Blessings or Curses: Reflections on Deuteronomy 11

Sabbath School commentary for discussion on November 20, 2021.

Editor’s note: This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide lesson covers Deuteronomy's presentation of blessings and curses. Here is an excerpt from Tom Stone’s book In the Shadow of the Pyramids: A Reflective Commentary on the Narrative of Deuteronomy that examines the subject, appearing here courtesy of the author.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11508
1 Like

I am not sure I see the proper context for the use of this passage. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” NIV 2 Cor 3:3. This passage is talking about placing Paul’s letter on their hearts, nothing related to the OT.

It is interesting to note that Jesus calls us to love God as a “commandment.” However this is not found in the Exodus or Deut version of the 10 commandments. In Dt. 30:6,10 it was recorded in the “Book of the Law.” Which the “Book of the Law was placed beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God.” Dt 31:26. This was the location for the civil and ceremonial laws were stored.

Everything Moses said was dependent on obedience to the commands of God. “If you obey…then I will…” This is very different them what Paul taught-- "know that a person is not justified by the works of the law [anything the Law tells you to do], but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law
no one will be justified.

"

6 Likes

The thinking here is problematic throughout, exemplified here:

“Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t salvation by works” followed by “Even so, the promised land, the Kingdom of heaven on earth, means practical, real-world changes in our lives and our behavior. To experience the blessing of God’s freedom, we need to live into it. Freedom is practical.”

Placing the two statements side by side, there is no difference. The difference between the OT and NT agreements between God and His people is, as Collossians depicts: .…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, whom, God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The other issue, is that this statement -

First, although the commandments, indeed, were not nailed to the cross, the “certificate of debt” has been.

Secondly,

the Kingdom of heaven on earth, means practical, real-world changes in our lives and our behavior. “To experience the blessing of God’s freedom, we need to live into it.”

The statement indicates it’s up to us to make that happen (just like it was in the OC); while there NC depends on “Christ in you.”

The difference is between obedience as a duty and down payment for salvation - vs - obedience from a change of heart because Christ lives in you. Motivation is everything.

6 Likes

True the Law of God or Moses is not nailed to the Cross, as if it is no longer needed. Yet in terms of Justification by faith–the law is not required. Faith alone is what justifies. Jesus taught this many times when he would forgive sins and heal, on nothing by faith alone.

Gal 5:4 “You who are trying to be justified by the law [obedience its commands] have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

To teach that besides faith in Christ—we need other laws, laws of Moses, rules or teachings that is regarded as necessary to receive righteousness. It is to “fall from Grace”—is to believe that grace is not sufficient but needs our good works, obedience to the commandments, to be joined beside faith… Salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone. It God’s gift to us.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God." Gal 2:19

To Die toward the law, is that we don’t look to the Law (any law) for justification. Faith has a singular object—Jesus Christ who is all sufficient. We don’t claim any part of obedience to the Law as a reason for God to accept me. Thus, the law has no power to make me feel guilty, to accuse me or hold anything against me. Only thing the Law can do–is make us feel guilty, we can never do enough to satisfy the Law.

In this sense we are “dead to the law.” Then we can live for God by being Justified by faith and thus receive the Spirit. It is though the Holy Spirit that we led into a godly life. For the Spirit fights against the Flesh, in a way the Law cannot do. The Law just condemns, the Spirit writes in our hearts fruits of holiness.

“Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’” (Gal 3:11)

This passage eliminates any of the Law’s commands as a factor to receive justification–"[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law" (Gal 2:15). That is anything that laws of Moses tells or commands you to do. There is no merit to be added by human effort, from the Saints, or human good works. We are complete in Him.

3 Likes

Yes, you’re “preaching to the choir”, as the saying goes. According to Paul, the Law is the mirror that reflects our need for redemption. It’s the “certificate of debt” (for breaking the Law) that was removed by Christ for those who accept Him.

