Tag Archives: law

What God Expects of the Jew and Also the Gentile

R’ Moshe Feinstein (in his Darash Moshe) explains that greatness is not defined by a person’s accomplishments, but rather by the person’s success in fulfilling the tasks for which Hashem equipped him and sent him to this world. Every person enters the world with unique abilities and a specific set of tasks to accomplish. Some are given tremendous ability, and are expected to achieve a great deal, while others are endowed with lesser abilities, and correspondingly, smaller tasks. But every person’s job is identical — use the skills you have been given to the utmost, to accomplish as much as you can.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.75
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

From a rationalist’s point of view it does not seem plausible to assume that the infinite, supreme Being is concerned with my putting on Tefillin every day. It is, indeed strange to believe that God should care whether a particular individual will eat leavened or unleavened bread during a particular season of the year. However, it is that paradox, namely, that the infinite God is intimately concerned with finite man and his finite deeds; that nothing is trite or irrelevant in the eyes of God, which is the very essence of the prophetic faith.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Does God Require Anything of Man?” p.102
Man’s Quest for God

You may not think the two quotes just above have much to do with one another, but bear with me. The former is addressing how each human being is placed on earth to fulfill his or her specific potential understanding that we all have different potentials, and the latter is discussing, not generally human response to God, but a Jew’s response to Hashem through performance of the mitzvot.

There are many problems which we encounter in our reflections on the issue of Jewish observance. I would like to discuss briefly several of these problems, namely, the relation of observance to our understanding of the will of God; the meaning of observance to man; the regularity of worship; inwardness and the essence of religion; the relevance of the external deeds.

-Heschel
“To Obey or to Play with the Will of God.” p.102

Is Heschel using “man” and “Jewish” as interchangeable terms, or can we infer that he means that all human beings are responsible for obeying God, and then drawing out Jewish observance as distinct from God’s expectations for the rest of us?

I doubt Heschel meant to include that meaning into his writing but I’m going to “force” the issue based on my particular perspective.

You see, not only do I believe that each individual human being was placed here in life for a purpose that has been assigned to us by God, but I believe that God has placed the Jewish people and the Gentile nations here to fulfill specific purposes depending on which corporate body we are born into (aside from some Gentiles converting to Judaism).

praying_jewIn other words, there are specific tasks God placed Jewish people here to perform, and we Gentiles have specific tasks we also are here to perform, all in the service of God.

But those Jewish and Gentile tasks aren’t necessarily the same (though there’s probably some overlap).

I know that will ruffle a few feathers out there, but I’ve said this often enough and in so many different ways, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone by now.

As for the “equality” of women in Torah, a great deal depends on what you think “equality” means. In Torah, it does not mean that every member of the community is authorized to perform the identically same roles and tasks. Leviim may not perform some tasks reserved for Cohanim. Other Jews who are not in these categories may not perform the tasks reserved for priestly categories (with some rare and constrained exceptions). Men may not bear children nor are they exempt from time-critical tasks required of them (the men, not the children [:)]). Women may not perform certain tasks required specifically of men. Children are constrained from performing adult tasks and are not to be relied upon to perform adult responsibilities (though their training will include learning by doing, emulating such tasks). None of these categories are less to be valued because of what they may not do; and each is to be highly valued for what they *are* given to do. They are all equally valuable and honorable; but they are not identical in their assignments nor may they trade off their specific responsibilities, though some tasks may be shared by more than one of these categories.

-from a comment made by “ProclaimLiberty”
on my blog post Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God And The Torah

While the conversation was about male and female equality of roles within Jewish religious and communal space, I chose to expand the concept to include Jewish and Gentile roles within that same space and particularly within Messianic Judaism.

Individuals are granted potentials to fulfill and so are people groups, namely Jewish and Gentile. After all, the Torah was given to Israel at Sinai, not all of the human beings living on the Earth. So if there were a Gentile “mixed multitude” also standing at Sinai saying as one man, “all that you have said we will do” (Exodus 19:8; 24:3), those from outside Israel either assimilated into the tribes, losing their Gentile heritage forever, or they left without so much as a “by your leave” to return to the rest of the nations, probably the lands from which they came.

