This entry is part [part not set] of 8 in the series Christians and Violence

I’m not sure how many have followed the interaction between Adam F(inlay) and I from the first blog, but I thought it would be good to follow up with some of his questions here. So this blog is a bit of an aside; hence the goofy 5.5 title. First, let me just say that Adam is a good friend of mine and one of the sharpest guys I know. He wrestles with the text like no other and is well versed in first century Judaism. As always, he’s raised some very good questions regarding my reading of Matthew 5 and the pacifistic position as a whole. In short, Adam says that Jesus was a Torah abiding Jew who never contradicted (the law of) Moses in his teaching, as Matthew 5:17-19 makes clear. Therefore, since the law of Moses has allowances for violence, Jesus must have as well. He wouldn’t and didn’t teach against Moses.

(Adam, if this is off in any way, please let me know!)

So here’s my response. I’ll try to be concise at the risk of setting out underdeveloped arguments.

First, I don’t think we should see such total continuity between Jesus and Moses, or between Jesus’ teaching and Moses’ teaching, or between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. The New Covenant doesn’t just renew the old, but takes God’s relationship with his people to a new level. Such discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New can already be found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the New is “not like” the Old (not that it’s completely different, but that there will be some discontinuity). Ezekiel 16:61-63 hints at this as well, and Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 3, and many other statements in Paul (Rom 6; 10:4; and others) suggest that there is discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New. In short, the biblical drama unfolds as a dynamic, not a static, story; the law of Moses does not reveal God’s ideal for all people of all times under all covenants. The Mosaic law was culturally, geographically, and ethnically bound. It was God’s law for the people of Israel, in the land of Israel, while living in a particular period of time. The very nature of the shift—or progression—from a uni-ethnic, geographically bound covenant people into a multi-national, non-geographically bound covenant people, demands that the law in all its literalness cannot be sustained.

Second, there are many other things that “progress” as the biblical story unfolds. In the OT (Old Testament), God dwells behind walls in a tabernacle/temple; in the NT (New Testament), He dwells in his church without walls. In the OT, animal sacrifices expiated sin; in the NT, Jesus takes away our sins once and for all. In the OT, all ethical behavior was tethered to the land of Israel; in the NT, ethics are detached from the land promise. In the OT, holiness and purity is conceived in spatial and material terms (the alter can be defiled, along with the lamp stand, and they need to be cleansed; etc.); in the NT, the concept of holiness and purity is not the same.

Third, and related to the previous point, many ethical commands of the OT law are explicitly reversed or “brought to their intended goal” (as I like to put it) in the NT. In the OT, divorce is clearly allowed (Deut 24:1ff), while in the NT it’s not (in most cases) and Jesus “takes” Deut 24 “to its intended goal” in Matt 5:31 to prove his point. Retaliation is allowed in the court system of the OT, but for the people of God in the NT it’s strictly forbidden (e.g., Matt 5:38). (Adam had some great thoughts on this in the first blog; I hope my wording here reflects his astute correction.) Circumcision and all the dietary laws were mandated in the OT—even for Gentiles who became covenant members—but not so in the NT. (There’s a debate about whether or not Jewish believers in Jesus are still commanded to keep such laws, but it’s clearly reversed in the case of Gentiles.)

Now, fourth, what about Matthew 5:17-20? Here’s the text:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Look up any major commentary on Matthew and you’ll find a 5-10 page discussion on this passage, which usually summarizes anywhere from 5-10 different views on what Jesus means here. All that to say, the obvious meaning of what Jesus says here is not all that obvious. Several questions are immediately apparent: What does Jesus mean by “fulfill?” What does he mean by “all is accomplished?” What is the “least of these commandments”—specifically, which ones are the “least” and which “commandments” is he thinking of? (Several interpreters suggest that “these commandments” point forward to Jesus’ own “law” in 5:21-48.) And what in the world does Jesus mean by having a righteousness that surpasses “the scribes and Pharisees,” which constitutes your entrance card into the kingdom? Needless to say, we really have to roll up our sleeves, cancel our appointments, and set aside a good deal of time to work through these issues before we can confidently quote Matthew 5 in favor of any view of Jesus and the law.

So what does the passage mean? Here’s a very truncated summary of my view. First, “fulfill” is not the same as “obedience,” since “the word plhrouvn, ‘to fulfill,’ is never used in Matthew to describe obedience to the law” (Hagner, Matthew, 105). I agree with Don Hagner who says that the word “fulfill” does not refer to

“establishing the law as is, nor of supplementing it, but in the sense of bringing it to its intended meaning in connection with the messianic fulfillment (together with plhrouvn, note ‘he law and the prophets’) brought by Jesus…In Matthew’s view, the teaching of Jesus by definition amounts to the true meaning of the Torah and is hence paradoxically an affirmation of Jesus’ loyalty to the OT” (Hagner, Matthew, 107).

