Christians often wonder if the Old Testament saints are “saved.” Have you ever heard that question? It’s problematic. Like most of these questions, the person asking it usually does not know what he means by it. What the person probably thinks he means is this: “Did Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Isaiah, and others go to heaven when they died?” What they are trying to ask is this: “Did the divine souls of the men of faith who lived prior to the atoning death of the Messiah find repose in paradise while they await resurrection? Will those men and women who did not confess the name of Yeshua attain the resurrection?”
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sermon Thirteen: Abraham’s Gospel (Galatians 3:8-9),” pg 131
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
As many of you know, I previously started going through this book with My Pastor on Wednesday nights starting many months ago, debating our different viewpoints on Lancaster’s take on one of Paul’s most well-known epistles. This is the letter that Christianity most often uses to prove that Paul preached against the Law of Moses for both Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, that take on Paul, especially relative to his behavior in the latter chapters of Acts, makes him seem like a liar and a hypocrite. Interestingly enough, most Christians and most Jews believe that Paul really was a traitor to Judaism, the Temple, and the Torah, and that he took the teachings of Jesus and morphed them into a brand-new religion: Christianity.
If he had done that, then how can we possibly trust the teachings of such a disreputable fellow? Most of our New Testament would be a fabric of lies and half-truths, not the inspired Word of God. Christianity would be a farce. But nearly twenty centuries of post Biblical Christian doctrine have spun this interpretation so that Paul comes out smelling like a rose. Not so the Jewish people and Judaism, however, who for that same amount of time, have played the villain in the tale of the rise of the Gentile Church.
What Lancaster is attempting to do with this landmark book from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), based on his original sermon series, is to recast Paul in the role of the apostle to the Gentiles who remained zealous for the Torah, zealous for the Temple, even as he was zealous for the Messiah. Paul is not the liar and hypocrite but the misunderstood hero of the early Messianic movement, trying by long distance correspondence, to hold together a fragile string of communities of Messiah-faith scattered across the diaspora.
I wrote my original review of Lancaster’s book back in 2011 when the book was published, and since then, I wrote a short series of commentaries based on my conversations on Lancaster with my Pastor, but I haven’t completely read through the book again before now.
A number of weeks ago, my Pastor and I agreed to pursue other topics in our discussions, having hit a rather firm impasse on whether or not Jewish Torah observance was intended to continue on this side of the cross (you can surely guess my position in this matter). He subsequently said he’d be willing to continue our discussions on Lancaster, but I’m convinced at this point that each of us are well entrenched in our perspectives to the point where the conversation would only serve to frustrate both of us. I want my time with my Pastor to be productive, illuminating, and in service to God, not a once-a-week head-banging-against-brick-wall session.
Having made that decision, I decided to pick up in the book where Pastor and I had left off and go through it again. I’m not going to rehash all of the content but I want to post a few highlights that probably didn’t occur to me before.
Actually, a few months back, after reading A Torah-Positive Summary of Sha’ul’s Letter to the Galatians written by Ariel Berkowitz and published at MessianicPublications.com (I don’t agree with their general premise on Gentiles and the Torah, but I found the Berkowitz paper worthwhile), I revisited relevant sections of Lancaster’s book and “re-reviewed” them in comparison to Berkowitz.
My comparison of Berkowitz and Lancaster on the “Torah-Positive Paul” is chronicled in Nitzvaim-Vayelech: The Torah of Paul. Commentary on Paul’s Hagar and Sarah midrash (Galatians 4:21-31) can be found in Paul’s Hagar and Sarah Midrash. My last contrasting of Berkowitz and Lancaster on the matter of circumcision and uncircumcision (Galatians 5:1-6) can be read in Abraham, Paul, Circumcision, and Galatians. I also wrote a separate commentary on the same subject in If Paul Had Circumcised Gentiles.
Now that I’ve covered all that territory, what is there left to talk about?
But that theory does not seem credible. To be fair, God must have done so for all his people for all of the years up until the death and resurrection of Yeshua. And if that is the case, why did he stop doing so in the generation of Messiah? When did he stop doing so? Another way of putting this: “In the Old Testament times, God had some different means of bringing people to salvation, and it worked up until the death of Messiah, at which point people now need to believe in Yeshua. If so, that makes the “good news” actually “bad news” because, prior to the coming of Messiah, Jews received a special revelation from God, but now God has cancelled that program and that is why Jewish people are not believers in Yeshua. That’s a bad deal for Jews.
-Lancaster, pg 132
In order for the traditional Christian view of salvation to be correct, God had to change the rules, rather dramatically too, and cause the course of Biblical history and His own plan to “jump the tracks,” so to speak, and take an entirely different direction. For thousands of years, Jewish faith and devotion to Hashem, God of Heaven, Savior of Israel, and walking in obedience to His statues, was sufficient to ensure God’s continued love and a place in the World to Come for all faithful Jews. Now, something has changed and the focus of faith has shifted from God (the Father) to Jesus (the Son).
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all nations be blessed.”
Lancaster supports the idea of progressive revelation, the idea that more and more information is revealed to humanity by God as time goes on. Abraham didn’t know as much as Jacob, Jacob didn’t know as much as Joseph, Joseph didn’t know as much as Moses, and so on. Put that way, I can see the point, but that continual process of God’s revelation to people can’t result in God saying something later that directly (or even indirectly) contradicts what He said earlier. If God said that the Sabbath is an eternal covenant between God and the Children of Israel, and a sign forever, then no later revelation can turn what God said was “eternal” and “forever” into “temporary” with an expiration date stamped on it in invisible ink.
