In the previous article, we looked at the spectrum of belief concerning time periods in the Bible, from covenantal approaches to dispensational approaches. In the next few articles, I would like to take some time to challenge specific beliefs using Biblical evidence. What does the Bible say about some of these claims about time periods? In this article, we will begin with the ultra-dispensationalist claim that the words of Jesus belong in the Law Administration.
“Things written before”
One of the major verses utilized by dispensationalists to put Jesus’ words in the Law Administration are lifted from a specific verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Romans 15:4 (ESV)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Some teach that anything written before the apostle Paul wrote his Epistles are simply “for our instruction” (“for our learning” – KJV). Thus, they contend, since Jesus lived, spoke, taught, and died before Paul wrote his Epistles, everything that Jesus said must simply be “for our learning” and therefore not necessarily directly applicable to Christian life.
There are several major problems with this perspective. First, from a historical perspective, the Gospels had not even been written at this point, so it is impossible that Paul was consciously discussing the contents of unwritten documents in this verse in Romans. Paul here was referring to the entirety of what we would now call the Old Testament canon. How do we know this for sure? Well, in the prior verse, Paul quoted Psalm 69:9 and applied it to Jesus. In the book of Romans alone, there are over fifty quotations and many other references to the Old Testament Scripture. Paul is clearly saying that the Old Testament Scripture is for our instruction, or learning. Whatever we make of the word “instruction,” it only applies to the Old Testament, not to the Gospels, the book of Acts, or any of the other epistles (Peter, James, Jude, John, etc.).
Second, the word “learning” (KJV) or “instruction” (ESV) is an important piece of the puzzle. In some circles, this word is used to diminish the importance of the Old Testament canon and the words of Jesus in terms of their practical relevance to the Christian’s life. Is that what Paul is trying to communicate here? Romans is a book where he has quoted the Old Testament over fifty times and applied it to Christian living! As a result, we should not interpret this word in a way that would diminish the Old Testament. The irony here is that this word is translated completely differently almost everywhere else it is used in the Bible in the KJV: “doctrine.” The Greek word for “instruction” (ESV) or “learning” (KJV) is didaskalia. At this point, it would be helpful to look at another of Paul’s epistles that utilizes this same Greek word:
II Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching [didaskalia – “doctrine” in KJV], for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Paul is exhorting Timothy to continue in what he had learned. From childhood, Timothy had been acquainted with the “sacred writings.” What collection of “sacred writings” is Paul referring to? From a historical perspective, the only possible answer is the Old Testament Scripture, since the New Testament had not been written when Timothy was a young child (and had not even been completed by the time Paul wrote Second Timothy). Paul had a high view of the Old Testament canon,  and as we will see, had an incredibly high view of the words of Jesus.
When and why were the Gospels written?
Another important set of evidence concerns the nature of the Gospels themselves. Were they written, or “addressed,” to Israel? Or were they written to the Church? When were the Gospels written? And does their historical dating give us a clue as to how the Church should apply them? Let’s look at what scholars say about each Gospel.
According to both the ESV Study Bible and the CSB Study Bible, it is likely that the book of Matthew was written sometime between 55 and 65 AD . Many scholars have also discussed how Matthew seemed to write his Gospel from more of a Jewish perspective—he did not explain himself as much as Mark, Luke, or John did. In addition to this, one theory about the original audience of Matthew is this: “Many scholars have suggested that the prominent church in Antioch of Syria, whose members include both Jewish and Gentile Christians (cf. Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), was the intended audience of Matthew’s Gospel. They point to the Gospel’s influence on Ignatius, an early bishop of Antioch. At the same time, Matthew’s message spoke to all of the fledgling churches of his day, and the Gospel appears to have circulated rapidly and widely.”  As can be seen, the most likely scenario is that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for a mixed Christian audience starting approximately 30 years after the day of Pentecost. Just because Matthew did not explain Hebrew culture as much as Mark, Luke, or John does not mean that the book of Matthew is not intended for a mixed audience. That is part of the reason that God provided multiple Gospel accounts for His Church.
