The Teaching of Christ Before Pentecost

By Robert F. Turner

Carmelo Casella edits a paper in Tasmania, Australia called Discipling, in which he advocates what I believe to be an erroneous doctrine concerning the personal ministry of Christ, and our use of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Copies of many pages of this material have been sent to me for review. Ordinarily I would write what I had to say and just send, it to the inquirer, but because this position is also found in the United States, and Casella’s paper is sent to some in this country, I feel we should all give these matters our attention. The following only answers material at hand, but we should be further concerned with the basic principle of N.T. usage which is involved.

Some years ago in a written discussion on remarriage, my opponent took the position that Jesus’ “except for fornication” in Matthew 19:9 was but an explanation to the Jews of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and applied only to those under the Law of Moses. He contended that death was the only scriptural cause for remarriage, and that no exception is made to people under the New Covenant. Now, this preacher says whether or not a person who has been divorced because of adultery could ever remarry, “is not a question of any significance in the doctrine of Christ.” You guessed it! He says Matthew 19:9 applied only to those under the Law of Moses. In both cases the divorce problem triggered the arguments, and in both cases we are asked to dismiss a teaching of Christ because it is not specifically repeated in “Acts through Revelation.”

In this later case the writer says, “It was impossible for Jesus to give us his doctrine while he himself was subject to the doctrine of Moses.” It was not impossible for Isaiah (under Moses’ law) to teach things that would be a part of the New Covenant – such as the acceptance of gentiles (49:6). This premise cripples the preparatory work of Jesus, teaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23). It shows a poor understanding of that period when things were being readied for Christianity. Luke wrote, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (16:16). Jesus set forth principles of a spiritual kingdom which built upon, but would supercede, Judaism. He could say he was Lord also of the sabbath (Mk. 2:28). He taught with authority and not as the scribes (Mk. 1:22). We do not have to deny that the New Covenant was made effective by the death of Jesus to accept teachings he set forth during his life time, and which were later written for our benefit.

We are told the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth, and they would set forth “the doctrine of Christ”; and we fully believe that. But the conclusion is drawn, those who want to know Christ’s doctrine “will find it all from the second chapter of Acts on to the end of the New Testament . . . . the sum total of God’s will for people who want to be in the kingdom of heaven.” This seems to ignore the fact that the Apostles and N.T. prophets, by the Holy Spirit, gave us more. The synoptic gospels were written long after Pentecost and John even later; and they were written “that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed” (Lk. 1:1-4); “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1-2); “that ye might believe . . . and have life through his name” (Jn. 20:31). Jesus told the Apostles, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you can not bear them now.” But when the Holy Spirit would come, He would “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jn. 14:26); as well as reveal additional things (Jn. 16:12-13). The gospels contain the “doctrine of Christ.”

Any exegete worthy of the name knows that circumstances (who speaks, where, why, etc.) must be considered, and that some teachings of Jesus were peculiar to Judaism (Matt. 8:4); but the same consideration of circumstances must be observed in studying “Acts through Revelation” (Acts 21:23-26). The Jewish government was originally a Theocracy, and priests were civil as well as religious leaders. These circumstances continued to some extent through the early days of the church, and until Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans. Social customs of the day also affect our application of Scriptures: the kiss of greeting, foot washing, etc.; but such are found in the teaching after Pentecost as well as before. Somehow I get the impression that Jesus’ personal ministry teaching on marriage and divorce is the main problem, and some would change the rules of exegesis rather than accept it. Let us hope this is not so.

We are told that,2 Peter 3:2 divides Scriptures into two categories: (1) the words spoken before by the holy prophets, and (2) the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. (Unwarranted emphasis is placed on “spoken.”) What Jesus said in his personal ministry, unless repeated in “Acts through Revelation,” is supposed to be as a prophet to the Jews, and have no application to all nations. While Jesus was Prophet of prophets (Acts 3:22f), he has spoken “in these last days” (Christian dispensation) as distinguished from prophets of old (Heb. 1:1-2). His teaching before death is not apart from the apostle’s later teaching, but apart of that teaching, as shown by their setting it forth (writing Matt., Mk., Lk., Jn.), and stating the purpose of those writings for people of all nations (Matt. 28:20; Mk. 1:1; Lk. 1:14; Jn. 20:31).

After the above, and more, the subject of our review admits the prophecies, examples and history of the “beforetime” revelations are needed. He cites the “Royal Laws”‘ (Love God, and man, Mk. 12:28-31) and says “Since most of what Jesus taught . . . Israel was really an expansion of these two great commandments, then most of what Jesus taught is applicable in the kingdom . . . because the two great commandments apply universally.” This is nice and soothing after pages of major surgery on the personal ministry of Jesus. But we have not forgotten that from all that teaching which does apply to us, the editor has deleted Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:4-9, etc.). It would be interesting to see a list of what else is left out, other than the obvious national and social matters which affect interpretation before and after Acts 2.

And what is more “universal” than the marriage law which was “from the beginning”? Jesus acknowledged – that Moses had “allowed” (“suffered”) divorce (see Acts 14:16; 17:30), but declared, “from the beginning it was not so.” The nature of the union which God ordered makes no place for adultery – it violates the sanctity God intended. This is not to say adultery erases marriage – that there must be a divorce. But its sanctity has been violated, and the resultant “exception” is inherent in the universal law of marriage that was “from the beginning.” When men seek to erase Matthew 19:9, et al., from the New Covenant they tamper with a universal law of God. And when this tampering takes the form of new rules that limit the Lord’s teaching to “Acts through Revelation” the first error is compounded.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 21, pp. 645-646
November 2, 1989