Bible

Should We Get Rid of Paul?

From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:17-24 (NRSV)

Pastor Randy’s sermon today (it’s Sunday afternoon as I write this) had some very nice things to say about Paul. This isn’t surprising, since we’ve been studying Paul’s life and activities as an Apostle to the Gentiles and as a role model for Christians, and especially for missionaries, in the Church today.

But Paul has been on my mind lately. This is sort of a “part 2” to my previous blog post Questioning Paul. While Paul’s teachings as we have them in Luke’s Book of Acts and in many of the Epistles are well accepted by the Church, since after all, these sources are part of our Biblical canon, not everyone sees Paul as a beneficial influence. In fact, he’s a big problem to almost everyone else outside of the normative Church who cares about his impact on Christianity, Judaism, and the world beyond.

As you recall from prior blog posts, I’d been having an email conversation with a Jewish friend of mine about Paul and how my friend believes the Epistles show Paul to be an arrogant, anti-Law Apostle, possibly a convert to Judaism, and certainly a traitor to the Jewish people, to the Torah, and to the Temple.

I posted this link to my review of the second lecture in D. T. Lancaster’s five-part series What About The New Covenant into a closed group on Google+. I got another perspective on Paul from a person who replied with the following comments (edited for context):

OK, please post supporting OT scripture or where Yeshua said this was so, not Paul’s rabbinical commentary of OT scripture. Let’s stick to the source.

I look at the writings of Paul as for (sic) what they are, they ARE commentary on what is already written. If they add to or remove from what is written in the Tanach, then they are false. They HAVE to agree, plain and simple.

In other words, Paul’s letters (and probably the Book of Acts as well as epistles written by other apostles) are mere commentary and not on the same level as the Torah, Prophets, Writings (Tanakh or Old Testament), and Gospels. We are free to disregard Paul whenever we perceive that Paul is in contradiction with the Tanakh or the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospel accounts.

So let’s review the three positions we have on Paul so far:

  • Christians accept Luke’s Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul as Biblical canon and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, just like the other books in the Bible.
  • Generally, Jewish people do not accept any of the writings in the part of the Christian Bible from Matthew through Revelation, and my friend suggests that I consider the Epistles more “authentic” because they are Paul’s own words and reveal him to be anti-Judaism, anti-Jewish people, and anti-Torah, thus in conflict with the Tanakh.
  • At least one representative of the Hebrew Roots “One Law” movement, accepts Paul’s letters as an authentic part of the Bible, but only at the level of Torah commentary, much like how Christians consider portions of Talmud, thus whenever Paul seems to contradict the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, the Tanakh must be right and Paul must be wrong.

hebrews_letterI haven’t spoken of this on my blog, though I have in more private conversations, but I remember, I think it was back in 2005, when a fellow named Monte Judah, who is the head of an organization called Lion and Lamb Ministries, publicly came out and said that the Book of Hebrews should not be part of Biblical canon. His article is rather lengthy, so I won’t attempt to analyze it or quote from it here, but the problem he produced then in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish worlds is the problem I seem to be experiencing: can we “adjust” Biblical canon to eliminate or minimize portions of scripture we find are a “problem?”

Of course, from my Jewish friend’s perspective (as a non-believer), there’s no issue since nothing in the New Testament is considered the Bible, thus Paul should be a “non-event.” Paul, or at least how he’s been traditionally interpreted, is only an issue to the degree that his writings have been used by the Church for nearly two-thousand years, to at best marginalize the Jewish people, and at worst to exterminate them.

This isn’t the Paul that I know, who would take any risk and suffer anything for the sake of his Jewish brothers and sisters:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NRSV)

But even here, the letter picking up at verse 6 seems to see Paul damning those he just praised. Paul appears to be a maddening contradiction, at once praising the Jewish people and denigrating them; at once saying how lovely the Torah is and also how it is the way of death. They can’t both be right. Either Paul was hopelessly double-minded or we’re missing something.

Mauck
John Mauck

Men like John Mauck, Mark Nanos, and Scot McKnight have been trying to interpret Paul in a way that actually makes sense and doesn’t violate God’s intent toward the Jewish people or break God’s prior covenants with them as we see in the Tanakh, but it’s an uphill battle. Both Christianity and Judaism see Paul in fundamentally the same way, a man who walked away from Judaism and, based on the teachings of Jesus, created a brand-new faith for non-Jewish people that Jews could only join by abandoning their Jewish birthright.

