13 Feb 2008

Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the "Old Testament?: #4 How Did We Get Here?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Preaching, Restoration History

N. B. Hardeman

Inculcating the Inferiority of the Hebrew Bible

The dispensational hermeneutic first articulated by Alexander Campbell in his Sermon on the Law (read more here) has become part of the DNA of Churches of Christ. Classic hermeneutic manuals like Dungan’s Hermeneutics devote considerable energy in establishing this hermeneutic while virtually ignoring “commands, examples and inferences.” B. W. Johnson further inculcated this hermeneutic through his widely read and reprinted sermon (on both sides of the keyboard ironically) series in 1899 called “The Two Covenants.” Probably among the most influential means of traditioning this point of view though has been the Jule Miller film strips.

Tabernacle Sermons

There is a legitimate distinction between covenants, there is also illegitimate.  There is more continuity between the Old Covenant and the New than discontinuity (and we also need to remember that Old Covenant is not synonymous with “Old Testament” though most simply equate the two). There is history, movement and development in the Story of God. Yet sometimes, it seems, that such emphasis has been placed on the distinction between the Testaments and even the radical abolition of the “Old” Testament that some (perhaps many) quietly developed the theology that the First Testament is irrelevant at best. Perhaps an example of this would be the famous preacher N. B. Hardeman in his Tabernacle Sermons.

Let it be remembered, brethren, that you and I, as Gentiles … were never subjected to the law of Moses. It was never applicable unto us. Its promises were never ours, neither its threats nor punishments. Strange, it is not, therefore–passingly so–that, notwithstanding two thousand years have passed since it was taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, there perhaps are people to-night, never included in it, that are blinded, deceived, and deluded by the thought that they are amenable to it? … On the pages of God’s word it is clearly declared that the law is blotted out, wiped away, stricken from existence, become dead, that we might serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (“Rightly Dividing the Word the Word of Truth,” Vol 1, p.11)

The language of Hardeman is harsh, even extreme. How would folks in the pew hear this language directed against the “Old” Testament? There is no doubt that NBH believed the Hebrew Bible was inspired. But the impression left is one that says the OT is of limited importance. The tendency to codify positions arising out of debate is all to common yielding woeful consequences.

It should be pointed out that Hardeman’s position, as quoted above, rests on a serious misunderstanding of not only the “Old” Testament but also of Colossians 2.14. What was “nailed to the cross” was not the Old Testament but the cheirographon which refers to the I.O.U/sin-debt that we have incurred not the Hebrew Bible or even the “Old Covenant.”

It is one thing to make the claim that we “believe” in the “Old Testament” and quite another to take it seriously enough to let it shape and mold our faith and life. If we take the “New Testament” seriously then we will have to take the Hebrew Bible seriously enough to let it even impart “doctrine” to us (cf. 2 Tim 3.16). Rather than being an addendum that we might get around to at some point the Hebrew Bible is essential to the Christian faith.

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

19 Responses to “Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the "Old Testament?: #4 How Did We Get Here?”

  1. Rex Says:

    Great post…

    If we could ever learn to read the OT as though it were just as important as the NT so that we actually had one canon (not a canon within the canon) then perhaps we might stop filtering our NT through hellenistic philosophies and read it through the lens of Judiasm from which the new covenant is arises out of. As much as I love church history, I wonder what it would be like to read the Bible apart from the lense of church history? Perhaps we would cease to justify a lot of the things we justify from a post-constatinian Christianity.

    Ithaca Church of Christ
    Ithaca, NY


  2. -bill Says:

    Excellent thoughts, as usual, Bobby. I remember an experience from more than 25 years ago. I listened to a highly esteemed proponent of the NBH school of thought speak to a group of young preachers. He encouraged us to spend very little time in the OT, asserting that there is just too much important material in the NT that “our people” need to learn. If I had known then what I am coming to understand now, I would have asked him how we can possibly understand the NT without the OT.

    Sorry to ramble on. Great post!


  3. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    If the God of the Old Testament really is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then how could Old Testament teaching about God be obsolete? Wouldn’t it be downright Christian?

  4. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thoughtful stuff again Bobby. Hardeman’s language is indeed harsh. Would you expand sometime on what you said on Col. 2:14? I hope I have applied it legitimately, especially with my Sabbatarian friends. The application of the principle of vs. 14 in vs. 16 seems to be in reference to feasts, including the Sabbath. Of course, such were so linked to the concept of sin and forgiveness that it probably still harmonizes with what you’re saying.

