Tag Archives: Thomas Schreiner

Systems

broken-crossThe eye sees, and the heart desires.

-Rashi, Numbers 15:39

People cannot help when an improper impulse comes to mind, but they certainly can stop themselves from harboring the thought and allowing it to dominate their thinking. Yet, sometimes one may be responsible even for the impulse itself.

While some impulses are completely spontaneous, others arise out of stimulation. If a person reads, hears, or sees things which can provoke improper thoughts and feelings, he or she is then responsible for the impulses that are the consequences of that reading, listening, or observing.

This concept is especially important in our era, when not even a semblance of a code of decency exists as to what may or may not be publicly displayed. All varieties of media exploit our basest biological drives.

Given the interpretation of the right of free speech under which such provocative displays occur, the government has no way to restrain them. However, each person has not only a right, but also an obligation to be his or her own censor. No one has to look at everything that is displayed nor hear everything that is broadcast. Those who fail to exert their own personal censorship are tacitly stimulating immoral impulses, and for that alone they are liable.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid looking, hearing, and reading things which can have a degenerating effect.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 16”
Aish.com

I know that Rabbi Twerski was thinking of something else entirely, but when I consider trying to avoid exposing myself to things that have a “degenerating effect,” I have to include the world around me, including the world of “religion.” Well, “degenerating” isn’t the right term. “Discouraging” is.

Although you won’t read this until Sunday morning, I’m writing this on Thursday in response to my Wednesday night meeting with my Pastor. We were supposed to be discussing Chapter 8 in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but we got sidetracked on a few things.

I bring up the book because of my Pastor’s response to it. He told me that he was having difficulty accepting some of Lancaster’s assertions early on in the book out of concern that if he assented, he would end up traveling down a trail he didn’t agree with. That’s how I felt last night as Pastor and I talked about salvation, Jewish people, and the future of Judaism and Torah. I felt like I was being led to agree with doctrines that I wasn’t comfortable with but didn’t know how to refute. In going over the little pamphlet about Baptist Distinctives (that is, what makes the Baptist church different from all other churches), I could feel myself being tugged down the “garden path,” so to speak.

I ended our meeting by stepping out of the bowl of alphabet soup, all the letters and words of denominational doctrine and distinctives, and exploring actual experiences and relationships.

Well, sort of.

I’ve often imagined what it would have been like to live in the late Second Temple period in Jerusalem. What would it have been like to go into the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. How many people would be there? Who would I see? What would the air smell like? Then, I’d humbly kneel and pray to Hashem. This close to the actual “house of prayer for all peoples,” would I feel the tangible presence of the God of Israel? Would I hear the songs of the priests ministering in the inner court?

0 RI’ve often imagined what it would have been like to be one of the non-Hebrew shepherds tending the flocks of Abraham in Canaan. In the heat of the day, I watch him in the distance, studying his mannerisms and appearance, knowing that this is a man, among all human beings, who has spoken to God “face to face.” In the evenings after a meal, around the fire, would he teach us of his God? What would he tell us about a relationship with Him? How does one pray to the God of Abraham as a humble shepherd? In blessing Abraham, would I be blessing God and also myself? What a hard and yet simple life, living close to a prophet and to the One God.

We read “Bible stories” about “Bible characters” as if reading morality fables or fairy tales. We “know” that they’re real, but do we? It’s just words on a page. Does “Biblical inerrancy” result in forgetting that Abraham was and is a real human being? Do we discount the moments of his life we don’t find in the Bible but nevertheless, moments that must have occurred? When, in reading the Bible and praying, do we allow Abraham to stop being a work of “fiction” and become a living, breathing, talking, experiencing human being?

Religion is all about systems, and Christianity, in all of its flavors, is just another series of systems. The systems exist to tell us what the Bible means and how we are supposed to live our lives. The systems tell us what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, and what, if anything, we’re supposed to do about it.

But the systems totally ignore awe, majesty, terror, magnificence, and everything else everyone from Abraham in Canaan to a lowly, nameless goy in the Court of the Gentiles would experience in a living, breathing, bleeding, authentic, moment-by-moment encounter with God; the sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, thoughts, feelings, and dreams of actually being there instead of just reading the Bible and especially instead of filtering the Bible and everything else through religious systems that so very much remove us from authenticity and the jarring, electrifying, naked connection to our Creator.