1 Like

For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in his flesh the hostility, the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in himself he might make the two into one new humanity, in this way establishing peace. (Eph. 2:14-15)

Paul is speaking of the law in totality, not just in ceremonial observances, and is saying that Christ abolished it in his flesh…a reference to it being nailed with him to the cross. In our individualist arguments to avoid perfectionism, dichotomize law and grace, and gain assurance of salvation, along with the Adventist fear of promoting lawlessness, we are missing what he was actually speaking of when he referred to the law in this way.

It’s complicated and a nuanced picture.

Frank

2 Likes

It does not say that any law was abolished on the cross. It was the CERTIFICATE OF DEBT that was nailed to the cross. Let’s read what’s there. Breaking the law (and we all have), generates a legal certificate of our indebtedness for breaking the law. That indebtedness was placed on the cross because it was assumed by Christ who made payment for us.

Sirje…that’s Colossians 2. That’s not what Ephesians 2 is saying. Nor is that the argument of Ephesians 2.

Frank

These are two different issues. Ephesians is talking about bringing both Jew and Gentile together as one before God, through Christ. The Jews having God’s laws etc. but the Gentiles being outside of that relationship.

“*remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from three commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants lot promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”*Eph. 2:12

"But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall..

The wall is the LAW dividing the two groups. Christ, on the cross, abolished the enmity between the two groups, making the two into one. No longer is one group with the legacy of peace (Jews), and the other (Gentiles) without that hope, because Christ made them one by dying for both.

Colossians actually speaks about how that was done - by nailing on the cross, THE DEBT of both. The great equalizer.

1 Like

Indeed. But, Ephesians doesn’t just speak of abolishing the hostility, it speaks of that in terms of an abolishment of the law itself, it’s function as legal, covenant code that determined who was in (Jews) and who was out (Gentiles). The law as written code could no longer be used in that way, and ceased to be covenant boundary marker. In this sense, the law was abolished in Christ.

Paul repudiated the law in this sense and function all over his letters. His reasons for doing so went more deeply than the fact that it divided Jews and Gentiles, it’s that the law could never bring righteousness or life, but actually dealt condemnation and death.

Adventism makes law central in its view of covenant relationship and belonging to God with its emphasis on the obligation of sabbath observance, and food laws, thus throwing people back under the letter and old covenant sign, and dividing those in and out on such a basis.

It is simply an undermining of the gospel and the new covenant.

Frank

2 Likes

Yes, all true. There are many facets to the Law, taken together, it was The Torah, which was the point of pride for the Jews. And, no, the Jews never divided the commandments from the civil law. In fact, Jesus lumped them together, as He gave His “Sermon on the Mount”. “Do not murder” (from the “moral law”, became “Don’t even get angry”, and was combined with “An eye for an eye” which was part of the civil law - no distinction.

2 Likes

Yep.

As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. (Acts 21:25/)

And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and
brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch
and Syria and Cilicia:

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled
you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep
the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: ( Acts 15:23,24)

In other words, “The Holy Spirit and we, the leading members of the Jerusalem congregation, disavow our renegades’ claim that God wants you Gentiles to observe the law that He gave exclusively to us Jews. God wants you to ignore it”.

Ellen White successfully pretended that this passage is non-existent.

3 Likes

I wouldn’t go as far as saying Gentile believers were to ignore the law. Paul saw the law as prophetic in pointing to the messiah. He also used it as a source of wisdom…wise instruction for individual and community life for Jesus followers.

What he did repudiate was the law, it’s written code, as covenant legal arrangement to determine belonging/salvation… especially its outward signs of visible membership, such as circumcision, sabbath observance, and food laws.

That ship had sailed in light of messiah and the outpouring of his spirit.

Frank

2 Likes

For Paul the law was basic to human existence. The Christian looses his identity without the LAW. To be a Christian, you are accepting Christ’s atonement for your sins - without the law there are no sins. Paul says the whole world is guilty. (Rom. 3:9ff.). Through the law comes the knowledge of sin. - Rom. 3:20. This makes the LAW the base point even for the Christian, if he’s to have the atonement granted by Christ. The difference between Jew and Gentile is the covenants they agreed to. The Jews promised to follow the law on their own; while the Christian has faith in Christ’s atonement. This faith is bolstered through the HS as we grow and mature, working from faith in the indwelling Christ - “The indwelling Christ, our hope of glory.”