I think we can find the clue to answering the dilemma of whether or not ancient Israel was “saved” in Paul’s Hagar and Sarah midrash. The later covenant cannot take the place of the earlier covenant, and so it is between the Abrahamic promise and Sinai. Faith was always the “mechanism” by which Israel, and later the rest of us, was saved, not obedience to the Torah mitzvot.
But why the shift from God (the Father) to Jesus (the Son)? Jesus only said “No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) not “You must come to me and not the Father.” Galatians 3:8 is the link between faith and Messiah, the blessing to the nations, and ultimately, the fulfillment of Israel’s national as well as personal redemption. Devotion to Messiah King is the “doorway” by which we are all ushered into the presence of God, always by faith, not who we are or what we do.
This is actually the whole point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. No one is justified by their ethnicity or their behavior, but by faith in God by the “merit” of Messiah Yeshua. Faith is the ultimate common denominator between all human beings, Jews and Gentiles alike.
So if the Jewish people were always saved by a faith like Abraham’s, then so too are the Gentiles by being grafted into the Abrahamic (but not Mosaic) blessings of the “good news” as we see in the aforementioned Galatians 3:8. Everything else promised to Abraham by God flows through the descendents of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and ultimately Israel’s children, the twelve tribes, on down through the Jewish people, but faith is the one promise we can all apprehend. Lancaster calls it “Abraham’s Gospel” since after all “gospel” just means “good news” and is an Old Testament concept, not a New Testament invention.
Abraham may not have fully understood all of the implications of his seed being a blessing to all nations, but nothing God promised Abraham had to be contradicted or nullified by later revelations. This is why, if Paul and Galatians seem to contradict earlier promises and prophecies of God, then the fault can’t be Paul or the Bible or God, but our incorrect interpretations, which have historically been driven by anti-Semitic and supersessionistic teachings of the Church designed to separate Christianity and Judaism since the earliest days of the Gentile Church. Even when many Christians are no longer seeing themselves as replacements of the Jewish people in God’s covenant promises, the foundation of those ancient anti-Jewish doctrines still color our perceptions.
That’s why it’s important for us to read men like Lancaster and to take the “risk” of adjusting or even changing the lens by which we view the apostle Paul.
Paul knew that the ignorant and unstable would twist his words to their own destruction. He knew that some would take his declarations about Gentiles “not under the law” as a license for sin. Therefore, he warned his readers, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
“Sermon Twenty-Five: Torah of Messiah,” pg 266
I chose to read that statement differently than Lancaster (and Paul) intended. I don’t think you have to be ignorant and unstable to misunderstand Paul. I think you can even be intelligent, well-educated, and well-meaning, and still let historically established religious tradition color Paul’s writing. It’s probably impossible to read the Bible without having some sort of interpretive filter between you and the text. That’s just as true with the perspectives of the various “flavors” of Messianic Judaism as it is for the different branches of Hebrew Roots and all the different denominations of the Christian Church. The trick is to find a perspective that brings you the closest to the original intent of the writer and how the intended audience would have heard those words. That’s why I think a Jewish or Hebraic perspective is necessary for us to understand Jewish and Hebraic writers, writings, and audiences.
I know my opinion on Galatians is in the minority, but I think Christianity and Judaism have both gotten Paul all wrong for nearly two-thousand years. I think Lancaster and this book is one effort to try to correct centuries of error.
In re-reading D. Thomas Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, I find it more illuminating than my first pass-through, probably because I’ve continued to study and learn over the past two years, and my discussions with my Pastor have forced me to hone my interpretive skills. I don’t think the book is perfect and in fact, there are a number of points Lancaster makes I don’t agree with (cheeky of me, I know). I think the letter still works if it is addressed to both Jews and Gentiles in the faith communities in Galatia. I think his explanation, as you can read elsewhere, on the Hagar and Sarah metaphor was overly complicated and addressed a different audience than Lancaster surmises.
But, in the majority of his general perspective, I agree with Lancaster. Paul was not nullifying the Torah of Moses. He was explaining to the Gentile believers that conversion to Judaism and full Torah obedience was not a requirement for salvation. He was also explaining to people born Jewish and to righteous converts that neither being ethnically Jewish or being a convert conveyed salvation. Taking on the full yoke of Torah as a Jew does not justify anyone before God. You can’t do enough for God to buy your way into reconciliation. Only faith like Abraham’s does that.
Jews should remain Jews and observe the Torah, for no later covenant, as Paul stated, invalidates the earlier ones. Sinai did not undo Abraham, and the New Covenant, for a Jew, does not undo Sinai. Jewish observance of Sinai is in effect because a Newer Covenant cannot take the place of an older one, it can only ratify it. That’s why we Gentiles don’t have to convert to Judaism and observe the Torah: because Sinai’s Torah did not undo Abraham’s faith. And the New Covenant, in spite of how it is seen in the Church, is generally a repetition of all the previous covenants with some portions being amplified.
After two years, I continue to recommend Lancaster’s Galatians book which is available in hardcopy from First Fruits of Zion and in hardcopy or kindle versions from Amazon (and by the way, the reviews for this book at Amazon are excellent).