But what about the rest of us? I mentioned that I thought the nations had specific tasks hard-coded into our potential as well. I suppose I could start with Genesis 9 which is the basis for what in Judaism is referred to as The Seven Laws of Noah, but I can go further than that.

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

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

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 21:25

It would seem, at least from my point of view, that the Bible presupposes a distinction in the duties human beings have to God depending on whether or not you’re Jewish.

Yet we all wholeheartedly accept Micah’s words: “He has showed you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). If we believe that there is something which God requires of man, then what is our belief if not faith in the will of God, certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?

-Heschel
“Does God Require Anything of Man,” p.103

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

But from a “Messianic Gentile’s” perspective, what is the “certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?” The overly simplistic answer some have selected is that “one size fits all.” In other words, there are 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to perform (though many of them are in abeyance since we are without a Temple, a Levitical Priesthood, and a Sanhedrin in Israel), and God has only one standard of piety and righteousness for the whole human race, that is, the aforementioned 613 commandments, the Torah.

But if we accept that, then we must accept that God first chose Israel to be a light to the nations, then at some point, “unchose” her, and instead, chose all followers of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach). Except that’s exactly what the Christian Church believes. Christians believe that God “unchose” Israel and the Torah and then chose “the Church,” the worldwide body of believers in Jesus. Hebrew Roots generally (but not universally) believes that (again, please bear with me) God “unchose” Israel and then chose all followers of Messiah Yeshua and applied the Torah to his latter selection in the same manner as He did with His former selection (and as I’ve said before, I don’t for a split second believe that Gentile disciples actually become “non-Jewish Israel”).

It is so difficult from a western egalitarian mindset to imagine that God would be so “unfair” as to have different standards and different expectations for different people groups. And yet, He is God and His will be done.

Heschel calls observing the mitzvot “the Jewish way of life,” (p.105) and he takes Christian theology and specifically the writings of the Apostle Paul to task for emphasizing that a man is justified by faith apart from the Law (p.108 citing Romans 3:28), which he doesn’t consider to be a particularly Jewish attitude.

The highest peak of spiritual living is not necessarily reached in rare moments of ecstasy; the highest peak lies wherever we are and may be ascended in a common deed. There can be as sublime a holiness in fulfilling a friendship, in observing dietary laws, day by day, as in uttering a prayer on the Day of Atonement.

-ibid
“There is No Exterritoriality,” p.111

I agree, however Heschel seems to have missed this:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

James 2:14-16

Of course James (Ya’akov or Jacob), the head of the Council of Apostles and Elders and brother to the Master was (and is) also Jewish so it stands to reason that he and Heschel might have some common insights on a Jewish response to God.

One of the questions I am asked when I bring up this subject is what specifically does God expect of the Gentile in Messiah? I’ve tried to answer that question on multiple occasions over the past several years, most recently in The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews, Messianic Judaism for the Rest of Us and Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing. But in reading Heschel another detail came to mind.

While not prescribing a diet — vegetarian or otherwise — or demanding abstinence from narcotics or stimulants, Judaism is very much concerned with what and how a person ought to eat. A sacred discipline for the body is as important as bodily strength.

-Heschel, pp.111-12

So God isn’t concerned about what a Gentile ought to eat?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

1 Timothy 5:23

The Kosher laws aren’t exclusively a list of “health foods” and in fact, some of the dietary requirements God has for the Jewish people defy logic, but let’s say God does care what we eat (he cares about everything we do, but I’ll use this as an example). Since the Jewish people, God’s nation Israel, has been called out forever from the rest of the nations, which includes the people of the nations who have come to faith in Yeshua, His list of expectations maps to what he has “wired” into them as a set of “potentials”. That goes to every little detail in life, as Heschel alluded to above, including food.

