Tag Archives: eisegesis

Exploring Reformed Theology: The Fallacy of Covenant Equality Between the Church and Israel

On Monday, I published an article I wrote called “Exploring Reformed Theology: Why the Church is Not Israel,” which was an extension of my previous blog post R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience.

All this was started because a video snippet of Sproul’s teaching on “active obedience” was posted by someone I know on his Facebook page. He responded to my putting the above-mentioned link to my “Exploring” blog post in the relevant Facebook conversation thread thus:

Doesn’t bother me that you don’t agree entirely with how Reformed theology characterizes Israel… I don’t either. I was simply trying to point out that the objections to Sproul’s position–as expressed in the video snippet, and not expanded beyond it–was based on a misreading. I wish I had time to engage the two things you’ve written recently, as I believe there is much I could point to that would remove the necessity to see yourself as so “other.” B’ezrat HaShem, I may…

Frankly, I wish he would. I’d love to hear how Christianity and Judaism could be reconciled relative to the covenants and understand how he comprehends this process working out. But I just don’t see it in the Bible. I just don’t see how Church= Israel and Israel = Church, particularly without totally devaluing Hashem’s covenant relationship with national Israel and the Jewish people.

Reformed Theologians, as far as my meager understanding of them goes, don’t believe they are involved in Replacement Theology, the idea that the Church replaces Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. They believe, since Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that they simply become participants of those covenants equally with Israel. Israel doesn’t lose its identity as such, but if I comprehend what Sproul was teaching correctly, once Jesus “fulfilled” all of the Torah commandments perfectly, and had the righteousness he gained by doing so transferred to all of his believers, there was no need for Jews (or Gentiles for that matter) to make any further attempts at performing the mitzvot.

In other words, post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the entire Torah goes “poof” and vanishes in puff of metaphoric smoke.

The problem with that is the significance and uniqueness of Israel and the Jewish people goes “poof” as well. They either have to convert to Christianity in order to gain righteous standing before God, or they vainly continue Jewish religious practice after Jesus made it obsolete.

And as my regular readers will attest, I have a real problem with that idea.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a multi-part review of David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations (by the way, it’s a fabulous book offering up a wide variety of perspectives, both Christian and Jewish, on the Messianic Jewish movement, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do).

One of those reviews is called Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Silo Invasion.

trespass
Photo: sialicencehub.co.uk

Basically, it goes like this. Let’s say that I believe I am my next door neighbor and my next door neighbor is me. Keep in mind that my neighbors have different jobs, lead different lives, have a different family constellation, are of a different age, and aren’t a lot like me at all.

But if I believe I am them and they are me, then everything I have belongs to them and everything they have belongs to me.

Except they don’t know this, only I know this.

So one evening after work, instead of going back to my house, I go into their home. Without so much as a by-your-leave, I breeze into their kitchen, make myself a sandwich, grab a beer, plop myself on their sofa, and start channel surfing looking for a show I want to watch (they have Netflix and I don’t, so this should be a move up for me).

I’m barely acquainted with my neighbors in real life, so if I actually did all this, I’m sure they would be astonished and outraged. Imagine how you’d feel and what you’d do if you were on the receiving end of this “visitor” acting like he owned your place and believing that he did.

Remember, I’m not replacing my neighbors. I’m not evicting them from their house. This is still their home. I just believe Jesus also gave me everything he gave them because I and my neighbors are now one in the same. God said so.

But he failed to tell my neighbors that, and they’re probably on the point of physical violence or getting ready to call the police and have me arrested for trespassing.

Now imagine how Jewish people feel when Christian Reformed Theologians say that Jesus fulfilled the Law and made it so that the Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that it has always been that way going all the way back to the beginning of the Bible, and that everything that ever made the Jewish people distinct, unique, and precious to God has been watered down to the point of non-existence by a worldwide population of Christians being thrown into the bucket.

Is it any wonder that Christians make Jews nervous?

I decided to go back to Theopedia.com and look up Covenant Theology, since that seems to be at the core of Reformed Theology’s claim of total equivalency with Israel:

Covenant Theology (or Federal theology) is a prominent feature in Protestant theology, especially in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and a similar form is found in Methodism and Reformed Baptist churches. This article primarily concerns Covenant Theology as held by the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, which use the covenant concept as an organizing principle for Christian theology and view the history of redemption under the framework of three overarching theological covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace. These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants, they are, according to covenant theologians, implicit in the Bible.

Mount SinaiLet’s take a look at part of the last sentence of that paragraph:

These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants… (emph mine).

You can click the link I provided above to read the entire content (it’s rather long), but I’m going to cut to the chase:

Criticism of Covenant Theology

Several primary weaknesses that are often attributed to Covenant Theology as a system are that, first, it requires an allegorical interpretation of many Scripture passages, including prophecy that relates to God’s future plans for Israel. Second, critics claim it does not draw a sufficient distinction between the conditional Mosaic covenant of the Law, the other unconditional covenants established by God for Israel, and the “better covenant” established by Jesus (cf. Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13). Third, it equates the nation of Israel with the New Testament Church. Fourth, the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture as such.

Again, let’s look at part of the last sentence in the above-quoted paragraph:

the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture… (emph mine).

In order to make this system work, you have to use a lot of imagination, first by applying allegorical interpretations on various portions of scripture, and also substituting your imagination for what’s missing in scripture, since the so-called Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace don’t exist in the Bible at all!

Now I want to take a look on what this theology says about the New Covenant:

The New Covenant, predicted by the prophet Jeremiah in the eponymous book, chapter 31, and connected with Jesus at the Last Supper where he says that the cup is “the New Covenant in [his] blood” and further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 8-10). The term “New Testament,” most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.

I went nuts when I realized there was no direct connection between the New Covenant language we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and the “Last Supper” (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39 and Jn. 13:1-17:26). None. I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.

new heartIt took me months and months of studying and banging my head against a proverbial brick wall, but piece by piece, I finally put the puzzle together. I wrote nearly a dozen separate blog posts chronicling my journey of discovery, and how I finally came to a sort of peace about how non-Jews can at all participate in some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

I’ve summarized that journey in a number of places including in The Jesus Covenant: Building My Model (that’s what I called it, “The Jesus Covenant,” because it’s a covenant that, as much of the Church understands it, doesn’t exist).

Subsequent to all this, I got my hands on a copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant on audio CD, which filled the few small gaps in my knowledge base but otherwise mirrored my conclusions pretty closely.

Bottom line is that although Hashem has always intended the non-Jewish people to be part of His Kingdom, to worship Him, to honor Him, and to serve Him, apart from the Noahide Covenant (see Genesis 9), all of the significant covenants He made were with the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Period.

