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.
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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