Tag Archives: The Holy Epistle to the Galatians

Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter

Paul told the Galatians of a time in Antioch when he “condemned” Peter “to his face” for failing to “walk straight toward the good news.” He attributed Peter’s change of mealtime behavior to a hypocritical effort to escape pressure from “the ones for the circumcision” (Gal 2:11-21). For before “certain ones came from James,” Peter “was eating with the Gentiles” but afterwards he “drew back and separated himself.

-Mark D. Nanos
“What Was at Stake in Peter’s ‘Eating with Gentiles’ at Antioch?” pg, 282 (pages 282-318) in The Galatians Debate. Edited by Mark Nanos. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002.

So begins Nanos’ article on a topic I’ve been exploring recently, the Messianic community of Jews and Gentiles in the “Synagogue of the Way” in first century CE Syrian Antioch, and more specifically, what is known as “the Antioch Incident” which involved the activity chronicled by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-21.

While this article was included as a chapter (fifteen) in the book The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, it also functions as a stand-alone paper which we can examine and from which we may be able to draw certain conclusions.

I’ve covered this material in two previous blog posts, both based on chapters from Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (See Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch and Today’s Messianic Judaism and Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles). There is only one more chapter left in the Zetterholm book, which describes his perspective on the split between the Jewish and Gentile groups within the Messianic Antioch ekklesia (and ultimately all believing communities of that era), but someone suggested that I might want to review the Nanos paper on this topic first, since it may provide some clarification as to the actual problem between Paul and Peter as related to Gentile community and social status in this Jewish religious stream.

What Was at Stake in the Antioch Incident?

Nanos defines two “interpretive elements” that are “central for determining what was at stake” in “Peter’s eating or not eating with these Gentiles (pg 283):”

  1. What did the ones for the circumcision, whom Peter feared, find so objectionable about Peter’s eating with Gentiles?
  2. What did Paul find so objectionable about Peter’s decision to withdraw and separate from these mixed meals?

Keep in mind all this is from Paul’s point of view, so we don’t have the perspectives of Peter, the other Jewish believers (and unbelievers?) present, and particularly the Gentiles who were impacted by the incident.

According to Nanos, there are three possibilities as far as what the “ones advocating circumcision” could have found objectionable or offensive about Peter eating with the Jesus-believing Gentiles:

  1. The food served was objectionable according to Jewish dietary norms.
  2. Peter was violating halachah in even eating with Gentiles at all, even though the food was acceptable.
  3. It was the way Peter was eating with these Gentiles, rather than having a meal with them as such (and with the food being acceptable).

In trying to select an appropriate response, we also have to take Paul’s reaction into consideration. Which of these circumstances was most likely to elicit his offense and outrage and why?

Traditionally Paul has been understood to be upset because he maintained that faith in the gospel obviated continued regard for eating according to Jewish dietary regulations. But for Paul, did observing a Jewish diet compromise in principle “the truth of the gospel”? Or did he perhaps object instead to the degree of Jewish dietary rigor necessary to comply with the standards of those whom Peter feared? Or again, in a different direction, could it be that Paul understood that Peter’s withdrawal and separation undermined the identity of the Gentiles as equals while remaining Gentiles?

-Nanos, pg 284

At the church I currently attend (and I suspect at most or all Evangelical churches just about everywhere), it is assumed that the first and traditional Christian interpretation is obviously correct. Jesus canceled “the Law” including kashrut and Peter was eating ham sandwiches and shrimp scampi with his Gentile buds until other Jews who were “still under the Law” showed up and embarrassed Peter. Peter caved in to peer pressure and pulled away from eating trief with the goyim. Clearly for Evangelicals, the issue at hand was the food.

But before we get into whether this is actually supported by scripture or not, we need to identify the players. I used to think there were only two interest groups outside of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and of course, the Gentiles present:

  1. The “certain men from James” who represented the “party of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12 NASB).
  2. The rest of the Jews (Gal. 2:13 NASB) who “joined him (Peter) in hypocrisy.”

However, Nanos draws a distinction between the Jewish men from James and the advocates of circumcision as representing two different groups of Jews. Paul obviously knew the particulars and presumably, so did the intended audience of his epistle (Gentile believers in the Messianic synagogues in the area of Galatia), but because that understanding was assumed, this narrative doesn’t contain a lot of information to help us figure out who’s who.

Antioch Rubens“The rest of the Jews” probably isn’t a terribly significant group, according to Nanos. They could be local Jesus-believing Jews, or Jews who accompanied Peter from Jerusalem/Judea to Antioch (Peter’s personal disciples?).

More critical to grasp are the two other groups. From verse 12, the Greek describing the contingent from James is best translated, again according to Nanos, as ”certain/some ones came from James,” (pg 286) but doesn’t absolutely delineate whether James actually sent them or if they came from James but weren’t specifically his representatives.

This is important because in my previous blog posts citing Zetterholm, it was thought that Paul and James disagreed about the status of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community and even that James advocated for a total “bilateral” separation of Jewish and Gentile believers, while Paul supported covenant and social inclusion. It makes a difference if James sent this group to “spy out” the doings in the Antioch synagogue vs. this group was associated with James but didn’t directly represent his views.

The third group (pp 286-7), the ones Peter was actually afraid of (I guess this would mean he wasn’t afraid of the group from James), is simply identified as “circumcision” (Jews) as opposed to “foreskinned” (Gentiles). Why did Paul call this third group only “circumcision?” What did he mean? Were they believing or non-believing Jews?

It would seem odd, at least to me, for Paul to call this Jewish group “circumcision” in order to differentiate them from believing Jews (although according to one Pastor I’ve spoken with who represents the traditional Christian viewpoint, Paul was advocating against believing Jews becoming circumcised, though this should have happened when they were eight-days old, or having their male children circumcised). In Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote that Jews and Greeks are all “one in Christ” but he still differentiates Jews and Greeks, even as he differentiates men and women “in Christ.”

This would mean (and Nanos speaks of this on pg 287), that Paul and Peter self-identified as “Jews by birth” (v. 15…also see Rom. 9:3-5, 11:1; Phil. 3:3-5, and by inference, 1 Cor. 7:17-20), thus a Jew becoming a disciple of Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) did not remove the status of “Jew” from the Jewish person. In other words a Jesus-believing Jew and any other Jew are both considered Jews, with no distinction relative to their ethnic or (Sinai) covenant status. So Paul and Peter are just as Jewish as any other Jewish individual. Being called “circumcision” is only to differentiate Jews from the “foreskinned” Gentiles.

Citing Dunn (Dunn, “Echoes,” 460-61; see also, Dunn, Theology, 123, where he cites Rom 4:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10), Nanos states (pg 288):

…but an interest group specifically distinguished from other groups of circumcised Jews as advocates of circumcision.

And further:

Given the rhetorical context dealing with Gentile associates, the likely connotation of this particular advocacy is proselyte conversion.

The “circumcision” then are a group of Jews (believing or non-believing) who advocate for Gentiles in the Jewish religious space to gain equality with the “Jews by birth” only through the proselyte rite which includes circumcision.

This group represented the dominant viewpoint of Jewish communal norms (see Acts 15:1) relative to full Gentile inclusion in Jewish religious/communal space. Gentile God-fearers were attendees or guests in that space but were hardly considered of equal status to Jews in the synagogue and in Jewish society at large and they absolutely were not included in covenant.

fellowshipNanos presents what appears to be a new perspective (from an Evangelical Christian point of view) regarding the issue at hand. Paul considered the believing Gentiles as having equal status in the Jewish “Way,” both in terms of social status and covenant blessings, while still remaining Gentiles. In fact, Paul required that the Gentiles retain their status as Gentiles lest “Christ be of no benefit” to them (Galatians 5:2).

The problem was not food, and it was not a general ban of Jews eating with Gentiles (since in diaspora communities, the halachah for such mixed-meals would have to allow for some social intercourse), but rather non-proselyte believing Gentiles being treated as social and covenant equals within the Jewish community.

Nanos refers to v. 13 in terms of Peter and the other Jews as “masking their true conviction,” which will be seen as significant because:

Therefore, the Christ-believing Jews try to mask their convictions that these Gentiles are not regarded among their subgroups as mere “pagan” guests, but at the same time not as proselyte candidates either, by withdrawing from eating with Gentiles to distance themselves from meals symbolizing this nonconforming “truth.”

-ibid, pg 289

The “nonconforming truth” is that, through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles are considered equal co-participants in Jewish covenant and community while remaining Gentiles and with no intention of them ever participating in the proselyte rite. Something about the way Peter was eating with the Gentiles, indicated to outside Jewish observers, that Peter and the Jews with him considered the believing Gentiles as social/covenantal equals to the Jews, something that non-Jesus-believing Jews (or maybe Jesus-believing Jews from a different faction) found offensive and unsustainable.

