Tag Archives: Epistle to the Romans

Paul the Advocate for the Gentiles

fish mosaicThe Saturdays when we don’t have the grandkids over is usually when I do my yard work. I know for you out there, both Jews and Gentles who are Sabbath keepers, that may sound scandalous, but my wife, who is Jewish and not a believer in Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), is out doing a side job today, and in fact left me a “honey do” list with what she wanted me to accomplish in her absence. Since she, as a Jew, isn’t observant of Shabbos, it probably would cause issues between us if I, as a Gentile, insisted on keeping the Sabbath in some manner or fashion.

The last task on the list of things for me to do outside was weeding. I hate weeding. I find it exceedingly boring. There’s nothing to do but sit on the ground with the spiders and pull useless plant matter out of the ground by the roots while hoping to avoid wasps.

My son Michael loves listening to podcasts, particularly about ancient history. My wife listens to podcasts about health and aging while going on her morning walks. Maybe I should take my iPhone out with me and listen to something too.

I have no ideas if there’s such a thing as a Messianic Jewish podcast, particularly a credible one (remember, anyone out there can put on a kippah and tallit and call themselves a Messianic Rabbi or teacher, and then spew all kinds of nonsense).

I used to listen to a lot of the recorded sermons by D. Thomas Lancaster on the Beth Immanuel congregational website. Most of them were quite illuminating.

However, I found it necessary to distance myself from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which employs Lancaster, not because I dislike the people involved and not because I dislike FFOZ’s teachings, but because, in certain circles, it was believed that on some level I worked for them. That became a problem. My opinions expressed on this and my other blogs are my own and no one else’s. I reserve the right not to have my content restricted, edited, or censored by anyone but me.

So it’s easier to be a lone wolf blogger as well as a lone wolf believer.

But that has drawbacks. I wanted to listen to a lesson of Lancaster’s while weeding. No, that part isn’t the problem. The problem is I can’t listen to anything like that without wanting to write about it. That’s the problem.

I did listen to the first in a series of sermons Lancaster gave on the Book of Romans, specifically The Early Believers in Rome.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and it took the sting out of having to weed.

I’m not going to review the sermon as I might have done in the past, but I am going to write about some of the things it reminded me of.

It reminded me that the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul if you prefer) actually wanted Gentiles to be part of the club. No, not convert to Judaism, and not to take on board Jewish praxis, but he believed that we non-Jews are totally sufficient as worshipers of Hashem and disciples of Rav Yeshua without being Jewish.

That was a minority opinion in Paul’s day, and opinions are divided even today in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles as to whether or not Gentiles should engage in Jewish praxis to one degree or another. Some Gentiles today feel totally inadequate in Jewish community, deciding to bypass Rav Yeshua altogether and convert to Orthodox Judaism, sort of missing the forest for the trees.

In Paul’s time, some, actually probably most, Jewish believers were of the opinion that no Gentile could come to faith in Hashem and be a disciple of Messiah without converting to Judaism and taking on the full yoke of Torah. Some, maybe most Messianic Jews in that day didn’t want hordes of unconverted Gentiles in their synagogues.

It was interesting because Lancaster explored the history of whether or not there was about a five year period when all Jews were expelled from Rome. He said that if all of the Jews, including believers in Yeshua were absent from Rome, then the Messianic congregations were left in the hands of the Gentile God-fearers.

It must have been very interesting when the Jewish believers came back to find their synagogues run totally by these Messianic Gentiles.

It also makes me wonder if many of these Messianic Jews preferred to have believing Gentiles in their own congregations. It would make sense and have advantages from their point of view. The believing Jews would have their wholly Jewish synagogues, and Gentiles could worship in a more or less parallel way in Gentile congregations.

Lancaster believes that Paul taught a different Gospel than the other Messianic Jewish Apostles.

I remember a Pastor with whom I was once well acquainted chafed at the idea that Paul had a different Gospel since there is only one Gospel of Jesus Christ. What he didn’t understand or chose not to believe was that Paul’s Gospel was good news to Jews and Gentiles alike.

It was good news to the Jews first because Messiah had come as the forbearer of the New Covenant promises of God. He came with evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, and the promise of the life in the world to come (which, by the way, are all very Pharisaic beliefs, particularly the last two).

But it was also good news to the Gentiles because they too could participate in the blessings of the New Covenant without being named members of that covenant. In other words, the Gentiles could also receive Hashem’s grace and mercy through the merit of Rav Yeshua without converting to Judaism and taking on the total body of Jewish praxis.

Paul had a lot of opposition to this Gospel from most of the other Jewish believers, at least as Lancaster tells it (and I agree with him), since their Gospel was one that was indeed good news for the Jews but only good news for the Gentiles if the Gentiles converted to Judaism.

The Jewish PaulJudaism was an official religion in the Roman empire but not so being a God-fearer, so there was a lot of motivation for Gentiles to believe the Gospel that was not Paul’s.

But Paul persevered. He had the support of James, brother of Rav Yeshua, and the Council of Leaders and Elders in Jerusalem, but the diaspora was a big place. It’s even bigger now.

Nothing has changed. We face the same problems Paul did, and I should point out that Paul never came to an ultimate resolution. All of the congregations Paul himself established believed in his Gospel for Jews and Gentiles, but Paul didn’t establish the congregations in Rome.

Nor did he establish (at least not directly) the Messianic congregations, and certainly not the mainstream Christian churches of today (though those churches probably believe something different). Paul probably would have no idea what was going on in a modern church service if he could visit one today. And while maybe he would have some difficulty with a modern Messianic Jewish service, even one closely modeled on traditional Orthodox Jewish practice, he would understand very well the problems facing believing Jews and Gentiles.

That’s what this sermon reminded me of. It reminded me why I no longer affiliate with any organized religious community (well, there are many reasons actually). It also reminded me that he truly believed I should be part of the club. Not me personally, but Gentiles like me. That we could come to faith and be disciples of Yeshua, and it’s okay if we’re not Jewish. He didn’t even have a problem with Jews and Gentiles worshiping together. Only his believing Jewish contemporaries did.

Yeah, just like today.

Thanks be to Yeshua for choosing Paul to be his special emissary to the Gentiles. Thanks be to Paul for staying the course, not giving in to peer pressure or any other kind of pressure, and being a relentless defender of both his people the Jews, but of those of us on the outside, the Gentiles who are attracted to the God of Israel by way of Jewish teachings and practice.

I’m glad there was someone pulling for us back in the day. I wish someone would take up that mantle today, but there are no more living Apostles.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ…

I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Romans 1:1-6, 13-15 (NASB) emphasis mine.

