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Why Does God Allow Children to Suffer?

Why does God allow innocent children to suffer?

I woman recently wrote to me to ask for help in answering her son’s questions about why people suffer, especially little children. It’s a fair question, and I don’t think we’d be honoring God’s command to love our neighbors if we didn’t struggle with it.

Because it’s such an important question, I wanted to share my response with you.

I am an older woman, been through alot o fire. Still working the best I can. My youngest son asked the common question: “why does the one you call Yah allow such terrible things to happen to small children?” We know this is such a tough question. I began to explain, but he wanted some real fast answers and just would not even let me begin…

I completely understand your son’s frustration. This is a very difficult question. If God is so good and so powerful, why does he allow suffering? A complete answer would require an intimate knowledge of every innocent person’s life and suffering. But I can give you this short answer…

If the worst suffering anybody faced was a stubbed toe, then every stubbed toe would seem like the end of the world. A person might hop around and get angry at God, demanding to know, if he is so good and powerful, why does he allow our toes to be stubbed. He has no idea that God has already spared him the much greater torment of broken bones, cancer, and years of abuse by a parent. He has no concept of real suffering, so every little bump feels like the greatest pain possible.

How do we know that there isn’t some horrible suffering beyond all imagination that God spares us from? I assure you, that whatever you have endured in your life, someone else has endured much worse, and even they can’t imagine the extent of pain to which Satan would subject us if God allowed it.

Suffering is relative. What causes great pain to one person might be trivial to another. And it is all nothing and everything at the same time to God. He doesn’t like anyone having to suffer, but he has a greater plan that we don’t understand and can’t understand because of our limited, mortal perspectives.

People suffer because people make bad choices and God’s plan for mankind doesn’t allow him to interfere in our everyday lives. He wants us to choose to do what’s right and to suffer and witness the consequences when we don’t. Eventually, those who enjoy making others suffer will be judged and dealt with according to the states of their hearts, but it doesn’t serve God’s purposes–and ultimately our good–to short circuit the natural processes he set in motion from the beginning of Creation.

My personal belief is that our current existence is merely training for something greater after our resurrection at the end of this universe. God has not chosen to reveal what our mission will be in the world to come, but I strongly believe that our preparation for that future requires suffering in the present. Whether it is to strengthen us or only our faith or for some other purpose, I don’t know. But I am certain that it serves a greater purpose. As Paul wrote, all things work together for the good to those who trust in him.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Review of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life by Matthew Sleeth

Matthew Sleeth is a former emergency room doctor who returned to the faith of his childhood during a time of personal crisis and eventually became a pastor. In the course of that journey, he discovered the personal value of the weekly Sabbath and wrote 24/6 to share how it changed his life.

Dr. Sleeth gives a lot of great advice and illustrates many ways that a weekly Sabbath can enhance a person’s life. I recommend this book to everyone!

It’s missing one really important thing though.

The Seventh Day

Sleeth touches on it here and there, but I think one historical misconception prevents him from really connecting the dots. Every benefit he says that a person can derive from keeping a personal weekly sabbath also applies to the whole community and even to an entire nation, when the whole people keep the Sabbath on the same day.

The many scripture passages quoted at the end of the book repeatedly underscore this truth. In fact, the Bible’s instructions on keeping the Sabbath require that everyone keeps it on the same day. There are probably dozens of examples, but let me give you just three:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
Exodus 16:4-5

In this chapter of Exodus, if anyone gathered more manna than their family could eat in a single day, then it rotted. However, on the sixth day, God told them to gather enough for two days. Then on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there was no manna, and the manna they gathered the day before didn’t rot. If anyone had decided they could keep the Sabbath on a day that was more convenient for them, they’d be out of luck. They would be forced to fast on the Sabbath because they gathered twice as much food on the second day instead of the sixth, and it rotted. Everyone had to keep the Sabbath on the same day, the seventh day of the week.

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
Exodus 20:9-10

I don’t think it gets any clearer than this. By God’s direct command, everyone must keep the Sabbath on the same day, and not just any day, but the seventh day of the week. You can rest any day of the week, but it’s not God’s Sabbath unless it’s the seventh day, and you’re not keeping it if you are making other people work so that you can take the day off.

As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:19-21

Nehemiah castigated the city elders for allowing foreign merchants to sell their wares in Jerusalem on the Sabbath–not your Sabbath or their Sabbath, but the Sabbath–and then he closed the gates and threatened those merchants with bodily harm if they even camped outside the city gates on that day. He forced all residents of Jerusalem, Jew and Gentile alike, to keep the Sabbath on the same day, and chose guards from among the Levites, the tribe which had been specially chosen by God for their willingness to kill fellow Israelites for unfaithfulness, to make sure nobody violated his orders.

But Which Day Is the Seventh?

Sleeth asserts that we can’t know for certain which day of our modern week was the seventh of God’s Creation, but that’s not historically accurate. We know from Exodus 16 that the ancient Israelites knew which day was the seventh. God made sure they knew by not sending the wilderness bread of life on that day.

We also know that the Jews of Jesus’ day knew which day of the week was the seventh by the living Bread of Life. For Jesus’ death to have any atoning effectiveness, he had to live a perfectly sinless life, which means keeping the Sabbath in the way that his Father prescribed without error. Jesus kept the Sabbath on the same day that the Pharisees and Sadducees did, so we know beyond any reasonable doubt that they had it right.

The Romans had adopted the seven day week from the Semitic peoples they conquered in the Ancient Near East, and we know from the writings of Josephus that the day the Romans called Dies Saturni or Saturn’s Day. In English we now call that day Saturday, although much of the rest of the world calls it some variation of “Sabbath”: Subbota, Sabada, Shota, Asabsh, etc.

Despite popular belief, the centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance weren’t peopled solely by ignorant, illiterate savages who forgot how to observe the stars or keep records. Governments and religious institutions of the Medieval era kept records throughout, and, although the months and years were sometimes adjusted to keep them in sync with the seasons, the continuous cycle of the days of the week was never interrupted in all that time. The Roman church held the first day of the week to be sacred, despite God’s explicit instructions, because they didn’t want to look Jewish, and so they ensured that everyone knew which day was Sunday. They also thereby ensured that nobody ever forgot which day was the seventh day.

The seventh day of the Creation week is still the seventh day of our modern week, and every attempt to deny that historical fact looks to me like someone looking for any excuse to do things their own way instead of God’s.