The only connection the rest of us have is because of God’s grace and mercy upon the world. We can attach ourselves to Israel, specifically through Israel’s firstborn son, Rav Yeshua, and through faith, trust, and devotion, God allows us to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant, without us actually being named participants in said-covenant.

That doesn’t make the Church equals with Israel, it makes believing non-Jews beneficiaries of Israel. Put bluntly, we are in the “one-down” position, subservient relative to the covenants, because we have no actual right to them. We benefit from God’s mercy upon us. We should be grateful.

So instead of just waltzing into someone else’s house, eating their food, drinking their beer, and taking over the TV remote, we should be thankful that we have been invited in as humble guests.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

If God wants to exalt us, that’s God’s decision. We don’t get to exalt ourselves by taking a place that doesn’t belong to us.

JourneyI can only imagine that Reformed Theology gives its followers a great deal of emotional and spiritual comfort, but in a way, it also doesn’t take much mental exercise (except exercising your Biblical fantasy life). What do we get from God? Just look at all the covenants He made with Israel. That’s what belongs to the Church, too.

Except when you dig a little deeper, you come up with a tremendous mystery, especially if you don’t let allegory and imagination get in the way of what the Bible actually says.

I know that what I’m writing will make some people unhappy and maybe even angry. I know if you take what I’m writing seriously and you start your own exploration, you will find your faith challenged and your “comfort bubble” popped.

Every spiritual discovery of worth is preceded by a crisis of faith. It’s really uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads to apostasy and walking away from God altogether. Other times, Christians (of one variety or another) decide Judaism is the better option, because we know the Jewish people, all of them, are named participants of the covenants. No mystery there.

But if you just hang in there and keep digging, you’ll find there’s a lot more of value in understanding who we are as “people of the nations called by His Name” than you ever would have imagined.

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What I Learned in Church Today: The Eisegesis of 1 Timothy 1:8-11

In church today, Pastor Randy preached on Deuteronomy 5 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 but I want to preface this “meditation” by citing some of the notes from the Sunday school class, which taught on Deuteronomy 9.

What can cause us to not give God credit for our successes and blessings? Why is it important for us also to “remember and never forget” (citing Deut. 9:4-7) what God has done for us “in Christ”?

The obvious answer to that first question is “pride” and that plays into the next classroom question.

Have you or I been a source of frustration to someone in leadership responsibility over us? Give examples of our acts or omissions that make their job more difficult.

For me, the answer is “Well, yes, of course” and my examples would be most of my conversations with Pastor Randy over various theological issues, principally the issue of the continuation of the Jewish obligation to the Torah commandments.

Now I have to be very careful. Before the beginning of class, the teacher was telling me what a challenge putting together this week’s lesson was and later during class, he said that he prepares a full two-page lesson outline so we’ll have to study for several days before class and not just whip out our notes the night before.

Except I didn’t think his lesson was particularly challenging and I did complete the worksheet the day before in something under an hour.

To be fair, I have probably spent more time studying the Torah than most of my fellow students so grasping the essentials of the material seems a fairly straightforward affair, at least as my teacher presents them.

And I have to watch out for that “pride” thing. I had to keep stopping myself (my train of thought) in class and remind myself not to be so arrogant, which I’ve written about before. I thought I had successfully re-evaluated my role in church but I still find that I am struggling with some very difficult but very typical attitudes in Christianity.

One last question from Sunday school before I get started on the sermon.

In Deut. Chs. 9 and 10, God answers Moses’ prayer not to destroy the nation. He goes up for a 2nd written copy of the 10 Commandments. How easily do you and I give up on others?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, although Pastor and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much in terms of theology and doctrine, I have a great deal of respect for him as a person, a scholar, and a Pastor. When he preaches, I usually am frantically taking notes and writing commentary and critique on the various points he makes, but this was the first time when, after he said something quite specific, I almost stood up and walked out in mid-sermon.

But let me back up a bit.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Pastor is taking several weeks to lay the foundation for a series on the Ten Commandments and his assertion that these specific commandments are universal, timeless, and apply to all Christians today. He’s lifting just the Ten Commandments out of the Torah and saying they are the only parts of the 613 Commandments that remain in force for the Church (although he has an interesting spin on the commandment to keep the Shabbat), and that the rest of the Law ended with Jesus (Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:19).

All this, I knew and it didn’t surprise me, but when he left Deuteronomy 5 and moved on to 1 Timothy 1, I was in for a surprise. I suppose I should insert the specific text for reference. Actually, it’s a little more than just verses eight through eleven.

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

1 Timothy 1:3-11 (NASB)

Talmud StudySo the issue, as I’m reading it, was that Paul was relating to Timothy how in Ephesus some men were teaching “strange doctrines” that had to do with “myths” and “endless genealogies” and giving rise to “mere speculation”. Apparently, these guys wanted to be “teachers of the Law” but according to Paul, they didn’t know what they were talking about.

It would seem to indicate that these men weren’t Jewish since it would be fairly likely that Jewish teachers would have some idea of how to teach the relevant essentials of the Law (Torah) to newly minted Gentile disciples of the Master. I suppose the “endless genealogies” could be indicative of Judaism since we find numerous genealogies in the Torah and later, when the Apostolic Scriptures were canonized, we find that the genealogy of Jesus (Yeshua) is included and considered important in establishing his credentials as Messiah. But I hardly think that Paul would consider anything related to the Torah, including Jewish commentary on the scriptures, would qualify as “myth”. This is more reminiscent of how I have experienced, at different times over the past ten years or so, some non-Jewish teachers have rendered their interpretations of the Torah, and more than a few theories have been rather fanciful.

So what “strange doctrines” were the fellows Paul describes trying to pass off on the disciples in Ephesus?

In verse eight, Paul says that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” but while Pastor acknowledged the wordplay in Greek (“Law”, “lawfully”), he chose to translate the latter word as “properly”. Toward the end of his sermon, in his notes, he asked “What is the improper use of the law?”

One of the misuses, according to Pastor, is following speculations, controversies, and myths rather than “sound doctrine”. So who is engaging in these speculations, controversies and myths?

Although it would have been impossible for Paul to have meant this, Pastor is applying this “misuse of the Law” to Rabbinic Judaism with all their “man-made rules” (which most Rabbis consider the interpretation of the various mitzvot and their application across history and the differing requirements and circumstances that arise). He also cited the teachings of Seventh-Day Adventism as distracting from the doctrine that one is saved only through faith in Christ.

And then he mentioned Messianic Judaism as “speculative” and “controversial” with their proposition that a Jew can have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and still realize that the Sinai Covenant and its conditions, the statutes and laws of the Torah, remain obligatory for Jewish Jesus-believers.

