Friday, December 07, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 5– Dietary Restrictions

One area where Christians are sometimes reproached with regard to our use of the Old Testament is in our non-compliance with the dietary rules. That Christians do not and since the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 have never as a body followed the Jewish dietary customs is indisputable. The issue here is, is this mere caprice on our part or is there a reason for our doing this. This post will if successful, show that there is a reason and furthermore show that it is found in the Old Testament itself.

Jesus when given questions concerning marriage responded by referring to the original creation of man and woman showing clear intent and plan on God’s part, subsequent deviations were the result of man’s rebellion not God’s design.

In looking at the dietary restrictions we see that initially man’s food was limited to plants with only one type forbidden. The specific fruit forbidden is not now known and probably extinct. Though durian-haters might point a finger in that direction, most balk at allowing it to be good for food or pleasant to the eyes, let alone producing wisdom in the eater, so we don’t really see any prohibition that could be applied today in the original creation.

After the flood God made a covenant with Noah and all his descendants forever. This covenant gave unto man the right to eat all moving animals even as all plants had been previously allowed. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was already in place prior to the flood but held little meaning while man ate only plants. This covenant is still in effect since the signs accompanying it are still in place (Gen. 9:1-17). It is also in this covenant that the prohibition of eating blood was put in force, as well as the demand for retribution for the life of a man slain. This is the reason why many Christians support the death penalty for murder, because the Noahic covenant has never been abrogated and unlike the Mosaic covenant it was meant to be perpetual.

In this covenant every living thing that moves was given as food to man, and the descendants of Noah have pretty much followed this as they have spread throughout the world. In some places with regards to seafood especially, it is not even necessary for it to cease to move before consumption.

When the Mosaic Law was given the Jews were given dietary restrictions which had not been given to the patriarchs, which God expected them to keep as part of the covenant. While these restrictions were an integral part of the Law, it is interesting that they are not at all referenced in the Decalogue itself. Christians have always accepted the 10 Commandments as binding for all time and much of the Law of Moses is devoted to description and elucidation of these commandments showing what constituted theft, adultery, murder, and what did not, and varying punishments depending on the severity of the offense. The dietary code, however, is not contained or alluded to in the 10 Commandments. This is a telling fact as to its subordinate nature even in the Old Covenant.

One purpose it clearly served was to separate the Jews from all other groups of people. Fixed dietary and dress rules which are somewhat unique to a group are a definite barrier to assimilation. Since Moses had warned them in Deut 28:37 that if they did not keep the covenant they would carried away captive, one definite use of these rules was to keep the Jews as a distinct nation during their time in Babylon and even to this day during their longer diaspora until Israel again became a nation.

Another purpose which these dietary laws served was for cleanliness. In the Middle Ages Jews were often blamed for starting plagues, this was due both to anti-Semitism and to the fact that they were often less affected than their neighbors. So while ancient Egyptians used donkey dung as a poultice and gave themselves tetanus in the process, Hippocrates denied that diseases were infectious, and Semmelweis in the mid-1800s was ostracized for his attempts to show that doctors infected fresh patients with child bed fever by not washing after doing autopsies on the previous victims, the Mosaic law with its washings, quarantine for lepers and other precautions kept Jewish populations relatively healthy.

With the coming of Christ, dietary laws were totally removed. Christ Himself made this clear in Matt. 15:10-20, where He stated that it is not what we put into our mouths which makes us unclean but rather what is already in our hearts that comes out of us that is defiling. The Gospel of Mark in chapter 7 tells the same event and interestingly enough since Mark was the Gospel most influenced by Peter and his recollections contains the Evangelists own understanding of the import of this saying at the end of verse 19, “He said this, making all food clean.” Peter had heard this teaching but apparently prior to the vision of Acts 10, but in much the same way as with the Great Commission only then realized the full import of the teaching.

When there was contention in the Church regarding what was to be required of Gentile converts there was a conference held in Jerusalem which is recorded in Acts 15. Sometimes it is referred to as a compromise position, but this is hardly the case. There were 4 things forbidden to the Gentile converts, and Paul had never advocated any of them, so he did not give up anything. The Pharisaical Christians had advocated the observance of the whole Law and were disaffected to say the least with this outcome. When liberal critics try to make people like James, Peter and Paul to be pragmatic people, they show their own preconceptions. The reasoning for these 4 prohibitions and none other is very straightforward. The Holy Spirit had shown by miracles and through His falling upon the Gentiles as they were that He had accepted them. Paul, Barnabas and Peter attested this. James then quoted Amos  9:11-12 from the Septuagint showing that it was prophesied that God intended the Gentiles to seek Him, it being implied that they were to seek Him as Gentiles. With this being made clear by Scripture and miraculous evidence all that remained was to declare 4 things which were morally repugnant which they would have to avoid:

1.      Food sacrificed to idols

Idolatry was not a problem in Noah’s day and was not mentioned in the prohibitions, but God is and was always a jealous God and any man who approached Him had to acknowledge Him as the only true God. Job who was not a Jew recognized the great sin of sun and star worship, as well as confidence in wealth instead of God (Job 31:24-28). Abraham, called while uncircumcised, forsook whatever idols his fathers had worshipped when God called him (Jos. 24:2, 14-15). Naaman after being healed of his leprosy renounced any other god, apparently without even having been told to do so (2 Kings 5:15-18). Eating the food sacrificed knowingly was an act of fellowship with the idol and thus an act of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:19-22).

2.    Sexual Immorality

The attitudes and actions around the time of Christ with regards to sex were roughly equivalent to what we face today, as can be seen by even a modest perusal of the history of the time. Various of the Church Fathers writing in the succeeding 2 centuries show that the moral climate did not improve afterwards either. As already stated Jesus showed God’s intention for man from the creation of one male and one female who were to be joined and become one flesh. Perversions of this intent came early. Lamech, a descendant of Cain, was the first known to practice polygamy (Gen. 4:19). Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sins, immorality being one of the prominent ones (Gen. 19:5, Ezek. 16:49-50, Jude v.7). God’s standards with regard to sexual immorality are very clear and Christ elevated them to extend tour thoughts not only our outward actions (Matt. 5:27-28).

3.    Things strangled

This prohibition like the one following it flows from Gen. 9:4, when God allowed the use of animals for food but forbade the eating of blood. The death by strangulation would not allow for proper bleeding of the animal and thus violated the 4th prohibition which was:

4.    Blood

God forbade the eating of blood to Noah and all his descendants. The breaking of this prohibition has often been associated with idolatry.

To wrap things up, essentially the only dietary restrictions placed upon Christians are bans on eating blood, and idol sacrifices. These are not mere temporary concessions to the Jews in Paul’s time, but are binding on us today, as is the prohibition of immorality. Christians are encouraged to enjoy God’s gifts of food in moderation and give thanks to Him for them (1 Tim. 4:3-5). Thank God for His wonderful bounty!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 4– The Law concerning rebellious children

One common Scripture portions which is objected against the law of Moses in these times is Deut. 21:18-20  "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,  then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’  Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Viewed by itself this portion may give a false understanding to a reader, however when this portion is compared with the ancient laws of other nations it is actually seen as limiting parental power rather than establishing an easy means for parents to control children.

