Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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October 2003, Volume IX, Issue 18


Christ's Words Shall Never Pass Away (4)

Christ’s promise that His "words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35) includes not only the preservation of the OT (see the last News) but also the rejection of the Apocrypha as uninspired. The Apocrypha, which includes I and II Maccabees and additions to Daniel and Esther, etc., was not reckoned part of the OT canon by the Jews, as is evident, for example, in the writings of Josephus, a Jew of the first century AD. This is particularly significant, for "unto [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). Thus Christ and His apostles do not quote the Apocrypha.

The Apocryphal books were written later than the OT and even then not in Hebrew as the OT books. Moreover, some of the Apocryphal books disclaim inspiration or teach false doctrines such as free will, prayers for the dead or the worship of angels. Thus the true church understood that the Apocrypha was not God-breathed. Jerome, a fifth century church father, made this point in his Latin translation of the Bible. The Westminster Confession declares that the Apocrypha is "not ... of divine inspiration" for it merely consists of "human writings" (1:3; cf. Belgic Confession 6). The false church of Rome, however, in its Council of Trent (1546) calls down an "anathema" upon those who do not receive the Apocrypha as "canonical and sacred."

Not only the OT (which does not contain the Apocrypha) but also the NT has been specially preserved by God through the centuries. In the early days of the NT church, the 27 God-breathed NT books were recognised and grouped together. Uninspired materials, such as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, were set aside. From the original autographs good copies were made. These were then copied, and so on. The original manuscripts in Greece, Turkey, Israel, Rome, etc., (and faithful copies of them) served as controls or checks upon the new copies which were made. Believing scribes laboured in the consciousness that God threatened plagues upon those who add to or take away from God’s Word (Rev. 22:18-19). The invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century ensured wider availability of God’s inspired and preserved Word.

The number of NT manuscripts possessed today far outweighs those of any ancient book. For the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (c.460-c.400 BC) we have eight manuscripts. The works of Sophocles (an older Greek contemporary of Thucydides) are only found in one manuscript written 1400 years after his death! On the other hand, there are about 7,000 manuscripts containing all or part of the NT. Christ is faithful; His Word has not passed away and will not pass away. Rev. Stewart

The Role of Israel (3)

Most premillennialists and all dispensationalists apply the predictions of the OT prophets to ethnic Israel which they believe is to be restored spiritually in a future earthly millennium. One way to evaluate their system is to examine OT prophecies concerning Israel which are interpreted and applied by the Holy Spirit in the NT. Last time we considered Amos 9:11-15 and its explanation in Acts 15:13-18. This time we turn to the great promise of Jeremiah 31: "[31] Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: [32] Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: [33] But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] ... and I will remember their sin no more."

With whom is the "new covenant" to be made when "the days come" (31)? It is to be made "with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah" (31, 33), that is, with those whose "fathers" God brought "out of the land of Egypt" (32). Thus, interpreting Jeremiah 31:31-34 literally and without reference to any other part of Scripture, the new covenant is to be made with national Israel and Judah (a "house" [31] and "people" [33]), the descendants of those whom God redeemed from Egypt. No mention is made of the Gentiles or a catholic church at all.

However, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is understood by the NT writers very differently. The citations in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17, in their contexts, teach us that the new covenant is established upon the sacrifice and intercession of Jesus Christ, the heavenly high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Thus the Holy Spirit declares, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (9:28). Can this be restricted just to ethnic Jews? Moreover, though the writer to the Hebrews has much to say about the new covenant and its relationship to Christ’s blood and His heavenly priesthood and kingship, he has nothing to say about any future earthly millennium for the physical descendents of Jacob.

When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christ had Jeremiah 31 in His mind: "this is my blood of the new testament [covenant], which is shed for many" (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). Christ’s new covenant blood redeemed His people from "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev. 5:9). Thus Paul tells the largely Gentile church in Corinth that at the Lord’s Table they drink "the new testament [i.e., covenant] in [Christ’s] blood" (I Cor. 11:25). Clearly, "Israel" and "Judah" in Jeremiah 31 refer to the catholic church of the NT redeemed in Christ, and not merely ethnic Jews either in our days or in a future millennium. Rev. Stewart

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