  5. Kent Says:


    I made the same point about Colossians 2:14 that you just did last year at my old congregation in Kentucky which featured a lot of older folks. It blew their minds! And even after going through the logic behind the interpretation of that verse some of them still refused to believe that that was not the OT being nailed to the cross. To me, this is one of the biggest issues I have faced in my short time of ministry. The majority of our people in the pew are so screwed up by how to view the OT and its relationship to us as Christians that it is going to take a great deal of work to undo what has been done over these many years. But it is an important thing as it fuels so much of our theology and our faith.

    Kent Benfer

  6. Zack Says:

    Great post here brother! I completely agree with you here. I believe the OT has a lot to teach us as Christians. Jesus even said that He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. That means we can still learn from it and some of it still applies to us today. Thank you for teaching us so well! God bless!

  7. Rick Says:

    The quote by brother N.B. Hardeman is correct in all that it says. If that were all that brother Hardeman said on the subject of the Old Testament I would understand your point, but to take one quote and then presume how an audience would understand it is presumptuous at best.

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    I have read a lot of NBH. The entire sermon witnesses to his attitude not just this isolated quote. But I quote the text for illustrative purposes not to be exhaustive. The same point though is made in the various other sources I have mentioned … and which could be multiplied astronomically. But it was the harshness of the language that is most striking.

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    It is a common misuderstanding of Col 2.14 in applying it to the “Old” Testament or the Law. This is a grave abuse of Paul’s words I believe and think he would be appalled by it. I have dealt with this before on my blog and will make another post for this series on the meaning of cheirographon which is critical to understanding the text.

    One significant fact is that the Greek word nomos (law) does not even occur in the book of Colossians … not even once. This is a strange factoid indeed if Paul’s concern is to teach the removal of the nomos. I think it is worth pondering. But more later.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  10. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post brother.
    Keep up the great posts.

  11. Wade Tannehill Says:


    I printed out your entire “Marcion” series this morning and read it through in one sitting with pencil in hand for underlining.

    I agree whoelheartedly! As you know, I have done a lot of work on Colossians 2:14 which I am not ready to release upon the masses just yet since I plan to edit, expand, and hopefully publish it. But one of the questions you might address when you start to define the “cheirographon” is to ask who Paul’s opponents might have been in Colossians. If we can stop looking at these folks as garden variety Judaizers (if there were such a thing) then the context can really start clarifying some things. Paul’s argument was not with the law in Colossians, nor with those who merely insisted upon the binding of Old Covenenat practices on Christians. The issue was far more complex than that.

  12. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    I don’t see the language as particularly harsh. I grew up in an OT rich environment, both at home and in the church, so, perhaps I’m in the blessed minority, but I don’t see the problem with viewing the Law of Moses as having basically lost preceptual authority and still seeing it as immensely valuable at the principle level. Also, not all of the OT is the Law of Moses. But, I digress.

    I want to make a request, if I might–out of a sincere desire to read what you have to say about John 14:1-3. I’ve spent the last two years contemplating eschatology, and have devoted a good deal of my reading time this year to names like Wright and Witherington as well as works from men of the churches of Christ. I’ve read Kingdom Come. One thing that bugs me (perhaps I’m overlooking something) is that writers and speakers on both sides of the other-place-heaven and restored-heaven-on-eath debate seem to camp in the passages that seem to more strongly support their view and minor in, or avoid altogether, those that may seem to be a weakness. When I am trying to convince people to believe something they don’t already understand, I try to spend the most time of all explaining why passages that might seem to be a weakness are actually not.

    Forgive the rambling. I strongly lean toward the world-resue view, but just have a few creaky joints that need some oil, like John 14. If you would be so kind, just get around to it whenever you can. Don’t overwork yourself on my account.

    If you can direct me to material that deals with Jn 14:1-3 from the creation rescue POV that will be fine.

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wade I look forward to reading your thoughts when you release them on us. I agree with you on the issue of context regarding the opponents of Paul. Context is of critical importance and Paul has no argument with the law in Colossians … it is not there.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  14. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Joshua I am somewhat surprised you do not think NBH’s words to be “harsh.” They make me cringe … If someone said that about a wife, son or daughter I think most would think it to be abuse!!

    I do not think John 14.1-3 is a problem passage at all. I will make a post on it … and I think I did cover it in my series on the New Heavens and New Earth on this blog (I will check).

