In church today, Pastor Randy preached on Deuteronomy 5 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 but I want to preface this “meditation” by citing some of the notes from the Sunday school class, which taught on Deuteronomy 9.
What can cause us to not give God credit for our successes and blessings? Why is it important for us also to “remember and never forget” (citing Deut. 9:4-7) what God has done for us “in Christ”?
The obvious answer to that first question is “pride” and that plays into the next classroom question.
Have you or I been a source of frustration to someone in leadership responsibility over us? Give examples of our acts or omissions that make their job more difficult.
For me, the answer is “Well, yes, of course” and my examples would be most of my conversations with Pastor Randy over various theological issues, principally the issue of the continuation of the Jewish obligation to the Torah commandments.
Now I have to be very careful. Before the beginning of class, the teacher was telling me what a challenge putting together this week’s lesson was and later during class, he said that he prepares a full two-page lesson outline so we’ll have to study for several days before class and not just whip out our notes the night before.
Except I didn’t think his lesson was particularly challenging and I did complete the worksheet the day before in something under an hour.
To be fair, I have probably spent more time studying the Torah than most of my fellow students so grasping the essentials of the material seems a fairly straightforward affair, at least as my teacher presents them.
And I have to watch out for that “pride” thing. I had to keep stopping myself (my train of thought) in class and remind myself not to be so arrogant, which I’ve written about before. I thought I had successfully re-evaluated my role in church but I still find that I am struggling with some very difficult but very typical attitudes in Christianity.
One last question from Sunday school before I get started on the sermon.
In Deut. Chs. 9 and 10, God answers Moses’ prayer not to destroy the nation. He goes up for a 2nd written copy of the 10 Commandments. How easily do you and I give up on others?
As I’ve mentioned many times before, although Pastor and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much in terms of theology and doctrine, I have a great deal of respect for him as a person, a scholar, and a Pastor. When he preaches, I usually am frantically taking notes and writing commentary and critique on the various points he makes, but this was the first time when, after he said something quite specific, I almost stood up and walked out in mid-sermon.
But let me back up a bit.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Pastor is taking several weeks to lay the foundation for a series on the Ten Commandments and his assertion that these specific commandments are universal, timeless, and apply to all Christians today. He’s lifting just the Ten Commandments out of the Torah and saying they are the only parts of the 613 Commandments that remain in force for the Church (although he has an interesting spin on the commandment to keep the Shabbat), and that the rest of the Law ended with Jesus (Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:19).
All this, I knew and it didn’t surprise me, but when he left Deuteronomy 5 and moved on to 1 Timothy 1, I was in for a surprise. I suppose I should insert the specific text for reference. Actually, it’s a little more than just verses eight through eleven.
As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
-1 Timothy 1:3-11 (NASB)
So the issue, as I’m reading it, was that Paul was relating to Timothy how in Ephesus some men were teaching “strange doctrines” that had to do with “myths” and “endless genealogies” and giving rise to “mere speculation”. Apparently, these guys wanted to be “teachers of the Law” but according to Paul, they didn’t know what they were talking about.
It would seem to indicate that these men weren’t Jewish since it would be fairly likely that Jewish teachers would have some idea of how to teach the relevant essentials of the Law (Torah) to newly minted Gentile disciples of the Master. I suppose the “endless genealogies” could be indicative of Judaism since we find numerous genealogies in the Torah and later, when the Apostolic Scriptures were canonized, we find that the genealogy of Jesus (Yeshua) is included and considered important in establishing his credentials as Messiah. But I hardly think that Paul would consider anything related to the Torah, including Jewish commentary on the scriptures, would qualify as “myth”. This is more reminiscent of how I have experienced, at different times over the past ten years or so, some non-Jewish teachers have rendered their interpretations of the Torah, and more than a few theories have been rather fanciful.
So what “strange doctrines” were the fellows Paul describes trying to pass off on the disciples in Ephesus?
In verse eight, Paul says that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” but while Pastor acknowledged the wordplay in Greek (“Law”, “lawfully”), he chose to translate the latter word as “properly”. Toward the end of his sermon, in his notes, he asked “What is the improper use of the law?”