So Jesus didn’t seek to destroy the law, but to bring the law to its intended goal. All that to say, I don’t think the passage presents the law as a static constitution for God’s people of all time, being reiterated and reaffirmed by Jesus; rather, Jesus “penetrate(s)…the divinely intended meaning of the law.”

So what does Jesus mean by “the least of these commandments” (v. 19)? I actually don’t think it refers to Jesus’ own words in vv. 21 and following, although this would support my view. The context necessitates that Jesus is talking about the law of Moses, which makes perfect sense, because Jesus said he’s not trying to “abolish” the law but to “fulfill it.” Again, I think Hagner’s interpretation is as good as any:

“What is being emphasized in this way are not the minutiae of the law that tended to captivate the Pharisees but simply a full faithfulness to the meaning of the law as it is expounded by Jesus. Thus, the phrase “the least of these commandments” refers to the final and full meaning of the law, but taken up and interpreted by Jesus, as for example in the material that begins in v 21” (Hagner, Matthew, 108).

All in all, I don’t think that Jesus was simply reinstituting the law of Moses in all its literalness for the New Testament people of God. (Had any bacon lately?) He clearly “fulfilled” several commandments in the law, including divorce (v. 31) and retaliation (v. 38), and his treatment of unclean women, lepers, and prostitutes, seems to go against a strict interpretation of Moses—or at least, it takes Moses to a new level. Again, I don’t think this means that Jesus was abolishing the law, but bringing it to its intended goal—the love of God and love of neighbor among the worldwide community of God’s New Covenant people. After all, Sinai is not the final goal; Eden is.

So unless Jesus explicitly reiterated the OT’s allowance, and command of, violence—like stoning kids who curse their parents or those who violate the Sabbath (Exod 21:17; 35:2)—I don’t think we can assume that Jesus endorsed violence simply because Moses did. We would need to find Jesus explicitly endorsing some measure of violence among God’s people. But he doesn’t.

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  1. Thanks for the kind words Preston. I think you bring up some really valid points to consider and I’ll do my best to address each one at a time. This is such an important subject for me on many levels … so I will do my best to keep my passion in check and hopefully communicate why I feel it is critical that we as Christians re-evaluate our typical Christian perspective of these passages (mainly Matt 5).

  2. 1. “The New Covenant doesn’t just renew the old, but takes God’s relationship with his people to a new level.”

    Amen. I couldn’t agree more. But, to imply that Jesus’ teaching is therefore not in continuity with his Bible is detrimental to our Christian theology. We should absolutely see continuity between Jesus and Moses. Why would God painstakingly give detailed instruction to his people, for centuries calling them to obedience, only to throw it away with the Messiah. I don’t know about you, but if I was a 1st century Jew, I would cry “no fair!” Does this really communicate God’s “chesed”, his covenantal loyalty to his people? So why wouldn’t Jews reject a “new covenant” that contradicts everything in their Bible? If we believe this view about Jesus, we are no better in our logic than Mormons who believe in J. Smith as a true prophet of God, despite the obvious inconsistency of his teachings with the Bible. Isn’t it only logical that we place the same measuring stick to Jesus that we would to another other “prophet”? Moses stated that a false prophet is someone who: 1) says things that don’t come to pass, and 2) says things that contradict the Torah. Therefore, if Jesus contradicted the Torah, by picking and choosing what he would observe and overturn, he would be a false prophet. Period. He would be the “lawless one” and certainly no Messiah. There is nothing “dynamic” about God contradicting himself. If anything, it tells us that God is not trustworthy – he is someone who changes his mind and certainly not the “rock” of consistency we often profess.

    So what about Jer. 31 and the New Covenant “not like” the Old? The text tells us why it will be different – “I will put my laws in their minds and write it on their hearts” (v. 33). In other words, because Israel was unfaithful, God will renew his marriage vows but this time it will be different. He will help them follows his laws and commandments by writing them inside them (instead of outward stone). This text does NOT say that it will be different because “God will give them a new set of laws to obey” or “they will be a law unto themselves”. They are called back into obedience of the Torah.

    The prophet Ezekiel says the same thing. In chapter 16, Israel is again portrayed as an unfaithful wife breaking the marriage covenant. God says that he will renew it, but this time he will cleanse them with water (36:25), change them internally with a “new heart” and “new spirit” (36:26) , and place HIS Spirit within them (36:27). Why? – to “move” them to follow his decrees and carefully obey his laws (36:27). I can’t find any support in the Hebrew Bible that God will overturn his laws.

    I’m hesitant to address Paul in depth, because this would turn into a book! But I will say we also have to re-evaluate Paul’s statements about the Torah. Virtually all his letters were written to gentiles and not Jews living in Israel. Why does that matter? Because Acts makes it clear that gentiles did not have to keep the Torah and “become Jews” to be saved into God’s community. Therefore, Paul was always on guard against those who would infiltrate these gentile communities and burden them with circumcision and food laws. It would appear that he was therefore against Moses, but this isn’t true according to many passages like Acts 21. Paul himself said that circumcision has value and that he upheld the Torah as a Jew (Rom 3:31).