I know all of the areas that Pastor and I disagree upon, but this is the first time, especially publicly, that he directly hammered on the theological and doctrinal platform which is the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.

Imagine being a Seventh-Day Adventist and listening to this part of the sermon. How would you feel? Or at different times, Pastor or others in the church have taken exception to Pentecostals, Catholics, and Mormons. Imagine being a member of one of those denominations or orientations and being a guest in Pastor’s church to listen to such sermons and teachings.

Like I said, my first impulse was to stand up and walk out. My second impulse was to wait until the sermon was over and then leave, skipping Sunday school.

I thought better of both actions and when I’m caught off guard, it’s usually a bad idea for me to go with the first thought that pops into my head.

So I’m writing about it instead.

I used the word Eisegesis in the title of this blog post, which is basically reading your theology and doctrine into the Biblical text, as opposed to Exegesis which is reading the Biblical text and allowing it to develop your theology and doctrine, and I never thought I’d say something like this about Randy.

Although we disagree on many things, I know that he’s an intelligent, well-educated and well-read, thoughtful, and honest researcher. I know, like most of us, that he comes from a particular theological tradition and that perspective colors how he reads the Bible. My perspective equally colors my interpretation of the Bible, and I don’t believe any human being can be perfectly objective, especially in the realm of religion.

However, I do believe that my theology is driven by a more straightforward view of what the Bible says and treats all of scripture as a single, unified document which doesn’t require suddenly “jumping the tracks” from one major version of God’s redemptive plan to another at Acts 2. But to equate Paul’s comments on speculations, controversies, and myths specifically to variants on religious Judaism, as well as a Christian denomination that is generally accepted by most other mainstream Christian denomination, is pure opinion and cannot be reasonably derived from the text.

rabbis-talmud-debateI know that even Christians who say they love Jewish people and Israel, draw the line at Judaism as a religion, generally expressing at least some disdain at what is considered “the traditions of men” (and remember, it wasn’t that long ago in Church history when we were burning volumes of Talmud and calling said-volumes “obscene”), but I know that the “love” many Christians say they have for the Jews, once you throw religious Judaism into the mix, has a severe limitation.

I suppose this is just my opinion, but what if when Messiah returns, the way we will be worshiping and studying will be more like a Judaism than a Christianity? After all, “ekklesia” doesn’t mean “church”. I’ve written before that the word “church” didn’t come into existence for many centuries after the Bible was canonized.

Pastor himself said assembled Israel was referred to in Biblical Hebrew as “kahal” which is (interestingly enough) translated in the Septuagint as “synagogue”. The Apostolic Scriptures use the word “ekklesia” and they all (more or less) mean a gathering of people for a specific purpose.

I think it’s a shame that all English Bibles translate the word “ekklesia” as “church” not only because it’s anachronistic (although referring to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 5 as “synagogue” is as well) but because it sends the message that the Jews as Jews are out of the picture and replaced by Gentile (and Jewish) Christians.

Now to his credit, Pastor spent a significant amount of time saying that all of God’s promises to the Jewish people in the Bible are true and, if they aren’t, then we (Gentile) Christians have no assurance that God’s promises to us aren’t true as well (although all of God’s covenant promises are made with the House of Judah and the House of Israel…and only His covenant with Noah involves the rest of humanity…we’re just grafted into the blessings of the New Covenant).

But how can God’s promises to Israel all still be true if virtually all the conditions of the Sinai Covenant expired when Jesus died on the cross (something God never mentioned even once when He made the Sinai Covenant)? How can God’s promise that the Aaronic priesthood is an eternal covenant (Numbers 18:7) if, as Pastor says, the Priesthood of Melchizedek replaces the Aaronic? The Prophet Ezekiel says in no uncertain terms that the sons of Zadok, who are from the sons of Levi, will be the priests in the future Temple that will be built in Messianic times (Ezekiel 40:45-46).

It would be impossible for all of the Torah precepts except for the Ten Commandments to have ended permanently “at the cross.” If that were true, the Levitical priests in Ezekiel’s Temple wouldn’t know what to do with themselves since their duties are described down to the last detail only in the Torah.

That’s also why, when the New Covenant fully emerges into our world in Messianic Days, the Torah must continue as the conditions of that covenant, even as they remain the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, which is still incumbant on the Jewish people (including Messianic Jewish people) today.

Maybe in a later blog post, I’ll insert the diagram Pastor put in his sermon notes, which map the Ten Commandments to 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and which supposedly serve as proof of Pastor’s assertion that only the Ten Commandments survive out of the full body of laws given at Sinai. It is (again, this is all my opinion) wildly speculative to somehow read this portion of 1 Timothy and believe this is what Paul was presenting, rather than the Apostle writing to address a situational problem occurring at that point of time within the ekklesia at Ephesus.

Although his comments on Messianic Judaism were the real “capper” for me, I was still astonished with him explaining that the two greatest commandments we see Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:34-40 were “proof” that Jesus said only the Ten Commandments apply in Christianity (nevermind that Jesus was still alive so the Law hadn’t been “nailed to the cross” with him yet, that he was a Torah observant Jew, and that with rare exception, all of the people he spoke with and taught were Torah observant Jews) because the Ten Commandments can be divided into those laws that relate to God and man and those laws that relate to men and other men.

And yet, all of the 613 mitzvot can be divided into those two general groups, so Matthew 22:34-40 is not a good proof text to support Pastor’s assertion.

I know Pastor is well-educated in theology and I’m just an interested amateur, but I feel like I could walk through the gaping holes he left in his presentation.

I’m sorry, I really am. I know I’m probably going off half-cocked and I’m trying really hard not to let my feeling like my tail has been stepped on overwhelm my good sense, but it just seems fantastic to me that Pastor’s read on the Ten Commandments and especially his opinion on Messianic Judaism being a controversy and even a myth isn’t a projection of Christian traditions being read back into the Bible in order to support what he considers “sound doctrine”. It’s more like a defense against the idea that God really did make permanent covenants and that His promises actually do endure just as God uttered them and had recorded in the Bible. Pastor admits that the Jewish people will always be a nation before God, but he’s missing just how they’re supposed to remain recognizably and “covenantally” Jewish.

I inserted my Sunday school class notes above in part because they included a suggestion that disagreeing with church leadership is a bad thing. Am I being disobedient and prideful by disagreeing, especially so strongly, with the Pastor’s teachings? Is this my pride talking or am I allowed to have my own theological opinions independent of what’s being taught? God did make Randy the head Pastor of this church. He has authority over everyone who chooses to attend. Who am I to argue?

