Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dodging Authorial Intent: The False Dichotomy between Second Temple and Modern Hermeneutics

There is a common sentiment, one that I think displays a superficial understanding of hermeneutics, that attempts to divorce the “ancient hermeneutic” of the New Testament authors from that of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic used in our modern day by scholars and the like.

Within this concept is the idea that the New Testament authors, as ancient interpreters, do not interpret the text according to context, but instead, ignore context to interpret the text in the light of Christ.

Now, the New Testament interpreters clearly interpret texts in light of Christ. There is no doubt to this. However, the claim that this is done supposedly by ignoring the original context or the interpretive method that would understand the authorial intent from the original context is bogus. Second Temple interpreters do not reject the original contextual meaning for a more spiritual one.
For instance, in Qumran, we have texts that are interpretive texts called pesherim. One of the elements of pesher, as defined by Shani L. Berrin, is a “citation of a biblical text (the lemma)” that the author views as having “an application of the text to a contemporary reality outside of its original context” (“Pesherim” in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 644).

There is nothing about negating the original meaning, only that the interpreter is seeking to apply it to new contexts. This is done by seeing a text typologically, not figuratively.

And God told Habakkuk to write what was going to happen to <to> the last generation, but he did not let him know the consummation of the era. And as for what he says: «So that /may run/ the one who reads it». Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God has made known all the mysteries of the words of his servants, the prophets. For the vision has an appointed time, it will have an end and not fail. Its interpretation: the final age will be extended and go beyond all that the prophets say, because the mysteries of God are wonderful. (1QpHab vii.1-8)

The idea expressed here is that there is a plain reading that Habakkuk and the other prophets understood, but that the raz “mystery” of the text was something that went beyond all that the prophets said. This cryptic interpretation was left for the Teacher of Righteousness to reveal.

It is clear by the way the Pesherim interpret the texts that the mystery of the text is nothing more than exchanging the original context for a contemporary one. This can be a valid or invalid way of interpreting the text. In most 2d Temple interpretation, the attempt is to interpret the text in a way that is complementary, rather than contradictory, to the original context. In fact, in most forms of ancient Jewish interpretation it is a general rule that the extended meaning is not to contradict the original basic meaning.

In other words, the interpreter is not contradicting the original references of the text, as though the author believes that Habakkuk could not understand his own words, or that his original audiences was left dumbfounded by the text; but instead, that God made known to Habakkuk what was being said, but that its implications for future interpretation were a mystery ready to be unlocked by a future interpreter. This is the actual hermeneutic of most 2d Temple authors.

The 2d Temple hermeneutic, then, is not one where the authors are merely making things up and reinterpreting texts against their original context. Instead, they are often seeking to understand the original text in order to make further application to their own day. But by “application” I do not mean they merely seek to apply it as we would. Instead, they are arguing that the application to their own day is intended by God through the text itself. It is cryptically hidden. It’s further meaning needs to be brought out by an interpreter led by God.

But the plain meaning can be understood by everyone, and both are meant to be conveyed by God. The meaning one gains from the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, which is nothing more than understanding what the author in his own day meant by observing the internal logic of language, one which we acknowledge on a daily basis in our own speech, is foundational. To reject the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is to reject logic as applied to language itself, and this would render all speech as useless babel that can be refitted to any situation and interpreted in any way the reader sees fit. Indeed, the postmodern “reader-response” hermeneutic so popular in academics is a result of such thinking.

However, this is not the hermeneutic of the New Testament. The New Testament, like other 2d Temple interpretive literature, receives the plain meaning and the spiritual meaning of a text as existing in harmony with one another. Paul does not think that Abraham and Sarah are merely allegories and not real persons. He does not reject the story and theology surrounding them and conveyed by the original plain reading of the text. Instead, he acknowledges this story when he notes how Abraham received righteousness from God by believing Him. This would not be possible if Paul rejected the original plain reading. However, does Paul see that there is more to the story that can be made of these characters? Absolutely. They can be used in an analogy to represent law and promise and applied to the contemporary debate in Galatia.

Likewise, does Paul really believe the original legal command concerning oxen was not about oxen, or does he believe that it is about oxen, but stated mainly as a principle that is expressed through oxen but meant to be applied to people, namely, those who make their living from the gospel? I think the latter is clear, as Paul affirms the plain principles of the law in general.
Again, does Matthew really not know how to read Hosea when God says, “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” or could Matthew be using that text to apply the plain meaning of the text to Jesus Christ as the true Israel? In other words, the plain meaning must be understood first in order to understand the argument that Matthew is making about Jesus.

