Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Not Under the Law" — What Did Paul Mean?

and Response 
to Blog Post 
Parashat NASO 

Iron Sharpening Iron
One of the blessings of a blog is that it is conversational. So, one of our readers, an exceptionally mature saint, much loved by Sarah and myself, and definitely conversational, wrote in response to our most recent posting. He and Sarah very much walk down the same path when it comes to the place of the Law or Torah in a believer’s life today. While this dear gentleman and I don’t always have the same views we love to exchange our differing understandings of Scripture with each other. It is certainly an “iron sharpens iron” relationship. It is in this spirit that his thoughts and my response are shared with you now.   

Michael and Sarah,

I am very impressed with your website! What a team you make for the glory of our Abba!

But I can’t help but respond to two of Michael’s comments in Parashah Naso. It has to do with your understanding of Paul’s understanding of “the Law.” 

You said:

(2) We know as well that Paul saw himself as a man NOT under the Law. "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. Galatians 2:19-20 
I believe Paul had a problem. It was that he was thinking in Hebrew, but Greek did not have an equivalent word for “Torah.” The word “torah” in Hebrew basically means “teaching” or “instruction.” That is why Ps. 119:97 says, “Oh, how I love Your Torah (law).” And Paul can say in Romans 7:12, “...the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”  Hebrew has a different word for judicial law. It is “dat” and is used for example in Daniel 6:8: "Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.

You know Greek better than I do, so you can appreciate Paul’s problem. How could he convey the concept of Torah into Greek when the closest word in Greek was  the legal term “nomas?” Compounding the problem, he uses the word “nomas” in various ways. For example, in Galatians 2:19, he is referring to the law of sin, which is very different than the law of “Torah!” Do you see what I’m trying to say?

So I believe Paul always considered himself “under Torah,” but no longer bound by the “nomas” of sin. Because he trusted in Christ’s redemptive work, he was redeemed from the law of sin.

That takes me to my second point. You said:                                                              

Paul being a man of intellect knew what the Law said. His life had been devoted to it. His experience on the road to Damascus, however, changed his relationship to the Law. While the Law did not cease to exist, Paul’s necessary obedience to it terminated. While once he was obligated to obey its every precept, now he was only obliged to live by the timeless principles that it is so very full of.

How can this be? Paul never “converted” to Christianity! There was no “Christianity,” only followers of Jesus. What Paul did on the road to Damascus was to acknowledge Jesus as The Messiah promised in the Torah and to submit to his commission to take this truth to the gentiles. He continued to be an observant Jew as evidenced in Acts 21. Paul was saved by faith and he expressed that faith by obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” Jesus was referring to the Torah which He gave Moses. He came to earth to live it out the Torah as our example and Redeemer and to correctly interpret [fulfill] it. Observing the relevant parts of Torah is how we verify our faith and “draw near to God” (See James, especially 2:17).

Thanks for allowing me to respond to you.

In love,
Your Friend

Dear Friend,

I love your heart for the Word. Your defense of the Faith is most commendable and an example for us all. May this piece of ”iron” now offer another point of view that further sharpening might ensue?

You first addressed the statement, “(2) We know as well that Paul saw himself as a man NOT under the Law.” (or “nomos”, Romans 6:14) Here Paul literally says, “for you are not under law (nomos) but (a word emphasizing the strongest of contrasts) under grace.”   

Torah and Nomos
You question the understanding of Paul’s use of the word “nomos (or law)” as referring to the Torah. You say, “ but the Greek language did not have an equivalent word for “Torah.” While you do not say Paul was in error by using “nomos,” you do say he used it NOT to refer to the Torah, but, “For example, in Galatians 2:19, he is referring to the law of sin, which is very different than the law of “Torah!”  So, I think we are both in agreement that Paul said we are no longer under “nomos.” The disagreement lays in what is meant by Paul when he uses that Greek word, “nomos.” Let’s look at that.

