I came across something interesting at Larry Hurtado’s blog the other day titled Paul and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I had just finished reading 1 Corinthians as part of my annual “read the Bible cover-to-cover in one year” effort (through admittedly, this is the first year I’ve made the attempt in quite a long time).
The…story focuses on the view espoused in Payne’s article that vv. 34-35 are an interpolation inserted into some copies of 1 Corinthians, probably originating as some reader’s marginal note, and then incorporated into the copy-stream at some early point. But, actually, for a number of years now an increasing number of scholars have reached this basic conclusion. Indeed, in his article Payne points to the numerous scholars who agree that vv. 34-35 are not an original part of Paul’s letter. For example, note Gordon D. Fee’s judgment in his commentary: “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 705-8.
Okay, so what does that mean? It means there are a number of scholars who have long believed verses 34-35 in 1 Corinthians 14 were not part of the original epistle and in fact were a reader’s note in the margin that was later erroneously incorporated into the formal text.
What are these verses?
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
–1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NASB)
According to Hurtado, the general reason for scholarly agreement on this point is:
The verses seem to go against practically everything else in Paul’s uncontested letters pertaining to women’s involvement in the churches.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons.
The first is the general belief that the Bible in toto is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God and is not to be questioned in even the slightest degree. Of course, this depends on the level of sophistication and education of the reader, but there are a lot of Christians who basically say God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
I work with a fellow who is very nice and friendly and he is a Christian who basically approaches the Bible this way. Occasionally, he tries to engage me in a little theological discussion and I tend to put him off. I know from painful experience that if I tell him what I believe and what I believe about what he believes, it will not end well.
The second, building on my first, is that if we know or have good reason to believe there are “questionable” verses and phrases in the Bible, shouldn’t we make it our business to find out what they are so we don’t use them to commit an injustice?
There probably are churches (probably conservative and many of them rural) that do preach women being silent within their walls and that expect women who may have questions about what they hear from the pulpit or in Sunday School to wait until they get home to ask their husbands (who may or may not have a good understanding of what was said) what it all means.
Now I’ve never had that sort of experience in any church or congregation I’ve attended. Women did seem to be active, questioning members of those religious communities, so there obviously are churches that simply set aside those verses or at least believe Paul meant to address a local matter rather than pronouncing some sort of universal truth.
Even if a Pastor, who hopefully was educated at a formal accredited seminary, keeps up on the latest Biblical research, it’s not likely you’ll hear the findings of that research being preached from the pulpit (or on Christian radio), so the average Christian in the pew will be totally unaware of this information.
After all, it doesn’t have anything to do with a Christian’s salvation or going to Heaven when they die.
I know that sounds cynical, but it can be really frustrating when I hear some Pastor on Christian radio say that you can’t be a believer unless you go to church and are in fellowship, realizing that what they’re advocating (whether they intend to or not) is, for the most part, corporate ignorance.
That said, most or at least a lot of believers don’t want to know anything that makes them feel uncomfortable about the Bible or their faith. It’s one of the reasons Evangelicals are believed to be superstitious, unsophisticated, anti-science, Luddites. They seem to have missed what Paul said about the Bereans.
I’m no teacher or scholar, and I’m no smarter than the average bear, but at least I try to learn a little bit more about the Bible and other things today than I knew yesterday or last year.
Christians have historically bent, twisted, and mutilated the Bible for their own purposes, at least those Christians in charge of Bible translations and laying out what is “sound doctrine,” so I don’t have a problem investigating said-doctrine to see if they’re wrong about something.
My wife calls me a Christian (her being a Jew) and she tries not to say it as a pejorative (most of the time), but while that’s true in the broadest possible sense, I’m certainly atypical relative to the vast majority of churches in my local community as well as in the nation (and the world).
Consider this blog article to be a small cautionary tale. Before you use the Bible to beat someone up or to establish and inflate your own superiority as “saved,” you might want to check and see if the Bible says what your Pastor or Sunday School teacher tells you it says.
In this one specific case, it is highly unlikely that the Apostle Paul was advocating for muzzling women in “church.”
In email exchanges over the last couple of weeks, Paula Fredriksen and I have been comparing views on what might have been the nature of, and cause(s) for, the “persecution” of Jewish Jesus-followers that the Apostle Paul later lamented. There have been various proposals over the years, and hers is to my knowledge the latest. With her agreement for me to do so, I publish a response in this posting.
‘Paul’s “Persecution” of Jewish Jesus-Followers: Nature & Cause(s)’ Larry Hurtado’s Blog
I read Dr. Larry Hurtado’s blog regularly. He’s one of the leading New Testament scholars currently doing research and publishing his findings, and although I don’t have the educational background to always grasp everything he says, I still feel I learn a lot.
The issue at hand in the above-quoted blog post has to do with the rationale for Paul being “persecuted” by Jews early in his ministry. Were the reasons for such poor treatment of Paul the same reasons Paul had previously in his life when he persecuted “Christians” (in this case, Jewish disciples of Jesus)?
Frankly, it never occurred to me to consider such a question until now. But it’s a good question.
I think the story told in most churches is that “the Jews persecuted the Christians,” indicating that the Jewish followers of Jesus (Heb. “Yeshua”), once they “converted” to “Christianity,” were no longer considered Jews, and thus, were targets for Jewish persecution because they rejected the Law and replaced it with grace.
There are a lot of problems with those assumptions, including the fact that “Christianity” wouldn’t exist as a “stand-alone” religious entity for decades, and was only created once the Gentile disciples split from their Jewish mentors and “refactored” the Bible to reject the Jewish narrative, manufacturing a new Gentile religion, the aforementioned Christianity.
So Jews, at best, could “convert” to a different sect or branch of Judaism, in this case the Pharisaic/Messianic sect, which was virtually identical in its beliefs and practices to the Pharisees with just a few minor adjustments, such as acknowledging the revelation of the Messiah (and following one Messiah or another is a fairly common occurrence across Jewish history), and an unusually liberal policy about admission of Gentiles into their ekklesia (assembly) as co-equal participants in Jewish social and religious space.
