Concessions to Human Weakness?
NCW 22, August 1995
Q. There are many things in the Law of Moses which I find hard to believe originate with God, like slavery and polygamy, for example. Most ministers I have asked say that these things were "concessions to human weakness" or "they got a law which they deserved". What is your opinion?
There are many problems with these positions which I personally find hard to accept. Allowing Israel to have kings instead of judges could certainly be seen as a "concession to human weakness" or what is perhaps better described as "God's permissive will", that is, allowing the people to have their own way by giving them a lower commandment after they have rejected a higher one.
The Gnostics explained imagined contradictions between the Old Covenant and New by postulating that the God of the Old Testament was not the Almighty God but a demi-god or Demiurge. One gnostic group described him as the "angry god" who was unredeemed, claiming that when Christ came this semi-divine being accepted the Gospel and became "saved" and "mellowed". The suggestion is that Yahweh or Jehovah was an angel given responsibility to govern a very backward, unspiritual planet. Attractive and plausible though this theory is, it is without warranty in the Bible. If Jesus really was the "Almighty God" (though most gnostics deny that He was God) and Yahweh was a rebellious, or semi-redeemed "Demiurge", you can be sure He would have had something to say on the subject. Instead, He claimed equality with Yahweh -- He claimed that He and Yahweh were one and the same!
This, then, is not the solution to your problem. The second popular "explanation" is that the Bible parts are not of equal authority. They maintain that the Old Testament is "primitive" and the New Testament more "advanced", and that this suggests evolution of thought from the primitive to the sophisticated. Theirs is the hypothesis of cultural Darwinism. This theory the New Covenant rejects. If we are evolving into greater enlightenment (and I am not here talking about technical evolution but social and moral) then when I look at the barbarism of the Yugoslav conflict and the horror of the Cambodian civil war, and numerous other conflicts of the late 20th century, then I am forced to conclude that morally and ethically man has not changed one bit. The Assyrian of Old Testament times would have been quite at home amongst Pol Pot's assassins and more than delighted to join in the "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia and Bosnia.
We are therefore left with a dilemma. Conservative theologians claim, for instance, that polygamy was a concession to human weakness. They claim that since this was culturally normal at the time of Moses, the Lord permitted it until the people were of a more repentant mind frame. This does, of course, beg an important question: to whom is this a concession? If we are to understand them right, then presumably it is to the men, to satisfy their sexual lusts. Are we therefore to understand that Jesus Christ, who said that the grace of God was as equally available to women as men and who claimed to be the God of the Old Testament, was yielding to the sexual lusts of men and making women pay for them? For if polygamy is indeed a "concession to human weakness" then surely it is a concession to men at the expense of women! And that would make God a partial God, favouring men and despising women...which is, of course, the image humanists and feminists want to portray the Biblical God as.
God uniquivocably declares that He is not a partial God (e.g. Job 34:18-19; Deut.16:19; Lk.20:21). Everywhere partiality is condemned (1 Tim.5:21). And He reveals Himself as the saviour of both men and women equally in the way He treated both impartially as God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ. We must therefore decide whether to reject the Bible and make up our own theories or accept it as it claims to be: the Word of God. In other words, we must decide that the Law of Moses was the Law of God and that its truths are timeless. Indeed, we must believe that if for no other reason Jesus said this, for He said that not one punctuation mark of the Law would disappear or cease to be valid until all had been fulfilled (Matt.5:18; Lk.16:17). And He declared through His prophet, Jeremiah, that the only difference between the Old Covenant and the New (which was to come, and which came in Jesus Christ) was that the Law, which hitherto had been a set of external regulations that had to be obeyed at the pain of death, would become internal -- written on the heart of man. Instead of being, as it was in the Old Covenant, a curse to be externally imposed, it would become a blessing written on the human heart by the pen of the Holy Spirit (Jer.31:31-34).
