All posts by Chris L. Verschage

Chris L. Verschage is the co-founder and President of Following Messiah Ministries. Chris is a writer, ordained minister, and ex-community college English & Humanities Professor, enjoys exploring various topics, particularly those dealing with the Scriptures, Judaism and Christianity. Chris' wife, Karen, is the founder and author of her own blog, Karen's Shofar. Chris & Karen have been married since 1981, and are the parents of four children and grandparents of five grandchildren.

PAUL AND THE TORAH: A BASIC INTRODUCTION (Part 3)

HOW WAS THE WORD TORAH USED DIFFERENTLY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT THAN IT WAS USED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?  As we discussed in part 2 of this series, the Hebrew word Torah was used to refer to the first five books of the Bible.  However, when we come to the New Testament, the word Torah has a wider, more diverse usage than what we see in the Old Testament since there were new institutions (Sanhedrin, synagogue}, groups (Pharisees, sadducees, Essenes, Zealots), teachings (midrashim), traditions (Oral Torah or Mishnah) and customs that did not exist at all during the time period of the Old Testament.

TORAH — ITS WIDE SPECTRUM OF USE

In the New Testament, the word Torah has a wider spectrum of use.  For example, Jesus [Yeshua] uses it to refer to the five books of Moses, and Paul [Sha’ul Paulus] also uses it to refer to the five books of Moses, but also uses to a prophecy in the book of Isaiah ( ).

THE PHARISEES’ VIEW OF THE TORAH

In order to begin to understand Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) view of the Torah, we first must understand the Pharisaic view of it since he repeatedly claims to be “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”  Their view of the Torah involves so much more than our Christian concept of the same word.  We read the word “Torah,” and we think about the first five books of the Bible, the Pharisees (and later Rabbinical Jews) read the word Torah, and at its most basic, they think about the following chart:

TYPES FORMS LEVELS
Written Torah Halakhah P’shat
Oral Torah Aggadah Remez
    D’rush
    Sodh

And there’s been much more added to the Rabbinical concept of Torah than what existed during the 2nd Temple period of the New Testament.  In order for you to have a basic understanding of what was in Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) mind as a Pharisee when he used the word Torah, I want to go through now and briefly explain the various terms within this chart.

THE TWO TYPES OF TORAH

The Pharisees, as well as Rabbinical Jews today, believes that God gave to Moses two Torahs on Mt. Sinai:

  • The Written Torah, which constitute the first five books of the Bible, AND
  • The Oral Torah, which is comprised of teachings of the Pharisees and the ancient sages, explanations for how to do the things taught in the written Torah, and customs that developed among the Jewish people as well.

This Oral Torah was later collected and written down in 200 A.D. by Judah the Prince, and is now called the Mishnah.  I have an English copy of the Mishnah, and it is 1,137 pages in length.  In fact, the first teaching in Tractate Avoth, the oldest Tractate in the Mishnah, dating back to at least 200 years before Christ, is the teaching –

Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it down to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and elders to prophets, and prophets handed it on down to the men of the great assembly.  They said three things: Be prudent in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah.  (Tractate Avoth 1:1)

Consequently, this phrase “Raise up many disciples” was carved into the doorway of the Great Synagogue about 200 years before the time of Christ, and was the heartbeat of every rabbi.  And it was this same rabbinic heartbeat, “to raise up many disciples,” that was handed down by Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) to His disciples, in what Christianity calls “the Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20).

In the Oral Torah, there are a total of 6 divisions that are divided up into a total of 63 Tractates.  The 6 divisions are the following:

  • Zeraim (“seeds”) — this section deals with agricultural laws.
  • Mo’edim (“feasts” or “appointed times”) — this section deals with the Sabbath and the other feasts.
  • Nashim (“Women”) — this section deals with marriage, divorce, and contracts.
  • Nezikim (“Damages”) — this section deals with tort laws and other financial laws.
  • Kodashim (“Holy Things”) — this section deals with sacrifices and the Temple.
  • Toharot (“Purities”) — this section deals with laws of ritual purity and impurity.

Therefore, as a Pharisee, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) would’ve had the entire Old Testament, the Mishnah, and Pharisaic interpretations and applications of both memorized.  So that when he thought of the word “Torah,” it would’ve included much more than just the first five books of the Bible.

Therefore, what we as Christians need to understand about Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) being a Pharisee is that one was not born a Pharisee, but one became a Pharisee because of what one believed and practiced.  So when Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) said, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee,” he was not only identifying himself as a Pharisee, but he was also identifying and reaffirming his own belief system and practices, as well as saying that he was continuing in the Pharisaic beliefs and practices held by his father, and perhaps even his grandfather before him.

TWO FORMS OF TORAH

In addition to the two types of Torahs, the Pharisees (and Rabbinic Jews today) also believe that Torah included two forms of interpretation: Halakhah and Aggadah.

HALAKHAH: lit. “the way of walking,” or how we interpret and apply the commandments of God to our day-to-day life.  When a Jew talks about “Jewish Law,” he is talking about Halakhah — not Torah.  One’s view and understanding of the Torah is demonstrated by one’s halakhah, or how one interprets and applies it.   And each group during the 2nd Temple period of the 1st century, A.D., had their own halakhah, or interpretations and applications of the Torah.

For example, when two Jews were discussing halakhah, if person A thought that person B had misinterpreted or misapplied the Scriptures, he would say, “You are destroying the law!”  However, if person A thought person B had correctly interpreted and applied the Scriptures, he would say, “You have fulfilled the law!”

Understanding this, Matthew 5:17 takes on a whole new meaning:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law [to weaken or annul them by incorrectly interpreting and applying them], or the prophets: I am not come to destroy [to misinterpret and misapply them], but to fulfill [to correctly interpret and apply them].

As further proof this is the correct understanding of this verse, in just 4 verses after saying this, Jesus [Yeshua] begins to teach saying, “You have heard…but I say unto you.”  In these teachings, He is not correcting or changing Scripture, as I’ve heard Christian ministers erroneously teach, but interpretations and applications that were being taught by different groups.  When Jesus [Yeshua] referred to the Scriptures, He said, “It is written…” or “Haven’t you read….” But here, He says, “You have heard…” referring again, not to the Scriptures, but to popular misinterpretations and misapplications of the Torah.

AGGADAH:  These are teachings, including rabbinic teachings, that’s not considered halakhah (or legally binding), consisting of stories, parables, legends, history, and witticism.  Although aggadah is not legally binding, they are held in high esteem concerning one’s insight into the Scriptures and piety.

Although Jesus [Yeshua] did not spend a lot of time with Halakhah,  He was clearly a Master of Aggadah (spec., the telling of parables).  On the other hand, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) spent much more time with halakhah in his writings than He did with aggadah.

FOUR LEVELS OF TORAH

Not only are there two types and two forms of Torah, but there are also four levels of Torah.  The first letter from each of these four levels are put together to formulate the acrostic PaRDeS, which means “garden” or “orchard.”  It is taught that how much one gains from the study of the Torah depends on the amount of work one puts into it, just like how much “fruit” you gain from a “garden” or “orchard” depends on how much work you invest into it.  These four levels are the following:

P’SHAT.  The plain, simple grammatical meaning of the text.  It is at this level that the study of the Scriptures begin.  Also at this level, it was considered as one was studying the “breadth” of the Scriptures, and it was likened to one entering into the city of Jerusalem.

REMEZ.  There’s something in the text that seems to hint at or allude to a deeper truth, such as a word, phrase, image, etc.  At this level, it was considered as one was studying the “length” of the Scriptures.  The purpose of studying the use of remez within the Scriptures is to enlarge and strengthen one’s understanding of the Scriptures and one’s knowledge of God.  And studying the Scriptures at this level was likened to gaining access to the Temple Mount.

Not only was Jesus [Yeshua] a Master of Aggadah, but He was also a Master of Remez.  He was constantly alluding or hinting or pointing people back to the Old Testamental Scriptures.  For example, the title He most used for Himself “the Son of man” is itself a remez, alluding back to Daniel’s prophecy of the “Son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14, as well as the discussions of the “Son of man” in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, a book not found in our Bibles, but quoted in Jude 1:14-15.

DERUSH.  Also called “Midrash”.  lit. “investigation,” it is “to seek,” “to search,” “to explore” the concepts and teachings within the Scriptures.  It is the non-literal, homilectic (sermon) interpretation of Scripture (the moralistic meaning).

This level of understanding is based on a detailed level of analysis involving certain rules of logic.  It implies a level of understanding that’s arrived at only after delving beyond the literal wording of the text.  And at this level, it is said that one is searching the “depth” of the Scriptures.  Therefore, the purpose of studying at this level is “to seek out and search the deep and profound mysteries” found within the Bible.

SODH.  A “mystery” or the “hidden” or “secret” meaning of the text.  At this final level, it is said that one is searching the “height” of the Scriptures, and its purpose is to “cross over, lift up, and elevate to the sky the hidden, secret, or foundational meaning of the text.”  There are those who compare this level of interpretation to “being the most privileged among the privileged and entering into the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s manifested Presence.”

 In his writings, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) said that the church was “a mystery,” or in other wise, one’s understanding of it comes only through a sodh-level interpretation of the Scriptures.

Although these four levels allow one to mine more material from the Scripture, it should be remembered that the three deeper levels – Remez, D’rush, and Sodh – are to further develop and expound upon the p’shat (or plain, simple grammatical) meaning of the Scriptures, but they cannot contradict the plain simple meaning of the text.

So when we consider the terms, “breadth,” “length,” “depth” and “height,” it should remind us of Sha’ul Paulus‘ (Paul’s) statement in Ephesians 3:17-19,

So that Christ [Messiah] may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend the breadth [p’shat] and length [remez] and height [sodh] and depth [derush], and to know the love of Christ [Messiah] which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

As we can see, there was a lot more to the Pharisaic view of the Torah than what most people think about in the church when the word “law” is used or thought about.  One of the biggest reasons why we do not realize the differences between Paul’s view and our own is that we tend to view Paul as someone like us, a “Christian” from our denominational backward, who believes things that we do.  However, I am hoping that through this study, we are beginning to see that this is not the case.

Jesus did not reveal Himself to Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) and transform him, and then throw away all of his previous preparation and training as a Pharisee.  Instead, the Lord made use of it.  For example, I was a college English instructor for 25 years, but two years ago, God called me to be a missionary.  Did God just throw away my 25 years of academic preparation and experience?  No, everyday He uses it to help me dig into the Scriptures, to mine out the treasures within its pages, and to share that information with others.  In much the same way, God did not just throw away the preparation and training of the Apostle Paul.  God used his Pharisaic background and training in the teaching and development of these beginning congregations, and in the writing of half of our New Testament.

