;
at least PBF offers us no examples at all of nominal phrases or compound subjects
being treated in this way. The "well known" grammatical rule to which he appeals
does not even apply in the case at hand. Secondly, he does not accurately state
his "rule." This Pindaric construction (which is greatly weakened in usage in the
N.T. in comparison to classical Greek) ie_not invariable in our literature; PBF
should therefore not have said that a neuter plural subject "takes" a singular
verb, but that it "can take" a singular verb. There is quite a big logical difference!
Thirdly, even forgetting that his mistakenly stated rule is inapplicable to the case
at hand, PBF has committed a serious logical fallacy--namely, affirming the consequent.
His argument runs like this: (1) If a subject is neuter plural, then it takes a
singular verb; (2) "one jot or one tittle" is a subject taking a singular verb; and
(3) therefore "one jot or one tittle" is a neuter plural subject. The pattern of
thought is clear: (1) If P, then Q; (2) Q; (3) therefore P. The pattern of thought
is also a classical fallacy in logic, as can be illustrated in the two following
examples, both of which are formally identical with PBF's reasoning. One example:
(1) If something is a crow, then it is black; (2) my shoe is black; (3) therefore
my shoe is a crow. A second example: (1) If Castro shot the president, then he is
a scoundrel; (2) Castro is a scoundrel; (3) therefore Castro shot the president.
Az can be readily seen, there is no way that we can accept PBF's line of argument
as valid; it is logically faulted. You see, there are other reasons why my shoe
is black beside it being a crow, and there are other reasons why Castro is a scoundrel
beside his shooting some president. Likewise, there are completely other reasons why
the verb (pareltha, "pass away") which accompanies "one jot or one tittle" is in the
singular form beside PBF's inapplicable rule. Indeed, the proper explanation of
this situation is quite common. Blass and Debrunner put it this way in their N.T.
Greek Grammar: "The singular (verb) is regularly used with two singular subjects
connected by a (as in English...)" (section 135). That is, when two singular
expressions function as the subject of a clause and they are connected by "or,"
then a singular verb is regularly used. Of course, this is precisely what we have
in the clause "one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away," and it thus comes
as no surprise that Matthew 5:18 is the leading example of this rule offered by
Blass and Debrunner! PBF has not at all shown that "one jot or one tittle" should
be obviously treated as a neuter plural subject, and thus he has no reason to treat
it as the proper antecedent to the neuter plural pants later in the verse. Fourthly,
PBF's line of argumentation (viz., since pareltha is third person singular, then
its compound subject is deemed a neuter plural phrase) is open to a rather obvious
counter-example (or logical reductio). In the very same verse this same exact verb
is used with another compound subject phrase; Matthew has just written, "until heaven
and earth pass away (pareltha)." Given PBF's line of thought, this should mean that
"the heaven and the earth" are being treated as a neuter plural subject in the
Pindaric construction. Yet it is obvious that such a conclusion would clash with
the obvious fact that "heaven" (ouranos) is masculine and "earth" (ga) is feminine in
gender, not neuter. Consequently, PBF's argument is shown fallacious by counterexample (or modus tollens). If the use of a singular verb pareltha proves that its
compound subject is deemed a neuter plural expression, then "heaven and earth" should
be viewed as a neuter plural expression. But it cannot be, and therefore the
supposition is wrong to begin with. Statements which imply falsehoods are themselves
false. (If it is wondered why "heaven and earth" take a singular verb, Blass and
Debrunner explain: "When the subject consists of singular + singular...the verb
agrees with the first subject if the verb stands before it" /section 135/; this is
precisely the case here, and thus they list Matthew 5:18 as their first example of
this phenomenon with impersonal subjects.) The sad thing is that PBF recognizes
in a footnote the last two grammatical rules I have rehearsed; since they are
destructive of his argument, one wonders why he continued to use it nonetheless.