Torah Resources International, committed to “Teaching Timeless Torah Truths,” contains a great discussion on our two words, Torah and nomos.  In the section: Definition: What do we mean by the Term “Torah?” the second paragraph reads as follows:

We should note that the usual translation of this word as law is not quite accurate.[1] One of the most common ways that torah (תורה) is rendered in the Septuagint (LXX)[2] is by using the word nomosv, nomo? The Greek word nomos, however, has a variety of uses, among which, to be sure, is law, but it is certainly not limited to law. Following the precedent set by the LXX, the Newer Covenant Scriptures consistently render the Hebrew torah by the term nomos. This is where things begin to become confusing. Sometimes, in the Newer Covenant Scriptures, it is appropriate to translate nomos as law. However, other times it is more appropriate to render it as God's teaching/instruction, or simply to transliterate the term as Torah. The context of the word is always the final determiner of its meaning.” (bold, italicize, underline, mine) 

So, my thinking is that Paul COULD HAVE BEEN USING “nomos (law) as referring to the Torah. Is that a possibility or not? Consider what is said in their previous paragraph. 

“The torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction, teaching, instruction, or doctrine. (underline, mine) This lays wide open the possibility that Paul was not referring to law, but life style and if so was saying that he was no longer under obligation to adhere to that life style laid out in the Torah.

If this is not possibility enough let’s consider the root meaning of “nomos.” Thayer’s Lexicon says, “anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, usage, law.”

It must seem clear at this point that the Torah is the way of life to be lived by the Jewish nation and that the word “law” as used by Paul very definitely can be used to refer to just that, a way of life. If, therefore, Paul is using it in this sense he is saying that he is no longer under or bound to live by that way of life.

So, contrary to your original thought the Greek language did have a word for Torah. It was “nomos”, sometimes translated as law, and sometimes to be understood as the lifestyle  the Torah mandated the Old Testament Jew must live by. We must never forget as well that inspiration guaranteed in every case the exact word of choice that God would have used in every original autograph (the first written copy by the original author). Therefore, nomos was the exact word God wanted used and it could mean lifestyle if for example context and life events would point to it. So, did they?

Romans 6 certainly talks about lifestyle.
  •  “Are we to continue in sin...” (v. 1) a comment on lifestyle... 
  • “ we too might walk in newness of life.” (v. 4) a comment on life style...  
  • “ that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (v. 6) a comment on life style... 
  • “ not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,” (v. 12) a comment on lifestyle... 
  • “...and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of   unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (v. 13) life style again... 
  • “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (v. 15) and yet another lifestyle comment again...

In light of the above it is most apparent that “nomos” here translated as “law” and found sandwiched between comments on lifestyle is itself referring here to lifestyle.  And Paul is saying in Romans 6:14 we are no longer under the life style of the Torah. 

Consider how this played out in Paul’s life. In I Corinthians 7:18 Paul says that some need not be  circumcised. The life style principle mandating circumcision was inviolable in Jewish Law. There, if you wanted to join you HAD to be circumcised. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul rebukes Peter for compelling the Gentiles to live like the Jews. If Torah practice was to be observed then the Gentiles SHOULD HAVE lived like the Jews.

I’m afraid I have to come to a different conclusion than yours, dear reader. Paul had no problem finding the right word. It was nomos (law). It is a word that in the original can be translated or understood as Torah or life style as commanded by the Law. And Paul says believers are no longer under it.

“Paul Never Converted to Christianity?
Regarding your second point there is much to be addressed. So forgive me if only a few thoughts are spoken to. For one you said, “Paul never “converted” to Christianity! There was no “Christianity,” only followers of Jesus.” 

Let’s consider Acts 11:26 which says, “... and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Nowhere in Scripture is this designation disputed. Further, conversion is an accepted principle in the New Testament. In Acts 15:3 Paul himself is found describing in detail the “conversion of the Gentiles.” In Romans 16:5 Paul again is found using this terminology in describing, “the first convert to Christ from Asia.” Would Paul have disavowed the term “Christian” or its extended concept of “Christianity?” Would Paul have shunned the principle of conversion from something to Christianity? I think the above Scriptures stand for themselves when answering these questions. I have to believe that in light of Paul’s own usage of the terminology, while perhaps not during the early period in his walk with the Messiah, he ultimately would of said of himself, that he had converted from Judaism to Christianity. Paul would have said of himself that he was a new creature in Christ, the old things having passed away, new things having come. (II Corinthians 5:17) He also would have added when describing himself that he was now neither Jew nor Greek, but one among others in Christ as a result of his road to Damascus experience. (Galatians 3:28)

