Friday, November 24, 2023

"Brief Paragraphs on the Question: When does the New Testament Economy Begin?" by William F. Beck

William F. Beck is best known for An American Translation, or, as it is often called, the "Beck Bible" and other projects involving presenting the Bible to young and old. If you want to know a little more about Beck, his son Reu wrote an article on him in 2003. Beck also wrote several articles and shorter studies for the synodical seminaries' journals. Brief Paragraphs on the Question: When does the New Testament Economy Begin? in the March 1938 Concordia Theological Monthly was his earliest academic article as far as I can determine. It was written when Beck was a parish pastor in Clayton, IL. The article takes up a question that is natural, and frequently comes up in the mind of anyone who has read the Bible--how and when did the church shift from being under, or following, the particularities of the Old Testament's rites and rituals (economy) to the New Testament rites and rituals (economy)?

He begins by stating what Christians believe and is readily understood concerning the matter: 

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 3:5,6; 8:6-13; 12:24), set aside the Old Covenant by means of His work of redemption during the thirty-three years of His humiliation (Gal. 4:4,5). In this period He fulfilled the Moral Law by keeping it (Rom. 5:19; 10:4), and by His suffering He freed us from its curse (Gal. 3:13). In this time He also substituted the reality of His atonement for the shadow of the Ceremonial Law and thus made the observance of its ordinances unnecessary (Col. 2:16, 17).

While the basic point is simple to understand, how this transition, or working out, unfolded is a little more complicated, as Beck points out:

The displacement of the old economy by the new nevertheless was not an instantaneous happening. The divine revelations of the abrogation of the whole Covenant and of the individual elements which make up the complex aggregate of the Covenant came at various times. Furthermore, the Covenant was to be eternal. It was difficult, therefore, for a people in whom this Covenant had been inbred to understand that part of it could be set aside, that an act which once was a sin of disobedience punishable by death might by divine direction become a good work. It was also difficult to find the clear line of demarcation between the ceremonial and the moral laws and then to maintain liberty, in the face of great opposition, in regard to the Ceremonial Law. Doubt in regard to the will of God and fear of sinning (e. g., Acts 10:14) lingered in the hearts of God's people and rendered the adoption of the change in practise a gradual one.

He first structures his discussion around the major events in the earthly ministry of Christ: His birth, relation to John the Baptist, baptism, public ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. He then subjects particular practices of the Old Testament to two questions: "When did God expressly set it aside? At what time did His people become emancipated from it?" He covers the following topics:


The Ceremonial Law in General


The Temple

The Sacrifices

The Sabbath

Unclean Meats

Overall, his analysis is excellent and a helpful, brief summary for a student of the Bible. A small criticism is the inclusion of "Legalism" as it is the only topic covered that is not an actual Old Testament God-given practice but rather a degradation of the Gospel driven faith of the OT. Beck somewhat acknowledges this and focuses on the particular pedagogical emphasis of the law in the Old Testament, saying, "This temporary, educational emphasis of the Law was to cease in the days of the New Dispensation according to Jer.31." Whether Jeremiah 31 precisely means what Beck states is rather debatable. Also, if one did not know the rest of Beck's work, the above quote could come across as somewhat antinomian. It seems that such a topic either needed more room to be properly fleshed out or explained and dealt with in another essay. 

Beck's section on the "Ceremonial Law in General" is an excellent summary analysis:

Therefore the Old Testament ceremonies disappeared gradually within a few decades, as gradually as people became educated to the facts 1. that the Ceremonial Law in New Testament times was an unnecessary yoke and a hindrance, like an overcoat worn in July (Acts 15: 10; Gal. 5: 1); and 2. that its observance in the New Testament would be an abnormal development, likely to lead to the gross error of considering such an observance essential to salvation and the neglect of it a wrong. Thus it would become a means of spreading self-righteousness (Gal. 2: 16 fl.), another gospel (Gal. 1: 8; 5: 2-6; 2 Cor. 11: 4). Hagar and Ishmael may be tolerated as long as Ishmael does not claim to be equal or superior to Isaac. But when Isaac is mocked, Ishmael is cast out into the desert, Gen. 21: 10. 

Beck, as always, shapes his writing and commentary around the truth of the Gospel, the all-atoning work of the crucified and risen Christ:

The work of redemption was the foundation on which the change from the Old to the New Testament was based. The death of Christ marked the completion of this foundation (John 17:4; 19:30; Heb. 10: 4). His death by crucifixion was also the summit of His atoning work (Phil. 2:8). Therefore His death is most closely related to the establishment of the New Testament. "This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you," Jesus says at the institution of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:20). Heb. 9:16, 17: "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth." (Cf. entire chapter.) 

Need to Get Read Level: 5/10 On one hand, this is a question that no longer troubles the New Testament Church with the complexity or intensity it once did. However, there is a long history of Judaizing tendencies that have assaulted the Church. Such false teaching had to be confronted both during the Reformation (see the the Seventeenth Article of the Augsburg Confession) and in the modern era (consider the delusional millennialism and dispensationalism that is so prevalent in American Protestantism). Thus, the proper relationship and continuity between the Old and New Testaments is an important subject to study.

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