Returning to Hurtado and the likely reasons Paul would have been beaten by his own people on numerous occasions, he writes:
In a recent publication, she probes the matter by first addressing Paul’s references to being on the receiving end of floggings by fellow Jews (five times) in the course of his Gentile mission (2 Corinthians 11:24). Her cogent hypothesis is essentially this: Paul required his pagan converts to withdraw from worshipping the gods of the Roman world. Given the place and significance of the gods in Roman-era life, this would have generated serious tensions with the larger pagan community. As he identified himself as a Jew and linked up with Jewish communities in the various diaspora cities where he established early assemblies of Jesus-followers (ekklesias), these Jewish communities could have feared that they would bear the brunt of these tensions. So, Paul was meted out synagogue discipline in the form of the 39 lashes as punishment on several occasions (he mentions five).
I find this entirely reasonable myself. It fits the setting, Paul’s Gentile mission. It fits his own behaviour, continuing to identify himself as a member of his ancestral people all through his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles and herald of the gospel. It fits also with what we know of real and potential tensions over the matter of worship of the traditional deities (of household, city, nation, etc.).
So according to this, Paul wasn’t beaten by his fellow Jews because he had exited Judaism in any sense, was proposing a “foreign” religion, or was thought to be speaking against the Torah of Moses or the Temple. Hurtado even says Paul was “continuing to identify himself as a member of his ancestral people all through his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles.”
The issue, as is stated in the quote above, was more likely the tension Paul was generating among the Gentiles by requiring his non-Jewish disciples to cease participation in Roman cultic practices and to be devoted to the God of Israel alone. The synagogues in the diaspora were deeply worried that they would receive the “fallout” from the pagans among whom they lived, which was not an unreasonable fear given the long history of enmity between Jewish and Gentile communities.
But how does this reflect on Paul when he was formerly “persecuting the church,” so to speak? Was Paul (previously “Saul”) worried about pagan Gentile “fallout?”
Hurtado states that Paula Fredriksen believes this likely, but he says otherwise, and lists very specific reasons (see his blog post for the details). In summation, Hurtado writes:
In sum, it seems to me that both the nature and the cause(s) for Paul’s initially violent opposition to the Jewish Jesus-movement were somewhat different from the nature and cause(s) for the synagogue floggings that he later received in the course of his ministry as apostle. I’m inclined to think that Paul’s initial Pharisaic zeal was incited, at least in part, by the christological claims and accompanying devotional practices that he later came to embrace, and that are reflected in his letters. Indeed, his zealousness for his religious traditions may have even made him particularly sensitive to the implications of the christological claims and devotional practices of the early Jesus-circles, perhaps more sensitive than many others, including perhaps even those early Jesus-circles as well! In any case, whatever the reasons for his strenuous initial opposition to the Jesus-movement, his subsequent shift to passionate adherent (e.g., Philippians 3:4-16) remains one of the most remarkable personal stories of the ancient world.
In other words, the bigger deal for Paul was the assertion among Jewish disciples of Messiah, that he was of a Divine nature and that they gave worship to Yeshua normally reserved only for Hashem.
But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ (Heb. “Messiah” or “Moshiach”), the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
–Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)
This answer is what got Jesus killed, not claiming to be the Messiah, which as I said above, isn’t all that unusual a declaration in Jewish history, but stating that he was of Divine nature and appearing as co-equal with God in Heaven.
If Paul was indeed zealous for the Torah, such a claim would certainly have set him off. In fact, we see something similar occurring where Paul was actually involved:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Although Stephen said a great deal to anger the Jewish court before which he appeared, they didn’t turn murderous until he also described Jesus at the right hand of God. A young Paul (Saul) was present and the death of Stephen no doubt was part of his inspiration to pursue other Jewish believers and for the same reasons, not because it had anything to do with Gentile disciples or pagan community “blowback” on diaspora Jews.
This also touches on another topic Hurtado wrote on yesterday (as you read this) as to whether there was opposition and even persecution of the Greek-speaking Jewish Jesus-believers by the native Israelite Jewish believers. It is another question that would never have occurred to me and you can click the link I provided to explore the matter and read Hurtado’s opinion.
I’m writing about this because it’s yet another illustration how recent scholarly inquiry has dispelled some long-held “truths” in the Church, so-called “sound doctrine,” about “Jews persecuting Christians” for such-and-thus reasons, when indeed, those “truths” are merely long-held “assumptions” based on long-held “traditions”. Those traditions of the Christian church, in my opinion, were born out of the historic tensions that have existed between Christianity and Judaism that go all the way back to when Gentile Christianity violently divorced ancient Messianic Judaism.
I’m not telling Christians not to listen to their Pastors’ sermons or to what Sunday School lessons teach, but it might be a good idea to also pay attention to what Biblical scholarship is doing and what they are writing. It will be years (if ever) before the latest research trickles down to the local church pulpit and into the ears of the average Christian sitting in the pew.
Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. It’s what you do that counts, including how you study the Bible. You’ll never know Jesus as well as you’d like unless you take an active role in acquiring that knowledge. It’s not just a matter of reading the Bible, although that’s critically important. It’s a matter of paying attention to and critically analyzing the collected body of research about the message of the Bible, what it meant within its original context and to its original audience, and thus what it means to us today.
Sabrina Allen, who was abducted in 2002 at age 4 by her mother in a custody battle, has been found in a secret rescue mission near Mexico City and returned to the United States, the private investigator involved in the search said Wednesday.
Sabrina, now 17, was rescued in an operation conducted by the Mexican Federal Authority, FBI and U.S. Marshals in Estafeta Tlaxcala, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City, according to Philip Klein, with KIC Investigations.
Klein told USA TODAY that Sabrina and her alleged abductor, Dara Llorens, were flown back to the U.S. on Tuesday night, arriving in Houston.
-Doug Stanglin – 1:27 p.m. EDT October 1, 2014
“Texas girl, missing for 12 years, rescued in Mexico” USA Today
I insist on using evidence that is verifiable in cultural and documented substantiation to elucidate the information provided somewhat cursorily in the apostolic writings which themselves reflect earlier Jewish writing that begins in the Tenakh and continues with the apocryphal writings — and they are consistent even with later Jewish literature and archeological evidence discovered in such finds as the Dead Sea Scrolls (representing a variety of ancient Jewish literatures).