    • Adam, If I may, you seem to be misunderstanding Preston’s view (at least from an outsider’s perspective). This seems due to both of you employing the words “(dis)continuity” slightly differently. You equate Preston’s language with Jesus not being in any continuity with Moses or “throwing [Moses] away,” yet Preston likewise rejects this view. The very nature of “fulfillment” and “intended goal” language is to show *continuity.* It seems that what Preston means by discontinuity is the gap between shadow (Torah) and reality (Christ); however the reality has continuity with the shadow by definition. E.g. Jesus doesn’t overturn eye for an eye. For Jesus to overturn or “throw away” eye for an eye would mean either no consequences whatsoever or it could mean to feel free to cut off the person’s head who injured your eye (e.g. like Lamech in Genesis 4). However, for Jesus fulfills eye for eye, which was put in place to mitigate aggressive and excessive punishments for crime, by saying to “love your enemy” and “overcome evil with good.” Jesus is in continuity with eye for an eye because He too is putting an end to excessive Lamech-like consequences and retribution, yet He “fulfills” (i.e. is in discontinuity in a very nuanced sense of the term) eye for and eye because He takes the law to it’s “intended goal” of learning that forgiving love is the appropriate consequence for resisting evil (e.g. God’s response to Cain).

      Then again, I can also be misunderstanding this dialogue myself. I’m just trying at add a comment that will hopefully provide more clarity. I hope I didn’t muddle things but it seemed as though you started talking past Preston right off the bat with this comment.

    • Andrew, I do realize that Christians often employ the word “fulfill” in a way that implies an agreement and yet an overturning of God’s commandments at the same time. This is terribly confusing in my opinion … and where does Jesus ever say he “fulfilled commands”? I only see that Jesus fulfilled prophecies, not commands – I find that a bit strange. At the end of the day, it’s still the casting aside of something God previously revealed. “Fulfill” is now a great Christian buzz word and literally has come to mean the opposite of what Jesus intended it to be. Hence, our contempt for the Hebrew Bible – that 80% of the book we never read 🙂 It’s like an old catalog that served its purpose or goal, but now that my order has arrived, the catalog goes in the trash. Ok, not everyone puts them in the trash … some people like to thumb through them again. I’ll tackle what I believe Jesus meant by “fulfill” and “abolish” when I get the chance, but I love the dialog 🙂

  3. 2. I agree that the Bible progressively unfolds with its fulfillment in Messiah, but I just don’t see such clear black and white statements that you make here. For instance, the Jewish followers continued in Temple worship and sacrifice AFTER Jesus died. They did not feel threatened by the temple in any way. Nor does Acts say that these Jewish believers were “stubborn” or “sinning” in doing so. Also, God never said he was confined to the temple. The Bible tells us that he is omnipresent and that the earth is his footstool. There are also examples of God’s Spirit coming upon people in the Torah. You said “In the OT, all ethical behavior was tethered to the land of Israel”, but the NT does say “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17). When Paul mentions “Scripture” here, he is referring to our unfortunately branded “Old Testament” and not his letters or the NT. If the Hebrew Bible is our guide for life, then its purpose is multifaceted, certainly not confined to merely revealing sin or for Israelites only.

  4. 3. I do believe that Jesus the Messiah is the “telos” (goal, end) of the Law as it says in Rom 10 regarding righteousness (making atonement and bringing that inward change the prophets talked about). But I don’t see anything in the Bible about Jesus overturning or reversing commands God previously revealed toward a “goal”. If Jesus did contradict Moses, how could he attack his opponents with this very accusation (Matt 15:3)? He would be a total hypocrite and certainly not someone who could die as a spotless lamb. Let me quickly respond to some of the example you made:

    Jesus did not contradict Moses regarding divorce. This was a heated subject in Judaism, especially with the competing schools of Hillel and Shammai, who both predated Jesus. Rabbis would debate Deut 24 and interpret it in many ways.
    “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found something indecent in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house …”
    Rabbi Akiva permitted divorce even if a man saw one more beautiful, emphasizing “favor in eyes”.
    Rabbi Hillel permitted divorce for any reason, including not cooking well, emphasizing “something”.
    Rabbi Shammai permitted divorce only for infidelity, emphasizing “indecent”.

    So we see that Jesus’ statement is in agreement with Shammai’s interpretation here (a rare thing). If you want to divorce your wife for any reason, sure you can give her a certificate of divorce – if you have a hardened heart! But Malachi makes it clear that “God hates divorce”. Again, what is the heart or spirit of the Hebrew Bible – that divorce is no big deal? Jesus takes these passages seriously and also refers to God’s intent from the beginning, making them one flesh that should never be separated.