There Is Only One Weekly Sabbath

I know that some people have to work on the Sabbath, just like the priests did at the Temple. Somebody has to keep the lights on. Somebody has to be available to help if you get hurt. Somebody has to lead worship. Those people need to have the freedom to take an alternate day off from work and to offload those responsibilities onto someone else at times, but that still doesn’t change which day of the week is the Sabbath that God instituted.

Every day is a great day to gather and worship in Jesus’ name and everyone will derive great benefit from resting one day each week, no matter which day that is, but there is only one day that God set apart for his people to spend especially with him. If your husband or wife set aside a whole day just to be with you, do you think they’d mind if you showed up on a different day?

If you are requiring other people to do business, to clean your house, to wait your table, and to write your marketing copy on the seventh day of the week, then you’re not keeping the Sabbath, no matter on which day you have chosen to rest. The Sabbath was made for man, but so was marriage and procreation, and God hasn’t authorized anyone to make changes to these institutions that he created for our benefit.

Yom Kippur – The Most Christian of God’s Moedim

Yom Kippur is the most Christian of God's appointed times

A guest post by Kay Behrens

As I was sitting in my Living Room ten days ago, honoring one of God’s Moedim, or Set Apart Days, I came to the realization that Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the most “Christian” of God’s Holy Convocations. But, what do I mean by that?

Let’s look at God’s Set Apart Days, one by one. We can begin with Passover.

Passover ~ On Passover, God instructs us to do several things, besides our offerings. We are to cook the lamb, to remove leaven from our homes, to prepare the bitter herbs.

Unleavened Bread ~ Here we are to eat the meal, but most important of all, we are to tell our children the story of the Exodus. They are to be active participants of the evening.

First Fruits ~ Here we are to offer the first fruits of our harvest.

Shavuout ~ Fifty days after the early First Fruits, we are to have a Holy Convocation and to offer two loaves of leavened bread, a later first fruits.

Yom Teruah ~ The Day of Trumpets. On this day we are to blow the trumpets and shout for joy to the Lord.

Sukkot ~ Here we are to build and live in Booths for 7 days. We are to wave the four species. We are to remember our days in the desert.

But what of Yom Kippur? How are we to spend that day? Doing nothing.

And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among this people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath.
Leviticus 23:30-32. 

But why do I say that this is this a “Christian” moedim? Well, let’s look at the Christian understanding of salvation, or atonement. Christians teach that we are not saved by works, but by grace and grace alone. They are taught that “works salvation” as taught in the Old Testament no longer applies and that we cannot save ourselves by our works but only by resting on the completed work of Messiah.

Have you ever spent 24 hours where you can do no work? It truly concentrates the mind. Add to that a fast from food and water and you definitely start paying attention. Get up and take a shower? Nope. Make your bed (probably not a problem for most millennials, but it sure bothers me); fill or empty the dishwasher? Later. Check the internet? Your phone? Your tablet? Not today. Squash that fly? Dust off that spider’s web? Wipe down the counter? Nope, nope, and nope. Read a book, send a note to a friend, start that craft project?  Can’t do.

Your day is to be completely about resting in the Lord. He is your salvation, your atonement, even your bread of life if you are fasting.

Ah, but you say that “Messiah died once for all and He sat down at the right hand of God and for us to keep the Old Testament feasts is to put Him back on the cross to suffer once again”. To this I would say that, yes, Messiah sacrificed once and then sat at the right hand of the Father, but we are not called to remember this once and only once. We are to be reminded yearly of His sacrifice. I liken this to a married couple who keep their vows daily, but once a year takes the time to recognize the special bond that they have. If they don’t take this time to lovingly recall their commitment they might begin to take it for granted. Likewise, if we don’t take the time to recall the sacrifice of our Messiah, we will begin to take it for granted.

So how shall we remember His sacrifice? Certainly by keeping the Passover, or by the remembrance of Good Friday and First Fruits, but Yom Kippur forces us to really remember the totality of His gift to us. On Yom Kippur, we are to completely separate ourselves from the world; we are to completely rely on His provision. We do not work, we do not eat, we do not rely on anyone or anything but our Messiah.

We cannot make the day of Yom Kippur any more holy by doing anything beyond “afflicting your souls” and having “a holy convocation”.

So I invite my dear Christian friends to consider next year keeping Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Try spending a day completely without works. Spend a day in your Living Room without swatting that fly, without squashing that spider, without doing anything. Spend it with the Scriptures that attest to our Lord who gave His life so that we may live. Who is the Bread of Life and the True Vine.

The Love and Faith of Father and Son

The Bible frequently discusses the relationship between God and his people in terms of human relationships: husband and wife, master and servant, father and son, etc. Take this well known verse from Hosea, for example:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
Hosea 11:1

The primary meaning of these and surrounding words is that God loves Israel like a son, but they keep disobeying his instructions that are only meant for their good. They despised all the amazing things that God had done for them and worshiped pagan gods and dead idols instead.

However, Matthew cites a secondary meaning.

Joseph rose and took the child, Jesus, and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Matthew 2:14-15

The context of Hosea 11 is very clearly concerning the nation of Israel, not the foretold Messiah, yet Matthew understood much of the pattern of Israel’s history to be prophetic of the Messiah. He wasn’t saying that Hosea was specifically talking about Yeshua, but that Israel’s exile to Egypt was a prophecy of Yeshua’s brief exile to that same land, and that God’s relationship with Israel is also a pattern of the heavenly Father’s relationship to the Son.

This pattern goes back long before the Exodus from Egypt. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph were also real-life illustrations of the relationship between Father and Son and between God and Israel. This pattern goes all the way back to the sixth day of Creation and our nature as human beings. As Carlos pointed out in this discussion about the fear of YHWH in Proverbs, a child’s relationship with his father will have a profound influence on his later conception of God.

Solomon spoke at length about parent-child relationships in the Proverbs. Consider Proverbs 3:1-12. In v1, he said, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” The following verses appear to switch from a father’s instruction to God’s instruction, but a closer examination of the literary structure of this passage and its connections to the rest of Scripture show that these are meant to be one and the same.

God has painted pictures of himself all around us.

