The Legal Foundations of the New World
“God, when he purposed to demonstrate more abundantly . . . the unchangeableness of his counsel, stepped in with an oath.”—Heb. 6:17, NW.
1. Was Paul justified in writing to his own countrymen?
WHAT was the compelling reason for Paul, “an apostle to the nations,” that is, non-Jewish people (Rom. 11:13, NW), to pen a letter to the Hebrew Christian congregation of Palestine? Not that Paul was in any sense stepping out of bounds in writing to his own countrymen. Time and again he expressed his great love and concern for them, and he knew they were included in that commission spoken by the Lord Jesus to Ananias: “This man is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.” (Acts 9:15, NW) But, to quote his words to the Galatians, Paul appreciated that “I had entrusted to me the good news for those who are uncircumcised, just as Peter [in contrast] had it for those who are circumcised.” (Gal. 2:7, NW) There must, therefore, have been a special reason for Paul’s writing that very interesting and informative letter to the Hebrews, though he himself says it was “in few words.”—Heb. 13:22, NW.
2. What was the special reason for Paul’s writing to the Hebrews?
2 We believe that compelling reason that arose in Paul’s mind in his day has arisen again in our day. Make no mistake! Do not conclude from the title chosen for this article that it will be a legal discussion of certain abstract truths, studied only in an objective manner. Instead, like Paul, we put this matter before our readers because “we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, in order that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Heb. 6:11, 12, NW.
3, 4. (a) Based on what argument does the apostle make his appeal? (b) In what way may we expect this to help us in this day?
3 In support of this, the apostle then proceeds to unfold an argument which forms the main basis for our study. He reminds us of God’s promise made to Abraham, and which was given under oath. A similar procedure is adopted by men in order to provide a legal guarantee, thus bringing an end to any possible dispute. The only difference is that, whereas “men swear by the one greater,” God “swore by himself,” “since he could not swear by anyone greater.” So in this way God gave overwhelming proof of the unchangeableness of his expressed purpose, by adding his oath to his promise, thus making his word doubly trustworthy and true. To what end? That we “may have strong encouragement,” thus providing a powerful antidote to any inclination to become sluggish.—Heb. 6:13-18, NW.
4 We believe, then, that in our study of this part of God’s Word there is good material for providing real, practical help to the many thousands of our newly interested readers, as well as affording profitable study for all of Jehovah’s witnesses and, above all, for their encouragement to press on in God’s sacred service.
5. Under the title of this article, what three questions are raised?
5 Since the legal aspect is involved, we wish to profit by the method frequently adopted by lawyers when scrutinizing, say, the wording of an act of parliament, or some governmental decree. They will first localize the particular portion that has a bearing on the case in question, then they will proceed to closely examine that part, phrase by phrase, word by word. Pursuing this method, we propose asking ourselves the following three questions: (1) What is the new world? (2) What are its foundations? and (3) How are the foundations made legal?
THE NEW WORLD
6. How is the Greek word kosmos properly defined, and what is implied by the expression “the new world”?
6 There are four different Greek words translated “world” in the King James Version, but the one we are specially interested in at the moment is the Greek word kosmos, which is uniformly translated “world” in the New World Translation. This word carries the thought of an orderly arrangement, or order of things, and does not refer to the literal earth in any one instance. The expression, “the new world,” logically implies the existence of an old world. Additionally, there is the presumption that the new world replaces the former one, which becomes obsolete and vanishes away. This argument is sound and has Scriptural precedent when Paul takes up the discussion of the new covenant.—See Hebrews 8:13, NW.
7. How and where does Peter show the Scriptural use of the word “world”?
7 At 2 Peter, chapter three, the apostle shows very clearly that in the Bible usage of the word “world” it is made up of a symbolic heavens and earth. The heavens symbolize the invisible ruling part of the arrangement, whereas the earth symbolizes the visible part, that which we see about us. The apostle speaks of a heavens and an earth that came to an end at the time of the Flood, though neither the literal heavens nor the literal earth ceased to exist then. He then says that “the heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” After giving further detail as to how the present world order will completely vanish away, Peter finally tells of the new world, when he writes: “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:7, 13, NW) This beautifully and closely ties in with the promise and grand description of a new heavens and a new earth as foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy, and enlarged on in glowing terms in the last book of the Bible. (Isa. 65:17-25, AS; Rev. 21:1-4, NW) But what are the foundations of this new world?
