In answering the question, “How were people saved in the Old Testament,” a pastor in Dallas did a really good job of explaining the traditional, orthodox, evangelical view of the subject. It was what I was taught in seminary, what I believed for 35 years of ministry, and what I have since begun to seriously question. His handling of the issue illustrates most of my concerns.
If I had only one criticism to give of his explanation, it would be that almost all of what he said was based upon assumptions rather than the Biblical text. We won’t quibble about the minor statements that he makes that many would find questionable like his comment:
“Contrary to the lie of the enemy who told them, ‘You will be like a god if you do that (eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).’ They might become like “a god” with a small “g” but they would never become like God.”
Such a statement plainly contradicts Gen. 3:22.
If this pastor is correct, then what is the point of God having as His plan the conformity of individuals to the image of Christ/God (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; 2Cor. 3:18)?
But let us forget for the moment those kinds of questions and look at the bigger picture he addresses.
In answer to the question, “How were people saved in the Old Testament,” the pastor says,
“That is very, very simple. They were saved by grace through faith.”
He will later use Eph. 2:8-9 to attempt to give his answer Biblical support. But does Eph. 2:8-9 really address the question as to how people were saved in the OT?
The pastor makes a very good statement when he says, “Once man was separated from God, he was reconciled to God by believing in His provisions.” With that I would whole heartedly agree. But the problem is he is referring to believing in a coming Messiah who would die for one’s sins. I would use that statement to be much, much broader.
Trying to establish the need for Adam and Eve to believe in a sacrificial death for the forgiveness of sins, he refers to the skins that God made to cloth Adam and Eve in. His argument went like this:
“Since life is in the blood, God said, ‘The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23 which is to Christians!),’ and ‘the day you depart from Me, you will surely die.’ So God sacrificed an animal (I think it was a lamb but I admit that is an argument from silence but it makes sense when you see where God went with this). Adam had to receive God’s provision by faith as the thing that ultimately made (?) him righteous. (The Catholics believed that a person was “made” righteous; the Reformers believed that a person is “declared” righteous even though he remains a sinner.) So, if we fast-forward to Abraham in Gen. 15:6, we see there that he was declared righteous by faith.”
This pastor makes the assumption here that justification is identical to salvation. But there is no Biblical evidence upon which such an identification can be made.
In the OT men had faith in the sacrificial system which anticipated the ultimate sacrifice. Another assumption is made by this pastor. (It should be noted that Dr. Allen in his recent video study on the book of Romans denied that people in the OT were saved by believing in a coming Messiah (whether they connected Him to the sacrificial system or not).
Then he goes to Rom. 4:1-3 to show that Abraham was supposedly justified by faith alone apart from works which he assumes is the same thing as being “saved.”
Using Gal. 3:10-11 doesn’t help his position. Even this pastor explains that these verses are based upon Deut. 27, a passage that warns the “believers” who are entering the promised land to take possession of it that God requires obedience to all the things listed there for them to do.
So, conclusion: all men have always been saved the same way: Eph. 2:8-9.
Here are the reasons that this pastor’s arguments, which I believed for most of my life, are inadequate:
1. He fails to apply the doctrine of progressive revelation.
Not every thing was revealed at one time. It was revealed successively. No one can be accountable for what had not been revealed. So: Adam and Eve were not accountable for believing that the Messiah had to come to Judah’s tribe (Gen. 49:10) since that truth was not revealed for another two thousand years. And Judah was not accountable for believing that the Messiah would come through David’s family line since that was not revealed for another 300-400 years. And David could not be held accountable for believing that the Messiah would be virgin born since that truth was not revealed for another 200 years. And so on.
So, I ask: where are the examples in the Old Testament of people being “saved by grace through faith”? In fact, where is an example of anyone being spiritually saved at all in the OT? Reading the NT back into the OT as a standard for someone to measure up to when he never got that information himself is hardly kosher, right?
2. He reads into the text of Gen. 2-3 his opinions of the need of a blood sacrifice in order to be forgiven. No such need exists in either the OT or the NT! You could be forgiven simply by praying to God for it (1Kings 8; Matt. 6:12). You see there was no need to offer a blood sacrifice since God would be using the sacrifice of Jesus who was slain before the foundation of the world to draw from and apply to those seeking forgiveness (1Pet. 1:18; Rev. 13:8 in which the Greek Text makes it plain that it is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world and not the names written from the foundation of the world). Need to refer to Heb. 9:22.
3. He assumes that salvation and justification are the same. Don’t we need Scriptural proof of this before we believe it to be true? While I have people being justified in the OT (and there is only one kind of justification according to Paul who wrote Rom. 4:22-24), I do not have people being spiritually saved there. So how can they be the same thing?
4. He assumes that Abraham’s justification occurred at the point of his initial faith in God (because that is what our orthodox Christian faith believes), but Gen. 15:6 is at least 25 years after Abraham had been walking with God (Gen. 12:7). All this raises some profound questions:
First, justification is supposed to only occur at initial faith in God in the OT and in Jesus in the NT. Why do we think that Gen. 15:6 describes Abraham’s initial faith?
If justification is supposed to include the forgiveness of sins and the imputation (the gifting) of Christ’s righteousness to the person who has come to believe, why do I not see those things in Gen. 15:6, the model for all justifications? In fact, justification is God’s declaration of righteousness (on this we still agree) upon only those who are righteous already (on that we don’t agree). See 1Kings 8:32 and Deut. 25:1. And you probably shouldn’t miss the very illumining passages of Ps. 106:30-31/Num. 25:10-13. The exact same words are used of Phinehas as were used of Abraham in describing both of their justifications. But Phinehas’ justification is based entirely upon a work/deed that he did to appease God’s wrath.
Justification is also supposed to occur just once in our theology. But the Bible says Abraham was justified twice (once in Gen. 15:6 and once again in Gen. 22:12-14 according to James 2:20-24). Remember Paul says that everyone in his day and in the future will be justified exactly like Abraham was (Rom. 4:22-24). There aren’t two different kinds/types of justification then.
For all these reasons and more, I have moved away from what I use to believe about salvation and justification. There is no spiritual salvation in the OT. Salvation and justification are not the same thing. Only people who are already in right relationship with God are justified. No “unbeliever” or unbelieving person is ever justified (though he might have been previously since it is not a once-for-all issue). Neither one addresses the issue of a person’s eternal destiny. And neither one, when they are properly understood, can be revoked. But confusion will continue to abound as long as they are assumed to provide a “pathway to heaven.”
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