Sha’ul Paulus‘ (Paul’s) faith in Jesus [Yeshua], the Risen Lord, Savior, and Messiah, did not remove him from 2nd Temple Pharisaic Judaism; instead, it gave his faith even deeper meaning, purpose and significance.  In truth, in and through the Messiah Jesus [Yeshua], God is keeping His promise spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:

The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law [Torah], and make it honorable.  (Isaiah 42:21)

 

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PAUL AND THE TORAH: A BASIC INTRODUCTION (Part 2)

WHEN WE OPEN THE PAGES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, DID THE ORTHODOX JEWS THEN HAVE THE SAME CONCEPT OF THE TORAH AS THEY DID IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?  No, they didn’t.  The concept of the Torah [usually trans. “law” in English Bibles] was much more complex and expansive than what we see in the Old Testament.  The Old Testament concept of the Torah centered only around the first five books of our Bible, but in the New Testament that was not the case.  Why?  Because it included institutions [i.e., Sanhedrin], groups [Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots], teachings [i.e., midrashim], oral traditions [the Oral Torah] and customs that simply did not exist in the Old Testament.

AN OVERLOOKED PROBLEM

This is the problem in studying the New Testament before the Old Testament.  Christians read and study the New Testament with all these institutions, groups, teachings, oral traditions and customs and views of the Torah, and then when they study the Old Testament, they impose all of these things and views into its writings  The problem with this is that all these things and views did not exist then.

A HISTORICAL ANALOGY

In fact, looking at the New Testament world, its lifestyles and concept of the Torah and believing that it was the same as the Old Testament’s is like looking at the United States today, its lifestyles and concepts of law, and saying that it is the same as the Puritan’s of Colonial America. Obviously, a massive amount of change has happened in the United States since the time of Colonial America in a little over 400 years, and a massive amount of change had happened in Israel in a little over 400 years as well (the time period between the Old and New Testaments).  And these changes also included Jewish concepts and views of the Torah.

TORAH – ITS OLD TESTAMENTAL MEANING

In the Old Testament world, the concept of Torah was much simpler, less complex.  In the Hebrew language, the word Torah does not mean “law,” as it is translated in our English Bibles, but it meant “Instruction, Teaching, Guidance, or Directives.”  The word, Torah, in its usual sense of the word, was used to refer to the first five books of the Bible, which God began to give to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and then His revelations to Moses continued until they came to time when they were to enter into the Promised Land.

The Hebrew term Torah is derived from the Hebrew word yara, which means “to cast, to throw, to shoot something straight.”  For example, the word yara is used when someone is casting a spear on a straight course, so that it hits the target or the mark.  Is Torah the target or the mark?  No, it is the “instructions” or “teaching” we need so that we can hit the mark.  So if the Torah is not the mark, then what is “the mark”?  It is a long, healthy satisfying and fulfilling life; that is the mark at its most basic level of meaning. And it is only in having an intimate relationship with God and in living in obedience to God’s word that this type of life is really possible, and the Torah is God’s instruction manual on we can come into that type of life.

SO WHY IS THE WORD TORAH TRANSLATED AS “LAW”?

If the Hebrew word Torah means “Instruction, Teaching, Guidance and Directives,” the question must be asked, why then do our English Bibles translate the word Torah as “law”?   In the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there was a non-Jewish group known as the Gnostics.  Its basic theology was that each person was a god, but people were ignorant of this, so with the right teachers to teach them, they could come to this correct knowledge of truth, and thereby experience their own salvation. This belief was derived from Hinduism, but the Gnostics built on this Hindu idea by going around and gathering other “teachings” to add to their fundamental Hindu ideas.  This eclectic religion was seen as a threat to early 2nd Temple Judaism, and later to Christianity.

With the Greek conquest under Alexander the Great, many Jews left to find work outside the land of Israel, and over time, they began speaking Koine Greek, rather than Hebrew.  So as a result, a Greek translation for Greek-speaking Jews, was needed.  So according to tradition, about 250 years before the time of Christ, Ptolemy II, king of Ptolemaic Egypt (283-246 B.C.E.) who promoted the Museum and Library at Alexandria, requested Jewish scholars and interpreters from Jerusalem to be sent to Alexandria, Egypt, to translate the Torah into Koine Greek.  The resultant translation, known as “The Translation of the Seventy,” thereby its abbreviation LXX, became known as the Septuagint.

When translating the Torah into Greek, though, the scholars did not want the Gnostics to make use of the Torah in their teachings, so to protect the Torah, the scholars did not translate the word Torah by the Greek word didaskalia (Strong’s #1319; “teaching”), but they chose the word nomos (“law”) instead, since there were laws and commandments in the Torah.  Again, they did this, not to hide the meaning of the Torah, but to protect it from misuse and abuse by Gnostics and other such groups.  Of course, the use of the Greek word nomos or “law” in English is problematic since it has such a negative connotation in our language, as opposed to the Hebrew word Torah, referring to the  “instructions, teachings, or guidance” that God gave to Moses to give to God’s people, Israel.

A NOTE ABOUT THE GNOSTICS

The Gnostics were not only a threat to Judaism, as I said, but they were a threat to the early Christians as well.  The Apostle John spent many of his writings opposing the Gnostic influence on Christians.  For example, the Gospel of John, I John, and II John were written, at least in part, to help new believers understand the truth of the Gospel, as opposed to the “false gospel” being proclaimed by the “false teachers” of the Gnostics and others.   However, in spite of John’s efforts, the Gnostics did end up mixing their teachings with Christianity in the 4th centuries, A.D.  This is seen in such works as “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” “The Gospel of Judas,” and “The Gospel of Thomas,” as well as other Gnostic writings.  These “false gospels” were not written by these disciples, since they are dated back to the 4th century, A.D., but were written by Gnostics who ascribed their name to them.  These Gnostic writings were used in the writing of the novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), and then used in the movie that was released by the same title in 2006.

TORAH — A POSITIVE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Now when we look at the Torah throughout the writings of the Old Testament, it is seen as something POSITIVE — NOT NEGATIVE.  For example, the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, was written to praise God for the Torah, its teachings and commandments.  For example,

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law [Torah] of the LORD.  Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with their whole heart.  They also do no iniquity. (Psalm 119:1-3)

The psalmist here says that we are “blessed” when we “walk in the [Torah] of the LORD.”  He then goes on to say later in the psalm,

Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.  Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law [Torah]; yes, I shall observe it with my whole heart.  Make me to go in the path of Your commandments; for therein do I delight. (Psalm 119:33-35)

So shall I keep Your law [Torah] continually forever and ever.  And I will WALK IN LIBERTY; for I seek Your precepts.  I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.  And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I have loved. (Psalm 119:44-47; Emphasis Mine)

The psalmist here desires to study, understand, and keep the Torah of the LORD “forever and ever.”  In fact, in seeking to understand and keep it, the psalmist writes, that it results in us walking “IN LIBERTY” or “FREEDOM,” and not in “legalism” or “bondage” as Christians have been taught to falsely associate with the Torah.  He then says,

O how I love Your law [Torah]!  It is my meditation all the day.  You through Your commandments has made me wiser than My enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Your testimonies are my meditation.  I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.  I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Your way.  (Psalm 119:97-101)

“O how I love Your Torah!”  Due to centuries of erroneous interpretations and teachings, this mindset is hard for many Christians to understand.  In fact, I have heard several Christians argue that the term Torah here does not refer to the five books of Moses, but to all of Scripture.  However, if we look at the terms used here throughout the Psalm, it is obvious that the writer is referring to the Torah of Moses, not to Scripture in general.  The writer uses the words Torah, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, and judgments interchangeable throughout the psalm.  These terms are not used for all of Scripture, but for the teachings and commandments given by God to Moses.  And what does God also say about His Torah?

Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep Your righteous judgments. (Psalm 119:105-106)

Is the Torah of God “a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path?  Do we proclaim our love and commitment to study, meditate and follow the ways of Torah?  Do we proclaim that we “WALK IN LIBERTY” because we seek to keep God’s Torah?  This, in fact, as I said, the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what we hear being proclaimed by most churches today.  Instead of this, we hear churches proclaiming the Torah as “legalism,” “bondage,” and “death.”  Are we really talking about the same Torah or two different ones?

I will say, as we will see, based on New Testament usage, the word Torah can be applied to the whole Old Testament, but even though it acquires that wider usage, it still does not mean we can ignore the original meaning and usage of the word as it is used here in this psalm and in other places in the Old Testament.

TORAH — A DEEPER REVELATION, TRUTHS, AND REALITIES

But the Torah is more than God’s teachings and commandments, there are also deeper revelations, truths and realities contained within its writings as well.  To a certain extent we can see some of them in the English translation of the Bible, but I’ve discovered that there are more that are there within the Hebrew.  For example, in Psalm 119, the Psalmist also writes,

Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (Heb. Torah).  (Psalm 119:18)

The Hebrew word translated “wonderful things” is pala, and it means, “extraordinary, astonishing, miraculous, and wonderful.”  I’ve discovered in my own research that there are things, pictures, and descriptions in the Hebrew that isn’t part of our English translations.  Indeed, there are “wonderful things” there, and so we need to pray and ask God to “open [our] eyes” and “to reveal” these “wonderful things” to each of us.  For a quick example, let’s look at Genesis 1:1 in our English Bibles:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Here is the same verse in the original Hebrew:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

Hebrew, like many of the ancient world languages, is read from right to left, rather than left to right like English (and other more modern languages).  If we read this verse from right to left, we read “Bereshith bara ‘elohim ‘eth hashamayim v‘eth ha-eretz.”  What is important to note is the 4th and 6th words from the right.  The word ‘eth is comprised of two Hebrew letters: the Alef and the Tahv, or the FIRST LETTER and the LAST LETTER of the Hebrew alphabet.  In Greek, these same two letters would be the ALPHA and the OMEGA.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus reveals Himself to His disciple John, and He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 1:8).  In Hebrew, then, Jesus is the eth, He’s the Alef and the Tahv, there in Genesis 1:1.  And of course, this interpretation lines up with the following passage:

In the beginning was THE WORD, and THE WORD was with God, and THE WORD was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.  (King James Version, John 1:1-3)

 In [the] beginning was THE WORD, and THE WORD was with God, and God was THE WORD.  He was in [the] beginning with God.  All things THROUGH HIM came into being, and without Him came into being not even one [thing] which has come into being.  (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, John 1:1-3; Emphasis Mine)

The second passage is a literal translation from the Greek text.  But notice in the King James, it is translated as “All things were made BY HIM,” and the Greek Interlinear, it says, “All thing THROUGH HIM came into being.”  The Greek word that’s used there means both “through” and “by,” but I believe that the word “through” is the better choice, because when we see Jesus [Yeshua] as the ‘eth, the Alef and the Tahv, then we literally have to read or move THROUGH [Him] in order for “the heavens” and then again for “the earth” to be created.  Indeed, as it is written, “without Him came into being not even one [thing] which has come into being.”

