DID GOD CHANGE HIS MIND ABOUT HIS COMMANDMENTS?

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

  1.  They do not place the writings of the New Testament back into their historical,
    cultural and religious contexts.  When one removes any document from its context, you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.
  2.  They base their doctrines on only 40% of the revelation that God has given to
    them, i.e., on only the New Testament, and to base any doctrine on only 40% of the
    available information will always lead to a distorted and erroneous conclusion.
  3.  They look back to the cross, which they should do, but they don’t look forward to
    the coming Kingdom age.  Consequently, their doctrines may seem to be right on
    the surface while looking back, but they are extremely problematic and
    contradictory when we look forward to the future Millennial Kingdom.

A MISSING CONTEXT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FOUNDATION OF OUR FAITH

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

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

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

A BASIC PRINCIPLE IN AMOS

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

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

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

NO COMMANDMENTS = A CURSE

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

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

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

THE COMING KINGDOM AGE

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

GOD’S COMING MONARCHY

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

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

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

THE RE-INSTITUTED TEMPLE SYSTEM

In this same passage in Zechariah, we read,

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

I find many interesting things about this passage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SABBATH AND NEW MOON FEASTS

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

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

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

THE JEWS WILL BE USED BY GOD

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

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

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

OBVIOUS CONTRADICTIONS

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

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

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

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

 

Return to the Top

Advertisements

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

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

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

PAUL’S OWN CONFESSION OF FAITH

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

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

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

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

WAS PAUL A “LIAR” AND A “HYPOCRITE”?

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

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

PAST TENSE OR A CONTINUING REALITY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TWO MEANINGS OF “RIGHTEOUSNESS”

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

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

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

PAUL – A BELIEVER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

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

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

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

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

PAUL – A PHARISEE AND A FOLLOWER OF THE WAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WITNESS OF THE APOSTLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Return to the Top

In What Context Do We Understand Paul and His Writings? (Part 1/4)

An important figure in New Testamental studies is the Apostle Paul.  He is the author of 13, maybe 14, books of the New Testament.  But what if what we’ve been taught about him and his writings were not historically, nor biblically, accurate?  What if we’ve been taught to view him and his writings from the wrong context?  This would cause our interpretations of him and his writings to be distorted, inaccurate, and possibly even, for errors to be introduced into the faith.  And after years and years of research, and revelations given to my wife and I from the Messiah Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] Himself, it is my conclusion that the “Paul” who is often presented in many churches whose writings “freed Christians from the legalistic bondage of the Law of God” is NOT, in fact, the biblical, historical Paul of the New Testament.

A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT INTENT

I am not trying to call the New Testament into question, nor am I trying to invalidate Paul or his writings, rather I want to examine these things that we are commonly taught about Paul and his life and compare and contrast them with what the Bible actually teaches us about him.

A BRIEF NOTE ON MY APPROACH TO BIBLICAL STUDIES

I approach all my studies of the Bible from a Whole Bible Perspective, meaning that every passage of Scripture must be examined within the context of not only the immediate, surrounding material, the context of the chapter and the book, but also it must line up with what ALL of the Bible teaches.  In addition, we must also interpret and understand it within its proper historical, cultural, religious and linguistic contexts as well. To take any text out of its proper context is to open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

Secondly, we cannot take only one passage of Scripture and redefine the entire Bible nor can we formulate a doctrine from it.  A basic principle we see taught in the Bible is that “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, a thing is established.” This means that the truth of God is not in “It is written…,” but in “Again and again, it is written.”  This general principle began as part of the law about capital punishment (Numbers 13:5; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15), but by the time of the New Testament (1st century, C.E.), it had become a general principle about establishing truth in general (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:9; and Hebrews 10:28).  Therefore, doctrine must be based on the repetitions we see taught within the Bible, not on any individual passages.

WHO WAS PAUL?

 HIS BACKGROUND INFORMATION

So let’s start with the question, “Who was Paul”?  Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in the city of Tarsus, located in south-central Turkey, about 12 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.   Tarsus today is known as Cumhuriyet Alani.   According to Sha’ul Paulus’s (Paul’s) own written testimony, he was –

Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6; Romans 11:1)

Being of the tribe of Benjamin, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was then a direct descendant of Jacob and Rachel’s youngest son, Benjamin.

ABOUT HIS NAME

The name “Paul” is the shortened English form of his name Sha’ul Paulus (pron. “shah-ool paul-us“).  “Sha’ul” was his Hebrew name, and “Paulus” (or “Paul”) was his Roman name.

If his name in Hebrew is “Sha’ul,” then why is it written in English as “Saul”?  Because our English translation is based on the Greek, rather than taking the name back to its original Hebrew form.  When “Sha’ul” is transliterated into Greek, there’s no “sh” sound in Greek.  The closest sound is the Greek letter Sigma or “S” sound.  Consequently, his name becomes “Saul” in both Greek and English.  And even in the Old Testament, the name “Saul” is based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, rather than on the original Hebrew text itself, and this is true of other names and words in the Old Testament, such as “Eve” (Heb. Chavah) and “Moses” (Heb. Mosheh) and not just the name “Saul.”

Again, I am not trying to take away from, demean, or diminish the authority of the Old Testament or New Testament, Absolutely Not!  I am merely trying to explain the differences.

DID SAUL CHANGED HIS NAME TO “PAUL” WHEN HE GOT SAVED?

There are many ministers who say Sh’aul Paulus (Paul) changed his name to “Paul” when he was saved.  The textual evidence contradicts this view.  Between Acts 9 and Acts 13, the Holy Spirit refers refers to Sha’ul Paulus as “Saul” 10 times before He ever calls Sha’ul Paulus “Paul.”  For example, immediately after “Saul’s” conversion experience, we read,

But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which lived at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ [Messiah].  (Acts 9:22)

This verse is the first mention of “Saul” after he becomes a believer in the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus].  If his change of name was connected to his conversion, this would have been the place to indicate it, but it doesn’t happen here.  Then in Acts 9:23-31, we have the account of “Saul” escaping those in Jerusalem who wanted to kill him by being lowered in a basket.  In this section of verses, his name “Saul” is mentioned two times (Acts 9:24, 26).

The next section where the name “Saul” is mentioned is in Acts 11:25-30, where Barnabas goes to get “Saul” to help him to raise financial aid for the disciples in Jerusalem.  In this section, the name “Saul” is mentioned two times (Acts 11:25; Acts 11:30).

The fourth section of verses where the name “Saul” is mentioned is when he and Barnabas are chosen to go on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-12).  In this section, now four chapters after his conversion experience and baptism, the Holy Spirit is still referring to him as “Saul,”

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manean, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and SAUL.  As they [the congregation in Antioch] ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and SAUL for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3; Emphasis Mine)

It is apparent that some time has past since his conversion experience.  During those four chapters and passages where the name “Saul” is mentioned, if “Saul’s” name was changed to “Paul” due to his conversion, there were four passages where that could have been indicated prior to his first missionary journey here in chapter 13.

Nor did these four chapters cover a very short time span.  For example, during this time span, Cornelius, a God-fearer and Roman Centurion, has a vision from God and is told to send for Peter.  Peter, in turn, has a vision that results in him going with the servants of Cornelius, and Cornelius and his whole houshold are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10).  Then Peter explains what had happened to the other Jewish believers, and the growth that occurs in the church at Antioch (Acts 11).  And then there’s a persecution that’s escalated by King Herod against the Jerusalem church.  During which, he kills James, the brother of John, and he plans on killing Peter, but God sends an angel to free Peter from prison (Acts 12).   Obviously, then, there was some span of time that has happened between Paul’s conversion and water baptism and him and Barnabas being sent out on their first missionary mission.

In the book of Galatians, Paul adds to this span of time by telling us after his experience with Yeshua [Jesus] on the road to Damascus that he journeyed to Arabia before coming back to Damascus:

But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles [non-Jews], I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go to Jerusalem to those who were apostles [Heb. shlichim] before me; but I went away into Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (Galatians 1:15-17)

But why would an Orthodox Jew, like Sha’ul Paulus (Paul), go to Arabia?  I can only think of one good, possible reason: he returned to where the Torah [God’s Word] had originally been given to Moses [Heb. Mosheh], Mount Sinai, to again be taught by God as Moses had been.

