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"Law" and "Commandments" in the Gospel of John
Verdict ^ | 1983 | Robert Brinsmead

Posted on 04/21/2002 6:54:38 PM PDT by sola gracia

"Law" and "Commandments"
in the Gospel of John

Robert D. Brinsmead


Although the term "the Law" and the word "commandment" are often used interchangeably in the Bible, the Gospel of John makes a distinction between them. The expression "the Law" appears fourteen times in the Gospel of John. The word "command" or "commandment" also appears about fourteen times.

It has long been noted that the Gospel of John is a book of controversy. The book depicts a great confrontation between Jesus and the Law, between Christ's or the Father's commandment and the Law, between Jesus and Judaism, and between the church and the synagogue. Gutbrod declares that John "has no particular interest in the Law as a possibility for regulating human or even Christian action.''1 He also says that in John "the Law is never used as the rule of Christian conduct for the community.'' 2 On the other hand, in the book of John Jesus repeatedly urges his disciples to keep his commandments.

In all but one of the fourteen instances in which the term "the Law" appears in the Gospel of John, it is accompanied by the definite article. It is not any law that is referred to; it is always "the Law." Thus:

For the law was given through Moses.--John 1:17.

Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."--John 1:45.

"The Law," of course, refers to the Law of Moses. It is the body of teaching revealed to Moses which constituted the foundation for the entire social and religious life and thought of Israel. It is the body of divine revelation given to Moses. In a broader context in the Gospel of John, however,"the Law" refers not only to the five books of Moses but also includes the Psalms and the prophetic books of the Old Testament and, indeed, the entire Old Testament itself. For example: "Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, "I have said you are gods"?'" (John 10:34; cf. Ps. 82:6). And again: "But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'" (John 15:25; cf. Ps. 35:19; 69:4).

In some Johannine passages the expression "the Law" may refer to the Law of Moses in the sense of a specific commandment. Thus:

"Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?" --John 7:19.

"Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?"--John 7:23.

In still other situations the term "the Law" has the specific meaning of a legal ordinance:

Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?--John 7:51.

But whenever the term "the Law" is used in the Gospel of John, it always refers to the Old Testament Law known as the Jewish Torah. John teaches that this Law of Moses points to Christ. It is a prophecy of Christ. When the Jews confronted Jesus and charged him with breaking the Law by healing on the Sabbath day, they pronounced him a sinner before the Law and then tried to kill him. In doing this, John points out that the Jews were unfaithful to the Law (see John 7:19). Furthermore, John shows that Moses, who was the Law personified, testified of Christ. If the Jews had been faithful to the Law, they would have embraced Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour rather than attempting to kill him (John 7).

John also teaches that the Law not only points to Christ; it is not only a prophecy of Christ; but the Law is replaced or superseded by Jesus Christ. This thought is woven throughout the book of John but is especially presented in the prologue--John 1:1-18:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men ....

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. --John 1:1-4, 18, RSV.

Scholars have discovered that this Johannine prologue is derived from a pre-Christian hymn composed by rabbinic poets in praise of the Jewish Torah. The rabbis said that the Torah was the Law, wisdom, word. They said that the Torah was with God from the beginning and was the instrument by which God made the world. It was God's treasure, his firstborn. The Torah lay in God's bosom from the beginning. It was full of grace and truth. John deliberately takes this pre-Christian hymn in praise of the Torah and transfers the honor from the Law to Christ. Jesus Christ replaces the Torah; he supersedes it.

Elsewhere in the book of John expressions such as light of the world, water of life, bread of life, good shepherd, way, truth and life, which rabbinic teaching ascribed to the Jewish Law, are now transferred to Jesus Christ. Christ is the One to whom the Law points, the One who is the fulfillment of the Law, the One who now replaces the Law and supersedes the Law as the final revelation of the will of God. Because Christ has now come, the Law cannot have the same value, the same meaning to John or to the Christian community that it has to an unbelieving Jewish community. The revelation of God is no longer in Moses, but the supreme revelation of God has now been given in his Son. For this reason the supreme rule of life to the Christian community cannot be the old Torah; it must be the word that comes directly from God to his Son in the commandments of Jesus.

