January 19, 2009

A different look at the Israeli-Gaza fighting...(warning: meant to start discussion, not endorse either side!)


Right off the bat I want to make clear that there are no pure "good guys" and "bad guys" in any conflict in the Middle East. Regardless of what any Iranian Prime Minister or Texas Dispensational TV Preacher may claim, neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constitutes "God's People."

That being said, I was curious as to how the recent bombardment of Gaza by Israel in retaliation for Hamas' ongoing rocket attacks into Israel might sound to those in the world who are not devoted to one side over the other. So with the magic of Microsoft Word's "Find/Replace" editing function, I've taken an article from Yahoo and substituted different names for the groups and individuals mentioned in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wanted to find another country in history that had been involved in conflicts within its borders over disputed land and colonization. In order to truly turn the mirror on myself, I chose the following.

Taken from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20090119/wl_time/08599187245900

[The names of the groups involved has been changed in order to give a different perspective on “internal” conflicts]

America and Native Americans Agree to Cherokee Cease-Fire. Will It Last?

“The American Congress decided on Saturday night to unilaterally end its 21-day war against Native American militants on the Cherokee Reservation in Cherokee, N.C. as of 2 a.m. Sunday, bringing an end to a conflict that has left more than 1,200 Native Americans and 13 Americans dead.

On Sunday, just hours after the American statement, The Cherokee Nation announced that it too was declaring a weeklong cease-fire, while also demanding that American troops withdraw from Cherokee within the week.

After holding talks with European leaders in Washington on Sunday, American President BushBama said: "We don't want to stay in Cherokee, and we intend to leave as soon as possible."

Both sides traded shots after their separate announcements, but Cherokee residents say that the cease-fire seems to be gaining strength, and Native Americans have emerged from their refuges to assess the damage of America’s three-week long air and land assault against The Cherokee Nation in Cherokee.

President BushBama told newsmen after the Saturday night Congress meeting, "All of our goals have been achieved successfully. The Cherokee Nation was beaten." He added, "If The Cherokee Nation decides to keep shooting, we're ready to strike back forcefully." (See TIME's photos of the violence in the American Southeast)

America was facing rising international outrage over its Cherokee Reservation offensive, in which nearly one-third of those killed were women and children, according to Native American health workers. In trying to root out The Cherokee Nation fighters, America subjected the Cherokee Reservation, which teems with over 1.5 million Native Americans, to scorching fire from aircraft, naval gunships, artillery, tanks and troops backed by helicopter gunships.

The cabinet sources told TIME that there will be an interim period "to allow the dust to settle and see how The Cherokee Nation reacts" before America decides to pull out its troops.

Ending the fighting now allows America to boast that it has hammered The Cherokee Nation and restored the Secular nation's military might in the Americas, which was tarnished by its inconclusive war in 2006 against Lakota fighters in South Dakota. America is also satisfied by promises made by Australia and the Europeans to provide technical assistance that will supposedly help the Mexican government stop the flow of weapons to The Cherokee Nation in Cherokee through smugglers' tunnels. The U.K. pledged on Friday to help stem the international traffic of arms from Guatamala and other suppliers to Cherokee.

But a cease-fire without The Cherokee Nation and America’s mutual consent may be the most temporary of band-aids. Inevitably, The Cherokee Nation claimed that despite the devastation its fight with America has wreaked on Cherokee, the best the Americans could do was slow - but not stop - the barrage of rockets arcing out of Cherokee. The Cherokee Nation's Cherokee Reservation leader Chief Tomochichi claimed "a Popular victory" over America. Up until the last minute before America declared its cease-fire, The Cherokee Nation was firing rockets. Five hit the ports of Savannah and Charleston as well as the inland towns of Charlotte and Atlanta. And unless The Cherokee Nation is obliged by Mexico and other Native American states to sign a truce with America, rather than following America’s example of declaring its own, it may be only days or weeks before the Native Americans or one of the myriad militant groups in Cherokee decides to take revenge for the American assault and again start firing rockets into southeastern America. And that, judging from BushBama’s warning, would result in America again pummeling Cherokee Reservation.

By declaring a unilateral cease-fire, America can argue that it is not legitimizing The Cherokee Nation, which it considers to be a gang of terrorists. But even though a few of The Cherokee Nation' leaders have been killed, along with hundreds of its fighters, America cannot pretend that The Cherokee Nation no longer exists. Even beaten and bloodied, The Cherokee Nation are still a force to contend with among Native Americans.

The Cherokee Reservation conflict has raised The Cherokee Nation' stature in the Native American world and, more importantly, among Native Americans. In Native American eyes, The Cherokee Nation are plucky champions - David fighting the American Goliath with homemade rockets instead of a slingshot - while America sees them as killers who hide behind their civilians and who are willing to sacrifice them for propaganda triumphs. But if America insists on imposing the same punitive sanctions it kept on Cherokee Reservation's 1.5 million people before this war, it will only strengthen The Cherokee Nation and fan the Native Americans' hatred towards America.