I stopped referring to Randy “my Pastor” when he called me on the fact that I disagree with him on almost everything. But why is it only “sound doctrine” when it’s stuff that he teaches based on the particular model of theology to which he subscribes? More than ever, I’m convinced that the Church teaches on principles that more resemble sound tradition. What one considers “sound” simply depends on what Christian traditions are employed to interpret scripture.

ChurchI don’t want to be prideful, disobedient, and arrogant, thinking I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Believe me, I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But what am I supposed to do, especially now, when I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner?

I used to worry that I’d never make any sort of impact in this church environment but now I’m worried I am making an impact, a bad one. If this is the result of my discussions about Torah and the Jewish people with Pastor in specific and with others more generally, then what a terrible thing I’ve done.

Oh, and yes, I plan to go back to church next week if for no other reason than because Pastor said that today’s and next week’s sermons are necessary to understand the foundation he’s putting down. He’ll be speaking on Galatians 3 next week. Oy.

Addendum: Continued in The Consequences of Disagreeing.

The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974
GTY.org

I know, I know. I promised no more MacArthur, but in this case, “Big Mac” actually did me a favor. He helped me (though I’m sure it was unintentional) figure out why “the Church” thinks the New Covenant is all about them and why the New Covenant is supposed to replace the Old. I’ve read the relevant scriptures many times, but could never figure out how Christians fit themselves (ourselves) into the New Covenant language. But let’s review a bit. I looked back on a series I wrote called “The Jesus Covenant” (no, there’s no such thing, but at one point, I had no clue how non-Jewish people could enter into any sort of relationship with God at all related to covenant, and I had to call the series something) and found the key scriptures recorded in The Jesus Covenant, Part 1: The Foundation.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law (Heb. “Torah”) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:22-28 (ESV)

It actually helps if you read Jeremiah and Ezekiel cover-to-cover, rather than taking verses out of context in order to preserve the entire flow of thought of these prophets. You get a much more cohesive picture of what they’re actually saying. The exile

Notice in both of the above-quoted portions of scripture that God is specifically addressing “the House of Judah” and “the House of Israel.” Unless you subscribe to the Two-House theology and believe that any non-Jew who is at all attracted to Judaism and the Torah must be a hidden member of one of the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel,” then you can plainly see that the verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel referencing the New Covenant have absolutely nothing to do with the non-Jewish nations of the world, that is to say, most of humanity.

The New Covenant language applies only to the descendants of Judah and Israel in our modern world, the Jewish people.

Period.

You can see why it took me eleven or twelve separate blog posts in order to figure out where we Gentiles fit in. There’s no smoking gun, no signposts on the road to tell us, as there is with the Jewish people, where non-Jews fit in as far as God’s plan of redemption, restoration, and Messianic Kingdom world peace is concerned. You don’t have to read the whole series (though I wouldn’t mind if you did) to get the answer.

I basically spelled it out in The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians and in The Jesus Covenant, Part 11: Building My Model. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is how in all of Church history, Christianity had misinterpreted these scriptures so badly, forcing a connection between the Church and the New Covenant which does not exist and which specifically bumps Israel out of the picture entirely.

Then, in editing my third and final review of John MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” lecture series, I saw the quote that spelled it all out. I posted it at the top but here it is again, with emphasis added:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

Do you see it? Do you see where MacArthur, and presumably all the denominations of anything calling themselves “Christian” in any way anywhere made their mistake? Israel

All of the New Covenant language expressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-28 is specifically addressed to the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Further, when you take into account the larger context of these verses, you must realize that the prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, when Messiah comes (returns) as King and inaugurates the Messianic Era, when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh in such a way that the least of all human beings will still “know God” in a greater way than John the Baptist (read Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Joel 2:28-29, 32 and Luke 22:14-23 for context). Do you really think we have that today as Christians?

Since we don’t yet have a new heart and a new Spirit in us (I’m not saying that believers don’t have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only the “first fruits,” just the very leading edge of what these prophets are talking about) so that we are all functionally prophets, and since we (Gentiles) aren’t of the House of Judah or the House of Israel, then the New Covenant language can’t be talking about the rise of “the Church” beginning with Acts 2 and progressing across the rest of the New Testament and into the last nearly two-thousand years of “Church history!” The very best we can say, as I mentioned above, is that the giving of the Spirit to the Jewish apostles in Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit to Gentiles, starting with the Roman God-Fearer Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, are a sort of “first fruits” of the New Covenant promise that is yet to come!

This will definitely not make any traditional Christian at all happy. It might make some Christians angry and defiant. Some Christians, hopefully those who investigate and realize that the Bible doesn’t actually read the way they’ve been taught, might feel a sense of loss and even depression that “the Church” isn’t the center of the universe and our guarantee that all Gentile believers are the best thing God created since sliced bread and peanut butter.

But we really have no reason to be depressed or experience loss. It’s not as if God doesn’t love all the world. It’s not like this invalidates John 3:16. God still “so loves the world,” that is to say, all the people in it, not just the Jewish people. He has a plan for us, it’s just not the plan that “the Church” believes in. This hidden but massive error is the very foundation of supersessionism and anti-Semitism at the root of all expressions of Christianity everywhere on earth. We don’t see it or feel it because it’s buried so deep in our theology. It is the heart of what Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann has called cryptosupersessionism.

Christianity is completely unconscious of its presence and yet it colors everything we in the Church say, do, think, and feel about Christianity and what we believe being a Christian means. I know a lot of Christians including a lot of Hebrew Roots Christians will be upset about what I’m writing, saying I’m doing something terrible, elevating Israel above the Church, creating inequities and all that, but it’s not like we don’t have an exceptionally vital role to play in God’s plan.

RestorationI don’t want to repeat myself, since I’ve written at length a number of times before about the plan God has for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. For examples see Provoking Zealousness, How Will Christians Perfect the World?, The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, and my recent blog post Don’t Argue. This is why First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) President and Founder Boaz Michael in his Tent Builders presentation (see his book Tent of David for the details of his plan to correct the Church’s faulty vision) says that:

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

We’ve all been taught to believe what John MacArthur believes about the New Covenant. The Christian Church in all its incarnations is guilty throughout its existence of the most heinous act of eisegesis in the history of the Bible and Biblical studies. We’ve chronically and grossly misinterpreted the Old Testament and New Testament text (and even those titles are a tremendous misrepresentation of contents and purpose) in such a way that it forces the anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah presuppositions, agendas, and biases of the Church into and onto the text.

This is the error of “the Church”. This is where, for all the good Christianity has done, the Church has gone wrong since almost the beginning. This is the problem that the Reformation failed to address. This is why Gentiles are in the Messianic movement, not to move in on Jewish worship and identity space, but to right a two-thousand year old wrong. May Heaven grant strength and endurance for those of us who are delivering this message that some ears may hear and understand and not reject and disdain.