NEW WORLD FOUNDATIONS
8. By what means is the rulership of the new world exercised, and how does this contrast with the old world and the teachings of Christendom?
8 The new world is not without rulership. This rulership is exercised by means of a kingdom. The word “kingdom” means a state or dominion the head of which is a king. The new world is ruled over by the King Christ Jesus, who operates through a single kingdom embracing both heaven and earth. This is in contrast with the old world, which, while it has but the one invisible over-all ruler, Satan the Devil, who is “the god of this system of things,” yet on earth, in the visible part of his domain, we find many kings and kingdoms existing at the same time down to this day. (2 Cor. 4:4, NW) This is one of the major causes for greed, jealousy, suspicion, strife and war. Christendom in general teaches that God’s kingdom will eventually come about by a gradual conversion of the present world and its peoples, a process of evolution, so to speak, until the time comes when all are ready to accept Christ as King. But this is wholly unscriptural, as well as becoming increasingly remote, judging by the general trend of world conditions, and we here mention one or two leading scriptures that throw light on this point.
9. How does Daniel’s prophecy throw light on this point, and confirmed by what word of Jesus?
9 In his night-visions, Daniel saw “one like unto a son of man,” who, at the hands of the “ancient of days [Jehovah],” was given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom” that would never pass away or be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13, 14, AS) Referring to this same time, and showing what happens when God’s anointed King takes up his power, the same prophecy records: “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it [God’s kingdom] shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms [of the present world], and it [God’s kingdom] shall stand for ever.” (Dan. 2:44, AS; see also Psalm 2:7-9.) That Jesus himself appreciated the true position to be exactly in harmony with the foregoing is shown by his emphatic statement when Pilate questioned him concerning his kingship. Said Jesus: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36, NW) And this certainly cannot be construed to mean that Christ’s kingdom would be solely a heavenly one, for Jesus taught his followers to pray to God in these words: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will come to pass, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10, NW) If you wish for a final confirmation of the same prophetic pattern, telling of the change-over of sovereignty and its results, we refer you to the scripture at Revelation 11:15-18, NW.
10. (a) How did God use fleshly Israel? (b) What prophecy was given concerning their rulership, and who is identified as Zion’s “sure foundation”?
10 From the scriptures already mentioned we would be quite justified in saying that it is evident that the foundations of the new world inhere in Christ Jesus as the promised “Prince of Peace,” upon whose shoulder the government of the new world rests. (Isa. 9:6, 7, AS) But we have a more direct word than that. Israel of old was not without rulership, and God used that people to make a prophetic pattern of things better and greater to come. In fact, that is the basis of Paul’s arguments throughout his letter to the Hebrews, where he speaks of God’s law to Israel as “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1, NW) Well, the rulership of that typical theocracy was exercised through a kingdom that had as its center the capital city of Jerusalem, the governing part of which was called Zion, where the throne was situated. Concerning Zion, God caused this prophecy to be recorded: “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of sure foundation.” (Isa. 28:16, AS) Beyond any dispute, Jesus Christ is the foundation cornerstone. The apostle Peter makes direct application of the above prophecy to our Lord, and ties it in with another prophecy of similar language, which he quotes as follows: “The identical stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”—1 Pet. 2:6, 7, NW; Ps. 118:22; see also Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11.
11, 12. What question does this lead up to, involving what particular term?
11 While from the viewpoint of the scriptures just mentioned there is but one single foundation, here a structural foundation, yet other scriptures speak of structural “foundations” in the plural. Still other scriptures mention “foundation” in another connection. But, before looking into this, we want to consider the next question as to how the foundations of the new world are made legal, bearing in mind the feature already stressed, that the new world and its foundations are not just a remodeling of the old, but are a brand-new system of things.
