A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One More Time, The Prophets Were Not Radical Reformers

Christians today tend to view prophets as radical reformers offering something new. In fact, in the modern West we have tended to create an antithesis between the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament-- the Law was about conserving what was whereas the prophets were about moving into new ways into the future. We see this with Walter Rauschenbusch and the social gospel, as one example.

But when one looks at the New Testament, such an antithesis is absent. Jesus is portrayed as having come to fulfill both the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27), and the Protestant Reformed reading of Paul's understanding of grace as from the prophets in opposition to the law has been decisively discredited.

The Old Testament prophets were not reformers in the sense that they were calling the people to something new beyond the law, but they were calling Israel back to the law and covenant faithfulness, to the covenantal tradition. Scot McKnight in commenting on Aaron Chalmer's book, Interpreting the Prophets, writes the following, He notes two major themes in the prophet literature of the Old Testament:

1. Sinai and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and the Israelite people, and 2. Zion and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and David (and his descendants).

Scot then quotes Chalmers,

The importance of the Sinai Covenant traditions for the prophets is easy to see. The prophets are not essentially radicals or innovators; instead, they are better characterized as traditionalists and conservatives who are responsible for calling Israel back to their covenantal obligations to the Lord. In fact, Fee and Stuart (2003: 184) refer to the prophets as 'covenant enforcement mediators', highlighting the fact that the demands they make and the judgements they announce closely follow the stipulations and curses of the Sinai Covenant (72).

Most equate prophets with radicals and innovators and change-agents, but rather the prophet is a traditionalist calling God's people to be faithful to the covenant.

The prophets are not agents of change; they are preachers that demand God's people change by returning to the covenant tradition.

1 comment:

Owen Weddle said...

Indeed. The prophets do speak of something 'new,' such as Isaiah 65:17-18 and Jeremiah 31, but it is a newness that God brings and God provides as a gift and in His mercy. The reason for such 'newness' is not due to the wrongness of what God provided, but the failure of the people so that God must act in a new, fresh, powerful way. Even Paul makes that point in Romans 7; the problem wasn't Torah, but the principle of sin in people.

The way I put it, at the risk of overgeneralization: The prophets called the people back to faithfulness to what God had already made known to them, while looking forward to God's faithfulness in the future towards them.