In fact, it was required to know the plain text well enough that one could start using it in more imaginative ways. It was, frankly, a test to how well one knew Scripture. Hence, Jesus and Paul use the very minutia of grammar to make their arguments against their Jewish counterparts (i.e., “I am the God of Abraham . . .” and “seed, not seeds”).

Jesus interprets the OT text plainly all of the time. He interprets God making them male and female to be one flesh as God made them male and female to be one flesh. There is no other typological meaning produced by Christ here. But Paul can use this typologically as well to say that the male represents Christ and the female the Church without rejecting the original contextual interpretation, since he quotes the plain interpretation elsewhere as he prohibits fornication.
It becomes clear that the New Testament author’s quote the Old Testament in two ways. The first is that they quote its plain, contextual meaning quite often. The second is that they use the text typologically, and as typology, it can be applied to new situations to come (i.e., to Christ or to preachers, etc.).

But the fact that they will interpret the texts they quote in both ways shows that they actually do believe that both are valid. In other words, if they rejected the plain, historical-grammatical, contextual reading of texts, they would never interpret texts according to that plain meaning. Yet, they clearly do interpret it in these ways.

Hence, it is not that Paul does not believe the original story of the rock that delivers water to the Israelites in the wilderness as it would be interpreted in its original context, but that he also sees a typological analogy with the water and Christ. In fact, the plain meaning is needed to understand the analogy. Even though the water existed in the midst of the Israelites and could have given them life, they still all died in the wilderness and did not receive the promise (the original interpretation in its original context and with its original authorial intent). Likewise, even though Christ may be present among those in the visible church at Corinth, if they persist in rebellion like the Israelites, they will perish without receiving the promise. Hence, the rock that gives the water of life is Christ (the typological interpretation of the text applied to a new context).

In fact, much of the New Testament builds on whole theologies gained from understanding entire literary contexts. John builds his theology from Pentateuchal themes as well as the overall theology of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The author of Hebrews seems to draw his warning passages from the theology of Numbers gained from a literary reading. Echoes of entire contexts exist in the New Testament, which is something that would be impossible if they did not interpret Scripture according to its authorial intent as evidenced by context. As my professors always said, “Context is king,” and the NT authors seem to be well aware of this. They just believe that much of the OT is typological and has further meanings to explore for the newfound context of Christ and His Church.

A good example for this is Jesus’ use of parables. He gives parables that have cryptic meanings for the hard-hearted masses, but when He wants the disciples to understand, He tells them plainly. If the Jewish mind were one where “plain meanings” were not a part of their hermeneutic, how are they understanding what Jesus says “plainly.”

And, in fact, what emerges is that the idea that the ancient reader did not interpret language according to the internal logic that the historical-grammatical hermeneutic seeks to expose is complete nonsense. The ancient speaker would be incapable of communicating and the ancient hearer would be incapable of understanding him.

Attempting to deny the internal logic of language in terms of how it conveys authorial intent via context is like attempting to deny the law of non-contradiction. It ends up being a self-defeating process of explaining away the internal logic of language by using the internal logic of language.

Instead, the ancient reader simply sought to apply the text to new found situations, and many times, interpretation was not seen as a mere human effort, but one governed by the Spirit of God to make such applications of texts that could be viewed both in their original contexts, and as typological of other future contexts to come. 

It is also sometimes claimed that the modern approach is a Greco-Roman influence, but this is complete nonsense. Ironically, the idea that the text should be interpreted spiritually with only the allegorical meaning is truly the result of Greek influence, as it conveys a type of Platonism that one sees in circles influenced more by Greek thought, such as among the Gnostics. 

Indeed, to divorce the two methods of interpretation from one another, i.e., divorcing the original meaning that was conveyed in words that have contexts that ground them in order to pursue some spiritual meaning only is truly a Greek way of thinking. Yet, even the Greeks had to communicate their interpretations to their students, and so the Platonists and Gnostics ended up explaining their interpretations using language that needed to be interpreted by its hearers/readers with the historical-grammatical/contextual hermeneutic. As one once said of the law of non-contradiction, the more one attempts to deny it, the more one affirms it.

