Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Haven't You Ever Read Galatians? - Part II

Galatians 5:3

Often cited as support for the view that Paul argues against the Law on the basis that it is impossible to observe all of it.  This view presupposes a litany of assumptions:

1) One must keep it all.
2) It is impossible to do so
3) There is no forgiveness for transgressing
4) Therefore, observance inevitably leads to a curse

Assumptions 2 and 3 are never stated and the whole sequence of ideas does not find support in the rabbinic literature.  No rabbi ever took the position that obedience must be perfect.  If one carefully combs the rabbinic literature, the rabbis and sages of all schools and all periods strongly believed in and emphasized repentance and atonement when it came to addressing transgressions of the Law.  Even though perfection is encouraged (even Y'shua exhorted his audience to 'be ye therefore perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect'), it is important to remember that provision is made in the Law itself for transgression and atonement.

It is equally erroneous to think that the Law is too difficult to be observed or fulfilled, for G-d testifies about the Torah in Deuteronomy:

"For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.   "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.  (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

The Hebrew word translated "mysterious" is pala and means: 1) to be marvelous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, separate by distinguishing action 1a) (Niphal): to be beyond one's power, be difficult to do 1b) to be difficult to understand. Philo states that, "the commandments are not too huge and heavy for the strength of those to whom they will apply . . ." (De Praemiis et Poenis, On Rewards and Punishments, 80). This is the standard view in normative Judaism.

The law is not too difficult to be fulfilled (the Law even explicitly says as much, cf. Deut. 30), however, the Law itself also makes provision for sins which people commit from time to time. If that is indeed the case, this assertion inevitably raises a number of important questions which must be addressed:

What is the purpose of the Law and why was it given? What is its function? Is the observance of the Law a condition for righteousness?  What is the relationship of faith to the Law? 


To be continued . . .

6 comments:

  1. I didn't comment on the first post because I wasn't sure exactly where this was going.

    I suspect that you catch flack from other Christians about your observance of parts of the Torah. I imagine that its very frustrating. I look forward to the rest of the series.

    There is one point of discussion I want to comment on and perhaps challenge your train of thought. You said, "Assumptions 2 and 3 are never stated and the whole sequence of ideas does not find support in the rabbinic literature. No rabbi ever took the position that obedience must be perfect."

    If the 27 books of the New Testament are inspired by the Holy Spirit, then what they have to say takes precedence over Rabbinic literature. I realize this point does not contradict other teaching about freedom in Christ to observe or not observe various things. I'm pointing out the futility of using a non-biblical source to attempt to refute a position held by those who do not recognize the spiritual authority of the material you're appealing to.

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  2. I haven't been ignoring you, but haven't been ignoring you, but have been out of town for the last week or so.

    A good friend of mine strongly cautioned me about wading into these waters. To be honest, I had some misgivings myself. To understand Galatians and many of Paul's other writings requires a tremendous and intensive study of the Torah (years and years of study) as well as an openness to learn and to have traditional Western Christian understandings challenged when it comes to the Torah. It is my beleif that people have no business teaching any of the New Testament writings without a strong background and deep understanding of the Torah and Tanach. It's like trying to build a house from the roof down.

    Of course for me, this is easy to take for granted. I am immersed in a Torah understanding but have to keep in mind that most Western Christians are not. So I proceed with these posts cautiously and with the understanding that a blog may not be the optimal format for presenting these ideas or addressing mis-perceptions about the Torah and Paul's relationship to the Torah. I will continue for a bit and see how it goes.

    "I suspect that you catch flack from other Christians about your observance of parts of the Torah. I imagine that its very frustrating. I look forward to the rest of the series."

    At times, but that is not what motivates or concerns me all that much. I also do not care so much whether Christians are observing and practicing Torah. (Though I believe the Torah is available for everyone, Jew and non-Jew). That's not what interests me. But I do want to reach them and challenge them with "the rest of the story", if you will. Which is why getting things like the "Walking on Water" article I shared with you a while back are great bridge builders.