    As previously mentioned, I don’t believe Jesus overturned the law of retaliation (eye for an eye) in Matt 5:38. The “eye for an eye” law is actually a good thing. It won’t “make the whole world blind” as Gandhi taught if one interprets the SPIRIT of the law correctly. Judaism always taught this verse means one should pay for what they damage. We don’t have any record that this was ever taken literally in Judaism. In the Torah, there were laws for the courts to maintain justice, and there were also moral teachings for how people should live. I believe Jesus was saying that one should not take it upon themselves to take justice into their own hands (by proving it with the “eye for an eye” verse). No, the spirit of the Law says not to take revenge (Lev 19).

    Treatment of unclean people
    Was Jesus disobeying the Law when he touched the leper, allowed the women with the bleeding problem to touch him, or when he touched a dead corpse to restore life? Again, I would say that the spirit of the Torah is the preservation of life, so I would answer no. Besides, this would be no different that Elijah and Elisha who also cleansed the leper and raised the dead. No one would ever say they reversed the Torah. Also, the Torah does not say being unclean is a sin, it just made you unfit for temple worship.

    Circumcision / Dietary Laws
    Jesus never overturned circumcision or food laws for Jews. The only thing he overturned were the tables of the marketplace in the temple, because they weren’t staying true to God’s Law. Regarding gentiles, I think it should be noted that there really isn’t much recorded interaction between Jesus and gentiles in the Gospels. He calls one lady a dog (quite a different evangelistic approach!), doesn’t bother getting too close to the Centurion to visited him, and emphasizes that the Jews have the truth to the half-Isrealite Samaritan woman. And there is that passage in John where gentiles are wanting to visit him, but he doesn’t seem to wish to see them because he is near his end. That’s about it. No disciples are mentioned as being gentile. Therefore, to suggest that Jesus was preaching to a New Testament people of God or gathering a New Church comprised of Jew and gentile alike – I don’t see anything that supports that. What I do see is that Jesus said he was called only to the “Lost sheep of Israel” – a sure reference to Ez 34 (specifically verses 16 & 23). Now of course, we see in the book of Acts how the story unfolds and gentiles are welcomed in later. But is this the same thing as gentiles in the OT who became circumcised? No, these were gentiles who didn’t live in the land of Israel, who didn’t want to intermarry and “become Jews” living in Israel as a “foreigner in their gates”.

  5. I hope you will forgive me for being direct and perhaps, sounding a little harsh. I guess engineers discuss things a little differently than theologians. But, my point, once again, is Genesis 9, in the literal and cultural context.

    • Yeah, I think that once we start taking the knife to ethical teachings in the Hebrew Bible it turns into a slippery slope. If we can’t even apply wisdom from poetical Ecclesiastes anymore (that there is a time to kill), and pre-Torah passages like Genesis 9, I’m not quite sure what we can apply.

      • Again, “taking a knife to the ethical teaching of the” OT is quite a misrepresentation of saying that Jesus took the Law to its intended goal.

        And you have to be careful reading Ecclesiastes as straightforward ethical teaching. The book is a blend of hopeless despair, along with typical wisdom theology (see Tremper Longman’s excellent commentary on Eccl. 3; cf. his introduction regarding how to interpret the book).

        • Hey bro,

          I don’t think we should dismiss wise sayings or mere observations about life from wisdom literature in proving a point. But if you feel I’ve taken something out of context, I’ll move on.

          The whole “intended goal” interpretation of Jesus changing laws to prove his “loyalty to the OT” just doesn’t make sense to me, nor does it fit the context in my opinion. Here’s my main concern … I’m not quite sure how Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” if we treat it like a first draft:

          God wanted to give man instruction so that he would live righteously (the goal). His rough draft (the OT) was good for its time, but needed to be corrected & revised by Jesus which became the final draft (the NT).

          I thought the Torah tells us how to live morally, it only lacked the power to bring about inward transformation – which came through Christ. ?

  6. 4. If there’s one passage the church needs to reread today – I wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s Matt 5. What does Jesus mean by “fulfill” and “abolish”? What is “the least of the commandments”? There are certainly millions of commentaries to explore in attempting to grasp this difficult passage. Although, is this passage really difficult? In the flavor of Mark Twain – it’s not what I don’t understand about this passage that makes it difficult, but what I do understand. I don’t believe Jesus could’ve said any clearer. What makes this passage difficult for us gentile Christians, is that it doesn’t fit our preconceived understanding of Jesus. He is that laid-back shepherd guy with the long hair who was always debating those “legalistic” Jews! Jesus did have debates with some Pharisees over added traditions, but what Christians can’t see is that Jesus’ main point of contention with them was actually not what they taught, but that they didn’t live it out (Matt 23:2,3). So Jesus was extremely passionate about living out God’s commandments as Jews.

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

    One of the effects of the gentile church severing their roots with the Jewish people, is that we’ve severed our Messiah from us. We don’t know how to see him through Jewish eyes and understand all the idioms and Hebraisms he used in his teachings. What I find enlightening and more convincing than all our gentile Christian commentaries are the parallels of Matt 5 in rabbinic literature. We find there is that “fulfill” meant to interpret Scripture correctly while “abolish” meant to misinterpret Scripture. There are entire debates recorded like “Rabbi so and so abolishes the Torah by saying thus, but I fulfill Scripture by stating thus”. Therefore, Jesus opens his greatest teaching on how his disciples should live with a strong statement that he is interpreting Moses and the Prophets correctly.

