OT Christians vs. NT Christians


One of the many mistakes I believe Christians make today concerns viewing the Bible as a book of answers. That may be true to a point, especially for the babe in Christ, but I find that as I mature the Bible holds just as many questions as it does answers, perhaps more.

Take the opening Psalm:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
—Psalm 1

Out getting our teeth worked on today, my son and I listened to John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” program. See, I’m one of those countercultural fools who likes my Christian radio packed with teaching, as opposed to what passes for music on those same channels. Fortunately, I just so happened to tune in right as MacArthur started his program. When I heard he’d be expositing Psalm 1, one of my favorite Psalms, I stayed put.

MacArthur did a great job, but then stumbled egregiously on the very heart of the Psalm:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
—Psalms 1:3

See, MacArthur got super-spiritual and claimed that “In all he does, he prospers,” refers to spiritual prosperity. But the text doesn’t say that. It says in ALL he does he prospers. Yes, his spiritual life prospers, but so does his physical, emotional, and intellectual life. God blesses him with prosperity in all aspects of life. He’s got a supermodel for a wife, the world’s greatest klatch of kids, money in the bank, the respect of his peers, a voice that people heed, a powerful network of business partners, and on and on. When the town needs something done, it goes to the Psalm One Guy.

What bothered me was MacArthur’s New Testament-izing of that Old Testament passage. And it shows me how poorly we Christians integrate the Old Testament with the New. In fact, I would say that we don’t truly integrate the OT and NT, but instead form our denominations around which one we prefer!

What do I mean by that?

Well, I think that we have folks in the Church who divide into two camps, one that leans heavily on the OT for its theology, and one that goes NT.

Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, charismatics, and a lot of mainline Protestant churches stand their ground on the OT. When they talk about believing the promises of God, they stand on verses that God spoke over His chosen people, verses that talk about taking the land, abiding in the promises, overthrowing giants, growing from the least into the greatest, and fire coming down out of heaven to consume one’s enemies. It’s a view that sees the godly man as the pillar of his community, chessmen.jpga community of chosen established by God. It’s lowly Israel made a great nation, its men held up for esteem so that kings seek them out.

On the other side, many Evangelicals pitch their tent in a NT view that sees the Church as a persecuted, ragtag bunch of misfits held together by grace. The godly man is not only poor in spirit, but quite possibly poor in purse. Verses that appeal to this view hold up dying to self, renouncing worldly gain, becoming the scum of the earth, and abandoning earthly prosperity for heavenly reward. The godly man is the one speared to death in a Roman colosseum, a martyr for the cause of Christ.

So these two camps war. The NT proponents enter the OT and start revising all the verses to fit their idea of what the true NT man must be. The OT proponents, though, wade into the NT and try to dismantle the NT camp’s “suffering servants.”

This, to me, explains why John MacArthur must overlay Psalm 1 with a spiritualized meaning rather than taking it at its word. He espouses the NT camp’s philosophy, so it can’t possibly mean that God prospers a man by giving him earthly wealth. As MacArthur jumped back into the NT for the rest of his teaching, he showed his hand by defaulting to NT readings that reinforced the spiritualization of Psalm 1.

And that leaves me with questions.

To me, Psalm 1 is clear, as are the rest of the OT passages that support God prospering the righteous with wealth, power, and respect. And I also see the NT side that supports a view of the Church as the downtrodden of society who have received the Good News when the rich and powerful did not. Both are clearly in the Scriptures, and both are clearly true.

Now, how do we reconcile them?

First, I’d like the OT camp to realize that “taking dominion” doesn’t always look like a Lexus in the driveway. Sometimes the greatest saints of God are the most lowly. To the NT camp, not every person who’s named the name of Christ winds up crucified upside down. Many of the Church’s greatest scholars and theologians came from privileged homes. Some even bankrolled their churches.

God may desire to have some become poor to prosper the Kingdom, while in His good measure He deems that some acquire wealth, power, and respect to expand that same Kingdom. Both OT and NT Christians don’t wish to hear this, though. It strikes me even more odd that many of the world’s poor take the OT side, while the rich of the world take the NT side, yet neither truly experiences the reality of the side they hope to claim!