Consequently, Jesus as THE WORD, the Alef and the Tahv, the full expression of the Torah, He is there in the beginning with God, creating all things in the heavens and in the earth.  Consequently, what we see written in John’s Gospel was not completely new original material from God, but knowing and understanding the Hebrew text, John is explaining the revelation of Jesus [Yeshua], who He is and alluding to the fact that we can find Him right there in the very first line of the Torah, Genesis 1:1, as well as throughout the rest of the Torah and the entire Scriptures.

TORAH — A STILL YET DEEPER REVELATION

And yet on an even deeper level, each letter in the original Hebrew, called Paleo-Hebrew, was a picture-form language, much like the Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Chinese, or Japanese.   And each picture had its own associated meanings.  For example, the word picture for Alef is an ox’s head, and it means “strength” or “leader” (being the first letter).  The second letter, Beyt, was the picture of a tent, and means “house.”  So when we put the first two letters together, it forms the word ‘Av, or “father,” who is the “strength and leader of the house.”

So what do we get when we put the word pictures together for the word Torah?  We discover that the meaning of Torah is “the cross-nailed man revealed.” This, of course, lines up with what Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] teaches in John 5:46-47,

For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.  But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe My words?

Just as the Gospels in the New Testament teach us about the life and teachings of Jesus [Yeshua], the five books of Moses, the Torah, likewise has as its purpose to provide us with a written revelation of Jesus Christ [Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiach], “the cross-nailed man revealed.” But the problem in much of Christianity is that the majority of people’s eyes are blinded when they read the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, because when they read it, they don’t see Jesus [Yeshua].  Instead, they only see a list of do’s and don’ts, but not Jesus [Yeshua].  We need to pray and ask God to remove the veil from our eyes, so that we may see Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] in every part of His Word — not just in the New Testament.

 

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PAUL AND THE TORAH: A BASIC INTRODUCTION (Part 1)

WHAT IS THE TORAHIn order for us to move on in our study of Paul and his writings, we need to understand the concept of the Torah, and how it is seen and understood in the Old Testament, and how that view began to change during Ezra’s time, so that by the time of the New Testament, the view of the Torah, particularly by the Pharisees, had greatly expanded.  The problem we have in the church is that we are still following the Old Testamental model, when looking at the writings of Paul, instead of realizing Paul’s view as a Pharisee on the Torah was deeper and much more expansive than traditional Christianity’s.

GOD TOLD ME AN EVANGELIST WAS WRONG!

When I was fifteen, there was a well-known Christian TV evangelist that I enjoyed watching; however, on one of his broadcasts, he started talking about what a blessing it was to be freed from the bondage and legalism of the law, and as soon as he said this, there was a check in my spirit by the Holy Spirit that what I had just heard was wrong.  I did not understand at the time why it was wrong, but I knew in my spirit that it was.  Now after doing years and years of research and study, and visiting numerous synagogues, and prayerfully pouring over the Scriptures, I now understand why the Holy Spirit was telling me that what I had heard was wrong.

TORAH – THE BASIC CONCEPT

First of all, the Torah (usually translated as “law”) is used in the Old Testament to refer to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

TORAH – THE BASIC FOUNDATION OF SCRIPTURE

And it is the basic foundation and framework of Scripture.There isn’t anything in the Bible that doesn’t ultimately finds its root or beginning seed within its pages, including the church.  For example, did you know that the book of Psalms is broken down into 5 books, corresponding to each of the 5 books of Moses?  Book 1 of the psalms (Psalm 1 – 41) corresponds in theme to the book of Genesis; Book 2 of the psalms (Psalm 42 – 72) corresponds in theme to the book of Exodus, etc.  Also, did you know that the message and teachings of the Torah are the central foundation and framework of what is taught by the Old Testament Prophets.  Consequently, if we remove the Torah from the Old Testament, we end up removing much of its heart, mind and organs, leaving very little teaching of any real value.  This is so much the case that in Isaiah 8 where the word “disciples” first appears in the Bible, we are instructed to “Bind up the testimony, seal the law [Heb. Torah] among My disciples” (Isaiah 8:16).  And then just four verses later, God says,

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)

TORAH – THE FOUNDATION OF JESUS’ MINISTRY AND TEACHING

According to Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] in the Gospel of John, the Torah is the basis and foundation of His ministry and teaching.

For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.  But if you believe not His writings, how shall you believe My words? (John 5:46-47)

TORAH – THE BACKGROUND AND FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

What most Christians don’t realize is that the Torah is the background and foundation of not only the ministry and teachings of Jesus [Yeshua], but also of His early disciples and the Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) Himself.   Consequently, to really gain a thorough idea of what is being discussed in the Bible, one needs to have at least a working knowledge of the Torah handed down by God to Moses.

TORAH – GOD’S INSTRUCTION MANUAL FOR EVERYONE

What we in the church don’t realize is that the Torah is meant for everyone, not just for the Jewish people.  When we hear or read about the Exodus, we view that as only the Jewish people coming out of their slavery in Egypt, but that is not true.  According to the Bible, there was also a “mixed multitude” (non-Jews) who came out of Egypt with the Jewish people:

And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, and six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.  And a MIXED MULTITUDE went up also them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.  (Exodus 12:37-38)

And it was this combination of people (Jews and Non-Jews) that God led from Egypt and brought to Mt. Sinai.  And this mixture of people, God called “Israel.”  Nor did God give the Torah to only those people who were there at Mt. Sinai:

Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God AND WITH THOSE WHO ARE NOT WITH US HERE TODAY.  (Deuteronomy 30:14-15)

The Torah then was given to His people, Jews and non-Jews, not only those who were there standing there at Mt. Sinai, but also all Jews and non-Jews since then at well.  This, in fact, lines up with a teaching from the Jewish Midrash that I like:

The Torah was given in public for all to see, in the open.  For if it had been given in the Land of Israel, Israel would have said to the nations of the world, you have no share in it;   

Therefore, the Torah was given in the wilderness, in public, for all to see, in the open, and everyone who wishes to receive it, let them come and receive it. 

God does not impose His Torah and commandments on us, but each one of us must spiritually go to Mt. Sinai in our own lives to experience the revelation of God and to receive the Torah for ourselves.

IS THE PERSON FROM GOD – GOD’S TWO TESTS?

Not only are we instructed by God to “seal [His] Torah [“law”] among [His] disciples,” but if someone is not teaching us in according “to this word,” then God says, “there is no light in them,” and we are to disregard their teaching.  This actually corresponds to what is taught in the Torah itself.  We are taught two tests for any prophet (or religious leader):

  • If the prophet or dreamer of dreams gives you a sign or a wonder, and it comes true, but that prophet or dreamer attempts TO DRAW YOU AWAY FROM FOLLOWING THE TORAH, you are to ignore that person’s teachings.  You are, instead, to follow the commandments of God.  Why?  Because we are told, “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 13:1-4; Emphasis Mine]
  • If the prophet tells you that something is going to happen at a particular time, and it does not happen, then that prophet is a False Prophet, and we are to ignore that person’s teachings. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

The very first test that God gives us regarding a prophet or a “dreamer of dreams” is the question: “Are they teaching you to follow the Torah or drawing you away from it?”  Those who take you away from it, God says, are not from Him.  And, of course, this lines up with His admonition in Isaiah 8.

TORAH – IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

WHAT ABOUT PAUL?

So what about Sha’ul Paulus (Paul)?  Most Christians would view him as violating Test #1; however, he isn’t.  The problem is not his writings, but traditional Christian interpretation of his writings.  Christianity has continued to misinterpret Paul because they have continued to ignore his own confession of faith: “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”  And because they have failed to acknowledge him as a continuing Pharisee, they have failed to look at his writings through the teachings of the Pharisees.

For example, in both Romans and, more specifically, Galatians, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is trying to explain some complex Pharisaic (now Rabbinic) concepts and ideas.  For example, the Hebrew concept of Zachuth (Imputed righteousness and Imputed Sin) or the Yetzer Hara (lit. “the evil imagination” or “the evil impulse”).  For example, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) refers to the “evil impulse” as “the old man,” “sin,” “sin nature,” or “the flesh.”  There are times when it is evident that he is finding it difficult to get these ideas across due to the limitations of the Koine Greek language.

OTHER AREAS OF CONFUSION

Some other terms that are not interested by many Christians are the differences between Torah, its various forms and levels of interpretation (will discuss further on), and “the works of the law,” which really refer to certain Jews misusing and abusing the Torah for a purpose it was never intended by God to do — to maintain a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles.   So does “works of the law” refer to the commandments in the Old Testament?  No, it doesn’t.   What about the phrase “under the law”?  Is he’s talking about adhering to the Old Testament commandments?  No he’s not.  And when he says, “we’re not under law, but under grace,” is he saying we’re not under the law of God, but under grace?  No, he’s not.  Over and over again, the church has traditionally misinterpreted and misunderstood Paul because they have continued to interpret him from a Christian, Greco-Roman point of view, which has consistently been their mistake.

WAS PAUL THE ONLY ONE WHO GOT IT RIGHT?

Did you know that the Bible was written over a time span of 1500 years, by 40 different writers who lived on 3 different continents?  And did you know that all but one of these writers viewed the Torah (“law”) positively.  Only one seemingly doesn’t – Paul.  Even Jesus viewed the Law (Torah) as something positive, but only Paul seemingly does not.  Think about this.  Is it likely that all of the biblical writers and speakers, including Jesus Himself, got it wrong about the Torah, but Paul got it right, OR is it more likely that the church has just traditionally misunderstood Paul?

IF THE TORAH ENDED AT THE CROSS – WHY DID JESUS TEACH THIS?

For example, let me give you a verse to examine:

But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. (Matthew 24:20)

In this chapter, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His return and the signs of His coming.  In verse fifteen of this chapter, He talks about them seeing the “Abomination of Desolation” being set up in the Temple, and when they see this, they are to run to the mountains.  Now there are Christians who see this event as happening in 70 A.D., when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and then there are others Christians who believe this event will happen during the Tribulation period.  But in either case, this event would be AFTER THE CROSS.

