Sometimes, it takes a bit of a challenge to draw me out of my current shell. For those of you who aren’t up on my personal life, I’ve got another Bugg in the oven (a girl this time) and between getting ready for her arrival and three out of four of my computers being down, I simply haven’t had the time to blog that I’d like. I have been working on the Curse of the Law series, but ended up wanting to write it all out from start to finish before posting any more.
But today, Peter Goodgame of Red Moon Rising has succeeded in drawing me out with an article entitled, “Does Paul teach that followers of Christ remain under the authority of the Law of Moses?” Since Peter has been nice enough for forward me a copy of his very excellent book, The Second Coming of the Antichrist as well as Red Moon Rising to review (for the record, Antichrist is far and away the better of the two, but both are well worth reading), and since I had the chance to interview him on the Iron Show this caught my attention.
I tend to pick on the people I like and respect the most, and Pete certainly fits the bill. He’s humble, a real disciple of Christ, and both well-read and articulate. That’s not to say that I agree with him on a lot–but I love the challenges he raises in his work. And that being the case, I thought it right that I rise to the challenge and answer his charge, quoted here from the conclusion of what promises to be a multi-part series:
It is absolutely impossible to reconcile the teachings of Paul with a theology that embraces the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant practices of Sabbath-keeping, kosher diet, observance of feasts, and circumcision as binding upon New Covenant believers. You cannot hold to the teachings of Moses and to the teachings of Paul at the same time. You must choose one or the other. Either embrace Moses and reject Paul as a false apostle, or embrace the teachings of Paul and accept that in Christ the Old Covenant with its commandments and ordinances has passed away.
I’m sorry Peter, I love you, and I regard you as a brother in Yeshua, but you’re 100% wrong on this. I also have to ask why, since you have my email, you decided to post this without asking why I would disagree–as you would’ve known I would. But since you’ve decided to post publicly first, I’m going to answer in public as well–not to rebuke, but to stir discussion.
First, a general observation about this first article: Other than the initial quote from Matthew 5:17, it doesn’t quote from Yeshua at all. That, it would appear, remains for part 2. To me, it would seem that we should first address what the Messiah said before even getting to what His Emissary said. To make the Son of God secondary to Paul is . . . a bit backwards, if an unfortunately tendency among Christians in general.
So to get to the quote-and-rebuttal format that I prefer:
Did Jesus really teach that New Covenant Christians must continue to follow the Law of Moses? The answer that came from the Gentile Church from the very beginning was a flat “No.”
There’s a big problem with the above quote, and it is the word “Gentile.” Was the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 Jewish or Gentile? The word in front of the word “Council” should answer that question. I’m not sure if this is a typo or if Peter is making a point that I’m not catching.
But moreover, Peter shows that he doesn’t understand the original issue and is filtering the question through his 21st Century Protestant Christian lenses. The question should instead be, “Did Jesus really teach that Gentile Christians must continue to keep all of the ceremonial commandments of the Torah?” to which we would respond, “The answer that came from the Jewish Assembly from the very beginning is, ‘not entirely.”
See, neither the Acts 15 council nor Paul’s letters on the subject ever really bring up the question of whether Jewish disciples should continue to keep the whole Torah (though Paul does touch on the subject, and as we will see, is very clear that Jews are indeed obligated). Their question was entirely focused on how to best integrate the Gentile believers into what had been for its first decade an almost entirely Jewish institution.
By what authority and from whose teaching did they come to this conclusion? The answer to this question is the Apostle Paul.
Where in the world would Paul get an authority to abolish the Torah that the Twelve who actually walked with Yeshua in the flesh for 2-3 years didn’t? I mean really, do Christians not think through the logic of making Paul the supreme Apostle? I’m not just trying to pick on Peter here–again, I really like and respect the guy–but this just goes to show the virtual worship of Paul that Messianics reject.
Among the Gentile churches in the first century Paul was looked up to as an authoritative representative of the risen Jesus Christ.
“Gentile” being the key word, and “an” being the other key word. But even Paul submitted his views to the authority of the Jerusalem Council, and states plainly that Peter, for example, still had a mission to the circumcised (Gal. 2:8). Ergo, if Peter’s reading of Paul were correct, it might be appropriate to say that Paul did not regard the Torah as binding on Gentile Christians–but one could not then take that statement and turn it into an attack on Messianic Jews for following the example of the actual King of the Jews in keeping that Torah, as Peter does.
We show that the Law of Moses is indeed still binding on Jewish disciples and that Paul himself kept the Torah in The Jew and the Law, so I won’t repeat all of those points here. I’ve also covered the horrifyingly anti-Semitic results of Christianity’s use of Paul’s work in defense of the Gentiles as an attack on Jewish Torah-keeping in my Judenrein Christianity series, so again I won’t repeat what has gone before.
Paul was the first to specifically target the Gentiles for conversion . . .
I’m pretty sure that honor was actually given to Peter in Acts 11.
For evangelicals the New Covenant is understood as the replacement of the Old Covenant, even though much of the ethics and many of the commandments of the Old can be found within the New. On the other hand Messianic believers tend to believe that the New Covenant includes the Old Covenant, with its Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions, Feast Days, etc., which remains in force for believers but is applied differently to Jews and Gentiles.