    I have a strong desire for the Scriptures to be understood and used properly. It is the misuse and carelessness to which I object. There seems to be a tendency to work very hard to conform the Scriptures to our views rather than conform our views to the Scriptures.

    It is a difficult and frightening prospect for most people to have views, which they may have held for decades, challenged by another perspective which they may have rejected out of hand and to consider the possibility that their views may be flawed or dead wrong.

    "I'm pointing out the futility of using a non-biblical source to attempt to refute a position held by those who do not recognize the spiritual authority of the material you're appealing to."

    That's fine. I wasn't appealing to the "authority" of the rabbinic material as much as I was trying to contextualize the framework and understanding from within which Paul is operating. Paul is seen as the "founder of Christianity" by both sides of the aisle, and this is simply not true.

    He was a rabbi and a pharisee trained at the feet of Gamaliel who also had become convinced that Y'shua is the promised Messiah. He spoke in synagogues, not churches. He taught both Jews and non-Jews. His ministry was always to the Jew first and also the the non-Jew. He never varied in this approach.

    He remained Torah-observant and everything he writes is not going to contradict the Torah, denigrate the Torah, or do away with the Torah, which, sadly, is not a perspective and understanding that is held by most, whether Jewish or Christian.

    The key is not my ability to convince others, but if others have a desire to learn and consider another perspective (much like yourself) they will benefit tremendously and I believe they will be blessed and encouraged.

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  3. I just returned from a mini vacation myself. It's the first I've taken in years.

    I do not believe Paul was a founder of Christianity in any sense. He wrote a great deal of the material that became doctrine, however, he himself and his personal perspective/mindset aren't particularly relevant to the discussion. If his writings are inspired scripture (I believe they are) then he is simply the messenger and not the message.

    IMO proper exegetical treatment of the text will produce the proper understanding.

    My study of the NT leads me to believe that strict observance of the Torah and Levitical Worship is impossible today.
    1. No Temple
    2. Unsure as to the identity of Priests and Levites
    3. Christ as sin offering removes the need for atoning sacrifices
    4. Other offerings would still be acceptable however see #1 & #2.
    5. The NT doesn't bind Torah observance on gentiles

    The question of "What if I want to do X?" is different than the statement "You must do x". What if I wanted to undertake a Nazarite Vow as a way of understanding God's Holiness? Preforming that vow would be a totally optional undertaking. Any benefits would be additional to the benefit of my faith in Christ. However it would not be a requirement for faith in Christ. I see this example exactly the same in terms of moral equivalence as Torah Observance.

    If you as a Jew want to observe the traditions of your fathers, that's great. As a gentile I still get to eat pig, use egg batter on fried chicken, and turn my lights on in my house on Saturday. Neither of us sin in what we do and approve of.

    I'm personally grateful for Jews who continue to teach and practice their traditions. I learn form it, and grow spiritually because of their efforts to maintain that unique heritage. I can't imagine a rational reason that any gentile Christian would want a Jewish Christian to stop practicing their faith.

    I look forward to your finished posts.

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  4. "It is my belief that people have no business teaching any of the New Testament writings without a strong background and deep understanding of the Torah and Tanach. It's like trying to build a house from the roof down."

    I'm in general agreement with this, but I'd add what Rabbi Leman says in these two blogs of a way forward for those laity that want to get kind of value earlier (since what you're speaking about would take years, of course. Should be required for teachers of the Word though).

    http://www.derekleman.com/2015/03/24/how-to-read-the-bible-if-youre-not-jewish/

    http://www.derekleman.com/2015/02/23/read-forwards-not-backwards/

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  5. Res Ipsa,

    I have a few comments that may help you learn what the torah-observant Messianic Jewish view is on your points. I think I have a little more time for these kind of comments than Rabbi B.

    "My study of the NT leads me to believe that strict observance of the Torah and Levitical Worship is impossible today.
    1. No Temple"

    They would agree, but would still say the Mosaic covenant is "in force" and an eternal covenant, just as it was when the first temple was destroyed.