Peter’s hypocrisy then, was pretending the Gentiles did not have equal social standing with the Jews of the Way when just previously, he had been eating with them as equals. Peter then included Barnabas and other Jews in his hypocrisy when his example resulted in their following his lead.

Nanos supports something that I’ve believed for a while now. The “offense of the cross” for non-believing Jews wasn’t Jesus himself, but rather Paul’s insistence that Jesus-believing Gentiles be included in the Jewish community as equal co-participants while remaining Gentiles.

Apostle Paul preachingA classic example of this occurred at Pisidian Antioch. In Paul’s first appearance and “sermon” there on Shabbat, the Jews and Proselytes were quite interested in Paul’s message of the good news of Messiah and wanted him to return the following Shabbat to say more (Acts 13:43). However, the following Shabbat, it was apparent that the Gentile God-fearers, present the previous week, had “spread the word” to their Gentile families and friends, most likely not God-fearers, but “straight up” pagans and idol worshipers, because “crowds” of Gentiles showed up at the synagogue (v. 45) resulting in “jealousy” among the synagogue leaders, and with them responding to Paul with “blasphemy” and evicting Paul and his companions from the synagogue and the entire district.

Getting back to the two groups, the ones from James and the advocates of circumcision for Gentiles, Nanos states that we don’t know how they are related or what the timing of the arrival of the first group has to do with the presence of the second group. It could be a coincidence, but in the Bible, I tend to think there is no such critter.

That describes a great deal about the situation but doesn’t answer the question about what was at stake in Peter eating with and withdrawing from the Gentiles at Antioch.

J.B. Lightfoot argues that before the withdrawal Peter “had no scruples about living [like a gentile],” that is, without observing Jewish dietary restrictions (“discard Jewish customs”), for the vision of Acts 10 “taught him the worthlessness of these narrow traditions.” Lightfoot assumes that this change is the logical result of the desire to “mix freely with the Gentiles and thus of necessity disregard the Jewish law of meats.”

-ibid, pg 293

This is an example of the traditional Christian interpretation of the matter, but as I’ve stated here and in many other blog articles, this just doesn’t jibe with the overall presentation of Paul relative to the Torah as well and Jewish and Gentile status, and it certainly is inconsistent with Messiah’s interpretation of his own mission in terms of continued Torah observance by believing Jews (Matthew 5:17-19).

Nanos presented examples of the opinions of other New Testament scholars who support the traditional view and then more “recent trends in interpretation.”

As E.P. Sanders makes exceptionally clear, there is no reason to believe that observant Jewish people and groups did not eat with Gentles given the right conditions.

-ibid, pg 296

And…

There is no reason to believe that many, if not most, observant Jews, certainly those living in the Diaspora, would not and did not eat with Gentiles without compromising their Jewish dietary norms to do so.

-ibid, pg 297

However, other Jewish groups may have feared that such mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile “equals” would somehow lead to Jews ”eating of inappropriate food according to Jewish dietary norms, inclusive of the food and drink associated with idolatry.”

shared wineThere has been some support of the idea that God-fearing Gentiles remained polytheistic (M. Zetterholm, S.J.D Cohen), probably as a convenience since they had to continue to interact with individuals, groups, and businesses that were part of the diaspora pagan cult. If Jews witnessed other Jews and Gentiles eating (kosher food and wine) together as equals, they may have assumed that this represented a significant risk, based on their experience with and understanding of God-fearers. The only way they could be reasonably sure that such mixed meals weren’t “risky” was if the Gentiles involved were participants in the proselyte rite. The Jewish observers objecting to mixed meals didn’t “know,” they just assumed what was going on.

Nanos says Paul’s reference to the “truth of the gospel,” to which the circumcision advocate objected, was the way Gentiles were treated by Jews at the mixed meals, that is, the Gentiles were treated as full equals in the Jewish subgroup.

It pronounced these Gentiles full members of the people of God apart from the traditional conventions for rendering them such. Thus the pressure is specifically said to be from “advocates of circumcision.” And the reaction of Peter and the other Jews was to “withdraw” and “separate” in order to “hide” their conviction with behavior that does not exemplify “the truth of the gospel,” instead of dismissing the Gentiles as though they agreed in principle with those who brought the pressure…

ibid, pg 301

But what about this?

I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Galatians 2:14 (NASB)

The issue of Peter “living like a Gentile” is traditionally assumed to mean that Peter gave up a life of Jewish Torah observance, including keeping the laws of kashrut, and felt free to live life as a Gentile, eating and drinking pretty much anything with disregard of Jewish norms. Also, and this is less clear in Christian thinking, Peter was somehow compelling the Gentiles present to live like Jews.

In Peter’s withdrawal and separation from the Jesus-believing Gentiles present, he was indicating that Gentile status in the Jewish ekklesia was not equal after all and that, by appearing to side with the Jewish circumcision advocates, he was implicitly saying that for the Gentiles to be considered equal, they had to participate in the proselyte rite and become Jews (compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews). This was Peter’s hypocrisy, because he actually believed the Gentiles were already equal co-participants due to their discipleship in Christ.

Did Peter compromise his Jewish identity by eating with the Gentiles (living like a Gentile)? The issue at hand relates to identity, both Jewish and Gentile:

The question before these Gentiles, as Paul sees the matter, is one of identity, not behavior per se, although it is Peter’s change in behavior — because of his desire to maintain the privileges of identity on terms that no longer should dictate behavior of members of this coalition — that provoked the incident around which Paul constructs his case.

-Nanos, pg 311

Peter and accusersPeter wasn’t “living like a Gentile” in the sense that he had abandoned his Jewish identity and affiliation, but he was behaving in a manner that was not dependent on absolutely separating himself from equal co-participation in the ekklesia, including mixed Jewish/Gentile meals, in order to maintain and affirm his Jewish identity. Jews and Gentiles could maintain distinct identities and yet, in terms of social behavior, they could be co-equals in fellowship within the Messianic Jewish ekklesia.

Peter’s behavior, when seen by Jewish outside observers, was criticized as violating Jewish social norms and thus Jewish identity (living like a Gentile) by the circumcision party, but they were unaware or they didn’t accept the new status of the Gentiles relative to Jewish community.

Nanos adds dimension to this by re-translating the relevant scripture in this way:

If you Peter, remain Jewish yet are identified now as a righteous one (justified) in the same way as are these Gentiles (by faith in/of Christ) and not by virtue of the fact that you were born a Jew, how can you decide to behave in a way that implies that these Gentiles are not your equal unless they become Jews too?

-ibid, pg 315

The mindset required here is a shift from Jewish privilege as justified by being born Jewish, to justification through faith in/of Christ in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles.

I found the following quote revealing:

The salient difference is the claim of this subgroup to live “in Christ” as equals before God and one another, as “one,” whether Jew or Gentile. Claiming that the end of the ages has dawned, this coalition seeks to exemplify this “truth” by living together without discrimination according to certain prevailing conventions of the present age (cf. 1:3-4; 3:27-29; 6:14-16).

-ibid, pg 316

I’ve mentioned previously, citing D.T. Lancaster (see the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons and What About the New Covenant lectures), that the Messianic Age or Kingdom was inaugurated with the death and resurrection of Christ but will not be brought to fullness until the return of Messiah as conquering King. In the meantime, we believers, Jewish and Gentile, have received a “downpayment,” or a “guarantee” that the Messianic promises of the New Covenant will indeed reach fruition in their appointed time.

We are to live like partisans or freedom fighters resisting the current “King” in the present age, and living as if the “once and future King” were already here.

That’s what the mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile co-participants in the ekklesia as equals represents.

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

This is one picture of the Messianic Kingdom, when we Gentiles will indeed ”come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” That’s what was at stake in the Antioch incident, the recognition and acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in the coming Kingdom which has yet to arrive but is already here.

When Peter pulled away from the Gentiles and caused other Jesus-believing Jews to do likewise, he was sending a clear signal (whether he intended to or not) that the Gentiles were not equal, and he was actually denying the “truth of the gospel,” the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Messiah, and the reign of Messiah over Israel and the nations of the Earth in peace and unity.

Peter, in one simple but devastating act, denied that God had to power to bring about all He promised in the New Covenant times. No wonder Paul was so furious.

Conclusion

What I’ve gotten from Zetterholm so far is that in mid-first century CE in Antioch, and presumably influencing the rest of the Messianic communities (the “churches” Paul had “planted”), there was a dynamic “tension” between Paul and James, with Paul advocating for Jesus-believing Gentiles being included into the Jewish ekkelsia as equal co-participants socially and in covenant blessings, while James strongly thought the Gentiles should maintain their own separate and bilateral communities apart from the Jesus-believing Jews. This tension in my reading of Zetterholm so far, was never resolved, and the result was the ultimate schism between the Gentiles and Jews in the community of believers.