So in contrast to what we see in Scripture, many Christian films about Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) life have him change his name to “Paul” at his conversion or water baptism, but as we’ve seen that directly contradicts Scripture.  Again, some time has passed since his conversion and baptism, and yet when we get to Acts 13, the Holy Spirit has called him “Saul,” and NOT “Paul,” 9 times prior to this moment, and it is not until the 10th use of the name “Saul” that the Holy Spirit introduces us to his Roman name “Paul.”  This happens in Acts 13:9 while Barnabas and Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) are on their first missionary journey and they run into a sorcerer who tries to oppose them, and it is then that we read the following:

Then SAUL (WHO IS ALSO CALLED PAUL,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.  And said, “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? (Acts 13:9-10)

As discussed, “Paul” was not a different name for Sha’ul (“Saul”), but it was his Roman name he had been given from birth.  Consequently, Paul did not technically “change” his name; instead, he started using his Roman name rather than his Hebrew name.  But again, the question is why?

What we do know is that from this point on, the Bible does use his Roman name “Paul,” rather than his Hebrew name “Saul” (or “Sha’ul“).  The Bible actually does not give us an explicit reason for him using his Roman name; we just know that he does.  Since the “change” happens some time after his conversion and during his first missionary journey with Barnabas, I don’t believe it had anything to deal with his conversion.  Instead, I think it was to ease the communication between him and his Greek-speaking audience.

As I said earlier, there was no “sh” sound in the Greek language; consequently, this would have prevented Greek-speaking people from freely speaking and interacting with him.  Many people, even today, if they cannot pronounce a person’s name correctly will avoid speaking with them so that they don’t feel embarrassed about not being able to correctly pronounce the person’s name.  The same thing would have kept people from interacting with Sha’ul (“Saul”), so to remove this barrier, Sha’ul (“Saul”) simply began to use his Roman name of “Paul” to remove that stumbling block in communication, so that his name would not be difficult for people to pronounce, thereby opening the door of communication and interaction between them and him.

KING SHA’UL (SAUL) VS. SHA’UL PAULUS

What is also interesting is that both King Sha’ul (Saul) and Sha’ul Paulus (Saul Paul) could have written the same lines in regard to their ancestry.  They were both descendants from Jacob’s and Rachel’s youngest son, Benjamin, and they were both named “Sha’ul” (Saul).

Both Sha’uls (Sauls) knew and tried to kill the “David’s” of their time: King Sha’ul (Saul) knew and later tried to kill David, and in the New Testament, Sha’ul Paulus (Saul Paul) knew and tried to kill the disciples of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), the son of David.  Some might argue that in the New Testament, Sha’ul (Saul) did not chase, arrest, torture and kill Yeshua (Jesus), but His Jewish disciples.  But on the road to Damascus, when Sha’ul (Saul) encounters the Risen Messiah Yeshua [Jesus], look what Yeshua [Jesus] tells him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)  Yeshua [Jesus] did not ask him why he was persecuting His followers, but “why are you persecuting Me?”  So Sha’ul (Saul) was, in fact, persecuting the son of David, as his namesake in the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) persecuted David.

When Sha’ul (Saul) then asks, “Who are You, Lord?”  Yeshua [Jesus] responds,

I am Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] whom you are persecuting:  it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:5)

It is clear that Yeshua [Jesus] saw Sha’ul’s (Saul’s) attack against His disciples as an attack against Him.  King Sha’ul (Saul) attacked David, and ultimately committed suicide, rather than be captured by the Philistines (I Samuel 31:1-6), but the Sha’ul (Saul) of the New Testament, who was chasing and attacking the Messiah, the son of David, was given a revelation of the Messiah on the road to Damascus, where he saw the truth, and then became an ardent follower and ‘emissary (or apostle) of the Messiah, as well as the writer of half of the New Testament.  The parallels here are indeed interesting.

PAUL – AN ORTHODOX JEW & A ROMAN CITIZEN

Then in Acts 22, we also learn that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29); this, of course, explains why Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) had both a Hebrew and a Roman name.  But when Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is arrested in the Temple complex, he asks the guard to allow him to address the crowd in Hebrew.  In this address, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) states,

Men, brethren, and fathers, hear you my defense which I make now unto you.  (And when they heard that he spoke in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence; and he said;) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia [a providence in Turkey], yet brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as you all are this day.

Notice that in this address, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) addresses three groups within the crowd: “Men, brethren, and fathers.”  The term “Men” being used in a general sense, the term “brethren” being used to perhaps address other Jewish men of his own age or perhaps to address other Jewish Pharisees within the crowd.  The term “fathers” is used to address those older than Sha’ul Paulus (Paul).  In essence, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) here is identifying himself as being a part of the crowd that he is addressing, and this is an important point.  Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) does not see himself as being something different than the Jews he is addressing, but that he is a part of them, and they, in turn, are a part of him.  They are one people, and he is addressing them as such.  So even though this speech is recorded down in Acts in Greek (just like the rest of the book of Acts), the text tells us that He spoke it in Hebrew.  Consequently, what we are reading is the English translation of Luke’s Greek translation of what Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) said in Hebrew to the crowd.

ABOUT HIS EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND

In addition to this, we learn from this address that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was “brought up in this city” of Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers.”  What is really interesting is when we compare the King James version of this verse with the same verse in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament:

King James Version

Interlinear Greek-English
New Testament

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and TAUGHT ACCORDING TO THE PERFECT MANNER OF THE LAW OF THE FATHERS, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. I indeed am a man a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, being brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, HAVING BEEN INSTRUCTED ACCORDING TO [THE] EXACTNESS OF THE ANCESTRAL LAW, being a zealous one for God, even as all ye are this day.

When two groups are opposed to one another over an issue, one side tends to “demonize” the other side.  In this address, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is reaching out to his audience, building bridges between him and them, trying to show that he is not, in fact, some “demon” who is trying to destroy them or their world.  He is like them.  He is like them in being part of the city of Jerusalem, He is like them in his upbringing, and He is like them in being zealous for God.  He is not the enemy; he is like them.

But what I also find interesting about his address are the differences between these two versions of what he said.  The phrase “perfect manner” in the King James is the term “exactness” in the Interlinear Greek-English NT, and the word “fathers” in the King James is the term “ancestral” in the Interlinear Greek-English NT.  When we look at this from a direct Greek translation, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is crediting Gamaliel here of teaching him in the “exact” interpretation, meaning and understanding of the “ancestral law,” i.e., the writings of Mosheh (Moses).  This is extremely high praise that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is giving to his teacher and mentor, Gamaliel.  In essence, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is saying that he learned the “ancestral law” from the best of the best!  And that as a result of his excellent teaching and instruction, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was as “zealous toward God” as the Jewish audience is that he’s addressing.

In addition, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is also saying by this that the way to interpret and understand the “ancestral law” [or Heb. Torah] is the “exact,” right way to interpret and understand it.  The inference from this is that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is alluding that what he teaches is in essence (though with some changes in light of Yeshua [Jesus]) the same thing that he learned from Gamaliel, who as Torah-teachers are concerned is “the best of the best!”  So rather than placing himself outside of Pharisaic teaching of the 2nd Temple period, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) here is placing himself firmly within it.

Now if Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) here had said anything that was not accurate, there were plenty of people there who could have contradicted his statement, but no one does.  So from the silence of the crowd, we can infer that it was well-known that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) had, indeed, been a student of Gamaliel.

WHO IS “GAMALIEL”?

Most Christians should recognize Gamaliel’s name from Acts 5.  In Acts 5, Yeshua’s [Jesus’s] disciples have been arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for the second time for preaching about Yeshua [Jesus].  It is during this second trial that we read,

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named GAMALIEL, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; and he said to them, “You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do as touching these men.  For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: whom was slain [killed]; and all, as man as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to naught.   After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.  And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to naught.  But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5:34-39; emphasis mine)

Gamaliel, a leading Pharisee in Jerusalem and a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, was the one who advised the other members of the Sanhedrin to let the disciples “alone.”  There’s no evidence to suggest he was a believer in Yeshua [Jesus]; in fact, his advice actually implies that he is not a believer, yet he does advise caution.  He presents to the Sanhedrin what’s known as a Precedent Argument, that is, an argument based on previous examples (two in this case): Theudas and Judas the Galilean.   Based upon these two precedents, Gamaliel argues here that if the Sanhedrin would just leave the disciples of Yeshua [Jesus] alone that ultimately the disciples, like the disciples of the two given examples, would ultimately be “scattered and come to naught.”  In other words, if this thing is of human origin, then they need to quit “encouraging the fire” by their persecution of it, and then this thing would just fall apart and become nothing in time.  But if this thing is of divine origin, then they will not be able to overthrow it, and they will place themselves in opposition against God Himself.

Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel the Elder, one of the prominent founders and leaders of one of the schools of Pharisaic Judaism, known in Hebrew as Beyt Hillel (pron. “Bayt Hill-el”; “the School/Community of Hillel”).  Gamaliel not only passed on his grandfather’s teachings, but he built on them as well.  He became a highly respected leader among the people, and as I said, was a member of the Sanhedrin.  And as a leading teacher in Beyt Hillel (School/community of Hillel), he would’ve passed many of Hillel’s teachings, along with his own, down to His disciples, including that of Sha’ul Paulus (or Paul).

