What Did Jesus DoHere’s a snippet from my Project for this semester – ‘Christian Implications Of Reading The Torah As Wisdom’ – related to The Way Of The Master. I’ve long had issues with this method of evangelism, and here’s my take on it.


Given the wide meaning of the term Torah it is little wonder that there are a variety of methods used to apply the text. One method of application which has increased in popularity in recent years has been that advocated by ‘The Way of the Master’ evangelism ministries.[1] The basic premise of this evangelism method, which claims to follow a pattern of evangelism by Jesus Christ, is to bring to bear the Mosaic Law upon a non-believer to ‘bring forth knowledge of sin’[2] and once the non-believer is confronted by their sin, and the just punishment for their sins (ie. Hell), then the gospel of Jesus Christ is shared.[3]

A relatively famous modern preacher once said, ‘Don’t criticise what God is obviously blessing.’ In some ways this applies to criticism of any evangelistic method or movement which is obviously producing fruit. However this is also not a blanket ban on any critical interaction, and doesn’t leave room for the possibility that what may seem like a blessing may in fact be God at work despite the methods employed.[4]

So does ‘The Way of the Master’ appropriately understand and apply the Mosaic Law to its evangelism model? It is this author’s contention that the answer is no for three reasons.

First, the Law cannot be applied to non-believers, particularly Gentile non-believers, because it is first given to Israel in the context of God’s salvation act. The Ten Commandments and the following laws are prefaced by God’s work of salvation.[5] Whybray comments that a, ‘unique characteristic of the Pentateuchal laws is that they are represented as having been communicated to the whole people directly by God in connection with the making of a covenant.’[6] Enns makes this same point arguing that it is a ‘misapplication to think that the law given to God’s people should be used as a standard by which to judge unbelievers.’[7]

Following on from this point, the use of the Law to bring about ‘knowledge of sin’ misapplies the text of Romans 3:20. Despite commentators who apply the text broadly[8] Dunn’s comments best harmonise with the prior argument that the Law cannot be applied to non-believing Gentiles. He states, ‘In hermeneutical terms the scope of v20b is determined by what it is set in antithesis to: its primary reference is to the immediate context; its primary function is as a criticism of Paul’s fellow Jews for their failure to recognise the role of the law as demonstrated in 3:10-18… it was addressed to the covenant people to make them conscious of sin, aware of being under the power of sin even as members of the covenant people (3:9, 19).’[9] The Law’s ability to bring knowledge of sin is for those under the law: God’s covenant people.

Third, the view that the Ten Commandments amount to God’s Moral Law is dependent upon the framework of the threefold division of the law. This framework is untenable as shall be examined below.

As noted earlier, viewing the Law through the three-fold division has historical grounding from Aquinas to Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith. In some ways this framework for viewing the law can be helpful. It is suggested that identifying a Law under this framework can help a believer to know whether that particular law applies to them.[10] However the question becomes how does a believer determine whether the law is relevant? Hays suggests the most common method is ‘haphazardly’.[11] Here is where the three-fold distinction becomes unravelled.

First, the distinctions are arbitrary, imposed not from within the text but from outside. It was observed earlier that Ross noted key semantic distinctions within the Law. While that argument might be compelling for making distinctions between instructions for the tabernacle and other civil laws the argument for distinction cannot be applied broadly to the whole corpus of Biblical Law. For instance, the command to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, which is affirmed as the second greatest commandment by Jesus[12], can be clearly distinguished as a Moral Law which is binding through both covenants. However, directly after this verse are the commands against various mixed breeding which are often labelled either as Ceremonial or Civil Laws, not considered binding through both covenants. This switch of focus is, as Wenham has insightfully described, an apparent move from ‘sublime to the ridiculous!’[13] The threefold division errs here because, ‘the text itself gives no indication that any hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses.’[14] This is also not an uncommon occurrence as the pairing of moral, civil and ceremonial laws occurs often, and with no textual indication that there are different distinctions being made.[15]

Alongside this problem of the distinct laws occurring together is the difficulty determining which category a particular law falls into.[16] Using the same example of the mix-breeding in Leviticus 19:19ff, one could argue that though the particular reason for this prohibition escapes the modern reader, the fact that it is contained with the portion prefaced with the command to be holy as, ‘I the Lord your God, am holy’[17], means that these laws are to do with the holiness of the nation. Should then a law concerning holiness not also be a Moral Law?

Another example of this difficulty is found in Numbers 5:11-31, with the stipulations regarding a test for adultery. It is a passage steeped in ritual which could classify this text as Ceremonial.[18] However since the driving issue of the text is adultery this could classify the text as Moral. This leaves the biblical reader in a terrible conundrum. If the text is merely ceremonial and has been done away with, how does this reflect upon the issue of adultery? If the text is moral and binding through both covenants should this test continue in practice today?

