By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
Don Preston’s second article, ‘The Passing of the Law of Moses and the Increasing Desperation of Sam Frost #2’, continues to open up the debate between us. I will simple list the points here and respond.
First, Preston, right off the bat, misunderstands my argument. He writes, “He gives us a labored “explanation” of Matthew 5:17-18 attempting to show that Jesus’ words there do not necessitate the fulfillment of the law of Moses– every jot and every tittle of it– before it could vanish away.” Well, no. I did not say this. I said that the fulfillment of the laws of Moses (the 613 commandments) would not cause every jot and tittle of the entire Hebrew corpus to disappear, because the fulfillment of the laws of Moses does not equate to the entire fulfillment of the entire Hebrew Bible (of which the 613 commandments of Moses are only a part). Preston, as proven in my first response to his series, plays the shell game here. Even in this article, he states, “…Frost agrees is a comprehensive term for the entirety of what we call the Old Testament.” I can’t seem to get Mr. Preston to understand the fact that the 613 commandments of Moses, which constituted a covenant made with Moses (Deuteronomy 5), is not the entire Hebrew Bible.
Yet, Preston continues to labor under this point. Paul, in Romans 8.4, wrote, “…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” That word, “fulfilled” there is the same in our text, Matthew 5.17. The Law is fulfilled in Christ and Christ in us. Yet, clearly, there are many other “jots and tittles” that needed to be fulfilled at the time of Paul’s writing. Therefore, by strict logic, the law was fulfilled, but not every jot and tittle passed away until all the other jots and tittles of the Hebrew Bible were fulfilled. They all stand and pass away together. Many prophecies have been fulfilled, but they have not “disappeared”. The 613 commandments of Moses have been fulfilled, but they have not “disappeared”. The fact that they have been fulfilled (at the cross and resurrection, and therefore, set aside), does not mean that they have “disappeared” any more than the fact that many prophecies at the time of Jesus were fulfilled, but did not equate to their disappearance. We still read them. Not one jot will disappear until they are all fulfilled.
Now, in spite of the fact that Preston does not address this issue, he dives right into the issue of heaven and earth. Before he does this, however, he must first make an insinuation: “I should observe that while Frost assures us that the OT predicts the end of the material heaven and earth, he did not give us any documentation. He offered not a verse to support that claim.” Well, no I didn’t because that was not the gist of my paper. “Don’t you think it would be somewhat important to prove this foundational part of his argument? It is insufficient to simply claim something to be true, especially something that is critical to your argument. I took note in the first installment that Frost made the claim that material heaven and earth is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5, yet, once again, he offered no proof for his claims. His presumptive approach is, to say the least, disturbing and revealing.” This is simply a smokescreen. The point of my paper was not the materiality of the heavens and the earth, and thus, I did not labor on it. How that is “disturbing” I have not clue, except that it is meant to throw the reader off.
Preston knows full well that the vast majority of scholars support my claim that the Bible addresses the “heavens and the earth” as, well, any school child knows what that phrase means. Look outside. In fact, in a very well received and critically acclaimed book, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton, Baker Academic, 2014, makes this entirely certain. Even the renowned Hebraist and Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann responded with, “”Richard Middleton plunges boldly into a most-treasured misreading of the Bible. He shows the way in which ‘other-worldly’ hope of ‘going to heaven’ is a total misread of gospel faith. In a demanding, sure-footed way he walks the reader through a rich deposit of biblical texts to make clear that the gospel concerns the transformation of the earth and not escape from it. Middleton summons us to repentance for such a mistaken understanding that has had disastrous practical implications. This is a repentance that he himself avows. When his book catches on, it will have an immense impact on the way in which we think and act about our common future in the gospel, a common future with important socioeconomic, political derivatives. The reader will be rewarded by Middleton’s boldness.” Preston’s view is just that: “going to heaven” is the goal. The creation itself will never be transformed. It is a “total misread of the gospel faith.”
Be that as it may, Preston labors again under the impression that the eventual end of the present heavens and earth as they now are means that I endorse a replacement of them by a new heavens and new earth. This is entirely at odds with Biblical scholarship. Rather, it is a transformation. A caterpillar is not replaced with a butterfly. It is transformed. Re-created. Huge difference.
Preston’s first point is: “The Old Covenant affirms the eternality of the material creation.” Now, it’s hard to tell if he means by “old covenant” the entirety of the Hebrew Bible, or just the 613 commandments of Moses made with the Israelites in Moses’ day. Regardless, I also affirm the same thing. Heavens and earth will continue forever. Transformation does not mean, logically, replacement. Transformation cannot mean, by definition, that the sun, moon, stars and earth with “disappear” in terms of their constituent substance. However, Preston thinks that this is what I believe.
Preston brings up the Flood, which actually illustrates my point. The Flood was universal (I believe, but will not substantiate that here, and perhaps Preston will find that “disturbing and revealing” that I do not offer “proof” for my assertion…but that’s not the point of this paper). The earth and the heavens were changed. But not replaced. The topography was changed. Not replaced. Even our Beloved Apostle stated, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3.5-6). The world that then existed perished. The heavens and the earth did not. They will be transformed. The world that now exists, with Death as an enemy, and Sin, and all the other atrocities, will perish. Preston denies this, and in fact, preaches the infinity of atrocity. Jesus’ prayer, rooted in Second Temple Judaism, makes it clear: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Whatever the kingdom “is” in heaven, so it will be on earth. Jesus’ kingdom will be the only kingdom left standing. All others will perish at his feet, every rule, power and authority.
Nonetheless, Preston strangely states that since God promised never to destroy “every living creature” as he did in the Flood, then, somehow, he will not ever transform the heavens and the earth. This is puzzling, and easily dismissed, because that final judgment is not a destruction of “every living creature” on earth! Where does the Bible say this? Are the Christians destroyed? Secondly, the text of Genesis states, “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22). That little Hebrew word, “while” means “as long as”. “As long as the earth remains.” How long is that?
After spending some time on the Flood, none of which dismisses my premise, Preston does rightly ask, “It will naturally be rejoined that there are OT prophecies of the passing of “heaven and earth.” And of course, that is true. However, are those prophecies contradictions of the passages we have cited, or, is there something else about those predictions that must be examined?” In fact, we could have saved a lot of space and time here. This is an admission. Yet, the Bible also speaks of the passing of heaven and earth. It also speaks, as Preston has quoted a few verses to this effect, about the continuation of heaven and earth. Thus, we are set with a conundrum, a paradox, a supposed contradiction. Ecclesiastes says, “the earth will remain forever” (1.4). The psalmist says, “heaven and the earth shall be consumed.” Can’t have both. Logically, to solve this, one statement is wrong. But, since we believe in the Bible, we can’t go that route. Or, the dissolving of the heaven and the earth is not their destruction (i.e., they cease to be in terms of original substance), but their transformation. Earth will endure forever, and this in no way mitigates against its being transformed. Or, Preston is right, heaven and earth were merely symbols for Herod’s ego inflated Temple during Jesus’ day (which he failed to marvel at with his disciples), and the old covenant of Moses. But, this is a stretch. It certainly relieves the supposed paradox, but at what cost? As we shall continue, the cost is very, very great.