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Reflections on Romans 8

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

If you’ll recall from my previous Reflections on Romans 7, I said that Paul didn’t write his epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so at the end of chapter 7, he was still probably in the middle of a thought. Let’s continue with that thought.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:1-8

Paul, like the rest of us, is a man caught between his inclinations of the flesh and the righteousness of God. He doesn’t do what he wants to do which is the right thing, but finds himself doing what he doesn’t want to do, which is disobeying God. What can save him but only the blood sacrifice of Messiah, the Righteous Tzaddik whose death atoned for the sins of many; who inaugurates the New Covenant which is a time when the righteous Word of God will be written on hearts and all sins will be forgiven.

So Paul I think is justified (no pun intended) when he says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” not that we should continue sinning due to “hyper-grace” (see my forthcoming review of Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s book Jude: Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy for more on this topic), but that in striving and often failing to meet God’s expectation, in contrite repentance, we are forgiven.

Paul continues to compare and contrast the “law of the Spirit of life” and the “law of sin and death”, but this time he says that the former has set us free from the latter, not that our human natures are changed yet, but they will be, and we can choose to live as if our hearts are changed now and as if the “law of the Spirit of life” is fully and permanently written on our hearts.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh…

Romans 8:3

On one of Pete Rambo’s blog posts, I commented that the Torah is a delight but that even though God fully expected the Israelites to always observe the mitzvot, it was also a burden because of human frailty and weakness. My sometimes “sparring partner” Zion criticized my opinion, but frankly, I believe there would be no need for a New Covenant if human beings could naturally obey God and never sin.

Here, in the above quoted verse from Romans 8, we see what I think is a clear reference to this process, God doing what people can’t do…making it possible (or creating a process in which it is slowly becoming possible) for people, specifically Israelites and their descendants, the modern-day Jewish people, to fully observe the mitzvot and obey the commandments through the New Covenant promises and that covenant’s mediator, the Messiah, the Christ.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…

Romans 8:3

The Torah could outline all of God’s requirements for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but in and of itself, Torah cannot enable broken, imperfect human beings to attain God’s righteous perfection. That’s why a New Covenant is necessary, not to replace the requirements of the Torah so that the Israelites would have a much easier or watered down set of standards, but to “fix” people, so that their/our hearts and spirits would become (are becoming) so different that they would be enabled to naturally obey the statues of God, “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

walking_discipleSo for human beings who are walking in the flesh and attempting to observe the Torah, that observance is going to be imperfect. However, those walking in the (New Covenant) Spirit will be able to perfectly obey God and not sin, at least after the resurrection when the New Covenant is fully enacted and people really do have new hearts and spirits.

…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:7-8

People have a choice to make now where before, apparently, they (we) didn’t, or at least that choice was much more difficult. In Messiah through the Spirit, they (we) can choose to walk by that Spirit in obedience (to those Laws that apply to us depending on whether we are Jewish or Gentile disciples of the Master), or we can continue to set our minds on the flesh and continue to be hostile toward God in our natures, even as another part of us seeks to obey Him. We must, according to Paul, subject ourselves to the law of God, though those people who are still in the flesh, that is, their human natures, are unable to do so.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…

1 John 2:1

Paul goes on to assure his readers that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, that is, if the Spirit dwells in them at all. If it does, it is an indication that the New Covenant age has begun which allows Jews and Gentiles to receive the Spirit (Acts 2; Acts 10) impartially and with equal access. Spiritual man can override natural man, not that we don’t still have our human natures, but we can choose to overcome those natures by the Spirit’s power.

But we have to choose…it’s not automatic, and the battle goes on daily.

He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

Paul is continuing to present the New Covenant promises with this clear reference to the resurrection. So just as God raised Jesus (Yeshua) from the dead, so too will He raise us through the Holy Spirit.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Romans 8:14-17 

Those who receive the Spirit, which must be both Jews and Gentiles, are adopted as sons of God and entitled to cry out to Him “Abba! Father!” If we live the life of the Master, if we are obedient and are willing to suffer for his sake and not pursue the flesh for our own, then we prove that we are indeed sons and daughters of the Almighty through the Spirit and “fellow heirs” of God’s blessings of the resurrection and a life in the Kingdom with Messiah. If we suffer, we will also be glorified.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Romans 8:18-22

broken worldAnd yet, we aren’t the only ones suffering. Remember in Romans 5, Paul compared and contrasted Adam and Yeshua, the first man who brought sin into the world, and Messiah the redeemer who takes it away. But the fall of humanity through Adam didn’t just affect the nature and character of all subsequent human beings, but somehow, it altered the nature of all Creation. Creation itself “groans” in its present, imperfect state. The world is broken and is constantly in need of repair.

If Creation is “anxiously longing” and “waiting eagerly for the revealing of the Sons of God” and we believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, are the sons and daughters of God, what must we do to “reveal” ourselves and how does this help Creation?

This is only my opinion of course, but I think that we are expected to observe the principle of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world. I heard a Jewish person once refer to Messiah as “the great fixer” because that’s what he’s supposed to do: fix everything broken about the world.

According to some opinions, “making the world a better place…brings us closer to the Messianic Age.” According to Rabbi Yochanan, quoting Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, the Jewish people will be redeemed when every Jew observes Shabbat (the Sabbath) twice in all its details (Kaplan, Aryeh. Chapter 2, “Sabbath Rest”, Sabbath: Day of Eternity, 1974). Shabbat 118b suggests that performing acts of tikkun olam will hasten the coming of Messiah and the emergence of the Messianic Age.

So, at least in my way of seeing things, the “Sons of God” reveal themselves to a waiting Creation by acts of repairing the damage to Creation.

But all that isn’t going to be easy:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Romans 8:22

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Matthew 24:6-8

If we’re supposed to help repair the world by pushing against human nature and sin, human nature and sin are going to push back. We, along with the world around us, will continue to suffer, even as we fight to establish the Kingdom, until Messiah’s return when he comes to finish the work that he started (and that we’ve been continuing) and brings the completion of the New Covenant with him by perfecting the world and by perfecting us through the resurrection.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:23-25

We have the first fruits of the Spirit, the down-payment, so to speak, of what is yet to come (Ephesians 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Like Creation, we must suffer, but we must also patiently wait. For as Creation waits for us, we wait longingly for the return of the King.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

This is one of those passages that some Christians say “proves” that Calvinism is correct and that God only chooses certain people to be saved. I’ve written more on this topic than I care to think about sometimes, including a four-part series called Taking the Fork in the Road (with apologies to Yogi Berra), but rest assured that God’s Sovereignty is not threatened in the least by allowing us free will to choose Him or to reject Him. That He has foreknowledge doesn’t affect what we choose to do down here “on the ground,” so to speak.