Like so many things in the Christian walk, the truth may well reside in the middle of those two views. Attempting to make a law out of either side only creates trouble and misunderstanding. The Pentecostal who believes that God will bless and prosper him gets the “prosperity gospel” label by the other side, while the conservative Baptist is seen as a sad sack who hasn’t appropriated his inheritance as a child of the King of Kings.

Despite what the two camps say, I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive. But finding that overlap (where I believe truth reigns) requires work and possibly abandoning preconceptions, two things that don’t come easy to the American Church circa 2007.

It means asking plenty of questions, too. I’m willing to work at discovering that middle ground, though. Anyone else?

49 thoughts on “OT Christians vs. NT Christians

  1. Pretty good generalization, Dan. Having spent portions of my life in both camps, I’m a “conflicted” Christian; I can prosper, but I better not enjoy doing it 🙂

  2. David Riggins

    Define “Prosper”

    You did a good job of defining “prosper” according to the world: Money, sex and power. What about “prosper” according to the Bible? One of the best definitions I’ve seen is “and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and men.”

    One of the greatest benefits of knowing the law of God, meditating on it day and night, and delighting in it, is that it not only causes us to prosper, but it helps us recognise what it means to prosper.

    • David,

      Defining prosper IS part of the issue here. The two camps define it different ways. The OT camp takes a more earthly definition (and the OT does support that angle), while the NT camp takes a more spiritual angle (and the NT does support that angle).

      But we must reconcile the Scriptures and the two views don’t mesh well. You can’t read the OT and not see the earthly goodness bestowed on the godly man. It abides in promises that clinging to righteousness will result in physical health, an abundance of children, fruitfulness in one’s property and ownings, and so on. The NT takes a different slant. It fixes more of its prosperity to heavenly gain, not earthly. We must reconcile that distinction.

      The MacArthur example shows what happens when we attempt to merely lay the NT grid over the OT. It doesn’t work. Psalm 1 isn’t talking about NT prosperity, but the kind that we typically see in the OT. To claim otherwise is eisegesis, reading a preconception into the text. We can’t do that, though. Readers of the Psalms in their day and context would never think the Psalmist is claiming that prosperity merely applies to spiritual prosperity and its subsequent sole reward in heaven, not earth. As David later wrote, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Not the dead in the OT sense, but the living.

      I’ve been a Christian for thirty years and I’ve not once heard a teaching or sermon on this distinctive difference and how to reconcile it. But we must reconcile it. Even more, we should recognize the problem here and why we so often talk past each other on this subject.

      • Perhaps the place to start is with the Spirit. The OT economy did not include the community wide bestowal of the Holy Spirit. What Abram understood (Gen 15:1), those under the law did not (at least not really). All that community could understand as gift and favor was the material blessing.

        Under the NT economy, we have the best and greatest gift, God himself dwelling in us making himself known to us. Gift and favor take on whole new meaning in that light. Material blessings pale in comparison, and I find it unfortunate that so many of my ilk (A/G/Pentecostal/Charismatic), ignore the gold to concentrate on the lead.

        Anyway Dan, I’m willing to listen to you try to discover that middle ground (if I don’t manage to tick you off on the way ;-)).

        • Peter Smythe

          I like slw’s treatment. While it is true that Abraham was rich, it is also true that many of the Old Testament prophets were not – they lived in caves, were sawn in two, etc. The NT speaks of slaves returning to their masters, but also that the church should not show any preference to the rich man. If we stepped away from an American view of prosperity, we might see more of the true light of Gospel prosperity.

        • SLW,

          It seems odd, though, that God would spend so much time talking about the material blessings he will bestow on the faithful in the OT, then turn around in the NT and make no such promises once the Spirit has been given.

          If I really push the issue, though, look at the end of Acts 2 and note that the new Church saw to it that no one lacked for any need. That’s NT prosperity right there, but we don’t practice that kind of economy in the Church today, for the most part. Perhaps if we fixed that lack, we could reconcile things more effectively!