Actually, that’s not what Messianics teach at all, as I or any other Messianic would have told Peter had he simply asked. Rather, we make the distinction between the Old Covenant and the commandments of the Torah. Paul himself makes the distinction between “law” in the sense of the covenant, and “the Law” in the sense of the Torah’s commandments, as I show here. Failure to recognize this distinction (or even make it transparent in the standard Christian translations) has led to a gross misunderstanding of Paul’s writings, as has been noted by Christian authors like N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, and James Dunn.
But again, let us simply look at Paul’s life to see how he lived out the New Covenant on a practical day-to-day basis: He went to synagogue on Shabbat (Acts 13:14, 17:1-2, etc.) and when he could find no synagogue building, sought out other Jews to pray (16:13). He took a Nazrite vow on his journey long before he knew of a problem in Jerusalem (18:18). He hurried back to Jerusalem to take part in the Shavuot (Pentecost) pilgrimage feast (20:16). He returned with the intent purpose of not only giving alms to the poor, but also to make phosphoras, sacrificial offerings in the Temple (24:17)–undoubtedly including the ones required to fulfill his Nazrite vow (Num. 6:14-17). He was willing to buy sacrifices in bulk to help four other guys complete their own Nazrite vows in order to demonstrate that he was not “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:20-26). He insisted under oath to the Sanhedrin that he was still a Pharisee (23:6) and to Festus that he had done nothing either against the Law of the Jews or the temple (25:8).
Paul’s entire post-conversion life is utterly incompatible with a man who believed that the Torah had been abolished by the coming of Christ or that keeping the Torah’s commands were incompatible with being under the New Covenant instead of the Old.
Peter goes on to make an appeal to the work of Brian S. Rosner, author of Paul and the Law. I’ve not read Rosner’s work, so I can only comment on what Peter has shared. However, what Peter presents is clearly flawed:
The first move, of repudiation, can be seen in the negation of circumcision in 1 Corinthians 7:19a. Another instance is in 1 Corinthians 9:20, where Paul says simply, ‘I myself am not under the law’.
1 Corinthians 7:19 says, “Circumcision (being Jewish) is nothing and uncircumcision (being Gentile) is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” Many Bible verses add, “is what matters” to the sentence, but in the process miss the point. Paul goes on to say in v. 20, “Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called,” which is reiterating his statement in v. 18. So if Paul is calling on Jews, who were called when circumcised, to remain circumcised, how does this constitute a repudiation of circumcision? Rather, what Paul is saying is, “Whether one becomes circumcised or not should be nothing more to the person than keeping God’s commandment. Those who are already circumcised, the Jews, should continue to be so. Those called uncircumcised are commanded not to become Jews by circumcision.”
None of this is anything close to repudiating the commandment of circumcision. Indeed, we see that Paul thought that those circumcised should continue to circumcise their sons (Acts 21:21-26 again), and he himself circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess (16:3).
Moving on to 1 Corinthians 9;20, Paul does not actually say, “I am not under the law” except in the Alexandrian version of the text. All of the other textual traditions leave that line out. One should never base one’s theology on a disputed passage.
Moreover, as we covered previously under Common Mistranslations, Paul does not here say “under the law,” but rather “under law.” Paul defines “under law” in Galatians 4:21-31 to mean “under the Sinaic covenant”–yet as we have seen, saw no problem with keeping the whole Torah under the New Covenant.
Next, it’s ludicrous for Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, to have “became as a Jew” in the sense that a Gentile Christian might–that is, to adopt something apart from who he really is. Nor can we claim, as Paul’s critics and some of his supposed followers might, that this means that Paul had abandoned all Jewish practice except when pretext and hypocrisy (lit. “acting”) was expedient to him. The man was simply too much of an honest zealot to merit such a slander on his character!
Finally, the phrase “without law” is mistranslated. The Greek anomia means “lawless” and has the connotation of “wicked” or “rebel” everywhere else it appears in the NT. Does this mean that in order to reach pagans, Paul slept around with cultic prostitutes? Of course not.
So then, how should we understand him? Let’s pull all of the above together: “To the Jews I became [in my way of presenting the Gospel and ministering to them] as a Jew; to those who are under [the Sinaic covenant of] law as one under [the covenant of] law, so that I might win those who are under [the covenant of] law. And to those who are lawless [and wicked], [I ministered in a way that could be understood to those] as lawless, thought not being [myself] lawless to God, but en-lawed of Messiah[, ministering to those outside of God's grace as Messiah Himself did], so that I might win those who are lawless [and wicked].”
Note that Paul is careful to say that he is not lawless himself, but is en-lawed, or within the Torah as taught by the Messiah. If that is the case, and Yeshua Himself cited the importance of circumcision, putting it even above the Sabbath (John 7:22-23) which Yeshua taught was given as a gift to man (Mark 2:27), then Paul could not have taught that the Torah, or circumcision, was abolished.
Besides all this, Paul himself said, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). A very strange thing indeed if Paul was renouncing all circumcision.