For at least a few in the Hebrew Roots movement, the answer to Paul is to downgrade him from scripture writer to Bible commentator whereby he “merely” is interpreting older scripture without adding to canon as such. Again, I can only assume that the other epistles and Luke’s Acts are also relegated to the status of commentary (which doesn’t make them scripture at all) and only the Gospels (and John’s Revelation?) are the real, authentic Word of God we find post-Tanakh.

Paul is a lightning rod of controversy because of the apparent contradictions in his writings and the “weirdness” of having letters included as part of our Bible. On the other hand, Revelation 2 and 3 record Messiah’s personal correspondence to seven diaspora churches, so Jesus himself creates a wrinkle in the fabric of what we consider scriptural writings.

How are we to evaluate canon? Who is qualified, competent, and has the authority (which presumably would have to come from God) to change the Bible we have today? Who has the right to subtract entire books from the Bible or even a paragraph, a sentence, a word, or a letter?

Certainly not me.

You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Deuteronomy 4:2 (NRSV)

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Galatians 1:8-9 (NRSV)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Revelation 22:18-19 (NRSV)

Admittedly, I’m taking these verses out of context and I can’t say that they present a blanket statement that covers the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation (though they do seem to cover the Torah, the Gospel as presented in the context of Paul’s Galatians letter, and Revelation), but they do indicate that it is a dangerous thing to play fast and loose with the contents of the Bible. I mean, we already play around a lot with the context of the Bible, with how we choose to interpret it, with how we decide what it means, but once we think we’re all big and bad enough to decide as individuals or groups, that we can put this part in the Bible and take another part out, we might as well resolve to meet our demise in the manner of Nadab and Abihu.

nadab-abihu-fireOne does not treat a consuming fire lightly.

My answer is that we have no sound basis for changing the contents of the Bible, which for better or worse, has been part of our religious canon for almost twenty centuries as far as the Apostolic Writings go, and the rest of the Bible, a good deal longer.

The Bible is what it is. We either learn to live with it and try to learn from it, or we admit defeat by either blindly trusting what leaders and experts tell us it means, or give up our faith altogether, or as much of it as is based on the Bible. If we love the Tanakh but don’t trust the Apostolic Writings, we Gentiles, by definition, must abandon Jesus and convert to Judaism (or alternately become Noahides). This could include even those who feel comfortable readjusting the level of Paul’s importance and authority as a Bible author, for once you start questioning Paul, how much “Christianity” do you have left?

As a disciple of my Master, the only reasonable choice I have is to believe that all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells a single story about God and Israel and what that story means about the people of the nations. I have to believe, even though there seems to be different messages from and about Paul in Acts and in the Epistles, that there is an internally consistent Paul who believed one thing, was on a single mission, and who was always faithful to God, the Master, the Torah, the Temple, and the Jewish people.

Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”

Acts 28:17-20 (NRSV)

This is only one time when Paul defends himself against the false charges of teaching Jews against following the Torah of Moses (see Acts 21:21-24, 24:10-21, 25:10, and 26:22-23 for other portions of Paul’s testimony). If Paul is telling the truth, and I believe he must be (for why would he suffer such terrible persecution including beatings, stonings, and other hardships just to lie in order to get out of punishment now) then we must be reading wrong those portions of his letters that seem to indicate that Paul had a low (or no) view of the Torah.

I know I’m probably pinning a lot of my hopes for understanding the Apostle to the Gentiles on the scholars of the New Perspective on Paul, but I really don’t think there’s another reasonable option. Given everything I’ve said up to this point, the only answer to this conundrum is that our interpretation of Paul, the Church’s traditional, historical interpretation of Paul, is faulty, due either to an early second and third century misunderstanding, or to a deliberate “massaging” of the text in an attempt to make Paul fit an anti-Jewish paradigm.

Tinkering with Biblical canon in any way isn’t an option and frankly, I think you’d have to be pretty “nervy” to even suggest it. The Bible is what it is. Now, the challenge is to discover the identity of the real, consistent, sane, Pharisee and observant Jew who we call the Apostle Paul.

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27 thoughts on “Should We Get Rid of Paul?”

  1. Perhaps I over simplify Paul, but in doing so, I find his writing to be fairly straight forward.

    His teaching, to me, can always be summarized into a simple message: “The law is not designed to earn your way to righteousness. Loving faith is your only hope to find God’s favor.” {quoting my own thought}

    I am teaching a Sunday morning study on Galatians, from the perspective that Paul did NOT attempt the Torah. I attend a Baptist church in a very small town, and many of the regular attenders grew up Lutheran or Catholic through their parents, and chose to leave those respective organizations for various reasons.

