Tag Archives: derek leman

Ekev: Christians Clinging to Torah

clinging_to_torahAnd if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers: He will favor you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock, in the land that He swore to your fathers to assign to you. You shall be blessed above all other peoples…

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 (JPS Tanakh)

If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him…

Deuteronomy 11:22 (JPS Tanakh)

God made great promises to the Children of Israel in the Torah which were contingent upon the Israelites obeying “these rules”, “loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways.” But it can become very confusing about how or if that has any sort of impact on Christians or what it even means for Jewish people today? What does it mean to “hold fast” or to “cleave” to God, and what does that have to do with Torah?

What does it mean “to cleave to the Almighty”? The Almighty has no body or corporeality to hold on to.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen comments that this verse is the commandment to trust in the Almighty. Cleaving, clinging to the Almighty means that we trust in him like a king’s son who relies on his father. His father loves him and, being a king, has the ability to supply him with all his needs. This is our relationship with the Almighty. He is our King and our Father. We must make our efforts, but understand that success is ultimately a gift from the Almighty.

Cleaving to the Almighty means living with this awareness. The immediate benefit to a person who internalizes this attribute is an inner feeling of peace and serenity.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Ekev
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as adapted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Aish.com

According to the commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Katz at Torah.org, it would be impossible to literally cling to God, who is an all-consuming fire. The sages say one “clings” to the Almighty through Torah study and performance of the mitzvot. In the Siddur, the phrase “You who cling to HaShem, your G-d, you are all alive today” is part of the Torah service, thus clinging to God and the reading, studying and performance of Torah are associated if not equivalent acts.

This could sound very attractive to some Christians. After all, why wouldn’t we want to “cling” to God? What do we have to do? Read, study, and observe the Torah? Cool? How do we do that?

Several days ago on his blog, Derek Leman wrote an article called Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. It might have better been called “What Does Torah Mean to Jews and What Should Christians Do About It”. I’ve long since set aside my illusions that I have to look and act “pseudo-Jewish” in order to obey God’s will for my life, but over the past several months, I have been attempting to defend Jewish Torah observance, especially among Messianic Jews, in conversations with my Pastor. However, one of the sticking points is trying to define just what “Torah” is.

Of course I wrote a blog series on the purpose of Torah for Messianic Jews, but it never quite satisfied me as a unified and complete answer to Pastor’s query.

In Leman’s response to some Christian questions about the Torah, he disassembled the Torah commandments in what I thought was a useful way:

There are a lot of differences and categories we could note in the commandments in the Torah. First, there are positive (“remember the Sabbath,” “you shall love”) and negative (“you may not eat,” “you shall not”) commands. Second, since Torah is an actual constitution for people living in the Iron Age in the ancient Middle East, it has criminal and societal laws which cannot be applied directly. It assumes a theocracy with the actual Presence of God guiding the king and priests. Do not think that stoning people is part of Torah practice now! Third, it permits some things from ancient culture which are no longer permitted (owning a slave, taking a war bride, practicing blood vengeance). Fourth, it contains some things which are the highest expressions of love, justice, and faithfulness. The concern in Torah for the defenseless and needy, the insistence on truth in justice for the powerful and powerless, the provisions of generosity, these things are the height of Torah. This list is not as detailed as it could be, but the point is, Torah requires long, habitual, careful study.

torah-what-isThat isn’t exactly an “in a nutshell” lesson on Torah, but it does communicate the level of complexity for someone approaching Torah with the intension of becoming “Torah-compliant” or “Torah-observant” or “Torah-submissive.” However, the upshot of Leman’s article is that it takes a lifetime of study to approach and refine one’s understanding and observance of Torah. It is true that, for practical purposes, observant Jews operate in a set daily pattern relative to their responsibilities to the mitzvot, but it’s also true that with continuing study and understanding, that observance evolves and deepens, not only on the level of behavior and cognition, but particularly (ideally) in devotion to God. Remember, we are discussing the relationship between Torah and “cleaving” to God.

Most people would comprehend why an observant Jewish person would study the Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvot in the appropriate manner, but Christians may not be aware that we need to study and understand Torah as well.

But, why? Even if you don’t believe that Christ’s grace replaced the Torah for the Jews, most Christians believe the Law has nothing to do with them.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

Most Christians believe that this is the pronouncement of James and the Council of Apostles replacing the Law with grace for the believers, Jewish and Gentile alike. Some believe that James and the rest of the Jewish disciples of Messiah continued to apply Torah observance to their lives but removed such obligations from the lives of the newly-minted Gentile disciples since, as Peter said, “why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

Torah observance isn’t required for salvation for Gentile or Jew, but from a Jewish point of view, the Torah defines the identity and lifestyle of the descendants of those who stood at Sinai and “as one man” who agreed to do all that Hashem their God commanded.