Parallelisms and a Chiasm in Proverbs 3:1-12

Proverbs 3:1-4

  • A – v1 – Son, don’t forget my torah
    • B – Meditate on my commandments
      • C – v2 – For long life and peace
  • A – v3 – Let not steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness (emet) leave you
    • B – Meditate on them and make them part of you
      • C – v4 – To find favor and success before God and man

Proverbs 3:5-8

  • A – v5 – Trust YHWH with all your heart
    • B – Don’t trust your own understanding
      • C – v6 – Consider his wishes in everything you do
        • D – He will make your life less complicated
  • A – v7 – Don’t trust your wisdom
    • B – Fear YHWH
      • C – Repent from all sin
        • D – v8 – For healing and revitalization

Proverbs 3:9-12

  • A – v9 – Honor YHWH for all you have
    • B – And with a firstfruits offering
      • C – v10 – You’ll gain even more
  • A – v11 – My son, don’t despise YHWH’s discipline
    • B – Or weary of his rebuke
      • C – v12 – Like a father, YHWH rebukes whom he loves

These three parallelisms might even be intended to be a chiasm:

  • v1-4 – Listen to your father and honor him
    • v5-8 – Trust YHWH’s wisdom above your own
  • v9-12 – Listen to your heavenly Father and honor him

Thematic Connections of Proverbs 3:1-12

In addition to the literary structure, each element is thematically connected to other parts of Scripture as if to emphasize the point by appealing to familiar patterns and lessons.

Verses 1-2 echo the fifth commandment to honor father and mother in order to extend life and prosperity (Exodus 20:12). Verses 3-4 sound remarkably like Eliezer’s description of the relationship between Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 24:27 and 63). Verses 5-6 remind me of Abraham’s trust in YHWH’s promise (Genesis 17:15-16) and instructions (Genesis 22:2), even when they seemed contradictory. Verses 7-8 harken back to the plague of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, when repentance from disbelief brought healing to the Israelites (Numbers 21:8).

A Hierarchy of Fathers and Sons

Solomon’s instructions to his son connect obedience and honor of your earthly father to obedience and honor of your heavenly Father. To an extent, this connection is always true–God’s command to honor your father and mother doesn’t make exceptions for bad parents–but the parallels are much clearer if your parents feared God themselves.

Four hundred years before Solomon, Moses gave Israel the same basic instructions.

Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is one. You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Israel is healthiest and most prosperous when she trusts and obeys God, but this is impossible if each generation doesn’t teach the next to continue to walk according to God’s commandments. Every child–especially boys–must be taught the precepts, judgments, commands, and stories of God’s relationship with his people day in and day out. They must be so thoroughly indoctrinated with God’s Torah that it permeates every perception, thought, and action, so that they will pass on this blessing to their own children.

If parents refuse to trust in YHWH and refuse to teach their children according to his ways, that doesn’t mean that the children don’t still honor them, but it does mitigate a child’s responsibility to obey.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:37

If your father is an atheist or a Buddhist or an antinomian “Christian”, then you must frequently disregard his instructions and obey Yeshua–who taught only the Torah of the Father–instead.

There is an assumed hierarchy of authority in God’s . If there is a conflict, we must always defer to the higher authority, and “higher” might be different in different contexts. For example, when you are in a lawful court, you must obey the judge rather than your parents or husband. But if you are a child in your parents’ house where the judge is a guest, you must obey your parents wherever there is a conflict. And so on, depending on the circumstances.

But in every single case, God’s commandments take precedence. If your father orders you to pray to the dead or bow to an idol, you must disobey. If you know that telling your child that his life choices are hateful and disgusting to God will cause deep emotional pain, you must tell him anyway.

God has commanded you to teach his laws to your children and to hear them from your parents. The heavenly Father taught his Son to keep his Torah, and the Son then taught us to do the same.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate [relatively speaking] his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26

If you love your parents or your children or their sins more than you love God, then you are deserving of none of them and are likely to lose them all.


Here’s a related excerpt from the weekly Bible study at Common Sense Bible Study:

What Is Circumcision of the Heart?

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. Deuteronomy 10:16

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Deuteronomy 10:16

Circumcise yourselves to YHWH; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.
Jeremiah 4:4

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Romans 2:29

(Please read the whole chapter for each of those verses to understand the full context. Click on each reference to access the chapters at Bible Gateway.)

But Paul Said…

Paul is often misunderstood to be against physical circumcision in all cases, but the full context of his letters show that can’t be the case. Rather, he is against circumcision in a misguided conversion to Judaism or the performance of any other rite or commandment as a condition for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.

Salvation is solely by the grace of God extended to those who put their faith in him. Circumcision is something that a believing man can do later if he is led to it by the Holy Spirit or if there is some practical reason, so long as he doesn’t believe it will make him more saved. There is no general command in Scripture for a grown man to be circumcised unless he is wants to eat the Passover, which is impossible to do outside of Jerusalem. Anyone external pressure for a grown man to be circumcised comes solely from other men, not from God.

If you’re not a priest going to serve in the Temple (you’re not), if you’re not going to eat a Passover lamb this year (extremely unlikely), and if you’re not an 8-day old baby boy (wow! reading already!?) then there is no good reason to get circumcised.

Now, having dispensed of that inevitable barrier to communication, let me get the actual point of this article…

What Does It Mean to Circumcise One’s Heart?

In Deuteronomy 10, Moses told the Israelites that, although God owns all of heaven and earth, he chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants as special objects of his love and attention. Because God chose Israel above all other peoples, he wanted them to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts “and stop being stiff-necked”.

He went on to say that God is mighty and awesome, above all other gods, and above all the petty bribery that the gods of the nations demanded from them. Yet, despite his awesome power and the universal scope of his awareness, he gives special attention to orphans, widows, and landless above the special attention he already gives to Israel.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:19

The essence of heart circumcision seems to be in the humility to accept the attentions of the Almighty and to serve those who have the least power of all.

Because of Adam’s sin, our world can be hard and compassionless. It’s tempting to see all impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged people as deserving their state–an attitude encouraged by some of the world’s largest religions–and therefore also deserving lesser treatment by society and even by law.

While it’s true that poverty is perpetuated by bad choices, Scripture also tells us that we are all sinners according to God’s standards and equally deserving of death. A circumcised heart perceives its own unworthiness, but gratefully accepts and returns God’s love in spite of that. It not only loves God, who is infinitely more deserving, but also loves the poor, homeless, and even the criminal.

God wants us, who have received undeserved mercy, to extend undeserved mercy in turn, a mercy which enables the recipient to stand back up and try again and again to make better choices.

Be Holy, Even As I Am Holy

God wants us to be holy (set apart for sacred purpose) just as he is holy. In Leviticus chapters 11, 19, and 20, this means keeping God’s commandments, especially in regards to avoiding the pagan practices of idolatry, necromancy, disrespecting parents, sexual immorality, and eating animals whose meat God finds detestable.