The Jewish PaulNanos doesn’t paint quite so grim a picture, but he’s writing while strictly considering only Paul’s perspective in Galatians 2. The ones from James may have had something to do with the Antioch incident, but Nanos believes the ones Peter actually feared were a separate group, a group of believing or non-believing Jews who advocated Gentile inclusion in Jewish religion and fellowship only by circumcision and participation in the proselyte rite.

Paul continues as the advocate for Gentile inclusion which he sees as a sign of the emergent Messianic Kingdom symbolized by Jews and Gentiles sharing meals as equals rather than the Gentiles being subordinate in the Jewish space, either as pagan guests or God-fearers. Peter’s withdrawal punched a really big hole in the structure Paul was trying to construct, a portrait, an image of the future age coming into the world now. Peter not only rejected Gentile equality in the ekklesia, he denied the power of God to bring about unity in the Kingdom to come.

What implications can we draw for the modern Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement. The current MJ movement exists as separate or interrelated streams with different standards of Torah observance, halachot, and particularly, different viewpoints on Jewish/Gentile community interaction and participation.

Many of the questions Paul was addressing are the same issues we find in MJ today. For the most part, communal meals aren’t an issue, since in the communities in which I’ve participated, either kosher meals are available prepared and served in accordance with accepted Jewish halachah, or kosher meal requirements have been loosened (for instance, the elimination of the requirement that said meals must be prepared in a kosher kitchen) to allow for mixed Jewish/Gentile (kosher or kosher-style) meals.

However, the issue of bilateral ecclesiology very much continues to be at the forefront of the debates regarding Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community. Should Messianic Jewish synagogues only allow Jewish membership or should Gentiles be included? If Gentiles are included as members in Jewish religious space, should they be considered equals (as Paul likely advocated) or should they have a lesser status (associate membership) with lesser privileges and responsibilities? Should non-Jewish kids participate in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Can Gentiles be called up for an aliyah to read the Torah on Shabbat? What about Gentiles being included or excluded from davening in a minyan?

We have no record in the Bible of these questions being answered, but we do, at least in my opinion, have strong indications, both Biblically and through historical records, that Gentiles did participate in Jewish communal life in diaspora synagogues. They did eat together as equal co-participants.

Taking all of this into account, where does the modern Messianic Jewish movement go from here and what part do we “Messianic Gentiles” play in it?

I hope to finish my final review of Zetterholm soon.

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Lancaster’s “Galatians” Book Revisited and Reviewed

galatians-book-lancasterChristians often wonder if the Old Testament saints are “saved.” Have you ever heard that question? It’s problematic. Like most of these questions, the person asking it usually does not know what he means by it. What the person probably thinks he means is this: “Did Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Isaiah, and others go to heaven when they died?” What they are trying to ask is this: “Did the divine souls of the men of faith who lived prior to the atoning death of the Messiah find repose in paradise while they await resurrection? Will those men and women who did not confess the name of Yeshua attain the resurrection?”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sermon Thirteen: Abraham’s Gospel (Galatians 3:8-9),” pg 131
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians

As many of you know, I previously started going through this book with My Pastor on Wednesday nights starting many months ago, debating our different viewpoints on Lancaster’s take on one of Paul’s most well-known epistles. This is the letter that Christianity most often uses to prove that Paul preached against the Law of Moses for both Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, that take on Paul, especially relative to his behavior in the latter chapters of Acts, makes him seem like a liar and a hypocrite. Interestingly enough, most Christians and most Jews believe that Paul really was a traitor to Judaism, the Temple, and the Torah, and that he took the teachings of Jesus and morphed them into a brand-new religion: Christianity.

If he had done that, then how can we possibly trust the teachings of such a disreputable fellow? Most of our New Testament would be a fabric of lies and half-truths, not the inspired Word of God. Christianity would be a farce. But nearly twenty centuries of post Biblical Christian doctrine have spun this interpretation so that Paul comes out smelling like a rose. Not so the Jewish people and Judaism, however, who for that same amount of time, have played the villain in the tale of the rise of the Gentile Church.

What Lancaster is attempting to do with this landmark book from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), based on his original sermon series, is to recast Paul in the role of the apostle to the Gentiles who remained zealous for the Torah, zealous for the Temple, even as he was zealous for the Messiah. Paul is not the liar and hypocrite but the misunderstood hero of the early Messianic movement, trying by long distance correspondence, to hold together a fragile string of communities of Messiah-faith scattered across the diaspora.

I wrote my original review of Lancaster’s book back in 2011 when the book was published, and since then, I wrote a short series of commentaries based on my conversations on Lancaster with my Pastor, but I haven’t completely read through the book again before now.

A number of weeks ago, my Pastor and I agreed to pursue other topics in our discussions, having hit a rather firm impasse on whether or not Jewish Torah observance was intended to continue on this side of the cross (you can surely guess my position in this matter). He subsequently said he’d be willing to continue our discussions on Lancaster, but I’m convinced at this point that each of us are well entrenched in our perspectives to the point where the conversation would only serve to frustrate both of us. I want my time with my Pastor to be productive, illuminating, and in service to God, not a once-a-week head-banging-against-brick-wall session.

Having made that decision, I decided to pick up in the book where Pastor and I had left off and go through it again. I’m not going to rehash all of the content but I want to post a few highlights that probably didn’t occur to me before.

Actually, a few months back, after reading A Torah-Positive Summary of Sha’ul’s Letter to the Galatians written by Ariel Berkowitz and published at MessianicPublications.com (I don’t agree with their general premise on Gentiles and the Torah, but I found the Berkowitz paper worthwhile), I revisited relevant sections of Lancaster’s book and “re-reviewed” them in comparison to Berkowitz.

BerkowitzMy comparison of Berkowitz and Lancaster on the “Torah-Positive Paul” is chronicled in Nitzvaim-Vayelech: The Torah of Paul. Commentary on Paul’s Hagar and Sarah midrash (Galatians 4:21-31) can be found in Paul’s Hagar and Sarah Midrash. My last contrasting of Berkowitz and Lancaster on the matter of circumcision and uncircumcision (Galatians 5:1-6) can be read in Abraham, Paul, Circumcision, and Galatians. I also wrote a separate commentary on the same subject in If Paul Had Circumcised Gentiles.

Now that I’ve covered all that territory, what is there left to talk about?

But that theory does not seem credible. To be fair, God must have done so for all his people for all of the years up until the death and resurrection of Yeshua. And if that is the case, why did he stop doing so in the generation of Messiah? When did he stop doing so? Another way of putting this: “In the Old Testament times, God had some different means of bringing people to salvation, and it worked up until the death of Messiah, at which point people now need to believe in Yeshua. If so, that makes the “good news” actually “bad news” because, prior to the coming of Messiah, Jews received a special revelation from God, but now God has cancelled that program and that is why Jewish people are not believers in Yeshua. That’s a bad deal for Jews.

-Lancaster, pg 132

In order for the traditional Christian view of salvation to be correct, God had to change the rules, rather dramatically too, and cause the course of Biblical history and His own plan to “jump the tracks,” so to speak, and take an entirely different direction. For thousands of years, Jewish faith and devotion to Hashem, God of Heaven, Savior of Israel, and walking in obedience to His statues, was sufficient to ensure God’s continued love and a place in the World to Come for all faithful Jews. Now, something has changed and the focus of faith has shifted from God (the Father) to Jesus (the Son).

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all nations be blessed.”

Galatians 3:8

Lancaster supports the idea of progressive revelation, the idea that more and more information is revealed to humanity by God as time goes on. Abraham didn’t know as much as Jacob, Jacob didn’t know as much as Joseph, Joseph didn’t know as much as Moses, and so on. Put that way, I can see the point, but that continual process of God’s revelation to people can’t result in God saying something later that directly (or even indirectly) contradicts what He said earlier. If God said that the Sabbath is an eternal covenant between God and the Children of Israel, and a sign forever, then no later revelation can turn what God said was “eternal” and “forever” into “temporary” with an expiration date stamped on it in invisible ink.

hagar_and_sarahI think we can find the clue to answering the dilemma of whether or not ancient Israel was “saved” in Paul’s Hagar and Sarah midrash. The later covenant cannot take the place of the earlier covenant, and so it is between the Abrahamic promise and Sinai. Faith was always the “mechanism” by which Israel, and later the rest of us, was saved, not obedience to the Torah mitzvot.

