I realize that I've been hinting around at a conclusion Ben and I have reached sometime over the past three years since our marriage. I'm not sure exactly when we reached it, but it's been several years in the making and firming. Thing is, we haven't said much about it. Why? Because it's controversial and we don't like to rock the boat, that's why. Because this point of view makes us strangers among the strange. It's disconcerting to be isolated this way, but it's even more disconcerting to be attacked.
Which basically makes us cowards. And you cannot be cowardly about truth. Jesus said that if anyone is ashamed of him - the Living Word of Truth - he'll be ashamed of them. Because we've found ourselves so reluctant to speak about or admit our own conclusions to others, we've also learned we need to take a deep breath and say what we believe to be true when there is an appropriate opportunity.
This has been really illustrated to us lately as several people we know came to similar conclusions totally independent of us and then when they found out we had thought that way for a long time said to us, "Why didn't you say anything?! It would've helped us to know others were asking these questions and making these decisions!"
We are so reluctant to stir the pot that we don't bring out things that perhaps it would've helped those around us to at least hear we were thinking of and may even have been instrumental in helping them see a similar truth - and a truth is always a blessing even though real truth has a tendency to get a person in big trouble. Ask Paul about that one - how many times did he say he was stoned?
Here is the conclusion we have reached:
Every part of the Bible is still valid. Every word God has ever spoken is good and applicable to anyone who wants to follow him.
If we want life - Eternal Life - we can't live by the traditions of men but must exist on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
God's Law has therefore not been abolished.
It seemed so clear at first when we read Paul's writings that the Law of God had been annulled...but once we began realizing certain parts of the Law were, to use Paul's words, "by no means!" annulled, we began wondering what allowed us to pick and choose what to honor. Where was the dividing line? We heard a lot of theories on where that line was, but when we would go back to the Bible and examine the discrepancies and difficulties, most of these theories failed to hold up.
In the past two years, I have spoken to a surprising number of Gentile Christians who were convicted as we were that the Sabbath was important to God still. Once you come to that conclusion, I've discovered, you open up a huge question: if the Sabbath is still valid, what else have we overlooked?
The elephant in the room at this point really becomes Paul and his intricate writings (which are easily misunderstood and twisted, to quote Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-18).
It's very hard to ignore Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles as he called himself. He is brilliant, learned, called personally by Jesus as a missionary, zealous for the things of God and like a bulldog with a bone when he has a point to make. If we had never heard of Paul, I believe there would be no question about following God's Law. But Paul had a big thing to explain to the heathen Gentiles just coming to know Messiah and he tackled it headlong. He did not want these new believers falling into the same errors as he himself inherited as a young man. He did not want them to misunderstand their place in the Covenant or to misapply the laws of God or to be taken in by centuries of tradition that had blinded so many of his own people to the true Messiah when he was standing right in front of them. So Paul wrote deeply philosophical, passionate explanations to his beloved converts order to teach them what he had learned over many years of study, error and correction.
Just after our marriage in 2011, Ben began really grappling with Paul's letters, trying to get a clear understanding of the seeming contradictions they introduced. In order to come to a conclusion about honoring God's commandments, we had to reconcile the contradiction Paul created by seeming to flatly state they were dead and useless and completely irrelevant to Christians.
Ben started painstakingly translating Paul's epistles from Greek to English while searching out and re-inserting the whole Bible passages Paul refers to. This also ended up requiring translation from Hebrew since Paul didn't draw Scripture from the Greek writings of what we call the New Testament, but from the Hebrew writings of Moses and the Prophets of God. He also began carrying forward the subject of each line of reasoning into each succeeding paragraph since it turned out to be easy to lose sight of Paul's point as it worked it's way sometimes through a page or more of logical argument. We counted at least seven different things Paul referred to as "Laws" in this process and it turned out that whenever Paul says "Law" in a verse, you have to back up and figure out which law he was talking about. The Law of Sin and Death, for instance, was not the same as the Law of God. This has been like a long treasure hunt, consuming many, many hours and evenings and car rides.
What began to emerge from this process was pretty startling, at least to me.
We found that Paul's letters are composed almost entirely of references to Scripture. Some are obvious because he treats them as quotes (although Greek is difficult because it doesn't use a lot of punctuation cues and Paul's letters are apparently not even written in very good Greek). Some of Paul's references to Scripture aren't obvious and can be read as his own words, but as Ben dug in he found that more and more of what Paul said was coming straight from Scripture. He would speak in Scripture verses as we often do in quotes from movies, just a quick reference denoting much longer thoughts. When we would go read the whole chapter he'd refer to, a very different Paul than the one we had been taught began to take shape.
Paul never forsake the Law. He never stopped keeping it. He encouraged others to learn it and keep it. He revered the writings of Moses and the Prophets as instructions inspired by the Holy Spirit and he never stopped calling himself a Pharisee. He still believed in sacrificing in the Temple, in circumcision (though not adult circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation by God) and in the necessity of keeping God's appointed days.