FOUNDATIONS MADE LEGAL
12 What do we mean by legal foundations, and what is meant by a “legal guarantee,” as mentioned at Hebrews 6:16 (NW)? As an aid, we here draw your attention to the root meaning and derivation of certain words.
13, 14. How are these words correctly defined; (a) legal, (b) law, and (c) rule?
13 Legal means that which is in conformity with, or permitted by, law; therefore lawful. Law means, primarily, a rule of action or a rule of conduct. Note that both these English words, also their equivalents in other languages, are derived from the root word to lay. Hence a law is that which is laid down, set, or fixed.
14 Rule means a line of conduct, a regular practice, an established custom. Note the thought of unbroken continuity in each of these expressions.
15. In what way do these words reveal the fundamental needs of fallen man?
15 Do we not see in each of these words a similarity of thought, or idea, that goes to the very depths of human nature in its crying needs, and reaching back to the very beginning of human history? Ever since man broke away from the safe course of perfect and loyal obedience to his Creator man has realized his desperate need of those things on which he can place absolute reliance, things of stability and permanence, now so sadly lacking. Yes, he felt his need for that which would provide a security, or a surety, in harmony with law and backed up by law. In other words, there arose the demand for a legal guarantee in man’s dealings with his fellows.
16. What is meant by swearing an oath, and with what end in view?
16 In no aspect of human affairs has this need been more felt than with regard to man’s word. A person might have made a promise, but of what use was it if there was no certainty of its fulfillment, especially if weighty matters were involved? Hence, when the occasion demanded it, in connection with any important declaration, undertaking or promise, the custom arose from the earliest days of patriarchal society of swearing an oath. This was done by invoking, or appealing, to a name or object that, by mutual recognition of all parties, was of higher authority than merely human authority. Naturally enough, the highest possible authority was appealed to, that is to say, God himself, or his Word, the Bible. Thus, to swear an oath means to affirm or utter a solemn declaration, with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed. And if, in the society or nation where this is done, such an oath carries with it a binding legal obligation, with sanctions or penalties attached on proof’s being given that the oath has been violated, then there is the strongest possible “legal guarantee.” This means, as far as humanly possible, as Paul says, “the end of every dispute.”—Heb. 6:16, NW.
17. On what are the new world’s foundations primarily based, and how does Peter stress the importance of God’s given word?
17 With this human illustration in mind we are the better prepared to appreciate how the foundations of the new world are made legal. Why does Christ Jesus become the King of the new world? Because he is proved beyond all doubt to be the foretold Seed referred to in that foundation promise made to Abraham, and partly quoted by Paul at Hebrews 6:14, and which promise concludes with the words: “And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Gen. 22:18, NW) Yes, because it has a “legal guarantee” in God’s oath, it is God’s word of promise that is the primary and essential legal foundation of the new world and which constitutes Christ Jesus its rightful King. In support of this, note how Peter closely connects God’s word with each of the three worlds in the passage we have already mentioned. The arrangement of the earth during the first world was decreed “by the word of God.” Next, “by the same word” the fate of the present evil world is determined. Finally, we eagerly await the righteous new world “according to his promise.” (2 Pet. 3:5, 7, 13, NW) It is impossible to overestimate the importance and finality of God’s spoken word.
18. On whose behalf and in what way has God strengthened his word of promise?
18 As far as God himself is concerned, and perhaps, too, as far as his loyal and perfect creatures in heaven are concerned, there is not the slightest need for God to add to, or strengthen, his word of promise. But, if we may use the expression, God, when making that promise to Abraham, went to the trouble of ‘stepping in with an oath,’ as is indicated by the expression, “Assuredly in blessing I will bless you.” (Heb. 6:14, NW; see also Genesis 22:16.) That sworn oath makes the promise a solemn declaration of binding force, a legal guarantee, which cannot be broken. Hence, with the oath added to the promise, we have that exceedingly strong combination that makes up the “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie.”—Heb. 6:18, NW.
