by George Sidney Hurd
Are there two sets of Scriptures in the New Testament intended for two separate groups of believers, as the two-gospel advocates affirm? Most Christians recognize that the Old Testament was for the Jews under the Old Covenant, and although it was written for us, it isn’t all directly applicable to us under the New Covenant. Additionally, in reading the four Gospels, it must be kept in mind that Jesus’ ministry was carried out while yet under the Old Mosaic Covenant.
Therefore, much of His teachings were intended to be transitional, on the one hand presenting the old while at the same time introducing the new. Christ often elevated the demands of the Law so that His hearers would despair of self-salvation by law observance and afterwards gladly receive His redemption from the curse of the Law through His death on the cross, becoming a new creation in union with Him in His resurrection life after He rose from the dead.
In the Gospels, Jesus combined the old with the new and advised His hearers concerning the need to discern between the two. He said that the old was incompatible with the new (Matt 9:17) and alerted His hearers of their need for understanding concerning the kingdom of heaven in order to be able to discern between the two. He said:
“Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matt 13:52)
Therefore, in reading the Gospels, we need to discern when Jesus is applying the old, as opposed to when He is introducing the new. For example, to the rich ruler who was still under the delusion that he could be saved by law observance, Jesus raised the bar even higher, saying that he also would have to sell all that he had and give to the poor (Matt 19:16-22). In contrast, when the corrupt tax collector simply cried out to God for mercy, he was justified by pure grace apart from works (Luke 18:9-14).
On one occasion, we see Jesus raising the bar even higher on adultery, saying that just a lustful look puts one in danger of Gehenna fire (Matt 5:27-29). In bold contrast to this, we see Jesus offering the water of life freely to the Samaritan woman while knowing that, not only was she living in adultery, but also that she had had five previously failed marriages (Jn 4:7-18). On another occasion we see Him saying to a woman caught in the very act of adultery: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
In the Gospels we often see Jesus using the two-edged sword – at one moment killing with the Law, which was the ministration of condemnation and death (2Cor 3:7-9), and the next moment making alive by grace those who already knew that they were condemned and in need of mercy (cf. 1Sam 2:6).
This two-phased working of God in the heart of man is seen throughout all of Scripture, including Paul’s epistles. Paul said: “For God has committed all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom 11:32), and “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24). James likewise said: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” – only to follow up by saying that in the end “mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:10-13). Rather than discarding the Gospels as non-applicable, we need to pray for discernment in order to rightly distinguish the old from the new.
However, the two-gospel advocates not only consider the Gospels to be non-applicable to the Church; they also discard the entirety of the New Testament as non-applicable to us, with the exception of Paul’s epistles. This is an outgrowth of their erroneous interpretation of Galatians 2:7, in which they conclude that there are two separate gospels and subsequently two separate groups of believers: 1) believing Jews or the bride, who are still under the Old Covenant Law, and 2) the believers among the Gentiles, who comprise the Church, the body of Christ, and are under grace rather than the Law. This, they argue in spite of Paul’s emphatic statements to the contrary, as we saw in the previous blog (Gal 3:27-29; Eph 3:3-6; 1Cor 12:13).
They argue that believing Jews are still under the Old Covenant and therefore obligated to keep the Law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus, whereas the Church is said to be under grace with no moral obligations whatsoever. But is it true that the Old Covenant is still in effect for the believer? (cf. Rom 10:4). Is the Jew/Gentile Church not presently living under the New Covenant as they claim? Paul makes it very clear that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but rather we are now ministers of the New Covenant. He said:
“But our sufficiency is from God 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.” (2Cor 3:5-11)
Here Paul, speaking to the Jew/Gentile body of Christ, says that God has made us all ministers of the New Covenant which is not of the letter, as the Old Covenant was, being the ministry of death, written and engraved in tablets of stone. In the place of the tablets of stone of the former Old Covenant, Paul says that we are now an epistle “written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Cor 3:3). This is a partial fulfillment of that which was promised to Israel under the New Covenant when the Lord said, “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).
As we see from Ezekiel 31:31 onward, the New Covenant would have been initiated for the nation of Israel and they would have been fully restored to their land under the New Covenant at the time that Christ, their Messiah and King, came proclaiming that His kingdom was at hand. However, Israel’s representative leadership formally rejected Christ’s offer of the Kingdom when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem presenting Himself as their King (Matt 21:6-17).
Consequently, He declared to them that, because they did not recognize the hour of their visitation, they would be left desolate until such a time as the nation of Israel should welcome Him (Matt 23:38-39). National Israel was then set aside for judgment. Since Pentecost, the promise of Abraham, as well as that of the New Covenant, have been fulfilled in the Church, which is made up primarily of Gentiles, with only a small remnant of Israel believing and coming under the New Covenant during this age (Rom 11:5-7, 25-27).
In 2Corinthians 3, after declaring that we, as the Church of Christ, are now under the New Covenant, Paul goes on to explain that national Israel fails to see that the Old Mosaic Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant because they have been blinded to what Christ accomplished upon the Cross:
“But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2Cor 3:14-16)
It is not that the New Covenant has not yet been effectuated. Jesus said of His blood that it was the blood of the New Covenant, shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28). Through His death He redeemed us from our sins and became the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb 9:15). Paul instructed the Church concerning the Lord’s Supper celebrated in remembrance of His blood shed for us, reminding them of Jesus’ words: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1Cor 11:25).
So, we see that the only people-group that are still blinded and therefore continue living under the Old Covenant are the unsaved Jews, and not the believers among the circumcision. In the very moment a Jew believes in Christ, the veil is removed, and they see that we are now already living under the New Covenant. Those who persecuted the Church and sought to impose the Old Covenant Law were the unregenerate Jews who did not acknowledge that Christ had initiated the New Covenant in His own blood, as well as some false brethren whom we commonly refer to as Judaizers (Gal 2:4; Acts 15:5). But Paul insisted that all believers in this age are to live under the New Covenant, free from the Law. He said:
“For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar — 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children — 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of US ALL.” (Gal 4:24-26)
It must be kept in mind that Paul was speaking both to Jew and Gentile believers when he says that we are all free from the Law under the New Covenant (Gal 3:26-29). In this present age salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke Israel to Jealousy (Rom 11:11-15). However, national Israel will finally be saved and will welcome their Messiah and King at His Second Coming. At that time, they will come under the New Covenant and will see the full restoration of their land as promised in Ezekiel and elsewhere. However, that future restoration has to do with God’s program for national Israel and does not apply to believing Jews in this age who all became part of the Church upon believing (1Cor 12:13).
So, understanding that there are not two separate saved people-groups, but that both Jew and Gentile believers make up the one and only body of Christ, the Church, the argument that today there are two sets of Scriptures in the New Testament for two separate groups of believers, falls to the ground. There are several perceived contrasts and apparent discrepancies presented by the two-gospel advocates to substantiate their claim that the epistles of Paul are different from, and incompatible with, the rest of the New Testament. These supposed discrepancies will be considered in the next blog.