Tree of Life

Why the Torah is the Tree of Life

I also raised My hand [in oath] against them in the Wilderness to scatter them among the nations and to disperse them among the lands, because they did not fulfill my laws, they spurned My decrees, desecrated My Sabbaths, and their eyes went after the idols of their fathers. So I too gave them decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.

Ezekiel 20:23-25 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In a moment of great pique, God has the prophet Ezekiel tell his exiled brethren of the relentless misdeeds of their fathers, which brought about their loss of the land. God insists at one point: “Moreover, I have them laws that were not good and rules they could not live by.” The import of these harsh words is that God might just be the author of inadequate or even malevolent law, a proposition that flies in the face of God’s goodness, love, and perfection.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Divine Music in a Human Key,” pg 468 (May 14, 1994
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The twenty-fifth verse in Ezekiel 20 relates a startling admission on the part of God through the prophet, that God gave Israel “decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.”

When reading those words, I was immediately reminded of the traditional Evangelical Christian reasoning about why God gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai in the first place. I mean, if God was going to cancel the Law with the death and resurrection of Jesus, or at least have it pass into obsolescence to be replaced by the much more “livable” grace of Christ, by what rationale did God require and demand that the Israelites keep the Torah mitzvot?

The answer, and I was also startled when I first heard the Pastor at the church I attend present it to me, is that God wanted to illustrate that no one could possibly keep the law and that we all need God’s grace to save us from sin.

So God sets forth a lengthy set of conditions associated with the Sinai covenant between Hashem and Israel, with a generous collection of blessings for obedience to God’s Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and an abundant list of curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

God, being faithful to His Word, has indeed blessed Israel when they cleaved to His Torah and cursed them when they strayed from obedience.

The haftarah reading for Bamidbar, Hosea 2:1-22, chronicles the course of God’s response to His covenant people, from wrath in response to Israel’s faithlessness when she “played the harlot” (v 7) by abandoning her “husband” (God) and chasing after foreign lovers (idols), to the promise of renewing the intimate relationship between Hashem and Israel when they returned to Him in obedience:

And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord.

Hosea 2:21-22 (JPS Tanakh)

Laying TefillinAfter all of that, with generation after generation of Jews all striving, sometimes succeeding and often failing to willfully keep the commandments, yet in their heart, always loving and revering the Torah, they never suspected that God was just setting them up for a huge fall. And then, during the Roman occupation, just a few decades before the destruction of Herod’s Temple, God was going to yank it all away from them and abruptly declare that He had planned to have Israel fail and fail miserably all along, in some sort of demented preparation for the coming the Messiah and “the law of grace.”

I enjoy reading mystery books that have a creative and unanticipated plot twist to keep things interesting, but God, according to Evangelicals, is the undisputed master if “I didn’t see that one coming,” the ultimate jumping of the tracks where the train carrying all the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem becomes the carriages transporting endless hoards of formerly pagan Gentiles to Rome.

Ezekiel 20:25, especially when read out of its immediate context and outside the overarching plan of God for Israel, could be interpreted as supporting this “double-dealing” motivation of God except for this:

But note what has been accomplished by this exegetical twist: The holiness of the text has been preserved. Whatever blemish we may detect has nothing to do with the original power and beauty of the Torah, but derives solely from inferior mediation. Not the author, but the interpreter is at fault.

-Schorsch, pg 469

It is said that Biblical interpretation starts with translation but it obviously doesn’t end their. The value of our Holy Scriptures rises and falls with the correct understanding of what we’re reading. Putting on the supersessionism-colored glasses forged by the Gentile “Church Fathers” and polished by the men of the Reformation, we indeed do read the Bible “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) rather than accessing the plain sight of God.

But how can man see with God’s vision? We probably can’t, though we are experts at saying we really can, and in saying that, we reveal ourselves to be deluded or liars.

This thing you call language though, most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master?

-Spock/Kollos (Leonard Nimoy)
Is There in Truth No Beauty? (1968)
Star Trek: The Original Series

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

The above quote references a “mind-meld” between Mr. Spock and a non-humanoid being named Kollos, an ambassador for his planet who is non-verbal and who can only communicate with people through telepathy. He experiences “humanity” for the first time seeing the world (or the bridge of the Enterprise) through Mr. Spock’s senses and communicating through spoken language which he never had done before. You and I like to think we are familiar and even (as I said above) “experts” on understanding the Bible, but an outside observer, if they could access our point of view, might accuse us of what Kollos accused the people on the Enterprise, depending on language for so very much without truly being its master.

We depend on the Bible for so very much, but who can say if anyone can be the master of a document that, while scripted in this world by human beings, was inspired by the mind and spirit of God?

But it’s just about all we’ve got, just like language is just about all we’ve got to communicate with one another, to learn about one another. We only have the Bible to teach us about God.