But why the shift from God (the Father) to Jesus (the Son)? Jesus only said “No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) not “You must come to me and not the Father.” Galatians 3:8 is the link between faith and Messiah, the blessing to the nations, and ultimately, the fulfillment of Israel’s national as well as personal redemption. Devotion to Messiah King is the “doorway” by which we are all ushered into the presence of God, always by faith, not who we are or what we do.

This is actually the whole point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. No one is justified by their ethnicity or their behavior, but by faith in God by the “merit” of Messiah Yeshua. Faith is the ultimate common denominator between all human beings, Jews and Gentiles alike.

So if the Jewish people were always saved by a faith like Abraham’s, then so too are the Gentiles by being grafted into the Abrahamic (but not Mosaic) blessings of the “good news” as we see in the aforementioned Galatians 3:8. Everything else promised to Abraham by God flows through the descendents of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and ultimately Israel’s children, the twelve tribes, on down through the Jewish people, but faith is the one promise we can all apprehend. Lancaster calls it “Abraham’s Gospel” since after all “gospel” just means “good news” and is an Old Testament concept, not a New Testament invention.

Abraham may not have fully understood all of the implications of his seed being a blessing to all nations, but nothing God promised Abraham had to be contradicted or nullified by later revelations. This is why, if Paul and Galatians seem to contradict earlier promises and prophecies of God, then the fault can’t be Paul or the Bible or God, but our incorrect interpretations, which have historically been driven by anti-Semitic and supersessionistic teachings of the Church designed to separate Christianity and Judaism since the earliest days of the Gentile Church. Even when many Christians are no longer seeing themselves as replacements of the Jewish people in God’s covenant promises, the foundation of those ancient anti-Jewish doctrines still color our perceptions.

That’s why it’s important for us to read men like Lancaster and to take the “risk” of adjusting or even changing the lens by which we view the apostle Paul.

Paul knew that the ignorant and unstable would twist his words to their own destruction. He knew that some would take his declarations about Gentiles “not under the law” as a license for sin. Therefore, he warned his readers, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

-Lancaster
“Sermon Twenty-Five: Torah of Messiah,” pg 266

I chose to read that statement differently than Lancaster (and Paul) intended. I don’t think you have to be ignorant and unstable to misunderstand Paul. I think you can even be intelligent, well-educated, and well-meaning, and still let historically established religious tradition color Paul’s writing. It’s probably impossible to read the Bible without having some sort of interpretive filter between you and the text. That’s just as true with the perspectives of the various “flavors” of Messianic Judaism as it is for the different branches of Hebrew Roots and all the different denominations of the Christian Church. The trick is to find a perspective that brings you the closest to the original intent of the writer and how the intended audience would have heard those words. That’s why I think a Jewish or Hebraic perspective is necessary for us to understand Jewish and Hebraic writers, writings, and audiences.

I know my opinion on Galatians is in the minority, but I think Christianity and Judaism have both gotten Paul all wrong for nearly two-thousand years. I think Lancaster and this book is one effort to try to correct centuries of error.

D. Thomas LancasterIn re-reading D. Thomas Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, I find it more illuminating than my first pass-through, probably because I’ve continued to study and learn over the past two years, and my discussions with my Pastor have forced me to hone my interpretive skills. I don’t think the book is perfect and in fact, there are a number of points Lancaster makes I don’t agree with (cheeky of me, I know). I think the letter still works if it is addressed to both Jews and Gentiles in the faith communities in Galatia. I think his explanation, as you can read elsewhere, on the Hagar and Sarah metaphor was overly complicated and addressed a different audience than Lancaster surmises.

But, in the majority of his general perspective, I agree with Lancaster. Paul was not nullifying the Torah of Moses. He was explaining to the Gentile believers that conversion to Judaism and full Torah obedience was not a requirement for salvation. He was also explaining to people born Jewish and to righteous converts that neither being ethnically Jewish or being a convert conveyed salvation. Taking on the full yoke of Torah as a Jew does not justify anyone before God. You can’t do enough for God to buy your way into reconciliation. Only faith like Abraham’s does that.

Jews should remain Jews and observe the Torah, for no later covenant, as Paul stated, invalidates the earlier ones. Sinai did not undo Abraham, and the New Covenant, for a Jew, does not undo Sinai. Jewish observance of Sinai is in effect because a Newer Covenant cannot take the place of an older one, it can only ratify it. That’s why we Gentiles don’t have to convert to Judaism and observe the Torah: because Sinai’s Torah did not undo Abraham’s faith. And the New Covenant, in spite of how it is seen in the Church, is generally a repetition of all the previous covenants with some portions being amplified.

After two years, I continue to recommend Lancaster’s Galatians book which is available in hardcopy from First Fruits of Zion and in hardcopy or kindle versions from Amazon (and by the way, the reviews for this book at Amazon are excellent).

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Struggling with the Nemesis

Traffic ConesThe fact that experienced readers of the New Testament come away with diametrically opposed interpretations of the same text is today perhaps one of the few universally recognized results of modern historical critical scholarship.

-Joel Willitts
“Chapter 23: The Bride of Messiah and the Israel-ness of the New Heavens and New Earth” (pg 245)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

Brother, you said a mouthful.

I was pretty frustrated when I went to bed last night (as I write this on Tuesday morning). I had a rather busy day on several of my blog posts with various comments, usually related to something I said about the Rudolph/Willitts book. But as I was reading the above referenced chapter in bed, a number of thoughts came to me that weren’t particularly connected to the material I was perusing. I kept going back to what I said a month ago about the problem with religious people. They always think they’re right, they always think their interpretation of the Bible is the only interpretation of the Bible, and they always think that everyone they talk to and disagree with should immediately see the devastating logic of their arguments and then completely roll over to their point of view.

And when you don’t, they get a little cranky.

So when I read the opening sentence in Willitts’ chapter, it was wonderfully confirming.

But there’s still a problem.

Furthermore, softening the logical link between 5:18a and 5:18b lessens the rhetorical force of the statement. What was likely intended to be a ringing affirmation of the Spirit’s ability to release one from being under law (cf. 5:16) comes out sounding, at least practically speaking, more like a piece of encouraging advice to dispense with the need for law observance. Yet this construal is necessary for the viability of the reading proposed by the majority of Galatians commentators, who must assume the mutual compatibility of the leading of the Spirit and existence “under law”; otherwise the point of Paul’s statement would be altogether lost. For this reading to succeed, then, one must downplay both the implicit logic and the rhetorical force of 5:18.

-Todd A. Wilson
“Chapter 22: The Supersession and Superfluity of the Law? Another Look at Galatians” (pg 239)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism

Ah Galatians, my old nemesis. How I have missed thee…not.

Pastor Randy has been away in Brazil for most of the month of April so naturally, we’ve had to suspend our Wednesday evening meetings until his return. He returned on Tuesday (today, as I write this) but didn’t want to “push it” by trying to return to our regular meetings the day after he got back. He’s got a lot of catch up work to do, so I’ll see him next week, and we’ll pick up where we left off with our discussions on D. Thomas Lancaster’s Galatians book.

I enjoy my conversations with Pastor Randy, but I sometimes anticipate them with some degree of “dread.” As I was trying to puzzle my way through Wilson’s brief analysis of that same epistle with an eye on the Messianic Jewish perspective, I became totally lost. I also became kind of skeptical as a result of being lost. If I can’t understand this and it doesn’t make sense to me, does it make sense at all? Is Wilson trying to push the text too far into a particular viewpoint or interpretive model? Is he pushing Paul into an area where Paul never intended to go? And how can I tell?

One thing Pastor Randy has said to me on numerous occasions is that when studying the Bible, the best place to start is with the literal meaning of the text in its original language and context. In reading Wilson and phrases such as “softening the logical link between 5:18a and 5:18b,” I started wondering what Paul would make of all this and how he would see Wilson’s treatment of his letter.

Galatians by D.T. LancasterOf course, you can’t take Galatians in isolation. You have to look at it within the larger context of Paul’s other writings and the events of the New Testament times in general (not to mention the rest of the Bible). You also have to look at the chronology of these writings, with Galatians being one of Paul’s earlier letters, written even before the events we’ve read in Acts 15.

Justin Hardin’s Chapter 21: Equality in the Church,” was easier to digest, but he took a much smaller portion of Galatians to examine (specifically Galatians 3:28) and was more successful at relating how Paul was not attempting to “support a collapse of ethnicity any more than [he] supports the collapse of the male and female genders.” (pp 224-5). On page 226, Hardin tries to explain that the tutor (pedagogue) function of the Law we find in Galatians 3:23-24 is indeed only one of a number of functions of the Torah for the Jewish people. Only that function went away when Messiah came to show us the perfect model of “Torah living,” but that didn’t eliminate the Jewish requirement to observe Torah for other reasons (national identity, covenant obedience, eschatological linkage to the Messianic age, and so forth).