For example, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) would have been taught this teaching from Hillel the Elder,

Be the disciples of Aaron, loving peace, and pursuing peace, loving your fellow-creatures, and drawing them near to the Law [Heb. Torah]. (Avoth or “Ethics of the Fathers” 1:12)

Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) would’ve known this teaching of Hillel that was taught to him by GamalielHillel also did not believe that non-Jewish men had to be circumcised before they could become a part of the Jewish community.  This may surprise many Christians.  However, the other school of Pharisaism did.  It was known as Beyt Shammai [pron. “Bayt Shuhm-migh”; “School/Community of Shammai”].  The following story about Hillel and Shammai comes from A. Cohen’s  book Everyman’s Talmud, page 65:

The story is told that a heathen came to Shammai with the request to be accepted as a convert on condition he was taught the whole of Torah while he stood on one foot.  The Rabbi [Shammai] drove him away with the yard-stick which he was holding.  He then went to Hillel with the same request; and he [Hillel] said to him: ‘What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow-man.  That is the whole of Torah and the remainder is but commentary.  Now, go and learn. [Shab. 31a]

This account would have been well known to both Yeshua [Jesus] and Sha’ul Paulus [Paul].  What’s interesting to me is the contrast between Hillel and Shammai.  In Paul Johnson’s book The History of the Jews, he notes the following about the distinct differences between these two men:

To Shammai, the essence of the Torah lay in its detail; unless you got the detail exactly right, the system became meaningless and could not stand.  To Hillel, the essence of the Torah was its spirit: if you got the spirit right, the detail could take care of itself. (127)

For Shammai, the detail of the Torah, like circumcision, had to be done BEFORE a gentile, a non-Jew, could become a part of God’s people, but this was not the belief of Hillel.  Why is this important?  Because look at Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) own confession in the book of Galatians,

And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still [being] persecuted?  then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.  (NASB, Galatians 5:11)

From this, we learn two things:

  • Before his transformation from a persecutor of the Jews who believed that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah to a fellow believer and one of the important leaders of the movement, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) used to go around and preach circumcision to non-Jews.  He went from place to place preaching circumcision, the need for non-Jews to be circumcised in order to become a part of God’s people.
  • By not preaching circumcision anymore, the new message that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is preaching has become a “stumbling block” to many.

But why is he preaching circumcision?  The school/community of Hillel did not require it for non-Jews to be a part of God’s people, but the school/community of Shammai did.  In other words, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) so strongly desires to climb the social ladder of his day that he was trying to satisfy both schools at the same time.  In the U.S., we would say that he is “burning the candle at both ends.”  That can work for a while, but ultimately, it no longer works (i.e., you run out of candle).

In his transformation experience with Yeshua [Jesus] on the road to Damascus, Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] is brought back to what he had been taught by his teacher Gamaliel about circumcision, that for non-Jews, it was not required.  Consequently, then, contrary to what Christians have traditionally taught, Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) message that non-Jews do not have to be circumcised to be “saved” (i.e., to go to heaven) does NOT remove him from 2nd Temple Judaism at all, nor does it remove him from the Pharisaic teachings of his day.  Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) remained throughout his life “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”

ABOUT PAUL’S MARITAL STATE

WAS PAUL SINGLE OR MARRIED?

Although there are many who teach the traditional view that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was single, and not married, the historical evidence likewise contradicts this view.  According to the early Church historian, Eusebius (260 – 340 A.D.), who collected and recorded the facts and details of the early church – whether the information was favorable to the movement or not, he writes that Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was, in fact, a married man:

Peter and Philip, indeed, had children, Philip also gave his daughters in marriage to husbands, and Paul does not demur in a certain epistle to mention his own wife, whom he did not take about with him, in order to expedite his ministry the better. (Book 3, chapter 30, page 95)

This quote is found in the English translation of his writings, entitled Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged, which was translated by C.F. Cruse.

What many people do not know is that not all of Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) epistles are in the New Testament, due to the fact that some were lost to history.  For example, we know that what is known as I Corinthians and II Corinthians are really Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) second and fourth letters to the church at Corinth.  His actual first and third letters have been lost to history, and all we have left of those four letters are the two letters within our Bibles.  It might have been in one of those missing letters where Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) had made mention of his wife.  And, unfortunately, whatever happened to his wife, we have no way of knowing.

 

Return to the Top

 

 

Standing Against the “OSTRICHISM” of Today’s World

A current problem within the world today is what I am calling, “OSTRICHISM” (pron. “ostrich-ism”).  What is this?  It is the fact that when someone brings up a topic that supports a person’s or group’s view or practice, people will clap, applaud and be interested in what is said, but if someone brings up a criticism or challenge to a person’s or group’s view or practice, people become like ostriches and hide their heads in the sand.  They ignore it, don’t address it, and hope that it will just go away.  The problem is, it doesn’t.

OSTRICHISM is not the biblical way to approach issues or problems.  God does not teach or endorse this approach to anything.  For example, in Matthew 18, Jesus teaches,

Moreover if your brother shall trespass against [or offends] you, go and tell him his fault [or offense] between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  (Matthew 18:15-16)

When someone offends you, Jesus does not say, “avoid the person,” but instead, He says to go and talk with them.  Go and explain to them how what they said or did offended you, and then work it out between the two of you alone.  He does not say to go and gossip about what that person did, or to slander them behind their backs or out for everyone to hear by posting it online or in the newspaper.  But to work it out alone between the two of you, but if that doesn’t work, try it again, but this time with one or two witnesses.  These one or two people not only work as witnesses, but they can also work as objective mediators, to help bring reconciliation between the two parties.

But is this the methodology we see people practicing inside or outside of the church?  No, it is not.  Instead of speaking to people and working out issues and problems, people follow OSTRICHISM.  And why?  Because people do not want to violate today’s “Politically-Correct” (PC) idea that we are to accept all people, all views, all beliefs as being equally valid and true.  In the book of Proverbs, we read,

There is a way that seems right onto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.  (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

This same verse is repeated twice in the book of Proverbs.  Just because something “sounds right” or “seems right” does not make it “right.”  But the problem is that in OSTRICHISM, people are doing what “sounds right” or “seems right” to them, even though, the end result of this method is disastrous, it brings death and not life.

You see, this PC belief to accept all views, all beliefs as being equally valid and true is NOT TRUE logically, nor is it true biblically.  For example, if I say that 1 + 1 = 2, and you say that 1 + 1 = 3, both views cannot be equally true.  One is true, and the other is false.  They both cannot be true. And yet in this PC view of society, it is saying that both are, in fact, true.  But this PC view is wrong.  There is a right, and there is a wrong.  Truth is not subjective.  Just because I want something to be true, or believe it is true, regardless of how sincere my belief or desire, it doesn’t make it true.  No matter how much I believe or desire the answer to be three, my answer is wrong.  The right answer is two.   But answers are NOT equally valid or true.

And this is true not only in this simple example, but in addressing issues, problems, and opinions as well.   We cannot resolve issues, problems and conflicts caused by differing opinions by ignoring them.  We must face them and effectively address them.  The problem is that society’s PC view of OSTRICHISM is teaching people to do the opposite.  But this approach, at its best, is really an act of apathy, but at its worst, it is an act of cowardice and hatred.  But in either case, it is not an act of love.

The underlying motivation for OSTRICHISM is the belief that if we challenge someone’s beliefs or views that we will in some way damage their self-esteem, and our PC society today says this is always wrong to damage anyone’s self-esteem.  This is why schools give ribbons out to everyone, whether they won a competition or lost.  This is also why many schools no longer retain students if they failed a course beginning in 7th grade.  But what is more damaging to a student’s self-esteem, being held back for another year or graduating high school not being able to read their school diploma or being able to read well enough to fill out a job application?  Did you know 25% of kids graduating high school are functionally illiterate?  Did you know that 99% of kids in Juvenile Detention are functionally illiterate?  In their minds, if they can’t read to fill out a job application, how else are they to get a “piece of the American dream” than to steal?  Am I justifying their position?  No, I’m saying, we are being ostriches, putting our heads in the sand, and we are ignoring the real problem.