The second, replacement, is evident in 7:19b with the call to keep God’s commandments, that is, apostolic instructions. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians replacement of the Law of Moses can be seen clearly in 9:21, where Paul says, ‘but am under Christ’s law’.
And what is Christ’s law? The Torah (Mat. 5:17-19).
Rosner goes on to argue that Paul’s only use of the Torah was to re-appropriate it as prophecy. While it is true that Paul found the Torah teeming with prophetic import (and no rabbi would disagree with him), this does not mean that Paul, who kept the Torah himself, saw that as its only purpose, and Rosner (as presented by Goodgame) fails to substantiate his point. I myself have written on the prophetic meaning of the Feasts of Israel, both past and future. Yet it was only by actually living out the Feasts that I gained the insight that I have, and it is through the Feasts that I pass on that insight to my children. Moreover, the fact that many of the Feasts still have a future fulfillment would mitigate against the idea that they should no longer be kept now that they are “fulfilled.” Why not celebrate the ‘fulfilled’ Feasts in honor of Messiah and the ones yet future in anticipation of His return?
Paul’s stated desire to win Jews for Christ by pretending to be an observant Jew . . .
Waitaminute. Did Rosner, and by extension Peter, just say that Paul is an untrustworthy hypocrite?
The verb ‘to abolish,’ katargeo, is in fact a favorite word for Paul to describe what Christ does to the law. Its strength in this context [within Ephesians 2:14-18] can hardly be missed, as it sits in company with ‘tearing down’ and ‘putting to death’.
Back up there. Where exactly do we get the idea that Ephesians 2:14-18 is referring to the Torah? The reference to “the dividing wall” is to the barrier that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Israelites in the Second Temple. Archaologists have recovered a plaque from it which reads, “No stranger is to enter within the partition wall and enclosure around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”
Test time: Tell me where in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings (the OT) there is a command to build a wall around the Temple to keep Gentile worshipers from getting too close? Go on, look for it. We’ll wait.
Give up? You won’t find such a command in God’s word because there isn’t one. In fact, the dividing wall was erected in direct violation of Numbers 15:14-16, which makes it clear that the alien (Heb. ger) who wished to sacrifice to the God of Israel in His sanctuary must be allowed to do so in exactly the manner of the native-born Israelite.
So then, when we understand the allusion and the context, we see that when Paul writes of “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances,” he is not speaking simply of the Torah, but rather of a flawed interpretation (dogmasin, dogmas, ordinances) of the Torah that actually goes against its real intent. I cover part of the nature and reason behind these ordinances in my series on the Eighteen Measures.
In 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul uses it in the passive voice to say that the Law of Moses has been ‘set aside’, with its ‘ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets’.
In the covenant sense, sure. But in speaking of “tablets of human hearts” Paul refers to Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the prophet speaks of the day when the Lord “will put My Torah within them and on their hearts I will write it.” How can the Torah be abolished if the promise of the New Covenant is to have it written on our hearts. Moreover, Paul makes the point in Romans 7:7-13 that it is not that the Torah became death (or a minister of death), but rather that our sin nature rebels against any commandment given by God, so that the written Torah creates an impulse to rebel. God’s solution was not to remove any law from us, but rather to write His eternal Law–the Torah–on our hearts.
F. F. Bruce writes that what has been done away with in Christ is not the law ‘as a revelation of the character and will of God’ but the law ‘as a written code, threatening death instead of imparting life’…
And yet, Christians are still to be exhorted from a written Bible of written commandments, even under the New Covenant. So even there, the issue is not whether we have a written code, but whether it has been written on our hearts as well as on paper and which commandments it is comprised of . . . and which commandments are required of which groups of people.
The view that the law as law-covenant is that which Paul sets aside complements Paul’s negative take on the law as commandments and represents the most comprehensive (and least ambiguous) way of expressing the capacity in which the law has been abolished by Christ. (pp. 77-78)
- For not the hearers of the Torah are just before God, but the doers of the Torah shall be justified. (Rom. 2:13)
- Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Torah, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Torah? (Rom. 2:26-27)
- Do we then make void the Torah through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish (i.e., uphold) the Torah. (Rom. 3:1)
- Therefore the Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. (Rom. 7:12)
- For we know that the Torah is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Ro 7:14)
- For I delight in the Torah of God according to the inward man. (Rom. 7:22)
- For Christ is the end (telos, goal) of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)
- And I testify again to every man who is circumcised that he is a debtor to do all the Torah. (Gal. 5:4)
- But we know that the Torah is good if one uses it lawfully . . . (1 Ti. 1:8)
- All Scripture [including the Torah] is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Ti. 3:16-17)
That doesn’t look very abolished to me. Back to Peter:
In Paul’s theology it is faith in Christ that saves, which leads one to naturally obey “God’s commandments” (1 Cor. 7:19). These New Covenant “commandments” are simply the teachings of Christ as handed down to the Apostles (Matt. 28:20), which are equally binding upon Jews and Gentiles. . . There are many serious Bible scholars within the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movements who are teaching that Jesus Himself upheld the keeping of the Old Covenant law, and therefore if we want to truly obey the “commandments of God” we must keep the Sabbath, eat kosher, observe the feasts, and some are even saying that if we are serious about obeying God, all males must inevitably submit to circumcision!