I tried to explain how I thought that Jews and Gentiles both are a part of the unified body of Christ and yet the Jewish connection to the Sinai covenant and its conditions, the Torah, are not undone by that unity. I drew a diagram, which I’ve reproduced below, to explain my thoughts. “But the Jewish people haven’t accepted Christ, so they can’t be saved,” he says (I’m paraphrasing). “Not just faith in ‘a Messiah’ but ‘The Messiah,’ in Jesus,” he says (I’m paraphrasing again).

Something’s wrong. I’m agreeing to things I’m not sure about. My Pastor is so sure of so many things that I think we can only see through “a glass darkly,” and that exist as much in the realm of God as they do in the material world. I don’t know how to explain it, so it’s difficult to know what to say.

covenant_chart1And there are so many other people who seem so sure about unsure things. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning, just one day after being sentenced to 35 years in Federal Prison for releasing 700,000 secret military documents to Wikileaks, should come out as transsexual and declare that he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman, obviously changing how prison will be “applied” to Manning.

Religious systems. We craft them saying that we see their foundations in the Bible. But we craft them to say whatever we believe is important to us, and thus they reflect the political and social agendas and imperatives of the occupants of these systems. Extracting religious systems from the Bible is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, but because human beings are involved, they end up dramatically contradicting each other, sometimes (often?) based on generational changes in attitudes.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think I’d make a good Baptist, not because I have anything against Baptists per se, but because I don’t think any denomination or modern religious stream, old school or new, holds all the keys and unlocks all the doors.

I know they think they do. They all think they do. But being an outsider, I can see a different perspective. I can see lots of perspectives, and none of them make a lot of sense. Pastor pretty much agrees with what he reads in Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law and I can barely stand a single thing Schreiner wrote.

Pastor is also reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. He’s just finished the chapter written by Scott J. Hafemann, “The Redemption of Israel for the Sake of the Gentiles” and he likes it very much. I’m going to re-read it to refresh my memory of the text. What did the Pastor see in this chapter that we can agree upon?

Can there be a peace? Or is the only peace in the presence of God and to heck with the systems?

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It Isn’t Done

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

Leviticus 23:9-14 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 21:5-7 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

Schreiner and Acts 15

Apostle-Paul-PreachesThe so-called apostolic decree is described by Luke in Acts 15. The leaders of the churches from Jerusalem and Antioch met in Jerusalem to determine whether circumcision would be mandatory for Gentiles who believed Jesus was the Messiah. As we saw…they decided that circumcision was not necessary. But James recommended that the Gentiles follow four other prescriptions, and these laws often are called the apostolic decree.

Why are these requirements added after the church has agreed that Gentiles are free from the requirement of circumcision? Does the law come in the back door after it has been shut out the front door? And what do these requirements mean?

-Thomas Schreiner
“Question 31: What Is the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15 and What Does It Contribute to Luke’s Theology of Law?” pg 181
40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law

I hadn’t intended to write anymore about my impressions of this book. I didn’t think Schreiner had anything more to say to me that I hadn’t read in earlier parts of his work. He is just restating the same point of view and applying it to different parts of the Bible. In reading Schreiner, he seems almost like the poster child for Biblical eisegesis, reading his theology into the text rather than, by exegesis, developing his belief systems from out of the text.

But Acts 15 is near and dear to my heart, so I thought I’d present my impressions of Schreiner and how he perceives the four apostolic decrees.

Even in the above-quoted opening passages, we see that Schreiner continues to link circumcision and any behavioral expectations for Gentile believers as a direct requirement for non-Jewish disciples to respond to “the law.” But he misses that “circumcision” is shorthand for “conversion to Judaism,” so what we see is that James and the Apostolic Council did not require that Gentiles convert to Judaism and take on board the full yoke of Torah in order to have a covenant connection to God and join the community of the Way.

In Acts 15:1, the question was, “Do Gentiles need to convert to Judaism and observe Torah in order to be saved?” However, salvation, from a Jewish perspective, while it can be individual, is understood as corporate. The expectation of the Messiah is that he would “save” Israel nationally and corporately, by returning the exiled Jews to their Land, establishing peace and security for national Israel, including removing all military threats (which at that time meant removing Roman occupation from Israel), and placing Israel at the head of all nations, with Messiah as King.