It is significant that the book of John presents the Law as the Law of the Jews. On the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John, the Law invariably becomes your Law, their Law--namely, the Law of the Jews. Thus:

In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid.--John 8:17.

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?"--John 10:34.

"But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' "--John 15:25.

John puts similar words in the mouth of Pilate, of Nicodemus and of the Jews:

Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law."--John 18:31.

"Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"--John 7:51.

The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die."--John 19:7.

From the evidence in the fourth Gospel, Pancaro has concluded that "the Law is quite consistently characterized as 'the Law of the Jews'."3 In commenting on this further, Pancaro says that John, writing near the close of the Christian dispensation, reflects the same view of the Law as did Jesus. As John takes the expressions, "your Law," "their Law," "our Law," and places them in the mouth of Jesus, of Nicodemus, of Pilate and of the Jews, "One has the distinct impression of a certain distance--that the Law is being looked upon as associated in some special way with the Jews, that it means more or at least something else to them than it does to Jesus and to the evangelist.''4 Therefore, to consider the Law as the revelation of God and the way of life after Christ's coming means to have misunderstood it or never to have understood it at all.

In John the Law is not used as a rule of life for the Christian community, because Christ, to whom the Law pointed, has come. He has superseded the Law as a revelation of God. All the titles of honor that rabbinic Judaism gave to the Law, John ascribes to the very person of Christ, so that the Law has now become "your Law," "their Law," "the Law of Moses," the Law of the Jews. While the Law is valuable because it has prophetically pointed to Christ, John can no longer value it as a Jew values it. To him devotion to the Law no longer characterizes the children of God. Rather, the Christian community is now characterized by devotion to the Christ.

Christian faith obligates us to do the will of God, not as revealed in the Law, but as revealed in the person of Christ. The revelation that came through Moses was a mediated revelation. It did not come directly from God, because even Moses could not see God. "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (John 1:18, RSV). Throughout his writings John claims that the revelation through Jesus Christ is superior to Moses because Christ is directly taught of God. He is indeed the Word of God incarnate. In the words of Jesus the will of God which we are obligated to do or to keep is not "the Law"; it is the "command" or the "commandment.''

First, it is the Father's own command to Jesus to lay down his life for the sheep and then to take it up again:

"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
John 10:18.

"For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life."
John 12:49, 50.

"But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me."
John 14:31.

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love."
John 15:10.

Thus, the commandment of the Father that Jesus keeps is not the Law of Moses; it is the commandment to lay down his life, to give his life a ransom for many and then to take it up again.

Second, the word "commandment" has the meaning not only of the Father's commandment to Jesus, but also of Jesus' commandment to his disciples:

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."John 13:34.

"If you love me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15.

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." John 14:21.

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love."John 15:10.

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12.

"You are my friends if you do what I command." John 15:14.

Jesus' command is that we "love each other as I have loved you." The expression "I have loved you" is what the Father commanded, so that, for the disciples, keeping the commandment is to reflect the love of the Father's commandment in Christ.

Thus, in summary we recognize that John distinguishes the Law that came through Moses from the commandment that comes through Jesus Christ. John avoids using the term 'law" or "new law" for the will of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Instead, he uses the word "command" or "commandment." John does not use the expression "law" at all in his epistles or in the book of Revelation. It seems that he abandons the term "law" when trying to express our obligation to do the will of God because of its tendency to become depersonalized and legalistic. Such a connotation cannot do justice to the goal of love to God and neighbor which Jesus set forth as the center of God's will for his children. It therefore seems desirable to use some term other than "law" to describe God's will for the Christian life. In John Jesus does not define a new code of regulations for the Christian community. And unlike Paul, John amazingly does not give any detail on Christian ethics. His teaching is deeply spiritual. It is centered in the very person of Christ. John emphasizes that the believer lives out of him who kept the Father's commandment and that the believer keeps Christ's command, his commandment, his word by reflecting that same kind of sacrificial love in relation to others.

