DID GOD CHANGE HIS MIND ABOUT HIS COMMANDMENTS?

THE TRADITIONAL ARGUMENT OF CHRISTIANS IS THAT THEY’VE BEEN FREED FROM THE “BONDAGE OF THE LAW.”  However, their perspective and attitude towards the commandments is in complete opposition to God’s own attitude seen throughout the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures.   What they don’t understand is that they’ve been freed from the bondage of the law of sin – not the law of God.  The confuse these two laws.  And I believe there’s three main reasons for this obvious misunderstanding:

  1.  They do not place the writings of the New Testament back into their historical,
    cultural and religious contexts.  When one removes any document from its context, you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.
  2.  They base their doctrines on only HALF of the revelation that God has given to
    them, i.e., on only the New Testament, and to base any doctrine on only half of the
    available information will always lead to a distorted and erroneous conclusion.
  3.  They look back to the cross, which they should do, but they don’t look forward to
    the coming Kingdom age.  Consequently, their doctrines may seem to be right on
    the surface while looking back, but they are extremely problematic and
    contradictory when we look forward to the future Millennial Kingdom.

A MISSING CONTEXT

One of the major influences that Christians ignore when interpreting the New Testament is Greco-Roman thought and beliefs.  It must be remembered that the New Testament was not the product of 21st century Western American thought.  It was written by Middle Eastern Jews of the Second Temple period of the 1st century who were spreading the news about the arrival of the Promised Messiah, as well as dealing with issues people had coming to the faith from the surrounding Greco-Roman cultures.

For example, in the Old Testament, there really is no discussion about what happens to people after they die.  Obedience to God’s commandments dealt with how we live our lives here on earth; it had absolutely NOTHING to do with what happens to us after we die.  If we obey God, He blesses us IN THIS LIFE, and if we disobey God, He punishes us IN THIS LIFE.   Both His blessings and punishments come to us IN THIS LIFE, not in what happens to us after we die.  This is easy to prove.  All we have to do is read Deuteronomy 28, and all of the blessings mentioned, as well as the punishments mentioned, are things that will happen to us IN THIS LIFE; not one of them deals with us after we die.

Why is this?  It is because God’s focus has always been IN THE HERE AND NOW.  Am I saying there is no afterlife?  No, I am not saying that.  What I am saying is that God’s primary focus is on how we live our lives day-by-day, in the here and now, with Him and with each other.  If we live our lives the way we should each day with Him and others, then what happens after we die will take care of itself.  But usually, those people who are worried about what will happen to them after they die are not living each day the way they should in accordance to the Scriptures.

But because of the influence of Greco-Roman thought on people, discussions about death and what happens after we die, and how the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) fits into this whole idea of what happens, began to be discussed in the time period between the Old and New Testament.  As a result, by the time of the New Testament, there are attitudes and beliefs about the Torah that is not seen or taught anywhere within the Old Testament.  Consequently, it is wrong to take attitudes and beliefs seen in the New Testament and impose them onto the Old Testament when, in fact, they did not exist at all during that time.

For example, if I were to take the attitudes about women and marriage that exist today in the United States and impose them onto the Puritan Colonists who lived 400 years ago, the same exact time period between the Old and New Testament, would that be fair?  No, it wouldn’t because there’s been a lot of changes that have happened in the United States over the past 400 years.  Likewise, it is equally wrong to impose New Testament ideas onto the Old Testament for the same reason.  The Israel that existed at the end of the Old Testament is not the same Israel we see in the New Testament.  Just as the United States we see today is not the same United States that existed 400 years ago.

Therefore, the whole argument about people not being saved by obeying the Torah is based on an erroneous assumption: that the Torah ever dealt with us getting to heaven in the first place, which it never did.  It was to guide our day-to-day life with God and other people, NOT get us into heaven.  People who think that it does have something to do with our afterlife are erroneously imposing the New Testament onto the Old.  Again, the Torah is NOT about what happens to us after we die, but on how we are to live our lives right here, right now, today.  Therefore, most Christian arguments against the Torah is really based on erroneous assumptions, which are simply not true.