So tell me, if the Torah [“law”] ended at the cross, including the Sabbath and the biblical feasts, as Christianity teaches, and as a result, we are not to follow its teachings anymore, then why is Jesus Himself telling His own disciples to pray that their flight would not be on a Sabbath?  If Christians are right and the Torah ended at the cross, then what difference does it make?  The fact that Jesus is warning His disciples to pray that an event that will happen at least 40 years later, if not during our near future, does not happen ON A SABBATH, only demonstrates one of many reasons why there’s a major problem with how traditional Christianity  understands and interprets the New Testament teachings regarding the Torah [“law”].

CONCLUSION FOR PART 1

There is so much more to the Torah, God’s Instructions and commandments, than just a list of do’s and don’ts.  The fact is that the Torah did not end at the cross, nor was the reason for Jesus’ death to bring an end to the Torah or the Temple sacrificial system.  Jesus died to deal with the sin issue in our lives, but as Christianity separated itself from its Jewish roots and time continued to progress, the misunderstanding of Paul’s writings regarding the Torah (“God’s law”) continued to build and build.  Until today, they refer to the Holy Words of God given to Moses on Mt. Sinai as “legalism” and “bondage.”

Jesus is coming back real soon to a holy people “without spot or wrinkle.”  We need to wake up to the erroneous views and beliefs of those of the past, and begin again to walk in the holiness God has called all His people to walk in, as a “Kingdom of Priests and as a Holy nation” (Exodus 19:6; I Peter 2:9).

 

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DID GOD INTEND FOR A PERSON TO KEEP THE WHOLE LAW? (Part 2)

In part 1 of this two-part series, called “Did God Intend For A Person to Keep the Whole Law?” we examined the first two erroneous assumptions that the question, “Can people today keep the whole law?” is based.  So now, in the second part of this study, we want to examine the last erroneous assumption upon which this question is based.

FALSE ASSUMPTION #3: IF YOU CANNOT KEEP ONE POINT, THEN YOU CANNOT KEEP ANY OF IT

This false assumption is derived from a misreading of James 2:10, and is used to try and argue that unless one keeps the whole law, you end up disobeying God anyways, so you might as well not even try.  James writes,

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

On the surface, this seems to back up their point, but let’s look at this statement a bit closer by applying it to Jesus Himself and seeing if it works with Him, and then looking at James and finally by putting it back into context.

First of all, let’s apply this statement to Jesus Himself.  Did Jesus obey the laws of the Levitical priesthood?  Is there evidence in the Gospels that Jesus learned how to cut up the sacrifices and then offered them on the altar for people?  No, there’s isn’t.  Is there any evidence that Jesus kept a farm, and he kept the edges of his fields for the poor, widows or orphans?  No, there isn’t.  Is there any evidence that Jesus kept the laws regarding menstruating women?  No, there isn’t since He’s a man, not a woman.  My point is that if we apply this Christian argument to Jesus Himself, as stated in their understanding of James 2:10, then it must be concluded that Jesus was a sinner, since He Himself did not keep the commandments mentioned.  However, the Bible says that Jesus was without sin, so apparently, then one does not need to obey all the commandments, for one to be seen as “blameless” in their obedience to the law.  One only needs to keep those laws and commandments that apply to them, just as Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him as a single Orthodox Jewish man living in the land of Israel during the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E..

Some people might say, “Yeah, but Jesus was God, so He didn’t have to keep them all,” but as a Jewish man, if He did not keep them, then He would have been guilty of sin, and even as God, if He didn’t keep them He would be a hypocrite, like the scribes and Pharisees He accuses, since He would have taught one thing and did another.

But let’s look at a person like you and me; let’s examine the author of this epistle, the person of James.  What was he like? According to the early 4th century, C.E., Church historian, Eusebius, in his book Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged (trans. by C.F. Cruse), he quotes Hegesippus’s description of James the Just.  Hegesippus was a Christian chronicler of the early Church who lived between 110 – April 7, 180 A.D.  This would place him about 80-150 years after the time of Christ, or about 10-80 years after the time of the Apostle John. In his writings, Eusebius quotes him as saying:

(4) James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of the Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles.  This apostle was consecrated from his mother’s womb.  (5) He drank neither wine nor formented liquors, and abstained from animal food.  A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a [public] bath.  (6) He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary [Temple].  He never wore woolen, but linen garments.  He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual application and kneeling before God.  (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 59-60)

From this we learn that James, the brother of the Lord and the author of the New Testament book of James, remained a Nazarite from the time of his birth until his death, much like the prophet Samuel or John the Baptist.  Even though Samson started off as a Nazarite, he shared his secret to his great strength with Delilah, who then used that knowledge to betray him into the hands of the Philistines by having someone else cut his hair, thereby losing his great strength, so he could be easily captured.

But unlike Samson, James remained a Nazarite to his death.  From this account about James in Eusebius’ history, we discover that there were many of the Jewish leaders who had come to faith in Yeshua [Jesus].  As a result, those among the scribes and Pharisees who were not believers came to James and asked him to do the following:

(10) We entreat thee, restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as if he were the Christ.  We entreat thee to persuade all that are coming to the feast of the Passover rightly concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee.  For we and all the people bear thee testimony that thou art just, and thou respectest not persons.
(11) Persuade therefore the people not to be led astray by Jesus, for we and all the people have great confidence in thee.  Stand therefore upon a wing of the temple, that thou mayest be conspicuous on high, and thy words may be easily heard by all people; for all the tribes have come together on account of the Passover, with some of the Gentiles also. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)

One may wonder why the Scribes and Pharisees would come to James with this request; however, in the time up to the resurrection, James did not believe that Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) was the Messiah.  What is inferred from the New Testament is that James did not come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), until Yeshua (Jesus) personally appeared to James after the crucifixion and resurrection, much like Yeshua [Jesus] had done to Sha’ul Paulus (Paul).

In I Corinthians 15, we learn that after Yeshua (Jesus) rose bodily from the dead, He was seen by “Cephas (Peter), then of the twelve” (15:5), and then the passage continues:

After that, He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.  After that, He was seen by James; then of all the apostles.  And last of all he was seen by me also, as one born out of due time.  (I Corinthians 15:6-8)

So it may be that the scribes and Pharisees were not aware of this event, and James’ transformation and new faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Promised Messiah.  One must wonder why James did not say something?  It may be that he saw this as opportunity to tell all those who were there that Yeshua [Jesus] was, in fact, the one true Promised Messiah.  But once they got James in place on the wing of the Temple, they went down to where the people were gathered, and cried out to James:

(12)  The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees, therefore, placed James upon a wing of the Temple, and cried out to him, “O thou just man, whom we ought all to believe, since the people are led astray after Jesus that was crucified, declare to us what is the door to Jesus that was crucified?  (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)

Taking advantage of this situation, James responds to their question by stating the following:

Why do you ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man?  He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.  (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)

In addition to this confession, he also proclaimed that “Jesus Christ was the Son of God, our Savior and Lord” (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 59).  Obviously, the scribes and Pharisees were so infuriated in that James had proclaimed his faith in Jesus, rather than denouncing him, that they went to the wing of the Temple and threw him down.  And then those down below began to stone him, since he didn’t die from the fall immediately.  But James turns around, kneels down and prays,

I entreat thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 61)

When he didn’t die right away from the stoning, one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, grabbed a club and beat him to death. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 61)

But in looking at how he lived and died, James kept to his faith in the Torah, as well as his faith in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus); in fact, he went ever further than what was required in the Torah for a Nazarite to do, so he would remain blameless in his obedience to God.  And interestingly, even in his death, he said the same words as Jesus, His Lord and brother: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Now considering what we now know about James, is it likely that he believed since he could not do every thing taught in the Law that he believed that obedience to the Law was a waste of time?  Obviously not.  Instead, from his extreme Nazarite lifestyle, his death, and what he wrote in his epistle, there’s reason to question Christianity’s interpretation of James 2:10.  So let’s put this line back into the context of the passage.

5.  Listen my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?
6.  Yet you dishonored that poor man.  Didn’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7.  Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that you bear?
8.  If you really carry out the royal law [James’ view of God’s law] prescribed in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18], you are doing well.
9.  But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10.  For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.
11.  For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder.  So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker.
12.  Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom [another description of God’s law by James].
13.  For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  (James 2:5-13)

Now when we look at the line in context with the rest of the passage, we can see verse 10 is not given to try to dissuade readers from obeying the law (Heb. Torah), as many Christians use this verse, but James is using it for the exact opposite purpose.  He is using it to try and encourage more, fuller obedience to the commandments, not less, which would be in keeping with what we know about James and his ultra-Orthodox Jewish Nazarite lifestyle and beliefs.

Consequently, then, when Christians use this verse to try and dissuade people away from obeying the commandments, they are clearly taking this verse out of context and misrepresenting it, to make it say what they want it to say, rather than using it as James intended it to say within his epistle.

Conclusion of Part 2

Consequently, then, Christians need to quit asking this question since it is based on these three erroneous assumptions.  It is time that we are taught and learn to put the Scriptures back into their appropriate contexts, and to view things in the New Testament from the light and perspective of what is taught in the Old Testament, the order in which gave and taught the Scriptures, rather than the traditional order used by the church in teaching the Scriptures backwards, New Testament and then the Old Testament.

 

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DID GOD INTEND FOR A PERSON TO KEEP THE WHOLE LAW? (Part 1)

CAN PEOPLE TODAY KEEP THE WHOLE LAW?  The question, at least on the surface, looks like it would provoke some interesting biblical conversation; however, many Christians who ask this question use it with the intent of dissuading obedience to God’s commandments.  But those who ask this question are not aware that their interpretation of the law, as well as this question, is based on three erroneous assumptions.  Although I believe in their minds, they are sincere in what they believe – based on their denominational interpretation of Scripture – but this does not change the fact that the assumptions they are using in their argument are erroneous or false.

In this part of this blog article, we will examine the first two false assumptions that this argument is based upon, and then in the second half of the article, we will examine the last assumption, which is derived from James 2:10.

FALSE ASSUMPTION #1 – THE QUESTION ITSELF

The very question they ask, “Can people today obey the whole law?” is based on a false assumption: that God intended an individual to keep the whole law.   When one goes back and actually reads “the Law,” or more accurately, the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, one realizes the error of the assumption.  God never intended for anyone to actually keep all of the commandments given.  And the reason people can’t keep it is not because people are morally corrupt, as most Christians often teach, but simply because one would have to be a man and a woman at the same time, as well as a farmer, a priest, a high priest, and a king at the same time too.

