Lawless Christians?, part 3

[I use the phrase tanach/TNK to refer to the Old Testament.]

In my two previous posts, I have been dealing with bad teaching in the Church that tries to do away with God’s requirement for holiness in the lives of His followers. The Church has tried to do away with God’s requirements for his followers to live lives that are worthy of His calling by eliminating God’s instruction, His torah, by calling it Law and saying that we are free from the Law, that we are “under Grace” because Jesus did away with the Law.

As I demonstrated in my previous posts, we have mislabeled and mistranslated God’s words to us to fit our desires. In this post I want to deal with one more concept that we have gotten phenomenally wrong because of our misunderstanding of the context of the scriptures.

We have the mistaken belief that the writers of the Tanach and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed that they had to earn salvation, that by doing works of the Law, they could merit God’s kingdom. Yes, the phrase, works of the Law does occur several times in Paul’s epistles, but could it be even remotely possible that we have, somehow, misunderstood Paul and got it wrong? Again? (That again should tell you that were you and I speaking face-to-face, my tone would be dripping with snarkasm.)

First Canard: “Old Testament Jews Worked For Salvation, But Jesus Brought Us Grace”

Um, sorry, but no. If you read the Old Testament without Christian theological blinders, you find that grace is in the Jewish TNK, as well.

“Wait a minute, CSL, it says right there in John 1.17, ‘the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ They are separate, and grace came through Jesus!”

(As a quick aside, that little but, in “but grace and truth came by Jesus” is in italics, which means that it isn’t in the Greek text; instead, it was inserted by translators. The word but isn’t actually in v.17; the writer of the gospel of John had no intention of making a contrast between law and grace.)

Okay, since Christians are so married to the idea that grace is a NT addition, lets go down that rabbit trail. Let me ask you this: what is the definition of grace? “Unmerited favor,” right? Grace is the unmerited, undeserved favor of God. Okay, hold that thought:

grace is unmerited favor.

In doing a word search, I did find that the word grace rarely appears in the TNK, in newer translations. For example, grace appears only 6 times in the TNK of the popular ESV translation of the Bible. So if you are basing your belief that grace is a NT creation because of it being a rarity in the TNK, you might have a leg to stand on. But you really don’t, because we now come back to that definition of grace as ‘unmerited favor.’

There are two Hebrew words that are used over 100 times in our OT, the TNK, that are translated as favor: chanan and chen. Let me cite what Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (a standard Bible study reference) says about chanan and chen:

Of chanan:
Generally, this word implies the extending of “favor”, often when it is neither expected nor deserved.

Of chen:
The Septuagint translations are: charis (“grace, favor”) and elios (“mercy, compassion, pity”)

Charis is the Greek word that is translated as grace in the NT; please note that Vine’s says that the Hebrew words chanan and chen are translated as charis, which is the Greek word for grace, and mean unmerited favor. Basically, the only reason that grace does not appear in the Old Testament is because our translators have chosen to use the word favor, instead instead of grace.

Second Canard: “Christians Have Been Freed From Obedience To The Law”

“We are under grace, freed from the dictates of the Law; we have Christian liberty.” The idea is that we, as Christians, are no longer in bondage to the laws and commands of the TNK, that Christ freed us from the curse of the Law.**

Quick word study: The Greek word that our English New Testaments translate as “Law” is nomos. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew TNK) uses nomos to translate torah. The opposite of nomos in the Greek is anomos, and it means “lawless, without law.”

Since the idea is that the Law, Torah, no longer applies to Christians, it should be accurate to say that Christians are then anomos/anomia, “without law.” There is one huge hole with that, and that is that anomos/anomia is actually sin, and referred to as such. We are told in 1 Jn. 3.4 that “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness (anomia); and sin is lawlessness (anomia).” We are also told, in 2 Thess. 2.7 that “the mystery of lawlessness (anomia) is already at work” in the world today.

Here’s a little tidbit that you might want to chew on: the Man of Sin, the anti-Christ, of 2 Thes. 2.3? In the Greek, he is the Man of Anomia, he is the Lawless One.  I have started reading the Complete Jewish Study Bible, and this anti-Christ is called “the man who separates himself from Torah.”

The anti-Christ is one who “separates himself from Torah?” Yeah, not a good look for Christians, I’m thinking.

Third Canard: Jews Practiced The “Works of the Law” To Be Saved

Let me ask you a question: when Paul was excoriating Judaizers, do you think that he was talking about the Jewish High Priest and his servants, or do you think he was laying into fellow-Christians? The answer, of course, is that it was fellow-believers in Jesus who were bedeviling him. After all, these Judaizers were believers in Jesus as Messiah, and wanted to make sure that these new Christians, these Gentile converts, were truly saved and in the faith by becoming fully Jewish; proselytes.