After all, it’s not the first time God set the choice between blessings and curses, between life and death in front of people:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.

Genesis 4:7

love-in-lightsWe have the same choice set before us as did the Israelites, life or death, in our case by accepting or rejecting the New Covenant and its mediator Jesus Christ.

The rest of the chapter is an encouragement from Paul to his readers that given everything he’s just said, we have a great promise and a tremendous assurance that in choosing our Master and obedience, we cannot be ultimately condemned. If God was willing to turn His own Son over to suffering and death so as to elevate him to His right hand, He will also not fail us in our suffering but will graciously give us all things and fulfill His covenant promises.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

Human anguish and suffering in a broken and bleeding world juxtaposed against our conquest of that world through God and His love from which we cannot be separated by any imaginable entity or force. This is what we are longing for as adopted children who are being continually brought into His Presence through the blessings of the New Covenant promises as we enter the world that is here and still yet to come.

Reflections on Romans 7

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

That’s the last set of verses from my previous reflection on Romans. Paul is addressing his Gentile readership in the synagogues in Rome that when they were still pagans, they were slaves to sin but “free” from righteousness, however, as they were deriving benefit from shameful things, the outcome they were facing was death. Coming to righteousness through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), they became freed from sin but enslaved to God resulting in sanctification with the ultimate outcome of eternal life.

Paul states the wages of sin is death. Then he continues:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

Romans 7:1-3 (NASB)

He’s speaking to those who know the law. Does he mean he’s shifted the focus from Gentiles to Jews? What law? The Torah or the Law of Sin? Let’s look at Paul’s metaphor of the married woman. Let’s say the woman is “married” to a pagan life of sin. She is bound to her “husband” while he lives, but when he dies she’s free to “marry” another. Turn the statement around and you have a person dying to sin and living to righteousness. Turn it around again and if you are married to righteousness and continue to consort with your former “spouse,” to sin, then the “wife” is an adulteress.

The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

Hosea 1:1-5 (NASB)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.

Matthew 16:4 (NASB)

When the ancient Israelites were disobedient to the commands of God and particularly when they sought after other “gods,” the Almighty referred to them as “adulterous.” In a very real way, the covenant ceremony at Sinai was a “marriage” between God and Israel in which Israel swore an oath of fealty much like a wedding oath. Any time Israel pursued pagan “gods”, they were likened to a harlot or an adulterous wife.

Paul seems to be saying something similar about Gentile believers (assuming he hasn’t shifted audiences in his letter as I suggested above) who have come to faith in Messiah but who continue to go after their former pagan lifestyle…or at least Paul is warning them against such a return. In any event, they should have no reason to return to idolatry.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:4-6 (NASB)

newPaul says his readers have died “to the Law through the body of Christ,” but given the current context, he can’t be talking about the Torah for two reasons. The first is that he’s (most likely) writing to Gentiles so they were never obligated to the mitzvot before coming to faith in Messiah. Pagans don’t observe the Torah of Moses. The second reason is that he is still talking about the “Law of Sin,” not the Torah, so it makes more sense that he is saying these former pagans have “died to the Law (of sin) through the body of Christ,” since as believers, they have shared in Messiah’s death to their former lives even as they share in the promise of eternal life. Now he urges them to “bear fruit for God,” which could be interpreted as performing good works in His Name. Paul keeps toggling back and forth between their former lives under the Law of Sin and Death and their current lives in the “newness of the Spirit.”

“…we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter.”

This suggests to most Christians that the Spirit (and grace) are new and the letter (of the Law/Torah) is old, meaning the Spirit has replaced the Torah. But again, given the context and the main object of Paul’s commentary, it is the oldness of their former lives, the letter of the Law of Sin that is done away with and replaced by the newness of their lives in Christ through the Spirit.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!

Romans 7:7 (NASB)

Paul seems to have made a quick shift in which Law he’s discussing.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans 7:7-12 (NASB)

I don’t think we know enough about Paul’s relationship with his audience to understand how they would have followed the shifts of topic in his letter, moving from the Law of Sin to the Law of Moses, but this section seems to clearly be talking about the Torah since it quotes the Torah (“You shall not covet”). Paul actually seems to be talking (still) about both “laws” since one law took the “opportunity through the commandment” to produce coveting “of every kind.” While the commandments of the Torah are designed to produce life, the law of sin produced death. Paul says “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” but when we choose to sin and disobey the commandment, the Law of Sin produces death.

It would seem that once we have a definition of right and wrong, which the Torah provides, we have a clearer choice and as we are brought closer to righteousness by obedience, we must be ever more mindful of the temptation to disobey, to sin, which leads to death. By accepting God’s righteous standards upon our lives, we are more accountable for our behavior (not that pagans won’t be judged in the end) and the higher we climb in our life of faith, the farther we have to fall should be let ourselves be tempted and sin.

Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

Romans 7:13 (NASB)

the-divine-torahBut make no mistake, that accountability has been increased does not mean the Torah is bad. “May it never be!” Sin is bad and the Law of Moses shows us clearly the terrible consequences for sin, which we did not know when we are still slaves to sin. Through the commandment, we see sin for what it really is. Then we have no excuse if we return to sin. We know what we’re doing. Our eyes have been opened.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:14-20 (NASB)

Paul is describing the struggles of every person of faith, the struggle between a Heavenly ideal and human fallibility and frailty.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (NASB)

God obviously expected the Israelites to keep his statutes and judgments and didn’t consider them to be too difficult to observe. More than that, He wanted Israel and their obedience to Him to be an example to the nations around them, to be a light to attract other people groups to Hashem, God of Israel, that they too might believe and obey, for the statutes and judgments are righteous.

But if Paul is writing to a bunch of Gentiles in Roman synagogues who are mixing with Jesus-believing and unbelieving Jews (and maybe getting a little arrogant that they can have equal co-participation in Jewish communal life without undergoing the proselyte rite and converting to Judaism), why is Paul leaning so much on the Torah as the counterpoint to the former pagans’ lives of idol worship and sin?

Of course, as I mention above, the one thing all people of faith have in common is the struggle between our human natures which draw us into sin and our values and ideals which come from God. Even Paul experienced this struggle and it obviously pained him greatly.

But as a man of faith, he could differentiate between the sin in him, that is, his human nature being the cause of his misbehavior, and his will and desire, which was for God.

