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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God's greatest chemical compound: Water

Two hydrogen atoms bound to one atom of oxygen constitutes the most important chemical compound on this planet (perhaps in all the Universe). This transparent, odorless and tasteless liquid that we all take for granted is essential to all of the life on this earth, including our own. It is also one of the few substances on this planet to occur naturally as a solid (ice), liquid (water) and gas (steam). Have you ever paused for just a moment to consider how truly remarkable and important this simple compound is? Or has its abundance in our world numbed you into indifference and stolen your ability to truly appreciate what a miracle it is?

According to the American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/water-h2o-life/fast-facts), water covers about three quarters of the surface of this planet. In addition to this, some scientists believe that there is even more water locked within the minerals of earth's mantle. Nevertheless, we all know that the overwhelming majority of this precious resource appears here with varying amounts of salt dissolved in it.

Indeed, it has been estimated that only about three percent of this precious compound appears as fresh water. Approximately two-thirds of that amount is in the form of ice. Moreover, most of what is left of that amount is locked within the soil as part of the water table. Hence, all of the terrestrial life on this planet is sustained by less than one percent of the total water available on this planet! Now consider for just a moment with what reckless abandon we waste and abuse this precious resource - how unappreciative are we?

Consider too the marvel of the hydrologic cycle. We all know that water evaporates into the atmosphere from the oceans, lakes, ponds and rivers that cover the globe. Likewise, it has been estimated that one acre of broad-leaf woodland has the potential to release eight thousand gallons of water into the air in a single day - that's more water than an average sized inground residential swimming pool holds! When the atmosphere becomes saturated with this evaporated water, it falls back down to the earth in the form of rain, snow and hail. Likewise, it has been estimated that somewhere around ten thousand cubic miles of water is funneled back into the oceans each year via the earth's streams and rivers! And, once again, life could not survive on this planet without this cycle.

Most scientists now agree that life began on this planet in water some three and a half billion years ago. It has been estimated that about sixty percent of our own body weight is water! Although some of the life forms on this planet have adapted themselves to survive with small amounts of water, the fact remains that water is essential to all life forms on the planet. Indeed, it has been determined that the average human needs to take in (via eating and drinking) somewhere between three quarts to one gallon of water every day to sustain life. Nevertheless, it has also been estimated that a citizen of the United States uses about one hundred and fifty-one gallons of water per day (taking into account industry, agriculture, bathing, flushing toilets, drinking water, watering lawns, washing automobiles, etc.)!

Water also has a profound impact on the planet as a whole. Through erosion, water shapes the surface of the land. Deep beneath the surface, water provides the "grease" that allows the continents to drift across the planet. Water also regulates earth's climate. Its ability to absorb and hold heat is an important factor in making large portions of this planet habitable that would otherwise be cold and forbidding places to live (consider the impact of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean). Take just a moment to consider what would happen to this planet if ice didn't float (and remember that most substances are much heavier in their solid form than they are in their liquid state). We humans employ water in agriculture to feed our growing population, and we use it to generate a large portion of the electricity that we use (consider the Tennessee Valley Authority).

Finally, it is interesting to note that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have a great deal to say about water. Indeed, the Genesis account of creation is awash in water. We read: "The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." (Genesis 1:2) Continuing: "Then God said, 'Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.'" (verse 6) Is this passage indicative of a rudimentary understanding of the hydrologic cycle mentioned above? "Then God said, 'Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.' And that is what happened. God called the dry ground "land" and the waters "seas." (verses 9-10) Continuing: "Then God said, 'Let the waters swarm with fish and other life.'" (verse 20) Isn't that interesting? Scripture assigns the beginning of animal life to the water - the same place of origin that science has assigned for it (Of course, to be fair, science tells us that plant life began there too).

The Scriptural preoccupation with water doesn't end there. We read that God destroyed the world with a flood of water, and that mankind survived annihilation by floating in an ark on its surface. We are informed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were preoccupied with digging wells. We are told that God turned the water of the Nile River into blood, and that "He" parted the sea so that the Israelites could escape from the pursuing Egyptian army. We are informed that Moses got into serious trouble at a place called Meribah for not giving God credit for producing water to quench the thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness. David wrote that God "leads me beside peaceful streams." We read that Elijah was given power over rain, and that Elisha was able to part the waters of the Jordan River. We are told that Jonah was tossed into the sea by his shipmates to calm the storm and was swallowed by a great fish. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John, and he apparently recruited several of his disciples from among the ranks of the fishermen working around the Sea of Galilee. Later, we are told that he walked on water and commanded the waves to be still. The Gospel of John informs us that Christ's first miracle involved changing water into wine. Finally, like their Savior before them, Christians have always used water in some sort of baptismal ritual to formally introduce them into his Church.

Whether one interprets these stories literally or figuratively, it is apparent that God's connection to water has always been indelibly stamped within the consciousness of "His" followers. Nevertheless, irrespective of all of the Scriptural stories associated with this subject, I'm inclined to view water as one of God's greatest miracles. I see in something that is considered to be very ordinary and commonplace by most of us something that is truly extraordinary - something that speaks volumes about the Great Chemist behind the compound. What do you think?

Friday, October 24, 2014


Gavin Rumney (Otagosh) recommended Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford) in his most recent post (20 Oct 2014). After reading the work, I agree with him that the author's treatment of the subject is well-written and thought provoking. Indeed, it has caused me to reevaluate my own views about what it means to be a fundamentalist.

I have said on numerous occasions within the last few years that I used to be a fundamentalist; but, after reading this book, I have to say that I'm still a fundamentalist! In fact, I would say that most of us are fundamentalists at heart. I think that one of the comments regarding Gavin's post hit the nail on the head: "We all have a belief profile and we are pretty fundamentalist about it."

In his book, Ruthven discusses the etymology of the term "fundamentalist." The word had its origins in a series of Protestant tracts that outlined The Fundamentals of the Christian Faith. The authors of this work identified those fundamentals as being: Biblical inerrancy, Divine creation of everything (including humans & with no role for evolution), the reality of miracles, the experiences of Jesus Christ (including the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection), Christ's sacrifice of himself for the sins of humanity, and the fact of his literal return to this earth at some point in the future. My own "fundamentals" would exclude Biblical inerrancy and would include a role for evolution, but I could probably find some common ground with the authors of The Fundamentals on some of their other points.

Most Atheists would have some list of "fundamentals" underpinning their views about life and the world around them (e.g. "There is no God" might be one of them). Likewise, a scientist would probably cite the Scientific Method as being part of his/her fundamentals. Many Catholics would cite tradition as part of their fundamentals. A Jew might reasonably be expected to include the Ten Commandments on his/her list. A Muslim might place the Quran and Sharia Law on his/her list of fundamentals. Enough said, you get the picture: We all have our list of "fundamentals."

Google defines a "fundamental" as "a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based." We all have these underpinnings for our belief systems/opinions. Think about it, I'm confident that most of my readers could generate their own list of "fundamentals."