    “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. ”

    What Jesus actually said was that the “yod” (smallest Hebrew letter resembling an apostrophe) with its “thorn” (minute decorative stroke on its tip) shall not even be removed. A strong hyperbole that is strikingly similar to the creative story of “Solomon and the Yod” in rabbinic literature. In this story, Solomon just removes the tiniest letter from the law in order to misinterpret the Torah according to his liking. By simply removing the yod, Solomon altered the command “you shall not multiply wives” to “you shall multiply wives”. Comedically, the yod traveled to heaven and testified against Solomon for abolishing him. God responded by saying that anyone who abolishes Torah, God will abolish! We don’t know how old this story is, but it could be possible that Jesus knew about it. So when I read quotes like “What is being emphasized in this way are not the minutiae of the law” – I have to scratch my head. What stronger hyperbole could he have used?!!

    “Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

    If we really take this verse seriously, Jesus is saying that anyone who wrongly interprets Moses, so that even the smallest commandment is set aside – you will be nothing in the age to come. Selah. The church has completely ignored this verse. Just crack open any commentary to read how Jesus supposedly “fulfilled” the Law by “abolishing” it. (There is also a parallel to the “least of the commandments” in rabbinic literature. It is the command regarding not removing the mother bird and eggs together.) Jesus then goes on to say that our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees? Why does he say this? He does not mention his righteous through the cross – that would be taking it out context. He is talking about how we live. This is his main attack on Pharisees – they disregard some of Moses’ commandments for man-made traditions (Matt 15:3) and they don’t practice what they preach (Matt 23:2,3)! In other words, they aren’t Torah observant enough!

    • Adam,

      It’s super late and I might not have time to thoroughly respond to all of your very good comments. Perhaps we’re due for another lunch at Hawelli’s Indian buffet??

      But before I dose off, I would like to say that I think you’re developing a bit of a straw man here. As I read through your comments, you seem to present only two views: 1) the gentile view, which seeks to “abolish” the words of the OT, against Jesus’ own clear teaching in Matthew 5, and 2) the view which you promote, which says that Jesus was a Torah observant Jew, who obeyed and promoted the law of Moses in all its literalness for all people of all time (a rather extreme and minority view; not that it’s wrong, but few would adhere to this.)

      I would only caution you by pointing out that there are a ton of interpreters who fall somewhere in between. There are a whole range of views, many of which would not take the “Jesus vs. legalistic Jews” view you address, and yet who would also not align themselves with your view. Don Hagner, whom I’ve quoted throughout this post, is well aware of all the Rabbinic texts you’ve cited and does not adhere to a gentilically naive view that you seem to set up and slam down (like building a man out of straw, only to push him down:) And tons of NT scholars are very well versed in Rabbinic literature and even more so in all Second Temple Jewish writings, and yet still do not take our view on Jesus’ total adherence to the law of Moses in all its literalness.

      In short, you really seem to caricature an extreme “goyim” view of Jesus, which I would agree is way off, and then suggest that the only legit view is your–seemingly theonomist–view that Jesus never corrected, modified, nor developed Moses’s original commands in any way. But virtually all NT scholars I know, who are all for a Jewish Jesus and are well versed in all the Second Temple and Rabbinic literature you quote (Friedrich Avemarie, Richard Bauckham, Bruce Longenecker, Don Hagner, Simon Gathercole, James Dunn, Otfried Hofius, Francois Bovon, Francis Watson, N.T. Wright, Richard Horbury, and many many others) do not hold to the extreme view you hold regarding Jesus, and they would all (I think; to one level or another) hold to the view of Matt 5 that I explained in the blog. In short, I think you’re over simplifying the issue and need to be more open to the view–or a similar one, at least–that I am suggesting in the blog. I never said that Jesus was trying to abolish the law, only that the nature of his fulfilling the law goes beyond a static adherence to all the 613 (?) commandments in Exodus-Deuteronomy.

      So, in short, we can continue to debate the topic, and I’m actually more open to your view that it may seem, but we can’t give the impression that there are only two options: either the grossly gentilic misunderstanding of Jesus, or the theonomist Jesus, who reestablished all 613 commandments.

      BTW, would you call yourself a theonomist? I don’t like labels, but everything you’ve said thus far suggests this.