For example, in the book of Leviticus, there are a series of commandments in the first 6 chapters, where God gives instructions to the Levitical priests on how the animal sacrifices were to be performed.  Now did God intend for every person to walk into the Temple and to cut up their own sacrifices and offer them on the altar?  No, He didn’t.  There’s also commandments regarding a future king.  Did God intend for everyone in the nation to rule and reign as king, so they would have to do these commandments?  No, He didn’t.  Thirdly, in Numbers 6, God gives instructions for what one should do who takes upon himself the vow of a Nazarite.  Now did God intend or require every male to take the Nazarite vow?  No, He didn’t.  It was only for those who wanted to do this.  We could also look at the laws regarding the High Priest, women or farmers.  My point is that although there are commandments that apply to everyone, there are commandments, such as the ones mentioned (plus others) that were not intended for everyone to follow.  Therefore, to even ask the question is to imply an assumption that simply is not true.

Let’s consider the United States Constitution.  There are laws in the Constitution that do not apply to me as an American citizen, but even though those laws do not apply to me directly, I am still required to obey the Constitution.  For example, there are laws that regulate the office of the U.S. President.  I am not the President, so therefore, those laws do not apply to me.  Also, there are laws regarding Congress.  I am not a congressman, so therefore, those laws do not apply to me.  And finally, there are laws regarding the Judiciary [Judges], but I am not a judge, so therefore, those laws do not apply to me.  But even though there are laws that do not apply to me, there are laws that do, and therefore, I am only required to obey those laws.

In much the same way, not all of God’s laws apply to me as a citizen of His Kingdom.  Now why don’t most Christians see this?  Because they have been taught to view God’s commandments through the “eye-glasses” or “lens” of a RELIGION, rather than through the “eye-glasses” or “lens” of a KINGDOM.  Unlike a RELIGION, a KINGDOM is a political, social, cultural, historical, and also, in this case, a religious entity, and based on everything that I’ve studied and the revelations that God has given to my wife and I, God NEVER intended His Word to be viewed as a RELIGIOUS TEXT, but as a KINGDOM MANUAL.

In other words, the commandments of God comprise God’s Constitution for His KINGDOM.  Israel was the first NATION to come into His KINGDOM, so as a result, God instructed them on what was expected of any NATION who would become a part of His KINGDOM.  The commandments, therefore, were given to teach them who God is, what He is like, and how they were to conduct themselves in relationship to God, how various elements of their NATION were to conduct themselves, as well as how individuals within that NATION were to also relate to God and to one another.

Just as an architect and builder would build a model home to draw people into that area and to buy homes from them, so God created His own model NATION, so other NATIONS would see Israel [His model nation], and would want for themselves the same thing.  For example, look at what Moses tells the people of Israel, who are ready now to go into the Promised Land to occupy it:

Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land wherever you go to possess it.  Keep therefore and do them; for this is YOUR WISDOM and YOUR UNDERSTANDING in the SIGHT OF THE NATIONS, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this GREAT NATION is a WISE and UNDERSTANDING people.  For what NATION is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon Him for?  And what NATION is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?  (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

Did you notice that the focus is on Israel as “A NATION,” and not upon them as individuals?  Also, did you notice that their obedience to these commandments would be their “WISDOM” and “UNDERSTANDING” – NOT their SALVATION?   Nor did God intend for Israel alone to be the only NATION in His KINGDOM.  Look what God reveals to the prophet Daniel:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and and came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that ALL PEOPLE, NATIONS, AND LANGUAGES, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Did you notice that although there is ONE KINGDOM, it is made up of “ALL PEOPLE, NATIONS (not just one), AND LANGUAGES (also not just one).”  The KINGDOM is MULTI-NATIONAL, and therefore, the Law (Heb. Torah) is likewise meant for people of ALL NATIONS, not just for the Jewish people.

However, I know people will say, “But God gave the Torah to only the Jewish people,” but that is biblically not true.  The Jewish people were not the only ones who came out of Egypt with Moses, but there was non-Jews in that group as well:

And a MIXED MULTITUDE went up along with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.  (Exodus 12:38)

How can the Law (Torah) be only for the Jewish people, when it was given to a population that consisted of both Jews AND Non-Jews?  The reason most Christians do not see this blatant contradiction in what they think the Law is about, and who it was given to vs. what it says about itself is two-fold:

  • They have not been taught to view them in this way.  An error in perspective that goes back many, many centuries; and
  • They don’t read their Bible, particularly the commandments, since many of them don’t believe they pertain to them, so they think, “Why read it?”  They rely on the minister to tell them what they need to know, and what is often given is the denominational view of things, rather than what the Bible actually teaches.  This is not an assumption on my part, but based upon surveys and studies which indicate this.

I’m not trying to be offensive here, but the fact is that in general, most Christians do not read their Bible.  They revere it, and they think it is important, but they don’t take the time to actually read and study it.  Also, most Christians have been taught to read their Bible backwards.  They start with the New Testament before they get to the Old Testament.  This means that they’re understanding the Old Testament in light of what their denomination believes the New Testament teaches – this is clearly seen in the different interpretations of the New Testament by the various 34, 000 Christian denominations – rather than understanding the New Testament in light of what the Old Testament teaches, which is the order and framework in which God intended for us to use.

FALSE ASSUMPTION #2 – THE ABSENCE OF THE TEMPLE, PRIESTHOOD, AND SACRIFICES

Christians who don’t believe that all the law can be kept also are quick to point out that several of the commandments involve a Temple, a priesthood, and animal sacrifices.  However, they are also quick to point out that since these things do not exist, we cannot obey these commandments; therefore, the effort to obey God’s commandments is a waste of time.  However, their assumption is again in error.

When ancient Babylon conquered Israel in 586 B.C.E., they destroyed the first Temple that had been built by King Solomon.  The Jews were then taken as captives to Babylon for seventy years.  While in Babylon, the Jews did not have a Temple, active priesthood or animal sacrifices.  Did God then tell them, “Sorry guys, no Temple, priesthood or sacrifices, so I guess we’ll just have to forget this whole commandment thing”?  No, He didn’t.  Instead, He expected them to keep what commandments they could.  For example, in the book of Daniel, which was written by Daniel while the Jews were in Babylon, Daniel maintained his obedience to God by praying three times a day (Daniel 6:10) and by keeping the dietary laws (Daniel 1:8, 12-17).  Prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Jews, like David, prayed three times a day (Psalm 55:17), and now in Babylon, Daniel is continuing this practice as well.

Did God reject Daniel’s, as well as Hananiah’s (renamed “Shadrach”), Mishael’s (renamed “Meshach”), and Azariah’s (renamed “Abed-nego”) obedience to what commandments he and his friends were able to keep since they could not keep them all?  No, instead, God blessed their obedience to Him.  Even though they could not keep them all, He still blessed them for the commandments they did keep.  For example, Daniel 1:17 says, “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”  When we obey God and His commandments from our hearts, He blesses us in this life, He does not condemn us because we cannot keep them all, as Christians suggest from this question.

And when the Jews returned from Babylon, they eventually did rebuild the Temple, and re-instituted the Levitical priesthood and the animal sacrificial system.  And then those commandments which they were not able to do before could now be done.  And likewise today, there’s not been a Temple since 70 A.D., when the Romans, under Titus, destroyed it, but now in Jerusalem, the Temple Institute has recreated all of the elements for the Temple, and it has been training the Levitical priests on how to do all their duties, like how to perform the animal sacrifices.  The only thing that’s missing is the building.  So my question to those Christians who ask this question is, “What will you say when there is a Temple, a functioning priesthood and animal sacrifices?  What will happen to your argument then?”

CONCLUSION OF PART 1

Consequently, from these first two erroneous assumptions, we can see that the basis on which this concept is based is not logically, or biblically, valid.  And even in part two, as we examine the Christian understanding and use of James 2:10, we will continue to see the same problem: the discrepancies between what Christians believe and teach from what the Bible itself teaches.

 

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Eternal Life: “What is it & When do we receive it?”

WHAT IS “ETERNAL LIFE”?  Throughout my life, I have heard ministers say that we receive “eternal life” the moment we go forward and give our lives to Christ.   The first time I stood up to receive Christ into my life, I was 5 years old.  My family and I were attending a small Pentecostal Church of God church at the time, and it was at the end of a sermon, and I remember there was a small group of us that stood together.  I stood there among the rest as the pastor said something, and then he led the group in prayer.

But the moment that stands out in my mind the most happened 9 years later.  I was attending a Christian school at the time, and that spring, all the 8th graders and their teachers went on a 3-day retreat at a nearby campground.  We were broken into groups, and each group was assigned a cabin, and in the center of the campground, there were two main buildings:  one building was for the showers, and the other was the main building where we met and had our meals.

And each morning, before coming to breakfast, we were to go off alone and spend time with God in prayer, called “15 with Father.”  It was during one of these moments that I had gone out to the lake, away from everyone else, and I prayed and committed my life to Christ.  It was after this prayer, that lines to a song started coming to my mind, and before the end of the sessions that day, I had all the words to the first song I had ever written, called “A Message from Paul.”  It was also after that life-changing prayer that I felt God beginning to direct me into doing things I would have normally not done on my own.  In this case, it was to play this new song in front of the entire 8th grade class.  This was the beginning of many such directions and changes that would occur within my life.

But what was this ETERNAL LIFE that I had received when I asked Jesus to come into my heart and life?  After awhile, I developed this image in my mind that “eternal life” was like a “gift” I received at Christmas, and that once I received it, it was my responsibility to do whatever was necessary to hold on to it until my time of judgment.  It was like my Free “Get into the Kingdom Card.”  But the problem is that the image I had of it growing up is NOT what the Bible actually teaches.  So as I searched the Scriptures to see what it had to say about ETERNAL LIFE, I discovered a number of things about it that I did not know.