But no one of us being its master, how dare we say that any part of the Bible, down to even the tiniest jot or tittle, in any way has been cancelled, annulled, eliminated, replaced, folded, spindled, or mutilated?

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 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; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

It is a Tree of Life for those who cling to it, and happy are those who support it.”

Proverbs 3:18

It’s not just a matter of poorly interpreting the Bible but in selectively reading it. Christians can “cherry pick” those scriptures that seem to support a classic supersessionist view of an expired Torah, but they can’t explain those portions that support a high view of Torah, a continued zealous observance of Torah by multitudes of believing Jews in New Testament times (when Acts 21:20 speaks of “how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law,” the Greek word we translate into English as “thousands” is literally “tens of thousands,” and that Greek word is the basis for the English word “myriads,” telling us that vast numbers of Jesus-believing Jews were completely over-the-top zealous for the Torah), and since the Bible (in my opinion…and the Epistle to the Hebrews notwithstanding) doesn’t speak of the Torah expiring like an aging carton of milk in the back of the fridge, then I have no reason to believe that God intended to annul the Sinai Covenant and its conditions for the sake of the inaugurated but not yet arrived New Covenant…not until after Heaven and Earth pass away.

Tree of LifeUntil then, the Torah is a Tree of Life, first to the Jew and also to the Gentile, defining, among other things, who we are in relation to God and who we are to each other, Jewish believers remaining wholly and completely Jewish in identity, role, and responsibility, and grafted in Gentile believers taking on, not a Jewish role, but one that uniquely defines us as the people of the nations who are called by His Name, who have a calling that is not Israel but that supports Israel, for our salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22).

The one mystery I have struggled with up until recently was why, after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, is worshiping God “not enough” anymore?

Many, many years ago, long before my wife and I became religious, we attended a Passover Seder at a friend’s home. At one point during the reciting of the Haggadah, he stood up and joyously cried out, “No one comes between a Jew and his God!” Even as a non-believer, it was quite obvious to me that he was referring to Jesus and Christianity, perhaps viewing Jesus as a layer of abstraction that was thrust between people (or Jews) and God when no such separation existed before.

We can debate whether or not the Temple and sacrifices separated Jewish people from God or actually brought them closer and say that Jesus draws Jews (and everyone else who will believe) closer still rather than further away, but from a Jewish point of view (I can only assume, not being Jewish), being told you now can only come to God through Jesus rather than praying to Him directly with no intermediary, makes it seem as if the rules have changed and a brand new player was added to the game, one that the Jewish people never needed before.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-16 (NASB)

The Torah is the Tree of Life, the source of everything that is good and is from God for a Jew. It was never too far away and it was never intended to be impossible to observe. God did intend for the Jewish people to observe the mitzvot and by obedience, they would draw closer to God and receive good life and prosperity in the Land. Why would that ever change? Not through Jewish disobedience, because God always provided Israel a way back through repentance. Not because of the coming of Messiah, but I’ll get into that at a later time (see below).

the-joy-of-torahSo far we’ve seen that Judaism is a religion of joy, and hopefully, I’ve shown that this joy emanates from observance of the mitzvot and study of the Torah, and that the Tree of Life brings a Jew (and realistically, all of us who embrace the Word of God) nearer to God. But where does Jesus fit in?

I know that’s an odd question and I know many of you think you know the answer. In my next meditation, I’ll see if I can show you a new answer (new to me, anyway) and why God didn’t change the rules, just as the New Covenant was never intended to replace the Sinai Covenant. God doesn’t destroy anything He has created, but He does continually reveal Himself to us across the history of the Bible.

It’s revelation I’ll speak of next time.

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31 thoughts on “Why the Torah is the Tree of Life”

  1. Yes. It will publish on Thursday morning. Tomorrow is the next in my series of reviews of Lancaster’s “Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” sermons.

  2. No one comes between a Jew and his God….so the whole priestly thing is pointless? No need for the High Priest on the Yom Kippur?

  3. “We depend on the Bible for so very much, but who can say if anyone can be the master of a document that, while scripted in this world by human beings, was inspired by the mind and spirit of God?”
    __________
    Back again to the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. HE is the teacher sent by God.

    The inability to “be the master of a document” is not really an issue – the real problem we face is our unwillingness to trust the Teacher God has provided: the very Spirit of God who inspired “the document”.

    When we try to wrestle with scripture for ourselves, solely with the intellect and with a limited knowledge of the whole of scripture; or when we trust the “scholarship” of theologically trained men, we are much more prone to pick up wrong ideas about God and His ways.

    But is seems we prefer to take that path, pushing aside the Spirit – making excuses about why and how we can’t put our trust in Him to give us understanding of scripture and what scripture reveals about God and His ways.