Consequently, in my view, schools are only doing our children harm in the long term by teaching and practicing this PC view of OSTRICHISM, because they are not preparing our children for life in the real world. Because in the “real world,” people get offended all the time for various reasons.  They get written up for not doing something, they get fired, relationships break up, or people get divorced.  Offenses are everywhere!  We are not protecting our kids by teaching them OSTRICHISM, we are only setting them up for failure in the future.  The fact is, that in life, there are “winners” and “losers,” and instead of ignoring this and “PRETENDING” as if losers or loss does not exist (a form of OSTRICHISM), we should be teaching our kids how to lose graciously and how to deal with loss in their lives.

Secondly, they say, if we damage someone’s self-esteem, then we cause them offense.  And the PC view is that we are NEVER to offend anyone.  But this again is not living in the “real world.”  As a parent, I have offended my children on numerous occasions.  For example, we go to the store, and they want a particular toy.  I say, “No,” and they begin screaming.  I have offended them.  Am I sorry?  No, because as the adult, I know how much money I have, and I know where I need to spend it, and I know if this particular toy would be good for my child or not.  So can I be a good parent and follow this PC view of not ever offending my children?  No, of course not.  Just think back to your own childhood.  How many times did your parents offend you?  So instead of teaching people this ridiculous idea that we can ever live our lives without offending anyone, we should be teaching people how to deal with offense.  THAT would be the logical and biblical thing to do.  NOT hiding our heads in the sand and saying, “You better not offend me; you better not offend me.”

You see, according to this PC view, if we do not cause any offenses, then we will not cause conflict, and people today are terrified of conflict.  They erroneously believe that whenever conflict is aroused, people become violent.  This is an erroneous assumption.  People though will point to the shootings at schools, different places around the country, and recently, in a church.  And they will say that “guns are the real problem, so we need to get rid of all guns.”  But they are NOT the problem.  People can kill with almost anything, knives, pipes, chains, including their own hands.  Getting rid of guns will not get rid of killing.  I had a friend growing up whose dad was a gun shop owner.  He had guns lying openly in a couple places around the house.  But he taught his two sons how to handle a gun, shoot it, and even how to make their own bullets.  Did his sons grow up to become mass murderers?  No, the complete opposite.  So guns are not the problem.

The real problem is in how we are being taught to deal with conflict.  The PC method is OSTRICHISM, ignore it, push it down, walk away from it, but do not NOT address it.  Instead of dealing with it in a constructive manner, this erroneous PC approach only causes anger to remain within individuals, and as it is being pushed down, and being pushed down, and being pushed down, it slowly escalates and builds up until it finally erupts into the violence that the PC advocates then point to as an example of guns being the problem.  But in truth, it is their PC methodology of OSTRICHISM that’s the problem, and that has led to the violence.

OSTRICHISM does not solve the problems, it ultimately only causes the violent outbreaks.  And this PC social view of OSTRICHISM has come into the church.  In Christianity, instead of dealing with issues, people OSTRICHISIZE: they just leave and go to another church or they stop going at all, or they spend their time come gossiping, slandering one another, holding onto their grudges and unforgiveness, and ultimately leading to splits within the church.  More new churches are formed as a result of OSTRICHISM and division than by anything else.

So rather than bringing up disagreements and issues to be discussed within the church – which is the biblical model  (for example, Acts 15) – people pretend everything is fine, they smile and say “praise the Lord,” and then gossip and slander behind the back of individuals or the church, again, ultimately causing a church split.  It is no wonder that Christianity in America has become the watered-down mess that we see today.  Instead of the church changing society, society has changed the church.  Now some will reject what I’m saying, hide their head in the sand, and say, “The church is just fine,” but it’s not.  And the first step to getting better is being able to admit there’s a problem.

In fact, there’s a number of areas and teachings within Christianity that are contradictory to the Bible, but should anyone bring these contradictions up, then another form of OSTRICHISM occurs.  People say, “It’s all the matter of the heart.  If I think it’s right, then it’s right for me, but if you think something else is right, then it’s right for you.”  In essence then, we ignore the issue and a possible conflict by saying, “Truth is relative, and there is no absolute right or wrong.”  So how can we say with one breath that the Bible is our only standard of truth, but then when issues arise, we turn around and start espousing this PC view that all Truth is relative?   If the Bible is our standard of Truth, then Truth is NOT relative, but if Truth is relative, then what’s the point of saying what we obviously do not truly believe, and that is that the Bible is our only standard of Truth?

If Truth is subjective, then it is not objective.  For Truth to be objective means that it is not based on how we feel, think, or believe.  It is not a creation of humanity, and that the source of Truth does not, in fact, begin and end with us.  Instead, the Bible teaches us that Truth begins and ends with God, not humanity.  God and His Word is Truth, and anything that violates that Truth is a deception or a lie.  A deception is something that may appear true, but when you start peeling away the layers of what it is saying or presenting, and comparing it against the Bible, we begin to see the deception and the lie.

Some people have begun to rewrite or re-interpret the Bible, so that it matches the teachings of society.  In doing this, they say that the true standard of their life and their view of Truth is not the Bible, it is not God, but society.  People say, “Man created God in our image,” so therefore, man can recreate Him based on our everchanging needs.  But God says, “Man did NOT create God, but God created man in His image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

This means that God cannot be held or judged by the standards of men, but humanity, men and women, are held and judged by the standards of God.  We will not be judged based on how “good” we are in relation to other people, because we were not created in the image and likeness of man, but we will be judged based on how like God we are in our attitudes, thoughts, words and actions because we were created “in the image and likeness of God.”  So how “good” or “bad” you are in relation to other people is not the real question, but if we were to measure ourselves against God, how would we do?

As we can see, then, OSTRICHISM “leads to death” and is destructive in the long run.  We cannot live our lives ignoring and avoiding issues and problems.  This is how sin has grown and has flourished within the church.  Christianity needs to get off of the fence.  If the Bible is our standard of truth, then let’s follow the Bible, not society’s PC view that truth is relative.  But if the church is going to follow society’s PC view of truth, and satisfy itself, then follow that.  It is only hypocrisy to try and do both.  But what the church needs to know and to understand is that God is not pleased with it today.  Until it gets off the fence and begins to use the Bible as THE STANDARD OF TRUTH, and to truly follow the leading of the HOLY SPIRIT (not man’s spirit) in walking out what the Bible has to say – instead of today’s PC view of truth, values, and beliefs – it will not please God, and it cannot walk in holiness.

As far as my wife and I are concerned, there is only ONE TRUE STANDARD OF TRUTH, and that is the Bible.  I hope that you can claim the same.

 

Return to the Top

 

 

Does God Oppose the Celebration of Christmas?

DOES GOD OPPOSE THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS?  This may sound like a strange question to ask, but especially over the last couple of years, it has become much more significant to my wife and I.   For many people, Christmas represents family, love, a celebration with friends, partying, giving to others, and for Christians, the birth of Jesus Christ; after all, they say, He’s “The Reason for the Season.” So some may wonder, why would God be opposed to any of these things, especially the birth of His own Son?  But the hard truth is that God is, in fact, opposed to people connecting Him to the celebration of Christmas because of the pagan idolatrous origins of Christmas, as well as the celebration of it as Christ’s [Messiah’s] birthday, which is a lie and a deception, it also violates His Word, and it profanes the holiness of God.

CHRISTMAS – A DECEPTION?

First of all, before getting into the heart of the Christmas deception, here are two clear errors that churches teach about the birth of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] that are not biblically true: the arrival of the wise men and the time of His birth.

The Arrival of the Wise Men

For example, Christians often teach that the wise men came to the manger to view the baby Jesus.  According to the Scriptures, the wise men did not even come to the manger, but to a house:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And when they were come into THE HOUSE, they saw THE YOUNG CHILD with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matthew 2:10-12)

Notice that it was not in “a manger” they saw Christ [Messiah], but in “the house,” and He was not “an infant” but “a young child.”

Herod’s Inquiry & Killing of the Infants

Another proof that Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] was not an infant, but probably a toddler by the time the wise men saw Him is the conversation that Herod has with the wise men.  Once Herod had discovered where Messiah [Christ] was to be born [in Bethlehem], he privately called the wise men to speak with him:

Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. (Matthew 2:7)

Then once Herod discovered later that the wise men had not come back to report to him where they had found the Messiah, he then became extremely angry and sent his troops to kill all the children that were two years or younger:

Then Herod when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent forth, and killed all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, FROM TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER, ACCORDING TO THE TIME WHICH HE HAD DILIGENTLY INQUIRED OF THE WISE MEN.  (Matthew 2:16; Emphasis Mine)

If Jesus [Yeshua] had been an infant when the wise men came to see Him, Herod would have only had the soldiers kill all the newborn babies, but that is not what he did.  He specifically told them to kill all those “TWO YEARS AND UNDER,” based on the time given to him by the wise men.  This means that the wise men had told Herod that they had been traveling about 1 1/2 to 2 years, and therefore, the reasoning for Herod specifying the age of “two years and under.”