Peter reiterated this expectation of holiness through obedience:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16

It’s clearly a good thing to keep God’s commandments, and while outward obedience will bring circumcision of the flesh (at least for boys born into the faith), it cannot, by itself, bring circumcision of the heart.

The truth is exactly the opposite. A hard heart is like a hardened clay soil that breaks ploughs and starves seedlings. The Word sprouts quickly but withers away because it can’t put down roots. It is a haven for brambles and wild grass, but hostile to anything that can produce good fruit. Only a circumcised heart can accept the seed of God’s instructions and allow it to produce a harvest worthy of the land owner.

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision [of the flesh] be regarded as circumcision [of the heart]? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
Romans 2:26-27

The Hearts of Your Children

There is another important aspect of heart circumcision that I want to bring to your attention.

The manner of circumcision of the flesh was not arbitrary. God chose the skin that would be cut removed in part because it symbolizes one of the core promises of his covenant with Abraham:

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you….This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:7, 10-11

Abraham’s physical descendants all passed through the cut of his physical circumcision. All of his promised descendants inherit the covenant by which they were promised, but they are commanded to circumcise their sons in turn.

If you are a son of Abraham, then your sons must be circumcised on the eighth day. This doesn’t give them eternal salvation or forgive their sins, but it does make God’s promises to Abraham theirs to reject.

Circumcision of the heart follows the same pattern as circumcision of the flesh.

And YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Deuteronomy 30:6

Just as Moses told us to keep God’s commandments as we work to circumcise our hearts, he also told us to teach God’s commandments to our children.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Circumcision of the heart is a process that each person must take on for himself, but parents have a responsibility to set their children on the right path, to teach them to fear and love YHWH, to cherish his commandments, and to be kind to all people. In doing so, we enable them to inherit the New Covenant established in the blood of Yeshua.

How Does a Heart Become Circumcised?

Physical circumcision is relatively quick and painless. We circumcise our sons when they are eight days old, before they are old enough to remember the pain. Circumcision of the heart is a much longer and more painful process. It begins and ends with obedience, not for the sake of being righteous or special or staying out of trouble, but for the sake of the Law-Giver.

And now, Israel, what does YHWH your God require of you, but to fear YHWH your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
Deuteronomy 10:12

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
2 John 1:6

God wants our fearful devotion and our love. He wants to be the center of our thoughts, motives, and our entire lives. Such devotion requires the breaking of our pride, our independence, and even our very identity.

If a commandment is a burden, then it either hasn’t yet done its work on your heart, or you are keeping it for the wrong reason. A resentful or prideful obedience is not obedience at all. Refocus on the loving kindness of the Father who gave us the Law through Moses, of the Son who gave us his very life to enable our obedience without fear of condemnation, and of the Spirit who teaches us how to live, comforts us when we fail or are persecuted for our obedience, and guides us onto better paths.

As we learn to keep God’s commandments out of love for him, his Spirit works through our desire to obey to draw us closer to him. Through the keeping of commandments with a right heart, we are disciplined and pruned. The heart will become more right, and we will learn more perfect obedience, understanding that the heart of every commandment is love.

The secret to a circumcised heart, ready to receive God’s instructions, is in recognizing that we are no more deserving of his attention than anyone else, that nothing we could ever do could earn his affections, and yet God still loves us more than all the rest of creation. When we love him enough in return to submit to his commandments and when we see a reflection of his perfection and our own failures in the least of all people, we will be on the path.


For more information see this video from 119 Ministries…

Did Jesus Appoint Peter As the First Pope?

Did Yeshua give Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and make him the first Pope?

Matthew 16:13-20 is chock full of fuel for theological controversy!

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Matthew 16:13-20 ESV

This is one of the primary passages that the Roman Catholic Church will claim as support for their authority. Yeshua (Jesus) made Peter the first Pope and gave him the authority to modify God’s Law as needed, and today’s Pope has inherited that authority in an unbroken line of succession from Peter. Since the Pope has authority to dictate (bind and loose) the rules to Heaven, then when the Pope says the Sabbath is now on Sunday, God has to shift his schedule to suit Rome.

Except that’s not what the Bible says. Not at all. But then again, it’s easy to see how one might conclude that from this text.

Yeshua used several puzzling phrases in this conversation. I’ll address each of them in turn.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

“Son of Man” essentially means “human”. Throughout the book of Ezekiel, angels refer to the prophet as “son of man”, evidently not as a special title, but something more like “descendant of Adam”. However, in some contexts it had a much greater meaning. In the apocryphal books of Enoch, an angel also refers to that prophet as “son of man”, but with the added connotation of “Messiah”.

The author of Enoch probably took his cue from Daniel who described a divine being “like a son of man” who came from Heaven, suffered, and then returned to Heaven with great glory. Daniel’s Son of Man is clearly a reference to the Messiah who would defeat Israel’s oppressors and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yeshua clearly had this context in mind as he frequently referred to himself as the Son of Man.

The question Yeshua asks is ambiguous though. Most English translations read “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” but a few follow the King James Version and the Textus Receptus in reading “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

While the difference seems slight, it could actually make it a completely different question. The former asks about the identity of the Son of Man, while the latter asks about the nature and identity of Yeshua. I think the disciples’ answer supports the ESV’s rendering more than the KJV’s. They didn’t say “Some say you are John the Baptist…”, but “Some say John the Baptist…” This might more properly be understood as “Some say that Daniel’s Son of Man is John the Baptist…”

Whichever he meant by the first question, Yeshua then turns it around to himself and the disciples. “Whom do you say I am?”

Peter immediately replies “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” by which he also identifies Yeshua as Daniel’s Son of Man. (Also Enoch’s Son of Man, contrary to the text of Enoch, which identifies Enoch himself. Yeshua responds by saying that Peter could only know this because God had especially revealed it to him, and this sets the stage for the next controversial phrase.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

First, let me talk about “church”. Yeshua was not establishing a new religion or organization. The English word church translates the Greek word ekklesia, which just means “gathering of people”. The English word build translates the Greek word oikodomeo, which can mean to build from scratch, but it can also mean to refurbish or renovate.

Yeshua wasn’t building a new Gentile religion, but restoring the remnant of faithful Israel. Whenever the Apostles wrote of “the church”, they meant an assembly of the people of God. Ekklesia is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew words kahal and edah, which are translated as “congregation” or “assembly” in the phrase “the congregation of Israel” throughout the Old Testament.