  4. Tim, you make it seem as if this is an either/or situation where you either study and interpret the Bible but ignore the existence of the Holy Spirit, or you check your brain at the door, read the Bible, and expect the Spirit to automatically “beam” the one and only interpretation to your brain.

    As I’ve said before, if the Holy Spirit transmitted and unequivocal, iron-clad interpretation on exactly what the Bible is saying in any circumstance to the devout, I’d expect to see at least a significant sub-group within the worldwide body of believers who all subscribe to the identical understanding of the Bible where that understanding makes absolute sense. So far, I don’t see such a group. Each denomination has their own take and even within a single church, opinions can differ, sometimes wildly.

    The Holy Spirit may drive an individual in a certain direction in their studies and even be the source of inspiration, taking the believer onto a interpretive path the person might never have thought of independently, but I don’t believe God is whispering in people’s ear saying, “this is what it all means.”

    Am I missing something?

  5. James, it’s about developing relationship, not about gaining theological knowledge through the intellect.

    Too often we are trying to work things out – trying to address words on a page through intellectual reasoning instead of developing a relationship with the one who inspired those words on the page.

    Too often I’ve seen excuses about how hard it is to understand scripture because we read it through various interpretive lenses – or that we’ve only got access to translations which are themselves “interpreted”.

    With that mindset we set ourselves up to expect difficulty and failure and we diminish the role and ability of the Teacher that God Himself promised. We don’t believe He can overcome those manmade obstacles to reveal the Truth to us.

    Scripture was not given to provide us with an endless search for answers to theological puzzles or to give us material for endless arguments over doctrine.

    Scripture has been given to us as a revelation of God and His relationship with mankind. It was given by God, through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

    What we need to decide is whether God really wants us to know Him and His ways – and whether He is capable of communicating that knowledge. Is God willing and able? If so, what has HE provided to help us know Him?

    He has provided scripture, and as scripture reveals He sends the Holy Spirit to teach – and yet we sideline Him and expect to find answers elsewhere. We put trust in man’s abilities (our own and others) instead of in God Himself.

    I have to wonder at times what answers are being sought. Is it relationship with God through faith in Him or is it some kind of intellectual fulfilment or theological justification (finding “proof” of a favoured theological viewpoint).

  6. James, it’s about developing relationship, not about gaining theological knowledge through the intellect.

    I’m not sure if you just sidestepped my comments about why there aren’t large groups of enlightened people with the same understanding of the Bible or not. It would seem though, as you say, that those Christians who do have the sort of relationship you describe, would all have identical perceptions of God’s Word. If it seems like I’m trying to solve a puzzle, in a way, I am. For hundreds and hundreds of years, the Bible has been used as a blunt instrument to batter the Jewish people into the ground, all based on particular interpretations, particularly of Paul’s letters. Evangelical Christianity especially (but all “Christianities” in reality) continues to maintain (crypto) supersessionistic attitudes that largely replace the centrality of Israel in the Bible with an entity called “the Church” in the ancient covenant promises. If you think Biblical interpretation isn’t meaningful or doesn’t have an impact (often a negative impact to Jews, especially historically), I’ll have to disagree with you.

    Do you really expect me to believe the Holy Spirit has been telling the Church to persecute the Jewish people for nearly two-thousand years?

  7. “Do you really expect me to believe the Holy Spirit has been telling the Church to persecute the Jewish people for nearly two-thousand years?”
    ____________
    James, please forgive my bluntness, but that is such a ridiculous question.
    The Spirit hasn’t been telling the church to do that. And that is the POINT.
    The Spirit isn’t being listened to. Men create their own reasons for things that are clearly contrary to the nature and purposes of God.

    Man will NEVER understand the truth while they continue to deny the Spirit and His intended work in the life of those professing to follow Jesus

  8. @Onesimus. You write that theological knowledge through the intellect is of no use (or little use). Without knowledge, how would you tell a Mormon that he is totally wrong about baptizing for the dead, which is a belief that they have based on 1 Corinthians 15:29 “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” Please, tell us what would be your teaching to that Mormon? How would you explain to him that his understanding of that verse is wrong? By the way, he will tell you that the Holy Spirit has guided him to do such thing… How are you going to tell him that the Holy Spirit is telling you that such belief is wrong?

  9. “Would that all G-d’s people were prophets!” is a lament that goes back to Moshe Rabbeinu. Regrettably, the vast majority of us are merely unprofitable servants, at best (and thus, generally, highly “un-prophet-able”). One of the critical faculties required for approaching the scriptures with HaShem’s Spirit is that of discerning His Spirit — and the perspectives, attitudes, and ephemeral feeling that She represents (Rua’h being feminine, you know). Developing that critical faculty of discernment requires that we exert all possible intellectual faculties as the gift of HaShem to understand, appreciate, and value the text and its context. Only in the application of both approaches can anyone seek what “Onesimus” is advocating.