In the Semitic patriarchal system which Israel shared in common with many neighboring lands prior to the giving of the law, the father had absolute authority in his home and the power of life and death within it. Thus when Laban reproved Jacob for leaving without his knowledge, he refers to his patriarchal power over Jacob in saying that he had the power to do him hurt (Gen. 31:29). Jacob by marrying Laban’s daughters and staying with Laban had become part of his group and thus was under his power even though he was by this time a father himself. The patriarch would often serve as judge, jury and executioner, and could be very rash and unjust. Judah pronounced a hard and rash sentence exercising his patriarchal rights only to be left with great shame himself after the facts were fully known (Gen. 38:24-26).

The Mosaic legislation limits this power in a few notable ways:

1.      It required the consent of both parents to take effect, not the father alone.
2.    It was done publicly before the elders. This would imply that if the charges were not true there was some sort of recourse if the son could produce character witnesses.
3.    The crimes for which this was allowed were repeated drunkenness and gluttony not any and all offenses.

Thus this law was a limiting of former patriarchal rights. Indeed it gave the son far more rights than he had in most ancient lands. In ancient Rome fathers had absolute power of life and death over unmarried children, and in some places in France where the Justinian Code formed the basis of legislation this continued until superseded by the Napoleonic Code.

It is noteworthy that there is no instance recorded in Scripture in either Old or New Testament of any son being executed under this statute, however, there are several examples of sons who would have qualified. The two most notable instances would be King Manasseh and the unnamed Prodigal Son. In both those instances the withholding of punishment produced a changed heart which made any punishment unnecessary. Again God’s constantly stated desire is not the punishment of the wicked but their repentance.

As Augustine noted when writing his work Against Faustus, many times the first offense against a divine command was punished with much greater severity than subsequent ones. Sodom was destroyed to show God’s hatred of the sin of homosexuality, it’s destruction never needs to be repeated. This and other judgments show God’s hatred for the particular sin judged. This is the purpose of the law to show each individual that we are sinners who are dying and also deserving of death because of our own sins. Once we acknowledge this and repent coming to Christ as our atoning sacrifice the law has served its purpose. It does continue to show us where we are contrary to God, but it never is a method of justification, its purpose is to condemn those who break it so they will acknowledge guilt and ask for God’s freely given mercy.

To conclude when Jews and Christians begin to use these verses to perpetrate “honor killings” then it would be right to compare us to other religions which allow them. The fact that these have historically never been prominent in either Judaism or Christianity shows that the practice even as instituted in the law was a last resort and involved a public acknowledgement of failure as parents by the parents. God’s desire is and always has been for repentance and not punishment, which is why this has historically hardly if ever been used.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 3– Slavery

When we look at the Mosaic Law it must be born in mind that some of the regulations were established to restrain already existing customs, and did not amount to a divine endorsement of these practices.

This is not merely the view of Christians, but even Jewish Rabbis at the time of Christ, interpreted certain passages such as Deut. 21:11-14, concerning captive women in this way. It mitigated the usual practice of soldiers in these circumstances and dictated an allowance of one month of mourning for her family by the woman, and made the marriage a regular and not inferior marriage. The woman could not be sold into slavery or treated as a slave, but was to be regarded as a wife. This was decidedly more humane than the laws of most ancient nations who regarded such captives as spoil to be disposed of however the victor deemed fit. The ancient Irish would customarily cut out the tongue of such women so that any children raised in the home would only learn the language of the conqueror.

When Christ was asked by the Rabbis concerning the Mosaic regulation of divorce (Matt. 19:1-9), He went to the back to the original establishment of marriage and showed how divorce, and incidentally polygamy, are contrary to the original intent of God, even though both were allowed with certain restraints in the Mosaic Law.

Thus when we look at the Mosaic Law we should look at all its provisions to determine whether something was given as a moral precept, a temporary prophetic type pointing to a future fulfillment, an ordinance specifically for distinguishing those in the Old Covenant, or a partial restraint on wrong behavior which was culturally acceptable but morally wrong.

 The question is was slavery a good or an evil? Is it something which God intended to be in place or only something which was already in existence which He regulated in the Law?

Slavery is clearly seen as an evil to be regulated in the Law

It is clear from all we know of ancient cultures and the Mosaic legislation that slavery was already well entrenched in the time of Moses. The only thing good that can ever be said on its behalf is that it encouraged the taking of prisoners in war instead of wholesale slaughter. The Mosaic Law restricted slavery in several ways:

  1. 1.     It restricted the source of slaves

Under the Law kidnapping was a capital crime whether for the purpose of ransom or slavery. Not only the one kidnapping but the one found in possession of a kidnapped individual was to be killed (Ex. 21:16). This effectively limited the source of slaves to those who were sold to cover their debts, including debt incurred through theft, and those captured in war. If the Levitical Law was followed in regard to tithes and gleaning then widows and orphans as well as sojourners would have been supported with some portion of the tithes and also able to gather the gleanings of the harvest and thus avoid debt and debt slavery. Since Israelites were not to charge each other interest on loans even debt slavery must have been more rare in Israel than surrounding nations.

  1. 2.   It limited the duration of slavery for Israelites

An Israelite was to be released after six years of service, when this was done they were also to be furnished with ample means to set themselves up and thus avoid a return to slavery through debt (Deut. 15:12-18). There was also the year of Jubilee which occurring every 50th year could bring freedom even earlier. This law gave great incentive for masters to treat their slaves well, because at the end of this time a slave could make a formal public declaration that they were happy with their master and choose to remain with him forever.

The law was a bit more complicated for female Israelites who were bought for the purpose of betrothal to the master or one of his sons. In that case they were not released after 6 years, but were either married to the one to whom they were betrothed, or were to be redeemed by their relatives. The marriage was a form of concubinage and thus was not in God’s original intention, because He formed Eve to be an equal companion for Adam, not a servant to him. However, in this law God restrained the existing evil by stating that any reduction of the wife’s food, clothing or conjugal rights was grounds for immediate release  (Ex. 21:7-11).

  1. 3.   It limited punishment inflicted by the master

Beatings which resulted in permanent damage were grounds for freedom for the slave (Ex. 21:26-27). This is in extreme contrast to most of the ancient world.

  1. 4.   Escaped slaves were to be allowed freedom

One of the most interesting provisions in the Mosaic Law was that escaped slaves were not to be returned to their masters but were to be granted asylum (Deut. 23:15-16). Many interpret this as referring to slaves of non-Israelite masters, but the actual wording is broad and would refer to any slave who chose to escape from his master. This verse was the moral basis for the underground railroad which they considered to supersede any law of man to the contrary. It has been noted that this verse if followed would essentially destroy slavery as it would no longer be economically viable.

