Monday, July 30, 2012
One Small Step Away From Paul…
By guest contributor, Ken Rank
There is a disturbing and very avoidable trend occurring within the Hebrew Roots movement, a denial of Paul as an Apostle and teacher. The thought is, that Paul is teaching within his letters that we do not need to obey God and that Torah (God’s instructions, Law) has been done away with. Because of this, some who have come to walk in Torah yet still have the testimony of Yehoshua (Jesus) are publicly debasing Paul, using terms like false teacher, false apostle, and false prophet. I find this to be personally disturbing as it was through Paul’s writings that I came to walk in Torah myself.
I believe the problem rests on one simple fact; the Hebrew Roots movement is still filled with people who think in a Western Greek influenced mindset. What I mean is, we are “born into” a society which is Greek influenced, and the Greek paradigm stands at odds with the Hebraic. The Greek language is extremely concrete (as is English) but its application is very abstract. Things tend to be more “spiritualized” according to Greek thinking, whereas the opposite is true when it comes to the Hebraic. There, the language is extremely abstract, but the application of it is very concrete. So most of the Western world is raised with a Greek influence, a Greek paradigm, we very much tend to spiritualize any interpretation regardless of whether or not the author of the work we spiritualize intended his thoughts to be interpreted in that manner. Case in point is Paul. The Apostle Paul was a Jew. He was of the Tribe of Benjamin, which was part of Judea; he was also a Pharisee (from Beit Hillel, the House or School of Hillel) and one who was very much in tune with the culture as well as the exegetical (interpretational) methods of that day.
When somebody from the Western world is raised in a Christian society, his paradigm is Greek centered. Meaning, he is raised to look at form rather than function, and apply what he sees in scripture abstractly or spiritually, rather than concretely. When that same person comes to Torah and begins to keep the Feasts, he is now taking part in things more Hebraic in nature and he has come to see that when God calls something everlasting it remains everlasting, but he is still thinking from a Greek paradigm. So while he understands that the Sabbath is a sign between God and His people for ALL generations, he can't align Paul to that statement because Paul might have said something like, “you are no longer under the law, you are under grace.” The notion that his understanding about the Sabbath and a statement like this by Paul is not in conflict, is missed. The reason it is missed is simply that the Greek thinking Torah keeper is not thinking from the same paradigm a writer like Paul was using. Understand, I am not saying Paul did not write using abstract terms, he did… but he intended for a concrete application of them, whereas the culture we are raised in gives his work an abstract application. Assuming Paul wrote Hebrews, an example would be Hebrews 4:9 which states, “There remains a Sabbath keeping for the people of God.” Because “rest” is the translation in most bible versions of sabbatismos here (it literally means “a Sabbath keeping”), and because we are raised to spiritualize our interpretations, this is taught to mean we are to somehow spiritually “rest in Jesus,” leaving no room for the concrete interpretation that “there remains a Sabbath keeping for the people of God.”
Regarding Paul, Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:16, “in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable pervert, as also they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” How this happens is quite simple… We are unlearned! It is not a crime nor is it sin to be lacking understanding. If Paul is speaking regarding cultural nuances of that day or using certain abstract terminology to make a concrete point, and we are not taught to recognize these things, we simply miss them. Paul makes use of metaphors often. He calls Messiah a lamb, even when Messiah lacks 4 legs and a tail. Paul refers to himself as a sacrifice, even though God does not accept human sacrifice nor does the death of Paul do anything to reverse death and decay. Yet we don’t always recognize metaphors being used! Additionally, Paul uses Hebrew idioms, an example of which I just used, “under the law.” We see Paul say “you are not under the law” and think with our Greek minds, “We don’t have to bother with the OT anymore.” When the truth is, not being under the law is no longer being guilty. We are not “under the law” (guilty) we are “under grace” (free to worship and obey without fear from God or man). Furthermore, Paul is often employing an exegetical tool (a biblical interpretational tool) discovered by Hillel, the grandfather of Paul’s teacher Gamaliel, which directly effects context in ways most simply do not understand. The trouble is, we are raised in a religious culture that not only doesn’t teach us these tools that Paul is using, we don’t even know they exist! Yet, they affect context in ways that are almost unsettling when you first come to recognize and apply them.
Why is any of this important? Well, in the last decade there have been tens of thousands who have denied Messiah and converted to Judaism. Many of them have since left Judaism because, quite frankly, the answers they seek can’t be found within that religion either. Thus, many once joyful Christians, who became bitter and hate filled “Messianic Christians,” when they could not reconcile Paul they eventually become atheists. If you are one who has not seen this happen, believe me, it happens far more often than you can imagine. How it happens is actually very simple…
Once a person can’t reconcile Paul to the new set of facts they have been exposed to, they eventually must reject the entire NT because of all the other author’s allegiance to Paul. For example, Peter in the verse prior to the one I quoted above says Paul is the “beloved brother Paul.” If Paul then is a false apostle, then Peter must also be rejected because he considers Paul a beloved brother. In Acts 15 James calls Paul beloved, Luke doesn’t balk at recounting that, and apparently no other of Messiah’s disciples stand against Paul at any time in a manner suggesting he wasn’t anything but an Apostle of our Lord. Thus, again, if Paul is false, they all must be false as well for not taking a stand against the supposed false apostle Paul. To remain intellectually consistent, the person who can't reconcile Paul and eventually rejects him, will at some future time reject the rest of the NT authors because they stand for Paul.
This is the pattern that has been repeated thousands of times by brethren who suffer only from a lack of facts and some tools, which if they had them, they would see that Paul lived and breathed Torah. He didn’t stand against it, he was directing us to it.
I do not exalt Paul; I do not exalt any man. I am defending him because he is defendable and worth defending. If the disciples of Messiah, the ones who walked with Messiah, considered Paul a beloved brother, than I would think any modern interpretation that makes Paul out to be anything less than a beloved brother, is not coming from God! And when we give way to the Adversary and take that one small step away from Paul, we begin to take that one giant leap toward a denial of Yehoshua and/or atheism.
Thank you Ken, very well said. I have often put it this way, and this is a principle that I follow in all my teaching and writing, that the Apostle Paul, as well as the rest of scripture, must be self-interpreting, that is self-consistent. All scripture must be understood from within its historic, cultural and linguistic context. None can be interpreted in isolation of another. Without this self consistent interpretation, we are subject to be blown about by every wind of doctrine that comes our way.
Shalom and be blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart
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