Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

PSALMS, HYMNS, AND SPIRITUAL SONGS

By Wayne S. Walker

     We know from the New Testament, and can infer from later writings of church leaders, that Christians of the first century did sing in their worship, but we do not know precisely what songs they sang or exactly how they sang them. Some have thought that their singing may have possibly sounded more like chanting.  Also, it is thought by some that the singing of the early church may have reflected two influences, in addition to any direct revelation from God through inspired teachers. The first of these influences was the Hebrew Psalms of Old Testament temple rites, and the second was Greek hymns composed in honor of their gods, heroes, and famous men.   It is possible, then, that these two influences may have suggested to primitive Christians a style in which songs of praise to Christ might be sung.   However, all we know for sure is that they were told to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as we read in Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16.

Psalms

     The Old Testament Psalms were sort of like the hymns that God gave the people of Israel to sing.   Some of our hymns are based on the Psalms, and a lot of songs that are not drawn directly from the Psalms often use language taken from the Psalms.  Even Martin Luther’s great hymn “A mighty fortress is our God” reflects the thought of Psalm 46.  During the early Reformation, the majority of songs sung by the Reformed and British churches were metrical versions of Old Testament Psalms, such as “All people that on earth do dwell,” based on Psalm 100, made by William Kethe, and taken from the Anglo-Genevan Psalter of 1561, and “The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,” a rendering of Psalm 23 sometimes attributed to Francis Rous from the Scottish Psalter of 1650, which are both still popular.

Others have set their hands to rendering the Psalms in various forms, such as John Milton with his “Let us, with a gladsome mind” taken from Psalm 136; Joseph Addison with his “The spacious firmament on high,” a paraphrase of Psalm 19; and Isaac Watts with his Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament including “O God, our help in ages past” based on Psalm 90.  Still others include such well-known hymn writers as James Montgomery, Robert Grant, Henry F. Lyte, John  D. S. Campbell, and even American gospel song composer William J. Kirkpatrick with his “Hallelujah! Praise  Jehovah” using Psalm 148.

However, I am not convinced that when Paul mentioned “psalms” in connection with hymns and spiritual songs he was necessarily specifying the Old Testament Psalms, although they would no doubt be included.  It is reasonable to conclude that the term could well refer to any meditative and reflective songs that would partake of the nature and character of Old Testament Psalms.  Some have suggested that other religious songs which paraphrase passages of Scripture besides the Old Testament Psalms might well fall into this category.  Examples of this might include George W. Doane’s “Thou art the way” drawn from John 14:6, and of more recent vintage, Thomas O. Chisholm’s “Great Is Thy faithfulness” with echoes of Lamentations 3:23.

Hymns

     The dictionary says that our English word “hymn” means “a song of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, etc., especially one sung at a religious service.”  We sometimes speak of songs like “My country, ‘tis of thee” and “O beautiful for specious skies” as national or patriotic hymns because they are songs of praise about our country.  The word translated “hymn” in the New Testament is defined by W. E. Vine as “a song of praise addressed to God.”  The term was often used by secular Greek writers to denote songs sung in praise to their gods and heroes.  Nowadays, many people use the term “hymn” to refer to just about any kind of religious song.  However, hymnologists make a technical distinction between hymns and gospel songs, usually with the latter having a chorus and the former having none, though some make the distinction based on content and musical style.

Using these criteria, Frederick Faber’s “Faith of our fathers” looks like a gospel song because it has a refrain after each stanza, but it is usually classified as a hymn.  On the other hand, Philip P. Bliss’s “Almost persuaded now to believe” and Adelaide Pollard’s “Have Thine own way, Lord” have no chorus but are almost always categorized as gospel songs.  Other bases for making a difference between the two have been suggested, but the fine line is sometimes rather blurred.  As suggested previously, up until around 1750 almost all singing done in English speaking churches was from the Psalms.  Interestingly enough, it was the non-conformist Isaac Watts who first popularized “hymns of human composure (e.g., “Alas, and did my Savior bleed;” “Come we that love the Lord;” and “When I survey the wondrous cross”).

