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Law of Moses

Note of the Day – May 23 (John 5:24, 39-40)

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John 5:24, 39-40

Today I will be continuing in the chapter 5 discourse (cf. the previous note on vv. 21-29), focusing specifically on two statements by Jesus—in verse 24 and 39-40, respectively. These come from key points in the two divisions of the exposition (vv. 19-47)—the first division (vv. 19-29) focuses on the living-giving work which the Son performs, while the second (vv. 30-47) emphasizes the testimony which bears witness to the Son’s work and his identity in relation to God the Father. The statements in vv. 24 and 39-40 are, in many ways, central to these sections. I begin with the first:

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One) sending me, holds (the) Life of the Age [e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. over/across], out of death (and) into Life [ei)$ th\n zwh/n].”

The centrality of this statement is indicated by the parallel with v. 25—marking the beginning and end of the two portions of the section (vv. 19-24, 25-29). This parallelism is indicated by:

  • The use of the “Amen, amen, I say to you…” formula at the start
  • The motif of hearing the word/voice of Jesus:
    “the one hearing my word (v. 24)”
    “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God” (v. 25)
  • The result of hearing is life:
    “the one hearing…holds Life…(and) has come…into Life” (v. 24)
    “…and the ones hearing will live” (v. 25)

This will be depicted in dramatic form in the Lazarus episode, when Jesus calls out to Lazarus (in the tomb) and he hears the voice and lives again (11:43-44). It was also foreshadowed in the healing miracle from chapter 4, when the official’s son is healed (and rescued from death) at the very moment Jesus’ voice uttered the word “your son lives” (vv. 50-53). This life giving miracle is connected with trust in Jesus (v. 50b), even as Jesus declared more clearly to Martha in 11:25-26 (cf. also v. 40).

Returning to the statement by Jesus in 5:24, it deftly blends both aspects of future and “realized” eschatology (cf. the discussion on this in the previous note):

  • the one hearing and trusting…
    • holds the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—in the present (“realized”)
    • does not come into the Judgment—in the future
  • …has stepped (across) out of death and into Life

The final (perfect) verb form, “has stepped…”, indicates a past action or condition which continues into the present. Here, by extension, it also signifies a present condition (“holding Life”) which continues into the future. While the dualistic construct (trusting vs. not trusting) is not especially emphasized here, it is implied in the repeated references to Judgment (vv. 22ff, 27, 29)—if the one trusting Jesus does not come into the Judgment, then, by implication, the everyone not trusting does come into Judgment.

Verses 39-40

It is interesting to consider how this Judgment theme is picked up from the first section (ending with v. 29) into the next (v. 30). The judgment which Jesus brings (already in the present) is based upon the testimony which bears witness about him. In order for such testimony to be valid in a judicial setting (i.e. court of law), it must be confirmed by at least two witnesses (cf. Deut 19:15ff, etc). Jesus refers to four distinct sources of testimony:

  • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
  • Jesus’ own works (i.e. miracles)—identified as having been given to him by the Father (v. 36)
  • God the Father—his Word, which abides [in the believer] (vv. 37-38)
  • God’s Word as manifest in the Writings [i.e. Scriptures, esp. the Torah] (vv. 39-40, cf. also vv. 45-47)

These four sources of testimony all bear witness to Jesus—both to the truth of his words/works and his identity (as the Son sent by the Father). The one who fails (or refuses) to trust in him has essentially rejected this testimony—and these witnesses will, in turn, testify against that person in the Judgment. Since Jesus is addressing his opponents in this discourse—persons who, it can be assumed, are to be identified as the supposed experts in Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related religious matters (cp. the Pharisees in chap. 9 and similar Synoptic scenes)—it is fitting that the Scriptures are set in the climactic position. These experts in the Scriptures have failed (and/or refused) to accept their own testimony regarding Jesus. There is thus a kind of irony in the rebuke offered by Jesus in vv. 39-40:

“You search the Writings, (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold (the) Life of the Age in them, and they are the (writing)s giving witness about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me (so) that you might hold Life.”

I have discussed the context (and interpretation) of this statement in the recent Saturday Series post, and will not repeat that here. It is not an exhortation to study Scripture, but rather a stern rebuke—and a word of judgment against the opponents of Jesus. The logic of this statement is clear enough:

  • you think that you hold life in [i.e. through study of] the Scriptures
    —the Scriptures give witness about me
    —(but) you do not wish to come toward me
  • (yet it is only by coming to me) that you will (actually) hold life

The underlying message is that, while the Scripture bear witness about Jesus, they are not the source of Life—it is only through the person and work of Jesus (the Son) that one receives Life (from the Father). The Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to those who trust in him. While the plural noun grafai/ (“writings”) may be taken as referring to the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole, the primary reference is to the Law (Torah), as contained in the books attributed to Moses (i.e. the Pentateuch, Genesis–Deuteronomy). This is clear enough from what follows in vv. 41-47, especially the statement of judgment in verses 45-47:

“the one bringing public (accusation) against you is Moshe {Moses}, (the one) in who you have placed (your) hope. For if you trusted Moshe, you would (have) trusted (in) me—for that (one) wrote about me. And if you do not trust in that (man)’s writings, how will you trust in my utterances [i.e. words]?”

I.e., their lack of trust in Jesus actually means that they do not really trust in the Scriptures (the Torah). The same sort of comparison (and contrast)—Moses/Torah vs. Jesus—appears at a number of points in the Gospel, beginning with the Prologue (1:11, 17-18). For the relationship between Jesus and the Law (Torah) in the Gospel of John, see my article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. The contrast between Jesus and the Torah—or, better put, Jesus as the true fulfillment of the Torah—features prominently in the next Johannine discourse, the great “Bread of Life” discourse, which I will be examining in the next daily note.

January 1: Luke 2:23

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Luke 2:23

Verses 22-24 follow v. 21 (cf. the previous note), continuing the theme of fulfilling the requirements, etc, of the Law. Verse 22 begins with the same opening formula, marking the particular time—”when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled”. Here, the “days” being referenced are the forty days after childbirth (for a male child) when the mother is in a state of impurity (Lev 12:2-8). The plural pronoun “their” (au)tw=n) probably anticipates the verbal phrase which follows—”they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] brought him up into Jerusalem”. It is unlikely that the Gospel writer thought that both Joseph and Mary required cleansing in connection with childbirth. The period of time completes the “days” of verse 21—7 days before circumcision, 33 before purification. This detail also serves the narrative purpose of explaining why Joseph and Mary would be in Jerusalem at the Temple. Indeed, mention of the purification ritual frames the episode (vv. 22 and 24); in between, in verse 23, the focus is on the reason/purpose of Jesus’ presence in the Temple. This verse almost has the appearance of a secondary insertion; note how vv. 22 and 24 would otherwise join together:

“And when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled, they brought him [i.e. Jesus] up into Yerushalem, to stand (him) alongside the Lord…
…and to give a (ritual) slaughtering [i.e. sacrifice] according to the (regulation) stated (by God) in the Law of the Lord…”

This literary device creates the impression that the author has confused or conflated two different Torah laws—(1) those related to the mother’s purification after childbirth (the sacrifice is part of this regulation), and (2) the redemption of the firstborn male child (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16). Yet it is never stated that the latter command was fulfilled at the Temple. Some commentators believe that the author had the mistaken idea that the firstborn male needed to be presented in Jerusalem (at the Temple). But, if this were the case, there would be little reason for him to confuse matters by introducing the detail of the purification ritual for Mary. In my view, it is much more likely that the author used the occasion of the purification ritual to introduce the motif of the consecration of the firstborn within that setting and context. The result is somewhat awkward, and certainly open to misunderstanding, but it very much suits the author’s creative purpose—of blending together several different fulfillment themes: (a) fulfillment of the Law, (b) fulfillment of Scripture, and (c) Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament.

The specific Scripture quoted in v. 23 is a adaptation of Exod 13:2 (cf. also v. 15b, Num 18:15). The centrality of this quotation puts the emphasis of the scene, not on the purification ritual, but rather the tradition of the consecration of the firstborn male child—as one dedicated to (religious/priestly) service to God. In Israelite religion and society, this role was taken over by the tribe of Levi (as a kind of priestly caste or class), with the 5-shekel payment (redemption) made to them in exchange. The passages in the Torah dealing with this issue (and its underlying theological principle) are Exod 13:1-2, 11-16; 22:29b-30; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:11-13, 44-51; 8:14-18; 18:15-16ff.

This consecration motif is expressed by the author in the narrative as a presentation of the child before God (at the Temple), in a manner similar to that of Samuel in 1 Sam 1:22-24ff. The priority of this is indicated by the syntax in Lk 2:22-24, the two purpose infinitives:

  • parasth=sai tw=| qew=| “to stand (him) alongside God”
  • dou=nai qusi/an “to give sacrifice”

Both verbal phrases reflect religious offerings to God. The second (“give sacrifice”) refers to the sacrificial (burnt) offering of two doves/pigeons which completes the purification process for the mother (Mary) following childbirth (cf. above). The second is a separate (voluntary) offering of the child, dedicating it to the service of God. There is almost certainly an allusion to the Samuel Infancy narrative here, as already noted. In 1 Sam 1:22, Hannah declares her intention to bring the child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that “he may be seen (before) the face of YHWH, and sit down [i.e. dwell/remain] there until (the most) distant (time) [i.e. for ever]”. This she fulfills at the appropriate time, according to vv. 24-28. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a similar use of the verb pari/sthmi (“stand/place alongside”) in the sacrificial sense of believers presenting themselves before God as holy offerings (cf. Rom 6:13-19; 12:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Col 1:22, 28; Eph 5:27).

