By Paul K. Williams
The gospels were not written simply to show the correct interpretation of the Old Testament law. They were written to help Christians to believe in Jesus, understand Jesus, and to understand the kingdom of heaven.
In an article I read recently, Dan Billingsly, a liberal preacher who teaches that a man can put away his wife for any cause and still be pleasing to God, wrote: “There is not one New Testament doctrine revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — before the cross.”
This is pure, unadulterated error. Let me point out some things.
When studying the four Gospels we must understand that Jesus was living under the law of Moses and commanding people to obey it. At the same time he was preparing for the coming of the kingdom and giving some of its laws.
Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In his preaching to prepare men for the kingdom, he described it and gave some of its new teachings.
The Sermon on the Mount is not just a correction of incorrect ideas about the Old Testament law. It is the basis, or constitution, of the kingdom to come.
Matthew 18:15-17 cannot be Old Testament law. Jesus tells us to take the matter to the “church.” This teaching is not repeated in the epistles, but nevertheless it is still binding upon Christians.
In John 3:5 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This statement did not apply to the time before Jesus died on the cross because the kingdom of God did not begin until Pentecost. John 3:5 has to find fulfillment in the kingdom. Jesus outlines the way of salvation there.
Mark 7:19 says, “Thus He declared all foods clean.” Foods were not clean until the law was done away on the cross. Yet Jesus “declared all foods clean” while he was on the earth. He gave New Testament legislation, intending for people to understand that it would come with the kingdom.
In John 4:21-24 Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The principle that worship is to be according to the New Testament (“in spirit and truth”), and that it will not require going to any particular place, is no part of the Old Testament. I do not know of any other place where the New Testament specifically states that the place where we worship is not important. This is N.T. legislation.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written after the New Testament had come. They were not written simply to show the correct interpretation of the Old Testament law. They were written to help Christians to believe in Jesus, understand Jesus, and to understand the kingdom of heaven. Though the incidents before the cross occurred under the law of Moses, they are recorded because they are connected — vitally — to the New Testament.
Billingsly has an axe to grind. He wants to eliminate Matthew 19:9 so he can interpret 1 Corinthians 7 so as to get every divorced and remarried person into the church. Until he can eliminate Matthew 19:9, he cannot do what he wants. So he has taken an extreme position that everything in the four Gospels before the cross pertains to the Old Testament, and that nothing Jesus said before the cross belongs in the New Testament. He is wrong, tragically wrong, and it is apparent that he is wrong because he is driven by his desire to justify the marriages of all.
Matthew 19:9 does not explain the Old Testament law on divorce. It is different from Deuteronomy 24. The only explanation is that it is kingdom legislation.
Matthew 19:9 is for us today. Here is what it says: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” No one has the right to divorce his or her mate — except for the cause of fornication! (See also Matt. 5:32.) These verses show that unscriptural divorce and remarriage results in adultery, which is sexual intercourse of a married person with a person he or she is not married to. These verses show why polygamy is a sin. A man cannot marry a second wife while he is still under God’s law to be faithful to his first wife. When he marries the second wife, he is committing adultery.
The only way an adulterer can receive forgiveness is for the adulterer to repent — and stop his adultery. This is a hard truth (as the disciples of Jesus understood — Matt. 19:10-12), but it is a truth which cannot be broken.