Mary’s Temple Sacrifices

Another proof that the wise men did not see Jesus at his birth is the animal sacrifice that Mary offered at the Temple.  According to Luke 2,

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.  (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2: 22-24)

How long, according to the Scriptures, was Mary to wait for her days of “purification” to be completed?  According to Leviticus 12:4, Mary would have had to have waited for 33 days before she could enter the Temple and offer her animal sacrifice to the Lord.  And a few verses later in the book of Leviticus, we read the following:

And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting [Temple in Mary’s time], a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.  Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood.  This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.  But if SHE CANNOT AFFORD A LAMB, then she shall take TWO TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.  (Leviticus 12:6-8)

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary brought “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” which is the sacrifice a woman would bring who COULD NOT AFFORD a lamb.  Now if the wise men had, in fact, arrived during the time of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth and given Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then she would have presented a lamb for her sacrifice, as opposed to the sacrifice of a poor woman who could not afford the lamb.

So Why Do People Teach that the Wise Men Did Come to His Birth?

During the Middle Ages when the population could not read or write, there needed to be a way to tell the story of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth in a way that the people could see and understand.  According to historians, the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D.  In Rachel Nuwer’s article “The First Nativity Scene was Created in 1223,” for the Smithsonian.com website, she writes,

The only historical account we have of Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis’ death.

According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”) Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.

Within a couple of centuries, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe. We don’t know if people actually played Mary and Joseph during Francis’ time, or whether they just imagined those figures’ presence. We do know that later scenes began incorporating dioramas and life actors, and the cast of characters gradually expanded beyond Mary, Joseph and sweet baby Jesus, to sometimes include an entire village. (December 14, 2012)

The Date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] Birth

Although many people argue that there is no way for certain to know the date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth, there are clues given in the Scriptures to figure it out.  Although there are many articles out there that argue one method or another for calculating the time of His birth, I would like to offer a simplistic approach.  According to researchers and traditional Christian teaching, based upon examining the Gospels and the feasts discussed in them, Christians state that Jesus [Yeshua] was 33 1/2 years old when He was crucified.

So let’s just take that information and use some logic here.  If Jesus [Yeshua] died when He was 33 1/2 years old, or 33 years 6 months, then He would have had His 33rd birthday 6 months before His death.  However, there’s no way you can get 6 months between December and March, the month of Passover that year.  However, if you count back 6 months from the month of March, you will arrive at the month of September.  This would mean that Jesus [Yeshua] was born in the Fall, not in the Winter.   This also supports my own personal opinion, based on the clues in Scripture, that Jesus [Yeshua] was born during the feast of Tabernacles (5 days after Yom Kippur on our calendars].

Some people argue that it would’ve had to have been in the Spring because the shepherds were out with the sheep, which normally happens in the Spring.  However, these were not regular shepherds.  These were shepherds who worked for King Herod, and they were raising sheep owned by him for the purpose of them being offered up as a sacrifice.  Since Herod was highly despised, it is not far-fetched to believe that some may try to kill his flocks, if left unattended, so that he would not be able to worship God in the Temple.  Thereby, bringing God’s wrath down upon him.  That being the case, I believe, particularly around the Fall feasts when sacrifices were expected to be given that Herod would have had shepherds out with the sheep every night during this time.

THE PAGAN ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS

Now let’s get to the heart of the Christmas deception.  Originally, what we call the “Christmas Season” was known as two Roman pagan idolatrous feasts: the “Roman Saturnalia” and “Sol Invictus.”

There are many credible sources that demonstrate that the origin and roots of Christmas are derived from the Roman Saturnalia, such as the decorating of the tree, the exchanging of gifts, singing songs from house to house, eating baked goods [such as cookies] shaped like people, feasting, merrymaking, partying, and getting drunk.  In fact, the roots of the Christmas Tree go back even further than the Roman Saturnalia.  For example, in Jeremiah 10, God states through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dimayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain [empty, worthless]: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs to be borne [or carried], because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2-5)

Although people may not view the “Christmas Tree” as an actual god anymore, that does not deny the fact that its roots go back into ancient pagan idol worship.

Examples of sources to consult about the pagan origins and connections of Christmas are many.  For example, one could read the article “Saturnalia” at History.com, or the article “Is Christmas related to Saturnalia” at the Christian website, gotquestions.org, or even an older Christian source, Ralph Woodrow’s Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern (1966) in his chapter on “The Winter Festival.”  And these are just a few of the sources that are out there.  In fact, according to the Christian source on gotquestions.com, during the time of the Roman empire, “the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing” (“Is Christmas related”).

The Christmas holiday also finds its roots in the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) that celebrated the renewing of the Sun King [i.e., the sun god], Mithra, on December 25, and was linked to the winter solstice (“Is Christmas related”).

PAGAN FEASTS IN THE CHURCH?

During the time of the 4th century, A.D., there were large groups of people leaving the church to celebrate these pagan festivals to these other gods and goddesses.  In response, the Roman Catholic Church decided the best way to keep these people in the church was to create a “Christian alternative,” a mass for Christ – “Christ-mass” or “Christmas” – to these pagan festivals, much like modern churches are doing with Halloween.  In fact, the earliest mention of December 25 commemorating the birth of Christ is 354 A.D.  Obviously, then, “Christmas” did not originate with Christ or with the writings of His early disciples, and in contrast to Christian belief, Jesus is NOT “The Reason for the Season.”

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church did eliminate some of the practices of the Saturnalia before bringing it into the church, such as people getting drunk, chasing women, going around naked as they sung songs from house to house, etc.  In addition, they changed December 25 from the renewing or birthday of the sun-god to the birthday of the Son of God, and then “Christianized” the reasoning for the other pagan-related activities, such as connecting the giving of gifts to the gifts given by the wise men.  This is likewise confirmed by the Christian site, gotquestions.com:

The early motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Pasties” on October 31.  That is, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what they perceive as a pagan celebration.  (“Is Christmas Related”)

Although this conservative Christian website readily acknowledges the pagan roots and connections of Christmas, it goes on to say,

So, Christians readily and comfortably acknowledge that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus.  Yet, like a family celebrating a Bible Costume Party on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means.  (“Is Christmas related”)

Every pastor that I have personally spoken with about the pagan roots and connections of Christmas (as well as Lent, Easter, and obviously Halloween), they have taken the same position:  The origins of the holiday does not matter; all that matters is what is in the heart of the individual.

THE BIBLE IS NOT THE STANDARD OF WHAT WE DO?

Of course, this raises an important question: What is the basis and standard for what we do?  Is it the Bible, or is the secular world right and Truth is only relative, so that there isn’t any absolute standard of right and wrong.  It seems when it is convenient for Christians, they will say that the Bible is their only standard of faith and conduct, but when that same Bible contradicts and challenges what they are going, then it’s up to the individual.

CHRISTMAS – A VIOLATION OF SCRIPTURE?

But I question their position for a number of reasons.  First of all, I question it because the creation of “Christian alternatives” to pagan feasts is, in fact,  a violation of Scripture.  In Deuteronomy 12, God says,

When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, wherever you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; take heed to yourself that you be not snared [trapped] by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?  even so will I do likewise.  You shall not do so unto the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which He hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.  What thing so ever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.  (Deuteronomy 12: 29-32)

This is not merely a passage forbidding child sacrifice; instead, the sacrifice of children is one example of pagan practices that He is addressing.  There are two basic principles here that are being taught within this passage:

  • Do NOT use the customs, traditions, practices, forms of worship, etc., that other nations use with their pagan gods, and use them with the LORD; and
  • Whatever God has commanded in His Word, that is what we are to do.  We are not to add to it, nor are we to subtract from it.

However, most churches get around this prohibition by teaching that the Law of God ended at the cross; therefore, this prohibition, they say, is no longer valid or relevant to them.  The other possible common response is that the Law of God is only for Israel, and it does not apply to the church, so again, this prohibition is seen as not valid or relevant to them.

“DOES THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS?”

Another explanation offered for churches participating in these “Christian alternatives” is that by the church offering these alternatives, unsaved people come to church who normally would not and, therefore, have the opportunity to hear the gospel and get saved.  This sounds feasible and good, until you realize that “in the name of salvation,” Christians are disobeying God and His Word.

But the sad truth is that beginning back in the 4th century, A.D., and even today, people have not stopped to even ask God what He thinks about these man-made “Christian alternatives” to these pagan feasts and the church connecting His name to them.  The church has merely assumed that as long as people get saved, then God is okay with it and it is good to do.  But is this the way that God thinks and feels?