To put it another way, the apostolic writings are Jewish literature, and we’re taking them back from the non-Jews who have oh-so-lovingly preserved them and distorted their meaning by wrenching them out of their native context and reading them as if they were written in an antiseptic cultural vacuum — or worse: as if they were written in a pagan cultural milieu.
When I was catching up on the numerous comments on my various blog posts, reading PL’s words, I immediately thought of the news story I’d read just a few minutes earlier about the rescue of Sabrina Allen.
Sabrina was (allegedly) kidnapped by her non-custodial mother at the end of a six-month period of court-supervised visitation in 2002. For the past twelve years, Sabrina had been living with her mother in a town sixty miles southeast of Mexico City.
I have a background in Social Work and Child Protection, and given that, I was imagining what this child had been through and now, at age 17, what she is facing. Probably most people reading the news story about her rescue breathed a sigh of relief and thought that she’s going to be OK now that she’s being returned to Dad.
Problem is, she hasn’t seen Dad in twelve years and her entire world is built around Mom and living with her in Mexico. There’s a good chance that Mom told Sabrina a whole bunch of bad things about Dad, so this teenage girl may not be at all happy to see him. I’m betting she runs away the first chance she gets since right now, she’s feeling like a foreigner in an alien land, surrounded by a bunch of strangers.
Now imagine this.
Thirty-five hundred years or so ago, God gathered His people Israel to Him at Mt. Sinai. Through the prophet Moses, He gave Israel the Torah, the Holy Word of God, and commanded them to obey His Word as their part of the covenant He made with them.
Then, for the next fifteen-hundred years, more or less, Israel made a concerted effort to do just that, with the results being a sort of spiritual and experiential roller coaster ride, with some generations being obedient and some generations rebelling, suffering, and going into exile.
Now we arrive at the late-Second Temple period. A man named Yeshua was born, lived, taught Torah wisely, some thought he was Messiah, was betrayed and executed by the Romans, was believed by many to have been resurrected, and then witnesses said he ascended into Heaven with the promise of returning “at the end of the age.”
Through his apostles, many more disciples were drawn to his teachings, and particularly through one late arriving apostle named Paul, many non-Jews were brought into discipleship while not having to undergo the proselyte rite and take up the same obligations that were the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, since only Jews belong to that covenant.
The Gentile disciples, as part of their introduction and integration into “the Way” were taught the Jewish scriptures and received the teachings of their Master as well as other teachers through various means, including letters.
It must have been a challenge for these non-Jewish peoples representing many languages and cultures, to fully grasp the complex and nuanced meaning of thousands of years of Jewish holy literature, since the Jewish people teach, live, and think much differently than the world around them. Nevertheless, if a Gentile really wanted to be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah King, he had to take every opportunity to learn from his/her Jewish teachers and fellow disciples to grasp a completely different cultural and educational matrix in order to fulfill his/her role to Israel and to God as a “crowning jewel of the nations” in fulfillment of the New Covenant prophecies.
But then, much like the Mother and Father of Sabrina Allen, the “couple” violently split, and the “non-custodial parent,” that is, the Gentiles, “kidnapped” the “child” the Jewish scriptures, took them to an “alien” place and changed their appearance (Sabrina’s Mom escaped detection in part, because she dyed Sabrina’s hair, making her look differently), so that they no longer resembled Jewish holy literature at all, but rather, took on the “mask” of the newly invented Gentile religion “Christianity.”
I know that all sounds harsh and highly critical of the early history of the Church, but in the Second and Third Centuries CE, that’s how it would have looked, especially to the remaining Gentile disciples of the Master who, right before their very eyes, saw the Word of God, which they cherished and were zealous for, transformed so that it would provide a completely alien understanding of what God wants and the nature and purposes of Yeshua…uh, excuse me, “Jesus Christ”.
The “child” is illegally spirited away from the “custodial parent” and taken to a foreign land, vanishing from sight for the next twelve years, or more accurately put, the next nearly two-thousand years. To be fair, the “child” has been seen innumerable times by Jewish people since then, but her “appearance” was so drastically altered, that she not only was completely unrecognizable by the custodial parent (the Jewish people), but she looked like a terrible enemy and a horrible threat to Jewish survival. The “parent” rejects and even shuns the child and the non-custodial parent, tries to pass off someone who looks like an obvious impostor as the Father’s child for the purposes (often unwittingly) of inducing the Father to accept someone who couldn’t possibly be his Jewish offspring.
Then, in more recent times, the child’s disguise is penetrated and a rescue mission planned. But at this point, there is so much confusion about who is who, that even taking back what was once theirs, the Jewish people, redeeming the Jewish Apostolic Scriptures and bringing them back home, draw great ire, not only from the non-custodial (Gentile) parent, but from most other Jews as well. How dare these few “Messianic Jews” bring a dangerous impostor into the fold and call her one of their own? It’s ridiculous. It’s heresy. What Jew could possibly love a Bible that has been used for centuries to justify murdering and maiming Jews, and incinerating Torah scrolls, volumes of Talmud, and synagogues.
But there’s a “father” out there who has finally, after so very long, recognized his only “daughter” underneath the cheap makeup that tried to turn a Jewish “child” into a “Goyishe” traitor. He loves her. He know she belongs with her “sisters” (the rest of the Jewish scriptures) and in a Jewish “home”. But even in successfully pulling her back from exile, the “father” is so alone, for most other Jews will not accept him as long as he claims these foreign books as his lost child.
The non-custodial parent (the Gentile Christians) for her/their part, demand that if the Jewish father really accepts the “alien” as his own, he should not attempt to change her back to her original (Jewish) form, but instead, the father must change to become, like his once kidnapped daughter, an “alien.”
So not only is the “father” isolated from other Jews, he is cast out by the Gentiles as well. He is in-between and nowhere. All he wants to do is go home and take his rescued “daughter” with him.
But all “children” come from God, as did the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (which were distorted by the non-custodial parent along with the youngest “daughter,” the Apostolic Scriptures), and so too the kidnapped child who has now been brought back. God will find a way for everyone to see who this “little girl” really is and to bring her back into the “family” (the Bible) so that all of the “children” are unified with each other and look like one.