In order to be “saved,” would Gentile disciples have to join Israel nationally by converting to Judaism? This, of course, would be in addition to being saved from their sins and meriting a place in the world to come.

The Council’s decision was “no,” which should please Schreiner, since they are saying that one does not have to be obligated to Torah obedience in order to have personal salvation. Corporate salvation is another story, but I’d interpret that as Messiah establishing peace for all countries on Earth, hence, we are “saved” by the provision of peace among the nations as well as in Israel.

But Schreiner still doesn’t get why Gentile believers should have any behavioral requirements at all. That just seems too much like “the law” and any “law” should only be applied to the circumcised. Really?

Schreiner goes on to say:

…but this should not be interpreted as if there are not moral requirements for believers. Gentiles would misinterpret freedom from the law if they thought they were free to worship idols, murder their neighbors, commit sexual sin, and mistreat others.

D.T. LancasterOK, so we do have behavioral expectations and they don’t have to function like “the law” as such. But if Schreiner objects to the four decrees of the apostles, then where are these “moral requirements” supposed to come from? Schreiner doesn’t answer the question in this chapter, but based on other portions of his book, I gather that in our communion with the Holy Spirit, we would be guided in all things, including righteous behavior as Christians. The “law” is written on our hearts. So, why the decrees, then? Schreiner examines different perspectives including one of which I’m familiar:

Richard Bauckham proposes an even more specific interpretation, finding the key in the phrase “in your/their midst” in Leviticus 17:8, 10, 12, 13, and 18:26. According to Bauckham, these commands, which are based on Leviticus 17-18, were required of Gentiles who lived in the midst of Israel. The commands, then, do not represent a pragmatic compromise to facilitate fellowship between Jews and Gentiles according to Bauckham. On the contrary, these commands were required of Gentiles who lived in the midst of Israel

-Schreiner, pp 182-3

I wrote a commentary of this viewpoint as it was presented by D. Thomas Lancaster in Torah Club, Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles. Schreiner, of course, disagrees with Bauckham and thus Lancaster, but then goes on to say something I consider rather amazing.

One of the problems with Bauckham’s solution relates to Paul. According to Acts, Paul was at the apostolic council and accepted the apostolic decree. Bauckham thinks that Paul later changed his mind and ended up rejecting the council’s decrees.

-ibid, pg 183

What? When did Paul do this? It’s not in Acts 15 and it would have been illogical for Paul to accept the limitations of the decree upon himself as a Jew. The decree was issued as a solution to how Gentiles could be allowed to enter a Jewish religious space as equal members and with a covenant connection to God. The Council decided that Gentiles would not be required to convert to Judaism and take upon themselves the full yoke of Torah (my Return to Jerusalem series goes into all of the details). The Council’s decision was incumbent upon only the Gentiles in the Way.

Paul was Jewish, so the Council’s decision had nothing to do with him personally, nor any other Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah. I have no idea how Bauckham (or Schreiner) could think otherwise. It doesn’t make sense.

fracturedSchreiner’s final conclusion is that the apostolic decree was put in place to smooth over the relationship between Gentiles and Jews and that obedience to the decrees was not a Gentile requirement for salvation. Schreiner reads Acts 15:21 not as an indication that Gentiles should “learn Torah” in order to better understand the teachings of Jesus (which are all based on a close understanding of Torah) but in order to learn “Jewish sensibilities” and to become “acquainted with customs that bothered Jews.”

I agree that obeying the apostolic decree or for that matter, any or all of the Torah mitzvot does not provide personal salvation apart from faith in God through Moshiach, but not only does Schreiner completely misunderstand the purpose of the decree (which can be unpacked and understood as a much more in-depth compilation of behavioral requirements), but he clearly doesn’t comprehend that the decree was not designed to impact Jewish obedience to God.

Schreiner’s understanding of Acts 15 is firmly rooted in his dismissal of all of the covenant connections of the Jewish people and Israel with God and his replacement of the Torah as the God-given method of Jewish obedience to God with the law-free Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 19:7-14 (NASB)

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

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

Psalm 119:25-27 (NASB)

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

So how does Schreiner respond to his own question?

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

Schreiner, pp 85-6

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

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

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

ibid, pp 86-7

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

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

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

But what about this?

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

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

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

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

As my Jewish wife might say, “Oy!”

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

I wonder when that happened?

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

-ibid

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

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

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

And what about this?

