Saturday, November 23, 2013

Now It Really Begins: Your Opinion Will Determine the Next Step

So I've now reached the stage in the discussion with the Christian teacher where we get to the heart of the doctrinal divide.  Below you'll see his most recent statements and my response--except that I haven't responded yet!  And that's where you come in.  Do you recommend I respond as set forth below?  Or should the response be more measured?  Let me know what you think.  NOTE:  the Christian teacher's words are in italics.

RE:  "Consequently, the ceremonial regulations pertaining to the Temple, it's worship and those who maintained it are all obsolete."

      Ezekiel says otherwise.  In fact, Ezekiel says that not only will the Temple regulations continue but those who maintained the Temple regulations will continue:
" 'But the priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok and who faithfully carried out the duties of my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign LORD." (Eze. 44:15).
RE:  "It should be noted that nowhere in the NT do we see any of the Apostles advocate or instruct Gentile believers to follow the old Levitical and Rabbinical codes....Nevertheless there were many that were still fixated on the old code and they insisted that these new believers follow such practices in order to be considered 'Messianic' followers.  This led them down a path of following a set of external precepts (mechanics) which included being circumcised, keeping the Sabbath, maintaining the festivals, dietary practices, etc. as though these practices were required for Gentile believers.  While practicing these things may be permissible, especially Jewish believers, they are by no means obligatory, but have a tendency to become baggage.  Paul was very explicit regarding this matter.  '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."

     You say that only moral laws continue and that all the ceremonial laws are abolished.  So let's ignore, for the moment, that Yeshua said He would not abolish a jot or tittle of the law and that those who teach the law will be considered greatest in the kingdom.  And let's ignore the fact that Paul says for Gentiles to imitate the "way of walking" of Jewish Believers such as Paul (Phil.3:17) and commands Gentiles to keep Passover (1 Cor. 5).  Let's set all of that evidence aside for the moment.  Your assertion that the ceremonial laws such as "keeping the Sabbath" and "maintaining the festivals" is not Biblical because it is again flatly contradicted by the Prophets.  I'll give two examples.

Zechariah says that festivals have NOT been abolished.  Here he says that Sukkot will be mandatory for Gentiles:

"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.  And it shall be, that whoso of the families of the earth goeth not up unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain.  And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, they shall have no overflow; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles."  Zechariah 14.16-19.

And what is the purpose of Sukkot (i.e. Feast of Tabernacles)?  The Torah explains that the ultimate purpose is to hear and learn Torah:

"Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of the Lord's Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. And Moses instructed them as follows:  Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people--men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities--that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of the Teaching.  Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Lord your God as long as they live in the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to occupy."  Deuteronomy 31.9-13.

You also assert that Shabbat is abolished.  The Prophets contradict this by saying that Shabbat will be for everyone:

"And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord," (Isa. 66:23).

And note that the Temple only becomes a "House of Prayer for all people" when a Gentile properly keeps Shabbat in the eschaton:

"6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isa. 56:6-7)

RE:  "Paul recognized that the moral precepts reflect the nature and character of God Almighty and transcend time and culture.  Therefore they are universal and normative for all peoples for all time.  That is why he translated this into principles of practical theology for the Gentile believers which was affirmed by the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15)."

You assert that the Jersualem Council abolished Torah for Gentiles (in blatant contradiction of the Prophets) and you base this, apparently, on the fourfold decree.   

First, the fourfold decree can only be read as a prohibition against participating in cultic pagan rites.  I'll now present the evidence for this position.  First, here is the subject verse:
"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols [alisgematon ton eidolon] and from fornication [porneias] and from things strangled [pniktou] and from blood [haimatos]," (Acts 15:20)
In 15:20, the first thing prohibited is "alisgemata ton eidolon" which translates as "pollutions of idols".  And the parallel of this provision in 15:29 rephrases it as "eidolothuton" which translates quite clearly as "idol sacrifice" (also see LXX of Daniel 1:8 for corroboration).  This sets up the cultic context for the remaining three provisions which we will now look at in turn.

We know that "porneias" is connected to "eidoluthutai" elsewhere in Scripture:

"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality [eidolothuta kai porneusai]," (Rev. 2:14) 
"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols [porneusai kai eidolothuta]" (Rev. 2:20)

This establishes that porneias in Acts 15:20 concerns cultic idolatry.

Now we turn to "pniktou", a term so rare that it is not found elsewhere in Scripture (outside of Acts).  In fact, the only we know about it comes from Philo:

"The Jewish philosopher Philo described the revolting practice of how pagans would often strangle or choke their sacrifices, not letting the blood out, in opposition to God's law: 'But some men, with open mouths, carry even the excessive luxury and boundless intemperance of Sardanapalus to such an indefinite and unlimited extent, being wholly absorbed in the invention of senseless pleasures, that they prepare sacrifices which ought never be offered, strangling their victims, and stifling the essence of life [Leviticus 17:11], which they ought to let depart free and unrestrained, burying the blood, as it were, in the body.  For it ought to have been sufficient for them to enjoy the flesh by itself, without touching any of those parts which have a connection with the soul or life' (Special Laws 4.122)," (from McKee's Acts 15 For the Practical Messianic).

