"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Paul’s Letter To The Romans: Part 2

To start at the beginning, click here.

Paul spends most of chapter five explaining the monumental accomplishment of Messiah suffering death and being raised again as the ultimate offering to atone for sin.  The idea of ritualistic sacrifice was nothing new to the Romans or the Greeks or any of the people inside or outside of Israel.  What was so amazing and foreign a concept to all of them, was the idea that one man could be the perfect and only necessary sacrifice for the transgressions of the whole world and for all time.  We are several centuries, which might as well be an eternity,  from having such a concept deeply ingrained in our way of life.  Therefore, I can say with confidence that what Paul was saying in chapter five had a much greater, and even a different impact on the hearers in Rome than it does on a modern western person.

But even after spending that much effort on explaining that God made it possible by sending His Shekinah into the body of a man in order to become such a perfect sacrifice that it could atone for all sin for all time, Paul asks the rhetorical question that begins chapter six: Do we continue sinning [violating Torah] in order to show how much greater the grace is than the offense against Torah?

He makes the point that we should be dead to sin. Just as when a Gentile in the past converted to Judaism and was circumcised and baptized into a new life of following Torah, the believer in Messiah became baptized into a new level of spirituality that empowered the believer to keep and obey Torah as never before.

Paul makes the statement in 6:14 that “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”   I have seen people purposefully sinning in ways that were obvious even to unbelievers, by just citing that second phrase in the verse.  “I’m not under the law,” they would say, “I’m under grace.”  This is an evil perversion of Paul’s message.  This is why the apostle Peter wrote in his second letter near the end of the letter that Paul wrote about these things that were “hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  (2 Peter 3:16)

No doubt some Christians will cite Paul’s example of  marriage in chapter seven as the reason for not obeying Torah, but is that the right way to think of this passage?  First of all, the wording makes it clear that Paul is talking specifically to the Jews in Rome, rather as an aside.  He does this to illustrate the point that as lifelong Jews who saw themselves married to the Torah, they needed to now see themselves as betrothed to the real bridegroom; Messiah.  You can see this illustration in its proper perspective as long as you keep in mind the words of the Messiah Himself in Matthew 5:17-20.

In an effort to keep the reader from misunderstanding, Paul clarifies in 7:7 that the Law is not sin.  Rather, the Law shows us what sin is where we might not have been aware of it without the Law as a teacher.  In 7:12 Paul further states that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”  He goes on to explain that the flesh is powerfully inclined toward evil, so much so, in fact, that we cannot fully obey the Law [Torah] through our own human effort alone.  So, now we are all the way into chapter seven and Paul has repeatedly asked the rhetorical question, “Is the Law the problem?”  Answer: No, sin is the problem, and the Law is there to teach us about sin.

Perhaps one could be confused when coming to chapter eight and verse two.  This is a good place to make a point about the problem of translation.  In the NASB version, the translators do us the favor of distinguishing between the two types of law that Paul speaks of in Romans, and they do this by capitalizing “Law” when it refers to Torah and they don’t capitalize “law” when it refers to a general rule.

We must understand the difference here.  Ever since the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, Torah has been understood as “The Law of Moses.”  Torah does not actually directly translate as “law.”  Torah actually means “teaching.”  But the translators knew that using the word “teaching” would have meant a great loss of importance for the word.  They knew that the Greek mind, with its polytheistic religious understanding of God’s who were capricious and fallible as human beings, and interpret the word “teaching” as being more like a suggestion.  There was and is no singularly good word in Greek or English, or perhaps any other language that explains Torah.  Torah can be as simple as it needs to be so that all can obey it and more complex and deep than any scholar can ever hope to study it.

When Paul talks about the “law of sin and of death” in 8:2, he’s talking about a law as in the laws of physics.  In this case, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”   If you want to indulge in sin, the result is that you will pay the consequences.  The fact that Yeshua came and made the ultimate sacrifice to save us from the consequences of sin does not make the law obsolete.  If you get a ticket for running a stop sign and I step up in court and pay your fine, that does not make the stop sign disappear from the corner where you failed to stop.  And if you go out and get caught running that same stop sign, you are going to find yourself right back in front of the judge.