What we have found to this point is that PBF uses four "problems" to criticize
ey view that "until heaven and earth pass away" and "until all things come to pass"
are functionally equivalent expressions in Matthew 5:18. Two of them can be
immediately dismissed as assuming falsely that I mistranslate genatai. A third
problem consists merely of scattered and argumentatively irrelevant remarks. The
last problem depends for its validity on the case PBF tries to make for "one jot
or one tittle" being the antecedent to pants ("all") in this verse, and we have
seen that case to be riddled with semantic, syntactic, grammatical, and logical
errors of a significant nature. All in all, Dr. Fowler has not challenged the
view of functional equivalence between the heos clauses in Matthew 5:18 in any
legitimate or forceful way, and his attempted critique must be judged unsuccessful.
The theonomic view of this verse remains as strong as before.
Although we have already undermined PBF's interpretation of Matthew 5:18 by
showing that it assumes an illegitimate antecedent for panta (a problem which in
itself is sufficient to refute his view), there are additional problems with it
which are noteworthy. According to PBF, in this verse Jesus is saying that no
detail will pass away from the law (become invalid) until all the details of the
law are "realized, accomplished or fulfilled" (cf. pp. 17,19,22). The idea is
that the law of God was terminated in its validity (every detail of it) when Jesus
personally fulfilled every jot and tittle by obeying it or embodying it--thus
allowing that the details of the Old Testament law are invalidated "this side of
the passing away of heaven and earth" (p. 19).There are serious theological
problems with such a view, of course. As much as PBF may not wish to be an
antinomian, he is forced to that consistent conclusion by such a viewpoint;
Jesus forces every jot and tittle (thus including such things as "Thou shalt
not steal")to pass away from the law by fulfilling them all. His viewpoint on
Matthew 5:18 simply proves too much if he is true to its wording. Further, is
it not a bit incredible that Jesus would assert with emphasis and authority that
the law must not at all be deemed invalid, when what He meant (according to PBF)
was that the law was valid only for the next three years of His life (and then
passed away as "fulfilled")? Are we really to believe that it was eternally
and absolutely imperative for Jesus to obey the prohibition, "Thou shalt not take
the name of Jehovah thy God in vain," but once He did and fulfilled all the law
such a prohibition is no longer morally valid for His followers? The same questions
can be asked about the case laws of the O.T. Although Jesus insisted that "Do not
defraud" was binding on the rich ruler, are we to believe that this law is invalid
for us living after the fulfillment of all the jots and tittles by Jesus? Is is
ethically plausible that the prohibition on bestiality from the Old Testament was
absolutely right until Christ's "accomplishment" of "all things (the law's details)"
but is now morally acceptable? No, PBF's interpretation of Matthew 5:18 would be
thoroughly objectionable on theological grounds. Yet more to the point is the
exegetical weakness of his approach to genatai here. As far as I can see, he
offers four kinds of support for his treatment. First, he claims that "most
versions" translate the word as "to fulfill" (p. 19), but the invalidity of such
a line of argument has been pointed out already above. Secondly, he claims that
genatai in 5:18 is parallel to plarosai in 5:17 on the - biasier'of. the -structure of
these verses (p. 22), but the presumed structure is far from evident. Indeed,
Matthew's parallels of expression are concentrated altogether elsewhere when the
full verses are taken into account (which they are not in PBF's reconstruction).
Thirdly, he claims that the "root meaning" of genatai "in this context" easily
allows for the translation of "fulfilled" (p. 22), but he does not explain such
a claim in any way so as to make it acceptable; that is, he offers no evidence
for this (e.g., what is the root meaning he has in mind? What is it about the
context that allows assimilation of the one verb to the other? etc.). The fact
is that this kind of treatment of genatai is eisegesis, not exegesis of a semantic
term. It strains and reforges the meaning of genatai, which is one of the most
common and colorless verbs in the Greek; as Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the
New Testament puts it, "Usually the term has no particular religious or theological
interest in the N.T. Only at Jn. 8:58 is there any special distinction between
zinesthai and einai" (1:681-682). As Campbell observed, to use "fulfill" for
genatai as well as plarosai is misleading and spurious. Especially is this true
when one considers the altogether general and vague character of both pants (the
subject) and genatai (the verb) in this clause; they are extremely common words
with very undeveloped intcnsions. Placing them together only increases the complete
generality of the resultant expression. Reading heavy theological overtones (such
as the fulfillment of all the law, the accomplishment of Christ's redemptive mission,
or what have you) into this clause has very little semantic justification whatsoever.