Now let’s say that God also has dietary expectations for the rest of us but that those requirements are less stringent. What if the specific examples we see Paul issuing in his epistles all come down to a general principle (or a few of them if you include the Jerusalem letter) of “eating right?” After all, Paul in his missives seems to be mainly concerned on matters of health, probably for the sake of the Gentile disciples honoring God by behavioral performance (praying, doing good deeds), which is better done if you aren’t sick.

I’m limiting this to food but there’s a lot of things we can do with our bodies to either sanctify or desecrate the Name of God.

kosher deliWhat I’m getting from all this is that God’s behavioral expectations of the Jewish people are much more specific and strict than His expectations for the rest of us because that’s the role He assigned them in this life. He assigned the Gentiles a more “generic” but no less important role and thus the expectations attached to our role are more “relaxed” as reflected in the quotes from Acts 15 and Acts 21.

This isn’t to say that a Gentile disciple can’t go “above and beyond” as a matter of personal conviction. After all, God allowed Jewish people to go “above and beyond” by taking a Nazarite Vow (Numbers 6). However, we are no more required to behave beyond our basic assigned requirements than a Israelite was required to undergo the Nazarite ritual (with notable exceptions such as Samson, Samuel, and John the Immerser who were all life-long Nazarim).

It’s not that the Jews have the Law and the Christians (all non-Jewish believers in Messiah) have Grace. We all have Law and we all have Grace. It’s just that the “Law” for the Gentile disciple isn’t as highly specific as it is for the Jew. There’s more flexibility built into our lives than there is for the Jewish people. God expects them to uphold a higher standard and they bear a greater responsibility. Being “chosen” isn’t always a walk in the park.

That’s not the end of the discussion and there are a lot more details involved, but for those, I’ll refer you to Review of the Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses and The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited.

I know this won’t satisfy some of you out there, but I don’t expect to be able to do so. This is just me refining my understanding of who I am as a Messianic Gentile and my duties to God as a disciple of the Master, may he come soon and in our day.

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What I Learned in Church Today: Christians Approaching Sinai

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

I probably talked a little too much (or a lot too much) in Sunday school class today. I may have even gotten on a few nerves. It was difficult not to. The sermon was on Exodus 19:1-25 which is Pastor Randy’s introduction to a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to the Church today.

Before even getting to the Ten Commandments, he’s going to spend separate sermons on Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-23, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Galatians 3:1-14. After that, he’ll spend one sermon on each of the Ten Words (Aseret ha-Dibrot).

I had the opportunity to speak with Pastor before service began. He knew I’d be particularly interested in these sermons and also knows the points where I’m likely to disagree. That’s OK since there are other areas where I do agree, one of which is that most Christians really need to hear more about “the Law” and how not only was it valuable in ancient days, but that it is valuable and relevant for not only present day Jews, but all modern believers in Jesus Christ.

I won’t spend a lot of time on his sermon, but he did reference a Christian children’s song that goes Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line. Happily he said that these lyrics are not true and that the Bible must be studied carefully to determine which of the promises can be applied to the Gentile Christian. He also said “we (the Church) are not Israel,” to which I wholeheartedly agree.

I actually ran out of room on the sheet of paper given out before services to take notes on the sermon. What Randy explained was worth a lot of ink to preserve his thoughts. Pastor got into such detail that he ran out of time, only getting to verse nine out of twenty-five, so we’ll pick it up starting with verse ten next Sunday.

I told Randy that I didn’t feel sorry for him (in the sense that we don’t always see eye-to-eye) since he is a careful, honest, and thorough researcher and instructor. My Sunday school teacher on the other hand, I do feel sorry for.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with teacher before class began but given the topic and the fact that he knows my areas of emphasis, he should have expected my “active participation.” It didn’t help that not a lot of other people in class were speaking up much. Again, like last week, we had new people in class, so I also felt a little sorry for them since I’m not a typical Sunday school student.

In his notes, teacher quoted from one of Walt Kaiser’s books:

The “sign” given to Moses in Ex. 3:12 is fulfilled here: he has returned to the “mountain of God.” The presence of the “if” in Ex. 19:5 did not pave the way for Israel’s decline from grace into the law.