Since then, we have had English hymn writers like Charles Wesley (“Jesus, lover of my soul”), John Newton (“Amazing grace”), William Cowper (“There is a fountain filled with blood”), Henry F. Lyte (“Abide with me”), Charlotte Elliot (“Just as I am”), and Reginald Heber (“Holy, holy, holy”).  There have been Welsh writers like William Williams (“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah”); Scots writers like Horatius Bonar (“I heard the voice of Jesus say”); and Irish writers like Cecil F. Alexander (“All things bright and beautiful”).   And of course American writers from Timothy Dwight (“I love Thy kingdom, Lord”) and Ray Palmer (“My faith looks up to Thee”) to Maltbie Babcock (“This is my Father’s world”) and Henry van Dyke (“Joyful, joyful, we adore thee”); along with a host of others, have written hymns by which we can sing praises to God.

Spiritual songs

      The word translated “song” in the New Testament is the source of our English word “ode” and according to Vine “was the generic word for a song; hence the accompanying adjective ‘spiritual.’”  Thus, a spiritual song would be one which expresses spiritual truth by which we can teach and admonish one another.  Most of what we call “gospel songs” would fall into this category.    Although I have not seen anyone else who has affirmed this, my study in the history of religious music has led me to conclude that the modern gospel song was basically introduced by composer and publisher William B. Bradbury, with such favorites as “My hope is built on nothing less” with words by Englishman Edward Mote, and “He leadeth me, O blessed thought” with words by American Joseph H. Gilmore.

It is certain that Bradbury introduced to the world the “queen of gospel song,” Fanny J. Crosby.  Who can tell how many hearts have been comforted by her gospel songs, such as “A wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord;” “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!”; “Safe in the arms of Jesus;” “Tell me the story of Jesus;” “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;” “Thou, my everlasting portion;” “Praise Him, praise Him!”; and “Jesus is tenderly calling thee home”?  Originally, what today are identified as “gospel songs” were published in Sunday school songbooks and intended primarily for children.  However, the popularity of Fanny Crosby’s works resulted in the inclusion of gospel songs in regular church hymnals.

The crusades of revival evangelist Dwight L. Moody and his song leader Ira D. Sankey also did much to popularize the gospel songs which they used and published in their books.  Many others in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, like Will L. Thompson with “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling,” and Charles H. Gabriel with “When all my labors and trials are o’er,” have added gospel songs to our repertoire.  Most recent songs written by those associated with churches of Christ are in the form of gospel songs, including Tillit S. Teddlie’s “Worthy art Thou,” “When we meet in sweet communion,” and “Heaven holds all to me.”  And good brethren are constantly working to give us new expressions of praise and devotion to God in song.

Conclusion

     As one studies the history of religious music intended for congregational singing, especially that in English speaking churches, he will see the progression of psalms from around 1550 to 1750, through the classic hymns from 1750 to 1850, to the gospel songs from 1850 to nearly 2000.  Yet, while a majority of the selections in most of our song books today are gospel songs, we still have many hymns and quite a few psalms.  Hymnologists are now noting the passage from the primacy of the typical gospel song to the more contemporary “praise and worship song.”  It is only natural that as time goes on, many older songs will fall into disuse and newer ones will take their place.  Yet, we must always make sure that what we sing in worship can meet the qualifications of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

—taken from Biblical Insights; January, 2015; Volume 15, Number 1; pp. 24-25

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“A Virgin Shall Conceive”

A VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE

By Wayne S. Walker

     In Isaiah chapter seven, Ahaz was king of Judah, and Isaiah was the prophet of God.  At that time the kings of Syria and Israel were in league to attack and conquer the southern kingdom.  God promised to deliver Judah and asked Ahaz to request a sign.  The king, trusting more in Assyria than in God, refused, and so God gave a sign anyway.  “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (v. 14).