But does this mean Gentile disciples (Christians) have no obligation to Torah at all? Certainly not. Leman continues:

If you are not Jewish, God was not speaking directly to you when he gave Torah. Read Exodus 19. You can learn about God, about holiness, about love and the ways of God for people to live in the Torah. But it requires translating and interpreting it from one context (Israel’s constitution) to another (how you, as a Messiah-follower, should live your life). Even for the Jewish people translation and interpretation is required from one context (Israel in the Iron Age when it was a theocracy with God present in the sanctuary) to another (Israel in the long exile without the direct Presence of God in the sanctuary). Look to Torah as a late arrival at the party. Israel is already there and you are a guest. What can you learn from God’s instructions to this people? What in these instructions and teachings apply to you as someone outside of the specific group? The truth is, most of what is here has meaning for you, but interpretation and integration of multiple ideas will be required.

torah_up_closeIn a very real way, the Torah is Israel’s story, even as the Gospel message of Messiah is the story of good news to Israel, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t involved. I wrote extensively on this topic in a multi-part series called Return to Jerusalem, which is an analysis of Acts 15 based on the commentaries of D. Thomas Lancaster in the Torah Club, Vol. 6: Chronicles of the Apostles.

For Christians, Torah study is exceptionally important because Torah does apply to us, but it doesn’t apply in a manner identical to the Jewish people. We can’t simply put on a tallit gadol, avoid bacon and shellfish, and call ourselves “Torah-submissive kosher.” If it requires a lifetime of study for a Jewish person to live out the Torah and to draw closer and to cling to God, it should require the same for Christians.

As Leman states:

There is a community that has been studying Torah for millennia. Many Torah-keeping non-Jews retain from their church life a prejudice against things Jewish. The rabbis don’t believe in Jesus, so they must not know anything! Never mind that God promised his Spirit would never depart from Israel (Isa 59:21). Never mind that God established in Israel judges and priests to know the Torah and teach it (Deut 17:8-13) and that the rabbis have come to occupy that place during the two-thousand year exile. Studying what Judaism teaches about the Torah is not easy. FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion) makes it easy through their Torah Club volumes. If you really want to know Torah and how to practice it, Torah Club Volume 5 is for you. Meanwhile, you cannot keep Torah and ignore what Jewish tradition says about it.

Torah study for Christians is Bible study, but it’s Bible study from a perspective that rejects supersessionism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel mindsets. As Leman says, you cannot divorce the Torah (or the Bible as a whole) from Israel and Judaism since the Bible is specifically the story of God’s involvement with Israel (with applications for the rest of us). Gentile Christians have gotten all too comfortable thinking the Gospel message is “all about us because we have Jesus,” but “Jesus” is Yeshua, the Messiah God sent to redeem first and foremost Israel and also the nations of the world. We can no longer afford to be arrogant lest Messiah humble us severely upon his return.

We also can’t afford to ignore that Jewish people including Messianic Jewish people, have a special relationship with God, even above the Gentiles who are called by His Name, and a special relationship with Torah, whereby additional commandments apply to them that don’t apply to Gentile Christians. Beyond that, studying Torah and the rest of the Bible should reveal that the Torah never “expired” for the Jewish people and indeed, it tells the story of future restoration of Israel:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

“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.

Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (NASB)

resources-studyI could do a study just on these verses as far as how the words of Moses apply to the restoration of future Israel, the New Covenant for Israel, and the accessibility of Torah for the Jewish people, including how God completely and honestly intended Israel to observe the commandments. He didn’t just give the Torah to Israel to prove a point about how hard it is to obey God and then pull a bait and switch, inserting Jesus and grace in its stead.

If God had annulled the Torah, then not only would He have eliminated everything that Jesus taught, but He would have destroyed any possible access to God for the Gentiles, since it is through the promises God made to Abraham about Messiah, which are contained in Torah, that the Gentiles are saved at all.

Yes, Christians. Study the Torah. Learn. Comprehend. Obey as the mitzvot apply to you. Live out the Word and Will of God. Just don’t assume that it’s easy. Please believe that it will take the rest of your life to even scratch the surface. Start one day at a time. Start now.

If you’re a Christian who is at all interested in the Torah and how it applies to a life of faith in Jesus (and believe me, a lot of it applies), you can also read Torah Study for Christians to get an introduction and find a starting point on your path.