“Decline from grace into the law?” Since when did the two become mutually exclusive?

Torah at Sinai

I’m not sure that’s what Kaiser was saying and teacher did try hard to emphasize that the grace shown Abraham (Genesis 15) ran parallel to the giving of the Law at Sinai.

I tried hard to demonstrate the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic (Sinai), and New Covenants bit by bit as I responded to questions in the teacher’s notes, but had to disagree with Pastor and teacher that all of the laws of the Torah constitute the Sinai Covenant. Actually, the Covenant is stated in just two verses:

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)

That’s the Covenant. The Torah, all of the commandments, statues, and ordinances, are the conditions of the Covenant, the things the Israelites agreed to obey to uphold their end of the Covenant.

But both Pastor and teacher introduced an interesting parallel:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB)

These are just about the same words we see in Exodus 19 where God describes who the Children of Israel are to Him in the Covenant, but Peter is addressing a non-Jewish audience. Pastor said that in the body of Christ, it is not the peoples but the people of God, singular. But since he also said that the Church is not Israel and recognizes Jews in the Church (presumably) as “Israel,” then there are distinctions, though I recognize more distinctiveness between believing Jews and Gentiles than he does.

And yet, it is the ekklesia (assembly) who are “chosen,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” a possession” (Am Segulah — a treasured, splendorous people) according to Peter. Israel became a people and a nation before God at Sinai (and according to Jeremiah 31:35-37 they will never stop being a people before God) and when the people of the nations become disciples of the Jewish Messiah through faith, we too become “chosen” and “treasured” as grafted into the root.

Teacher filtered the Exodus 19 experience through Romans 7, 8, and Galatians 3. I used some of the information from my Reflections on Romans series to head off the idea that the Torah in any sense could be “bad” or cause sin. This was surprisingly acceptable to teacher but I have no idea what anyone else was thinking. Pastor Bill was in class, so if I’d said something too far out of line, you’d think he’d have brought it up.

Like I said last week, it’s like they’re shooting all round the target and are just short of a bullseye as far as “getting it” in regards to the continuation of the Torah in Jewish lives.

Teacher even mentioned Psalm 19 which is one of David’s strongest endorsements of the beauty of the Torah. And yet in past classes, teacher has also said how relieved he was that we Christians aren’t under the law, so some dissonance is happening somewhere.

I brought way more notes to class than I needed (or had time for), but one I did bring up, though I didn’t have time to quote it, is this:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

Obviously God expected that when Israel said “All that you have said we will do,” they would and actually could do it. The Torah is a delight. It always has been. Only human weakness and frailty make it difficult if not impossible for the Jewish people to be able to fulfill their vow before God. But while perfection in the performance of the mitzvot isn’t something that can reasonably be achieved, God’s plan of redemption through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) will make it possible.

Since we people of the nations, through a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16) solve the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-13) on how Gentiles can receive New Covenant blessings and yet not be of the House of Judah and the House of Israel, we also benefit from that redemptive plan. But if not for Israel and God’s promises to her, there would be no hope for us.

I managed to get all that out in class but I don’t know if it made the impact I wanted it to. I think Pastor’s goal and mine for his sermon series are pretty much alike. I think we both want the people at church to see the Bible as one, big, unified book, and not a document that describes a “before” and “after” picture, or a bunch of different plans God had, trying out one after the other until he found one that would work.

Rolling the Torah ScrollPastor’s going to teach a class this Fall called “God’s Big Picture” where he presents the Bible as the single, overarching Word of God. I’d attend but I’ve spent over a year having almost weekly private conversations with him about these topics, so we both know where the other stands. I’d just serve as a speed bump to the other people who want to listen to Randy, but then again, maybe that’s what I’m doing in Sunday school, too.

I came away from class feeling pretty flat and regretting that I spoke up so much. I was still holding myself back but there was so much I felt needed to be said. I realized that when I was responding to questions, I wasn’t really answering them, but then, I think that was because I didn’t agree with how the teacher organized his entire lesson. His “vision” of how to teach the material and mine are more than a little different.