In contrast, most scholars place the book of Mark earlier (anywhere between the early 50s AD and the late 50s AD). Here is an interesting comment from the CSB Study Bible: “Because Mark wrote primarily for Roman Gentiles, he explained Jewish customs, translated Aramaic words and phrases into Greek, used Latin terms rather than their Greek equivalents, and rarely quoted from the OT.” So Mark, based on a literary analysis, was probably geared more towards Gentiles than Jews. Again, Mark was written some 20 years or more after the day of Pentecost.
Because Luke gives more detail about events that modern scholars can date in the book of Acts, we can date his Gospel to a much tighter window: between 62 and 65 AD.  Also, unlike the other three Gospels, Luke addressed his—to a man named Theophilus. The CSB Study Bible says: “The Greek name Theophilus means ‘lover of God’ or ‘friend of God’ and implies that he was a Gentile, probably Greek. He seems to have been a relatively new believer, recently instructed about Jesus and the Christian faith (Lk 1:4). The title ‘most honorable’ indicates that, at the least, he was a person of high standing and financial substance. It may also reflect that he was an official with some governmental authority and power.”  So, the book of Luke was actually addressed to a Gentile believer (and Luke was almost certainly a Gentile as well). This is why Luke goes to lengths to explain various aspects of Hebrew life from a historical and cultural perspective; note the commentary that Luke makes in Luke 4:31, 8:26, and 24:13 about geographical locations.  With this in mind, consider the reason that Luke recorded as the purpose of his Gospel:
Luke 1:3-4 (ESV)
it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke wanted to write an orderly account that would give a Gentile believer certainty concerning what he had been taught. These, among other clues, show us that the application of the Gospel of Luke is intended for a wide audience—indeed, all Christians.
The Gospel of John is harder to date: anytime between 70 AD and 100 AD is probable, although some argue for an earlier date. Like Luke, John recorded the purpose for his Gospel:
John 20:30-31 (ESV)
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The point of the book of John is for the reader to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God. And that by believing, we would have life in his name. This is a book clearly intended for a wide Christian audience. From a historical perspective, the Church was transitioning to a largely Gentile audience around the time this Gospel was written. There is no reason to consider this Gospel as “for Israel.”
When the evidence (historical, textual, and cultural) is considered, it seems impossible to believe that the Gospels were addressed “to Israel.” The Gospels were written between twenty and eighty years after Pentecost. The two Gospels with clear purpose statements both mention broad application to any audience. All four Gospels were written with specific details about Jesus’ life and ministry and include teachings recorded to be applied. There is substantial evidence to believe that the four Gospels were written to and for the Church.
“Lost Sheep of the House of Israel”
Another phrase that dispensationalists point to in support of their view is that Jesus claimed that he was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What does this mean? And does that imply that the Gospels are not meant to be applied by Gentile Christians today? First, let’s take a look at the times when Jesus said this (as recorded in the Gospels):
Matthew 10:5-15 (ESV)
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts,
no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.
And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.
As you enter the house, greet it.
And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
In Matthew 10, Jesus commissioned his twelve to go out and minister in various cities and towns in Israel. Clearly, this usage is meant as a limitation for this particular mission trip: “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In modern times, a church might do a mission to Central America or to Africa. Does that mean that those missionaries will not spread the gospel when they return home? Or if they are laid over in an airport, will they not speak to whoever will listen then? Of course not! This was a specific mission to a specific audience; this was not meant to be a mission statement for Jesus’ entire ministry. And for this particular mission, the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” were the people of Israel who were meek and ready to follow a Godly leader, such as Jesus or his disciples.
The only other time this particular phrase occurs is in Matthew 15:
Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In this location, the phrase actually does serve as a mission statement for Jesus’ ministry. He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus’ primary focus was on ministering in Israel, and that is clearly borne out in where he traveled and who he spoke to during his ministry. However, even though his ministry was focused on Israel, it was not exclusive to Israel. This fact is readily seen in the context above! Jesus healed this woman’s daughter, not to mention the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8 (among other examples). What else did Jesus say about Gentiles? Did he have any idea that the impact of his ministry would naturally extend beyond Israel?