But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:20 (NASB)

We all do what we don’t want to do because sin dwells within us. It always will until the resurrection when we will be perfected in Messiah’s Name by the Holy Spirit.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

WrestlingHere Paul makes it even clearer that he is talking about two different laws, the Law of Moses, which is holy, spiritual, good, and a delight, and the law of sin and death which is waging war within Paul, making him a prisoner of the law of sin. He saw himself as a “wretched man” who could only be set free through “Jesus Christ our Lord,” yet like all of us, he was still standing between serving the law of God with his mind and the law of sin with his flesh.

Remember, Paul didn’t write this epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so even though the chapter ends, Paul’s probably still in the middle of a thought, and if you peek ahead to chapter 8, you’ll see this is correct…

…but that will have to wait until next week. I’m still looking for a way to understand Paul comparing the Torah to the Law of Sin in a letter to a non-Jewish audience. What could he be telling them about their lives in relationship to the Torah?

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish, Part 2

First things first. Mark Nanos graciously contacted me to let me know I didn’t quite grasp everything he was saying in his paper ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus,’ which I highlighted in Part 1 of this two-part series.

Two clarifications:

  1. While many do hold that the Jews were expelled from Rome in mass or entirely, in the appendix to The Mystery of Romans Nanos explains why that is almost certainly mistaken historically, and not helpful for explaining Romans.
  2. More importantly, Nanos does not argue that Paul was actually criticizing Jews in Rome for being hypocritical; rather, he was using the ideal of Jews not being hypocritical as the backdrop for developing a diatribal character, not a real one or even a real accusation as if it is happening, but what it would be like and how obviously hypocritical if so, that one who would call himself a Jew would seek to teach non-Jews Torah if not also committed to keeping Torah, or to get circumcised if not living as one who is circumcised is, dedicated in heart to doing what one separated to God should do regardless of whatever anyone else does or thinks about him and what he does or does not do. That hypothetical character is used to challenge any incipient pride or temptation to judge or behave hypocritically among the non-Jews he addresses directly by way of this diatribal fiction.

I appreciate Dr. Nanos bringing this to my attention and correcting my misreading of his paper where I thought he was saying that Paul was criticizing the Jews in Rome for hypocrisy (and it should be obvious that I’m leveraging Nanos’s words in the numbered list above).

To quote Lt. Cmdr Data, “It is clear that I have much to learn.”

In reporting my impressions on Nanos’ paper last time, I deliberately left out some significant portions for the sake of space. I’m including them here for further discussion.

There are many striking elements in Josephus’s account about Izates, the king of the Parthian client territory of Adiabene, and his mother, Helena, who were not born Jews and ruled a non-Jewish/non-Judean people (Ant. 20.17-96). The events overlap with Paul’s ministry in the 40s and 50s CE (20.15-17), and include interesting parallels to elements of Paul’s approach to and instructions for non-Jews in the Roman Empire. Several scenes warrant discussion.

-Nanos, p. 13

Nanos relates the story of Izates who prior to being crowned King, was sent to Charax Spasini for his own protection. There, Izates encountered the Jewish merchant Ananias. Ananias had been teaching Jewish traditions and customs to several women in the royal family and Izates also became his student.

Or to quote Nanos:

…who taught several women of the royal family with whom Izates was staying to “worship God [the Deity] according to the Jewish ancestral traditions…” (20.34).

-ibid, p. 14

HelenaIt is doubtful there was a Jewish community or synagogue present in Adiabene and questionable if Izates and the “women of the royal family” were undergoing this training as part of the proselyte rite (at least at this point in the process), nevertheless, we have several Gentiles being taught to worship the God of Israel “according to the Jewish ancestral traditions.” This at least suggests that said-Gentiles were A) worshiping the God of Israel, and B) doing so “jewishly,” that is, employing Jewish traditions and methods in worshiping Hashem.

While it’s tempting to think that the Ananias in question is the same person who the Master sent to Paul to relieve him of his blindness (Acts 9:9-19) and thus believe that Izates and the “royal women” were being taught Judaism within the Messianic faith, there’s no evidence to support such a theory (see First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles for a further discussion of Izates and Ananias in light of Acts 9).

By an amazing “coincidence,” when Izates returned home to assume the throne after the death of his father, he discovered in his absence, his mother had also been studying Judaism.

…he learned his mother had simultaneously begun to observe certain Jewish customs under the direction of a different Jew, who remains unnamed (20.35-38). Izates is described as becoming aware of Helena’s “rejoicing in the Jews’ customs,” (20.38), referred to also as “their laws/conventions” (20.35).

-ibid

It was at this point that Izates decided to extend his Jewish studies and undergo the proselyte rite, converting to Judaism. Here’s where it gets interesting.

It remains unclear whether Izates supposed heretofore that he had become a Jew, or if he was simply unaware of the distinction between adopting (some) Jewish behavior, most likely adding such behavior to the rest of the customs and cult practices of his people as well as those of the people among whom he was residing, and becoming a Jew. Since the matter of circumcision with its signification of identity transformation does not pertain to Helena, it is also unclear if she is still a non-Jew or is recognized to have become a Jew.

-ibid, p. 15

The Jewish PaulFrom Paul’s point of view relative to his teaching Jewish practices to Gentiles within the context of Messiah worship, the distinction between Jew and non-Jew in Messiah was clearer, at least to him. But from an outside observer’s perspective, would Paul’s disciples have been seen acting any differently than Izates and Helena? How closely can the two cases be compared, particularly when we realize that nothing called “Christianity” existed in those days as a stand-alone religious entity? Paul’s disciples and Izates and Helena as disciples of other Jewish teachers may have had a great deal in common in acting “jewishly” but not being Jewish (maybe).

Ananias strongly discouraged Izates from converting because of how he thought his non-Jewish royal subjects would react to being ruled by a Jew. But while both Ananias and Helena opposed Izates’ conversion, they “did not, however, oppose him observing certain Jewish beliefs and behavior!”

Tweaking that last statement just slightly, could I call Izates a (somewhat) Torah-observant non-Jew? Nanos asks a similar question:

…it is worth pausing to ask whether Helena and Izates at this point represent jewish non-Jews? They are behaving jewishly, and their jewishness is observably different from that of other nobles and their subjects…

Much of the Apostolic Scriptures record the struggle Paul had in integrating Gentile Jesus-believers into Jewish religious and community space as co-equal participants with the Jewish occupants, particularly in defining how unconverted Gentiles could still receive the covenant blessings that were promised by God to Israel alone. And yet in Paul’s conceptualization, he seemingly had a clear vision of who the Gentiles in Christ were relative to Jews in Messiah (and the wider body of Jewish people).