But how am I supposed to gain an understanding of Galatians that comes anywhere near to Hardin’s or Wilson’s, or even Lancaster’s when I meet Pastor Randy again? I can’t keep these fellows in my pocket and bring them out to present their wares at a critical moment in our dialog, but since Galatians is obviously far more complex than meets the eye, how can I defend a position on this puzzling epistle that I don’t fully understand? (And by the way, like Lancaster, Hardin believes Paul wrote the Galatians letter only to the Gentile population of the churches in that region, not to their Jewish counterparts.)

Like most of the chapters in this book, Willitts’ essay and analysis of “the Bride” imagery (in the aforementioned Chapter 23) in Revelation 19 and 21 is dense with footnotes and scholarly references. In order to present a respectable argument regarding Galatians (or anything else from the Bible), I’d have to be far better read than I am and then somehow have the ability to recall all of that information at a moment’s notice at it is required for a certain topic brought up in my Pastor Randy Galatians discussions.

I need a bigger brain.

With the Scripture as a background, we can now clarify John’s use of the bride imagery in Revelation 19-22. First, since for John the Lamb is divine, it presents little problem for him to correlate Israel’s God with the Lamb — what was attributed to the God of Israel in Isaiah is now associated with the Lamb. Thus, what was once God’s bride is now the bride of Messiah.

The Lamb’s bride is the New Jerusalem, both the people of Israel and the place where God will dwell. Israel, who was unfaithful, now is not. At the end of the age, the Lamb will remarry his bride; he will fulfill his promise. The divine Messiah will redeem his people from captivity and clothe them with righteous deeds because they will be “taught by the Lord” (Isa. 54:13).

-Willitts, pp 252-3

That quote will no doubt shock most Christians and probably more than a few Jewish believers. In the church, I was always taught that “the church” was the bride of Christ, which usually means Gentile Christians. Here, Willitts completely reverses identities, saying that both Israel as a place and as a people/nation are the Divine Messiah’s bride. What I didn’t quote was how Willitts states that the nations (believing Gentile Christians) are the wedding guests! We’re not the bride at all but we are on hand to celebrate at the “wedding reception,” so to speak.

That’s going to ruffle a few feathers.

But…

filtered…but Willitts isn’t presenting the conclusions in his brief article as if they were absolute fact or as if they were the only possible interpretation of the text. He deliberately is framing his interpretation within a Messianic Jewish context in order to show an alternate point of view, a different perspective for his readers, probably to make us think and to help us question our assumptions. I can relate to that, since I often write from that perspective myself.

Now look at this comment made on one of my blog posts in response to my question about whether the commentor thinks Christians sin by not observing the Torah in the same manner as the Jews:

Some Jews may be accepting of Christian Torah observances that make them look Jewish, but in my experience, it can’t be that many. And have you told other Christians you associate with about them being obligated (rather than them having a choice) to Torah observance to a level that will make them look Jewish too?

Yes, I have, I argue for covenant obligation, are you in covenant with God, then you have an obligation

“Zion” is well-meaning and a decent human being, but we often come to loggerheads because he believes that Gentiles in Messiah are directly linked into the covenants rather than receiving them through Israel, and as such, we covenant members are “grafted in” to the full 613 Torah mitzvot and are required to observe them, not in the manner of modern “Rabbinic Jews,” but from a Biblical model (nevermind that we have no idea how to observe the Torah without Rabbinic interpretation).

I disagree and believe we Gentile disciples of the Messiah receive certain blessings from the covenants God made with Israel thanks to the linkage between Abraham’s faith and our faith in Messiah, but that doesn’t include turning us into “Israelites,” nor does it mean we have an identical Torah obligation with the Jewish people.

So we have a difference of opinion. That brings us back to the Willitts quote I inserted at the top of this blog post.

I don’t mind disagreements. I really don’t. I do mind being backed into a corner by folks who believe that it’s their way or the highway. My point of view is one point of view. There are aspects of the Bible I don’t understand. Galatians is a frustrating mystery to me. Even when someone tries to explain it, such as Wilson, the explanation is a frustrating mystery to me. There are days when I want to pack it in and give up on religion. I don’t fit. I don’t understand. I am really annoyed with the dissonance between different Bible interpretations, and I am really, really annoyed with people who think that they and only they (or their group) are the sole possessors of God’s truth about the Bible.

To me, being a believer and studying the Bible is like being an explorer. As a person of faith, I’m on a journey of discovery. Such journeys are rarely straightforward and often involve going in the wrong direction, backtracking, retracing steps, and sometimes using a machete to hack through thick underbrush, like an adventurer-archaeologist on his way to the next big find. But as Dr. Henry Jones Jr. once said, “seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library.” It requires painstaking, laborious study, not dramatic arguments by people who are all too sure of themselves. Archaeology is also a science of patience. At a dig, you must be slow and deliberate in attempting anything. It might be today, tomorrow, ten years from now, or never, before you uncover anything of even the remotest significance at all.

walking-side-by-sideJesus is like a companion on a long journey who helps to guide us but who will not override our decisions, even if we should take the wrong path. He’ll advise us, prod us, give us hints, and occasionally berate us as we find we’ve stepped into a pool of quicksand, but he won’t just lead us by the hand so we can passively follow where he has gone before us.

I’m nearly done reading the articles in Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book. I’m hoping to get through all of them and finish taking my notes before I have to return the book to the library. But once I have, I’ll move on to another book. While I’ve found Introduction to Messianic Judaism to be an excellent survey of the perspectives on different aspects of theology and doctrine from a Messianic Jewish perspective, it’s still only one book. To the degree that the twenty-six contributors reference countless other sources, then countless other sources are required to help understand the Bible and thus a life of faith.

I can’t stop now, though one day, I may completely withdraw from the public realm and conduct my search privately, but a life of encountering God requires a lifetime. I can’t simply accept one religious person’s statement that they’re “right” and blindly consume their declarations.

I’ve got to keep going. Will I ever arrive at a destination? Probably not this side of paradise.

153 days.

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Four, Wind and Sail

wind-sky-spirit-ruachAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Is given by inspiration of God – All this is expressed in the original by one word – Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired – from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Genesis 2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans. Plutarch ed. R. 9:p. 583. 9. τοὺς ὀνείρους τοὺς θεοπνεύστους tous oneirous tous theopneustous. Phocylid. 121. τῆς δὲ θεοπνεύστου σοφίης λόγος ἐστὶν ἄριστος tēs de theopnoustou sophiēs logos estin aristos.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible for
2 Timothy 3:16

You may be wondering how this connects to my ongoing discussion with Pastor Randy about D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. The answer is, “not much.” Frankly, we started our discussion last night with trying to clarify his thoughts on Divine Election (Pastor has a paper he wants to loan me that describes all of the various positions), but then moved to how we can understand the Bible (Pastor has some reservations relative to how Lancaster derives certain conclusions in his book from the Galatians text). We addressed Sermon Four of the book eventually, but it didn’t occupy the significant portion of our time together, nor was it the most compelling topic upon which we touched.

Going back to “God-breathed,” Pastor said that the Greek word used has the implication of wind filling a sail and pushing the boat along (Correction, according to Pastor Randy’s comment below, “the phrase about ‘the wind filling a sail’ has to do with the II Peter 1:21 passage and the meaning of men being ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.” See the following quote). He told me he believes that as God gave His inspiration to the human writers of the Bible, the authors did not say anything, at least as originally given in their manuscripts, that contradicted what God intended.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

People, that is, prophets and those people who have written the Word of God we have in our Bible, did not hear something from God and then interpret what it meant through their own intellect and emotions. God used their personalities, their vocabulary, their style of writing, their perceptions to craft His message, but the message was and is His message, not the prophets’, and the message “carried them along” as it was first given and recorded in the original documents, and the message was and is exactly what God meant to say and meant to carry us along as well.

But then we have a problem.

We don’t have the original documents…any of them.

Also, Bible reading and translation is an enormously complex task.

According to Pastor Randy, and I agree with him, we have to start with what the text literally says. We also have to apply the immediate context of the scripture, not taking it out and making it stand on its own. Beyond that, we have to consider the history, the culture, and the circumstances in which the scripture was written. On top of that, we have to connect the scripture to the larger context of the entire Bible, including other times when similar circumstances were mentioned and similar or identical wording was used. If, for instance, in describing the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, in understanding the Matthew 22 passage, we must also take into consideration the context, history, culture, and circumstances in which Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 take place, including the author and his personality, vocabulary, style of writing, and personal experiences. We cannot separate what Jesus was trying to say from what Moses was trying to say, however Jesus and all that was in play when he was talking may modify the original meaning, giving it a somewhat different shape, color, and texture.

paul-editedOh, and let’s not forget the intended audience. Moses may not have been aware that what he was writing was ultimately intended for the entire world, but we realize that God has a greater scope. Jesus may well have understood that his words would eventually be consumed by all of humanity across time, but his immediate audience, like Moses’ was the Jewish people or more specifically in Jesus’ case, the Pharisee he was addressing at that particular moment.