A brother will betray his brother to death, and a father will betray his son, and children will rise up against fathers and kill them, and you will be hated by everyone for the sake of my name. But the one who keeps waiting until the time of the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22 (DHE Gospels)

This is why I’m here. This is why I write. To deliver a message that the Church doesn’t want to hear. To point to the scriptures that Christianity doesn’t want to understand. Check those scriptures for yourself leaving your eisegesis and your assumptions at the door. Do you see what I see? If you do, why are you here and what do you need to do now?

There’s going to be an extra meditation today. I need to inject some balance into the messages I’ve been writing lately about the Church. In spite of all I just said, there is also much good in the Church. You’ll see.

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 3

We were sitting in the State Dining Room just to the left of George Healy’s arresting portrait of Abraham Lincoln, seated forward and listening intently. I couldn’t help recalling the stinging words from his Second Inaugural Address: “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Jewish and Catholic Views on Abortion,” pg 264 – Jan. 28, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Through Grace Church we ought to probably say for our first time guests we believe in two things that make the church what it ought to be. One is love. And that’s an honest kind of biblical love. The other is sound doctrine. And so our commitment is not only to love the brothers and exercise the ministry of spiritual gifts and the responsibilities of fellowship to one another, but it is also to systematically verse by verse teach the Bible. Believing that if we protect the saints, the saints will do the work of the ministry.

And so in our study of the Scripture, we find ourselves in the book of Acts which is the historical record of the early church from the day of Pentecost through those early years. And we have come in our study to the 18th chapter and really begun what is one message in three parts as often we find is the case. We’re studying the subject generally from Judaism to Jesus. And beginning in 18:18 the Holy Spirit gives us three incidents or three little experiences that illustrate to us the transition that was taking place from Judaism to Jesus.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974
GTY.org

This is continued from Part Two of my review and is the third and final offering in MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” series and thus my third and final review of the material. I thought I was through with MacArthur when I finished my reviews of the various sessions of his Strange Fire conference, but he keeps popping up on my radar screen. Hopefully, this last review of his sermons will put all the “demons” surrounding my dubious interest in this Pastor to rest.

When Christianity was established and a new covenant was introduced, there were many Jews who found it very difficult to make all of the transition very rapidly. And so there were people in the midst of transition, coming to Jesus Christ from Judaism and caught somewhere in the transition.

And we come in to this study to the third section of our transitional study, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 19 and we meet a group of 12 men who also are in transition. Now remember this, that the whole of Judaism pervaded all of these people’s lives, Christianity came in and it took a while for all of the adjustments to take place. In some cases like Paul, he couldn’t let go of some old patterns. Like Apollus (sic) he just didn’t know the whole Gospel.

Paul personally had two extraordinary visions of the Master, was hand-picked by the exalted Jesus to be God’s emissary to the Gentiles and to take the Gospel message to the then-civilized world, and yet MacArthur has the bald-faced chutzpah to say that Paul couldn’t let go of Judaism because “he just didn’t know the whole gospel.” Amazing.

John MacArthurI think MacArthur, like many Christians, believes that the gospel or “good news” is a New Testament invention of Jesus rather than one that is more expansive, dates back much farther in Jewish history than Jesus, and is not simply defined by the textual contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you’d like (or maybe need) a primer on what “gospel” and “the gospel message” means, please see the thirty-minute episode The Gospel Message of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come.

At this point, it might be good to have a look at the scripture MacArthur is referencing:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

Acts 19:1-7 (NASB)

Now remember, MacArthur is teaching that this passage indicates a transition is taking place in the lives of Jewish believers “from Judaism to Jesus.” In reading the text, I’m not seeing immediate signs of any difficulty with Judaism, struggle in transition, or some sort of apparent conflict between Judaism and Jesus. What does MacArthur have to say (besides, quite a lot)?

Now that question posed in 19:2, “have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed” has become the favorite question of a modern movement in Christianity. And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong. The point of view that I take here is simply the exposition of the text. But I want to approach it in the light of a current movement because then I think you can see its significance.

We live in a day when the movement that we know of is Pentecostalism or if you will the later movement begun in 1960 called the charismatic movement has posed this question as the question to ask Christians. “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” The view that they take is that you can be a Christian and not possess the Holy Spirit. And at some point after your salvation you then by a certain activity allowed through certain information to come to the knowledge of the fact that the Spirit is available to you and that you can receive the Holy Spirit in certain ways.

Strange FireRemember, MacArthur originally delivered this sermon in January 1974, nearly forty years before his controversial Strange Fire conference. And yet, he approaches the issue of Pentecostalism in basically the same manner four decades ago as he did just four months ago, and anticipates the response to his message in the words, “And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong,” knowing his message would sound like he was looking for a fight and to define right and wrong by his standards. When he says his point of view “is simply the exposition of the text,” he creates the illusion that he is only reporting the facts with no filters in place and no embellishment of the Biblical text. As we’ve seen time and again in analyzing his messages (and in examining just about anyone’s theological bent), there are always interpretive filters in place. The Bible can’t be understood without interpretation, even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Here, in the guise of an analysis of Acts 19 and even a replacement theory viewpoint of “from Judaism to Jesus,” MacArthur takes a stab at the Pentecostal church.

And we’re going to approach this question to try to show that the Christian, whoever he is, receives the Holy Spirit in full permanent, personal in dwelling from the moment of salvation. And this is an important question. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this. People say to me, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” And I say, “Of course.” And one fellow said, “Oh, I didn’t realize. You’re one of us.” I said, “Well I don’t know about that, I might be one of you, what are you?”

It’s actually an interesting situation. Some people who were believers received the Holy Spirit and some didn’t know that they were supposed to. I don’t think that Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10) expected to receive the Holy Spirit. They just did. For that matter, did the apostles in Acts 2 really expect to receive the Spirit as “tongues of fire” or did it just happen to them without any expectation?

Are you only a believer if you receive the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 and Acts 10 way? I don’t recall any “tongues of fire” and speaking foreign languages or prophesying when I became a believer. Maybe I’m the same boat as the disciples in Ephesus who received John’s baptism but not the Spirit. For that matter, Acts 8 records the Ethiopian becoming a believer during his conversation with Philip but is conspicuous in that he did not receive the Spirit. He was just baptised in water and went on his merry way back home. Did Philip not know about the Spirit? Did he not receive it in Acts 2?

I wonder what MacArthur would think about all these monkey wrenches in the machine? When he became a believer, did he see tongues of fire, speak in foreign languages and speak prophesies? If not, why not? Is that one of the “gifts of the Spirit” we don’t experience today? Do we just presume that the Spirit inhabits us when we declare our faith in Messiah?