I guess I’ll have more than one shot at this, so next week when we delve into Deuteronomy, I’ll try again. Hopefully, God will help me become a more effective participant unless He doesn’t want me to speak up at all. But then again, what would be the point of going if I couldn’t participate because, and I’m sorry to put it this way, I believe I have a better handle on topics related to the Torah than my Sunday school teacher.

Yeah, that sounds incredibly arrogant, even to me. So much for the month of Elul.

Addendum: Monday, September 1st: If you read the comments below, you’ll see that several people pointed out my mistake regarding 1 Peter 2. The intended audience of the epistle is not a non-Jewish but rather a Jewish audience, thus we Gentile disciples of the Master cannot consider ourselves “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” In retrospect, this actually strengthens my prior statements that the people of the nations called by our Master’s name cannot be Israel, since only they are referred to by the language from the Sinai Covenant.

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.”

Review of “What About the New Covenant,” Part 3

Session Three: The Inner Torah

Lancaster began this lecture by recalling a time when he was teaching a Torah class at a large, Charismatic church. One of his students really loved the class and decided to bring her husband. The husband was less enthusiastic and told Lancaster after the lesson was over, “This sounds like the oldness of the letter, not the newness of the spirit.”

It’s the contrast between these two ideas and the traditional Christian misinterpretation of these concepts, that Lancaster presents through out this forty-three minute sermon.

Lancaster followed up with a fictional story about him running a stop sign while driving and being pulled over by a police officer. In this made up scenario, Lancaster told the officer, I know the letter of the law said “stop” but as long as I didn’t hit anyone or cause an accident, I obeyed the spirit of the law.

In real life, that wouldn’t work out very well.

Let’s take another example from the lecture.

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.

Deuteronomy 22:8 (NRSV)

This is included as one of the 613 mitzvot or commandments in Judaism. The letter of the law is that, assuming you have a flat roof on your house where people can stand, you shall build a barrier around the roof to keep people from falling off. The spirit of the law, that is the intent, and in this case, it’s God’s intent, is that you should locate and remediate any dangerous hazard on your property.

The spirit of the law doesn’t abrogate or somehow cancel the letter, the spirit is simply the intent behind the actual law.

But in Christianity, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law are placed in direct opposition to one another. The letter usually means the Torah or the “Old Covenant” conditions, while the spirit usually means the grace of Christ or the New Covenant. The spirit is an easier law, one people are more capable of obeying than the letter.

However, Christians are somewhat justified in their assumption which they get from Paul:

But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Romans 7:6 (NRSV)

Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NRSV)

I can see why some people want to get rid of Paul, especially when many of us are trying to interpret Paul as pro-Torah, not anti-Law.

But what did Paul mean? The peshat or plain meaning of Paul’s words seems to indicate that he is contrasting the law with the spirit, the Torah with Jesus. Is this the way we should read Paul? Is there another “plain” and more accurate way to understand what he’s saying?

That requires a little background, perhaps the very background possessed by his original audience.

According to Jeremiah 31:34, we know the New Covenant language declares that in the future, Messianic Era, there will be a universal revelation of God. Everyone will know God. We will have an apprehension of God that will be greater than that of John the Baptist, all of Israel will be saved, because the Torah will be written on the hearts of Judah and Israel.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (emph. mine)

ShemaHey, wait! That’s the Shema. That was given way back in the days of the ancient Israelites. But the Torah of God isn’t written on our hearts yet. What gives?

I’ll get to that.

We know that God will give Israel a new spirit and new heart, and God will put the new spirit into the hearts of the Jewish people (Ezekiel 36:26-27) so it will be possible for people, Israel and the people of the nations who join them through faith in Messiah, to obey God, not just the list of mitzvot, but the intent behind them, not out of fear or obligation, but because we want to and fully understand why we should do good. I know Gentiles are included because God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29) and that our evil natures will be bound and unable to sway us (Revelation 20:1-2).

But we aren’t there yet, are we? That’s what Lancaster said in session two. So what do we have?

