Sunday, August 16, 2009

Defending The Law/Gospel Distinction: Revelation 14:6-7

In this post I will be addressing an argument against the Law/Gospel distinction from Eastern Orthodox blogger MG's post “Breaking down the Law-Gospel dialectic”. His argument tries to show that the Law and the Gospel are not distinct theological categories. I will distinguish the two in the following way: Gospel is believing in the promises of God especially as it relates to our salvation in Christ alone and the is Law the commandments of God. In short what distinguishes these two: the Gospel is “believing” and the Law is “doing”. In Pauline thought believing is never doing and doing is never believing. Now that we understand the distinction let us take a look at MG's supposed counter example to this distinction:

Revelation 14:6-7 6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal *gospel* to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his *judgment* has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

MG writes, after quoting this verse:

“If law is observance of commandments (fear, give glory, worship), and the everlasting gospel teaches us to obey God’s commandments, then are the two really in opposition?”

The first theological mistake that MG makes is by pointing out that people who hold to the Law/Gospel distinction think that there is actually opposition between the Law and the Gospel. This is far from the truth because most Reformed/Lutheran accounts of the Law and The Gospel never say that they are opposed to each other but rather they are distinct from one another. The Law and the Gospel work together to bring about God’s redemptive historical plan and thus there is no opposition here, but only a distinction here.

Secondly, why does MG assume that when it speaks of the Gospel it has to be referring to all the imperatives mentioned (fear, give glory, worship)? My contention is that John is only referring to God’s judgment or justice being displayed to believers and non-believers. The Gospel does contain, after all, God’s justice and righteousness (Rom. 1:17) and surely John is talking about God’s justice which is the Greek word “krisis” used in this passage (in the ESV translation above it is translated as judgment). It seems that this is all John is trying to say: that the eternal gospel is God’s coming justice. This is something that Protestants who hold to the law/gospel distinction agree with. This is a statement of fact about God’s righteous purposes and not an imperative for us to follow.

The reason why MG took the verse in this way is because as an Eastern Orthodox person he rejects the follow Protestant positions: 1) The clearer passages of Scripture ought to interpret the unclear; 2) the Gospel is that of believing and not doing.

Paul states clearly that an aspect of the Gospel is justification by Faith alone (Rom. 1:16-17). Also, that those who reject the Gospel and try to add any works to it, as Paul's Jewish opponents did, are condemned to hell (Gal. 1:8-9). If we would let the clear scriptures define what is the Gospel rather than some difficult apocalyptic imagery in Revelation then one would clearly see that what John was talking about was God’s righteousness and justice as an aspect of the eternal gospel rather than bundle of imperatives. But MG did not do this because his church rejects the Gospel and rejects the reasonable interpretive principles that lay at the heart of the Reformation.

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