A Christian Pastor’s Yom Kippur Plea for Forgiveness from the Jewish People

ON THIS YOM KIPPUR, I AM WRITING TO ASK YOU, THE JEWISH PEOPLE, FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS FOR EVERY ANTISEMITIC THOUGHT, WORD, AND ACTION COMMITTED AGAINST YOU BY CHRISTIANS.  I am writing this, because I am hoping that other Christians will read this and join me in my petition.  I am also writing this because I do not have the means to go to every Jew in the world and to personally make this request.  But I am writing this, not only as a Christian, but also as a pastor who dearly loves HaShem (G-d) and His Torah.  Although my obedience is not where it should be, I am still striving towards the goal of walking in obedience to HaShem (G-d).

Last night, my wife and I began our fast and read the passages in the Torah that dealt with Yom Kippur.  But early this morning, HaShem (G-d) woke me up and moved on me to write this letter to you.  I was not asked to write this by any Christian leader or organization, nor am I doing this for any other reason than to seek your forgiveness.  I am fully aware of the many vile atrocities that has been done to you by Christians, all in the name of Jesus Christ, such as the pograms, the inquisition, and the Holocaust, which was the most vile of all the atrocities.  But I am also aware that these are but the tip of the iceburg of the many sins that Christians have committed against you since the first century, C.E.

By giving your forgiveness, you are not saying what was done to you was okay, nor are you letting people go who should be punished.  Instead, you are setting yourselves free from the chains of bitterness, hate, anger, revenge, depression, sadness, or any other chain that was put upon you as a result of this sins.  I am writing this so that you may e set free.

I am, therefore, publicly acknowledging that we Christians have sinned against you.  Our hands are not just “tainted” with your blood, but our hands, minds, bodies, and our very history are soaked in your blood.  I cannot justify any of it, nor am I going to try to do so.  We have sinned by coveting your role and position with God, we have sinned by bearing false witness against you by calling you “Christ-killers” and by accusing you of “blood-libel,” the false and horrendous accusation that any Jew would kidnap and kill a Christian child in order to make Passover food was, indeed, a horrible and grievous lie.  And we have sinned by not loving our neighbor, and committing murder more times than history has been able to record.

But our greatest sin against the Jewish people is that we have done all these things in the name of Jesus.  For example, when Jewish men, women, and children were rounded up in a town and village, and locked inside the synagogue there, and then Christians would set the building on fire, while standing outside, singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers!”  The horror of our crimes against you is multiplied 100 fold, because in doing these hellish acts in His name, we distorted, twisted, perverted, impugned, and profaned His name among you.  We have so misrepresented Him and His teachings by our many sins against you, that we have caused you to view Him and His name as something vile and evil.  Nor has our actions been representative of the teachings of the B’rit Chadasha (“Renewed Covenant”; popularly called the “New Testament”).  If anything, we have committed vile desecration and violence against it as well.

We did not show you the true Yeshua of the B’rit Chadasha or of history.  The Yeshua who was circumcised on the eighth day, and redeemed as the first born in keeping with the writings of Moses.  The Yeshua who grew up as an Orthodox Jew, by Yosef, a Tzaddik (trans. “just”) in relation to the Torah, and even Ya’acov (“Jacob”; trans. “James”) is described not only as a Tazddik, but also was a Nazarite from birth, much like Samuel and Samson.  Yeshua had 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters.

Not only did he grow up in an Orthodox Jewish family, but he and his family regularly attended Shul (synagogue) where he was a regular reader of the Torah.  He and his family kept the Shabbat, the mo’edim (feasts), kept kosher, etc.  Not only did he keep every yodh and decorative stroke of the Torah, but he dearly loved his people, the Jews, and the land of Israel.  He would go out of his way to embrace and bless the Jewish children who loved being around him, as well as he loved and ministered to any Jew who was sick, diseased, downtrodden, helpless, or was considered a social outcast.

Even his early talmidim (disciples) were Orthodox Jews who dearly loved HaShem (G-d) and were all zealous in their observance of the Torah.  Yeshua did not encourage anyone to dismiss or to abrogate the keeping of the Torah; in fact, his talmidim learned their zeal and passion for the Torah from him.   This is the Yeshua you should have rightly been introduced to, but was not.  I am saddened by people who have lifted things out of context, or were horribly misunderstood, and then presented him as opposing the Torah when he was not.  He, in fact, was dearly loved by the Jewish masses in Israel; however, there were a few influential Jewish leaders who felt threatened by his popularity and opposed him.  But should all Jews be blamed for their sin against him, particularly since 98% of Jews, during the 2nd Temple period of the 1st century, C.E., actually lived outside the land of Israel and had NEVER seen him, heard him teach, or watched him heal or do any other miracles?

No, absolutely not!  In fact, for Christianity to blame all Jews since the 1st century up to the present for what a few corrupt leaders did is heinous and simply abominable.  Yeshua compared Israel to a precious garden, or vineyard, that He taught his talmidim (disciples) that they were to tenderly care for the people and the land.  And although it started that way, it did not stay that way.

At first, when Goyim (Gentiles; non-Jews) were allowed to join the movement, they viewed themselves as being a part of a Jewish movement within Second Temple Judaism, but then other Goyim (Gentiles) entered who sought to take the movement away from Judaism and to form their own religion.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) saw this coming, and he warned various congregation about it for three years, he writes, with tears.  It broke his heart, but even he couldn’t do anything to stop it.  And indeed, as he predicted, “the wolves” came in and led to Christians breaking away from the original Jewish movement to form their own religion.  A religion that turned on its mother, Israel, as well as the same movement that originally brought them the “good news” of Mashiach and the Ga’ulah (the redemption).

Do I believe that Yeshua is Moshiakh ben Yosef and Moshiakh ben Aaron?  Yes.  Do I believe that HaShem (G-d) used his horrible death to reverse the damage caused by Adam and Chavah (Eve) in the Garden, as well as fulfilled the promise that HaShem (G-d) made to Avraham Avinu (our father) when He walked between the pieces in Avraham‘s vision?  Yes.  Do I believe that HaShem (G-d) raised him bodily from death, and then sat him on the right hand of Power, and will one day restore him to Jerusalem, when he will fulfill all the prophecies regarding Moshiakh ben David?  Yes.

But do I believe any of these beliefs have given any Christian the right to ill-treat, persecute, or do any violence at all to any Jew?  No, absolutely NOT!  I am gratefully aware that there were some Christians who were “righteous Gentiles” who risked, or sacrificed, their lives in order to save the lives of Jewish men, women, and children.  But the unfortunate truth is that they were few in comparison to those who did not do the same.

I am not writing all this to “stir up trouble” between Christians and Jews, but actually for the opposite reason: there needs to be forgiveness and shalom (peace) between us.  We cannot get to this point if we only suppress or try to hide the evil and pain of the past.  We need to get it out on the table, confess and acknowledge the heinous evils (sins) that were done, and then to ask for forgiveness.

But in addition to asking for your forgiveness for the sins Christians in general have committed against you, I must ask for your forgiveness for my own sins as well.  My wife and I were in Jerusalem two years ago for a period of three months.  It was the first time that I have ever been outside of the United States.  But even though we were treated well by most people there, including making some Jewish friends, there were times when I could’ve reached out in love to a Jewish man, woman, or child, and I did not.  There were times when I could’ve spoken a word of encouragement or told a Jew how much HaShem (G-d) loved them, how He has not changed, nor has He changed any of His Torah, but I did not.  There were also times when I could have reached out a kind hand, or sat down and learned from various Jews, including the Chasidim, but did not take the advantage to do so.  If I had, I would’ve hoped that they would’ve learned of my own love for HaShem, and my love, and sometimes struggle, with the Torah.  But I didn’t do any of these things because I allowed fear and intimidation to capture my mind and my heart.  And as a result, I lost these opportunities.  So today, on Yom Kippur, I pray and ask HaShem (G-d) for His forgiveness for my fear and disobedience, and I ask the forgiveness of you, the Jewish people, as well.

Finally, I am writing this petition and prayer because I sincerely believe it is what HaShem (G-d) wants me to do.  I do not know if any Christian has publicly confessed and asked forgiveness to you, the Jewish people, for the vast sins that Christians have committed against you, but I felt as a Christian and as a pastor, that this was something that He wanted me to do.  If no one has, then this is long past due.  I am aware that there are many Christians since the Holocaust who have sought to bless Israel, the Jewish people, and that there is this growing awareness among many Jews that there are Christians who are not Israel’s enemies, but allies and friends.  And this is awesome, but I also want there to be forgiveness and shalom between us as well.

So with a sincere and contrite heart, I offer you my petition for your forgiveness and shalom.  I wish only HaShem’s best for every one of you.  And perhaps, if there’s finally forgiveness and shalom (peace) between us, Christians and Jews, we will finally fulfill the calling that Hashem (G-d) has for each of us, and He will return the Messiah to the earth again, and we will finally experience the wondrous peace and prosperity of the Messianic era.

Shalom v’chesed,

Chris L Verschage
Pastor
Cocopah Assembly of God
Somerton, AZ., USA

 

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THERE’S MORE TO REPENTANCE THAN SAYING, “I’M SORRY”

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: REPENT ye, and BELIEVE the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

As a modern believer in Jesus, I find this verse extremely fascinating.  Why?  Because according to Jesus, the expected response to the KINGDOM message is two-fold: REPENT and BELIEVE.  But what’s fascinating about this is the order of the two things.  REPENT first, and then BELIEVE.  However, growing up in the church, the order was reversed: BELIEVE and then REPENT.   But in my mind, His statement does provoke some interesting questions, one of which is WHAT IS “REPENTANCE”? and WHAT DOES IT TAKE “TO REPENT”?

I’VE HEARD MANY AMERICAN CHRISTIANS SAY THAT THEY BELIEVED THAT “REPENTING” WAS MERELY TELLING GOD, “I’M SORRY.”  However, when we examine what all of the Bible teaches us regarding “REPENTANCE,” we learn that it involves much more than this,  and gaining a proper understanding of REPENTANCE is not a frivolous undertaking.  A biblical understanding of REPENTANCE is crucial, in fact, if we want to gain forgiveness and a right standing with God, but since the 1950’s tent revivals and crusades, only a partial understanding of “REPENTANCE” has been taught.

WHAT IS “REPENTANCE”?

So let’s start by asking the question, “WHAT IS ‘REPENTANCE’?”  Many Christians today define “repentance” based on the Greek definition only, which literally means to “change one’s mind.”  However, in the Hebrew, it’s root meaning is to “turn around” or “return,” or to do a complete 180° degree change in the direction of how one’s been living.

So true biblical repentance involves more than just “changing one’s mind,” it involves a 180° change in the direction of one’s life, from rebellion against God to living in obedience to Him.  In other words, there needs to be an inner transformation that occurs.  But contrary to what some may think, repentance is NOT a one-time event, as is often portrayed in churches, crusades, or on TV ministries, but it’s a LIFE-LONG PROCESS, which involves a changed heart, a change of attitude, and a change in behavior, and ultimately, a changed life.

REPENTANCE INVOLVES CONFESSING OUR SINS

First of all, repentance involves us acknowledging and confessing our sins.  In Leviticus 5, God says,

So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these [sins], that he shall CONFESS that sin which he has sinned.  (Leviticus 5:5)

In order to repent, we need to ACKNOWLEDGE that we have sinned, and then CONFESS those sins to God.  Obviously, we are not going to CONFESS something until we first ACKNOWLEDGE what we’ve done was wrong.

BUT WHAT IS “SIN”?