A brief look at the New Testament view of slavery

This is perhaps a slight digression from the topic of the Old Testament law, but it is worth looking at the New Testament attitude toward slavery.

Slavery was of course ubiquitous in the Roman world. Christianity began as a despised and persecuted religion with no political voice. In these circumstances it would have been impossible to fight slavery as an institution. Not only that but given the economic situation wholesale manumission would have been ruinous to masters and not of great benefit to the slaves if they were given no means of self-support and essentially made homeless. However it would be wrong to say that the New Testament is pro-slavery.

Roman law was far more brutal to slaves than the Mosaic, yet the church gave a moral code requiring more leniency on the part of the master. It taught an equality before God of all men whether slaves or free. This had been hinted at even in the Old Testament, because all slaves were allowed to participate equally in all the feasts of the Lord if they were circumcised and as these feasts were Sabbaths they would have had free time to participate. Because of this equality before God masters were not even to menace their slaves let alone beat them (Eph. 6:9).

Slaves were encouraged that their lack of personal freedom meant that God required less of them, whereas those who were free were in effect bound to obey Christ and more responsible (1  Cor. 7:20-24).

Freedom was also clearly more desirable so that one would be able to fully follow Christ, thus slaves were encouraged to become free if possible. Christians were also forbidden to voluntarily go into slavery. This prohibition would include not only the name but the fact and is the reason why oaths of perpetual or unquestioning obedience, oaths of renunciation of all property, and any absolute submission to another other than Christ in matters of life choices are evil. We have one Master to acknowledge another when we have the possibility of avoiding it is treason and a spurning of the price with which we were purchased. Christian fundamentalism has forgotten this point and that is one reason it is in the condition it is in today.

The Epistle of Philemon is the only case we have in the New Testament showing an actual case of dealing with a slave. Here we see that a slave named Onesimus had apparently stolen something and then run away. Since the Roman law required the death penalty for escaped slaves it was necessary that Paul write to procure his release from his master Philemon. Paul knew this man well and offered to reimburse him for whatever Onesimus owed him. He then entreats him that he would release Onesimus so that he would be able to stay with Paul and aid him during his imprisonment (Paul was currently under a type of house arrest). Church tradition claims that not only was Onesimus released but that he became a leader in the early Church.

The Church prior to Constantine was on the whole anti-slavery to the degree it was feasible in that time. Wealthy Christians were encouraged by the church to purchase the freedom of slaves and sometimes special collections were taken up for this purpose in the churches. This became somewhat less prominent after the merger of the church with the state, and Leo the Great did not want slaves to be ordained presbyters unless they had first been freed by their masters, a thing which had been allowed in the early church, and which had been a demonstration of the truth that all were equal before God.

Thus William Wilberforce and his evangelical friends were far more in keeping with the whole tenure and ethos of the Scripture in seeking to put an end to slavery, than the southern ministers were who tried to keep up their “peculiar institution.” 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 2– The Jewish Theocracy

As stated in the introduction to this series of posts, separation of church and state is a relatively new concept in the history of mankind. Early Anabaptists, especially the Mennonites believed in it, but the separation was based on a total abdication of any role in the state at all. Thus the first government to actively promote the idea was Rhode Island under William Rogers. All nations and states of antiquity had titular deities. While other deities could sometimes be added to the pantheon in polytheistic states, apostasy from the official religion of the state was always punished. In this post I want to look at the Mosaic theocracy in practice. 

This is necessary before we begin to look at some of the legislation in the Mosaic Law that is often seized upon by critics, most of which has been used for centuries. Frankly, one has to feel sorry for the poor old argument trotted out all lame, saddle-sore and hackneyed, thrust into the box to run in the derby of public opinion. The poor thing is so weak that it can scarcely support the weight of even the most mentally anorexic jockey, and yet there it is instead of being mercifully put out to pasture or even turned into dog food, getting its flanks whipped for all it is worth. Arguments such as if you believe the Old Testament why do you eat pork? Do you support the stoning of rebellious children? And many other similar arguments show a fundamental lack of understanding of how Christians view the Old Testament, and even how these laws were often applied even in the Old Testament itself. What is even worse many of these have been used before by men like Celsus (2nd century) and Faustus (4th century) so they are hardly original. The only reason these arguments continue to be used is that many Christians even in this day are ignorant of the Old Testament and its proper application. In this post and subsequent ones I hope to address some of the misconceptions and show the hermeneutic and rationale behind consistently Christian interpretations of the Old Testament. 
Three types of rulers in the Jewish Theocracy 
The Jewish theocracy had three types of rulers each with their own sphere of influence. 

The first were secular and would include the local elders of each village, the judges in the time of the judges, and also the kings and their officials in later times. These were the immediate rulers of each local area and attended on all civil and criminal cases within their jurisdiction. 

The second group was the Levitical priesthood, religious functions and duties were their domain, as seen in Deut. 17:8-13 they also played a vital role as appellate judges. As appellate judges their duty was not usually to confirm guilt or innocence, but instead to judge the case and determine sentencing. They would have almost by default been involved in most capital cases. They would determine whether a killing would be classified as self-defense, manslaughter or murder and would give sentence accordingly. It would appear that guilt or innocence would have already been determined in the lower court unless it was referred to the higher one specifically on the grounds of it being overly complex for that court to handle. It should be noted that the death penalty for disobedience to the priests only applied to their role as appellate judges and to their verdicts in these cases, not for disobedience to whatever they said in a personal capacity outside of the court. Eventually this appellate court would become the Sanhedrin and the wording of Deut. 17 does allow for either priests or judges in the court so the Sanhedrin would be within the framework of the original legislation. 

The third group was the prophets. While there were prophets who had positions in one of the other two groups, the prophetic office itself never had any power other than moral and advisory in the theocracy of Israel. Their authority was not founded in their being part of an office, but instead in having heard and proclaiming the Word of the Lord and in giving needed reproof, guidance and counsel. It is a mistake to equate prophecy with predicting the future. Yes, prophecy did include the prediction of the future, but prophets were not the Israelite equivalent of the pagan oracle. They were the national conscience of Israel, reminding them of their failures to obey God and calling them back to Him. The miracles and predictions were secondary to the main objective, though otherwise important. 

John the Baptist worked no miracles, and gave no notable predictions. His two prophecies were that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, and that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Both were important prophecies and completed the focus of his message of repentance, but neither were visibly verifiable events, even though both were fulfilled. 

In 2 Chronicles 28:9-15 we learn of a prophet named Oded who told Israel of their evil in being unmerciful to their brethren in Judah who they had captured in war. Again there is no prophecy except a declaration of the anger of the Lord because of what they were doing. This resulted in the captives being returned to their homes. More could be written, but to keep it brief the main mission of the prophets was to reform the nation as it began to drift from God. The predictive element was often present to show the consequences of the current course pursued the blessings on reformation and most importantly future further and final reformation and renewal through the Messiah. 