  10. James: I’m not sure if you just sidestepped my comments about why there aren’t large groups of enlightened people with the same understanding of the Bible or not. It would seem though, as you say, that those Christians who do have the sort of relationship you describe, would all have identical perceptions of God’s Word.

    Does my 20 yr old son have the same perception of me as my11 yr old daughter? Or how about the difference in perception between my 9 yr old and my 11? Yes, i’m the same father, with the same rules and expectations. But each realationship is unique, and as such each realational viewpoint is unique as well. And my wife percieves me as a completely different person than my children. Not that I’m bi-polar or have different expressions of morality between them, but because I have a unique relationship with each one of them. The same with God and us.

    I agree with Onesimus, my initial reaction to this post was formed by the very quote he used about the Torah/bilbe being our ‘only’ teacher. It’s a tool, not THE means by which we are judged. That reminds me of Messiah’s words stating we who believe will not be judged because we are already redeemed. But those who live by the written word will be judged by it. We who live by the Spirit will be freed by it. There is this dynamic spoken of. And we are told to confirm what is written with what God speaks to us inside, and vis-versa.

    See, from my understanding the message isn’t ‘obey Torah’ it’s believe in Messiah Yeshua. That leaves me understanding that the message was never ‘DON’T obey Torah’, but believe in what God has done. What I’ve come to believe he has done in me and the host of other faithful, is to indwell us with his Spirit and lead us in his ways. Which are more than written things, but heart things. He leads me by moving my heart. He uses many tools, the Torah included. But HE is my teacher, and HE is my leader. The Torah is a tool, not the goal, but the means to the goal. Which again from my understanding of life with Messiah is life in union with God through the Spirit by the fact of Messiah’s work. And He is still working through the Spirit in each of us who believe in this ‘new covenant’. That we are united with God as the temple was filled with his presence. That we are the ark where his presence resides. All by the work and blood of Messiah. Torah is fulfilled in us. Because he lives in us. Well, at least this my faith as a Messianic Jew.

    I’ve always noticed a vacuum of Charisma (indwelling) in MJ theology. I see a balance. Not one way or the other. If there was one thing that I took away from my Christian experience it was being ‘Spirit Fillled’. I just can’t let go of what to me is a given truth. The message is about unity with God through Messiah and the given Spirit of God. Jew and Gentile alike. The rests is vanity, to me. Messiah is everything, Torah is a tool used to give us …..everything. Namely the Spirit of God within my soul.

  11. I’d probably modify the message further and say “have faith/trust in God,” which is the core of all this stuff. Believing is not sufficient because “even the demons believe and they shudder” (James 2:19). I disagree that you either study or the Holy Spirit, in some manner or fashion, just gives you a total understanding of what the Bible is saying.

    I think of it as a holistic process. God never asked us to check our brains at the door. Even Isaiah said, “Come now, let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18) indicating some cognition is acceptable to God. I believe there is a place where our minds and personalities meet with the Holy Spirit to learn and relate to God through the study of the Bible. Otherwise, you get situations where people simply allow their emotional states to be interpreted as the “leading of the Spirit” and they can come up with all sorts of stuff.

    Bible study and the teaching of the Spirit are complementary processes. That is, they’re meant to work together, not in isolation from one another.

    As far as Messianic Judaism being devoid of spiritualism, try reading Gift of the Spirit, which is a compilation of articles presented at the 2013 FFOZ Shavuot Conference hosted at Beth Immanuel.

  12. It’s not about ‘easy believism’.

    James: Even Isaiah said, “Come now, let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18)…..

    Shimshon:
    See, right there in this verse I see the call to be united. Not just to ‘study’ together. Because in order to reason with another you have to ‘come to know’ them. Or another way to put it is that reasoning brings about a unity of understanding. And right there in Isaiah God is refering to being united as one. To come to know each other intimately.

    James: I believe there is a place where our minds and personalities meet with the Holy Spirit to learn and relate to God through the study of the Bible.

    Shimshon:
    I believe in a place like that too. However, I also believe it possible to come to know God and his message by means of another person who God has given his message to. See I just don’t think God chose to ‘only’ communicate through a book. I believe his Words can be placed within us. And I believe His Spirit reminds us and leads us in all his ways. I believe in this because it was the way I was found, or came to him. Not by intense motivated study of the bible, but by the move of the Spirit within my heart. It lead me to things, and used many different tools to get there.

    One tool I’m reminded of was secular music on the radio. Yep… see, when I got ‘saved’ per say. Or conciously gave my heart to Messiah I remember being baptised. On the way home I still was listening to my favorite rock station. (go figure), and I remember the craziest thing…. all the songs referred to Messiah. If it was a love song it was praising Messiah. If it was a hurt song, it was speaking of the hurt Messiah had for us. All things were praising Messiah! In hind sight I think it was because of my focus. It was SOULY (pun intended) on him! And everything, no matter what it was, was praising him!