    I used this analogy yesterday to help others understand my perspective on Paul.

    “How many of you were taught that baptism was key to salvation?” {3/4 of the hands went up}

    “Is baptism the key to salvation?” {rhetorical question for baptists, but all said no, and even two told brief stories of when they realized in scripture that they had felt misled}

    “If baptism is not the key to salvation, then wouldn’t that make baptism not relevant or important, and even a bad thing to observe at all in case we screw it up somehow?” {uncomfortable silence}

    “My point with Paul is that he lived in a culture, grew up in a culture, learned under a master rabbi, and was convinced that following the law was salvation. When he realized that was not the key to salvation, he did not teach to abolish the law, he simply taught, adamantly, that the law was not salvation, but faith was salvation.”

    Then I went on to show in scripture how Paul upheld the law and even called the law holy. (Romans 7:7, 7:12, 7:22, Acts 21:26, Gal 3:21)

    Paul doesn’t contradict the TaNaKh. I would agree that Paul’s understanding (rabbinic commentary) would disagree with another’s understanding. That is the reason Paul was stoned, beaten, arrested, etc.

  2. Good morning, Terry.

    I agree that in his letter to the Galatians Paul was addressing a non-Jewish audience who had become confused, due to some influencers, and thought they could not be justified before God unless they converted to Judaism and observed the Torah in the manner of the Jews.

    I don’t know if Paul or normative Judaism thought that keeping the commandments in and of themselves justified them before God apart from faith, but it was probably believed in most streams of Judaism that a Gentile could only enter into a covenant relationship with God by becoming a proselyte.

    I also don’t think Paul was persecuted by other Jews for his theology per se, but rather for his insistence that Gentiles could be equal co-participants of the faith without becoming proselytes. Paul’s experience at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-52) seems a perfect example of this. The Jews and proselytes were eager, after Paul’s initial “sermon,” to have him return the following Shabbat to speak more about the Messiah (vv 42-43). It was only when, on the following Shabbat, that crowds of Gentiles, not just the usual group of God-fearers but a ton of presumably pagan, idol worshiping Gentiles, crowded into the synagogue that the synagogue leaders became alarmed and decided that Paul had to go (vv 44-50).

    This eventually split Jewish populations wherever Paul traveled, with some coming to faith and others reviling him. The rumors and lies about Paul eventually followed him back to Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-36) where he was arrested, incarcerated, finally turned over to the Romans, and spent the rest of his days in chains.

    I agree that Paul did not and would not contradict anything in the scriptures, but he is difficult to comprehend and his mission, from Messiah directly, to integrate the people of the nations (Gentiles) into a Jewish worship and community stream was very difficult. It’s easy to see how and why we misjudge him today.

    If a group of Christians can be confused about whether or not Baptism saves, imagine how much more confusing it must be to realize that Paul did not speak against the Torah and that he lived the life of an observant Jew for all of his days?

  3. Your statement is probably much more accurate that normative Judaism considered conversion was the key to righteousness, more so than Torah observance in itself.

    Paul uses such terms as works of the law, under the law, justified by the law, to typically (in my understanding) mean conversion for the purpose of righteousness.

    There has been quite a bit of controversial study done on the term “works of the law” and how it was used as it’s own theology that adhering to these works earned righteousness. Most of this stemmed from deciphering part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the articles I read is located in publication published by The Biblical Archeological Society book entitled, “Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity.” (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/free-ebooks/paul-jewish-law-and-early-christianity/)

    The entire point of my comment is that Paul, when taken from the context of a “Zealous for Torah, proud Pharisee, Gamileal student,” Paul isn’t difficult to understand. It even seems to me that Jews at the time did not misunderstand him, as much as they just didn’t agree with his interpretation that unconverted Gentiles could be fellow heirs.

    It even seems that based on passages you’ve listed in other posts, many Jews did not even have a serious problem with his theology that Jesus was the messiah, although not all agreed. It was the principal that circumcision (conversion) was not necessary which got him into trouble.

    It isn’t until Gentiles began to consider themselves equal, or even more important than Jews that problems arose. Paul’s warning in Romans 11 is probably the most clear, regarding Gentiles becoming arrogant against the “natural branches” or “the root.”

  4. I like Terry’s description of how Paul was over-zealous (my paraphrase) in his teaching to the gentiles. Reminds me of the many gentiles who enter into Messianic Judaism. They are over-zealous in their Judaism. Paul must have been the reverse. Being overly zealous to identify himself apart from the ‘circumcision’ in theology (must convert to be saved).

