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Sunday, October 12, 2014

God's Law (Part 8)

Moses had warned the Israelites not to add to the Law or take anything away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2). Once again, the Mosaic Law was envisioned as a whole, and it was the sole property of the Israelites.

The Gospel accounts, however, portray a Messiah that seemed to suggest that the Law could be distilled into a couple of basic principles/teachings that could be applied to all humans at all times. We read in the Gospel According to Mark: "One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate (about the resurrection). He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' Jesus replied, 'The most important commandment is this: 'Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these.'" (Mark 12:28-31, see also Matthew 22:34-40) Matthew adds that Christ said, "The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:40) Luke's account puts these words in the mouth of one of the Jewish authorities on the Law with Christ affirming the truth of what had been said (Luke 10:25-29).

It is interesting to note that even here Christ is quoting from the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Leviticus 19:18). Christ is using the Law itself to say that LOVE is the purpose and focus of the entire Law. Moreover, he seems to be implying that the Ten commandments are the purest expressions of these two principles.

Notice how in Matthew's account of his encounter with a young man this is underscored. We read: "Someone came to Jesus with this question: 'Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?' 'Why ask me about what is good?' Jesus replied. 'There is only One who is good. But to answer your question - if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.' 'Which ones? the man asked. And Jesus replied: 'You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'I've obeyed all these commandments,' the young man replied. 'What else must I do?' Jesus told him, 'If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Matthew 19:16-22)

Notice how Christ specifically enumerated the commandments dealing with how to love your neighbor - he even quotes that passage from Leviticus again. Then, when the young man says that he's obeyed all of those, he asks Christ what else he must do. In telling him to go and sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, Christ is plainly hearkening back to the greatest commandment - the one to love the Lord with all your heart and soul (Thou shalt have no other God's before me). Money was clearly the number one priority in this young man's life.

We've already talked about Christ's expansion/distillation of the teachings on adultery, murder, vows and Sabbaths. Now let's notice another example of this in the Gospel According to John. We read: "Jesus replied, 'I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses' law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'" (John 7:21-24) Once again, Christ goes back to the Law of Moses to counter their charge that he had violated the Law against working on the Sabbath by healing someone. Remember too, that Christ had himself been circumcised as a baby in accordance with the requirements of the Law (Luke 2:21). Then he enjoins them to look beneath the surface. In other words, don't make superficial judgments about the Law's requirements and purpose.

Notice too how the Gospel According to John, unlike the other Gospel accounts, focuses on Christ's instructions to his disciples just prior to his arrest, conviction and execution. In these detailed instructions, it is interesting to note that the focus of Christ's teaching to them is LOVE (John 14, 15, 16 and 17). Once again, Christ is pointing to LOVE as being the essence of the Law and his teachings. Christ clearly tells them that obedience to his commandments is an expression of love towards him (John 14:15).

So we see how Christ sought to reduce the commandments to their purest purpose and expression, to restore them to God's original intent and to make them universal in their application (they would henceforth apply not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well). In the next installment, we will begin to explore how Christ's followers reacted to the Mosaic Law after his ascension to heaven.

6 comments:

  1. "Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses."

    Not so, it goes back as far as 15,000 years, proving once again that the Bible is not Theocratic in origin but Democratic - only by understanding this can you resolve its contradictions.

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  2. As you know, an important component of my thesis is that the bible should not be regarded as a history textbook. Jesus was not schooling them in history here. He was teaching them about the Law of Moses. In that spirit, he pointed out that they believed that the practice of circumcision had predated the giving of the Law to Moses (which obviously had implications for their assertion that the basis for the practice was that it was part of the Mosaic covenant). The Jews accepted the book of Genesis, and that book clearly states that circumcision began with Abraham.

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  3. So your take on circumcision? Divine or human in origin?

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  4. Not meaning to hedge on your question, I'm not sure. However, I don't believe that the answer to that question is even relevant to the larger question. Christ's parents apparently complied with the provision - whatever its origins. I guess it's possible that God used the practice as a sign of "His" covenant with Abraham and his descendants; but it is also clear that many things were attributed to God that "He" didn't have any part in - as Christ clearly implied in his teachings.

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  5. " I guess it's possible that God used the practice as a sign of "His" covenant with Abraham and his descendants;.."

    .As a Christian, you can't be this fuzzy about God's Law - the legal basis of your salvation!

    "..but it is also clear that many things were attributed to God that "He" didn't have any part in - as Christ clearly implied in his teachings."

    So parts of "God's Law", the legal basis of your salvation, might have been Home-Brewed by the HeBREWs? (no pun intended)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Christ strongly implied that some of it was home-brewed, and I share this view of the Mosaic Law.

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