Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin

clinging_to_torahLook up Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 as just a few of the many examples of how the Torah was upheld, esteemed, thought beautiful, a source of wisdom, on, and on, and on, how wonderful the Law of Moses was.

How did it get morphed in the late Second Temple period to be such a pain in the neck for the Jewish people?

-from my previous blog post
Blessings, Curses, and Works of the Law

When I wrote those words, I was unaware that Question 13 of Schreiner’s book was titled “How Do Paul’s Negative Comments About the Law Fit with the Positive Statements About the Law in Psalm 19 and Psalm 119”. Before going on to that part of the book, let’s take a look at some revealing portions of the two Psalms in question.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:7-14 (NASB)

I included the part where the Psalmist prays that God keep him from his presumptuous sins and so forth, since that plays into Schreiner’s answer.

My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.
I have told of my ways, and You have answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.

Psalm 119:25-27 (NASB)

This is a very long Psalm, so I’ll only include this short sample here, but you should really read it, if you haven’t already. It’s a virtual monument to the wonders of the Torah. I find it very refreshing.

So how does Schreiner respond to his own question?

Despite the initial appearance to the contrary, the psalmist does not contradict what we find in Paul. The writer of Psalm 119 recognizes that the power to keep God’s precepts comes from God. Autonomous human beings are unable to please God or keep his law (cf. Rom. 8:7). For instance, we read in Psalm 119:159, “Give me according to your steadfast love.” Life comes from God’s steadfast love, that is, from his grace and mercy. Human beings do not merit or gain life by observing the law.

Schreiner, pp 85-6

I don’t know why Schreiner continues to beat a dead horse except that it sounds good, but who said that just keeping the commandments apart from God’s mercy and grace grants life? I don’t see a lack of faith in either Psalm and frankly, I see these Psalms heaping gratitude and thanks upon God for all his gifts including His written word. Even John MacArthur, as I previously noted, cites Psalm 19 as an example and an inspiration for Christians to love and revere the Bible. Schreiner seems to need to denigrate and discount any positive depiction of Torah in the Bible in order to support his belief of Jesus totally killing the Torah at the cross and then appointing Paul as his head henchman, making him responsible for burying it.

Schreiner’s answer to his question is never convincing, but his summary puts the icing on the cake:

Paul’s negative statements on the law do not contradict Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. Paul emphasizes that the law puts human beings to death and never grants life to those who are unregenerate. Psalms 19 and 119 consider the situation of those who are regenerate. In that case, God’s commands by the work of his Spirit cast believers onto the grace of God, and God uses the commandments in conjunction with his Spirit to strengthen believer so that they rely upon God’s grace to please him.

ibid, pp 86-7

Schreiner just shot himself in the foot, maybe more than once.

simhat-torahFirst off, he’s making an assumption that the Psalmist(s) is/are regenerate. Here, we could accuse Schreiner of eisegesis, that is, he’s reading his theology into the text in order to support his conclusions about Paul. Also, in constructing a rather convoluted explanation for how Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 don’t contradict Schreiner’s version of Paul, he seems to have forgotten about Occam’s Razor (not that this principle must always be applied to Biblical hermeneutics, but you can get just about any collection of contradictory data to “fit” if you weave a complicated enough tale).

However, Schreiner has a much bigger problem. He contradicted himself. He said that it was possible for Old Testament Jewish people to be regenerate, to receive the Holy Spirit, and through faith and God’s mercy and grace, perform the commandments of the law in such a way that it is pleasing to God.

But what about this?

The purpose of the law is to reveal human sin so that it will be clear that there is no hope in human beings. The law puts us to death so that life is sought only in Christ and him crucified.

Schreiner, pg 84
Question 12: According to Paul, What Was the Purpose of the Law?

I find Schreiner’s summary statement of his short chapter offensive because it discounts the lives and experiences of countless generations of Israelites, whose only purpose in life were to be human failures so that, once Jesus was born, aged a little past thirty, died, was resurrected, and ascended, that subsequent Jews and non-Jews could realize the futility of trying to please God by “works” and turn to Jesus and his grace.

Poor Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, Solomon, and so on. They didn’t know their existence was meaningless and that they were just fodder to prove what worthless lives they led without Jesus, having to rely on a law that only increases sin and brings death.

As my Jewish wife might say, “Oy!”

That’s right, according to Schreiner, citing Romans 5:20, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass.” (pg 81) He further states, “Nevertheless, the law has been co-opted by sin, so that sin has increased with the addition of law.” (pp 81-2)

I wonder when that happened?