As I said in my book, such an unspecified general assertion in the Bible is prey
for theologians anxious to find their preconceived doctrines reflected somewhere
in Scripture. What is not at all explicit anywhere in the text can be "found"
implicit in such an absolutely general and colorless expression as used in Matthew 5:18.
Finally, PBF argues for his treatment of genatai by noting how "fulfillment" and
an event "taking place" in Matthew 1:22 explain each other (p. 24), but this is
hardly very telling. After all, ginomai in this verse has a definite antecedent-an event which is now said to happen. Further, Matthew himself is the one who
draws together the event "coming to pass" as in order to "fulfill" a prophecy;
no such connection is drawn (even implicitly) in Matthew 5:17-18, and in fact the
two relevant verbs appear in completely different sentences there. The alleged
connection between _genatai and plarosai is Dr. Fowler's, not Matthew's. Moreover,
how can the sense of "takes place" or "happens" which PBF derives from Matthew 1:22
be appropriate to or reconciled with the subject of the clause in Matthew 5:18 and
the earlier suggested translation by PBF himself? What would it mean for jots and
tittles to "take place" or "happen"? How can PBF's translation of "realized" be
supported by the sense of "take place"? The Matthew 1:22 "evidence" is simply not
relevant or helpful to PBF's contentions. Note should also be made of the fact that,
even on PBF's understanding that Jesus is speaking of the realization of all the
jots and tittles of the law in Matthew 5:18, he still must read into that "realization"
the thought of one single individual (namely, Jesus) accomplishing that task. Granting
the tendentious translation of genatai for a moment, why would it not be appropriate
for see "all" the details of the law "realized" when nobody is violating them any
longer? In that case, even on PBF's interpretation of genatai, the realization of
all things as mentioned in Matthew 5:18 would not take place until the coming of
the new heavens and earth wherein righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13)-which coincides with the passing away of the old heaven and earth, also mentioned
in Matthew 5:18. (Note: one might compare Stott's treatment of this verse, for
he also takes genatai in the sense of fulfillment; however he says that this does
not take place until the end of the world!, p. 73.) Not only is PBF's treatment
of genatai theologically unacceptable and exegetically unsupported, it still need
not rid the verse of functional equivalence between the hens clauses (unless something
extraneous is read into one of them)!
To this point we have found numerous reasons to reject PBF's treatment of the
pants genatai clause in Matthew 5:18. He had no legitimate ground to reject its
functional equivalence with "until heaven and earth pass away." He mistakenly tried
to make "one jot or one tittle" the antecedent for pants, and his handling of genatai
not only lacked defense, it did not eliminate functional equivalence anyway. Thus
PBF's discussion has been found wanting on grammatical, logical, theological and
other argumentative grounds, Yet the most obvious difficulty with his interpretation
has still not been mentioned. According to him, in Matthew 5:18 Jesus teaches that
the details of the law will not pass away until they have been realized or fulfilled
perfectly (by the individual Messiah); accordingly, the law's details have become
invalidated prior to the passing away of the heaven and the earth (cf. p. 19).
However PBF has recognized as clearly as anybody else that the clause "until heaven
and earth pass away" is a proverbial way for Christ to say that the law will be
valid forever (p. 18). The resultant difficulty in PBF's view is now apparent.
As I pointed out in Theonomy (p. 79), any interpretation of heos an pants genatai
which renders the law invalid prior to "heaven and earth passing away" makes the
verse self-contradictory, for one thing that is quite clear from Jesus' saying is
that "it is asserted with an emphasis which could not be made stronger that the
law in its smallest details remains in undiminished authority so long as the world
lasts" (Warfield, "Jesus' Mission According to His Own Testimony," p. 558). On
PBF's interpretation we find Jesus stating that not one jot or one tittle shall
by any means pass away from the law until heaven and earth pass away, but that they
shall pass away when all are observed by Christ--which is hardly consistent. Thus
PBF has no choice but to alter the exegesis of this verse so as to minimize this
self-contradictory effect. In doing so he only renders his case all the more
unacceptable. Because his interpretation would seem to create a self-contradiction
in Jesus' saying, everything rests on the validity of PBF's making the second heos
clause a specifying of the broader, temporal thrust of the first one. According to
him, the first clause ("until heaven and earth pass away") provides merely the
temporal framework within which the second temporal clause functions (pp. 18,19).