The biblical definition of sin is “disobedience to God.”  For example, four times in Leviticus 4, we have the same repeated definition:

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul [person] shall SIN THROUGH IGNORANCE AGAINST ANY OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD concerning things WHICH OUGHT NOT TO BE DONE, and shall do against them.  (Leviticus 4:2)

And if the whole congregation of Israel SIN THROUGH IGNORANCE, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against ANY OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD concerning things WHICH SHALL NOT BE DONE, and are guilty; When the sin. which they have sinned against it, is known,… (Leviticus 4:13-14a)

When a ruler has sinned, and done somewhat THROUGH IGNORANCE AGAINST ANY OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD his God concerning things WHICH SHALL NOT BE DONE, and is guilty; or if his sin, wherein he has sinned, come to his knowledge;… (Leviticus 4:23-24a)

And if any one of the common people SIN THOUGH IGNORANCE, which he does somewhat AGAINST ANY OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD concerning things WHICH OUGHT NOT TO BE DONE, and be guilty; or if his sin, which he has sinned, come to his knowledge:… (Leviticus 4:27-28a)

Notice all four times, what is discussed are (1) sins are acts committed through ignorance; (2) sins are committed when we go against ANY of the commandments of the LORD; and (3) it’s still a sin, even when the one who is doing it doesn’t realize it’s wrong at the time, but later discovers that what he or she has done is a sin.  A person is not innocent, just because he or she didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong.  IGNORANCE IS NOT AN EXCUSE!  In fact, in Leviticus 5:17, God says in His Word,

And if a soul sin, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; THOUGH HE KNOWS IT NOT, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.  [Emphasis Mine]

Again, ignorance is not an excuse, particularly in America where Bibles can be bought in most book stores, as well as available free online.  I think it is also important to note who defines what is or is not a sin.   You see what is a sin is not based on what a ruler defines as sin, it is not based on what society defines as sin, nor is it based on what a religious denomination, group, or even your congregation defines as sin, or even for that matter, what we, personally, define as a sin, but only what God defines as a sin.  God is the ONLY ONE who can determine what is a sin or what is not a sin, no one else.  And He has told us in His Word, the Bible, what is sin and what is not a sin.

REPENTANCE INVOLVES A SACRIFICE

Next, after confessing our sins, we are to bring the appropriate sacrifice.  In biblical times, the appropriate sacrifice was based on the sin and the wealth of the person.  However, one could only offer a sacrifice for sins done through ignorance, but sins done in willful rebellion against God did not have any sacrifices one could offer.  Instead, the only punishment for those sins was death. The sacrifices that were offered had the ability to “sanctify for the purity of the flesh (or the physical body) of the person (Hebrews 9:13), but it could not sanctify or cleanse the person’s heart or conscience.

However, with the death and resurrection of Christ, almost all sins,  even those sins that did not have a sacrifice for them under the earlier Temple system can now be forgiven by a person asking for God’s forgiveness and placing his or her faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for them.   In fact, the Apostle John writes in his first epistle,

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:9)

But the Bible also states that even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there are still two sins that cannot be forgiven, neither in this life nor in the next:  The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10) and the taking or receiving of the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:16-17; 14:10-11).   This is one reason why it is extremely important for us to read, study and practice the teachings in the Bible in our day-to-day life, so we will know what is and what is not a sin, and how to repent.

REPENTANCE INVOLVES WATER BAPTISM

Although Christianity has relegated water baptism down to be used only for conversion, water immersion or water baptism had many more purposes than this during the biblical period.  It’s purpose was to indicate a change of status, whether in one’s physical health, in one’s ritual purity, in one’s occupation, in one’s walk or status with God (e.g., conversion and/or repentance).

In Matthew 3:11, John explains what he is doing: “I indeed baptize you with water unto REPENTANCE:..” (emphasis mine).  John here is clearly saying that his ministry was to aid in the REPENTANCE process by baptizing them in water.  We see this also in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel:

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach THE BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS.  And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.  (Mark 1:4-5; Emphasis Mine)

And again in the Gospel of Luke,

...the word of God came unto John the son of Zacherias in the wilderness.  And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching THE BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS.  (Luke 3:2-3)

So as we can see, water baptism is part of the process of repentance.  Did Jesus’ death on the cross remove water baptism from this process?

Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED shall be saved; but he that believes NOT shall be damned.  (Mark 16:15-16)

This same basic message is preached by Peter in Acts 2:

REPENT, AND BE BAPTIZED everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS.  (Acts 2:38)

Just as John the Baptist preached “THE BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS,” so Peter here is preaching the same idea. REPENTANCE AND BAPTISM FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS with the addition that we put our trust in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross and through His resurrection, and that we make Him the Lord of our life.  And this same message was taught by Ananias to Paul when he was healed after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus:

The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know His will, and see that Just One [Jesus Christ], and should hear the voice of His mouth.  For you shall be His witness unto all men of what you have seen and heard.  And now why do you wait?  Arise, and BE BAPTIZED, and WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on the name of the Lord.  (Acts 22:14-16)

In fact, throughout the book of Acts, there are TEN (10) examples of people getting baptized in water immediately after believing in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

REPENTANCE HAS “FRUIT”?

For example, in the gospels, when the Pharisees and others come to him to be baptized in water, he tells them to “Bring forth therefore the FRUITS appropriate for repentance” (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8), and when the people began to ask what they should do to prove their repentance was, in fact, sincere, he gives them examples of what they could do (Luke 3:10-14).   If the repentance is real, then it will bring forth the FRUIT of a changed life, a change in how we think and act.

REPENTANCE INVOLVES FORSAKING SIN

But according to God’s Word, we are not only to ACKNOWLEDGE and CONFESS our sins, accept the SACRIFICE OF JESUS’ SHED BLOOD on our behalf and be BAPTIZED IN WATER, but we are also to FORSAKE our sins as well.  Merely CONFESSING our sins is NOT enough.

He that covers [or tries to hide] his sins shall not prosper: but whoso CONFESSES AND FORSAKES them shall have mercy.  (Proverbs 28:13)

We can also see this idea of “forsaking sin” in the teachings of Jesus, for example, when He told the woman caught in the act of adultery to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), as well as to the lame man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda, He told him afterwards, “Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you” (John 5:14).  Notice that Jesus told him that if he did not stop sinning, something worse would happen to him.  There’s no indication anywhere of Jesus telling anyone it was okay for them to continue in their sins.

FORSAKING SIN – AN IMPORTANT PART OF REPENTANCE

Since SIN is “disobedience to God,” whether we are disobeying His written word and/or the leading of the Holy Spirit, then to FORSAKE SIN means that we are to STOP doing the sin, TURN AWAY from it, do a complete 180° degree turn in our behavior and attitude towards the sin, and then to START obeying God, by walking (or living) in obedience to His commandments and to the leading of the Holy Spirit (called “righteousness”).  FORSAKING SIN is an important part of REPENTANCE; so much so, that if a person CONFESSES the sin, but they do NOT FORSAKE the sin, they have NOT truly repented.  They may feel guilty, remorse and sorry for what they did, but if they have not FORSAKEN the sin, they have not REPENTED.

THE TWO DIRECTIONS OF REPENTANCE

In Ezekiel 18, we learn that “repentance” does NOT happen in only one-direction, but it is bi-directional.  For example, God tells us,

But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.  All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live.  (Ezekiel 18:21-22)

This is the understanding of “repentance” that most people know.  If we repent from our sins, then our sins are forgiven and forgotten by God.  But notice that one who is truly repentant will not continue to live in his sins, but in his “righteousness” (or in his obedience to God).  However, there’s another direction that repentance can work as well:

But when the righteous turns away from righteousness, and commits iniquity (or sin), and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live?  All his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die.  (Ezekiel 18:24)

In other words, if a man is living in obedience to God, and then for whatever reason starts living a life of sin, then by making that change in behavior or lifestyle, he has “repented” from his life of obedience, and by so doing, God then follows the same rule regarding repentance: what came before the repentance is forgotten, and only what comes after the repentance is remembered.  God forgets the time he or she lived in righteousness and ONLY remembers the sin.  This side of repentance we don’t like, and neither did ancient Israel.

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is NOT equal.  Hear now, O house of Israel [and Christianity]; is not My way equal?  are not your ways unequal?”  (Ezekiel 18:25; Emphasis Mine)

We don’t like this view of repentance because it doesn’t work in our favor.  We like the process to always give us the advantage, but God applies the process evenly in both directions.

When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity [sins], and dies in them; for his iniquity [sin] that he has done shall he die.  Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.  Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions [sins] he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.  (Ezekiel 18:26-28)

Because God is equal in applying the process of repentance, what is His advice?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel [Christian & non-believer], every one according to his ways, says the LORD God.  Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel [Christian or unbeliever]?  For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the LORD God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.  (Ezekiel 18:30-32)

So biblical repentance involves CONFESSING our sins, bringing the appropriate SACRIFICE (our faith and trust in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for our behalf), WATER BAPTISM, and to STOP doing evil (those sins) and to then TURN AWAY from those sins (disobedience to God), doing then a complete 180° degree turn, and then to start living a life of obedience to God.  Consequently, then, repentance is a PROCESS; it involves CONFESSING, STOPPING, TURNING AWAY, AND STARTING.  It begins with CONFESSION and culminates with OBEDIENCE TO GOD.  As a result, repentance should follow the process set down by God in His Word; in other words, repentance that does NOT result in heart felt obedience to God is not true repentance.

REPENTANCE – MORE THAN MERE OBEDIENCE

But on the other side of this, merely going through the motions of obeying God without a real heart felt change is still NOT true repentance either.  In Isaiah 1:10-20, God criticizes Israel for them bringing Him “multiple sacrifices,” “burnt offerings,” “incense,” and He said that He hated  their “new moon festivals and anointed feasts.”  Why?  God Himself is the One who instructed them to do these things, but the problem here is that even obedience to God and the Bible, if it is NOT mixed with true heart-felt repentance – is NOT acceptable to God.  For example, He says, “I cannot endure INIQUITY and the solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13d; emphasis mine).

In verse 16, God tells them the first part of what they need to do to repent:

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil.  (Isaiah 1:16)

Notice the order here, we are to (1) “wash yourselves, make yourselves clean” (this is an early form of “water immersion” or “water baptism,” which we’ve discussed); (2) remove the evil of your deeds from My sight” (i.e., FORSAKE SIN).  Consequently, as I’ve mentioned, “water immersion/baptism” is an intricate part of REPENTANCE.  And then, we are to do the following:

Learn to do good; seek justice.  Reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

In other words, repentance involves “stopping something,” and then doing the opposite instead:  “stop doing evil, start doing good.”  Good not based on our standards, but on God’s, His word.  It is after saying this that God then says,

Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be white as wool.  If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.  Truly the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  (Isaiah 1:18-20)

God will NOT accept our praise and worship, if we are still living in INIQUITY (rebellion or sin), just as He would not accept the praise and worship of Israel when they were still living in INIQUITY.  In order for there to be TRUE BIBLICAL REPENTANCE, we must change our hearts, our attitudes, and the direction of how we are living by doing a complete 180° degree turn from disobedience to God (sin) to heartfelt obedience to God (righteousness).

Contrary to what some may think, we do have a role to play in our repentance before God.  We must do more than say, “I’m sorry,” we must work with God to change our thoughts, our attitudes, and our behavior.  And if all we do is say, “I’m sorry,” but we do not change, then according to God, we have not truly repented.

REPENTANCE – BOTH VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL

Not only is repentance VERTICAL, an important process that connects us to God, but it is also HORIZONTAL, an important process that connects us to one another.  Most Christians in church, crusades, and even on TV only talk about the VERTICAL element of REPENTANCE, but in the Bible, the HORIZONTAL element is also discussed; consequently, it is something that God sees to be equally important.

REPENTANCE – INCLUDES FORGIVENESS?

Also, another part of REPENTANCE is that it includes us forgiving others.  In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches us,

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has aught [or something] against you; leave your gift there on the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  (Matthew 5:23-24)

Then later on in the Sermon, when Jesus is talking about forgiveness, He says,

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

Obviously, then, if we are wanting to REPENT of our sins and have God forgive us, then we must also forgive those who have hurt us or done wrong to us; otherwise, Jesus says, God will not forgive us (Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:26).

REPENTANCE – INCLUDES MAKING AMENDS OR RESTITUTION?

In addition, REPENTANCE includes us making amends or restitution with those whom we have wronged, if possible.  For example, in Exodus 22, there are a number of examples given to teach us that if we steal from someone or cause damage to something, for example, we are to pay back what we have stolen or replace what we have damaged or ruined; in other words, we are to make RESTITUTION for the wrong we have done:

If a man shall steal an animal (an ox, a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore more than what he has taken….for he should make RESTITUTION;… (Exodus 22:3)

If a man shall cause property damage [cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make RESTITUTION (whenever it is possible). (Ex. 22: 5)

A good example of this is the account of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, in the town of Jericho.

And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans (sinners), and he was rich.  And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little in stature [he was short]. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for He was to pass that way. (Luke 19:2-4)

As a tax collector, many people considered him to be a traitor against his own people.  He was rejected, because many of them, including him, would also charge extra money to pad their own pockets above and beyond collecting the required taxes for Rome.  And for some reason, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was short, so he runs ahead and climbs up into a tree to see him.