The immediate application of this statement to Ahaz is somewhat unsure.  One explanation is that Isaiah’s wife would conceive and bear a son who would symbolize God’s deliverance of His people.  Since this occurred in Isaiah chapter 8, it could be that Isaiah had not yet married her when the prophecy was made, and hence she was still a virgin at that time.  However, to me, this does not fully explain the use of the word “virgin.”

Another explanation is that this does not refer to an actual event, but means that in the time that it would take for a virgin to marry and bear a son, God would deliver Judah.  This is a definite possibility, but it also still lacks something regarding the word “virgin.”  Or it could be saying that a God who is powerful enough to have even a virgin conceive a son is powerful enough to save His people from their enemies.  This is even more likely.  However, regardless of what this passage meant to Ahaz, we know how it is used by inspiration in the New Testament to refer to Christ when it says, “A virgin shall conceive.”

Isaiah said that this event would be a sign.  This word literally means a flag or standard, also a memorial; hence, any pledge, token, or proof of a divine mission; evidence of the fulfillment of what is predicted; especially a miracle wrought in attestation of a divine promise or message.  In Exodus 4:1-17, two miracles by Moses—his rod’s turning to a serpent and his hand’s becoming leprous—were given as signs to the Israelites and to Pharaoh.  In Isaiah 38:1-8, God gave Hezekiah a sign to show that his life would be spared by turning back the sundial ten degrees.

There were many signs given to identify Jesus as the Messiah.  Nicodemus said, “Master, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2, ASV).  The King James Version uses the word “miracles” to explain the signs.  Then in Acts 2, Peter told the Jews that Jesus was “a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders and signs” (v. 22).  Among the first of these signs was that “a virgin shall conceive.”

The word translated “virgin” is the Hebrew almah, which comes from a root which literally means one who is concealed, hidden, or covered up.  It was generally applied to youth, young men and women, those who are growing up, one in the stage of puberty.  The feminine form is equivalent to “maiden.”  Modernistic, liberal scholars have seized upon this word in an effort to deny the virgin birth of Christ by defining it solely as a “young woman of marriageable age.”  Thus, the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible translate it merely as “young woman.”

Please read these comments made by Professor George R. Stevenson taken from a written debate with Evangelist Dan Gilbert, in which Stevenson defends the Revised Standard Version and particularly its rendering of Isaiah 7:14:

     In his bitter diatribe against the “New Bible,” Dr. Gilbert raises a cry of outrage against this superb work of scholarship because in his words, “It casts doubt upon the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.”

     Certainly the “New Bible” does contain passages which raise a question as to whether or not Jesus was actually born of a virgin.  But in so doing, the New Bible merely expresses the studied viewpoint of modern science.  Modern science cannot accept the idea that any man, at any time, was born of a virgin.

     Liberal religious thinkers cannot fly in the face of the deliberate verdict of modern science.  All my life, I have been in association with the foremost leaders of religious liberalism.  I have been on the faculties of outstanding seminaries and religious institutions that adhere to the enlightened liberal point of view.  I have spoken in some of America’s most famous liberal pulpits.  I am personally acquainted with the intellectual leaders of religious liberalism.  I know what they think.

     Now if Dr. Gilbert finds doubt in the New Bible regarding the virgin birth of Christ, let me assure him that he will find the same doubt in the honest thinking of the leading liberal clergymen of the twentieth century.

     The translators of the New Bible have handled the matter in a most fair and scholarly manner….The have surrounded this alleged miracle with a fair measure of the skepticism with which modern science views such an irregular occurrence—or, more precisely, the allegation of such an irregular occurrence.  (Stevenson, George R., and Gilbert, Dan; Debate Over the New Bible; S. A. Davis, Moulton, IA; n.d., but c. 1950s.)

To me, this is a very damaging statement, by a supporter no less, regarding the motives and purpose of those who translated the Revised Standard Version.  Was the aim of the R.S.V. simply to convey the text of the Bible, or was it to reflect humanistic, liberal thinking?