One of the misuses, according to Pastor, is following speculations, controversies, and myths rather than “sound doctrine”. So who is engaging in these speculations, controversies and myths?
Although it would have been impossible for Paul to have meant this, Pastor is applying this “misuse of the Law” to Rabbinic Judaism with all their “man-made rules” (which most Rabbis consider the interpretation of the various mitzvot and their application across history and the differing requirements and circumstances that arise). He also cited the teachings of Seventh-Day Adventism as distracting from the doctrine that one is saved only through faith in Christ.
And then he mentioned Messianic Judaism as “speculative” and “controversial” with their proposition that a Jew can have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and still realize that the Sinai Covenant and its conditions, the statutes and laws of the Torah, remain obligatory for Jewish Jesus-believers.
I know all of the areas that Pastor and I disagree upon, but this is the first time, especially publicly, that he directly hammered on the theological and doctrinal platform which is the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.
Imagine being a Seventh-Day Adventist and listening to this part of the sermon. How would you feel? Or at different times, Pastor or others in the church have taken exception to Pentecostals, Catholics, and Mormons. Imagine being a member of one of those denominations or orientations and being a guest in Pastor’s church to listen to such sermons and teachings.
Like I said, my first impulse was to stand up and walk out. My second impulse was to wait until the sermon was over and then leave, skipping Sunday school.
I thought better of both actions and when I’m caught off guard, it’s usually a bad idea for me to go with the first thought that pops into my head.
So I’m writing about it instead.
I used the word Eisegesis in the title of this blog post, which is basically reading your theology and doctrine into the Biblical text, as opposed to Exegesis which is reading the Biblical text and allowing it to develop your theology and doctrine, and I never thought I’d say something like this about Randy.
Although we disagree on many things, I know that he’s an intelligent, well-educated and well-read, thoughtful, and honest researcher. I know, like most of us, that he comes from a particular theological tradition and that perspective colors how he reads the Bible. My perspective equally colors my interpretation of the Bible, and I don’t believe any human being can be perfectly objective, especially in the realm of religion.
However, I do believe that my theology is driven by a more straightforward view of what the Bible says and treats all of scripture as a single, unified document which doesn’t require suddenly “jumping the tracks” from one major version of God’s redemptive plan to another at Acts 2. But to equate Paul’s comments on speculations, controversies, and myths specifically to variants on religious Judaism, as well as a Christian denomination that is generally accepted by most other mainstream Christian denomination, is pure opinion and cannot be reasonably derived from the text.
I know that even Christians who say they love Jewish people and Israel, draw the line at Judaism as a religion, generally expressing at least some disdain at what is considered “the traditions of men” (and remember, it wasn’t that long ago in Church history when we were burning volumes of Talmud and calling said-volumes “obscene”), but I know that the “love” many Christians say they have for the Jews, once you throw religious Judaism into the mix, has a severe limitation.
I suppose this is just my opinion, but what if when Messiah returns, the way we will be worshiping and studying will be more like a Judaism than a Christianity? After all, “ekklesia” doesn’t mean “church”. I’ve written before that the word “church” didn’t come into existence for many centuries after the Bible was canonized.
Pastor himself said assembled Israel was referred to in Biblical Hebrew as “kahal” which is (interestingly enough) translated in the Septuagint as “synagogue”. The Apostolic Scriptures use the word “ekklesia” and they all (more or less) mean a gathering of people for a specific purpose.
I think it’s a shame that all English Bibles translate the word “ekklesia” as “church” not only because it’s anachronistic (although referring to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 5 as “synagogue” is as well) but because it sends the message that the Jews as Jews are out of the picture and replaced by Gentile (and Jewish) Christians.
Now to his credit, Pastor spent a significant amount of time saying that all of God’s promises to the Jewish people in the Bible are true and, if they aren’t, then we (Gentile) Christians have no assurance that God’s promises to us aren’t true as well (although all of God’s covenant promises are made with the House of Judah and the House of Israel…and only His covenant with Noah involves the rest of humanity…we’re just grafted into the blessings of the New Covenant).
