Assumption and Interpretation

One of my admittedly weirder past-times is keeping an eye on UFO sightings. As I’ve read the various articles on the subject and listened to the various arguments back and forth, I’ve noticed how much a person’s foundational assumptions impact the way they look at the data. To a true believer, the barest flickering of a light on the shakiest footage is proof positive that aliens are visiting this planet, while to the confirmed skeptic, multiple independent sightings confirmed by radar aren’t enough to prove that anything odd at all is going on. As a rule, people see what they want to see.

This is also true when looking into the Scriptures. Very few people have the opportunity to come to the Bible as a blank slate, and even those that do are influenced by the biases of those who provided the translations for them (I don’t know anyone who learned Hebrew and Greek before ever being introduced to the Good Book). We all bring our personal baggage, our traditions, and our paradigms to the table when we sit down with God’s Word.

This post from the That Moral Squint blog on the book of Hebrews sparked this little thought. The very opening sentence reveals John Windsor’s assumptions as he approaches the book:

Hebrews was written to demonstrate the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old, and to warn Hebrew believers against abandoning Christ and drawing back into Judaism.

Was it now? On what basis do we use that assumption as our foundation? Indeed, where do we see the Apostles ever saying, "You’re Christians now. That’s a new religion; don’t go back to the old religion of Judaism"? Quite simply, we don’t. On the contrary, we see them all throughout the book of Acts taking great pains to demonstrate that they were operating within Judaism and were considered even by their opponents to be a sect within Judaism. In fact, John Mauck in his excellent book, Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts As a Defense of Christianity, documents that not only were Luke and Acts written as Paul’s pre-trial documentation, but that a major part of their defense was to demonstrate that the followers of Yeshua were still practioners of Judaism.

If one reads the New Covenant Scriptures with the assumption that it is the story of the "new" religion of Christianity replacing the "old" religion of Judaism, then yes, it is possible to interpret Hebrews and Paul’s letters as being anti-Judaism and anti-Torah. However, doing so leaves us with a schizophrenic Bible. For example, if sacrificing in the Temple meant "crucifying Christ all over again" why did the Apostles continue in the Temple (Acts 2:46) and why did Paul make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the express purpose of fulfilling a Nazrite vow and sacrificing in the Temple nearly three decades after the Cross (Acts 18:18, 21:20f; see Acts 21: Paul’s Nazrite Vow for details)? If we are supposed to now follow a new, non-Torah-based religion, why did Yeshua tell us not only to keep the least commandments (Mat. 5:17-19), but even to follow the rulings of the Pharisees (Mat. 23:2)?

An anti-Judaic assumption as the basis for interpreting the works of Paul not only has Paul saying one thing and doing another–which I do believe is called "hypocrisy"–but has Paul going against the words of our King.

On the other hand, if one approaches the NT Scriptures with the assumption that rather than superceding the "Old" Testament, they are a perfect, harmonious continuation, all such descrepancies disappear. You no longer have to ignore 4/5ths of the Bible as irrelevant.

Isaiah wrote of a day when Gentiles would keep the Sabbath and worship in the Temple (Isa. 56:6-7). Zechariah told us that the day would come when not only would the Gentiles be compelled to keep the Feast of Sukkot (14:16ff) but that they would willingly take on the garment of a Jew (8:23), recognizing that God was still with the Jewish people. Moses told us that the day would come that the true children of the Son of Joseph would be adopted by Israel as his own sons. Throughout the Bible, the message is that the Holy One would extend inclusion to the Gentiles, not the exclusion of the Jew.

Therefore, Mr. Windsor, let me suggest that you should not take a stand against the promises of God by telling Gentiles not to take hold of the garment of a Jew, not to keep the Sabbath, and not to keep our Lord’s directives to observe the Torah in the manner of traditional Judaism. My youngest brother is adopted, and he is truly my brother, but that doesn’t mean that he gets to set the rules for the rest of the family.

Shalom.

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9 Replies to “Assumption and Interpretation”

  1. Hello there.. yes John Windsor is a good friend of mine and I enjoyed his write-up but I’m not sure what to think of the sort of replacement theology that many (including perhaps himself) advocate.