Ruthven talks about how Fundamentalists (in the more classical sense of the term) are disposed to be monocultural in nature. He contrasts this with the reality of the pluralism of the modern world. He underscores the dilemma which this presents for Fundamentalists in the following terms: "Since God is reported to have said different things to the numerous individuals claiming to speak on his behalf, belief in the truth held by one tradition necessarily excludes all others. This is especially so in the Abrahamic tradition of Western monotheism, where confessions are deemed to be exclusive: in the mainstream, orthodox versions of these faiths one cannot be a Muslim and a Christian, or a Christian and a Jew. In a globalized culture where religions are in daily contact with their competitors, denial of pluralism is a recipe for conflict." (Fundamentalism, p. 32)

Ruthven goes on to say that the "acceptance of pluralism relativizes truth." Although I admit that this is the way that most of these Fundamentalists see it, is this observation necessarily correct? If we accept that there are different paths to THE TRUTH, are we really saying that truth is relevant? Isn't it possible to acknowledge different paths to THE TRUTH and still maintain that there is only one destination? Isn't it more logical to suppose that everyone has some TRUTH and some ERROR? Isn't it possible that some of The Fundamentals were/are right? Isn't it probable that some of our current scientific understandings will be proven wrong or inadequate in the near future? In short, why do my fundamentals have to exclude yours? RELAX, we don't have to damn or kill each other to hold on to our respective fundamentals!

Is the answer to the proposed dilemma to shed all of our fundamentals? Laying aside the almost impossible prospect of accomplishing such a thing, the answer has to be NO! If God really is working with humanity (and I believe that to be the case), then why on earth would He/She/It punish us for doing what we believe to be right/fundamental? Isn't the real problem someone believing that his/her way is the only way? Shouldn't a reasonable person be able to admit that he/she may be wrong on some point? In fact, shouldn't a reasonable and faithful person be able to acknowledge that he/she probably is wrong about some of his/her fundamentals? For me, the real danger is the insistence of anyone that he/she is in possession of the perfect truth - that he/she is without error. As Ruthven so succinctly points out in his work, when this mindset is shared with others and mixed with nationalism, you have a recipe for disaster on a global scale.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The power to create

The Israelites believed that YHWH was the Creator of everything that exists. Even today, most theists think of God as Creator. Where did they (and we) get this notion of a Creator? Is this notion strictly a product of Divine Revelation? Is it the consequence of ignorant people attempting to explain the world around them? Or could it be that it is a natural outgrowth of what we experience and observe on a daily basis?

Aren't we (along with many of the other life forms that share this planet with us) creators? We all know that a creator is one who brings something new into existence - something that didn't exist previously. A creator makes, builds or produces things. Humans design buildings, compose music, write books, make drawings, paint pictures, sculpt rocks, build machines and engage in a whole host of other creative activities. Likewise, many of the insects and animals that coexist with us on this earth dig holes, build/create nests, construct burrows and dams. Much of the plant life that exists on this planet produces/creates its own food (photosynthesis). And then there's that continuing process of creation in which every life-form on this planet engages: the reproduction of its kind.

We know that the process of creation can be characterized as being natural or artificial (generally defined as being man-made). Although much has been written about the creative process, we can distill that process into a few steps that will be recognizable to all of us. We all know that creation begins with an idea - something imagined or formulated in the mind of the creator. We all understand that some kind of planning generally goes into this process - formal, informal or a combination of the two. We all know that the creative process demands the acquisition or gathering of the resources or materials needed for the project. And, finally, we all understand that the idea has to be executed/built/assembled/implemented/made. Moreover, this is generally followed by some kind of evaluation of the function or effectiveness of that which has been created.

Is it possible that our understanding of, and participation in, this process has led us to the quite natural conclusion that there is a Master Creator somewhere out there? In short, is this ability to create things a shadow of something that is happening (or has happened) on a much grander and more profound scale? What do you think?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How can we protect God's truth?

Paul told the saints at Thessalonica to "test everything that is said" and "hold on to what is good." (I Thessalonians 5:21) He told Timothy to "hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me" (II Timothy 1:13) and "carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you." (verse 14) The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm." (Hebrews 10:23) In his messages to the churches of Thyatira and Sardis, Christ instructed them to keep a firm grip on the truths which they had previously received (Revelation 2:25 and 3:3).

Unfortunately, many Christians have interpreted these scriptures to mean that they should automatically reject anything that doesn't conform to what they already know. When faced with something new or unfamiliar, it's almost as if these folks completely shut down. They turn into the kid who closes his eyes as tightly as he can and uses his index fingers to plug his ears. For many people, this is what it means to protect the truth which God has revealed to them; but is this what God intended?

For these folks, God's truth is a very fragile thing that can easily be lost. They live in fear of sliding back into that state of deception from which God's calling has delivered them. They are always one step or stumble away from perdition! If they do slip, many of them are convinced that they will never find their way back (Luke 9:62, Romans 1:21 and Hebrews 10:26). But wait, didn't John say that "perfect love expels all fear." (I John 4:18) Can anything good originate in fear? Can the fear of damnation keep someone from falling into error?

In the book of Acts, we are told that the Bereans were "more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message." (Acts 17:11) Continuing, we read: "They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth." (same verse) Remember, Paul said to "test" what is said (see above). Likewise, John instructed his readers to "test" spirits to make sure that they were from God (I John 4:1). In other words, if something that you believe is TRUE, you shouldn't have anything to fear from further study and examination! Indeed, further exploration should arrive at the same conclusion if it's really TRUE. And, if you don't arrive at the same conclusion, then your original understanding must have been faulty!

Peter's statement that we "must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18) implies a lifelong process. For many Christians, spiritual understanding is a static thing. They think: "If I have THE TRUTH, then I don't need to hear anything else!" Their belief system becomes a closed and self-reinforcing process that is impervious to new truth or information. This isn't called growth - it's called stagnation. Such an understanding isn't founded upon a rock - it's built on sand.

What about you? Are you still growing in grace and knowledge or have you already absorbed all of the available truth? Have you attained a level of Spiritual understanding that doesn't require any further input from your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Do the current celebrations of YHWH's Festivals conform to Biblical standards?

In 2014, many Jews and a few Christians have attempted to celebrate the festivals outlined in the Mosaic Law. Indeed, many of them go on to assert that anyone who does not observe these festivals is NOT a "TRUE" believer and has FAILED to worship YHWH in the manner prescribed by "Him" in the Bible! Most of them are also ready with an elaborate list of proof-texts to support their observances and assertions. So how do these celebrations and elitist attitudes regarding the festivals compare to what is revealed in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures? In short, are these folks in compliance with the ordinances they claim to be observing?

Since the Bible claims that the observance of these festivals began with the Hebrews, I think it is appropriate to take a look at Jewish observances first. In their article on Jewish Holidays, Judaism 101 informs us: "Work is not permitted on Rosh Hashanah [Feast of Trumpets], on Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], on the first and second days of Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles], on Shemini Atzeret [Last Great Day], on Simchat Torah [an extra Last Great Day], on Shavu'ot [Feast of Weeks], and the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover. The "work" prohibited on those holidays is the same as that prohibited on Shabbat [the weekly Sabbath], except that cooking, baking, transferring fire and carrying, all of which are forbidden on Shabbat, are permitted on holidays. When a holiday occurs on Shabbat, the full Shabbat restrictions are observed." -- http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday0.htm (copyright held by Tracey R. Rich - and note that I have added the KJV nomenclature of the festivals for the sake of clarity)

Time and space do not permit me to do a line by line comparison of this statement with what is revealed in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, but I encourage my readers to do just that. If you do, you will notice that modern Jewish practices add a number of annual Sabbaths to what is outlined in Scripture (e.g. there are only two annual Sabbaths associated with Passover/Unleavened Bread in Scripture). Moreover, you will notice that the specific instruction in the Mosaic Law is that "ye shall do no servile work therein" (meaning one is not allowed to perform any menial task on those days). To be fair, the original instructions that were given to the Israelites regarding the Passover/Unleavened Bread exempt food preparation on the Sabbaths associated with this holiday (Exodus 12:16)