And again, because traditional Christianity has repeatedly violated this basic idea and imposed the New onto the Old, most Christians do not correctly understand the original intent and desire of God when it comes to His commandments.

THE FOUNDATION OF OUR FAITH

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes the following:

Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy Temple in the Lord: in whom you also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:19-22; emphasis mine)

Now if Paul had meant for Christian doctrine to be based solely on the New Testament alone, he would not have mentioned the Prophets.  The fact that he did means that the New Testament in itself is not the sole basis of what is to be Christian doctrine.  However, on most topics, Christians only look at what the New Testament has to say about the topic; consequently, their doctrines are based on only half the information, rather than on all the foundation, both APOSTLES AND PROPHETS.

A BASIC PRINCIPLE IN AMOS

A very important principle is laid down for us in Amos 3:7 when it comes to the Scriptures,

Surely the LORD God will do NOTHING but He reveals His secret unto His servants the prophets.

In this passage, God says that He will not do anything that He has not first revealed to the Prophets.  For example, every important detail of Christ’s life, betrayal, crucifixion, burial and resurrection are foretold in the Prophets.  However, there is absolutely NO PROPHECY about God doing away with His commandments.  If God’s desire was to do away with His commandments at Christ’s death and this was part of God’s plan, He would have revealed this in the writings of the Prophets, but He does not at all, in any way.

NO COMMANDMENTS = A CURSE

There’s only ONE Prophet who says something about Israel not having God’s commandments for an extended time period, but this is not seen as a blessing, but as a curse.

Therefore will I return, and take away My corn in the time thereof, and My wine in the season thereof, and will recover My wool and My flax given to cover her [Israel’s] nakedness.  And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of Mine hand.  I WILL ALSO CAUSE ALL HER MIRTH TO CEASE, HER FEAST DAYS, HER NEW MOONS, AND HER SABBATHS, AND ALL HER SOLEMN FEASTS.  (Hosea 2:9-11)

This is the only prophecy given in which God promises to remove from the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim-Israel her “feast days,” “new moons,” “sabbaths,” and “her solemn feasts,” but it is seen as a curse upon the people for their disobedience to God and His commandments; it is NOT seen in any way to be a blessing.  Consequently, the Christian attitude towards these things is in complete opposition to the attitude God has in regard to His sabbaths and feast days.   He sees His people being without these things to be a curse, but Christians proclaim the opposite, that it is a blessing.  This is an obvious contradiction.

THE COMING KINGDOM AGE

When we look at the coming Kingdom age, when Jesus will return and reign on earth for 1,000 years, the Old Testament has much more to say about it than the New Testament, particularly when it comes to God’s commandments.

GOD’S COMING MONARCHY

When Jesus returns, He is going to establish His own international government over all the nations, not just Israel.  His government, which will be a monarchy, not a democracy, will not co-exist with the governments of other nations, including the United States, but He will replace those systems with His own, as well as place believers in positions who have faithfully served Him now.  For example, in Isaiah 9, we read,

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the GOVERNMENT will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to His GOVERNMENT or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Jesus is not coming back to establish a religion, nor is He coming back to attend “church services,” nor to be another religious leader.  He is coming back to re-establish the throne of David (a political position and government), and to rule this world with justice and righteousness.  And according to the prophet Zechariah, He will sit on His throne both as King (a political position) and as High Priest (a religious position).  There’s no separation of “church and state” in His Kingdom since He is both “the church” and “the state.”  They are united in Him, and there will never be any other form or type of government once Jesus comes back again.  His Kingdom and His Kingdom alone will be the only government that shall ever rule over this world forevermore.

THE RE-INSTITUTED TEMPLE SYSTEM

In this same passage in Zechariah, we read,

And take silver and gold, make an ornate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Then say to him, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, a man whose name is the Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD.  Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne.  Thus, He will be a priest of His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.” (Zechariah 6:11-15)

I find many interesting things about this passage.