  13. If by “his Words placed within us” you mean the New Covenant written on our hearts, my understanding of that process is that God’s finger is still in motion, so to speak, doing the writing.

    The relationship between the Word written on our hearts and and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is that they are sort of “samples” of what we will actually be able to experience when the New Covenant becomes fully realized at the return of Messiah. What we have now is a sort of “down-payment” of what is to come. In Messianic Days, the Torah will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), and we will have a filling of he Holy Spirit so complete (Ezekiel 36:27) that we will all be like the Prophets of old, like Moses or John the Baptist in that we will KNOW God (Jeremiah 31:34), not just know of Him.

    We can “know” God now through the Spirit, but that’s a pale shadow compared to what we can look forward to in the Kingdom.

    I’ve never said that we can know God only from the written revelation of the Bible. What I am saying is that we don’t only know God from our relationship with the Holy Spirit, as if we don’t even need the Bible or at least don’t need to read and study it. The spiritual and the material work together, they aren’t mutually exclusive. We can’t depend solely on one or the other. If we didn’t need a Bible, why did God give us one?

  14. James: “If by “his Words placed within us” you mean the New Covenant written on our hearts, my understanding of that process is that God’s finger is still in motion, so to speak, doing the writing.”

    This is something about which I have frequent disagreement with some of the people I am in fellowship with on a regular basis. They have been taught, and they believe, that when they encountered Yeshua as Messiah the Holy Spirit wrote (past tense) the “law” on their hearts and all they need to do is follow the leading of their heart and they will fulfill the law. They say they have it all now. For me there is ample evidence in Scripture, as you said James, that this is an ongoing process. It’s one I don’t see completed until Messiah returns or possibly until the end of the Messianic kingdom.

    It seems to me part of the problem is that we have been taught that the heart and mind are separate parts of our being. From my understanding the heart and mind are basically the same thing in the Hebrew language. You Hebrew scholars are welcome to correct this if it’s not right. Here is a resource that speaks about this: http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/27_heart.html.

    To further illustrate the problem with following the leading of the Holy Spirit one only has to look to the teaching in many parts of the church that the Torah has little/no application in the life of a believer in Yeshua. In his new book “Elementary Principles” D. Thomas Lancaster calls this teaching diabolical. I have to agree. Any teaching that calls evil something God intended for life and Paul called holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12), is definitely not inspired by the Spirit of God. Skip Moen wrote a word study that speaks about this: http://skipmoen.com/2009/09/29/the-heart-of-the-matter.

    Dr. David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary on John 5:39 says: “The main element of God’s witness is his Word, Scripture, the Tanakh. Yeshua invites those who do not have the Word staying in them to search the Scriptures, just as the Jews of Berea later did (Ac 17:11).” Another word study by Skip Moen (I try to read his posts every day) speaks about the Bereans and asks if we are doing what they did: http://skipmoen.com/2014/04/26/checking-it-out. I believe (and have experienced) if we don’t study the Scriptures, and other sources that help give context to what we are reading, we can easily be led astray by our own understanding.

    Having spent the first 25 years of my relationship with Yeshua in and around Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and believers, I can tell you from personal experience that I have been told many things “by the Spirit” that turned out to be very wrong. I’m not in any way disparaging or discounting the influence of the Holy Spirit, but I am saying that ALL of us have the uncanny ability to misinterpret what the Spirit is saying and bend Scripture to suit our theological assumptions. Paradigms are hard to break. And the hardest paradigm to break out of is our own since many times we really don’t think we have one. We think we are approaching Scripture and spiritual things honestly and without bias.

    I know others have made some of the same points in their comments, I just thought I would put them in my own words, for what it is worth.

  15. Alfredo said: “Without knowledge, how would you tell a Mormon that he is totally wrong about baptizing for the dead…’

    I have not said “knowledge” isn’t necessary. But what is the source and nature of the knowledge we have? Is it knowledge we’ve learned from studying man’s writings about scripture (which is the kind of knowledge the Mormon has)?
    Or is our knowledge gained through our own study of scripture relying on the Holy Spirit to give us understanding?
    How many Mormons have you been able to convince through intellectual argument?

    James said: “Bible study and the teaching of the Spirit are complementary processes. That is, they’re meant to work together, not in isolation from one another.”

    Again, who said there is an either/or situation?
    When studying scripture it is the Holy Spirit that we are to rely upon for understanding.
    And note I said “studying scripture”. It seems to me that the most common approach to “studying scripture” is to turn to commentaries, study bibles and other theological teachings to gain understanding. But that is NOT studying scripture. That is studying man’s ideas about scripture.

    When studying scripture – study THE SCRIPTURES and not men’s works. Allow the Holy Spirit room to bring understanding instead of trying to take short cuts. HE will bring understanding as and when we are ready. But we are often impatient and want to know everything NOW.

