Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stop the Press! Mainline Christian Scholars Beginning to Promote the Torah of Moses



"I am keenly aware that in proposing [that the Torah of Moses is valid for Christians] I have guaranteed for myself a limited hearing," Daniel I. Block, opening line from his essay entitled "Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians" found in the book "The Gospel According to Moses:  Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy"
What follows are my notes on Daniel I. Block's essay entitled "Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians."  I just read this today and was astounded that a Christian would be promoting the Torah of Moses to fellow Christians.  And not just any Christian but he happens to be a professor of the Old Testament at Wheaton College.  Friends, this is G-d at work in Christendom, changing it into something new.  Enjoy:



Block claims to have figured out why Christians believe the Torah is not relevant.  They think it's a bunch of boring rituals made obsolete by Christ's sacrifice on the cross, laws that are hopelessly out of date and inapplicable to modern times, unduly harsh laws that are grossly inferior to the "law of love" announced by Jesus, encrypted in an antiquated literary form that would be impossible to understand in our modern age, and representing a view of G-d that is objectionable to modern sensitivities.

But, he says, these misconceptions about the law arise from fundamental ideological and theological prejudices against Old Testament law.  He first traces these prejudices to the 2nd century heretic Marcion proclaimed a radical discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the Church, the G-d of the Old Testament and the G-d of the New.  Then he identifies three current streams of prejudice:  the antipathy resulting from the Lutherian law-gospel contrast, the dispensational idea that the church age with its dispensation of grace is fundamentally different from the Israel age with its dispensation of law, and, finally, the New Covenant Theology rooted in Reformed Theolgoy which says that Mosaic Covenant ended when Christ instituted the New Covenant.  

Because of these misconceptions and interpretive traditions, most preachers don't preach from the Old Testament but if they do they say that the Law is irrelevant for three reasons: (1) the atoning work of Jesus Christ liberated us from the "curse of the law" (Rom. 3:21; 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Gal. 2:19-21; 3:23-26; 4:21-31; Heb. 7:12); (2) the word telos in Rom 10:4 is taken to mean "termination" of the law; (3) Christians pick and choose the laws they feel they should keep by differentiating between ceremonial, civil, and moral laws.  Block points out that no attention is given to the option of theonomy which views the Old Testament law as fundamentally in force even for the church.
These interpretive traditions he considers remarkable given that Jesus declared the permanent validity of the Law in Matthew 5:17-20 and in light of His declaration that love for Him is demonstrated first and foremost by keeping His commands (John 14:15; 15:10).  Also by Paul's assertion that it's the doers of the law who will be justified (Rom. 2:13).

Next, he questions how Christians can read "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17) as an assertion that Mosaic law is not a requirement but rather as an "optional sourcebook for optional lessons."

So then Block attempts to dispel the misconceptions and antipathy by examining the nature of the Law, the literary context of it, and what the law meant to the "Old Testament Saints."  

How did the genuinely pious in Israel, the "Old Testament Saints", understand the Law?  He provides several answers:  (1) they perceived obedience to the laws, not as a precondition to salvation but rather as the grateful response of those who had already been saved; (2) they perceived obedience to the law as an expression of covenant relationship--obey the voice of G-d; (3) they perceived obedience to the law as a precondition to achieving the mission to which they'd been called and the precondition to receiving blessing.  The first point he says is highlighted in Exodus 19:5-6:  if Israel will keep G-d's covenant and obey His voice then she will be G-d's special treasure, His kingdom of priests, His holy nation (Deut. 26:16-19).  The second point is spelled out in Lev. 26:1-13 and Deut. 28:1-4; (4) being able to hear what the G-d of Israel wanted was considered a unique privilege compared to the gods of the nations who didn't speak.  They were thankful to know with clarity and confidence what G-d wanted for their lives; (5) they perceived true obedience to the law to be the external expression of an inward disposition of fear and faith in G-d and love for G-d; (6) they perceived the laws holistically, viewing all of life as under the authority of the divine suzerain.  Whereas many Christians think of the Torah as divisible according to moral, civil, and ceremonial, this classification fails to appreciate the nature and organization of the laws themselves.  Thus, they never questioned "which" laws to keep but rather "how" to keep the laws; (7) while they believed the commandments were achievable, it was also understood that G-d, recognizing their propensity to sin, had provided a means for forgiveness and communion through the sacrificial and ceremonial ritual.  Block then appears to identify the church with Israel by saying, "There was no time in Israel's history when every Israelite was truly devoted to [Adonai] in this sense.  For this reason, within the new Israelite covenant, Jeremiah anticipates a time when the boundaries between physical Israel and spiritual Israel will be coterminous and all will love God and demonstrate with their lives that his [Torah] has been written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34)."