I know I’ve confused the imagery and the comparisons are less then perfect. It’s probably been difficult to follow this metaphorical essay and keep everything straight, but this is how I see the Apostolic Scriptures and how they are being reclaimed by Jews in Messiah (as opposed to Hebrew Christians). It’s not that Christians must convince Jews to accept the New Testament which looks and speaks with a foreign accent, it is we Gentile Christians who must get it through our heads that we have misappropriated Jewish holy books, changing their “face” in the process, so that they no longer look Jewish or speak to Jewish people. We have to give them back, not that they don’t mean something to us, for they mean everything to us, but we must let them be Jewish, to speak with a Jewish voice, to have the face of the Jewish authors and readers and students, just as in days of old.
Only then will they speak the truth to both Jewish and Gentile ears and only then will we see the face of the Jewish King in her pages.
Addendum: In case you’re interested, here’s an updated news story about how Sabrina is doing so far.
Discussion on Hebrews 8 and Jeremiah 31 regarding the New Covenant and its meaning from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Discover why the New Covenant is not the New Testament, the “Renewed Covenant,” nor the “Brit Chadashah.” Find out what the New Covenant really is and how the Torah is part of the New Covenant. A foundational teaching for everyone interested in Messianic Judaism and the role of Torah in the lives of disciples of Yeshua.
I suppose I could just point you to part 1 of my review of Lancaster’s lecture series What About The New Covenant and call it good since it seems he intends to repurpose that material in the next four “Hebrews” lectures, but that probably wouldn’t be fair. Also, I don’t think he presents the information in exactly the same way, so I should review today’s sermon on its own merits.
I’ll skip over Lancaster’s introductory section since I don’t think it adds very much, and cut to the chase. The Old Testament does not equal the Old (Sinai) Covenant and the New Testament does not equal the New Covenant. Christianity has very poorly named these two major sections of the Bible, or at least named them with the intent of misrepresenting what the Old and New Covenants really mean.
Christians really take this naming convention seriously, though. I remember having a conversation about this with the head Pastor at the church I currently attend, and when he said that the books of the New Testament really were the New Covenant, I could scarcely believe my ears. How could someone so intelligent, well read, and well-educated as Pastor Randy actually believe this?
And yet it is a common, though wholly illogical doctrine of the Church. Lancaster told a story of how years back, he had worked for some place called Master’s Institute, a Lutheran seminary, and on his first day, he taught that the New Testament wasn’t the New Covenant. He promptly lost his job without so much as a “by your leave.”
That’s how seriously Christianity takes the doctrine of New Testament = New Covenant. But as Lancaster establishes in his sermon, that doctrine is dead wrong.
Lancaster knocks down all of the standard Christian arguments and if you want to know what they are, you can listen to the audio recording. The link is at the top of the page. What we call the New Testament is really the writings of the Apostles or what I call the Apostolic Scriptures. They contain information about the New Covenant, but the actual covenant is found in the Old Testament writings or the Tanakh.
The writer of the book of Hebrews, just as he made a comparison between the Levitical and Melkizedekian priesthoods and between the earthly and heavenly Temples, is now introducing a new comparison. He compares the Old and New Covenants (see last week’s review: Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Shadow and a Copy for more information).
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
–Hebrews 8:6-7 (NASB)
Here’s one of the places Christians point to in the Bible and say, “See? The Old Covenant is bad and the New Covenant is better,” implying not only that grace is better than the Law (and that the two are mutually exclusive) but that it replaces the Law.
Except as we have heard in previous sermons, what was at fault with the Old Covenant priesthood wasn’t that the Law was bad or that the Temple or sacrifices were bad, but rather, all of that couldn’t grant resurrection and immortality. The Levitical priests were human, they were mortal, they died. They also had their own sins to deal with. But then again, as Lancaster has said already, that system was never designed to remove sins permanently and to make us sinless human beings.
That’s why we need a New Covenant and why God had it planned all along.
But what is a Covenant? I mentioned that the New Testament is not actually the New Covenant and thus the Old Testament isn’t the Old Covenant.
Guess what? The Old Covenant isn’t the Torah, it’s not the Law. Some of you, unless you already know or have read my commentaries on the New Covenant, are probably shocked that I had the nerve to say that. But it’s true.
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
–Exodus 24:3-7 (NASB)
That’s the Old Covenant, also called the Sinai or the Mosaic Covenant, in a nutshell. God makes a proposal.
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 19:5-6 (NASB)
If the Israelites agree to obey God and keep the conditions of His Covenant, then He will be their God and make them into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
That’s the Sinai or Old Covenant. The Law or Torah are the conditions of the covenant but the not the covenant itself. The covenant is an agreement between two parties, in this case between God and the Children of Israel. The Torah contains the conditions that must be obeyed, what the Israelites agreed to do as their part of the bargain.
Here’s a news flash:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.
–Deuteronomy 4:26-31 (NASB)
When Israel failed to hold up their end, that is, when they disobeyed God by not observing the conditions of the covenant, God had no intention of abandoning them (see verse 31). He swore never to fail the Israelites and never to destroy them. He swore that even if Israel was faithless, He would never “forget the covenant with [their] fathers which He swore to them.”
Here’s another news flash. We are still living in Old Covenant times. The New Covenant hasn’t arrived yet and it won’t until Jesus (Yeshua) returns. That means the covenant and all its conditions established at Sinai are still in effect. Jewish people, including Jews in Messiah (Messianic Jews), are still under a covenant obligation to observe the Torah mitzvot. Please Christians, don’t try to talk them out of it. That would be a mistake.
OK, if that’s the Old Covenant, what’s the New Covenant?
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
–Matthew 26:27-28 (NASB)
No, that’s not the New Covenant, that’s Jesus in the process of inaugurating the New Covenant with those present at the Seder. By eating and drinking, they are entering the very leading edge of the New Covenant which is near but will not arrive until the return of the Master when he drinks the fullness of it:
“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
–Matthew 26:29 (NASB)
The New Covenant will not reach fruition until the Master drinks the cup of the Covenant in the Messianic Kingdom to come.
But what is the New Covenant then? The writer of Hebrews quotes from it starting in Hebrews 8:8 but Lancaster directs his audience to the source of that quote, which is in Jeremiah 31:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
–Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NASB)
There’s a lot more to it of course, but this is as far as Lancaster intends to go in his first sermon on the topic.