    My first comment on this thread was a reaction to commonly stated ideas about our relationship to scripture; that our understanding will always be polluted in some way because of the way we “interpret” what we read, and also that the Bibles we read are already mere “interpretations” because of the limitations of translation into English.

    Again I raise these questions:

    Does God want us to understand truth?

    Is God able to reveal the truth to us and give us understanding?

    Is God willing and able?

    IF the answer to those questions is yes – what is getting in the way and preventing God from making the truth known?

  16. Is God able to raise up teacher by the power of the Spirit to teach classes and write commentaries. I, for one, don’t read Biblical Greek and Hebrew, so it’s sometimes helpful for me to access people who can as resources. Why go to Bible study classes or even listen to sermons (or read blogs) if we don’t believe God can raise up credible teachers of the Bible. It doesn’t always have to be just me, the Holy Spirit, and a Bible alone in some room late at night.

  17. James said: Is God able to raise up teacher by the power of the Spirit to teach classes and write commentaries. I, for one, don’t read Biblical Greek and Hebrew, so it’s sometimes helpful for me to access people who can as resources. Why go to Bible study classes or even listen to sermons (or read blogs) if we don’t believe God can raise up credible teachers of the Bible. It doesn’t always have to be just me, the Holy Spirit, and a Bible alone in some room late at night.
    ________

    How would we recognise a teacher raised up by the power of the Spirit if the Spirit isn’t being His rightful place in our own lives?

    Is God able to teach us individually by His Spirit, the Teacher He promised?

    Should we trust those people teaching classes or writing commentaries or preaching sermons as our PRIMARY source of teaching?

    I spent many years relying on (trusting) preachers, books and similar sources of teaching. As a result I followed some very well accepted doctrines that I later came to realise were false.

    How did I come to that realisation?

    I put aside those teachings and studied scripture for myself and I came to recognise that the Holy Spirit would open up meaning. I started to see that what scripture ACTUALLY said was often in complete disagreement with the things I’d been taught before.

    I also found that any understanding (I thought) I’d received from the Holy Spirit during my studies would either be confirmed from several unexpected sources, or I would be shown how I’d misunderstood and got things wrong.

    That confirmation/correction mostly came through interaction with believing friends or through participation on blogs and forums but could also come through a sermon or a book – often it came through all of them.
    (Note: those things played their part AFTER personal study and weren’t alternatives to it.)

    A dangerous lie has been swallowed throughout the church – the idea that we are unable to understand scripture for ourselves, that we need suitably qualified teachers to explain what the Bible “really” means.

    In more traditional denominations those teachers are people who have studied for years at seminary or Bible College.
    In charismatic/Pentecostal churches those teachers are often seen as specially “anointed” to teach.

    BOTH of these views exalt some men as having the right and authority over church members with regard to doctrine and practice. We are made dependant on them for understanding of scripture – being led to believe that such understanding is out of our reach and can only be gained through the skills of those “qualified” teachers instead of through personal relationship with the living and active Holy Spirit.

    And sadly many prefer it that way.

  18. Onesimus said: That confirmation/correction mostly came through interaction with believing friends or through participation on blogs and forums but could also come through a sermon or a book – often it came through all of them.
    (Note: those things played their part AFTER personal study and weren’t alternatives to it.)

    Although you said you weren’t doing this before, you seem to keep making a case for either/or. Either it’s just you, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit or we somehow have to totally depend on human sources.

    As I said, I believe there’s a cooperative effort involved. Of course, I don’t believe in every teacher that comes along. I disagree with the teachers at the church I attend quite a lot. I do believe that the Spirit does inspire my learning, but I also believe the Spirit assists in helping me discern good and not so good teachers.

    The issue though, is to be able to separate out your subjective emotional states from a true, supernatural experience, not something that’s always easy. While nothing the Spirit directs can contradict scripture, the door swings both ways.

    To prevent the individual from deluding himself, that person must be able to find, as you say, competent and trusted mentors, teachers, and peers to “compare notes” with.

    The Bereans didn’t just take Paul’s word for it and they didn’t just sit and pray that the Spirit would reveal truth, they studied the scriptures, comparing Paul’s teaching to what the Bible said (Acts 17). I’m not saying the Spirit wasn’t or couldn’t have been involved, but the people learning had to take an active role, consult with Paul and each other in order to arrive at a proper conclusion.

    I never said that teachers or sermons are alternatives to personal study, they are interactive information sources, just as the Spirit is. It all works together, often simultaneously. Individual cognition, research, and Spiritual inspiration are interwoven into a fabric, not (in my opinion) laid on top of one another like layers on a cake.