    "2. Unsure as to the identity of Priests and Levites
    3. Christ as sin offering removes the need for atoning sacrifices
    4. Other offerings would still be acceptable however see #1 & #2."

    I haven't been exposed to any argument for #2, so I'm not sure what you say in more detail. Nor have I seen the Orthodox or Messianics for the rebuilding of the Temple address it, which leads me to think it's not an issue.

    On #3, this is a somewhat common evangelical misunderstanding of Leviticus. MJ Rabbi Derek Leman has written a really good laity-level and short book, Yeshua Our Atonement, about how the temple sacrifices and Jesus' sacrifices had two different purposes. I quote a summary of his below below from the 2nd blog link I included for Rabbi B above. Leman relies on the in-depth exegetical work of the commentator mentioned in the quote.

    "The purity laws and sacrificial procedures of Torah do not solve the problem of a person’s separation from God. They leave the worshipper outside the tent, near but not too near. Acts of purification such as washing in water and laundering clothes kept ritual pollution from coming near God’s dwelling place. Acts of animal sacrifice ritually cleansed the pollution that Israelites caused to adhere to the sacred precincts by carelessness or lack of knowledge. The purity and sacrificial system kept the Temple clean so God’s Presence would remain. He will not have human death or evil in the place of his dwelling, but will depart if Israel fails to keep it pure. The whole system (and I commend the commentaries of Jacob Milgrom on Leviticus) is a symbolic teaching about death and life.

    Key verses include Leviticus 15:31 and Numbers 19:20 (but few people are even aware of them). Impurity (uncleanness) travels through the air and pollutes God’s Temple. Sacrificial blood is ritual detergent, cleansing the pollution. Acts of purification — including bathing (origin of baptism), laundering clothes, periods of waiting, ceremonies, and sometimes even sacrifices — prevent the pollution before it happens. The verbs of atonement (the pi’el form kippeir, not to be confused with the pa’al form kafar) mean 'to wipe away, to cleanse' (not 'to cover' as many studies claim). But the Temple sacrifices do not cleanse the person or make direct contact with God’s Presence possible. They leave the worshipper standing outside of the Temple, separated from God. The world waits for the atoning deeds of Messiah to bring a different kind of cleansing (see Hebrews 9:9; 10:4)."

    Finally, I would say it means believers today, as were the ones from 33-70 AD, should be okay with even sin offerings in a temple, if it were built. Paul, after all, took a Nazirite vow, post-crucifixion.

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  6. "5. The NT doesn't bind Torah observance on gentiles"

    They would say this a little more complex. When Paul says to his Gentile hearers in his letters that they aren't under the law, he means they aren't under the whole yoke of the law like a circumcised convert.

    But one will notice in Paul's letters and in the Acts 15 decision of the Jerusalem Council for Gentiles' obligations (better seen not as church council decision but the ruling of a halakhic court) that the commands for Gentiles match up with the requirements of the Torah for foreigners living in Israel's midst.

    So it's more like, Gentiles are obligated to the least amount of commandments from the Torah, then your typical Jew, and finally the Jewish priests most of all. Of course, all are obligated to the most important and weightier matters: Love, justice, & mercy.

    "I'm personally grateful for Jews who continue to teach and practice their traditions. I learn form it, and grow spiritually because of their efforts to maintain that unique heritage."

    It's not a matter of that for them so much as being faithful to their eternal covenant given to Moses. That is primary, and the tradition focus is secondary.

    "I can't imagine a rational reason that any gentile Christian would want a Jewish Christian to stop practicing their faith."

    This is quite true. There is no rational reason. But the history of the Church shows that it has badly mistreated the Jews at times, even require Jewish converts to prove their loyalty to Jesus and the Church by eating pork.

    It is encouraging that there are more accepting Gentiles today than there ever were, including yourself.

    While it isn't required for us Gentiles to observe the Jewish holidays, it's too bad it's not a part of church holiday calendar. That would have been the original gentile believers' holiday calendar. We should at least bring Easter back to the Jewish passover timing since that change was made for anti-Jewish reasons at Nicaea.

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