          • Odd indeed! Matthew 6:25-33 can shed some light on the matter though. Jesus taught there that if we embrace that NT economy, we won’t have to worry about, fixate on, or strive for what material blessings are needed. I don’t think that supports a medieval fascination with poverty as a NT paradigm, but something more akin to that OT construct which lived in the expectation of God providing materially.

            2 Corinthians 8:9-15 brings out the point you were making about Acts 2 very well.

            Let me know when that middle ground starts showing up! 😉

            • SLW,

              I’m playing the one side more than the other simply as a counterbalance. We seem to be all one side here and I’m taking the opposite side to keep the conversation moving.

      • David Riggins

        Hmmm…I’m trying to understand this dichotomy you’ve described. From what I understand of God, He gives us all we need and more, regardless of our spiritual disposition. Often a change in our physical world for the worse in the old testement, such as in Jobs case, was taken as judgement from God. And often God uses physical condition to bless or curse. But I wonder if even in the OT, the reason for the physical condition is the same as that spoken by Christ:

        “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

        Then there is Paul-

        I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

        Which I suppose bolsters the spiritual side of the argument, except that his argument echoes Job; that God was with him no matter what his physical condition.

        Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?

        How often does David, from the confines of a cave or in the context of fleeing from his enemies, praise the faithfulness of God? Then to truly muddy the water, read Jeremiah gently chide the Lord:

        You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?

        Then contrast that with David in Psalm 32

        Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

        In a sense, we are a bit bipolar when we look at the issue today, considering a wealthy missionary to be a disgrace, but a wealthy church elder to be blessed by God. In the same way, who chooses a poor man to be an elder, thinking them somehow lacking in wisdom or spirituality, otherwise they would be better off? Of course, the verity of any pastor of a Mega-church is questioned if he has a 400 acre ranch outside of town in addition to the 5000sq.ft. condo, and then there are those who question whether any pastor should be paid by his congregation, as he should be working for his living, and not sponging off the masses.

        So I suppose I see your position, but still tend to look askance at the notion of ‘prosper’ being measured by any worldly norm. Call it the NT part of me. I do understand the idea of rejecting any notion of our physical being as being somehow seperate in treatment by God. When He says He will prosper us, I believe it has to do with my physical being as well…Which brings us back to the blind man and Christ:

        “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

        …of course, this all brings up issues with those who are not prospering? What sins do you have to confess, brother? 🙂

        • David,

          No sins…at least that I would confess online. 😉

          If I have a confession, it is that I am not wise enough to always know the difference between the troubling of God and the troubling of the world.Perhaps there is no distinction there for the righteous. I am, as yet, not faithful enough to see that truth in all its glory.

  3. Great thinking Dan. I grew up in a NT church, but ended up studying at Oral Roberts University. The mega-churches of Tulsa loved the OT scriptures, but did not like to discuss the tough sections of some of Paul’s writings. What we need now is a synthesis of both in the USAmerican church.

  4. All,

    Part of the irony of this issue highlights what it means to be an American Christian. We are possibly the most prosperous nation that ever was, yet many of our churches preach a NT messages that counters that prosperity—all the while the people in that church (including the pastoral staff) are the very embodiment of earthly prosperity. It’s a very odd dichotomy that we’ve become so accustomed to that we rarely question it. What does it mean to claim to believe the NT view yet live almost totally out of the OT view, never asking how that’s possible? I think that hypocrisy drives non-Western churches crazy when they look at us.

    • jettybetty

      This is what so burdens me! Yet, I continue to live in that earthly prosperity–I can’t totally enjoy it–and haven’t really escaped it? What is the balance? I seek it, but I do not think I’ve found it!

  5. Beyond Words

    SLW, I think there’s more to the OT economy than you think. Although the Spirit did not indwell the community, the community was custodian and bearer of God’s dwelling place in the Ark and the Torah and Temple. Community life was spiritual, political, economic and embodied–tied to “living in the land of promise”. Jews who had “eyes to see and ears to hear” knew the law wasn’t what made their standing right with God, it was their faith in what God was doing, which called for obedience, that made them righteous.

