Archive for the 'My Personal Musings' Category

Paul against the apostles, the church in Jerusalem, Jesus and the Prophets?

March 20, 2016

I do not endorse any of the debaters featured on this blog.  I do have my own thoughts and opinions on these subjects and while my views are constantly evolving, I would like to share some of them with you in hopes of fostering a civil dialogue.  I invite interaction and would love to hear where you think that I have gone wrong or where you agree.  I do not claim to be an authority on these issues, only someone who wants to learn more by inviting you to into a discussion.

Paul’s view of the law of Moses

Paul is credited with penning the letters that changed how we think about the Christian’s relationship to the Law of Moses.  In the view of most Christians, Paul is said to have taught that the Law of Moses was done away with and that it was replaced with the law of Christ.  I think that it is a little bit hard to get away from this understanding as Paul writes that he was not under the law of Moses like “the Jews”.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes:  “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” 1 Corinthians 9:20

There are many verses and sections of text where Paul teaches that Jews who follow Jesus are not required to follow the law of Moses.  Here are some examples:

(Eph. 2:14-15), “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”

Rom. 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”

Gal. 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”

Rom. 4:15, “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.”

Rom. 7:4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.”

Rom. 7:6, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

Paul against the early church in Jerusalem

Is this the behavior exhibited by Paul in the book of Acts upon returning to Jerusalem?

Jesus left his Jewish followers as adherents to the mosaic law.   They did not understand Jesus to be teaching that the Mosaic Law had been replaced with a new law.  James the Just, the first Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem was a strict adherent to the law and the church was replete with men who still saw themselves as pharisees.

These religious Jews in the Jerusalem Church were suspicious of Paul and accused him of antinomianism (being against the law) so that in chapter 21 of the book of Acts it records James the Just (the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the Church at Jerusalem) telling Paul that many Jews have come to follow Christ and that they were “zealous for the law” and that Paul should perform certain temple activities so that the rumors that Paul had been teaching that the Jews in the diaspora shouldn’t adhere to the law of Moses was false and prove ” that you yourself (Paul) observe and guard the law.”

Paul follows the advice of James the Just.

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. Acts 21

Several hundred years later the Jews in Jerusalem still believed that it was important to follow the law of Moses and many of them believed that Paul had been an antinomian.  Persecution by the pagan Romans and the Gentile Christians is what eventually caused these original Jewish Christians to disappear into time.

To me, it seems dishonest for Paul to mislead the Jewish church in Jerusalem.  In reality, it seems to me that the rumors against Paul were true, that he was teaching Jews in the diaspora that they didn’t need to follow the law of Moses and that he didn’t believe in observing or guarding the law.

Paul engages in the same sort of behavior in Acts 23 when he saves himself from trouble by saying that he is a pharisee.  He calls himself a pharisee again in Phillipians 3:5 in regards to the law.  It would seem strange to me to call himself a pharisee in regards to the law when he seemed to be teaching that Jews weren’t required to follow the oral tradition or the written law of Moses.

Paul against the Apostles

I think that a clear example of Paul’s disregard for the law of Moses is evident in his confrontation with Peter in Antioch.  Peter as well as the other Jews at Antioch separate themselves from the gentiles because of pressure from “the party of the circumcision” which were a group of men that were sent from James the Just in Jerusalem.  Perhaps these were the same Jews for whom Paul had done so much to convince that he wasn’t “antinomian”.    Paul’s reaction is to speak against Peter and those of the circumcision party.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[e]”  Galatians 2

It seems to me that this puts Paul against James the Just and the Jews in Jerusalem and against Judaism.

The early Church’s first council had concluded that the gentiles only needed to follow something akin to the Noahide laws and need not convert to Judaism.  However, when Paul goes on to teach that Gentiles couldn’t convert to Judaism even if they wanted to and that the law of Moses should be annulled he created a new religion, one that I am not sure that Jesus would have recognized.

Paul against Jesus

While Jesus taught against certain oral traditions, Jesus seemed to not only promote the laws of Moses but to make their interpretation even more strict.  He says that even those who break the commandments in their hearts are guilty of sin and makes it very clear that his goal isn’t to abolish the law.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.“Matthew 5

The generation of people who had listened to Jesus while he was alive, even his own brother who was chosen to lead the church “James the Just” seemed to believe that the law was still in effect and that not everything had been “accomplished”.

While the original Christians followed Judaism and believed that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, Paul seems to have led a split between the gentiles and the Jews and by leading this split he ultimately created a new religion.  I’m not so sure that it is even in accord with the teachings of the Prophets.

Paul against the Prophets

When the New Covenant is spoken of in Ezekiel and Jeremiah it is described in this way; God would help the people of Israel by putting the law of Moses in their hearts so that they would be able to keep it perfectly.  There is no mention of gentiles receiving the new covenant, only of Jews receiving the New Covenant and it wasn’t a new law that would be written on their hearts but the law that they had struggled to keep, the law of Moses.  For the gentile Christians, the New Covenant became about God’s rejection of the Jewish people in favor of the gentiles and the rejection of the Law of Moses.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make pa new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when qI took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, rthough I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 sFor this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: sI will put my law within them, and I will write it ton their hearts. uAnd I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ vfor they shall all know me, wfrom the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For xI will forgive their iniquity, and yI will remember their sin no more.”

35  Thus says the Lord, who zgives the sun for light by day and athe fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— bthe Lord of hosts is his name:

36  c“If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”

37  Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, dthen I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.”

38 e“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord ffrom the Tower of Hananel to gthe Corner Gate. 39 hAnd the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. 40 iThe whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the jbrook Kidron, to the corner of kthe Horse Gate toward the east, lshall be sacred to the Lord. mIt shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”” Jeremiah 31

Conclusion

There are many movements that seek to capture the original Jewish Christianity.  I think that it’s impossible.  The original Christianity is most likely lost forever.  The Jewish Christian religion, the one from Jerusalem had it’s own texts and ideas.  These ideas were rejected and these texts were rejected by the gentile followers of Paul who came to dominate the Roman Empire.   These texts and the people who believed in them, the physical family of Jesus who had leadership roles in the Church in Jersualem, are lost, partially because they were suppressed and persecuted by pagan Rome and by the gentile Christians.

Some might try to escape this problem by saying that Paul was in fact a religious Jew who kept the law of Moses and taught others to keep the law of Moses.  I would be very interested in hearing how someone of this perspective deals with the myriad verses penned by Paul that seem to say otherwise and the fact that the early gentile Church seemed to understand Paul as teaching against Judaism as well.

Either way, if we say that Paul taught to keep the law or that Paul taught that the law need not be kept we are forced to admit that for two thousand years the Christian Church has been wrong and the vast majority of the church is still wrong about how we should view the law of Moses.

I am very much looking forward to hear people’s thoughts on this issue.  I could certainly be wrong and am very curious to see how other people interpret some of these verses and issues.

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