A unilateral cease-fire practically guarantees that America and The Cherokee Nation are destined for another bloody brawl. And once again, the victims will be the Native American civilians whose streets and homes in Cherokee are turned into a battleground.

With so much blood spilled in Cherokee, it will be difficult for America to gauge the proper response to another provocation by The Cherokee Nation. What will happen once the cease-fire begins without The Cherokee Nation? If a rocket is fired from Cherokee and lands in a crowded American schoolyard, what then? How will America respond? There is not much left in Cherokee to destroy.”

-----------------------------------------


Of course, any discussion of Middle East conflicts is going to be heated, controversial, and inevidably leaning toward one side or the other. My goal in writing this is to get everyone, particularly those in the body of Christ who refuse to see any side other than Israel's (because of erroneous interpretations of Biblical passages concerning "Israel" that have been popular for the past 150 years, and rampant since the secular state of Israel was established after WWII) to try to see this whole situation through the lens of those not sympathetic to Western secularism...or perhaps through the lens of the many many Palestinian Christians who are caught up in this debacle and feel forgotten by their brothers and sisters in Christ here in America.


Thinking together...

JMS

19 comments:

steppingoutonfaith said...

I've heard some people make comments about if the U.S. doesn't defend Israel in the war, we will regret it (I guess we will be punished) because they are God's chosen people. I'm not sure I agree with that. What do you think? I think they heard that from a TV evangelist. I will admit that I haven't been keeping up with everything about Israel, the last article I read was about how many people were killed. Any thoughts?
Autumn

JMS said...

Hey Autumn,

This is a common misreading of Scripture based on a lack of understanding the overall story of the Bible.

The passage people usually quote is the part of the Abrahamic covenant in Gen.12 where God says "those who bless you I will bless, those who curse you I will curse." They recognize that this promise was extended to Abraham's "seed/offspring" (same Hebrew word, zera').

However, what they totally miss is the entire message of the New Testament where we find out that Abraham's "seed/offspring" culminates and finds its fulfillment in Jesus, and thus all God's people who are in Covenant with Him through the New Covenant Jesus inaugurated. This is the entire message of Ephesians ch.2 as well as the book of Hebrews! It's the dominant theme in all of the NT, I would argue. Here is one of the clearest statements of it aside from Ephesians 2 and Hebrews:

"16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ." (Gal 3:16 TNIV)

"24 So the law was put in charge of us [Jews like Paul] until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,
27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
"
(Gal 3:24-29 TNIV)

You have to do some crazy exegetical gymnastics to get around the crystal clear teaching in the NT that Jesus brought the Mosaic Covenant (which Abraham's "seed", the Jewish people were under) to completion and ushered in the long-awaited New Covenant (which Abraham's "seed" would from then on live under). And in doing so, he also opened the promises God gave to Abraham's "seed" even to those who weren't literally "offspring" of Abraham (i.e. Gentiles). He formed the New Covenant "Israel of God"--Jews and Gentiles alike who entered into Covenant with God through Israel's Messiah.

However...He also declared that those who reject Israel's Messiah, regardless of whether or not they are physical descendants of Abraham (i.e. ethnically Jewish), were "broken off branches" from the true vine, Israel...just as those who broke the Mosaic Covenant were "cut off" from Israel in the OT. And as predicted by Jesus in His last proclamation over the city of Jerusalem, the Nation of Israel, the Levitical Priesthood and even the Temple itself were totally destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman armies, never again to be rebuilt until Jesus returns and brings with Him the "New Jerusalem", that is, at the end of this age when He judges the world once and for all.

So what does this mean for the nation that was founded in 1948 and named Israel? Was that the regathering of God's people that the prophets spoke about when they foretold of the New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36, etc.)? Does God now have TWO Covenant peoples--Jews and Gentiles who follow Jesus as Israel's Messiah AND ethnic Jews who reject Jesus as Israel's Messiah?

No. This is absolutely in contradiction of the entire message of the Gospel and the New Testament as a whole (which was written almost entirely by ethnic Jews!)

Jesus, Israel's Messiah and rightful King, declared plainly that His Kingdom "is not of this world."

And what Kingdom is the King of Israel King over?

Israel, of course.

So what then was Jesus saying about Israel under the New Covenant?

It is not an earthly political state.

And what is the country in the mideast today that's named Israel?

An earthly political state.

And according to Jesus' earliest Jewish followers, who do the promises to Abraham's "seed" belong to?

God's People, Jew and Gentile alike, who are one in Christ.

So what does that say about any earthly political nation, the majority of whose population reject Jesus as Abraham's promised "seed" and Israel's Messiah?

They are not heirs to the promises given to the "seed" of Abraham...including the promise that "those who bless you I will bless, those who curse you I will curse."