The New Testament authors do not partake in such absurdities. They affirm the original contextual meanings, but also see God as conveying typology through those texts. As such, the either/or claim that most employ in order to dodge their having to grapple with the originally intended meaning of a text has no validity to it.

Preterist Time References, Part X

I mentioned in the previous post that there seems to be some confusion on the nature of the new covenant in Jeremiah. This confusion is compounded by a statement, often misread, in the Book of Hebrews.

In Hebrews, Auctor makes the following observation after his quotation of Jeremiah 31 concerning the new covenant.

When he speaks of a new covenant, he has made old the firstNow what is growing old and wearing out is already fading away. (Heb 8:13)

What Preterists think this means is that Auctor is arguing that Jeremiah predicted a future time when the new covenant was going to come and the old covenant would grow old and be soon to pass away. The common interpretation of the passage is to understand it as Auctor arguing that the old covenant is currently in the process of passing away in his own day, but that it has not quite occurred yet. Hence, Preterists see this as a reference to the coming of Christ in A.D. 70, since that is the big even about to happen and when the old covenant is said to have passed away completely. 

First, I want to point out again that in Jeremiah 31, the difference between the old and new covenant is where they are written and how they are communicated. Jeremiah is addressing the Jewish community that is going to be without a temple, sacrifices, and any of the external means through which God had communicated the law to them. 

Hence, the text is arguing that God will write His law upon their minds and hearts so that they will be directly taught of God, rather than having a need to have physical demonstrations and illustrations of holiness through ritual or an external law written on tablets of stone. 

Instead, the new covenant will see the law written upon the very beings of the exiles themselves. But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” (31:33). In fact, the whole context relates God's restoration of Israel from the exile, the rebuilding of the temple, and the establishment of the priesthood. But the renewed covenant is needed, one that differs from the first in terms of where it is displayed, because none of the external pictures exist after they are wiped out by the Babylonians. 

Fast-forward to the Auctor's time. Auctor is making the argument that the Old Testament teaches the necessity of Christ. Christ, after all, is the capstone of the new covenant, and indeed, even its foundation. He argues then that the reason why Christ's blood of the new covenant is necessary is because the old covenant is no longer in effect. It has already passed away. The external religion that existed in rituals and sacrifices were shadows of the covenant to come in Christ. Hence, once Christ had come, the shadows became ineffectual and unnecessary. This is what Auctor picks up on in Jeremiah.

His argument is that because Jeremiah used the word "new" Jeremiah was implying that the external covenant written on tablets and existing in rituals was "old." Auctor then points out that what is old is worn and is already passing away. 

Where many people have misunderstood what is being said, it seems rather clear that Auctor is saying this of Jeremiah's day, not his own. In other words,Jeremiah, not Auctor, used the word "old." Jeremiah, not Auctor, implied by his use of the word "old" that the external covenant was old. Jeremiah, not Auctor, was implying that what is old is worn out and already fading away. In Jeremiah's day. In the 6th Century B.C. In fact, that's the context of Jeremiah. The old is already passing away and the new is already coming, so that the exiles can worship God even without the external religion, since now it will be written on their minds and hearts. 

So Auctor is not arguing that the old covenant is currently passing away in his own day, as though it did not take its last breath at the coming of Christ and His finishing work on the cross; but rather that if it was already fading away in Jeremiah's day, then it was certainly finished off by Christ in His death, resurrection, and especially ascension. 

Hence, his entire argument in Hebrews is that Christ has already fulfilled the sacrificial laws, He is already fulfilling the priesthood by being at the right hand of God the Father, He has a better tabernacle in the presence of God the Father to do His priestly work, etc. There is simply no need for the old external covenant when one has the new better one now. This is his argument to Jews leaving Christianity. It is not that they will have something better in terms of the covenant, but that they currently do through Christ's fulfilling the rituals seen in the external covenant law via His death, ascension, priesthood, tabernacle, etc.

The text of Hebrews 8:13 is simply being misread. If I say that Napoleon said that he wore blue to the Battle of Waterloo, and I say, "by blue, he implies that he did not wear red, and what is not red is making a bold statement," I am not implying that red is making a bold statement in my day, but in his. 