Looking at the central verse 23 a bit more closely, one finds three key elements which make up its structure, and which I would arrange as a chiastic outline:

  • “written in the Law of the Lord”—Scripture/Law (cp. “Law of Moses”, v. 22)
    —”every male child opening…”—the (physical) birth of the firstborn male child
  • “will be called holy to the Lord”—dedication/consecration of the child (naming)

The expression “will be called holy” (a%gion klhqh/setai) points back to the words of the Angel to Mary in 1:35: “the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy [a%gion klhqh/setai], (the) Son of God”. It is essentially a title of Jesus, as we see in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Acts 2:27; 13:35 [both citing Ps 16:10]; Luke 4:34 par; John 6:69; 1 Jn 2:20; Rev 3:7; 16:5). It reflects an ancient Divine name or title—i.e. “Holy (One)” (vodq*, Q¹dôš)—that is, of Yahweh/El as the “Holy One (of Israel)”, cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, etc. There is an echo of this in the Magnificat (Lk 1:49, cf. Psalm 99:3). I would also mention again the theory, discussed in a recent note, that the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23 essentially is Isa 4:3 (“he will be called [a] holy one”), with wordplay involving the substitution Nazîr—”he will be called a Nazîr” (Nazirite–Nazorean). The Nazirite association may seen unusual at first, until one realizes that it is an element of both the Samuel and Samson birth narratives (1 Sam 1:9-15; Judg 13:4-7; 16:17), which find an echo in the Lukan narrative (e.g. Lk 1:13-15). Parallels with the Samuel story have already been mentioned here (above), and will be discussed again in the remaining notes.

The fundamental meaning of the root verb rz~n` (n¹zar) is to separate or “keep apart (from)”, often in a religious or ritual context. It is thus synonymous, to some extent, with the verb vd^q* (q¹daš), and a n¹zîr, a separated/consecrated person, can also be called q¹dôš (“holy one”). John the Baptist was set apart and consecrated to God (“filled by the holy Spirit”) from the womb (1:15), using language from the birth of Samson. Similarly, Jesus could be called “the Holy One” from even before the moment of his conception (1:32, 35), and was dedicated to God in the Temple, following the pattern of Samuel.

December 31: Luke 2:21

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Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

Women in the Church: Part 8 – The Old Testament

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Having examined most of the relevant passages in the New Testament, it is now time to look at some of the Old Testament references which can be said to be related, in some way, to our subject. I offer here only a brief survey, to which doubtless numerous other passages and comments might be added. Emphasis is given especially to those sections or examples which were influential on Jewish and early Christian thought, and which may inform the view of women in the New Testament.

The Creation Account (Genesis 1-3)

The Creation narratives in Genesis are, as one might expect, fundamental to Jewish and early Christian views on the role of women and gender relations. There are three steps, or stages, in the overall Creation account, corresponding to each of the first three chapters:

  • 1:1-2:4a—The summary of Creation, the relevant portion being the declaration in vv. 26-27:
    “Let us make (hu)mankind [<d*a*] in our image [<l#x#], according to our likeness [tWmD=]…
    And God created the (hu)man (being) in His image, in the image of God He created him—male and female He created them.”
  • 2:4b-25—The Creation of Man and Woman:
    (i) Creation of the man [<d*a*] (vv. 5-17)
    (ii) Creation of the woman (vv. 18-22)
    (iii) Relationship between man [vya!] and woman [hV*a!] (vv. 23-25)
  • Chap. 3—The rise of the current Human Condition:
    (i) Deception of the woman and man by the serpent (vv. 1-13)
    (ii) God’s curse/punishment on Creation: (a) the serpent (vv. 14-15), (b) the woman (v. 16), (c) the man (vv. 17-19)
    (iii) Establishment of the human condition: (a) names (v. 20), (b) clothing (v. 21), (c) death/mortality, i.e. life-span (v. 22), (d) work and toil (v. 23), (e) separation from divine/eternal life (v. 24)

In the symbolism and language of this narrative, humankind (“Man” [<d*a*]) is first “the man” [<d*a*h*], then is separate into “male and female”, indicated two ways: (a) the narrative image of the joining “rib” (vv. 21-23), and (b) the wordplay of “man” [vya! °îš] and “woman” [hV*a! °iššâ]. This sequence and relational imagery is important for an understanding of subsequent Jewish and Christian thought. Jesus draws upon the Creation narrative (citing 1:27; 2:24) in his teaching on divorce in the Gospel tradition (Mark 10:2-12 par; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18; cf. also 1 Cor 7:10-11). The emphasis is on the fact that humankind is man and woman, male and female, together, as symbolized in society by the marriage bond. Paul’s use (and interpretation) of the Genesis account in relation to gender distinction and the role of women in the Church is more complex, and problematic (from our standpoint today). I have discussed this already with regard to 1 Cor 11:3-9 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 in Parts 1 and 5 of this series. See also the supplemental note on Gen 3:16.

The Law and Israelite Religion

The commandments and legal passages of the Torah as recorded in the Pentateuch (Exodus–Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are instructive for establishing the position and role of women in ancient Israelite society. Many of the underlying ideas and precepts continued on in Judaism through the New Testament and subsequent periods. Due to the complex nature and sensitivity of some of this material, I have decided to address it in a separate supplemental article.

With regard to Israelite religion in particular, the following points may be noted here:

  • The priesthood was reserved for men. Though this is never stated specifically in principle, it is always assumed. The high-priestly office was designated for “Aaron and his sons” (Lev 1:5, 7-8, etc; 8:2 et al; Num 3:1-4ff). Similarly for the Levites—according to the Torah, the males of the tribe of Levi took the place of the firstborn males in Israel, as priests in the service of God (Num 3:5-13, 41-51; 8:5-26).
  • Otherwise, there is no indication that participation in public ritual and worship, including access to the Tabernacle/Temple, was restricted for women. The later Temple design did designate a limitation (partition) for access by women (the “Court of Women”, cf. Josephus Antiquities 15.417-19; Wars 5.192-200; Against Apion 2.103-5; Mishnah Midd. 2.2-5; Sukk. 5.2-4, etc), but this is not specified anywhere in the Torah and represents a subsequent development.
  • Men and women shared in the tasks of building and decorating the original tent-shrine (Tabernacle), according to Exod 35:20-29; 36:2-7.
  • While all of Israel was expected to participate in the sacred festivals (or “Feasts”), there was a specific directive for men—that all adult males would appear at the central sanctuary (i.e. the Temple in Jerusalem) for the three major (harvest) festivals (Exod 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16).

Women may have taken part in various religious rituals in an official capacity, as musicians, or in other attendant roles, such as indicated by Exod 38:8; 1 Sam 2:22; 2 Sam 19:35; 2 Chron 35:25; Ezra 2:65 (and Neh 7:67), but the precise details are not entirely clear.

Miriam

Miriam [<y`r=m!] was the sister of Moses and Aaron according to Exod 15:20; Num 26:59 and 1 Chron 6:3. She is presumably the sister mentioned in the infancy narrative (Exod 2:1-10, vv. 4, 7-8). Miriam appears in two important narrative episodes in the Pentateuch:

Exodus 15:20-21

Following the miraculous crossing of the “Reed Sea” (chapter 14), two poetic hymns are recorded in chapter 15—one composed and/or sung by Moses and the people as a whole (vv. 1-18, the “Song of Moses”, “Song of the Sea”), and the other by Miriam (v. 21, the “Song of Miriam”); likely only a small portion of this latter song has been preserved. In verse 20, Miriam is referred to as ha*yb!N+h^, “the (female) prophet” or “the prophetess“, the noun ayb!n` essentially signifying one who functions as a representative and spokesperson for God, who communicates his word and will to the people. Here the context implies that the song she sings is an inspired poem.

Numbers 12:1-16

This wilderness episode is introduced with the statement that “Miriam and Aaron spoke with Moses on account of the Kushite woman he had taken (as his wife)” (v. 1). Their attitude in approaching him on the subject is indicated in verse 2, which summarizes their thought: “Has YHWH spoken only with Moses? Has he not also spoken with us?”. This may indicate that Miriam and Aaron were prophets in their own right, as it is said of Miriam in Ex 15:20; her name comes before Aaron’s here, which may mean that she was a more prominent figure, or simply that she was the older of the two. A kind of sibling rivalry may be reflected, not wishing to be accorded a lower standing of leadership and influence than Moses (note how the three are grouped together as leaders in Mic 6:4). In verses 4-9 God addresses the three together in the ‘Tent of Meeting’ where He confirms that Moses’ stature is greater even than prophets such as Miriam, since he receives revelation from God directly (face to face). The punishment Miriam receives, the whitening of her skin (i.e., ‘leprosy’), is probably related symbolically to the darker skin of Moses’ “Kushite” wife, who had been the reason for the dispute.