If one looks at God’s transcendent purpose, then, the law was given to increase sin and reveal sin…Even though the Jews enjoyed the privilege of knowing God’s law, the privilege brought no saving advantage since Israel transgressed the law. The law did not secure Israel’s salvation, but revealed her transgression and her hard and unrepentant heart. The law has disclosed that none is righteous…

-ibid

Really, Dr. Schreiner. You can’t have it both ways and you can’t dance on the edge of a razor hoping that your readers won’t notice. Also, and I’ve said this several times before, it was never a function of the law to secure salvation, so this is a straw man argument.

Schreiner, like many Christians, seems to be so focused on salvation, he believes that everything must be directly related to salvation or it has no purpose in God’s plan at all. He says that no one can keep the law perfectly or even adequately. He says that the sole reason for the law’s existence is to reveal man’s sinfulness in general and Israel’s sinfulness in specific. Further, he says that the purpose of the law was to actually increase sin in anyone attempting to keep it.

And yet, the writer(s) of Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 was/were apparently completely fooled.

And what about this?

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

levitesHow can this even be possible, especially from Schreiner’s perspective? And yet it’s right there in scripture. Zacharias was obviously not a perfect person. In verse 20, the angel Gabriel causes Zacharias to become mute because he doubted the angel’s prophesy that he and his wife would have a son in their extreme old age. So Zacharias wasn’t perfect and yet he and his wife “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

Schreiner is good about citing his sources and drawing from many different slices of the Bible to support his arguments, but he can’t fix the glaring inconsistencies that he chooses to ignore.

How can the law be good but Paul still seemingly denigrates it? How can a Psalmist love the Torah if it only increases sin and produces death? How can the keeping of the law be pleasing to God by a “regenerate” Psalmist, but impossible for anyone to keep, even the Jewish disciples of the Messiah, in the late Second Temple period?

I know Schreiner is attempting to craft a completely seamless and cohesive explanation that supports his view of the elimination of any value to the law, both in the Old Testament times and especially after the death of Jesus on the cross. This is classic Christian doctrine and has been used for countless centuries to support a supersessionist and anti-Jewish theology in the church.

However, the theological hoops this author and scholar has to jump through to prove his case are so vastly complex that it stretches credibility to the breaking point and beyond.

I’ll certainly continue to read this book to its conclusion, but I can’t imagine how Schreiner will pull the proverbial rabbit out of his hat in order to repair the damage he’s already done to his argument and his book.

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16 thoughts on “Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin”

  1. You’ve mentioned that Schreiner has focused on salvation; but there is another consideration that you haven’t yet touched on, which hinges on the very definition of “salvation”. You see, the word can refer to an immediate rescue from a life-threatening situation, or it can refer to a long-term redemption of life overall. The Torah actually does offer salvation in the latter sense, though some would prefer to use the word sanctification for that purpose, for those who like the Psalmist are rendered “blameless” and “acquitted of great transgression”. Of course, one may argue rightly that it is rather the trusting response to Torah and its Author HaShem that yields this abundant life, but should we quibble over whether it is the altar itself or the gold upon the altar that validates the offering? The emphasis in the apostolic writings is upon the exercise of trust, in order to combat the error that it is the mere legality of behavior that is effective; thus we find statements therein that law of itself cannot bring life.

  2. James: You have found the very reason to stop reading “classic Christian theology” books. I stopped reading them three years ago. Once you have found the correct context required to really understand Yeshua’s message and thus the Scriptures message as well, it is a waste of time, trying to argue with people who have already made a commitment with their theology. As the Master said: “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” Luke 5:37:39 Be thankful James, that you have a heart that resembles a new bottle. I surely am thankful to God.

  3. The emphasis in the apostolic writings is upon the exercise of trust, in order to combat the error that it is the mere legality of behavior that is effective; thus we find statements therein that law of itself cannot bring life.

    I think post-Biblical Christian theologians, in their attempt to separate their faith from Judaism, split trust and obedience into separate components so that trust was considered of higher value than obedience. Then they were made to be seen as almost mutually exclusive. Originally, as we see in some of the psalms, the two concepts were fused. If one had faith and trust, that led so obviously to obedience that they didn’t have to be defined separately.

    The only time when God brought it up through one of the prophets, is when Israel was offering sacrifices without sincerity and also worshiping other gods, such as Isaiah 1:12-15 states.

    You have found the very reason to stop reading “classic Christian theology” books. I stopped reading them three years ago.

    I sort of asked for this one because of my weekly discussions with my Pastor. If I’m going to present him with books or recommend reading to him, it’s only fair that I read books he recommends to understand his perspective.

