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Jesus Without the Torah

Jesus Without the Torah

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Published by: Robbert on Sep 19, 2008
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Why we can't have Jesuswithout the Torah
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By Dr. Robbert A. VeenHuizen, the Netherlands@ all rights reserved 2008Summary: In the light of our present day knowledgeabout 1
st
century Judaism it seems strange that theChurch was so ready to abandon the Torah and the Je-wishness of the Gospel. Within the NT there is still suffi-cient support for an understanding of the Torah and Jew-ish legal thought as a lasting element of Christian ethics.Especially if we take Matthews priority within the Canonand the statement Jesus made in Mat. 5:17 about the eter-nal validity of the Law seriously, one should accept thatTorah and Church ethics cannot be separated. However,the question must be asked: what happened to the Torahin the Church and why did it happen if we want to makesome progress in reassessing the value of the Torah as asource for Christian ethics.
In 1982 Mennonite theologian and pastor JohnToews
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presented his design for a theology of law inthe New Testament that would be able to provideus with a biblical method of doing Christian ethics.In his view, the Torah should again have a role toplay in ethics, precisely because all the evidence inthe New Testament suggests that Jesus took a far
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more favorable view of the Torah and the Jewishway of deducing moral rules of behavior than had been acknowledged by the Reformation. His posi-tion might be summarized as follows:In the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Torah isnormatively interpreted for the community of Jesus’followers, who affirm His messianic position, andthe nucleus of this interpretation is the love of Godand neighbor.Affirmation of the Torah and its validity is precise-ly the cornerstone of any position that holds that Jesus came to interpret the Torah in a fresh mannerand not abolish it. Which of course is exactly whatMatthew 5:17 teaches us.Do not think that I came to abolish the Law orthe Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but tofulfill.From this thesis, we can deduce a number of im-plications, some of which I will try to explore in thisand following articles.
Questions, questions, and even more questions
Other, more preliminary questions need to beasked too. If the above thesis is valid, how did itcome about that the Christian Churches ignored thiscentral position of the Torah? What happened?What doctrine took the place of the Torah in groun-ding Christian ethics if any? And how did we arrive
 
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at the almost insurmountable schism between thedemands of the Kingdom and the exigencies of or-dinary life in the modern state? The status of theSermon on the Mount is something of an enigma,with widely diverging views as to the relationship between that Sermon and the teachings of the Torahor Jewish oral tradition.The issue of the relationship of Christian ethicsand the Torah also has a significant bearing onmany other topics, including the specific position ofa Christian in his or her community. Is a Christianprimarily a citizen with a specific religious attitude?That is at least what modern liberalism tells Chris-tians based on the principle that religion is a form ofinner persuasion. Quite different from the Americanpredicament where 70% of all citizens are stillChristians, in the Netherlands Christians are a smallminority. But even then Christian political partiesrepresent a sizable chunk of 34% of the electorate,give or take.What can it mean that some of us still hold that aChristian is a citizen of the Kingdom of heavens,who awaits the return of Christ while living in theremains of an old order, destined to fade away?Such a position of 'inner exile' is the reverse of theliberal position and it is in full harmony with it, both sides agreeing that there is no place for aChristian stand on ethics or politics in this life.
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What can we do about it?
Well, what should Christians do when they disag-ree? They should read the bible together.It seems to me to be necessary to look with a freshmind at the New Testament evidence, the epistle of James and the gospels of Matthew and Mark in par-ticular, to establish a biblical answer to these ques-tions. Why these texts in particular? I'll come to thatlater, but for now I can say that Matthew seems to be the most Jewish gospel, Mark the most 'Roman'or pagan, and the letter of James has been in debatesince the 1
st
century. These are the witnesses to theissue that may have been divided among them-selves even from the start.More importantly, they all seem to agree that theTorah is being read and understood in the Churchas a major source of Christian ethics, somethingwhich we in our time may find almost unintelligi- ble. After all, in modern Christianity, there seems to be no place for the concept of a true obedience tothe Torah as an integral part of Christian ethics. TheNew Testament seems to leave us with a pair ofconflicting positions on this issue.
 Jesus or Jeshua?
Who is the real Jesus? The Jesus who apparentlyabrogates the food laws in Mark 7 by “declaring allfoods clean,” annuls the Sabbath, invalidates theKorban law and the laws of vowing in general, andrejects the institution of the Temple? Or is it the Je-
 
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sus that we might refer to more adequately by his Jewish name Jeshua? That's the Jesus who in Mat-thew 5:17 declares that He “did not come to abolishthe law and the prophets” and expects a higherrighteousness of His disciples than that of the Phari-sees, implying a greater obedience to the Torah?The controversy is even apparent within the bodyof apostolic correspondence, e.g. in Paul. Is it the Jesus who has become the “end of the law” in Ro-mans 10? But how come Paul can say so manywonderful things about the Torah? Living throughthe Spirit actually fulfills the 'righteous demands' ofthe Torah.In what sense then can we argue that the New Tes-tament as a whole teaches us that the messianic erastarts with the abrogation of Mosaic Law?So again, we must ask: Who is the “real” Jesus?The Jesus of Mark or the Jesus of Matthew?
Mark or Matthew?
If Church practice early and late can be consideredat least part of the answer, the “real” Jesus obvious-ly is that of Mark. You might work backward, start-ing from what we actually hold to be true in prac-tice and then reviewing the NT in that light.Well, then it's obvious the Church has overcome itsinherent or initial jewishness. The ChristianChurches do not hold to laws of ritual purity nor dothey abide by the various food laws, including thoseNoachide laws dealing with blood and the stran-
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gled that apparently had been adopted by the apos-tolic council under the joint authority of James, Pe-ter, and Paul and the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 17).For the same reason, if Pauline doctrine can beconsidered part of the answer and if it is in strictcontinuity with Jesus’ teaching, then Jesus musthave been abolishing the law, since established ex-egesis has it that Paul surely did.Even Peter is portrayed as being the recipient of adivine vision in which impurity barriers between Jews and gentiles were lifted (Acts 10). Church prac-tices then and now, and various texts in the NewTestament, speak urgently in favor of the image of Jesus of Nazareth as the one who abolished the law.
A New Perspective?
 Just for argument sake, can we put all of this intosome other perspective? Suppose we take into ac-count in what context these gospels were written,without forgetting even for a moment that they arecanonical witnesses and therefore cannot be simplyexcluded in our theology.Matthew might have been speaking from within apart of the Christian Church to whom the recogni-tion of an ongoing validity of the law was still im-portant. To Jewish Christians a continuing role ofthe law must have been quite self-evident. And theywould therefore be inclined to retain vivid memo-ries of Jesus' sayings and acts that were in
disconti-nuity
with that presupposition, because they would

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