We must take all that into consideration when reading the Bible and seriously attempting to understand its message.

And we must constantly remind ourselves that it is all God-breathed.

Pastor Randy and I spent most of our time together exploring how to understand the Bible, with the promises and pitfalls built into such an effort. We discussed how we don’t necessarily have to “reinvent the wheel,” since many people have read and observed the literal meaning of the text from a variety of perspectives, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard their work and rely only on our own. Pastor described how he approaches understanding texts looking at those who came before him. He reads a variety of expert analyses and takes into consideration what the scholars they did and didn’t take into consideration.

For instance, a particular writer may have a good grasp of the original language but not sufficiently address the history involved, or another writer may have a good handle on the historical context, but not the cultural context. Pastor said he looks at the various scholarly opinions in that manner and ultimately settles on which one he…wait for it…

…which one he likes best.

What?

Pastor Randy is a literalist, an educator, a scholar, a linguist, and is very serious about pursuing as accurate an understanding of the Bible as he can achieve, but after much discussion we agreed that even under the best of circumstances and intentions, there will always be this little, fuzzy, grey, area in the middle of our understanding where we fill in the blanks with our own personalities.

Geordi La Forge (played by Levar Burton): I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
Data (played by Brent Spiner): Your gut?
Geordi: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You’re right, sometimes they do.
Data: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

-from the Star Trek: the Next Generation Episode
The Defector (original air date 30 Dec. 1989)

In the scene from which I just quoted, Data concludes that in any meaningful analysis, the observer must fill in whatever blanks there are in the facts and other available information with their personality. In Data’s case, he was in a bind because effectively, he had no personality. All he had were the facts. By the way, it turns out Geordi’s “gut” was wrong. The defector in question had been fed disinformation by his superiors to mislead the Enterprise and ultimately to provoke a war. Fortunately, Picard’s “gut” proved to be more accurate and the ruse was exposed.

All this doesn’t mean that we can never understand the Bible or that we should always equivocate on its meaning, but we should be a little less than one-hundred percent certain that we always know what everything in the Bible means all of the time.

It also means that when we realize we’ve made a mistake based on subsequent study and analysis, we should admit it.

Pastor Randy says that’s one thing he admires about Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). When Boaz and the organization came to the conclusion, several years ago, that they had made a significant error in understanding what the Bible said in relation to Jewish and Gentile covenant responsibilities to God, after much prayer and soul-searching, he announced that FFOZ was making a major shift in its theological and doctrinal position. Boaz knew it would cost FFOZ much of its income and might even result in the organization collapsing completely. Thank Hashem that the latter did not occur, but many sacrifices had to be made. Sadly, to this day, Boaz and his group continue to be severely criticized and harangued by their detractors as a consequence.

That’s the price of integrity and following God where He calls you to go. That’s also part of the ongoing struggle of understanding God through His Word and maturing as people of Spirit and of faith.

ancient-sail-boatI tried to get Pastor Randy to say that you can have a room full of people with equal intelligence, equal qualifications, all people of good character, and they could still disagree with each other on what parts of the Bible mean, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said that we’re all human and we’re all capable, not just of making mistakes, but of following our own human desires. We all can and do sin.

Does that mean there is only one right person (or close-knit group of people) who understands the Bible correctly and it is because he or she is the best person morally and ethically that their understanding is right? Does that mean all of this person’s critics are liars and haters who purposely want to bring the “right” person down in order to elevate their own agendas?

I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that you can gather a group of people together who are of good will and intent who will disagree. Sure, some of the people in that room will be liars and haters, but they should be easily spotted by their lack of integrity and good character (their fruits) in how they treat others and how they walk with God. Even the best of us can allow our personal, pet theories and biases affect our judgment. We all want to be right and to be admired and respected.

But at the end of the day, the best of us (and I’m hardly saying I’m among the best) will put all that aside, suck it up, and make the hard call, even if it costs them, because that’s just what God’s true servants do. Once we realize that the evidence is solid about some piece of scripture, even if it’s not what we want it to mean, we’ll go forward and accept it and embrace it, because that’s part of who we are if we are disciples of our Master. We’ll also continue to study, to learn, and to mature, because God continually breathes in us.

For a ninety minute conversation, last night’s talk with Pastor Randy inspired a lot in me that I could write about…and maybe I will, but I won’t try to cram it all into a single “meditation” today.

But I do want to be a sail. And I do want to be available to the wind. And I do want to let my sail conform to the wind, to the shape it causes me to manifest, to the direction it drives me, toward the destination to which it guides me.

I don’t know yet what distant and alien shore God has planned for my future, but I can feel His hand on me. Do I have the integrity and courage to let Him take me where He wants me to go? I hope so. I pray to possess those qualities that I may serve Him…even in something as “simple” as reading the Bible.

Pastor will be out of the country for the rest of April so naturally, we won’t be meeting each Wednesday evening for the next several weeks. We’ll revisit Lancaster’s Galatians next month and reformulate our study plan for the book…I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll try to continue writing in the spirit of what my Pastor, and ultimately God, provokes in my mind and heart, and move forward with integrity and purpose. Unfurling my sail and setting my course for uncharted seas as the wind sends me forth.

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Three, Paul’s Gospel, and the Unfair Election

voting-ballot-electionFor I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11-12

What did Paul mean by “man’s gospel”? He did not mean a false gospel, or a corrupt gospel, or something fleshly and worldly. He meant to differentiate the way that he became a believer from the way that people ordinarily became believers in that day, and he wanted to differentiate between his gospel message and the one the other believers ordinarily proclaimed in his day.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sermon Three: Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 1:11-24)” pg 33
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians

I’m depressed. I’m hitting walls I didn’t know were there, probably because I don’t have much of a formal education in theology or Bible studies.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Last night was my scheduled Wednesday night conversation with Pastor Randy. I arrived at his office as he was finishing his dinner salad for our discussion on Chapter Three of Lancaster’s book. We ended up talking about topics that didn’t directly relate but were nonetheless interesting (Revelation and the rapture, and the age of the universe, but those are topics for a different time).

As I said in my previous blog post, we’ve been searching for some common ground on the definition of “Torah,” and that does figure heavily into last night’s conversation and this missive.

We focused on Paul’s “my gospel.” Pastor Randy and I agreed that Paul literally wasn’t preaching a separate gospel from the one taught by the other apostles or the one that we have with us today. The differentiation, as we both understood it, was how Paul received the gospel vs. just about everybody else. Paul didn’t take lessons from James and Peter, he received his information, at least initially, directly from Jesus through supernatural means.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Acts 22:6-11, 17-21

According to Lancaster (pg 36), the difference between man’s gospel and Paul’s gospel is that Paul’s gospel teaches:

  • Gentiles can inherit eternal life.
  • Gentiles can become part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Gentiles can experience resurrection from the dead.
  • Gentiles have standing among the people of God (i.e., Israel) without becoming Jewish.

It certainly seems to me that Paul “pioneered” the idea that Gentiles could become full covenant members of “the Way” without having to convert to Judaism, but did Paul write his letter before or after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10? Assuming it was after, did Paul know about that encounter? And how do we know that Jesus gave Paul specific instructions relative to the Gentiles that no one else had, particularly by the time he was writing his Galatians letter?

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but Paul still had to come under the authority of the Jerusalem Council, so he couldn’t “shoot from the hip” as far as his ministry to the Gentiles was concerned. The whole point of Acts 15 was putting the status of Gentiles in the Way to the test to determine if they had to convert to Judaism or not. Even if Paul’s authority came directly from Messiah, he still had to respond to James and the Council of Apostles as the Master’s primary representatives in our world.

album-unsavedBut that’s not what worries me.

Pastor and I got around to talking about what Jesus did for the Jewish believers (what he did for the rest of us should be obvious…but apparently it isn’t). I said that he fulfilled the Messianic promises and gave hope for redemption, not only for individual Jews but for the redemption of national Israel. So what did the Jews do for salvation before Jesus? Did the sacrifices in the Temple and earlier, in the Tabernacle save?

No, of course not. Faith is what saves. That goes all the way back to Abraham. It wasn’t the sacrifices as such, but due to their faith, the Jews were saved and they fulfilled the requirement of the sacrifices out of obedience. It’s always been about faith in God, otherwise millions upon millions of Jews who had lived before the birth of Christ would have been set up for failure.