ETERNAL LIFE – THE UNENDING LIFE OF GOD

The phrase ETERNAL LIFE is the English translation of the Greek phrase zoe aionios, which refers to the “eternal life of God.”  It was this same “life of God” that had been in the original Adam when God created and formed him from the dust of the ground, and then God breathed into his nostrils “the breath of life,” and then “man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

But when Adam and Eve sinned against God, not only were they chased out of the Garden of Eden (a picture of God’s Kingdom), but the “eternal life of God” inside of them had become damaged, distorted, parts of it lost, and Adam and Eve had died spiritually that day.  But when we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, that “eternal life of God” is again restored to us, and it begins to mold and shape us again, and to change us into “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).  As we are taught in the Scriptures,

lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the LIKENESS OF GOD has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

In other words, the ETERNAL LIFE that Adam and Eve lost in the Garden, Jesus has restored to us through His death and resurrection, and this life is breathed into us again through the Holy Spirit, and it begins working on the inside of us to mold and shape us into the image and likeness of Christ.  It is God’s desire that we begin to think and act like Christ in how we interact with God, with one another, and even in how we minister to others.  For as God teaches us in His word, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 2:5)

“ETERNAL LIFE” – ANOTHER MEANING

Although we are promised ETERNAL LIFE when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, I discovered that “ETERNAL LIFE” is not a thing to be possessed, but it is a WHO. In John 17, Jesus Himself provides us with the definition of ETERNAL LIFE:

And this is ETERNAL LIFE, that they might know You, the Only True God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3)

What is “Eternal Life”?  It is an intimate relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ.  It is through Christ, and what He did for us on the cross, that we are able to have and develop an intimate relationship with God.  You see, God is “ETERNAL,” and He is the source of all life, so He is “ETERNAL LIFE.”  In fact, several times in the Gospels, Jesus tells people, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.”  So then, ETERNAL LIFE is to be found in Christ:

And this is the record, that God has given to us ETERNAL LIFE, and this life is in His Son. (I John 5:11)

But not only is ETERNAL LIFE to be found in Christ, but since Jesus Christ Himself is also God incarnate, He is also ETERNAL LIFE:

For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that ETERNAL LIFE, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.  (I John 1:2)

It is Jesus Christ who is the “ETERNAL LIFE,” who was “with the Father” and “was manifested unto us.”  Later on in his epistle, John makes it clear that Jesus Christ is not only “the True God,” but that He is “ETERNAL LIFE” as well.

And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is THE TRUE GOD and ETERNAL LIFE. (I John 5:20)

Consequently, since ETERNAL LIFE is not something that we can personally possess, since it is not a “thing,” but it is an intimate relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ, then as long as we continue to build and to develop that relationship, we have ETERNAL LIFE.

ETERNAL LIFE – THE “GIFT OF GOD”

Not only is ETERNAL LIFE an intimate relationship with God, but in Romans 6, we learn that this “intimate relationship” is freely offered to each of us as God’s “gift.”

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23)

In this verse, the phrase “the gift,” or in some translations “the free gift,” is the Greek word charisma.  In the “Lexical Aid to the New Testament,”

Charisma, derived from charis, grace, and the suffix -ma, indicating the result of grace.  A gift of grace; an undeserved benefit from God.  (1768)

As this definition shows, the root word of charisma is charis, or “grace,” and charisma is the same word that’s used to describe, for example, the “gifts of the Spirit,” like “the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the gift of faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, the gift of prophesy, the discerning of spirits, different kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues” (I Corinthians 12:8-11).

The “gifts of the Spirit” are likewise called a “gift” (Gk. charisma), and yet, God maintains His control on these gifts.  For example, in I Corinthians 12, God tells us,

But all these [gifts] works that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.  (I Corinthians 12:11)

If God maintains the control of these gifts, and divides them out as He will, then why do we believe that another “gift” (Gk. charisma), which He gives to us, it is ours to possess?  As stated earlier, ETERNAL LIFE is a relationship with God that He offers to us freely; this is why it is called “a free gift.”  It is not something that we can just hold onto or keep in our room somewhere.  It is something that needs to be strengthened and developed, just like we would try to strengthen and develop our relationship with any one that we loved.

I sincerely believe that most Christians have the wrong image of this “gift.”  Not only do they see it as something that they now possess, but they have the view, like I did, that it is their own private “Free Entry into the Kingdom card.”  However, if they don’t begin to see ETERNAL LIFE as a relationship, rather than a thing, I’m concerned that they will waste their opportunity to build their relationship with God and Jesus Christ; but instead, they will spend all their time pursuing “the American Dream,” and when they really need that relationship, they’ll discover that God does not enjoy being abandoned, anymore than a spouse.

ETERNAL LIFE – WE MUST CONTINUE TO ABIDE IN HIM

We not only receive ETERNAL LIFE initially when we accept Jesus into our hearts and lives as Lord and Savior, but this initial step is where ETERNAL LIFE begins; it does not end there.  God does not give us things “up front,” since He knows our typical behavior.  If He did give us things “right up front,” we would say “thank you,” and then leave Him and go on to live our own lives our own way.  Therefore, God knows that the only way we will keep coming back again and again is if He does not offer everything to us all up front, but that He offers it to us a bit at a time.  “Line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there” (Isaiah 28:10).  For example, let’s look at John 3:15-18, and I’ll show you what I mean.

That whoever [continues to] believes may in Him have ETERNAL LIFE.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [continues to] believes in Him should not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who [continues to] believes in Him should not be judged; he who does not [continues to] believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Four times in these four verses, John wrote “believes” as a present participle.  In other words, he wanted to emphasize that we had to do more than believe one time to acquire “ETERNAL LIFE.”  Instead, we needed to “repeatedly” or “continue to” believe in order for us to have “ETERNAL LIFE.”

Let’s examine another passage.  In John 8, Jesus is speaking to “those Jews who had believed Him” (John 8:1), and yet look what He tells these “believing Jews,”

IF YOU CONTINUE in My word, THEN are you My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  (John 8:1; Emphasize Mine)

Jesus did not tell these “believing Jews,” “Great job, guys, you started with Me.  That’s awesome!  You are all set for heaven now.”  No, that was not His message to them.  Jesus’ focus is NEVER on whether someone starts with Him, but whether or not they CONTINUE.  That was His focus.  So when we meet someone, we not only need to know whether they went forward at some point in their life and got saved, but if the answer is yes, then the very next set of questions should be the same questions that Jesus Himself would ask:

“Where are you now in your relationship with God and Christ?  Are you continuing to grow and develop?  Are you continuing to see changes in your life, or have you plateaued or stopped growing completely?”

Let’s look at what Jesus taught in John 15,

I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman (or gardener). (15:1)

Now the “gardener” is always greater than the “vine” within the garden.  Notice that Jesus places His Father and Himself on very different levels.  Now let’s look at the next verse:

Every branch in Me that [continues to] bear not fruit He takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (15:2)

Now He says that if “a branch” [a believer in Him] does not “continue to” bear fruit, God the Father [the gardener] “takes [it] away.”  The very fact that the verb “bear” is a present participle means that it just doesn’t bear fruit once or twice, but God has tried a number of times to get this branch to bear fruit, but there will come a point, Jesus says,  where God will finally remove the “branch” from the “vine,” His Son Jesus Christ.    But those branches that do “bear fruit,” He says that God will “purge” or trim away things from their life, so that they will “bring forth more fruit.”

THE ANALOGY OF THE OLIVE TREE

In Romans 11, Paul makes a similar point in his “Olive Tree” analogy.  In this portion of his epistle, Paul is directly addressing us non-Jewish believers in Christ.  Beginning with verse 11, Paul writes,

And if some of the branches [some of the Jewish people] be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, was grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the Olive Tree; boast not against the branches.  But if you boast, you bear not the root, but the root you.  (Romans 11:17-18)

Notice that God was willing to break off some branches from the tree, and that as non-Jewish believers (or Christians), we have been grafted in among the people of Israel.  And with them, we partake of “the root and fatness of the Olive Tree,” which would be the teachings of the Old Testament and God’s Presence.  But we are warned against boasting against them, because it is not the church who bears “the root,” but “the root” bears us.

Then look to see what Paul writes in the next three verses:

You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.  Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not you. (Romans 11:19-21)

Notice the reason the “natural branches” were broken off was because of unbelief.  I have heard Christians brag that although God cut off the Jewish people, that a Christian never has to worry about God “cutting them off” because of the cross.  However, such a belief directly contradicts Paul’s teaching here.  In fact, Paul tells us as non-Jewish believers to “fear.”  Why?  Because he says, “if God spared not the natural branches,” if God was willing to “cut off” some of the Jewish people because of unbelief, then we need to be aware that God could just as easily “cut off” Christians or churches from His tree as well.

Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but towards you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE in His goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off.  And they also, if they abide (or continue) not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.   For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and was grafted CONTRARY TO NATURE into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?  (Romans 11:22-24)

How do we continue to be a part of the “True Vine” or the “cultivated olive tree”?  We must CONTINUE to grow and develop, or if we quit producing fruit, just like Jesus’ own analogy of the Vine, we will be “cut off.”  Not right away, but there will come a time where God will “cut off” those who have stopped believing.

Why did I show these examples, to scare you?  No, but I do believe that there are many Christians who do need a reality check.  There are many Christians who believe that because they went forward when they were a child that they can go around and steal, kill, lie, commit adultery or lead sexual immoral lives, and then when they die, they think that they will still go to heaven, because they made that decision years and years before.

THE TRUTH ABOUT REPENTANCE

The reality is that No, they will not go to heaven, but they will end up going to hell.  They did not continue; they stopped, and instead of living in obedience to God, they chose to live in sin instead.  Repentance does not just work one way, but it works in two directions.  For example, look at the following passage:

But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all My statutes, and does 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)

We like this view of repentance.  We repent of our sins, and then begin living in obedience to God, and God promises that ALL of our transgressions and sins that we’ve committed will “not be mentioned” or remembered again.  Awesome!  However, repentance also works the other way:

But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity (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)

If we as Christians quit living godly lives, in obedience to the Scriptures, and we start living like other sinners who don’t even know God, or don’t care about him, then God says that however long we had lived in obedience to Him, those years of righteousness “shall not be mentioned” (or shall not be remembered, but will be forgotten), and the only thing God will remember are the years of sin we are now living after we’ve stopped living for Him.

I am sure there are people who will probably respond to this the same way that ancient Israel did:

Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal.  Hear now, O house of Israel (and church); is not My way equal?  Are not your ways unequal?  (Ezekiel 18:25, 29)

But the truth is that “the way of the Lord” is equal.  That’s what we don’t like about it.  I know that some will say, “But this is in the Old Testament, we don’t follow that anymore.”  However, if you reject the Old Testament Prophets, then you are in disobedience to the New Testament.

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 cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together growing unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:19-22)

ETERNAL LIFE – A PROCESS?

ETERNAL LIFE is not a thing to possess, nor is it simply an event, but it is an ongoing relationship.  However, there’s a part of ETERNAL LIFE that we acquire by living in obedience to the word of God and by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  For example, let’s look at Romans 6.

Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?  But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.  (Romans 6:16-18)

Notice that it was our “obedience” that resulted to “righteousness,” and as a result, we “became the servants of righteousness.”  But what is “righteousness”?  The Greek word that’s used here is dikaiosune (“righteousness”), which is the opposite of anomia (or “lawlessness”).  in I John 3:4, the word anomia is translated into English as “the transgression of the law.”  If anomia is translated as “the transgression of the law,” and anomia and dikaiosune are opposites, the dikaiosune should be understood to mean “to keep or obey the law.”  One who lives in obedience to God’s word is considered to be “righteous.”  This is what John writes in his epistle,

If you know that He is righteous, you know that every one that does righteousness is born of Him.  (I John 2:29)

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.  (I John 3:7)

In both of these verses, “righteousness” is something that we do;  it is not something that we just “believe” or “accept,” but something we do.  In this case, it is us keeping God’s commandments with Jesus as our goal in view.  If we are empowered by the Spirit, and live in obedience to the commandments with Jesus in view, or as our destination point, that is what is meant by “doing righteousness.”  We don’t live this way to “get saved,” but because we love God and are already in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  We do it merely as an expression of our love for Him.

But it doesn’t end with “righteousness.”  Look at verse 19.

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. (Romans 6:19)

So we started from obedience to righteousness, and then from righteousness to holiness.  God’s commandments have never been about “getting saved,” or “justification,” but it is God’s instruction manual on what it means to live in “holiness” (i.e., “sanctification”) before the Lord.  But now let’s complete the process in verse 22.

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end EVERLASTING LIFE.  (Romans 6:22; Emphasis Mine]

Notice that “EVERLASTING LIFE” is the end result of holiness, and in Hebrews 12:14, we learn that “without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.”  We need to learn to live “holy” lives before God in these last days.  God is a “holy God,” and He will not accept anything less.

ETERNAL LIFE – A FUTURE HOPE?

Not only do we receive ETERNAL LIFE when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and not only does it continue to work in our life, to mold and change us as we continue to build and develop our relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but it is also something that we will not experience the fullness of it until the time period of the resurrection and God’s Kingdom here on earth.

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and IN THE WORLD TO COME ETERNAL LIFE.  (Mark 10:29-30)

Even though God will bless him for his sacrifices for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, ETERNAL LIFE is something that he will experience IN THE WORLD TO COME (the next life).

Even as far back as the prophet Daniel, ETERNAL LIFE is seen to be something that we will experience after the resurrection of the dead:

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to EVERLASTING LIFE, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  (Daniel 12:2)

And this same idea is also seen by Jesus in Matthew 25:46,

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into LIFE ETERNAL.

Other references regarding the future aspect of ETERNAL LIFE can be seen in the following:

And this is the PROMISE that He has promised us, even ETERNAL LIFE.  (I John 2:25)

In HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:2)

That being justified by His grace, we should be heirs according to the HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE.  (Titus 3:7)

Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against THE TIME TO COME, that they may lay hold on ETERNAL LIFE by Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:21)

Notice the language that’s used to describe ETERNAL LIFE:  promise and hope.  If the disciples received it when they accepted Christ, then why is it still a “promise” and a “hope”?   And what is this future aspect of ETERNAL LIFE?  I believe it is, at least in part, our new immortal bodies.  Until we receive them at the time of the resurrection, we do not have everything that God has planned for us to have as part of our ETERNAL LIFE.

I also believe that it entails our new life in God’s Kingdom.  I believe that it will finally be complete when we hear the Lord tell each of us:

Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Then, and only then, will we be able to say that we have received all of our ETERNAL LIFE, yes, everything that God had planned.

 

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Why Did God Tear the Temple Veil in Half? Not for the Reason You Think

WHY DID GOD TEAR THE TEMPLE VEIL FROM TOP TO BOTTOM?  For centuries, Christians have traditionally taught that the reason God tore the Temple veil was to bring an end to the Temple sacrificial system and to allow people direct access into the Presence of God.  Jesus’ death did not bring an end to the Temple system; in fact, it continued for another 40 years until in 70 C.E., when the Romans, under Titus, attacked and destroyed Jerusalem, including the Temple.  Nor did the Temple prevent people from praying to God outside the Temple.  People could pray to God anywhere and anytime they wanted, so that there was no reason to tear the veil if the reason was to allow people access into God’s Presence through prayer, because they already had that.  So then we must re-examine the evidence to see why then was the veil torn in half?

IN PURSUIT OF TRUTH

To begin with, I need to point out that my motivation for writing this is not to discredit the Bible or anything that it teaches.  But I understand that there’s a difference between what the Bible says and what we interpret it to be saying.  I’ve had too many instances in my life where I was told the Bible taught something, only to discover when I studied it for myself that it did not teach that at all.  The person had taken the words of Scripture out of context.  I’m not interested in “feel good theology,” I simply want the truth.

TWO BASIC RULES OF HERMENEUTICS

In interpreting any thing from Scripture, we must adhere to the rules and guidelines of Hermeneutics, which is “the science and art of biblical interpretation.”  And there are three basic rules that I want to highlight here.

  • Rule of Context.  In order to properly understand any idea, word, phrase, or concept, we must understand it within its proper context.   The context would include not only its immediate context (the surrounding materials around that
    text, the material within the entire chapter, and the entire book), but it would also
    involve its historical, cultural, social, religious, and linguistic contexts.  If we
    remove it from its original context, then we open the door to misinterpretation,
    misunderstanding and error.
  • “Out of the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses, a thing [or truth] shall be established.”  This teaching began as part of capital punishment (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15), but by the 1st century, C.E., it was a general principle for establishing something to be true (Matthew 18:6; 2 Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:9; Hebrews 10:28).  In other words, if some idea, teaching, or truth is really important to God, He will repeat the same idea a number of times.  God is the Teacher of all teachers, and just like in school, if the teacher says it once, it might be on the test.  But the more often the teacher repeats it, the more certain students can be that idea will be on the test. Therefore, the doctrines of God are those teachings which are found repeated again and again throughout His Word from Genesis to Revelation.
  • The Law of First Mention.   The Law of First Mention states that wherever a
    word, phrase, idea, or concept is first used in Scripture, this establishes its basic,
    fundamental meaning, and although the rest of Scripture may build on and
    develop this meaning, later passages cannot annul or contradict this original
    meaning.

So then to understand the meaning of the tearing of the garment, we must go back and see where it is found in the Bible, and understand its use there in its original context.

THE TEARING OF THE GARMENT

— ITS ORIGINAL CONTEXT
Throughout the Bible, the tearing of one’s garment is seen as an act of intense anguish and suffering over some tragedy, like in mourning a loved one’s death.  We see this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The first occurrence of this is found in  the story of Joseph.

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers go off for a few days to allow the sheep to graze.  Jacob sends Joseph to check on them and to bring them some food.  But when Joseph’s brothers see him coming, they want to kill him, because of their envy, jealousy, and anger due to the dreams he had been having about his future.  but Reuben told them to not kill him but to throw him into a nearby pit.  Reuben was planning on sneaking him out of the pit and then returning him to their father (Genesis 37:22).  While Reuben was gone, Midianites came and drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmeelites for 20 pieces of silver as the brothers watched, and then they took Joseph to Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28).  It is after this that Reuben returns.

And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent [tore] his clothes.  And he returned unto his brethren, and said, This child is not; and I, where shall I go? (Genesis 37:29-30)

They then took Joseph’s coat of many colors and covered it with the blood from a baby goat in order try and cover up what had actually done.  They then brought the blood-covered coat to their father, Jacob, telling him that some wild animal had apparently attacked and devoured Joseph. (Genesis 37:31-33).  In response, Jacob rents [tears] his clothes:

And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.  (Genesis 37:34)

Then about 20 years later, there’s a drought throughout the land, and Jacob sends his 10 sons to Egypt to buy grain, except Benjamin, his youngest son, and the last remaining son of his by his beloved wife Rachel.  When his sons return with grain, but one of his sons was missing, Simeon.  Jacob learned that the Egyptian governor, Zaphenath-paneah, believed that the brothers were spies, so he put the brothers in prison for 3 days.  After 3 days, he releases all the brothers but one, gives them the grain they requested, and then told them that they needed to bring back the youngest brother to Egypt to prove their story that they were one family and not spies.

Jacob is horribly distraught at this and refuses to allow them to take Benjamin with them.  However, as the drought continued and the food almost gone, Jacob was left with no other options.  The brothers return again to Egypt with Benjamin this time.  When the brothers arrive, they are brought to the house of Zaphenath-paneah, where Simeon is restored to them and they are all provided a meal with the governor.  The next day, the governor tells his house steward,

Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.  And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.  (Genesis 44:1-2)

The servant did as he was instructed.  The brothers had no idea what had happened until the Egyptian guards came out to them.  They argue that they would never steal anything from the governor, and then said, “With whomever of your servants it [the silver cup] is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves” (Genesis 44:9).  In searching the bags of grains, the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag (Genesis 44:12).  Then the Scriptures say,

Then they [the brothers] tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.  (Genesis 44:13)

It is later, after returning to the home of the governor, that they discovered that the governor Zaphenath-paneah was really Joseph, their brother, the one they had watched being sold into slavery years before.  Rather than taking revenge, he forgives them, and tells them to bring their father there to Egypt so that he may care for them during the remaining years of drought.

In these beginning three accounts of someone tearing their garments, we repeatedly see that it is an outward physical act to express the anguish, pain and horror of discovering some calamity and of mourning some loved one’s death.  And when the garment is torn, it is torn from the top to bottom.  We see this same pattern repeated over and over again.

— THE LAW OF FIRST MENTION
Remember the Hermeneutical Law of First Mention: That wherever word, phrase, idea, or concept is first used in Scripture, this establishes its basic,  fundamental meaning, and although the rest of Scripture may build on and develop this meaning, later passages cannot annul or contradict this original meaning.  And the beginning use of this act is never used to indicate the ending of God’s commandments or the end of the Levitical sacrificial system since at the time of Joseph, there was no Levitical priesthood, Temple, or sacrificial system.  Since these things did not exist yet, the act of tearing the garment could not have any connection to them.

FURTHER BIBLICAL EXAMPLES

— “OUT OF THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES”
Remember that the truth of God is always found in those things that God repeats, not in just a single verse.  Therefore, we must always base our doctrines on those things that we see repeated throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and not just upon the New Testament.