There were of course many false prophets who in general told people whatever they hoped to hear. Their message was one of nationalism and prosperity with a total absence of the moral element. In the time of Jeremiah they promised deliverance to Jerusalem based on the temple of God being present in the city. Jeremiah rightly showed that God moves on behalf of those who are upright, not those who have a formal tie to Him through a building. 

These three classes gave the Israelite theocracy its distinctive character. The two religious classes while very prominent and important were given no direct secular authority; their power was legal and moral. This partly explains why in the period of the judges and even more so during the monarchy the religious obligations were often ignored – there was no direct method of coercion in the system if the local or national government was inimical to the received religion. In such a case the religion could only appeal to individual consciences. In actual fact the theocratic element of the state was always fairly weak. 

The entire book of Judges shows how quickly the people at large became pagan, and how a short lived reform would be enacted by the judges. These reforms appear to have been voluntary with individuals choosing again to follow the Lord. There is no record of a judge leading a force against recalcitrant Israelites in the name of God, the oppressors were mostly foreign. Gideon merely destroyed the altar to Baal in his city; he never killed any of the worshippers of Baal. In the case of Gibeah and Benjamin in Judges 19-21 the offense was not so much religious as moral. The town was in breach of every law and custom of the day, and Benjamin by refusing to deliver the perpetrators was aiding anarchy. 

By the time of the monarchy the religious side of the government was even weaker, judged by the religious standards of the prophets in the book of Kings and with a priestly view in Chronicles the kingdom of Judah had few good kings and the northern Kingdom of Israel had none. That said there was only one overthrow of government in each of these kingdoms that had any appearance of a religious revolt. The first of these would be the destruction of the prophets of Baal by Elijah, and a generation later the overthrow of the dynasty of Ahab and the reign of Jehu. To put these events in proper perspective a few facts should be remembered: 

  1. Ahab due to the influence of Jezebel had made Baal worship the official religion and had killed as many of the prophets of the Lord as possible. Thus when the fire fell from heaven it was those who had been the special agents of persecution on the discomfited side who were seized and killed. They would also likely have been foreigners. It would be hard for anyone to place blame upon a people if when they are being forced to submit to a foreign religion they rise up and destroy those who first applied force. When there is a manifest sign of the superiority of the native religion added in all I can say is if you can call down fire that will burn up water and rocks, then go ahead and complain. 
  2. Elijah never directly attacked Ahab’s rule or his government as such. He reproved Ahab for his establishing a foreign religion and pronounced severe judgment on him for his complicity in the murder of Naboth, but he never advocated a removal of Ahab. 
  3. Jehu was anointed to overthrow the dynasty of Ahab, kill Jezebel and destroy the worship of Baal; however it would be a grave mistake to interpret all of Jehu’s actions as sanctioned by God. He was a vehicle of God’s vengeance and fulfilled some prophecies, but it must be understood that prophecy is God telling what will happen, even in some cases where it is not something that pleases Him. God had told Ahab that his posterity would be all destroyed because of his murder of Naboth. God had also showed Elisha 2 Kings 8:8-15 that Hazael would kill Ben Hadad and become the next king of Syria and carry on some very barbarous wars against Israel. The prophecy was a sign of God’s knowledge of what He would allow to happen, but not of actions of which He approved. Hazael likely already had murderous designs when he saw his sick master lying there sending him on his mission, and Elisha’s words seem to show that in the ordinary course of events Ben Hadad would have lived, but Elisha knew that Hazael would intervene. In the same way a close look at Scripture shows Jehu as a man whom God used to break the foreign oppression of Jezebel, whose own father had come to the throne of Sidon through murder, but Jehu is in no way pointed to as a good example. He appears to have been a man who was happy to use God and the injustice towards Naboth as excuses to further his own agenda. His destruction of the whole family of Ahab and of the Baal worshippers were really more about securing his own rule from those with the best motives to oppose it than anything else. As soon as he had no rivals and no need for any justification for his actions, he promptly dropped any religious fa├žade and did whatever he wanted. 
 The second change of government happened a short time later in Judah, and has really no need of apology at all. The only reason why Athaliah was even on the throne for a day after she had killed all her own grandsons that she could is because the only one that had survived was still a baby. He was rescued by his sister and her husband who was also a priest and hidden in the house of the Lord for several years. This revolution was a clear cut restoration of the rightful royal line in place of a murderous usurper, and while the order was given to kill those who followed her to fight on her side, there is no record of that happening and it seems like she had very little popular support. The reason why is fairly clear. 

It is also worth commenting here that not only Elijah not advocate removal of Ahab, but Samuel did not advocate an overthrow of Saul even though he declared God’s rejection of him. He trusted God to remove Saul and raise a successor in His own way and time. In the meantime he paid Saul the customary respect. These men knew nothing of the medieval idea of releasing the subjects of a recalcitrant king from their oaths of obedience or any other direct subversive measure. 

On the whole then the religious government of the Hebrews throughout its actual establishment had a very limited scope. 

In most cases even those crimes were stated as capital crimes were often punished with lesser punishment in practice. The prescribed punishment was apparently interpreted as being what was warranted by the offense though the option to show mercy in lessening the punishment was apparently considered allowable. As any lawyer will tell you, precedent in interpretation of the law is just as important as the actual wording of the law, and from the records we have most of the religious offenses that required capital punishment were more often dealt with by banishment. This may seem harsh in itself, but it should be noted that even in a western nation of today with freedom of religion it might be theoretically possible to declare allegiance to Baal, Chemosh, Ashtarte, etc. But to actually practice the worship of the these deities as it was practiced at that time with child sacrifice, sex slavery in temple prostitution, and its other rites would still be illegal, and bring about severe civil penalties. God Himself declared that He desires the repentance of the wicked far more than their death (Ezekiel 33:11-15). Even in the Old Testament there was placed by God a provision for mercy to those who gave sufficient evidence of remorse and desire to change their conduct. 

There is much more that could be written, and I hope to continue this series of posts by looking at some of the laws that most Christians would see as restraint of existing customs. Suffice it for this post to close by saying that having looked at the actual historical record of the kings and judges, it is the height of absurdity to compare the Jewish theocracy with either the medieval church or the modern Taliban. It never had that much power, and the prophets who could have pushed for political power such as Samuel, and Elijah never manifested a desire to retain a political hold. They realized their greatest impact was through their moral force of prayer and preaching not through physical coercion. It would be good for modern Christians to also remember this lesson.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 1 – Equality under the Law

Lev. 24:22, “I am the LORD your God, and I demand equal justice both for you Israelites and for those foreigners who live among you.” 