 So we see that the fourth prohibition of "blood" is connected to "pniktou".  When one strangles the animal one automatically traps the blood for the purpose of pagan rites.

 Therefore, the fourfold decree can not be taken to be some new form of Torah for Gentiles.  Taken in context,  it is simply a prohibition of core pagan rites in a cultic context.  And why were these prohibited?  Because Gentiles were EXPECTED to be in synagogue to learn the Torah of Moses:
"For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." (Acts 15:21).


  1. Peter, I think you make some great points.


  2. Peter, I just left you a comment and it disappeared when I posted, and this is not the first time this has happened. Okay, I will save it this time.

    If this friend is a theologian, then there are a number of excellent books he can peruse at his leisure; it is not as if you are going to win a proof-texting war. Today I heard something interesting from Paul Wilbur, that although we are surrounded by a sea of information, we are not to live our lives by information but by revelation. You can't communicate Hebraic wisdom via Greek methodology; it would be akin to teaching Algebra with a violin. Invite your friend to a Chanukah party and ask him to read Al Nissim.

  3. I think it is great, but you should show him what I call the "Pauline Paradox": passages that present Paul as still doing Torah and that assert explicit or not that Torah is good and irrevocable!

    You know, the second part of Romans 7 where Torah is something spiritual he wants to do.
    Or the passage where we "don't abolish but uphold" Torah. Another good passage is the one in galatians where Paul argues that the Sinaitic Covenant could not make the abrahamic void (if this rationale is true than the new covenant could not do it to the "old" either - or Paul has two waits and two measures). Show him where Paul makes sacrifices of nazirite [that include even sacrifices for sin], where he SAYS he does not said anything against the Torah or the traditions, and show him the passages where Torah is eternal and good in the Tanack.
    This is my piece of advice!, Blessings!

  4. All good advice, guys. I appreciate it.

    I'll use the Scriptural arguments...but I'll also invite the teacher over for Shabbat. However, we're in the middle of a it might be another month or so before that will be possible. Moving is the worst, all the packing. : /

  5. I might challenge his initial bifurcation of the commandments into "ceremonial" and "moral." Of course, the scripture never offers such a split, and decisions as to which commandments have moral character and which are merely ceremonial have no exegetical basis. The Torah, nor the rest of the Scripture, does not say "G-d says [XYZ] and it is bad to ignore this," and then in the next paragraph, "G-d says [ABC] but if you ignore this, you're just skimping out on ceremony, it's not a matter of what's right and wrong."

    In reality, people divide "ceremonial" and "moral" commandments based on external culture, unsupported by Scripture. Try telling an Arab believer that eating pork is not a moral issue, then go and have that same discussion with an Irishman. Sha'ul tells us that the Torah is how we know what is sin and what is righteousness, but apparently something in the Torah is not righteousness or sin if it, in the eyes of the moral code of our local time and place, doesn't *seem* to be a moral issue. Then, it is simply ceremonial. So the Bible can make *suggestions* about sin, but the culture decides the validity of those suggestions.

    Just as as kashut would seem a moral issue to an Arab but not a moral issue to an Irishman, we could conceive of societies which would write off all kinds of things which *seem* moral to the modern American as being ceremonial and pointless - they would perhaps write off commandments against dishonesty in business, or caring for the poor, etc, as being "ceremonial" or "a product of ancient near east culture," as I've often heard it said, and rationalize that they no longer applied because that particular culture didn't think such things were important - just as today's Church does with many commandments that don't seem to the local culture to be moral in nature.

    So, if we're to split up the commandments into "moral" and "ceremonial," we're really dividing them into "I like these" and "I don't like these." , the Torah doesn't define sin and righteousness, good and bad. The Bible doesn't have authority over what is sin. I do. Each individual person is the authority on what is sin. Because there is no conclusive list of what is "moral" and what is "ceremonial," because the Scripture doesn't provide such a list, "every man does what is right in their own eyes." All else is "ceremonial." Not only is that obviously, inherently backward, not only does it put oneself in G-d's place as the arbiter of sin and righteousness, but it descends into utter moral relativism. But, by defining some commandments as "not moral," moral relativism is really what we're aiming for in the first place, isn't it?

  6. Finally, there's the observation that simply, to neglect to do as G-d instructs is immoral, period. Regardless of whether the instruction itself has moral content, the act of obedience is in and of itself a moral issue.

    If G-d commanded that I do ten jumping jacks a day, or spin around in a circle singing nursery rhymes, then there might well be no moral content - but if I refuse to do as He instructs, even if He instructs me to do something which isn't a moral issue - my neglect to obey is inherently immoral. I deny the King His rightful authority to regulate the lives and behavior of His subjects. Instead, I regulate my own behavior and He does not get to tell me what to do. This is nothing short of, once again, putting oneself in the place of G-d. Conversely, to obey G-d is inherently moral, even if He were to instruct us to do something that we saw as being morally neutral or silly.

    So, even if there were, theoretically, mitzvot which were not moral, the act of obeying G-d is in and of itself moral, and the act of not obeying is in and of itself immoral. Therefore, every single mitzvah is conclusively moral in nature, because it's not a question of whether G-d issues a particular command for moral or ceremonial reasons, but instead a question of whether or not we do as G-d instructs, and in the process either honor or deny His Kingship.