    But if you are looking for any position to be smooth I think you are reading the wrong book. My time in the Psalms and my life with God has shown me that there is nothing smooth about our walk with him.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  15. Falantedios Says:

    Bobby and Joshua,

    Please forgive me for being presumptuous. I look forward to hearing what both of you have to say on John 14:1-3, but I just read this today and so it is really fresh in my mind.

    In the Journal for Christian Theological Research (Vol 11, 2006, pp73-97), J Richard Middleton published the following article: “A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption.” If you Google the title, you should be able to find it in .pdf format. It is, to put it mildly, a STELLAR read. Like anybody else, I have some disagreements with some of Middleton’s directions, but the thrust is BRILLIANT. One fact whose potential import never struck me until reading this is the fact that the biblical story starts in a garden and ends in a city. What might that say about the scope of God’s redemptive purpose?

    Anyway, in addition to offering five major passages that clearly support rescued creation eschatology (Acts 3:19-21; Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20; 2 Pet 3:10-13; and Rom 8:19-23), Dr Middleton deals head-on with four of what he calls “Problem Texts for a Holistic Eschatology.” The four he treats are, in order, John 14:1-3; 2 Cor 5:1-10; 1 Thess 4:13-18; and Matt 24:37-41. Perhaps just sharing his comments on the Johannine passage will tempt you enough to track down the whole essay.

    John 14:1-3
    In John 14 Jesus comforts the disciples, in the farewell discourse, about his imminent departure:

    Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. My Father’s house has plenty of room; in that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (Jn 14:1-3 TNIV)

    On the surface, this certainly seems to say that Jesus is going to take the disciples to live with him in “heaven” (his Father’s house with many rooms). Undeniably, Jesus is returning to heaven (even though the actual term is not used) to prepare a place for the disciples. And when he returns they will, indeed, be with him. But WHERE will this be?

    One answer is to look at Revelation 21:1-5, with its vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (that is, a new creation). There the seer reports,

    I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.” (Rev 21:2-3 TNIV)

    The very description of the New Jerusalem as a bride “prepared” for her husband should remind us of Jesus going to “prepare” a place for the disciples. Indeed, both preparations take place in heaven. In Revelation 21, however, the New Jerusalem (which is both a holy city and the people of God — that is, redeemed humanity in their concrete socio-cultural, even urban, character) comes down out of heaven. Here it is very clear that the final, permanent dwelling place of God with humanity is on earth. Indeed, one chapter later we are told (in Revelation 22:3) that in the New Jerusalem — which has come down from heaven to earth — there will be no longer any curse (Genesis 3 will finally be reversed). Instead, God will be enthroned there (on earth) and God’s servants (according to verse 5) will “reign forever.”

    In a footnote to “reign forever,” he continues, “The word ‘forever’ is crucial, for it disabuses us of the idea of some temporary earthly ‘Millenium,’ to be followed by an eternal ‘heavenly’ state.”

    I can’t remember if I had to use my library access permissions to get into the journal archives to get this text. If you want it, but have trouble accessing it for free, let me know and I’ll send it to you. Whether or not he convinces you, the 14 double-spaced and annotated pages are well worth the read.

    in HIS love,

  16. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Nick I have read Middleton’s essay before and it is a great read for sure. He and I are in essential agreement on John 14.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  17. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    Bobby, as to Hardeman’s harshness, I’d have to know the context to say for certain. Re. Jn 14, I’m not looking for smooth or rough, just truth. I’m studying eschatology carefully and wanted to have a POV from all sides. I can’t remember everything you touched on in that series, and I didn’t read all of it. I think I put it all together and saved it for later consumption. I’ll check into it.

    Nick, thanks for the quotes and the reference to the article. When I get back to the office I’ll see if I can find it. If not I’ll let you know.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Thank’s for the resource. I’m in a cell group with some pastors. I’ve been battling an institutional mindset with a missional/incarnational theology. Most of them love N.T.Wright, though I wonder if at times whether they truley get it.

    Anyways, I’m going to buy the books and ask that we discuss it in our next meeting. Peace be with you!


  19. Clarke Says:


    I always find God’s timing very interesting.

    I’ve been trying to do some research on our tripartite dispensationalism for the last several weeks, and have found very little online, and then you came and commented on my blog, and I came by yours, and found that you had written a post on this very topic! I’d read about AC’s Sermon on the Law and the reaction he received, but I’d never read it, I’m glad you mentioned it!

    I’ll be doing some writing in the next week or so about our dispensationalism, and I’m much indebted to you for your comments.

    God willing, my family and I will all make it to Pepperdine this year, and I’m looking forward to hearing you and John Mark speak!


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