Sunday, September 21, 2008

Various Thoughts About the Law

Originally posted in the thread "Christians and the Law" in MennoDiscuss.

Three questions-- a. Why did Paul make such a fuss about circumcision in Galatians and then turn around and circumcise Timothy in Acts?
b. Did Jesus abolish the Mosaic Law or not? Jesus said he didn't but Paul seems to indicate He did?
c. What does it mean to be Jewish?

a. I believe that Paul circumcised Timothy NOT because Timothy was Jewish, but because he was going to minister to Jews as well as Gentiles, and Paul didn't want to offend the Jewish listeners unnecessarily. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for ministry that we wouldn't have to otherwise.

b. There are commitments that we are entered into from birth, and we have no choice about. I am an American whether I like it or not, and unless I "convert" and become joined to another nationality, I am limited by American laws no matter where I go around the world.

This is the issue with "law" in the first century. Those who were born Jews were required to fulfill the law throughout their lives. They were born under Moses' law and so needed to fulfill it as best they could, whether they were Christian or not.

Paul's argument in Galatians (as well as the argument in Acts 15)had nothing to do with Jews, but with Gentiles-- with those who were not born Jewish. The question was not "should Jews still act Jewish?" but was "should Gentiles convert to Judaism to be real Christians?" Since Jesus himself was a full Jew, this was a serious question, but the church wisely affirmed God's choice that the Gentiles don't have to live as Jews, but simply follow the law of Jesus-- which Jesus himself said is summarized by loving God and one's neighbor.

c. We need to remember that to be "Jewish" in the first century (pre-Temple destruction) was very different than being "Jewish" today. To be Jewish is to commit oneself to the government and service of Yahweh, which included the Temple cult, the law of Moses, obedience to the priesthood and the Sanhedrien and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once a year. To be a religious Jew today is not to be a Mosaic Jew, because it is impossible to obey the Mosaic law without a temple or a priesthood. They make do with the Rabbinic teachings because the Mosaic law must be re-applied to a post-Temple context.

This is why Judaism and Christianity are actually sister religions-- they are both responses to the question "How do we honor the one true God without a Temple?"

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