The Judaism 101 article continues: "You may notice that the number of days of some holidays do not accord with what the Bible specifies. In most cases, we celebrate one more day than the Bible requires." (emphasis mine) The article reminds us that the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar month. It goes on to explain this discrepancy between the Bible and modern Jewish practice regarding the number of days to be observed by relating the history of how the beginning of the lunar month was determined by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. As a consequence, we are told that this information did not always reach the people in outlying communities in time for them to determine the precise day on which to celebrate God's festivals - Hence, the practice of observing extra days to make sure that they hit the right one. Continuing, we read: "This practice of celebrating an extra day was maintained as a custom even after we adopted a precise mathematical calendar, because it was the custom of our ancestors. This extra day is not celebrated by Israelis, regardless of whether they are in Israel at the time of the holiday, because it is not the custom of their ancestors, but it is celebrated by everybody else, even if they are visiting Israel at the time of the holiday." Finally, we are informed that even Israeli Jews celebrate an extra day of Rosh Hashanah.

In addition to the festivals outlined above, it should be noted that modern Jews also celebrate Hanukkah [Feast of the Dedication], Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Lag B'Omer and Tish B'Av. Of these, only Purim and Lag B'Omer could be characterized as strictly Scriptural. Purim is commanded in the book of Esther and Hanukkah is observed in connection with the Apocryphal writings known as I and II Maccabees. Although these books do not appear in the Jewish or Protestant Canon, it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ observed Hanukkah (John 10:22).

It is also important to point out that all of these Jewish observances developed in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. As noted in a previous post, the Law of the Central Sanctuary is violated every time these festivals are observed outside of Jerusalem and apart from the Temple. We read: "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty..." (Deuteronomy 16:16). From the beginning, it is made clear in Scripture that there was only one site that was acceptable to YHWH for festival observance - originally the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, every instance of festival observance described in Scripture is connected to the central sanctuary or place of worship (including those of Jesus Christ and his family). This statement is true even in the passage where the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is prophesied for all nations within the context of God's Kingdom! Notice this scripture: "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain...This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16-19)

OK, so we've demonstrated that most modern Jews are not in compliance with Moses' instruction not to add or subtract anything from the commandments that he had given them (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32); but what about Christians who have attempted to observe these festivals? First, like their Jewish brethren, it should be noted that most Christians do not make any attempt to observe the Law of the Central Sanctuary. Instead, a leader or group of men choose(s) some city as a site for festival observance (usually based on the availability of facilities and amenities deemed necessary for its proper observance). Some of them even have the audacity to suggest that their site is the place where God has chosen to place "His" name. When challenged on this point, many of them resort to Christ's statement that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) The folks who offer this excuse seem completely oblivious to the fact that it could also be employed by their brethren who observe Sunday as their day of worship! My grandmother used to say "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" - I think that applies in this case! Also, it should be noted in this connection, that the instruction to meet at the place designated by God applied to ALL of the festivals, not just the Feast of Tabernacles.

Once these Christians arrive at a human designated feast site, most of them employ a tent or camper at a local campground/park or rent a room/suite in a local hotel/motel. How does this compare to what we read in the Mosaic Law? We read there that God instructed the Israelites "And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days...Ye shall dwell in booths (tabernacles, huts, temporary shelters) seven days (Leviticus 23:40-42). Do tents, campers or hotel rooms coincide with taking some tree branches and erecting temporary structures in which to live for seven days? Are tents, campers and hotel rooms reused from year to year? I understand that the stay is temporary, but are the accommodations themselves truly temporary in nature?

Finally, weren't these festivals specifically enjoined upon the children of Israel? (Leviticus 23:2, 42, 44) Aren't these festivals an integral part of the Torah and the Old Covenant? What happened to all of the rituals and sacrifices attached to these festivals (notice Exodus 12, Leviticus 16 and 23 and Deuteronomy 16 in this connection)? Are these Christians saying that these instructions were not part of the provision that stipulated "it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings?" Many of my Christian friends who celebrate these festivals will quickly point out that they are the "TRUE" Jews (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9) - the "TRUE" descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). One question for them: Do these "TRUE" Jews adhere to the physical requirement of circumcision that was enjoined upon the original Jews? (Romans 2:28-29)

I don't have a problem with anyone who attempts to observe these festivals, but please don't try to tell me I'm not a Christian because I don't! Maybe that's why the Apostle Paul instructed the Colossians not to allow anyone to judge them "in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [reality] is of Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17) What do you think?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Feast of Temporary Shelters

“Remember that this seven-day festival to the Lord – the Festival of Shelters – begins on the fifteenth day of the month, after you have harvested all the produce of the land…On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees – palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams…For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native-born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:39-43, New Living Translation –here and throughout this article, unless otherwise noted)

Scripture indicates that the Israelites were told to live in temporary shelters each year for eight days so that they would not forget that they had lived in tents after leaving Egypt and before reaching the Promised Land. In the book of Hebrews, we read: “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to LEAVE HOME (emphasis mine here and throughout) and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, HE LIVED THERE BY FAITH – for he was like a foreigner living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10) In short, Abraham and his descendants were looking forward to a better and more permanent home.

A little further, we read: “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. THEY AGREED THAT THEY WERE FOREIGNERS AND NOMADS HERE ON EARTH. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) Do we begin to see the connection to our own circumstances as Christians?

Like the Israelites of old, God has called us out of Egypt (this sinful society), and has led us out into the wilderness. (John 6:44) We are different and peculiar compared to the people around us. (I Peter 2:9) Like the Israelites, we are heirs of the promises made to Abraham. (Galatians 3:29) Finally, we are also like the Israelites in the sense that we too are looking for a Promised Land (the Kingdom of God). Like the patriarchs of old, we are truly strangers and pilgrims on the earth as it now exists – the one deceived and influenced by Satan the devil.

There is, however, another meaning to this symbolism that is less general and more personal. Although it is unpleasant to contemplate, each one of us has an appointment with death. (Hebrews 9:27) Somewhere in the back of our minds, all of us understand that this life that we are currently enjoying is temporary – it will not last forever (we are subject to time and chance). Paul once told the saints at Corinth, “that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” (I Corinthians 15:50) He went on to tell them that “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (I Corinthians 15:53)

Sometime later, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians. He told them that the light of Christ was shining in their hearts, but he described that treasure as residing in fragile clay jars. (II Corinthians 4:7) He talked about how Christians must face many trials and perils because of their association with Jesus Christ, but that this had resulted in them having the hope of eternal life. (II Corinthians 4:8-15) He continued: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small AND WON’T LAST VERY LONG. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

In other words, Paul understood that Christians are currently living in temporary shelters (human bodies), and that they are looking forward to the time when they will be living in a permanent home (spiritual bodies). In his second letter to the saints at Corinth, we read: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (II Corinthians 5:1-4, KJV)

Peter also understood this concept. In addressing the saints toward the close of his ministry, he wanted to remind them about the truths which he had previously conveyed to them. He wrote: “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.” (II Peter 1:13-14, KJV) Peter understood that this life is not permanent, and that he was going to die. He also knew that his present body could not inherit the Kingdom of God, and that he would have to shed that body and receive a new one in the resurrection.