The three accounts in Genesis that we’ve seen is by far not the only accounts in which a person tears their garments as an expression of their anguish, pain and horror of discovering some calamity and/or of mourning some loved one’s death.  For example:

  • Joshua and Caleb rent [or tore] their clothes when the children of Israel believed the counsel of the 38 other spies who told the people there was no chance of them entering the Promised Land.  The people they said were too big and strong for them to defeat.  (Numbers 14:6)
  • Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth when 36 men were killed and the army of Israel defeated by the men of Ai.  (Joshua 7:5-6)
  • A man of Benjamin tore his clothes and put dust on his head when in a battle, the ark of God was captured and the two sons of Eli, the high priest, were killed.  (I Samuel 4:11-12)
  • A man tore his clothes and dust on his head, after escaping an attack by the Philistines, to tell David that King Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. (2 Samuel 1:2-3)
  • David and all his men tore their clothes when they heard the news of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths.  (2 Samuel 1:11)
  • After being raped by her half-brother Amnon and then thrown out of his place, Tamar tears her garment and puts ashes on her head. (2 Samuel 13:14-19)
  • Ahab tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted when he heard God’s judgment against him, his wife Jezebel, and his household for their great evil from the prophet Elijah.  (1 Kings 21:27)
  • King Hezekiah tore his clothes when he heard the news that the king of Assyria was going to attack Jerusalem.  (2 Kings 19:1; Isaiah 37:1)
  • King Josiah tore his clothes when they found the book of the Law, and discovered that they had not been keeping God’s commandments.  (2 Kings 22:8-11;
    2 Chronicles 34:15-19)
  • Mordecai tore his clothes when he learned that a law had been passed to exterminate all the Jews in Persia in one day. (Esther 4:1)

As we can see, in all these examples, we see over and over again throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Old Testament”), the pattern of Scripture is that the tearing of the garment/clothes was done when someone experienced anguish, great pain, something horrific, or if they discovered that someone died.

FATHERS WHO TORE THEIR CLOTHES

Besides Jacob, who tore his clothes, when he had been told that Joseph had been killed and devoured by a wild beast, there were other loving fathers who tore their clothes over the death of their children.

  • In the book of Judges,  Jephthah has been asked to lead Gilead’s army in a battle against the Ammonites.  Prior to the battle, he makes the following vow to the LORD: “If You shall without fail deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, then it shall be, that whatever comes out of the doors of my house (part of which was also a barn), when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31).  I am sure he was expecting one of his animals to come greet him, but instead, it was his daughter, his one and only child (Judges 11:35).  He tears his clothes when he sees her coming out to greet him, and after two months, he carried out his vow to the LORD. (Judges 11:35-40).
  • David tore his clothes and lay on the ground when he heard the report that his son Absalom had killed all of his other sons.  He later discovers Absalom did not kill all of them, but only Amnon, who had raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar.  (2 Samuel 13:31-32)
  • Job tore his clothes when he heard the report that all of his 7 children had been killed at once when a strong wind came and blew done the house upon them.  (Job 1:20)

Again, we see the same thing.  The pattern of Scripture is consistent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Old Testament”), and we shall see the same consistency in modern Judaism today.

MODERN JEWISH TEACHING

In Rabbi Hayim HaLevy Donin’s book, To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life, he writes in regard to mourning:

 Tearing a garment that one is wearing is the religiously proper way to express grief for the dead.  It is a time-honored and ancient sign of grief and mourning among Jews extending back to Biblical times.  The garment that is torn is worn throughout the week of mourning [called in Hebrew shiva], except for the Sabbath day.  (Cutting a small black ribbon is not a religiously authorized substitute for rending the garment, or kriah.) [299]

From our study of the Scriptures, we can see that what Rabbi Donin says here is in complete agreement with the Scriptures: the tearing of the garment to express grief for the dead does, in fact, extend back into biblical times as we’ve seen.

The tearing of the garment as an expression of grief for the dead can also be seen in the movie Yentl, starring Barbara Streisand.  In the movie, Yentl and her father live in a Jewish village in Eastern Europe around the beginning of the 20th century.  During this time, women were not encouraged to study religious texts, so her father teachers her in secret.  When her father dies, she is given a small pair of scissors and she makes a small incision in her dress, and then she tears the garment more over her heart.  She then reads the traditional prayer, called Kaddish, which is a prayer for those who are there at the funeral mourning for the deceased.  But again, we can see that the tearing of her garment is in keeping with the pattern of Scripture and Jewish tradition.

THE TEARING OF THE TEMPLE VEIL

Now, let’s go back and look again at the tearing of the Temple veil as it is recorded in the Gospels.  Jesus has been crucified by the Romans, and He has been on the cross now for 6 hours.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split,… (Matthew 27:50-51)

And Jesus uttered a cry, and breathed His last.  And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:37-38)

And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And the sun being obscured; and the veil of the Temple was torn in two, and Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last.  (Luke 23:44-46)

Now in all three of these accounts, the temple veil was torn at the time when Jesus died on the cross.  In two of the accounts the tearing of the Temple veil is mentioned right after His death, but only in Luke is the tearing of the Temple veil mentioned just prior to His death.  How do we explain the difference?  Luke included more details in his account, so I believe that the account flowed better for Luke having the tearing of the Temple veil mentioned right prior to His death, rather than afterwards.  However, when we compare his account to the other two accounts, including Matthew’s, who was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, then we can see that the tearing of the Temple veil did, in fact, happen right after Jesus’ death.

Is the specific sequence important?  I believe that it is, because by God tearing the Temple veil after seeing the horrific death of His One and Only beloved Son upon the cross, the act of tearing the veil was an expression of God’s anguish, pain and horror at what He had just witnessed.  He reacted the same way that any Jewish father would have acted, if they had witnessed the crucifixion and death of their one and only beloved son, which perfectly follows the pattern of Scripture that we’ve seen from Genesis to the end of the Gospels.  To see the tearing of the Temple veil as anything other than God expressing His deep grief and anguish for Jesus’ death is taking it out of it context, and reading something into it which has no previous biblical support.

GOD’S VIEW OF THIS MOMENT

There have been a few times where God has shared with my wife, this moment when Jesus died and what it was like for Him.  These and other messages that God has shared with Karen can be found on her blog “Karen’s Shofar” (located at http://karensshofar.wordpress.com).  What you are about to read are His words that He spoke to her through the Holy Spirit:

“Being a Light in a Dark World,” November 9, 2015
My Son has accomplished what I had sent for Him to do, and it is finished.  He has opened the gateway, so that Jews and Gentiles can both come to Me because of the rent and split of My robe and tallit in My very Holy Tabernacle.  That very moment when My Son took His last breath, My heart also took its last breath, and it pained Me so hard that I split My very heart of who I am from the top to the bottom to show you how much I love you, My people.  The veil of My heart, the very source of who I am, who I was with your fathers, which I was a light of fire by day and a cloud of smoke by night in the wilderness.  This is Me, says the LORD God Almighty, I change not and can’t change, because “I am that I am,” says God.

I ripped the veil from top to bottom because that is My sign to My people Israel.  They knew exactly who My Son was and what an evil and perverse people they had become by crucifying the One and Only Lamb of God who came to bring light and love into a sick and dying world.  They tried to kill the One they proclaimed to be seeking after, but when I did come and I didn’t look like they had preconceived Me, they called Me cruel and vicious names, and also called Me “a son of Beelzebub.”

They were caught up in so many legalist doctrines of their father, the devil, that they who thought they were doing right had become blind and could not see….They were so blinded by their doctrines of men, just like you, My Church, is today.  Don’t keep continuing in your self-righteousness ans unholiness, because I love you so very much and desire for My Church, both Jew and Gentile, to become One as I and My Father are One.  Don’t stay lost in your sins.  Repent and do your first works over again, so that our hearts can relight that once relationship I hungered so very long ago to have with Adam and Eve in My Garden.

“Teach My People What I Have Been Teaching You,” January 30, 2018.
How ludicrous that you think that I have done away with My sacrifices and offerings.  I did what a good Jewish father would’ve done if one of their children would’ve died.  My people knew exactly what happened.  They weren’t in the dark.  Why do you think they wanted to have My tomb guarded?”

As we can see, God ripped the veil of the Temple in response to His own broken heart from watching the torture and death of Jesus, His own Beloved Son.  Even though his death had been planned from before the foundations of the world, it still does not change the anguish, pain and hurt the Father experienced watching His Son’s death.  In response to that pain, He did what any loving Jewish father would’ve done, He took the cloth over His heart – the Temple veil – and He ripped it from top to bottom.

Some have even thought that since the Temple veil was torn in half after Jesus’ said, “It is finished,” that this meant that the Temple system was finished.   However, this is not the case.  In fact, even His statement “It is finished” had nothing to do with the Temple either.  Jesus died during Passover, which is an observance remembering God delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.  His statement “It is finished” meant that their time of slavery was over.  But slavery to what?  There’s only one thing that Jesus ever referred to as “slavery,” and that is sin.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).  At no point in time does Jesus ever call or insinuate that the Law of God or the Temple system is “slavery.”

GAINING ACCESS TO GOD

Another idea associated with the tearing of the Temple veil is the idea that until that moment, people had to go through animal sacrifices and the Temple priesthood to get to God.  But once the Temple veil was torn, Christians teach, now we have access to God without having to go through a priesthood and animal sacrifices.

However, again, Christian interpretation is in error.  Jews were able to pray to God anywhere they wished at any time, without the need to go to the Temple to do so.  Most Christians do not know this because they have never stepped foot inside of a Jewish synagogue.  If they had, they would realize that there’s no priesthood, no sacrifices in the synagogue, nor is there any rank or status of people there.  Everyone is equally able to stand before God in prayer to pray both as a community and as an individual.  Many researchers believe that the synagogue system began in Babylon, during the 70 years they were away from their land, and it continued when the Jewish people came back to the land.

Therefore, there was no reason to bring the Temple system to an end to provide people with a way to God apart from the Temple Levitical system or animal sacrifices.  It was already in existence 300-400 years before the first century, C.E.

CONCLUSION

Consequently, as we’ve seen, traditional Christianity’s interpretation of Jesus’ statement “It is finished” and the tearing of the Temple veil to mean that God was bringing the Temple Levitical system to an end, and that people could now access God without the need to go through a priesthood and animal sacrifices, are a gross misinterpretation of the events and the Scripture itself that has no basis in the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) or in the teachings of Jesus Himself.

This erroneous traditional interpretation was applied to the event by later Christians who knew that the Temple had been destroyed by then, and believed that they had replaced the Jewish people as “the people of God,” a doctrine known as “Replacement Theology.”  Their misinterpretation of the tearing of the Temple veil was part of their justification for the separation and division between Judaism and Christianity, since evidence that Christians were beginning to see themselves as part of a separate religion cannot be seen until the writings of the Early Church Fathers in the 2nd century, C.E., beginning with “The Letters of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch,” which was written about 30-50 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.

And as I have shown, the biblical evidence does not support traditional Christianity’s interpretation of the event, nor do I believe that it supports “Replacement Theology,” therefore, I reject both beliefs and stand solely on what is clearly taught within the Scriptures and what God has revealed to us in and through His Spirit.

 

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