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.