But in the persons of Helena and particularly Izates, we have a greater degree of ambiguity. Was Izates what we would call a God-fearing Gentile, was he a proselyte, or was he something in-between? He was certainly a Gentile (up to the point when he finally converted) who was practicing at least some aspects of Judaism. How far was he allowed to go?

If Paul’s Gentile disciples had a less ambiguous status in terms of Jewish practices and Judaism than Izates, how do we answer the same questions on their behalf? Can we, as Nanos asks regarding Izates and Helena (p. 17), consider them “jewish” Non-Jews who were gathering in Jewish assemblies or synagogues?

I’ve avoided asking the obvious question so far, but how does any of this apply to Gentile Christianity today, particularly to those of us who call ourselves Messianic Gentiles? Twenty centuries ago or close to it, we have a record of many non-Jewish people co-mingling with Jews within Jewish assemblies and communities and being treated as near-equals or equals in social and even covenant standing. The Gentiles were largely, and some probably fully entrenched in Jewish cultural practices. What does that say about Gentiles interacting and worshiping with Jewish Jesus-believers (Messianic Jews) in Jewish community space today?

Goyish is not bad. Goyish is good. It may not be good for Jews, but if you’re a Gentile—goy is good! It is what God made you. ENJOY!!! And realize that salvation has come to the Gentiles as Gentiles. You don’t have to discover your Jewish roots. You should not abandon or disparage the churches from which you came or where you still live, and move, and have your being. You should enrich them through engagement with the Bible, through discovering and expressing your spiritual gifts, and through your whole-hearted participation, but please please please: Don’t despise your roots or imagine that you have to abandon them to find God. God has come to find you and your people just as you are and where you are.

-Dr. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
“The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy”
Interfaithfulness.org

Up to JerusalemThis might almost be seen as the same view from the opposite end of the telescope. It’s an expression (if I’m reading this right) of how the Gentile Jesus-believers do not have to adopt Jewish cultural traits and practices in order to be faithful Jesus-believers and benefit from the Jewish covenant blessings of salvation, justification, and the resurrection to come.

In Paul’s day, there was no template for integrating faith in the Jewish Messiah within the various Gentile cultures, so it was probably easier to bring the Gentiles into Jewish culture. Paul probably wouldn’t have known how to teach about Messiah and the God of Israel in any other way. But two-thousand years later, Christianity has a rich (and sometimes dark) history and culture of its own. Each church could be said to be its own cultural milieu with its traditions and mores and very little if any of it looks at all Jewish.

Some Gentile believers feel kind of ripped off by the Church, especially when they learn to read the Bible, and particularly the Apostolic Scriptures, as God encountering man within Jewish culture and community. It seems inviting to witness the first Gentile believers being taught by Paul and Barnabas at the “Synagogue of the Way” in Syrian Antioch (see Acts 11).

But can or should a Gentile’s faith in the Jewish Messiah be expressed within a Jewish community and cultural context today? From the above-quoted blog post of R. Dauermann, in answer to a comment, he replies:

Yes, right Chris, learning about the Jewish/Hebrew roots of what CHristians believe is instructive and helpful, but not when a Gentile is erroneously steered in the direction of seeking to establish their *own* alleged Jewish roots as a passport to greater spiritual authenticity. As I said above, “It is true that Christianity at its inception had Jewish roots, but this is not Not NOT and never to be understood as recommending that Christians think they have Jewish roots or that they need to find those roots in order to legitimize themselves and their faith.”

From my point of view, I think there are circumstances when Gentile believers can and even should appropriately express their faith within a Jewish cultural context. In fact, at least in the United States, most authentically Messianic Jewish synagogues contain a significant if not majority population of Gentiles in their membership. Like Izates, there will always be Gentiles who are inexorably drawn to Judaism for whatever reason and they will find their way into Jewish community. Further, there are numerous intermarried couples who would benefit from the Jewish spouse participating in Messianic Jewish community along with the Gentile spouse. This is particularly important if they have Jewish children who need to learn and preserve what it is to be Jewish and to be Messianic.

But I was thinking in church last Sunday about Christians (which I suppose isn’t surprising). What do we do about them?

The first thing to consider is that most Christians are more than overjoyed to be in their churches and couldn’t imagine any other venue for their worship of and devotion to Jesus Christ. From their viewpoint, they neither want nor need to engage Jesus within a Jewish cultural context and doing so would just make them feel uncomfortable if not downright alienated.

But that’s not to say that the Church is perfect nor that they cannot learn from what Messianic Jews and Gentiles teach. I was talking to a young fellow after Sunday school class the other day about Jewish traditions and the benefits they possess. We talked about the set times of prayer and the abundance of blessings a Jew recites on various occasions. I also told him that a Christian does not specifically have to adopt Jewish practices in order to gain the benefits of the values that lie behind the traditions.

ShabbatOn Erev Shabbat for example, it is traditional for Jewish parents to bless their children in a specifically proscribed manner. I told my young friend that he and his wife could also chose to bless their children, but they didn’t have to do it “jewishly”. The values behind Jewish traditions and culture provide context, identity, and meaning to Jewish families, and I think Christians can and sometimes do employ similar practices for the same reasons and can get similar results.

Two-thousand years of history have separated most Christians from even the idea that we could act “jewishly” and for most Christians, it would drive them crazy even to consider the possibility. But if someone like me, who has a few “jewish” ideas to relate to my Christian counterparts, can communicate those concepts in the Church, maybe it will build a bridge between the two worlds.

For those Christians who are drawn to a more “jewish” lifestyle, many of them either come from family and culture that melds into behaving more “jewishly” or they learn to do so through marriage or some other process.

The main takeaway for me is that it’s not a “have to,” that is, I don’t feel compelled by God that I must live “jewishly” and that it’s a sin not to. It may well have been acceptable for Izates and Helena to live “jewishly” and never to convert to Judaism, at least in a formalized manner. Certainly Paul’s Gentile disciples lived “jewishly” probably by default, since there was no other cultural pattern one could employ for a Gentile to live as a disciple of a Jewish teacher.

But that was then, and this is now. While some Gentiles elect to live “jewishly” as an expression of their faith, it doesn’t seem absolutely necessary, at least in the current age. I’ve seen some Christians in the Church observe more of the weightier matters of Torah than I have some Hebrew Roots Gentiles in One Law gatherings.

It isn’t the cultural or religious context that makes the person of faith, it’s the heart. One circumcised heart is worth ten-thousand kippot and tallitot wearing people with uncircumcised hearts (not that you can’t be a kippah and tallit wearing Gentile with a circumcised heart, of course).

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:33 (NASB)

A friend of mine said it best: Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with God.