To get a better analogy, imagine if I said that Napoleon said that he had a new sword, and by "new" he implies his other sword was old, and what is old is wearing out and already fading away, it is well understood that I am not saying that the sword is becoming worn out and is already fading away in my own day, but in his. 

Or to put it in logical terms: X, who lives in Time M, used the word Y in Time M, which implies Z in Time M. What is Z is B and C. If X implies that Y is occurring in Time M, then Z is occurring in Time M. If Z is occurring in Time M, and it implies B and C, then B and C are occurring in Time M.

One can argue that this is only a prophecy of the future and not meant for the returning exiles, and perhaps even exiles, but this would simply ignore the context of Jeremiah and that of Hebrews as well.

This, instead, is the logical implication of what is said since it is Jeremiah, in the sixth century B.C. who says/implies it, and not Auctor in the first century A.D. This also takes seriously the context of Jeremiah that argues this in the context of God restoring the exiles to their land and restoring their living and worship there. And it is also the context of Hebrews where Auctor argues that there is currently no need for any externally communicated covenant since the new covenant has already come and Christ has and is currently fulfilling its role in a far superior way, as the substance of what was to come, than the shadow did in its own day. 

What is old in Jeremiah's day is worn out in Jeremiah's day, and is already fading away in Jeremiah's day. When Christ comes, He removes any further need of its remaining elements and takes over the roles those external elements played in the worship of God.

Hence, this is not a time reference that indicates any sort of transition period. As argued before, there is no transition period. The new covenant is celebrated as having already come when Jesus hands the disciples the wine, which symbolizes the new covenant in His blood. This same new covenant is celebrated by the early church in communion, as evidenced in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26. The new has come. The old has faded away as a necessary means to worship God. And this is Auctor's point. The superior has come, so the inferior has already faded away. The renewed and superior is necessary. The old and inferior is superfluous. Trading in the former for the latter, therefore, is foolish.

Preterist Time References, Part IX

One of the time indicator arguments that Preterists like to use concerns the Mosaic Law. Jesus said in Matthew that "until heaven and earth pass away not one yod or tittle would pass away from the law until all is accomplished" (5:18).

One of the arguments that is extrapolated from this is that if heaven and earth have not yet passed away, then Christians are still under the law. Hence, since Christians are under grace, and not the law, heaven and earth must have passed away. Since the literal cosmos has not passed away, Preterists must be right about their allegorical interpretation of the phrase, "heaven and earth," which actually refers to the old covenant in this context.

Another argument is that the law would still be in affect for Jews outside of Christ, and this means that Jews would be able to achieve salvation by following the Mosaic Law outside of Christ.

Let's look at the first claim for a moment.

1. The biggest objection to this is that it clearly is not true when we look at the pre-A.D. 70 claims of the New Testament, specifically, concerning what Paul claimed.

Paul argues that the only reason he still may practice the ritual law is to gain an opportunity with those whom he wishes to evangelize; but he clearly states that all things are lawful for him (1 Cor 6:12), and that he is not under the law any longer.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, Paul states:

For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to allin order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the JewsTo those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. 

Again, in Romans 6:14-15, he states of the Roman believers:

For sin will have no mastery over you,because you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

He argues further,

Somy brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christso that you could be joined to anotherto the one who was raised from the deadto bear fruit to God. For when we were in the fleshthe sinful desires, aroused by the lawwere active in the members of our body to bear fruit for deathBut now we have been released from the lawbecause we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code. (7:4-6)

Furthermore, the Judaizers in Galatia would have been in the right for insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised and follow the ritual law, since everyone would have been supposedly still under it. Paul would be in the wrong because he would have been stating that the Galatians were free from the law while they were still under it.

Instead, Paul argues that the Galatian believers are no longer under the law.

Now before faith came we were held in custody under the lawbeing kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christso that we could be declared righteous by faithBut now that faith has comewe are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (3:23-27)

For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who livebut Christ lives in meSo the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s gracebecause if righteousness could come through the lawthen Christ died for nothing! (2:19-21)

If heaven and earth, i.e., the old covenant, needs to pass away before one can be free from being under the law, then how did Paul and early believers become free before A.D. 70? Obviously, "heaven and earth" passing away was not needed.

Let's discuss the second the idea for a moment now.

There seems to be some presuppositional idea in this argument that the law is a vehicle of salvation in the OT, and therefore, would remain one until the old covenant is done away with in A.D. 70.