This verse is the cornerstone of all just government, and while it may seem to contain an obvious truth of equality under the law, yet that truth was unseen by most nations until comparatively recently in history. Rome believed in the rule of law, but there was never intended to be equality of law. There were three classes in the population of Imperial Rome with each having different procedures applied to them. Citizens had many rights that non-citizens did not have. Non-citizens when giving testimony were often tortured to validate what they said, but it was forbidden to do this to citizens. Slaves, the third tier, had it even worse and their testimony was disallowed unless under the most extreme of tortures. Worse if their master was accused of something, they were almost certain to be called in as witnesses if they had any proximity to the case and would be subject to torture. CORRECTION: After typing this post it has come to my attention that slaves in the Roman Empire were not allowed to bear witness against their masters. The rest of the post holds good though. 

Even in this day in any place where Sharia law is in place the testimony of a women or non-muslim is counted at half value to that of a muslim man. This is not a prejudice on the part of the judges weighing the truthfulness of various witnesses, this is the actual legal procedure. So even if a judge believes the half witness to be more credible he is obliged to rule otherwise. In Jewish law however every witness was seen as equally valid unless shown to be false through self-contradiction or the contradiction of other witnesses. King David in fleeing from Absalom too readily gave credence to the word of Ziba, the servant Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 16:1-3), yet when he returned to Jerusalem and heard the other side of the story, he did not take the word of a master over a slave, but having two contradictory witnesses and no easy way of ascertaining the truth, he split the verdict, (2 Sam. 19:25-30). Since the plaintiff confessed himself satisfied with the verdict there was no need to pursue it further. 

From a Protestant viewpoint, we look back to the New Testament Church and we see that they never desired special privileges for themselves. The only exemption that was desired was one already granted to Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, that is being obligated to burn incense to Ceasar in worship as opposed to interceding to God on his behalf. With that sole exception New Testament Christians were content to live within the legal constraints of the Roman law as it was, using only their individual moral capacity to create the most just situation in their immediate vicinity.

It was only after Christianity became the state religion that this began to change, and in most cases the legal framework enacted did not come from Mosaic legislation, but rather from the already existing Roman religious system. For example, Constantine retained the title of Pontifex Maximus (high priest) and sat essentially as the president of the Nicene Council, even though he was not yet a full-fledged member of the church, let alone a leader in it. Other privileges such as the right of asylum were also carried over at this time. Gradually these privileges grew into a huge monstrosity with one set of laws for the secular realm and another set for the clerical. While this was justified by using the example of Solomon and Abiathar the priest (2 Kings 2:19-26), it is scarcely warranted. Abiathar had served David, Solomon’s father, with exemplary service and up until his involvement with Adonijah’s conspiracy there is no evidence of wrong doing on his part. The other main conspirator, Joab, had been equal parts indespensible and dangerous to David and anyone who excited his jealousy was removed by him. Thus Solomon had fairly good grounds for merely banishing Abiathar instead of executing him. There is nothing within the law itself which in any way exempts the clergy from the ordinary course of justice. 

Thankfully after the Protestant reformation, there has been a progression towards equality under the law for all classes of people. So that all are under the law and subject to the same law and subject to the same penalties for the transgression of it. For this we can thank God foremost, but also Moses His messenger.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Introduction

For a little while now I have wanted to do a post on the Law of Moses and look at a few ways it has influenced American law. In doing this I will also look at some of the issues often raised by unbelievers and how the Mosaic law is modified in the New Testament. When we look at the Law of Moses it should be remembered that it was given to a nation that had no law among itself, because it was a nation having just left generations of slavery under foreign law with no courts or law system of its own. Some things contained in it are positive commands, some are allowances and restraints placed upon already existing customs and social norms. The Nation of Israel was, like all nations of antiquity, a theocracy. Separation of Church and state was first put into practice in Rhode Island by Roger Williams. Until that time every nation had some form of religion that was the officially sanctioned one, and others were sometimes allowed with various degrees of toleration. The New Testament is NOT a Theocracy. It contains NO commands for secular government. Neither Jesus, Peter, the original other Apostles, nor Paul advocated a Christian government. It is possible for Christians to be in governmental positions, and obviously in those positions their morality should be influenced by the teachings of Christianity, but Christianity in the New Testament is not and was not intended to be a state religion. It was a self-governing group within the state, which could only inflict the punishment of removing a non-compliant member from the church. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to exercise this punishment upon a man guilty of flagrant immorality. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." 1 Cor. 5:9-13 This was also the ultimate step which Christ allowed in case of one who committed a wrong against a fellow believer and refused to make reconciliation after having been told first by the injured party, then by the injured party with one or two witnesses involved, and lastly still remaining obstinate when the whole church body has heard the case (Matt. 18:15-17). It should be noted while mentioning this process, which is often called excommunication, how it differs widely from later excommunication. In both of these instances it is not the leadership of the Church, but the church as a body that excommunicates. Paul did not consider himself competent to excommunicate someone in his own authority, he therefore told the Corinthians what was morally required and urged them to do it with his full support (1 Cor. 5:3-5). Any later ideas of excommunication releasing the person to the civil body for punishment are much later, and belong to the time when the church had been joined to the Roman state. In fact the first execution for heresy was in 385 in Treves, though most of the bishops in Treves were in favor of the execution, those in the surrounding areas were not, specifically Martin of Tours, and Ambrose of Milan opposed the action and broke off any communion with those involved. Since the reign of Constantine, however, there had been varying degrees of oppression towards what was deemed heresy. In this series of posts I would like to look at some of the concepts of Jewish law that have greatly influenced western society and also look at various aspects of the Jewish Theocracy and what a Protestant Christian would and would not consider applicable and why.