If you make the book of Acts the norm, then you got tremendous problems. You’re going to have to allow for revelation current today. You’re going to have to allow for Apostles today. You’re going to have to allow for all of the signs and wonders and miracles that accompanied the early church and the various manifestations. Not just in some segments of Christianity, but throughout unqualified. There are many problems.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur spends quite some time going over various arguments he has with Pentecostals, which isn’t what I expected to read about and isn’t the focus of my interest in this sermon series. He does seem to say that we can’t expect to receive the Holy Spirit as believers in the manner commonly observed in the Book of Acts, so I guess that covers those of us who didn’t have a “tongues of fire” experience. Actually in this, I tend to agree more with MacArthur than some of his opponents. We don’t seem to find the same experiences when we become believers as the apostles and early disciples did.

So now we’re back to MacArthur the Supersessionist:

So as we see in the book of Acts is a transition. The new covenant comes, the old covenant has died and as the book of Hebrews says, “It fades away, it decays and grows old.” But as the new covenant arrives, the people come to Christ which is a momentary miracle; they still find it difficult to make the full transition. And so in the book of Acts, there are various transitional things occurring. There are some old things that just kind of die slowly. Some old forms like for example, the early church met in the synagogue.

Again, this is straight replacement theology, with the New Covenant directly replacing the Old Covenant rather than, as we see in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the New Covenant restating and reasserting the conditions of the previous covenants for Israel. In fact, only one condition in the Abrahamic Covenant can be directly applied to Gentiles having a binding relationship with God, and that’s only through faith as Abraham had faith. And it’s only because that one condition in the Abrahamic covenant is carried over and restated in the New Covenant that Gentiles have access to reconciliation with God through faith.

In other words, there’s no provision in the covenantal structure for new to replace old. New simply ratifies older and re-emphasizes it. It took me a long time to figure this out, about eleven blog posts worth, starting with this one. The revelation in my self-education is why I can’t swallow the traditional Christian replacement theology model. The Bible, and particularly the language around the New Covenant, just doesn’t support it.

“Paul after this charity good while in Corinth and then he took his leave of the brothern, (sic) sailed from there to Syria, with him Priscilla and Aquila. Paul having cut his hair in Cenchrea for he had a vow.” And that tells us he was in transition, he was still making vows on an Old Testament basis, Nazarite vow and he did it in thanks to God for delivering him from Gallio and from those Jews in Corinth who wanted to take his life.

No, Pastor MacArthur, that tells us Paul took a Nazarite vow in accordance to Numbers 6. There’s nothing in the text that says anything about a transition. Please stop reading into the text.

Now this shows you this stringent nature of Paul’s Judaism, even though he was a Christian, he still wanted to fulfill this vow in the right way and he wanted to be there for the feast which was a Judaistic feast.

MacArthur sets Christianity and Judaism in sharp contrast to one another, making them mutually exclusive. One could not practice Judaism as a Jew and at the same time pay homage to and be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

That is a crazy statement to make, but all too many Christians don’t see the glaring error in Biblical interpretation. If Sola Scriptura is really supposed to mean “by scripture alone,” traditional Biblical interpretation in the modern Christian church doesn’t meet this standard by a long shot. You can’t be reading the plain meaning of the text in the larger context of the book and the even larger context of all of the scriptures and come to the conclusions at which MacArthur arrives.

I was about ready to dismiss the rest of his sermon when I came across this paragraph:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

MessiahI find it astonishing that MacArthur can read one of the key texts that describe the New Covenant and still not know what it means. Do we have a new heart and a new spirit yet as Christians? We do? Really? Then why do we still struggle? Why do we still sin? If we got that new heart and new spirit already, what can we look forward to in the Messianic Era when human beings are perfected and King Messiah establishes his reign of total peace and understanding of God?

I hope you understand that. And again I hope you understand that this is said with a sense of love and a sensitivity to the fact that many could construe that I am bitter towards these people (the twelve disciples Paul encounters in Acts 19:1-7). I am not; I am zealous for the glory of God. Well so we meet the third party in transition. Let me close by saying this. We met three little transitions here, didn’t we? First Paul, then Apollos, then the 12. And you know something? We’re a long way from the book of Acts. But we see these three groups still. You know that in the church of Jesus Christ we’ve got people like Paul who are saved, have come all the way to Jesus Christ, but they’re hanging on to legalism?

There’s no way to know what MacArthur really thinks and feels, so I guess I have to take it for granted that MacArthur really doesn’t have it in for the twelve presumably Jewish disciples under discussion because they had the baptism of John but not the Holy Spirit. MacArthur, referencing his first two sermons as well as this one, says that Paul, Apollos, and the twelve were all Jews in transition from Judaism to Jesus.

They’re hanging on to old patterns, traditions, even some Jewish people who find it very difficult to fully absorb themselves in the life of the church. And I say this; I praise God for Jewish Christians who function fruitfully in the ministry of the body of Christ as opposed to maintaining isolation. But you know we have many believers today in Christ who are still they’re not in yet. They’re still holding on to old things. And then we have people like Apollos, sure we have people who good people, honest people, repentive sin, they just believe in God, but they’ve never met Christ.

It seems that MacArthur is praising the Jewish people who have become believers and assimilated into the Gentile Christian Church, while “challenging” or “not praising” those Jews who are believers but who “can’t let go of the old ways” and saying they know God but haven’t met Christ. They’re “not in yet,” according to MacArthur. So much for Messianic Jews, apparently. They aren’t real believers until they set aside the mitzvot and the traditions and function just like goyim in the Church. Ham sandwich, anyone?

Maybe they think of Jesus as a wonderful teacher, a man of great ethics, they never come to the cross and the resurrection. And then we’ve got a lot of people running around who are uninstructed in the Holy Spirit. Much of it is because they don’t even know Jesus Christ. Some know Christ. And grieve the Spirit by misunderstanding His marvelous work. I hope you’re not in transition. I hope like the writer of Hebrews says, “you will come all the way to the fullness of experiencing all that God has provided for you.” Let’s pray.

Ending MacArthur seriesAnd so we come to the end of the sermon and the end of the sermon series. As far as praying goes, now that I’ve reviewed three of MacArthur’s sermons as well as writing multiple reviews of the “Strange Fire” presentations, I pray I can let go of John MacArthur. He can travel his particular trajectory and I can travel mine.