    We don’t have anything equivalent to the OT economy today, but that’s a crying shame–because Jesus became sacrifice, Wisdom, Torah and Temple and now we are the dwelling place of the Spirit! The kingdom of God is God’s new economy.

    Jesus reconciles OT with NT. The intersection of his life, ministry, the cross, the Resurrection and the Spirit with the history of God’s purposes brings the God’s future into the now to reconcile the OT with the NT.

    This is a great challenge to the church, Dan. Thanks for posting it.

  6. Diane Roberts

    While MacArthur is New Testamentizing the OT, the Word of Faith teachers are Old Testmantizing the NT.

    Here is one for you. I’ve been working on this one for almost 30 years and I think I might have an answer but not sure. The WOF teachers tell you about Deut. 28 and the blessings of those who obey God. Then they say that the same blessings are for Christians who obey God today. Actually this is one of the foundations for the “prosperity” gospel. Are they correct? If not, then why. Is there a solution to this problem without going into a Hegelian synthesis? If so, what is it?

    • Diane,

      Trust the God who holds all riches in His hands and dispenses them as He sees fit to His children. Recognize the lovely gift tied up in the ugly-looking package and its kin, the beautiful box with sorrow inside.

  7. Interesting points, Dan. Paul seems to focus on this in his writings, like he did in Phillipians 4:11-13:

    11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

    But more often than not, he seems to focus more on his suffering for the Gospel than prospering in it, because he knows that his riches are in Heaven.

    Look at Jesus when he was transfigured. He was there with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets. But Jesus in the middle, brings balance.

    • Don,

      The OT is filled to the brim with God’s promises to prosper his people in earthly ways. Jacob’s livestock reproduced more than his father-in-law’s, David went from shepherd to king, the Hebrews prospered more than their Egyptian captors, God led the Hebrews into the land of milk and honey–hundreds of verses address prosperity coming upon God’s people, and not just spiritual prosperity. Not only did Israel triumph over their enemies, but they plundered their foe’s goods and grew rich.

      Yes, the temptation to forget God in the midst of his provision proves a constant threat, but that doesn’t counter the fact that God bestows prosperity of all kinds on His people as a way of showing them He is in control and that He honors faithfulness.

      I suspect, though, that we have turned that ideal into the American civil religion and are tempted to follow that religion to the exclusion of the one that may mean we give back over to God everything He has given us.

  8. Could not the solution be to read the Old Testament christologically? Read it for its historical revelation of God’s purposes with his people to be sure, but in retrospect we also should see Christ looking back into it. Now, if we are Jews, we read this as outlining a way to live. We should stay away from wicked people, try to delight in God’s way of living, and be assured that if we live this way we will prosper and not blow away like chaff.

    As Christians, we should see this meaning of course, but also immediately think of the Son of Man, who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Though he was crucified, his body did not wither. Though the wicked are like chaff and their bodies rot away, we know that his body was raised in glory and that this Man sits exalted at the right hand of God in the day of judgment.

    In Christ, the law is fulfilled, meaning upgraded. All those former meanings still apply in a sense, but it is transformed and focused into a person. We do still understand that we must not walk in the counsel of the wicked, but we do this by being united with the Man himself who does only what he hears from His Father. Viewing the old commandment in retrospect only reinforces this.

    What I’m saying is that we should get more application out of the Old Testament in the light of Christ, not less.

    • Wonders,

      No doubt! But why not also see the Fatherhood of God in that He blesses His children with his lavish riches? I don’t want to give the wrong impression here or open up a can of worms, but what about Jabez’s prayer. He asked to be prospered and God prospered him in many ways. The faith was in the asking, wasn’t it? Does God not reward faith?

