Month 2:24, Week 4:2 (Shanee/Matzah), Year:Day 5939:053 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Thursday 22 May 2014
3. Paul's Ten Torah Truths
Continued from Part 2
Broadening the Scope
From defending the Paul against the anti-Paulists we move on to what the apostle actually taught about the Law or Torah which in its wider sense, is the whole Teaching of Yahweh in the Tanakh (Old Testament). If it took over 1,500 pages by N.T.Wright, the undoubted leading Pauline theologian and scholar of our time, to give the most thorough and detailed exegesis of Paul's writings ever attempted , then we ourselves certainly can't reasonably be expected to give more than the briefest of summaries. We knew it wouldn't be easy because the apostle Peter says the Benjamite ex-Pharisee is hard to understand, but that does not mean it is impossible to understand him. What it does require, though, is a systematic approach that does not try to force a three-dimensional hologram into a two-dimensional photograph, for we will not understand Paul's teaching about the Torah in the New Covenant if we assume that every single statement on the subject is in an identical or equivalent context. To attempt such scriptural ping-pong as the Jehovah's Witnesses and far too many evangelical and messianic scriptorians do is to miss the richness and depth of this apostolic message with its complex and interlocking narratives.
Paul One of Several Apostles to the Gentiles
I ought perhaps to begin by mentioning that my view of Paul's position in the apostolic hierarchy has changed over the years. Like most evangelicals, I originally assumed (because that's what I had been taught) that Paul was the "apostle to the Gentiles" when he in fact describes himself as "an apostle to the Gentiles" and "a teacher of the Gentiles" (Rom.11:13; 1 Ti.2:7). But was he actually a kind of '13th' apostle? Were there ever more than 12 apostles in Messianic Scripture (New Testament) times? What of Matthias following Judas' betrayal and death?
The Case of Matthias
Analysing the Way Matthias Was Called by Lots
"'Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Master Yah'shua (Jesus) went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.' And they proposed (nominated) two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, 'You, O Yahweh, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.' And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts.1:21-26, NKJV).
We need to remember several things as we read this passage:
Like the Urim & Thummim?
- 1. That this action took place before the Baptism of the Ruach (Spirit) that came at Shavu'ot (Weeks, 'Pentecost') so this was not a direct call of the Ruach (Spirit);
- 2. Though prayer was invoked, the use of lots was, and remains, a form of divination; and
- 3. Though in the Old Covenant lots were cast to allocate the tribal territories (Josh.18; 19; etc.), to choose the goat to be sacrificed at Yom haKippurim (Lev.16), and to allocate temple duties (1 Chr.24:5), this was also a pagan practice used by the mythical Haman at Purim (Lots) in the Book of Esther, and in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) they were only ever mentioned in the division of Yah'shua's (Jesus') clothes by the Roman soldiers (Mt.28:35) and in the selection of Matthias.
The question naturally arises: why did the apostles resort to the casting of lots for so sacred a task as the selection of an apostolic ambassador for Messiah? It is argued by some that the use of lots was akin to the use of Urim & Thummim in the Old Covenant which were kept in the breastplate of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) (Ex.28:30; Lev.8:8). These were what might perhaps be best described as a kind of 'sacred dice'  that were lodged in a pouch fastened to the ephod and with it is sometimes referred to as "the ephod" too. By the Urim & Thummin the cohen (priest) could declare Yahweh's will to both leader (Num.27:21) and people (Dt.33:8,10).
Why Did Urim & Thummin Cease to be Used?
However the Urim & Thummim worked (and we don't exactly know how) it is important to note that the neeed for them at length disappeared as they are never mentioned between the early monarchy and post-exilic times. Why? Because the rise of the nevi'im (prophets) and of prophecy made them superfluous - they were a stop-gap device given by Yahweh until such times as He sent the nevi'im (prophets). Once the nevi'im (prophets) died out, it is interesting that the national leaders sought for a revival of the use of Urim & Thummim precisely so that the leader and people could once more know Yahweh's will in the absence of prophecy (Ezr.2:63; Neh.7:65).
Matthias Selected Using the Older Non-Prophetic Method
From this we may conclude that such devices as Urim & Thummim (whatever they actually were, but almost certainly a form of casting lots, since questions were posed to Yahweh which had either a positive or negative result - cp. Prov.16:33) and lots are only efficacious in the absence of nevi'im (prophets), we must wonder why the apostles had resorted to this primitive binary method of determining Yahweh's will. For one, who made the initial selection between Justus and Matthias? The way Acts puts it, it was a democratic nomination which Yahweh had to choose between. That is not, of course, to say that Yahweh could not have been in the process of choosing, since the matter was dedicated in prayer to Him, but it hardly in keeping with the higher prophetic mantle which would become that of the apostles after the first New Covenant Shavu'ot (Weeks, 'Pentecost').
Was Matthias a Stop-Gap Until Paul?
It is therefore my considered opinion that Matthias was a stop-gap until the unmistakable election of Paul by an authentic New Covenant prophetic manifestation on the Damascus road. I therefore contend that Paul subsequently replaced Matthias to become the 12th apostle replacing Judas. And though he was not a witness to Yah'shua's (Jesus') ministry on earth (or at any rate, almost none of it) he did meet the resurrected Messiah and he was taught personally by the resurrected Yah'shua (Jesus) over a protracted period of time before embarking on his ministry and being accepted and embraced by the other apostles in Jerusalem.