    For example, John writes, The Old Covenant is over. The New and Everlasting Covenant has arrived. The shadow has been replaced by reality and we are now experiencing the fullness of Christ. God has not rejected Israel, but her time as a separate and distinct covenant people has come and gone….Those who refuse to do so cannot use the Old Covenant as a security blanket, because “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

    While I agree with this from a soteriological perspective (all are now saved through Christ – John 14:6), it’s quite clear in the OT that God made other specific promises to Abraham and by extension, to the nation of Israel. E.g. “I will bless those who bless thee, and I will curse those who curse thee.” If you look at history even until today, those who blessed the Jews (e.g. America) have been blessed, and those who curse the Jews have been cursed or destroyed (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia). And of course there is the issue of the 144,000 of Revelation. Obviously everyone can’t be in the 144,000…

    That’s not to say that God loves non-Jews any LESS than Jews. But I think His love is DIFFERENT (and obviously I can’t explain how, it’s just the sense I get from reading the Scriptures) – for example if my daughter asks me if I love her mom (my wife) more than I love her, I would answer by saying that it’s not an issue of “how much” but rather of “what kind.” A man does not love his daughter in the same way that he loves his wife, even though he loves both.

    So yes, I believe that Israel is still a separate and distinct people who hold a distinct relationship with God, not from the standpoint of salvation, but because of other specific promises that God made to them because of the faith of Abraham.

    As Dennis Prager said in his talk last week, I also believe that the day America weakens in her support for Israel will be the day that America begins to decline as a country.

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    1. I would answer by saying that it’s not an issue of “how much” but rather of “what kind.”

      I like how you put that. I’ll have to steal it.

      As Dennis Prager said in his talk last week, I also believe that the day America weakens in her support for Israel will be the day that America begins to decline as a country.

      As I’ve been documenting here, we already have–and it’s no surprise that our prosperity and freedoms are going down the tubes as a result.

      Shalom, and keep the faith!

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  2. On the other hand, if one approaches the NT Scriptures with the assumption that rather than superceding the “Old” Testament, they are a perfect, harmonious continuation, all such descrepancies disappear. You no longer have to ignore 4/5ths of the Bible as irrelevant.

    Well, I think as Christians – and I assume that a “Messianic Jew” is a Christian who keeps the Jewish ordinances – do have to be careful here. I agree that the NT does not supersede or replace the OT, but Saint Paul does say we are saved by the grace of God and not by the works of the law (Eph. 2:8-9). So again, I would add that from the standpoint of salvation, there HAS been a change from the OT law (which no one could keep perfectly) to the NT (where we are saved by the grace and mercy of God).

    What needs to be emphasized here is that there the New Testament does not invalidate the VALUES of the Old Testament. In other words, while as a Christian I am not bound by the dietary laws of the Torah (and in saying that I am not at all saying that one should NOT observe them, I just choose not to because it’s too complicated for me as a Gentile), I am bound by the Torah’s ETHICAL laws, e.g. the Ten Commandments.

    That is to say, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, I can eat pork but I don’t have a license to worship idols, to steal, to murder, to covet, and so forth. And, I believe that “those who are merciful to the cruel will, in the end, be cruel to the merciful.” So, while I believe God saves by faith, I also believe that God’s primary demand is that we treat one another decently, and that we “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” We need to be Judeo-Christian in our values and ethics, while recognizing that Christ is the light of the world, and that God’s invitation of salvation is open to all who put their faith in Him.

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    1. So again, I would add that from the standpoint of salvation, there HAS been a change from the OT law (which no one could keep perfectly) to the NT (where we are saved by the grace and mercy of God).

      Then why is it that when Paul is introducing the concept that salvation comes by trust, he cites Genesis 15:6?

      The idea that Judaism teaches, or has ever taught, that salvation is by the keeping of the Torah is an unfortunate fallacy that Christianity has embraced. The fact is that Judaism has always taught that salvation is by the Holy One’s grace, expressed in His covenants, and received by believing sincerely in His Name (Authority, Character). See http://hebrewroot.com/Articles/Judaism_and_grace.htm

      as a Christian I am not bound by the dietary laws of the Torah (and in saying that I am not at all saying that one should NOT observe them, I just choose not to because it’s too complicated for me as a Gentile)

      Oh, so we pick and choose which commandments to keep based on how complicated they are now? ;^)

      Actually, I don’t worry about whether my Sunday-brethren are keeping kosher as long as they aren’t looking down on me because I do. I do invite you to join us for the Feasts, but mostly because I think you’ll enjoy them and learn a lot. In other words, not as a matter of salvation, but as a matter of partaking of the joy of your adopted family at our celebration.

      Thank you for your comments (the first I’ve gotten since starting this blog!) and for your Messiah-like attitude.

      Shalom and God bless.

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  3. The fact is that Judaism has always taught that salvation is by the Holy One’s grace, expressed in His covenants, and received by believing sincerely in His Name

    I’ve never heard that Judaism taught this. But there is much I don’t know. But then, why Christ? :-)

    I don’t worry about whether my Sunday-brethren are keeping kosher as long as they aren’t looking down on me because I do. I do invite you to join us for the Feasts, but mostly because I think you’ll enjoy them and learn a lot. In other words, not as a matter of salvation, but as a matter of partaking of the joy of your adopted family at our celebration.