1 Like

The base point for human existence for Paul was Christ and the Spirit. His statements about the law and its condemning power and function were largely in relation to Judaism and its claims that the law brought righteousness and life. His statements that the law could only bring wrath, condemnation, and death were to counter those claims, and the attempt by Jewish Christians to claim their own privileged position and status by the law, and to bring Gentiles under the law on the basis of those claims of its power to bring such.

Romans 3:20 needs to be read in light of 3:19 and Paul’s entire argument up to that point. “Now whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law…” For Paul, Gentiles and Gentile believers were never under the law. He is addressing Jews to convince them that all the law can do for them is convict and bring them a heightened knowledge of sin. Paul concludes that they, like the Gentile world without the law, have no claim before God…the whole world thus becomes silent and held accountable before God’s just judgement, there is no difference. The prior question in 3:9 asks, "Are we (Jews with the Torah) any better (than Gentiles without it)? Paul’s answer, illustrated through 3:10-20, his quotations from the Torah/scriptures, is not at all! No Jew would ever view the Torah in this way.

His picture of the Torah was so negative that it begged the question in Romans 7:7, is the law/Torah sin? His answer was certainly not! He continued that as a Jew under law he would not have known sin, except for the law, but that sin was so powerful, that it commandeered the law as its weapon to bring enslavement and death. Iow, this was the best that life under the law could bring, seeing the good, but never being able to consistently do it, a hopeless defeat, futility, and bondage. A life and experience in that chapter that never mentions the spirit, as opposed to chapter 8.

Thus, Paul, contra to what the Protestant world has painted for centuries, was not speaking of the law as necessary for Gentiles or Gentiles believers at all, as if they needed it to regulate life or bring conviction of sin. This was the role of the Spirit warring against the flesh in light of the crucified Christ. The model of Christ’s love brings conviction, the presence and power of the spirit convicts of sin and the need for redemption. Paul hardly even speaks of sins plural and repentance and forgiveness for Christians, he speaks of dying to the enslaving power of sin and rising to the freedom of new life in Christ and the spirit, albeit still in conflict with the flesh…but from a new vantage point, not oriented around the law, especially as covenant.

For further support outside of Paul’s letters, look at the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts. He is convicted of his need for deliverance and eternal life, and Paul preaches Christ to him. The law is never mentioned once. In John 16, Jesus is saying that the spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement, all in relation to who Jesus is…again the law isn’t in sight.

In my own personal experience of coming to Christ and feeling my need of a power greater than myself, the law played no part. Not one iota. Christ became everything through the spirit for me, with no reference to the written code of the law.

With that said, can the spirit use the law to bring conviction or course correction? Certainly, I believe so. But, was the law/Torah central to this and ongoing life in God’s new creation in the messiah? I think that’s overstating things, and actually misreading what Paul was saying about the law’s role and relation to believers in Jesus as messiah.

Thanks…

Frank

Frank, I agree with all that; but I feel like we’re missing something. Logically, it makes no sense to dismiss the law as being basic to the plan of salvation. Salvation through faith in Christ means He has taken our guilt (from what?) from sin. Sin is the breaking of God’s will (law) (some of which are given in the TC). Without our breaking the law, we would have no need for Christ’s atonement - therefore, through the law comes knowledge of sin. The commandments are a mirror, showing us our need. The Jews thought they could remedy the situation by doing a bunch of things. Paul makes clear we can do nothing and must have faith in Christ’s actions on our behalf. Our hope is only in Christ and not in our own efforts to abide by God’s law.

