Month 4:15, Week 2:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5939:096 AM|
2Exodus 1/40, Omer Count Day 36/50
13/40 Fast of the Firstborn, 13/70 Firstborn Mourning
Gregorian Calendar: Friday 11 July 2014
Letter vs. Spirit?
I Would Not Have You Ignorant
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and may the grace of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be with you in this assembly and in our assemblies abroad.
Conquering Ignorance Through Accurate Teaching
On three separate occasions - to the Romans (Rom.1:13), to the Corinthians 1 Cor.12:1) and to the Thessalonians (1 Thess.4:13) - the apostle Paul declares in the King James vernacular: "I would not have you ignorant, brethren...". It is my fondest desire that none of the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) under my watchcare should be ignorant either which is why I labour day and night to give a proper exposition of the Scriptures, often in the face of entrenched tradition and not infrequently in the face of hostile criticism. It is my passion - my calling and my gifting - to ensure that those prepared to listen should not go away ignorant, deceived by tradition and faulty exegesis, but have at their fingertips a clear and concise explanation of what the brethren two or more millennia go meant by what they said.
The Responsibility of the Teacher
There is nothing quite as frustrating to be given wrong directions when you are a stranger in a city. We do our level best to maintain, in such circumstances, an even temper, especially knowing that those giving the false directions are for the most part honest and sincere. It is particularly hard to correct such a person, especially when they are loving and kind too, which is why, I believe, Paul inserts the words "brethren", after "I would not have you ignorant." These are fraternal desires - correction not to insult or hurt but rather the very opposite - to bless. The desire to teach should not simply be because the teacher enjoys the calling or position of a teacher - and it is a position of great responsibilty and accountability - but because he is a tzadik or righteous one and wants to see people safely on the correct Derech (Way).
The Spirit and Letter of the Torah
The subject of our study this morning are Paul's remarks to the troublesome Corinthians about the spirit and the letter of the Torah (Law):
A Boxing Match?
"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Messiah, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Ruach (Spirit) of the living Elohim (God), not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Messiah before Elohim (God). Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from Elohim (God). He has made us competent as ministers of a b'rit chadashah (new covenant) - not of the letter but of the Ruach (Spirit); for the letter kills, but the Ruach (Spirit) gives life" (2 Cor.3:2-6, NIV).
The last part of this quotation is frequently cited by Evangelical Christians in their assertion that we are no longer to live by the Torah (Law) as found in Scripture but now only by the Ruach (Spirit). The impression given is that there is a contest between the written 'letter' and the 'Ruach (Spirit)' as though they were somehow polar opposites locked in mortal combat, with the 'Jews' in the letter-corner of the boxing ring and true born-again 'Christians' in the other. But is this an accurate exposition of what Paul is saying?
Letters of Recommendation
If we go to the verse immediately before today's citation, we read exactly that this "letter [that] kills" actually is:
What was Paul's 'Letter'?
"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?" (2 Cor.3:1, NIV).
So is the "letter" that Paul speaks of the Torah (Law) or is it, as he himself says, a "letter of recommendation" written by an apostle? Or something else entirely? The issue being raised here is important to understand so that we don't go reading into the text what isn't there. In other words, like all good scriptorians, we must read in context.
Using Sound Exegesis in Dealing With Confusing Passages
The first rule of all good exegesis (scriptural interpretation) is to read many verses before and many verses after the verse being studied. And then, when you have done that, read passages elsewhere on the same subject and bring them all together. If, after that, there are apparent contradictions in teaching still, then you've really got to get your work clothes on and start digging into the original languages - Hebrew, Aramaic and/or Greek. If that does not bring resolution, particularly if you're looking at the Messianic Sctiptures (New Testament), then you need to look at Aramaic-based texts because these are both older than the Greek texts and because it's the language Yah'shua (Jesus) spoke. More and more of these are being published now such as the Hebraic Roots Version (HRV, Trimm), Aramaic New Testament (ANT, Roth), and Restoration Scriptures True Name Edition (RSTNE, Koniuchowsky - 3rd edition or earlier). Alongside these it is worth also having the Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB, Goble), Institute for Scripture Research Version (ISRV), the Jewish new Testament (JNT, Stern) and others though these tend to primarily use Greek texts.