CHRISTMAS – A PROFANING OF GOD’S HOLINESS?

Even after reading this, some may argue that this is all just my opinion on the matter since no one actually knows what God really feels about these “Christian alternatives” that Christianity has brought into the church.  However, that is not so.  God has spoken to my wife, Karen, and He has also spoken to me in different ways reconfirming the fact that God is not only deeply offended by these pagan celebrations being brought into the church, but He also says that they profane His holiness.  The following is what God has spoken about this “holidays” by His Spirit:

I do not want My people dabbling in the things which I have said were unclean and unholy.  How can I, a holy God, be among the things that are unholy?  My people, you are profaning My name and causing Me to want to take you and remove you from My Holy Presence.  I cannot, and will not, I say, keep dwelling among a people who do not covet the same holy things that I covet.

Yes, I have in My commandments which I gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai, which says to not covet what is not yours, says God Almighty.  These wicked holidays that you are claiming to be yours are detestable in My eyes, says God Almighty.  How can you not see this in the Word of God that I have given you as a manual to understand the very heart of Me, says God.  I do not wish for any one of My children to have anything to do with the things of this world.  I will go farther than this, I can’t continue in a relationship with you because you are grieving the Holy Spirit that has come to be your Helper and to be your Guide.

Don’t profane My name and say you are trying to take something bad and turn it into something good for the sake of the church.  This is not true, says God.  You are doing it because you don’t care about hurting Me, says God.  If you cared about Me, you would see that I detest all the things you’re trying to push Me into.  I do not accept what you have done, and I don’t want anything more to be involved or put My name to that which is unholy and unacceptable to what My Word teaches. (“God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name'”)

It seems clear that God does NOT endorse these “Christian alternatives” of pagan feasts and practices.  They offend Him to the point where He feels like spitting His people out in disgust.  The church needs to repent and to stop celebrating these pagan feasts.  I believe the question must be asked, “Why are we celebrating these ‘Christian alternatives’ to these pagan feasts and practices — Christmas, Lent, Easter, and more recently, Halloween – when God Himself has designed and given to us 7 feasts (and I personally would add Purim and Hanukkah)?  Why do we insist on setting aside what God Himself has given to us to celebrate feasts and practices whose origins and roots are pagan?  We need to repent, turn away from our sins, and begin walking in holiness and obedience to God and to His Word.

Works Cited

“Is Christmas related to Saturnalia?”  gotquestions.org.  Got Questions Ministries. 2017.  Web.  <http://www.gotquestions.org/Christmas-Saturnalia.html>

Nuwer, Rachel.  “The First Nativity Scene Was Created in 1223.”  Smithsonian.com.  Dec. 14, 2012.  Web.  <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-nativity-scene-was-created-in-1223-161485505>

“Saturnalia.” History.com.  n.d.  Web.  <http://www.history.com/topics/Saurnalia>

Verschage, Karen.  “God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name.”  Karensshofar. wordpress.com.  June 19, 2016.  Web.  <http://karensshofar.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/god-says-my-people-are-profaning-my-name>

Woodrow, Ralph.  Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern.  Riverside, CA.: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1978.  Print.
Return to the Top

Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication (Part 1/4): Its Prophecy & Fulfillment

In just another two days, we will be celebrating the Feast of Hanukkah, “the feast of lights” (beginning the evening of December 2 – 10).  Most erroneously believe that Hanukkah is just a “Jewish thing,” and that it has nothing to do with Christians.  But from the New Testament, we discover that as a Jew, Jesus also celebrated Hanukkah, “the feast of dedication” (John 10:22-23).  The meaning of Hanukkah was changed from “the feast of dedication” to “the feast of lights” after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.  There was a reason for this change, which I will discuss later in the series, but I want to take it back to its original meaning.

MY MOTIVE FOR THIS STUDY

My motive for doing this is not to make people “Jewish,” but it’s a study I did out of my love for Jesus.  I believe when you love someone, you want to know everything you can about that person, and this was a part of His life.  Therefore, out of my love for Him and my commitment to being His disciple, and to walk in all of His ways, I would like to present this 4-part study series on Hanukkah: the Bible’s prophecy concerning it and their historical fulfillment, what I believe it meant to Jesus, how Hanukkah is celebrated today, and the Gospel message that I see within the feast of Hanukkah.  This is the first part of that four-part study.

I would like to begin by looking at the Bible’s prophecy concerning Hanukkah and its historical fulfillment.  These prophecies are found in the book of Daniel, while Daniel and his people, the Jews, were still in exile in the land of Babylon.

A COMPARISON OF DREAMS

In Daniel 2, God gives Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, a dream regarding the kingdoms that would come after him, in the form of a statue of a man made from various metals.  These kingdoms are Babylon [the head of gold], the Medes & Persians [the chest and arms of silver], Greece [belly and thighs], Rome [two legs], and a future end-time global empire [feet of iron and clay].  As we can see, as we move down the statue, we not only move forward in time from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but the quality of the metals go down as well.

In Daniel 7, Daniel likewise has a dream regarding the same empires, but in Daniel’s dream, they appear not as a statue of a man, but as wild beasts: Babylon [a LION with eagle’s wings], the Medes & Persians [a BEAR raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth], Greece [a four-headed LEOPARD with wings], and Rome [a dreadful and terrifying beast with iron teeth].  However, after the fourth beast, it mentions, not a fifth beast but “another horn,” who had “the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts” and who pulled out “three horns” (Daniel 7:8).

There is a connection between Antiochus Epiphanes and the historical events of Hanukkah with end-time events, as we shall see.  In fact, Daniel 7 is important in understanding John’s vision in Revelation 13.  In Revelation 13:2, we read,

And the beast which I saw was like unto a LEOPARD, and his feet were as the feet of a BEAR, and his mouth as the mouth of a LION:…”  (Emphasis Mine)

Note these three beasts are the same exact three beasts [out of four] as mentioned in Daniel’s vision.  So just as each “beast” in Daniel 7 represents a kingdom that was led by a man, so this final “beast” in Revelation 13 will be a conglomeration of these previous three kingdoms that will likewise be led by a man.

SO WHY THE DIFFERENCE IN DREAMS?

I believe the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel present a look at the same kingdoms from two different perspectives.   First of all, God presented to Nebuchadnezzar a view of these kingdoms from an outward perspective.  From the viewpoint of people, these were wondrous kingdoms to behold; however, to Daniel, on the other hand, God gave a view of these same kingdoms from an inner perspective, looking at their heart and spirit, and from this perspective, they were “wild beasts.”

A SUBSEQUENT DREAM

Then in Daniel 8, Daniel is given a subsequent dream to his previous dream during the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon. Daniel has a dream of two specific beasts: a ram with two horns (the Medes & Persians) and a male goat (Greece). In his dream, he sees the following:

And I saw him [the male goat] come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered the two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him.  So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. (Daniel 8:7)

This prophecy of “the male goat” is a perfect picture of Alexander the Great.  He conquered the empire of the Medes & Persians (the ram with the two horns) quickly, as well as all of the known world at that time.  He won battle after battle, war after war, with no one being able to stop him. But then in verse 8, the prophecy continues:

Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly.  But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:8)

According to world history, Alexander the Great rose to great power, “magnifying himself exceedingly,” but then at the age of 33, on June 10, 323, B.C., he died suddenly. To this day, there is an ongoing debate among historians about how he died, theories include poison, murder, or a relapse of Malaria.  When asked, though, as he was dying, who would get his kingdom, he replied, “the strongest.”  As a result, his empire was fought over for forty years by his four generals (the “four conspicuous horns”).  But then continuing on in the prophecy, we learn the following:

From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size toward the south and east and toward the land of Splendor….It magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8: 9, 11)

Then Daniel heard a voice in his vision ask, how long would this be allowed to happen, and the response was 2,300 evenings and mornings, and “then the holy place will be properly restored” (Daniel 8:14).  This prophecy of the “little horn” regards Antiochus Epiphanes and the events that the feast of Hanukkah commemorates.

HANUKKAH: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

The historical account of the war between Israel and the Seleucid Greeks is found in the book of I Maccabees.   Although this book is in the Catholic Bible, it is not in the Hebrew Bible [Heb. Tanakh] or in the Protestant Christian Old Testament.  So for the convenience of readers who are not familiar with the account, I have provided the following summary.

Approximately 148 years after the death of Alexander the Great is when the historical events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred.   It begins when Antiochus IV, “a sinful shoot,” became ruler of the Seleucid Greek dynasty in 175 B.C., a region which included Israel (I Maccabees 1:10-11). Afterward, there were some Jews who saw financial advantages to adopting a Hellenistic (or Greek) lifestyle, and so they abandoned God and His Torah (lit. “Teachings, Guidance, Instructions or Directives”).