  1.   “The Branch” is a term used in the prophets for the Messiah.  It’s derived from
    Isaiah 11:1-2a, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a BRANCH
    from his roots will bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,…” Jesus
    is “the Branch” (the Messiah, the son of David).  But also, it says about Him, “a man
    whose name is the Branch.”  What was His name?  Joshua.  Most people do not
    know that Jesus is the Greek form of the name “Joshua,” so that “Joshua” in the Old
    Testament is, in fact, the same name as “Jesus” in the New Testament, depending if
    you translate it from the Hebrew or Greek.  But when the Jews were taken captive
    into Babylon, the name “Joshua” took on another form, Yeshua, and it is this form
    of the name of Joshua that was popular in Israel from the time of Ezra until the
    beginning of the 2nd century, A.D.  And according to research, Yeshua was the
    form of the name given to the Lord when He was born.  But again, Yeshua is
    just another form of the name Joshua.  Therefore, “Joshua (Yeshua) is the name of
    the man who is the Branch (Messiah).”
  2.   Secondly, when Jesus returns, He will rule both as King and High Priest.  This will
    literally be fulfilled, and so will Jesus rebuilding the Temple of the LORD.  Many
    times, Christians try to spiritualize this part of the prophecy, and say that the
    church is the Temple, but there is no need to spiritualize it.  Just as one part of this
    prophecy will literally by fulfilled, so will the rebuilding of the Temple.

We know this because of what is stated in other prophetic passages.  For example, Zechariah 14.  In this chapter, we are told about the return of Christ and the defeat of the world’s military that will come against Jerusalem (14:1-15).  But then afterwards, we read,

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of booths (or Tabernacles).  And it will be that whichever of the FAMILIES OF THE EARTH does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them.  And if the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the LORD smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of  ALL THE NATIONS who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  (Zechariah 14:16-19)

Notice that this biblical feast is not just for Israel, but it is to be observed by “THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH,” Jew and non-Jew alike.  And those who do not observe it will be punished by God withholding the rain from them.  So if the biblical feasts were ONLY for Israel, as Christians teach, then why during the Kingdom Age do we see God requiring ALL people to observe them?

But then look at what it says in the very next two verses:

In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.”  And the cooking pots in the LORD’s house will be like the bowls before the altar.  And every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts; and all who SACRIFICE will come and take of them and boil in them.  And there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts in that day.  (Zechariah 14:20-21)

How can the Temple be the church when people will come to offer sacrifices there that will need the use of pots to boil them?  The sacrifices being alluded to here are not “praise and worship,” but animal sacrifices.  This is well seen in Ezekiel 43-45, which likewise discusses the Millennium Temple.

Now Ezekiel 43: 1-9 describes the return of Christ and the Presence of God to God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  In describing the Temple, we discover that there is, in fact, an altar (43:13-17), animal sacrifices or offerings that will be offered there (43:18-47), including sin offerings (43:19-22).  And then in speaking to the priests at that time, God informs them that from now on,

No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart AND uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary (or Temple).” (Ezekiel 44:9)

Again, if the whole Temple Levitical System ended at the cross, including circumcision, as traditional Christianity has taught, then why is God going to bring it all back again when Jesus returns?

Not only does Jesus tell the priests this, but later on in the chapter, He also tells the prophet that the priests will be doing the following:

Moreover, they [the priests] shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.  And in a dispute they shall take a stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances.  They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts, and sanctify My sabbaths. (Ezekiel 44:23-24)

If the Law of God ended at the cross, as traditional Christianity teaches, then why do we see Jesus saying that the Levitical priests need to teach His people “the difference between the holy and the profane,” and to “discern between the unclean and the clean”?  Why do the Levitical priests need to teach Christ’s people this, because the church has not been doing it, because of their erroneous belief that all these things ended at the cross.

THE SABBATH AND NEW MOON FEASTS

Not only is Jesus going to re-institute the whole Temple Levitical System when He returns, but He is also going to requre all people – Jew and non-Jew alike – to observe God’s sabbaths and new moon feasts:

And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, ALL MANKIND will come to bow down before Me, says the LORD.  (Isaiah 66:23)

Again, if the sabbaths and new moon feasts only apply to Jews, and not Christians, then why do we find “ALL MANKIND” keeping them in the coming Kingdom age?  And this passage indeed deals with the coming Millennium Kingdom since the content of this chapter discusses the return of Christ and His judgment on the nations (Isaiah 66:15-19), and then afterwards how Gentiles will help bring the Jews from all the nations of the world back to the promised land.