So with this new understanding of the Torah Moses--especially the idea that there really is no conflict between law and grace in that the law is the revealed standard for how to live an approvable life, how is a Christian to reconcile this new understanding of the law with the writings of Paul?  "...[H]ow is this perspective to be reconciled with Paul's outspoken statements regarding the death-dealing effect of the law in contrast to the life that comes by the Spirit (Rom 2:12-13; 4:13-15; 7:8-9; 8:2-4; 10:4-5; 1 Cor 3:6; Gal 3:12-13, 21-24; 5:18)?"  

Block says the first thing to keep in mind is that Scripture says obedience to the Torah gives life and well-being.  "In Lev 18:5, [Adonai] declares, 'Keep my ordinances and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them.  I am [Adonai].'  Similar statements are found in Ezek 20:11, 13 and Neh 9:29.  The Psalter begins with an ode to the life-giving nature of the law (1:1-6), and Psalm 119, by far the longest piece in this collection, is devoted entirely to teh positive nature of the law.  References to the relationship between keeping the law and well-being are common:  vv. 17, 40, 77, 93, 97, 116, 144, 156, 159, 175.  The basic Old Testament stance is summarized by Habakkuk in 2:4, which, in context, is best interpreted, 'As for the proud one, his person [nefesh] is not right on the inside; but the righteous in his faithfulness shall live.'  Ezekiel offers an extended exposition of this notion in 18:1-23.  After describing the ethicial behavior of a man, on behalf of [Adonai], he declares, 'He is righteous; he shall surely live' (v. 9).  After describing the unethical behavior of his son he declares, 'He has committed all these abominations; he shall surely be put to death' (v. 13).  Later he declares that if a wicked man turns from his wickedness and observes all of [Adonai's] ordinances, and practices righteousness and justice, 'he shall surely live' (vv. 21-23).  The assumption in each case is that the outward actions reflect the inner spirit of the person, on the basis of which a judgment concerning the spiritual status of the person may be made and the sentence of life or death rendered."

Second, Block points out that later revelation cannot correct earlier revelation as if there was a defect in the earlier revelation.  "Later revelation may be more precise and more nuanced, but it cannot be more true.  Accordingly, Paul cannot be interpreted as correcting Moses..."  In reality, says Block, Paul was responding to an incorrect approach to law--not the law itself.  To those that thought the law was the means of salvation, Paul indicated that this way of thinking would lead to death.  He never intended to contradict Scripture and say that the law itself leads to death.

Third, Christians should not imagine that the law written on their hearts is different from the law revealed under the old covenant.  "Jesus said, 'If you love me you will keep my commandments' (John 14:15), and 'Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him' (14:21).  In lifting these statements right out of Deuteronomy Jesus identifies himself with [Adonai] in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, his use of the plural ['my commandments'] presupposes a specific body of laws with which the disciples are familiar.  Here Jesus does not say generically and vaguely, 'If you lvoe me you will do as I say,' as if this refers to marching orders for the future."

So once a Christian accepts that obedience to the law is not a renunciation of grace but rather the grateful response of one who desires to walk in conformity to the will of G-d and that the law is not a collection of harsh laws from a different G-d from long ago--the G-d of the "Old Testament" but rather instructions for how to live the way of life that G-d approves, then the Christian is still left with the monumental question:  how am I supposed to apply Old Testament law to my own life?

Block first suggests that Christians take 2 Tim 3:15-17 as the starting point, "recognizing that this statement not only affirms the reliability of the Old Testatment as divinely breathed Scripture, but especially that it is ethically relevant and through its application God creates a transformed people."

Second, one must recognize the theological and ethical unity of the "two Testaments."  

Third, Paul's call for obedience to the "law of Christ" (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) and Yeshua's call for adherence to the "commandments" cannot remain vague and empty, subject to anybody's personal and subjective interpretation.  

Fourth, it should be understood that many laws refer to a broad category of commandments.  For example, the law requiring parapets on houses (Deut 22:8) should be construed as requiring the heads of houeholds to ensure the well-being of all who enter their property and homes (e.g. keeping sidewalks clear of ice during the winter time).

Fifth, the social and theological underpinnings of laws should be investigated so that they can be applied as principles to our own cultural context.  

Sixth, "seize the underlying principles of those  [laws] that are culturally and contextually specific and apply those principles to the contexts in which we live.  It is impossible to establish the particular kind of haircut Lev 19:27 seeks to ban, but is not difficult to identify parallel contemporary practices that need to be reined in....forms of dress that represent un-godly values."

Block ends his essay by adding the caveat that "[t]he problem of applying Old Testament laws to contemporary contexts is much more complex than these few summary statements would imply" and reassuring his readers that he is not advocating any kind of works salvation.  Rather, salvation should result in a life that conforms to the will of G-d.  

