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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Class Discussion Posts: The Law, Torah, and Grace... Luther was clueless, but he meant well.

Based on a recent conversation, I wanted to re-post an answer I gave because I think it sums up much of the deconstruction I've had around "Judaism" and "The Law".

My classmate said, "We are called to obedience not out of "have to" but out of love for God and his teaching." 

To which I replied: Yes! And so was everyone in the biblical narrative, from Abraham to David to Jesus to Paul.

  • "Rabbis and other Jewish scholars protested for centuries that neither of these propositions was true. “How can you say we believe in salvation by works?” they asked. “We say a little Jewish boy at eight days old is brought into the covenant by circumcision. What could he have done to deserve that? And why did God choose Israel? Perhaps the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had something to do with it, but how do we millions of Jews join the covenant that God made with them? The same way as that little boy, before we have done anything to merit it. It is by what you call grace." -- Gerald R. McDermott, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 56. (Affiliate Link)

Maybe this can help reframe it:

  • If you define "law" (a bad English mistranslation of the word Torah) as "the stuff I have to do", then you are using Luther's lenses, not the biblical author's lenses.
    • Luther was reacting to medieval Catholicism. In his day and age, cold, dead, religious have-to practices permeated the atmosphere. So when Luther reacted, he was reacting not to the ancient Israelite covenant but to medieval Catholicism.
  • Torah was given to Israel AFTER they were already chosen, rescued, and adopted without earning a dime of it. They existed then (and exist today) purely by the Grace and Love of Yahweh.
  • Torah is about loving God back, not about keeping a set of "rules".
  • The Torah (Teachings/Instructions) is primarily composed of five books (Genesis to Deuteronomy). It can also be short-hand for the entire Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings).
    • Primarily, Torah is a Theological Historical Narrative, mixed with Hebrew Poetry, and Ancient Near East (ANE) Cosmologies and Origin Stories which serve as Polemics (stories used as arguments against) to other ANE culture origin stories... and yes, it has a few "laws" in it too.
    • Within the Torah proper, mostly in Leviticus but also sprinkled throughout the other books, there are 611 law codes (the number spells Torah in Hebrew numerals). These laws are most likely not every law that existed in ancient Israel or every law that Moses and successors wrote down. These laws are the ones preserved for us by those who finalized the cannon, which the Holy Spirit led them to include for our meditation and wisdom.
      • Example: "When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof". In the Ancient Near East (ANE), a parapet was a small wall around the roof. People used their roof as a living room, guests came there for dinner and hanging-out time. This short roof-wall kept people from accidentally falling off. It was a way to preserve life. 
      • When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. Deuteronomy 22:8  
      • Today: We don't use our roof for a living space (usually). However, we do add staircase handrails to our two-story homes and buildings. This is much the same wisdom Torah is asking us to consider when we live our lives.
        • Though it sounds awesome, and one house local does have this I should get a picture. Go to street view on GoogleMaps for this address: 811 N Government Way Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 
    • While Torah lists Blessings and Curses, they are simply the state of affairs. The world is in Chaos. Yahweh is the anti-Chaos agent. If you want Order (blessing, fruitfulness) you will do things the way Yahweh has asked you to. If you step outside of his ways, Chaos reigns.
    • Throughout Ancient Israel's existence, Yahweh was overly gracious, patient, kind, offered a myriad of chances, and only as a last and final resort, brought in a series of exiles to purge their adultery.
  • Contexts Matter: The ancient Israelite was just that, an ancient Semitic group of individuals living within a particular context. Yahweh communicated with them within that context. When you look at other Ancient Near East (ANE) law codes (like the Code of Hammurabi), what you find is remarkably similar rules and laws. However, what you also find is Yahweh upping the anti by moving, progressing Israel forward within their own Ancient Near East context as compared to their neighbors. Many of the laws and rules for Ancient Israel are irrelevant today, even to modern Orthodox Jews. However, each contains some wisdom within their ANE culture that can be extrapolated and applied today. Like the parapets mentioned above.
  • During the return from exile, Ezra and Nehemiah found themselves in a mixed bag of returning exiles. Many of them had intermarried, some of them had lost the Hebrew language. Nehemiah at one point tears a man's hair out for this and commands them to divorce their newly found spouses/kids.
    • Note: Nowhere in the text does the Bible indicate that Yahweh endorses or approves of Nehemiah's command, it simply records that it happened.
  • These two returning exiles establish a group of scribes hoping to get the people of God to follow Yahweh's rule in hopes of preventing another exile and usher in the Day of Yahweh (Day of the Lord), in which Messiah will come.
  • These scribes eventually, through 300+years become the "Scribes and Pharisees" who minister within Israel, hoping to purify Israel and looking forward to Messiah.
  • During these years, they "built a hedge around Torah", and the practice of Second Temple Judaism became more legalistic in its Orthopraxy (practices). They figured, "we can't violate it if we don't even get close to it". So whatever they imagined the "rule" was, they tried to make new rules to keep people distant from the Torah rule. This is the legalism Yeshua and Paul were reacting to; not to Torah itself but the way Torah was practiced in the Second Temple Period by specific sects of Judaism.
  • Contrary to popular Christian understanding, many Pharisees came to believe in Yeshua as Messiah, the one they looked for. Some did not. The Temple Leadership (primarily Sadducees, but also containing some Pharisees) ultimately executed Yeshua, but that was not a unanimous decision.
  • Yeshua (and later Paul (Greek name)/Saul (Hebrew name)) debated the Pharisees, not as outsiders but insiders. Yeshua was closest in style to the Pharisees. They each wanted to live Torah well, and Yeshua was attempting to get them to see that in trying to live Torah, they actually violated it.
    • You say... but I say...
    • Yeshua's Mishnah was one of the heart, rather than actions.
  • So, while the Second Writings (aka New Testament) have examples of attitudes that are anti-legalisticness... These are reactions to the attitudes and practices that developed during the post-biblical Second Temple Period; not, to the Torah itself.

I hope that at least gives you something to chew on.


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