THE JEWS WILL BE USED BY GOD

Finally, during the Millennium Kingdom, God will elevate the Jewish people, and every one will seek after them to teach them what they should do.  In Zechariah 8:20-23, we read,

Thus says the LORD of hosts, It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities.  And the inhabitants of one will go to another saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go.”  So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.  Thus says the LORD of hosts, In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment [corner of the garment; the fringes] of a Jew saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” 

God will be with the Jewish people like He has not been before, and all the people of the nations will seek after them, to go with them, so that they may entreat the LORD’s favor.  Since Christianity has traditionally rejected the commandments of God, to live in them, it will be the Jewish people that people will turn to in order to learn the commandments and to entreat God’s favor upon their lives.

OBVIOUS CONTRADICTIONS

And this by far is not all that the Old Testament has to say about the coming Kingdom Age.  But again, when we look at Christian doctrine looking only back at the cross, the problems are not as obvious, but when we look forward to the coming Kingdom Age, the contradictions between Christian doctrine and the Scriptures are much more obvious, if not blatant.

So as long as Christians continue to formulate doctrine and beliefs that are not consistent with both ends of the spectrum, both at what happened at the cross AND what we know about the coming Kingdom age, there will continue to be misinterpretation and misunderstanding about what the Bible teaches us as believers today.

Also, if we truly believe that the LORD JESUS is indeed coming back soon, should we not be involved in preparing people for what is about to take place?  Shouldn’t we be teaching them about the sabbaths and new moon, the feasts, the Temple system, and the dietary laws, since the Lord Himself will be the One who will re-institute all of these things, according to His own word?

Why should we wait to do it when He returns and verbally tells us to do it in person, why not begin the process now, and enjoy the blessings we will receive from by Him for doing so?  In doing this, won’t we be demonstrating to Him that we are indeed anxiously looking forward to His soon return?

 

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In What Context Do We Understand Paul and His Writings? (Part 2/4)

“DID PAUL QUIT BEING A PHARISEE WHEN HE ACCEPTED JESUS [Heb. Yeshua] AS HIS LORD, MESSIAH, AND SAVIOR?”  This is an extremely important question, because how we answer it will determine what overall context we will use to interpret and understand Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] and his writings.  If we place Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] and his writings in the wrong context, then we open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  So to answer it, we need to see what information the New Testament provides us about how Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] viewed and identified himself.

NOTE:   In this series, I am using both Paul’s Hebrew and English names so not to offend any of my readers, whether they identify themselves as “Rabbinic Jews,” “Messianic Jews,” or as “Christians.”  I don’t want to place any unnecessary “stumbling-blocks” or “walls” up between me and my readers, whether potential or already established.

PAUL’S OWN CONFESSION OF FAITH

There are several times in the New Testament that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] publicly proclaims to being a Pharisee [Heb. P’rushim].  First of all, in Acts 23, Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is on trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for the alleged charges that have been brought against him.  During his trial, he notices that the room is filled with both Pharisees and Sadducees.  It is at this moment that he utters this statement.

Men and brethren, I AM a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called into question. (Acts 23:6; emphasis mine)

In his defense, notice that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is addressing the other Pharisees in the group as “brethren;” therefore, clearly identifying himself with them.  Also, notice that Paul says, “I AM a Pharisee,” NOTI WAS a Pharisee.”  His confession of faith as being a Pharisee is in the present tense – not the past tense.  And by making this confession of faith (which is what this is), we learn from Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) that his father and, maybe even, his grandfather were Pharisees and, therefore, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) has continued to live and practice as they had and did.  It was the beliefs and practices of his family, and it was the environment in which he grew up.

If Paul had indeed stopped being a Pharisee when he had accepted the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus], he would not have made this confession.  Therefore, Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is clearly identifying himself as still being a believing and practicing Pharisee.  He did not see his faith in Yeshua [Jesus] as being the promised Messiah to be at odds with his life as a Pharisee, but instead, it was something that gave his life as a Pharisee deeper meaning and fulfillment.