      • Dan,

        I don’t see how the fatherhood of God blessing his children with lavish riches is something separate from what I’m talking about. Indeed, I think it horribly dangerous to ever, as a Christian, separate the promises of God from the work of Christ. Everything in the Old Testament needs to be understood in the light of Christ – every promise, every story, everything. This does not mean “spiritualizing” it. But it does mean that no riches are gained without poverty, no blessing is gained without bearing the curse, no life is gained without death.

        There is Jabez’ prayer and there is Jephthah’s. Abraham was blessed and yet died without seeing the fulfillment. Moses was righteous before God and yet never saw the promised land. David was a man after God’s own heart and yet was a despised fugitive. Israel was God’s chosen people, and yet was sent into exile. Job was the most righteous man on earth, and was afflicted because of this.

        There is no balance to be struck here, in my view. Rather, we need all of the extreme absurdity of the cross of Christ. The throne where he is exalted as “King of the Jews” is a cruel Roman cross, the crown is a crown of thorns. We must know Christ, in the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings and insodoing, we attain the blessings of fatih – the resurrection of the dead, life everlasting, glorious riches, the new creation itself. The cross is the means to glory. This is not a marginal theme of Christianity – it IS Christianity.

        Don’t spiritualize away the blessings of God – absolutely do not do this. But don’t suppose that sharing in these blessings is done without taking up the cross.

  9. It seems as well that in Christ, we can understand that in all that we do we will prosper – that all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to the Christ who sends us out. But it also has us reexamine how prosperity is to be viewed. Jesus was exalted as king of the Jews on a cross, and it is that cross that was the means of his victory over death and resurrection. So we ourselves need to understand that the means of our prosperity may look to the world like suffering and death.

    But it is true prosperity – not just “spiritual” prosperity. Look at the witness of the martyrs. They suffered and died cruelly – and to the world it looked like the furthest thing imaginable from prosperity. And yet the Church took down the Empire – Caesar himself had to bow the knee to a crucified Jew and say “Jesus is Lord” (in literal physical earthly history). In all that they do, the righteous of God prosper. But we must be about our Father’s business.

  10. J.Clark

    I think your article is mostly about a proper hermeneutic. Psalm 1 is dispensing a typical Hebrew wisdom saying. In other words, it is conventional wisdom. The prosperous man’s delight is not in riches but in the “law” of the Lord. This kind of man typically does prosper according to “worldly” riches but this is convention not absolute. We cannot talk and teach enough about recognizing our “embedded” theology and our presuppositions. We cannot talk enough about humility.

    • J. Clark,

      In light of so many other passages in the OT that talk of God blessing the righteous man with earthly prosperity, we can’t throw away that context and hermaneutic. In that overwhelming light, it seems clear to me that we simply can’t ignore the earthly riches aspect of Psalm 1. Again, ALL that the man in Psalm 1 does prospers. Yes, it’s because of his faith, no doubt! But that faith provides a bounteous reward this side of heaven.

  11. If we take our Lord at His word, He says that the OT speaks of and testifies to Him. Thus, the primary application and interpretation is not prosperity or personal gain, but what it tells us of Jesus Christ.

    If you miss this, you are missing the essential force of the Bible.

    • Dr. Mike,

      Absolutely! Jesus is the primary focus, but this does not mean that no secondary or tertiary benefits exist. Again, God’s primary focus is on our faithfulness, but that does not mean that no other realities accompany that faithfulness. Jesus is the focus, but this does not exclude the redemption of our bodies on the Last Day, does it?

      Again, I find it odd that wealthy Evangelicals like to talk about martyrdom and dying to self, while the poor Christians of the world often talk of standing in Christ and what that affords them of God’s earthly blessings.

      The true NT church did indeed raise up the poor among them. We’re not so likely to do that in our “every man for himself” American society, church or not!

  12. I think Joseph should be considered in this discussion too. I mean in Gen 39 he is described as prosperous in two different surroundings; Potipher’s home and in the prison. In neither of these places did the prosperity mean he increased in wealth, and yet he was a “prosperous” man. This kind of prosperity comes from a Spirit filled life in my opinion, where God makes all that we do and say, glority Him. Joseph prospered with joy, peace, and power with God and men. This is biblical prosperity as I see it, both in the OT and NT.