Despite what a minority of Christians have been teaching since the mid-1800s (and which has been popularized in America through books like "The Late Great Planet Earth" and "Left Behind", and on TV by popular preachers such as John Hagee, David Jeremiah, Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, Rod Parsley and Jack Van Impe), the modern state of Israel is not the "seed" of Abraham, nor are any of Abraham's physical descendants who are not in Covenant with God through Israel's Messiah.

What does this mean, then, for our political views on Israel and the middle-east?

Exactly what it means for our views on India and Pakistan, North Korea and South Korea, or any other countries that are political enemies.

We should, above all, seek to make peace whenever possible--as our Messiah taught us.

We should not deem any piece of land more sacred than any group of people--as our Messiah taught us.

We should not pick up weapons against others in the name of God--as our Messiah taught us.

We should pray for our enemies, whoever they may be and whatever their motives or goals may be--as our Messiah taught us.

We should do everything we can to care for and protect the orphan and the widow, regardless of their nationality or religious views--as our Messiah taught us.

Churches and teachers who teach that America should wholeheartedly support the state of Israel because it is God's chosen nation and He'll curse us if we don't, are absolutely, unequivocally, entirely out of line with the Gospel...no matter how many Bible verses they quote out of context.

Does this mean we should oppose Israel, on the other hand, and demonize them as oppressors, like many Christians on the other end of the political spectrum advocate? Absolutely not.

Ultimately, whether one supports Israel politically or not is a POLITICAL decision. And like any political decision a Christian makes, it should be based on what he or she believes best exemplifies the Spirit of Christ and upholds both Justice and Mercy as evenly as possible.

Personally, regarding Israel and Palestine (and by default, all the Islamic nations who have allied themselves with Palestine and consider the state of Israel their enemy), I cannot wholly support either side. Does Israel's government have a mandate to protect its citizens from terrorism and violence at the hands of their enemies? Of course. Do the people of Palestine have a right to live in their ancestral homeland without being discriminated against, evicted, or treated like criminals because of a violent minority? Of course.

Given that I believe both of the above, I can't take a political side in this conflict. Rather, I want the best for BOTH the Israelis AND the Palestinians.

And most importantly, I want Christians to stop distorting Scripture by claiming one side is God's Covenant people and the other is not! There are followers of Jesus--Israeli and Palestian--stuck in the middle of this political/religious feud. If anything, THEY are the ones we should be supporting because THEY are part of the Body of Christ and therefore, the promised "seed" of Abraham!

Jeff A. said...

Thanks, I can't sleep now. All I'm doing is thinking of this conversation. I'm not sure if my last response went through.

I just read your response above. Now THIS is a more reasoned argument and if we're honest it's the root issue you were really getting at with the Israeli-Palestinian argument. Do the physical descendants of Abraham have a distinct purpose in the plans of God?

Before I even attempt a response I have a question for you. Do Christians have an obligation to follow the 10 commandments?

thephila said...

Oooh, I can help on this one. I believe JM would say that as followers of Christ and the "new covenant" we follow the spirit of the 10 commandments, but not them explicitly. In short,(and JM, by all means, please elaborate) Jesus, who was an ethnic Jew, followed the 10 commandments. We, who are Jesus' followers, who do as he teaches, follow the spirit of them through Jesus. It's like the 10 comm. were put through the "Jesus filter". Jesus didn't break any of them, so we shouldn't either, if we want to be like him.

Correct me if I'm off base, here.

~April

JMS said...

Jeff,
Always glad to be the cause of insomnia! :) Now, to answer your question (to which April's summary of my predicted answer is close, but not quite indicative of my actual one), Do Christians have an obligation to follow the Ten Commandments?

Sort of. (Haha...not usually a popular answer in any theological discussion, I know!)

Here's what I mean though:

The 10 Words (their Hebrew title, for those who may not know. It's just easier to type 'words' than 'commandments' so I'm gonna go with Moses on this one!) were given to Israel by God Himself at His theophany appearance at Mt. Sinai. (Exod. 20) Moses recapped the scene as follows:

"Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 It was not with our ancestors that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.
4 The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. 5 (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

6 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 7 "You shall have no other..." (insert the rest of the 10 here)

...22 These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me." (Deu 5:1-7, 22)

These 10 Words were the beginning of the Covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (not a continuation of an earlier covenant with Noah or Abraham, as we see in v.3 above). They were the foundation of Israel's Law, Society, Worship, and Ethics as a nation. They were then elaborated on by God to Moses (because the people were too terrified to hear God speak directly to them after hearing the 10 Words!), and Moses told the people the rest of the Covenant stipulations (i.e. the rest of the law sections of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy).

Thus, the 10 Words were the Constitution, if you will, and the rest of Torah's laws were the Amendments. These 10 reflected the moral foundation that this new fledgling nation was to be built upon; the rest of Israel's laws flowed from them.

