“So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Hodesh [new moon] or Shabbat [sabbath].” —Col. 2:16
Along with the passage in Acts 10, this section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the other alleged “proof” that the Old Testament ceremonial or dietary laws are no longer a moral requirement for those who follow the Messiah.
But also along with the Acts 10 passage, interpreters tend to read their predetermined view into this portion of Scripture. In this instance, the predetermined view says Paul declared the dietary and ceremonial laws were merely a matter of individual choice. You may, or may not, choose to keep them. No one is to be your judge in these matters.
In order to understand this issue, it helps to ask this question: Who is Paul defending in this passage? Is he defending the Torah-keeping Christians from accusations by non Torah-keepers? Or is he defending the non Torah-keepers from the accusations of the Torah-keeping crowd? And what criteria would Paul use in order to figure out which group he should be defending?
By what principle of interpretation, then, can it be said that St. Paul disagrees with what God has previously stated quite clearly.
Here’s the issue: until you figure out your interpretive guideline for the New Testament, all you do is the make the New Testament subject to what Van Til has called “the growing ethical consciousness of man.” When you read the Old Testament, the Torah’s permanence is made known. Read passages such as Deuteronomy 29 (see v. 29) and Psalm 119 if you’re unsure. When you come to the New Testament, the opening Gospel makes no attempt to change this view of the Torah. Read Matt. 5:17ff if you’re not convinced.
But, it is alleged, it is the Apostle Paul (and the writer to Hebrews if it wasn’t St. Paul) who has told us that we are no longer obligated to keep certain aspects of the law—the Torah. We now have freedom of choice. God has untied us from at least some parts of his Torah, and New Testament Christians are no longer bound to the dietary laws, new moons and sabbaths, for example.
A Controversial Text Made Easy
The account of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) has turned out to be a watershed passage in the New Testament. Watershed because if it is often read as a text to show that the Torah is no longer valid for goyim—gentiles. But such an interpretation brings the reader into conflict with the words of the Messiah when he said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17-20).
If Acts 15 is interpreted as negating the Torah, then the words of the Messiah need to be equivocated. ‘Abolish’ apparently does not mean abolish. ‘Fulfill’ means gentiles don’t need to keep the Torah. And the phrase ‘whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’ becomes just an irrelevant portion of the New Testament. Any plain and literal reading of the Matthew passage is quite clear—except to those who think Torah has now been set aside for the goyim.
It is not my intention to exegete Acts 15 for you. That task has been done very well by Tim Hegg, and posted on the link below. I pray all my blog readers follow the link—and enjoy reading a clear and delightful explanation of Acts 15 that doesn’t require mental gymnastics with Matt. 5.
It is always possible to get a rigorous debate on capitalism versus socialism from business owners. One of my first clients as a consultant in 1996 was a former union leader, now in his own business and beginning to see things were not the way he imagined.
He was the man now cutting the checks. And when he cut checks, he expected to get value for money. He resented paying workers for poor and inefficient performance.
The regular model of business, however, showing the business owner as the “owner” of the business is misleading. It misleads because it fails to address property ownership in its broader context.
If you look at ancient Israel, land was determined for the twelve tribes, then every 50 years, the year of Jubilee returned the land to the original family.
But land is not the only asset of ownership. A person “owns” his labor and the skills he has acquired. People ought to be permitted — and encouraged — to manage their assets in the same way land owners can manage their land.
Paul’s Message About Torah Remains a Mystery To Many
Perhaps no other book in the Bible is so contentious among Christians concerning the Torah and the believer. It is now common to suggest that the Old Testament view of Torah has been replaced. And the ‘new’ teaching is that offered by St. Paul in his letter to the Messianic community in Galatia.
The ideas offered by some of the commentators, however, halt between an outright declaration that the Torah is out completely for the New Testament believer, or else there is equivocation on explaining just how the Torah might be used today by the believer.
Neither view is satisfactory since it leaves a huge unanswered question: How, then, should we live? Or if that question is answered, the answer promotes mystical experience via the Holy Spirit as the way to find out how God wants a person to live. This is the dilemma of modern Christianity. Either it becomes antinomian by denying the Torah altogether, or it slips into mysticism, personal mystical experience with the Holy Spirit in such a way that every person defines for himself what is right or wrong.
So here is a problem to be solved. And the ‘problem’ starts with some of the words of Scripture. For those who accept sola scriptura, the words of Scripture don’t always appear very helpful by themselves. Consider this from the ESV translation.
Many people avoid discussing mortality. But they do hope for a long, long life.
When it comes to any consideration of the future, many people consider death somewhere in the distance. Only a serious illness in ourselves or a loved one brings home the reality of mortality.