As strangers and pilgrims in this world, Christians are looking to exchange a temporary home for a more permanent one (one that God has provided for us). Hence, for us, this is an important component of the symbolism of this Old Testament Festival.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God's Law (Part 11)

Contrary to what many of the most ardent Legalists teach, the available evidence suggests that Sabbath observance was the practice of a small minority of the Christian community by the close of the First Century. In fact, it is very probable that the vast majority of Gentile Christians continued to meet together on the day that most of them were accustomed to meeting together for worship: Sunday. The author of the book of Acts wrote: "And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." (Acts 20:6-7) Notice also Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church concerning the collection of an offering for the saints in Jerusalem: "Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God's people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia. On the first day of each week, you should put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don't wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once." (I Corinthians 16:1-2, NLT) Did you catch that? This was something that applied to many Gentile churches. Why do a collection on the first day of the week if everyone wasn't gathered together in one place? Do you think that someone went from door to door to collect the offering?

The strongest evidence in the New Testament canon that Sabbath observance was not the practice of most Christians comes from the book of Hebrews. In the third chapter, the author points out that the Promised Land was regarded as a type of rest in the Old Testament. He also reminds his readers that most of the Israelites of the exodus generation were not allowed to enter that rest (same chapter). Continuing, we read: "God's promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it...For only we who believe can enter his rest...We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: 'On the seventh day God rested from all his work'...Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them (the Israelites) this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a Sabbath rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God's rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall." (Hebrews 4:1-11) This passage strongly implies that the New Testament Sabbath is a symbolic thing for Christians - not a literal day or place as in the Old Testament.

Remember too, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 CE. Following those events, there was a huge incentive for Christians not to be associated with anything Jewish (and following the tenets of the Mosaic Law would certainly have done just that). Indeed, the writings of the men who followed the apostles in the Second Century support this interpretation of history.

In his letter to the Magnesian Christians, Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0105.htm) Likewise, in his epistle to the Christians at Philadelphia, he wrote: "But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchers of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm) Ignatius would have written these letters late in the First Century or early in the Second Century - after the Roman suppression of the Jewish Rebellion.

Scholars estimate that The Didache was written around 100 CE. We read in that document: "But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm) Once again, notice that both the letters of Ignatius and The Didache were written in the period immediately following the era of Christ's apostles.

In his First Apology, Justin Martyr described a Christian worship service in this manner: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm) This document was written about the middle of the Second Century. Notice that the observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship is a given less than one hundred years after Paul concluded his ministry!

Thus we can see that the documentary evidence supports the thesis that the majority of the Gentiles never adopted the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, the question remains: Did this resolve the question of Christian responsibility relative to God's Law? All one has to do is look around the modern Christian community to see that the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. The debate between the Antinomians and Legalists continues to the present day.

Nevertheless, I believe that the evidence that we have reviewed as a part of this series demonstrates the following: 1) Christ taught that the Jews had embellished, twisted and ignored some elements of the Mosaic Law, 2) Christ completely fulfilled the expectations of the Mosaic Law on our behalf, 3) Christ taught that God's Law could be distilled into two basic components: Love of God and Love of Neighbor, 4) Christ taught that Christians have an obligation to adhere to the spirit of the Law. In this respect, I think the Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit." (Romans 7:6)

In advocating this thesis regarding Christian responsibility toward God's Law, I realize that I will anger many people on both sides of this age old debate. I will probably be labeled by both sides - depending on their perspective of the question. Nevertheless, I think that both the Scriptural and historical evidence support this view of the subject. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

God's Law (Part 10)

Many of the Jews had resented Roman interference in their affairs dating back to Pompey's intervention in a Jewish Civil war in the First Century BCE. It is certainly not exaggerating the case to say that they had resisted Roman rule since the province had been annexed into the empire. This tension between Jews and Romans had simmered and continued to build for many years. Eventually, many of the Jews abandoned all pretense of submission to Rome and broke out into open rebellion. This led to what the Jewish Virtual Library characterized as "one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life." (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

In Book II of his Wars of the Jews, Josephus recounts the events leading up to the Great Revolt of the Jews against their Roman overlords (66-70 CE). In Book III, he opens with this statement: "When Nero was informed of the Romans' ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror...fell upon him." (Chapter 1, Section 1) Continuing, he wrote: "And as he (Nero) was deliberating to whom he should commit the care of the East...and who might be best able to punish the Jews for their rebellion...he found no one but Vespasian equal to the task." (Section 2) Although the Jewish rebels could not see this at the time, these events not only doomed their rebellion to failure; but it also set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the destruction of their temple at Jerusalem and the permanent alteration of their religious practices. The emperor had chosen one of the ablest Roman generals of all times and had placed at his disposal more than enough forces to overwhelm his foes.

After a long campaign of marching from city to city to suppress the Jewish rebellion, the general was finally ready to deal with Jerusalem itself. Josephus wrote: "Now as Vespasian was returned to Caesarea, and was getting ready with all his army to march directly to Jerusalem, he was informed that Nero was dead." (Book 4, Chapter 9, Section 2) The political turmoil surrounding the emperor's death emboldened the general to throw his hat into the ring to become the next emperor. The soldiers under his command proclaimed Vespasian emperor (Chapter 10), and the old general then appointed his son Titus to take over the impending siege of Jerusalem (Chapter 11).

In Book V and Book VI of his Wars of the Jews, Josephus describes the hardships that the Jews endured as a result of Titus' siege of Jerusalem. Finally, at the conclusion of Book VI, he wrote: "And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian (70 CE) (Chapter 10, Section 1). He then opened Book VII with this ominous report: "Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury...Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple." (Chapter 1, Section 1) It would be hard to overstate the devastating effect these events had on the Jewish people and their religion. To say that they were "personae non gratae" within the Roman World doesn't seem to quite do justice to the reality of the miserable condition in which the Jewish survivors of this holocaust found themselves.

As it had been in the case of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the temple many years before, the Jews had to cope with the loss of the focal point for almost all of their religious activities. The Mosaic Law had commanded the Israelites to destroy all of the pagan places of worship within the Promised Land after they had taken possession of it (Deuteronomy 12:1-4). Instead, they were instructed to resort to "the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God..." (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). Continuing, we read: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee." (verses 13-14)

Time and space do not permit me to go through all of the many Scriptures that relate to the Law of the Central Sanctuary. For our purposes, suffice it to say that the Jews were commanded by the Mosaic Law to employ only one place of worship as the focus for all of their religious activities. There are also numerous scriptures that indicate that that place was the Temple at Jerusalem. I encourage my readers to take the time to thoroughly acquaint themselves with this concept if they are not already familiar with it. Notice that festival observance was always tied to this place. Indeed, proper festival observance was not possible without the temple at Jerusalem! Notice that Jesus Christ and his parents always attended the festivals at the temple in Jerusalem (and for you Worldwide Church of God folks - that includes ALL of the festivals, not just the Feast of Tabernacles). Do you grasp the import of this fact in relation to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple? Do you appreciate its implications for the proper observance of the Mosaic Law?

It will come as a shock to some folks to learn that almost all of the features connected with the proper observance of the Jewish religion (including the festivals or annual Sabbaths) ceased with the destruction of the Temple! Moreover, this meant the same thing for Jewish Christians that it did for regular Jews. The year 70 CE effectively ended any pretense of observing the Mosaic Law within what had become by that time a small minority within the Christian Community! Indeed, the persecution of Jews became so intense during this period that all Christians had a strong incentive to distance themselves from any connection to the Jewish religion.