25 comments:

  1. "Its high, and its deep... that ball is outta here. Grand slam homerun!!!"

    Peter, great collection of notes hitting the high points. Love your style and very excited to read this essay. We are truly living in the Days of Elijah!! Righteousness is being restored!

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  2. Excellent article and very helpful.

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  3. If ONLY this could be read in every pulpit!! As a Messianic Jew myself, I'm very tired of being called things like a "Judaizer"...

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  4. Great explanation; will print to hand out. I too tired of trying to explain ... will just hand this to them. Thank you ; Toda raba.. Shoshanna

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  5. Great article. I am sharing it with my friends. Good suggestion made to print it out as a handout in answer to those who question my decision to obey G-d's law/instruction.

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  6. Well first I do not know who your are. Second, what are your qualifications to run such a blog. Third, Yehowah will not be calling "Messianic Judaism" home to Eretz Yisra'el. He will be calling Yisra'el. All of Yisra'el. Not just the Jews, but the Ephramites, the Rubenites, The Menashaites, The Gadites, The Yissakarites and all of the 12 tribes. All of the descendants of the 72 in Egypt along with those who attach themselves to the people of Yisra'el. So this blog, in its conception, is prejudiced to only the Judah side of the story. Fix that, and I am in.

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    1. Billy, do you make it a habit to storm into other people's houses and spit in their eye before you get know them?

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    2. Shalom Billy,

      I love you, brother. I take no offense. The truth is that I'm not especially qualified. I'm just a regular guy who loves Yeshua, loves ALL Israel, and I just can't shut up about how wonderful G-d's grace is to us and how wonderful is His Torah!

      Blessings in Yeshua's Name,

      Peter

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    3. So Billy, how do you test something if you throw it out before you even get started? Secondly, we do not know who you are (Pete gives a reasonably thorough rundown of his journey if you actually care to read it). Thirdly, how do we know that you are qualified to PARTICIPATE in this blog?

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  7. Thanks for all the encouraging comments! Yes, by all means share this with as many folks as possible! G-d bless you all!

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  8. Good information, I can't tell you how many people I have come across lately, that have started down this journey to a Hebraic understanding... God is doing something amazing and quickly. There was an entire homeschooling group near where I live, and they were going to study the Christian Holidays as they do every year (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and decided for some unknown reason to study the feast of the Lord, after doing so, they all started questioning why these feast are not celebrated and their journey started from there... No Hebraic or Messianic teacher to influence them, just doors opened and blinders removed. I have seen more blinders being removed in these past few years and than in the past 10, its catching on like wildfire.

    With that said, the post you wrote is encouraging, it is really great to see an academic teacher, planting these seeds in the next generation of Pastors and Leaders, which ultimately means, it is going to grow even faster.

    Side note: I emailed Rabbi Shalom Arush who is the head of Breslev (http://www.breslev.co.il/), I asked what he thought about gentiles who love Israel, love the Jewish people, and feel the draw and desire to keep the Torah while not wanting to convert and become Jewish, who want to remain gentile and yet observe Torah, did he think this was wrong? I expected the usual Orthodox answer, he surprised me, he responded with:

    "Baruch Hashem, the more people keeping Torah, the better!"

    It is interested to see more and more Jews excited about this development as well, there is a phenomena going on between Jews and Christians. I just heard of a site called http://root-source.com/, where Jews are teaching Christians Judaism. Breslev has been very welcoming to gentiles keeping the Torah, and there are a few radio host that I have come across with Jews and Christians working together, it is awesome to see it happening.

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    1. May G-d pour blessings over his head and his entire family! So encouraging to hear from Rabbi Arush! Thank you Zion for sharing!

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    2. Zion, you are spot on!! I, too, have seen a marked acceleration, but would even shorten the timeframe. Since late Spring of this year the tides have turned.and I have watched it accelerate around me through the summer. Seriously, the winds are different and there is a hunger never before witnessed!!

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  9. Excellent drash! When we come to the full revelation that Yeshua is the heart and essence of the soul of
    G-d in human form we SEE how G-d's heart thinks and feels about His creation; how He desires a covenant relationship that is mutually beneficial. Yeshua: the ohr אור of the world. The Truth אמת. The path of life חי. He who walks in the path of חי will not stumble in darkness.......B''H

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  10. Great article, one correction. Toward the very beginning of the article it states, "Friends, this is G-d at work in Christendom, changing it into something new." I understand the point but I rather think Christendom would be changing into something old. Acts 21:20 states that many thousands of Jews believed in Yeshua and were zealous for Torah. The word for "many thousands" is murias, it is the word for 10,000, and it is plural. That means as many as 20,000+ Jews believed Yeshua was messiah AND continued to walk in Torah. It appears the awakening today is us moving back to that kind of relationship with God. Shalom and Brakhot!