When Jesus gets to the tree, He doesn’t ignore him and go on, which may be what Zacchaeus may have expected, but instead, Jesus stops, looks up into the tree, and addresses him:

Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide in your house. (Luke 19:5)

This, I’m sure, shocked both Zacchaeus and the crowd.  But as a result of him spending time with Jesus, he repents.  He tells Jesus,

Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.  (Luke 19:8)

And what was Jesus’ response to his promise of restitution?  Did He rebuff him for what he had done?  Did he preach to him about the evils of stealing?  No, instead, He says,

This day is salvation come to this house forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost.  (Luke 19:9-10)

The willing desire of Zacchaeus to make restitution for the wrong that he had done to others was the “fruit of repentance.” It was a clear demonstration that his repentance was real, and not just words.

CONCLUSION

So as we have seen, there’s much more to REPENTANCE than saying, “I’m sorry.”  It’s a process that begins when we acknowledge and confess our sins, ask God to forgive us and place our faith and trust in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for our behalf, be immersed or baptized in water, and along with this, we are to make a public confession of our faith and that we are changing our life, giving it over to Christ and that we are going to live in righteousness and holiness from this day forward, seeking to obey God and His Word in our day-to-day lives.

Then we need to honor our confession, by stop doing the sins we were doing, forsaking it (or them), turning 180° degree around, and then to start doing good by obeying God and His Word.  This includes forgiving others and making any needed amends or restitution, if possible.  And this process is what God defines and describes as BIBLICAL REPENTANCE in and through His Word.

 

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TESTAMENT OR COVENANT: DOES IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

“TESTAMENT OR COVENANT: DOES IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?”  For example, there are many Christians who call themselves “New Testament believers,” while others call themselves  “New Covenant believers”?  Does it really make a difference which one is used?  Aren’t they just two different words that mean the same thing?  Most Christians say they mean the same thing and use the two terms interchangeably, but should they?  Many of them think they know what they mean, but when I hear them speak about God and the Bible, particularly about the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), it quickly becomes apparent that they really don’t understand the biblical concept.  They are, instead, mostly mimicking what they’ve heard others say.

DIFFERENT LEVELS OF MEANING TO WORDS

The problem behind people’s misinterpretation and misunderstanding of these two terms is NOT a problem with the original Hebrew or Greek, but what English words are chosen to translate the words in their original languages, whether it be Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.  As an ex-English professor, I’ve taught students for 25 years that in English, every word has its own DENOTATIVE (or dictionary) meaning, its CONNOTATIVE meanings (various associations we have with the word), as well as its own NUANCES (or subtle differences in or shades of meaning or expressions).

For example, the words “residence” and “home” have the same DENOTATIVE (or Dictionary) meaning, but their CONNOTATIVE meanings (those associations we ascribe to the word) are NOT the same.  The word “home” has emotional associations attached to it that the word “residence” does not have.   Also, consider the words “bum,” “vagrant,” “panhandler,” “street urchin,” “pauper,” “unemployed,” “vagabond,” or “hobo.” Which word one may choose to use has its own NUANCES, or subtle differences of meaning, and it will influence how many readers or listeners will view a person.  And oftentimes, words do not just have only ONE meaning, but many.

WORDS OFTEN HAVE MULTIPLE MEANINGS

For example, the word “gay,” when I was growing up meant “someone who was happy and prosperous.”  We have this meaning in mind when referring to the “Gay 20’s” in American history, but then the word has taken on another meaning, as referring to someone as a homosexual, and now with the younger kids, it has taken on yet another added meaning of referring to something as “dumb.”  The same word, but three very different meanings, depending on its how it’s used.

The word “CONTEXT” refers to the “framework” that we use to interpret and understand something.  For example, if I am reading a passage, then what came before and after the passage will influence the way that I interpret and understand that particular passage.  In a form of writing, this would be the immediate CONTEXT.  But then we need to consider whether it fits the CONTEXT of the entire chapter, the whole book, the whole Testament, or the whole Bible.  In other words, if you’ve interpreted a passage from the New Testament, and it is in conflict with what’s said in the rest of the book, or in the rest of the New Testament, or in the Old Testament, then the interpretation is in error.

MOVING FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER

How words move from one language to another is an interesting study for me.  For example, let’s look at the words TESTAMENT and COVENANT.   In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word B’RIT (Strong’s #1285) is translated into English as COVENANT, but the word TESTAMENT is not an intrinsic part of this word’s meaning.  However, in the New Testament, the Greek word DIATHEKE (Strong’s #1242) is used as the Greek equivalent to B’RIT, but DIATHEKE has an additional possible meaning that B’RIT does not have, TESTAMENT. Consequently, the Hebrew word means COVENANT, but not TESTAMENT, but the Greek word can mean either COVENANT or TESTAMENT.

Beginning in 200 AD, Latin versions of the New Testament began to appear, and by the time of the 4th century, there were several versions.  Because Pope Damascus I wanted a standard Latin translation that all the churches could use, helping to standardize interpretations and doctrines, he commissioned Jerome, a scholar of languages, to produce the new Latin translation, which he completed in 400 A.D.  This translation was the only official of the Bible from 400 AD until the Reformation.

In his Latin translation, commonly known as the LATIN VULGATE, Jerome translated the Greek word DIATHEKE into Latin as TESTAMENTUM, which in Latin can also mean COVENANT or TESTAMENT.  It is from the Latin word TESTAMENTUM that we derive the English word TESTAMENT.

THE PROBLEM IS IN THE ENGLISH

Although the word TESTAMENT is directly derived from the Latin, the English meaning of this term does NOT include the concept of a COVENANT.  And this is a major problem.  Because the English meaning of the word TESTAMENT, as it’s commonly understood by most people, can only be seen in only TWO VERSES of the entire Bible. What should be the dominant meaning, COVENANT, is not really understood, because just as TESTAMENT is not an optional meaning for the Hebrew, B’RIT, so COVENANT is not an optional meaning for the English TESTAMENT, as it is in the Greek and Latin.

THE MEANING OF TESTAMENT

Let me explain, in English, the dominant meaning of the word “TESTAMENT” refers to a persons will, like in one’s “WILL AND TESTAMENT,” and we understand in our English- speaking societies that an OLDER TESTAMENT (or WILL) can be REPLACED when a person writes a new and updated WILL or TESTAMENT.  And like I just mentioned, there’s only TWO VERSES (Hebrews 9:16-17) that actually use the word TESTAMENT with this meaning in mind.  In spite of that, when most people read the words “OLD TESTAMENT” and “NEW TESTAMENT,” they understand these terms in reference to a WILL; this means that they view the OLD TESTAMENT as what God had originally designed and written, but now a newer and more updated TESTAMENT has been written, like with a WILL AND TESTAMENT, so the NEW one REPLACES the OLD one.  And if you listen to most ministers in churches or on television, this is how they present the meaning and relationship between these two testaments.

COVENANT VS. TESTAMENT

In contradiction to the idea of a personal will, the Hebrew word B’RIT and the Greek word DIATHEKE means “COVENANT” in all of the Bible, except for those two verses in Hebrews 9, and again a COVENANT is completely different than a TESTAMENT.   For one thing, a TESTAMENT (WILL) can be replaced with a newer TESTAMENT (WILL), but a COVENANT can NEVER be REPLACED.   Why?  Because unlike the word TESTAMENT, which refers to a legal written document that states what should happen to the property and items owned once someone dies, a COVENANT is all about building, maintaining, and improving RELATIONSHIPS between “two parties,” whether those two parties are two individuals, two families, two nations, or between God and individuals, or God and the nation of Israel.  To do away with a COVENANT is to bring an end to a RELATIONSHIP.

THE PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF COVENANT

If you look up the word “COVENANT” online, you will find multiple articles written about the ancient process of how COVENANTS were made.  This is how they erroneously understand “COVENANT.”  This is like someone understanding the meaning and essence of marriage by examining the marriage ceremony.   Some marriage ceremonies are rather simple in their structure and what will happen, while others are extremely ornate and complex, with many components that need to be properly orchestrated at just the right time.  But whether the marriage ceremony is simple or complex, it does NOT in any way indicate the passion and love between the bride and groom, and the same is true when it comes to COVENANTS.

The purpose of a COVENANT was nothing like a TESTAMENT.  In the Bible, two people entered into COVENANT for one of the following three reasons:

  • To reaffirm, strengthen, or intensify an already existing relationship.
  • To resolve a relational conflict or difference.
  • To renew, refresh, or re-establish a relationship that hand been broken.

A COVENANT is NOT about a list of “Do’s and Don’ts,” but about the RELATIONSHIP between two parties.  The stipulations of the COVENANT merely lay out the expected responsibilities and obligations of both sides.   This was a common practice during the biblical time period.  I’ve heard people say, “Man, I’m glad we have relationships now, and not covenants!” Statements like this only demonstrate that the person really does NOT understand the concept and purpose of a COVENANT.

A COVENANT is a tool for two people who want to build, maintain and improve or strengthen their RELATIONSHIP.   It provides an agreed upon basis or foundation upon which the two people can stand, and then continue to work on building and developing their RELATIONSHIP.    In American dating, for example, people don’t always know where they stand, or what the other person expects, or where exactly the lines are drawn in the RELATIONSHIP.   This leads only to uncertainty and confusion, and can hinder, if not introduce possible suspicions and hurt feelings into, the RELATIONSHIP they are trying to build.  But in a COVENANT, many of these issues are settled upfront, so that without the confusion and uncertainty of these “unknowns,” the two are able, then, to build a strong, confident RELATIONSHIP.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF COVENANTS

First, COVENANTS are used to improve, strengthen, or intensify an already existing RELATIONSHIP.  For example, marriage between a man and a woman.  Prior to marriage, the man and woman began and have an ongoing social relationship, but then at some point, they decide to strengthen and intensify that RELATIONSHIP, as well as make it more intimate, by getting married.  Another example of this is the COVENANT that God entered into with Israel and the “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) with them at Mt. Sinai.  God and Israel were already in a RELATIONSHIP prior to Sinai.  In fact, God refers to Israel as “My people” (e.g., Exodus 3:7, 10) and even His “first born son” (Exodus 4:22).  Consequently, the Sinai COVENANT did NOT begin the RELATIONSHIP, but it strengthened and intensified an already existing RELATIONSHIP, moving it up to a higher, more intimate level.

COVENANTS are also used to resolve RELATIONAL conflicts or differences.  For example, in the Bible, there was a conflict between Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban.  For example, it was customary for men to pay an agreed upon dowry to the family, as a way of demonstrating that the man had the financial means of supporting the potential wife.  The potential husband was expected to maintain, at least, the living standard that the woman was accustomed to living while at home with her parents.  Consequently, the dowry was an objective way of showing the woman’s family that he, indeed, was able to do this.

However, in Jacob’s case, he did not have any money, so he agreed to pay the dowry by working for ban for seven years for Rachel, the woman Jacob wanted to marry.  However, when it came time for the marriage, Laban switched his older daughter, Leah, for Rachel, without Jacob’s knowledge.  Women, then, wore veils that hid much of their face, so Jacob was not aware of the deception until it was too late.   Jacob had to then work another seven years for the woman he truly wanted.  Once he had both wives, as well as had 11 sons and 1 daughter, he had to work another 6 years to acquire the wealth he needed to support his family.  During this time, we learn that Laban changes Jacob’s wages 10 different times.  After 20 years now, Jacob, afraid of Laban’s growing hostility towards him, leaves with his wives, children and herds.

When Laban and his sons pursue them with weapons, Jacob realizes the potential danger he and his family are in.  It should be remembered that there was no police officers then, no one to go to in order to report a crime, so Jacob calmed the situation down and resolved the conflict and potential disaster by making a COVENANT with Laban.  After the COVENANT is made, Laban stays the night with Jacob and his family, and in the morning, Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren, and gives them his blessing.  Therefore, through the use of COVENANT, Jacob was able to resolve a RELATIONAL CONFLICT that was on the verge of collapse.  Jacob’s story begins in Genesis 25:19 and goes through to the end of Genesis 35.