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5:5 (NRSV)

So God gave believers His Holy Spirit as a pledge or down payment. Against what? According to Lancaster, against the promise of the coming Messianic Age which was inaugurated and started beginning to arrive with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but will not fully arrive until the return of Messiah.

Until then, we know what we want and what we should do (such as stopping at a stop sign) but we don’t always do what we know is right because of our human nature or what is called in Judaism the evil inclination.

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 (NRSV)

My brilliant light of selfA person who has received the “down payment” of the Spirit knows what is right and what pleases God. God has just started writing the Torah on that person’s heart. But they still possess their will to be disobedient, and so two natures war within the person, and they always will be until the resurrection. We can live in the flesh, that is, in our human nature, but then we don’t even desire to please God. We can live by the letter of the law, attempting to please God, but only with our human strength. Or we can live in the spirit, desiring to please God and relying on the Spirit of God to help us obey him, even though we know we will continually be in a battle with our human nature.

This isn’t a battle between the Torah and grace, but between the Holy Spirit within us and our human nature.

To some degree, this makes it seem as if we’re off the hook, since being evil, even possessing the Spirit, the best we can do is try to do good but continue to sin.

Lancaster says Paul doesn’t make it that easy.

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:12-13 (NRSV)

Once we receive the Spirit, God expects us to live as if the Messianic Age has already fully arrived, not to just blow off God’s desires.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!

Romans 6:15 (NRSV)

By the way, that “law” Paul mentions is not the Torah. You’ll have listen to the entire recording of the lecture to get the full argument, but the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) means the wages or consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we give in to the temptation to sin and don’t even resist the evil inclination within us, then the result is death. We must keep fighting, the old man against the new man, wrestling like Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb (Hosea 12:3).

I’m reminded of the sermon and subsequent Sunday School lesson I heard last week in church. The message was on the perseverance of Paul in the face of almost certain death.

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:24 (NRSV)

PaulWe know, based on what Paul said in Romans, that he continued to struggle with his human nature and disobeyed God, but we also know that he “fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), remaining obedient and faithful to God and his mission to the Gentiles, never teaching against the Torah or against the Jewish people (Acts 28:17-20).

So it’s possible in this life with the current troubles we face (and how many of us have ever had the struggles Paul had to deal with?) to obey God and to commit our lives to our Master, with the old nature and new creation within each of us struggling “like two immortals locked in an epic battle until Judgment Day and trumpets sound” (quoting from this movie) at the return of the King.

I wouldn’t be giving a complete review of “The Inner Torah” unless I talked some about the Rabbinic perspective on the Messiah and the Messianic Age. Lancaster says that according to the Sages (he didn’t provide a specific reference), Messiah will teach the Torah, correcting all of the misinterpretations, and he will even bring a new Torah, the Torah of Messiah. This is somewhat misleading since the Torah of Messiah is the Torah of Moses, but…

…it’s thought that there is a perfect, heavenly Torah, which is God’s wisdom, will, and intent. To make it accessible to people, the Torah was “clothed,” so to speak, so that it could take on physical properties and be given to our world. That is the Torah we have as represented by scrolls in arks in synagogues and by books of the Bible we carry with us. But you can only include so much of Heaven in an object meant to exist on Earth. Messiah will be able to “unlock” the greater mysteries of the Torah, the heavenly essence, so to speak, and teach that Torah. It’s still the same Torah, but it contains so much more than we can currently perceive.

This is the inner Torah, the same Torah that was given at Sinai, but fully “unclothed” and fully written within us, so that we will not only know all good and everything that pleases God, but we will have a total desire to do all that is good and we will understand why each thing God wills is good and perfect, because it will be written within our natures. There will be no more fighting inside of us. The old creation is dead and the new creation lives on victorious (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The messianic age will be characterized by the peaceful co-existence of all people (Isaiah 2,4). Hatred, intolerance, and war will cease to exist. Some authorities suggest that the laws of nature will change, so that predatory beasts will no longer seek prey and agriculture will bring forth supernatural abundance (Isaiah 11,6-9); others like Maimonides, however, say that these statements are merely an allegory for peace and prosperity. What is agreed on by all is a very optimistic picture of what real people can be like in this real world, the like of which has never been seen before.