No explanation is given for why Jesus would wish to make such an emphatic point about
the passing away of heaven and earth (in agreement, remember, with Old Testament
theology and with Jewish writings about the law's permanence), only then to narrow
down His intention about the terminus of the law's validity to a point only three
years ahead! (This would be akin to a mortgage company writing to tell you that,
within the framework of the next century, your house payment is due on the first
of the month.) Why would any "framework" be mentioned at all for His allegedly
particular point? This odd construction of Jesus' meaning calls for some explanation.
Secondly, Matthew 5:18 is, as far as I know, the only place in the New Testament
where parallelism between two heos an clauses is found. Accordingly, PBF cannot
demonstrate that his interpretation of the relationship between the two clauses -as unusual as it is and contrary to the prima facie effect of the parallelism--is
supported by literary style elsewhere. It is his own idea, imposed on the text
without a lead from common practice. Thirdly, PBF claims that the second heos an
clause is "more exact" than the first, but nothing could be more contrary to the
facts of this case. The second clause uses, as noted above, a completely general
substantive (panta) and an extremely colorless Greek verb (genatai)--in contrast
to the very definite substantive of the first clause ("heaven and earth") and its
quite precise verb ("pass away"). We have absolutely no reason to see the second
heos an clause as a specifying of the first. It is rather a general reiteration
of the thought of the first clause, added for the sake of emphasis. Fourthly, for
PBF's interpretation to be true to the wording and syntax of the verse as we find
it, some kind of conjunction would be required between the two clauses--which we
do not find at all. If the second statement of a condition for an eventto take
place is meant to specify or qualify the first condition, then a logical connective
between the two conditions would be expected. When that connective is not found,
the sentence containing the two (allegedly different) conditions becomes nonsensical
and contradictory. Consider these three examples which are parallel in form to
Matthew 5:18 and which contain different conditions (one broad, the other specific);
they are thus akin to what PBF makes of the verse, and yet they do not make sense
(unless one supplies a logical connective in his own thought). One example: "Until
the end of the game the All-American quarterback will not be taken out, until he
injures himself." That is as self-contradictory as this example: "Until the end
of Winter the roses will not bud, until they are transferred to the greenhouse."
A third example: "Until the end of the world ozone will remain in the atmosphere,
until flurocarbons are used indiscriminately." In all of these cases the two
conditional clauses need to be brought syntactically together and connected with
a logical particle that explains their relationship to each other. The quarterback
will stay in the game until the end or until he is injured. The roses will not bud
until Winter ends or until they are placed in a greenhouse. Ozone will remain until
the end of the world or until flurocarbons destroy it. Likewise, if Matthew 5:18
where intending to state two different conditions for the cessation of the law's
authority (as PBF contends), then it would be expected to relate the two conditions
to each other by a logical connective: i.e., "For truly I say to you, one jot or
one tittle by no means will pass away from the law until heaven and earth pass away
or all (such details) are realized (by Me)." The absence of any such connective
in the actual text renders PBF's interpretation, even forgetting previous faults,
completely unacceptable. In this verse there simply is no hint of a temporal
qualification on the law's validity; the two conditional clauses do not indicate
different things but are actually parallel to each other for the sake of emphasis.
Otherwise a self-contradiction has been created out of an otherwise innocent and
intelligible saying of Christ. Finally, we are given abundant reason to dispute
PBF's interpretation of this verse when we compare it to the Luken version in
Luke 16:17. In that place the invalidation of the "tittle" of the law is made
dependent simply on the passing away of heaven and earth--with no mention of a
qualification (such as the pants genatai clause is according to PBF's view). Luke
says that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a tittle of the
law to become invalid; that is, such invalidation will not take place at least until
the end of the world. Now, if Matthew claims that such invalidation will indeed
take place prior to the passing away of heaven and earth, then the two gospel writers
have been made to contradict each other. It is unfair to make them do so when there
is a perfectly legitimate, semantically and syntactically sound, way to understand
Matthew's statement so that such a contradiction is not created. Therefore, for all
of these reasons, PBF's interpretation of the clause, heos an pants genatai, in
Matthew 5:18 cannot be accepted by us. His view is unsupportable, and it renders
the text contradictory with itself and contradictory to Luke's statement. What
Jesus actually communicates to us is that the law has "a basis firmer than the
stability of the space-time universe" (Carl Henry, Christian Personal Ethics, p.329).