But how can God’s promises to Israel all still be true if virtually all the conditions of the Sinai Covenant expired when Jesus died on the cross (something God never mentioned even once when He made the Sinai Covenant)? How can God’s promise that the Aaronic priesthood is an eternal covenant (Numbers 18:7) if, as Pastor says, the Priesthood of Melchizedek replaces the Aaronic? The Prophet Ezekiel says in no uncertain terms that the sons of Zadok, who are from the sons of Levi, will be the priests in the future Temple that will be built in Messianic times (Ezekiel 40:45-46).
It would be impossible for all of the Torah precepts except for the Ten Commandments to have ended permanently “at the cross.” If that were true, the Levitical priests in Ezekiel’s Temple wouldn’t know what to do with themselves since their duties are described down to the last detail only in the Torah.
That’s also why, when the New Covenant fully emerges into our world in Messianic Days, the Torah must continue as the conditions of that covenant, even as they remain the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, which is still incumbant on the Jewish people (including Messianic Jewish people) today.
Maybe in a later blog post, I’ll insert the diagram Pastor put in his sermon notes, which map the Ten Commandments to 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and which supposedly serve as proof of Pastor’s assertion that only the Ten Commandments survive out of the full body of laws given at Sinai. It is (again, this is all my opinion) wildly speculative to somehow read this portion of 1 Timothy and believe this is what Paul was presenting, rather than the Apostle writing to address a situational problem occurring at that point of time within the ekklesia at Ephesus.
Although his comments on Messianic Judaism were the real “capper” for me, I was still astonished with him explaining that the two greatest commandments we see Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:34-40 were “proof” that Jesus said only the Ten Commandments apply in Christianity (nevermind that Jesus was still alive so the Law hadn’t been “nailed to the cross” with him yet, that he was a Torah observant Jew, and that with rare exception, all of the people he spoke with and taught were Torah observant Jews) because the Ten Commandments can be divided into those laws that relate to God and man and those laws that relate to men and other men.
And yet, all of the 613 mitzvot can be divided into those two general groups, so Matthew 22:34-40 is not a good proof text to support Pastor’s assertion.
I know Pastor is well-educated in theology and I’m just an interested amateur, but I feel like I could walk through the gaping holes he left in his presentation.
I’m sorry, I really am. I know I’m probably going off half-cocked and I’m trying really hard not to let my feeling like my tail has been stepped on overwhelm my good sense, but it just seems fantastic to me that Pastor’s read on the Ten Commandments and especially his opinion on Messianic Judaism being a controversy and even a myth isn’t a projection of Christian traditions being read back into the Bible in order to support what he considers “sound doctrine”. It’s more like a defense against the idea that God really did make permanent covenants and that His promises actually do endure just as God uttered them and had recorded in the Bible. Pastor admits that the Jewish people will always be a nation before God, but he’s missing just how they’re supposed to remain recognizably and “covenantally” Jewish.
I inserted my Sunday school class notes above in part because they included a suggestion that disagreeing with church leadership is a bad thing. Am I being disobedient and prideful by disagreeing, especially so strongly, with the Pastor’s teachings? Is this my pride talking or am I allowed to have my own theological opinions independent of what’s being taught? God did make Randy the head Pastor of this church. He has authority over everyone who chooses to attend. Who am I to argue?
I stopped referring to Randy “my Pastor” when he called me on the fact that I disagree with him on almost everything. But why is it only “sound doctrine” when it’s stuff that he teaches based on the particular model of theology to which he subscribes? More than ever, I’m convinced that the Church teaches on principles that more resemble sound tradition. What one considers “sound” simply depends on what Christian traditions are employed to interpret scripture.
I don’t want to be prideful, disobedient, and arrogant, thinking I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Believe me, I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But what am I supposed to do, especially now, when I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner?
I used to worry that I’d never make any sort of impact in this church environment but now I’m worried I am making an impact, a bad one. If this is the result of my discussions about Torah and the Jewish people with Pastor in specific and with others more generally, then what a terrible thing I’ve done.
Oh, and yes, I plan to go back to church next week if for no other reason than because Pastor said that today’s and next week’s sermons are necessary to understand the foundation he’s putting down. He’ll be speaking on Galatians 3 next week. Oy.