Deborah

Deborah (hr*obD=, lit. [The] Bee) was one of the <yf!p=v) of Israel in the early period. The verb fp^v* refers to the act of rendering a decision, or judgment, i.e. one who presides in an authoritative governing position (judge, ruler, law-giver, etc). Prior to the establishment of monarchy in Israel, persons were chosen to rule over the tribal league only on a temporary basis, usually in the face of a national emergency. Such persons were called fp@v) (usually translated as “Judge”), and their exploits are recorded in the book of Judges. As far as we know, Deborah is the only woman who filled this role in Israel (Judg 4-5). Unlike other <yf!p=v), she did not personally lead the armies into battle (this was done by the general Barak), but it is clear that she served as ruler (or Judge) during the period when Israel was being threatened by the Canaanite king of Hazor (4:1-6ff). It is also said of Deborah that she was a prophetess (ha*yb!n+), like Miriam before her (Exod 15:20); the ancient poem in Judg 5 is attributed to her (together with Barak), presumably as an inspired song. Following the great victory over Jabin of Hazor, the land “was at rest for forty years”. In association with this battle, we may note in passing the role played by another women (Jael) in killing the Canaanite general Sisera (Judg 4:17-22; 5:6, 24-27); according to the cultural sensibilities of the time, this would have been an extremely humiliating way for a military commander to die.

Occasionally (male) commentators have expressed unease at the idea of a woman in such a ruling position, and have sought to explain it in various ways. Often this reflects sexist thinking and prejudice as much as any kind of serious study of Scripture. One is reminded of John Knox’s regrettable “Trumpet-blast” against the “rule of women” in the Reformation period; that he (and others like him) were misguided in their views is confirmed by evidence from history and from Scripture itself. Indeed, women have proven to be able rulers alongside (or in place of) men, as may be documented throughout history, in spite of the added social/cultural pressures they often face. Perhaps the most famous example of the ancient Near East is the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut of Egypt (18th Dynasty, 1498-1483 B.C.). For every wicked Jezebel or Athaliah there is a virtuous Esther, much as we find in the case of men who rule. The idea sometimes floated, that God only chose Deborah because there were no qualified men available, is as fatuous as it is unwarranted.

Female Prophets and Joel 2:28-32

In addition to Miriam (Exod 15:20) and Deborah (Judg 4:4), several other female prophets are mentioned in the Old Testament: Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron 34:22), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and the woman mentioned in Isa 8:3 who is otherwise unidentified. Such instances are relatively rare, perhaps, but they clearly indicate that women could serve (and be chosen by God) as prophet (ayb!n`)—that is, as a spokesperson who represents God before the people, and who communicates his word and will. Female prophets are known throughout the ancient world, the most famous certainly being the oracle of Delphi and the Roman Sibyls. While the priesthood in Israel was reserved for men (cf. above), women could function equally as prophets.

This egalitarian principle is confirmed in the (eschatological) prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5]:

“And it will (come to) be after this
(that) I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
and your sons and daughters will speak (on my) behalf [WaB=n] i.e. prophesy]…
And also/even upon the (male) slaves and the (female) house-servants
will I pour out my Spirit.”

In the ‘end times’ (or the Age to Come, etc), God’s Spirit will come upon all people (“all flesh”)—men and women alike, even for the lowest of society (slaves and servants). This basic idea is reflected elsewhere in the Old Testament, as in the declaration (by Moses) in Numbers 11:29: “And who (would not) give that all the people of YHWH (should be his) spokespersons [<ya!yb!n+ i.e. prophets], and that God (would) give his Spirit upon them!” The prophecy in Joel 2:28ff came to have enormous influence on early Christian thought, being cited in the great Pentecost sermon-speech of Peter (Acts 2:14-36 [vv. 17-21]), following the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4ff). Admittedly, specific evidence for female prophets even in the New Testament is relatively slight (Acts 21:8-9; 1 Cor 11:2-16; and cf. chaps 12-14), but this may be due (in part) to historical circumstances. Other women function as prophets in the Gospel tradition, including Anna (Luke 2:36), Elizabeth and Mary (1:41-45, 46-55, cf. also v. 25); the latter oracle (the Magnificat) in particular is similar to the (inspired) poetic utterance attributed to Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10.

Women in the Prophets and Wisdom Literature

Female imagery and character-types appear frequently in the Old Testament Prophets and Wisdom Literature, the most common type being that of the virtuous woman, which has its practical ideal in the wise, faithful, and dutiful wifePsalm 128:3; Prov 5:18; 12:4; 18:22; 19:14; 21:9 (25:24); 27:15; Eccl 9:9; and, especially, Prov 31:10-31 (cf. also Sirach 26). This same basic type also serves to personify virtue (righteousness) and wisdom itself. This was altogether natural, since the Hebrew word hm*k=j*, like the corresponding Greek sofi/a, is feminine in its (grammatical) gender. Similarly, and by contrast, folly and wickedness are often portrayed as a prostitute or “loose” woman. For the use of these two types, cf. Prov 1:20-2:22; chap. 5; 6:23-29; 7:1-8:21; 9:1-6, 13-18; Eccl 7:26. True wisdom is also divine—it is a manifestation of the character and power of God, cf. Prov 3:19-20; 8:22-31, etc. For similar passages in the important deutero-canonical books of Wisdom and Sirach, cf. Wis 6:12-25; 7:22-8:21; chaps. 10-11; Sir 1:14-20; 4:11-19; 6:18-31; 15:1-10; 24:1-22. We can see how this basic type relates to some of the other female imagery found in the writings of the Prophets:

Concluding Note on Female imagery and Sexuality

It is interesting how rarely the actual relationship between man and woman (husband & wife) is emphasized, especially in terms of sexuality. Obviously, marital/sexual relations are a key element in many of the historical-traditional narratives in Genesis, etc., and often in such accounts the woman makes for a highly sympathetic figure in her own right (cf. the examples of Sarah, Hagar, Dinah, Tamar, etc). But throughout most of the Old Testament—especially in the Prophetic and Wisdom literature—sexuality is largely presented from a negative standpoint, as symbolizing sin and false worship (idolatry), under the euphemistic images of prostitution and adultery (cf. above). And, somewhat unfortunately perhaps (from our vantage point today), in this imagery the woman is typically seen as the source of error and deception (i.e. seduction). This is already evidenced in the Creation account (cf. above), and vividly depicted in the famous (though highly complex) narrative in Numbers 25. On the other hand, this negative type is counterbalanced by the contrasting image of the faithful and virtuous woman (wife), as discussed above.

Sexuality on its own is really only dealt with in the Song of Songs, a collection of poems written in the manner and style of ancient Near Eastern love poetry (numerous examples survive from Egypt and Sumer). The specific language and metaphor used is foreign enough to our culture today that the erotic nature of the Song is not always apparent on a casual reading (in translation). It has, of course, been interpreted various ways, but the underlying traditions which inform the material are purely those of Near Eastern love poetry. There would seem to be at least one main female protagonist in the Song, as well as a number of subsidiary characters.

Perhaps the most complete and well-rounded female character in Old Testament narrative is that of Ruth (tWr), central figure of the book which bears her name. It remains one of the most appealing and attractive of the Old Testament stories (for modern readers), with positive ‘role-model’ characters in Ruth and Naomi, as well as the central male figures; the scenes between Ruth and Boaz and tenderly depicted. Ultimately, of course, the primary purpose of the tale was to introduce the lineage of David (4:13-22), but we can be grateful that the rich and detailed narrative was included for men and women of all ages to enjoy.

Women in the Law (Torah)

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Reading the Old Testament Law (Torah) for Christians today is a difficult matter, as I have discussed at length in my series on The Law and the New Testament. Without a proper understanding of the religious and cultural context of the time, many passages will doubtless seem strange indeed. With regard to the position and role of women, one may be disappointed that there is so much that runs contrary to modern ideals of women’s rights and gender equality. Even in terms of the surrounding societies of the ancient Near East, the legislation in the Torah presents no marked progress (from our modern perspective) in these areas; in fact, in certain respects, it reflects an even more restrictive position for women (on this, cf. below). The traditional-conservative approach, which takes the text at face value—i.e., the commands are God’s revealed word to Israel—introduces an especially acute theological difficulty: how can God have established laws for Israel which seem to contradict, at times and in various ways, the finest ideals both of the New Testament and of an ‘enlightened’ modern society? It is not possible to address this question here in any detail, and I will limit my brief study in this article to an honest and straightforward examination of the passages in the Torah which relate to the role of women.

Male Orientation of the Law

To begin with, it is clear from the very beginning of the tradition—i.e., in the Decalogue (Ten Commandments)—that the Law is being addressed primarily to men (cf. the wording in Exod 20:17). This reflects the patriarchal and patrilineal character of Israelite society, as, indeed, of most societies in the ancient Near East. Men serve as the heads of the household, and of the larger clan, tribe, etc., and similarly function in the leading religious roles (the priesthood), and as ruling elders, judges, etc., of the Israelite tribal union (Exod 24:9-11; Num 11:16ff). This male orientation is evident in various aspects of the Torah commands and regulations; I note the following:

The importance of the (male) firstborn—This is emphasized in Exod 34:19-20, 23; Num 3:11-13, 40-51; 8:5-26; 18:1ff. The Torah draws upon ancient religious beliefs and traditions regarding the sacred position of the firstborn—the firstborn males are consecrated as an offering to God (Deut 15:19-23). This is taken literally in the case of animals; for human beings, the firstborn son is to function in a priestly role. In ancient Near Eastern culture and religion, the eldest son held a (semi-)official position, especially with regard to the care of the ancestral spirits. For the religious cultus in Israel, the ritual duties are assumed by a specialized priestly group—the males from the tribe of Levi take the place of the firstborn sons of Israel as a whole, who are purchased back (redeemed) to their families in a special symbolic rite (Num 3:44-51; cf. Luke 2:22ff).