As long as we live in that universe we can sure that God's law is a valid moral
standard to which we are bound (cf. Isa. 40:8; I Peter 1:22-2:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
It turns out, then, that contrary to PBF's strong accusation, it is actually
his view of Matthew 5:18 that is "fraught with problems" of an insurmountable
character. His position has been found to be baseless at points, to read matters
into the text at points, to be contrary to ordinary Greek grammar at points, to
createtheological problems at points, and to lapse into serious logical problems
as well. It simply cannot be sustained upon cross-examination. When PBF comes
to Matthew 5:19-20, he is all the more up against opposition from the words of
Christ. No matter how one interprets the word plarosai in v. 17, and no matter
how one interprets the clause heos an pants genatai in v. 18, we find Christ's
own application of His sayings to the practical life of His followers in v. 19.
In that verse we find a strongly worded warning and prohibition against anyone
teaching or behaving as though even the least commandment of the Old Testament
is invalid. On the basis of vv. 17-18, Jesus says "therefore" we must not treat
any detail of God's revealed will in the Old Testament as though it could be
violated with impunity. What could be clearer? The entire law of God is in fact
valid today according to the authoritative pronouncement and warning of the Lord.
At this point all the grammatical and logical arguments about previous elements
of His sayings shade into the background, being overwhelmed by Christ's direct
and forceful application. We dare not contradict Him, lest we be demoted in
His kingdom. To say anything less than this is simply to be a coward and not
say what God Himself has said in this text, even if it angers people. Matthew 5:19
is the ultimate disproof of PBF's previous exegesis, and as I said, it is just
here that his viewpoint comes up against its greatest opposition in Scripture.
Jesus does not allow us even to teach contrary to the full validity of God's law,
It strikes me as significant, therefore, that it is just when Dr. Fowler
comes to Matthew 5:19 that he decides to depart from an exegetical and technical
exposition of the passage (similar to his previous efforts with vv. 17 and 18)
in favor of a general theological discussion of what others have said about the
Mosaic law's validity today or a'survey of what we find elsewhere in Scripture.
I may not agree with the exegesis he has offered for vv. 17 and 18 of Matthew 5,
but I at least respect his effort to pay attention to the text and let it speak.
Sadly, he now feels the need to leave off textual exegesis of the relevant passage
and depend on other kinds of considerations. This is not an inductive or very
convincing way to handle the specific text before us which reads so contrary to
PBF's viewpoint. The very fact that he now changes the mode and scope of his
discussion is a telling indication of how clearly he recognizes the problem he
is up against. Exegesis of the particular text must be suppressed in favor of
a different kind of consideration. It has been said that Matthew 5:19 teaches
the need for "meticulous observance by Kingdom citizens of the least details of
the Old Testament law." PBF must confess, "At first glance, it might appear that
this is exactly what verses 19 and 20 teach" (p. 25 @2). Consequently he now
glances elsewhere to find a way of coping with the trouble such a verse will pose
for his theological conceptions held previously. Our fear must be that he will
attempt to find encouragement for these preconceptions in some non-exegetical
fashion, only then to return and read them back into the troublesome verse. Again,
hhcprevious efforts at inductive exegesis were better calculated, even if executed
with noticeable faults. However, I am not convinced that PBF can find theological
encouragement for his viewpoint, and therefore I will resume paragraph by paragraph
responses to his discussion, even though my main observation remains his departure
from technical exegesis for more general and loose considerations.