Remember, that a covenant is an agreement and the agreement contains certain terms and conditions that each party is supposed to uphold. In the Old Covenant, God’s part was He would be a God to Israel and make her a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But that’s only as long as Israel did their part, which was obey the terms and conditions listed in the Torah. When Israel failed their end of things, God withdrew but not completely, sent the nation into exile, and applied any number of disciplinary measures. When Israel repented, God returned to them and returned them to their Land, the nation of Israel.
So what changes in the New Covenant?
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Isolating just that sentence, it seems that God intends to write His Law, that is, the Torah, on the hearts of the Israelites and He will continue to be their God and they will continue to be His people.
Here’s how Lancaster laid it out.
The Old Covenant
God spoke the Torah
Moses wrote it down and read it to the people
The people said they would do everything in the Torah
The New Covenant
God puts the Torah inside of people rather than them accessing an external source and attempting to obey the covenant’s terms and conditions. The terms and conditions under the New Covenant are made internal for all the Jewish people so it’s natural for them to obey said-terms and conditions of the covenant.
But they are the same terms and conditions listed for the Old Covenant!
The only difference between the Old and New Covenants is where the terms and conditions are written.
The Torah isn’t bad or too hard to obey or a bait and switch to teach people that God’s standards are beyond our reach. In fact, the Torah is beautiful:
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.
–Psalm 19:7-10 (NASB)
There’s nothing wrong with the Old Covenant conditions except that human beings are faulty.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says…
–Hebrews 8:7-8 (NASB)
The first covenant was not faultless, not because the covenant was at fault but they were at fault, that is the Israelites were at fault. They agreed to obey God but they repeatedly disobeyed. God’s solution to the problem of repeated disobedience wasn’t to annul the Old Covenant and its conditions but to make its possible for people to obey the covenant conditions by creating a New Covenant.
God didn’t change the Law, He changed, or rather, He will change the people.
The Church teaches that God did away with the Old Covenant and all of its terms and conditions completely and “dumbed down” the standards for human obedience. Instead of obeying God all we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ. Except that’s not what the Bible says the New Covenant is. But as I mentioned above, the Christian doctrine of the New Covenant is a dearly held assumption, even if it’s completely in error.
In Lancaster’s understanding of the New Covenant, it’s not here yet but it’s near. Jesus said repeatedly, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). That’s our job. To repent and to repent now! As much as we are able, we should try to live as if the New Covenant Era has already arrived, we should try to have as high a fidelity to the standards of God as we can in preparation for what is to come.
No, it’s not easy, but before it gets easier, it’s going to get a whole lot harder.
What Did I Learn?
As I’ve already said, I’ve gone over this material before so it’s not exactly a revelation, but as I was listening to the recording, I came up with an obvious problem.
We people of the nations are included in the New Covenant blessings. That is, by faith in Messiah, we too will be resurrected in the next age into immortal bodies and live in an era of total peace and tranquility.
But what will we have written on our hearts? The Torah? Will we be like the Jews? Will we be “grandfathered in” to Judaism? Will we be Jews?
Lancaster may cover all this in subsequent sermons, but it’s a compelling set of queries to consider now.
Remember though that the prophet Jeremiah was writing to the houses of Judah and Israel who were about to be sent into the Babylonian exile. Most of his writing was really bad news and he inserted the information about the future New Covenant times to give them hope. But Jeremiah wasn’t writing to Gentiles at all.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was Jewish and he was writing to other Jews. He wasn’t writing to Gentile disciples, so he didn’t have to take them into account when he crafted the language of his letter.
We Gentile Christians read Hebrews and the rest of the Apostolic Scriptures (and the rest of the Bible) as if it were written exclusively for us in the present age. But while the Bible certainly does have applications for us in our world today, that doesn’t mean every single page is addressing us and our issues. Maybe this epistle doesn’t present an explanation of the New Covenant that takes Gentile disciples into account.
I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks or so.
Long before the church was called the church, it consisted of an assembly of Jewish believers who practiced Judaism as part of their devotion to Yeshua of Nazareth.
In the days that followed the spiritual outpouring of Shavu’ot, the disciples found themselves shepherding a large community of new disciples in Jerusalem. Three thousand men and women received the message about Yeshua and immersed themselves for his name. Many of these joined themselves to the community of his disciples in the holy city.
By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the community of early believers continued in the Jewish mode of faith and practice, which prioritizes study above other pursuits. Judaism places a heavy emphasis on study, learning, and Torah education. Jewish life structured itself around study, and the study of Torah permeated every aspect of Pharisaic Judaism. Rabbinic literature frequently extols the virtues of study and praises the man whose “delight is in the Torah of the LORD, and on his Torah he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The sages had numerous axioms about the greatness of Torah study. Judaism regards the study of Torah as a mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew and the primary obligation of Jewish life.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Before the Church Was Called the Church,” pp 16-17 Messiah Magazine, Spring 2014 issue
I wanted to juxtapose the above statement with a definition of the Church as a spiritual body, but all I came up with was this:
1. a building used for public Christian worship.
“they came to church with me”
synonyms: place of worship, house of God, house of worship; cathedral, abbey, chapel, basilica; megachurch; synagogue, mosque
“a village church”
the hierarchy of clergy of a Christian organization, esp. the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England.
noun: the Church
Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma ) ‘Lord’s (house),’ from kurios ‘master or lord.’ Compare with kirk.
This is an extension, a sort of “Part 2” to my prior blog post Notes on the Church from an Insomniac, except that I’m writing this wide awake after enjoying a reasonably good night’s sleep. But the concept I’m trying to explore is “the Church” as a unique entity of people from all walks of life, including Jews, who have converted to a religion called “Christianity” based on the worship of Jesus Christ as we find him in the Gospels, and because of their faith in Christ, are saved from eternal damnation and when they die, will go to Heaven to be with God in a realm of eternal peace.
OK, that’s an oversimplification and I’ve deliberately employed more than a little “tongue-in-cheek” in crafting that description. Let’s see what happens when I put “Christianity” in my Google search string.
1. the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices.
Christian quality or character.