Not exactly, and I would disagree with the Hebrew Roots Christians who take that stance (few of whom have any real connection to the wider Jewish community). So would most of the major Messianic associations. As shown above, the Gentile disciples were not required to keep certain commandments in the Torah–but then, that was always the case, not just under the New Covenant. For example, Noah was told that he could eat any moving thing (Gen. 9:3) and the ger (alien) in the Land was permitted to eat meat that an Israelite could not (Deu. 14:21). From this, we can infer that kashrut was never required of Gentiles; it was a cultural commandment given only to the Jews. Circumcision would be another. One could argue whether the Sabbath and the Feasts also qualify. In all these cases, we see that the Jewish disciples of Yeshua continued to keep these ritual aspects of the Torah, up to and including making sacrifices in the Temple.
That’s not to say that Gentiles were not allowed to keep Passover, for example (cf. 1Co. 5:7)–in fact, Paul made the point that those who did were not to be judged any more than those who did not (Rom. 14:5-6), a commandment that Peter is in violation of by virtue of his article. However, I have no problem with Christians who say, “I don’t think I should keep Passover because . . .” Fine. You are invited, but not compelled–but don’t dare try to pass judgment against me.
Why is this so important to me? Because as I documented in my aforementioned “Judenrein Christianity,” for too long Christians have preached a false gospel every bit as damnable as that of Judaizing. They have told Jews that they can be saved, but only if they give up everything that makes us Jewish. This is entirely against the teaching of Paul, who said that the circumcised were to remain circumcised, and that the circumcised were debtors to keep the whole Torah.
Until Christians repudiate this false gospel of gentilization to the Jews, they are acting in hatred of the Jewish people. I know that they don’t intend this–Peter certainly strikes me as the kind of guy who is incapable of hating anybody–but that’s the end effect of their message: “Hey, you can be saved . . . but only if you stop being Jewish!”
I hope that Peter gets a chance to read this and think it over. If nothing else, it should make for an interesting discussion.
So, yet again, a move has put me off of posting for a couple of months straight. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been doing nothing: Johnny McMahon and I have continued to jam on the Iron Show, and I’ve got an upcoming gig with Paul Kennedy on the Acts 17:11 Radio Network that we’ll hopefully get recorded Wednesday night (depending on his trucking schedule). In preparation for that interview, I’ve added a new page to the blog, Article Collections, where I will be posting pdf collections of the various articles that have gone up on the blog over time in order to make finding and using the info a lot easier. The first collection is entitled Some Assorted Articles on Studying the Scriptures (which I know lacks any pithiness or catchiness).
One of the things I really like about being a regular guest on the Iron Show is getting emails and questions from Johnny’s many (and well-earned) fans. I got the following from Robert Hall last week and thought it would make for a good post. He asks,
First, who was Melchizedek? I under stand who the bible says he is but that still leaves questions. So he was king of Salem, which means king of peace and his name means king of richousness. To me this sounds allot like Yeshua, a pre-incarnate Yeshua. Especially when he breaks out the bread and the wine. Genesis 14:18-20 Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem brought out bread and wine. He was cohen of El ‘Elyon God Most High, so he blessed him with these words:“Blessed be Avram by El ‘Elyon,maker of heaven of earth. and blessed be El ‘Elyon,who handed your enemies over to you.”Avram gave him a tenth of everything.
This was the high priest of the most high! Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. I guess my question is could he be a pre- incarnate Yeshua?
The idea that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnate Messiah is one that has a long pedigree in Christendom, so you’re far from alone. However, I would argue that Psa. 110:4 indicates that this cannot be the case. In the Psalm, the Son of David is said to be a priest “after the order of” or more accurately, “in the manner of” Melchizedek. If we took Melchizedek to be an appearance of the Angel of the Lord before the Incarnation, this would be the equivalent of saying, “Yeshua will be a priest forever in the manner of Yeshua.” It comes out as meaningless within the context of the psalm.
Another possibility that has been raised is that Malki-Zedek (“King of Righteousness”) is a name or title for Shem, Noah’s son. If we assume that the Masoretic Text of Genesis 11 gives us a complete geneology with no gaps, then Shem’s life overlaps Abraham’s, so this would be a possibility. However, if either the Septuagint’s record better reflects an older Hebrew copy of the Torah or if the geneology contains gaps (as even many geneologies within the Bible do–see Matthew 1), then Shem would have died before Abraham came to Canaan. Furthermore, we know who Shem’s father was, when he was born, and how long he lived before dying, which would kinda ruin the point of Hebrews.
Personally, I believe that the Scriptures have, as Hebrews makes a point of telling us, deliberately not given us any information on Melchizedek. While this makes him mysterious, I think we have enough to understand why Abraham’s encounter with him is included in Genesis:
- It establishes that Abraham was not the only one in the ancient world who knew the Most High God. Therefore, this is not a new cult overturning the established order (as the pagans would have seen it), but a very old, if minority, faith in the world.
- It establishes that the Holy One was not known only by the Jews, and that therefore from the very beginning His intent has been to make Himself known to all nations.