Circumcision—All Israelite males were to have the foreskin of their genitals “cut around” (circumcised). Normally this would occur on the eighth day after birth (Lev 12:3), but might be done for adult converts as well (Gen 34:15-24; Exod 12:44, 48). It is hardly unique to Israel, as various forms of circumcision were common and widespread throughout the ancient world, and even today in traditional/tribal societies. However, in Israel it was specifically established as a rite symbolizing the covenant between God and his people (Gen 17:10-27). As such, it always held a special significance within Israelite/Jewish society with regard to a person’s religious identity (cf. Acts 10:45; 11:2ff; 15:1ff; 21:21; Rom 2:25-29; 3:1; Gal 2:1-10ff, etc).

The rights of husbands and fathers (i.e. over their wives and daughters)—Several of the regulations in the Torah make clear that men (husbands and fathers) have specific rights over women, in terms of their conduct, crimes committed against them, and so forth (cf. Exod 21:22ff; 22:16-17; Num 30:3-16). In such matters, women do not hold the rights themselves, as would be the ideal in modern society. Note especially the regulation regarding divorce, which was the prerogative of the husband (Deut 24:1-4), and the notorious ritual (ordeal) for a woman suspected of unfaithfulness/adultery (Num 5:11-31, cf. below).

Sexual regulations—Generally the commands/regulations regarding sexual conduct (Lev 18:6-23; 19:20-22; 20:10-21, etc) are oriented toward the male: it is he who is commanded against “uncovering the nakedness” of women, in instances where sexual relations are prohibited.

The “Holy War”—The rules laid down for the “consecration” (<r#j#), i.e. holy warfare, allow for Israelite men to take women (and children) as booty/spoils of war (i.e. slaves), and to make such a woman his wife (Deut 20:10-14; 21:10-14). The entire matter of the <r#j# is exceedingly difficult (and troubling) for many Christians and concerned readers of the Old Testament today, and cannot be dealt with here.

Equality of Men and Women

In certain respects, men and women were treated more or less equally under the Law. This is particularly so with regard to their own (physical) bodies and persons. Note especially:

Sin—The regulations regarding sin and its ritual (sacrificial) atonement apply equally to men and women, without any apparent distinction (Num 5:6ff; Deut 17:2ff)

Impurity/Uncleanness—For the most part, the purity laws (Lev 11-15) apply to men and women equally. The only exception involves the special case of the impurity of a woman following menstruation/childbirth (cf. below).

Religious participation—Apart from the priesthood, which was reserved for men, there do not seem to have been any notable restrictions as to the participation of women in the religious ritual—i.e. involvement in the feasts/festivals, access to the sacred space of the Tabernacle, etc. Special religious vows, including that of the Nazirite, were open to women as well as men (Num 6:2ff; 30:2-16).

Slaves—Again, for the most part, male and female slaves were treated equally (Exod 20:10; 21:20-21, 26-27, 32; Lev 25:6, 44; Deut 5:14ff; 12:12, 18; 15:17, etc). Only in Lev 27:1-8 do we see a difference, in terms of monetary valuation, which presumably reflects the ability to do certain kinds of physical work.

Special Cases and Concern for Women

There are several passages dealing with the treatment of women which are worthy of note:

  • Special regulations for the treatment of female slaves—Lev 21:7-11
  • Concern for widows and orphans—Exod 22:22-24; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14, etc. This is also the basis for the provision of “levirate marriage” (Deut 25:5-10)
  • Women (daughters) are allowed to inherit property, when there are no sons, as long as they marry within the same clan—Num 27:1-11; 36:1-12 (the case of the daughters of Zelophehad). This regulation is actually more restrictive for women than in other ancient Near Eastern societies, as indicated by surviving laws from Sumer and Mesopotamia (including the Code of Hammurabi §§171-181), the cities of Nuzi and Ugarit, etc., where daughters were apparently allowed to inherit (alongside or in place of sons) with fewer restrictions (cf. Milgrom, pp. 482-4).

Two special cases, which reflect a particular ancient cultural worldview, now quite foreign to us today, need to be examined briefly:

Purification ritual for menstruation and childbirth
  • Leviticus 15 records purity laws related to the bodily emissions of men and women—semen and menstrual fluid/blood. Both result in impurity which must be cleansed through a (ritual) process which involves both seclusion and sacrificial offering. For a man, he is unclean until the next evening, while a woman, following menstruation, is in a state of impurity for seven days. This difference is almost certainly due to the fact that the woman’s discharge involves “blood”, for which, in the ancient mind, there was an association with death, and with it, various taboos intended to safeguard society from any possible threat. It was especially important to keep impurity away from the religious sanctuary.
  • There are similar purity regulations for the woman who gives birth, in Lev 12:2-8. However, one also finds a curious detail regarding the length of her required seclusion—seven days if it is a male child, fourteen days (twice the time) if a female child. It is not easy to come up with an adequate or meaningful reason for this difference. Perhaps the best explanation relates again to the sacred character of the blood: the female child, who will grow up to be child-bearing woman, carries this same blood as her mother, and so the situation requires special protection, symbolized by the doubling of the time of seclusion. This is not a valid reason from the standpoint of modern health and hygiene, but it may accurately reflect the ancient way of thinking. Cf. the discussion in Levine, pp. 249-50.
The ritual/ordeal in Num 5:11-31

Even more difficult to understand is the ritual provided in the case of woman who is suspected (or accused) by her husband of infidelity. The ritual serves as a means of testing the accused (i.e. trial by ordeal), involving:

(a) Presentation of the woman and preparation of the offering and (sacred) water (vv. 15-18)
(b) An oath taken by the woman, in penalty of God’s curse—the curse being written down and mixed into the water (vv. 19-24)
(c) The twin ritual act of the woman’s sacrificial offering and drinking the test-water (vv. 25-28)

This is similar in certain respects to other water/river ordeals known from the ancient Near East (cf. Milgrom, pp. 346-7), and its apparently superstitious character is unquestionably problematic for us today. However, there is no need for Jews and Christians to rationalize or explain away this aspect of the ritual, which, to a large extent, simply reflects the religious-cultural context of the time. Indeed, this is essential to a proper interpretation of the passage. The situation must be considered closely. As the text points out, the woman is only suspected/accused of adultery, but she has not been caught in the act, nor is there any definite proof. In a strict patriarchal society, such as in ancient Israel (and the Near East), the tendency might be for the husband (and/or his relatives) to rush to judgment and mete out punishment—which, in the case of adultery, was death (cf. John 8:1-11). An ordeal ritual, while quite foreign to us today, was relatively common and accepted practice in the ancient world, and actually served as a valuable protection for the woman, as it placed a determination of guilt and punishment out of the hands of suspicious/vengeful men and into the hands of God. It is not known to what extent this particular ritual was ever implemented; Rabbinic sources express some unease about the matter, but indicate that the Temple apparatus was equipped to carry out the rite (cf. Milgrom, p. 348). Interestingly, according to the Torah, even if the woman failed the test and was thus deemed guilty, she was not sentenced to death (the typical punishment for adultery), but was instead rendered sterile through the ritual itself.

References marked “Levine” and “Milgrom” above are to the JPS [Jewish Publication Society] Torah Commentary, volumes by Baruch A. Levine (Leviticus, 1989) and Jacob Milgrom (Numbers, 1990).

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 4: Teacher of Righteousness

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In this article I will be examining the idea of an Anointed Teacher, which, it must be said, reflects more of a specific role than a distinct Messianic figure-type. However, it is worth being treated as a separate category, due to certain terms and references in the literature associated with the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and for the light that it may shed on important aspects of the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels.

“Teacher” and “Interpreter” at Qumran

There are several notable references to a special “Teacher” or “Instructor” (hr#om, môreh) in the Qumran texts, including those which use the specific expression hq*d*x=(h^) hr#om “(the) Teacher of Righteousness”. The genitive (construct) relationship in this expression can be understood as objective (i.e., one who teaches righteousness) or subjective (i.e., righteous teacher)—the former meaning is to be preferred. The full expression appears in the so-called Damascus Document (which exists in fragmentary copies from Qumran [QD] and in later copies/versions found at Cairo [CD]), as well as in several (pesher) commentaries (on Psalms, Habakkuk, Micah) which interpret Scripture in light of the Community and its history. Because of their importance, here is an outline of the references:

  • CD 1:11—as part of a historical survey (1:3-2:1) of the Damascus-group in the document (related in some way to the Qumran Community), it is said that God “…raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart”. If this is a true historical reference, then, judging by the chronological indicators in the document, he might have appeared sometime in the early-mid 2nd-century B.C.
  • CD 19:35-20:1—we read here of the “gathering (in) of the one/unique [dyjyh] Teacher” (cf. 20:14), which has also been read “…of the Teacher of the Community [djyh]”. This is generally taken as a reference to the Teacher’s death, and is clearly set as a marker for future/end-time events “…until there stands (up) [i.e. arises] the Anointed (One) [jyvm] from Aaron and from Israel”.
  • CD 20:28, 32—the test for faithfulness to the covenant for those in the Community (the ones “coming into the covenant”) is two-fold: “to come/go upon the mouth of [i.e. according to] the Teaching [Torah]” and “to hear/listen to the voice of the Teacher”, along with confession of one’s sins before God (20:28). This is alluded to again in 20:32: “…give their ear to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness“.
  • 1QpMicah [1Q14]—in fragment 10 line 6ff, Micah 1:5-6 is interpreted as relating to “the Teacher of Righteousness who [teaches the Teaching {Torah}]” to all who join the Community, who will be saved when judgment comes on Israel and Judah (Jerusalem).
  • 1QpHab [1Q15]—there are a number of references to the Teacher of Righteousness: 1:13 (on Hab 1:4), 2:2 (on Hab 1:5), 5:10 (on Hab 1:13), 7:4 (on Hab 2:2), 8:3 (on Hab 2:4), 9:9 (on Hab 2:8), 11:5 (on Hab 2:15). The emphasis is on conflict between the Teacher and the “Wicked Priest” (or “Man of the Lie”), which indicates persecution and the danger of ‘false teaching’ facing the Community. The position of the Teacher is indicated especially in 7:4, where it is stated that God made known to him “all the mysteries of the words of his servants the Prophets”, and 8:3 where we find the promise that those who have been loyal to the Teacher will be freed from Judgment by God.
  • 4QpPs a-b [4Q171, 173]—these fragments likewise emphasize the importance in the Community relying upon the Teacher (established by God) and of conflict with the “Wicked Priest”; for the references, cf. 4Q171 (on Ps 37) col. iii, lines 15, 19; col. iv, line 27; 4Q173 fragment 1, line 4; fragment 2, line 2.