“his Christianity sustained him”
Not much help there.
But consider, as I understand it from the teachings at the church I currently attend. “The Church” (big “C”) was “born” in Acts 2 by the Holy Spirit inhabiting, first the apostles of Christ in the upper room on Pentecost (Shavu’ot) and then a body of thousands of Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus. So far, that’s semi-consistent with Lancaster’s description, except that he doesn’t say something incredibly new and disconnected from prior Jewish and Biblical history was established on that occasion. As I read Lancaster and understand his teachings on the New Covenant, I can only interpret the Acts 2 event in terms of previous Biblical history and see it as the logical and natural extension of God’s plan going forward in time without the requirement to make the train “jump the tracks,” so to speak, and violently diverge from everything written in the Bible (in this case, Torah, Prophets [Navim], and Writings [Ketuvim] or “Tanakh”) up to this point in history.
The classic New Covenant texts in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 clearly identify Israel as the focus of the New Covenant, a Covenant with identical conditions to those listed in the Old Covenant given at Sinai through Moses. The only difference, and I’ve said this before, is that the covenant would be written on the heart by the Spirit, not on tablets and scrolls, and internalizing the Torah makes it possible for the Jewish people, that is, the nation of Israel, and those who attach themselves to Israel through an Abrahamic faith in the Jewish Messiah, to wholly obey the instructions of God and live a life of holiness.
The New Covenant was inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit was given as a pledge (2 Corinthians 1:22) that when Messiah returns, he will complete what he has started and the New Covenant will be fully enacted in our world.
Revisiting my quote of Lancaster regarding the vital importance of Torah study, even the Gentiles were required to do this (Acts 15:21) as the means by which they (we) could understand the teachings of our Master and learn to also strive to live holy lives in anticipation of the Messianic Era and the age to come.
So what happened? The original assembly or ekklesia (which also can be interpreted as synagogue) of Messiah was first wholly Jewish, and then it was legally determined that Gentiles had standing in the Jewish ekklesia of “the Way” without having to undergo the proselyte ritual (Acts 15). That is, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), can be equal co-participants in the blessings of the New Covenant without converting to Judaism and being obligated to the entire set of responsibilities in the Torah. Make no mistake, though. This does not make us absolved of great responsibilities and does not render us “Law-free,” and we indeed have a unique obligation to the Torah of Moses. If we repent of our sins, receive atonement through Messiah, and daily pick up our cross and seek our Master, we will become the crowning jewels of the nations, but only because “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) through the centrality of Israel and her firstborn son, Yeshua of Nazareth, not because we convert to Christianity and join the Church.
Confused? Am I repeating myself?
What I’m asking is if this more “Judaic” viewpoint on the Bible is correct, and the ekkelsia, in terms of Messianic community simply means “assembly” rather than requiring the creation of a unique body called “the Church” which after being “raptured” to Heaven and subsequently returned with Jesus to Earth, remains separate from anyone who came to faith during the “tribulation” (which doesn’t make a bit of sense), then how did things get so messed up?
Whole books have been written trying to answer that question (including this one, which I will start reading soon), but something I read on New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog seems to (somewhat) apply.
In the article I note one or two “fashions” in NT studies of past decades, ideas or emphases that seem all the rage for a short while but then seem to have faded just as quickly as they appeared. In this case, I cite “structuralist exegesis.”
I also discuss a couple of “fallacies,” by which term I refer to ideas that obtained wide and long-lasting currency but have subsequently been shown to be errors. The question here is why this happens. How do a wide assortment of scholars take something as given when there never was adequate basis for it?
Finally, I explore very briefly some possible future emphases in the field, such as the growing internationalization of those who comprise NT scholars, the growing interest in “reception history,” and one or two other things.
I turn now to consider some other approaches and ideas that had much more impact and much more “staying power,” but were subsequently shown to be erroneous. These ideas are much more important to consider precisely because they won such wide acceptance and over a goodly period of time. These were not passing fashions. They were firmly held and confidently asserted widely, in some quarters treated as solid truth, but are now clearly seen to have been fallacious.
-Hurtado, pg 4
Hurtado says nothing to discredit current Christian doctrine, but the fact that Christian scholarship had gained an attraction and wide adherence to theories and interpretations of the New Testament that have subsequently proven to be unreliable or just plain wrong is compelling to me. For one thing, it establishes that really anything we believe about the New Testament in specific and the whole Bible in general is up for examination, just like any other scientific endeavor. That’s actually pretty huge since from the point of view of sitting in a pew at church every Sunday morning and listening to the Pastor’s sermon, we are generally intended to take everything we hear at face value and consider the message as (mostly) unquestionable fact and truth.
I say “mostly” because I know Pastor doesn’t expect everyone to agree with him all the time, and because it’s possible to ask questions about the sermon in Sunday school class, but even within that context, there’s a limit and one does not cross the line of (so-called) “sound doctrine” or “solid truth” to consider perspectives that, from an Evangelical point of view, would be considered “cultic” and even “heretical.”
But while we may consider the Word of God as Holy, inerrant, and inspired by the Spirit of God, subsequent human interpretations don’t fall in those categories and therefore are “up for grabs.”
My modus operandi for the EtzMitzvot.com project is to restate each command in the broadest, least-interpretive way possible, keeping faithful to the text without inferring or assuming what those words mean. As I came across Deuteronomy 16:16, I wrestled with this standard.
For some commandments, this standard is near impossible to apply without some creative interpreting/inferring/assuming.
For example, “just the facts, ma’am version of this mitzvah is, “Appear before God at the place he chooses for the 3 pilgrimage feasts.”
OK, that’s nice, how would you actually apply this in your life, today?
Judah also says:
You might think I am arguing for rabbinic or church interpretation; leaving the hard work of Bible interpretation to people smarter and more studied than us. But the take-home here should be: commandments are not always straightforward. Practicing them requires study and learning. Jewish and Christian traditions can guide us as a point of reference, but should not be elevated beyond the educated guesses they are.