  13. J.Clark

    I think I do agree with you but I’m a bit guarded. You are dispensing “wealth” or prosperity like it is a guarantee in the Bible for being righteous.(or it sounds like it to me but the internet as a means of conversation is lacking, how are you holding your mouth right now? I’m sure that would clear it up.) Now, the Bible when it speaks about righteous men having earthly riches it is stating convention or we might say a common sense deduction. i.e. “Yes, yes, of course a man that works as if working for the Lord, fears Him, is an honest man in all he does, is passionate about his family, is a good steward of his money, yes, yes, of course he will prosper.” This is the order of the universe as God decrees. But men have free will so God’s design is often “messed up.” As long as sinful men live, then a righteous man may live in poverty no matter how hard of a worker he is. We must ask, was Job a righteous man? Paul? Jesus? etc. God, by all means, has made me and my family prosperous, especially in comparison to most of the world and I have been among the poorest. With great exclamation, we do not hold this tightly but instead we hold these riches loosely, so that they slip from our hand with ease when God brings opportunity for us as well as if they are taken from us. Whatever confusion we have about prosperity in the OT I believe is cleared up by Jesus. “Oh, you are rich. Oh, yes, of course, you have obeyed all the commands. Well then, give it all away and follow me.” Now, if that doesn’t clear it up then I don’t know what will.

    • J. Clark,

      The Psalm 1 man who “prospers in all he does” is very much like the Proverbs 31 woman, yet we never seem to question the prosperity of the Proverbs 31 woman. Why is that?

      As to the rich young ruler, his issue was that his riches got in the way of the Kingdom. That does not appear to be the case with the Psalm 1 man. Again, Jesus spoke to the ruler’s addiction. That’s the key problem here.

      And prosperity doesn’t just mean wealth. Living at peace with all men, having the respect of one’s peers, enlarging one’s borders, enjoying the fruits of one’s land—all these things are marks of prosperity. We don’t deny those to Christians today, do we?

      • J.Clark

        No, of course we don’t deny those things. But we cannot and must not make them a defining fruit of salvation. You are right that peace is a sign of righteousness but a man may be at peace and still be at war. Many a righteous man, full of peace has had his head on the chopping block. So what we see is that prosperity, as all that you defined it as, is convention and not absolute. What is absolute is the fruit of the Spirit and His words to our hearts. The man on the cross beside Jesus died in peace yet he was covered in blood and guts while his neighbor mocked him with scorn. All but Jesus looked upon that man as cursed and condemned. By all definitions but the Spirit’s, he was not prosperous yet he finally prospered.

  14. Dan, you said:

    In light of so many other passages in the OT that talk of God blessing the righteous man with earthly prosperity, we can’t throw away that context and hermaneutic. In that overwhelming light, it seems clear to me that we simply can’t ignore the earthly riches aspect of Psalm 1.

    Indeed, we cannot ignore the earthly riches aspect of some of the Old Testament. However, I think most followers of Jesus do not take heed of the fact that, from Genesis to Revelation, what is laid out for us is the evolution in moral, ethical, and intellectual development – an evolution in human thinking about the nature of the Supreme Being – from primitive ideas in the early books towards more enlightened views in the later books.

    Human conception of the nature of the deity evolved and culminated, as Paul said, in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth: “For the law was a schoolmaster leading us to Christ”.

    The interpretive principle of the New Testament is the way in which it reconciles the ‘physical’ nature of Israelite messianic expectations with a totally unexpected ‘spiritual’ fulfilment.

    For instance, the Israelites expected that when the messiah appeared, the physical fortunes of Israel would be restored. The New Testament teaches that Jesus did in fact restore the fortunes of Israel because he restored the nation’s moral/spiritual integrity.

    Without the doctrine of inerrancy, would conflicts such as you describe arise at all? Does not inerrancy blind our recognition of these simple ideas?

    • Vynette,

      The very first command to Man in the Garden was one of physical prosperity, to take the raw materials that God had provided and make something with them. Even after the fall, that command has never been rescinded. It is a command to prosper.