Addendum: I know one of the complains against arguments like mine from some folks in Hebrew Roots (and for that matter, traditional Christianity) is that those of us who support a Messianic perspective don’t account for non-Jewish covenant connection with God. I used to wonder how we were connected to God through Messiah myself, but frankly, once you know where to look, it’s incredibly obvious: Abraham. Read Abraham, Jews, and Christians and Sharing with Abraham to put the covenant connection of believing Gentiles to God in proper perspective. I’ll be talking more on this subject in Sunday’s and Monday’s “morning meditation.”

Good Shabbos.

61 days.

Throwing Stones

jacobs-wellDo not throw a stone into the well from which you drank.

-Bava Kama 92b

The Talmud states that this folk saying is related to the Torah commandment, “Do not reject an Egyptian, because you were a dweller in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). Since Egypt hosted the Israelites, we, their descendants, must acknowledge our gratitude.

The brief period of tranquility that our ancestors enjoyed in Egypt was followed by decades of ruthless enslavement and brutal oppression. Thousands of newborn Israelite children were murdered. This unspeakable horror more than obscured any favorable treatment they had received earlier, and our natural inclination is to despise the Egyptians with a passion.

The Torah tells us to take a different path. Although we celebrate, every Passover, our liberation from this tyrannical enslavement and commemorate the triumph over our oppressors, we have no right to deny that we did receive some benefit from them. Even though a denial of gratitude might appear well justified in this particular case, it might impact upon us in such a manner that we might also deny gratitude when it is fully deserved.

If people cast stones into the well from which they drank, the well will not be hurt in the least, because it is an inanimate and insensitive object. The act, however, might impact negatively upon those who do it: they might subsequently behave with a lack of gratitude to people as well.

Today I shall…

…try to remember to be considerate of anyone who has any time been of help to me, even though his later actions might have been hostile.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 10”
Aish.com

Over the past week or two in my blogs, I’ve had encounters with a few people who you could consider hostile or at least ill-mannered. This, in spite of what I’ve been trying to accomplish by refraining from participating in so many other online encounters. As Rabbi Zelig Pliskin says, “Why don’t people like to remain silent when others insult them? Because they’re afraid that others might think they’re weak and unable to answer back.” But as he also says, “The truth is, it takes much greater strength to remain silent when someone insults you. Revenge, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness. A revenger lacks the necessary strength of character to forgive.”

I strive to learn how to be better at forgiving, even when others may not realize they have caused harm or offense (and it’s not like I’m blameless, either).

Then I encountered Rabbi Twerski’s commentary for yesterday and it occurred to me that many of us have been “throwing stones in the well from which we drank.”

Yesterday, both Derek Leman and I wrote about the vital importance of Jewish Torah observance, particularly for those Jews who have become followers and disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. In some manner or fashion across the long centuries after the destruction of Herod’s Temple, we in the church have been throwing pebbles, and rocks, and boulders, and monolithic asteroid-sized chunks of granite into “the well from which we have all drank.”

We’ve been making a mockery of what Paul was trying to tell us.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)

tearing-down-the-wallI know I’m going to be accused of misusing this part of scripture, which is often used to confirm the destruction of the Law and the elimination of any unique Jewish identity in the body of the Messiah, but it all hinges on what sort of “dividing wall of hostility” was brought down and what exactly was the “law of commandments expressed in ordinances” that was abolished. It makes a lot of Christians (including those in the usual variants of the Hebrew Roots movement) feel “hunky dory” to believe that it was the uniqueness of Judaism that Jesus “nailed to the cross” along with his battered, bloody body. Even those Christians who agree that the Law is intact and it was only Judaism that died, agree to the elimination of what it is to be Jewish by redefining the sign commandments of the Torah as not Jewish any longer but belonging to anyone and everyone who claims them.

(And I must say at this point that a great deal of what we also call “Torah” is perfectly accessible to Jews and Christians alike).

I’m sure that when non-Jews claim Jewish sign commandments as their very own, it must feel “hostile” to the Jewish people who would prefer to keep their identities intact.

Back in Acts 15 the problem faced by the Council of Apostles was how to establish and implement “Gentile inclusion” into the body of the Jewish Messiah. For most of the history of the church, the problem reversed itself and was considered how do we establish and implement “Jewish inclusion” into the Christian church? In the latter case, it was by requiring the Jews surrender every last vestige of what it is to be a Jew. However James and the Council made no such requirement of the Gentiles in the former situation, though to be sure, the Gentile disciples had to give something up. But it wasn’t their identity as such, otherwise there would be no “Gentiles called by the Messiah’s name,” only Jews. The Gentiles were included, and ancient “Christianity” became one of the most inclusive religious movements on the planet, because one did not have to covert to Judaism and accept the obligation of the total yoke of Torah in order to join.