So Biblical interpretation is not only normative in our studies, it’s unavoidable. It is impossible to understand everything we see in the Bible without running it through some sort of interpretive matrix yielding a hopefully accurate but undoubtedly biased set of conclusions. Bias isn’t necessarily bad and as I said, in any event, it’s unavoidable. The trick is to come to a set of conclusions that not only fits the immediate text being studied, but the underlying and comprehensive theme running through the entire body of the Bible. If isolated or “cherry-picked” bits of scripture contradict the overall tapestry of the Bible as a whole, chances are something’s wrong with your hermeneutics.
These musings are necessarily limited and selective, and others will no doubt offer observations additional to or even critical of mine. This is to be welcomed. But, if NT studies is to continue as a viable field, I suggest that the future approaches taken will have to demonstrate that they offer something substantial, something “value-added” to the study of the fascinating texts that comprise our NT and the remarkable religious developments that they reflect. Trying out this or that new speculation, or appropriating this or that methodological development in some other field will (and should) continue to be part of the ensuing discussion. But, I repeat, to amount to something more than a passing fashion, our approaches will have to be both well-founded and substantial in what they produce. And to avoid the sort of serious fallacies that we have noted, we will have to exercise both committed scholarly effort and self-reflective critique.
-Hurtado, pg 21
This summons questions about the level of Messianic Jewish scholarship today, and I explored that question, thanks to another blog post by Dr. Hurtado, almost a year ago. Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar responded in part:
Here are a few thoughts about peer review. The “peer” in “peer review” is used in a very specific sense: it is someone who has recognized expertise in the subject. For example, the scholars who reviewed my doctoral dissertation are peers in the study of rabbinic texts rather than people “just like me” (since I was only a graduate student at the time). You cannot have a peer review process without experts. Although it is possible for someone to become an expert through self-study, such people are as rare as hen’s teeth and the reason is very simple: 99.9% of people who have never been discipled in their field have not learned the basic habits of scholarship and have not been exposed to the sort of critique that would help them to avoid errors of method and fact. With very few exceptions, even the best of the self-taught are like talented basketball players who have only played in pick-up games but have never been involved in organized basketball on any level and therefore have never been coached or received high-level input. I suspect that there are thousands of such basketball players, some of whom have a lot of talent but none of whom have learned the moves that are required even of entry-level NBA players. Becoming a professional player will depend on how others evaluate their talent, not on their own sense that they are NBA-quality. A true peer in “peer review” is someone who has been evaluated as an expert by existing experts.
As a Messianic Jewish scholar, I try to make up for the lack of peer review by submitting my work for review by a range of people, including both scholars and non-scholars. Before I received a significant amount of traditional and academic discipling, I thought that self-study was enough. I now know that it isn’t.
So on the one hand, we may conclude that the current state of Messianic Jewish scholarship would not yet meet the standards set in the realm of New Testament scholarship at the highest academic levels, but on the other hand, it’s headed in the right direction. Does that mean we are forced to accept Evangelical Christian interpretation as the de facto standard? I personally don’t think so, especially when, thanks to Hurtado’s aforementioned paper, we see that even long-standing and popular opinions on the New Testament can be subsequently discounted or discredited.
Am I right and you’re wrong? I can hardly say that and that’s not the point of this missive. My point is that Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine sits on its own laurels at its great peril, as does any position, system, or intellectual endeavor. Intellectual and spiritual honesty and integrity requires continuing investigation and study. The minute you stop questioning your own assumptions and take a position of static dogma, is the minute you lose a living relationship with the Word of God and perhaps even God Himself. That’s not intentional, of course, but it often is a sad result.
Just remember, at one point the Church thought the earth was the center of the universe based on the Bible. At one point, the Church burned people as witches (Europe) or pressed them to death under heavy stones (America) based on the Bible.
Now we are finally facing the idea that much of the Church’s “sound doctrine” and “solid truth” is based on a two-thousand year old mistake, and worse, that we’re taking our major cues, not from the Judaic understanding of the scriptures as they were viewed during the Apostolic Era, but from a group of European reformers who lived barely five-hundred years ago and who themselves may well have been anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish people.
Is that what Jesus taught? Is that how Paul interpreted the scriptures? Is that the way James the Just, brother of the Master, determined Gentiles should be included in the branch of Judaism then known as “the Way?”
When is Church not Church? When it’s the assembly of Messiah longing for the coming of the New Covenant, when God’s instructions are written on hearts, and the spirits of men and women, young and old, from the least to the greatest, know God.
We aren’t there yet, but we have a responsibility to strive to be better than we are and in spite of our assumptions and traditions, to continually “be in the Word” (to employ a Christian aphorism), and to realize that our perspective might not be the best vantage point from which to view the full panoramic scope of God’s overarching plan for His people Israel, who are absolutely necessary and central to the Way of salvation for the rest of the world.
To find out more about why the word “ekklesia” and the word “sunagōgē” which we translate into English as “synagogue,” could all be translated as “meeting place” or “assembly” and don’t have to be translated as “church,” read What does Synagogue mean in Hebrew? by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.
A final note. I’m quite aware that I’ve scheduled this “meditation” to automatically publish on the morning of Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day. This is probably the most holy day on the Christian calendar and I suppose my interpretation of “ekklesia” into something other than “Church” could be seen as an inappropriate criticism. And yet, who we are and to what body we belong is of vital importance, on this day as much as any other, for our Master is Risen, and he is returning. The Kingdom is at hand, and the New Covenant is unfolding. We must be ready, but to do that, we must understand the actual and authentic nature and character of King, Kingdom, and Covenant. It is to that purpose I have dedicated this blog post and all of my writing.
D. Thomas Lancaster started this second lecture in the series by taking me more than a few years back into my own history in the Hebrew Roots movement. He said that when he first became involved in Messianic Judaism, even though most people in his group didn’t know Hebrew, there were a few “Hebrewisms” that everyone was expected to observe.
Never say “Jesus”. Always say “Yeshua”. Say “Messiah” instead of “Christ”. Say “Torah” instead of “Law”. Really remember to say “Rav Shaul” rather than “Paul.” Also, say “Breit Chadashah” instead of “New Testament.”
Although some of my readers are scrupulous to use these “Hebrewisms” when emailing me or commenting, even though they may not be well-versed in Hebrew (though a few are quite proficient), some of them probably feel they have to follow this sort of “Messianic Political Correctness speak” in order to be acceptable or perhaps they feel they’re correcting past wrongs and, after all, Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians don’t want to sound too “church-y”.