Fast forward to the beginning of the Babylonian exile: Two prophets of God--one in Babylon, one in Jerusalem--were both told by God that this Covenant He made with Israel at Sinai would end one day and a New Covenant would be made with Israel:

"The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the LORD. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. 35 This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD Almighty is his name: 36 "Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a people (Heb. goy...same word used in the plural for peoples outside of Israel--goyyim, "gentiles"--interesting) before me." 37 This is what the LORD says: "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD."
(Jer 31:31-37)

"I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
24 " 'For I will take you out of the nations (Heb. goyyim); I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God." (Eze 36:23-28)

Initially this promise given to these prophets began when God brought them back to Canaan through the edict of Cyrus. Yet it wouldn't be until Jesus lifted the cup at Passover before His crucifixion and declared it to be His "blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many" that this promised Covenant would be put into effect.

Over the next few months, Jesus' followers (over 8,000 ethnic Jews) would see what it meant to have God put His Spirit within them to move them to follow His commands and keep His laws. But what was immediately clear to them was that this New Covenant's commands and laws were not the same as those given at Sinai, which began with the 10 Words. The New Covenant's commands and laws did not involve observing things that had been foundational to the previous Covenant--things like dietary restrictions, temple sacrifices, a Levitical priesthood, or not observing the sabbath (Gal. 4:10, Col. 2:16, Heb. 9:15-10:1). That last one is important because the sabbath observance was one of the original 10 Words.

So rather than telling new members of this New Covenant people of Israel (many of whom quickly began coming from the gentiles--thus giving a fuller meaning to the original promise that God would "take Israel from among the goyyim"!) to follow the Covenant of Sinai, they began telling them to follow this New Covenant law, which the Spirit of God had written on their hearts. They told them that the former Covenant law--which began with the 10 Words--was not to be lived by. The phrase Jews used for keeping Covenant was "walking" in Covenant (from the Heb. word halak "to walk"). Now, God's people of New Covenant Israel, Jew and Gentile alike, were to "walk in the Spirit" (Rom.6-8). And the purpose of the Spirit was to teach them and guide them in the law spoken by Jesus (John 14-16).

So by following the Spirit, Jesus' followers--New Covenant Israel--keep God's commands and laws. And we look to God's Sinai Covenant law (as well as the writings and the prophets...commonly called the "Old Testament") to see what His will for Older Covenant Israel to live according to His will. In doing that, we are able to see the underlying principles and moral foundation of God and, through the Spirit, apply them to our situation today as members of New Covenant Israel. (A great example of a NT writer, who was probably the greatest living expert in Torah, doing this very thing can be found in 1Cor 9:9-14 and 1Tim 5:17-18. This is what I believe April meant by using a "Jesus filter.")

So are Christians obligated to keep the 10 Words? No. Nor are they obligated to keep the rest of Sinai's Covenant laws. Jew or Gentile, it doesn't matter. Even the Jews within New Covenant Israel who continued to keep Torah recognized that it was not required, but rather people were to make sure they followed the New Covenant law, "the law that gives freedom" (Jam 2:12).

HOWEVER...

The New Covenant law that Christians ARE obligated to faithfully obey, the Law of the Spirit of Life (Rom.8), consists of behavior and mindsets such that Christians end up living lives that line up with the moral teachings of the 10 Words. And even the commandment in the 10 Words that the NT tells Christians they are not obligated to follow (i.e. sabbath observance) is followed in principle under New Covenant law as Christians enter into and live lives reflective of God's original sabbath rest (Heb 3:4-4:11).

Are we obligated to keep the 10 Words of the Sinai Covenant?

No.

Are we obligated to keep the New Covenant law written on our hearts by God's Spirit?

Yes.

Does this result in living like those who were obligated to keep the 10 Words of the Sinai Covenant?

Yes...but with an exception in how we observe God's sabbath.

So that's why I said "Sort of" to your question originally. :)

Hope that helps clarify where I'm coming from (and where I believe the Bible as a whole is coming from, of course).

JMS

JMS said...

^ Edited paragraph from above:

"So by following the Spirit, Jesus' followers--New Covenant Israel--keep God's commands and laws. And we look to God's Sinai Covenant law (as well as the writings and the prophets...commonly called the "Old Testament") to see what it looked like for Older Covenant Israel to live according to His will. In doing that, we are able to see the underlying principles and moral foundation of God and, through the Spirit, apply them to our situation today as members of New Covenant Israel. (A great example of a NT writer, who was probably the greatest living expert in Torah, doing this very thing can be found in 1Cor 9:9-14 and 1Tim 5:17-18. This is what I believe April meant by using a "Jesus filter.")

Jeff A. said...

JM, Thanks for the response.

This is an interesting topic and one that most Christians don't grapple with. I also think it's a very difficult one and it's harder than just black-and-white. You can see even in the writings of the NT that the early followers of Jesus had an extremely hard time with these very issues.

I want to present an alternative view to what you've posted here, but first I'd like to ask you just a few more questions so I can clarify your position.

When I read your post there were a few problems that came to mind right away with your "new law" theory.