Peter’s name in Greek is Petros, which is derived from the Greek word for rock, but has been altered to a masculine form suitable for a man’s name. “Rock” on the other hand is the standard feminine Greek word, petra.

The question is, what does Yeshua mean by “this rock”? He frequently changed subjects in the middle of a sentence, using one idea as a segue or illustration of another. Did he do that here, saying “You might be named Rocky, but on this other rock…”? If so, what is the other rock? I think there are three possible interpretations:

  1. The rock is Peter who would be instrumental in the reformation of the assembly of Israel.
  2. The rock is the revelation which Peter received from God concerning the identity and nature of Yeshua, and that revelation would trigger the reformation of the assembly.
  3. The rock is Yeshua, whom the prophets also called “a rock of stumbling”, a “corner stone”, and “the spiritual rock that followed [Israel in the wilderness].

All three interpretation seem plausible to me and in accordance with the rest of Scripture. I think the first and third explanations are most likely, and I lean toward the first–I haven’t always–that Peter himself is the rock on which the assembly of Israel would be rebuilt.

The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it

Does “it” refer to the ekklesia (the assembly) or to the petra (the rock)? I believe it refers to the rock, to Peter himself.

Hell in this verse is the Greek word Hades, which refers to the grave–Sheol in Hebrew–the place where the spirits of the dead are held while they await their ultimate resurrection. “Hell” is a poor translation in modern English, because most people equate Hell with the Lake of Fire described in Revelation, but this is not the same as Hades. (See A Dictionary of Death, Resurrection, and Judgment for more information.)

A city’s gate have two primary purposes:

  1. A defensive structure used to control entry to a walled city.
  2. The center of commerce and the city government, especially the court.

In neither case are gates used in an offensive nature. The implication is that Peter will, in some way, assault the gates of Hades. Stay with me a little while longer and I’ll explain what that means. It is closely tied to the next thing that Yeshua told him.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven

Yeshua did not give Peter the authority to deny anyone access to eternity, to “excommunicate” them. That isn’t what the “keys of the kingdom” are for. Rather, Yeshua told Peter that, because he was the first to recognize him as the Messiah and Son of God, he would also be the first to open the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to others.

The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t solely in Heaven. It’s also right here among us. Wherever the citizens of the Kingdom reside, there also is the Kingdom. Yeshua also told us that there are many in the Kingdom who will not be accepted into eternity (see the parables of the good seed, the sower, and the talents, among others), so the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are only about opening access to the Kingdom, not to Heaven nor to eternal life.

In Matthew 16, Peter was the first to announce to the disciples that Yeshua was the Messianic Son of God.

In Acts 2, Peter announced to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost) that Yeshua of Nazareth had come and inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Acts 4, Peter announced to the Sanhedrin and the priests that they had crucified Yeshua of Nazareth, but that same Yeshua had risen from the dead.

In Acts 10, Peter announced to the Roman Centurion Cornelius that God welcomed him and his family into the Assembly and the Kingdom of Heaven.

At least four times, Peter was the first to open the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to a group of people, and this is what Yeshua meant when he said that he would give Peter the keys of the Kingdom. Not to lock anyone out, but to open the gates to all who would give their full allegiance to the King, no matter who their parents were or what language and religion they had been born into.

But in possessing the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, Peter opened two gates, not just one.

He also broke down the Gates of Hades so that those who were dead in sin, without hope of every reconciling to the God of the Jews, would be born again. The spiritually dead came to life through Peter’s testimony.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven

Rabbinic literature uses this concept of binding and loosing to refer to rulings on questions concerning the application of God’s Law. Here again we come to the concept of the “gate” where the elders of a city used to sit and hold court. The Law was written in ink, but the application often requires weighing competing obligations. Should a newborn boy be circumcised on the eighth day as God commanded even if the eighth day would fall on the Sabbath when God said nobody should be working? (See John 7:21-24.)

If an authority rules one way or another about whether some thing should be done, he has figuratively bound or loosed the actions of another.

There is also another question of translation. I consulted numerous commentaries in preparation for this article and the attached video, and they were unanimous in saying that a more literal translation of this phrase is “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven.”

Yeshua didn’t tell Peter that he could bind or loose anything in Heaven. No man is authorized to change God’s Law.

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God that I command you.
Deuteronomy 4:2

Not even Yeshua could take even a single mark away from Torah. (See Matthew 5:17-20.) If he had, then he would have violated the Law and disqualified himself as Messiah. His death would be pointless, his resurrection powerless.

Yeshua wasn’t giving Peter the power of salvation and condemnation, but stating that the Spirit of God working in Peter was reforming Peter’s own heart to be in alignment with God’s, so that Peter would have the power to discern right from wrong even in those cloudy circumstances that confound the wisest men. Peter didn’t become perfect, but he did gain the Law written on his heart so that he could bind on earth what had already been bound in heaven and loose on earth what had already been loosed in heaven.

In fact, in Matthew 18:18, Yeshua told all twelve of the disciples that they would share Peter’s discernments on matters of right and wrong. I don’t think that even the Roman Catholic Church would recognize twelve Popes simultaneously.

This was a blessing and pronouncement of wisdom, not of power. After Peter opened the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to the nations and reminded the Jerusalem Council of what had happened with Cornelius, he stepped aside and allowed James, the brother of Yeshua, to make the final ruling on minimum standards of behavior for newly converted gentiles.

Tell no one that he was the Christ

If the disciples’ ultimate mission was to tell the world of Yeshua’s identity and mission, then why did he tell them not to tell anyone?

This was a temporary injunction. It might have been because everything had to happen in the right time. The Father planned Yeshua’s incarnation, death, and resurrection so that it would all happen at the most opportune moment for spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world. If the people came to believe that Yeshua was truly the Messiah too soon, how would that have affected the required timetable?

But there is another reason that is more closely related to the conversation that had just concluded: Yeshua singled Peter out as the one who would open the gates of Heaven to the masses. The other disciples had to wait for Peter to fulfill this calling before they could also start throwing open lesser gates.

Peter, the Man

Peter was a great man, but only a man. He was not the first Pope. In fact, there has never been a Pope in the way that the Roman church views that office. There have been pretenders and possibly even well-meaning men who sincerely believed that they were specially appointed to rule God’s people for him and dictate morality to God himself. Sincerely, terribly wrong men who have led many millions into an adulterated mess of pagan superstition mixed with truth.

The Roman church includes many, many good people who are most definitely a part of the Kingdom of Heaven and who will pass on to eternal life, but they will do so in spite of the Pope and Catholicism, not because of them.