I think it is clear from the NT that there is no transitional period. What was left of the external religion of the old covenant ended at the cross of Christ. However, it was never a vehicle of salvation for anyone but Christ alone. The one who would see life from the law was to obey all of it. Only Christ has ever done this. Therefore, as Paul argues, the law is an instrument of death to everyone else. Hence, it has been, is now, and always will be that the vehicle of salvation is being united to Christ by faith, whether for old covenant believers or new. Old covenant believers were united to Christ via faith in YHWH and looking toward the cross with sacrifices and ritual law. New covenant believers have received Christ, not in shadows of rituals, but as the substance of He who has now been revealed.

The odd suggestion that the law itself would pass away while men are still outside of Christ and sinning is also an odd one. With what standard will men be judged now? Every passage that speaks of judgment speaks of a judgment according to one's works. Paul himself states that the law exists to hold all men accountable to God.

Now we know that whatever the law saysit says to those who are under the lawso that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed  namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe(Rom 3:19-22)

The distinction between those under the law and saved by grace via faith in Christ is not "old covenant versus new covenant," but rather damned versus redeemed. In other words, God is not going to do away with the law until all men have been judged for their sins. Notice, that the law is not merely for Israel, as Paul means to argue that the law exists both in special revelation via Moses and in natural revelation via creation and conscience. The law does not pass away before it holds all men accountable and brings them into judgment. Neither Jew nor Gentile is free from the judgment of the law before or after A.D. 70 if, in fact, they are not united to Jesus Christ through faith. 

But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous personbut for lawless and rebellious peoplefor the ungodly and sinnersfor the unholy and profanefor those who kill their fathers or mothersfor murderers, sexually immoral peoplepracticing homosexuals, kidnappersliarsperjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. (1 Tim 1:8-10)

So, in this regard, the law cannot pass away until all men are judged and that occurs when the old heaven and earth pass away in preparation for their renewal into an eternal state.

Hence, the idea that there are two covenants in effect during A.D. 30-70 simply misses the point the New Testament is making. The old external covenant was never a means to salvation for anyone but Christ. It was, is now, and will continue to be a vehicle of condemnation for those outside of Christ.

However, the law also has another function for those who are already justified by Christ. For those who have turned from self-love to Christ-love, the moral law is instruction/guidance/direction of what love looks like. In fact, the preface of the law in Deuteronomy presents the law as an expression of loving God with one's whole being. Indeed, Paul continually argues that the law is fulfilled in loving one's fellow covenant member who represents God/Christ. Law is condemnation for those sinners attempting to use it as a vehicle to be justified before God, but it is a teacher of what love of God and fellow believer looks like in various situations.

And it is this aspect of law that Jesus is talking about in Matthew, as Matthew presents Jesus as arguing that one must, as a kingdom member, observe the law in terms of using it as a way to love God and the least of these brothers of Christ.

In fact, Preterists tend to only quote part of the verse, but the entire verse makes it clear that the law to which Jesus is referring is the "law OR the prophets," i.e., the Scripture, and specifically to moral commands found in the law, are for kingdom members, those in the new covenant, since they are commands to love God or other believers in a particular way that new covenant members are to put into practice. The text reads:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophetsI have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heavenbut whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell youunless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-20)

Notice that there is nothing here about being "under the law" until heaven and earth pass away. To say that a text that tells us that the law will not pass away until all is accomplished means everyone is under the law until it passes away is just a non sequitur. It says it will not pass away until everything is accomplished, not that it will pass away once everyone is no longer under it. In other words, the terminology is not that of using it as a vehicle of justification, but one of verification that one is loving God and one's fellow believer, as well as the evidence brought forward in one's judgment to verify the claim that he knows Christ and has loved Him through the least of these who represent Him.

Jesus then continues to argue that following the law evidences one's allegiance to Christ as Lord, and those who do not follow it are called "lawless" and told that Christ never knew them. This is because Matthew will present the greatest of commandments, as do the other Gospels, as loving God with one's whole being and loving one's fellow covenant community members who represent God. The moral law expresses love toward one's fellow Jewish believer, wife, and even fellow Gentile believer (which is what Matthew is primarily about). 