Finally, COVENANTS are used to renew, refresh, and re-establish a relationship that has been broken.  Two great examples of this is the “NEW COVENANT” (or “NEW TESTAMENT“) and the future “COVENANT OF PEACE.”   God’s RELATIONSHIP with the Northern Kingdom of Israel (i.e., “the House of Israel”) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (i.e., the House of Judah) had been broken because of sins.  The Northern Kingdom had been taken off into Exile by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and now the Babylonians were about to take the Southern Kingdom into exile to Babylon, which happened in 586 B.C.  Consequently, God promises to renew, refresh, and re-establish His covenant with both of them through “the NEW COVENANT.”

Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a NEW COVENANT with the HOUSE OF ISRAEL and with the HOUSE OF JUDAH. (Jeremiah 31:31; Emphasis Mine)

Notice that the NEW COVENANT (or NEW TESTAMENT) is NOT made with the world, but it is made with the HOUSE OF ISRAEL (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) and the HOUSE OF JUDAH (the Southern Kingdom of Judah).  The NEW COVENANT is NOT for the purpose of REPLACING the original covenant, but to RENEW, REFRESH, and RE-ESTABLISH it with these two Houses, and then to ultimately join them back together again into ONE NATION, ONE KINGDOM, under ONE KING, MESSIAH (Ezekiel 37:15-24).

What about those who are not of the HOUSE OF ISRAEL or the HOUSE OF JUDAH?  Throughout the Scriptures, and throughout time, God has always been willing to accept anyone who would come to Him and accept His covenant.  There’s been Rahab, Ruth, Doeg, and others in the OLD COVENANT (called the OLD TESTAMENT), and throughout the NEW COVENANT (called the NEW TESTAMENT), God has been reaching His hand out to all nations, all tribes, all people, to make ONE PEOPLE, ONE KINGDOM with only ONE KING, MESSIAH.  Although God is always willing to receive all people unto Himself, we should not lose sight that the original purpose of the COVENANT is for the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL; therefore, to present this COVENANT apart from this purpose is to take it out of its proper CONTEXT.

Finally, another example of a COVENANT that God is going to use to RENEW, REFRESH, and RE-ESTABLISH His relationship with Israel is the future COVENANT OF PEACE.  When the Messiah Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) returns to finish establishing His Kingdom here on earth, He will establish the COVENANT OF PEACE with His people Israel.  This COVENANT is not the NEW COVENANT (called the NEW TESTAMENT) because it does not deal with the “writing of the law upon our minds and hearts” nor with the forgiveness of sin, but with the establishing the physical SAFETY, SECURITY, AND PEACE of the land of Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 34:23-31; Ezekiel 37:25-28).  Consequently, the NEW COVENANT (called the NEW TESTAMENT) is NOT the last and final COVENANT.

CONCLUSION

Therefore, does it make a difference whether we use the word “COVENANT” or “TESTAMENT“?  The same word may be used in the Greek and Latin for both, but in English, the two words are miles apart.  Therefore, if we are going to use the best word possible to communicate what is written in the original languages, then the word COVENANT should be used, except for the two verses in Hebrews (9:16-17) where the word “TESTAMENT” is clearly appropriate.  And instead of using two verses to understand the rest of Scripture, how about we take the more logical option of understanding the two verses in the light and context of the rest of Scripture?

It’s extremely important hat we remember that to end a COVENANT is to end a RELATIONSHIP.  And contradictory to traditional Christian thinking, God does NOT, nor will He ever, end any of the COVENANTS or RELATIONSHIPS that He has established within His Word.  Whether that COVENANT be with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the children of Israel, the nation of Israel as a whole, the Levites, David, or the RENEWED AND REFRESHED COVENANT through Jesus Christ.  Not ONE of these COVENANTS has God ended, abrogated, ceased, annulled, “done away with” or “nailed to the cross,” NOT ONE, NOT NOW, NOT EVER.

 

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Bridegroom, Garments & Wine: What Do They have to do with “Not Fasting”? (Part 3)

WHERE DO WE PLACE OUR GREATEST TRUST: IN SCRIPTURE OR IN OUR TRADITIONS?  In looking at this parable of Jesus, I believe this is the real question behind it.  For some reason, people in the first century, and even today, believe that they have the right, and even the moral obligation, to add their own views to Scripture, or even to delete Scriptures, whenever they seem opposed to the current beliefs and views of the time.  Yet these two acts, of ADDING TO and DELETING FROM the Bible, are explicitly forbidden TWICE by God: “You shall NOT ADD TO the word which I am commanding you, nor TAKE AWAY from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).  Therefore, when Jesus condemns human traditions that ADD TO or DELETE FROM God’s commandments, He does so on the authority of Scripture.

PUTTING THE PARABLE BACK INTO CONTEXT

In putting this study back into its historical context, we need to remember that the telling of this parable happens near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He has been calling His disciples, doing some healing and teaching, and have been receiving some criticism for it.  For example, before healing the paralytic man, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven, and then when some Pharisees accused Him of blasphemy, He proves his authority to forgive sin by healing the man.  Then He calls Levi (or Matthew), the tax collector, and He has dinner at his house, and He’s accused of eating with publicans and sinners.

It needs to be pointed out here that the criticism that Jesus receives is NOT about Him failing to keep God’s LAW, but the LAW OF THE PHARISEES.  Throughout the Gospels, Jesus stands against this man-made LAW, comprised of Pharisaic interpretations, teachings and traditions whenever they invalidate and oppose God’s LAW or commandments.  We see it with the Pharisees’ teachings about healing on the Sabbath, with the washing of hands, and with designating something as a “gift,” so one did not have to use it to support and honor one’s parents.  But why do we, in the church, tend to agree with the Pharisees and see Jesus as “guilty” of these things, rather than seeing the Pharisees as “guilty” for trying to raise their own “law” up against God’s LAW?

Perhaps, the reason for this is that we don’t know God’s LAW, His commandments, the way that we should, so we just accept what they say to be true.   But also, it’s sad to say, that over the centuries, Christianity has likewise followed the example of the Pharisees, and we too have created our own man-made interpretations, teachings, and traditions, and just like the Pharisees, we too have also used them to invalidate and replace God’s commandments in our lives and in the lives of others.

We cannot point fingers at the Scribes, Pharisees, and Essenes, when we have a “log in our own eye.” How many times have I heard about the Jesus who celebrates Christmas and Easter, who goes to church on Sunday, teaches Sunday School, and even turns His back on the “old ceremonial law,” the “cold unfeeling law” of the Old Testament, to follow “another law, the law of love” of the New Testament, and yet this Jesus that’s often described in our churches is NOT the biblical Jesus, it is a construct of our own imagination.

I have heard thousands of sermons in my life on the divinity of Jesus, but I have NEVER, EVER heard a sermon in a church about “Jesus the Jew,” and most certainly not about “Jesus, our Jewish Rabbi.”  But the Jesus of the Bible is as much Divine, as He is a Jew, and most certainly, a Jewish Rabbi.  But we never talk about that part of Him or His life.  We ignore it, hoping that people will not notice, or that it will just “go away.”  But if we don’t love ALL that Jesus is, how can we really say we love Him at all?

I believe that this study is important for all of us, Jew and Christian alike.  We need to be brave enough, and objective enough, to look at our own MAN-MADE INTERPRETATIONS, TEACHINGS AND TRADITIONS, i.e., our own MAN-MADE LAW, regardless if it is Pharisaic or Christian, regardless of how “sacred” these man-made teachings or traditions may be, and we need to ask ourselves, “How would the Jesus of the Bible feel about them?  Would He see them as something that we are using to REPLACE the commandments of God?  Would He see them as a man–made teaching of our own denominational beliefs, rather than the beliefs and teachings found in God’s Word, in both the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS?  I believe we need to prayerfully consider these questions when going through this study.

A SUMMARY OF THE STUDY SO FAR

In part 1, we discussed how the question on fasting actually had to do with John the Baptist’s disciples’ concern with HOLINESS and the PURITY LAWS, and in part 2, Jesus gives the response of saying that the “new cloth” (the man-made purity laws of the Pharisees and the Essenes) was not strengthening or improving the “old cloth” (God’s instructions, laws, and commandments) but were, in fact, making “the tear” between God and His people “worse.”  This now brings us to part 3, the parable about the “NEW WINE and NEW WINESKINS.”

A PARABLE ABOUT THE NEW WINE

In this final parable, Jesus tells them,

Matthew 9:17 Mark 2:22 Luke 5:37-39
“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runs out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”

 

 

“And no man puts new wine into old bottles: else the new wine does burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.”

 

 

“And no man puts new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.  But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.  No man also having drunk old wine immediately desires new: for he says, “The old is better.”

All three accounts agree on the following points:

  • No man puts new wine into old bottles;
  • If new wine is poured into old bottles, then the bottles will break, the wine will run out, and the bottles will perish; and
  • New wine should be put into new bottles, so that both are preserved.

However, in Luke’s account of the parable, we have an added detail:

  • No man having drunk old wine immediately desires the new wine, for he says, “The old is better.”

Again, just like in part 2, it is imperative that we correctly identify the elements of this parable to correctly understand what Jesus is saying.

TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION

Traditionally, Christianity has viewed the NEW WINE as representing the GOSPEL OF GRACE, and the OLD BOTTLES (or WINESKINS) as the MOSAIC LAW.   For example, consider the following Christian teaching:

And by these very apt illustrations our Lord teaches us that it is a vain thing to attempt to mingle together the spiritual freedom of the gospel with the old ceremonies of the Law. To attempt to engraft the living spiritual energy of the gospel upon the old legal ceremonial now about to pass away, would be as fatal a thing as to piece an old garment with new material, or to put new wine into old wineskins. There is here, therefore, a valuable lesson for the Christian Church, namely, to treat new converts with gentleness and consideration. (“Pulpit Commentary”; https://biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/2-22.htm)

THE PROBLEM WITH THE INTERPRETATION

The major problem with this traditional interpretation is that it contradicts the parable. In order for their interpretation to be true, the OLD would have to ruin the NEW, but this is NOT what Jesus said in the parable.  He said that the NEW ruined the OLD.  In both parables, “The Old Garment and the New Patch,” and now this one, the “New Wine and the Bottles,” it is the NEW PATCH and the NEW WINE that ruins the OLD, not the other way around.

SO HOW DO WE UNDERSTAND JESUS’ PARABLE OF THE NEW WINE?

So how do we understand this parable?

  • OLD GARMENT” and “OLD WINE” (implied) represent God’s TORAH;
  • The “NEW PATCH” and the “NEW WINE” represent the MAN-MADE TORAH of the Pharisees and the Essenes: their interpretations, teachings, and traditions.

NEW WINE – CAN BREAK NEW BOTTLES?

In my study of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, I discovered that it’s the NEW WINE, which is potentially destructive, NOT only to OLD BOTTLES, but also to NEW BOTTLES, if certain precautions are NOT taken. As Christians, we have this built in bias in thinking that the “NEW” is always BETTER than the “OLD,” but I discovered in the New Testament that there are several times when this is not the case.  Instead, the opposite is often the case, the OLD is BETTER than the NEW.

Also, it is important to remember that according to Jesus’ parable, it was NOT the OLD that ruined and destroyed the NEW, but it was the NEW that ruined and destroyed the OLD.  And when I did my study of the Scriptures, I came across the following three passages.  Now even though I’ve heard many people discuss the parable of the NEW WINE, even from Messianic Jewish teachers, I’ve NEVER heard anyone include these passages in as part of the discussion.

JOSHUA 9: 3-13.   In Joshua 9:3-6, the inhabitants of Gibean had heard what Joshua and the Israelites had done to Jericho and Ai, and so they pretend to be ambassadors of inhabitants that lived a long distance from Canaan.  They dressed in old shoes, old garments, and carried old dry and moldy bread.  And when they came to the Israelite camp at Gilgal, they told Joshua that they had come from a far off country, and they wanted to enter into covenant with them.  It is Joshua 9:12, 13 though, that provides us with some interesting insight:

This is our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and it is moldy: and these BOTTLES of WINE, which we filled, were NEW; and behold, they be RENT [or BURST]: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey.

Obviously, these men from Gibean are attempting to deceive Joshua into believing that they’ve been on the road for a long time.  But what was interesting to me was that the NEW WINE, which they claimed to have poured in the NEW BOTTLES [or NEW WINESKINS] at home had “RENT” [or BURST] due to the alleged long journey, which was not true.  They had traveled only a short distance and, yet, the NEW WINE had caused the WINESKINS or “BOTTLES” to “RENT” or BURST.  Apparently, we can infer from this reference and Jesus’ parable that NEW WINE can, in fact, cause both OLD and NEW WINESKINS (or BOTTLES) to BURST under the right conditions.  This point will be further clarified in the next passage.