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

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, Curses, and Works of the Law

torah-nailed-to-the-cross…those who support the New Perspective on Paul, such as J.D.G. Dunn…and N.T. Wright…maintain that “works of the law” focuses on the boundary markers that separate Jews and Gentiles. The boundary markers, or identity badges, of Judaism were circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath. The problem with the Judaism in Paul’s day, then, was not legalism but exclusivism. “Works of law” highlights the nationalistic spirit of the Jews by which they excluded Gentiles from the promises of God. According to his interpretation, Paul does not indict the Jews for their failure to obey the law. Their fault was not inability but separatism.

-Thomas Schreiner from his book
40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law
Question 5: What Does the Expression “Works of Law” Mean in Paul? pg 42

My previous review on earlier chapters of Schreiner’s book can be found in this morning’s “meditation,” Captured in the Glass. Please read that article before proceeding here.

It took me until this fifth chapter, uh…question to realize that Schreiner was writing this book primarily, or at least significantly, in order to refute the “New Perspective on Paul.” The New Perspective on Paul is actually a formal, academic interpretation of the writings of Paul, supported by a number of New Testament scholars. It also seems to dovetail nicely into the viewpoints of some commentators on Messianic Judaism, particularly those to support the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah relative to covenant signs (circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath).

But according to Schreiner, these scholars are dead wrong. I suspect that’s why my Pastor gave me this book. It really is a compelling book, but not in the way Pastor may have intended it.

Here’s Schreiner’s point of view on “works of the law.”

…”works of law” refers to the entire law and the actions that are required by the law. This is the most likely reading of Romans 3:20 (“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”) and Gal. 3:10 (“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them'”).

-ibid

As noted above, I wrote about earlier “questions” in Schreiner’s book in my previous blog post and apparently the subsequent questions form the foundation for later parts of the text. Unfortunately so do the errors that were previously established as well. As I mentioned before, Schreiner himself states that observing the Torah mitzvot was a perfectly acceptable response to obeying God after He redeemed the Israelites from Egypt and apparently it was OK until the coming of Jesus.

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

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

Even Schreiner acknowledges that Paul sincerely believed that the Torah was the authoritative word of God for the Jewish people. So what’s Schreiner’s beef with “works of the law?”

A number of arguments support the idea that “works of law” refers to the entire law and the deeds commanded by it…”Works of law” most naturally refers to all deeds commanded by the law. There is no reason to think that it is limited to or focuses on only part of the law, or that it refers to “evil works,” or that it refers to legalism.

-ibid, pg 43

So what? So what if “works of the law” refers to the Torah as a whole? I still maintain that Paul was talking about Jewish and Gentile people who believed that one needed to keep the whole of Torah without error in order to be saved. If you believe keeping the mitzvot will save you instead of faith in God, then you’ve got a problem. I agree. No matter how many of the mitzvot you perform and no matter how well you perform them, those acts are not what saves you from sin and death. Abraham had faith and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3).

If the mitzvot was a perfectly good response of obedience to God after Israel’s redemption in the days of Moses, why is it a problem in the days of Paul?

I know what you’re thinking. Schreiner thinks the same way.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

James 2:10 (NASB)

jewish-repentanceSchreiner’s argument from Question 7: Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Mandatory for Salvation? states that the law is impossible to keep perfectly and therefore no one can be saved by keeping the law. He’s rocketing toward the supersessionistic conclusion that in order to be saved, Jews must abandon the Torah (which he erroneously believes Paul did) and cling to Jesus and grace in order to be saved. He is correct in that God expected Israel to observe the mitzvot, but he forgets that God established provisions for the Israelites when they sinned. He uses examples such as Proverbs 20:9 and Ecclesiastes 7:20 to demonstrate how the “Old Testament” Jews couldn’t keep the law and of course, he uses Romans 3:10 to indicate how the “New Testament” Jews couldn’t keep the law either.

But he is building his argument on sand or rather, on a false premise.

Those who do not do everything the law commands are cursed.

Galatians 3:10b

Schreiner’s problem is that he assumes it was God’s intention that Israel keep the law perfectly in order to be saved…salvation by works. Would God really expect that? He didn’t seem to in Genesis 15. He redeemed Israel before He gave the Torah at Sinai (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode Exile and Redemption for the actual, Biblical definition of “redemption,” which is much more than how Schreiner understands the term), so obviously that redemption or salvation was not based on the Israelites keeping the Torah, being obedient, or any other form of “works-based salvation.”