    However I disagree that the only reason the Jews in the synagoges were put off were the physical inclusion of the gentiles to hear the message. I believe the message itself was what offended the Jews, not the inclusion of the gentiles. The gentiles were thrilled about the message because it included them in God’s salvation and redemption from sin, they were thrilled. The Jews, not so much, but not because the message merely included the gentiles, but because it included them ‘apart from the Torah’.

    Spoken in the synagogue at Pisidia:
    Acts 13
    38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

    The way I read this is Paul is speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, as verse 14 states he went into the synagogue and 42 indicates he went out. He stated that ‘everyone (Jew or Gentile) who believes is freed from…….the law of Moses.

    Paul spoke this in the shul, the Jews were VERY interested in what he ment, so he was invited the next shabbat to speak again. But when the Jews saw all the Gentiles they started to speak against what Paul had said. Paul basically layed out that belief in Messiah was salvation of God. That everyone who believes in Messiah’s work is freed from the law.

    Now don’t shoot me, I think the crux of this is in understanding the intent of the word ‘freed’. What did the Torah bind one to? What could you not be freed from in regards to the law? Sin? That is my guess. All are bound in sin. And Messiah Yeshua forgives our sins. Purifies our hearts and lives in our souls. “Freeing us” from that which we could not be freed from by the Torah. “But Rabboni! if I am freed from sin, why am I still commanded to offer a sin sacrifice????” “How is Torah still applicalbe to me now that I am free from sin and able to walk in newness of life by the indwelling of the Spirit given by God?” Knowing full well that Torah is not abolished….

    See the dilemma? This to me is why the Jews were so interested in the message. And when they realized it’s ramifications on them and the Gentiles, they rejected the message. Not because the gentiles were there but because the Jews themselves were told about a ‘transformation’ of Torah in regards to it’s functionability and ministry. It was no longer ministered through Moses but through Yeshua. And Yeshua included ‘everyone’ not just the Jews.

    Anyway, my ramblings. I liked that Terry said, and I always appreciate your blogs. Thanks, James.

  5. @Terry: I agree that although not all Jewish authorities agreed with Paul, it was his inclusion of Gentiles as equal co-participants in “the Way” that really stirred the pot. I also agree that the schism between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Messiah started rather early in history, and you correctly reference Romans 11 as a good example. However, I think Gentiles and Jews in “the Way” were intended to be equal in terms of access to God and participation in the blessings of salvation, however unity in Messiah doesn’t equal uniformity.

    @Shimshon: I don’t know if Acts 13:39 speaks so much of being freed from the Law of Moses as it is a description of being freed from things (the NIV says “every sin, ESV says “everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses,” KJV says “everything you could not be justified from through the Law of Moses”) that the Law of Moses couldn’t free the Jews from.

    The writer of the Book of Hebrews (contrary to popular belief) doesn’t say that the grace of Jesus replaces the Law of Moses, but he does say that faith in Messiah provides a more effective justification than the Torah provides/provided.

    If Paul had declared the Jewish people free from the Law, he probably would have been ejected right then and there. This also makes me wonder if, at that point in history, any Jews believed that in the Messianic Era, Messiah would bring a more effective method of justification, augmenting rather than replacing the sacrificial system. In my studies of the New Covenant, the conditions of the Sinai Covenant don’t change, only the method of delivery (written on hearts, not scrolls) so if Paul was correctly teaching on the New Covenant, he would never be justified in preaching “replacement theology”.

    Don’t worry. I won’t shoot you. 😉

  6. I like your thoughts Shimshon. “Freed from what” is not just the question of the day, but the question of the last couple of millenniums!

    My take is freed from the bondage that the Jews had put on themselves, meaning the bondage that the more law observant you were, the better status you had with God. Consider that up to this point that not only was Torah observance a must, but the oral Torah (ordinances of man, traditions of the elders) were mandatory and had elevated to a legal level equal to and sometimes above the Torah. I believe that “freedom” was intended to be free from this bondage that was impossible to accomplish righteousness. This is the very thing that Jesus would commonly rebuke the Pharisees about.

    Paul does warn to not misuse this freedom (Gal 5:13).

    We also know that thousands of Jews were believing that Jesus was the messiah (Acts 21:20) and following the law.

    James, well said, “unity in Messiah doen’t equal uniformity.” I believe I Lancaster said “Oneness is not sameness.” That may not be a direct quote, but I’m fairly confident I have heard him say that in a sermon or two that I’ve listened to online.