However, the meaning of a word is determined not only by dictionary definition but also by the way it is used.  And whenever almah is used in the Old Testament, it has the idea of a young, unmarried woman or virgin.  In Genesis 24:43-45 it is used of Rebekah before she married Isaac.  In Exodus 2:4-8 it is applied to Miriam as she watched over her baby brother Moses in the reeds.  The Scriptures do not tell us that Miriam ever married; and certainly at this time, living at home, she was unmarried—a virgin.  In Song of Solomon 1:3 it is found to describe the young ladies who desired to marry the Shunemite maid’s intended.  Obviously, they were unmarried, virgins.  Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, one of the greatest Hebrew scholars of America, wrote the following:

     Finally, two conclusions from the evidence seem clear; first, that “almah,” so far as is known, never meant “young married woman;” and secondly, since the presumption in common law and usage was, and is, that every “almah” is virgin and virtuous, until she is proved not to be, we have a right to assume that Rebekah and the “almah” of Isaiah 7:14, and all other “almahs” were virgin until, and unless, it shall be proven that they were not.  If Isaiah 7:14 is a prediction of the Conception, and if the events recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 are true, and the Holy Spirit of God really did overshadow the Virgin Mary, all difficulties are cleared away.  The language is not the difficulty.  The great and only difficulty lies in disbelief of predictive prophecy and in the almighty power of God; or in the desire to throw discredit upon the divine Sonship of Jesus.  (Wilson, Robert Dick; “The Meaning of ‘Alman’ in Isaiah 7:14” in Princeton Theological Review; Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ; 1936).

There is a second Hebrew word that demands our attention.  It is bethulah, which is the term that actually means “virgin,” or is supposed to.  The liberal scholars say that if Isaiah meant to denote a real virgin, he would have used bethulah.  But according to usage again, this was not always true.  In Isaiah 23:12-16, God prophesied the destruction of Tyre.  He called her a “virgin” (bethulah), but went on to talk of her as a harlot.  Here the word is used about a city which was spiritually impure.  Then in Lamentations 1:8-15, Jeremiah wept over the fall of Jerusalem.  He identifies the spiritual adultery of the city, but then calls it a “virgin” (bethulah).  So obviously, this word is not used to mean an actual “virgin,” at least as we would use it, even in these figures of speech.  Rather, it is used with a sense of irony or sarcasm.  Thus, if Isaiah had used it in 7:14, he would have been saying something entirely opposite from what he intended.

Furthermore, all this arguing over the Hebrew words is pedantic and moot.  In Matthew 1:22-23, the angel appears to Joseph to inform him of Jesus’s coming birth as the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.  The inspired text uses the word parthenos which, in Greek, always means one who has abstained from all uncleanness and whoredom and has so kept chastity.  In its every occurrence in the New Testament (Matthew 25:1-13, Acts 21:9, 1 Corinthians 7:25-36, 2 Corinthians 11:2, and Revelation 14:4) it refers to someone who is pure and undefiled.  We know that this was the case with Mary because when the angel appeared to her in Luke 1:34 and told her that she was to have a child, she replied, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”  This also helps to explain other passages such as Genesis 3:15 (seed of the woman) and Galatians 4:4 (born of a woman) which do not mention the agency of the male.  If one believes the Bible, he must believe that Jesus was indeed born of a virgin!

Isaiah goes on to say that this virgin would “bear a son.”  A similar prophecy is also found in Isaiah 9:6.  There are two terms applied to the Messiah which carry the idea of Sonship.  The first is “Son of God” (John 20:30-31), which emphasizes His deity.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses take this to mean that Jesus was the offspring of God—first there was God the Father, and then by some process of creation or birth, there was the Son.  But this phrase “son of” does not always necessarily refer to generative power but can be used figuratively with other meanings such as “having the nature of” in that a son partakes of the same nature as his father.  Thus, it implies that Jesus possesses the nature of God, “on an equality with” (Philippians 2:6).