Notes and References

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

1. W. Gutbrod, art. "The Law in the New Testament," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, tr. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 4:1082-83.

2. Ibid., p. 1084.

3. Severino Pancaro, The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), p. 517.

4. Ibid., p. 519.


TOPICS: General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: christandthelaw; commandments; thelaw
Christian faith obligates us to do the will of God, not as revealed in the Law, but as revealed in the person of Christ.

This sums it up for me. We follow Christ, not the Law.

1 posted on 04/21/2002 6:54:38 PM PDT by sola gracia
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To: OrthodoxPresbyterian; JenB; Thinkin' Gal; Jerry_M; BibChr; enemy of the people; nightdriver...
Another Brinsmead Bump. For discussion.
2 posted on 04/21/2002 6:55:39 PM PDT by sola gracia
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To: sola gracia
Jesus perfectly lived and fulfilled the law.

Every night I need to have the table set for our family's supper. I can order one of my children to set it. They do it, sometimes cheerfully, sometimes with grumbling.

But oh how happy I am when, at the proper time, a child gets up and sets that table without me asking. And happier still when they come to me and hug me and tell me they love me and enjoy doing what I want them to do.

3 posted on 04/21/2002 7:35:16 PM PDT by Jemian
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To: Jemian
Every night I need to have the table set for our family's supper. I can order one of my children to set it. They do it, sometimes cheerfully, sometimes with grumbling.
But oh how happy I am when, at the proper time, a child gets up and sets that table without me asking. And happier still when they come to me and hug me and tell me they love me and enjoy doing what I want them to do.

Beautiful analogy!

4 posted on 04/21/2002 7:37:15 PM PDT by DouglasKC
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To: sola gracia;OrthodoxPresbyterian; JenB; Thinkin' Gal; Jerry_M; BibChr; enemy of the people...
"Another Brinsmead Bump. For discussion."

"Another" one? I must have missed the others.

I gotta ask ya! When did you start posting stuff from a heretic? LOL!!!! Here you go:

Robert D. Brinsmead - Councillor Tweed Shire Council - Duranbah Road, Duranbah 2487 N.S.W, Australia June 28, 1995

: [excerpt]: "I don't believe in the god of a never ending hell..."

And here: Verdict (1998 & Beyond)

1. The Status Of Jesus Re-Examined
2. The Scandal Of Joshua Ben Adam- Part 1
3. The Scandal Of Joshua Ben Adam- Part 2
4. No Discrimination
5. No Atonement
6. No God Above
7. No Home

EXCERPTS From #6 above[snips]:

* Aside from the one evil of not being human (forgiving, caring, compassionate, giving, etc.) there is no sin. ~

* God Can Be a Dangerous Idea
Any vision of God which is other than the supremely human God is an appalling danger to humanity. The idea of God as a non-human, vertical, authority is the most destructive weapon ever let loose on the earth. Where atheism has destroyed its millions, theism has destroyed its tens of millions. In God's name the worst tyrannies and inhumanities are legitimized by becoming sacralized.

Let the idea of God being a vertical authority above us be accepted, let the idea that this relationship takes precedence over human relationships be accepted, then the door is wide open for every human atrocity, tyranny, deprivation of liberty and destruction of human rights. This is how a sensitive human being like Saul of Tarsus got caught up dragging Christians in chains before the authorities. He put devotion to his God before human obligations. In the same way good men got involved in torturing people in the Inquisition or carrying out Pogroms against the Jews. For sure they were human enough to hurt as they kicked against the goads of their own human consciousness, but the higher authority called God made them do these inhuman things.~

* God is absolutely the most destructive idea let loose on this planet. This idea has caused more war, bloodshed, misunderstandings, strife, tyranny and terror than anything else. Nothing has held people in so much darkness, bondage or blocked human progress so much as the idea of God.

Christians have thought the world was in darkness through want of the Christian God. So they have gone out to convert the world to the God of original sin, hell and blood atonement. A God of blood savagery and total vindictive revenge, dressed up in garments of love and mercy, produced a totalitarian system which has survived the collapse of every other totalitarian system. Why? Because it sacralized its rule and kept people captive with the idea of God.