But as I’ve said in many conversations recently, I don’t think the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile disciples in those early days ever reached any sort of stability. There wasn’t time. Events such as the Jewish exile from Israel and the Bar Koshba revolt came and went too quickly on the stage of time, and once played out, the result was a separation between the Jews, and the Gentiles who wrested observance and worship of the Moshiach from the Jewish people for nearly twenty centuries.

But all that is beginning to change. What stands in the way is that across all of the long years, the “dividing wall of hostility” has been rebuilt with a vengeance and it is tall and thick and wide and hard. The people on both sides of the wall have built it up and the people on both sides of the wall have been heavily invested in keeping it standing. Good fences make good neighbors as Robert Frost once wrote.

Rabbi Twerski is determined to “remember to be considerate of anyone who has any time been of help to me, even though his later actions might have been hostile.” That certainly describes what we Christians should say of Israel who gave us the Messiah but later was hostile to us because we tried to sell them a “Goyishe King.”

But I’d like to reverse that saying for us. The Master said “salvation comes from the Jews,” (John 4:22) and that statement is the crystallization of Israel’s mission to be a light to the world (Isaiah 49:6). Without Israel and without Israel’s first-born son, Yeshua HaMoshiach, Jesus the Christ, none of us could be saved. But since the time when salvation entered into the world in the body of a man and as the flesh and blood expression of the Divine, much enmity has built up between Israel and the Christianity that resulted from her light. A few Christians and a few believing Jews are finally beginning to breach the wall of hostility and extend friendship and brotherhood to one another, as it was in days of old. I can’t speak for the Jews in Messiah, but as a Christian…

unityToday I shall…

…try to remember to set aside any hostility I may have expressed to either a Jewish person or a Christian because of the struggle in which we are engaged in removing the barriers between us, and realize that though we may not always see things in the same way, we are striving toward the same goal, achieving unity in the body of Messiah so that God may once again dwell among the peoples called by His Name.

Before embarking on a journey from your place of residence, arrange a Chassidic farbrengen and receive a parting blessing from your good friends, and as the familiar expression goes: Chassidim never say farewell, for they never depart from each other. Wherever they are, they are one family.

-“Today’s Day”
Monday, 10 Adar 1, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Where your thoughts are, there you are, all of you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All of You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

May we all work to bring unity and peace among ourselves as believers, and with all humanity, through the Master and Savior of the world, Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 6: Tracking the Elusive Covenant

Then he began with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explained to them all of the Scriptures that spoke about him. They came near the village to which they were going, and he set his face as if he were continuing on his way. They urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for the time of evening has arrived, and the day has stretched on.”

So he entered the house to stay with them. When he reclined with them, he took the bread, made a barchah, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he turned aside and passed from their eyes! They said to one another, “Were our hearts not burning within us as he spoke to us on the road and interpreted the Scriptures?”

Luke 24:27-32 (DHE Gospels)

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends

-Lennon and McCartney
from the song, With a Little Help from My Friends (1967)

I wish that the Master would speak to me and cause my heart to burn by starting “with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explaining…all of the Scriptures that speak about him.”

As you know, particularly from Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, I’m having trouble matching up the New Covenant as described in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 with the words of the Master we find in Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20. If, as I learned from Derek Leman, the New Covenant is directed specifically at the Jewish people but possesses blessings for non-Jews, where can I find the blessings for the nations? Where can I find the connection?

As it turns out, the connection not only eludes me but, perhaps generations of people who are far more learned than I am:

I would not claim to be in any of the categories you mention, but we have history of nearly two thousand years of scholars who have traveled the same terrain – some of the most profound issues of our faith – and other who are doing the same right now. You really would benefit from some familiarity with their work. –Carl Kinbar

I feel better knowing that I’m not alone. I’m encouraged that I’m pursuing something that is as mysterious to others as it is to me. But then, what hope do I have in discovering answers to questions that scholars and saints have been wrestling with for the better part of 2,000 years? On the other hand, if I don’t attempt to also wrestle with these questions, how can I ever come to terms with my faith or have confidence that I, as a Christian, am also in covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

So many Christians take their faith for granted; they simply assume that the covenants and promises they’ve heard about from the pulpit are all explained and settled. Almost magically, the church leaps from “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” which we see in Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV) to this interpretation, taken from the The World Alliance of Reformed Churches website (added emphasis mine):

First, it is a community of God’s Torah: “I will put my torah in their midst” (31.33). The word torah means “law” and the teaching of the law and points to a way of ordering all of life under the covenant God. Specifically, torah provides a way of seeing reality through the lens of God’s passion and grief. Thus, the new covenant community (church) with torah in its midst will be transformed from self, indifference, and trivial moralisms to neighbour, witness, and costly love.