Monday, May 07, 2012

New Wineskins – the Pharisees compared to the Restoration Era

Recently I was teaching on the life of Christ, and while doing so I considered the Pharisees and the specific emphasis they placed on certain practices. As I was coincidently reading Nehemiah at the same time, it became apparent that in many ways they were following in the steps of Nehemiah, only more so. Like all sects that live in the past, they did not hang on to what Nehemiah and the others of the restoration era had, but rather distorted it, placing undue proportion on certain parts and totally missing others. I’d like to look at some of the similarities and differences here in this post and see if there are lessons we can learn from this. Tithing and the yearly Temple tax With the rebuilding of the temple came the expense for its offerings and maintenance. Nehemiah instituted an oath for like-minded people who out of love for God covenanted to pay their tithes and first fruits to support the temple so that the priests and Levites would be able to minister (Neh. 10:32-39). They also instituted a yearly one third of a shekel temple tax which in the time of Christ was raised to a half shekel. At the time these reforms were very necessary as without regular tithing and support it would be impossible to get the temple up and running again. We see in the book of Nehemiah that even with this oath he had to specifically intervene to ensure that the Levites were able to minister and not obliged to quit and work in their fields (Neh. 13:10-13). The problem in the time of Christ was that these things had become the major part of religion to the exclusion of other things. So instead of looking at the other aspects of God’s law it was assumed that as long as a person tithed and gave to God they were in a good standing with Him. The Sabbath The second area that the Pharisees emphasized was the keeping of the Sabbath day. In this it can be seen they were like Nehemiah only more extreme. Nehemiah, as governor, had insisted that the gates be guarded to keep merchants out on the Sabbath. He also had to rebuke the people who were treating it as an ordinary work day (Neh. 13:15-22). The oath he and others took in Nehemiah chapter 10 also stated that they would refrain from purchasing things on the Sabbath. Thus again we see that Nehemiah set a precedent for the later Pharisees in Sabbath day observance. There was, however, a difference in the stringency of the observance. The things that Nehemiah rebuked were clearly work, and not a work of necessity either, and clearly were not keeping the Sabbath holy. The Pharisees by the time of Christ had introduced many rules with exceptions to those rules and exceptions for those exceptions, and thus made the Sabbath more burdensome than God had ever intended or Nehemiah had ever enforced. Marriage Issues In the time of Nehemiah there were many Jewish men who had married foreign women, many of them had divorced their Jewish wives to do this, and the children of these unions could not even speak Hebrew and were thus not being taught the law of God and were outside of the covenant (Neh. 13:23-31, Mal. 2:11-16). It should be noted here that the marriages were not forbidden based on ethnicity but because of religion, indeed when women joined themselves to the God of Israel they were accepted no matter what their ethnicity as the cases of Rahab and Ruth show. In the time of Christ the nationalistic part of this reform was zealously enforced, and there was little intermarriage between Jews and other nationalities, but the other issue addressed concerning being faithful to the marriage covenant also contained in Mal. 2:11-16, was ignored. Conclusion Clearly the Pharisees thought they were walking in the footsteps of Nehemiah and the previous move of God in the Water Gate revival, and yet like all movements that cling to the past, they had drifted from it. Just as present day Calvinism is more Calvinistic than Calvin was, and Lutheranism became very Luther-like in some respects while ignoring certain aspects of his theology altogether, and various forms of Methodism took certain aspects of John Wesley’s teaching and emphasized them in varying degrees to the exclusion of others, all showing that it is impossible to live in the past, either we progress or we take things that were taught us and blow them further out of proportion. The circumstances of the time have a degree of influence over our actions that cannot be ignored. For Daniel to open hos windows and pray in public in spite of the king’s decree risking death was a noble thing, as were similar deeds during the time of Antiochus IV when Judaism was illegal and under persecution. However, a Pharisee praying publicly with no danger to himself, to gain credit for holiness from men is an entirely different matter. In the same way just because we are doing what our godly forefathers have done is no guarantee that what we are doing is right. May God grant that we are never satisfied until we truly walk with Him and be where He is now (John 12:26). Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A quick thought on Jesus bearing our griefs and how that relates to His bearing our sins

While I was working on my previous post I had another thought concerning Isaiah 53. If when Christ bore our griefs He did not bear Mr. X saying so and so about us, but rather slander in general and worse than we have or could have received in the same way did He bear each individual sinful deed, or in His being numbered as a transgressor did He not bear sin in general, in the sense that James gives of one who breaks any of the laws is a transgressor (James 2:9-11). Anyway this is more of a question I would like to throw out for people than a statement of what I believe. I just am trying to consider if this is true and a viable way of understanding the atonement or if I am missing something here. God bless!

Truly He bore our griefs – Thoughts from Isaiah 53

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:2b-6 - ESV. Recently a friend of mine shared something that they were facing, which while I could see why it would be very hard, I could not truly say that I understood, because I had never faced a challenge similar enough. Sometimes even when we want to be there for people, we find that we don’t have the real answer. Fortunately that cannot be said of Christ. He bore our griefs. He knew what it meant to be born under the shame of (supposed) illegitimacy. He knew the sting of rejection and betrayal. At the cross not only was He betrayed by Judas, but most of his closest friends made themselves scarce, one denied even knowing Him, and the one who held the most steadfast was at the trial and crucifixion, but apparently did not voice one word in His favour during any of the proceedings. He bore our griefs. He knew the shame of poverty, and the appearance of failure. There is nothing that touches us which He did not experience in a greater measure and to a deeper degree. So when we have a grief, a burden, a care go to Him, He will understand!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Biblical Inerrancy, human language and usage

A few weeks ago as I was reading my Bible I came to the list of clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11. In this passage are a few things that people sometimes use to attack Biblical inerrancy: 1. The Hyrax said to chew the cud (v.5); 2. Insects mentioned as creeping on all fours (v.20-23); 3. Bats listed among the birds (v.19). These things really have little to do with inerrancy and far more to do with human language as it is used. God in teaching the Israelites what animals were clean and unclean would use language to describe them fitted to the Israelites usage, whether technically accurate or not. No one would claim that a zoologist is in error who uses the word cuttlefish (even though that is a mollusk and not a fish) or the words millipede and centipede (neither of which have the right number of legs) to refer to specific creatures bearing those names. Likewise no one would laugh at a doctor who diagnoses a patient with malaria because he called it malaria even though we know it is carried by mosquitos and not by the swamp air that they infest. He is merely using a familiar word to convey information. In the same way it is quite possible, and with the paucity of premosaic Hebrew hard to disprove, that four–legged-creepers was roughly the equivalent of our English words insect and bug at the time. Certainly the Israelites understood what was meant and consequently ate locusts, crickets, etc, but not any other bugs. That people would try to make these things into a big deal shows more of their desire to have an excuse to ignore God’s clear cut standards of morality, than anything amiss in the Word of God.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cyprian’s views contrasted with the Apostle John – Schism, Heresy