19. (a) The operation of the new world is for what primary purpose? (b) Is it Scriptural to speak of new world “foundations,” in the plural?
19 Yes, God’s oath-bound promise constitutes the legal foundation of the new world, because the operation of the new world under the administration of the King, Christ Jesus, the promised Seed, is for the very purpose of completely fulfilling that Abrahamic covenant for the blessing of all the families of the earth. (Gen. 17:2) In passing, that word “covenant” is interesting in its meaning, which is closely related to the other words already discussed, for it has the root meaning of a solemn and binding agreement of legal validity between two parties. However, the question we now wish to examine is concerning the propriety of using the word “foundations,” in the plural, in connection with “legal.” There are at least four or five strong reasons for doing so. Straightway, however, let us note that the Government of the new world has structural foundations. Paul, in his same letter to the Hebrews, tells us that Abraham himself “was awaiting the city having real foundations.” (Heb. 11:10, NW) Now let us look into these good reasons, taking each in turn.
20. What other “stones” are added to the “foundation cornerstone”?
20 The first reason lies in the fact that God’s oath to Abraham is a legal foundation of the new world. Now, though the prophecies speak of only one foundation cornerstone in a structural way, yet in the fulfillment of these prophecies it is specifically stated that other stones are added. These other stones are proved to be in line with the same requirements as laid down for the chief cornerstone, and are found worthy of being joined thereto in the closest possible association, like stones that fit so well that you cannot insert the blade of a penknife in between. Writing to the Christian believers, who have the “living hope” of sharing with Christ in the incorruptible heavenly inheritance, Peter writes: “Coming to him [Christ] as to a living stone, . . . you yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood.” So the associated foundations are apostolic: “The wall of the city also had twelve foundation stones, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (1 Pet. 2:4, 5; Rev. 21:14, 19, NW; see also Ephesians 2:20-22.) This is parallel to Paul’s argument that, though the original promise to Abraham spoke of only one seed, “‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ,” he then shows that all who are “baptized into Christ” and are in union with him “are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Gal. 3:16, 26-29, NW) These structural foundations were ‘legally guaranteed’ by God’s oath in support of his promise to Abraham.
21. Besides being Abraham’s Seed, what other oathbound promise does Jesus fulfill?
21 The second reason is that Christ, besides fulfilling the oath-bound promise made to Abraham, also fulfills another oath-bound promise. This time it is regarding the office of high priest. Note that this comes as the climax to Paul’s argument in the latter part of Hebrews, chapter 6, which we have been discussing, where he finally explains about a “forerunner” that has already entered ‘beyond the curtain,’ that is, into heaven itself, on our behalf, even “Jesus, who has become a high priest after the likeness of Melchizedek forever.” (Heb. 6:19, 20, NW) Then, in Hebrews, chapter 7, Paul continues at some length to show how great this Melchizedek was, even greater than Abraham who gave tithes to him, and certainly greater than Abraham’s descendant, Levi, including, too, the Levitical priesthood. Finally, Paul discloses the secret of the even greater superiority of Jesus, when he says that Jehovah appointed Jesus to be high priest by “the word of the sworn oath,” in fulfillment of Psalm 110:4 (AS), which reads: “Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent: thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 7:20, 21, 28, NW) This “sworn oath” is another legal foundation of the new world, in addition to God’s oath to Abraham.