All of the Jewish people will return from their exile among the nations to their home in Israel (Isaiah 11,11-12; Jeremiah 23,8; 30,3; Hosea 3,4-5), and the law of the Jubilee as well as the rest of the special agricultural laws in the Torah will be reinstated.

In the messianic age, the whole world will recognize YHWH, the LORD God of Israel, as the only true God, and the Torah will be seen as the only true religion (Isaiah 2,3; 11,10; Micah 4,2-3; Zechariah 14,9). There will be no more murder, robbery, competition, or jealousy.

-Mashiach: The Messiah
mechon-mamre.org

heart in the sandNear the end of the lecture, Lancaster briefly mentioned that the Torah written on our hearts doesn’t mean that Gentiles become Jews or that Gentiles and Jews all wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, and wear payot. How the Torah is applied varies between Jews and Gentiles. I want to add that people struggle hard enough with our human natures and our sins. It’s not like wearing a tallit will cancel being stingy, or repeatedly losing our temper, or other sins of which we’re guilty.

As Lancaster interprets Paul and presents in his lecture, we may still struggle between righteousness and sin, but we are also responsible for continuing the fight. Paul kept the faith all his life and he’d have lived a longer life if he wasn’t obedient to God. But the Master taught, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The New Covenant is only beginning. We are still at war within ourselves. But as we battle, the finger of God slowly is writing His Torah on our hearts and the King is coming. We must continue in his will and grace, be obedient, and prove ourselves as worthy servants until his return.

Addendum: I just read a commentary on New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog on N.T. Wright’s new book (tome) Paul and the Faithfulness of God. This is the last of a series of reviews Hurtado has written, and I found the following quote appropriate to the current discussion:

We do have Wright emphasizing correctly that for Paul God’s eschatological programme had already begun in Jesus, especially in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, to use terms familiar in the history of NT scholarship, Paul held an “inaugurated eschatology,” the final events already underway, the programme to be consummated at Jesus’ parousia (return). (I still like Oscar Cullmann’s analogy: For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection was D-Day, and his parousia V-Day, and Paul thinks he is living in the exciting time between these two events: Christ and Time, pp. 144-74, esp 145. )

Also, Wright links (again correctly) the Spirit with eschatology, and so the presence and experience of the Spirit in early Christian circles was for Paul evidence of the new age underway, the Spirit raising new possibilities, new energies for obedience to God, even among former pagans.

For the full content of Hurtado’s commentary, please read Paul’s Eschatology: Further Comments on Wright’s New Opus.

It Isn’t Done

first-fruits-barleyThen the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the Lord for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.

Leviticus 23:9-14 (NASB)

I don’t have my notes from last Sunday’s sermon so I’m pretty much winging it, but Pastor, in describing the Festival of First Fruits, said an interesting thing. He said that God gave the Children of Israel and their descendants, the Jewish people, the Land of Israel in perpetuity, that is, forever. He said that this giving of the Land to the Jews goes well beyond the Messianic Age and even to the end of our understanding of time as presented in the Bible. He said that should settle all of the political wrangling we see in current times, and the various attempts to persuade or coerce the Jewish people to surrendering some (all) of their Land to the Arab people living among them, in exchange for the Arabs not committing various acts of terrorism.

The Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by God for all time through the Almighty’s promises to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Now let’s look at one of the functions of Torah. Torah, as it was given at Sinai and recorded by Moses throughout the forty years in the desert, was to operate as the national constitution of the nation of Israel. It described all of the civil and criminal laws, as well as social customs and mores, as well as what we think of as “religion” today, though Torah doesn’t specifically categorize these distinctions. This is just how the Jewish people, as citizens of Israel, were to behave in all the various details of their lives, with God as their King.

We know that verse 14 in the above-quoted passage indicates that the Festival of First Fruits was “to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your (the Jewish people’s) dwelling places.” Perpetual. Forever.