If this is true of polygamy -- which the Bible says will be the natural state of the human race in the Millennium (Isa.4:1-3), then presumably this must be true of slavery. The whole concept of slavery is written not only into the Old Testament but into the New, but perhaps not in quite the way most people suppose. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of Slavery. The apostle Paul understood that we were "slaves of Christ" and that this was a most glorious and happy state to be in (Rom.6:22; Eph.6:6). So why, then, are we revolted by slavery? Why do we exalt Wilberforce and the abolitionists who fought to undo slavery and give every man his dignity? Because the kind of slavery they fought against was evil and God's slavery is righteous. The Gospel of Christ does not put us in fetters but frees us from them. So how can such be regarded as "slavery"?
When I tell people that I believe in slavery they either think I am mad or plain evil. But usually they don't know what I am talking about because the meaning of words has changed. I consider myself to be a gay person but I am absolutely not a homosexual. Originally, "gay" meant "happy and carefree" -- today it does not. I consider myself to be a slave -- a slave to my God, a slave to the Church Patriarchy, and a slave to my local Pastor. I do not, I assure you, walk around in chains, nor do I seek to escape from their authority at the slightest opportunity. I am happy to be their slave because I am free. Slavery, in the Biblical sense, is servanthood, or, in New Testament jargon, discipleship. I am a servant of the Lord, of my leaders in the Church, and under discipline -- or discipleship.
Taking people prisoner and putting them into physical bondage is certainly described in the Old Testament. God permitted the Israelites to take prisoners of their enemies. His purpose in doing this was to enable them to be converted to the Way of Holiness, of the Covenant of Moses, which was the only thing that could save them. Those who were killed lost their lives because (a) they were utterly depraved, and (b) God knew they would not repent and would instead corrupt Israel. The Law required that these slaves be freed after a period of time. They were to be taken into bondage for their own good, something we don't necessarily appreciate always. Yet do not parents "enslave" their children, bringing them under discipline ("Old Covenant"), for their own good until they are responsibile enough to act freely with their own conscience ("New Covenant")? So God has behaved with nations.
Under the New Covenant, which requires that the Law be written on the heart by the Holy Spirit coming to a freely repentant soul, the Old Covenant Law of slavery has been lifted to a higher level of consciousness. Whereas the Old Covenant Law was administered by a special Priesthood -- the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood -- the New Covenant is to be administered by a higher Priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, of whom Jesus Christ is our High Priest (Heb.7:11-12,24). According to this Law, slavery comes naturally by the Holy Spirit. All true Christians make themselves slaves of Christ voluntarily because they have tasted the wonderful fruits of that slavery. True, that slavery can sometimes be unpleasant as the spiritual self wages war with the carnal self -- the carnal wishes to enslave the spiritual (in the classical sense of "slavery") whilst the spiritual wishes to enslave the carnal (in the sense that I am trying to convey here). During such warfare, true slavery can sometimes appear to be classical (oppressive) slavery. Indeed, do we not, as Christians, give God full permission to do to us whatever He, as Sovereign, wishes, even if that is uncomfortable or painful? And do we not do so in faith, because we trust Him when He tells us it is for our good and salvation?
Jesus Christ has upgraded marriage and slavery in the New Covenant by making them "natural" and from the heart. He never abolished either. What the millennial, polygamous world will be like I have only a vague idea -- I only know that God has said that it will be, and that it will be natural for us, and that He will appoint husbands their wives as He did before (2 Sam.12:7-8). For most of the world it is unnatural, just as righteousness and honesty have become increasingly "unnatural". Our perception of things is relativistic -- it depends on our own spiritual condition and the way our minds have been trained. We, as Christians, ought to be trained by the Word of God and not by the world.
A lady recently wrote to me to contradict this picture that I have here given of the Law, and sent some of the classical scriptures in defense of her position (1 Tim.3:2; Tit.1:5-6; Gen.2:24; 1 Cor.6:18; 7:2; 1 Thess 4:4; etc.). What she did not realise or understand was that the first Christian Church was a transition church. Though originally Jewish (and therefore accustomed to both polygamy and slavery), it rapidly became Gentile (Roman and Greek), in both culture and general outlook. The Christian Church (or more properly, churches) has essentially been gentile for the last two millennia. And the instructions given in the New Testament after the Gospels (and letters like that of James and Hebrews, which were addressed to Jews, neither of which were written by Paul, incidentally) is essentially for these gentile Christians.