Luke 4:25-27 (ESV)
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,
and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
In his first public sermon in Nazareth, Jesus reproved the people by reminding them of times when Gentiles were taken care of by God instead of Israelites. God never dealt with Israel in an exclusive sense—there were always ways for Gentiles to come into the nation of Israel and worship the true God. Similarly, Jesus did not turn away Gentiles in his path. But what about the future? Did Jesus know that Gentiles would carry his mission to the world through the Church?
Mark 11:17 (ESV)
And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Matthew 21:43 (ESV)
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
Matthew 24:14 (ESV)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
John 10:16 (ESV)
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
John 3:16 (ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Of course Jesus knew that his mission would affect the whole world! But specifically, Jesus knew that the Gentiles would be “brought into the fold,” so to speak. He knew that the gospel of the kingdom that he taught would be taught until the end (more on that in a later article series). He knew that the kingdom offer itself would be extended to anyone, not just those who were of ethnic Israel. He knew that God’s plan was for all to worship together in the house of God. So, while it is true to say that Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, it is not true to use that as a reason to deny that Christ’s teachings are for Christians. Stated another way, there are many reasons to believe that what Jesus taught as recorded in the Gospel accounts, while originally delivered to a mostly Hebrew audience, was intended to serve Christians of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
What should Christians do with the words of Jesus?
This leads us to our next point. Some Christians would be mystified that we are asking this question. “Of course, Christians are to be followers of Jesus,” they would say. And that is true—all Christians proclaim to follow Jesus. But some versions of dispensationalism relegate Jesus’ words to the Old Testament. Even famous scholars like Martin Luther (who was not a dispensationalist) thought that certain sayings from the sermon on the Mount were too difficult to apply practically. So, I think that this question is of the utmost importance: what should Christians do with the words of Jesus? Here are some preliminary thoughts, and then we will examine what the Bible says:
- The words of Jesus are generally meant to be applicable to the post-Pentecost Church.
- Much of what Jesus taught his disciples was just as relevant after Pentecost as it was before Pentecost. This demonstrates that the words of Jesus are still applicable to the Church. For example, Jesus actively prepared his disciples for life as leaders in the post-Pentecost Church.
What does the Bible say about the words of Jesus?
John 6:66-69 (ESV)
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus is the one who has the words of eternal life!
Mark 8:38 (ESV)
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
As followers of Christ, we should not be ashamed of the words of Jesus, nor of Jesus himself.
Luke 6:46-49 (ESV)
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:
he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
First, if we call Jesus our Lord, then we should do as he taught. Second, if we come to Jesus, hear his words, and apply them, then we will be like the man who built his house on the rock. In our case, we will be building our house on the Rock, Jesus!
John 15:1-11 (ESV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
If we want to abide in God and in Christ, then we must obey the words of God that Christ spoke.
John 8:31-32 (ESV)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, we must abide in his word. Only then will we know the truth that can set us free.
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Just before Jesus ascended, he told his disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything that he had commanded them. How much clearer can that be? The words of Jesus were to have great influence on the post-Pentecost church! Christians today should still follow him.
I Timothy 6:3-5 (ESV)
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,
he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,
and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Paul taught the same thing—that Jesus’ words take precedence. Paul would have been incredibly surprised to find that some modern scholars put him and his Lord at odds! If we try to read Paul in a way to make him disagree with Jesus, then we are doing injustice to Jesus’ words, Paul’s words, or both.
Two Examples of Jesus-Paul reconciliation
For those who teach that Jesus and Paul disagree on certain points, there are a few examples that I have heard on multiple occasions. In this article, we will only discuss one of them. Some teach that Paul and Jesus disagreed on forgiveness. The difficulty begins in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Some teach that Jesus is saying that our forgiveness is conditional upon perfectly forgiving everyone throughout life. They further talk about this type of standard as being “legalistic.” What is interesting about the charge of legalism is that there is no indication that what Jesus is teaching here was part of the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 4 and 5 talk about the sacrifices necessary to get forgiveness of sin under the Law, and it never included forgiving a brother. So, the charge of legalism falls short here. Furthermore, characterizing Jesus’ words to indicate perfection in this category would be an impossible standard (and the only insistence on perfection that Jesus made). So, I think this view clearly misrepresents what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is not saying, “If you forget to forgive one person throughout life, you will not be forgiven!” Jesus was speaking to an Eastern audience in a culture where teachings often were driven by practical application. So we can understand this as, “You should really forgive people as a pattern of life. Forgiveness should be your lifestyle.” Jesus here is commanding his disciples to forgive. After all, when they have been forgiven for so much, how could they justify not forgiving their brother or sister? What did Paul say about forgiveness?
Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Paul here commands his readers/listeners to forgive.
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Paul and Jesus are in complete agreement—forgiveness is to be one of the primary characteristics of the Christian life.
Another topic that Paul and Jesus agreed on was marriage. What I find particularly interesting, however, is how Paul treated the words of Jesus when he cited them. The key section in Paul’s Epistles can be found in I Corinthians:
I Corinthians 7:10-16 (ESV)
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband
(but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Paul clearly distinguished between what the Lord Jesus had said (as recorded in Matthew 5:27-32) and what he was recommending based on God’s revelation to him (I Corinthians 7:40). Paul did not elevate his teachings above those of his Master! Paul knew that he was a disciple of Jesus. A servant is not greater than his Master (John 13:16; John 15:20). Paul was a servant of Christ (Romans 1:1). If we as students of the Bible are going to do justice to the text of the New Testament, then we must do our best to read with a mind to reconcile the words of Paul and the words of Jesus as given to us. When they appear to disagree, we must make sure that our interpretation and logic are sound. Simply put, we should not expect Jesus and Paul to disagree.
Primacy of Paul’s Epistles
One side effect of relegating Jesus’ words to the Law administration is that the Epistles (and specifically Paul’s Epistles) are generally viewed as more important than the rest of the Bible. Some hyper-dispensationalists teach that only Paul’s Epistles are directly applicable for the Church; the rest of the Bible, while important, cannot be directly applied to the Church. This has the effect of elevating Paul’s Epistles over the rest of the canon. Is this how we should approach the Bible? Should we view one section as more applicable than another section?
In some sense, this approach is valid. The book of Leviticus should not play the role that Ephesians does in the life of the Church. The Bible should not be taken linearly, that is, with each book holding the same amount of importance with respect to application. But given what we have seen in this article on the importance of Jesus’ words, we do well to consider other ways of understanding the relative importance of various sections of Scripture than simply elevating the Epistles of Paul (or even the books that include events and teachings originally taught after Pentecost).
One way to consider how to interpret and apply various books of the Bible is to think about the historical context of the book in question. As Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart say in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, “The more important question of historical context, however, has to do with the occasion and purpose of each biblical book and/or its various parts. Here one wants to have an idea of what was going on in Israel or the church that called forth such a document, or what the situation of the author was that caused him to speak or write.” Simplifying the matter considerably, we can ask ourself the basic question: “what is this genre of work trying to accomplish?” So, the Gospels (and the book of Acts) are intended to be historical in nature. The Gospels provide accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings. We get to read about what he did, how he did it, why he did it, when he did it, where he did it, and with whom. The Epistles, on the other hand, are letters written to various churches and individuals in various conditions, with various cultural and historical backgrounds. Historical works and letters do different things. Therefore, we should not expect the Gospels to do the same thing that the Epistles do. The purpose for each is different.
With this in mind, as Fee and Stuart note, “the Epistles themselves are not a homogenous lot.” Each Epistle has a different backstory, different context that makes it unique. For example, the city of Corinth was renowned in the world for sexual promiscuity. The local pagan temple to Aphrodite had “priestesses” who were little more than prostitutes. Is there any wonder, then, that the question of sexual immorality comes up frequently in I Corinthians (see especially chapters five through seven). For modern Christians, the topic of sexual immorality is important. But there is a reason why certain information was included in I Corinthians and not, say, in Colossians. When we approach the text of a specific Epistle, it is helpful to have the specific cultural and historical background of the original audience in mind. Consulting a good study Bible or commentary can help greatly in this regard.