Pastor Randy agreed.

But…

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Acts 13:48

I added the emphasis above to make a point.

I’ve probably heard of the Christian Doctrine of Election before, but never in any real detail. According to Paul (Ephesians 2:8), “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” OK, I get that. There’s nothing I can do to earn salvation. No matter how many good deeds I commit, that doesn’t add any “bonus points” to my “salvation score.” Only by the grace of God am I saved.

But what’s my part in the deal? It’s not like I just sit around watching television and God comes over and randomly “zaps” me with salvation. Don’t I do something? Well, Paul did say, “saved through faith.” That is, I have to choose to have faith in God through Christ in order to be saved.

But Pastor Randy asked if even the act of choosing to have faith a “work.” That seemed kind of a stretch to me. In order to be a part of anything, it really helps if you contribute something, even just a tiny bit, so as to have a sense of “ownership” in the process, including salvation.

Long discussion short, Pastor Randy says that God preselects individuals to have faith. Thanks to Adam and Eve, we are all born into a state of sin as our basic nature. We can’t help it. We have no say in the matter. But here’s the kicker. Supposedly, we also have no say in the matter in regard to being saved. By nature, we all would reject Christ if given a choice, because of that nature. Only God implants faith in a human being and only those human beings who God has “programmed” to be capable of faith will ever be saved.

The rest of humanity, not so much. Fires of hell for them, no matter how many times they hear the words of the gospel.

One of my favorite sections of the Bible is the sequence that describes Jacob wrestling with the Angel. From a Jewish point of view, this gives human beings a broad license to “wrestle” with God on ethical and moral issues. We can actually debate God if we think He’s advocating for a position that is unfair or unjust. After all, Abraham did it in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah. God doesn’t seem to mind.

But am I wrestling with God or with a specific Christian doctrine? I’m definitely wrestling with Pastor Randy. It was one of those times when I was acutely aware that his education in religious matters far, far outstripped my own, and I was absolutely fighting under my weight. It was like I was Justin Bieber trying to go a couple of rounds in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson.

I was going to get slaughtered.

Saying, “Hey, that’s unfair” or “That’s not right” doesn’t cut it if I can’t support my position from the Bible. God doesn’t have to be fair. He told Job that after all the arguing had stopped. He who makes the universe makes the rules. Fairness doesn’t come into play.

But in the aforementioned debate between Abraham and God, Abraham invoked God’s attribute of justice. If God is just, can He perform an unjust act?

Abraham,God_and_two_angelsIf God is just, is it right for him to automatically condemn some and probably most of the entire human race across all of history to eternal damnation and horrible, flaming agony, while preserving only a remnant…and absolutely none of those human beings have a choice in the matter?

Think about it. It’s all Adam’s and Eve’s fault. They are the only ones who ever had a choice. According to “Divine Election,” if you’re saved, it wasn’t your choice, you just got lucky. If you’re not saved, same deal. You just have really crummy luck.

This is why atheists say Christians are crazy and even cruel. I mean, it’s one thing if Jesus offers me the free gift of eternal salvation and I throw it back in his face. Then I can see how I’d deserve condemnation. But to never even have a shot at it?

Pastor Randy, at one point, shared how incredibly grateful he is to God for choosing him for salvation. That’s good for him and maybe good for me, but what about the poor, dumb, characters out there who are among the unchosen and don’t even realize what they’re facing…and if they did, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. No amount of repenting of sins, turning to God, professing faith in Christ will save them.

Of course, according to Pastor Randy, they wouldn’t desire to do any of that anyway, but no one is born with that desire if we are all born in original sin. What’s the difference between Pastor Randy, who came to faith early in life, and me who came to faith after the age of forty? Was my program from God somehow slightly defective that it waited so long to start to run? I’d heard about Jesus for decades before I came to faith. How come my program didn’t kick in before it did?

However, there are other perspectives. According to Richard Land in his article at ChristianPost.com:

First, we must understand that the Bible reveals two different kinds of election, and much confusion has resulted from failing to see this distinction. Abrahamic Election is substantially different from Salvation Election. Abrahamic Election (Gen. 12:1-3) explains how God chose the Jews to be His chosen people. Salvation Election pertains to God’s elective purpose in how He brings about the eternal salvation of individual human beings, both Jew and Gentile, in both the Old and New Testaments.

Abrahamic Election is corporate, is to special people status, and is not related to anything. Salvation Election is individual and is to eternal salvation. In God’s providence, He has chosen to reveal His dealings with His people more fully in the New Testament. In doing so, a third difference between Abrahamic (corporate) and Salvation (individual) Election is underscored. God revealed in the New Testament that Salvation Election is somehow intertwined with, and connected to foreknowledge in a significant way (Rom. 8:29-30; 11:2; I Pet. 1:2).

“There is no question here of predestination to Heaven or reprobation to hell; …. we are not told here, nor anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to heaven and one to hell….The passage has entirely to do with privilege here on earth.” (Ironside, Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 116)

What if the Bible is telling us in the concept of “foreknowledge” that God does not just know all things that have, or ever will happen, as if they were the present moment to Him, but that He has, and always has had, the “experience” of all things, events, and people as a punctiliar present moment?

That makes a bit more sense and satisfies my personal value of justice. We all have free choice and can choose to accept or reject Jesus. God just knows what choice we’ll make because, while history and our lives seem like a movie that he have to live through frame-by-frame, God sees everything all at once, as if it were a snapshot.

I doubt that’ll satisfy Pastor Randy, and he admits agonizing over this issue before coming to a final decision, but if I have to err, I’d prefer to err on the side of mercy and compassion.

Because if Pastor Randy is right, how does anyone know if he’s really saved?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

condemnedObviously, not everyone who thinks they’re saved is really saved. Mistakes will be made and errors encountered. What if someone who isn’t supposed to be saved becomes convinced and believes they have faith in Jesus. Maybe they really don’t, but they think they do. It’s not like they’ve made an internal error in thinking, they just aren’t “programmed” to be saved. It’s impossible, from a Divine Election point of view, for that person to be saved.

So on the last day, they find out, “Oops, I’m condemned” and appeal to Jesus and he blows them off, just like that.

Not that it was the person’s fault because they had no choice in the matter!

You can see why I’m depressed and a little disgusted. I think I can remain a Christian and still not have to marry the “Divine Election” theory because if that were the only option, my faith would hang in the balance.

In my last blog, I said:

No human being is a perfectly neutral, objective observer. We all tend to read the Bible, even in its original languages, in terms of what we already “know” about it; that is, what we already believe is says. We translate the ancient Greek and Hebrew text in a manner usually consistent with those beliefs and that means we generally never surprise ourselves with the outcome.

The Bible is the Bible, but doctrine is man-made. The fact that there’s more than one way to interpret how people get saved means there’s more than one way to view the Bible, and thus, God. Right now, I’m a little too upset to go into cold, dispassionate research on this matter, weighing the pros and cons. Right now, if God really is programming us like little widgets, deliberately condemning people to eternal damnation for no better reason than they were just born as human beings in a fallen world, then I am up for a good old fashion wrestling match with God.

I’ll probably lose…but so have billions of other human beings out there. They never had a chance.

 

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Two, Influencers, Circumcision, and What is Torah?

circumcision-mohelNo word in the Jewish religion is so indefinable and yet so indispensable as the word Torah. Torah is the most comprehensive term for the substance of Judaism. Torah is Teaching. Torah is Law. No one can hope to achieve even a minimal appreciation of the Jewish religion without learning, and then reflecting on, the idea of Torah and its place in the life of the Jew. Torah has been for ages the sum and substance of Jewish scholarship. But it would be utterly wrong to conclude from this emphasis on study that Jewish spirituality runs dry in the sands of intellectualism.

-Rabbi Maurice Lamm
“What is Torah”
Aish.com

After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

Acts 21:19-21 (ESV)

Last night’s conversation with Pastor Randy about the second chapter (sermon) in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians wasn’t quite as intense as the previous week’s talk (though it had its moments early on). A lot of the focus was on who Paul’s intended audience was supposed to be, what Paul was trying to say, and why he was saying it.

I think Pastor Randy wanted to pull in all of the material from the letter whilst I wanted to try to contain our investigation to the current chapter of Lancaster’s book, which only covers Galatians 1:6-10. Yes, that’s pretty hard to do, but as I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t satisfied with my original reading of Lancaster’s book, and I wanted to take this opportunity to go through it again with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, sifting its pages, and uncovering its message, along with Paul’s message to the Galatian churches.

