Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | September 14, 2007

Why is the Law of Moses contrasted here with the coming of Jesus Christ? (Lesson 3: Question 7 Answer)

7.  Why is the Law of Moses contrasted here with the coming of Jesus Christ? 

This question pertains to verse 17 of chapter 1, which states the following:

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Before we move into examining our question, we’d like to state an obvious benefit found here.  Here the Apostle states with infallible authority that the Law was given through Moses, this is clear.  Thus, one could argue very strongly that support for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is found here in John.  In subsequent sections of this Gospel, Christ Himself will also be quoted as providing support for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.  Nonetheless, let us not delve further into that topic that is no stranger to controversy among the elite of academia.  Here John is explicitly contrasting the scope of two different mediators.  This follows very well after the allusions he made to the transfiguration in verse 14, which we noted above may have been an implicit reference leading up to this contrast.  The use of the preposition δια (through) with the genitive noun implies agency and supports our comment that this verse is contrasting mediators.  The Law or the old covenant, which includes the moral law (ten commandments), ceremonial law (sacrificial system) and the civil law (Israel’s national code), was mediated through Moses.  Moses was God’s appointed person to announce to His people these things.  It is this system that is being contrasted with a new mediator, Christ, who is the appointed person to deliver the new covenant.  Christ is said to be mediating grace (described in the previous question) and truth.  Truth merits an explanation, since this contrast can be a bit confusing and susceptible to being misconstrued.  This is addressed in the following quote from Geehardus Vos:       

‘The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’, the wrong inference may be easily drawn, that the Law contained not the truth.  The meaning simply is that it did not yet bring that full disclosure of the heavenly reality in Christ, which is ‘the truth’.  It contained the shadows and types, not as yet the antitypical revelation. 48 

As Vos points out this verse cannot be supporting the position that the Law possessed no truth, although grammatically one can force such a conclusion.  This however would be in disunity with the rest of Scripture and does not fit the context of what John seems to be trying to achieve.  We would agree that Vos’ conclusion made in the above statement is very conducive to the context of what John is attempting to convey.  That is that a more robust, comprehensive and complete form of revelation is being realized in Christ through the incarnation. The truth, which those previous disclosures could only partially communicate, had arrived in time and space.  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:16-17)

Since the context of this verse is embedded within a section that is describing the significance of the incarnation to the revelatory history, we can conclude that Vos’ position is the correct one as it relates to the truth.  Moreover, this position not only finds support within the context of this verse, but also finds support within the support of the entire Scripture.  Incidentally, our own proposition that we proposed found support within the context of this section, the contrasting of two primary mediators of the two covenants also finds support in the entire Scripture.  For example, the contrast between these two mediators is explicitly included in the book Hebrews 3:1-6 in the following verses:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Not only can we assert that the contrast of these two mediators is made on the basis of revelation, but we can also safely conclude with the author of Hebrews that Christ was far superior in His office.  And Christ being counted worthy of more glory is in another place referenced as the one true mediator between God and men (For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Tim 2:5-6).  Before we conclude this response we would be remiss in our duties if we overlooked another major contrast between these two mediators, or better said two covenants.  This is the contrast of the Law and the Gospel that is glaring at us as we read this verse.  John’s selection of words in this verse to communicate the contrast appears to almost demand it be considered.  This is not to say that there was no grace in the Mosaic economy, however one cannot honestly ignore the fact that a robust works-principle is in place in this covenant.  It is this principle here we believe is being contrasted with the Gospel of grace found in Jesus Christ.  We haven’t the time to develop this in more detail, however we would like to conclude by issuing an addendum of some sort to the answer of the previous question about grace.  We will do this by quoting Meredith Kline:

Grace lives and moves and has its being in a legal, forensic environment.  In the biblical proclamation of the gospel, grace is the antithesis of the works principle.  Grace and works could thus be contrastively compared only if they were comparable, that is, only if the term grace, like works, functioned in a forensic context.  Grace does not exist then except in relation to the rendering of divine judgment on situations involving acts of human responsibility, acts of man as accountable to God for compliance with appointed duty…The distinctive meaning of grace in its biblical theological usage is divine response of favor and blessing in the face of human violations of obligation.  Gospel grace takes account of man in his responsibility under the demands of the covenant and specifically as a covenant breaker, a sinner against covenant law. Accordingly, the grace of Christ comes to expression in his active and passive obedience, together constitution a vicarious satisfaction for the obligations and liabilities of his people, who through failure and transgression are debtors before the covenant Lord, the Judge of all the earth.  Gospel grace emerges in a forensic framework as a response of mercy to demerit….That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit.  It addresses and overcomes violation of divine commandment.  It is a granting of blessing as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath. 49 

48 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) p 356-57

49 Meredith Kline (2007) Kingdom Prologue Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock 2006), 112-13

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