WAS PAUL A “LIAR” AND A “HYPOCRITE”?

Unfortunately, there are many Christians who try to impugn Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) confession and his integrity here at this trial before the Sanhedrin by saying that he only said that “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” to cause a riot between the Pharisees who were there and the Sadducees, knowing that he could then get out of this trial.  Therefore, those that argue this are saying that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was the type of person who would lie or say something that was not true simply to get himself out of trouble.

However, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) did not practice hypocrisy, for he condemned Peter in Galatians 2:11-21 for acting in a way which he viewed as hypocritical, but most Christians want people to believe that this same man who condemned Peter for hypocrisy, then turned around and committed hypocrisy himself twice? Once for saying “I am a Pharisee,” when he really wasn’t, and two by practicing what he himself had condemned.   No, instead, I must stand against Christians on this point.  Instead, I believe that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) saw other Pharisees in the room, and cried out, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee,” because he hoped that they would come to his aid in his defense since he saw himself and believed that he was one of them, and not for the reason most Christians try to argue.

PAST TENSE OR A CONTINUING REALITY?

Another reference where Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) argues that he is still living his life as a Pharisee is in his trial before King Agrippa.  In his trial, Paul states,

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest [or strictest] sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (Acts 26:5)

Some will point and say, “See, the word ‘lived’ here is in the past tense; therefore, it was part of his past, not part of his new present life in Messiah [Christ].”  However, the Greek verb tense of the word translated “lived” is in aorist tense, which means that it’s an “action that was accomplished in the past, but it still has ongoing, continuing effects into the present.”  Therefore, this final line would be better translated and understood as saying,

that after the most straitest [strictest] sect of our religion I lived [and continue to live as] a Pharisee.

So rather than saying that he had given up his life as a Pharisee, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is actually saying the direct opposite.   And the third confession by Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) of being a Pharisee can be found in his own epistles.

Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.  If any other man thinks that he has whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)

Many Christians will point out that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is discussing his past here,  not his present; therefore, his confession to being a Pharisee should likewise be understood to be part of his past.  However, the phrase “I more” is looking at what has been true his entire life, including his present life.  To confirm this, let’s go back and read his statements, and if we do, we discover something very interesting.

  • He states, “He was circumcised the eighth day.”  Has that changed?  Did he do anything to physically “uncircumcise” himself?  No, even though he accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as his Lord and Messiah, he is still “circumcised.”
  • He states, “He is of the stock of Israel.”  Has that changed?  No, one cannot change what group of people one is physically descended from.  Therefore, he is still “of the stock of Israel.”
  • He states, “He’s of the tribe of Benjamin.”  Has that changed?  No, again, one cannot change the genetic group you and your family were descended from, so again, he is still “of the tribe of Benjamin.”
  • He states, “He’s a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”  Now some might argue that this could be changed.  It’s a statement that reflects one’s views, perspectives, values, beliefs, and lifestyle.   However, based on what we see of his life, teachings, and confessions presented in the book of Acts, chapters 9 – 28, we see –
    • His own confession of faith regarding his belief and obedience to the law [Torah] and the prophets [Acts 23:1, 3-5; 24:4; 25:8; 26:22-23]
    • His repeated observance of the Sabbath in the synagogue [Acts 9:19-20; Acts 13:5, 14, 15, 42, 44; 14:1; 17:1-2, 10-11, 17; 18:4, 19-20; 19:8]
    • His observance of the biblical feasts [Acts 20:6, 16]
    • His participation in a Nazarite vow [Acts 18:18], as well as participating in the Temple sacrifices involved in a Nazarite vow, as well as paying for four other believers participating in this as well [compare Numbers 6:13-21 and Acts 21:24-27];
    • Him conducting a Havdolah service (a concluding service for the Sabbath that welcomes in the first day of the week, Acts 20: 7-12);
    • His circumcision of the half-Jew Timothy, in accordance to Jewish practice [Acts 16:1-3];
  • Based on all of this, I see no reason in the biblical account of his life to believe that this statement has in any way changed.  He is still “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”

From his statement so far, there hasn’t been anything said that has changed.  What was true of Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) before his acceptance of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) is still true now.  However, in the next point, it is here that Christianity believes has changed in the life of Sha’ul Paulus (Paul), but has it?