In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow.   So this device pleased them well.  Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen:   Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen:  And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief.   (I Maccabees 1:11-15)

It’s hard for me to imagine someone giving up intimacy with God for money and financial success, yet that is what this group of men did.  Notice that those who gave up the ways of God and His “holy covenant” are called “wicked men.”  If this is what these men are called in the 2nd century, B.C., then won’t God call likewise Christians and ministers who forsake the truth of Scripture, including His ways and commandments, for money and financial success today?

PLUNDERING JERUSALEM

After winning a battle against Egypt in 170 B.C., Antiochus turns his sights on Israel, particularly Jerusalem.  He plundered the city and the Temple, taking the holy items and the Temple treasures, “leaving the place a shambles” (I Maccabees 1:21-24).    And then two years later, he took the women and children as slaves, stole their cattle, and then burned the city (I Maccabees 1:32-33).

MANDATING A GREEK LIFESTYLE

Antiochus then issued a proclamation [law] that everyone was to adopt a Greek lifestyle, including the worship of the Greek gods [as well as himself as a god] (I Maccabees 1:41).   Due to his own “god complex,” he ascribed to himself the name “Epiphanes” (“god manifest”).

PERSECUTING TORAH-OBSERVANT JEWS

Antiochus also forbad the Jews from practicing any form of Judaism, such as prohibiting any of the following:

  1. Any form of Temple worship;
  2. All biblical feasts, including the weekly Sabbath; and
  3. All Torah study and observance, including the following of the dietary laws and circumcision of boys at eight days old.

Instead of obeying God and His Torah [God’s instructions and commandments], they were to worship the Greek gods, eat unclean food, and sacrifice pigs on the altar.  Anyone found worshiping the God of Israel or keeping the Torah, or practicing any of its teachings, would be killed (I Maccabees 1:46-52).

INTENSIFYING THE PERSECUTION

On the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Chislev [about mid-to-late November to mid-to-late December] in 167 B.C., the statue of Zeus was erected above the altar, as well as other altars to him around the surrounding towns of Judah (I Maccabees 1:57-58).   In addition, any copies of the Torah that were found by the Greek soldiers were torn up and burned (I Maccabees 1:59).

KILLING WOMEN AND CHILDREN

Also, any woman who was found to have circumcised her baby boy was killed, along with her male infant, in accordance to the edict, and her dead baby was hung around her neck.  Also, any other member of the household who participated, along with the one who circumcised the infant, were killed as well (I Maccabees 1:60-61).

SOME ENDURE – SOME DO NOT

Although the persecution was intense, there were many who remained faithful to the God of Israel and His Torah; many chose to die rather than to profane God’s “holy covenant” (I Maccabees 1:62-63).  Unfortunately, though, there were also some who did not remain faithful but chose to abandon God and His Torah, rather than endure any further persecution.  They adopted the Greek lifestyle and began worshipping the various Greek gods.

MATTATHIAS AND HIS SON REVOLT

When Antiochus’s men came to the town of Modein to make the Jews there offer a sacrifice to the god Zeus, a priest by the name of Mattathias and his sons refused to participate.   Mattathias told them:

Even if every nation living in the king’s dominion obeys him [Antiochus], each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors.   Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law [Heb. Torah] and its observances.   As for the king’s orders, we will not follow them: we will not swerve from our religion either to the right or to the left.  (I Maccabees 2: 19-23)

Upon completing this statement, a Jew was going to betray God by offering a pig on the altar, but Mattathias killed the man and began a rebellion, killing as well the king’s men who were also there.   Then he ran through the town, rallying the people to join him in their fight against the Greeks.  They then took refuge in the hills (I Maccabees 2:25-28).

JUDAH ASSUMES COMMAND

After a year of fighting, Mattathias died in 167 B.C., but before he did, he placed his son Judah in charge of the war against the pagans (I Maccabees 2:66).   Judah was nicknamed “Maccabees” (“hammer”) because of how he “hammered” at the enemy in battle.   Eventually, after two more years, Judah and his troop won their battle against the Greeks.

A SHOCKING DISCOVERY!

Upon the Greeks’ final defeat in 165 B.C., Judah and his men went to Jerusalem to re-dedicate the Temple.  However, when they arrived,

they found the sanctuary [Temple] a wilderness, the altar desecrated, the gates burned down, and vegetation growing in the courts as it might in a wood or on some mountain, while the store rooms were in ruins.   They tore their garments and mourned bitterly, putting dust on their heads.  (I Maccabees 4:38-40)

CLEANSING THE TEMPLE

After a time of mourning, Judah selected priests who were faithful to God and blameless in their observance of the Torah to clean and purify the Temple, to remove the stones that had been used to construct the altar to Zeus, as well as the stones of the Temple altar that had been profaned by the blood of the pig that the Seleucid Greeks had offered on it (I Maccabees 4:42-45).

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THESE STONES?

Judah and his men were not sure what to do with the Temple altar stones once they had been removed, so they took them outside the Temple and set them in “a suitable place on the Temple hill to await the appearance of [the] prophet [i.e., the Messiah] who should give a ruling about them” (I Maccabees 4:46).

Could these be the same stones that Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) alluded to when He rode into Jerusalem, and when the religious leaders tried to get Him to silence the crowd, He told them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)

REDEDICATING THE TEMPLE

Once the stones had been removed, they selected rocks that were naturally cut by the weather and sand, and built a new altar where the old one had once stood (I Maccabees 4:47).   They cleaned the Temple, replaced the vessels and items that had been stolen, and set up the items in the Temple as God had instructed in the Torah (I Maccabees 4:47-51).

INSTITUTING THE OBSERVANCE OF HANUKKAH

Then on the 25th day of Chislev (which occurs from mid-November to mid-December), in the year 165 B.C., they re-dedicated the Temple back to God and to His service.  They “made it a law that the days of dedication of the altar should be an annual celebration for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Chislev with ‘rejoicing and gladness’” (I Maccabees 4:52-61).

GOD FULFILLED HIS PROPHECY

Indeed, God did keep His prophetic word.  The “little horn” did rise to great power and for a time did gain power over the “land of Splendor” [Israel], but his time came to an end, and the Temple was, indeed, properly restored, as God promised.

If anything, the celebration of Hanukkah should remind us of the following:

  1. That our God is a faithful God who keeps His Word, even in the hardest of circumstances;
  2. The freedom to worship and honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by obeying His Torah from our hearts is something that must be fought for continually since today we see that freedom being slowly taken away from us.
  3. We must also remember that the Torah is not “bondage” or some “legalistic hardship,” as I hear mainstream Christianity teach, but it is a blessing from God that we have been given to teach us about God, Messiah, holiness, and what it means to be “the people of God.”

So during this Hanukkah season, let us strive to remember the faithfulness of our God and to hold on to the freedom that God has given to us to worship Him and to walk in all of His ways.

 

Return to the Top

“GOD IS HOLY, HOLY, HOLY:” BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

This is the first of a four-part study on “The Biblical Meaning of Holiness.”  In this study, we will first examine the holiness of God, and then look at holiness in terms of those things associated with God, and then what it means for us to be called to walk in holiness.  This series is not only important in understanding and knowing God, but also in understanding the calling that God has placed upon each of our lives.

THE FORGOTTEN CORE

Over the years, Christianity has so focused on “the love of God,” that they have forgotten “the holiness of God.”  God’s holiness is not just another quality or trait of God, like His love, His mercy, or His grace, but it is the ultimate expression of who He is, of His character and nature.  It is His essence, His very core of Being, it is what makes God “God,” and yet instead of realizing this and focusing on this, Christians are focusing on what they call “His love” to such an extent, that they are actually profaning Him by what they say, do, and allow within the church.

Christians say they want another move of God in America, but if they went back and looked at what was being preached and taught in America prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit first in Topeka, Kansas in 1901, and then on Azuza Street in Los Angeles, California, in 1904, they would find that what was being preached and focused on was the holiness of God, and us providing Him with a Holy Temple, a Holy environment, within our lives in order for Him to dwell, to move, and for Him to minister in and through us to those around us.  And if we want another move of God like that, we need to return to that message.  We need to return to the essence of God, which is that He is “holy, holy, holy.

GOD IS “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY”

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of God in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was “the year that king Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1).  In his vision, Isaiah saw the Lord

sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the Temple.  Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.  And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The word “Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”  They burn with passion for God, and in their passionate love for Him, they cry out “Holy, holy, holy.”  Did you know that this word “holy” is the only word in all of the Bible that is used three times in succession to describe God?  Did you know that in Hebrew in order to emphasize something you repeat it?  And when a word is repeated three times in succession, it is being emphasized emphatically to the ultimate degree.  “God is love” (I John 4:8), but even more emphatically true than His love is that God is “holy, holy, holy.”