Reflections on Romans 5

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 4:19-5:2 (NASB)

Remember, Paul wrote this letter without chapters and verses in mind. He was trying to express a unified set of thoughts to his audience who were, most likely, the believing Gentiles associating with believing and unbelieving Jews in the Roman synagogues.

In my previous reflection, I focused a great deal on how, for a Jewish Jesus-believer, there was/is no inconsistency between Torah and faith. For that matter, there’s no inconsistency for a non-Jewish Jesus-believer between faith and obedience, either.

But there was a lot of misunderstanding going on (apparently) in the Roman Jesus-believing community on both sides of the aisle. The Gentiles somehow felt they were superior to the non-believing Jews in that they were granted access to Jewish worship and social space as equal co-participants without having to undergo the proselyte rite and take up the full yoke of Torah in the manner of the Jews. The non-believing Jews pushed back by declaring themselves superior as possessors of the “oracles of God” and how by just being ethnic Jews they were justified before God.

There is also some indication that at least some Jews may have mistakenly thought that because their faith in Yeshua (Jesus) justified them, they were more like the Gentiles and did not have to follow a strict observance of the mitzvot.

Paul was trying to straighten out his audience orient them to the importance of both obedience due to covenant obligation and being justified only by faith.

Now we see Paul continuing to make this point, emphasizing how Gentiles could also be included in the covenant blessings by faith but not have to take up all of the Jewish covenant obligations. The one commonality between the Jewish and Gentile believers was/is that they were/are all justified by faith and granted “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith is what made Gentile participation in the covenant blessings possible without conversion to Judaism and remember, they were justified by faith alone, so even if they voluntarily chose to take on additional mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it would not increase their justification or otherwise grant them greater merit before God.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritNotice that justification by faith includes the hope we have in the New Covenant as evidenced by one of the “down payments” of the New Covenant promises, the Holy Spirit “who was given to us.” That takes us back to Acts 2 when the Jewish Apostles received the Spirit in the upper room (in an act reminiscent of the giving of Torah at Sinai), and Acts 10 with the occasion of the Spirit being given to faithful Gentiles, the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Romans 5:6-9 (NASB)

But we are justified by faith, not just in God, but in who Jesus is and what he represented as the final sacrifice we’d ever need for the forgiveness of our sins. God loves us all even in our sins, and desires that we repent, take up our faith and cross, and follow our King.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:13 (NASB)

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to point out that sacrifice (observance) alone does not justify, and also that he came for the sinners, the disobedient and faithless of Israel, to bring them back to God, to redeem Israel. It is believed, contrary to Christian thought, that the general Jewish population in Israel during the late second Temple period maintained a high level of Torah study and observance, higher than previous points in the nation’s history, but it was the sin of baseless hatred that resulted in the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. It was this hatred among the Jews the Messiah was addressing (Remember what I’ve said in the past…these are just my “reflections” as I’ve read through Romans as associated with previously acquired information…it’s not a researched and annotated doctoral dissertation).

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)

As you can see, there were likely many righteous people in Israel, including Zacharias the Priest and his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth). We may never know how many among Israel were at their level of spiritual enlightenment since as the Master said, he came for the “lost sheep of Israel,” and not for the righteous who did not need to repent of baseless hatred.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NASB)

The Death of the MasterOur hope isn’t just in the atonement provided for mankind by the death of the tzaddik, but in the resurrection and the life, for even as we die with him, we rise with him from the tomb as new creations and have the hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of Messiah, a Kingdom of utter peace and tranquility. We are no longer enemies of God but sons and daughters by adoption, Gentiles who are now included in the blessings alongside God’s people Israel.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14 (NASB)

This admittedly is difficult for me to grasp. Paul is introducing something new which seems to be the origin of sin. It came into the world because of the disobedience of Adam, the willful disregard to the one and only negative commandment that existed in the world at that time.

It wasn’t just disobedience that was the sin but the lack of faith that rested behind it. Although the commandment to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not directly imparted to Havah (Eve), Adam allowed her to consume the fruit and then willfully ate it as well.

But then Paul says that there is no sin “when there is no law,” which I assume is Torah and it defines obedience and disobedience, and yet between Adam and Moses there was still sin and death.

Different translations of Romans 5:13 state “but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (NIV), “but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV), and “but no record of sin is kept when there is no Law” (ISV), basically saying the same thing.

I have a hard time depending on Christian commentary to guide me here since most or all of them draw a hard line between Torah and grace, believing the latter has replaced the former for Jewish believers (and everyone else). However the commentary from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on this verse states in part:

…but sin is not imputed when there is no law. This looks like an objection, that if there was no law before Moses’s time, then there was no sin, nor could any action of man be known or accounted by them as sinful, or be imputed to them to condemnation; or rather it is a concession, allowing that where there is no law, sin is not imputed; but there was a law before that law of Moses, which law was transgressed, and the sin or transgression of it was imputed to men to condemnation and death, as appears from what follows.

NoahFrom this I gather that there were actually standards for sin and righteous for mankind prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai but that the Torah defined heightened responsibilities specifically for the Children of Israel. This suggests that the rest of humanity still operated under the older standards and, given a more Jewish perspective, that said-standards for the nations were the Noahide Laws we see God issuing in Genesis 9.

Of course there were no Noahide Laws prior to Genesis 9, so there must have been some sort of standards in place between Adam and Noah. These standards are hinted at (how did Abel know about animal sacrifice and how did Noah know what a clean animal was?) but never listed in the Bible.

But what about the next verse?

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:14 (NASB)

Death continued between Adam and the time of the giving of Torah at Sinai because of the continuation of sin, and presumably it continued after that and continues to this day, if we’re talking about bodily death (and since Paul has been talking about the bodily resurrection up to this point, I think it likely). Mankind would have remained accountable to God under Genesis 9 covenant and its conditions, then with Moses and the Torah, Israel was elevated to a much higher place in terms of blessings, responsibilities, and curses.

In a way, this put the Israelites in a rather unenviable position, because the conditions of obeying God, the Torah mitzvot, were so many, so complicated, and so much more involved than the Noahide commandments, that they had to do a lot more work to maintain their covenant relationship with God.

Of course, there are also terrific blessings attached to Israel’s covenant with God including having God dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. But the Temple and the sacrificial system was never designed to permanently remove sin from the Israelites, or for that matter, the rest of humanity (even though the prayers and sacrifices of Gentiles were acceptable in the Temple).