    Great conversation – and great post James.

  7. @James: If Paul had declared the Jewish people free from the Law, he probably would have been ejected right then and there.

    But they did, right then and there.

    Acts 13
    50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.

    And the situation was no better in Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14) where Paul was stoned by the Jews in both places for the message of Messiah. Nowhere Paul went was he welcomed to stay by the leading Jews in the area. Every region Paul went he was run out and/or stoned by the unbelieving Jews. Yes, some believed, but as a whole Paul’s message about Messiah was not received by the Jewish synagogues.

    I don’t see the message as replacement theology. Transformative, but not replacive. Did God replace Yisrael in the wilderness with others who did enter the promised land? Or did God transform Yisrael in the wilderness so they could enter in? In fact, the law as given was not fully operable UNTIL Yisrael entered the promised land. Just like today, the Torah given Moses is not fully operable UNTIL Yeshua entered the Kadosh Kadoshim. Only then was the intent of the law made fully functionable. Only now can the full application of the law be manifest in the children of God.

    When a child grows up he does not forsake or reject that who he was, yet he must move beyond that to engage in who he is now. When we were young we needed to be taught about God from the outside in, now that we are grown (some) we are able to be taught about God from the inside out. I don’t agree with replacing anything. I see myself and Torah as a growing tree, with stages and transformations. To say I have been freed from that which the Torah could not free me does not reject Torah. It understands the function of Torah and it’s limitations. It can not funtion without the Spirit. And it’s goal is not mere observance, but heart intent.

    If Yeshua has removed our sins, what law remains? Has not Torah functioned and ministered flawlessly? Messiah has come and done a work in our day that if understood would amaze and excite you. He FULFILLED the Torah! He became the living embodiment of it. And He lives in you! If you believe…. 🙂 God’s law is being lived out in our very lives when we live by the Spirit given us through Yeshua.

    I see this summed up in one question: How will God restore Yisrael? THIS to me is the heart of the Messianic movement. And what we argue and discuss endelessly. This is the focal point I try to stay on when discussing ‘Messianism’ with others. All other points stem from this one question.

  8. I agree that this is a great conversation. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    I disagree that the Jewish people were interested in being free from the Torah or even some of the traditions. Although Jesus did oppose some of the more excessive halachah of the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-23), he did acknowledge to his own disciples that they should follow that they taught (Matthew 23:3), just avoid their hypocrisy (do as they say, not as they do).

    I read a paper written by Noel Rabbinowitz called Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF).

    First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) produced a couple of thirty-minute episodes of their television series (free online) that address this and related issues. The Torah is not Canceled illuminates Messiah’s statement that he did not come to abolish the Torah, and All Foods Clean especially addresses the matter of ritual purity, which is often misunderstood (I reviewed and added my commentary on “All Foods Clean” here).

    I say all this to show (hopefully) that the issue of Law vs. freedom is probably more complicated than it appears on the surface, and what the Law could not do that Jesus can deserves a bit more scrutiny. The Jewish audience of Paul in Acts 13 should have known from Psalm 51 that sacrifices alone does not forgive sin but rather a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Isaiah 1:11 should have reminded them that the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats isn’t what really pleases God.

    Not that, while the Temple stood, they weren’t required to bring sacrifices, but the *attitude* of the person bringing the offering made all the difference.

    What Paul’s audience probably didn’t know but hopefully Paul did, was that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31) are more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. We know from Hebrews 10, quoting the Tanakh, that the sacrifices cannot take away sin. This is what I believe Paul was saying as well. The sacrificial system, though effective, was limited in it’s effectiveness to remove sins. Even we who have faith in Jesus aren’t sinless. If Paul was not only talking about the present but the Messianic future, he may have been leveraging New Covenant language (and Acts 13 does not preserve the entire text of his lecture) to illustrate that in the Messianic Kingdom, there would be no sin because the Torah would be written on their hearts, making it natural for people to obey God.

    Now *that* would have been a topic the Jews in Pisidian Antioch would have wanted to hear more about, and the fact that Gentiles could also access these blessings and be included in the Kingdom would have drawn them to the synagogue the following week in droves.

    Just my humble opinion.

    Addendum: I wrote this before your latest comment, Shimshon.

  9. I do not mean that Jews wanted to be free from Torah or the traditions. I believe that is what Paul meant when he said freedom. Freedom from the bondage of Torah, meaning the attempt to use Torah or the traditions as a method to earn righteousness. Knowing that righteousness is gained through loving faith and not earned through merit or obedience, “frees” one to obey out of love instead of fear.