The Ten Commandments are not the sum total of God. They were given to a people that had been enslaved and didn’t know how to live as free people. They were specific to that. A more complete picture of what God looks for in us, is Jesus’ revision (expansion) of the Ten Commandments. Even that is beyond us to accomplish. Like Paul says, “what he wants to do (obey) he finds he’s doing the opposite” Rom 7 - but “there is now no condemnation” because Christ took that to Himself. Our faith in that makes changes in us, but never perfectly. We are not merited by our good works; only by faith in Christ.

I hear you, Sirje. This is the traditional protestant argument, but I just don’t think that it is Paul’s. Paul establishes in Romans 5 that sin was in the world between Adam and Moses, because all sinned after the order of Adamic rebellion, and all died…before there was ever the Sinai covenant, the Torah/law and the ten. IOW, even without the law/Torah, human beings were under the domination of an alien power that deals death. Sin was viewed by Paul not simply as the breaking of a legal code that expressed God’s will, but as an enslaving existential power that exerted its force equally upon those with or without the written code of the law. Christ came to bring liberation from that power for all equally…Jews and Gentiles, those under law and apart from the law.

Paul’s statements that the law brings the knowledge of sin needs to be read in light of his refutation of claimed Jewish privilege under the law, and of the power of the law and its observance to impart righteousness and life. All the law could do, Paul was saying, is bring a heightened knowledge of sin, turn it into conscious transgression, (Galatians 3), and exacerbate the situation under sin of those under the law. I don’t believe he is addressing the concerns you are bringing up about the ongoing need of having the law so that we/Jesus followers could know God’s will, and be held guilty when we break it. This sounds more like Calvin or Luther, but not Paul.

It also sounds like the Jewish objections to Paul’s gospel vis a vis the inclusion of Gentiles. Paul was continually accused of leaving Gentiles morally rudderless because of his de-emphasis, and de-centering of the law not only for conversion, but for ongoing Christian life. How would Gentiles live according to God’s will without the law as their guide? How would they know sin? Wouldn’t Paul actually be promoting sin if he left Gentile converts without the law as the standard, the mirror in which they could see themselves and their sin?

Paul’s general answer is no. The mirror that Paul says Christians gaze into is the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 3)…not the law any longer. Christ and His spirit are the ones who impart a knowledge of God’s will, and who bring continual transformation for those who seek to know God’s will through Jesus. This is Romans 12:1-2…those who have experienced God’s mercy in Christ, and who offer themselves in worship to God through Jesus, are to no longer be shaped by the ways of this age, but to be continually transformed by the renewing of their minds, so that they may be able to test and approve the good, pleasing, and full will of God. The law is not mentioned here by Paul…it is life in Christ and the Spirit that shapes this experience.

While Paul still positively referenced the law in its prophetic function as pointing to Christ, and God’s bringing of the promised blessing to Jews and Gentiles equally through Jesus and the spirit, and while Paul still referenced the Torah as a source of wise instruction for ongoing life, he did not view or present the law as central to that ongoing experience for his churches.

The law was de-centered as a temporary arrangement to reveal God, and human access to God’s will for human beings, in light of the new creation and covenant in Christ.

Frank

I get it, Frank. I like your explanation. I guess when law is mentioned in the NT it has to be Jesus’ interpretation of it - Love God; and love your neighbour. That is the basic law upon which all other references to law depend on. The Sinai Law was the law encapsulated for the Jews at that time; and that, too, is based on the “great commandment”.

You’re right in that SDA concept of law is like the Jewish concept contained in the Ten. What’s called Adam’s sin which is attributed to all, doesn’t seem to be recognized by SDA church since that can’t be willed away.

1 Like

On second thought, Adam’s sin was of the same kind as all other sin - based on loving God. Don’t you think. That’s our problem - too much self love.

1 Like

Frank,
I think our understanding of Romans 5:12-21 is crucial to how we view sin, the law, guilt, and the scope of God’s plan of redemption.
Unfortunately, primarily due to the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek, most all of western Christianity has the wrong idea of what Paul was saying.
Here is the most widely disseminated translation of Rom 5:12: ‘Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death has spread to all men, because [since, in as much as] all have sinned.’ But here is v14: ‘Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s sin, who was a type of Him to come.’