  • He states, “as touching the law, a Pharisee.”  Christianity maintains that this has changed in the life of Paul; however, based on Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) own testimony and life, seen throughout the book of Acts, and based on Yeshua’s [Jesus’] disciples’ own testimony about him (coming later in this study), and the fact that there’s not one denial from another Jew of him being a Pharisee, there’s NO EVIDENCE to believe that this part of Sha’ul Paulus‘ life has changed.

In the following statement, however, there is biblical evidence of a change.  Although part of the statement has not changed, the other part did change.

  • He states, “concerning zeal, persecuting the church.”  In this statement, the part that has remained the same is that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is still as zealous for his faith as he was before.  What has changed is how he demonstrates that “zeal.”  Rather than “persecuting the church,” Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] now goes about proclaiming the very message he once tried to stomp out and to go about establishing churches.

Finally, in this last statement, I believe this is another area many Christians would say has been a change in Sha’ul Paulus’ [Paul’s] life.

  • Finally, “touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless.”

However, I believe this depends upon how you look at it.  Most Christians only define the word “righteousness” as being “one’s right standing with God.”  They would argue that “our right standing with God” has to do with what Yeshua [Jesus] did for us by His death and resurrection on the cross, and not based on our obedience to the commandments handed down to Moses.  In response to this, I would say “Yes” and “No.”

THE TWO MEANINGS OF “RIGHTEOUSNESS”

The word “righteousness” in the Bible is a word that has two levels of meaning, not one.  It has a “judicial meaning” and it has an “experiential meaning.”  Judicially, yes, we are made “righteous” because of what Yeshua [Jesus] did for us on the cross by His death and resurrection.   But once we receive Yeshua [Jesus] into our lives and Lord, Savior, and King and accept His gift of salvation, and we are declared “righteous” before God, we still need to walk out in our life what God has declared us to be.  And this is where the “experiential meaning” of “righteousness” comes into play.  When we obey God’s commandments, including those given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, then we are “experientially righteous” before God.

For example, when God sent Moshe [Moses] to the people of Israel, He told him to tell them that God had given to them the land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Now when Moshe [Moses] told the people this, they were still in Egypt as slaves.  The land had been “declared judicially theirs,” but “experientially,” it was not theirs.  They had to be freed from slavery, leave Egypt, cross the Red Sea, continue to cross the desert, go to Siani, and then finishing crossing the desert to get to the Promised Land.

In the same way, we have been made “righteous” by Yeshua’s [Jesus’] death on the cross and His resurrection.  As a result, we have been liberated from the slavery of sin, but we still need to “cross the sea” in water baptism and leave our “Egypts,” our old life of sin behind.  Then we need to each go to “Mt. Sinai” (receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit).  There’s a reason the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost, the same feast that celebrates the Giving of the Torah (God’s commandments to Moses); the two are connected.  And as we walk out our obedience to God’s Word each day, including the Torah, then we are made “experientially righteous” before God.

PAUL – A BELIEVER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Contrary to what many Christians teach today, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) did not give up give up his belief in the teachings of the Tanakh (Old Testament) when he became a believer in Yeshua (Jesus); instead, he saw his faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as bringing fulfillment and depth to his faith in the Scriptures.  For example, did Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) view his “righteousness, which is in the law, blameless” changed as a result of his faith in the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus]?  No, he didn’t.  Notice Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) confession during his trials before Felix and Festus (Acts 25:8):

But this I confess unto you, that after THE WAY which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, BELIEVING ALL THINGS WHICH ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAW [TORAH] AND IN THE PROPHETS.  (Acts 24:14)

Neither against THE LAW OF THE JEWS, neither against the Temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I OFFENDED ANYTHING AT ALL. (Acts 25:8)

Many will say, “See Paul confessed to being part of THE WAY, not the Pharisees.”  This is true; however, also note that he said that he “BELIEVES ALL THINGS which are written in the Law [Heb. Torah] and in the prophets.”  But most Christians could not make that same confession today since they believe that the Law ended at the cross, and some that the whole Old Testament ended at the cross and, therefore, for them, none of it is valid any longer for them.  If it is not valid for them, then obviously, they cannot say they believe all that is written in it is for them.

