"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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paul’s Letter To The Romans

This epistle, written by a Rabbi and devout follower of the Torah, is probably the most abused book of the New Testament by those who call themselves Christians.  This is because they either cannot or simply refuse to see all of Scripture as a whole.  To elaborate further; they have no problem interpreting the full meaning of one text in complete contradiction to other clear texts.

I’ve had select verses of Romans quoted to me in order to make a case that “Christians” don’t need to keep the Torah or The Law.  Early in my years as a baby Christian I bought those arguments.  But as I have matured in my studies and thinking, I see just how childish that way of thinking is.  Please don’t compound the error by quoting Jesus as saying we have to come to Him as little children.  It seems obvious to me now that Paul himself got tired of having that verse from the gospels quoted to him inappropriately and thus felt the need to tell the congregations that it was time to grow up.  Yes, you must come to Messiah with the faith and trust of a little child, but you don’t stay a child.  Only the immature hold on to simplistic ways of thinking.  If you want to want to truly know God and learn His ways, you have to put effort into it.

Let’s try putting some effort into reading, ah, correction . . .  Let’s put some effort into studying Paul’s letter to the Romans with the idea that all other Scripture must be understood to NOT be in contradiction with the message that Paul is trying to get across to his audience.

Three things need to be firmly in our minds as we read the words penned by Paul under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  First is the conviction that Messiah did NOT come to start a new religious movement as He clearly stated in Matthew 5:17-19.  Torah is now and shall be in effect even if heaven and earth were to pass away.  Also see Luke 16:17.

Secondly, that Paul’s whole purpose in going to the Temple under the direction of the Apostles who carried the authority of the Master and the elders of the congregation at Jerusalem, was to put an end to the rumor that he was teaching that it was no longer necessary to keep the Torah.  Do not confuse Paul’s teaching about the improper understanding of circumcision as being necessary for salvation with the keeping of Torah.  In fact, Paul’s purpose of writing this letter to the Romans was to explain how grace and faith precede and are requisite to obedience to Torah.

Thirdly, Paul was very outspoken about being a righteous Pharisee, his understanding and obedience to the Law, and how important it was in spite of the human incapacity to fully live out the law.

I will not quote every single verse, because if you are serious about understanding this message properly, I would assume that you will have a Bible open to the text in question.  I welcome the challenge of those who would seek to prove that I may be trying to read into the text that which I am trying to argue, versus drawing out that which God Himself wants us to understand.  If you have a question about my exegesis, by all means, make it known.

In addition, there is no getting around the importance of good language translation.  I will use the New American Standard version because it has the most respect among those who take scholarship seriously.  No English language translation is perfect.  You could read plenty of scholarly explanations on why this is true.  The NASB tries to remain as close to the intended meaning of the original language, but there are many cases where further digging is required to understand.  Translators have to walk a fine line between selecting the closest corresponding words and not “adding” anything for clarification.  This is where the serious student of the Bible has to be willing to use the concordance and delve into the lexicon to study the full meanings of the words from the original language and all their possible meanings.

With all that said, let’s get started.

Paul introduces himself as an apostle, or “one who is sent” as having authority.  He makes clear that the gospel that he is authorized to spread comes from the Scriptures; the Law and the Prophets and that the Messiah that it speaks of comes duly through the line of David.  Whether you are a Jew living in Rome, or a Gentile of Roman origin, he makes it clear that we are talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then Paul says something interesting that I’ve never heard expounded on.  He says he has received apostleship to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.”    Why not simply say to “bring about the faith of the Gentiles”?  Hmm?  What does Paul mean by “obedience of faith?”

Paul spends several lines lauding the believers in Rome and specifically for their faith.  So, what is the purpose of the letter?  Just to laud them about their faith?  I don’t think so.  It’s a long letter.  Sixteen chapters worth, although chapter and verse divisions were not added until much later, and we don’t even know if Paul was fully aware that what he was writing at the time would become canonized into Scripture.

Most of chapter one and into chapter two, Paul explains that because man was created in the image of God, as explained in the beginning of Genesis, man instinctively knows that there is right and wrong and that man has to deliberately sear his own conscience against the knowledge of God in order to do evil.  His point seems to be that, no matter what your background in life, you know that there is some kind of standard of righteousness.

In 2:13, Paul makes this statement: “for not the hearers of the Law [Torah] are just before God, but the doers of the Law [Torah] will be justified.”    Whoa.  Wait a minute.   How can that statement be in there?    Is Paul schizophrenic?  He was just talking about faith a while ago.  But here, he makes a point that there are Gentiles who seek after God and instinctively do many of the  things that Torah requires.  He also makes the point that Jews who know the Law have “the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.”  This is why Paul makes the point that Jews will be judged by the Law when they stand before God, while Gentiles who never had the opportunity to hear the Torah will be judged by their consciences.  In verse 23 Paul speaks directly to the Jews by asking them if it is not true that they dishonor God by breaking His Law?  He then answers it by saying that God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of Jews disobeying the Torah.