      You mention the “interpretive principle of the NT” as physical reconciling with spiritual, and I would agree to some extent. The problem comes when we think of that as spiritual replacing physical. That’s the very core of Gnosticism! As I mentioned, we need a hermeneutic that addresses both the physical and the spiritual, one that melds all manner of prosperity.

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  16. M.E. Huffmaster

    An interesting premise, Dan. OT vs NT Christian views. Let us not forget that the “prosperity gospel” landed Jim Bakker in jail and PTL in bankrupty and disgrace.

    I would think it would profit those who ascribe to the OT view to take a long look at the sufferings of Job. Here’s, Job, a man who has every blessing an OT man could want, a large family, scores of livestock, servants, plenty of gold, and his health and it all disappears in a flash. From unfathomable riches to a man sitting on an ash heap scratching his sores with pot shards, all Job has left is a wretched, unhappy wife who tells Job he should curse God and die……….and a few friends who start out doing the right thing, but then tell Job he must have sinned or none of these terrible things would have happened to him. I don’t know why Job put up with them to tell you the truth.

    Let’s get down to the nitty gritty………….none of us deserves the blessings God gives us. We come in to this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I have dear Christian friends who suffer terribly from physical difficulties and who still praise God for all He does for them. I also know some really wretched excuses for human beings who somehow seem to be able to escape the trouble they create time after time, leaving others to pick up the mess they leave behind. It is a paradox, but you know, Job did come through shining as gold and God can use wicked people to bring to pass his purposes as well as the righteous. Pontifar’s wife was a lout, but her betrayal of Joseph eventually led to his being able to save his family and Eygpt when famine struck. Job’s friends finally irritated him to the point he asked God for an answer and God answered him in a way that shut all of them up and justified Job’s faith too.

    I think the parable Jesus used in Matthew about the rich man and the poor beggar named Lazarus made a point……….do not envy the wealthy or despise the poor because we do not know which side of Paradise either will end up. Wealth is meant to be used for good and to be enjoyed while we have it. Jesus did not chide Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea for being wealthy, he ministered to them in the areas of their lives where they knew lack. He did not condemn the wealthy, only sadly noted that having great wealth can make a man arrogant and blind to the truth. If you think of it, we would never have heard of Mozart, Bach, or hardly any of the great classical composers had they not been supported by wealthy patrons, patrons who were rarely righteous people. We would not look in wonder at Da Vinci’s Last Supper or Michelangelo’s David today without that same patronage. Money is not in itself evil, only its abuse.

    BTW, if you’re reading this on your own computer, you are enjoying something only 1% of the world’s population can….making even the most modestly financially blessed among us wealthy beyond the dreams of most of humanity, people whom God loves just as much as He does us.

    • M.E. Huffmaster,

      Job did lose everything, and he was quite prosperous before he lost it all. Interestingly, God rewarded Job with even more prosperity after Job’s trial was over. We seem to forget this when we talk about Job.

      I definitely agree on our status in the US as rich. That’s why I find it particularly intriguing that so many Christians act as if that’s not the case, then talk about dying to self and all, spiritualizing wealth and tending to make it a bad thing. It’s a curious phenomenon.

  17. M.E. Huffmaster

    Hi Dan,

    I did mention that Job did regain his prosperity, that is what I meant when I said God had justified Job’s faith.

    Wealth is a curious thing; it can be a blessing or a curse. In David Wilkerson’s book “The Vision”, the last Christians are tempted in a stark reversal from Job. In want of nothing, Christians gradually begin to love their possessions and pleasures more than God. I believe this is quite true and coming to pass right before our eyes. I find it always interesting to watch the home organizing programs on TV, mostly to watch just how hard it is for people to be convinced their lives will be made better just by getting rid of a lot of their junk. And I am disturbed by the shows depicting people finding themselves in extreme debt because they can’t curb their shopping addictions. A lot of people seem to think owning stuff will make them happy when in reality the stuff owns them and makes their lives miserable. I have seen a documentary of people who hoard so much stuff, the weight of it all literally threatens to collapse the floors of their homes. There was even one extreme case when a man was crushed to death under the weight of a mountain of hoarded newspapers that fell on him.