In the final installment in this series, we will see how this interpretation of the history of the early Christian Church is confirmed by the writings of the men who followed Christ's apostles within that community. Was the hand of God in this decisive break with the Mosaic Law? Did subsequent developments relative to Christian attitudes toward the Mosaic Law reflect these new realities? Did these developments force Christians to finally develop a coherent response to the Law and return to the teachings of Christ on the subject? These are some of the questions that we will explore in that final installment.

God's Law (Part 9)

Christ's followers clearly understood that he had fulfilled the requirements of the Law on their behalf, but it is also apparent that many of them were unsure about their obligations to that Law going forward. The writings of the New Testament make plain that the early Church continued to be very Jewish in its outlook regarding the Law of Moses. Indeed, the Church itself was founded at a gathering of Christ's disciples on the Mosaic Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). From this same account, it is also apparent that Peter had continued to observe the dietary laws (Acts 10:14), early Christians continued to observe the weekly Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 42-44, 16:13, 17:2, 18:4), and many of them believed that the entire Law of Moses was still binding on Christians - including the provisions requiring males to be circumcised (Acts 15).

Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Church remained exclusively Jewish for the first few years of its existence. Despite Christ's clear instructions to his disciples to take his message to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8), the early evangelistic efforts of the apostles were centered on Judea. In fact, we are told that God had to give Peter a special vision in order to move him to carry his message to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Initially, we are told that even after Christians were scattered and began to travel and preach outside of Judea that they preached exclusively to Jews (Acts 11:19). Likewise, it is apparent that Paul and Barnabas began their missionary efforts in the Jewish synagogues of Gentile cities (Acts 13). Hence, it is understandable that people who had been accustomed to obeying the precepts of the Mosaic Law their entire lives would continue to do so within the context of their acceptance of Christ as their Savior.

Nevertheless, it is also apparent that Gentiles had no such tradition of obedience to the Mosaic Law prior to their conversion to Christianity. The vast majority of these Gentile converts were not followers of YHWH. Their males had not been circumcised as babies. They hadn't grown up observing the weekly and annual Sabbaths. Mosaic dietary restrictions were wholly unfamiliar to them. In short, as Gentile converts began to come into the Christian Church in larger numbers, this naturally brought this contrast with their Jewish brethren into sharp focus. In other words, the influx of Gentile converts set the stage for discord within the Church over the question of Christian obedience to the precepts of the Mosaic Law.

Never mind that Christ's entire ministry had pointed to a new way of interpreting how the Mosaic Law should be applied to the lives of God's people, and that he had rejected the traditional legalistic interpretations of the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Many of his followers had forgotten that Jesus had distilled the purpose and intent of the Law into the principles of love toward God and neighbor. Thus, when faced with the impact of these different experiences on the lives and practices of both groups of Christians, the leadership of the Church appears to have steered a middle course between them and largely disregarded Christ's teachings on the subject.

According to the author of the book of Acts, "certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, 'Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.'" (Acts 15:1) Continuing, we are informed that this provoked a strong counter reaction from Paul and Barnabas (verse 2). This resulted in the Church sending Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders who were still concentrated in that city (same verse). However, when the men arrived there and presented their case to the assembly of leaders, we are told: "But there arose certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed saying, that it was needful to circumcise them (the Gentiles), and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (verse 5)

After "much disputing," Peter stood up and reminded everyone that God had chosen him to introduce the Gospel to the Gentiles (verse 7). Then Peter concluded his address with this statement: "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (verses 10-11) The author informs us that this gave Barnabas and Paul another opportunity to recount the fruits of their ministries among the Gentiles (verse 12). Next, we learn that James arose to speak (verse 13). After quoting a prophecy from the book of Amos concerning the Gentiles being drawn into God's fold by the Messiah (verses 15-17), he shares his judgment of the matter with the rest of the assembly. He said: "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day." (verses 19-21)

Notice that this passage implies that James sought to establish a compromise position that he hoped would satisfy everyone. Nowhere in this account is there any indication that Jewish Christians were compelled or even asked to stop obeying the Law of Moses. Instead, James suggests that a few token requirements be addressed to Gentile Christians - enough to hopefully silence Jewish objections. This is not a coherent theological statement about Christian obligations regarding the Mosaic Law! On the contrary, it is an attempt to mollify both sides in the debate by effectually ratifying the status quo (Jewish Christians keep their Law, and Gentile Christians aren't required to adhere to its tenets). And, as with most such attempts to please everyone, it failed miserably.

In his writings, the Apostle Paul came closer to the Gospel accounts' rendering of Christ's teaching on the subject of the Law than any of his contemporaries - especially in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. He wrote to the Romans: "Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:8-10) This hearkens back to Christ's distillation of the Law into its basic essence/purpose: LOVE. He wrote to the Galatians: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, 'Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.' (Deuteronomy 27:26) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, 'The just shall live by faith.'" (Galatians 3:10-11) This hearkens back to the basic premise of the Christian faith - that it is only through Christ's fulfillment of the Law, and the sacrifice of his completely innocent self, that we can have salvation. Paul also obviously sees the Law as a whole (same verse and notice Galatians 5:3).

Nevertheless, to suggest that Paul arrived at a completely clear, coherent and consistent thesis regarding Christian obligations relative to the Law would also not be supported by the facts. The letters to the Christians of Rome and Galatia prove that the issue remained unsettled even among churches that Paul had founded or had helped to establish. In the Second Epistle of Peter, we read that some of Paul's writings contain "some things hard to be understood," which were subject to misinterpretation (II Peter 3:15-16) Indeed, many people have interpreted Pauls' writings to say that Christians don't have any obligations relative to the Mosaic Law. Likewise, a great many people have interpreted Paul's message to suggest that Christ nailed the Law to his cross (Colossians 2:14). Paul, however, disputed that his writings should be interpreted as a license for Christians to sin (Compare Jude 4 with Romans 6). Hence, whatever conclusions we may arrive at relative to Paul's teachings in this regard, it is clear that the exact nature of Christian obligations regarding the Mosaic Law remained unclear in the minds of many of Christ's followers.

However, as the years passed, the number of Gentile "non-observing" Christians overtook the number of Jewish "observing" Christians. Moreover, it wasn't long before the Jewish "observing" Christians became a distinct minority within the new religion. Even so, the Romans continued to regard the new religion as a sect of Judaism (remember, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were all well-known sects of Judaism prior to Christianity's arrival on the stage - see Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews). And, as relations between the Romans and their Jewish subjects deteriorated, this presented some distinct problems for the new religion. We will explore some of these considerations in the next installment of this series.

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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

God's Law (Part 7)

Did you notice that in the narrative about Christ's teaching on "clean and unclean" that the Gospel accounts say that it was some of Christ's disciples who didn't wash their hands? In other words, they do not say that all of the disciples ignored washing their hands - and, more importantly, they do not say that Christ didn't wash his hands! Isn't it interesting that the scribes and Pharisees didn't accuse Christ of not following the tradition - their question was about the behavior of some of his disciples.

Notice also Christ's teaching about the Sabbath in this regard. We read: "At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day. But he said unto them, 'Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.'" (Matthew 12:1-8, see also Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5) Once again, the accounts focus on the behavior of Christ's disciples. They do not say that Jesus plucked the heads of grain and ate them!