      And, to take the topic in a slightly different direction, I’m a little leery reading rabbinic traditions codified in the Mishnah and Talmud (written in AD 200-500) back into the first century. I know we’ve talked about this, but I would suggest considering at least a little more caution in doing so. The main problem is that Mishnaic Rabbinic literature, even when it refers to 1st century debates/events, is written through the lens of Rabbinic Judaism, which was quite different from the diverse forms of Judaism in the first century. In short, Rabbinic Judaism as reflected in the Mishnah does not accurately represent all the forms of Judaism that were around in the first century, even though when you read the Mishnah, you get the impression that Judaism was much more uniform. Oh sure, you have the debates between Hillel and Shammai, but this is still within the confines of Rabbinic, or Pharisaic, Judaism. But the first century bears witness to many more diverse expressions of Judaism. You have the 4 sects–Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots–but you also have Enochic Judaism, and similar apocalyptic forms of Judasim (cf. 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Pseudo-Philo), and you also have Qumranic Judaism, which seems to be a subset of Essene Judaism. Then you have the Pharisaical version codified in the Psalms of Solomon, and the near Qumranic version seen in the book of Jubilees, and again the more mainstream Judaism witnessed in 1-2 Maccabees. And then there’s hellenistic/diaspora Judaism, seen in the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, and Philo. And on, and on, and on, and on. Point being: the type of Judaism reflected in post-AD 200 rabbinic Judaism only reflects a sliver of the variegated “Judaisms” around in Jesus’ day. So we’ve got to use caution–much caution–when we use Rabbinic Judaism to help interpret Jesus. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying that it must be done with a good deal of caution. Jesus seemed to reflect a more apocalyptic version of Judaism (cf. 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra) that we just don’t see in Rabbinic Judaism, and this alone should raise a good deal of caution.

      Ok, I’m about to fall asleep….Not sure if any of this makes sense, but…

      love you brother!


      • Hey Preston,

        I’m always up to another Indian meal! I know that there are numerous views out there, so I’m sorry if my statements seem very black and white. I am definitely not a “theonomist”. I just don’t understand the logic that Jesus obeyed some commandments and not others. Doesn’t James say that if you break one, you break them all? So my statements here are not an attack on anyone specifically and I’m definitely not saying I know more than you. I just don’t see any solid ground to suggest Jesus did away with any commandments previously given from God. This doesn’t mean that I have to believe Jesus gave a “static” repetition of Moses “in all its literalness”. Why would he need to do that? The prophets’ messages to Israel were far from static sermons and visual aids! They said some crazy things, like “God doesn’t care about your sacrifices!” … because they were getting at the people’s heart and bringing out the spirit of the Torah. No one would suggest that they were overturning any commandments, but on the surface level it would appear that way. I think Jesus’ ministry parallels the dynamic prophets of Israel.

        • How is your position different from theonomy? You would both desire a full reinstatement of the Torah, right?

          “I just don’t understand the logic that Jesus obeyed some commandments and not others.” This would take another blog series to thoroughly discuss, but given that there is a good deal of discontinuity between the old and new covenants, it would make sense that the covenant constitutions would be different.

          Also, it may help a ton, though we haven’t even discussed it yet, to distinction between the apodictic laws (“You shall not…you shall…; e.g. the 10 commandments) and the case laws (“If an ox gores your neighbor…”; the bulk of Exod 21-24; Lev 10-15; et al.) The apodictic laws are framed as absolutes, commands that are inherent to God’s nature. But case laws are tailored to Israel’s specific cultural, geographical, and temporal situation, and are the specific way in which Israel is to live out apodictic law. But for those under the New Covenant, who live in different cultures, a different time, and in different places, we live out apodictic law in a different way. The principle is the same, but its application is different. So, for instance, not harvesting the edges of my grainfield bears a principle that is still very relevant for me, but I don’t live in the same agrarian context under a theocracy, so even if I did have a grain field (I do have a kale garden in my backyard, but…), I don’t think I’m bound to leave its edges unharvested. But I do have a job (= my grain field) and I should not consume all that I bring in (= the edges of my grain field). So there’s a very relevant principle that drives case law that’s still relevant for me today.

          Any way, you can find a good summery of my view here:

          So, I’m not throwing away Moses, and I’m especially not ignoring the Old Testament. But this doesn’t mean that Moses is authoritative over me IN THE SAME WAY that he was for Israel under the old covenant.

          That’s where I’m at, anyway. Thoughts?

          • The subject whether “Moses is authoritative over you (me) IN THE SAME WAY that he was for Israel under the old covenant” is actually another subject. I am talking about how Jesus lived and what he taught as a Jew to Jews. No, I believe since we are gentile we don’t have to live as Jews and be circumcised, obeying things like kashrut (Acts 15).

          • Regarding the need to label me as a “theonomist” …

            There are different topics here:

            A) Jesus upheld his Bible and was obedient as one under the Law (what I’ve argued in this blog)
            B) Jewish believers after Jesus can/should still retain their Judaism

            Someone may believe A (so that for instance, Jesus could be a lamb w/o blemish) and not believe B (perhaps by believing that after Jesus died, he rejected the Mosaic Covenant). All I have to do is prove that A is true to disqualify pacifism, right (since “there is a time to kill”) ?