  19. “…God wanted to illustrate that no one could possibly keep the law…” Is such a common theme in evangelicalism. It requires hurdling over the Deuteronomy 30 passage you quoted & then ignoring the verse about Zechariah & Elizabeth in Luke 1:6 – “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”

  20. James, our continued disagreement on this topic revolves around the idea that our understanding of scripture will always be limited because our theological conditioning (or what glasses we read through) will cause us to read scripture a certain way. And you go further than that in saying that even our translated bibles come to us already “interpreted” – implying that we’re at a disadvantage even before we start reading.

    Now if we were merely addressing an intellectual matter, for example a reading of an ancient secular text translated into English, I’d agree totally.

    But we are not addressing a text with a long dead author – Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who lives today and has been made available to teach what He inspired.

    If we want to avoid having our understanding of scripture polluted by cultural or religious conditioning, we have One to help us in the form of the Holy Spirit. So we need to trust Him and avoid relying on others in place of Him.

    So again the issue hinges on:
    1) Does God want us to understand the Truth?
    2) Is God able to give us that understanding?
    3) Has God equipped us with the means of understanding the Truth.

    If the answer to those questions is yes – what prevents us from gaining that understanding?

  21. I’d just like to emphasise a phrase I used above:

    “If we WANT to avoid having our understanding of scripture polluted by cultural or religious conditioning…”

    To what extent do we really desire the truth and how willing are we to cast aside our religious viewpoints if shown to be contrary to the truth?

  22. @Onesimus: I was not using 1 Corinthians 15 as an example. I was asking you, what would you really tell him?

    Hint: You are mentioning using “intellectual argument”, but I tell you, no need of intellectual arguments for this one. The answer is in the Scriptures themselves.

  23. Maybe the “missing piece” is what’s not stated of the Bereans; we get the impression they studied mainly in response to Paul. [I don’t think that’s a fault within the text but sort of a conditioning we have to think everything revolves around Paul or Christian input.] But they likely were already familiar with Scripture and were looking things up in the moment to double check details.

    There is a lot to be said for reading Scripture straight-up, just plowing through the material one line right after the other [the other right before it in the Bible, not one line after another on a list] — to fully know what’s in there. So that, rather than simply responding to a teacher and looking into parts of books then, can be a deeper form of initiative; it’s a foundational, necessary form.

    The Spirit IS involved during plain old [what might seem boring] reading. I was reading a week or two ago (started out looking for a story I remembered but then got engrossed in more and more surrounding it until I had to stop myself to focus on what I was doing with the specific story). Someone who is a trial in my life (an adult) started mocking me… never grasping true interest.

    This person boggles my mind and soul and — hhh, I don’t know how someone spends copious amounts of time at church for the visibility most of all. Claims to be Christian, claims to be also hedonist, says many things more contradictory than that even.

    Yeah, I’ve digressed. But there I was enjoying and he’s in a different stratosphere. Anyway, back to topic, one favorite memory of mine is reading Matthew from start to finish and profoundly “getting it” (while I’m sure I’d covered all parts before). I’d also been going through difficulties that drove concepts into me. But reading in that way, with the Holy Spirit right there while I read on alone, made a lasting difference too. And this goes for any book within the book, even Deuteronomy.

  24. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord.

    Jeremiah 31:33-34

    My understanding is that in the future, Messianic Age, we will received such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (I’ve said this before) that we will all be like the prophets of old, from the least of us to the greatest, all apprehending God experientially to the degree that study is no longer necessary.

    The Spirit was possess now is a foretaste of those days, meaning that we don’t have the full outpouring yet (I’ve heard it said that only Jesus received that full outpouring when he was baptized at the Jordan River — hence, “The Father and I are One”).

    The Holy Spirit possessed by modern day believers is a helper, a guide, a teacher to assist us in understanding the revelation of God but I don’t believe God removed all human effort in the task of comprehending His Word. If He did, if the Holy Spirit acted today as it will in the Messianic Kingdom, then we’d all have the same knowledge to the same degree, all of us.

    And we don’t. Therefore, we are all on a journey of spiritual growth, traveling the path, arriving at different milestones at different points in our life, and human nature will interfere with that journey. Theoretically, we are all free of sin, but no one of us, from the least to the greatest, is completely sin free because of our human natures as well.

  25. I’m sure, by getting distracted over thinking of this annoying person who shocked me last time I was reading, I distracted from what I was mainly trying to say. I think it’s an important part of human effort to directly read the books of the Bible. We do have to actively learn, and that’s part of that. It’s a key part that makes other endeavors more meaningful. Sometimes, we can get the point of some writing from reading a whole book at once, like Galatians, as we pray God enlighten our own reading; this has happened for me. And even if there is a weird spot that doesn’t seem to fit, you can notice that. Then, when someone who has looked into the Greek is teaching a subject, someone like Mark Nanos (as part of his larger intensive studies), you’ll be ready for the news that (for instance) a couple English words weren’t in the Greek. But you already noticed they didn’t fit. You could see it by reading the whole flow. The more a person directly reads on one’s own, the more (in a variety of ways, not only this one type of illustration) the interacting with others can add to our understanding as well as be sifted more readily (so we’re less needy or likely over time to follow goose chases others get into).