Subtle Signs from God

God leaves signs everywhere, but you can't see them unless you're willing to look.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

When you’re on the road, there are three kinds of signs to help you reach your destination.

The most obvious are the road signs. Albuquerque 1500 miles, next exit. One way. Deer crossing. Stop….it doesn’t get much simpler than that. If you know where your destination is in relation to your current location, you can find your way there with nothing but road signs if you’re paying attention.

In the modern world, there are also GPS systems that give you audible and animated signs. In 800 feet, turn right. In two miles, stay in the third to the left lane to take the second exit on the right to Highway 23 South, Robinson Lane, Rural Route 11417, Exit 235C. Explicit turn-by-turn directions and usually very helpful.

There is a third kind of traffic sign, however, that is not so explicit and often goes entirely unnoticed.

Driving home from work late at night, have you ever seen a mass of red brake lights appear in the distance and multiply toward you like an ocean wave? You know exactly what’s about to happen: within the next minute, maybe two, you’re going to be stuck in a traffic jam. Hopefully, it won’t last long, but if you know the area, you might look for an exit and an alternate route. If you’re familiar with the downtown exits of some freeways, you know to move left when approaching an on-ramp in heavy traffic and move right when approaching an off-ramp. Poor lighting on a poorly surfaced road in the middle of a big city might signal another kind of trouble to avoid.

You can even follow the sun in the day and the stars at night. People have been navigating by the skies for thousands of years.

Signs are everywhere if you have eyes to see them.

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
Matthew 16:1-4

The first century Jewish leaders had a millennium’s worth of writings about the Messiah. Every page of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) testifies to his identity and mission, and these men claimed to have dedicated their lives to studying it. Yet, what most of them really studied and kept was their own position, their credentials and the power they held over their brothers.

When Yeshua (Jesus) came healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, and releasing spiritual captives, they demanded something flashier. When he showed people how to keep God’s commandments and explained the prophets and Psalms, they tried to trap him with trick questions.

The Scribes, Pharisees, and Priests couldn’t read the obvious signs for one simple reason: They didn’t want to.

Yeshua then turned to his disciples and warned them about the leavening of the Pharisees. When they thought he was talking about actual leavened bread, no wonder he despaired!

But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  9  Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  10  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  11  How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Matthew 16:8-11 

If even his own disciples couldn’t follow the obvious signs that Yeshua had erected along the road for them, how could the rest of Israel do it?

Every word and act of Yeshua that is recorded in Scripture is a multi-layered sign. When he spoke of bread, he never meant only the bread that a person chews and swallows with his mouth. When he fed the five thousand and the four thousand families, he wasn’t just feeding people. It’s a great thing to do good, but Yeshua elevated every good deed to the level of prophecy. The feeding of the five thousand was a prophecy of the repentance, regathering, and ultimate restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel. The feeding of the four thousand was a prophecy of Yeshua’s death and resurrection, the Great Commission, the martyrs among Yeshua’s Apostles, and the promise of eternal life for all who repent from sin and swear allegiance to him.

Yeshua is the bread of life, broken and distributed to the people of the world so that all who would put their faith in him will be saved from eternal destruction and given eternal life after the final judgment. Throughout his ministry, he had left “bread crumbs” that anyone with eyes to see could follow.

We have a more complete record today of Yeshua’s life and ministry than almost anyone living in Judea in 30 AD could have had. We have libraries full of commentary and biographies of martyrs and records of healings and miracles spanning two thousand years. We have hundreds of thousands–if not millions–of people who dedicate their entire lives to studying the astonishing miracles of life and Creation…and so many still can’t see the blazing LED signs that God has installed at every intersection.

The problem isn’t their rational minds, but their hearts. The eyes and ears that can perceive God’s signs are spiritual, and those signs will only be perceived by a spirit willing to perceive them. Reason and knowledge can have a positive impact, but ultimately, the real key to opening eyes to God’s signs is softening hearts. In my experience, hearts are softened by only three means: pain, kindness, and divine intervention.

That doesn’t mean we should set out to inflict pain on anyone. It also doesn’t mean that we should be nice to people no matter what they do. The loving kindness (chesed) exemplified by Yeshua doesn’t enable sin, but it exposes it, gently when possible, fiercely when necessary. If you want to know how to open people’s eyes to God’s signs, then follow the signs yourself. Live as Yeshua lived. Love as Yeshua loved. Speak the truth with chesed–and also with caution–and live a pure life. Pray for the blind and deaf, and let God do the rest.

Is the New Covenant in Force?

Is the New Covenant fully in force today? Since Jeremiah says it is only for Israel and Jews, what does it mean for Christians?

In that same ancient Internet forum that I have mentioned several times before, a Torah-keeping believer wrote, “Until the Law is written on our hearts, it is still needed. And, since Christians are NOT keeping the Law, it is obvious that it hasn’t been written there. Therefore, the New Covenant has not yet come, even though it has been promised and assured.”

Another forum-member, whom we will call Joe, ever the Christian example, responded,

The new covenant has come, you blithering idiot!

That’s entire ——– point of Jesus’s life ministry, death, and resurrection!

He brought the new covenant. He tore the veil in the temple. He saved us from sin and death. He rescued us.

Joe’s objection is a very common one and also very easy to answer. It’s not even entirely wrong. Jesus (aka Yeshua) did save us from sin. He rescued us from the condemnation that we justly deserved due to our lawlessness. But the New Covenant is more than that. The ubiquity of this confusion testifies to the widespread ignorance of Christians concerning scripture and their almost complete reliance on the doctrines of men rather than the actual words of God and the prophets.

What Is the New Covenant?

Here is the passage that most specifically promises the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHWH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus says YHWH, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— YHWH of hosts is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me, declares YHWH, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus says YHWH: If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares YHWH. Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when the city shall be rebuilt for YHWH from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to YHWH. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.
Jeremiah 31:31-40

These are the defining characteristics of the New Covenant:

  1. The covenant is with the houses of Israel and Judah.
  2. The Law will be written in the hearts of the Israelites and Jews.
  3. Israelites and Jews will not need to be taught about God because they will all know him intimately.
  4. The sins of Israelites and Jews will be completely forgiven.
  5. God will never completely reject the nation of Israel, including the Jews.
  6. Jerusalem will be restored and made sacred to God under a permanent peace.

These characteristics imply other things. Since all Jews will know God and since they were intended to be a nation of priests and a light to the rest of the world, those who would know God will go to the Jews as evidenced by Jeremiah 16:19 and Zechariah 8:23.