Anyone who can't see that the idea of God is dangerous, bloody dangerous, hasn't read any history and doesn't realize the appalling amount of crimes against humanity done in his name. And it has not stopped. The world today is a powder keg because there is an idea of God between the ears of millions of people that's more dangerous than all the explosives you could muster in this world.

That many want to dress this idea of God up in a benevolent guise makes no difference. It may be worse because, in the guise of 'God is Love', the idea becomes more seductively dangerous to human freedom and existence. It is safer to believe in no God at all than to believe in this God above, that is, in this God of the vertical dimension.

Of course, we are dumb fools if we fail to acknowledge the source of all this inhumanity done in God's name. It is because God is made to be an authoritarian, non-human reality. This always works to take away our freedom, destroy the possibility of loving others and turns us into the image and likeness of beasts.

Joshua ben Adam laid the ax at the roots of the vertical order with a new doctrine which put a supremely human God on the human level of freedom and love. His image and likeness is not seen anywhere else.

If God is not an authoritarian figure above the human horizontal line, then nothing else is above that line to demand from us blind obedience, submission and loss of human freedom. There is no Bible, Creed, hierarchy or religious laws that can exercise an authoritarian rule over us. Whatever is human may stand on the line of equality with us, but every other icon must be placed beneath our feet. (Psalms 8:3-6)~

**** EXERPTS from #5 above [snips]:

* Real evil, according to Joshua, has nothing to do with the religious icons whether they be foods, rituals, garments, days, places or anything else. Evil has to do with the way we treat people, nothing more and nothing less. The living God has given us a living icon or image of himself and its people. Nothing else matters!~

*Sin belongs to the vocabulary of religion. Religion is pre-occupied with sin, and so are all religious people. ~

*Joshua told this story in answer to a question about finding eternal life. The story tells us that religious affiliations, practices and belief systems don't really count. The only thing which matters is doing the human thing.~

. Hell

According to this recycled pagan myth, pay-back justice had barely begun with all the temporal misery, suffering, and death of this world. The full penalty of the human fall, whose guilt rests upon everybody, is said to be damnation in Hell. In Christian orthodoxy, Hell is a place of never ending punishment, of unspeakable, never ending torments.

With Hell, God's pay-back justice takes on infinite proportions. Sin is said to be an offense against an infinite majesty meriting infinite punishment. So God spends eternity getting even, paying people back for offending him.

Enough said, because the Christian doctrine of Hell is an absolute disgrace. The church has to be charged with polluting the earth with religious sadism and pornography. No human mind should never be made to entertain such sickening inhuman images whose portrayal has caused many to faint, go mad, live in terror, obey religious strictures out of fear, or turn away from believing in God altogether. Millions have become atheists rather than believe in fables so insulting to all sense of human decency.

Thankfully, not all Christians have believed or have continued to believe in this kind of Christian orthodoxy. An awaked human consciousness leads more and more churchmen and theologians to re-interpret Hell in a more humane way or to abandon the idea completely. It is after all an old pagan myth which has been used in the Christian religion to take pay-back justice to an infinite degree of infinite nonsense.

3. The Atonement

In Christian theology the Cross and Hell are the two sides or the two stages of one reality. The Apostles Creed says that Christ descended into Hell. He took upon himself God's wrath against sin, the infinite sufferings of Hell, in order to save us from that punishment. Out of love God is said to have provided this bloody sacrifice of his own son to make an atonement (pay-back, compensation, payment) for human sins. Christ too was said to be one with the Father in becoming the bloody victim of atonement. The transaction is said to be substitutionary. Christ, the innocent one, was treated as we deserved that we, the guilty ones, might be treated as he deserves. God rolled on him the sins of the world and punished him as if he were every sinner.

If it be asked why was this atonement necessary, the answer is that God could not forgive sin unless he satisfied his law or his principle of retributive justice. Anselm said that reparations or an adequate compensation had to be made to God's outraged honor due to man's sin.