So what was Paul complaining about, then? What was his problem with the law? His problem was with people, both Jews and Gentiles, who erroneously thought just keeping the law would save them. That’s why he was against Gentiles converting to Judaism (see the Book of Galatians), since they were laboring under the false teaching that they had to keep the law in order to be saved.

That wasn’t Paul’s understanding of the law and it certainly wasn’t God’s.

But if Paul is saying that those who convert to Judaism and thus who are bound to the Sinai covenant and its conditions, the mitzvot of Torah, don’t keep the law perfectly, and not keeping the law perfectly doesn’t cause them to lose their salvation, what is this curse Paul’s talking about?

You’ll find the blessings the Israelite were to receive for observing the mitzvot and the curses they were to suffer from for disobedience in next week’s Torah Portion Ki Tavo: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8. The actual actions that must be committed in order to be cursed are listed in verses Deuteronomy 27:15-26 and 28:15-19. So what are the consequences of being cursed?

The Lord will let loose against you calamity, panic, and frustration in all the enterprises you undertake, so that you shall soon be utterly wiped out because of your evildoing in forsaking Me. The Lord will make pestilence cling to you, until He has put an end to you in the land that you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew; they shall hound you until you perish. The skies above your head shall be copper and the earth under you iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land dust, and sand shall drop on you from the sky, until you are wiped out.

The Lord will put you to rout before your enemies; you shall march out against them by a single road, but flee from them by many roads; and you shall become a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your carcasses shall become food for all the birds of the sky and all the beasts of the earth, with none to frighten them off.

The Lord will strike you with the Egyptian inflammation, with hemorrhoids, boil-scars, and itch, from which you shall never recover.

The Lord will strike you with madness, blindness, and dismay. You shall grope at noon as a blind man gropes in the dark; you shall not prosper in your ventures, but shall be constantly abused and robbed, with none to give help.

Deuteronomy 28:20-29 (JPS Tanakh)

gerizim_ebalThat’s not the entire list, of course. You’ll have to read the rest of that chapter to find all of the curses. None of them says that the Children of Israel will lose their salvation and go to Hell when they die if they don’t keep the law perfectly.

Whenever Israel has been unfaithful to God and to their sincere, faithful obedience to the mitzvot, what consequence has God delivered to Israel? What consequence do we always see in the Tanakh (Old Testament)? What effects of these consequences do we see to this very day?

The Lord will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced. Yet even among those nations you shall find no peace, nor shall your foot find a place to rest. The Lord will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and a despondent spirit. The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival. In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!” — because of what your heart shall dread and your eyes shall see. The Lord will send you back to Egypt in galleys, by a route which I told you you should not see again. There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but none will buy.

Deuteronomy 28:64-68 (JPS Tanakh)

War, famine, destruction of the cities of Israel, and exile to the diaspora.

What was Paul’s problem? Did he know what was coming? Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire. At a thought, the Romans could swoop down on Israel, destroy the Temple, raze Jerusalem, and remove the Jewish people from their Land. If you were born Jewish in the late Second Temple period, there must have been an exceptional sense of being responsible for performing the mitzvot, since they knew the consequences of failure. But how could Gentile believers and God-fearers who were only somewhat familiar with the Torah, truly understand he horrendous consequences of converting to Judaism, being bound by the Torah, and what would happen if they weren’t obedient? The lived memory of all of the previous disasters that had befallen Israel, including the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian exile, were imprinted on every single Jew. But how could the Goyim who had recently come to faith in Messiah even begin to understand?

Was this Paul’s motivation? Probably not entirely, but it must have factored in. The other motivation is that it simply wasn’t necessary for Gentiles to convert, since, as I’ve been trying to hammer home, keeping the law does not save you!!! Any Christian who states this as the reason Paul “rejected” the law is barking up the wrong tree. Not only does a Gentile converting to Judaism and taking up the mitzvot not save that Gentile (and it doesn’t save Jewish people, either), but it makes that Gentile and lots of others like him/her a loaded gun pointed at the head of Israel. A bunch of Gentiles who don’t know squat about a experiential Torah lifestyle abruptly converting to Judaism on the mistaken notion that it will save them (and that Jesus isn’t enough) means a whole pool of “newbies” have just been primed to lead Israel into the next disaster because they don’t realize the tremendous responsibility they possess.