What Does the New Covenant Have to Do with Gentiles?

O YHWH, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.
Jeremiah 16:19

Thus says YHWH of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
Zechariah 8:23

From the examples of Torah, from these prophecies, and from Paul’s writings, we can also extrapolate that the promises of the New Covenant and citizenship in Israel would be extended to gentiles. That doesn’t change the nature of the covenant, only its breadth. This is the great inheritance we have gained through the Messiah. We are now joint heirs with Israel in the New Covenant. We have forgiveness of sins just like the Jews do.

Guaranteed, but Not Yet Delivered

But has God’s Law been written on our hearts? Do we no longer have to teach each other about God? Is Jerusalem free from danger? Obviously to all but the most delusional, Jerusalem is under constant threat of war. We do not have God’s Law written on our hearts. We still have to teach each other about God. Paul wrote that this great inheritance of a perfect knowledge of God isn’t yet ours. I believe that process begins at the moment we decide to be faithful to Yeshua, but it is clearly not remotely complete.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 5:5

There are several steps in selling a house that are exactly analogous to the New Covenant. We have a signed contract, which is God’s promise of salvation. We have an earnest of the eventual fulfillment of the contract in the form of the Holy Spirit. But the terms of the contract haven’t been completed yet. Yeshua has paid the ultimate price for our salvation and restoration to the Father, but until we shed our mortal “tents”, we still walk by faith in the promise of our salvation and in imperfect knowledge of the Father. When we have the New Covenant in full, we will no longer have to walk by faith alone because we will see him face to face.

The Letter to the Hebrews (8:13), written many decades after Yeshua ascended to Heaven, speaks of the New Covenant as a developing thing, slowly outshining the Old Covenant, like the rising sun that makes the stars fade away. But at the time of the writing of that letter, the Old was still “becoming obsolete” and was only “ready to vanish away”. That which has been guaranteed and secured with an earnest payment has not yet been delivered. That which is still waxing, is not yet fully risen.

The New Covenant was certain and began to be established from the moment it was first prophesied in the Garden of Eden. It was sealed by blood at Yeshua’s crucifixion and a great token of its inevitability was given to us at Pentecost, but it is not yet fully in force as God promised it would be. Like so many things prophesied in Scripture, the New Covenant is “already, but not yet”.

Acts 15, revisited

Are Christians obligated to keep the Law of Moses?

People frequently point to Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem as an argument against Christians keeping Torah. “Peter, James, and the other Apostles said that gentile converts only need to keep these four rules, so we don’t need to keep the Law of Moses.” The obvious counter is that, if eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, eating animals that have been strangled, and consuming blood (Acts 15:20) is the full moral standard for Christians, then we are free to dishonor our parents, thumb our nose at traffic signs, lie, cheat, steal, and curse God. Yet nobody believes that!

Clearly the ruling of the Jerusalem Council is just a baseline for new converts in the context of the pagan Roman Empire, who already had a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Here’s another statement extracted from a conversation from a long time ago, in an Internet forum far, far away:

Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was centered around clarifying the law, and in many places he criticizes those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. an example is the “good samaritan parable”. The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremoniously clean and set aside for God. So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him. I believe as much is stated in John 1:1-14.

I do not believe that Acts 15 is suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc. etc., because such things were not included in the letter. Rather I believe that as Jesus said, the sum of the laws and the prophets, the spirit of them, is to love the Lord you God will all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.

-Mr. B.A.D.

I don’t think that Mr. B.A.D. is very far from the truth here. Yeshua did spend much of his time correcting misunderstandings of the Law. God did give the Torah to Israel to set them apart from other peoples. Yeshua’s life and sacrifice did fulfill the spirit of the Law. The sum of the Law and the Prophets is to love God and neighbor.

But this is an incomplete understanding. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.

Yeshua criticized those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law.

Mr. B.A.D. is talking about the Pharisees in particular, I think. Here are some of the specific complaints Yeshua had against them:

  1. They replaced the commandments of God with the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)
  2. They held others to a higher standard than that to which they held themselves. (Matthew 23:4)
  3. Their obedience was done mostly for show and not out of love for anyone but themselves. (Matthew 23:5-7)
  4. Their false teachings made it more difficult for anyone else to know the truth. (Matthew 23:13)
  5. They abused the poor and weak. (Matthew 23:14)
  6. They didn’t make disciples for God, but disciples for themselves. (Matthew 23:15)
  7. They had their priorities all wrong. (Matthew 23:16-22)
  8. They were scrupulous on the minutiae of the Law while they ignored the most important commandments. (Matthew 23:23-24)
  9. Their public behavior was at complete odds with their private behavior and with their hearts. (Matthew 23:25-31)

It seems to me that all of this can be summed up in a single word: hypocrisy. Their problem wasn’t that they were obsessed with the letter of the Law. Their problem was an obsessions with appearing to keep the Law. They were so concerned with this appearance that the Law itself wasn’t enough for them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t showy enough for the Pharisaical mind. They had to make up more and more rules to follow so that everyone could see how very righteous they were, but in adding to God’s Law they were breaking the very thing they pretended to keep. They were hypocrites from their white-washed facades to their rotted cores.

I think Mr B.A.D.’s main point here is entirely correct. A preoccupation with the letter of the Law to the detriment of the spirit of the Law will destroy you, because it will tend to lead you to less obedience in the end, rather than more. It is easy to get lost in the details and forget what is most important. The individual commandments are not the goal, but only individual stones in the road. The goal is Yeshua, and we would all do well to keep our focus on him rather than on precisely measuring our tithes of mint and cumin.

The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremonially clean, and set aside for God.

The Law was given for many reasons, one of which was to keep the Israelites separate from the pagan nations around them, but this separateness is really more of an effect of the Law than an intent. God gave Israel the Law to teach them to behave better than the Canaanites, not just differently. The specific commandments weren’t arbitrary. God didn’t randomly pick which animals would be clean and unclean, or which fabrics they could and couldn’t mix.

Israel is a holy nation because God chose them from among all other nations to be his special possession. Holiness means “set apart for divine purpose”. Since he made them holy by election, he also wanted them to be holy by behavior. The goal of behaving differently isn’t just to stand out. The Pharisees were great at standing out from the crowd, but terrible at obeying God’s Law. Rather, the goal of God’s rules about behaving differently than the pagans, was to make Israel more beautiful and pleasing to him.