Two other passages should be noted:

  • CD 6:2-11—this section is ostensibly a commentary on Numbers 21:18 combined with Isaiah 54:16, linking the inscribed/engraved “staff” [qqwjm] and the tools with which the people dug the well, and identifying it/them with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hr*oTh^ vr@oD] (v. 7). The word vrwd is a verbal noun from vrd, and refers to the act of searching something out intensively, the concrete idiom something like beating/cutting/digging a path. Figuratively it is used for searching out (an cutting through to) the underlying meaning of something—in this case, the correct meaning(s) of Scripture. In vv. 10-11 it is stated that the people (of the Community) are to walk according to this “staff” until “…the one teaching righteousness [i.e. Teacher of Righteousness] stands (up) [i.e. arises] in the (time) following the days [i.e. after the days / ‘end of days’]”.
  • 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]—in an eschatological collection of Scripture verses, as part of a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:11-14, it is stated that the “Branch of David” is the one who will appear along with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hrwth vrwd] at the end of days (col. i, lines 11-12).

Thus we see that the Qumran (and related) texts make reference to three figures:

  1. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness through whom God established the Community (in the past)
  2. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness who will appear at the end-time, and
  3. The “Interpreter” of the Torah, who may be a historical and/or eschatological figure

A Messianic Teacher?

Is it proper to speak of an Anointed (that is, ‘Messianic’) Teacher? In at least two respects the evidence from Qumran supports this:

  • Twice (in CD 6:10-11 and 4QFlor [cf. above]), the Teacher/Interpreter is identified as an eschatological figure who will appear at the “end of the days”. In the latter passages, he is specifically associated with a Messianic Davidic ruler (“the Branch of David”).
  • On various occasions (cf. the references above), it is said regarding the Teacher of Righteousness that he was specially appointed and established by God, and gifted with unique revelation. Even though anointing (“Anointed [One]”) itself is not mentioned, the corresponding idea of being uniquely chosen and set apart by God is clearly present. Moreover, we have the notion that faithfulness and obedience to the Teacher will preserve the Community from the coming Judgment—in various ways, all of the attested Messianic figure-types are associated with the end-time Judgment.

Moreover, for at least two of the Messianic figure-types I have outlined (see the Introduction), teaching and instruction play a prominent role. The first of these is the “Prophet like Moses” from Deut 18:15-20—that is, an Anointed Prophet according to the Moses-tradition (for more on this, see the previous article). As stated in Deut 18:18, this coming Prophet will command and instruct the people (being given the words to speak by God). In addition to being a great Prophet (Deut 34:10-12), Moses was the supreme Lawgiver in Israelite history and tradition, having received the commands and precepts of the Torah directly from God and delivered them to Israel. In the Qumran texts, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed” (4Q377 2 ii 4-5), along with the holy Prophets (Anointed Ones) of Israel (CD 5:21-6:1). The imagery and characteristics associated with Moses fit the descriptions of the Teacher of Righteousness very well (cf. above), and even moreso to Jesus (cf. Acts 3:18-24 and the discussion below).

The second Anointed figure is that of Priest. As will be discussed in an upcoming article, the idea of a coming eschatological/Messianic Priest, while rare in Judaism of the period, is attested at Qumran. Indeed, the Community reflected in the Qumran texts was, it would seem, originally founded by priests and they continued to hold the leading role. As we shall see, in terms of their eschatological expectation and Messianic thought, the (Anointed) king/prince is subordinate to the (Anointed) Priest. According to the fragmentary (pesher) commentary on Psalms (cf. above), the historical Teacher of Righteousness, naturally enough, was a priest (4QPs a col. iii, line 15). In the so-called Rule of the Community, there was to be at least one priest for every group of ten members, primarily to instruct them in the study and practice of the Torah, which was at the very heart of Community life and identity (1QS 6:3-7 etc).

With regard to the “Teacher of Righteousness” at Qumran, it is somewhat difficult to determine the relationship between the historical Teacher and the eschatological figure expressed in CD 6 / 4QFlor (cf. above). However, I believe that the statement in CD 6:10-11 probably reflects the original idea—of “one who will teach righteousness” appearing at the end-of-days, the phrase itself probably being an allusion to Hosea 10:12. Since the Qumran Community (and/or the community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly viewed itself as existing in the “last days”, it seems probable that the historical Teacher was thought to be fulfilling an eschatological role. Upon the death of the Teacher, this role was transferred to a future figure who was expected to appear (sometime soon). In the interim, the leading priests at Qumran would fulfill the role of Teacher—the little digging tools in relation to the great “staff” (cf. CD 6:2ff).

Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is hard to find a comparable idea elsewhere in Jewish writings of the period. Perhaps the closest we come is to the basic priestly tradition centered around Levi and Aaron, as expressed formally and in elevated language (cf. Sirach 45:6-17). In the book of Jubilees, as at Qumran, priority was given to the Priest (Levi), and in the reworking of Jacob’s blessing on Levi, the first thing mentioned could be summarized as “teaching righteousness” (Jubilees 31:15). In several passages in the Qumran texts, where the role of Priests is being extolled and expounded, it is teaching that is often given emphasis—cf. 4QFlor 6-11 (citing Deut 33:10) and 4Q541 fragment 9, etc.

Jesus as Teacher

That Jesus was viewed as a special Teacher scarcely needs to be emphasized—it is found all throughout the Gospel tradition, from the earliest layers on. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus essentially begins his ministry by teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (on the Sabbaths), Mark 1:21 par. The uniqueness and special quality of his teaching was practically the first thing people noticed about him (Mk 1:22 par):

“and they were struck out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] upon his teaching, for he was teaching them as (one) holding authority [e)cousi/a], and not as the Writers [i.e. Scribes]”

In Mark 1:23ff par, Jesus performs a healing (exorcism) miracle in the Synagogue, and these two aspects—teaching and working miracles—dominate the account of his ministry in Galilee in the Synoptic tradition. In light of the previous article, which examined Jesus as an Anointed Prophet, we might say that he is here fulfilling two main characteristics of the Moses and Elijah types—authoritative teaching (Moses) and miracles (Elijah).

That Jesus was identified largely in terms of his teaching can be seen in the frequency (more than 50 times) in the use of the title “Teacher” (dida/skalo$), or the corresponding honorific “Rabbi” (r(abbi/). This latter term is a transliteration of the Hebrew yB!r^ (rabbî).  br (rab) simply means “great”, and as a title is literally “Great (One)”, generally corresponding to “Lord”, “Master”, etc. Rabbi (“my Great [One]”, “my Lord/Master”) is a sign of honor and respect in address; the intensive /B*r^ (rabb¹n), in Aramaic /oBr^ (rabbôn), came to be used as a title for an honored/respected scholar and teacher. At the time of Jesus, the form of address (in Aramaic) would have been yn]oBr^/yn]WBr^ (Rabbônî/Rabbûnî), as preserved in Mark 10:51; John 20:16. The closest we come to Jesus being described as an Anointed/Messianic Teacher is in Nicodemus’ address to him (John 3:2):

“Rabbi, we see that you are a Teacher having come from God, for no one has power [i.e. is able] to do these signs which you do, if not [i.e. except] (that) God should be with him”

In light of the eschatological/Messianic-type figure attested in the Qumran texts (cf. above), it is worth considering Jesus in terms of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and “Interpreter of the Law”. First we should note the place that justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh, along with the dikai- word group) plays in Jesus’ recorded teachings. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first words in public (to John during his baptism) are directly on this point: “…it is distinguishing [i.e. is right/proper] for us to (ful)fill all justice/righteousness” (Matt 3:15). The idea is also central to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), and in several other blocks of teaching (Matt 13:43, 49; 23:28-29, 35; 25:37, 46; and cf. also Matt 10:41; 21:32; Luke 18:9; John 16:8, 10). It is fair to say that much of Jesus’ teaching could be described as instruction in righteousness. In several places in the New Testament, Jesus himself is referred to as “the Just/Righteous (One)” [o( di/kaio$]—Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. also Matt 27:19. We might also note Acts 17:31, where Paul attributes to Jesus the end-time role in the Judgment, stating that he “…is about to judge the inhabited (world) in justice/righteousness”.

