Month 5:14, Week 2:6 (Sheshi/Kippur), Year:Day 5936:132 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 1 August 2012
Paul and Torah
Probably Not What You Imagined
If the Pauline letters form the core of Evangelical Christian theology - its Christology (teachings about the Messiah) and Soterology (teachings about salvation) especially - so knowing who Paul was, what he believed about theology and how he applied that theology to living, becomes critically important. So who was Paul? And what did he believe in and teach?
Paul was first and foremost a Pharisee. This shocks some who believe that Yah'shua (Jesus) was anti-Pharisee. He wasn't. He merely opposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who did not live what they professed and becauseb they had added a whole corpus of bogus rules (the so-called 'Oral Torah') to Yahweh's self-sufficient Torah in the Tanakh (Old Testament). So if we are to understand Paul the Apostle we must understand the true elements of Pharisaism that included (amongst many other things) a true teaching about the resurrection (which the Sadducees rejected) and about a coming Messiah (even if in their spiritual blindness most of them missed Him when He did come).
In many ways Paul was uniquely qualified to be the bridge-builder between the Judahites and the Gentiles. A Pharisee born outside the Holy land and possessing Roman citizenship, he was in a strong position to reach out between the different early factions in the Messianic Movement and to effect reconciliation. He was no liberal, mind you, and did not believe in compromising the Emet (Truth) in any way. He did not teach that Messiah had abolished or cancelled the Torah (Law) and makes clear his support of it in Galatians, vigorously upholding it.
The apostle's answers to questions concerning the life of the Messianic communities (churches) were firmly rooted in Torah interpretation. The Torah veritably bubbles and flows through his thought patterns. In common with the students of Torah of his day, he had memorised huge chunks of the Tanakh (Old Testament). He used it to illuminate the significance of the coming of Yah'shua (Jesus) but, contrary to what many Evangelicals believe, he neither began there nor ended there. He affirmed most emphatically that Torah was the divine revelation for qodesh (holy, set-apart) living, and he never deviated from that position. From Torah he learned about the mysteries of Elohim (God) and how to revere Him in a life of total submission and obedience. He so much loved the Tanakh (Old Testament) that he lived his life in accordance with the moral, ethical and spiritual values contained within it, and taught the Messianic Community - both Judahites and Gentiles - to do the same, and to follow his example - in Yah'shua (Jesus).
Whenever Paul is thinking, teaching and living 'law' (Gk. nomos) as expressed in his teachings, he is not talking about natural law but about Torah. This is one reason I am most adamant about calling it Torah and not the imprecise English word 'law' which can mean many different things. Paul saw the world through the eyes of Torah and so did the first Messianic/Christian believers. You could say that Torah was his all-consuming passion, guiding his dayly living from the first to the last. But for Paul, as for Messianic Evangelicals like myself, Torah was, and is, far, far more than the first five books of Moses or the Pentateuch, and is as vast as Elohim (God) Himself. It is far, far more than a written code for living - it teaches us about Yahweh's higher purposes. It is, in a word, 'spiritual', just as "Elohim (God) is spiritual" (Jn.4:24) . Torah, then, is both the "law of the Ruach (Spirit)" and the "law of sin and death" (Rom.8:2):
The problem is not, as most evangelicals falsely accuse, an issue with the Torah (supposedly requiring therefore its abolition), but human weakness. But, because of Yahweh's mercy, Torah is ruach (spirit) and chayim (life). This Torah is both the "law of the Ruach (Spirit)" and the "law of sin and death". Through His experience with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) Paul reached far beyond the greater force of Torah in his personal encounter with daily living. He applied it to every area of his life and revealed the depths and heights of its greater mystery which had eluded the non-Messianic Torah-teachers (Scribes) of his day, and still eludes those modern Ebionites who reject Paul's incredible experience and revelation.
"So the Torah is qodesh (holy, set-apart), and the mitzvah (commandment) is qodesh (holy, set-apart), just and tov (good)" (Rom.7:12).
Early on in the history of the Messianic Community (Church) there were elements seeking to discredit Torah, culminating in the heretic Marcion who rejected the Tanakh (Old Testament) altogether. In time, Marcion's teachings infiltrated orthodox teachings, passing into the Protestant Reformation and into Evangelical Christianity. There is a huge bias - not to mention hostility - to Torah as though it were something evil to be fled, a notion aided and abetted by Martin Luther and the other Reformers who over-reacted against Catholic legalism. Christianity came to be defined as the antithesis of the faith experience of the Hebrews as though it were a new religion altogether, when in fact the Besorah (Gospel) of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was simply completing it and taking it to a much higher dimension of emet (truth) and experience.
You cannot separate the Torah from the Besorah (Gospel) without utterly mutilating and watering it down. You deprive it of its foundations and cast it adrift in a troubled sea of pandemic schism. Though you will not remove all schism by embracing Torah you will greatly minimise it.
The time has come for Evangelicals to recongise the Torah and embrace it as a natural sister of the basic truths which it already teaches. That is one reason I am here. Far from being alien or inimical to the Besorah (Gospel), Torah is its natural ally and intimate bedfellow. Paul was never anti-Torah as both antinomians and some radical anti-Paulist ultra-Messianics teach (for different reasons). So I want to invite my Evangelical brethren to seriously study the Torah and start applying it to their daily living, just as the apostle Paul did - the real Paul, not the one invented by Martin Luther.
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 Not, as so many English Bible versions erroneously translate the passage, 'God is spirit' or 'God is a spirit'.
 Brad H. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee Among Christians, Jews and Gentiles (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1997)