But what is even more telling that this is what is meant by this passage is that Christ explicitly states that anyone who breaks even the least of these commands and teachers others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. The one who keeps them will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, these commandments, in terms of the way that Jesus is using them here in Matthew, are for those in the kingdom, not just for those outside of it. 

Yet, if the law passes away for those in the kingdom, why is Jesus telling those in the kingdom that they are to observe and teach others to observe even the least of the commandments? The kingdom IS the new covenant community, the eternal kingdom that exists on this side of eternity. While living here, kingdom members must observe what the Scripture has commanded because it has commanded them to do those things that are expressions of true love for God and one another. 

Now, let's put it all together. If the law here exists for believers in the kingdom to use it as a guide to love one another until all is accomplished, they will be judged as to whether they loved Christ and one another by it, and yet, they are free from seeking justification before God through it, as Paul argues, because it is only a vehicle of condemnation for every sinner, then believers, before and after A.D. 70, are no longer "under the law," but the law still exists for them to direct their love toward God and one another, then in one regard (according to the Pauline sense) the external law has passed away as a vehicle of condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but it still remains to judge all outside of Christ and to give direction to believers who want to know what love looks like.

So love looks like taking principles of the law, like not murdering, and applying it in ways that don't degrade the humanity of one's brother because the law was meant to give examples of what love looks like, rather than existing as some exhaustive list of morality. Love looks like taking the principle of the law of adultery and applying it to directing one's desires toward one's spouse rather than a stranger, and it looks like reconciliation rather than divorce. Love and reconciliation to God and fellow believer is the core context of the law in Matthew. All who claim to love God and nullify the Scripture in these areas are pretenders, or as more commonly translated, "hypocrites."

This is the same as the original law, which directed Israelites to love God through their fellow covenant member by not stealing their goods, locking up their dangerous animals, making right any debt owed through wrongdoing, etc. 

So my point would be that the law never passes away on this side of creation. It exists to shut all men up before God and hold them accountable, and was a tutor that taught us we needed a sacrifice and a Savior. It exists to judge all men outside of Christ. It even exists to judge whether we truly love one another and as a guide, therefore, to direct our professed love. 

This distinction is seen in Luke 16:16-17: The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimedand everyone is urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void. 

Here we see the concept that the law and prophets, i.e., the Scripture again, are in force until John. Christ's advent ends this. Yet, in the same breathe, Jesus tells them that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to become void. So we have both the idea that, for those in the kingdom, the law is not in effect over them in terms of judgment; but the law is still in effect in other ways until the very ending of heaven and earth. Also notice, that "heaven and earth" cannot mean the old covenant/law if it is easier for it to pass away than the tiniest letter of the law to become void. If they are the same thing then it would be just as easy. In fact, it would be pretty nonsensical for Jesus to argue that it is easier for the law to pass away than for a tittle of the law to pass away. In fact, Luke's parallel to Matthew's statement here makes it clear that the intention is not to say that the law must completely pass away in order for grace to come, but that the law continues to be in effect even once the kingdom has come. It is merely important for one to realize how it is to be viewed. This is likely why Matthew adds the statement by Jesus that He did not, in fact, come to do away with the law, but instead to fill it up, establish it further, bring out its full intention among the covenant community, and indeed, within the world as a whole until all things are accomplished.

This brings us to an important discussion in that Preterists tend to confuse the old covenant with the principles of the law. The old covenant is actually the external nature of the law as existing in legal examples as opposed to the new covenant that is that same moral law written upon the minds, i.e., onto the actual being of the individual believer. The new covenant is not a different morality, but a different law in terms of the means of its communication to us. But we'll discuss this more in the next post when we talk about Auctor's quote of Jeremiah 31.

For now, it suffices to say that the claim that heaven and earth must have passed away or we are all under the law still, or the claim that the Jews could still be saved under the old covenant still, is a non sequitur and a misunderstanding of both the need of the law until the end and the context of Matthew that argues for a continued use of the law by believers.

 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. (Rom 7:22)

For you were called to freedombrothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom asan opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” Howeverif you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I saylive by the Spiritand you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spiritand the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the fleshfor these are in opposition to each otherso that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirityou are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immoralityimpuritydepravity, idolatrysorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousyoutbursts of angerselfish rivalriesdissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkennesscarousing, and similar thingsI am warning youas I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! (Gal 5:13-21)