As it turns out, that disaster happened anyway, but I can see Paul’s point in saying that anyone who doesn’t keep the law perfectly brings a curse upon themselves and Israel. No, one little screw up wouldn’t do it, but lots and lots of Jews (including converts) over a sustained period of time who were being disobedient always resulted in exactly those curses being delivered by God upon Israel (and please understand that after each exile, God always redeemed and restored the Jews to their Land).

the-divine-torahWhen Paul said that anyone who does not keep the law is under a curse, it has nothing to do with salvation and going to Hell. It does not mean the Torah is bad. It does not mean Jews in Messiah should give up the mitzvot. It does not mean Jewish faith in God and performance of the commandments are mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. Jesus gives the mitzvot their full meaning. He was the only Jewish person to ever keep the mitzvot perfectly. He’s the poster child for Torah obedience. He also takes away the curses of failing to be perfect and remember, even Jesus said, Be perfect for your Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Did Jesus expect his Jewish disciples to keep the law perfectly? How could he? We have a Biblical record that no one ever kept the law perfectly. What is being perfect? Works? Heaven forbid! What justifies us before God? Works? Not a chance. It’s faith. It’s always been faith. If a Jew keeps the law, no matter how imperfectly, are they instantly sent to Hell, are they sent to Hell when they die, or are they even instantly exiled from their Land? No. The consequences are for a faithlessness, corporate Israel, and faithlessness leads to lack of obedience. Lack of obedience is the symptom, the indicator of lack of faith. That’s the trigger for the consequences, the curses.

In Messiah, the curses are redeemed, removed, done with.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:13-14

Yes, if Jesus removed the curse of the Law, then why would believing Gentiles converting to Judaism be a threat? Because, as we see from Paul’s argument in Galatians, the Gentiles were under the mistaken impression that keeping the Law justified them. In the end, if Israel believed observance of the mitzvot also justified them apart from faith, then that’s the recipe for exile.

Jesus died to redeem us from sin. He paid the price. He died for us. As Paul told the churches in Galatia, Jesus opened the door so both Jews and Gentiles could come to faith and thus be justified before God. In his death and resurrection, he fulfilled that part of the Abrahamic covenant that says he is the “seed” that blesses all the nations.

But also, in Messiah, Jewish believers are free from the curses and the obligation to be perfect, for only in Messiah is anyone considered justified before God. In Acts 15:10 Peter called the law a “burden.” Why would he say that? On some level, maybe it was. Maybe part of what Messiah brings to the table for the Jewish people is the freedom from the curses of the Law so that they are free to observe the mitzvot without a “burden.” This sets the stage so the Jewish people can ultimately be returned to their Land, to Israel, by Messiah.

For the Jewish people, faith and observance go hand in hand, Jewish observance of the mitzvot is the outward response and indicator of faith.

I have to thank Schreiner and my Pastor for this book. My brain is still percolating, I’m shooting from the hip, and half-rambling in this blog post, but I think I’m coming to a better understanding of Paul, the law, and maybe even Galatians. I think I’m getting closer to the Christian puzzle of “the law is bad.” I hope as I continue reading Schreiner’s book that my brain will be opened up and God will provide more illumination. I feel like He’s flipped the switch. Maybe it’s just a night-light so far. But the dawn is coming.

For more on this, see the commentary “Blessings Over Curses” at JewishJournal.com.

The next review in this series is Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin.

Captured in the Glass

dust-and-ashesThen the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground…

Genesis 2:7 (NASB)

…we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen.

-from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer

That’s how I feel sometimes. Like ashes. Like dust.

I’m no theologian. I just finished reading Jobes’s and Silva’s book Invitation to the Septuagint. The title is rather deceptive, since after the first few chapters, the book is anything but introductory. I came away from the text realizing that it’s amazing how Bible scholars act like they are sure of so much. I’m stunned at how we can be certain of anything at all about the Bible. I knew this already, but the book reminded me that translating ancient texts is an almost impossible task, especially if you’re going to do something crazy with the translations like establish binding theology and doctrine for large groups of human beings, telling them the intent of God for their lives.