We make a sharp distinction between "Gentile Christianity" and "Hebrew Christianity", for the two are not the same even though they should be. And much conflict has arisen between them. (Interestingly, gentile Christianity accepted slavery until the 18th century). 20th Century Christianity -- Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -- is gentile. It is not the Christianity of the first Christians and will not be the Christianity of the Millennial Church. Gentile Christianity, though a vital part of world history, is a concession to human (and specifically, gentile) weakness. It was necessary because a clear separation between Talmudic Judaism and Christianity was necessary. God, however, is not partial -- conversion has to be genuine and of the heart. The Jews of the apostles' day were not ready to repent en masse, and indeed did not. Thus Judaism and Christianity must remain separate until true Hebrews are converted, as God says they will be (Rom.11:26).
What we are going to see in the very last days (and to some extent we are seeing it already with such groups as Messianic Jews, the Worldwide Church of God, the Seventh Day Adventists, BetHaShem Midrash, etc.) is a moving together of Messianic Judaism and Christianity. By that I do not mean that the Christian Church will re-establish circumcision or animal sacrifice or other practices abolished by the New Covenant, but it will return to its Hebrew cultural roots so that it can become the Millennial Church, properly established in the Law through the New and Everlasting Covenant of Jesus Christ.
The New Covenant Church of God is such a Church. We are preparing for the Millennium. Our doctrines and practices are progressively evolving towards and reflecting the Millennial environment. The Gentile Church, important though their contribution is to this Gentile World, must, and eventually will, conform themselves to this Millennial Church. Indeed, they will all become absorbed into it, or to be more precise, their members will, because the Gentile Churches as organisations will largely disappear in the Great Tribulation.
In conclusion, then, the Law of Moses was the blueprint and foreshadowing of the theocratic Millennial world order of Jesus Christ. It contained additions like animal sacrifice to point souls to Christ which, when He came, were abolished. It expressed the true principles of Christ on a lower level commensurate with the peoples' spirituality, for God always provides environments in which people can be spiritually progressed. Paul, who was the apostle to the gentiles and who revolutionised the Gospel with the depth of his insight, was, like John the Baptist, a forerunner, preparing an essentially gentile world for the glorious day of the Millennial Order.
Let us, therefore, be wise in not judging the Word but in understanding it in its great and glorious historical context. The Bible must not be twisted to fit our pre-conceived doctrines and ideas. For some Christians eating meat was immoral -- Paul commended them to their conscience provided these vegetarians did not attempt to impose their vegetarian ideas on meat-eaters who also had to live by their consciences. Both were to be allowed to glorify God. Today, the Gentile Churches (particularly protestant ones like the Lutherans and Anglicans) are begrudgingly conceding that cultures in Africa and elsewhere, where polygamy is normal, should be allowed to live this marriage lifestyle according to their consciences because they see that this lifestyle is consistent with Biblical practices. It is a pity they do not concede also the Biblical teaching that this will be normative in the Millennium.
The apostle Paul established clear-cut rules for the gentile churches and one of them was that they should essentially be monogamous. To this end pastors and deacons were instructed to be monogamists and so set an example. His reasons were simple -- unlike the Hebrews who had lived polygamy naturally for millennia, the gentiles were not so sexually moral. Indeed, Paul spends much of his time rebuking the gentiles for their sexual licentiousness. As a result, gentile Christianity has become monogamous, and this is indeed how it must be, for we see sexual licentiousness everywhere in the gentile culture today, for whom polygamy would simply become an excuse for perversity.
The same is true today of slavery (servanthood/discipleship) in a culture which stresses rights and egocentricity. Patriarchal government, which will be the characteristic of the Millennial Church, is anathema to modern gentile Christianity. These days Christians move between denominations when it suits them and show little in the way of commitment. Churches continue to schismatize exponentially. The problem is the "I" culture which demands that every individual be free to do whatever he wants. Not so with true Christianity.