Hebrew Idiomatic Speech: Hate and Love
So if "the letter kills", what is it about "letters of recommendation" that kill? What were these "letters" that Paul was talking about? Here we have got to remember that some Hebrew literary devices are not to be taken literally. As I have mentioned several times before - quite recently, in fact - when Yah'shua (Jesus) taught His talmidim (disciples) to "hate" their family members (Lk.14:26) this was never understood literally but as a contrast to loving Elohim (God). Everywhere in Scripture we are commanded to love one another and even love our enemies (Mt.5:44; Lk.6:27,35). So why the contradiction? And is a translation problem? No, this is not a translation error, it is an idiom, or a figure of speech that is not to be taken literally.
Let us say that, for the sake of argument, that I love you with 10 units of love, and then Yahweh comes along and says, 'Love me with a thousand units of love'. The fact that I suddenly love Yahweh a hundred times more than I already love you does not mean that I suddenly love you less. It simply means that I love Him more, and that by contrast the love I have for you will appear to be hate. Should I diminish my love for you? Certainly not. In loving Him more, I receive more love with wwhich to love you. But by being in Yah'shua (Jesus) in the true divine tavnith (pattern) will always ensure that I love Yahweh more than any human being - not by conscious choice, not by planning how many units of love I will give here out there to people I love on earth, but simply by the very fact of being IN Messiah and letting Him rule. It will happen automatically, without my having to think twice about it.
Treat Others as Better Than Yourself
What a nightmare, in any case, to try and compare units of love being dished out to people! That's why we are not to compare and why Paul has instructed us to think of others as better than ourselves:
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil.2:3, NIV).
So the problem we have here in some apparently contradictory scriptures is not poor translation but frequently a lack of understanding of Hebrew idioms or turns of phrase and, even more importantly, a lack in the spiritual mind-set. We're not thinking like the inspired writers because we're not always inspired! We're not only reading Scripture through the lens of our own cultures but we're often trying to interpret it through the flesh - through our own fallen, carnal nature, using the weights and measures of selfishness. If we do that, we will often fundamentally misunderstand and misquote scripture and end up teaching false doctrine even if we cite the actual words accurately.
In the passage we're studying today, Paul explains how a "letter" in itself is not enough for his purposes, because a letter - important though it is - is vastly inferior to what he calls "living letters". Let's read this passage again together this time using the New King James Version so that get the idea of what I am talking about:
Imitate the Apostles
"Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles (letters) of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Messiah, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Ruach (Spirit) of the living Elohim (God), not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. And we have such trust through Messiah toward Elohim (God). Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from Elohim (God), who also made us sufficient as ministers of the b'rit chadashah (new covenant), not of the letter but of the Ruach (Spirit); for the letter kills, but the Ruach (Spirit) gives life" (2 Cor 3:1-6, NKJV).
The letters of recommendation being issued by the apostles to individuals and new congregations so that the latter would know these were authentic apostles and not the false ones who were circulating preaching false doctrine are compared with the superiority of living letters, that is, people. In particular, Paul is comparing his letters or epistles to those whom he has converted and discipled, and is saying that the evidence that he is an authentic apostle is to be found in the very people he has ministered to. What did Paul say to the wayward Corinthians who were so wordly and so apt to abandon the emet (truth) for false teachers and their false teachings?
The Nature of Godly Imitation
"Imitate (copy) me, just as I also imitate (copy) Messiah" (1 Cor.11:1, NKJV).
What form was this imitation to take. The writer of Hebrews says:
"And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of tiqvah (hope) until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through emunah (faith) and patience inherit the promises" (Heb.6:11-12, NKJV).
Paul was saying that we are to imitate his hope, faith and patience. And just as Yahweh Himself said:
So Paul said to the Thessalonians:
"I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters" (2 Cor.6:18, NIV);
The Superiority of the Living Witness
"For you know that we (the apostles) dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of Elohim (God), who calls you into His Kingdom and glory" (1 Thess.2:11-12, NIV).