- Like the narrative of Balaam, it establishes that God had not left the Canaanites without a witness, and therefore He was just to judge them when they ignored the kings, priests, and prophets that He had sent them for four hundred years before Israel drove them out.
When the author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek had no parents, no beginning, and no end, he does not mean for us to take this as the literal historical truth. Rather, he is making a very rabbinic midrash (basically, a homily) that the original Jewish audience would have understood. One of the ways a midrash is made is to take some small detail in the text and take it with the most wooden literalness possible in order to illustrate a point.
For example, Deuteronomy 4:11 talks of the day when Israel stood “under the mountain.” Now obviously, the plain interpretation of this passage is that Israel stood at the foot of the mountain, perhaps in such a way that they were in its shadow. However, there is a popular rabbinic midrash that God actually picked up Mt. Sinai, held it over the camp, and told Israel that He would drop it if they didn’t accept the Torah.
Now obviously, there’s no historicity in that interpretation. (Though some ultra-orthodox insist that it’s literally true.) It’s meant solely to make the homiletic point that yes, Israel alone of all the nations accepted the Torah, but we should not be proud, for we did so out of fear rather than out of nobility–a point that follows from Israel’s reaction to hearing the voice of God in Exodus 20.
With that in mind, let us retrace the steps of the author of Hebrews. His problem, and that of his audience, is not one that Christians are sensitive to: He believes that the Torah has not been annulled and that Jews should continue to keep every yod and penstroke (Mat. 5:17-19, Acts 21:20-26, Gal. 5:3, etc.). However, a major part of the Torah is the sacrificial service that by the Messiah’s own word, he knows will soon be destroyed, this time for far more than 70 years. How can we be Torah-observant Jews without a priesthood?
Then he looks at Psalm 110, which says that the Davidic King would be a priest like Melchizedek. So he goes back to study everything we know about Melchizedek (which isn’t much) and realizes the following:
- Like Yeshua, Malki is both a king and a priest. In fact, his name/title means “king of righteousness.”
- Like Yeshua, Malki is greater than the Levitical priests–in fact, he is greater than Abraham himself, who tithed to him! (You have to be Jewish or really understand the Jewish awe of the Patriarchs to understand how mind-boggling this is.)
- Malki is the king of (Jeru)salem.
- Malki has no geneology and no death recorded in the Torah. It’s almost as if he is simply a fact of the universe, not having a beginning or and end.
Point #4 is the midrashic point. There are lots of people in the Bible whose parents, births, and deaths are not recorded for us. Take Namaan the Syrian, for example. But none of them are explicitly compared to the Messiah. The author of Hebrews isn’t saying that because Malki doesn’t have parents, birth, and death recorded that he is literally eternal, nor would he claim that this prophesies that the Messiah would be eternal. Rather, he already knows from other, plain texts that the Messiah has an eternal nature and he reads this back into Genesis 14 (deliberate isogesis) in order to understand the full import of Psalm 110.
Therefore, I think that the Bible very deliberately does not tell us who Melkizedek was in terms of his parentage, nation, or personal backstory on purpose. What we do know is that he was a truly righteous Gentile who was a point of light in a dark and savage pagan time.
And the fact that the Annointed Davidic King could be a priest like Melchizedek answers the conundrum of Messianic Jews: We can keep the Torah because a priest far superior to Levi intercedes for us with a superior sacrifice in the true Heavenly Holy of Holies. Yes, the earthly copy of the temple was destroyed and the earthly copy of the service cannot presently be carried out, but because of Yeshua’s sacrifice and priesthood, all of the commandments regarding the temple service have been and are being fulfilled in their truest form.
Far from being what most Christians think it is–a kind of Galatians for Jews telling us to forsake our “old” religion–Hebrews is actually a dissertation on how Yeshua the Messiah has made a post-temple Torah-observant Judaism possible for those who put their faith in Him.
There was a second part of Robert’s question regarding Sodom and Gomorrah that I hope to get to shortly. Stay tuned.
- Who was Melchizedek? (altruistico.wordpress.com)
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog, I’ve been working on a paper that I hope to get peer-reviewed at some point. It turns out that that’s a tricky task for two reasons: First, you basically have to go and find just about every piece of scholarship out there that might even touch on your subject so that you can find out what arguments have been made for or against your position in the past, make sure you’re not just deluding yourself about the meaning of a given passage, and also see which direction scholarship has gone as more evidence has been opened up.
Secondly, if you’re really going against the grain, you find out that you have to establish about six other arguments to get to the point you really want to make.
Today’s post comes out of that second problem. My article is exploring just what Paul meant when he warned the Galatians that they were in danger of falling back under the power of the not-gods, the elemental spirits or stoichea that they used to follow, if they became circumcised as Jews. The main thrust of my argument involves careful exegesis of “the curse of the law” in Deuteronomy 28 through the lens of Dr. Heiser’s Divine Council paradigm. In the process, I’ve come to believe that failing to really understand the nature and scope of the curse of the Torah in Deu. 28 is at the heart of a whole host of theological errors.
Sounds like a good subject for a series of blog posts, huh?