    Consider two children. Each in different families. Both families has a similar set of rules. One set of parents are always focusing on the consequences, and the more the rules are broken the harsher the consequence and constant reminders of the bad child he/she is. The other set of parents spend more time on love, family time, and rewards for positive behavior.

    The first child follows the rules out of fear for the consequences.

    The second child follows the rules out of love and a desire to make her parents proud.

    I could be wrong, but I believe Israel had become the first child, on their own. They began to focus so much on the curse of not following the Torah, and connected observance with God’s love. This is not how God ever intended his Torah to be used. It was never designed as a measuring cup for His love.

    The freedom that Paul speaks of, I believe, is the freedom the second child feels. Same rules are obeyed, but from a different and freeing perspective.

    I find that my thoughts make a lot of sense when they stay between my ears, but I may not be clear enough when typing… Inexperience?

  10. Shimshon said: If Yeshua has removed our sins, what law remains? Has not Torah functioned and ministered flawlessly? Messiah has come and done a work in our day that if understood would amaze and excite you. He FULFILLED the Torah! He became the living embodiment of it. And He lives in you! If you believe…. 🙂 God’s law is being lived out in our very lives when we live by the Spirit given us through Yeshua.

    Fulfilled, in my opinion, doesn’t mean “done away with.” Probably a good way to understand how I grasp “fulfilled the Torah” is by reading This review of the aforementioned tv episode The Torah is Not Canceled.

    Sorry to sound like a broken record and I don’t believe that non-Jewish believers are obligated to the same observance of the mitzvot as are Jews, but based on my understanding of the New Covenant, there’s no indication that the conditions of the Sinai Covenant God made with Israel will change, at least not significantly, in the current age. The New Covenant was initiated with the death and resurrection of Jesus but it was and is not completed yet. Only after the return and perhaps after that, will the Torah be written on circumcised hearts.

    My belief is that we still live in a world and we are still a people in transition.

  11. @Terry: I believe, based on Matthew 3:9 that some of the Jewish people took a great deal of pride in their heritage, especially since their nation was occupied by the pagan Romans. It’s quite possible that some or even a lot of first century Jews believed their ethnic status alone justified them before God and guaranteed them a place in the world to come. Maybe that’s why Paul wrote in Romans 9:6 that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel.” It’s not just being born Jewish that justifies you before God, it’s faith and always has been (see Genesis 15:6).

    If this is part of what Paul was facing (and given his letter to the Galatians and Acts 15:1, I think this likely), then what he would have to deal with is a certain amount of “pride” from some Jewish people, which would add to their resistance in accepting Gentiles who are not entering Judaism as either God-fearers or proselytes.

  12. I fully agree with you.

    Your comment prompted me to re-read the whole 9th chapter. Good one for sure. There’s a lot packed into that chapter.

    Sometimes we (humans) spend so much time focusing on which of us is right or wrong, that we don’t spend enough time just trying to get to know God. It is like two brothers always fighting with each other over what dad said, but not taking the time to actually go hang out with dad to understand what he really meant…

  13. Agreed. This shouldn’t be about winning a debate but “sharpening” each other and inspiring each other to continually connect with the Bible and with God.

  14. You know – going back to your original post question, “Should we get rid of Paul?” I won’t begin to consider myself qualified enough to add or subtract from any canonized words. However, I will say that if any one author in the bible caused more of us to dig into the word to better understand, it would be Paul. For that, I am thankful.

  15. Moses, the Law giver, was not allowed into the Promised Land. While 40 years in the wilderness wanderings they practiced The Law. Did they stop when they entered the Promised Land? Y’hoshua, whose name means, “YHWH saves” did lead them into the Promised Land.
    This is a picture lesson, no?
    Yes, we must keep Paul. People are confused because they do not rightly discern the different lessons and applications and misunderstandings Paul is correcting. Paul said to the gentiles he is a gentile, to the Jew a Jew. What does he mean? We have an example in Acts on Mars’ Hill. He was speaking to gentiles therefore he did not use scriptures. However, when speaking to Jews, he used scriptures.
    I have told my children we should make a heart and fold it in half. On one side write, “Love the L-rd with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul.” On the other side of the folded heart write,”Love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, if you want to know ‘how’ to do those two commandments, open your heart, inside on one half of the heart is the first five commandments, on the other inside half the second five commandments. As I heard a teacher say, the law was written on stone and is an obligation, a ‘have-to.’ Yeshua in our hearts is the law as a love offering, a ‘want-to.’
    I do enjoy all the contributions.
    Thank you for your blog.
    Cynthia

  16. I like what D. Thomas Lancaster explains about the “law of death” which is not exactly equals to the “law of Moses”.

    We have different “laws” nowadays. There’s the law of gravity. There’s the law of inertia, etc.