The first is that when the "old law" as you implicitly put it was given to Moses, God said time and again that its precepts were an everlasting sign for all Israel's generations. As you pointed out, this was a new Law, HOWEVER it did not NULLIFY the revelation or the promises given to Abraham, it FULFILLED them. Abraham's promises from God continued to exist in the exact form they were given. Fast forward 1500 years (or so) to Matthew 5. Sermon on the Mount. We like to quote Jesus here:

"Don't think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill."

But we usually forget the rest of his thought:

"For truly I say to you that until heaven and Earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever keeps and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

This seems to me to explicitly refer to the WRITTEN LAW (the NIV even translates this as "letter or stroke OF A PEN").

Secondly, I think Acts 21 is a real problem for the position you've presented. Here James clearly says that thousands [of Jews] have believed in Jesus "and they are all zealous for the Law." They go on to ask Paul to prove that he is not teaching Jews to turn away from following the Law. He gladly goes into the Temple and pays for the sacrifice of the Nazarites. This is tantamount to him signing a confession of faith that says he still observes the Law of Moses. If he didn't really mean this and was just doing it to appease "the Jews" this raises some incredible ethical questions about Paul (which coincidentally, anti-missionaries do based on this verse).

Finally, your theory becomes even more difficult for me to understand in light of Romans 9-11, specifically Romans 11.

So my question to you is this... How do you interpret these three passages (Matt 5, Acts 21, and Romans 11) and how do they fit into your "new Law" "new Israel" position?

JMS said...

Jeff, these are excellent questions and I will absolutely answer them tomorrow (I'm about to go teach a class this evening and won't have time to get to it tonight).

However, I want to make sure that just as I must provide answers to the three passages you've brought up, the view you present needs to be able to account for the passages mentioned in my previous response, particularly the ones in Hebrews (written to Jewish believers in Jesus) and Galatians (written to Gentile believers in Jesus).

I'm not saying you can't or won't; I'm just wanting to make sure that the most rigorous standards of exegesis are applied to all views equally.

Okay, more when I get back tomorrow! Later bro, JMS

Jeff A. said...

I plan on it ;)

JMH said...

You're right on about Israel, JMS. But I think you're a little off on the 10 Commandments (and, consequently, the rest of the Law).

I would say that believers are "under" the 10 Commandments, and the rest of the Law, but not in the sense of being saved by keeping them-- which was never the point in the first place. We are free from the condemnation of having not kept the law, but we are free to obey God, whose will is expressed in the Law. So it's not just that our lives happen to look like the 10 Commandments, but that we look at the 10 C's and the other moral commandments in Scripture as our guide to know what pleases our Father.

The cash value of that might look the same as what you're saying, but I think it's a significant distinction.

I also think you're wrong to throw the Sabbath out. The Heb passage you quoted says that there's an eternal Sabbath that believers enter; it doesn't answer the question of whether we should continue to keep the earthly Sabbath. That's a huge thing that books have been written on, but there's my take on it.

Great discussion!

JMS said...

Jake,
I think you may have misread me, or else we're just a hair's breadth away on this point. I agree that we look to the 10 Words in order to see what pleases God...because they reflect His moral nature. BUT, we don't keep them in a 1-to-1 manner; that is, we don't just keep them because they're written in the Hebrew Bible...otherwise, if we don't keep the rest of the Covenant commandments (that is, Torah as a whole), then we are guilty of picking and choosing the laws we keep. This is, I would argue, the error that much of folk-Christianity falls into. If we try to dissect the Torah, keeping some laws, but not keeping others, we end up bogged down in inconsistency. But if we see the WHOLE Sinai Covenant as being given only to the people of Israel in Covenant with God (whether Jew or Gentile dwelling among them; i.e. Caleb, Ruth, Rahab, etc.) before the arrival of the New Covenant, then we are able to look at it as a whole, rather than trying to force anachronistic divisions within it (moral, civil, ceremonial, etc.) in order to justify our picking and choosing. And looking at it as a whole, we see the nature of the God who made it with His People, are then able to extrapolate from it the moral core principals or illustrative concepts ("shadows" as Hebrews calls them), and apply them through the leading of the Spirit, within the New Covenant people Israel, the Body of Christ.

This applies to Sabbath as well. Under Sinai Covenant, you weren't allowed to choose which day you observed the Sabbath (barring extreme circumstances). Under New Covenant, you are able to celebrate the essence of Sabbath rest, but you are not obligated to keep a specific day as Sabbath with the requirements stated in Torah for Israel as a nation.

I think we're close on this, but let me know if I'm still off.

JMS

JMH said...

We're definitely close, but I see more relevance of the Law for believers today. I think the whole law still applies, just not always in the same way since the coming of Christ.

I don't think the civil/ceremonial/moral distinction is forced; I think it's pretty helpful, although no one says we can neatly divide things into 3 distinct piles. I think we read every command and ask how the coming of Christ and other redemptive-historical changes affect it.