          • I’m unclear on how Jesus endorsing and being a pacifist would make Him (or anyone) a Torah breaker. To me that seems like saying that you would call an adolescent disobedient if their mom said, “Don’t have any chocolate milk until I get home,” and he chose also not even to open the fridge. Or if he was told to make his bed because “cleanliness is next to godliness” and then he chose to clean his whole room as well–or even the bathroom–(i.e. he fulfilled the spirit behind the original instruction to make his bed and went even further [but in the same direction]). This seems absurd which is why I’m asking. I feel like I must be misunderstanding you.

          • Hey Andrew,

            Yeah, I can understand what you’re saying here. Sorry if I haven’t been clear. The Torah never says “thou shalt commit violence” but certainly allows it under certain circumstances. So in that sense, if Jesus said “there is never a time to kill or be violent” then that would contradict the entire Hebrew Bible. He would have to overturn verses that do allow for violence and say clearly that “there is a time to build, tear down … a time to kill.” Thanks for making that point. I think I’m just so used to hearing Christians portray Jesus as a rebel who broke the sabbath and food laws. But in this case, he would simply dismiss the authority of the Bible when it says that there is a time for violence, so I personally don’t see sufficient grounds for believing that.

      • I know we’ve already briefly discussed how theologians dismiss the Mishnah because it was written later. But the Mishnah records the sayings of many well known rabbis that predate Jesus and came after him ( I know you know all this, just making a point). The Pharisees were the dominant sect in Judaism, and their influence was widespread. And their sayings parallel Jesus in so many incredible ways, and he certainly had more in common with them than some separatist Qumran community out of the Dead Sea, right? As I stated previously, Jesus didn’t seem to battle so much with their theology, but their hypocrisy. Therefore, why wouldn’t we draw from this material, especially since they spoke the same language, using many key Hebraisms Jesus used like “Kingdom of Heaven”, “good eye/bad eye”, “son of man”, and “binding/loosing”? If rabbis used the phrase “binding and loosing” meaning to “prohibit” and “allow”, does that not give us insight Jesus’ message to his disciples? Isn’t is helpful to know that rabbis used the phrase “good eye” to mean generosity, when Jesus this same phrase speaking about money? Jesus certainly didn’t invent all these idioms. So why not see how they used “abolish” and “fulfill”? What’s wrong with that logic?

        Love you too bro!

        • No, definitely don’t “dismiss” the Mishnah. But we do need to use it with caution. Again, as I stated in my comments, the Judaism reflected in the Mishnah seems to be projected back onto the first century, giving the impression that Judaism was much more uniform than it really was. As you know, after the temple is destroyed in AD 70, so were many sects and sub-sects within Judaism. The Sadducees were pretty much taken out. The Zealots were killed, as were the Essenes. Many other “apoclypticists” were killed or exiled, or they morphed back into more mainstream Judaism. In short, the only group of Jews that were left were Pharisaic Jews who formed Rabbinic Judaism. But, the Judaism that was around during the Mishnaic years is not a very good representation of the types of Judaisms around in the first century, and even though the Mishnah talks a good deal about first-century Judaism, it’s sometimes tough to sort out how much of their description is really a reflection of their own AD 200 Judaism.

          So don’t dismiss it, but just use it with a good deal of caution (as with any source; Josephus, Philo, Pliny, etc.)

          Also, there’s the potential problem of what Samuel Sandmel (a Jew) calls “parallelomania,” in his ground breaking–and in many ways, devastating–article titled (you guessed it) “Parallelomonia” written about 50 years ago. Sandmel was addressing a widespread trend among NT scholars to find tons of parallels in Jewish literature (esp. the Mishnah) to help interpret the NT. It’s been years since I read it, so I can’t remember his exact argument, but virtually all scholars since then exhibit a good deal more caution when bringing in parallels in cognate literature to help interpret the NT. The trend had been developing ever since Hermann Leberecht Strack and Paul Billerbeck published there well-known, multi-volume “Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch” (you can probably figure out what the book’s all about). Virtually all the books you read that show parallels between the NT and the Mishnah and Talmud are simply quoting from this work (if they don’t cite it, then they’re probably plagiarizing, which has been another problem). This “Kommentar” (Commentary) was publish about a 100 years ago and has been a standard resource, but after Sandmel and others raised a good deal of caution (and criticism) over this work and other ones like it, most NT scholars who are knee deep in Judaism still use the Mishnah, but with a good deal of caution.

          Wheh, i got to get to work! Hope this helps give you a little more of my perspective.

        • “The Pharisees were the dominant sect in Judaism, and their influence was widespread.”

          Well, it depends on when you’re talking about. During Alexandra Salome’s reign (76-67 B.C., I think), they were very influential. During Herod the (homey) G’s reign? Not really. Herod keep all other competing influences at bay. Around the birth of Christ, Josephus says that there were 6,000 Pharisees who didn’t swear allegiance to Caesar, but there were over 100,000 Jews in Israel at this time, so Pharisees = about 6% (assuming that Jo was talking about all, or most, of the Pharisees).