What about the story that follows this account? It does deal specifically with Christ's behavior on the Sabbath. Continuing, we read: "And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, 'What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.' Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thin hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other." (Matthew 12:9-13, see also Mark 3:1-5 and Luke 6:6-10) Once again, Christ underscored that the traditional understanding and interpretation of the Mosaic Law was flawed; but this time he acted. Notice, however, that he acted well within the confines of the Mosaic Law by reminding his would be accusers of another provision of that Law (see Deuteronomy 22:4).

In similar fashion, we can read how the disciples of John the Baptist and a group of Pharisees once asked Christ about the behavior of his disciples relative to fasting (Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39). Notice that yet again the question is about the behavior of his disciples - there is no suggestion that Christ wasn't fasting. And notice Christ's very interesting concluding statement in this account: "No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." (Mark 2:21-22) Christ is clearly implying here that something new or different is being introduced.

We read in a previous post how Christ asserted that he came to the earth to completely fulfill the Mosaic Law and the prophets. Even so, he did not avail himself of the opportunity to assert that those things were perfect (or that all of them were even God ordained). In fact, Christ's teaching about the Law underscored the fact that the traditional understanding of it was NOT in harmony with God's purpose and will!

Indeed, after he made that statement about fulfilling the requirements of the Law, he proceeded to teach his audience that the traditional understanding of the Mosaic Law was flawed! He quoted the commandment against murder and said that the principle also applied to those who were angry with their brother (Matthew 5:21-25). He quoted the commandment against adultery and told them that it applied to anyone who lusted after a woman in his mind (verses 27-28). He quoted the Mosaic teaching on divorce and told them that the only acceptable reason to get a divorce was infidelity (verses 31-32). He talked about the provisions in the Law regarding vows and said that oaths originated in evil (verses 33-37). He quoted the Mosaic principle of "an eye for an eye" and told them that it was inappropriate to retaliate against someone who has wronged you (verses 38-42). Finally, he completely nullified the Mosaic principle that it is ok to hate your enemy (verses 43-47).

Regarding the Mosaic principle of divorce, Christ later went much further in what he had to say about the teaching and its origins.
When the Pharisees asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus quoted from Genesis and told them that it was impossible for men to separate what God had joined together (Matthew 19:3-6). Notice the remainder of the account: "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, 'Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.'" (Matthew 19:8-9) Did you catch that? Jesus said that Moses (not God) introduced this provision because they were so hard hearted!

So let's back up for just a moment and take stock of where we're at. Christ taught that the traditional understanding of the intent and origins of the Law that he was committed to keeping perfectly was wrong! So one could say that Christ was conservative in his observance of that Law, but that his teachings regarding it could be considered to be very radical from a traditionalist's perspective. How does one reconcile such an apparent contradiction? We'll explore an answer to that question in my next post on this subject.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

God's Law (Part 6)

The Law of Moses clearly sought to distinguish between that which defiles a person and that which makes one holy. Throughout the Law things were designated as clean or unclean. Certain animals were said to be unclean and consequently unfit for human consumption (Leviticus 11). A women was said to be "unclean" after childbirth (Leviticus 12). People who had skin conditions had to submit to the priest for an examination of their skin to determine if they were "clean" or "unclean" (Leviticus 13). In similar fashion, mildew could render a house "unclean" (same chapter). Likewise, touching a dead body, semen or blood could make one "unclean" (Leviticus 15). Finally, sins (especially sexual sins) could make the people unclean (Leviticus 19 and 20). A man could "defile" the Sabbath, Sanctuary, land, himself with his neighbor's wife, etcetera, etcetera (you get the picture).

Under the Law, one of the principal remedies for all this "uncleanness" was ceremonial washing. The people were instructed to wash their clothes prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments so that they would be clean and sanctified before the Lord (Exodus 19:10). Aaron and his sons were instructed to wash just about everything in connection with their priestly duties (Exodus 29:4, 30:18-21, 40:12, Leviticus 16:4, 24). Those who had defiled themselves in one of the many ways outlined in the Law were also instructed to wash themselves (Leviticus 11:25, 28, 40, 13:6, 34, 54, 58, 14:8-9, 47, 15:5-27, 17:15-16, 22:6). As you will see when you look at the scriptures cited herein, the hands were often singled out as being especially important in this regard.

Why have we taken this time to underscore the Mosaic Law's emphasis on clean and unclean? Why have we referenced so many scriptures relative to what defiles a person? Because Jesus Christ took God's Law in a radically different direction.

In the Gospel According to Mark, we read: "Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders...Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen (defiled) hands? He (Christ) answered and said unto them, 'Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as of the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.'" (Mark 7:1-8, see also Matthew 15:1-20) Notice that Christ was telling them that this ceremonial washing that they had been practicing was a manmade tradition! Was Christ implying here that only part of the Mosaic Law was of Divine origin?

Continuing in this passage, we read: "And he said unto them, 'Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother, and whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban (that is to say a gift), by whatsoever thou mightiest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.'" (Mark 7:9-13) Christ compares their objection to the fact that his disciples have ignored ceremonial hand washing to their practice of exempting contributors to the temple from any financial obligation to help their parents (something that he points out is also enjoined by the Mosaic Law).

In the verses that follow, Christ proceeds to completely redefine the things that have the ability to defile a person. We read: "And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, 'Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man (on the outside), that entering into him can defile him (make him unclean): but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.'" (verses 14-16) Now that was very different from the traditional Jewish reading of the Mosaic Law!

Notice that, as soon as they were alone, his disciples asked him about the meaning of his previous statement (verse 17). Christ responded: "Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" And he said, "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile (make unclean) the man." (verses 18-23) Christ is totally upending here what the Mosaic Law taught about clean and unclean! Can anything be more plain? Christ a conservative regarding the Mosaic Law? I don't think so!

And, not only does he upend the teaching on what defiles a person, he also suggests that some components of the Mosaic Law were not of Divine origin! Moreover, this is not the only instance where Christ suggested that parts of the Mosaic Law were not God ordained. In the next installment, we'll explore some of Christ's specific teachings regarding the Mosaic Law and how he both distilled and expanded its application/meaning.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

God's Law (Part 5)

The Jewish community of the First Century didn't quite know what to make of Jesus Christ and his teachings, but most of them clearly understood that he was teaching things about God's Law that were radically different from what they had been hearing from their religious leaders prior to his arrival. In similar fashion, Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court once famously acknowledged his inability to define pornography, and yet he went on to say that "I know it when I see it." (Jacobellis v. Ohio, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com) Indeed, the Gospel accounts make clear that the religious elite of that time couldn't seem to nail down exactly how Christ was contradicting their Law; but they were sure that he was somehow doing just that. It sounded like defiance, ridicule and blasphemy to their ears!

That is one of the reasons why Christ said what he did during his "Sermon on the Mount." After delivering "The Beatitudes" and reminding his followers to set a good example for others, he said: "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you - unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:17-20, NLT)

Notice that Christ is 1)denying that he came to the earth to abolish the Law or prophets, and 2) affirming that he came here to "accomplish their purpose" (or as the KJV renders it to "fulfill" them). According to Blue Letter Bible, the Hebrew word translated into English as fulfill means "to render full, i.e. to complete." It goes on to clarify the sense that it is used in Scripture by adding: 1)"to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim;" 2)"to consummate," and "to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking);" and 3)"to carry into effect, bring to realization, realize." (http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4137&t=KJV) In other words, Christ is saying that he came to this earth to fully, completely and perfectly obey the Mosaic Law.