My own exploration of Deuteronomy 28 in detail didn’t originate in a desire to decipher Galatians, but rather to understand the inspiration of a particular prophecy. I wished to try to trace back to the Torah, the wellspring and foundation of all prophecy (as noted way back here), the prediction of Isaiah 11:10-11 that Hashem would recover his people from exile not once, but twice, and that the second time would happen after the Gentiles turned to Messiah, the Root of Jesse. One might find hints of such a double-exile in the pattern of Jacob’s life, in which he first fled the land to escape Esau and then was forced to leave it a second time to find refuge from the famine in Egypt. However, there is a better and more plain prophecy of this double-exile in the book of Deuteronomy in the description of the single, specific curse that would befall Israel should the people betray the covenant.
Deuteronomy, as many scholars have noted, is written in the form of an ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty—in other words, the contract between a king and his people.1 While some skeptics have tried to claim that Deuteronomy has the form of the later Assyrian treaties in order to late-date the Torah, this does not hold up, as J.P. Holding notes:
In format Deuteronomy is most compatible with Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty texts — secular texts which “find their florescence in a period slightly later than 1400 (BC)” and went out of style in 1200 BC. [Merr.Dt, 23, 36] Deuteronomy contains “all the essential elements of these Hittite treaty texts and in precisely the same order” [ibid., 28] as well as a few other additions suitable to the context (a farewell address, itineraries, and hymns, for example — and of course, modifications for monolatry . . .
While it differs in that Deuteronomy calls upon heaven and earth and the song of Moses to be witnesses (30:19, 31:19, 32:1-43) instead of pagan gods, it contains the necessary components of the Preamble (1:1-5), the Historical Prologue (1:6-4:40), the Stipulations (5:1-26:15), Provision for the Keeping of the Law and Public Readings (27:1-8, 31:9-13; see also 17:18-20), and the Blessings and Curses (27:9-28:68). It is that last section that most concerns this paper.
Moses’ description of Israel’s curse for violating the covenant is long and almost tedious at first glance. This may be why so many commentators gloss over it. Indeed, most conflate all of the punishments together into a kind of amorphous mass, numbing the ears with their seeming repetitions. However, a more careful reading reveals that far from simply repeating itself, the curse actually gives a very specific timeline marked by three very distinct events. The first is exile to another land:
The LORD will bring you, and your king whom you shall set over you, to a nation that you have not known, you nor your fathers; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. You shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the peoples where the LORD shall lead you away. (Deu. 28:36-37)
This specific prophecy was fulfilled in 586 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege the third and final time to Jerusalem. At the conclusion of the siege, he “put out the eyes of [King] Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon” (2Ki. 25:7) along with all but the meanest remnant of the rest of the kingdom (vv. 11-12).
The second prophecy is often jumbled with the first:
The LORD will bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies; a nation whose language you shall not understand; a nation of fierce facial expressions, that shall not respect the person of the old, nor show favor to the young, and shall eat the fruit of your livestock, and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; that also shall not leave you grain, new wine, or oil, the increase of your livestock, or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. They shall besiege you in all your gates, until your high and fortified walls come down, in which you trusted, throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you in all your gates throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you. (Deu. 28:49-52)
Scholars are divided as to the identity of this second nation. Keil and Delitzsch write, “This description no doubt applies to the Chaldeans, who are described as flying eagles in Hab. 1:6., Jer. 48:40; Jer. 49:22; Eze. 17:3, Eze. 17:7, as in the verses before us; but it applies to other enemies of Israel beside these, namely to the great imperial powers generally, the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Romans . . .” Calvin likewise ascribed this prophecy to the Chaldeans. The Ramban, on the other hand, saw the Romans in this description and that of the siege that follows, while the Talmud records a tradition that Alexander the Great saw himself in this prophecy (b.Sukkah 51b).
However, there is good reason to understand that the prophecy refers to the Greeks or the Romans—or both—rather than the Babylonians. First of all, the prophecy here follows that of Israel being taken into captivity by “a nation,” that is, the Babylonians and, as we will see, the prophecy is most specific about the order of events. Therefore, an enemy nation after the Babylonians must be in view. Secondly, verse 49 is specific that this second nation would be one “whose language you shall not understand.” Aramaic, which was spoken by the Chaldeans, is a sister-language to Hebrew, much as Spanish is to Italian, and many Jews spoke both. Greek and Latin, on the other hand, come from a completely different language family and would indeed be different enough from Hebrew for Moses to use that difference to mark out the second nation.2
Towards the end, the curse speaks of second exile, this one of quite different character from the first:
It shall happen that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. The LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone. Among these nations you shall find no ease, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot: but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul; and your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall fear night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. (Deu. 28:63-66)
Note the distinctions: The first exile was to a single nation, the second to “among all peoples, from one end of the earth even to the other.” The Babylonian exile provided a period of stability for the Jews so taken, so that Jeremiah encouraged them,
Build houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat their fruit. Take wives, and father sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there, and don’t be diminished. Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you shall have peace. (Jer. 29:5-7)
This second exile, Moses tells us by the word of the Lord, would have no such peace, nor any sure place for the Jew to call his own, nor any safety provided by the kings who would rule over the Jews. And indeed, this is precisely the exile that has played out for the last two thousand years of Jewish history, with the Jews being allowed to settle in a nation for a time, but then being driven out at the whim of some future ruler (often one who was deeply in debt). All this culminated in the Holocaust, when indeed the Jew’s life hung in doubt before him; and he feared night and day, and had no assurance of his life.