And how were these Gentile Christians to become Jewish? By undergoing the proper conversion procedures known as “the works of the Law.” The phrase erga nomou, “works of the Law”, was a particular requirement for a god-fearer (a Gentile adherent of Judaism) to undergo in order to be a Jew.

And what were these erga nomou that these Gentile believers were to perform in order to ensure their conversion? To the Jews, there were three things that separated them from the Gentiles, signs of the Covenant that made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and had been the bone of contention from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to eradicate Judaism and led to the Maccabean revolt. They were Sabbath, circumcision and kashrut (kosher food laws). Antiochus had assailed Sabbath, circumcision and kashrut, and it was these three things that the Maccabeans enforced after they freed Judah from Greek rule in 175 B. C.

These three things became, in the Jewish mind, the boundary markers that set Jews apart from the world, and  separated them unto God as his people. In order to become Jewish, then, in order to be a proper convert to Judaism (in the mind of the Judaizers), a Gentile Christian had to perform these three works of the law in order to enter into the Covenant.

The Greek phrase for “works of the law” is erga nomou, a translation of the Hebrew ma’ase ha-Torah. The phrase ma’ase ha-Torah is found in an Essene text in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Now we have written to you some of the works of the law, those which we determined would be beneficial for you… And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him…

Please note that performing these ma’ase ha-Torah means that the convert will be counted as righteous before God. It was with this idea in mind, that of becoming part of the righteous, that Judaizers wanted Gentile god-fearers to undergo Jewish conversion, and it was this specific religious requirement that Paul was writing to oppose. In writing about erga nomou, Paul was not condemning living according to God’s teachings, but condemning the idea that Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes in order to enter God’s covenant.


Because the Church has, for centuries, believed and taught these three canards, she has been presenting a caricature of Jewish beliefs and a distortion of what Paul was actually teaching. Jews did not believe in trying to earn salvation by performing Works of the Law. In their mind, they (the Jews) were already in the covenant, and performing erga nomou was how Gentiles entered the Covenant and became righteous before God.

CSL

** Oh, by the way, do you really want to say that God’s teaching is a curse? Do you really want to go there?

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Lawless Christians?, part 2

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In my last post, I decided to examine the basic Christian assumption that Christian are not under the Law (Torah), that since Jesus fulfilled the righteousness of the Old Testament’s requirement by paying the penalty for sin, we are freed from the Old Testament law and now live by the grace of God.

Yup, I went there. But I had facts to back up my statements that the word Law in the New Testament is greatly misunderstood. After all, the Hebrew word that is translated “law” in the TNK (Old Testament) doesn’t mean “law”, but means “guidance, teaching”. With that basic misunderstanding cleared up, we would have to say, “How could Torah be abolished, done away with? God’s instruction and teaching is eternal.” Continue reading

Lawless Christians?, part 1

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How many of you believe that we Christians are not under Law, but under grace? After all, isn’t it a truism of the Church that, as people living under the New Covenant, the righteousness that the Old Testament Law required was fulfilled by Jesus, and so did away with it? The Law no longer applies to us because of the New Covenant established in Jesus’ blood, right?

As those of you who know me, the contrarian that I am, have probably surmised, I am going to disagree with this established teaching of the Church. (Quelle surprise!, right?)

Be that as it may, with the next couple of posts, I would like to share an eye-opening thought that just might help with bridging the gap that stands between the teachings of Jesus, who was a completely Torah-observant Jewish rabbi, and the teachings of his followers. Continue reading

Fifteen Questions: An Oldie Re-Surfaces

In my very first post on this blog, three years ago, I addressed what used to be a hot topic in the Church–or at least used to be when I was a young Christian back in the 70’s and 80’s. The Rapture.

To be more specific, the rapture (catching away) of the Church from the earth, by Jesus, seven years before a cataclysmic Tribulation period that would unleash Hell on earth: the pre-trib. rapture, for shorthand.

I must confess that, as a new christian being discipled in conservative churches of the day, and hearing teachers & preachers on TV and radio, I was a staunch believer in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching for several years. Until I was challenged to read a certain book…. But that’s all addressed in my first CSL On The Bible post.


These two blogs that I write don’t represent my first venture into flinging my thoughts and ideas at the world’s wall to see what sticks. For seven years, I had a website entitled The Pelajian Challenge**, which I used to write about Christian topics, and one of the things I wrote about was the fallacy of the Pre-Trib. Rapture teaching.

And one of the things I created was a small pamphlet entitled “15 Questions For The Pre-Trib. Rapture Believer.” Well, I’ve recently used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to look at some of the articles I wrote, and decided to resurrect that pamphlet. I’ve created it as a .pdf file, and you can read/download the file here: Fifteen Questions.