    Thank you for your comments (the first I’ve gotten since starting this blog!) and for your Messiah-like attitude.

    You’re welcome.

    Of course I don’t look down on someone who doesn’t keep kosher, just as I don’t look down on those who don’t keep the fasts of the Church. What matters to me is the Judeo-Christian ethic, not whether I’m eating a hot dog and you’re having grilled chicken. What good is fasting if I then go and steal? What good is keeping kosher if I then act dishonestly with my brother in our dealings?

    Oh, so we pick and choose which commandments to keep based on how complicated they are now? ;^)

    Simply put, Christians are not required to keep old Jewish ritual laws. This was the whole point of the Church’s struggle against the “Judaizers” (those who would compel Christians to keep Judaic law as a condition of salvation). Look at Paul’s discourses on those who eat meat versus those who do not. Look at the first council of Acts 15 I believe it is.

    Now, this doesn’t mean we cannot keep the ritual law, it only means that we don’t have to: we don’t see the law as the path to salvation. For if keeping the Law could save us, then what was the point of Christ’s death? Regarding “extra credit” for keeping the Law AND believing in Christ, well, I’ll just leave that up to Him to decide. :-)

    But I strongly believe Christians are required to keep the Old Testament ETHIC, which certainly pre-dates Israel (e.g. Genesis 9:6), but was later codified in the 10 commandments. Christ did not come to destroy the Law (ethic) but to fulfill it.
    The problem with society IMHO is not that people are eating this food or that food, or that some people choose to worship God on Saturday or on Sunday, but that we as a nation have chosen to embrace policies that contravene Judeo-Christian values (i.e. ethics) upon which America was founded. In some cases (e.g. showing weakness fighting terrorism), these policies – while perhaps well-intentioned – lead to the murder of innocent people, which is a great evil, especially when it is done in the name of God (or “Allah”).

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    1. I’ve never heard that Judaism taught this. But there is much I don’t know. But then, why Christ? :-)

      I really ought to do a whole series on this question. The short answer is that while my traditional Jewish brethren trust that the Holy One can forgive sin, they don’t know how. In fact, an enormous amount of rabbinic ink has been spent contemplating how the attributes of perfect justice and perfect mercy can coexist in the One. We who know Yeshua have that question answered for us.

      But more fundamentaly, all the faith in the world would be useless unless our Father had provided the way. Jacob had faith in the Holy One’s promises that he would become a great nation; Joseph still had to suffer at the hands of his brothers and preceed them into Egypt to save Jacob and his family from the famine.

      What good is fasting if I then go and steal? What good is keeping kosher if I then act dishonestly with my brother in our dealings?

      Exactly, and many of the seemingly antinomian statements in the NT need to be understood in the light of correcting just such behavior. It’s not that the “ceremonial” law (for the Bible itself makes no such distinction) had passed away, but that it had become empty due to a collapse in ethical behavior. We can find similar refrains among the prophets long before the coming of the New Covenant.

      For a Jew, whether a disciple of Yeshua or not, I don’t believe that the “ceremonial” commands are optional–indeed, they are the very things that have preserved us as a coherant people, and Jews who give them up become assimilated very quickly. But assimilation is another subject.

      Shalom.

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  4. I just realized that everything I said above could be encapsulated this way:

    Which is more important in the eyes of the Lord?

    Eating chicken instead of pork? Going to Church on Saturdays instead of Sundays?

    -OR-

    Not doing to others what is hateful to you, and loving goodness and mercy while hating evil?

    Shalom: Numbers 6:24-26.

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    1. Exactly, but let us not forget what Yeshua said while chiding the hypocrites among the Pharisees:

      Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Mat. 23:23)

      If one must choose between fulfilling an ethical or ceremonial commandment, the ethical takes priority. But that doesn’t mean that one may simply dismiss the ceremonial as unimportant. If you saw someone hurt in a car accident while on your way to church, it would be imperitive on you to stop and help them even if that meant missing Sunday service, but that doesn’t mean that gathering together for worship, prayer, and learning should be neglected the rest of the time.

      In other words, if you honestly believe that the Bible teaches that you as a Gentile shouldn’t worry about keeping kosher, the Feasts, etc., that’s perfectly fine. But don’t fall into the trap of ignoring a command that you see the Bible telling you to keep because we in our human wisdom decide it to be unimportant. How many people have, for example, decided that the commandment to marry wasn’t important because they were really in love and weren’t willing to wait to satisfy their carnal desires?

      I think I’m going to have to use this conversation as the basis for another post clarifying our beliefs. I appreciate you engaging me in it.

      Shalom.

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  5. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

    Like

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