JOB 32: 17-20.  In this passage, we gain a little more insight into the idea that NEW WINE can, in fact, BURST NEW BOTTLES.  The fourth and youngest of Job’s friends, Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, says in his response to Job and his three other older friends,

I said, I will answer also my part, I also will show mine opinion.  For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constrains me.  Behold, my belly is as WINE which has NO VENT; it is ready to BURST like NEW BOTTLES.  I will speak, that I may be refreshed: I will open my lips and answer. [Emphasis Mine]

Today, we would say, “I’ve got to say something, or I’m simply going to pop.”  But what I found interesting here in his response is the reference again to NEW WINE (I’m assuming) causing NEW BOTTLES to BURST, but this time, unlike Joshua 9:3-13, there’s a cause mentioned:  there was NO VENT given to the WINE.  From these two passages, we learn that NEW WINE can be destructive to both OLD BOTTLES and NEW BOTTLES, if the BOTTLES [or WINESKINS} are not prepared and handled properly.  And by Elihu comparing himself to “NEW BOTTLES,” then we can infer that the use of BOTTLES in these passages is used to represent PEOPLE, an inference which is supported by the next passage.

JEREMIAH 13:12-14.  And finally, in Jeremiah 13, we again see the use of BOTTLES [or WINESKINS], like in Job 32, to represent PEOPLE:

Therefore  you shall speak to them this word: Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Every BOTTLE shall be filled with WINE: and they shall say to you, Do we not certainly know that every BOTTLE shall be filled with WINE?  Then you shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will FILL all the INHABITANTS of this land, even the KINGS that sit upon David’s throne, and the PRIESTS, and the PROPHETS, and all the INHABITANTS of Jerusalem, with drunkenness.  And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, says the LORD: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.  (Emphasis Mine)

SUMMARY OF THE THREE PASSAGES

From these three passages we’ve learn the following:

  • From both Joshua 9 and Job 32, we learn that NEW WINE can, in fact, cause NEW WINESKINS or BOTTLES to BURST, if proper VENTING is NOT provided.
  • From Jeremiah 13, we learn that the word “BOTTLE” without any modifiers is used to represent sinful people (i.e., the Jews of Jeremiah’s day who were about to be punished by God).
  • From Job 32, we see the phrase “NEW BOTTLE” being used by Elihu to refer to himself, the youngest of Job’s four friends, perhaps indicating that “NEW BOTTLES” refers to “YOUNG PEOPLE” and “OLD BOTTLES” then refer to “OLD(ER) PEOPLE.”
  • However, the image of WINE, in Jeremiah 13, representing “DRUNKENNESS” and “JUDGMENT” does NOT at all fit the context of Jesus’ parable.

SO WHAT DO THE BOTTLES REPRESENT?

Based on this, I would suggest that the OLD BOTTLES represent older mature disciples, and the NEW BOTTLES represent young, inexperienced disciples.  And interestingly, I found that this same concept continues, even though in Paul’s epistles, he does not use the same terminology.  For example,  the NEW BOTTLES, or NEW BELIEVERS, are those who–

  • tend to be fleshly, envious and divisive (I Corinthians 3:3);
  • are NOT subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7);
  • still need the “milk of the word” (the basics) (I Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:12); and
  • “are unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13).

However, the OLD BOTTLES, or the OLDER, MATURE BELIEVERS are those
who —

  • walk after the Spirit and have their mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8: 1, 4),
  • are subjected to the law of God (e.g., Romans 2:13-15; 7:22, 25; and inferred from Romans 8:4, 7);
  • spend their time with the “strong meat” of God’s Word (the more advanced teachings, which includes the TORAH) (Hebrews 5:14, and is exemplified by the source of content in Hebrews 7-11); and
  • “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

OLD WINE DON’T ALWAYS COME FROM OLD BOTTLES

Also in doing my study, I discovered this passage from Job 32, which reveals that OLD WINE, God’s TORAH, HIS WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING, does not always come from OLD BOTTLES.   Elihu gives what I thought was some interesting insight into this:

I  said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach WISDOM.  But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them UNDERSTANDING.  Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.   Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I will also show my opinion.  Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, while you searched out what to say.  Yes, I attended to you, and, behold, there was none of you that convinced Job, or that answered his words. (Job 32:7-12)

We are supposed to find God’s TORAH, His OLD WINE, in the OLDER, MATURE MEN (“OLD BOTTLES“) of our Communities, those who have spent their lives studying and observing God’s WORD, but unfortunately, as Elihu discovered, at least in Job’s older three friends, this expectation is not always the case.  Sometimes, an OLDER PERSON may still have within them NEW WINE, rather than the OLD VINTAGE WINE that one would expect.  And just as Elihu found within Job’s three older friends, Jesus found within many of the Scribes and Pharisees of His day.

Now interestingly,  when I put all of the “OLD” things together on one side of a chart, and then put all of the “NEW” things together on the other side, I was amazed by what I discovered.

SPIRITUAL

FLESHLY

OLD GARMENT NEW PATCH
OLD WINE NEW WINE
OLD BOTTLE NEW BOTTLE
OLDER DISCIPLE YOUNG DISCIPLE
OLDER, MATURE BELIEVER NEW BELIEVER

All those on the OLD side represent the things of the Spirit.  For example, the OLD GARMENT and OLD WINE both represent the TORAH, which was written by the Holy Spirit, “the finger of God.”  THE OLD BOTTLE, THE OLDER DISCIPLE and the OLDER, MATURE BELIEVER are those who have had the TORAH (God’s INSTRUCTIONS and commandments) written upon their hearts by the Holy Spirit as they’ve studied and practiced it.

On the other hand, everything on the NEW side represents the FLESH.  For example, the NEW PATCH and the NEW WINE represent the Oral man-made interpretations, teachings, and traditions of the Pharisees and the Essenes – the LAW of men – NOT the LAW of God.  And the NEW BOTTLE, YOUNG DISCIPLE, and NEW BELIEVER are those who are carnal, envious, divisive, unlearned in the TORAH, the ways of God, and who pursues the things of the flesh, rather than those of the Spirit.

MY INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE

Quite simply, I believe what Jesus is telling us is that when you mix the man-made things of the flesh (the oral traditions and practices of the Pharisees and the Essenes) with the things of God (1) they don’t mix; and (2) you end up destroying the life of disciples, even mature disciples, resulting in them losing what wine they did have.  But in most cases, flesh follows flesh, and the flesh will seek to preserve itself by pouring its man-made teachings and traditions into young disciples or new believers, who are usually inexperienced with God’s Word, and who cannot yet distinguish the things of the flesh from the things of the Spirit.

In other words, Jesus here is criticizing the massive efforts of the Pharisees and Essenes in filling God’s people with these false man-made ideas of what it means to “love and obey God.” As Jesus says later on,

For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne [carried], and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.  (Matthew 23:4)

It is NOT the NEW WINE of men’s own created law – their interpretations, teachings, and traditions – that we should be “pouring” into people, but the OLD VINTAGE WINE of God’s TORAH, His instructions, teachings, and commandments.  But the nature of people then and now is to always chase after every NEW thing.

The NEW WINE of the Pharisees and Essenes were taking God’s people away from God’s calling for them: “To be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5; I Peter 2:9).  Instead of their man-made “law” taking them to this goal, it was, instead, transforming God’s KINGDOM nation into a RELIGION, a RELIGION molded and shaped by their man-made interpretations, teachings and traditions, now known as Rabbinical Judaism, just as Christianity, another RELIGION, would later likewise do with their own man-made interpretations, teachings, and traditions. In either case, a RELIGION is NOT what God wants.

Conclusion

Jesus came to preach “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Luke 4:4) and to die to liberate us from our sins and the power of our sin nature.  God wants to bring us back to a Kingdom mentality and perspective, which is what He originally set up and established in His Word.  But in our RETURN, we will need to learn to think and respond to God’s KINGDOM as an actual KINGDOM, and Jesus as our KING that God has chosen and established within His KINGDOM.  This is not an easy journey, but we must leave the man-made interpretations, teachings and traditions (the NEW WINE) behind, and we must RETURN to what is actually taught within the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

There are many man-made interpretations, teachings, and traditions (NEW WINE) that have moved us away from the OLD WINE that’s in God’s TORAH, His Instructions, Teachings, and Commandments.  We need to empty ourselves of these NEW WINE man-made counterfeits, and RETURN to God and His WHOLE WORD, and fill our lives with the OLD VINTAGE WINE that He has for us in the Old Testament AND New Testament.  Without a WHOLE BIBLE perspective and understanding, we are missing out on all that God has for us.

The only real question is what will we allow the BOTTLES of our lives to be filled up with: the OLD WINE of God’s TWO TORAHS, the Written TORAH of His Word AND the LIVING TORAH, His Son, Jesus Christ, or will we continue to be filled with the NEW WINE of man-made RELIGIOUS counterfeits?  The choice is really ours to make.  We need to take the LORD’s instruction in Jeremiah 6:16, but instead of responding the way that the ancient children of Israel did, we need to do as God says.

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ANCIENT PATHS, where the GOOD WAY is, and walk in it; and you shall ind rest for your souls, but they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:16, Emphasis Mine)

 

Return to the Top

THE LAW AND GRACE – NOT OPPOSITES?

FOR YEARS GROWING UP, I’VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY THAT AS CHRISTIANS WE CANNOT MIX “LAW AND GRACE,” BECAUSE THEY SAID, THAT’S NOT THE GOSPEL.  But the problem with this view is that’s based on Christians taking the concept of GRACE out of its original context (the context of KINGDOM) and viewing it from an entirely different context (the context of RELIGION)?  What if I could show that God’s LAW and GRACE are really NOT opposed to one another at all?  And what if I could show from the Bible that Jesus and the LAW were actually different forms and expressions of the other?  Would that change your thought that Grace and LAW cannot be combined?

KINGDOM – THE ORIGINAL CONTEXT?

The problem we have traditionally had in Christianity, beginning in the second century, C.E., is that we have looked at the Bible as a RELIGIOUS text, rather than a KINGDOM text.  For example, we see the political, if not military, context of Kingdom brought out in the song of Moses, in Exodus 15, after the drowning of the Egyptian military in the Red Sea by God.  It is at the end of this song, where the first reference of God’s Kingdom is made in the Bible: “And the LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).

We also see the political context of the Kingdom when God chooses Israel’s first king, Saul, and then its second king, David, and then David’s son, Solomon, to take the throne after David dies.  These are clearly political contexts, not spiritual ones.  In fact, when announcing that Solomon would assume the throne after him, David says,

And of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen my son  Solomon to sit on the throne of the KINGDOM OF THE LORD over Israel.  (I Chronicles 28:5; Emphasis Mine)

The phrase “Kingdom of the LORD” (Heb. malkhut YHWH) is clearly used here in a political context.  God is seen throughout the Scriptures as the KING of His KINGDOM, and in the New Testament, the phrase “Kingdom of the LORD” becomes “Kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God.”  This is all relevant because “GRACE” is a Kingdom concept.

ABOUT KINGS AND KINGDOMS

In a Kingdom, the King owns everything within His realm: the land, the buildings, the people, and even the work that the people do.  All belongs to Him.  It is all His.  Consequently, He is the One who decides what laws He will have, what are to be the values and beliefs of His kingdom, and even what feasts or celebrations those in His kingdom will observe or celebrate.  Also, citizenship in a kingdom is NOT a right, but a privilege, and is the result of the King’s right to choose whom He wants to be in His kingdom.  When a King chooses one to be a citizen of His Kingdom, then that individual has received the King’s “favor” or “GRACE.”

WHAT IS “GRACE”?

In the New Testament, the word “GRACE” is the English translation of the Greek word CHARIS.  It is the root word for the word CHARISMA (“GIFTS“), like in the “gifts of the Spirit,” or in the English CHARISMATIC. Ministers usually define it as “God’s undeserved favor,” but it’s also viewed in Christianity through the lens of RELIGION.  And as I’ve pointed out, the original CONTEXT was not RELIGION, but KINGDOM.  Consequently, then, although close, we should understand the King’s “FAVOR” or “GRACE” to be whenever the King – God = moves or does something on our behalf.  For example, when He chooses us to be one of His citizens, then His choice and decision to show us His “favor” or “grace.”