CSL

**About 30 years ago, I realized that I have more in common with Augustine’s chief bugaboo, Pelagius, than Augustine. As an in-joke, when I started getting active online, I chose to spell his name phonetically, Pelajus, to see how many ministers in my denomination were acquainted with the heretic. Sadly, not one asked me about it. *sigh*.

“Am I A Disciple?”, part 2

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In my first post on this subject I wrote about the need to ask a different question of ourselves, something other than “What benefits do I accrue as a Christian?” I presented the idea that the real concern for a follower of Jesus would be his/her walk and not the perks of salvation. I want to explore the implications of the Church’s failure to be concerned about discipleship in greater depth in this post, and for one vital reason:

I’ve come to believe that most Christians don’t have a clue as to what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I know I don’t. And I am sure that we, as a church, don’t know what being a disciple meant to Jesus and the Jews of the first century. In Mt. 28:19–20, Jesus gave his disciples, and the subsequent church, its Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Continue reading

“Am I A Disciple?”, part 1

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I understand that in this post, I may come across as getting all church-y and critical; however, if you think of it as merely the quibblings of a grumpy old coot and not a breaking out of whips and cords, maybe we can get through this alright.

Some time ago, a fellow blogger asked his readership for future writing topics and among the replies he received was a suggestion that we need to hear more about who we are in Christ. This reader felt that we need reminding that, as children of the king, we are “supernatural royalty.” And that was the catalyst for this post. Why? Because my basic reaction to that sort of statement is usually an ungentlemanly snort of derision. Continue reading

Are You Where You’re Needed?

As my last post told you, our church is going through a time of grieving and coping, having lost our pastor suddenly. For the past three weeks, Rev. Rob Colwell, the district superintendent of the James River Conference of the VA UMC has been filling the church pulpit and helping the church transition during this interim time, and we have certainly been blessed and helped by his ministry to us.

This past Sunday morning, Rev. Colwell shared a story with us that actually happened to him, and I got his permission to share this story on my blog, so here goes.

One of Rev. Colwell’s ministerial duties was to be an on-call chaplain for a mental institution, and one day, he received a page saying that an inmate wanted to speak to him, personally. Uncomfortable with this aspect of ministry, Colwell went, doing his Christian service as a good Christian minister should.

Continue reading

Unexpected Goodbyes

I attend a Methodist church in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and this past fall, our pastor announced to the congregation that, as she was approaching the mandatory age of retirement in the UMC, she would be retiring from ministry at the end of June, 2018. (This is the traditional time for assigning ministers to congregations in the UMC.)

Of course, she set about accomplishing final tasks and solidifying initiatives that would be her continuing legacy to our church after her retirement–such things as implementing a new, contemporary worship service, strengthening the local anti-poverty organization that she was instrumental in establishing, etc. And she began the months-long task of saying her good-byes to many in the area and in the congregation.

Our church has an e-newsletter, and of course, as pastor, she has a panel in which she writes a small monthly homily or message for subscribers. The February issue was emailed a couple of weeks ago, and this was her message for this month:

PRAYING OUR GOODBYES
No matter what the circumstances, there comes with the act of farewell a feeling of uneasiness. This sense of loss is connected to change. It can be associated with the unknown— of wondering about what is to come. I find myself in a season of farewell now as I prepare to complete a journey as an active clergy after serving over 30 years. This has been a rewarding, fruitful experience as God’s ambassador.

Coupled with the details of the daily operation of the ministry, I find the need to nurture my spirit; and the best way I know for this to happen is in intentional prayer practices. So in the next 182 days, I will be specifically praying for ways of healthy separation. I am asking God to show me the best way through this process of change, and I trust God. In these days ahead, I invite you to join me in praying our goodbyes!

Yesterday, Thursday, after a satisfying and tiring day of work at the church, our pastor made her way back to the parsonage and sat down to rest in her favorite armchair. In the time before her husband came home, our pastor went to be with our Savior, “claiming the resurrection” as we Methodists are wont to say.

Our pastor wrote of feelings of loss and unease, of concern about change. Such is the nature of our impermanent lives. Kermit the Frog said it best in Muppet Christmas Carol: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” He’s only right, isn’t he? But between the meetings and the partings are the joys of fellowship. And knowing God assures us that our partings are only temporary, that there will be a grand meeting one day.

So please keep us in mind, our church, as we find ourselves having to say an unexpected good-bye. And pray that we will be comforted in knowing that the good-bye is only temporary.

CSL

“This Is My Son; Shema!”

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“Shema Yisrael” “Hear O Israel”
~ Deut. 6:4, and the first two words of the greatest commandment, according to Jesus.

These two words are precious to every Jew, everywhere, and should be just as precious to every Christian. Morning and evening, observant Jews recite a prayer/creed/vow called the Shema. Composed of three scripture portions from Deut. and Lev., the Shema is a daily reminder of God and His teaching, and a prayer of commitment to live in obedience to God’s righteous covenant.