Children imitate their parents, whether biological or spiritual, and it will always be that way. That is why leaders in the Messianic Community must become like "living letters" - they must bring the letters of the Scriptures alive and so by their example encourage the believers to follow a standard of righteousness that they can not only read about but can see and hear with their own eyes and ears, as well as become living letters in their turn. A living witness is always superior to a written one, so much so that the written witness or "letter" will appear to "kill" rather than "give life" BY THE POWER OF CONTRAST.
What Would You Prefer?
Would anyone here prefer to have Yah'shua (Jesus) standing here amongst us talking to us in the flesh than to read the Bible? Of course we would! And given the choice to read the Scriptures or ask and observe the Master, how many would choose the Scriptures?! Not many, and rightly so. By comparison - and by comparison only - the Scriptures would appear to kill rather than bring life, yet the Scriptures do bring life as we well know, when those reading them are filled with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)! We know this from the witness of history. Though many of us were converted by preachers, many were converted first through the Scriptures as the Ruach (Spirit) worked on their hearts.
The Dual Function of Torah
This is what Paul is saying. He also tells us that the Scriptures point out our weaknesses and imperfections, which consciousness or awareness brings a sense of 'death' to us. The Torah awakens a sense of our own sinfulness and taken alone, without the hope of redemption, this would indeed be a terrible thing! Who would want to read such a deadly book? But it isn't. Whilst the Scriptures, through the Ruach (Spirit) operating on our minds and hearts, awaken a painful awareness of our fallen condition, that is not all they do: they also point us to the Person who can, upon our repentance, bring us a fullness of simcha (joy). So the Torah serves a dual purpose - to awaken consciousness of sin and to show us the Derech (Way) to salvation.
From Death to Everlasting Life
As we read the Torah (Law) with emunah (faith), we are sentenced to death - every one of us. We are sentenced to death because we see we are separated from Elohim (God) and barred from Heaven. We become painfully aware that the natural man is spiritually dead and without tiqvah (hope). However, the same Torah also teaches that in choosing to die to this deathliness by trusting in the atonement of Yah'shua (Jesus) we are also opening ourselves up to the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) who brings a NEW BIRTH. Scripture does not leave us dead even if it is, in one sense, a death-bringer (and in that sense "the letter kills") but urges us to make teshuvah - to repent, to change direction in our lives - and so receive Everlasting Chayim (Life).
The Great Evangelical Christian Blasphemy
The terrible lie of Evangelical Christianity - and it is a terrible lie - is that Torah is somehow contrary or the opposite of the Ruach (Spirit) when the emet (truth) is they are a partnership. The implication that Torah is somehow evil is to impute evil on Yahweh the Father and perversely exalt the Son as the Father's replacement - a coup d'état. The terrible blasphemy that results is that the Son is elevated at the expense of the Father, as the Father is humiliated and degraded, something the Son would never in eternity ever countenance!
Evangelicals Already Keep Over Half the Torah!
What is even more ironic, as Andrew Roth has observed, is that Evangelical Christians are already keeping about 60% of the Torah! Roth notes:
Torah is Spiritual
"There is a common lie being spread around by many Christians that 'the Law (Torah) is impossible to 'keep', which is mainly preciptated by ignorance of Torah. In reality there are 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) in Torah. The majority of Christians are keeping about 203 of YHWH's Commandments; a much smaller minority of Christians are keeping as many as 275 of the Commandments. However, 221 Commandments are applicable only to the Temple...these are [therefore] 'Not Applicable' [today]... If we examine how much Torah that Christians already keep, factoring in what doesn't apply [any longer], then we discover that the range is 66 to 85% of Torah!" 
Whilst I don't agree with the exact percentages quoted, he is broadly-speaking correct: Christians already observe far more than half the Torsh! The Torah contains righteous instructions on how to live and love, demonstrating the absolute necessity of the Messiah for ultimate salvation. In the passage we are studying today, Paul is juxtaposing condemnation as a function or purpose of the Torah but he is in no way attacking or discrediting the Revelation of Yahweh through Torah. How could he possible be doing so when this self same Torah not only keeps on pointing to Messiah but tells us how to identify a spiritual man as well as directing that spiritual man to the lifestyle he should live? See what Paul said to the Romans:
"We know that the Torah (Law) is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin" (Rom.7:14, NIV).