Regarding the second association, much of Jesus’ teaching clearly involved instruction and interpretation of God’s Law (i.e., the Torah). I have discussed this at length in earlier articles on “Jesus and the Law” (part of a series on “The Law and the New Testament”), and relevant links are provided below. Here are some of the aspects of Jesus’ fulfilling the role of “Interpreter of the Law”:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, cf. Luke 6:20-49)—especially the verses on the Law and righteousness (Matt 5:17-20) and the so-called Antitheses (Matt 5:21-48), on which see my earlier notes and articles.
  • The various controversies betwen Jesus and the religious leaders and scholars of the day often involved specific interpretation or understanding of the Law—the Pharisees and “Writers” (Scribes) were generally seen as authorities on the Torah. Cf. especially my articles on the so-called Sabbath Controversies.
  • In a number of passages, Jesus identifies himself—his person and/or his teachings—as the fulfillment of the Law and different related elements of Israelite religion. This is best seen in two respects:
    (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Temple [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 6-7] (2) His association with the great Holy/Feast days (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, etc), especially in the episodes and discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 8-9]
  • In the Gospel of Luke, following the resurrection, Jesus is described as interpreting (in considerable detail, it would seem) the Scriptures (“Moses and the  Prophets”) for his followers (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 45; cf. also Acts 1:3). The emphasis in his teaching in these passages is on his suffering, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, Luke offers no detail as to which Scripture passages Jesus referenced; for a list of possible candidates, based on the overall evidence in the New Testament, cf. my earlier note.

For additional Gospel references related to Jesus as a teacher and his interpretation of the Law, cf. the introductory article of my series on “Jesus and the Law”.

The Law in the Letter of James (Part 1)

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The Law in the Letter of James

Introduction

By tradition, the “James” of the letter—who describes himself in the text simply as “a slave/servant of God and of (the) Lord Jesus Christ”—is James the brother of Jesus, the leading figure (after Peter) of the early Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15; 21:18ff; Gal 2:9, 12; 1 Cor 15:7). This identification is almost certainly correct; the only real issue is whether the letter is authentically by James or is pseudonymous. On this question, scholarly opinion is divided; as also is the dating of the letter, which ranges widely—from very early (40s A.D.) to very late (90-100 A.D.). On the basis of a careful and unbiased study of the letter, I find little that points to a date beyond 60-70 A.D.; the similarity of subject matter and terminology with Paul’s letters (Galatians/Romans), as well as 1 Peter, suggests a comparable milieu—somewhere between 50-60 A.D. The lack of any developed Christology is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of an early date.

If we take James 1:1 literally, then the letter was addressed to Jews of the Diaspora/Dispersion, “to the twelve tribes th(at are) in the scattering-throughout [diaspora/]”. We find similar Jewish imagery applied (symbolically) to Christians generally in 1 Peter, but here in James it seems certain that Jews (or Jewish Christians) are intended. The work is undoubtedly Christian, despite the relatively scant references to Christ or specific Christian doctrine (James 1:1, 18ff; 2:1; 5:7, 14, etc). The strongest evidence for this are the many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel. This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the Torah. The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

  • James 1:2—Matt 5:11-12 / Lk 6:23
  • James 1:4—Matt 5:48
  • James 1:5—Matt 7:7 (also Lk 11:9)
  • James 1:17—Matt 7:11 (also Lk 11:13)
  • James 1:20—Matt 5:22
  • James 1:22-23—Matt 7:24-26 / Lk 6:46-49
  • James 2:5—Matt 5:3-5 / Lk 6:20
  • James 2:10-11—Matt 5:19, 21-22
  • James 2:13—Matt 5:7
  • James 2:15—Matt 6:25
  • James 3:12—Matt 7:16 / Lk 6:44-45
  • James 3:18—Matt 5:9
  • James 4:2-3—Matt 7:7-8
  • James 4:4—Matt 6:24 (also Lk 16:13)
  • James 4:8—Matt 6:22
  • James 4:9—Matt 5:4 / Lk 6:25
  • James 4:11-12—Matt 7:1
  • James 4:13-14—Matt 6:34
  • James 5:1—Lk 6:24-25
  • James 5:2, 6—Matt 6:19-20; Lk 6:37
  • James 5:9—Matt 5:22; 7:1
  • James 5:10—Matt 5:11-12; Lk 6:23
  • James 5:12—Matt 5:34-37

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

  • James 1:6—Matt 21:21; Mk 11:23-24
  • James 1:9-10—Matt 18:4; Lk14:11; note also Matt 6:29-30
  • James 1:12—Matt 10:22
  • James 1:21—Lk 8:8
  • James 2:6—Lk 18:3
  • James 2:8—Matt 22:39-40
  • James 2:14-16—Matt 25:31-46
  • James 3:1-12—Matt 12:36-37
  • James 3:13-18—Matt 11:19
  • James 4:10—Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14
  • James 4:17—Lk 12:47
  • James 5:5—Lk 16:19
  • James 5:7—Mk 4:26-29
  • James 5:8—Matt 24:3, 27, 39
  • James 5:17—Lk 4:25
  • James 5:19—Matt 18:15; Lk 17:3

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus. It is important to keep this in mind when examining James’ view of the Law.

It is now time to look at the most relevant passages in James with regard to the Law.

James 1:21-25

The theme of this passage is the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (adj. e&mfuto$) believers. In using lo/go$ here, the author probably means it in a comprehensive sense, including:

  • The Gospel message, centered on the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, along with a proclamation of deliverance/salvation and new life in Christ
  • The teachings of Jesus (as in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. above) preserved and transmitted by apostles, missionaries and teachers such as “James”
  • Authoritative early Christian instruction and teaching, delivered principally by the apostles and fellow-missionaries

Paul uses lo/go$ with a similar range of meaning. Jesus also refers to his word (identified with the word of God) in the context of being planted (cf. Mark 4:4-8, 26-27, 31 par; Matt 7:17-19; 12:33; 13:24ff; 15:13; John 8:37; 15:1-7). In the Gospel of John, the lo/go$ is identified more directly with the person of Christ, and he (in/through the Spirit) himself is the living, eternal seed in the believer (cf. John 5:38; 6:53; 12:23-24; 14:17, 20; 15:4; 17:21; 1 John 2:14; 3:9). James does not go quite that far—his description of this lo/go$ as “the (thing) having power to save your souls” is reminiscent of Paul’s famous declaration regarding the Gospel in Rom 1:16. That this “word/account” serves much the same role for believers as the Old Testament Law previously did for Israel—this is indicated in several ways in the passage:

  • James exhorts people to become ones who do (poihtai/, “doers” of) the word (v. 22); this parallels closely the idea of “doing” the Law (i.e. observance of the Torah commands), cf. Gal 3:10-12; Rom 2:13, etc. The context makes clear that “doing” the lo/go$ involves (normative) ethical behavior and performance of good deeds.
  • There is also a normative, governing quality of the lo/go$ indicated by the metaphor of the mirror in vv. 23-24 (cf. Sirach 12:11; Wisdom 7:26). In Old Testament/Jewish tradition, the Torah also allows a person to see clearly, though more often the image is of light or a lamp (Psalm 119:105; Isa 51:4, etc).
  • A connection with the Law (o( no/mo$) is made specific in verse 25—one looks into the Word (lo/go$), one looks into the Law (no/mo$). Note the following details here that seem to echo both Paul and Jesus’ teaching:
    —This Law is called “complete” (te/leio$, cf. also vv. 4, 15; 3:2); note the important usage of this adjective in Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; Eph 4:13, as well as the related verb tele/w (“[make] complete”, sometimes in the context of fulfilling the Law, e.g. Luke 2:39; Matt 17:24; Rom 2:27; James 2:8), and the noun te/lo$ (“completion, end”, note esp. Rom 10:4).
    —It is also called the Law of freedom (e)leuqeri/a$); in this context, it is impossible to ignore Paul’s references to the freedom of believers with regard to the Law (cf. Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1, 13ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 7:1-6; 8:2ff, etc).
    —Doing this Law is referred to as “work” (e&rgon); again, one is immediately reminded of Paul’s regular expression “works [of the Law]” (e&rga [no/mou]), cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6; also Eph 2:9.
    —Doing this Law leads to beatitude (maka/rio$, “happy, blessed”); the famous beatitudes in Jesus’ teaching (Matt 5:3-12, etc) are closely tied to the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God. For the Pauline teaching on the relationship between the Law and the justice/righteousness of God, see Rom 1:17; 2:13; 3:21ff; 4:3-13; 7:12ff; 8:3-4; 9:30-31; 10:3-6, et al.

The expression “the complete Law of freedom” is discussed in a separate daily note.

James 1:27

In this verse the author declares what is “qrhskei/a clean and without stain/soil alongside [i.e. before] God”. The original meaning and derivation of the word qrhskei/a is uncertain, but it generally refers to religious worship and practice, and is often translated simply as “religion”; elsewhere in the New Testament it is only used in Acts 26:5 and Col 2:18. In other words, James is defining what true and proper religion is before God: “to look upon (those) bereft (of parents) [i.e. orphans] and widows in their distress, (and) to keep oneself without spot from the world”. This definition is significant for a number of reasons, not least of which being that there is no mention of observing the Law, either generally or in its ceremonial sense. Instead we find a two-fold injunction which fairly summarizes much of the ethical teaching shared by Jews and Christians both, which ultimately derives from the Old Testament Scriptures (including the Torah): (1) to care for the poor and needy (esp. widows and orphans), and (2) to avoid the sinful/defiling influences of the world.