p. 25 @2: PBF states that in Matthew 5:19 "the content of the term 'least' is the
issue in question." Instead of answering that question himself, he spends the
next three pages asking further (or counter?) questions in return. His reader is
not told anything (except perhaps rhetorically), but suggestive questions are
used instead. Yet the question of the content of "the least commandment" is not
nearly so obscure or strained as PBF indicates by his failure to answer it
forthrightly. The term "least" is obviously a relative term. What is least in
one context may be greatest in another (e.g., the least able basketball player on
a pro team is still the greatest player among high school candidates). Thus we
must ask what the scope of Jesus' remark is when He refers to "the least" of the
commandments. Is He speaking of the decalogue, the personal requirements of the
Mosaic law, the social requirements of that law, the Mosaic law as a whole, the
Pentateuch, the Poets, the Prophets, or just what? It happens that the context of
His statement leaves us no doubt as to how to answer this question. To use PBF's
own words, "Jesus is referring to the entire Old Testament scriptures" when He
speaks of the Law or the Prophets in Matthew 5:17 (p. 6), and the term "law" in
5:18 "most likely refers as well to the entire Old Testament as a declaration of
the will of God" (p. 19), So then, PBF quite clearly knows what the content of
"the least commandment" is in 5:19, given the context in which this expression
is found and the scope of Christ's interest here. Jesus warns us against deeming
the very least significant commandment anywhere at all in the Old Testament as
annulled. The thrust of His teaching is rather clear, I believe; it is very much
like an a fortiori consideration in an argument, If something is true in the
lesser case, how much more is it applicable in the greater case! If Jesus will
not permit us to deem the least Old Testament commandment as invalid, how much more
arc we bound to recognize all the rest of them (the greater ones than the least)
as authoritative today. You see, since He does not abrogate the Law or Prophets,
He expects them to be fully obeyed. Since not the slightest stroke of the Law
will cease being binding until the end of the world, even the least command is
our moral obligation. There is really nothing confusing, esoteric, or obscure
about "the content" of "the least commandment" in the statement of Jesus. PBF
is attempting to raise the dust where the air is quite clear. It is beyond doubt
that Jesus recognized that some Old Testament commandments were "weightier" than
others; these were stipulations, for instance, dealing with justice, mercy, love
and faith (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). Nevertheless, as minor a matter (relatively
speaking) as tithing your garden vegetables may be, the Lord firmly insisted on
such a requirement as this as well. Indicting the Pharisees for straining at
gnats and swallowing camels, Christ said of the weightier matters of the law: "these
ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone" (Matt. 23:23). He
did not pit the greater commandments against the lesser ones, but insisted that
they all were to be obeyed: As He rather straightforwardly says in Matthew 5:19,
"therefore, whoever breaks one of these least commandments and teaches men so
shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven."
p. 25 @3: PBF wants to suggest that since Christ finds the righteousness of the
scribes and Pharisees inadequate (Matt. 5:20), and since these people kept some
of the least important commandments of the Old Testament, therefore those minor
details are not intended by the expression "these least commandments" in Matthew
5:19. But there is a serious error in such thinking. In the first place, it is
logically fallacious--a form of hasty generalization (i.e., what is true of some
aspects must be true of all aspects of the Pharisees' behavior). PBF could just as
well argue that, since the Housing Authority condemned the houses on Elm Street
and those houses were built with foundations, therefore the Housing Authority does
not believe that houses should have foundations (when the presence of foundations
did not occasion the condemnation at all, but rather the threatened danger from
fire and rats)! In the second place, PBF's reasoning in this paragraph proceeds
on a false assumption--one that in fact conflicts with the very point Jesus is
trying to make against the scribes and Pharisees. PBF reasons that some of the
least commandments "were kept by the scribes and Pharisees." Now that is what the
general public in that day believed, and it is surely what the scribes and Pharisees
believed (Luke 18:9-14); however, Jesus did not believe it for a minute! Although
the minor things which the Pharisees bid people to do are to be observed, to the
extent that they sit on Moses' seat (Matt. 23:2), Jesus did not believe that the
Pharisees did such things themselves: "they say, and do not" (23:3). Further, they
regularly distorted what Moses required (which is the point of the illustrations
in Matt. 5:21-48). Furthermore, the Pharisees did their works for the wrong
reason--motivated to be praised of men (Matt. 23:5), They appeared outwardly
righteous but in fact were inwardly so polluted with lawless sinning (Matt. 23:25-28)
that they were blind guides (23:16ff.) who make their followers twofold children
of hell (23:15). Being full of hypocrisy and "lawlessness" (23:28), they could
not enter God's kingdom (23:13). This was Jesus' attitude. This is why He said
that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we were
to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). The whole point is that the Pharisees
do not keep the law--either as they say to, or as the Old Testament genuinely required.