We both read the same Bible and we pray to the same God but, like Abraham Lincoln once said, in our own ways, as Messianic to supersessionistic Christian, we “each invoke God’s aid against the other.” I actually don’t want to oppose Pastor John MacArthur. I don’t want to define myself as an “anti-MacArthurite.” But I do, as I have made abundantly clear, disagree with him pretty much across the board. I think he represents everything that inhibits Boaz Michael’s vision of Gentiles partnering with Israel in rebuilding David’s fallen tent. I think MacArthur is the living embodiment of Boaz’s statement, “The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.”

More’s the pity.

Addendum: Turns out my Pastor preached on this part of Acts as well recently. Tomorrow’s morning meditation will contain my Pastor’s take on some of this, which should augment and occasionally modify what MacArthur preached.

Does the Church Interpret the Bible Based on Traditions?

Question: What if I believe only in the written text of the Torah?

Answer: I’m glad to hear that you have such strong faith in the “Hebrew Bible.” My question is, how do you know that this is true? Certainly, you must be relying on tradition. Otherwise, how do you know that the words you have before you are the original words written by Moses and the prophets? How do you know that they ever received this to begin with? What other way is there than to rely on the integrity of the Jewish people over the ages?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
-from “What If I Believe in Only the Written Text of the Torah?”
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman has written a multi-part series on the nature of Midrash which I plan to explore. The above-quoted text isn’t part of that series but I think it’s a good place to start my own investigation for a couple of reasons. The first, as I previously mentioned, is I have my doubts of the effectiveness of the philosophy of sola scriptura as practiced by certain expressions of “the Church”. I really don’t believe that most Christians really, really access “scripture alone.” To be fair, I believe they think they do and that they are sincere in their convictions, I just think they are either blind to the presence of interpretive tradition, or if aware of it, they do not believe it has as much influence on their “vision” as it actually does.

One of the things I admire about Judaism is that it admits to relying on tradition to interpret the Bible and in fact states that it is impossible to understand what the Bible is saying without a system of interpretation and tradition to use as a lens.

That’s going to freak out a lot of Biblical literalists in the Church and this isn’t the first time I’ve made such a statement (see Removing the Garments of Torah and The Purpose of Torah in New Testament Judaism series for examples).

I do want to state upfront that just because a tradition exists, either in the Christian or Jewish frameworks, doesn’t mean we should automatically accept it as fact and truth. On the other hand, without tradition (and I agree with the Jewish perspective on this), at least to some degree, we’d never be able to understand let alone implement various portions of the Bible.

I should also mention at this point that many (most?) Hebrew Roots groups echo the question stated above, believing in the accuracy and authority of the written Torah but disdaining any of the Rabbinic commentaries which are used to interpret and operationalize Torah (and how do they tie their tzitzit and lay their tefillin without relying on Rabbinic tradition?). Such groups seem to take what they want from normative Judaism while escorting the Rabbinic sages and their rulings and interpretations to the nearest dust bin.

And that, really, is Judaism: a faith in the integrity of the Jewish experience as transmitted to us by previous generations. It turns out that everything we believe, including faith in the word of the written Torah, is based on this faith in the Jewish people. Perhaps that is the reason we call it Judaism (or Yahadut, or Yiddishkeit) and not “Torahism” (or Karaism)—because the most basic faith we have is in the Jewish people, and from there extends our faith in the written word and in the prophets.

As I read Rabbi Freeman, I get the impression that one of the functions of Judaism is to provide the traditions by which Jews interpret the Torah. This gets complicated in that there is no one “Judaism” and thus no one authoritative interpretation of Torah, although within the larger “Judaism” construct, meanings heavily overlap.

But how the Chabad traditionally interprets a portion of the Torah and how to perform the associated mitzvot may differ greatly from how a Reform or Conservative synagogue may read and understand the same material. Thus, from an outsider’s point of view, it makes Judaism seem very inconsistent, highly variable, and the meaning taken from the Bible to be incredibly fractured.

But what about the untold hundreds or even thousands of denominations, subgroups, and sects of Christianity? The answer my Pastor would give me is that there is only one right answer, which is why the Fundamentalist movement was established in the early days of the 20th century…to create (or return to) that one “right” answer. My Pastor has tried to explain the core meaning of Fundamentalism to me, apart from all of the media hype and unfair interpretation of the “label,” and I’ve recorded that understanding on my blog so I wouldn’t lose track.

Really, Fundamentalism at its center is just “getting back to the basics” of Christianity, but those “basics” were established barely a hundred years ago. Would the apostles have understood their faith in the same way as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, or Steven J. Cole?

R.C. Sproul
R.C. Sproul

So the best we can say at this point is that Judaism and Christianity both heavily utilize tradition to tell each religious body and their various subgroups  (actually, each of the subgroups have their own traditions) what the Bible is supposed to be saying and how we are to live out what the Bible tells us in our individual and corporate worship lives.

I’ve also recently mentioned the story of Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts, which Rabbi Freeman too mentions in his commentary.

Another gentile who accepted only the Written Torah, came to convert. Shammai refused, so he went to Hillel. The first day, Hillel taught him the correct order of the Hebrew Alphabet. The next day he reversed the letters. The convert was confused:”But yesterday you said the opposite!?” Said Hillel: “You now see that the Written Word alone is insufficient. We need the Oral Tradition to explain G-d’s Word.”

Rabbi Freeman’s point, citing Hillel, is “that without an oral tradition, there is no written Torah. Written symbols on a scroll are meaningless without context. We have no clue what the words mean, or even whether they are at all true.”

But is that really true? Does not understanding the original language in and of itself impart some meaning? Of course, you also have to understand the historic, cultural, national, linguistic, traditional, theological (and many other) contexts involved that subtly or significantly modify the meaning of the plain text. Could the overall understanding of those contexts be codified to become an interpretative tradition?

Because the prevailing interpretations have probed Paul’s text without sufficient appreciation of the powerful role of ironic inversion at work, at the formal as well as functional level, the interpretation of the apostle’s scathing rhetoric has exaggerated and, regardless of other plans, continues to accentuate the differences that are imagined to separate Christian and Jewish identity, behavior, and even intentions toward God and neighbor. The legacy of this perception of the Jewish other has proven often tragic for the Jewish people, at least in a world that has been often dominated by those who look to Paul to shape reality, and for others, as a foil to justify their twisted construal of what is right.

-Mark D. Nanos,
from the Prologue of his book (pg 2)
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

It is Nanos’ belief that Christianity’s understanding of the basic nature and personality of the apostle Paul has changed not very much since the days of the so-called “Church fathers” and hardly at all in the last five-hundred years since the Reformation. While the Church doesn’t cite time-honored Christian tradition as the necessary element to understand the letters of Paul or as required to comprehend his actions as recorded in Luke’s Book of Acts, nevertheless, my recent reviews of some of the sermons of John MacArthur have convinced me completely that Christianity’s understanding of the meaning of scripture is totally reliant on revered Christian traditions.