Paul continues in 8:3 & 4 to explain that since Messiah came to be the perfect offering for sin, we believers are empowered “in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, . . .”  This statement stands in direct opposition to any idea that Paul has claimed that the Law is obsolete.  On the contrary, he is saying that we can now obey and keep the Torah in a fuller and better way than it has ever been kept before, because the Holy Spirit will help us to “not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

The rest of chapter eight is reinforcing the idea that God chooses us who believe and orders our steps and that nothing we endure is in vain.  God will not leave us nor forsake us.

In chapter nine Paul begins by grieving for his fellow Jews who are not yet believers.  He lists the benefits of being the rightful heirs to the Kingdom of God.  If the Torah (the Law) is not something good and to be treasured, why is it in the list?  Why does Paul not simply cite the covenant and the promises as the reward?  Why does he also include the Law and Temple service?  Wouldn’t that seem odd several decades after the death and resurrection of Messiah?  If the Holy Spirit is directing Paul to write these things, why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit know to dismiss this keeping of the Law and Temple service as being obsolete?  Could it be that when God kept using those words in Torah about this stuff being “forever” and “always,” He actually meant it?

And lest anyone should try to misunderstand or twist Paul’s meaning by saying that all that stuff is just for the Jews, he goes on to point out that being born of the flesh to some bloodline is not what is important.  Those who believe in the God of Abraham and His Messiah are the true children of the promise.  The flesh counts for nothing.  He further elaborates on this theme by citing the prophet Hosea.

“I will call those who were not My people, My people, . . .”

Read the whole passage.  The idea is that Gentiles who believe and are called by God can now participate in His Kingdom, being called sons of God.  But did Daddy change the rules of the house?  I don’t see any evidence of that.  Gentiles can be adopted as sons of God and begin obeying Torah.  Paul calls it “pursuing righteousness.”   Paul says that the Gentiles have now obtained that righteousness by  pursuing it in faith by believing in Messiah.  The Jews [who don’t believe in Messiah] cannot obtain that righteousness because they insist  on pursuing it by their own effort in the flesh.

Chapter ten and verse four has a statement that I’m sure has been twisted by those who would like to think that Torah is no longer in effect.

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

No doubt someone will read that and think, “end of the law” so there you go, the Law is done.  We don’t have to worry about it any more.  Well, only if you take that verse out of context and forget everything else Paul has said up to this point in Romans and ignore what the Master said in Matthew 5:17-19.  By taking all of Scripture in whole and in context, I can paraphrase Romans 10:4 by saying it this way:

The Messiah is the end goal and fulfillment of the Torah for everyone who puts their trust in Him.

It takes several more words to make it clear, but the meaning is the same and it does not violate the rule of non-contradiction when interpreting Scripture.  Let me give you another example.  Let’s say Boeing came out with an advertisement that said, “The new  777 Dreamliner is the end in comfort, speed, and fuel efficiency for transoceanic air travel.”  Would you think that all international air travel had stopped?  Would you think that they were telling you that from now on, if you wanted to fly to other parts of the world it would have to be on slow, uncomfortable cattle cars disguised as jet planes? Or would you rightly take that to mean they believed that they had reached the epitome of design in that class?

Near the end of chapter ten, Paul reveals something important.  The Gentiles who could now be grafted in by faith and called to the obedience of Torah would create jealousy and anger in the hearts of Jews.  True believers would have real joy in keeping the Torah and thus make the Jews crazy with jealousy.  Jews don’t really see mainstream “Christianity” as anything to get upset about, except for the pogroms carried out in the past in the name of the church.  Jews see nearly all of “Christianity” as a completely different religion that has hijacked parts of the Old Testament and following a false messiah, who is proven false according to Deuteronomy 13.  The God of Abraham and Moses warned them that anyone who came along with miracles, but told them to depart from Torah was worthy of death.

Keep in mind as we continue this study, or go back and read the gospels and remember that the religious leaders could never successfully accuse Yeshua of violating Torah or advocating that anyone violate Torah.

Part three is found at On Romans & Olive Trees.

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