By Two Or Three Witnesses...
A few weeks ago when my friend suggested she hoped I would get around to blogging about the challenges to our point of view regarding God's instructions, she probably didn't know she'd become the catalyst to finally push me into writing. We've been saying for months that we need to write down our thought process for ourselves and our children just so we could have some record of decisions we've made for when they need revisiting (as philosophical decisions often do).
As I've been writing these blogs and wrestling with how to lay out these thoughts, I've realized I need to address the idea of the witnesses that establish a matter. We believed we were asked to judge something - whether as Gentile Christians we should obey all, part or none of God's ancient instructions - and the only way to make a judgement is to call for witnesses.
The Testimony of Witnesses
It's a repeated Biblical concept that no truth should be established on the testimony of just one witness.
God told Moses, "On the evidence of two or three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness." (Det. 17:6).
Jesus describes how an offense between two believers is to be resolved by referring back to this scripture: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [assembly]. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector. [Do not associate with that person]" (Matthew 18:15-17).
Paul advises Timothy and the churches in Corinth with the same principle: "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses." (1 Tim 5:19) "Every charge is established on the evidence of two or three witnesses." (1 Cor 13:1)
We chose several witnesses to help make our judgement:
The first witness to the continued validity of God's Instructions is God's Unchanging Nature.
The second witness is Jesus' purpose on Earth: God RE-newing his Covenant rather than making something ALL-new. (Greek Thinking, Hebrew Thinking)
The third witness is what the believers who first received the Holy Spirit believed and taught.
That subject is much longer and more difficult to deal with than the other two. I've considered a lot of the New Testament in trying to pin down how to call this witness and I think the best place to begin is with a pivotal chapter in Acts: the meeting of the Jerusalem Council to consider the ramifications of Gentile Christians entering the formerly all-Jewish church. This is taking some time and may even need to be broken down into more than one blog post so that it becomes short enough to read!
In a nutshell, the Jerusalem Council was asked to decide which of two groups of believers was correct about how new Gentile converts should be expected to obey God's Instructions:
Group Number 1 stated that Gentiles couldn't receive Eternal Life and the Holy Spirit unless they'd been circumcised. The physical sign was the cause of salvation.
Group Number 2 stated that the only qualification for receiving Eternal Life and the Holy Spirit was faith in God. Following God's Law was an evidence of salvation rather than a cause of it.
Coming soon...the testimony of the Christians who first received the Holy Spirit.
Greek Thinking, Hebrew Thinking
In my last blog, I wrote about how God is unchanging and how that has led us into the belief that his instructions for living are not cancelled but still valid.
I think God's unchanging nature is really the core question to grapple with in coming to this decision, but I recognize there are some obvious objections. How could Ben and I have arrived at such a different determination than what the New Testament seems to so adamantly say?
We actually didn't arrive here by studying different languages. That came much later. What came first was the concept of God not changing, followed by the question "Did Jesus really come to preach a NEW religion?"
As Christians, we state with unshakable confidence that we are under a New Covenant, a totally different Covenant than the one God made with his people at Mount Sinai. That is why most Christians are either ignorant of God's Laws or treat them as relics. I heard one man say recently that if we keep any part of God's laws, we are turning our backs on the gift of salvation through grace and are therefore condemned to eternal death. I was shocked because I've heard plenty of people give reasons why we don't have to pay attention to God's Instructions...but saying we'll be blotted out of God's Book of Life for not murdering someone? How can the New Covenant be so completely different from the Old? Where is the dividing line? How do we know what changed?
Are we followers of a totally new religion; and if we are, is that really what Jesus came to bring about? What does a "New Covenant" truly mean when the New Testament writers refer to it? Does the New Covenant differ so completely from the old that it is an insult to God to pay attention to his commandments?
I want to stress something very important here: I do not want to cast doubt on the Bible in any way. The Bible should be read with the confidence that if there's a question about a point, it can be truthfully answered with the Bible itself. I do not think you have to have any special knowledge of languages or histories or anything complicated to do this. The Bible is all about God and God doesn't contradict himself. As Jesus put it, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Our Bibles might have translation issues here and there, but the real barrier to knowing God's truth tends to be our own assumptions. When we think we know something, we're often blind to any other thought or point of view. In seeking to know God better all the time, we have to begin testing our assumptions, especially those that seem contradictory to God's own words. Paul advises, "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything and hold fast to what is good." (1 Thess 5:20-21)
It's easy to overlook contradictions and stay with our traditional understanding of things God says, but if there was one thing Jesus taught over and over, it was to rightly follow God and ignore those commands of men that get in the way. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we are learning to say, "no matter what the consequences, we have to follow God rather than men." We want to leave behind the traditions of men and learn to truly know God so we can love him with all our hearts and souls and strength. We want to think his thoughts and do his actions, just as our Teacher and Savior Jesus did.