In conclusion, there is no reason, historically or Biblically, to believe that Paul’s Epistles should be considered more important than the rest of the Bible. In fact, in every case where Paul mentioned the words of Jesus, he showed great deference and obedience to those words. Now, before we elevate the Gospels above the Epistles, we must remember the key basic principle that: each genre is performing a different task. If I want to understand the life of Jesus and learn from his teachings, I should read the Gospels. If I want to understand how the Old Testament is applied to life after Christ, I should read Romans or another of Paul’s Epistles. If I want to know more about the early Church after Pentecost, I should read Acts. Instead of elevating one over another, we should enjoy the specific benefits of each one.
In light of what we have discussed in this article, I want to return again to one of the central sections that I believe should inform our understanding of this topic: Matthew 28:19-20.
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In verse 19, the verb “make disciples” is a command. Each participle that follows carries the weight of the command as well. So, the disciples here were commanded to teach the new Christians to observe everything that Jesus had already commanded them to do. Where in the Bible would we find these commands recorded? In the Gospels! For the ultra-dispensationalist, these words of Jesus have limited application. The teachings of Jesus are meant for the Law Administration, which was to be done away with a mere ten days after Jesus spoke these words. In other words, ultra-dispensationalists have to believe that the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels were irrelevant by the time they were written down (only possibly to be rescued by a “future Israel” living according to his words in a later dispensation, after Jesus comes back for the Church). Why would God inspire Matthew to record these words of Jesus in the book of Matthew, a book centered on five major teachings of Jesus, if He did not want us to listen to and obey the words of His Son? The only conclusion that does justice to the text of Matthew and to the lordship of Jesus is that his words are eternal life to Christians today.
In a prior series, I released a few articles demonstrating the importance of the Gospels. I stand behind the idea that the Gospels were written for the Church, and as a result, that 95% or more of what was written in the Gospels is directly for application by the Church. Here are some practical considerations on how to read the Gospels from this article three years ago:
- Is what Jesus is doing or teaching directly tied to legal observance or the Law?
- Are there any aspects of this record that are more applicable in the culture of Israel from Christ’s time than the culture now (i.e.-leaving the gift at the altar is not something relevant to our culture directly)?
- If the answer to the previous two questions is, “No,” is there any aspect of this record where practices have fundamentally changed since Pentecost?
- How did the original audience apply Jesus’ teaching? How can I apply this teaching in the post-Pentecost church?
I’ll say it again: if we read the Gospels with these things in mind, we will find that almost all of the Gospels are directly applicable to the Church. There are clear ways to reconcile the teachings of Christ with his apostles, and this is what we should expect—the servant is not greater than his master! Let’s devote ourselves to the most rewarding task of our lifetimes: following our Lord Jesus Christ, imitating his example and living his teachings.
For further study:
ESV Study Bible
CSB Study Bible
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart
Time Periods in the Bible: How Should We Read the Gospels?
Time Periods in the Bible: Jesus Preparing His Disciples
1 If you do a word study on the word “scripture,” you will find in almost all cases that it refers to the Old Testament canon. The only exception is when Peter, by revelation, equates Paul’s writings to scripture in II Peter 3:16.
2 See the ESV Study Bible, page 1816 and the CSB Study Bible, page 1494.
3 See the ESV Study Bible, page 1816.
4 See the ESV Study Bible, page 1889 and the CSB Study Bible, page 1494.
5 See the CSB Study Bible, page 1556.
6 See the ESV Study Bible, page 1935.
7 See the CSB Study Bible, page 1598.
8 Luke 4:31 (ESV)
And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath,
Notice that Luke specifically called Capernaum a city of Galilee. Any Jew would have known that.
Luke 8:26 (ESV)
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
Again, Luke gave his readers some information that any Jew would have known.
Luke 24:13 (ESV)
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
Here is another example of Luke giving information that would have been common knowledge for a Jew of that time period. This evidence suggests that Luke’s target audience was the Gentiles.
9 See the ESV Study Bible, page 2015 and the CSB Study Bible, page 1662.
10 See https://equip.sbts.edu/article/3-ways-misread-sermon-mount/ for more information on Luther’s reading of the Sermon on the Mount.
11 Of course, Matthew had not been written at that point. So, Paul was not quoting Matthew here; he was citing what he had heard from oral traditions dating back to the teachings of Jesus.
12 Page 31.
13 How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, page 58.