  26. @Onesimus — I get the impression we’re not “singing from the same songsheet” with respect to the matter of “who wrote the scriptures?”. You talked about “not addressing a text [written by] a long dead author” and “inspiration of the Holy Spirit”. It appears to me that you are envisioning the process as if the scriptures were “ghost written” by someone other than the human author. That is a terribly inaccurate way of viewing “inspiration by HaShem’s Spirit”. Perhaps it arises from viewing that Spirit anthropomorphically, as a separate person of a godly trinity. But without beginning that whole discussion, let me suggest (from a background of solid Hebrew thought and language processing) that these men wrote from a perspective that was informed by a set of attitudes and perspectives whose source was HaShem’s Torah elaborated through ages of Jewish culture and experience, with a view of their directly-intended audience. The continuing applicability centuries later of what they wrote is largely due to the fact that humans have not changed much. Difficulties with understanding what they wrote arise from changes in human cultural behavior and expectations (and their impact on language), despite the relatively unchanged humans so affected. Acquiring an accurate understanding is a matter of aligning the reader’s attitudes and perspectives with the spirit of the author, and providing a cultural map to assist that process. Because, in this case, the spirit of the author was in alignment with HaShem’s Spirit, the modern reader who also aligns his or her spirit with HaShem’s Spirit is better enabled to understand what was written so long ago by the (long dead, at least from a temporal perspective,) human author. But one cannot succeed without that cultural map. Hence this process is one that requires both the mind (or “heart”) and the spirit (attitudes and perspective) to work together to achieve understanding.

    I write this as one whose experience includes not only the charismatic-style infilling of the Holy Spirit, but also many years of cultural mapping. I’ve had a reasonable amount of time to reflect on the psychological mechanisms by which humans interact with HaShem’s Spirit, or with any other spirit (including their own human spirit that serves as HaShem’s “candle to search out the innermost being”). The notion that the indwelling of HaShem’s Spirit will reveal all mysteries, alone and unaided by knowledge and cultural mapping, just ain’t so. Even out-and-out prophecy is not a matter of “soothsaying” or unambiguous foresight. It is, nonetheless, a matter of “insight” when done properly. This is one reason why Rav Shaul (and also Yohanan) insisted on the application of discernment with respect to prophetic-style expression (or, indeed, with respect to the impetus behind any sort of expression). Not every human behavior is driven by HaShem’s Spirit, even among those who have that Spirit within them in fullness (or what passes for fullness in our present era).

  27. I never said we shouldn’t directly read the Bible. I read the Bible cover to cover every year, plus more reading of the Bible as part of my studies and writing.

  28. Recently, noted NT scholar Larry Hurtado reviewed Bart Ehrman’s latest book refuting the divinity of Jesus called “How Jesus Became God”. While I obviously hold a position on this matter closer to Dr. Hurtado’s than Dr. Ehrman’s (Ehrman being a self-avowed agnostic and “doubter”), Hurtado’s analysis and opinions show (in my opinion) why it is important to do more than just read the Bible in isolation from scholarly sources. There are subtleties and nuances in the text that I would completely miss, not being a Biblical linguist or historian.

    Here’s Dr. Hurtado’s commentary on his blog: http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/how-jesus-became-god-per-ehrman/

  29. PL said: “It appears to me that you are envisioning the process as if the scriptures were “ghost written” by someone other than the human author. That is a terribly inaccurate way of viewing “inspiration by HaShem’s Spirit”.”

    No, I am totally aware of and appreciate the part of human authors in the writing of scripture. But there is a big difference between the human involvement with the authorship of scripture (inspired by the Holy Spirit) and the human involvement in the writing of a secular text.

    PL said: “Perhaps it arises from viewing that Spirit anthropomorphically, as a separate person of a godly trinity.”

    While I would avoid use of the non- biblical term “trinity” I accept the portrayal that Jesus gave of the Holy Spirit and the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.

    “ I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. “

    Jesus asks the Father to send the Spirit who Jesus refers to as HE. And it is HE, the Spirit who inspired the writers of scripture, and it is HE the Spirit who was sent to teach those HE indwells.

    Marleen said: “There is a lot to be said for reading Scripture straight-up, just plowing through the material one line right after the other [the other right before it in the Bible, not one line after another on a list] — to fully know what’s in there. So that, rather than simply responding to a teacher and looking into parts of books then, can be a deeper form of initiative; it’s a foundational, necessary form.”

    Marleen, I find there is far greater benefit in READING scripture in large “chunks” for myself – preferably a whole book at a time when possible – than in “studying” small sections while referring to someone else’s thoughts about those small sections.

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