Those of you who know me well are probably aware that I enjoy history and especially Church history. Much of my spare time is spent in studying Church History and the writings and biographies of various churchmen. A few weeks ago I was reminded of Cyprian’s famous doctrine that outside of the Church there is no salvation. Cyprian applied this not only to heresy but also to schism and later Augustine in his writings against the Donatist schism would quote 1 Corinthians 13 and say that since the Donatists were not in fellowship with the Catholic church they lacked love and thus whatever their good works they did not profit. Of course this is a very superficial definition of love, and two of Augustine’s contemporaries Jerome and Rufinus who were both in fellowship with the Church as they blasted each other publicly hardly bring to mind the words of Paul, “love is patient, love is kind.” Still these doctrines and attitudes would not be a cause for concern if they had not outlived their authors, and even in Protestant circles still exist but not so flagrantly. There are many attributes to Cyprian’s doctrine, but rather than dealing with apostolic succession and several of the minor points, I would just like to deal with the main point. There are 4 tenets that he held, some of which are fairly shaky in themselves, but even if they held true the premise can be shown to be false as I will show. His 4 main tenets could be summed up as: 1. Receiving the Apostles is to receive Christ 2. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles 3. To Receive the Bishop is to receive Christ 4. No one can be separated from the Bishop and be joined to Christ Point number one is clearly Scriptural (Matt. 10:4), point number two is far less provable and point number three is dependent upon two, but even allowing all of these for the time, point four is untenable. The book of Third John throws light on this whole subject. It is addressed to Gaius who had apparently received some of John’s fellow-workers with hospitality(v.1-6). John goes on to complain of Diotrophes who had in effect introduced a schism into the church by not receiving John or his messengers and by putting out those in the church who did (v.9-10). It is interesting that John while speaking of Diotrophes personal evil-doing never mentions a danger incurred by those who stayed in the church with him. He merely exhorts Gaius to imitate good and not evil (v.11), which strongly implies that John was not concerned for the salvation of those in Diotrophes church provided they did not personally partake of his evil ways. Cyprian cannot be contrasted more unfavorably than this since he refused to even acknowledge the baptism practiced by the Novatians, which was schism and not a doctrinal breach, and believed all who broke fellowship with himself were damned. Clearly the true Apostle was far more forbearing than his supposed successor. John’s attitude, however, was very different towards heresy – specifically heresies which deny Christ’s incarnation and His messiahship (1 John 2:18-23, 2 John 1:7). He refers to these heretics as antichrists and says they were never part of us – that is of the Church, even though they went out of us. We thus see a marked difference here, when John’s own authority is disregarded and he is slighted, he will take steps to reprove the offender but still calls the assembly a church, but when the doctrine is a direct denial of Christ and His work, then whatever these assemblies and teachers are is of no consequence, because they are not of us. This is the true attitude we should have towards those in schism with us and those in heresy. Schism we blame on the leaders of it and hope that their flocks do not pick up the contagion, heresy we abhor and deny to bear the name of Christianity in any real sense. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

On the True Method of Ministry and the Supremacy of God’s Word – Conclusion

What I was hoping to show in this series of posts is just how much even the apostles themselves taught only what Christ and the Old Testament taught and added nothing materially of their own. Paul was pleased with Bereans because they examined what he taught in light of the Scriptures rather than taking it based on his authority and teaching ability or even the miracles he had performed. The problem with a doctrine accepted on human authority is that a generation later it becomes a tradition, and a tradition if not based in Scripture is a binding chain. When Origen was questioned concerning the book of Susanna being in the canon since it contained a Greek pun and thus could not be part of the original Hebrew and Aramaic book of Daniel, he accepted the book because of tradition. Thus because he felt he could not move the boundary which the fathers had set up for several centuries the Church had manifestly fraudulent books mixed in with the Truth of God! With the Protestant reformers I say that the boundaries of the Fathers are those found in Scripture and no more or less. If I am to accept any tradition it must be one which shows clearly that it was handed down by the Apostles. The only tradition that I can think of that comes close to this in plausibility would be the exclusion of the unbaptized from the Lord’s supper and I am not sure I would fight and die for this one. Respect for a ministry that God has given is not enough to justify embracing everything taught. I greatly admire William Booth and his work in founding the Salvation Army was blessed by God, but I am not going to give up Christ’s ordinances of baptism and communion because he chose to. In the same way though I respect John Wesley of the Methodist revival and Frank Bartleman of Azuza street I do not follow them or Adam Clarke in their rejection of the use of musical instruments in worship, because the Psalms specifically teach praising God not only by song, but also by playing instruments. I do sympathize however with their motive which was to insure that the congregation did not become mere spectators in the time of song. While I see that God is restoring to the church the Tabernacle of David as promised with its use of instruments and singers the tendency to have spectators rather than worshippers must be guarded against. Clinging to all that was said by our forebearers is neither good nor bad, and is both commended and censured in Scripture depending on who the forebearer is and what they said. Jonadab’s descendants are commended for it (Jer. 35:18-19), but it is shown as a condemnation in Psalm 49:10-13, where men strive for earthly riches and glory and call places after their own names, yet the folly they teach is approved by their children. Sometimes even the mannerisms of a forebearer are idolized, Hillel the most revered of ancient Rabbis, sometimes referred to as the second Moses, is said to have mispronounced certain words, because his teacher who was a Babylonian Jew had done so. This is the attitude that Christ was addressing when He said, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matt. 23:8-10). Christ here forbids any to be a father, in the sense of originator of an absolute pattern of life to be followed other than God the Father (Gen. 4:20-21; Eph. 5:1). He also forbids any to be an unquestionable or unimpeachable teacher other than Christ. In ending this post I would like to quote John Robinson the pastor in Leyden of the Mayflower Pilgrims in his farewell to them as printed in Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans when they left for America, He being too old to join the voyage: "Brethren, We are now quickly to part from one another, and whether I may ever live to see your faces on earth any more, the God of heaven only knows; but whether the Lord has appointed that or no, I charge you before God and his blessed angels, that you follow me no farther than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveal anything to you, by any other instrument of His, be ye as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am verily persuaded, the Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of his holy word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who are come to a period in religion, and will go at present no farther than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of his will our God has revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented, for though they were burning and shining lights in their times, yet they penetrated not into the whole counsel of God, but were they now living, would be as willing to embrace farther light as that which they first received. I beseech you remember, it is an article of your church covenant, that you be ready to receive whatever truth shall be made known to you from the written word of God. Remember that, and every other article of your sacred covenant. But I must here withal exhort you to take heed what you receive as truth,— examine it, consider it, and compare it with other scriptures of truth, before you receive it; for it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. "I must also advise you to abandon, avoid, and shake off, the name of Brownists; it is a mere nickname, and a brand for the making religion and the professors of it odious to the Christian world." Hear I say, “Amen!”