GRACE – A WHOLE BIBLE REVELATION?

But Grace is NOT just a New Testament revelation; it’s a revelation of God from cover to cover.  Many Christians have looked in the Old Testament to find the word “GRACE,” and they find a few references, but not as abundantly as they see it in the New Testament.  But what most Christians don’t know is that there are TWO Hebrew words that carry the meaning of “GRACE“: CHEN and CHESED.

  • CHEN.  This is the word that most Christians find when looking for the word “GRACE” in the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found GRACE (Heb. CHEN) in the eyes of the LORD” (Emphasis Mine).
  • CHESED.  Like GRACE (Gk. CHARIS, Strong’s #5485) in the New Testament, CHESED (Strong’s #2617) is a major theological concept of the Old Testament.  The Hebrew word CHESED is a word with multiple layers of meaning: “love,” “benevolence,” “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “good will,” “favor,” “benefit,” “GRACE,” “mercy,” “piety loyalty,” “unfailing love,” and “beauty.”  It means all of these things.

Jesus’ disciples knew both the Hebrew and the Greek, and many of their references from the Old Testament actually come from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, now called the Septuagint, since most Greek-speakers outside the land of Israel were already familiar with this translation.  But they also knew the importance of CHESED in their own lives, and for those who would read their writings, and so they used TWO GREEK WORDS to translate the core meaning of this ONE HEBREW WORDAGAPE (LOVE) and CHARIS (GRACE).  This is why these two words are paired up so often in the New Testament.  They are NOT a New Testament revelation, but a revelation of God that we see throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

SOME OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLES:

FROM THE PSALMS

For example, growing up, we use to sing the chorus: “Thy LOVINGKINDNESS is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).  The word “lovingkindness is the Hebrew word CHESED.  You can substitute the words “love and grace” for “lovingkindness,” and you maintain the essence of what this verse is really saying: “God’s love and grace are BETTER than life.”  What Christian would not likewise agree?

FROM THE TORAH (“LAW”)

We also see GRACE taught in God’s LAW.  The word translated as “LAW” is the Hebrew word TORAH.  But here’s another translation kicker: the word TORAH does NOT mean “LAW” at all, but it means “Instructions, Teachings, Guidance, and/or Directives.” TORAH is NOT LAW, it is INSTRUCTIONS, GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS on how we, as His people, are to live our lives with Him and with one another.  It’s focus is NOT about “getting people to heaven,” but on how we are to live our lives down here on earth.

But in Exodus 33, after the golden calf incident (Exodus 32),  Moses asked God to reveal to him His glory, and the LORD agrees to do so, since He and Moses were already in an intimate relationship, but only under the condition that He [the LORD] put him in the cleft of the rock and cover his face with His hand, so that he does not see the LORD’s face, for seeing it, God says, would kill him (Exodus 33:17-23).  When the LORD does pass by, Moses hears all of the “LORD’s goodness”:

And the LORD passed in front of him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God,  compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in LOVINGKINDNESS (Heb. CHESED) and truth, who keeps LOVINGKINDNESS (Heb. CHESED) for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7, NASB; Emphasis Mine)

There’s three things I’d like to point out here:

CHESED AND TRUTH

The first time CHESED appears, God is telling us that He is “abundant in CHESED and truth.” Although the word CHESED is translated into English as “LOVING-KINDNESS,” it could just as well have been translated as GRACE.  If that’s done, then we have the same exact phrase here that we find in John 1:17, “GRACE and truth.”  “GRACE and truth” are seen here proclaimed by God as one of His attributes here in God’s TORAH, and John writes that “GRACE and truth” came by Jesus Christ, because He’s the “WORD [of TORAH] MADE FLESH” (John 1:14), and as such, He brought God’s revelation that only Moses got to experience on Mt. Sinai, His “GRACE AND TRUTH,” and He brought it into the world for ALL to see and witness through His life and ministry.

GRACE does NOT oppose LAW; in fact, the word “but” in John 1:17 is NOT even in the original Greek text.  English translators added it.  John is telling us in John 1:17 that God has given us blessing upon blessing: the first blessing came when God gave to all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, His TORAH on Mt. Sinai, and now, He’s given to us another blessing on top of that, which is His LIVING TORAH, prophesied in Isaiah 51:4-5,

Hearken unto Me, My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation: for a law [Heb. TORAH] shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment to rest for a light of the people.  My righteousness is near; My salvation is gone forth, and [His] arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon [Him], and on [His] arm shall they trust.  [Emphasis Mine]

In this passage, God prophecies about the coming LIVING TORAH, and that when He comes, He will bring God’s righteousness and salvation, and that His arms shall judge the people, and it will be upon His arm that they shall trust.  In our English translations, the words “My” is literally “His” in the Hebrew, and “Me” is literally “Him.”  Because of how this is translated, most people don’t realize that this is another Messianic prophecy.

According to the prophecy, this LIVING TORAH would “proceed from God,” and through the disciples’ interactions with Him, they knew that Jesus was the LIVING TORAH that God had promised.  In fact, according to archaeologists, digging in the land of Israel, they have found engraved in the homes of the early Jewish believers, the earliest title for Jesus, HATORAH, “The LIVING TORAH.”  And in his experience with Jesus, the LIVING TORAH, John writes,

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life — and the Life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father as was manifested unto us — (I John 1:1-2)

The LIVING TORAH, Jesus, was someone they could experience with all their senses; He was someone they could see, hear, touch, feel, and smell.  He was not an idea or some myth, but a real human being who was also God’s LIVING TORAH.  In John 5:45-47, Jesus says that “Moses wrote of Me,” and so the TORAH (or the first five books of the Bible; also called the Pentateuch) is the written description of Jesus, and Jesus is the living embodiment of the TORAH.  The more like Jesus we become, the more in line with TORAH we become, and the more in line with TORAH we become, the more like Jesus we become.  Jesus and the TORAH are ONE (Heb. ‘echad).

And by God sending His LIVING TORAH, His Son, Jesus Christ, we gained an intimately personal, up-close experience of His life and how He interacted with God and others, and therefore, through this experience, we gained a much better understanding of what God expects of us in living out and practicing His TORAH in our day-to-day life.   And because we have gained an even deeper, more intimate level of knowledge of God and His TORAH, as well as the salvation and freedom that He brought to us, this is why He is an even greater blessing than the written TORAH (John 1:14).

CHESED AND FORGIVENESS OF SIN

The second time the word CHESED appears it is in the context of the forgiveness of sin:  “who keeps LOVINGKINDNESS (Heb.  CHESED) for thousands, who forgives iniquity,  transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:7).  And this same idea is shared by David in his psalm, that was written to remind us not to forget “all His benefits”:

He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.  The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in LOVINGKINDNESS (Heb. CHESED).

Now pay attention to how David describes God’s CHESED, His “lovingkindness,” or an even better translated as His “love and grace”:

He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. CHESED, “LOVE AND GRACE“] toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:7-12; Emphasis Mine]

Isn’t this the same God, the same love and GRACE that we see spoken of throughout the New Testament?  We need to know and realize that our God does NOT change (Malachi 4:2), and that His CHESED, His LOVE and GRACE, has likewise NOT changed.

GRACE & TORAH: THEIR INTERRELATED ROLES

So ask yourself, “If GRACE is first taught in the TORAH, God’s Instructions, then how can GRACE be in opposition to His TORAH (or “LAW“)Instead, like the children of Israel, it is by His GRACE that He chooses us to be a part of His Kingdom, a “KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5; I Peter 2:9).

God gives us His “FAVOR” or “GRACE” when He chooses us to be part of His KINGDOM, but He also gives us His “FAVOR” or “GRACE” when He leads us by His Spirit on how to walk out and observe His commandments as the lifestyle He has chosen for those who are part of His KINGDOM.  Our obedience to His TORAH, His Instructions and commandments does NOT make us citizens (i.e., or “saved”), but once we are citizens, God expects us to follow the instructions, commands, values and beliefs of His Kingdom since as His people, our lives are to be a reflection of Him and His Kingdom.  The process by which we learn how to live as Kingdom citizens is typically referred to as “SANCTIFICATION.”

In His Word, God is seen as the ultimate TEACHER who has provided us with His INSTRUCTIONS, TEACHINGS, and GUIDANCE, NOT a list of “Do’s and Don’ts, ” which is an extremely superficial view of it. Instead, God’s TORAH is described as containing His WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING (Deuteronomy 4:5-8), and it’s what we are to pursue (Proverbs 2:1, 2, 4-6); in fact, King Solomon wrote that it was the “whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Why?  Because God is all about “rules”?  No, it is because the TORAH is a written description of God, of who He is, of what He likes, what He doesn’t like, what makes Him happy, and what makes Him angry and upset, etc.  It is a written description of Him and His WAYS.  The WAYS He wants us as His sons and daughters to imitate and to follow.  These ways don’t make us His children, but as His children, He wants us to love Him and to follow His INSTRUCTIONS, like any loving parent would.

REMEMBER THE ANCIENT PATHS

In fact, throughout the Old Testament [or Hebrew Scriptures], God calls us back to the ANCIENT PATHS, the OLD PATHS of His TORAH that He gave us, Jew and non-Jew alike, on Mt. Sinai:

Remember the former things of OLD; for I am God, and there is none else;… (Isaiah 46:9)

Thus says the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the OLD PATHS, where is the GOOD WAY, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls.  But they said, We will NOT walk therein.  (Jeremiah 6:16)

Because My people has forgotten Me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ANCIENT PATHS, to walk in paths in a way NOT cast up.  (Jeremiah 8:15)

Set up for yourself roadmarks, place for yourself guideposts; Direct your mind to the highway, the way BY WHICH YOU WENTRETURN, O virgin of Israel, RETURN to these your cities.  (Jeremiah 31:21)

When Israel came out of Egypt during the Exodus, there was a “mixed multitude” of gentiles (non-Jews) who came with them (Exodus 12:38).  They came with them across the Red Sea, and they were there with them at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  Consequently, the TORAH was not given to only the Jewish people, but it was given to ALL people, Jew and non-Jew alike.  In fact, there’s a Jewish Midrash (or teaching) that communicates this same idea:

The Torah was given in the desert, for if it had been given in the land of Israel, the Jews would have said, “It is ours!”  and if it had been given somewhere else, the inhabitants of that land would have said, “It is ours!”  Therefore, it was given in the desert so that whoever wanted to could come and receive it.

God gave the TORAH where He did for a reason, and according to the Bible, it was given to both Israel and the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles (non-Jews) who came out with them.  And even after that, there were the Rahabs, Ruths, Doeg, and others who would likewise leave their nations, and attach themselves to the people of Israel, just like the “mixed multitude” before them.

“SEAL THE LAW AMONG MY DISCIPLES”

Not only has the TORAH been given to both Jew and non-Jew alike, but we also learn from the Scriptures, that God commands us to SEAL IT within God’s DISCIPLES, as written by the prophet Isaiah: “Bind up the testimony, SEAL THE LAW AMONG MY DISCIPLES” (Isaiah 8:16; Emphasis Mine).  And, of course, God SEALS both forms of His TORAH, the written and the LIVING, in our hearts by His Spirit:

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also SEALED US and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a PLEDGE.  (1 Corinthians 1:21-22; Emphasis Mine)

God’s Spirit has not only SEALED US, but He gave us the “down payment” (or PLEDGE) of His Spirit.  We have not received yet the complete “fullness of the Spirit,” but this will come when Jesus returns and we receive our new resurrected body.  But in addition to “sealing the law (or TORAH) among His disciples,” Isaiah then writes

To the Law (Heb. TORAH) and to the testimony:  if they speak NOT according to this word, it is because there is NO LIGHT in them.  (Isaiah 8:20)

Christians have traditionally looked at the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, but throughout the Scriptures, God has looked at things through the lens of His TORAH.  In fact, one of God’s commands states that if a prophet or a dreamer of dreams comes and gives a sign or a wonder, and this sign or wonder happens, but the prophet or dreamer instructs people to leave God’s commandments behind, they are NOT to listen to them.  (Deuteronomy 13:1-2) But why would God allow such a thing?