And who is this “who is a type of Him who was to come?” Apparently, according to various translations and commentaries, it’s Messiah. Adam was the first man and the first to sin, the prototype of sinful mankind, but also the prototype human being as the first created man. Yeshua, as Messiah, sent to be the hope of humanity, is sort of an “anti-Adam,” one who entered the world perfect, just like Adam, but unlike Adam, one who never sinned even though sorely tempted.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:15-17 (NASB)

Paul continues his theme of the duality of Adam and Jesus, the transgression of Adam and the free gift of grace through Christ. Adam’s faithlessness and disobedience condemned humanity to sin and death and Messiah’s faithfulness and obedience, even to the point of death, reverses that curse…or rather, it will.

exileLet me explain.

Sin and death are still in the world, even for Christians. Believers still sin. We’re not perfect (or perfected). And believers still die. But if we are faithful and obedient, we will not be dead forever, and when we are resurrected, we will be resurrected as perfected people. God will heal our physical imperfections but more importantly, He will heal our hearts and write His Word upon them, so it will be natural for us to obey and not sin, even as it is now human nature to disobey.

That is why Jesus is our hope because he is the hope of our future perfection and the redemption of the world, all through God’s covenant with Abraham, then with Isaac, then with Jacob, and then the Sinai covenant with the tribes that issued from Jacob, the Israelites, and with their descendants, the Jewish people. Salvation for the rest of the world comes from the Jews (John 4:22) and from their King Messiah.

Jesus reverses the curse that Adam initiated.

Paul calls all this a “free gift,” and I admit to having a bit of a problem with the wording.

It’s true that we don’t have to do anything to produce this solution to the problem Adam introduced into the world, and it’s true that we didn’t even ask for it, and it’s true that we don’t and in fact we can’t pay a price to purchase this gift. On the other hand, we still have to do something. We have to choose. We have to hear the “good news,” and we have to listen, and we have to allow the Holy Spirit to influence us, and then we have to repent and accept the Lordship and rule of Messiah over our lives.

And then we enter into discipleship, start studying, and finally realize what all that actually means. Then we realize what it is to accept Jesus as Lord and oh boy, it’s not as easy as we were led to believe by whoever evangelized us.

Then and only then comes the hard part. Living the life of a disciple and a slave with Jesus as Lord and Master…yeah, Master like Master over a slave. Living the life of a slave with Jesus as our Master, surrendering any priority over our life to him and making all of his priorities our priorities.

Do you do that all the time, 24/7/365? Really? Are you sure?

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

It sounds like Paul is getting a little repetitive, but then he says the “Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” God introduced the Torah to Israel to increase their sin? That seems odd. The Torah lists the conditions of the Sinai covenant between Israel and God, a covenant which says God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people and that they agree to obey a certain set of conditions listed in the Torah. If they don’t, and disobedience (sin) is also defined in Torah, then the curses laid out in the Torah will be applied to Israel. If they continue to obey, the blessings, which are also spelled out in the Torah, will be applied.

So how does all that “increase sin” and especially for the whole world since the Sinai covenant and its conditions (Torah) only apply to Israel?

Is there some other “Law” that Paul could be talking about in this context?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

There is what’s called “the Law of Sin” which the above-quoted verse defines, but that doesn’t seem to fit the context. However, it also makes no sense at all for God to give the Torah to Jews at Sinai just to increase their culpability for sin so that in their sins, God could demonstrate how much they needed His grace, send Jesus to die for their sins, and replace the Law with grace.

sefer torahThe only way I can see how the Torah could “increase sin” is that it raised the bar quite a bit for the Children of Israel relative to the rest of mankind. It certainly increased the chances of any given Jewish person to come into transgression. After all, it’s no sin for me to not wear tzitzit but it is for a Jewish person (man). It’s no sin for me to eat a pork chop (although I don’t) but it is for a Jewish person. Even as a Christian and the receiver of many blessings through Israel’s covenants with God, I’m still not held accountable to as high a standard of behavior as my wife (who is Jewish), at least not this side of the Messianic Kingdom.

But if Gentile believers are the primary audience of this letter, what does Paul mean? I suspect the answers may be yielded in the next chapter and in next week’s edition of my “reflections.”

Reflections on Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?

Romans 4:1 (ESV)

Remember that in my reflection on Romans 3, Paul was toggling back and forth between Jewish obligation to the Law (Torah) and justification by faith, making sure that his audience, probably Jewish and Gentile believers in the synagogues in Rome (but talking about Gentile relationships with non-Jesus-believing Jews), understood the proper association, that Jews had many advantages including those Jews who had not yet come to faith in Messiah Yeshua, (Christ Jesus) but that only faith ultimately justifies one before the Almighty.

It must have been a struggle, especially for the Gentile Jesus-believers, to comprehend the relationship between faith and Torah observance. My reading of Romans tells me that these Gentiles might have been getting pretty arrogant, especially in relationship with the non-Jesus-believing Jews they encountered, because they had the Torah but not faith in Messiah. The Gentiles may have concluded that they were justified before God as were their Jewish Jesus-believing counterparts, but not the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews. After all, keeping the Law doesn’t justify.

Paul was trying to correct the error of the Gentiles’ thinking. Christians today tend to mess this up as well, but if we apply Paul to today’s Jewish communities, we see they too must have many advantages, and that God has not abandoned them or replaced them with the Church or even with the community of Jesus-believing Messianic Jews.

Chapter four sees Paul continuing to make his point and expand upon it.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Romans 4:1-5 (NASB)

Paul continues to state that Abraham wasn’t justified by what he did, by any works, including circumcision, he was justified by faith and his faith was credited to him as righteousness, even as faith is credited to his readers and to us as disciples of the Master.

But that didn’t mean Abraham wasn’t subject to behavioral expectations by God. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have to obey:

So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:4-5 (NASB)

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

Genesis 22:1-8 (NASB)

Abraham was faithful to God and obeyed him, even at great personal cost. Picture what it must be like to, at the word of God, pack up your family and all your possessions and head out in a direction with no stated destination in sight.

The AkedahBut that pales in comparison to the commandment to take your son and serve him up on the altar like a lamb to slaughter. As a father and grandfather, I can only imagine how Abraham’s heart must have been in anguish at knowing not only that his son would die, but that he would have to bind him and kill him with a knife.

Midrash says that Abraham believed that God would allow the sacrifice of Isaac but that God would resurrect him. However, the Torah is silent about this area of Abraham’s thoughts, so we’ll never be sure this side of Messiah what Abraham did and didn’t believe.

We only know that out of faith in God, he obeyed. Thus we can’t say that faith replaces obedience, only that it precedes it. From this I extrapolate that Paul is saying once justified by faith, Jews are expected to continue to observe the mitzvot and that in fact, their observance will have more depth of meaning because of faith.