How can we be so sure of every, single, tiny, detail that we say we’re certain about? Can we say what God and Moses talked about on Sinai for every minute of those forty days and forty nights? Do we know what it actually felt like to stand in the presence of Jesus, to have watched him right before he began to teach on any given morning? Do we fully, completely understand the lived experience of what it was like to be a human being listening to the prophesies of Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, at the places and times where and when they lived and breathed?

We have words on a page, but that must pale in comparison to the original intent and action of the spoken words of Moses as he addressed all of Israel on the banks of the Jordan only hours and minutes before his death.

Who am I to tell anyone what I think as if I have any better thoughts than anyone else?

Sometimes I feel like I’m ready to give up spewing my thoughts and feelings into the blogosphere on a daily basis. Then I read something like this:

Another scholar who concurred with Sanders’s reading of Judaism was Heikki Räisänen, who retired from the University of Helsinki in 2006. Räisänen adopted a more radical solution than Sanders. If Sanders’s portrait of Second Temple Judaism is correct, then how do we explain Paul? Räisänen argued that the idea that Paul is a coherent and logical thinker is flawed. In other words, Paul’s theology of law is shot through with contradictions and is fundamentally incoherent. Scholars have labored to articulate Paul’s theology of the law as if it represented a consistent system of thought. They have generally failed to realize, according to Räisänen, that Paul operated with two fundamentally contradictory presuppositions. On the one hand, he posited that the Old Testament law was God’s authoritative word. On the other hand, he insisted that Gentiles were not required to observe the Old Testament law. Naturally, says Räisänen, Paul could not reconcile these two ideas since they are mutually exclusive.

-Thomas Schreiner from his book
40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law
Question 4: What Is the New Perspective on Paul, and How Should It Be Assessed? pp 36-7

So close and yet so far. I believe Räisänen and ultimately Schreiner are missing the point. Räisänen lays it all out like a dream but still doesn’t grasp what Paul was doing. There was (and is) no contradiction between Paul’s view of the Torah and not requiring Gentile believers to keep it. Paul simply understood that Jewish believers continued to be bound to the Sinai covenant and the Gentiles were not.

Pastor Randy gifted me with this book a few weeks ago and I just started reading it yesterday (as I write this). There are significant parts I agree with and then there are parts that I believe miss the point. Yeah. Here’s me putting my thoughts and feelings out on the Internet again, non-theologian than I am. Go figure.

On the other hand, I thought Schreiner was more or less spot on in Question 2: Was the Mosaic Covenant Legalistic? when he said:

The giving of the law followed the salvation of Israel, and hence such obedience signified Israel’s grateful response to the redemption accomplished by the Lord. There is no basis in the text for the idea that Israel’s obedience established a relationship with the Lord. The Lord took the initiative in rescuing his people, and they were called upon to respond with faithful obedience.

-Schreiner, pg 26

Mount SinaiSchreiner almost has it right (IMHO) but he seems to believe that the Israelites observed the mitzvot out of emotional gratitude for being saved. This is a very Christian way of thinking. I agree that observing the Torah in a mechanical fashion does not make anyone right with God. It never did. However, once the Israelites were redeemed by God and agreed that He would be their God and they would be His people, He gave the Torah to the Israelites and they were expected to observe it.

When they didn’t, as the Tanakh (Old Testament) tells us, they didn’t lose their “salvation” (keeping in mind that Jewish people don’t think of salvation the same way we Christians do), but rather, they tended to lose their right to live in the Land of Israel and to enjoy personal and national freedom. They faced war, captivity, exile, and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Exodus 20:12 (NASB)

This is just one of the Torah mitzvot, contained in what we refer to as “the Ten Commandments,” that directly ties obedience to the mitzvot with continued residency in the Land of Israel.

I say all this because, in spite of the fact that Schreiner clearly states that Torah obedience is not and never has been tied to personal salvation and redemption by God, he subsequently becomes “confused.”

Consequently, Sanders’s claim that Second Temple Judaism did not emphasize the role of works in obtaining salvation is overstated. The Jewish sources do not so neatly support his contention that Second Temple Judaism was a religion of grace. At the very least some segments of Judaism focused on human obedience and had fallen prey to a kind of legalism.