James 2:1-13

This passage can be divided into two sections: (a) a prohibition against showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and prominent in the world (vv. 1-7), and (b) a warning that such partiality is a sin and violation of the Law (vv. 8-13). Overall the emphasis is on care for the poor (cf. above on 1:27) and acts of mercy. It is in this context that the author of the letter makes his most prominent direct reference to the Law (o( no/mo$). Two principal points are made:

  1. Anyone who fails to fulfill the Law in one detail is guilty of violating all of it (v. 10; Paul makes much the same point in Gal 5:3). The verb ptai/w, rare in the New Testament (Rom 11; James 3:2; 2 Pet 1:10), refers to tripping and falling, used often in a metaphorical sense of failure.
  2. Showing partiality to the rich and mighty, which in turns shows lack of proper care for the poor and lowly, is a sin and a violation of the Law (v. 9)—indeed, it violates the “royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$) (v. 8).

Because of the importance of this passage, it will be discussed in more detail—along with the expressions “royal Law” (v. 8) and “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ e)leuqeri/a$, v. 12)—in a separate note.

Note of the Day – December 11

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”)

The expression u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”) appears a number of times in Galatians and Romans—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; Rom 3:21; 6:14-15—as well as in 1 Cor 9:20. The preposition u(po/ has the basic (metaphorical) sense of being under the authority of someone or something, in this case under the Law (no/mo$). Paul uses the word no/mo$ almost exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah); only occasionally does it have a more general or broader meaning, as in Rom 2:14; 3:27; 7:21-25; 8:2—especially noteworthy is the expression [o(] no/mo$ [tou=] qeou= (“[the] Law of God”) in Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; 1 Cor 9:20, which I take to be synonymous with the will of God, and not precisely identical with the Torah as such (though, of course, the will of God is expressed in the Torah). As far as being “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon), this primarily refers to those who are under the authority of the Law—i.e. Israelites and Jews—obligated to observe its commands, regulations, precepts, etc. However, in Galatians especially, Paul uses the expression with a define an particular nuance, as synonymous (or parallel) with:

  • u(po\ kata/ran (“under [the] curse”)—Gal 3:10, i.e. the curse of the Law (cf. Deut 27-28)
  • u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”)—Gal 3:22 (also Rom 3:9; 7:14)
  • u(po\ paidagwgo/n (“under a paidagogos“)—Gal 3:25, cf. also Gal 4:2 (“under guardians and house-masters”)
  • u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou (“under the stoicheia/elements of the world”)—Gal 4:3 (cf. Col 2:8, 20)

This relates to the unique, fundamental view of the Law expressed by Paul, esp. in Galatians and Romans, which is marked by two principal teachings:

  1. The main purpose of the Law is to bring knowledge/awareness of sin to human beings—in particular, that they are enslaved under the power of sin—which, in turn, “increases” sin and brings humanity further into bondage (cf. Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:7ff; 11:32)
  2. The power of sin (and the Law) comes to an end through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection)—as a result, believers are no longer “under the Law” (cf. especially Gal 2:19; 3:13, 22-26; 4:28-31; 5:1ff; Rom 3:21ff; 5:15-21; 6:14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:2ff; 10:4).

I have examined these (and other) passages all throughout the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (cf. on Galatians and Romans). The two theological/doctrinal points listed above inform the use of the expression “under the Law” here in Gal 4:4, as the context of Gal 4:1-11 makes clear.

The illustration in vv. 1-3 (parallel to that in 3:24-26) depicts believers (prior to faith) collectively as a son (and heir) who is directly under the authority of household servants, effectively in bondage, though he is destined to inherit the father’s estate. This period of ‘bondage’ lasts until the time set beforehand by the father, at which point the child is no longer under the authority of servants, but is free and master of the estate (just like the father). This is the time referenced in verse 4, as discussed in an earlier note. It is also clear from verse 4 just what happens at this time—God sent forth his own son in human form (“coming to be out of [e)k] a woman”), which also indicates that he shares in the human condition (cf. the previous note). This condition is also what is meant in the next phrase (“coming to be under [u(po/] the Law”), in a two-fold sense:

  • As a Israelite—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the tribe of Judah (and possibly Levi, cf. Luke 1:5); according to the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus’ parents and relatives where devout and faithful in observing the Old Testament Law (Luke 1:6, 59; 2:21-24, 27, 39, 41-42ff), and presumably would have instructed Jesus as a child to do the same (Luke 2:51-52). For Jesus’ observance of the Law as an adult, there are relatively few references in the Gospels, but see Matt 5:17-19; Mark 14:12ff par; note also the thought and language in Matt 3:15; Mark 10:18-19ff par, etc.
  • As human being—according to Pauline thought, Jews and Gentiles are both, in their own way “under the Law” (Rom 2:12ff), especially in the sense of being enslaved under the power of sin (Rom 2:12ff; 3:9-20, etc), which is revealed and judged under the Law. It is not entirely clear whether (or in what sense) Jesus, in taking on human “flesh”, was “under sin” (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), but in Gal 3:13 it is said that Jesus effectively comes “under the curse” (by coming to be the curse himself, for our sake).

Gal 3:10-14 is especially important for an understanding of 4:4f; note the logic:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

This very same line of logic applied to Gal 4:1-7 as well, which will be demonstrated more fully in the discussion of verse 5 in the next daily note.

Paul’s View of the Law: Acts vs. the Letters

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The articles in this series of Paul’s View of the Law (part of “The Law and the New Testament”) conclude with a short comparative study of the Pauline letters and the book of Acts. Commentators frequently note a number of differences and/or apparent discrepancies between the narratives (involving Paul) in the book of Acts and what he himself relates in the (undisputed) letters—in matters of chronology, the itinerary of the missionary journeys, and so forth. In such instances, critical scholars tend to give priority to the letters, regarding the information in the book of Acts as less reliable; traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, generally consider both Acts and the letters as authentic (and reliable), seeking to harmonize the two as far as possible. Perhaps the most well-known (and often-discussed) historical-critical issue involves the relationship between the so-called Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and Paul’s narrative in Galatians 2. However, important differences have also been pointed out regarding the portrait of Paul painted in Acts, as compared with what he states himself in the letters, and especially in regard to his view of the Law (the subject of these articles). This may summarized by two related questions:

  1. Did Paul himself continue to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law following his conversion? and
  2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Law?

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

Paul states on several occasions in his letters that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, he was most devout and scrupulous in matters of religion, including strict observance of the (written) Law, the Torah (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4b-6, and Acts 22:3; 26:5). Did he continue to observe it so after his conversion? Many scholars today would say yes, and simply take for granted that he did. However, it must be observed that there is very little actual evidence of this in the letters; in fact, he never makes such a statement about himself, but it could be understood from two passages: 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 3:31.

  • 1 Cor 9:20—”to the ones under the Law, (I came to be) as one under the Law”. This indicates that Paul voluntarily continued to observe the Law, at least when among his fellow Jews, in order to win them to Christ (cf. below).
  • Rom 3:31—”then do we make inactive/invalid the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)! but (rather) we make the Law stand!” Many commentators today read this as if Paul is saying that he and his Jewish Christian co-workers continue to observe the Law. However, there is nothing in the context of the passage to indicate this; the emphasis in Romans 3, especially in vv. 21-31, is the declaration that Jews and Gentiles both are justified through faith, and not by works of the Law (i.e. observing the Law). For more on this passage, see the earlier note and discussion in this series.

By contrast, the following passages indicate that Paul, along with all believers, is free from the Law: 1 Cor 9:20-21; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 5:11; 6:14; Rom 6:15; 7:6; Phil 3:3, 7-9.

In the book of Acts, there is somewhat more evidence that Paul continued to observe the Law. First, we have his statements generally to this effect, in Acts 24:14, 17-18 and 28:17 (?). We also see:

  • His presence in the Temple (Acts 21:26-27; 22:17-18; 24:17-18); along with other early believers in Jerusalem (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:21ff, 42; 21:22-27), Paul continued to frequent the Temple. However, it is not clear to what extent he participated in the sacrificial ritual; on only one occasion is he seen involved in ritual activity (21:26-27, cf. below).
  • His traveling to Jerusalem for the feasts, at least on several occasions (Acts 18:21 v.l.; 20:16); but note that Acts 20:6 indicates that Passover would have been observed away from Jerusalem.
  • Acts 18:18 refers to a vow (Nazirite?) he had taken, which presumably was done according to the regulations in the Law.

In none of these instances is it recorded that Paul was under obligation, or felt required, to observe the Torah. The most relevant passage is Acts 21:21-26 (cf. below); but even here, his involvement in the Temple ritual was done voluntarily, at the recommendation of James.

2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the Law?

Again, a good many commentators today would answer in the affirmative—while Gentiles were not required to observe the Old Testament Law, Jewish believers were still bound to do so. I find not the slightest indication of this in the letters, not even in the most positive references to the Law (Rom 3:1-2; 7:12-14 [cf. also 1 Tim 1:8]; Col 4:11, and, possibly, Rom 4:12; 1 Cor 7:19). As mentioned above, some commentators would read Rom 3:31 as though Paul believed that the Law continued to be binding (for Jewish believers), but I consider this a serious misunderstanding of the passage. The overwhelming number of references, indicating that the Law is no longer in force for believers in Christ, would seem to speak decisively against it—cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; the illustrations in Gal 3-4 (esp. 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31); 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11; Eph 2:15. There are, however, three passages in the book of Acts, which could suggest that Paul held the Torah to be binding for Jewish believers; each of these will be discussed in turn:

Acts 16:3—Paul had the half-Jewish Timothy circumcised, prior to his joining the mission effort. This has often been seen as contradicting Paul’s own teaching regarding circumcision in the letters (Gal 2:3; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-15; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Rom 2:28-29, also Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; Eph 2:11), causing some critical scholars to question the historicity of the detail in Acts 16:3. Much depends on the reason why Timothy was circumcised; there are several possibilities:

  • Jews, including Jewish believers, were obligated to observe the Law, with circumcision being a central covenant obligation; according to later Jewish tradition (m. Kidd. 3:12), children from mixed marriages were still regarded as Jewish.
  • It was a practical measure, to avoid unnecessary hostility and opposition among Jews to the mission.
  • It is an example (and extension) of Paul’s missionary principle expressed in 1 Cor 9:19-23—of becoming like one under the Law in order to reach those who are under the Law.