The Scriptures, however, contain three promises pertaining to longevity of one kind or another. The promises are all conditioned upon behavior—ethical behavior. Interestingly, it is not correct thought that is important, but correct action. Obeying the Torah is more important than arguing Calvinism or any other —ism, unless that —ism leads to changed behavior. While thoughts and actions are connected, too many people want to argue Calvinism rather than how to apply God’s Law. Calvinism’s objective, of course, is to make sure we do not let the law become meritorious—”works of the law.” A misplaced emphasis on gnosis, however, can help bury action—godly living according to Torah.
How an inadequate definition can lead to failure.
Who is Douglas Vickers? He’s an Australian who taught economics in the USA. He went into print against the free market and its biblical foundations. He promoted the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes—yes that one. Now Keynes did not invent modern economics of the state. He merely attempted to provide a rationale for it. I disagreed with Vickers, and therefore Keynes, and here’s why.
My first book, Baptized Inflation: A Critique of “Christian” Keynesianism, was published in 1986. It was a critique of Douglas Vicker’s attempts to argue that biblical economics was best presented in the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes. I relied heavily on the Austrian school of economics for my critique.
The Austrian school of economics, its key exponent being Ludwig von Mises, argues that all economic theories turn on the concept of property rights. Are property rights in the hands of the individual or the state? Good question.
At our church after the morning service we have been following the R.C. Sproul DVD series, entitled “Dust to Glory”. It’s a good series. The topic: Amos and Hosea.
As I was following through Amos chapter 5:18ff, the structure of Amos’s prophetic word against Israel became apparent. “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies,” says YHWH. These words summarize the complaint.
Then the criticism finishes and in its place, an exhortation: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v. 24).
Twice each year, as a child living on orchards, we had fruit picking season. Oranges towards the end of winter, and grapes at the end of summer, southern hemisphere time. So I never experienced a genuine white Christmas until I relocated to the heartland of the USA, the mid-west.
Picking fruit, especially the grapes, was an art. These grapes were for eating, so they should be picked carefully so as not to bruise or damage. The bad ones were removed, and the good fruit gently packed in a box where it was sealed and made ready to go to the big city.
Sometimes it was necessary to throw a whole bunch out. Once you get one rotten grape it spreads and contaminates the remainder. And you had to be very careful that a bad grape did not get packed, because it could very easily spread its rottenness through every bunch in the packing box.
Now many preachers, and street-preachers are just one section of a much larger group, approach their preaching like we used to approach fruit picking. They not only present the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but they also remind people of their sins. When I was a child, the list was usually confined to the seventh commandment (adultery), dancing and alcohol. Preachers may add more to this list, lying, stealing, violating the Sabbath.
But there is a big difference between picking grapes and trying to cut out the bad ones on one hand, and selecting a list of sins and then trying to excise them out of the way on the other. Here’s why.
[A message delivered at Christian Reformed Church, Charlotte, MI. Romans 7:1 – 8:8. Text used is the Complete Jewish Bible, Trans. David H. Stern, available here.]
Read Part 1 of this series on Paul and Law from the book of Romans, The Foundation of Western Culture
We left our last time with the book of Romans at St. Paul’s statement in chapter 3:31, “Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we confirm Torah.”
In this letter to the Christians at Rome there were a lot of Jewish believers in the Messiah. Jewish believers in YHVH had also accepted Yeshua (Joshua) – in our anglicized Greek, Jesus – as the Savior of the world.
But . . . there was a lot of confusion. It was confusion over their belief system as they understood it as over against the right understanding of what their Scriptures taught. And you see time and time again, that the New Testament never changes or alters the Old Testament, but it certainly corrects misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Scriptures.
Neoplatonism, with its division of worldy and spiritual realms, has played havoc with Christian belief. Not even a great scholar such as John Calvin was completely devoid of its influence.
For example, in the introduction to his Harmony of the Four Last Books of the Pentateuch, he makes these comments. He claims that “God protests that he never enjoined anything with respect to the Sacrifices: and he pronounced all External Rites but vain and trifling.”
The first part of this statement is rather startling. God never “enjoined” (i.e. imposed) Sacrifices? This statement is an amazing misrepresentation of the Torah. If there is one thing that is very clear, Sacrifices were not only commanded, but also expected, from God’s people.
Did God really pronounce “all External Rites but vain and trifling”? There’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ answer to this question. It is certainly clear that God says that External Rites without faith have no meaning and value in his sight. Time and time again God tells his people that he does not want sacrifices that were external only. The sacrifices were to come from a life of faith and obedience. But this does not mean that God did not want the sacrifices; he just wanted them done the right way and in the right spirit.