We have significant evidence that Paul rejects the law because of human inability and that some of his opponents had fallen prey to legalism…

-Schreiner, pp 38-9

OK, Schreiner is talking about the practices of Judaism (Judaisms, really) during the Second Temple period and saying that some of the streams of Judaism believed that it was the scrupulous observance of the mitzvot that “saved” someone rather than faith in Hashem.

…and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

Matthew 3:9

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:1

phariseesI tend to agree that the connection between faith and obedience became lost by many Jewish people in those days. Given that Israel was an occupied nation and that the Jewish people had no reason at all to love or regard the Gentiles, a form of ethnic and national “pride,” and in some cases, “egotism” was to be expected. You see that in any oppressed population. But if, as we have seen Schreiner state in earlier portions of his book, the Torah was considered a valid and indeed commanded form of response to God by the Israelites in ancient times, why was it suddenly so hard to obey in the late Second Temple era? Furthermore, why, given that we already know from Schreiner’s book, not to mention the Biblical record, would Paul, who esteemed the Torah as God’s Holy Word, ever reject it?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that a lot of what Paul wrote really does seem contradictory. We have an extraordinarily difficult time in the 21st century trying to figure Paul out. In fact, Christians have been trying to understand Paul for who knows how long? My opinion is that he is woefully misunderstood and miscast in the role of the villain who took the teachings of Jesus and made them anti-Law and anti-Jewish. I’m not alone in this opinion.

…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

2 Peter 3:15-16

Peter admitted that Paul’s writings were hard to understand and that even during the time in which Peter was writing, “untaught and unstable” people were distorting Paul’s words. How much more do we experience this distortion as we work from copies of copies of copies of his original writings, translated again and again, and on top of all that, rigidly filtered through the smoky lens of thousands of years of Christian theology and doctrine?

The reason that Schreiner can’t figure out the contradiction between Paul’s reverence for the Torah of Moses and Paul’s specifically not requiring the Gentile believers to keep the Torah in the manner of the Jews, as well as forbidding them to circumcise and thus convert to Judaism, is that the Christian lens of theology and doctrine is not designed to “see” the obvious resolution.

I know I’ve said this before, but when we understand how the Abrahamic covenant ties all nations to the Messianic promise by faith but links only the descendants of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob to the Sinai covenant, then we realize on what basis Paul, and the Council of the Apostles in their binding ruling of halachah for the Gentiles, established that the Gentile believers had a different legal status; one that didn’t require conversion to Judaism and being yoked to the entire mitzvot of Torah.

I’ll say it again for any Christians reading this. Keeping Torah or not keeping Torah is not an issue of personal salvation. The fact that Jewish people, including those who have faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, observe the Torah mitzvot doesn’t save them, but that doesn’t mean the Sinai covenant no longer applies to them. Paul, James, and the Council absolved the Gentile believers from having to take on board the same yoke. Once saved, we were given a status somewhat like non-Jewish people living among Israel (but not identical to the ancient Gerim) and obligated to a modified set of the mitzvot that, on the surface, seem deceptively simple.

shattered-glassBut there’s nothing I can see in the writings of Paul, especially the record of his life we read about in Luke’s Book of Acts, that tells us Paul dispensed with Torah observance in his own life, taught other Jews to do such a thing, or ever, ever disconnected Torah observance from the proper Jewish response to God.

I know this book is going to cause me more than a few headaches. It already has, and I’ve only read four of the questions. I’ve got thirty-six more to go. I suspect that my conversations with Pastor will be very dynamic. Hopefully, my conversations on this blog will be dynamic as well.

Our view of Paul is like he described our understanding of the Bible and God, as seen “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our beliefs, theology, doctrines, and dogma are captured in that glass, trapped in crystal, frozen in amber. It’s time to take a big brick and start pounding on that glass, which was heated, blown, and cast by men who have long since died, and take a fresh look at Paul, Moses, Jesus, Torah, the Bible, and God.

Religious Judaism is accused of taking the Bible and weaving tons and tons of interpretations and traditions around it so that the original intent of the text is barely recognizable. What Protestant Christianity doesn’t realize is that we’ve done exactly the same thing with our post-Reformation, post-modern theologies and doctrines. That we are told we must see Paul’s love of Torah as God’s authoritative word, and his command to the Gentiles that they (we) are not required to observe Torah as mutually exclusive, is a perfect example of our own tradition-induced blindness in the church.

The next part of my review of Schreiner’s book can be found in Blessings, Curses, and Works of the Law.