Finally, the threefold division fails to engage in one crucial aspect of the Mosaic Law: it’s embedding within Israel’s narrative, within its physical history.[19] A failure to engage with this means that the threefold framework is more clearly seen to be arbitrarily applied to various laws. For example, the Moral Law of the Ten Commandments is prefaced by nineteen chapters of narrative and is then immediately followed by further narrative as Israel ratifies the covenant. Civil Laws follow in chapters 21-24 then Ceremonial Laws for the construction of the tabernacle in chapters 25-31. Interrupting this flow is the disastrous rebellion in chapters 32-34. This rebellion has deep seated moral undertones. This is not a rebellion against some Civil or Ceremonial Law, but the very Moral Law which the Lord gave in Exodus 20. At this point the reader might expect the threefold division to exert itself clearly and reiterate the Moral Law Israel is guilty of disobeying. Such a reiteration would make for a climactic contrast. However, the chapters following immediately this rebellion repeat, almost verbatim, the Ceremonial Laws, the ‘pattern laws’ as Ross would have[20], concerning the construction of the tabernacle. This makes little sense should the threefold division of the Mosaic Law be the intended framework for interpretation.

Instead, the rebellion narrative offers up its own interpretation. Fretheim notes the manner in which the narrative parallels not the moral law of the Ten Commandments, but the supposed Ceremonial Laws concerning the construction of the Tabernacle.[21]


[1] Comfort, R. and Cameron, K. The Way of the Master (2004) Tyndale: USA, see also http://www.wayofthemaster.com/. It may seem odd to tackle an evangelism method in an essay regarding the interpretation and application of the Mosaic Law, however this evangelism method is becoming increasingly popular in this authors’ Christian circles so some energy focused upon its use of the Law is of value.

[2] See http://www.livingwaters.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=306&Itemid=221#2, ‘Question 14’. cf Romans 3:20 (ESV), ‘For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.’

[3] Comfort and Cameron, The Way of the Master, p129-132

[4] Many of the ways God works through the book of Judges comes to mind.

[5] Exodus 20:1-2 (ESV), ‘And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”’. That God’s covenant name, YHWH, is attached to this preface also demonstrates a covenant relationship is in view.

[6] Whybray, R. N. Introduction to the Pentateuch (1995) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, p109

[7] Enns, P. Exodus. The NIV Application Commentary (2000) Zondervan: Grand Rapids, p593

[8] For example, Moo, D. The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (1996) Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, ‘The law presents people with the demand of God. In our constant failure to attain the goal of that demand, we recognise ourselves to be sinners and justly condemned for our failures.’ p210

[9] Dunn, J. D. G. Romans 1-8. World Biblical Commentary (1988) Word Incorporated: Columbia, p160

[10] Hays, J.D. ‘Applying the Old Testament Law today’ Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (2001), p22

[11] Ibid, p21

[12] Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV), ‘“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

[13] Wenham, G. J. The Book of Leviticus. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (1979) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co: Grand Rapids, p269

[14] Hays, ‘Applying the Old Testament Law Today’, p23

[15] Ibid. Also Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, p32-33

[16] Hays, ‘Applying the Old Testament Law Today’, p23

[17] Leviticus 19:2 (ESV) “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the lord your God am holy.”

[18] Wenham, G.J. Numbers. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (2008) Intervarsity Press: Illinois, p90. ‘It is a ritual both to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected of adultery, and to punish the guilty while leaving the innocent unscathed.’

[19] Hays, ‘Applying the Old Testament Law Today’, p24-26

[20] Ross, From The Finger of God, p113-114

[21] Fretiheim, T. E. Exodus. Interpretation. (1991) John Knox Press: USA, p280-281. At every key point the people’s building project contrasts with the tabernacle that God has announced. This gives to the account a heavy ironic cast.

1) the people seek to create what God has already provided;
2) they, rather than God, take the initiative;
3) offerings are demanded rather than willingly presented;
4) the elaborate preparations are missing altogether;
5) the painstaking length of time needed for building becomes an overnight rush job;
6) the careful provision for guarding the presence of the Holy One turns into an open-air object of immediate accessibility;
7) the invisible, intangible God becomes a visible, tangible image;
and 8) the personal, active God becomes an impersonal object that cannot see or speak or act.

The ironic effect is that the people forfeit the very divine presence they had hoped to bind more closely to themselves.

That’s some of the thoughts I’ve put down on paper for my project. Other arguments I didn’t have time or space to consider include the following:

  • Was this Jesus’ actual preferred model and example for us to follow? It seems to me that the interactions of Jesus in the Gospels are many and varied. To say that this method of confronting people with the Law is the prime way in which Jesus evangelized appears to read a lot into these texts.
  • If this is the preferred model, ‘The Way of the Master’, one would expect it’s use more often with the book of Acts…
  • I wonder whether or not this evangelism method amounts to asking ‘bad’ people to become ‘good’ people. This is so often the movement of the message within their tracts.
  • Comfort seems so focused upon genuine conversion that he seems to forget the role of disciple making and the role of the church in this task. Evangelism is about the individual converting individuals rather than the church making disciples. I think many of Comfort’s concerns regarding false conversions has more to do with poor discipleship than with faulty evangelism.



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