    In the end, it is as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, all (wealth) is vanity and meaningless, especially if we put our faith in it instead of God. We would do well to remember that in the end only faith, hope, and love will remain, not our stuff.

    • M.E.,

      I’m not even sure that prosperity has to come down to wealth. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t be considered wealthy, yet they have need of nothing because they’ve been so well provided for.

      Also, I think that prosperity has a little tinge of good old fashioned luck. Know what I mean? Right place, right time kind of stuff. And in many ways, being blessed with the luck of God means that you clean up even when the rich man is going down.

  18. Dave Block

    Thanks for raising a great point. The way I see it, this is an example of one of the deeper meanings revealed in the New Testament that up the ante over what was stated in the Old Testament. He says, you think murder is killing someone in cold blood? I say hating your brother is murder. You think adultery is sleeping with someone other than your wife? No, even looking at that woman with lust is adultery. You think the blood of that animal makes you right with Me? No, it’s going to take the blood of my Son to take away your sins. You think prosperity is the blessings of wealth, family, friends, influence, etc.? It’s much more than that — I offer you spiritual prosperity: the knowledge of Me, being filled with the spirit, joy, peace, wisdom, etc.

  19. Mark Tubbs

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your entry. Makes one think. For what it’s worth, here are Leland Ryken’s comments on the ‘prosper’ part of Psalm 1:

    Psalm 1:3 “does not give a reasoned philosophy on a subject. It would be foolish to take such statements as “whatever he does propers” or “no harm will befall you” (Ps. 91:10) out of their lyric context and treat them as absolutes.” Pg. 111, from Academic Press.

    Helped me out, anyways.



  20. George the AZ Buckeye

    All of the comments have been additive to an excellent post by Dan. I appreciate Vynette’s especially.

    Paul said we now see as thru a glass darkly, ie not very clearly. So we should not be disappointed that we don’t understand everything and in fact will make mistakes in interpretation.

    Vynette said, as I understand her, that the bible records the serial, progressive recognition of Who God is. NT Wright, I believe, says that, too. If that is true, and I think it is, then what Paul and James and Peter knew about God was more complete than what David and Moses and Adam did. That’s hard for me to say, because two of the latter set actually talked to God. But then, talking to is not the same as knowing well.

    If this is the case, then it should make sense that it would be unwise to rely primarily on the less-informed OT. The OT should be understood as the earlier part of the story, before we know as much about the characters as we will in the NT.

    But speaking of characters: How many Davids and Moses and Sampsons are there in the bible? How many Israels? I’d say one of each. If God made a promise to one of them, can I assume that promise for myself?

    One way to answer that is to consider how other characters regarded those promises. Did James claim the promise to Samson when he was about to be executed? Did Paul claim the promise to Moses about leading his people into their own country? If those men did not assume God’s promises were transferable, why should we?

    But Dan’s discussion began with the Psalmist’s description of the blessedness of the law-delighted man. Should that be a blessing we should/could claim? First, and this may be regarded as heretical tho I don’t believe it is, the psalm was David’s statement of praise; the bible does not say God promised this. The bible certainly does not document that description to be universally true.

    Second, David was referring to the OT Mosaic law. So if the psalm were a promise from God, and if it were transferable, to keep our part we’d need to observe the whole of the Mosaic law. To get into that “promise,” we’d need to do what Christ already took care of.

    Intellectually, I suppose, one could argue that, since Christ took care of it, then the blessing should be mine without any input from me. Intellectually that may be true, but does any of the NT accounts show it to be successful?

    When we regard the bible as a rule book or a set of timeless truths, we are apt to take whatever verse seems to promise what we want. This approach rejects serial revelation and, I believe, misses the rest of the gospel.

    If the message of the OT was prosperity thru obedience, a (not the) message of the NT is comfort thru suffering.

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