So, most translations make Paul contradict himself. In effect they are saying in v12 that everyone after Adam died because they sinned but v13 says they didn’t disobey in the manner of Adam. And if they didn’t disobey as Adam did and there was no law given before Moses to define other sins, how could the people who lived between Adam and Moses have sinned and died as a consequence of their sin? How does one break a nonexistent law? It doesn’t make sense, especially because Paul wrote in Rom 4:15, ’…for where there is no law, there is no sin.’

Amazing how critical ideas can be errantly formulated by the mistranslation of simple words.
I think what follows, written as a footnote to v12 by David Bentley Hart, a respected scholar of ancient history and linguistics in his translation of the New Testament agrees with your statement that

“A fairly easy verse to follow until one reaches the final four words, whose precise meaning is already obscure, and whose notoriously defective rendering in the Latin Vulgate constitutes one of the most consequential mistranslations in Christian history.”
Hart goes on to explain that most translations have it backwards:
“The Greek phrase έφ ώ (eph ō) does not mean ‘because’ but rather ‘upon which’ or ‘thereupon’. Thus v12 actually says “that the consequence of death spreading to all human beings is that all became sinners”…He then goes into some errant Latin grammar to show how the above proper reading was misconstrued and concludes…”Hence what became the standard reading of the verse in much of Western theology after the late fourth century: ‘in whom [i.e., Adam] all sinned’. This is the locus classicus of the Western Christian notion of original guilt - the idea that in some sense all human beings had sinned in Adam, and that therefore everyone is born already damnably guilty in the eyes of God - a logical and moral paradox that Eastern tradition was spared by its knowledge of Greek.
“Paul speaks of death and sin as a kind of contagion here, a disease with which all are born; and elsewhere he describes it as a condition like civil enslavement to an unjust master, from which we must be “redeemed” with a manumission fee; but never as an inherited condition of criminal culpability. It has become more or less standard to render έφ ώ as ‘inasmuch’ or ‘since’, thus suggesting that death spread to all because all sinned. But this reading seems to make little sense: not only does it evacuate the rest of the verse of its meaning, but it is contradicted just below by v.14, where Paul makes it clear that the universal reign of death takes in both those who have sinned and those who have not.
“Other interpretations take the έφ ώ as referring back to Adam, not as in the Latin mistranslation but in the sense that all have sinned “because of” the first man; this, though, fails to honor the point Paul seems obviously to be making about the intimate connection between the disease of death and the contagion of sin (and vice versa).
“The most obvious, and, I think, likely reading is that, in this verse a parallelism (something for which Paul has such a marked predilection) is given in a chiastic form: just as sin entered the cosmos and introduced death into all its members, so the contagion of death spread into the whole of humanity and introduced sin into all its members. This, as we see in Romans and elsewhere, is for Paul the very dynamism of death and sin that is reversed in Christ: by his triumphant righteousness he introduced eternal life into the cosmos, and so as that life spreads into the whole of humanity it makes all righteous (as in vv. 15-19 below, or as in 1Corinthians 15: 20-28).”

To try to summarize, we all fell when Adam sinned but he alone is responsible for his sin. What he gave us all was death which inevitably leads to our own sin. We fell from a state of sinlessness and immortality to a state in which we begin to die as soon as we are born. This weakness, this mortality, this alienation from God means we sin.

It’s interesting that Paul could write in Rom 6:23, ‘…the wages of sin is death’ implying sin causes death but in 1Cor 55-56 write, ‘“O death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?”The sting of death is sin…’ I read this as Paul saying that as soon as we are born we start the process of dying, and this weakness, this separation from God who is life, inevitably results in our sin, our doing things not in harmony with God’s ideal for us (which is the point I believe he makes in Rom 5:12-13).

So, we are born into this spiral of death and sin which we cannot escape. Christ, the last Adam, is the one who has raised us out of it. ‘…God who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not by our works, but by His purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now revealed by the appearance of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (2Tim 1:9-10).