We Christians should remember that when Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment”, he answered with this first verse of the Shema. But there is a difference between what a Jew and a Christian understands when they hear “Hear, O Israel”, due to our limited knowledge of Hebrew. (That is, if the Christian even hears the first two words; after all, we tend to edit out things we feel don’t apply to us.)

The English language is a cornucopia, with 400,000-600,00 words. When you look up Hear in a thesaurus, you will discover a multitude of synonyms, most of which deal with aural input into the ear. However, the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew is limited; there are only 8,500 Hebrew words that make up the nearly 500,000 words of the TNK**. Therefore, Hebrew words often have much richer meaning with more implications carried in a word than would be implied in an English word.

Shema is one of these words, and has a wider, deeper meaning when used in the TNK.

Follow Instructions

Years ago, I was in a class were the teacher handed out a page of instructions for the class to follow, as a test. I remember that the first step was “Read the entire set of instructions.” I think the second one was to put your name at the top of the page, and there were different instructions, like numbering your page from 1 to 15, drawing 3 stars on line 9, and several other instructions along that line. The thing was that the last instruction said, “Put your pencil down after doing step 2.”

Most of the students read the first instruction, and then continued on, performing the tasks of each numbered direction as they read further down the list. There were two or three students in the class who put their pencils down and sat in their seats, waiting, while the teacher smiled, and hinted, “Be sure you read the directions closely.” Being one of the eager ones, I kept looking at the kids who were just sitting there, wondering why they weren’t doing the work. It was only when I got to the last line that I understood. This last line read, “Do step #1, then put your pencil down and wait for further instructions.”

They had read the instructions and done what they were supposed to do: read all the instructions, put their names on the paper, and wait. They “listened” and they “obeyed.”

“To Hear Is To Obey”

And that is the fuller meaning of the Hebrew word Shema. Remember that old “to hear is to obey” line from the movies? Yeah, that’s what God, through Moses, is telling the Israelites in Deut. 6.  But the thing is that this same command is given to us today, by our Hebrew Lord. Asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, He cites the Shema. He wasn’t asked, “What’s the greatest commandment up until now?”, or “What’s the greatest commandment for Jews alone?”. 

No, the greatest commandment for all people begins with Shema, “Hear my words and do them!”, the message of the entire Scriptures.

We Christians think that we know better, that we are under a different covenant by which we don’t have to worry about being obedient all the time; after all, “Pobody’s nerfect,” we tell each other (don’t want to come across as too judgy or self-righteous.) We are under grace now and freed from observances of the Law. We are freed to live in Christian liberty, with freedom to fall down and get back up.

But what is it that God told the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This is my beloved son, hear him.” (Lk. 9:35) (Just a reminder–while Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, God was talking to Hebrew-speaking disciples.) God told Peter, James and John to shema to Jesus. And that word carried the connotation of not just listening, but obeying Him.

“Obey Him? CSL, aren’t you pulling more out of the passage than is actually there? After all, Jesus instituted Christianity, which is based on believing Jesus, not obeying some laws, right?”

No, I’m not going beyond the text, and no, Jesus didn’t institute a new religion. He was a teacher of the religion, the Covenant that He grew up in. In fact, Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, (establish it, in better translations.) When He told the teachers that not the least yodh or kotz (jot and tittle) would pass from the Law before Heaven or earth be destroyed, He was upholding the permanence of God’s law (Mt. 5:18).

So, Hear Him? How?

By being a true disciple, a follower of Jesus in deed, not just word. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate how religious people can be so…, well, religious, but not be disciples:

… this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
(Isa. 29:13)

I’ve written a series of posts asking why Jesus was a rabbi. The answer is simple: Jesus, as a Jew, as a rabbi, was the complete embodiment of God’s revelation for mankind. At the end of the second chapter of her Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg writes:

The mission of a rabbi was to become a living example of what it means to apply God’s Word to one’s life. A disciple apprenticed himself to a rabbi because the rabbi had saturated his life with Scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law…. That’s what the rabbi-disciple relationship was all about. From ancient times, God had told his people: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

It’s one thing to want to live a Christian life because you have been convinced of the correctness the precepts and principles of Christianity.  It’s a completely different and separate thing to realize that you are morally lacking and need to acquire the character of Jesus. All too often we reduce Christianity to the acceptance of a set of intellectual propositions when, instead, it is the transformation of a life.

So the answer to the question of what it means to hear Jesus is to seek His character in our daily lives. Just as He lived a life of godly holiness, we shema to Jesus by seeking to follow His life in our lives.

CSL

** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.

“Inherit The Land”?

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Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.

I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into how much we know just ain’t so! Continue reading