But according to Pastor, the only thing left of this particular festival in modern Judaism is the Counting of the Omer. Actually, Leviticus 23:15-16 says to count the days, not the Omer.

When Torah was given, it was tailored to an agrarian society, one where the primary economy is based on agriculture. So the sacrificial system involves the products of such a society, the religious calendar is geared to the timing of the harvests.

But how can God give the Israelites a commandment that says the Festival of First Fruits is perpetual when there is no Temple? How can this be a perpetual command when there have been times when the Jewish people have been exiled from their Land and arguably, continue to remain in exile until the return of Messiah?

If you believe that the Jewish people were given perpetual possession of the Land of Israel by God, and you believe that the Torah is the national constitution of the Land of Israel when ruled either by God directly or a King appointed by God, and you believe that at least the Festival of First Fruits (and possibly the other festivals…certainly Sukkot) is to be a perpetual festival before the Lord, and you believe that Messiah will restore Israel completely to the Jewish people, rebuilding Jerusalem, and rebuilding the Temple, then how can you believe that the Torah is no longer valid and will never again be valid?

I know, I know. It depends on what you call Torah. That gets pretty complicated, at least from a Christian point of view. If everything I said in the paragraph above is true, then Torah must include all of the commandments related to the perpetual festivals and if that’s true, then the commandments related to the Temple and the Priesthood must all continue to be valid, although currently held in abeyance.

Consider the Babylonian exile. Consider the Israelites either scattered or held captive in a foreign country, with only a tiny remnant remaining in the Land. Consider the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. Did that cancel the Torah? Were the Laws of Moses removed? Were the Jewish people deleted from any significance in the course of history?

temple-prayersNo, of course not. Then why should the destruction of Herod’s Temple mean the cancellation of Torah and the “dejudizing” of the Jewish people? Oh, because of Jesus and the cross? Why should that make a difference? Because of Paul? Why does Paul get to re-write God’s law for the Jewish people? Why does the Christian viewpoint of the Jewish Messiah exist in such opposition to everything else we see in the Bible?

You’d think Messiah would exist in harmony with the Word of God. You’d think Messiah would be the pinnacle, the culmination, the very height of the commandments of God. In Torah, it is said that the King must possess a personal copy of the Torah and study it daily, so he does not place himself above his people, but that he functions as King among his people, the perfect example of obedience to God as a Jewish man and ruler.

As the perfect and final King, shouldn’t that also be the role of Messiah, of Jesus?

On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) and this is interpreted to mean that Judaism and the Torah are finished and that finally grace reigns in their stead. But then what was actually finished if we have this?

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done (emph. mine). I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

Revelation 21:5-7 (NASB)

I’ve said before that I don’t think all of the work of Messiah was finished at the cross. How could it be? If it were, why would he need to return or for that matter, why did he leave? What was finished at the cross was his suffering and he was brought to the point of death. The forgiveness of sins for all the people of the earth was established through Messiah and the beginning of the process of the New Covenant, which also is not yet finished, for we do not all yet know God.

But God said, “It is done,” right before the coming of New Jerusalem, right before the final time, right before the end of all things as we understand them.

Revelation 21:22 says that the New Jerusalem has no Temple in it because God and the Lamb are the Temple, but that doesn’t occur until everything else we are waiting for as prophesied in the Bible is finally completed. We are no where near that point in human history.

What men like Thomas Schreiner describes in books like 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law can’t possibly be correct because such a viewpoint denies God’s promises to the Jewish people about the Land, the Temple, the Torah, and particularly the Messiah. Christian theological blinders inhibit a view of the “big picture” of the Bible. It’s a fascination with a piece of bark on one tree while ignoring the panorama of the forest. It’s like focusing on every detail of a freeway rest stop when you need to be planning a major road trip that includes all of the miles between Los Angeles and New York.

In the span of one Sunday church sermon, my Pastor inserted enough information that confirms and supports the continuation of the Torah of Moses…the Torah of God in the lives of the Jewish people, both in the present and especially in the future.

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.