Why should Israel not eat pigs? Because eating pigs is detestable to God. Why should Israel not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together? Because, whether we understand why or not, God hates it.

But that’s not the only reason God gave Israel the Law.

Paul wrote that the Law was also given to define sin for the whole world (Romans 3:19-20).

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:19-20

The whole world–not only the Jews–is accountable to God for their disobedience to the Law. As John wrote, sin is lawlessness, and he didn’t mean the laws of Rome or Babylon. He meant God’s Law. Sin is, by definition, breaking God’s Law. Now that we are saved from condemnation and our sins have been forgiven, are we supposed to forget what sin is and behave in whatever manner we feel is right? Of course not! God’s forgiveness of past sins is not a license to commit future sins.

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:31

Now that we have been separated from the world, elevated to the status of a holy people along with the native-born Israelite, we demonstrate our gratefulness and maintain that separation by behaving differently than we behaved when we were still in sin. “Be holy, even as I am holy” in 1 Peter 1:16 is a quote from multiple passages in Leviticus. We have been made holy by divine action, and so God requires us to live accordingly by following the rules he gave for that purpose.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18

So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him.

When Yeshua died on the cross he fulfilled the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself more certainly than most of us ever will, but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of continuing to love our neighbors as ourselves. He took our sin upon him and shed his own blood to fulfill the Law’s requirement for the death of murderers, Sabbath breakers, and the sexually immoral. Yeshua’s blood atones for us and removes us from under the condemnation of the Law, but that is still not a license to ignore God’s standards of behavior. He didn’t die so that we can eat bacon cheeseburgers and sleep with whomever we choose. He died so that we can have eternal life despite our failings.

Acts 15 is not suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc etc because such things were not included in the letter.

I agree, and this is something that many people overlook when they read that passage. For the sake of theological argument they interpret James’ ruling as the definitive list of moral behavior for Christians, but then say that Christians also have to keep a long list of other rules. This demonstrates that they don’t even believe their own arguments. Very few people actually think the apostles were really giving new converts permission to steal so long as they didn’t drink blood. The only logical conclusion is that the apostles were giving a starting point and expected the converts to continue learning and improving their behavior from there. What curriculum did they expect these gentiles to use for furthering their education in morality and religion? Torah.

For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
Acts 15:21

The controversy in Acts 15 was never about whether the Law applied to gentile believers in Yeshua–Romans 3:19 makes it clear that the Law applies to all people, believers or not–but about whether obedience to the Law was necessary for salvation. We are no longer “under the Law” because we have been set free from its power to condemn, but we are still accountable to God for keeping his commandments and maintaining his standard of acceptable behavior.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1

Keeping the Law of Moses cannot remove the guilt of prior sins nor earn you eternal salvation, but if viewed properly, it can improve your life, your community, and your relationship with God. “Be holy, because I am holy,” God said, not because he wants us to be weird, but because he loves some behaviors and hates others. If we are the Bride of Christ, we should behave like it. What man wants his bride to wear filthy rags and smell like an outhouse?

How Do the Ten Commandments Relate to the Christian?

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments?

A long-time Internet acquaintance asked a couple of questions in an open forum many years ago, and I reproduce her questions and my responses here…

1) How should Christians regard the ten commandments? (Not rhetorical; I really want to know.)

Paul told the Roman Christians that the Law defines sin. Without the written commandments, our ability to discern what is and is not sin is seriously hobbled. He specifically used one of the ten commandments to illustrate his point.

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

As Paul pointed out, it is impossible to sin by keeping the Law, aka Torah. (Of course, it is possible to sin by keeping one part of the Torah, while ignoring another part as the Pharisees did.) This is because sin is, by definition, the breaking of the Law, not the keeping of it (1 John 3:4).

You can think of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 as a summary of all of the rest of the Law (sometimes numbered at 613, by I think that count is dubious), and they are in turn are summarized by the Two Commandments that Yeshua quoted in Matthew 22 and Mark 12:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:35-40

Allow me to illustrate with a short table.

The TwoLove GodLove Neighbor
An example from the TenHave no other godsDo not covet
An example from the 613Do not worship YHWH in the same way the pagans worship their gods.Do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain

Because we love God, we will have no other gods. If we have no other gods, we will worship him in the ways he wants to be worshiped and not the way those other gods want. Because we love our neighbor, we will not covet those things that belong to him. If we do not covet our neighbor’s possessions, we will not steal his crops.

Every Christian knows –or ought to know–that sin is a bad thing. If that’s a point of contention, then we have much deeper problems than whether or not the Law defines sin. And if the Law defines sin as Paul and John both said, then it logically follows that we ought to be studying and keeping the Law. Not because a single mistake will send us to hell, but because we owe it to God. How can anyone say he loves God and then ignore his commandments? Or do they really believe that Paul was lying when he said that all of the commandments are summed up in love?

2) As a relatively new convert, one thing that’s also confused me is how to answer people who ask why Christians include the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. I’ve encountered Jews who didn’t know that we include the Torah in the Christian Bible and study it in church. They were curious about this practice, but I wasn’t sure I had the correct explanation for them. Is it to establish the context for the New Testament?

One of the earliest major heresies that the Christian church had to deal with is called Marcionism. In some ways it was the opposite of the Judaizers that Paul dealt with through much of his ministry. Where the Judaizers added laws and traditions on top of God’s Law, the Marcionites threw out the entire Old Testament and much of the New as well. They taught that the God of the Hebrews was a malevolent deity who actually hated the Jews and gave them the Torah as a punishment. Jesus was a new God who overthrew YHWH and all of his oppressive laws. They kept Paul’s writings because it was easy to twist his words around to justify their lawlessness. These were the people that Peter warned so strongly against when he wrote,

2 Peter 3:16 …There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

This Marcionism is almost identical with the feel-good, no-rules Christianity of today. Marcion is alive and well in your home town and every place where Christians reject God’s word as outdated and superseded by a new gospel of “love” unfounded on any real principles or standards, but on feelings and that most deceitful of all voices: the heart.

What we call the Old Testament was the only set of scriptures the first century church had for many years. The apostles referred to them constantly throughout their letters. Yeshua preached from the Torah and the Prophets. Indeed much of the New Testament is completely incomprehensible without a solid foundation in the Old Testament.

The thing that baffles me is that most Christian churches really do understand this and yet they still ignore the Old Testament, especially the Torah, and so they keep falling for the same old lies. It’s truly a spiritual psychosis.

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments? If they claim to follow the two greatest commandments, they absolutely should.