PBF's reasoning, then, uses a significantly false premise.
Also in this paragraph PBF begins to talk of "something deeper and more profound"
than some Mosaic laws (p. 26 top); he thinks that Jesus has something "deeper" in
mind at Matthew 5:19 (p. 27 top). Says PBF, Jesus would interpret God's demands
"in a higher key" (p. 27 @1). Now apart from the confusion created by mixing
metaphors of depth and heighth, what could PBF mean by such figures of speech?
How is something "deeper" (or "higher") than one of God's commandments? Does PBF
mean that some of God's revealed will for our behavior is more important or weightier
than other injunctions? If so, then we must answer him that in Matthew 5:19 Jesus
is not speaking of such weightier matters of the law when He uses the expression
"these least commandments." That is obvious. But if P3F's metaphor of "deeper"
things does not pertain to the weightier matters of the law, then I frankly do not
comprehend what he is trying to say. Why is he so vague and unclear here? Does
what he expresses about "something deeper" or something "interpreted in a higher
key" have any definite and unambiguous meaning? If so, then he ought to say what
it is and leave the metaphors to popular preaching. There is no way to evaluate
his opinion as a scholar when we cannot understand the point he is attempting to make.
However, whatever his point would be if expressed unambiguously, I doubt that it
will undo the obvious endorsement Jesus gives to the authority of every Old Testament
commandment in Matthew 5:19. Apart from deeper and higher requirements, Jesus was
also explicitly concerned for the "least" requirement as well. (It should be
added, I think, that PBF's inference that God's concern for mother birds, human
safety, and proportionate retribution is somehow shallow or unprofound /p. 26 top,
p. 27 top/ is less than acceptable or appropriate as an attitude toward the
righteous standards and wisdom of the Lord. These kinds of depreciation are
perhaps more disturbing in the end than even the logical errors committed.)
p. 26 @1: This paragraph makes the claim that Jesus modified some of the Old
Testament commandments. It is a claim that has been shown repeatedly to be in
error by expositors of Matthew 5:21-48. An entire chapter is devoted to this
subject in Theonomy (chap. 3: Pharisaism Reproved), and further convenient reading
can be pursued in the works by Murray, Stonehouse, or Congdon that are cited earlier
in this paper. The fact is that Christ challenged not the law of God, but the law
of God as rendered and interpreted in what was "said by the elders" (as the introduction to each antithesis in Matt. 5:21-48 says). Christ modified the unrighteous
treatment of the law at the hands of the Jewish interpreters, not the righteous law
of His Father. PBF is either not aware of expositions which demonstrate this point,
or else he has no rebuttal to them which is offered. Thus as it stands, chapter 3
in my book is a sufficient reply to PBF's claim that Jesus modified the commandments
of the Old Testament, and nothing further need be said.
Before going on to the next section of PBF's paper, a further comment should
be made about the discussion of Matthew 5:19-20 found on pp. 25-27. Not only is
PBF's treatment marred by the problems rehearsed above, it is even further to be
faulted for its implications. According to PBF, three things can be found in this
passage (and following verses in the pericope): (1) the Pharisees kept the Old
Testament requirements of God, (2) Jesus modified those Old Testament requirements,
and (3) Jesus condemned the Pharisees for an inadequate righteousness that would
have to be exceeded--matching up to His own intensified interpretation of the law,
One does not have to be a brilliant exegete or profound theologian to see on the
very surface of this viewpoint a terrible injustice toward the Pharisees on the
part of Christ. As unwitting as it is, to be sure, PBF's remarks add up to an
indictment of our Lord for condemning the Pharisees ex post facto--according to a
standard which He only then introduced, a standard which modified the previous
requirements that they diligently kept. That would be unfair in the extreme, as
anybody can see. It would be like a father telling his son to pick up his room
and then punishing the boy because he did not clean the entire house as well. If
Jesus really modified the previous standards of God, and if the Pharisees really
had kept them (or at least the ones that PBF thinks Jesus modified), then the
excoriation of the Pharisees was unjust in the extreme. The truth is that these
suppositions are both inaccurate and are corrected on the theonomic approach.