There is nothing in the context of 16:1ff itself to indicate that Timothy was circumcised because he was required to do so, as would be suggested in the first view. The only reason given in the passage is that he was circumcised “through [i.e. because of] the Jews that were in those places”, which would seem to fit the second interpretation above. However, it is also possible that Paul was generally following the principle he would later express in 1 Cor 9:19-23; for more on this, see the conclusion below. One would like to think that Timothy willingly (and voluntarily) agreed to circumcision, though this is not indicated in the text.

Acts 16:4—In the next verse, we read that Paul delivered the decisions (do/gmata) from the ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:19-31) to the believers in the cities of Pisidia and Lycaonia (i.e. Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) in SE Asia Minor, which had been evangelized during the first Missionary journary (Acts 13-14). The letter from Jerusalem (15:23-29) is addressed to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia; Paul is extending it northward and westward in the region. There are two major critical issues involved here:

  1. Paul’s knowledge (and support) of the Jerusalem decrees. He never once refers to these in his letters, even on occasions when the decisions would have been relevant (1 Cor 8-10; Gal 2:11-14, etc; Rom 14; Col 2:16ff). In particular, the decisions appear to be directly on point with the very question Paul addresses in 1 Cor 8-10; if he knew of the decisions, and considered them to be authoritative (and binding) for Gentiles, it is rather strange that he does not refer to them. Many critical scholars consider the detail of Acts 16:4 to be inaccurate—e.g., note how in Acts 21:25 Paul appears to learn of the decrees then for the first time. More to the point, commentators have argued that the Paul of the letters would not have supported the decrees, especially with regard to the dietary restrictions placed on Gentiles (cf. issue #2).
  2. The relation of the decrees to the Torah. In Acts 15:21, James (the speaker) clearly connects the decisions of the Council with the fact that Moses (i.e. the Old Testament Law) is proclaimed and read in cities throughout the region, and followed by devout Jews (including Jewish believers). I have discussed this aspect of the Jerusalem decrees in some detail in a previous article. It is possible, but by no means certain, that, in observing the decrees, Gentile believers are thereby expected to follow the Torah in a limited sense. The emphasis is squarely on the idolatrous and immoral aspects of the pagan culture in which the Gentiles live—things which would also offend the religious and moral sensibilities of Jewish believers everywhere. I believe that the primary focus of the decrees is twofold: (1) as an authoritative exhortation for Gentiles to abstain from things associated with idolatry, and (2) as a way to ensure fellowship and unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

The apparent discrepancy between Acts 16:4 and Paul’s failure to mention the Jerusalem decrees even once in the letters, can be explained one of several ways:

  • Paul was not aware of the decrees when he wrote his letters (contrary to Acts 16:4)
  • He did not consider (or would not have considered) the decrees authoritative and/or binding on Gentiles (again contrary to Acts 16:4)
  • The decrees had only a limited (regional) scope—the areas in Syria and Asia Minor surrounding Antioch—and were not considered binding for Gentile believers in territories further away
  • The decrees had only a limited scope, insofar as they related to places with large Jewish populations (such as the regions around Antioch)—in support of healthy relations between Jewish and Gentile believers—but were not necessarily binding on Gentile believers en masse.
  • The decrees were only binding for a time, eventually being abolished or superseded as circumstances dictated, or through “progressive revelation”; at the time of Paul’s writing, the decrees were no longer in force.

According to a strict, traditional-conservative (harmonistic) reading of the New Testament, only the 3rd and 4th interpretations above are viable options. A consistent and thorough analysis of Paul’s letters, taken by themselves, would, I think, lead one to adopt the 2nd interpretation. Overall, the last view is perhaps the simplest and most practical solution, but it is nowhere so stated in the New Testament, and would have to be assumed.

Acts 21:21-26—This is almost certainly the most direct (and controversial) passage in Acts related to Paul’s view of the Law. It must be examined in some detail:

  • The Context—At the conclusion of his (third) major missionary journey (18:23-21:16), Paul travels to Jerusalem, and is greeted by the believers there (vv. 17-19), including James and other leaders (elders) in the Church. Presumably he presented the collection of funds for the needy in the Jerusalem Church, which he had laboriously organized and gathered from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-28), and which is mentioned (it would seem) in Acts 24:17, but not here in chap. 21.
  • The Issue—James’ address to Paul is recorded in vv. 20b-25, in which the following points are made:
    —In Jerusalem there are many Jewish believers, who continue to be zealous in observing the Torah (v. 20b)
    —It is reported that Paul instructs Jews to forsake the Torah, and not to be circumcised, etc (v. 21)
    —It is assumed that: (a) this cannot be true, and (b) Paul himself continues to observe the Torah (v. 24b)
    —To prove this, James recommends that Paul take part in a purification ceremony (in the Temple) (v. 23-24a)
    —The Jerusalem decrees are also mentioned, indicating, at the very least, that Gentile believers honor and respect the customs of (observant) Jewish believers (v. 25)
  • Summary exposition—James effectively summarizes the controversies between Paul and Jewish believers, regarding his view of the Old Testament Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans). Admittedly, nowhere in the letters does Paul say anything quite like the claim in verse 21, though the teaching that believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike) are “free” from the Law (cf. above) certainly could be characterized this way. It is perhaps such a (mis)representation that Paul combats, or attempts to avoid, in passages such as Gal 3:21ff; Rom 3:31; 7:7ff. Above, I have examined evidence regarding the extent to which Paul continued to observe the Law himself after coming to faith in Christ, such as James assumes here in v. 24b; the evidence is hardly conclusive, as I shall discuss again below. However, Paul does go along with James’ recommendation and participates in the purification ritual (vv. 26-27), at considerable personal expense it would seem, giving at least a general affirmation of his support for the position of observant Jewish believers. But based on what we have studied thus far in the letters, can we truly say, with James, that “all that of which was sounded down [i.e. reported] to them about you [i.e. Paul] is nothing”? What of the many potentially controversial passages regarding the Law, such as 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31; 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11, et al.?

Conclusion

A fair and unbiased view of the evidence, from both the letters and Acts, would have to affirm that Paul did continue to observe the Law, but only in a special and qualified sense. Ultimately, the clearest declaration of his own view of the matter comes from 1 Cor 9:20:

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) Lawnot being under (the) Law (my)self—(so) that I might gain the (one)s under (the) Law (for Christ)”

Here he clearly states that:

  1. He observes the Law (i.e. is “under the Law”, u(po\ no/mon) for the purpose of winning Jews to Christ, and not because he is still obligated to observe it—indeed:
  2. He himself is not under the Law. It should be noted, that some manuscripts omit the phrase mh\ w*n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon (“not being under the Law myself”), but it is present in a wide range of witnesses (including many of the “earliest and best” MSS), and is almost certainly original. While some commentators might dispute it, I regard this as a decisive statement that, along with all other believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike), Paul is no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law. Note also, in v. 21, that:
  3. He is not without the “Law of God” (cf. also Rom 7:22, 25), and identifies himself as now being under (lit. “in”) the “Law of Christ”. This (being “in Christ”) is an altogether new covenant, as he makes clear in 2 Cor 3:1-18.

The basic principle of freedom in Christ, which Paul consistently teaches (cf. Gal 2:4; 3:25, 28; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13; 1 Cor 9:19ff; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 6:7ff; 7:2-6; 8:2ff, 21, etc), also means that believers—certainly Jewish believers—may continue to observe the Torah, and other Jewish customs, either voluntarily, or as a matter of personal conscience. There is a world of difference between “may observe” and “must observe”—I believe Paul would affirm the former, but definitely not the latter. All of the passages in the book of Acts examined above can be understood and interpreted as voluntary observance. In this sense, the claims reported about Paul (according to James) in Acts 21:21 are false; but there are actually two erroneous claims which ought to be rejected:

  • He teaches that Jewish believers must, or should, cease observing the Old Testament Law—false
  • He teaches that Jewish believers must continue (strict) observance of the Old Testament Law—likewise false

When it comes to Gentile believers, the situation is somewhat different; Paul, especially in Galatians, takes the more forceful position, that they should not observe the Torah, and speaks in the harshest terms regarding those who would influence them to do so. However, this must be understood in the historical (and rhetorical) context of the letter, and not turned into any sort of absolute rule. Early Christianity was dominated by Jewish traditions and patterns of thought, and initial Gentile converts could easily be compelled to adopt Jewish religious practices as well. For the most part, this dynamic has long since disappeared from the Church, and there is little inherent danger in (Gentile) Christians today voluntarily adopting customs and practices set forth in the Torah. I will discuss this point again at the very conclusion of this series on The Law and the New Testament.

Note of the Day – December 1

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Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

  1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
  2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

  • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
  • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
  • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

  • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
    • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
      • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.