Perhaps I have forgotten, but I don’t recall another book like this — an exploration, exposition, and application of the hermeneutical implications of the dominant New Testament theme of the Lordship of Christ. The cover describes the book as “A Study in New Covenant Theology,” and it is. But it is more. Wells begins with a pointed summary exposition of the New Testament description of believers as “slaves” of Christ and with that a brief explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ “priority.” The rest of the book is an exploration of the apostolic understanding of the significance of Jesus’ authority in relation to the Old Testament prophets and Scriptures, the New Testament writers, Moses and the Law, the Decalogue, and this New Covenant eschatological era inaugurated in Christ. Then he concludes with a study of the New Testament term, “the law of Christ.”
Of course Wells will not convince everyone on every point of application. He acknowledges that himself. But this is the kind of work that we need to do, and Wells deserves attention here. Those on the more traditional Reformed side of things who will find disagreements regarding Moses’ law should nonetheless acknowledge that Wells’ approach is commendable and his primary thesis necessary. And where they find disagreement, I suspect they will find themselves feeling challenged to think through their position more carefully in light of the Christological hermeneutic Wells expounds. Just what is the relation of Jesus to Moses? Does he merely re-issue the old law? Does he merely clarify it? Or in what sense does he possess and exercise authority over it? We who acknowledge Christ as master and name ourselves as his slaves are obliged faithfully to explore and apply the bearing of his “priority” in our hermeneutics as in every area of faith and practice.
Wells argues effectively that the hermeneutic he advances is already acknowledged by all sides, even those who disagree with him in some particulars. That is, approaching the question of ethics and duty we all instinctively turn first to Jesus. We do not turn first to Moses. Intuitively we want to know what our Lord has commanded. This instinct is of course right. It is what our Lord requires of us (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). And whether, then, the question concerns the meaning of end time prophecy or the continuing relevance of Mosaic law, at the end of the day it is from the Lord Jesus that we seek to find our answer. This is Wells’ argument. And again, we must all agree that he is right, however we may differ on the application of this rule in some particular questions.
The Priority of Jesus Christ provides challenging reading for all sides. Wells helps sharpen our understanding of the surpassing authority of Christ, and that surely is a helpful service to us all.
Fred G. Zaspel