PAUL – A PHARISEE AND A FOLLOWER OF THE WAY

Secondly, it must be remember that when the New Testament was being written, the Yeshua [Jesus] Movement was still seen to be a “sect” of 2nd Temple Judaism; it was NOT a different religion then.  And there’s absolutely no textual biblical evidence that Yeshua [Jesus], His disciples, or even Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] saw themselves as being outside the mainstream of the Judaism of their day.

But what many Christians do not know or realize is that one could be a Pharisee AND a member of another Jewish sect at the same time.  In fact, this was quite common during this time.  For example, there were Pharisees who were also Essenes, or Pharisees who were also zealots, as well as Pharisees who also believed in the new sect, THE WAY or who were also known as NAZARENES (see Acts 24:15; not any relation to the Christian denomination by the same name).  So does this quote of being a part of “The Way” prove that Sha’ul Paulus was no longer a Pharisee?  No, it doesn’t.

Finally, notice Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) confession before Festus, “Neither against THE LAW OF THE JEWS, neither against the Temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all” (Acts 25:8).  What is he saying about himself?  Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is saying that as far as his “righteousness according to the law,” he is STILL “blameless.”

Also, many try to prove that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) gave up his life as a Pharisee by focusing on his statement in the following verse.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus  my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I might win Christ.  (Philippians 3:6-7)

Most will say, “See, Paul says he counted them ‘as dung’ and as ‘all loss for Christ’; consequently, he gave them up.”  Actually, he’s making a comparative statement.  He’s saying that in comparison to “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus,” he considers those things he previously esteemed as “loss” and as “dung.”  But does this mean he gave them up and does not make use of them anymore?  No, it doesn’t.

I could say in comparison to “the knowledge of knowing Christ,” everything I have and own I consider “dung,” but that doesn’t mean I have gotten rid of anything that I presently own or have.   I am merely trying to illustrate how important Christ is to my life in comparison to the other things within my life, and that is exactly what Paul is doing here in this passage.  So again, Paul is not saying he gave up his Pharisaic lifestyle at all.  And as we will see, Paul does make use of his training and experience as a Pharisee in his ministry.

THE WITNESS OF THE APOSTLES

Perhaps, the greatest witness that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] maintained his life as a Torah-observant [“Law obedient”] Pharisee comes from James and the other Apostles in Jerusalem.  In Acts 21, after Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] shares what God has been doing through his ministry and they all rejoice, James shares a rumor that was being circulated about him.

they have all been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.  What then is to be done?  (Acts 21:21-22a)

James then suggests that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] join four other men in a Nazarite vow, but not just join them, but also pay for all their expenses.  If you read Numbers 6, the completion of this vow involves the giving of every type of sacrifice offered at the Temple, including a sin offering.  If at any point, Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] thought the Mosaic Law or the Temple sacrifices were no longer valid or important, he could have said so right here.  But not only does he not say anything, but he does join them and pay their expenses, as we see in Acts 21:26.

And what is the point of James having Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] do this?

and all will know that there is NOTHING to the things which they have been told about you, but that YOU YOURSELF ALSO WALK ORDERLY, KEEPING THE LAW.  (Acts 21:24b)

James is clearly saying that he and the other Apostles know that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] would NEVER teach another Jew to not practice circumcision of their children, nor would he ever tell them not to keep the Torah [God’s commandments given to Moses and the children of Israel].  Therefore, for any Christian to say that Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] believed that circumcision was no longer important or that the commandments should not be kept is in direct opposition to the testimony of James and the other Apostles.  These men knew Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] “face-to-face,” but we only know what we’ve been told by others and how we’ve been taught to interpret the New Testament.  So why do Christians feel their interpretation of Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is superior to James and the Apostles’ actual personal knowledge of Sha’ul Paulus [Paul]?

 

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