Question:  Why would Paul make this point to the Jews in Rome if Torah was no longer in effect since Messiah had come?

Interestingly enough, Paul is backed up in this lesson by the Apostle James, the half-brother of the Master in James' epistle.  James remained in Jerusalem and his letter was directed to mostly Jewish believers.  He made it clear that talking about faith is nothing but garbage if you have no works, no "fruit" to back it up.  Don't be just hearers of the Word but DOERS of the Word.  What Word?  Torah.

This same Apostle Paul who fought against those who tried to make circumcision a prerequisite for salvation then makes this interesting statement in verse 25:  “For indeed circumcision is of value, if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
Think carefully on this for a moment.  Not only does Paul not say that circumcision is no longer valid, but he acknowledges that it has value as long as we understand it as being greatly inferior to keeping Torah as the Messiah taught it.  In verse 26 through 29 he further emphasizes that keeping Torah practically proves circumcision in the heart. Note that he does not say, "Circumcision is for those who keep the Law, and we don't need to keep the Law any longer."  I would be correct in paraphrasing Paul by saying, "Don't think that being circumcised in the flesh is some kind of substitute for keeping Torah."

But then Paul turns to the Jews and makes it clear that if they think that they can follow the Law perfectly enough to be justified apart from having faith in the Messiah, then they have missed the point.  The main point being that putting one’s complete trust in the Messiah and relying on the Holy Spirit to help us carry out the keeping of God’s commandments is what faith is all about.  Then Paul concludes the thought at the end of chapter three with this emphatic statement that should shut the mouths of those who think that believers don’t need to keep Torah:  “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

That’s a pretty strong statement.  If you are a non-believing critic of the Bible and Christianity, that’s about all the evidence you need right there to say that the Bible contradicts itself, that all you Christians don’t know what you are talking about, etc.  It’s only logical to ask the question: How can Christians claim to believe in the Jewish Messiah who lived His life never violating Torah, declared the Torah to be eternal and unchanging, and then live their lives as if Torah doesn’t apply to them?  Are Paul and Jesus crazy, or is it the modern Christian who is failing to understand the message?

The Jews that Paul was addressing in this letter to Rome were not completely ignorant of this concept of justification by faith, because Paul uses the ultimate patriarch Abraham to make his case.  Even though Abraham had learned Torah at the feet of Noah,* he was still an imperfect man, just as Noah was.  However, God declares Abraham righteous not based on Abraham’s ability to keep Torah, but rather on Abraham’s faith that God would carry out His covenant through a future Messiah.  Paul explains this in a little more depth in the third chapter of Galatians.

Paul then goes further in explaining the reasoning that not only he, but all the elders in Jerusalem used to declare that circumcision was not a prerequisite for salvation.  God had declared  Abraham justified many years before requiring circumcision as a sign in the flesh.  Therefore, the circumcision couldn’t be confused with being something that justified Abraham.  It was as if God specifically waited 13 years after presenting Abraham with the Gospel and declaring him justified, for the express purpose of making sure that a “work of the flesh” could not be construed to be something that even remotely aided in making one justified.

So, up through chapter four, we get this explanation by Paul that we need to understand the hierarchy of the Kingdom of God.  The same Apostle who would later be arrested and sent to Rome under guard, and who bragged about the fact that he was zealous for keeping the Torah, is the same man who is explaining to the believers in Rome that circumcision cannot and will not save you.  But Paul is also the same man who is telling us that we do not nullify the Torah.  Is there a contradiction here?  No.  We do not keep Torah in order to be saved.  We keep Torah because Yeshua the Messiah said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”  Another way to look at it is to think of His words to the prostitute: “Neither do I condemn you; now go, and sin no more.”

Remember at the beginning of this post, when I pondered that phrase, "obedience of faith?"  Is it not beginning to make sense that obedience comes from faith?  You don't get faith from being obedient.  Rather, you can become obedient by having faith.  Paul's purpose in writing to the congregation in Rome was to explain this.  He wasn't writing to tell them that it was okay to ignore or deny Torah.  His purpose was to explain that obedience to Torah comes from placing one's trust in Messiah.

*This is explained in the book of Jasher.  While not canonized as Scripture itself, Jasher is referred to as being authoritative by Scripture in Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18; and 2 Timothy 3:8.

To move on to part two, you can click on this link.

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