So we don't offer animal sacrifices, but in a sense, we're actually still obeying the sacrificial laws-- because Christ fulfilled them perfectly on our behalf. We don't stone people anymore, because God's people aren't organized as a nation-state anymore, but we actually keep that command when we excommunicate people (Paul shows this when he quotes a death-penalty verse referring to excommunication).

A moral command, on the other hand, something like "Do not murder," is not affected by the advent of the New Covenant. God still hates the shedding of innocent blood, so that command is exactly the same. So I'd have no problem telling a Christian, "you can't kill, because Exodus 20 says 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

Now my level of exegetical certainty drops with the Sabbath. But my personal conviction is that we are to devote one day a week to rest and worship, and that, following the example of the early church, it should be the first day of the week-- the "Lord's Day," as some [inspired apostles] have called it.

JMH said...

In other words, or to distill: 9 times out of 10 our application will be the same, but we're getting there different ways.

You'll still read commandments in the OT and know that you need to obey them. And I'll still know that I can eat pork without becoming "defiled." But we'd explain our reasoning differently.

JMS said...

I agree. Where it gets tricky is:

"So I'd have no problem telling a Christian, "you can't kill, because Exodus 20 says 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

because when they say "Yes, but Exodus 23 says "Three times a year you shall keep a feast to me." Then we're forced to say that there's a distinction between these that while helpful to mentally group them by, is not delineated in the Covenant itself.

Rather, I would say it's more consistent to simply say, we don't murder because God always opposes it. Then beginning with the Noahic prohibition, show that God continued hating it under the Sinai Covenant with Israel, and then show its continued prohibition in the NT Sermon on the Mount and Apostolic Vice lists.

I like how Doug Stuart put it in his essay from "Preaching the Old Testament" (ed. by Gibson):

“How can the employee please the boss if they employee does not take the trouble to learn what the boss wants done and what the boss has prohibited? In the new covenant, believers please God by following Christ with the help of God’s Spirit, who prompts and prods thinking and action that would otherwise be merely human with all its sinful limitations. Can the Holy Spirit use our knowledge of the Old Testament law to inform our perspectives and give us not only examples but a general framework for sensing what sort of thinking and behavior would please God under the new covenant? Of course he can – and indeed, that is just how he, the author of the old covenant law, expects us to view the material that he authored via his prophet Moses

“That is, then, what the Old Testament law does for us as the Spirit uses it. Those who follow Christ must recognize that the Pentateuchal law is not our Covenant Law (that is, most of it has not been brought over into the new covenant from the old and therefore its commands that were direct commands to the Israelites are not direct commands to us). But this does not mean that the law somehow ceases to be the Word of God for us. On the analogy of the way that Old Testament narratives or Old Testament wisdom teachings guide us even though they don’t necessarily contain direct commands to us, the law continues to have direct relevance and usefulness even though we are under a newer covenant…

“Especially important is the fact that the law is a place where we can find out the kinds of standards that the same God who currently expects us to know him and obey him originally placed before his chosen people so that they might know him and obey him. In other words, the principles of the law have not become irrelevant to the life of the believer just because of the passage of time. What the law continues to do for us is to give us principles about what God expects in human behavior, principles that are hugely helpful in guiding us as we listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading to follow Christ…”
" [pp.87-99]

JMS said...

Jeff,
Let me take your question series in smaller installments to avoid an uber-long comment post. (I love the word 'uber'). I'll put my answers in bold for ease of following:

"The first is that when the "old law" as you implicitly put it was given to Moses, God said time and again that its precepts were an everlasting sign for all Israel's generations."

Yes, but not literally forever. The primary meaning of 'Olam is “for a long time” (see Holladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon as well as the fuller entry in Kohlenberger's Heb. Aram. Lexicon of the OT). It comes from the root word for “to hide”, as in something that is so far in the past or so far in the future that its beginning or end seem hidden from view. There are numerous places where things that are not literally forever are described as “’olam”:
The Levitical Priesthood is spoken of as being "forever", but is not literally forever, because it was fulfilled and completed in Jesus--who was not a Levitical priest, but rather a Melchizedekian priest.
God specifically declares that "forever" doesn't always mean "forever" and can be altered based on Covenant relationship and obedience (1Sam 2:30). This happened when He brought an end to the Temple, the place where He was said to dwell "forever" (1Kgs 8:13, 9:3, etc.). Likewise, the Levites were said to carry the ark and minister before God "forever", yet this did not continue after the destruction of the Temple either. Even the destruction of the land of Israel at the hands of Babylon was described as "a wasteland forever" (Isa. 32:2), yet that lasted 70 years.
Other examples of "forever" being used in a different sense than literally forever would be Gen. 6:4,1Sam. 1:22, 1Sam 27:8
"’Olam" has a flexible semantic range of meanings, varying from "a long time" to "utterly" to "forever". As we see in the NT, the Sinai Covenant lasted "forever" in the sense of until the coming of the New Covenant, which completed--not annulled or abolished--the Sinai Covenant and ushered in the age of Israel's Messiah.