There is no contradiction. One truth cannot contradict another. Paul could not contradict God and remain a Prophet of God we should respect and listen to. And in the end, we discovered that he had not indeed contradicted God. By no means. He had merely done his best to teach others to "rightfully handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
I had a hard time with this at first. I couldn't wrap my mind around it.
In spite of the fact that my family had kept the Sabbath and Biblical dietary commands for a number of years, we tended to take each issue (Sabbath, diet, holidays, wearing tassels, circumcisions, etc.) as it's own question rather than looking at the commands of God as a cohesive whole and determining whether we should take it seriously or not. So when Ben began becoming convinced that Paul never advocated abandoning God's Laws, I resisted at first. It made no sense to me that the Law was anything but a memory of something God commanded his people a long time before Jesus. A good memory, I was ready to admit, but not one that really was applicable to us Christian Gentiles. Even with my conviction that we should keep the Sabbath, I looked at it as something instituted at Creation, not at Sinai. I'm not Jewish. In my brother's words, it seemed "presumptuous" to think all the words God spoke to his people could really apply to me. And besides...how could we keep the whole law anyway? There IS no priesthood anymore or a place God has chosen to set his name, making it impossible to rightfully keep the laws of sacrifice...and why would we need to offer sacrifices for the atonement of sins when Jesus did that once and for all? Wasn't it pretty clear that trying to take on the commandments would result in curses rather than blessings? Wouldn't we be blatantly ignoring what God had done in sending his son to save us?
But Ben asked me one very important question: does God change?
He had me there. If there's one thing we know about God, it's contained in his name: he is Yehovah. The God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The God who is Goodness in every facet, the standard of what is holy and right. This unchanging God who created us does everything for the good of those he loves.
This unchangeable good God, therefore, never gave a direction that was evil. Never. And anyone who follows him is subject to his standards of good because he loves his people and wants good for them. We don't always see things God's way when it comes to good - we often think things are bad that God plans for our good - but God is always good.
This goes to the root of absolutely everything. This begs a decision be made about foundations, about the very core of faith. The question becomes no longer about eating pork or keeping the Sabbath or circumcising our sons: it becomes about the very character of the God we believe in. This question asks us to go down to the very beginning and test what we believe to be true.
It's not "should we keep the law?"
It's "what kind of God do we believe in?"
That is how my mind began to change. I began to notice every time the Bible mentions how God is unchanging, his statutes are everlasting, he commands something to exist for generation after generation or forever, he makes promises that he says will last forever, he does not think like we do, he is steadfast even through the passing away of the heavens and the earth. If the heavens and the earth are still here, even more surely are the words of the Lord still standing.
I realize that there are three years of "what ifs" I am glossing over in making this statement, but I want to keep explaining. Maybe part of me needs to keep explaining this way because I write much better than I speak. If I tried to write everything into one blog post, it would be impossibly long. So that is why I am beginning with Bible passages about God and his unchanging, everlasting, steadfast, eternal nature. There are so many it's really hard to choose or list them.
God described his character - and the character of his covenants - to Noah:
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Abraham described God:
33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.
God described his character to Moses:
6YHVH passed before him and proclaimed, “YHVH, YHVH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Moses (the man who was God's friend and spoke to him face to face) described God to his people:
9 Know therefore that YHVH your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them.
Balaam - speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit - describes God:
19 God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Samuel repeats this description to Saul:
1 Samuel 15:28-29
28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
Isaiah describes God:
8The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
YHVH is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
Jeremiah describes God:
10 But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
God speaks of his own character through Malachi:
6“For I YHVH do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Paul describes the character of God:
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
These are just a few and I could keep going, but the overwhelming evidence that God testifies about himself is that he is unchanging and resolute. What he calls good today, he does not call evil tomorrow.
And that is the foundation. That is how we began to be convinced that everything God says is still good.
Does God Really Care?
The book is called "Holy Cow! Does God Care About What We Eat?". I began reading it this week because I was interested in seeing if the author came to the same conclusion Ben and I had. It's written by a young woman named Hope Egan who was raised in a modern Jewish family and who came first to believe Jesus is Messiah and then to recognize the validity of God's words for everyone who believes in him.
In the first chapter of the book, Hope summed up the quandary any believer feels when they try to read the Bible from start to finish in the belief that it really is the Word of God and is to be looked to and regarded as authoritative.
"I eventually committed my life to Jesus, but my journey was filled with confusion," she writes. "Whenever I asked questions, my friends always turned to the Bible as the ultimate information source. Their reverence for this book seemed extreme, but their wise ways of dealing with life's toughest issues hooked me. Since the Bible was the foundation for that wisdom, I was compelled to read it."
