Sunday, April 12, 2015

When the OT and NT Contradict, Which Do We Follow?

Recently, I came across an intriguing question. When the Old Testament and the New Testament contradict, which one holds more authority? If you had asked me several years ago, I would have told you the Tanak for it is the foundation.

The question is leading--it sets up a problem that may or may not exist and asks you to solve it as if it does exist. It then follows along the lines of a black and white fallacy: one book or the other must be more "authoritative" than the other. Either the New Testament is supercessionist or it is plain wrong. Those are the only answers available. Since the question is usually posed to those who have already rejected the first answer, it naturally leads to the second. The New Testament is false because it contradicts the Old.

Do you see the straw man? Instead of asking you point blank why you believe in the authority of the New Testament, the question skirts around the issue at hand and sets up a false answer for you. So, let me ask you: Why do you believe in the authority of the New Testament? Is it because you believe it doesn't contradict the Old? That's circular reasoning and will fall apart quickly. Or is it because of the person of Yeshua HaMashiach and His resurrection?

In the end, that's what it always comes back to: the authority of Yeshua. Anti-missionary arguments try to pick apart that authority without coming at it directly. They set up the playing field backwards by switching Yeshua's authority with those things that should follow from it, making the corollary the foundation and the foundation the corollary. They subject the New Testament and its doctrines to tests that even their own Torah could never stand up to.

Nevertheless, there is a valid question here for those of us who accept the authority of the New Testament based on the foundation of Yeshua. We have to adjust the question based on what we observed earlier about our inability to look into the minds of the writers. Instead it should say, "When my interpretation of the OT contradicts my interpretation of the NT, how do I handle that?"

And for that question, I want to make a case for choosing the New Testament as authoritative. Not as a hard and fast rule and not in a supercessionist sort of way--but I think there are good reasons for reading Scripture through the lens of the New Testament.

1) Authority to Interpret: When we see a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments, we have to realize that what we're seeing is not necessarily a contradiction between the texts, but between our interpretations of the texts. Sometimes the reason we see a contradiction is because we understand the Tanak passage differently than the NT writers did. In these cases, the Apostles have authority to interpret. They lived first century Judaism. They walked with the Author of the Torah. They devoted their lives to this message. They spoke the language of the Scriptures from birth. They are much more qualified than us to interpret the Tanak (not to mention endowed with authority to "bind and loose" from Yeshua Himself).

2) Progressive Revelation: God does not reveal all of Himself at once, but slowly over time. One of the most direct examples of this is when God told Moses "By my name Hashem I did not make myself known to them [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]" (Exo. 6:3). Another example of this is divorce. Moses quite clearly allowed for divorce. Yeshua did not. Rather than seeing the two texts at odds, I think it's better to look at it as a progression. The Torah created a fence protecting women by requiring a bill of divorce. Yeshua went further by pointing out that divorce was never the ideal in the first place--only an allowance that God made because of our "hardness of heart."

I also think it is important to not get hung up on trying to make everything mathematically line up. Take Hebrews for example. There appears to be a contradiction because Hebrews states there is no forgiveness without blood, yet the Torah gives a plain example of forgiveness without blood (the grain offering for the poor). Which is right? Both are. The writer of Hebrews is not making a rigid statement of fact, but rather drawing a general conclusion. Blood is the rule, non-blood sacrifices are the exception.

This goes back to authority to interpret. Our inclination might be to look at the Tanak as operating according to strict rigid laws like physics. This example shows that apparently the NT writers did not view things this way. There are exceptions and there are exceptions to the exceptions. Nevertheless, the exceptions do not invalidate the rule. People received forgiveness without a blood sacrifice, but that is because God is merciful. If it invalidated the rule, there would have never been a need for blood sacrifice. Rather the rule is upheld (despite the exceptions) and points to Messiah. The point is, it may not be the NT writers who are wrong, but rather our mindset. We're just trying to fit everything into this mold that the Scriptures were never meant to squished into.

Defending our faith of Yeshua and the New Testament is something that is close to my heart. If you have questions regarding what I've written here or would like me to address other objections/arguments, let me know. One of my reasons for blogging is to serve you. Let me know how I can help you in your walk.

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