The real reason God offers the bloody sacrifice of his son and Christ offers himself as the victim, therefore, is not to save people but it is to justify the divine administration, to satisfy God's justice, to honor and glorify God, etc. Charles Hodge, the Calvinist Systematic theologian, goes even further. Since God is the unmoved mover who cannot be influenced by anything outside of himself, says Hodge, when he loves or is merciful toward us he is only being loving and merciful to himself. So the bottom line of atonement is that Christ did not at primarily die for people at all like Joshua ben Adam did, but he died for the principle of law and pay-back justice.

If God cannot forgive us unless Christ pays our debt, than he does not really forgive at all. If a debt has been paid, then there is nothing to forgive. Atonement and forgiveness, therefore, are mutually exclusive.

*It is said that Christ's human nature was sustained by his divine nature to endure an infinite punishment making a sufficient atonement for 'the sins of the world'. The one mitigating feature of this Hangman's theology is the statements saying that God loved us and gave his son to pay our penalty. Its a good thing most people never get to read the statements of the theologians which could easily destroy allusions about God's love being altruistic. Many who still live with a legalistic world-view or in a universe which has pay-back justice at its heart, do find support and comfort in God's offering up his son as an atonement. Thankfully they have never been exposed to "good" divines such as Augustus Strong (Systematic Theology) who says that justice rather than love is the most primary attribute of God.

The Fall, Hell and the Atonement by blood sacrifice are the outline structure of the Christian religion whether Catholic or Protestant.

Each of these three elements is a recycled pagan myth.

Each has pay-back justice at its heart.

Together the parts form one structure. The Fall is the beginning of the story. The story has a Hell of an end. In the middle is Atonement by means of a blood sacrifice. From beginning to end it is a Chamber of Horrors. It is totally incompatible with the life and teaching of Joshua ben Adam.

As we have seen ben Adam totally demolished the world-view of his day. He removed pay-back justice from his vision for a new human society. There was no pay-back justice in his vision of God. His teaching was like new wine, which he said, must not be placed into the old wineskins. But that is exactly what happened. The church put the new wine of amazing generosity and love into the old wineskins of pagan myths and pay-back justice.

***** Currently available Verdict Essays by Robert Brinsmead:

The Status Of Jesus Re-Examined
The Scandal Of Joshua Ben Adam- Part 1
The Scandal Of Joshua Ben Adam- Part 2
No Discrimination
No Atonement
No God Above
No Home
No Barriers

****** How's that grab ya? LOL!!!!!!!!

5 posted on 04/21/2002 7:58:44 PM PDT by Matchett-PI
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To: DouglasKC
Thank you. It was a gift from the HS when I was seeking a way to explain the importance of the OT to my students.

I haven't copyrighted it. You may use it without citation.

6 posted on 04/21/2002 8:00:45 PM PDT by Jemian
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To: Matchett-PI
Heads up thank you
7 posted on 04/21/2002 8:00:53 PM PDT by RnMomof7
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To: Jemian
Thank you. It was a gift from the HS when I was seeking a way to explain the importance of the OT to my students. I haven't copyrighted it. You may use it without citation.

lol..thanks, God is truly a wonderful God! I've been looking for a simple but powerful analogy to put into words that kind of attitude and that one fits the bill...

8 posted on 04/21/2002 8:10:18 PM PDT by DouglasKC
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To: la$tminutepardon;CCWoody;Wrigley;drstevej
Bump #5
9 posted on 04/21/2002 8:15:11 PM PDT by Matchett-PI
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To: Matchett-PI; RnMomof7
I lay no claim to Brinsmead later writings. When somone isolates himself from the church and God's people, there is no telling where he will end up. However, I posted two of his earlier writings. I still stand by those.
10 posted on 04/22/2002 4:30:29 AM PDT by sola gracia
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To: sola gracia
This article is good. Now, it should be expanded to include other new testament "commandment of the Lord", such as 1 Cor 14:37, 1 John 3:23, etc.
11 posted on 04/25/2002 12:58:37 PM PDT by aimhigh
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