That is a powerful thing for a young Jewish woman to state, by the way. She was drawn to read the Bible because the Christians she knew had wise ways of dealing with life's issues.
What threw her for a loop was the fact that most of the things God spelled out that he wanted anyone who followed him to do were actually being ignored. All the instructions for celebrating Passover were right there in the Christian Bible just as in the Jewish Bible she'd grown up with, but none of her Christian friends - who seemed to be looking to the Bible for direction about everything in life - even mentioned Passover or seemed interested in God's way of living. When she asked why, she got what she termed "confident answers" saying things like "Jesus fulfilled that law so we don't have to". This was extremely confusing to her. In the end, her confusion boiled down to one big question:
Does committing our life totally to God mean turning over everything to his direction and control...or are there some things he gave directions about that we can safely disregard?
"Committed to doing God's will in all areas of my life," she writes, "I took the plunge and decided to give up pork and shellfish. Since the other areas that I'd submitted to Him (like money, work and relationships) had always turned out beautifully, I trusted that the pork thing would too."
She came to the conclusion that if she was going to say God was her Creator, Redeemer and Lord...she'd better place everything in her life under his control. Up to and including her favorite barbecued pork ribs.
"This book is not about doing something (or avoiding something) so that we can have a relationship with Him or be "saved"," she continues. "Rather, exploring this topic is a response to our faith. It arises naturally from our longing for obedience to God. Because we already have a relationship with Him, we respond to His love for us by seeking His will and wisdom in all areas of our lives - including what we eat. As redeemed people, we bear the most fruit when we submit our whole selves to our Creator. In other words, dietary issues are not the core of my faith, but they are the main focus of this book."
This is beautifully simple overview of something I have been trying to describe for years. In a few paragraphs, Mrs. Egan is pointing out the dilemma of what to do with God's commandments once coming to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the solution of following those ways out of love and gratitude. The question of whether to obey or not obey is not one of salvation. It's one of practicality: does God really care about all aspects of our lives coming under submission to his will?
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
When I read this recently, this sentence jumped out at me. When Jesus spoke it, the word of God did not include the writings of Paul. Or Peter. Or James or Jude or John or Luke or Matthew or Mark. When the Seed was sown, it was the seed of what we call the Old Testament. The seed was sown to produce fruit in us, the fruit of love for God and obedience to him.
Jesus was teaching his disciples about what we today abhor and call "the Law".
"The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."
According to Jesus, God detailed his ways for us so we may absorb those ways - write them on our hearts! - and be saved. That is the foundational characteristic of all God's words: to save us. Sometimes God's words have been given to save us from physical death - as he saved Noah and his children. Sometimes God's words are given to save us from bad things like sickness and strife and sorrow - like his commandments governing Human marriage relationships. Sometimes God's words are given to save our very souls - the essence of our beings that he has promised to make immortal if we will only come to him in complete trust and believe he is God and his son is our Savior who has become the way we can get to him in the first place. He is the Human personification of the Word of God, as if we took those Torah scrolls Moses wrote to God's dictation and manifested them into a Man who could walk and talk and eat and explain what God was really saying.
More from Jesus' explanation of his parable of the different soils:
"And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
These people are not willing to submit everything to God. They don't devote all the space of their heart to God's seeds growing and bearing fruit. They want to withhold the cares of their everyday life, to keep their lives separate from their salvation. I would go so far as to say these two soils are examples of those who believe that because they are saved, they are free to go and concentrate on anything that seems good to them without regard to the seed of God's Words. They believe having the seed is enough and are not interested in submitting to the responsibility of nurturing and caring for it.
The only way for God's good seed to grow in our hearts is to give up what we would do and seek after what God would do! That's the way we water the seed so it will grow. It's the way we clear the weeds out of the ground so there is room. When I don't eat my favorite clam chowder because I believe God wanted something different for those who follow his ways, I'm turning away from a pleasure of this life for the sake of watering the seed that God in his grace and mercy scattered onto my heart. It's not enough for me to just have the seed: I want it to grow. I want to be a fruitful soil. Does this mean I can do anything to be good enough to receive the seed? Nope! But it does mean I can strive to do everything in my power to help it grow in me without choking it by going my own way.
Jesus finished by describing the kind of garden I want to be:
"As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."
God, the Creator of the Seed, the Speaker of the Word, the Living Word, wants every single part of my life to be clear and fertile ground for his seed to grow in. He is a jealous God. He wants every part of my life devoted to him. That's what it means to be a slave to righteousness. It's what it means to love God with all my heart and soul and strength. It's what Jesus himself stated when he looked up to his father and said, "Not my will but yours be done."
So...does God really care what we eat? Absolutely! He cares about everything we do, because everything we do reflects what's in our hearts. He cares about every single action we take or don't take because everything we do betrays whether we are more concerned with what we want...or what he wants for us.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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