As you pointed out, this was a new Law, HOWEVER it did not NULLIFY the revelation or the promises given to Abraham, it FULFILLED them.

It began to fulfill them. But the Abrahamic blessing would not be truly fulfilled until the arrival of the promised Seed, as Galatians makes clear.

But I do not believe the New Covenant nullified the Sinai Covenant. Nullify, like Abolish, carries the connotation of conflict or overcoming opposition. The New Covenant FULFILLED the Sinai Covenant, by COMPLETING it; bringing it to it’s God-ordained goal. The New Covenant’s beginning was the Sinai Covenant’s finish line, not its overthrow or nullification.


Abraham's promises from God continued to exist in the exact form they were given. Fast forward 1500 years (or so) to Matthew 5. Sermon on the Mount. We like to quote Jesus here:

"Don't think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill."

But we usually forget the rest of his thought:

"For truly I say to you that until heaven and Earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever keeps and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

This seems to me to explicitly refer to the WRITTEN LAW (the NIV even translates this as "letter or stroke OF A PEN").

Yes, He is definitely talking about the written law, using the Hebrew terms for the tiniest markings making up part of certain letter characters, the letter yod and the serifs on the ends of other letters. This passage seems on the surface to argue against everything I’ve said above…however, reading it closely, we see it’s saying exactly the opposite. It’s saying that until the New Covenant is put into effect, the Sinai Covenant remains and is not to be broken by God’s people—which were who Jesus was talking to and who He was part of, and would continue to be. But look at the qualifier that He explicitly puts in there:

“…until all is accomplished/takes place/happens” (Gk. “heos an panta genetai”). Until what is accomplished? The very Covenant He is talking about—the written law given at Sinai! And when would all of it be accomplished? When the New Covenant that was to complete it was inaugurated. This explains Jesus’ cryptic final words on the cross… “it is finished/completed.” At THAT moment, the curtain was torn, the Temple brought to an end for its intended purpose of atonement, and the New Covenant, that Jesus had introduced the night before at Passover, was ratified by God Himself (splitting it from top to bottom in fact).

So Matt.5 is a pretty clear statement by Jesus that He would complete and bring to it’s final stage the Sinai Covenant in order to fully bring forth the original unconditional promise to Abraham of his Seed blessing all the nations. This was foreseen by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as God’s way to remain faithful to Abraham, while acknowledging Israel’s continued disobedience of the Sinai Covenant law.


Next stop, Acts 21...then on to the biggie--Romans 9-11! :)

Jeff A. said...

JM,

I'm enjoying your comments. I promise I'm not just case building with my questions. I'm genuinly interested to hear your perspective. This is an issue I've been studying a lot over the past year or so.

As I said, I'd like to present a slightly different view (although probably not the one you anticipate) but for simplicity's sake I'll let you finish your response/thought before I add more logs to the fire, as it were.

JMS said...

I think Acts 21 is a real problem for the position you've presented. Here James clearly says that thousands [of Jews] have believed in Jesus "and they are all zealous for the Law." They go on to ask Paul to prove that he is not teaching Jews to turn away from following the Law. He gladly goes into the Temple and pays for the sacrifice of the Nazarites. This is tantamount to him signing a confession of faith that says he still observes the Law of Moses. If he didn't really mean this and was just doing it to appease "the Jews" this raises some incredible ethical questions about Paul (which coincidentally, anti-missionaries do based on this verse).

Not only do I not think this passage is a problem, I think it’s probably the single greatest illustration in all of Scripture of Paul’s ongoing teaching about doing stuff that you are not obligated to do in order not to cause those with a weaker conscience to stumble! Paul followed Torah, even after conversion, not because he believed the Sinai Covenant was still in effect for ethnic Israel or Jewish believers in Jesus. Rather, he lived in accordance with Levitical law because it was his cultural heritage and he wanted to continue to honor it—just as those coming to Jesus from other cultures continue to live, eat, dress and act in their respective manner in order to preserve the beauty of their culture. Paul was all about the Gospel being able to be contextualized—whether in Galatia, Rome or Jerusalem. However, we know that Paul did not think Sinai’s laws were still binding on God’s New Covenant Israel because he never hides the fact that Levitical Law is not the guiding principle for God’s People. Michael Brown makes this point in his excellent “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus” series:

In 1 Corinthians 7:17–18 he writes that “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the [congregations]. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” In other words, let Jewish believers remain Jewish and let Gentile believers remain Gentile. In terms of being in right relationship with God, neither one is the determining factor, as stated in the next verse: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” (AJOJ, Vol.4, p.248)

And the “commands” that Paul is referring to, are not the commands of the Sinai (Eph.2:15), but rather, the commandments given by Jesus—the New Covenant mediator to Israel—which were written in the heart through the Spirit He sent to God’s New Covenant Israel as promised by the Prophets (Ezek. 36, Jer.31, Joel 2, etc.).