So then, we have a clear outline of events: First, God would curse Israel in her own land (vv. 20-35). Then, he would cause a single, specific nation to carry Israel and her king into exile (vv. 36-37). Then Israel would return to the land, but not prosper (vv. 38-48). Then another nation would swoop down on the land like an eagle, and besiege its cities (vv. 49-62). And finally, there would be a second exile, this time throughout the whole world, in which unlike the Babylonian exile, the Jew would find no place to rest and no safety (vv. 63-68).
All of these punishments are given as a single, unified curse. Deu. 30:1 reads, “It shall happen, when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse . . . (Heb. haq’lalah, הקללה, which indeed employs the definite article ha-). When Paul speaks of “the curse of the Torah” in Gal. 3:13 (tes chataras tou nomou, της καταρας του νομου), he is not calling the Torah a curse (cf. Rom. 7:12-13), but rather referring to the same singular and specific curse as Deu. 30:1. He also quotes Deu. 27:26 in Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who doesn’t continue in all things that are written in the scroll of the Torah, to do them.’” In all cases, the singular and specific nature of the curse is underlined by the text.
Understanding that both exiles were covered under a single, unified curse destroys the popular conception that the Jews were cursed for rejecting Jesus as their savior. On the contrary, careful exegesis of “the curse of the law” proves that the nation had been laboring under the curse for at least seven hundred years. According to 2Ki. 21, it was pronounced during the reign of the wicked king Manasseh, who filled Jerusalem with idolatry and blood from one end to the other:
The LORD spoke by his servants the prophets, saying, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, and has done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols; therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I bring such evil on Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle. I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will cast off the remnant of my inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies. They will become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which is evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even to this day.’” (vv. 10-15)
Even the reforms of Josiah could not turn back the curse, but could only forestall its effects for the duration of his reign (22:14-20).
What this means is that, contrary to common Christian interpretation, the Jewish people were not cursed because we rejected Yeshua. On the contrary, we had already been under the curse of the law for over seven hundred years before Yeshua came! In fact, I believe we will see that the rejection of Yeshua by all but a minority of Jews was the result of the curse, not the cause of it!
This should be a delightfully controversial series, but I hope you’ll find it rewarding and insightful.
1 See, for example, George E. Mendenhall, “Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East, “ The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. XVII No. 2 (May, 1954), retrieved from http://home.earthlink.net/~cadman777/Law_Cov_Mendenhall_TITLE.htm on May 29, 2013.
2 It is true, on the other hand, that Jer. 5:15 refers to the Babylonians as “a nation whose tongue you do not know.” As Calvin remarks (to Deu. 28:49), “the Prophets were careful to take their form of expression from Moses, lest the Jews should, according to their custom, proudly despise the threats which God had interwoven with His Law.”
“Power attracts the corruptible. Absolute power attracts the absolutely corruptible. This is the danger of entrenched bureaucracy to its subject population. Even the spoils systems are preferable because levels of tolerance are lower and the corrupt can be thrown out periodically. Entrenched bureaucracy seldom can be touched short of violence. Beware when Civil Service and Military join hands."
–Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune
Two items for today. The first that I’d like to announce is Thinktank Tuesdays at Beth HaMashiach, which runs from 7:00 – 10:00 pm every Tuesday for at least the duration of the summer. Younger kids–up to and just at Bar Mitzvah age–will be working on plays based on the Bible (their first will be based on the book of Joshua) while their parents and anyone else who wants to join in is welcome to join in for discussion on apologetics, creation vs. evolution, Bible study, prophecy, Calvinism, Galatians, other religious worldviews, and conspiracy theory. And that’s just what we came up with during the brain-storming session the first night.
The typical format will be to watch a video and then kick it around in discussion. Our first video next week will be The Privilaged Planet. Small donations towards buying more videos for the group (to be kept in the synagogue library thereafter) are appreciated, but not required. We’re hoping to get the discussion on .mp3 so that I can post them here for those who are interested, but can’t make it.
In other encouraging news, Daniel Pipes had a very encouraging blog post this week about Israel. To just give the highlights:
- A recent poll found 93 percent of Jewish Israelis proud of be Israeli.
- Israel has a birthrate of 2.65 children per woman, making it the only advanced country to exceed replacement.
- Israel enjoyed a 14.5 percent growth of gross domestic product during the 2008-12 recession, compare to the United States’ 2.9%.
- Israel’s new major oil and gas finds are only just starting to provide both an economic and political boon to the small nation.
- With Syria and Egypt consumed by internal problems, the existential threat they once posed to Israel has, for the moment, nearly disappeared, and Israeli security has virtually eliminated terrorism within its borders.
- Only 10% of Jewish Israelis are concerned about diplomacy with the Palestinians. John Kerry, on the other hand, remains obsessed.
- Though the Iranian nuclear issue remains on the horizon, at least one military analyst believes that if it came to blows, Israel would be damaged but be able to recover–while Iran would be obliterated.
