Both-And vs. Either-Or

I’m convinced that a both-and philosophy instead of an either-or philosophy would solve many tensions in biblical interpretation.

This topic came to me after reading what seems to me a ridiculous statement by an otherwise great scholar, Dale Allison, in Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (which is Allison’s updating of the earlier commentary on Matthew by W.D. Davies in the International Critical Commentary series). Regarding Mathhew 5:13-16, Allison says: It is no longer the Torah or the temple or Jerusalem or Israel that is the salt and light of the world.

That hurts. And it is so unnecessary, not to mention wrong. This either-or (“either Jews or Christians”) hermeneutic is completely wrong-headed. It is not true to Matthew. It is an illogical assumption (as I will show), and it is not true to the apostolic teaching (which I believe to be unified so that Matthew and Paul will not have substantial disagreement about any point — but this principle is not generally accepted in academic scholarship (sadly)).

Let me demonstrate the illogic of Allison’s statement by an analogous one: These newly invented flashlights will shine the light in the darkness and no longer candles or torches.

Either a candle or a flashlight? Why? How about BOTH a flashlight AND a candle. The one does not preclude the other.

Therefore, You, disciples of mine, will be salt and light, just as Israel, Torah, Temple, and Jerusalem are light to the world.

There are many examples of both-and in the Bible which people have sadly and traditionally read as either-or.

One greater than the Temple is here, says Yeshua (Matt 12:6). Aha, the Temple is now obsolete and Yeshua is the Replacement Temple, says either-or thinking. But this same Yeshua said the Temple was sacred and its offerings holy (Matt 23:18-22) and even commended the practice of offering animals as long as this was not a substitute for ethical and loving actions (Matt 5:23-24). So how about, “One greater that the Temple is here, so revere both the Temple and the Glory of the Temple, which is me”?

Yeshua said, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Aha, Jews worshipped in flesh and untruth but now Christians worship more spiritually! Pews and hymnals are spiritual but temple and altar are lies, diabolical (but didn’t God command the temple and altar?). Oh, maybe the error of unspiritual worship was BOTH in Temple times AND now in the age of synagogues and churches. Oh, maybe true and spiritual worship happened BOTH then AND now.

God’s children now are those who, like Abraham, are of faith, and not those who are under law, some say. But Paul says otherwise: “that the promise may be certain to ALL the descendants—NOT ONLY to those who are under the law, BUT ALSO to those who have the faith of Abraham” (Rom 4:16).

Let’s try a little more Both-And and a little less Either-Or. Either-Or does happen. But it happens when ideas deserve to be contrasted. Law and grace are not a contrast (sorry, Luther), but a complement.

So, while we’re at it, how about realizing the meaning of John 1:16’s “grace upon grace,” which, if you check the next verse (which should not have the adversative “but” in it), means the grace of the Law AND the grace of the Son revealed.


Yes, the photo is of the Weasley twins from Harry Potter, a good illustration of Both-And, don’t you think?


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Both-And vs. Either-Or

  1. jennbrooke says:

    Great post! I know I don’t post often, but I always read the blog and comments. I’ve been having some interesting (“both-and”) post-sermon conversations with our pastor about the way super-sessionist language creeps into the way we talk about our faith, and how we need to watch how we communicate our faith so as not to intentionally or unintentionally send the message that Christians are sort of “Plan B” or that Jewish people need to somehow “convert to Christianity” or in any way give up their spiritual identities as Jews in order to believe in their Messiah.

    We talked about some of the wording choices that were used in the Westminster Confession of faith, and the idea that Christianity wasn’t “Plan B” – we need to be humbled because we were, by the grace of God included. I was, however, VERY heartened to hear a Sunday School where we talked about the covenant, and they talked about the covenant of grace starting after the Fall – meaning they believe the Torah was part of the God’s Covenant of Grace with his people. To hear the Torah included in God’s Grace is wonderful (even if it doesn’t apply to me, as a Gentile), and quite a change from what I grew up hearing/believing. He’s not quite on the same page with Jewish believers having an actual obligation to keep Torah (he thinks of it more as a matter of conscience for each Jewish believer), but I will say I’ve been at least pleasantly surprised to find no resistance to bringing up things that are often met with resistance in a lot of churches. I even asked him why we’d use leavened bread for Communion, when what we’re commemorating is our sinless (unleavened) Savior dying in our place, and the meal he used to institute the sacrament was Passover, so the “this” would have been unleavened bread and wine. Not a big fluffy loaf of homemade white bread (the ladies in church take turns making the communion loaves). He actually said he’d bring the topic up with the elders! :-)

  2. Excellent post. I was taken aback by the comment by Allison. Great job at articulating this.

  3. Thanks, jennbrooke. Yes, Christian churches are discovering their Jewish roots and coming to a Jewish-friendly realization of what Jesus and the apostles were all about. The New Perspective on Paul and the third quest for the historical Jesus are filled with examples. Jews and Christians have so much to learn from each other. IMO, God’s Spirit has been at work in both Judaism and Christianity all these years. And God’s way is mutual blessing, not mutual exclusion. I am delighted when I read, occasionally, Jewish authors who have assimilated lessons from Christian worship and devotion as well.

  4. Carl says:

    “I’m convinced that a both-and philosophy instead of an either-or philosophy would solve many tensions in biblical interpretation.”

    Great post. I suggest that many of the “both-and” situations involve a different sort of tension–the tension that goes beyond complementarity to push-pull interactions that clarify and give depth to both concepts.

  5. benicho says:

    replacement theology at it’s finest.

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