  4. I concur with Alfredo!!! This is the very reason why I severely limited my own exposure to ‘classic Christian theology.’ It is maddening to do the mental gymnastics that are performed for the sole purpose of denigrating or ignoring the very Torah that is ‘holy,’ ‘just,’ ‘good’ etc to use Rav Shaul’s terms!!

    In dealing with your pastor, you have to make him explain how Torah became bad/curse/etc… Use Schreiner’s words against him and your pastor. Demonstrate exactly what you show here. Schreiner is using a strawman argument that is not in Scripture, rather it is from warped 3rd and 4th century roots that intentionally set out to separate gentile believers in Moshiach from their Jewish root.

    A friend of mine is writing a paper right now using quotes from Calvin, Luther, and Wycliffe to demonstrate that they teach exactly the opposite of what clear Scripture says. And, he is finding the same thing you just wrote. They have to continually contradict themselves to get where they want to go, which is to denigrate the Torah.

    Demonstrate that Shaul kept Torah. Mess with pastor’s theology by demonstrating that Shaul offered sacrifices. (‘Oh, that’s ‘cuz he was a Jew practicing Tradition…’) Okay, Zechariah 14:21, the nations will bring sacrifices! (Oh, that is the millennial reign when God deals with Israel… The church is gone.’) Okay, Ezekiel 37:24-28… THE good Shepherd is King over them, teaching Torah, IN the land, FOREVER! Where are the christians and their ‘Jesus’ now? (Him… Uh… but, but, but…) Yeah, that’s what I thought. Your theology does not match Scripture.

    Ultimately, pastor has to have a paradigm shift wherein he acknowledges that the Torah is what will be written on our hearts and therefore has not been ‘done away with.’

    /soapbox.

    Praying for you. Patience and love, but Words that divide false theology from TRUTH.

    Shalom.

  5. In dealing with your pastor, you have to make him explain how Torah became bad/curse/etc… Use Schreiner’s words against him and your pastor.

    Ultimately, pastor has to have a paradigm shift wherein he acknowledges that the Torah is what will be written on our hearts and therefore has not been ‘done away with.’

    Whoa there, Pete. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but we meet to have discussions, not go to war. Two people can disagree about something and still not become combative over it. Also, Pastor reads all of my blog posts, so he knows what I think every day.

    As far as what Pastor has to do or doesn’t have to do, that’s up to God, not me. We have a relationship that’s based on “iron sharpening iron” and we are both edified through the process. I’m not fighting a “holy war,” I’m sharing who I am and hopefully, what God wants me to share.

    Truth is from God. We are all seeking it from Him.

    Thanks for the prayers, Pete.

  6. I understand what you are saying, and the discussion can be had in love, but as I said, at the end of the day it will require a paradigm shift that, as you say, only the Father can give. I’ve been through spirited debates with pastors that have lasted more than five hours… I remember one where the pastor’s wife sent cheese and crackers to the porch because we blew through lunch by a couple hours! Friendly, but spirited. At the end he told me I took Scripture “too seriously!!” And, didn’t take the commentaries “serious enough.”

    Yes, I am enthusiastic, but I am also a recovering seminary trained pastor and I know first hand where your pastor is coming from. The inculcation is far deeper than we can imagine.

    You had a chart up last week of denominations; the points that divide are most often the doctrines of men derived from partial or incorrect application of Scripture. The Achilles heel for Baptists is their (false) doctrine called Dispensationalism. See: http://119ministries.com/videoteachings.aspx?viewcontentpageguid=475d6659-8b62-499a-b0a3-f6754f64286e&parentnavigationid=28668

    When I say ‘make him explain’ I mean, find the questions he can’t answer and keep bringing them back to the forefront. Classic example is this blog post. Schreiner has to be shown Scripture over and over demonstrating that his view of the Torah violates the Scripture he claims to revere.

    Don’t go to war, but do NOT be soft on him, either.

    “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” That verse shook me to the very core when I finally understood that I, I!! was teaching others to annul many commandments, contrary to the direct teaching of Y’shua!

    I hope he reads this… LOL!! ;o) (If he wants to know what I think… natsab… LOL!!) Okay, I’m totally laughing, now.

    Shalom!

  7. I have to say that my Pastor takes scripture very seriously. I see our conversation as a learning experience taking place between two human beings who have different perspectives on the Bible, God, and Messiah. In some ways, we are both very unique in our backgrounds. I don’t think that we’re “soft” on each other. We’re learning from each other. In fact, since our conversations began, a lot of what I write about comes out of my internal processing of those transactions.