But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding that most people in the Church and many in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic movements have, that the “New Testament,” that is the books in our Bibles that start with Matthew and end with Revelation, is the same thing as the “New Covenant.”
But to understand that point, we have to understand what the Old Covenant is and that the Old Covenant is not the same as the Torah or what Christians call “the Law.”
I covered some of this territory in last week’s review but Lancaster adds more detail in today’s sermon.
Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
–Exodus 19:5-8 (NRSV)
This is the Old Covenant in a nutshell. It’s an agreement and a rather simple one at that. God says, if you, Israel, obey me, then I, God, will make you a ”priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” More simply put, God agrees that if Israel obeys Him ”Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)
Once the people agreed to the Covenant, then Moses initiated it.
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
–Exodus 24:3-8 (NRSV)
This formally sealed the Covenant relationship between Israel and God. If you look at verses 9 through 11, you’ll see representatives of Israel having a meal in the presence of God since, in last week’s lecture, Lancaster said it was traditional behavior among two human parties, such as a great King and a vassal nation, to share a meal after a treaty had been settled.
The actual Covenant was the agreement between God and Israel, and Israel, for their part, were responsible to obey God in order to hold up their end of the bargain. But how? That’s where the Torah comes in. It defines the specific conditions and stipulations that Israel must obey.
However, there’s a problem. Israel’s obedience was rather poor. In fact, the first time they disobeyed was very soon after their initial agreement by building the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32). After that, the Covenant had to be renewed and it was renewed many times. But Israel, sadly, fell into a pattern of disobedience and sin. As part of the Covenant conditions, if the people obeyed, then God would be their God and they would be His people, but when they disobeyed, He ceased to be their God and they ceased to be His people. Then God sent an army and great destruction usually happened, sometimes with the people going into exile. Once they cried out to God and repented, God would send a rescuer, defeat Israel’s enemies, and restore the people to their Land.
And this happened over and over again. The Book of Judges is a good chronicle of this but the pattern is recorded in much of the Tanakh (Old Testament).
I mentioned that a lot of New Covenant language is found in Jeremiah 31 and Lancaster said that we need to understand the context of Jeremiah to get this.
In Jeremiah 3:1-5 we see Israel depicted as an unfaithful wife, and in spite of many calls to repentance, such as in verses 6 though 25, Israel remains uncaring and God sends the armies of Babylon to destroy Jerusalem.
But amid this tragic tale, Jeremiah introduces hope in the form of a future redemption, but one like Israel had never seen before.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
–Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)
Now remember, the conditions of the Covenant are not the Covenant itself. The conditions of the Old Covenant are the Torah, but Jeremiah isn’t saying that the conditions are what’s new, it’s the Covenant that’s new.
What’s so new in the New Covenant?
In the Old Covenant, God spoke the words of the Covenant to Moses who spoke them to Israel. Israel agreed and everything was written down on scrolls or tablets and the people were to refer to those conditions to, first understand what they had agreed to, and then to actually do what they’d agreed to do by performing the mitzvot.
In the New Covenant, instead of doing all that, God writes the conditions of the Covenant on the hearts and puts them in the minds of the people of Israel and then it becomes second nature for them to obey. The Torah conditions are internalized rather than being externally referenced.
The Old Covenant was written on scrolls and the New Covenant will be, or is in the process of being, written on human hearts and human natures.
But the conditions are the same.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if Gentiles are also benefiting to the New Covenant through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), then are those same conditions being written on our hearts as well?
Yes and no.
In the Torah is there a condition for Gentiles to circumcise their males on the eighth day of life? No, that requirement is only for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Gentiles are exempt. I’ve said before that the Acts 15 decision formally spelled out the conditions that Gentiles are responsible for carrying out, and it’s only through the blessings of one part of the Abrahamic covenant that the nations are attached to the New Covenant at all. Jews already knew the conditions that applied to them because they were the same ones established by the Sinai (Old) Covenant and they never changed.
But what about this?
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…
–Hebrews 8:6-8 (NRSV)
It’s scriptures such as this that Christians use to prove that the Old Covenant was replaced by the New, but look at what the writer of Hebrews is actually saying. As he is about to quote from Jeremiah 31, he says, ”God finds fault with them (emph. mine)…” He doesn’t say God found fault with it, that is, the Old Covenant, but with them, with Israel, with the people, because they didn’t obey the conditions of the Covenant because of sin.
The solution wasn’t to change the Covenant but instead, to change the people, so it would be possible to fulfill the conditions of the Old Covenant originally spelled out at Sinai. The New Covenant (and not renewed) is a new method of delivery and institution so Israel will be obedient by design.
So how did we get into the mess we’re in as Christians today? How did this get screwed up?
According to Lancaster, the Church Fathers in the second and third centuries CE knew that they didn’t have to keep the conditions of the Old Covenant as did the Jews but they didn’t know why. The Apostles taught that Gentiles had a different (and somewhat overlapping) set of conditions but once the last of the Apostles died, the Gentiles made a few assumptions (or perhaps a few deliberate errors to serve a specific purpose, but that’s my opinion). Lancaster said these Gentile Christians assumed that everyone, Jew and Gentile in Jesus, kept the Gentile standardsof obedience, and the Gentile Christians actually criticized (and later persecuted) Jews for not abandoning the “Old Covenant” conditions.
The other shocker for some Christians is that we aren’t really living in New Covenant times right now. Sure, the death and resurrection of Jesus started a process by which the New Covenant era began to arrive but it’s not fully with us yet. Otherwise, we wouldn’t sin. Otherwise the conditions of the New Covenant would be written on our hearts rather than in the Bible and we would all just naturally obey God.
Sadly, I must confess that I do not naturally obey God. I have to struggle with obedience. Chances are, you do, too. It will only be when the New Covenant Era fully arrives that we really will be “new creatures” and “new creations”. We aren’t there yet. We’re a work in progress.
That doesn’t stop you and me from repenting now. Why wait? Messiah is coming.
If my reviews are piquing your interest, you can find the complete, five-disc set of Lancaster’s New Covenant lectures at First Fruits of Zion. I’ll review the third lecture next week.