So given all this…AND taking into account what was going on in Jerusalem in the 50s-early 60s AD, Paul’s actions here in Acts 21 are extremely wise and in no way deceitful. The counter-missionary claim is simply not true. Nor is the claim that since Paul completed a vow as prescribed by Torah he must still believe the Levitical Covenant to be binding on Jewish Christians in addition to the New Covenant. Based on what we read about him in Acts, as well as from his own writings, it seems that Paul believed that all of God’s People were obligated to live according to the New Covenant Law of Christ/the Spirit/Love…and part of living that way involves the freedom to continue living by the culture you come from if you choose to, except for when doing so would violate the New Covenant’s commands.

Paul honoring his Jewish identity by continuing to live according to its cultural components is not deceitful or unethical. So long as keeping Levitical commands did not violate keeping New Covenant commands, he and other Jewish believers like Timothy and the men with him in Acts 21 were free to do so. And since in the previous chapter Paul had touched a dead body and was therefore seen by Temple standards of cleanliness as contaminated (in addition to the defilement he would’ve been believed to have accrued during all those years among Gentiles throughout the empire!) and in need of purification if he wanted to have access to the Temple. Since doing this didn’t violate anything stipulated in the New Covenant, Paul was fine with doing it. However, you never see Paul offering any sacrifices for sin offerings or whole burnt offerings (or any sacrifices that have to do with atonement for sin), and if something like that had been required of him, I would argue that he would’ve absolutely not done so, lest he imply that Jesus’ sacrifice as the final paschal lamb wasn’t enough and that Levitical sacrificial atonement was still in effect.

Is this, as counter-missionaries claim, dishonest and unethical? Not at all. Again, listen to Brown give a great illustration as he addresses these charges against Paul’s teaching the Galatian gentile believers not to observe Torah:

“…let’s say that black people were the chosen ones and that white people were left out, until the black redeemer came and opened the door for everyone to be included in God’s family, to the great joy of the white people. (In this analogy, Paul is black and the Galatians are white.) Now let’s say that some black teachers came to the white Galatians believers, all of whom had been forgiven and transformed by putting their faith in the redeemer, and these teachers said to the Galatians, “Unless you become black you are not really redeemed”—as a result of which, these white believers started tanning themselves day and night and trying to find ways to blacken their skin. Can you imagine how outraged Paul would be, especially as a black man who had devoted his life to sharing the good news with the whites? You can easily picture him saying, “Being black or white is meaningless! What matters is being a new creation in the Messiah.” That’s exactly what was happening with the Galatians, and Paul would not stand for it, not for a moment. But who would conclude from this analogy that Paul was now telling blacks to become white or to cast off their history or law? One does not follow from the other.” (AJOJ, Vol.4, p.247)

Paul was charged in Acts 21 with telling other Jewish believers in Jesus to turn their backs on Torah and stop being circumcised--which was a sign to the physical descendents of Abraham of the Covenant God made with him that they would be the means through which God would bless the world…which He did by bringing forth from them the Messiah. Thus, Jewish believers could continue to circumcise as part of their cultural identity and as a reminder of the promise God had made (and fulfilled!) through their people. This charge against Paul was false. He never taught Jewish believers to stop observing Torah. Rather, he taught them that such observing was of no Covenantal or salvific merit before God under the New Covenant they now lived according to.

Bottom line about Acts 21: Within the Kingdom of God, that is, New Covenant Israel living in obedience to her Messiah, all cultures are and peoples are valid expressions of God’s diverse human family and are allowed to be embraced and lived according to—with the exception of any cultural element that violates the New Covenant Law given by Jesus to His Apostles (Acts 1:2) and written on our hearts by the Spirit. Nazarite and other types of vows, along with ritual customary purification to enter a place deemed Holy by those in your culture who you are trying to reach is neither deceitful, nor an endorsement of the idea that the former Covenant has not been completed and brought to its long-awaited telos (goal/end/culmination).

So there’s my understanding of Acts 21. Romans 9-11 is more involved due to its length and therefore will take a little time to condense and post in a blog-friendly format. (But if you want to get an idea of how I will respond, check out “Romans for Everyone, vol.2” by Tom Wright and “Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary” by Ben Witherington. Wright’s section on this passage is shorter and written in a non-technical manner for the average reader; Witherington’s is technical and detailed—but still extremely readable and insightful).

JMS

Lem said...

JMS I'm with you on the Law. I'm not totally in line with NT Wright for Romans, from what I remember. I'm not totally dispensationalist, but still historical premillenialist. Look forward to your response on Romans.

Sakina Al-Amin said...

I thought it very clever to change the labels. Both "Israeli" and "Palestinian" labels have negative connotations depending on who you ask. It triggers a response straightaway.
Thanks for sharing this with me. I may have more comments later but I just got off of work now and I need to do some other things before I continue my computer activities.

JM's Audio Teaching Archive

Check out sermon.net/jmsmith for some of my messages and teaching sessions:

Bruce Lee quote of the day...