Friday, February 17, 2012

On the True Method of Ministry and the Supremacy of God’s Word – Part 3 –Peter

The Apostle Peter’s attitude toward the Scriptures cannot be better seen than in 2 Peter 1:16-21, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Notice how he points back to the Mount of Transfiguration, where they saw the glory of Christ which passed any mortal glory and heard a voice from heaven bearing witness, yet, and here is the amazing thing, he considered the Old Testament prophecies to be more true than even this experience and what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears! In these verses Peter has said the most that can ever be said for the submission of all spiritual experiences, revelations and doctrines to the Word of God. He did not believe in Christ merely because he saw him shining brightly with miraculously whitened clothes, or even because he saw Moses and Elijah with Him, and heard the Father thunder from heaven! No, he believed because it was all in line with Old Testament prophecy, so these outward manifestations were merely confirmations of what the Old Testament already had prophesied. The attitude of Peter seen here should serve as a lesson for us, since in many instances Christians accept things based solely upon a revelation or because it has been taught us. Peter instead looked into the Scriptures remembering even as Jesus promised there would be false prophets and wonder-workers. All things should be tested by the Scripture as we ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds to see what is in that Scripture. In regards to the necessity of all doctrine not resting solely on the authority of a revelation some might wonder concerning 1 Peter 3:18-20, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” What is taught here concerning Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison is not clearly mentioned anywhere else. That is true, however Christ’s descent into hell is foretold and the scripture quoted by Peter in Acts 2:25-31. Also it was understood by the Apostles that when Christ rose from the dead the righteous dead were led forth with Him, he led captivity captive (Eph. 4:8-10). Indeed some of the righteous dead physically rose up at this time and were seen in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:52-53). In light of this Peter wrote of a revelation he had of a certain group of those whom Christ led out of captivity. There is nothing wrong with revelations elucidating more clearly what God has said in Scripture, but they must be judged by Scripture. Also they should not be used as the only basis of establishing a doctrine. It would also be good to note here that this portion of Scripture is not a major point of doctrine, in practical terms these verses affect no one alive today and have reference only to those in Noah’s day, so whatever Peter’s source he did not make a major doctrine out of something mentioned nowhere else in Scripture. Most of his other exhortations are clearly based on other Scriptures, the most apparent one being 1 Peter 5:1-4, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Which bears a strong resemblance to Christ’s commission to Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:17) and His teaching in Mark 10:42-45, “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’" The similarity is more marked in Greek where the identical word is used for “lording it over” the brethren. In fact these verses in 1 Peter could well be considered a commentary and application of the command that Christ already gave rather than anything originating with Peter. As we partake of His Word may we grow more and more in His nature! Amen.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On the True Method of Ministry and the Supremacy of God’s Word – Part 2 – Excerpts from the Epistles of Paul

The Apostle Paul is an interesting study in his doctrine in that he was never a hearer of Christ or a follower of the disciples. However he was taught by the resurrected Christ and received his gospel by revelation. As his epistles are studied they are seen to be consonant with the teachings of Christ in the gospel. How much was revealed supernaturally to him and how much he learned of the life of Christ from sources that Luke also availed himself of is impossible to pinpoint. In addition to his use of the gospels, Paul made great use of the Old Testament, as all the apostolic writers did. So much so that even many passages that are not direct quotes from the Old Testament should be understood in light of those Scriptures since these writers lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood. Thus Colossians 2:19, Ephesians 1:22-23, and Ephesians 4:15-16 should be understood in light of Psalm 133, where it is from the anointed head (Christ) that the anointing flows down to every part and where unity of the brethren is. I would now like to look at a few passages from the writings of Paul to show kindred thoughts and expressions with the teachings of Jesus. This comparison is not exhaustive by any means. Being accepted in the Beloved Eph 1:5-6 having predestined us to the adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. Joh 15:7-9 If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. In this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you shall be My disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; continue in My love. Concerning Marriage 1Co 7:1-11 Now concerning what you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But, because of the fornications, let each have his own wife, and let each have her own husband. Let the husband give to the wife proper kindness, and likewise the wife also to the husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband. And likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive one another, unless it is with consent for a time, so that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer. And come together again so that Satan does not tempt you for your incontinence. But I speak this according to permission, not according to commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself am. But each has his proper gift from God, one according to this manner and another according to that. I say therefore to the unmarried and the widows, It is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. And to the married I command (not I, but the Lord), a woman not to be separated from her husband. But if she is indeed separated, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to leave his wife. Mat 19:3-11 And the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him and saying to Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And He answered and said to them, Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female", and said, For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh? Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. They said to Him, Why did Moses then command to give a bill of divorce and to put her away? He said to them, Because of your hard-heartedness Moses allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is put away commits adultery. His disciples said to Him, If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not good to marry. But He said to them, Not all receive this word, except those to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs who were born so from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. He who is able to receive it, let him receive it. Paul continues with giving his judgment concerning those married to unbelieving idolaters, something Christ had never specifically addressed because of His Jewish audience (1 Cor. 7:12-17). In this he does not allude directly to the Words of Christ, but instead lays down rules of conduct in agreement with God’s original institution of marriage and Christ’s teaching. In this he gives a pattern for handling similar situations where there is no exact Scriptural parallel, that is drawing out principles from what is taught and applying them. He did not lay down a rule of conduct on his own authority without reference to what Christ taught. It should be mentioned as a side note for those who noticed that Paul though clearly alluding to Matthew 19 (note the parallel between celibacy as a gift and Christ saying it is given) he does not mention the exception clause. This means that either he was unaware of it, or he did not interpret it in the way most commonly received today. It is highly unlikely that he would have been unaware of it, and yet been aware of the words that follow immediately afterwards concerning celibacy being given, so it follows that he must not have interpreted it in the way it commonly is interpreted. Were that clause the main part of Christian teaching concerning divorce it would be mentioned several times and omitted in an instance or two rather than the reverse. Obedience to Secular Authority Rom 13:1-8 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Mat 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Mar 12:28-34 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. On the true source of defilement Rom 14:14-23 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Col 2:20-23 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. Mar 7:14-23 And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.] And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." On Unity 1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. Joh 17:9-11 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Undoubtedly Paul had heard something of Christ’s High Priestly prayer found in John 17, though it was not yet put down in a Gospel nor would be until after Paul’s death. Not only was the need for unity greatly emphasized by the apostle in other places as well but here in 1 Cor. 1:8-9 he refers to the keeping power of God immediately before mentioning the need for unity, almost as if he is thinking of John 17, which contains both themes interwoven. This casts an interesting possibility on how much of John’s material was available to the other Apostles and early disciples and perhaps the reason why he never wrote it earlier when there were more living witnesses and second-hand reporters of it. Exhortation to Desire the Gifts of the Spirit 1Co 12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1Co 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. Luk 11:5-13 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Our Heavenly Tabernacle prepared for us 2Co 5:1-8 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Joh 14:1-4 "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." Necessity of Being Born Again Gal 6:15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Joh 3:3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." One Fold One Shepherd Eph 2:14-18 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Joh 10:14-16 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Conclusion In this post I desired to show just how much Paul relied upon Christ for his own teaching and conduct. I hope I was successful in that. It should also be noted that if I had included all the Old Testament Scriptures quoted or alluded to we would have the majority of his doctrinal teaching. Anything he brought out that was not specifically found either in the Words of Christ or the Old Testament was drawn forth from these by deduction. To show how He viewed his charge in this way and how he would not state things merely on his own authority, we look now at 1 Corinthians 4:6-7, “Now these things, brothers, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, in order that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did indeed receive what you have, why do you boast as though you did not receive it?” Here Paul makes the source of parties in the Church to consist in going beyond the Scripture, and this is very true. It is amazing but no one ever contends with as much earnestness as when they are trying to force something not in Scripture on someone else. Often people can say any old thing without upsetting someone, but if you touch their pet doctrine, which often is not in Scripture, they are up in arms. When we stay in Scripture and bind our thoughts to it, we have no room for parties, because all that we see is what God has put there and if we see more than another it is only because He has opened our eyes to understand what we read. He could do the same for any one else, so what can we boast of. May God help us all to rightly divide His Word! Amen.