Living the Torah in the Spirit
Then he says:
We therefore now live the Torah not according to the futility of the flesh but by the empowerment of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) because through Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) the Torah (Law) of the Ruach (Spirit) of chayim (life) set me free from the torah (law) of sin and death. For what the Torah (Law) was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, Elohim (God) did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the Torah (Law) might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Ruach (Spirit)" (Rom.8:1-4, NIV).
How can the Father's own Torah (Law) be contrary to the Ruach (Spirit)? Yahweh Himself said:
Moses Receives Torah
"Set your hearts on all the devarim (words) which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe -- all the words of this Torah (Law, Instruction). For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your chayim (life), and by this davar (word) you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess" (Dt.32:46-47, NKJV).
Can we be in any doubt as to what the status of the Torah is when we read this historical account of its reception:
The Torah was received directly from the pre-incarnate Yah'shua (Jesus), the Malak Yahweh (Angel of the Lord), and thus from Yahweh's own bosom.
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony (10 commandments) in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with Yahweh" (Ex.34:29, NIV).
The Triple Function of Torah: Powerlessness and Power
Brethren and sisters, the Torah has a dual function, and both of these functions are righteous. The first, is that it identifies the death that is in the carnal man and makes him aware of two things:
The Heavenly Lifestyle
- 1. First, that he cannot do anything about it in his own power; and
- 2. Second, that he must go to the sin-bearer, Yah'shua (Jesus) the Son, to have those sins removed by surrendering his life to Him trusting in the work of the Cross.
Changing Your Lifestyle
- 3. The Torah explains, in detail, the lifestyle that is pleasing to the Father and the Son who Himself lived the same lifestyle, and which men and women in all generations and in all covenant dispensations are required to live.
That includes observing the ordinances of the Creation Calendar such as the weekly seventh-day luni-solar Sabbath, the monthly New Moon festival, the seven annual festivals of Pesach (Passover), Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavaned Bread), Yom haBikkurim (Day of Firstfruits), Shavu'ot (Weeks/'Pentecost'), Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets), Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonements) and Sukkot (Tabernacles/Booths), Yahweh's Kashrut Dietary laws, wearing tzitzit (men) and headcoverings (women), forsaking pagan practices taken from Rome such as Christmas, Easter, Lent and Halloween or from Judaism such as Hanukkah, Purim, Rosh haShannah and the use of demonic symbols like the so-called 'Star of David' and much else besides. Only a clear understanding of Torah reveals exactly what this divine lifestyle consists of.
So, yes, the Torah "kills" in a relative sense because it destroys our illusions, our pride, and the fallen lifestyles of the world that lead to condemnation and death. But that is a good thing too, because you cannot see what you need until what you are has been exposed. So the Torah both destroys illusion as well as points to the Messiah who saves, and shows the lifestyle Yahweh wants us all to live. So to declare, as so many Christians do, that the Torah is somehow 'bad', as Martin Luther and the Reformers did, is blasphemy, and must be repented of, because it insults the Father and offends the Ruach (Spirit).
Christianity - and Evengelical Christianity in particular - symbolically occupies the rôle of Absalom, the rebellious son of King David who flattered the people and judged corruptly, perverting the Torah of Yahweh. He led Israel into civil war in the same way the Protestantism has fragmented the Body of Messiah into competing denominations by its lawlessness. Today Evangelical Christians are either being drawn back into the Whore Church or are beginning to realise that they have been lied to about Torah, and are beginning to embrace Yahweh's Derech (Way) once more. Torah is Evangelical Christianity's missing link which, with a few adjustments, will complete it. That is what we mean to do and we invite you to join with us as we do so, building up the endtime Kingdom of Yahweh. Amen.
 Andrew Gabriel Roth, Aramaic English New Testament (Netzar Press LLC, Fifth Edition: 2012), pp.845-846