I understand that in the Jewish minset there can be a most understandable distaste for the concepts of "Christianity" and "conversion." Deplorable things, even atrocities, have been perpetrated upon the Jewish people in the name of Christianity. The concept of "conversion" from Judaism to "Christianity" has been forced upon the Jewish people in the most unspeakable of ways. From the tormenting of the little Jewish boy down the street to the horrors of the Holocaust it just hasn't stopped. But this is a case of bad people... using a good thing... to justify totally wrong actions... against a wonderful people. To say that these concepts do not exist in Scripture, or that they should not be used in interaction with Jewish people because of their past misuse, just doesn't make sense. 

As a Gentile "convert" to "Christianity" I proudly declare my Jewish heritage, love for, and devotion to my Jewish brethren. After all it was Jewish blood that was shed for me and which continues to cleanse me from my sin. I remember that every time my eyes cross the large flag of Israel proudly displayed in my home.    

“Observing the relevant parts of Torah
A last point I’d like to address is the comment, “Observing the relevant parts of Torah is how we verify our faith and ‘draw near to God’ (See James, especially 2:17).” First, it sounds like what is being said is that a follower of the Messiah can determine for himself what is relevant and what is not relevant. I wonder what Adonai thinks of this pick and choose process as it regards His written Law/Torah. Where is there Biblical authority or president for any believer being able to choose what he thinks is relevant and what is not? 

Secondly, James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Isn’t James saying that if you violate even one point of the Law/Torah you are guilty of having violated all of it? So if you are living under it you must be responsible to keep all of it. Or could it be that because your only choosing what you determine to be relevant to you, your NOT guilty of all of it. This process of selectivity as regards what one should or should not be obedient to in the Law/Torah is no where found in our Bibles.

Verifying whether we are in the faith or not is indeed accomplished by observing our works. If you have no works, no product, you do not possess true faith. Faith without works is indeed dead. But, James is not talking about evidencing the works of the Law, much less the “relevant” works of the Law. No, what he is speaking of is evidencing “works” led of the Holy Spirit of God that produces fruit worthy for reward at the judgement seat of Christ. (I Corinthians 3:10-15)

And third, drawing near to God is not accomplished by attempting to keep the Law. It is clearly accomplished by having a right relationship with the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5 talks about those works spoken of by James. Unrewarded works are produced by the “flesh.” (v. 19) Rewarded works, works that prove your faith is not dead, are produced by the Spirit. (v. 22) ...And notice as well that if led by the Spirit, you are NOT UNDER THE LAW. (v. 18) Is that, “the curse of the Law,” a point in time/final event ... or a lifestyle practice as in being led by the Law/Torah? If the latter then it is the Spirit we are led by for lifestyle practices, not the Law/Torah.  

When starting out on this journey with my wife I knew that jointly producing a weekly Parsha would not be without controversy. Sarah is Jewish. She loves Adonai and Yeshua each with all her heart. She has a great love for her people and the Torah/Law that our Creator gave them. This is a love she instills in me more and more every week, and I praise Adonai for her teaching and His Torah—for me “guide posts” along the way. Who she is and her view of the place of the Law for today is unfolded in her writing each week, with love for our God, intellectual honesty, and great expertise I might add.  

I, on the other hand, approach the Law from a different view point than Sarah’s. That was expressed in this week's Torah portion, Naso. We also have readers that tend to one view or the other. What is attempted each week is not to bruise noses, but to bless souls no matter where they may find themselves in their thinking, and as well, have some fun along the way. Perhaps no one will change their perspective. Maybe each will only become sharper in their view point because one piece of iron is rubbing on another. But only good can come of being forced to defend our faith or our point of view. We’ll each become better defenders of the Faith. And if only that is accomplished, it is enough. It is enough.

Thank you, dear reader, for your input. You ...  have sharpened me, and in doing so have deepened my love for you. May we both keep up the process with each other for the sake of the defense of the faith, for the sake of the work of our Messiah and His work in the hearts of men. 

May God bless us all in the study of His Word...