But there’s something else:

David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

Romans 4:6-12 (NASB)

In short, the forgiveness of sins is by faith, not by performance of the mitzvot, thus both Jews and Gentiles receive forgiveness by their faith and the Gentiles don’t have to be concerned that their sins will be counted against them if they don’t also observe the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.

Remember I said that I thought the Gentiles were probably getting arrogant in their status of saved by faith apart from the Torah? It’s possible that the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews were “pushing back” with their advantage as Jews, having the Torah, the oracles of God, and maybe getting back at the Gentiles among them by pointing out what the Jews had that the Gentiles would never have.

If indeed there was a “war of egos” going on between the Jesus-believing Gentiles and the non-Jesus-believing Jews (with the Jesus believing Jews caught in the middle), then each party would be pressing their own perceived advantage against the other. Paul’s writing this letter to even things out. He’s saying that yes, non-Messianic Jews continue to have the advantages under the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, but that under one of the blessings of Abraham, it is faith that removes sin for all, not Torah observance, so everyone who has faith will be saved.

DaveningAlso remember that the non-believing (in Jesus) Jews weren’t faithless. They had faith, probably great faith, not in Jesus being Messiah but rather in Hashem, God of Creation, Master of Legions. Yes, faith in Messiah as the first fruits of the dead is the next logical, historical, and Biblical step in Jewish faith in God and the advancement of God’s plan to bring the New Covenant into the world, but non-believing (in Jesus) Jews were not totally abandoned by God, nor were they bereft of His compassion.

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Romans 4:13-15 (NASB)

This sounds like one of those either/or statements about faith being good and the Law bringing wrath, but what about the Law brings wrath?

If someone depended on their behavior alone with no faith in God and with the absence of intent to serve God, the response would be wrath, for without faith, no one can be saved from the consequences of their sin and from God’s righteous judgment. Yes, the Jews had the promises and they were (and are) heirs to the Land of Israel, but if observance is what you believe justifies you before God, then “faith is null,” as Paul wrote. Of course, the other side of that wrath is a Jew who claims to have faith in God but who is not observant. The Torah is clear about the consequences of disobedience or abandoning God’s Law for a Jew. But what about Gentiles in Messiah?

We see that there are two standards of judging obedience. They may overlap, but they’re hardly identical. If the Gentile disciples of the Master were not expected to observe the Torah in the manner of the Jews as per the legal ruling of the Council of Apostles and Elders (see Acts 15), then those without the Law (Torah), that is, the Gentile disciples, are not under the wrath of the Law. They are not expected to obey thus if they fail to observe the mitzvot, there is no transgression.

But as I said above, the other wrinkle is that even if a Jew has great faith and is justified before God, if he or she does not observe the Torah commandments (the conditions of fulfilling the Sinai Covenant), imagining somehow that they are like the Gentiles (and I can imagine that a few Jews may have taken this as Paul’s meaning), then that Jewish person would be under condemnation. Abandoning the Torah is written all over the history of the Israelites.

But to the wicked God says,
“What right have you to tell of My statutes
And to take My covenant in your mouth?
“For you hate discipline,
And you cast My words behind you.”

Psalm 50:16-17 (NASB)

Just to show you that I’m not making up the idea that a Jew could misunderstand Paul’s intent in teaching Jewish Torah obligation and Gentile non-obligation…

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

Acts 21:20-21 (NASB)

Apparently some Jewish people got the idea that because Paul was teaching the Gentiles that they did not have to observe the Torah commandments (Moses) and they didn’t have to circumcise their sons, that Paul was also teaching the Jews the diaspora the same thing. Maybe some Jews reading Paul’s letters or hearing him teach actually thought he was applying the same “freedom” he was preaching to the Gentiles to Jewish believers in Yeshua.

Here was James’ solution to the problem and his attempt to clarify what Paul was really doing:

Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Acts 21:23-25 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul was to pay the expenses of four Jewish men under a vow (probably a Nazarite vow) in order to graphically illustrate that he continued to observe the mitzvot and that there was nothing to the erroneous rumors about him teaching “lawlessness” to diaspora Jews. Verse 25 presents the distinction for the Gentile believers, citing the Acts 15 letter, which limits the observance of the Messianic Goyim to a subset of the commandments.

Thus Paul was not teaching Jews that their level of observance was reduced to that of the Gentile disciples but rather, Paul remained a Torah-observant Jew teaching other Jews to keep to the commandments while at the same time, teaching the Gentile disciples a different or overlapping set of observances that were not nearly as strict or involved.

No wonder the Romans letter seems so difficult to follow. Paul was trying to explain circumstances that were (and are) very difficult to understand.

The common denominator for Jews and Gentiles in Messiah is faith. Faith justifies, makes one righteousness, and erases all guilt of sin (after repentance, of course), and only afterward are we to live a life of obedience by faith. Only then will God judge our hearts and hold us accountable to the level of our observance as specifically assigned to Jew or Gentile.

I know I’m going to get some “push back” for all that, but it’s the only way to explain what Paul is saying that makes any sort of sense to me.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

Romans 4:16-18 (NASB)

Like I said, faith is the common denominator in accordance with grace. Abraham has two lines of descendants, those who are of the Law, that is, the Jewish people, and those who are of the faith of Abraham, that is, the Gentile believers. This isn’t to say that the Jews have only the Law and Gentiles are the ones with all the faith. Like I said, faith is the common link between Jews and Gentiles. But we Gentiles are joined to the covenant blessings by faith and we do not have the Law.

The Law, that is, the Torah, the conditions of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel, is particularly identifying of Jews. That’s why (in my opinion), Paul structured his sentence as he did. The Jews are the ones whose obligations to God are specifically defined in the Torah. The Gentiles, by contrast, are specifically identified, not by the Law obviously, but as children of Abraham by faith alone. The Gentile behavioral conditions are summarized in the Acts 15 letter. Remember, the Jews were also physically children of Abraham, so they had their link back to the Patriarch both by faith and by bloodline. Gentiles are Abraham’s children by faith alone. This is how Abraham would be the father of the Jews but also the “father of many nations.”

sarah and isaacThe final verses of this chapter pull Paul’s points together, citing Abraham’s faith in the promise of an offspring, even in the face of both his and Sarah’s great age, and repeating that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Paul then points all this back to Jesus, the keeper of the New Covenant promises, the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16; 3:29), the one God raised from the dead, the one who was delivered over to sinful men for the transgressions of the world, for the sake of the Jews but also the Gentiles, that through faith in him and the resurrection, we have the hope of living in the New Covenant age, in an age of peace and tranquility, in an age without strife or sin, with Messiah the King.