As Peter characterized it, Christ had to be "a lamb without blemish and without spot." (I Peter 1:19) He had to be completely innocent before the Law so that he could be sacrificed for the sins of humanity. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be "wounded for our transgressions" and "bruised for our iniquities." (Isaiah 53:5) He went on to say that the Messiah would himself be innocent of any wrongdoing and characterized him as God's "righteous servant." (Isaiah 53:9-11) In short, Christ had to obey the Law of Moses to be able to pay the penalty for everyone who had broken it or would brake it at some point in the future. As the psalmist wrote: "The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; and have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one." (Psalm 14:2-3)

But how can someone who is not an Israelite (a party to the covenant) be held responsible for their lack of obedience to God's Law? When Jesus Christ traveled through Samaria, he met a woman who had had five husbands (John 4:1-18). She went on to tell him that her ancestors had worshipped God at Samaria, but that the Jews insisted (as required by the Law of Moses) that the only appropriate place to worship God was at Jerusalem (verses 19-20). Christ then explained to her that the time was approaching when worship would no longer be tied to a specific place (verse 21). He concluded with: "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (verses 22-24) Remember what Christ had said in his "Sermon on the Mount" - That his followers' righteousness would have to be better than that of the Jewish religious elite?

What was Christ talking about? In the next installment, we'll take a closer look at Christ's attitude toward the Mosaic Law. Did he somehow modify or change that Law? Were the Jewish suspicions about his teachings regarding the Mosaic Law well founded after all?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

God's Law (Part 4)

It is evident that the Jews have always regarded the Torah as a whole. For them, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures are "The Law." Indeed, that is why we use terms like Torah and Pentateuch today. Moreover, the textual evidence supports their view in this regard.

The text makes very clear that YHWH expected the Israelites to keep all of his statutes, judgments and commandments (Leviticus 26:3, 14-15). We are told that God instructed the Israelites to "make them fringes in the borders of their garments" so "that ye may remember, and do all my commandments..." (Numbers 15:38-40). We are informed that God once lamented, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep (obey) all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29) Indeed, this kind of inclusive language about the law is repeated throughout the book of Deuteronomy (5:31, 6:1, 7:11, 8:11, 11:1, etc.).

It is also clear from Scripture that the Jews regarded everything within the Pentateuch as the "Law of Moses" (Joshua 8:31-32, Joshua 23:6, I Kings 2:3, II Kings 23:25, II Chronicles 30:16, Ezra 3:2, Malachi 4:4). Notice also that in the seventh chapter of Ezra and the eighth chapter of Nehemiah the terms "Law of Moses" and "Law of God are used interchangeably. Indeed, Christ apparently made numerous references to the Law as a whole (Matthew 5:17-19, Luke 24:44, John 7:23). In his epistle "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," James wrote: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) And in the very next verse, he makes plain that he is including the Ten Commandments in his remarks (verse 11).

In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote that Moses brought all of the people "with their wives and children" to the base of the mountain to hear God's voice (Book 3, Chapter 5, Section 4). He said that this was done so "that the energy of what should be spoken might not be hurt by its utterance by that tongue of a man, which could but imperfectly deliver it to their understanding." He then proceeds to list the Ten Commandments (Book 3, Chapter 5, Section 5). Then, in Section 6 of this same book and chapter, we read: "Now when the multitude had heard God himself giving those precepts which Moses had discoursed of, they rejoiced at what was said; and the congregation was dissolved: but on the following days they came to his tent, and desired him to bring them, besides, other laws from God. Accordingly he appointed such laws, and afterwards informed them in what manner they should act in all cases; which laws I shall make mention of in their proper time..." (Josephus: Complete Works, Translated by William Whiston, Published by Kregel Publications of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1960).

According to the Jewish Virtual Library in their article on "The Written Law" (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Written_Law.html), we read: "The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books of the Hebrew Bible - known more commonly to non-Jews as the "Old Testament" - that were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. The Torah is also known as the Chumash, Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses." Likewise, in their article on the Halakhah (or Jewish Law), Judaism 101 reports that 613 mitzvot (commandments) are derived from the Torah (http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm). Interestingly, they go on to say that modern Jews disregard more than half of these commandments because so many of them apply to sacrifices and offerings made at the Temple (which no longer exists) and many of them apply to the "theocratic state of Israel" and to its agricultural practices.

Thus we can see that the Jewish people, both historically and currently, have regarded the Law as a whole. This point is also critical to a proper understanding of how this Law may or may not apply to Christians. In the next installment, we will begin to explore in more detail how some of these factors influenced the views of Christ and his followers on the subject of the Law in the First Century.

God's Law (Part 3)

Before leaving the discussion of the origins of the Torah, we would be remiss not to underscore the fact that these writings formed the basis of YHWH's covenant with the Israelites. As Christians, we sometimes forget this fact. Nevertheless, this principle is clearly delineated in those writings.

For instance, circumcision was to be the symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14). Notice that it was to be a "token" of the covenant between God and them. In other words, this commandment/statute/ordinance/law was not addressed to humankind generally. It was specifically addressed to Abraham's family/tribe/nation.

In similar fashion, we are told that God gave the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Israelites under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 12). Notice just how explicit the language is that addresses this law to these people: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying...Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying..." (verses 1-3). Likewise, in verse 14, we read: "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever." Indeed, the entire purpose of the blood on the doorposts was said to be so that God could make a distinction between the Egyptians and Israelites (verses 12-29). Finally, just to underscore the fact that YHWH was not giving these festivals to humanity as a whole, we read: "This is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations...This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof...A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof...All the congregation of Israel shall keep it." (Exodus 13:42-47)

When the Israelites arrived at Sinai, YHWH's language in this regard is just as explicit as it was previously. The Scriptures make very clear that YHWH was not addressing humanity as a whole. We read: "And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel...Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." (Exodus 19:3-6) Next, we are told that Moses assembled the leaders of the Israelites and presented all of this to them; and they had consented to follow all of the Lord's instructions (verses 7-8). Once again, this is clearly a covenant between God and the Israelites.

This fact is further reinforced by the language surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments in the following chapter. Notice: "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage..." (Exodus 20:1-2). After the Ten Commandments had been delivered, we read that God told Moses: "Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven." (verse 22) Once again, the language is explicit that God had given his commandments to the children of Israel, not to mankind as a whole.

Moreover, when the covenant was finally ratified, these Scriptures make very plain who the parties to the agreement were (Exodus 24). The covenant was between God and the children of Israel - not between God and mankind, and not between God and Christians. Over and over again, throughout the Torah, we read "Speak unto the children of Israel." The laws concerning clean and unclean meats were addressed to them (Leviticus 11:2). The laws regarding the festivals of the Lord were addressed to them (Leviticus 23:2). Near the end of the Torah, we read: "These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt...keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do." (Deuteronomy 29:1-9)

Hence, in any comprehensive treatment of the relevance of the Torah to Christians, this principle has to be acknowledged and admitted. Without a clear understanding of exactly who these laws were originally addressed to, it would be impossible to arrive at any kind of a coherent or reasonable conclusion about their applicability to Christians. And, since these commandments were clearly addressed to the Israelites, we will take a brief look at how the Jews regard the Torah (historically and presently) in the next installment of this series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

God's Law (Part 2)

Before proceeding any further, some discussion of the origins and formation of the Torah is necessary. For my Fundamentalist friends, this will not be a pleasant topic; because the evidence suggests that the Torah was formed over many hundreds of years (in other words, Moses didn't write all of it), and it did not assume its current form until sometime after the fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Nevertheless, for the benefit of my more traditionally oriented friends, I will not resort to appealing to the authority of objective Biblical scholarship on the subject (although it is substantial and approaches something close to a consensus on this topic); because most of them would dismiss such testimony out of hand. Instead, we will look at some of the internal evidence to demonstrate the validity of our thesis on this point.