          Probably the greatest problem in understanding Pharisaic influence in the first century is Josephuses incredibly blatant bias toward the Pharisees in his accounts. He’s trying to sell Rome on intrusting them with leadership in the late first century, so he dresses them up pretty good. But it’s not too clear that they were the dominant sect. They were certainly very influential, but there were many other sects, sub-sects, and tons of other “common” Jews (c.f. Sanders) who didn’t strictly adhere to any sect.

          Much more on this, but I REALLY got to go!

          • Addendum. Josephus says (Ant. 17.42) that in 10 B.C. there were “over 6,000 Pharisees” who refused to take an oath to Caesar. And there were actually 1-2 mil Jews in Palestine at this time.

          • Whether or you would trust everything the Mishnah says – sure this can be debated. I get that. But why would anyone want to hold an extreme view (not saying you do), dismissing the obvious parallels, even just plain old language and idiomatic phrases that Jesus so clearly used? I find it complete hypocrisy for pastors to quote the Mishnah (in a negative light) when it suits them. For example, when teaching about Jesus and divorce – “can you believe that Hillel said this?!!” (as a matter of fact). Yet, when it comes to just connecting something so basic as idiomatic phrases/Hebraisms, the Mishnah is rejected.

          • I could be wrong about the Pharisees, but I’ve always understood that they were the dominant sect (other than the Sadducees). One could argue that the NT supports this view. Verses like Matt 23:2,3 implies that they sat in the place of authority (there was an actual seat in synagogues called “Moses’ Seat”) and that it was the norm to obey their teachings and rulings. Jesus doesn’t seem to mention other sects so prevalently in the Gospels.

            Even if there were only 6,000 at the time of Christ’s birth, that wouldn’t include their women, children, and all the common people (not everyone of course) who submitted to their teaching but weren’t official Pharisees. So I don’t think its luck that they were the only Jewish sect that survived the Roman wars other than the Jewish followers of Jesus.

  7. By the way, I don’t claim to have all the answers and still wrestle through these issues. Thanks for the conversation and stirring me to seek the truth. I definitely admire your humility and openness to hear another viewpoint!

  8. Adam F – I’ll be honest, I havent gone through each and every comment bit by bit. But I have a concern that you’re in danger of slipping into, or have already slipped into, the Pharisee like religion that Jesus rebuked.

    I think you have dismissed what Jesus is plainly saying and doing in fulfilling the law, establishing a new covenant, that made the old one obsolete. (Hebrews)

    Do me a favor man, and just pray about it. Ask God if You have slipped away from the fulfillment and the new covenant He established through the Son. Thats all I ask. Pray. Please.


    • Hey Mark, with all due respect I believe one should probably hear someone’s full argument without being so quick to pass judgment.

      The book of Hebrews is an entirely other subject, but I will say that the author doesn’t say “obsolete” but “old” (paleo). Obsolete is an unfortunate skewed translation, especially when the same word is used for “Old” Covenant in 2 Cor 3.

  9. Adam F,

    For some reason, it’s not letting me reply directly to your comments, and my desire to get home is also preventing me to respond to everything you said. But really quick:

    I really don’t think that A) showing that Jesus didn’t break the law would therefore prove that Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. You can use that argument, but I doubt you’ll convince many people of it. You’ll have to deal with what Jesus actually says about violence.

    Also, would you say that Jesus disagree with James (Acts 15) and Paul regarding the need for Gentiles to keep the law? And what about all the culturally and geographically bound laws in the Law, like wearing clothes of two different fabrics, and stoning kids who curse their parents. Would Jesus sign off on those?

    Also, it’s a logical leap to say that A) Jesus didn’t break the Mosaic law and therefore B) he believed in keeping every single law in the Torah, including violence. (I think your argument that Jesus’ view on divorce didn’t go against Deut 24 isn’t very convincing and needs to be revisited; your take on retaliation, however, is really good and I’m nearly persuaded.) But that would bring us back to Matthew 5, which we’ve already discussed on come to differing interpretations.

    Dude, I’m spent! Sorry I can’t respond more thoroughly to all your other things. I’ve got tons of stuff to say, and many more questions about your view, but I’ll have to save it for another day.

    • Hey bro,

      Yes, I agree with what you said about “point A”, however, Jesus’ statements about violence are just not in the context of self-defence or military, so … if we only analyze such statements, removing the fact that he was a devout Jewish Rabbi, we could lean either way. It becomes an argument from silence – at least that’s the way I perceive it. Hence, this long drama about Jesus and the Law 🙂

      No, I wouldn’t say Jesus would disagree with James’ decision in Acts 15, because the Holy Spirit affirmed their conclusion. Regarding all other kinds of laws like two kinds of fabrics, or stoning, Jesus never said he came to abolish them for Israel. That doesn’t mean that he was pro-stoning, however. From what I’ve read, neither were the Pharisees. They understood that God was gracious and full of mercy … spiritual Jews were not so quick to cast stones. Jesus emphasized mercy and justice, without neglecting the little things (Matt 23:23).

      Yeah, I’m spent too … have a good night.