    I’ll trust God to guide our words and our steps. I’m not here to beat anyone over the head with a Torah scroll. I’m just here to open it.

  8. Jame, you said “…he can’t fix the glaring inconsistencies that he chooses to ignore.”

    That practice is the foundation of most of man’s theologies: the ability to ignore the parts of scripture that contradict a favoured theological stance.

  9. @James, @Pete, @PL and @Onesimus : I wonder, which is the best way (or example to use) to tell people that it is so important to use the proper context when reading the Scriptures.

    What is(are) the main passage(s) would you use to tell people that a big misunderstanding occurs when read using a “21st Century Western Culture” mind and how that(those) same passage(s) is(are) clearly explained when it(they) is(are) read using a “1st Century Hebrew Culture” mind?

  10. @ Alfredo,

    There are many, but most that come to mind require some ‘splaining.

    Perhaps the easiest that sticks a dagger in the heart of the ‘crucified on Friday’ falsehood is John 19:31 and explaining ‘High Sabbath’ followed by Mark 16:1 with the women buying spices after the Sabbath but before going to the tomb to discover the resurrection…

    Another question raiser is Acts 21:26… Paul offering sacrifices in the Temple… confirmed by 24:17.

    My goal is to just pry the lid off the can of worms. If the Ruach is working in them, the rest, as they say, is history.

  11. I can’t think of a short way of saying it. Trying to understand a few sentences of scripture without understanding the original language, intent, and context in which they were written would be like walking into the middle of a movie, watching two minutes of the story, and then walking out again. Would those two minutes give you any idea of what the movie was about? In most cases probably not. The same with taking scripture out of context.

    There are men and women who spend all their lives studying the Bible, learning Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, studying the ancient cultural norms, the history, the geography, just to be prepared to understand the context in which certain books of the Bible were written. Without that context, you can’t even begin to scratch the surface.

  12. You’re quite right, of course, that “[t]here are men and women who spend all their lives studying the Bible, learning Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, studying the ancient cultural norms, the history, the geography, just to be prepared to understand the context in which certain books of the Bible were written.” Regrettably, many of them still don’t seem to “get it”, and they write books like Schreiner’s. And then there is the problem of identifying books (or blog posts) written by those who do “get it”, and who can communicate it succinctly to others, that might allow these others who have not the skills or time to devote to such pursuits to “stand on the shoulders of giants” as they lift their eyes heavenward. Nonetheless, this perspective can be daunting to those who wish to simply read their bible and glean from it the knowledge therein.

    It seems that perhaps some improvements to the “educational system” are needed, including guided self-study as well as formal instruction, and including curriculum maps to help a learner identify and assess where they are and how they might proceed. Can you imagine a multiple-choice questionnaire whose answers are not so much an evaluation of right or wrong but are rather pointers toward topics requiring further study or even specific materials to read? An on-line version might hyperlink directly to suitable articles, papers, e-books, videos, et al. Of course, someone (probably many someones) would need to formulate such assessment questionnaires at various levels and from various perspectives, and extract suitable learning materials from scholarly sources to provide linkable documents that answer selected questions and suggest further reading or link to additional questionnaires. As a systems engineer, I can envision developing the requirements and structure of such an educational system. As a life-long learner who has become reasonably well acquainted with Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Bible, and Jewish studies (among other miscellany), I can envision some of the curriculum. Now, an encyclopedic project of this sort would also require a financier, a project manager, various technical people, some education specialists, and numerous consultants (including rabbis in particular). I wonder how FFOZ put together their program of elementary-level video presentations? It seems like a step in a good direction, though addressing a particular audience and demographic.

  13. An important issue of understanding scripture is whether God wants us to understand and if so what does HE do (or what has He DONE) to help our understanding.

  14. I wonder how FFOZ put together their program of elementary-level video presentations? It seems like a step in a good direction, though addressing a particular audience and demographic.

    You bring up good points, PL. Any religious training or educational institute I’ve ever heard of has some sort of bias in which it leans. Among Christian universities and colleges, they almost always have a denominational perspective. You could even say that those few Messianic Jewish schools out there have a bias. No one seems to teach the way you describe.

    As far as FFOZ’s video program, I could only suggest emailing them and seeing how they went about it.

    An important issue of understanding scripture is whether God wants us to understand and if so what does HE do (or what has He DONE) to help our understanding.

    There’s one God who has sent one Spirit to assist humanity in understanding one Bible, and yet we still have multiple conceptual frameworks. Human beings are obviously the weak link in God’s transmission of data, Tim.

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