I believe, that with these keys of understanding, you will come to appreciate the glory and beauty of the Law of Moses in light of the New Covenant. Before the truth supposed contradictions evapourate. However, if you are to see the truth, you must be totally honest and accept all of God's Word, and not just that which you like or which supports the prevalent gentile culture. Without that honest approach, the Bible will remain a sealed book, full of imagined contradictions and horror stories. The truth truly sets you free. In the meantime, let all Christians live by pure consciences (Ac.24:16), remembering also that sometimes a clear conscience does not necessarily make a man inncocent (1 Cor.4:4). The matters you raise are not simple ones and require, for their resolution, total honesty, and an in-depth knowledge of the Bible and history, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. It is most unlikely -- I would even say impossible -- that all Christians will be agreed about them. Whatever our point-of-view we must feel free to be disciples of Christ according to the degree of our spiritual development and be allowed to choose to obey God rather than men (Ac.5:29). It is the Lord who judges in the end (1 Cor.4:4).
It is true to say that the New Covenant vision of the Millennial Church is not liked by most Christians because it upsets centuries of cherished traditions. Irrespective of whoever is right, the Millennium will come of its own accord and Christ will establish a Kingdom of His own making, not man's. New Covenant Christians do not seek to impose their views on other Christians. As I have said, we accept the necessity of gentile Christianity and we support it but we do not believe it is the ultimate form of the Church of God. Otherwise we would be a part of it. We have chosen what we believe to be a better Gospel because it is the original and everlasting Gospel.
We have often said that we believe everything in the Bible, even what we don't like. Most of us have trepidations and fears about doctrines and practices which aren't the "norm" -- the Jews certainly did and preferred to remain with what was "old and "familiar" (Luke 5:39). Old habits and thinking patterns die hard. The Millennial Order is going to be so completely different from anything we know in the world and churches today -- the question is, are you going to be prepared for it? In the New Covenant Church of God, we like to think that we are.
This article represents New Covenant thinking from the mid-1990's and our thought has evolved a little further in the light of new understandings. It was (wrongly) assumed at this time that the "gentile Church" were not fully Messianic and were proscribed certain Torah reqirements with an historical, prophetic purpose in mind, and that the apostles catered for this. The evidence shows, rather, that they were designed to be fully Messianic and Torah-observant but in increments, the first 'increment' being the decision reached by the Council of Jerusalem to forbid them eating blood, indulging in fornication, etc.. This was to ensure that Torah would be manageable to them. There is evidence that polygamy was practiced in the New Testament Church  just as we know slavery was , though as far as the latter was concered, the goal was always to conform the Greek-Roman forms to those defined by Torah by reformation. The full Messianisation of the gentile churches was not, we supposed, ever accomplished because of the antichrist forces at work in them from the very beginning, as we read of in the first part of the Book of Revelation.
 1 Corinthians 5:1: A son had fornicated with his "father's wife". This does NOT refer to the man's mother. Indeed, the term, "father's wife", is a very specific term. Leviticus 18:8 refers to "father's wife" as specifically separate from "mother" in the previous verse of Leviticus 18:7. Note that the "nakedness" of a "mother" is referred to as her own "nakedness" while the "nakedness" of a "father's wife" is referred to as the FATHER's "nakedness". This same differentiation is observed again in Deuteronomy 27:20,16. In fact, what the fornicator had done as per 1 Corinthians 5:1 was the same sin as that of Jacob/Israel's firstborn son. Reuben had committed the identical sin with Jacob/Israel's wife, Bilhah, in Genesis 35:22. (Yes, Bilhah was Jacob's wife ; see Genesis 37:2.) And for Reuben's act of "uncovering his father's nakedness" by fornicating with his "father's wife", Bilhah, Reuben lost his birthright as firstborn. 1 Chronicles 5:1 reveals that this was because Reuben had "defiled his father's bed". Indeed, the reference to "father's wife" in 1 Corinthians 5:1 does reveal an actual polygamist identified in the New Testament, i.e., the father of the mentioned fornicator. Matthew 19:8-9, Jesus simply repeats the Deuteronomy 24:1 "as it had been in the beginning" when it was written. In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees were asking about "every" reason for divorcing, but Jesus returned back with the only one allowed reason (the woman's "fornication/uncleanness"), as per Deuteronomy 24:1 .
 e.g. Paul's epistle to Philemon
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