For the LORD your God is TESTING you to find out if you love the LORD your God  with all your heart and with all your soul.  (Deuteronomy 13:3)

God continues to TEST His disciples (lit. “students”) just as did in the biblical period, so He does today.  He wants to know if you love Him, but there’s another reason for the tests:

And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, TESTING YOU, to know what was IN YOUR HEART, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  (Deuteronomy 8:2)

God also TESTS US to see what’s in our HEARTS, and whether we will “keep His commandments or not.”  God is the Teacher, we are the students, the Bible is our Kingdom textbook, and life is our classroom.  And like any Teacher, God TESTS us to see if we’ve been learning the material in the textbook.  And on things we don’t do well on, we will be retested over and over again.  As a result, it is to our advantage to do well on our TESTS when they come.

CONCLUSION

Is there a conflict between “LAW” and “GRACE“?  No, there is not.  The “conflict” is a man-made construct based on misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  When God the King chooses us to be in His Kingdom, we receive His favor or “GRACE,” as He again gives us His “favor” and “GRACE” when He gives us the Spirit to lead us and guide us on how to live as His Kingdom citizens by studying the TORAH, His instructions and commandments.

Although the word TORAH is usually used to refer to the first five books, it can be used to refer to any passage, any chapter, any book, or the first five books, or the whole Old Testament, or even yet, both the Old and New Testament.  Consequently, the whole Bible is TORAH, God’s Instructions and commandments.  Therefore, how can any Christian NOT be under TORAH?  To NOT be under TORAH, a Christian would have to NOT be under the Bible at all.

Consequently, the TORAH is a natural, intricate part of God’s KINGDOM.  Unfortunately, our sin nature rises up, and alters, changes, distorts, or completely rebels against what God has commanded in His Word.  Of course, not to follow the King’s commands infringes upon our relationship with the King.  In his book, Rediscovering the Kingdom: Ancient Hope for our 21st Century World (2004), Myles Monroe writes,

The laws of the kingdom are the way by which one is guaranteed access to the benefits of the king and the kingdom.  Violations of kingdom law places one at odds with the king and thus interrupts the favorable position one enjoys with the king.  The laws of the kingdom cannot be changed by the citizens, nor are they subject to a citizens referendum debate.  Simply put, the word of the king is law in a kingdom.  Rebellion against the law is rebellion against the king.  (65-66)

Myles Monroe was born in the Bahamas when it was still a colony of England.  And it wasn’t until he was older when the Bahamas wanted to be an independent nation of its own.  I remember him saying that when the Bahamas was a colony of England, England paid for everything and took care of everything that they needed, but when it became an independent nation, they had to pay for their own things.  England quit providing for them.

The same is true with God’s Kingdom.  When we make the kingdom our #1 priority in our life, and seek to fulfill its needs and the desires of the King, then God will provide all of our needs.  This is what Jesus meant when He said:  “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). But when we violate or go against the commands of the King, our relationship with Him is interrupted.  And depending on the command, we might feel powerless to defeat the desire of sin in our lives and to obey what God wants us to do.

And this is the reason why Jesus died on the cross.  He died to defeat the power of the sin nature in our lives and to liberate us, NOT just to forgive us, from our sins and the penalty of our sins.  We’ve been liberated from the power of sin; therefore, once set free, sin is no longer a “have to,” but if we do sin, then it was because we “wanted to.”  And just like in our culture, if we do something wrong, we get arrested and taken to court.

And just as the prosecuting attorney, in our culture, would enter into the courtroom and read the list of crimes that we were being accused of to a human judge, so the “accuser of the brethren,” Satan, reads the list of our own crimes against God’s Kingdom before God, the Ultimate Judge.  If we were to be crucified for our own crimes against God, then this list of crimes, or broken ordinances, that we had violated would’ve been nailed to our cross in the same way that the sign, the placard that Pilate had written, was nailed to the cross of Christ above His head, listing His crime against Rome.

But instead, when we ask God to forgive us, and invite Jesus into our lives, God took this list of our crimes against God and His Kingdom, this list of broken ordinances, and He nailed it to the cross of Christ.  So instead of us paying the debt of these sins, Jesus paid for them by His death, the shedding of His blood, and as a result,  we receive God’s pardon instead of His condemnation.  This is actually what Paul is saying in Colossians 2:13-14, NOT that God’s TORAH, or commandments, were nailed to the cross, as I’ve heard erroneously taught numerously times, but that our SINS, our violations against God’s commandments was nailed there.

Yes, Jesus died to defeat the Enemy within our lives, our own sin nature, so now being liberated from its power, we can FREELY RETURN to the ANCIENT PATHS of God’s TORAH, as God’s son or daughter, with the TORAH written in our mind and heart, so we can now “yield our members to righteousness unto holiness” (Romans 6:19c), and as a result, Paul says,

But now being made FREE FROM SIN [NOT GOD’S LAW], and become servants to God, you have your FRUIT unto holiness, and the end EVERLASTING LIFE. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:22-23; Emphasis Mine]

The way of TORAH is that life of righteousness, that “FRUIT unto holiness,” that we are to daily strive to live until we come into the Presence of our King, the LIVING TORAH, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So as I’ve tried to show here, TORAH is NOT our enemy.  It is NOT the opposition.  It is what should be a central part of our lives as God’s children and as citizens of His Kingdom.  But as we approach the last days, Jesus has warned us that disobedience to God’s TORAH will increase or “abound,” and the result of that is that “the love of many shall grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).   The more sin, the less love; the more obedience, the more love.  So even in these difficult times, let’s again embrace our King’s “favor” or “GRACE,” and seek to walk as Kingdom Citizens, reflecting the light of Christ, the LIVING TORAH, and through the power and leading of the Spirit, walk the way of TORAH.

 

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Bridegroom, Garments & Wine: What Do They have to do with “Not Fasting”? (Part 2)

WHAT DOES “PATCHING” A “NEW CLOTH” ON AN “OLD GARMENT” HAVE TO DO WITH “NOT FASTING”?  In the first part of this series, the disciples of John have come to Jesus and asked Him, “Why don’t Your disciples fast?”  Their concern here is not just with “biblical fasting,” but with the fact that God has called Israel to be “A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5), and so by them “not fasting,” these disciples of John feel that Jesus and His disciples are not following the way of HOLINESS, nor are they keeping the PURITY LAWS, formed by large extent, the PHARISEES and, by a much lesser extent, the ESSENES.

So to answer their concern, Jesus first tells them the parable of the Bridegroom, and explains to them that since He, the Bridegroom, was now there, it was not the time for them to fast; however, there would come a time soon when they would begin fasting.

A PARABLE ABOUT GARMENTS

This now brings us to the second parable about the “new cloth” and the “old garment.”  In understanding this parable, it is extremely important that we pay attention to the details of the parable AND to correctly identify what is the “new cloth” and the “old garment.”

A LITTLE COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Matthew 9:16 Mark 2:21 Luke 5:36
“No man puts a piece of new cloth onto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up takes from the garment, and the tear is made worse.” “No man also sews a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.” “No man puts a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new makes a tear, and the piece that was taken out of the new agrees not with the old.”

In all three Synoptic Gospels, the accounts agree on the following points:

  • No man puts a new cloth on an old garment;
  • this action takes away from the old garment; and
  • it makes the tear worse.

In other words, the “new cloth” ruins “the old garment.”  This suggests that the “old garment” has great value, and the last thing the owner wants to do is to ruin it by putting the “new cloth” on it.   But in addition to this, the account in Luke states that there’s really two problems by doing this:

  • it makes the tear worse; and
  • the new doesn’t agree with the old.

Elaborating a bit more on this, the writer of the “Pulpit Commentary” found on the Christian website, Biblehub.com, provides the following explanation for this verse (Mark 2:21):

An old garment, if it be torn, should be mended by a patch of old material; for if a patch of new material is used, its strength or fullness takes away from the old garment to which it is sewn; the old and the new do not agree, the new drags the old and tears it, and so a worse rent is made. (biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/2-21.htm)

Notice that if an “old garment” is torn, the recommendation is that the “patch” used should be made of the same “old material” since it will be equally flexible.  However, if the “patch” is made of “new material,” then “its strength or fullness” will NOT better support the “old material” since the “new cloth” will be more “rigid” and “inflexible,” and it will “take away from the old garment,” making the “rent” or tear worse.  Why?  Because the “old and the new DO NOT AGREE,” resulting in “THE NEW” dragging against “THE OLD” and “TEAR[ING] IT.”

THE PROBLEM WITH CHRISTIANITY’S TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION

Consequently, then, from this explanation, we learn that “no man” will sew a “new cloth” on an “old garment,” because it will only further damage the “old garment” and NOT fix or improve it.   The “new cloth” is still rather “rigid” and “inflexible;” whereas, the “old garment” having gone through the process of “wear and tear” is much more “flexible.” When we consider what is being said here, then the traditional Christian interpretation that the “new cloth” represents the gospel, or one’s new life in Christ, or, even, the New Testament is clearly erroneous since this does not fit the facts of the parable at all.

Not only have Christians traditionally misidentified the “new cloth,” but their traditional interpretation also invert the two images.  In their explanation, they have the “old garment” (the Old Testament law) ruin the “new cloth” (one’s new life in Christ) which is the exact opposite of what is actually taught in the parable.  In the parable, it is the use of the “new cloth” that ruins the “old garment,” NOT the other way around.

This is just one example of how determined some Christians are to prove that God’s Law is “so bad” for Christians, that it had to be “done away with,” “annulled,” or “nailed to the cross.”   They are so focused on trying to prove that law and grace are not to mix, that they take this text OUT OF CONTEXT and actually CHANGE and DISTORT the imagery in Jesus’ own teaching to prove the point. I don’t believe they do this maliciously; instead, I believe this point has been so ingrained into them that they don’t realize they’re distorting the actual meaning of the parable.  But in addition to this subconscious act, they are also misrepresenting Jesus and His teachings by their erroneous interpretation.

In addition, after spending many, many years of doing in-depth studies of the Scriptures, I am thoroughly convinced that there’s no evidence ANYWHERE in the Gospels or in the rest of the New Testament that Jesus ever saw God’s Law as being problematic, “legalism,” or “bondage.” What Jesus did have a problem with were people who added their own rules and restrictions to God’s Law, or even distorted or altered His teachings, and thereby made it harder for them and others to follow and observe what God taught in His Word.

PUTTING THINGS BACK INTO CONTEXT

So in order to properly understand the imagery here, and its relevance to the question that was asked, we need to put Jesus and His teachings back into their proper historical, cultural and religious context:  Israel’s Second Temple Judaism of the first century, A.D.  At that time, Christianity, as another religion, did not exist yet.

Yes, the Bible does tell us that “the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch” (Acts 11: 26).  But the word “Christian” is only used THREE TIMES in the whole New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; I Peter 4:16).   What most Christians don’t understand is that this term was not accepted by the followers of Jesus right away, because it was used to mock, slander, and poke fun of them, just like the term “Jesus Freak” was used for those in the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and 70s in the United States.  So during the writing of the New Testament, the followers of Jesus were still considered to be “a sect” (called “THE WAY“) within mainstream Second Temple Judaism (see Acts 24:14).   Therefore, at that time, the word “Christian” did not mean a member of another RELIGION outside of Judaism.  The process of Christianity leaving Judaism and transforming itself into ANOTHER RELIGION took about TWO HUNDRED YEARS (from the second century, A.D., to the fourth century, A.D.) for this to happen.

Also, during the Second Temple period, a Jew could belong to TWO Jewish groups at the same time, and there were numerous examples of this: Jews who were Pharisees and Essenes, Pharisees and Zealots, and Pharisees, like Paul, who also belonged to “The Way.”
This is why we find Paul identifying himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6; Acts 26:5), as well as a member of “The Way” (Acts 21:14), and apparently, the followers of “The Way” were also called “Nazarenes” (no relation to the Christian denomination of the same name), since Paul is called “the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” in Acts 24:5.   At this point, the word “Christian” had been around for about twenty years, and yet, notice that the Jewish opponents of Paul refer to him as a “Nazarene” and not by the term “Christian.”

SO WHAT IS THE “NEW CLOTH”?

So now that we understand that to correctly identify the “new cloth” and “old garment,” we must put Jesus and His two parables back into their proper context of Israel’s Second Temple Judaism of the first century, A.D., let’s examine two clues to identifying the “new cloth.”