JOHN’S VISION OF GOD’S HOLINESS

In the book of Revelation, we see a New Testament version of what Isaiah saw and described.  In Revelation 4, John has a vision in which he is called up into heaven, and in this chapter, he describes what he sees:

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, there were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.  And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast has a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.  And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, which is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:6-8)

And it is this acknowledgement of the holiness of God that begins a crescendo of praise and worship of God to who He is, to His Majesty, His Power and Might.  For we read in the next three verses,

And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the four and twenty elders [dressed in white raiment with crowns of gold on their heads; see Revelation 4:4] fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:9-11)

When we hear or think about the holiness of God, does it provoke and draw from us worship and praise of our God, or do we emotionally and mentally run in fear of Him because He is “holy, holy, holy”?  Does the holiness of God draw us in worship, compel us to fall on our knees to praise, honor and glorify Him, or does His holiness fill us with fear as we think about the day when we will stand before Him, His Holy Presence?  What are we to think and how are we to respond to a Holy God?

“HOLY” – IT’S ENGLISH DEFINITION

But what does it mean to call God “holy”?  When we look at that word in the English, we gain some meaning, but as we shall see, it misses the essence of the word’s biblical meaning.   According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the English word “holy” means –

  • exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness;
  • Divine; and
  • devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity.

So when we read that “God is holy, holy, holy,” then in English we believe that the Bible is saying that God is “exalted” or “worthy” to the ultimate degree because He is “perfect in goodness and righteousness; that He is pure.”  But even though God is indeed “perfect in goodness and righteousness,” and He is pure, as well as “exalted” and “worthy,” this is not the essence of what the Bible means when it says that “God is holy.”

“HOLY” – ITS BIBLICAL DEFINITION

The word “holy” as it is used here in the Bible (both in Isaiah and in Revelation), the word “holy” is the English translation of the Hebrew word kadosh and the Greek word Hagios, which means “distinct, separate, set apart, other than, totally other,” or in other words, when we speak of the “holiness” of God, we are speaking of His transcendence, His distinctness, His otherness.  We can see God trying to get this idea across in the following passage:

To whom then will you liken God?  or what likeness will you compare to Him?… Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundation of the earth?  It is He that sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: that brings the princes [“rulers of the earth”] to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth as vanity [“nothingness”]…To whom then will you liken Me, or is equal to Me? says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:18, 21-23, 25).

This question is repeated again 6 chapters later,

To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal, and compare Me, that we may be alike?  (Isaiah 46:5)

God here is saying that there is no one like Him, nothing in this world or universe like Him, there’s no other god like Him; He is unique, He is distinct, He is different, He is completely other than, and this is why He is called HaKadosh, “the Holy One.”

And because God is holy, He shows mercy like no other.  Because God is holy, He loves like no other.  Because God is holy, He is faithful like no other.  Because God is holy, He gives grace like no other.  And because God is holy, He is pure like no other, and because God is holy, He must judge sin.  God’s mercy, grace, and love flow out of the same essence as His need to judge sin.  And this is what many people do not understand.

SENNACHERIB’S BLASPHEMY AND INSULT

In Isaiah 36-37, there’s an account of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, coming against the city of Jerusalem to attack it and lay it in ruins during the reign of King Hezekiah.  Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem with a great army, and then he tries to do some psychological warfare by giving a message to King Hezekiah and to all the people in Jerusalem with the hopes on instilling fear in the people.   He gave them reasons to believe they’ were on their own with no one to rely on, but then he went so far as to say the following:

Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD [Heb. Y’hwah], saying, The LORD [Y’hwah] will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…. Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, the LORD [Y’hwah] will deliver us.  Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad?  where are the gods of Sepharvaim?  and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?  Who are they among all of the gods of these lands, that have delivered  their land out of my hand, that the LORD [Y’hwah] should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (Isaiah 36:15, 18-20)

I put the literal transliteration of God’s covenant name that He gave to Moses {Heb. Mosheh] on Mount Sinai after the word “LORD” in brackets, because Y’hwah is one of the two names that God gave to Moses at the burning bush, and it is the one that’s used the most in the Scriptures.  It is used 6,000 times in the Scriptures.  Most translators transliterate the name as “Yahweh,” even though the vowel under the vahv (w) is a qamats (a) and not an “e.” In most Bibles it is translated as “LORD” in all capital letters.

Notice that Sennacherib through his servant Rabshakeh is trying to convince the people of Israel that they cannot depend on the LORD to deliver them from him, because Sennacherib is arguing here that the LORD is no different than any of the other gods of the various cities that Sennacherib has defeated.  He tries to argue here that if their gods could not deliver them out of Sennacherib’s hand, then the LORD will not be able to deliver them out of his hand either.

HEZEKIAH’S PRAYER

When Hezekiah is given the report of what Sennacherib said, he takes the report to the Temple, and he spreads it out before God, and prays,

O LORD [Y’hwah] of hosts, God of Israel, that dwells between the cherubims, You are the God, even You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: You have made heaven and earth.  Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which has sent to reproach the living God.  Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.  Now there, O LORD [Y’hwah] our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD, even You only. (Isaiah 37:16-20)

Notice in this prayer, Hezekiah says that the kings of Assyria did, in fact, conquer the surrounding nations and threw their gods into the fire.  But why?  Because those gods, unlike the God of Israel were not actually gods at all, but were the creations of men.  However, their God was different.  Why?  Because out of all the man-made gods in the world, only Y’hwah, “the LORD” is the living God, and only He can truly save.

Y’HWAH’S RESPONSE

Then beginning in the next verse, Y’hwah, “the LORD” sends the prophet Isaiah with His response to Sennacherib, King of Assyria.  And this response is then taken out to the wall of the city, and it is read out to Sennacherib and his troops.

The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised you, and laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head at you. (Isaiah 37:22)

Sennacherib came with his mighty forces against Jerusalem, and he ridiculed both Hezekiah and Y’hwah, the God of Israel.  In response, God turns around and ridicules Sennacherib, and says that the people of Jerusalem despise you, laugh at you, and shakes her head at you.  Why?  We read the answer in the next verse:

Whom have you reproached and blasphemed?  And against whom have you exalted your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high?  Even against THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL.  (Isaiah 37:23)

What was Sennacherib’s “reproach and blasphemy”?  It was to say that Y’hwah, the Holy One of Israel, was not any different than any of the other gods that Sennacherib had defeated.  In essence, that Y’hwah is not “distinct,” “not separate,” “not other than or transcendent,” that is, not holy.  So to say that the Holy One of Israel is no different than any other god worshiped today in these other religions of the world is a “reproach” and “blasphemy” to Him, because in saying this, one is saying that God is not, in fact, holy.

THE RESULTS OF HIS BLASPHEMY?

What was the result of Sennacherib’s insult and blasphemy?  We read in Isaiah 37:36-37,

Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand [185,000]: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.  So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt [lived] in Nineveh.

Although Sennacherib came boasting of his glories and triumphs, and that Jerusalem was just going to be another victory to add to his list of victories, it was he, instead, who went home with a major defeat: 185,000 of his troop was killed by one angel in one evening.  And why did this happen?  Because Sennacherib insulted and blasphemed the holiness of God.

GOD IS UNIQUELY HOLY

God is “distinct, separate, other than, transcendent” from the things of this world.  There is no one like Him.  His holiness is unlike anyone’s or anything in this world, in this galaxy, or even in the universe, or in all of creation, whether in this physical universe or in the spiritual realm.

He exists outside of time, space, and matter.  He is not confined as we are to these things, because He created them, and the Creator is always greater than the creation.  God can view the past, the present, and the future all at the same time.  To Him, time is ever present, and therefore, He is the great “I AM.”  He created all things merely by speaking them into existence.  There was no conflict or struggle in bringing them into existence; He merely spoke the word, and they came into being.  For example, in Genesis 1, we read,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called “Night.”  And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

And just as God created all things by speaking them into existence, we know if God speaks something, we know that it will happen.  Because God tells us in the Bible,

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be that goes forth out of My mouth: It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.  (Isaiah 55:8-11)

God is holy, and because God is holy, His words and ways are likewise holy.  It is not His deeds that make Him holy, rather He is holy, and as a result, all that He says and does is also holy.  We need to return to a biblical view of God, a clear view of the holiness and majesty of God.   And when we do, we will begin to see the move of God within our churches once more.

 

Return to the top

The whole Bible for the whole person for all time.