In Mark 3:17-18 James and John are called “sons of thunder,” not because their father’s name was Thunder but because they possessed the nature of thunder.  The term also indicates that Jesus is the heir of God.  Because He is the unique Son (John 3:16—this is the meaning of the word translated “only-begotten” in our King James Bibles), He is in the position of a first-born Son (Colossians 1:15), and is therefore God’s primary heir (Hebrews 1:2).  If we become children of God, we shall be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).  It further shows that Jesus is God’s special representative to man (Matthew 11:27, cf. 21:37).  The other title of Sonship used of Christ is “Son of Man” (Mark 9:6).  This emphasizes His humanity and brings us to the final point of our text.

“And shall call His name Immanuel,” which Matthew explains means “God with us.”  There are two lessons that we can learn from this.  First, Jesus is God.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  The Jehovah’s Witnesses render this, “The word was a god.”  However, no reputable Greek scholar supports this translation, and there are rules in Greek grammar which demand the rendering in our Bibles.  But not only is Jesus God.  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14).  He was God in the flesh, who became man—God “with us.”  Christ was made of the same flesh, bone, and blood as you and I (Luke 24:39).  According to Hebrews 2:6-9, 16-17, the purpose for this was two-fold: that He might die for our sins, and that, having experienced humanity, He can be a faithful and merciful High Priest to succor us in our afflictions.  As Paul identified the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16), he begins by saying, “God was manifest in the flesh.”  The one who does not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is not of God (1 John 4:3-4).

A few years ago I read a book in which someone interviewed different ministers and theologians from various denominations and religious groups about the beliefs of their churches.  The vast majority of these religious leaders said that it is not necessary to believe in the virgin birth to be a “Christian,” that one can deny the virgin birth and still accept the “heart” of Christianity,  that Christ’s teachings do not depend on a virgin birth.  Such is the state of modern “Christendom.”  However, God’s word claims that Jesus was born of a virgin.  Christ never denied it.  If the Bible does not tell us the truth on that point, we can never really be sure that it is telling the truth about Him on any points, including His love for mankind and His power to save from sin.  If we throw the virgin birth out the window, then everything else in Christianity falls.  This is why a proper understanding of Isaiah 7:14 as it applies to Christ is extremely important.

—taken from Gospel Anchor; March, 1980; Vol. VI, No. 7; pp. 3-5, 8

Authority

AUTHORITY

By Wayne S. Walker

     By what standard of authority did Moses make the tabernacle and all the furnishings of it?  Did he just make things up on his own as he went along?  Or did he ask the people for their opinions and suggestions?  The inspired writer of Hebrews said concerning the things of the Old Testament law including its priests and sacrifices, “Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5).  Moses had a standard of authority for building the tabernacle that came directly from God.

In studying the Bible, the subject of authority is one of the first things that must be resolved.  We all recognize the need for some standard of authority in various areas of our physical lives.  How can we determine the measurement of a line?  Is one guess as good as another?  No, we use a ruler, yardstick, or tape measure.  How do we know the meaning of a word?  Does each person get to make up his own definition?  No, we appeal to a dictionary.  Thus, everyone understands the importance of having a standard of authority in regards to weight, volume, time, etc.

The same thing is true, or at least it should be true, in the realm of religion.  When are Christians commanded to assemble for worship?  Some say that Christians should assemble for worship on the Sabbath Day, which is the seventh day of the week or Saturday.  Others teach that Christians should assemble for worship on the Lord’s day, which is the first day of the week or Sunday.  Which is correct?  Both cannot be true.  But how can we determine what is right?  Is there some standard of authority, like a yardstick or dictionary, to which we can go to learn God’s will in spiritual matters today?  The purpose of this article is to examine these questions and see if we can find an answer.  To accomplish this goal, there are four considerations to keep in mind.

Has God Revealed His Will?

     In the first place, either God has revealed His will, or He has not.  The Bible affirms that He has.  How can we know about God?  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  This is God’s general revelation of His existence in nature.  However, nature does not reveal God’s will.  So, how can we know the will of God, what He wants us to do?  “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17).  God spoke to Adam and told him what He wished.  This is God’s special revelation of His will by His word.