    In the Tanach there are several “laws” that Yeshua Himself explained as we read in the Gospels. The law of “measure by measure” or in other words “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Or the golden rule “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”

    So what Paul is saying when he writes “For the wages of sin is death” in Romans 6:23a he is declaring the “law of death”… in other words, if you transgress the Torah, you will surely die. You cannot defeat the ultimate foe, death, the ultimate destiny if you commit sin. And what is sin? Who defines what sin is? Who commanded Moses to write the Torah? Only G-d can establish what is sin and He did it through the Torah which is also known as the “law of Moses”.

    So when we read in Acts 13:38-39 “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” what Paul is saying is that nobody has been able to be freed from the wages of sin, that is the “law of death”, by following 100% the law of Moses, only the Master has done it, and we can read this message all over the New Testament.

    In some Jewish teachings, Tzadikim (righteous ones) in any generation are able to mediate on behalf of others sins (Sodom would be standing today if only 10 Tzadikim would have lived there… Genesis 18:16-33).

    So by the suffering that The Lamb of God (Isaiah 53), “The Tzadik”, Yeshua went through for us at his passion and death, we are proclaimed our forgiveness of sins, if we only have Emunah and love Him and follow His Teachings. (Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 5:10, Deuteronomy 7:9, Nehemiah 1:5, Daniel 9:4, John 14:15, John 14:21, John 15:10)

    If ten Tzadikim (not 100% perfect, as we read in Romans 3:23) would have saved Sodom, how much more so “The Tzadik”, the One who NEVER commited sin (Hebrews 4:15), would have enough merits in the eyes of G-d to save the whole world? (John 12:47)

  17. @Cynthia: Your comment seems to anticipate my upcoming review of the third lecture in D.T. Lancaster’s series “What About the New Covenant,” especially about performing the commandments because we want to, because they’re written on our hearts.

    @Alfredo: In ancient and current days, grace is what fills in the “gap,” so to speak, and provides salvation. No sacrifice can every do that by itself. Even today, as disciples of the Master, our faith is not perfect and we still sin. The New Covenant is not yet written or is in the process of being written on our hearts. Like Cynthia’s comment, you also seem to touch on the whole New Covenant process. That’s why, like Paul, as imperfect as we are, we must endure in the faith until our Master returns.

  18. @James. I think you are misreading what I wrote. Yeshua’s death was not a sacrifice according to sacrifices done at the Temple. You already know that “the sacrifices cannot take away sin” according to Hebrews 10:3-4 since you quoted that already.

    I haven’t said “when” our sins would be forgiven. It is not now… but in the future, when the New Covenant will be fully implemented (Jeremiah 31:34) We are still in the Old Covenant.

  19. We are still in the Old Covenant.

    Well, yes and no. Yes, the New Covenant has not yet been fully implemented and yes, none of the prior covenants have been removed, diminished or abrogated in any sense. However, the New Covenant was inaugurated upon the death and resurrection of Messiah, so some of its “first fruits” are evident, such as Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit and being able to come alongside Israel and experience the beginnings of the blessings.

    Our status might be described as “partisians” or “resistance fighters” as described in this blog post. We are not in the New Covenant era yet, but Messiah did get the ball rolling, so to speak.

  20. Yes and Yes. Yes we are in the Old Covenant. And Yes Yeshua inaugurated the New Covenant which is still not yet fully implemented.

  21. I go to a traditional Protestant church, but also visit a Messianic assembly from time to time with my believing friends who attend. The dynamics of the assembly has given me a different perspective on the words of Paul. I see the Messianic assembly as a miniature model of the diversity of beliefs that Paul was dealing with in the first century Gentile assembly. There are some long time Messianics who are fairly Torah observant, but also new believers who are just coming into the faith. The latter are not as Torah compliant as the former and that can lead to some schisms in the assembly.

    For example, some Messianics are so concerned about Torah compliance (over-zealous to use Shimshon’s words) that they will not eat food prepared by other believers because it might not be “kosher”. I think Paul could have been writing Romans 14 today to some Messianic assemblies when he said, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died,” (Rom 14:15), and “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food,” (Rom 14:20). I see major portions of Paul’s writings trying to balance between different levels of Torah observance among Gentiles (and Jews) to ensure that the zeal of some believers did not damage the unity of the assembly.