First, it is clear that Moses was not an eyewitness to the events described in Genesis. The book purports to recount the history of mankind (and more particularly, the Israelites)from his creation to the time when Jacob's family moved to Egypt. The context makes clear that all of this happened prior to the birth of Moses (Exodus 2:1-10). Hence, we are left with only a few possibilities relative to the material in Genesis: 1)The account was based on oral traditions handed down from generation to generation, 2)The author consulted other documents written by other people or 3)God directly revealed this history to Moses (or whoever wrote the account). For believers, based on everything we have been able to learn about the Bible, I would say that a combination of the three is the most likely scenario.

Why not simply say that God revealed all of it to Moses? Look at the internal evidence of the book itself. There are clearly two different creation stories within the book (Compare the first chapter of Genesis to the second chapter). We read at the beginning of the fifth chapter: "This is the book of the generations of Adam..." (Genesis 5:1). Once again, clearly indicating that another "book" or document has been incorporated into the one which we have received. There is also the fact that the story of a flood is incorporated into the creation mythologies of most ancient cultures/civilizations. We also see that the story regarding King Abimelech has been applied to both Abraham (Genesis 20) and Isaac (Genesis 26), suggesting that someone has attempted to combine two competing traditions regarding these patriarchs.

In addition to these considerations, it is also highly unlikely that a humble man would have characterized himself as being more meek than anyone else on the planet (Numbers 12:3). Likewise, it is apparent that Moses could not have written the account of his own death that appears at the conclusion of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 34:5-12). Finally, it is apparent from subsequent references to the material attributed to Moses that it could not have approached the volume of material that we have today (notice that the entire book could be read within the context of a single public ceremony - Exodus 24:7, Joshua 8:34-35, II Kings 22:8-10, II Kings 23:2 and Nehemiah 8:3-8). So it is clear that the original material must have been augmented or embellished by others to appear as it does today (we would be hard pressed to read the entire Pentateuch in a single public ceremony today).

Hence, from the internal evidence alone, we would have to conclude that the Mosaic Law was not the work of a single man. Moreover, this conclusion also suggests that God may not have been the source for all of the laws, statutes, ordinances and judgments that appear as part of that Law!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

God's Law (Part 1)

Christians have debated the subject of just how much of the Mosaic Law applies to them for centuries. Indeed, many would argue (and not without some justification) that Christians have debated the role of the Law within the context of the New Covenant since the founding of the Church in the First Century. Some Christians have adopted the view that God's saints have absolutely no obligation to obey any of the Law under the "Dispensation of Grace" that was inaugurated by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Others have argued that Christians are obligated to keep almost the entire Law - including Sabbaths (weekly and annual) and instructions regarding clean and unclean meats. Needless to say, these differences of opinion have invited charges of inconsistency and "cherry picking" from those outside of the Christian community.

First, it should be acknowledged that there has existed an almost universal understanding within the Christian community that Christ's sacrifice on the cross made the old animal sacrificial system obsolete. Under the terms of the New Covenant, almost everyone acknowledges that burnt, grain, peace, sin and trespass offerings are no longer necessary because of Christ's sacrifice. In addition to these, most Christians would acknowledge that Christ's position as High Priest within their theological construct renders irrelevant those instructions regarding the tabernacle, altars (and other furnishings), priestly garments, circumcision, farming practices and the treatment of skin diseases and mildew. Hence, most of us begin this discussion by excluding substantial portions of the Mosaic Law as being applicable to Christians.

In the light of this reality, I think that it's appropriate to ask ourselves a few questions about the relevance of God's Law to Christians: How do we justify the acceptance of some portions of the Law while excluding others? In short, is there some rationale available to us for treating the Law in this fashion? Or Does "all or nothing" really make more sense? Were Christ and Peter opposed to Paul's understanding of the subject? Did Jewish Christians have a different view of the Law from that of their Gentile brethren? These are important questions, and Christians have debated the answers to them for nearly two millennia!

This post will begin a series of articles that will explore some of the Scriptural, historical and logical basis for Christian attitudes towards God's Law. We will look at how different groups have defined the roles of Law and Grace within the Church. And we will attempt to answer the questions that we have asked by drawing on available evidence from both the Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian Bible.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The New Testament perspective on the Day of Atonement

In relation to the Old Testament ceremony prescribed for the Day of Atonement, it is clear to me that the High Priest was regarded as a type of Jesus Christ by early Christians. What is the evidence that supports this conclusion? The book of Hebrews!

“For there was a tabernacle made, the first…which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all…Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. BUT INTO THE SECOND WENT THE HIGH PRIEST ALONE ONCE EVERY YEAR (ON THE DAY OF ATONEMENT), not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience…But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” –Hebrews 9:2-12

Clearly, Aaron was symbolic of Jesus Christ in this ceremony. Nevertheless, the symbolism was not perfect. For obvious reasons, Aaron was unable to offer his own blood to sprinkle on the altar to make atonement for the people. He had to use the blood of a goat.

“And he shall take the two goats, and present THEM before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” –Leviticus 16:7 Notice that these goats are paired in the ceremony, and BOTH of them are presented before the Lord. Hence, it is obvious that these goats are RELATED to each other. “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot FOR the Lord, and the other lot FOR the scapegoat.” –Leviticus 16:8 In context, it is clear that one of the goats was chosen to be presented to God as a sacrifice/offering (Leviticus 16:9), and Aaron (who was the type of Christ) was to use that goat’s blood to sprinkle on the altar to make atonement for the people. (Leviticus 16:15) Likewise, the other goat was to be used for the scapegoat, or goat of removal. “But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:10)

It is clear that Aaron (THE TYPE OF CHRIST) needed blood to complete the symbolism of the ceremony. Continuing in Hebrews, we read: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. IT WAS THEREFOR NECESSARY THAT THE PATTERNS OF THINGS IN THE HEAVENS SHOULD BE PURIFIED WITH THESE; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. FOR CHRIST IS NOT ENTERED INTO THE HOLY PLACES MADE WITH HANDS, WHICH ARE THE FIGURES OF THE TRUE; BUT INTO HEAVEN ITSELF, NOW TO APPEAR IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR US: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year WITH BLOOD OF OTHERS; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared TO PUT AWAY SIN BY THE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF.” –Hebrews 9:22-26

Clearly, Aaron was symbolically playing the role of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament ceremony. In that ceremony, there were two goats which were presented before the Lord. One of those goats was designated to be used as a sacrifice/offering to God, and Aaron used the blood of that goat (since he could not use his own) to take before the mercy seat of God and use to symbolically make an atonement for the sins of the people. The other goat was designated to bear the sins of the people into the wilderness. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21-22)

Hence, NEITHER GOAT WAS DESIGNATED TO REPRESENT GOD OR JESUS CHRIST IN THIS CEREMONY!!!!!!! Remember, Aaron represented Christ. The Holy of Holies represented heaven. The mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant represented Almighty God’s presence. One of the goats was used to represent Christ’s blood, and the other goat was used to represent the removal of the people’s sins from the camp and from the presence of Almighty God! The very thing that Christ’s shed blood accomplished! “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” –Hebrews 9:28