THE FIRST CLUE:  According to the parable, the “new cloth” is intended “to be put in” and “fill up” the “old garment.”  This, of course, suggests “a hole,” “a gap,” or “a tear” in the garment.

THE SECOND CLUE:  According to the parable in Luke, the “old garment” was what was important and valued, and that the sewing of the “new cloth” on it only “ruined” it further since it “widened the tear” and “did not agree” with the “old garment.”

THE ANSWER

Based on the two clues, I believe that the “new cloth” was to a large extent the Oral Torah of the PHARISEES, and to a much lesser extent, the added Community writings of the Essenes.  Each group had their own added “teachings” that were used to “patch” the “holes” or “tears” that they saw within the written Torah (the first five books of the Bible) that was handed down by God and given to Moses and the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai.

For example, there are things in God’s instructions, laws and commandments that are not “defined” or “explained.”  For instance, God said that we are not to “work” on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:10; Exodus 31:15: Deuteronomy 5:14), but God does not define exactly what He considers to be “work.”  Consequently, this “lack of definition or explanation” was considered to be “a hole,” “a gap,” “a tear,” or “an unknown” in God’s instructions and laws.  And to a much greater extent, the Pharisees and, to a much lesser extent, the Essenes, both came up with their own man-made rules on how to “fill in” or “patch” those missing pieces of information instead.

But I believe that God purposely left those “tears,” “holes,” “gaps,” or “unknowns,” so that people would come to Him with their questions, and then He could teach them about Himself and what to do with those “tears,” “holes” or “unknowns.”  Through these “purposed interactions,” I believe God was planning to use them to build and deepen His relationship with His people.  I mean, really, if everything in the Bible was “so simple” that we could understand it all the first time, the unfortunate reality would be that people would come once, say “Thanks,” and then not come back to God.   Therefore, He purposely put these “gaps” and “tears” in His Word.

Also, by people coming to God for His leading and instruction, it would allow for individual leading of the Holy Spirit in those areas where the Scripture is SILENT (i.e., “it has no instructions or explanations given on that topic or area”).  But instead, the Pharisees and Essenes created their own answers to these “holes,” “gaps,” or “unknowns,” placing themselves in the position that God wanted to fulfill in the lives of His people.

In addition, through their man-made rules, they changed and distorted what was supposed to be a KINGDOM (the “kingdom of God”) into a RELIGION, and then insisted on complete and total uniformity of all people within this NEW RELIGION (RABBINICAL JUDAISM) on every little detail in their life.  [IMPORTANT NOTE: In a KINGDOM, the KING [God] is in control, but in a RELIGION, people are, and Jesus was trying to bring people back into a “KINGDOM perspective,” not a “RELIGIOUS one.”  We should also remember that Jesus’ biggest opponents were the RELIGIOUS LEADERS, which is why it is so surprising that Christianity likewise moved away from KINGDOM and became a RELIGION.)

HOW DOES ALL OF THIS DEAL WITH FASTING?

All of this deals with “fasting” in that John’s disciples are not asking about “biblical fasting,” but about the “rules of fasting” that were part of the PURITY LAWS taught prominently by the Pharisees, but also to an extent by the Essenes and John the Baptist.  By giving this parable, Jesus is telling John’s disciples that their man-made PURITY LAWS do not help or “strengthen” God’s Word, but they are, in actuality, “weakening” God’s Word, and making “the tear” between God and His people “worse.”

 

Part 3:  We will finish up this series by examining Jesus’ parable regarding the “new wine” and the “old and new bottles”

 

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Bridegroom, Garments & Wine: What Do They have to do with “Not Fasting”? (Part 1)

“WHY DON’T YOUR DISCIPLES FAST?”   Can you imagine Jesus sitting there with His disciples, and they’re eating and having a good time,  and a small group of people walk up, and ask this question?   Obviously, they could see they weren’t fasting, but why the question?  Why is this issue so important to these people that they would take the time to walk up to Jesus and ask Him this question?  And rather than just giving them a straight-forward response, Jesus tells them three parables, and the last two seem to have no direct relevance to their question, or do they?

IN PROPERLY INTERPRETING ANY BIBLICAL TEXT, CONTEXT IS CRUCIAL!  To violate this rule, only opens the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  And yet, over the years, I’ve seen person after person violate this rule, take a passage out of CONTEXT, and twist it to say whatever they wanted it to say.   And until people are taught that there are RULES that we need to follow to PROPERLY INTERPRET any text, including the BIBLE, then we are not going to see an end to the erroneous ideas being circulated about what the Bible teaches.

A QUESTION ABOUT FASTING

To begin, let’s look at the question that initiates this discussion by comparing it in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Matthew 9:14 Mark 2:18 Luke 5:33
“Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples don’t fast?”

 

“And the disciples of John and the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples don’t fast?” “And they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

IDENTIFYING THE SPEAKER.  The first thing we need to do to understand a text is to identify who is speaking?  What I find interesting is that in comparing these three accounts, it is only Matthew who identifies the speaker as “the disciples of John.”  Mark and Luke do no identify the speaker at all, but they only refer to the speakers as “they.”

IDENTIFYING THE ONE THEY ARE ADDRESSING.  Secondly, we need to identify who they are addressing their question.  In all three accounts, it is agreed that they are addressing Jesus.

IDENTIFYING THE QUESTION.  Thirdly, we need to identify the question they are asking.  In two of the accounts (Matthew’s and Mark’s), the question is “Why do the disciples of John and those of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” Therefore, the focus of the question is on why Jesus’ disciples are not following the same practice of fasting like these other two groups?

But when we come to Luke’s account, there’s more to the question.  In his account, the question is, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”  We are being told, it seems, that the disciples of John often fasted, and not only that, but they “make prayers.”  Does this simply mean that they spent much of their time in prayer, or does it mean that they formulated prayers for those times of fasting?  Also, we learn that whatever John’s disciples were doing, the Pharisees were also doing it as well.  But the focus of the contrast here is on wondering why Jesus’ disciples are spending their time “eating and drinking,” and not doing what these other two groups are doing?

RITUAL PURITY – THE REAL ISSUE

IDENTIFYING THE ISSUE.  Another important element we need to identify is the real issue underlying the question.   The real underlying issue here is NOT the lack of fasting, but the lack of HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY.   According to the Scriptures, God called His people to be “A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5).  Therefore, the belief in what constituted HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY were central concerns of both the ESSENES AND the PHARISEES.

Both these groups believed that they should meticulously observe the Law of Moses, keep the Sabbath and the feasts, practice circumcision, observe the dietary laws, fast, practice “ritual water immersion” (“water baptism”), but also that everyone should practice the PRIESTLY PURITY LAWS.  And although there were variations in what teachings received more focus or how they were to be practiced, each of these two groups had their own man-made teachings specifying the details on how these laws should be observed and practiced.

JESUS AND THE PURITY LAWS

Now although Jesus kept the biblical laws (as given by God), He and the Pharisees often conflicted when it came to these man-made rules regarding how one was to observe the various laws, such as the Sabbath and the PURITY LAWS.  These man-made rules, or what they called “the Oral Torah,” or what Paul called “the oral traditions,” were gathered and collected together by Judah the Prince in 200 A.D., and were then given the name “the Mishnah.”  Then between 200 A.D. and 500 A.D., the Mishnah became the focus of rabbinical study and commentaries, which were called the Gemara, and were added then to the Mishnah, formulating the Talmud.

An example of Jesus conflicting with the Pharisees in regard to the PURITY LAWS was in the need to “wash one’s hands before eating” (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).  Since the priests were to wash their hands before ministering at the altar (Exodus 30:19), the Pharisees taught that wherever one ate one’s food, it was equivalent to the altar, and therefore, everyone was to ritually wash their hands before eating (A PHARISAIC BELIEF, NOT A BIBLICAL TEACHING).  If the hands were not “ritually cleansed” via “washing,” the PHARISEES believed, then the hands were “unclean,” and therefore whatever they touched became “ritually unclean” (i.e., in this case, the food).   So then, if the “unclean” food was eaten, then the person became “unclean” and could not enter into the Temple (i.e., the Presence of God).  As a result, the complaint that Jesus’ disciples were not washing their hands was not about cleanliness and hygiene, but what the PHARISEES saw as a violation of HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY. (However, Jesus did not agree with their belief that “dirty hands” could cause food to become “unclean;” see Matthew 15:20.  And since the food was not “unclean,” Jesus and His disciples were not made “unclean” by it.)

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S ESSENE CONNECTION

But what about the Essenes?  Why are they important in this conversation about the PURITY LAWS and FASTING?  Because according to many modern researchers, John the Baptist was raised by the Essenes of Qumran, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, after the death of his elderly parents.  In fact, not only was much of John’s ministry done near Qumran, but he ate the same type of food that they did as well.  Therefore, when this is considered, it’s not too hard to see the connection between the Essenes, their belief and practice of keeping the “PURITY LAWS,” including “water immersion” (or “water baptism”), John the Baptist, his ministry and his disciples.   So by understanding his Essene influence makes it easier for us to understand why his disciples now are asking Jesus this question about His disciples’ lack of fasting.

JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THEIR CONCERN

Now that we understand who is asking the question and what the real underlying concern is behind the question, now it’s time to examine Jesus’ response to the question.  In His response, Jesus follows the common rabbinical practice of giving two or three different parables as an answer to the question.  Why two or three parables?  Because it is a general principle of Scripture that “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, a thing is established” (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 8:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).   So although the parables deal with different topics, each one in some way is actually responding to the question and the underlying concern.

FASTING AND THE BRIDEGROOM?

To begin with, Jesus responds,

Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.  (Mark 2:19-20)

The term “bridechamber” refers to the room where the marriage ceremonies were held, and the “children of the bridechamber,” therefore, refers to the friends or companions of the Bridegroom.  Jesus is identifying Himself here as “the Bridegroom.”  And He’s telling John’s disciples that since He is here with them, this is a time for joy and celebration; it is not the time for fasting.  This, of course, alludes to Ecclesiastes 3,

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:… A time to weep, and a time to laugh a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

With Jesus there with them, He said that this was their time of joy, laughing and dancing, but there will come the time, He said, when “the Bridegroom” [Jesus] will be “taken from them” [by His death, resurrection and ascension], and then, from that point on [“in those days”], it will be necessary for them to “fast.”

A CONTINUING PROBLEM WITHIN CHRISTIANITY

Over the centuries, Christians have traditionally misinterpreted the second and third parables.   They’ve “read into the text” their own personal or denominational thoughts, beliefs or values, or have practiced what’s called “EISEGESIS” (pron. “Eye-suh-jee-sus“).  This is an improper way of handling any written text, regardless of what it is, and this fallacious approach is still practiced by many Christians, even though it’s what often leads to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

Instead, we need to raise up more evangelists, pastors, teachers, and those in authority to teach believers the right way to handle any written text, which is to teach them about the importance of CONTEXT.  There are some who are doing this, but not as many as who are not.  We need to teach them how to —

  • Understand the text within its immediate context of the passage (what comes before it, what comes after it); and
  • To place the text back into its proper historical, cultural, religious and linguistic context as well.

Once we have done this and come to understand the meaning of the text within these “CONTEXTS,” then we check “the correctness” of that interpretation and understanding by examining to see if it fits with  —

  • the message and context of the chapter;
  • the message and context of the book;
  • the message and context of the entire Testament; and finally,
  • the message and context of the entire Bible.

If the “alleged interpretation” contradicts any of the Bible prior to that passage, then our interpretation and understanding is in error.  We need to remember that a biblical text will NOT mean anything differently today than it did the day it was originally written.

In fact, an effective way of really exploring the depth of Scripture is to view the New Testament from the perspective and understanding of the Old Testament, NOT the other way around.  This was the way Jesus and His early disciples understood their life and events – from the perspective and understanding of the Old Testament – and this has worked tremendously in giving me a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.

Of course, this approach takes some time, research and study.  But as I said, once we understand the text within its proper CONTEXTS, then we want to bring that meaning forward into our situation today and see how it can be applied.  This is known as “EXEGESIS” (pron. “Ex-uh-jee-sus“), which is the proper way to handle any written text.  But unfortunately, again, what I’ve observed being practiced in many churches is EISEGESISNOT EXEGESIS.


PART 2 is scheduled to come out on Sunday, August 19, 2018, at 7:00am.   In that second part of the series,  we will look at Jesus’s parable about the “new cloth” and the “old garment”

 

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