Pastor Randy remains convinced that Paul was writing to the Gentile and Jewish populations in the churches in Galatia, and it’s hard to refute that. Pastor did back away from his comments of the previous week regarding Paul’s addressing of “Brothers” as being only to Jews, but he maintains the term can be applied to both Jews and Gentiles in the community of believers.

And then I brought up how silly it would be for Paul to tell Jews not to become circumcised and convert to Judaism.

And then he brought up how some/many of the Jews in the diaspora may not have been circumcised and may not have been all that Torah observant.

What?

It would seem, summoning Occam’s razor to my rescue, that the most reasonable understanding of the Jewish population of the diaspora was that they were observant to Torah relative to the normative halachah of their day, and that the Jewish males would routinely have been circumcised on the eighth day, even as Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day.

I’ll get back to that in a moment, but before I forget, we also discussed the identity of the influencers:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Galatians 1:6-8 (ESV)

Who were these “troublers and distorters?” Christian expository preaching for centuries has referred to them as “Judaizers.” We will take a look at that terminology as we wrestle with this question in the ensuing material, but for now, we will adopt a term currently popular in Pauline studies and simply refer to them as the “influencers.” They are within the Galatian communities who are influencing the God-fearing Gentiles to undergo conversion.

One quick observation about the “influencers:” They are most likely believers in Yeshua of Nazareth. This possibility is lost on many interpreters. They might be Jewish believers or believing proselytes to Judaism, but they are almost certainly believers.

How do we know? We will consider the evidence as we work through the epistle, but from the outset, Paul says that they “want to distort the gospel of Messiah.” A non-believer does not want to distort the gospel; he wants to refute it and repudiate it. Only believers distort the gospel. Paul says that they preach “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,” but they [are] preaching a gospel, they [are] teachers of good news. For that reason we may deduce that they are believers in Yeshua of Nazareth.

-Lancaster, “Galatians” Sermon Two

When I arrived for my appointment with Pastor Randy, he was working on his computer with translations of Galatians 1:6-8 from the ESV, the KJV, and the Greek text in preparation for our meeting. Here’s the relevant portions of vv. 6-7 from the King James Version with emphasis added:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

paul-editedI can’t reproduce the Greek but the question Pastor was asking is if the “gospel” being preached by the Influencers was indeed the gospel of Christ, or another preaching altogether. While we can agree that there is no other “gospel” of Christ, there can be other types or fashions of “good news,” and Pastor’s opinion is that the Influencers didn’t have to be believing Jews based on the text or context, and indeed, they might not be believers at all.

There’s a certain merit in this, since during Paul’s time with the Jewish communities in the area of Galatia, he encountered many Jewish people and God-fearing Gentiles who listened to the message of the Gospel, but not all of them came to faith.

One of the big, big problems that all Jewish people had with “the Way,” including many of the Jews within the Way, was how to admit Gentiles as equal covenant members without requiring that they become circumcised and convert to Judaism. Acts 15 answers that question, but Galatians was almost certainly written before the Acts 15 event. The decision that Gentiles were not required to convert seems to have been clear to Paul as he was writing the letter to Galatia, but James and the Council had not yet rendered a halakhic ruling based on legal proof-texts. The “Jerusalem Letter” made the decision official, but at this point, Paul is going by his understanding of the Messiah’s plan for the Gentiles through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Getting back to circumcision, Pastor maintains that Paul very well could have been telling both Gentiles and Jews that they did not have to become circumcised and observe the Law in order to be disciples of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

OK, I accept that was Paul’s message to the Gentiles, but to the Jews? Would Paul ever say such a thing?

…and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

Acts 21:21 (ESV)

That’s what finally got back to the Jews in Jerusalem about Paul, and they were taking it very seriously. What was Paul going to do to quell these rumors?

What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.

Acts 21:22-24 (ESV)

That’s the solution, but was Paul being disingenuous? That is, was he just going through the motions to mollify the Jerusalem Jews by undergoing a Jewish vow ritual, something he no longer saw as relevant in his life because of his faith in Messiah?

In other words, was he lying to the Jerusalem Jews (and was James and the Elders supporting his lies) about whether or not he was telling the diaspora Jews not to circumcise their sons and to forsake Moses? Did he really tell all those things to the Jewish populations in Galatia?

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

Acts 22:3 (ESV)

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.

Acts 23:6 (ESV)

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:4-6 (ESV)

arrestedPaul was certainly working to establish his “Jewish credentials” in these circumstances. I know that a lot of people, when in fear of their lives, would lie to save themselves, but if Paul were telling diaspora Jews to not circumcise their sons and to go against the Torah, would he have lied about it, even to save his own life?

That hardly seems likely. We know from the New Testament record that Paul endured enormous hardships for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, and that his own life was worth less to him than preaching the good news of Moshiach to the Jews and the Gentiles. If he was trying to save his own life, he wouldn’t have done what we know he did on numerous occasions, which resulted in him being beaten, left for dead, shipwrecked, arrested, put in prison, and ultimately executed by the Romans.

We also know this about some of the Jews in Jerusalem.

And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law…

Acts 21:20 (ESV)

Jewswho have believed and all zealous for the law. Believing Jews zealous for the law. Jewish disciples of Jesus as the Messiah who were also zealous for the Torah.

Of course they were upset at the thought that Paul was rumored to be teaching against the law to the diaspora Jews. Of course they were upset when they thought he had taken Trophimus the Ephesian into the Temple (Acts 21:29).

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

Acts 21:27-28 (ESV)

Paul was believed by the Jews from Asia to have taken a Greek into the Temple, defiling it (think “Maccabees” and Chanukah), and speaking against the people (Jews) and the Torah, and they called to the crowds of Jerusalem Jews to help capture this “traitor.” Either that was true and Paul lied about it to save himself, or it was untrue and Paul was defending himself from these vicious rumors. As I mentioned, Paul lying about this seems completely inconsistent with what we know about his history. If he’s telling the truth and the rumors are false, then Paul never told the diaspora Jews to not circumcise their sons, to not observe Torah, and he never took a Gentile into the Temple or spoke against Jewish people or Israel.

But if Paul supported Jewish observance of Torah and circumcision and if there were Jerusalem Jews who were both believers and zealous for the Torah, then they obviously didn’t see any sort of inconsistency between faith in Messiah Jesus and a traditional Jewish life of Torah observance.

I think I gave Pastor something to think about but he is going to test my beliefs very stringently, as well he should.

What is Torah?

Silly question, right? Not according to the quote from Rabbi Maurice Lamm I put at the top of this blog post. And yet, Pastor Randy said that he and I need to have a working definition of “Torah” so that we can know what we’re supposed to be talking about in these conversations. When I say, Paul was a “Torah observant Jew,” what do I mean? I think I know what I mean, but the answer is far more complex than we might imagine.

simhat-torahIt’s also important to understand what “Torah” was in the days of Paul and the Apostles so that we can establish how that relates to what Torah is today. What “Torah” observance is appropriate for a modern “Messianic Jew” to follow? Are those practices identical to say, an Orthodox Jew? How does that observance relate to modern Jewish halachah, let alone the future of the Torah and the rebuilding of the Temple?

Rabbi Yanki Tauber calls the Torah a guidebook, a contract, an identity, a vision, and a daughter and wife. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman calls Torah “oneness.”

The writers at First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) say this about Torah:

The Torah is the foundation of faith in Yeshua. All of the concepts associated with the Gospel—such as God, holiness, righteousness, sin, sacrifice, repentance, faith, forgiveness, covenant, grace and the kingdom of heaven on earth—are introduced in the Torah. Basic sacraments and rituals like baptism, communion, prayer and blessing all come from the Torah. Faith in Jesus is meaningful because of the Torah. Without the Torah, the Gospel has no foundation on which to stand.

The Hebrew word torah is translated “law” in most of our English Bibles. The Torah is called the Law of Moses because Moses wrote it, but the Torah is more than just a legal code. The word “Torah” (תורה) is from the Hebrew root, yara (ירה) which means “to instruct,” or “to teach.” Although it does contain laws, Torah itself is not only a “law,” but it is God’s “teaching” and “instruction.” That explains why the word Torah is often used to refer to the whole Bible. From our perspective, even the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation fall under the broad definition of Torah. It’s all God’s instruction, and it’s all rooted in the Torah of Moses.

The Torah is the story of God’s people and how they came to be the people of God in the first place. The Torah is something all believers have in common. We all have this common ground. The Torah is our shared origin. It is God’s book.

And that hardly scratches the surface.

What is “Torah” relative to my conversations with Pastor Randy when trying to comprehend Paul, his letter to the Galatian churches, and the wider scope of how to understand Jews in Messiah today?

I am entertaining suggestions and comments. Please let me…let us know what you think and let’s see if we can be pointed in the right direction.