Building on the understanding of God's unchanging nature, we've begun to notice God's way of thought and action is unfamiliar to our way of thought. God's mind is not like man's anyway, but our culture has even drifted away from God's general pattern and Ben and I are no different. We think like Greeks, not like Hebrews. Greek thinking is linear. Hebrew thinking is circular or cyclical. And it is God's ways that formed the basis for the Hebrew understanding of the world represented in our Bible. We've been discovering that many difficulties that show up in understanding exactly what the Bible says comes from trying to read a Hebrew-style thought from a Greek-style viewpoint.
Greek thinking is the philosophical basis for much of our modern Western way of seeing things. It is founded in the idea that we are always moving forward and changing into something we have never been before. It says every day is a "new" day, and by "new", it means "completely different". We fervently believe in the philosophy of "all new!": a better, made-from-scratch, reinventing-the-wheel-every-time-we-build-a-wagon kind of "new". Every situation is it's own, every event floats in space as an isolated unit, and we are always inventing things that have never been seen before (we think). Everything has infinite possibility to morph into something completely different that bears little or no resemblance to it's former self. Ultimately, we believe in evolution: a cell can turn into a fish, which can turn into a monkey, which can turn into a human and humanity is always advancing, leaving our old outdated ways behind never to be seen or heard from again. As Christians, we believe we've completely evolved out of the old Jewish ways and moved on to the improved Christian ways - that is how we interpret the change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
But this isn't the way God thinks. It isn't the way our universe works. It isn't the foundation for how the Bible came to be written. Solomon summed up the real state of the world in Ecclesiastes: "I discovered there is nothing new under the sun. What has been will be again, what is now has been before." (Ecc 1:9-10)
Take the example just of our weather: the seasons are always changing, but they are always changing into something they have been before. Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter, seedtime and harvest, rainy seasons and dry seasons. They are always new but have always been before pretty much the same way they are this year.
What God has done before he will do again because he sets patterns and maintains them. Everything in Nature testifies to this. Everything in history witnesses to it. While there are small changes, things are very much as they have always been. People are still people, recognizable in thought and action from the beginning of time until now. And God is still God. What he values now, he has always valued. What he has always hated, he still hates. The pattern of his actions is unchanging. The end of all things is mirrored in the beginning of all things. God's patterns are recorded in the Bible multiple times so we can understand them and be able to learn to view things the same way he does.
Against this backdrop, we have the enigma of God's Covenant with Man.
What was the Old Covenant? God summed it up this way: "For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’" (Jer 7:22-23)
"If you love me and obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people."
What is the New Covenant? Jesus spoke the essence of it in John 14:20-21, though it's repeated other places: "In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
In other words, "If you love me and obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people."
That's it! That is the Covenant, old and new. The only difference between them is that one was sealed with the blood of animals and one was sealed far better by the blood of God's Son. Both of them were intended to cause God's ways to be written on our hearts. Both of them were intended to make it possible for man to walk with God again. Both of them were meant to bring us out of slavery to sin. Both were given as a great gift from God to his people.
God set a pattern and he returned to it. He is no different today than he was when he made Adam and Eve or spoke to Abraham or when he came down to Mount Sinai. What commandments was Jesus talking about? Was he coming to start a new religion totally separate from the one he was walking in every day? Or was he the living embodiment of the Word of the Unchanging God and his commandments for living a Godly life were therefore the same ones spoken to his people centuries before and recorded by Moses?
If you think like a Greek philosopher, you think Jesus was a new creation come to start a totally new religion completely different from the old. If you think like a Hebrew, you believe God always returns to the same patterns. Jesus is Adam as he was meant to be. What God wanted from man at Mount Sinai was what he wanted from man at Creation, what he wanted from man at Calvary, what he wants from man today and what he will want from man tomorrow.
And this is what God has always wanted from Man: children. He wants his Kingdom populated with offspring, loving children living the way he created us to live! And if we come to God in loving obedience, he will become our shield and shelter and provider and we will be his children, living in his household - also known as the Kingdom of God. He made us in his image and likeness on purpose. He wants us to fulfill that destiny and be imitators of him; and his Covenants - Old and New - were designed to make that possible.
In order to understand God better, we have to get rid of our Greek way of thinking, the way of thought that ultimately assumes God himself is evolving. God used to be harsh and unloving and saddled his beloved children with an evil set of rules designed only to torture them into realizing how much they needed a Savior, but now his only command is to 'love', our Greek-style minds think. We fail to notice the pattern of God's thought and behavior when we assume that "new" means "totally different" and that good instructions can become bad instructions or bad instructions can become good instructions.
If we want to know God better, we need to learn to change our mindset, to recognize the end in the beginning, to see the patterns of God's actions. It's time to stop thinking like Greeks and start being "imitators of God, therefore, like dearly beloved children" (Eph 5:1).
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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