By Morris W R. Bailey
When we think of handling aright, (or rightly dividing) the word of truth, our minds usually turn to the distinction between the Old and New Testament, and the fact that we are, today, under the New Testament of Jesus Christ, and not under the Law of Moses. This has been the .burden of our discussion thus far. With this article we enter upon a new phase of our subject in that we propose to show that . . .
The New Testament Must Also Be Rightly Divided
Just as people become confused and arrive at wrong conclusions when they fail to make the proper distinction between the Old and the New Testament, so they often become confused and arrive at wrong conclusions when they fail to make the proper distinction between things that differ in the New Testament, itself. This article will deal with the distinction that must be made between events and conditions before and after the cross of Christ.
In Hebrews 9:15-17 we read: “And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise – of the eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that trade it liveth.”
In these words the writer of Hebrews speaks of the new covenant under the figure of a testament, or will. A will is a legal document in which the testator states his or her wishes relative’ to the disposal of money or property after their death. Some have become -so :imbued with the doctrine of salvation by grace that they have developed a phobia of anything with a legal aspect in connection with salvation. So when a Gospel preacher points out. conditions of salvation that must be obeyed, he is met with the’, objection that such obedience would be legalism-that is, trying to earn salvation by works, and thus contrary to grace. Well, in Hebrews ,9:15-17 Paul designated the Gospel as a testament-a legal document. So I guess that Paul was a legalist.
Old Covenant In Force During Jesus’ Personal Ministry
About two thirds of the, way through our Bible, we find a page bearing the words, THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. Unfortunately some have concluded from this that everything in that section of the Bible is a part of the New Testament plan of salvation. Such, however, is not the case. A proper division of the word of truth locates the personal ministry of Jesus Christ as taking place while the Law of Moses was still in force. This is evident from the following observations.
1. The Law of Moses did not end until the cross of Christ. Paul said, “having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.” From this we conclude that since the Law did not end until the cross,.it was therefore in force during Christ’s personal ministry.
2. Jesus, Himself, kept the Law. On numerous occasions we find him keeping the Passover feast. Moreover He taught His disciples to keep the Law. To His disciples He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatsoever they bid you do, these do and observe . . .” (Matt. 23:2,3).
In showing that the Law of Moses-the old covenant-was in force during the personal ministry of Christ, it thus becomes obvious that the new covenant could not have been in force at the same time. It is a fact, well .established in all jurisprudence that two covenants or wills cannot be in force at the same time. If a man makes a will and then later makes a second will, the first will becomes null and void. That the two covenants, the old and the new, could not be in force at the same time, is made clear by the apostle Paul in several strong scriptural arguments.
1. In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul used the analogy of the marriage contract. A woman, married to a husband, is bound by the law of that husband for as long as he lives. She cannot contract a marriage with a second husband while husband number one is alive. If she does, she is guilty of adultery. Therefore the first husband must die before she is free to contract a marriage with a second husband.
Applying that illustration to the Law, Paul said in verse four, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ, that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead.” Paul’s argument thus is, that they could not be joined to the Law of Moses and the new covenant at the same time. The Law of Moses had to be repealed before the new covenant could be established.
2. In the fourth chapter of Galatians, Paul gave the allegory of two women, Hagar and Sarah. Hagar, the bondwoman, represented the Law given at Mount Sinai. Sarah, the freewoman represented the new covenant. Just as Hagar and her son were not allowed to inherit with Sarah and Isaac, but were cast out, so neither can those under the law inherit with those under the new covenant.
3. In Hebrews 10:9 the writer said, “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second.” First what? Second what? Verse ten tells the writer is speaking of wills. Thus the first will, or testament, was removed that the second will, or testament could be established.
Based on the foregoing observations, it thus becomes obvious as to why it is important that we make the proper distinction between events that occurred, and conditions of forgiveness stipulated before the death of Christ and events and conditions after his death when the new covenant was in force. Failure to recognize this distinction leads to . . .
Confusion Regarding Conditions Of Salvation
By this, I mean that when Gospel preachers endeavor to set forth the conditions of salvation under the new covenant, especially the command to be baptized, they are often met with the objection that there were people saved during the personal ministry of Christ without baptism. So they assume that if people could be saved during Christ’s personal ministry without baptism, people today can be saved without it.
That there were some who, during the personal ministry of Christ, were saved without baptism, is readily conceded. There was the palsied man of Matt. 9:2, to whom Jesus said, “Thy sins are forgiven.” There was the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-48, of whom Jesus said, “Her sins which are many are forgiven.” There was the thief on the cross of Luke 23:42, 43, to whom Jesus said, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” Not only did these people receive forgiveness of sins, but said forgiveness was bestowed without their having been baptized. No one denies that.
But what those who object to baptism have overlooked, is the fact that in each of these cases, forgiveness of sins was granted while the Law of Moses was still in force, and not according to the conditions of the New Testament, which did not become effective until after Christ’s death. Since those who were saved without baptism lived on the other side of the cross, they cannot be examples of conversion to those of us who live on this side of the cross and under the New Testament, sealed and dedicated by the blood of Jesus Christ.
One more thought in this connection retrains to be observed. Sometimes a doctrine involves consequences that its adherents are not willing to accept. Such is true of, the idea that examples of forgiveness of sins without baptism. during the personal ministry of Christ, establish a precedent for salvation without baptism today.
In Romans 10:9 Paul made this declaration, “Because if thou shalt confess. with thy mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe’ in thy heart that . God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” It will be observed that in these words, Paul stated as a condition of salvation that one must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. But what about those who lived before Jesus died? Could they believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead? Obviously not.
So when those who would rule out baptism from the plan of salvation for us today, tell us that some were saved during Jesus’ personal ministry without baptism, we respectfully remind them that some, were saved during his personal ministry without believing that God raised Jesus from the dead. Shall we say, on that basis, that such faith is, unnecessary? So, rule out baptism from the plan of salvation, and by the same process of reasoning, (or lack of it) faith is ruled out too. That is the logical, consequence, whether one is willing to accept it or not.
Yes, even the New Testament must be rightly .divided. In other articles to follow we shall point out other distinctions that must be made between things that differ if we would handle aright the word of truth.
Truth Magazine XXI: 38, pp. 600-602
September 29, 1977