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  11. Baruch HaShem indeed! And may we soon see more headlines like this.

    On point 3 you (/Block) says "adherence to the 'commandments' cannot remain vague and empty, subject to anybody's personal and subjective interpretation."

    How is that resolved with points 4-6? It seems they leave the Torah open to much "personal and subjective interpretation."

    4. "many laws refer to a broad category of commandments."

    5. "applied as principles to our own cultural context."

    6. "it is not difficult to identify parallel contemporary practices that need to be reined in."

    I don't disagree with what you or Professor Block have written but think there's going to be a huge struggle with interpreting the Torah. We already see this in the MJ/HR world and even in Judaism when it comes to halchah

    But kudos on finding this. I'm looking forward to reading more from him.

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    1. It seems they leave the Torah open to much "personal and subjective interpretation."

      That is the reality of the scriptures, we are not given every single detail, but we are given the ability to have authorities and leaders who help maintain and uphold traditions and interpretations for a community. For example, in Orthodox Judaism, they rely on their local rabbi's who rely on the "oral torah", in Messianic circles there are small local community authority, either way, as long as, these traditions and interpretations do not in some way invalidate the clear and at the very least, the plain meaning of the text, it should all work out just fine, even among disagreements and various levels of observance, which is never going to change until the King returns. It is very narrow minded to think, that there is only one group or community who has the proper interpretation, and yet we see this mentality among Christianity, Messianic Judaism and Judaism, and it is just perpetuated narrow mindedness. God has a plan in all of this and even in our divisions and interpretations and these struggles will continue. We have to focus on the bigger picture, which is a people who hold to the testimony of Yeshua and keep God's commandments (the Law of Moses). (Rev 12:17)

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    2. Ken and Zion,

      Great points. There's a section of Mark Kinzer's book "Israel's Messiah and the People of God" that I'm going to review. There's a quote from Fishbane in that section that talks about how the Written Torah was never intended to be the entirety of the Torah, that viable juridical decisions in a halachic framework require a certain scope and precision. It's a good point. We're not really governed by the Written Torah until we have a viable halachic system in place.

      Put another way, without being governed by halacha, practice is unfortunately left up to personal and subjective interpretation. It is a problem...

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    3. "without being governed by halacha, practice is unfortunately left up to personal and subjective interpretation. It is a problem..."

      Exactly what the Catholic Church has always stated.

      Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum

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    4. "without being governed by halacha, practice is unfortunately left up to personal and subjective interpretation. It is a problem..."

      Exactly what the Catholic Church has always stated.

      Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum

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    5. Anonymous,

      RE: "Exactly what the Catholic Church has always stated."

      Where have Catholics ever said they believe in keeping an objective, halachic framework for keeping the mitzvot of Torah? : )

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  12. "Where have Catholics ever said they believe in keeping an objective, halachic framework for keeping the mitzvot of Torah? : )"

    You might be suprised about what the Catholics believe about keeping the law. :)

    The church has a long history back to the Jerusalem Council on rulings concerning the law of Moses up until today. It is called "canon law" and you probably will not agree with it, but it exists.

    That's the problem with mans "oral law" and "halachic rulings". Man's idea is corruptable and leads the people away from Torah. There is always someone new who thinks they know better and puts out a new catechism.

    But what did God ordain? People to follow a set of mans rules? No, but to follow the spirit for "he will lead you into all truth".

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    1. anonymous;

      Without entering into a long discussion:

      Be aware that Pope Benedict in 2006 proclaimed that Jews are covered under the original covenant.

      Of course, I hold that all must come under the original covenant.

      This is what the death of the Moshiac ben Aaron was for.

      Just as Isaac was to be given for the CONTINUATION of the covenant(and then exempted by the death of the Ram-bringing Israel back to the land as per Cyrus' order).

      Israel then continued in rebellion and YHVH knew a third sacrifice for renewal( the KARAT-covenant of the pieces as per Abraham was the first),

      Rome then dispersed the nation until the times of Lev. 26 curses(daniels chronology discourses the last 3-430 yr.periods and the 90 year time of the end and then the finalization of the 1150 lunar and 1150 solar eclipses,on passover this year and 8-21-17 for the solar.).

      The shofar has significance this Yom Kippur. It is calling the tribes home.

      What most do not realize is that Psalms 68 is speaking of the clans in Islam who will take Jerusalem first, cleansing the land of idolatry and perversion.( see Ezekiel 11)

      You will see this unfold this year.

      Follow Torah, fear YHVH, there is no man-god to petition.
      Yehoshuas job was done when he died for the covenant renewal.
      YHVH is bringing the judgement.

      Shalom,

      Herald

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