Yet, God does not speak to people today in the same way that He spoke directly to Adam in the Garden of Eden.  “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).  There was a time when God spoke directly to the patriarchs.  There was a time when He spoke to Israel through the law of Moses and the prophets.  But today, He speaks to us by His Son, Jesus Christ.  This brings us to our second consideration.

How Does God Speak to Us by His Son?

     In other words, what is our source of authority from God through Christ?  To answer this question, we must define authority.  A Roman centurion once told Jesus, “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).  “Authority” may be defined as the right to command and expect obedience.  This centurion himself was under authority and had to obey the commands of his superiors, but he also had soldiers under his authority who had to obey his commands.  So, who has authority, the right to command us and expect obedience, in religion?  “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’” (Matthew 28:18).  To say that Jesus has all authority simply leaves none whatever for any man or group of men.

How then is this authority from Christ transmitted to us?  Jesus is not alive here on earth to tell us what to do, nor does He speak directly from heaven to any individuals today.  However, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles to guide them into all truth.  “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).  The Spirit revealed to the apostles and others known as prophets Christ’s will, which they then wrote down so that we can read and understand.  “How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:3-5).  Thus, that which is written, or the Scriptures, provides the authority that we need to be equipped for every good work.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Now that we know what God intends our standard of authority is to be, this information helps us to answer the question, what then is authorized in religion?  “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).  In secular Greek, the word “oracle” referred to the utterances of a deity.  What God has spoken to us through His Son is recorded in the Scripture.  When we follow this, we know that we are doing what is authorized.  And this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

What does it mean to do something in the name of the Lord?  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).  Acting “in the name of the Lord” is not just doing whatever we wish and saying, “This is in the name of Jesus.”   Acting “in the name of the Lord” means actually doing the will of the Father in heaven which, as we have seen, is revealed in His written word.  To do anything else is “lawlessness” or “iniquity.”

What Scripture Is Authoritative?

     As we have noticed, Paul said that all Scripture is profitable, but not all Scripture is necessarily authoritative today.  For example, in Genesis 6:14, God gave a command, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.”  Yet no one in his right mind concludes that this is a command which applies to us in this time.  The fact is that Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament.  “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’” (Luke 24:44).  Everything in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ; therefore, Paul wrote, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).  The word translated “end” means the goal or purpose and thus the completion of something.  Hence, Christ completed the function of the Old Testament.

Having fulfilled and completed the Old Testament, Jesus took it out of the way.  In Colossians 2:14-17, Paul wrote that Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”  What was this “handwriting of ordinances?  Paul identified exactly what it included as he continued, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”   It was the law which contained commandments regarding food, drink, festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths.  The fact is that the Old Testament law was given for a specific purpose to a particular group of people for a limited period of time.

With the old law out of the way, He gave us a new covenant, just as the old covenant itself predicted.  “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord’” (Hebrews 8:6-9; cf. Hebrews 10:8-10).

Thus, we are not to regard Moses or the prophets as our standard of authority.  When Moses, who gave the Old Testament law, and Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament law, appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus, and Peter suggested building tabernacles or tents for them to stay and teach, God the Father Himself spoke out of heaven regarding Jesus and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” rather than following Moses or Elijah (Matthew 17:3-5).  If our authority does not come from the Old Testament, then what is the purpose of the Old Testament scriptures?  “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  In studying the Old Testament, we find many examples that help us to learn about God, His nature, and His attitude towards sin, as well as many evidences leading us to faith in Christ.  However, it is not God’s law and authority for us today.

Where Is Our Authority Found?

     Therefore, to summarize, we see from the Scriptures that we do not live in an age when God speaks directly to people, through Moses, or by the prophets, but makes His will known through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is why Jesus said to His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).  And this is why Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16)

How do we know that the gospel of Christ is God’s word for us today?  “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.  The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’  Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).  The gospel of Christ is what we generally identify as the New Testament.  Hence, the New Testament must be our only standard of authority in all matters of religion.

—taken from Expository Files; Aug., 2014; Vol. 21, No. 8