22. Why did God provide for a new covenant, and how is it one of the new world’s legal foundations?
22 Did you notice that Paul said that by Jesus’ becoming a high priest by reason of the sworn oath, it really meant that Jesus was “the one given in pledge [guarantee, security] of a better covenant”? (Heb. 7:22, NW) That “better covenant” is the new covenant, and this fact brings us to the third reason in our list. Is it one of the legal foundations of the new world? Indeed it is, as the apostle goes on to clearly prove in Hebrews, chapters 8 and 9. He shows that the new covenant succeeds where the former one made with the fleshly house of Israel failed. Quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the terms of the new covenant are set forth, Paul explains that God found fault with both the former (Law) covenant and the people under it, as evidenced in the fact that God said of them: “They did not continue in my covenant, so that I stopped caring for them.” (Heb. 8:9, NW) The former covenant proved inadequate to provide the real remedy and failed to produce a people for Jehovah’s name. In contrast, the new covenant is altogether superior, as Paul shows in detail in the two chapters mentioned (Hebrews 8 and 9), and makes the point that Jesus is “the mediator of a correspondingly better covenant, which has been legally established upon better promises.” (Heb. 8:6, NW) The new covenant really does produce a people who sincerely delight to do God’s will because his law is written ‘in their minds and upon their hearts.’ It produces a people whose consciences are cleansed through Christ’s shed blood, the adequate remedy, thus enabling them to “render sacred service to the living God” and ultimately gain “the everlasting inheritance” and, with Christ, form part of the new world’s government.—Heb. 9:14, 15, NW.
23. In tracing the promised seed, what further oathbound promise is revealed?
23 What is the fourth reason? When God made promise to Abraham, he first said nothing about either a king or a kingdom, but did so later. (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:15, 16) So, in tracing the promised seed down the line from father Abraham, we come to David, who was made king of Israel, the typical theocracy, by Jehovah’s own choosing and appointment. With David God made a solemn covenant, to which he added his oath-bound promise, expressed in these words: “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.” (Ps. 89:3, 4, AS) That David’s kingly seed is Christ Jesus is proved by Peter in his inspired speech to the men of Israel on the day of Pentecost, after the outpouring of the holy spirit, when he said: “Because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his offspring upon his throne, he saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ.” (Acts 2:30, 31, NW; see also Luke 1:32, 33, NW.) Surely, then, we have here another legal foundation of the new world, made legally secure by God’s oathbound promise.
24. (a) What is the relationship between the ransom and God’s purpose? (b) How is the ransom seen to be one of the new world’s legal foundations?
24 Perhaps some of our readers have been expecting to see Christ’s ransom sacrifice mentioned first, or at least earlier, in our list of reasons. But, no, we have purposely left it till the last. Why? Because God’s purpose, meaning that which he has determined and set before himself as an object to be attained, is more important than the necessary means incidental thereto. We are not minimizing the importance of the ransom as an indispensable means and provision for the attainment of the end in view, and we remember that God’s oathbound promise was given after Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, picturing Jehovah’s sacrifice of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. (Gen. 22:1-18; John 3:16) Moreover, it is freely admitted that not one of the foregoing aspects of God’s purpose, covered by the four reasons just discussed, could be successfully carried out unless and until the disability resting upon the entire human family is first removed. By “disability” we mean the legal incapacity, or disqualification, of man with regard to his standing before his Creator, due to inherited sin and crippling imperfection, leading to the grave. But, “just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned,” so also through a man, “a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all,” God has graciously provided a “propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” Therefore we gladly and gratefully acknowledge this essential part of the new world’s foundations, legally provided in strict conformity with God’s fundamental law of equity. We thank God for “the Lamb who was slaughtered from the world’s foundation.”—Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; 1 John 2:2; Rev. 13:8, NW.
25. A review of the new world’s strong foundations leads us to what question and conclusion?
25 Thus, in this brief review, we have in a few words endeavored to build up before our mental vision a comprehensive survey of the mighty foundations of the new world, immovable and secure. Viewing these foundations, so well buttressed, we are moved to ask ourselves, repeating the expression already used, Why did God go to all that trouble of making one oathbound promise after another? It is evident that in Paul’s mind these legal foundations, when rightly appreciated, should act as a spur to our maintaining industriousness down to the end, and to put a stop effectually to any tendency to sluggishness. A consideration of this theme will be taken up in our next article, for now is the day when we need all the encouragement we can get, also to heed the warning divinely given.