- Successes of the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” movement are pretty meager . . . Israel has diplomatic relations with 156 out of the United Nations’ 193 members. Looking at multiple indices, Mr. Inbar finds that, globally, “Israel is rather well integrated.”
- Despite how the intelligensia makes it out, in public opinion surveys in the United States, the world’s most important country and Israel’s main ally, Israel regularly beats the Palestinians by a 4-to-1 ratio.
- Ashkenazi-Sephardi tensions have diminished over time due to a combination of intermarriage and cultural cross-pollination. The issue of Haredi nonparticipation is finally being addressed.
- Israelis have made impressive cultural contributions, especially to classical music.
I’ve deliberately left out the links Pipes uses to back up his optimism on Israel because, frankly, if you’re at all interested in Middle Eastern affairs, you owe it to yourself to go read and subscribe to his blog. Even so, I can resist relaying his final conclusion:
Listen up, anti-Zionists and antisemites, Palestinians and Islamists, extreme right- and left-wingers: You are fighting a losing battle; the Jewish state is prevailing. As Mr. Inbar rightly concludes, “Time seems to be on Israel’s side.” Give up and find some other country to torment.
Amen and shalom.
- Off Topic: Happy Israel (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Happy Israel (danielpipes.org)
- Kerry’s delusions of grandeur (israelmatzav.blogspot.com)
- | Not yours! 72% Israeli Jews reject International Law over Jerusalem/2-States! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
I missed my Thursday post and the usual time for my Sunday post. Thursday’s was a matter of not having much time this week and wanting to spend what I had working on an article that I hope to get published in a peer-reviewed journal. Today’s was due to first taking a bit of a vacation this weekend with several members of our synagogue to celebrate another’s 50th birthday (Happy birthday, Ed!) up in the Georgia mountains and then coming home to spend time with a friend from Japan who was in town to bury his father.
For those who have missed me, I did have the chance to get back into doing the Iron Show with Johnny McMahon and Matthew Miller (the last few months of which are available for download here). Johnny and I had the chance to discuss doing shows after we get done with Esther. Based on another conversation with Matthew, he may or may not bow out once we’re done with Esther to work on other projects, but I’m enjoying doing the Iron Show and plan to keep on going. One of the subjects I’d like to tackle is whether the modern political state of Israel is indeed the restored nation of Israel prophesied in Scripture, since apparently that’s coming under fire even in the predominantly pre-millennial fringe Christian movement. I’d also like to work out how to take questions from the audience, since that seems to me the best way to serve as an ambassador of the Jewish people back to the Christians.
Which really is how I’ve come to see my role. I lay this out in the May 4, 2013 teaching on Cyber-Synagogue. Since I was raised in the Church, and since I have determined not to ask anything of my people, I have instead determined to focus on what I can give my people instead. What I can give is greater love and understanding from the Christians to the Jews–a love and understanding not based on pre-trib dispensationalism (which frankly scares the heck out of my Israeli friends), but on the understanding that the Christians have been graciously adopted into a pre-existing family (the Jews) by the work of Yeshua the Messiah, who is himself a Jew. Therefore every Jew they meet is a brother or a sister that the Christian should be willing to lay his or her life down for–whether or not the Jew feels the same should be completely irrelevant to the true Christian.
As a result of this commitment, I have determined not to make apologetic arguments to the Jewish side a focus of this site or my ministry. To be very frank, after two millennia of giving a false gospel of Gentilization to the Jews, the Church has in effect lost the right to preach the true Gospel to the Jewish people. Since I don’t come from a pure-blooded Jewish line (unlike, say, my wife), I will leave the task of proclaiming the true Good News to those who cannot be dismissed as Jewish so easily. Instead, as a service to my people whom I love, my ministry will focus on bringing the true, spiritual Assembly of Messiah to a full repentance. I do so in full faith that the Holy One will bring about a reconciliation between the brethren as he did even in the days of Joseph.
Along a similar vein, long-time readers will notice a change in how I handle the pronouns referring to the Almighty. A common custom in English is to capitalize all pronouns referring to God. Basically, this comes out of the convention of capitalizing the first-person “I”, the feeling being that we should not capitalize a pronoun referring to ourselves unless we are willing to do so for Hashem. However, in doing so, we can prejudice translations and lead to misunderstanding. For example, there are a number of royal psalms that originally referred to David, but which also have a Messianic prophecy imbedded in them. If we capitalize the pronouns (working from the perspective that the Messiah does indeed have a Divine as well as a human nature), then we prejudice the reader to see only the Messianic prophecy, and not the original historical intent. For this reason, most modern translations use normal capitalization regardless of whether the perceived subject is God or not.
In writing about Yeshua, I have become aware of just how offensive capitalizing his pronouns can be to the mainline Jewish community. On the other hand, I still believe that Yeshua is the Word, Wisdom, Torah, and Sh’khinah (Dwelling Presence) of Hashem incarnate. Therefore, to neither prejudice my readers nor to disparage Messiah, I have changed a lifelong habit and will use normal English conventions whether I am talking about the Most High or anyone else.
I have some more thoughts that came out of visiting with my friend from Japan, but I want to give them some time to gel first. So, on that note then,