When, on occasion, I’ve tried to challenge those traditions (and not the scriptures themselves), the reaction I observed could at least be called resistance.

Judaism has its traditions as well, but Jewish authorities are quite upfront about saying that they have a tradition and that, as far as Rabbi Freeman goes, “Judaism-colored glasses” (my phrase, not his) are required when reading the Word of God.

The Torah says to rest on the seventh day. I once met a man who told me that he tried to keep the Sabbath as written in the Torah, but it was too hard—by four in the afternoon he just had to get up out of bed! Who says his interpretation is worth anything less than anyone else’s?

The Torah says that “these words should be totafot between your eyes.” What on earth are totafot? Where is “between your eyes”? When do you wear them, and how?

The Torah says, “You shall slaughter an animal as I have commanded you.” What was it that G‑d commanded Moses? How can we know? There seems to be no hint whatsoever in the entire Five Books of Moses. Obviously, everybody knew what Moses had been told; they did it all the time, and nobody needed it in writing.

Praying with tefillinGood points, Rabbi Freeman. Of course modern Christians would say all that stuff is dead and gone, so who cares if we don’t know how to properly rest on Shabbat, figure out what “totafot” means or how to put them “between your eyes,” and what the correct method of “slaughtering an animal” was as required by God?

But even if I took the Christian point of view, I’d have to admit those things meant something once. Just how were they enacted in ancient days without sufficient written instructions? When asked, how did Moses answer those questions? In the days of the Temple, how did Solomon address those issues? And did Jesus even obey those requirements since the Temple still stood during his “earthly ministry?”

It seems like neither Christianity or Judaism can exist and practice their faiths without a rich tradition of…tradition.

Protestants, as I experience them anyway, seem to have a deep-rooted resentment against a central authority in religion. I’ve heard Evangelicals say some pretty rough things about Catholics and their Pope, and I’ve listened to more than one Christian say (more or less) that it was part of God’s plan for the Apostles to die off so “Christian authority” could be de-centralized. Never mind that Christians tend to revere the “Church fathers” and particularly the authors of the Reformation. Some churches, including the one I attend, even celebrate Reformation Day.

The oral tradition also includes later decisions and exegeses made by those who led the Jewish people and were empowered to make decisions on their behalf. These are the seventy elders in every generation, as established originally by Moses himself (read all about it in Numbers 11). It is to these sages that Moses refers when he charges the Jewish people that if anything is to difficult for them to solve, they must take it to these wise leaders, and “do not turn from whatever they tell you, not to the right and not to the left” (read that one in Deuteronomy 17:8–12). Otherwise, what on earth are we supposed to do when Faraday discovers how to harness electrical power? Is it fire? If not, what is it? So, a rabbinical assembly came to the consensus that we will treat it as fire, and not turn it on or off on the Shabbat. Now all the Jewish people can keep one rule and one Torah.

These same sages were empowered to protect the Jewish people from breaking the Torah by “building fences” about the prohibitions. If you can walk right up to the edge of a serious transgression, it’s unlikely that no one is going to fall off. Which should provide an answer to your question about the boundaries for walking on Shabbat.

All this is seen by Christians as “adding to the Bible.” I’ve heard Matthew 23:4 and the surrounding text applied to Rabbinic Judaism as a whole, casting all Jewish practices into the same bucket and observant Jewish people under a bus.

On the other hand, try telling people in a church to do away with their Christmas and Easter (or Resurrection Day) observances because they’re “man-made traditions” (not to mention the previously cited “Reformation Day”) and you’ll likely start a riot (OK, probably an angry and offended discussion, not a riot).

Christians don’t like the Rabbinic sages for the same reason they don’t like the Pope. They don’t like or trust a central authority that can establish binding religious rulings over their lives. It interferes with the “freedom of the gospel” they enjoy, but do Christians really have that much freedom?

It depends on the church and which Pastors and teachers are favored, with their books enshrined in the church’s library or bookstore. Which books are studied by the Wednesday night woman’s group or deemed worthy of possessing lessons to be followed by the men’s ministry? Are preachers like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Steven J. Cole considered the “sages” of modern Evangelical Christianity? Do the churches that follow their particular teachings not rely on these men and their theologies and doctrines to interpret the Bible for them?

But allow me to summarize the most crucial point: You can choose to believe in a book. Or you can choose to believe in a divine revelation. The divine revelation was encoded into a book by Moses, but its light never ceased to shine. In every generation, more and more of it enters into the world, through the medium of those sages who study the book and its surrounding traditions and all the accumulated wisdom that has unfolded over the millennia. One day, we will see how all that we unfold was contained in those original words Moses wrote. But to access it all now, make yourself part of the Jewish people, and have a little faith in us. After all, if it weren’t for us, where would that little book be?

To be fair, the whole concept of a set of traditions being required for understanding what God’s Divine Revelation means, especially as adapted across multiple generations, is alien to Christian thought, even if it’s not foreign to Christian interpretative practice. We just don’t talk about it, like some dirty family secret, some hidden skeletons in the Church’s closet.

Christian BookshelfAlso to be fair, Rabbi Freeman wouldn’t have written such an article if some Jewish people, perhaps a lot of Jewish people, weren’t as critical of midrash and oral tradition as we Christians are.

R. Freeman offered some additional resources for the Jewish (and Christian?) curious including The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, R. Freeman’s own article Is It Really the Torah, Or Is It Just the Rabbis, and a series of audio teachings by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow called The Oral Tradition. You also might consider Is Torah Just For Jews?

I encourage you to read the responding comments to Rabbi Freeman’s article (scroll down) so you can see that among individual Jewish people, what the Rabbi professes is not a “slam dunk” in their minds and hearts. Hopefully, that will help dispel the idea held among some Christians that Jewish people are “all the same,” meant in the worst possible manner.

When the Church and its “sages” disregard and denigrate Jewish traditions while upholding Christianity’s own long history of interpretive tradition (all the while denying its existence), then it participates in another historical tradition of the Church that, while also “hidden,” is nevertheless still a potent force in the lives of many Gentile believers: anti-Semitism and supersessionism.

For more on the same topic, see Tradition!, According to the Traditions: A Primer for Christians, and Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Tradition!, my review of Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar’s article “Messianic Jews and Jewish Traditions”.

Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 19:7-14 (NASB)

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

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

Psalm 119:25-27 (NASB)

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

So how does Schreiner respond to his own question?

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

Schreiner, pp 85-6

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

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

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

ibid, pp 86-7

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

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

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

But what about this?

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

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

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

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

As my Jewish wife might say, “Oy!”

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

I wonder when that happened?

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

-ibid

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

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

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

And what about this?

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

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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