…Second, the new community (church) will be in covenantal solidarity about the knowledge of God: “They shall all know me, from the least of these to the greatest” (Jer 31.34).

Third, the new covenant community (the church) will know, experience and practice forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31.34).

broken-crossNot to be too harsh toward my brothers and sisters in the church or the many Christian scholars who support these conclusions, but I can find no method of transferring the New Covenant which God has and will make with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” to the Christian church of non-Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. It’s just not there in Jeremiah 31, nor in Ezekiel 36. So then, where do I look? As I alluded to above, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Here’s what one of them had to say.

I also don’t see how the Jeremiah and Ezekiel passages relate to Gentiles (at least not directly) and no exegetical commentary will claim that they do. That’s the stuff of homiletical commentaries. The only passages I know that implicitly make the connection are 1 Cor 11 and 2 Cor 3, both of which clearly have Gentile settings. While we see plenty of prophetic mention of light to the Gentiles and New Testament expansion of the gospel to Gentiles, the connection with the New Covenant seems to be a Pauline revelation/midrash. Exegetical commentaries should be helpful there, too, although many of them are supersessionist.

That’s a start, but before pursuing those scriptures in earnest, I want to outline the rest of the search.

I’ve already mentioned Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20, where Jesus connects the shedding of his blood with the inauguration (but not completion) of the New Covenant. We see the same scene displayed before us in Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV):

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the (Some manuscripts insert “new”) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Also, as I previously mentioned, Hebrews 8:6-7 addresses the New Covenant, however, a significant mention of the New Covenant is present in the following chapter of Hebrews, especially 9:15-22. We do see Paul talking about a covenant in Galatians 3:15-18, but it is specifically the Abrahamic covenant, so I’ll bypass Galatians until another day. Hebrews 6 also discusses God’s promise to Abraham.

Before going on, we need an anchor in the language of the New Covenant as recorded in the Tanakh (Old Testament). All of the “connectedness” we see in the New Testament that ties back to the original New Covenant language is through Christ who the church recognizes as the Jewish Messiah. He must be our anchor, or there is no connection at all.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ –Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)

With our anchor, the Messiah, the “righteous Branch”, now firmly in place, our next stop in following the trail of the elusive New Covenant connection is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for (or “broken for”) you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. –1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (ESV)

One thing the plain meaning of the text does for me is to more solidly connect the term “New Covenant” with that we call “the Lord’s Supper.” However, Paul seems to be employing the imagery we find in that event (Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:26-29 ESV) as a commentary or perhaps as midrash, using the people and activities associated with the Last Supper to describe the implications of the New Covenant upon the non-Jewish Corinthian church as those implications link back to the covenant’s core values and ideas.

Thus, if Paul believed it was through the blessings in the New Covenant (which primarily solidified and expanded the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants with the Jewish nation) that the Gentile Christians were also allowed to have a covenant relationship with God, he is saying that, by his audience behaving in a reprehensible and disrespectful manner when gathering together to break bread, they were also desecrating their New Covenant relationship, and thus bringing shame, rather than honor, to the Messiah. The result was that the Gentile Christians brought judgment upon themselves so that, through that discipline, they would not be condemned as will be those who are not in covenant relationship with God.

While Paul is using the Lord’s Supper/New Covenant language as metaphor and midrash to drive his point home to the Corinthians, from our point of view, we see a stronger link between the New Covenant, the “New Covenant” language used by Jesus during his last meal with his closest disciples, and how it can be applied, both positively and negatively, depending on the behavior of those people who are subject to specific covenant blessings; to the non-Jewish disciples who are called by the Messiah’s name.

To me, this is very encouraging. Although the route isn’t exactly straightforward, I can follow my “trail of breadcrumbs” from Jeremiah, to the Last Supper, and then to Paul’s “Corinthian midrash” on the New Covenant. It’s as if I’m trying to watch a television set from my youth, persistently adjusting the fine tuning knob to slowly produce a sharper image. But can we find even more clarification by progressing further along the path? What about 2 Corinthians 3? We’ll get to that particular milestone in Part 7 of this series.