The Unknown History of Matthias
What subsequently happened to the historial Matthias is unclear as no further information is found about him in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) and tradition seems confused, variously calling him 'Tolmai' (Eusebius), Zaccheus (Clement of Alexandria) and Barnabas (Clementine Recognitions). Tradition has Matthias preaching in Judea and then meeting martyrdom in Colchis, Georgia, though others say this was Ethiopia in a "city of cannibals". An apocryphal 'Gospel of Matthias' exists from the 2nd century but was rejected as false. One tradition says his remains are inturned in the Abbey of St.Matthias in Trier, Germany but another in the castle of Gonio-Apsaros, Georgia. One thing that is certain is that the extant information on his is unreliable. Catholics, Eastern orthodox, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Anglicans all honour him in their respective liturgies at different times of the year.
Judging by Scripture
In the matter of both Matthias and Paul we are obliged to treat the works of later believers with the same caution as John Wesley concelled, who said:
Paul's Own View and Experience of Torah
"In all cases the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church."
Interesting, and sometimes fascinating, though church tradition may be, and contrary to the claims made by Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, unreliable and often contradictory tradition can not be allowed to play a part in establishing Besorah (Gospel) emet (truth) even if it may occasionally be be used as secondary evidence. We have already convincingly (in my view) firmly established what Peter thought about Paul , let us now determine what the man himself had to say about the controversy that is the place of the Torah in the New Covenant. We shall examine his statements and take them at face value whilst establishing the correct categories of context so that we do not misunderstand.
So what did Paul think about the Torah? Is it even reasonable to posit that he was confused or contradictory, especially someone as intelligent and as well schooled in Torah as he was? Because frankly the image that some neo-Ebionite messianics have of him is of a highly confused schizophrenic trying to start his own personal religion. And do these same messianics apply the same standard to the sayings of Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself? How do they - and indeed we - approach the fact that (as atheists are quick to latch onto) He both says we are to love our enemies and to hate our own families? (Mt.5:44 cp. Lk.14:26) Now you all know there is no contradiction here because you all know about Hebraic contrasts and hyperbole, just as you know an friend of family member isn't about to literally murder you when he or she says "I'm going to kill you!!" because you destroyed his laptop by upsetting a hot drink on it, or something like that which you find highly upsetting. If you don't understand Hebraisms you are going to misinterpret not just Paul but also Yah'shua (Jesus) too.
1. Torah is the Heart of Yahweh
So what about Paul and Torah? First of all, and the easiest place to start at, is with Paul's direct, straightforward, no-nonsense testimony that the Torah was, and is, and always will be Yahweh's Law, qodesh (holy, set-apart), just and good (Rom.7:12). Whatever Paul says about Torah elsewhere must always be viewed within the fence of this affirmation. When he says that malakim (angels) assisted in the giving of Torah, or it its being given through a "mediator" (Gal.3:19), this can in no possible way suggest to us that Torah is anything less than completely, totally and fully Yahweh-given and Yahweh-intended. There is no room for Gnostic manoeuvre, no room for the heretic notion and blasphemous accusation that Yahweh was a rather coarse, grumpy, cruel, harsh and bad-tempred Demiurge malak (angel) who has since been deposed and a higher reign of righteousness inaugurated by Messiah to replace the earlier inferior and oppressive one. For Paul, Torah is not only a set of inviable mitvot (commandments) or doctrinal teachings directly from El Elyon (God Most High) but a narrative: it is the story of creation and covenant, of Adam and Abraham, focussed particularly on Exodus (Shemot) and finally Deuteronomy (Devarim). All of this Paul unhesitatingly affirmed as divine in origin, positive in intent, and fulfilled (not replaced or abolished), that is to say, brought to completion (albeit it in unexpected ways) through the Besorah (Gospel) of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). This is very much Paul's 'line in the sand' and he is without a doubt on the Torah side of it. It we bear this in mind continuously, we will not fall into the trap or misinterpreting him to mean that he was somehow against Torah.
Within this first and primary affirmation of emet (truth) is the revelation of Paul in which he explains the over-arching purpose for which Torah was given to the nation of Israel in the first place. It is at this second level that many not only misunderstand Paul but also Yahweh's original purpose in giving Torah which was not that they might be saved by their moral efforts in living the Torah perfectly. Perhaps the greatest division between the anti-Paulists and the Paulists is the belief of the former that salvation is predicated upon Torah-obedience. Not only does Paul insist that you cannot be saved by obedience to Torah but He insists that Yahweh insists that you cannot be saved this way either.
(incomplete owing to illness...to be finished later)
"What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal.3:19-25, NKJV).
Continued in Part 4
 N.T.Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God (SPCK, London: 2013), 2 volumes
 It has been plausibly suggested that they were two flat objects, one saide of which was called urim (from 'árar, 'to curse', and when both were displayed this side the answer was negative; the other side was thummim, from támam, 'to be perfect', and a complete thummim meant 'yes'; one thummim and one urim meant 'no reply'
 The Anti-Paulists: Dangerous Messianic Heresy