    Often Paul argued for tolerance on both sides such as in this example on food. To the less Torah observant Gentile Paul writes, “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat,” (Rom 14:3). To the more Torah observant Gentile, Paul writes, “The one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another,” (Rom 14:3-4). In supporting both sides, Paul appears to blur the standard for acceptable behavior.

    Torah observance has many blessings in understanding the word of God (learn by doing is what my employer would say) and in Torah observance the believer is walking as Jesus walked, (1 John 2:6). For all the benefits of Torah observance, the step is simply too great a leap for first century pagans coming out of an idol worshipping world. It’s too great of leap for most Gentiles today because our Gentile culture doesn’t support Torah observance. I think that is why Acts 15 did not bind Gentiles to the same level of Torah observance as Jewish believers. First century Gentiles still had to live in a pagan world.

    Paul’s underlying position, “The faith you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves,” (Rom 14:22). I think this is the approach Paul often took in his writings, that is, a balanced perspective founded on tolerance to preserve unity among all believers. To the Torah observant Gentile (or Jew), Paul does not take a sufficiently strong position supporting obedience to the Law. On the other hand, the average Gentile believer appears blind to the eternal nature of God’s word in the Law, the revelation of God that comes through knowing and performing the commandments, the covenants that Gentiles are grafted into contained in the Law, and the many positive references that Paul wrote about the Law, as Terry pointed out, “The Law is holy, and the commandments is holy and righteous and good,” (Rom 7:12).

    As for Paul, he was Torah observant, or he was not truthful when he told the Jews in Rome, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers…” (Acts 28:17). James also believed Paul was Torah observant when he told Paul to purify himself along with the four men and “all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law,” (Acts 21:24).

    Apart from some misinterpretations of Paul’s writings, I do not think the Greek text ever argues for the position that Jewish believers are released from obedience to the commandments. The fundamental question in scripture is whether or not Gentile believers are under the same obligation. Acts 15 asked and answered that question. James reiterated the distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers a decade later when he told Paul, “You see, brother how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols…” (Acts 21:20&25). At the time of Paul’s visit, Jewish believers remained “zealous for the Law”, while Gentile believers had not come under any greater obligation than was written to them in Acts 15.

    I think our generation has been given a unique gift, the ability to understand the words of Paul like few Gentiles in the last 1900 years. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. – Scott

  22. Thanks for your comment, Scott. My basic argument is that the Acts 15 decision was never meant to be a straightjacket that bound the Gentile disciples into a mandatory Torah observance identical with the Jewish disciples. I think that’s why in Acts 15:31 and Acts 16:5 that the delivery of the Jerusalem letter was received with joy and encouraged the Gentile faithful.

    I also believe the Gentiles in Messiah probably had an observance that looked more “Jewish” than what we would consider typical among Christians today, if for no other reason than they were meeting in synagogues and even in “home churches” their primary mentors were Jewish or trained by Jewish disciples, primarily Paul in many cases.

    I agree that Paul could be pretty flexible as far as Gentile religious observance as long as the Gentiles didn’t go below a minimum standard, which is what I think the Acts 15 letter mapped out. It doesn’t mean that the Gentiles weren’t expected to avoid murder, theft, and coveting, but these seem more like “no brainers” and the Gentiles would have required specific training in how to have appropriate table fellowship in a Jewish religious space.

    I still think the Didache is a very likely candidate for the written instructions that may have started out as an oral commentary on the Acts 15 letter. It’s been pointed out that the letter seems pretty anemic as far as training Gentile disciples in “the Way” and I agree. I think that when the letter was delivered, Paul didn’t just hand it over and say “do this.” I think he taught, perhaps extensively, on the intent of the letter and how to “operationalize” Gentile observance among Jewish people.

    I agree that there’s nothing in Acts 15 or elsewhere that reduces, minimizes, or eliminates Jewish obligation to the conditions of the Sinai covenant, that is, the Torah, nor that makes the New Covenant contain different covenant obligations for Jewish people.

  23. I’ve often wondered if the Acts 15 letter was just an abbreviated version of what was really mailed out and have considered that the Didache could have been the actual letter.

    It is also important to remember that James also says “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:21 ESV). Obviously the list given is not complete, which has led me to believe the Jerusalem council only listed the urgent items to keep new Gentile believers from practicing common Greek rituals that would cause them to be unclean or offensive to fellow assembly attenders.

  24. We may have the actual letter preserved in Acts 15 but I suspect that there was an oral explanation that accompanied it that Luke did not record.

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