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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.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (the short version)

I shared this with my subscribers in May of 2021, but now I’m making it available here for everyone.

Romans Is Pro-Torah

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is among the most pro-Torah books of the entire New Testament, but it is commonly taught as if it’s one of the most anti-Torah!

Many people understand Romans 14 to say that all of God’s instructions concerning clean and unclean meat and the weekly Sabbath are no longer relevant to the Christian. They say that those who still cling to such distinctions are “weak in faith” because they aren’t trusting in Yeshua’s death and resurrection to fulfill all of the requirements of the Law. They make a point, in direct contradiction to Paul’s instructions according to their own understanding, of berating any brother who disagrees, shaming them, and even banishing them from their fellowships.

This chapter is almost always taken as a complete literary unit that stands on its own without reference to the surrounding text, to the rest of Scripture, or to historical context. In that light (or lack of light), it’s easy to make any passage say something contrary to its intended meaning. But after reading thirteen chapters of Paul repeatedly tell his readers that keeping the Law is a good thing–avoid sin, uphold the Law, live righteously, obey the commandments, etc.–does it really make sense that he would suddenly switch tack and say the exact opposite?

Since Paul didn’t write anything in this letter about pork or rodents, but he did write about vegetarianism, it makes much more sense to assume he is addressing eating meat versus eating only vegetables. And since he made no mention of the Sabbath or any other of God’s appointed days, doesn’t it make more sense that “one person esteems one day as better than another” in the middle of a conversation about food is about which days of the week are best for fasting?

To many readers today, that seems like a silly argument–and it is!–but it was a serious controversy in the first century, and Christians were still debating it decades later when the Didache was written. Some religious groups fasted on one day of the week and some on another. This Christian fasted on Thursday so that people wouldn’t think he was part of that new cult from Persia, while that Christian fasted on Wednesday so people wouldn’t think he was a Jew. When you could be ostracized, beaten, or even killed for being associated with the wrong religion, your choice of a fasting day becomes a much bigger issue than it might seem in today’s America.

Did this ever come up as a possible explanation for Romans 14 at Wednesday night Bible study? Probably not.

Romans, Chapter by Chapter

In order to get a more accurate understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate, I have written this brief survey of the book, with short summaries of each chapter.

The next time you read Romans, refer back to this survey to keep each chapter in the context of the whole letter, and I hope it will aid you in understanding some difficult texts and in refuting the antinomian lies we have all inherited and even internalized to some extent.

Chapter 1 – The righteous live by faith, but the unrighteous ignore the Law of God and their own consciences in order to do what they please. By consistently behaving contrary to what they know to be right, they eventually destroy their ability to make that distinction at all and earn the enmity of God and the condemnation of his Law.

Chapter 2 – God is just to condemn those who behave wickedly and to rescue those who behave righteously regardless of their ethnic origins. It isn’t enough to say the right things, you must also do them. All those who obey God out of love and faith are living up to the name of Yehudah (meaning “praised”), whether they are born into Israel or not.

Chapter 3 – The Jews have a great advantage in that they have inherited the Scriptures, but everyone is accountable to God for his own sin, and everyone sins. Fortunately, we are not made right with God by the merit of our works, but by our faith in the redemption purchased by Yeshua (Jesus). We don’t obey God’s Law in order to earn salvation, but because we have faith in him.

Chapter 4 – The covenant of salvation was given to Abraham for his faith, not for his obedience. Circumcision is not a condition of the covenant, but a sign of it, and his heirs also receive the covenant without regard to their prior obedience. If the covenant depended on obedience, we would all be lost, and now we too can inherit Abraham’s covenant through our faith in God.

Chapter 5 – Yeshua’s death enabled our reconciliation with God. The world was condemned by the sin of one man and saved by the obedience of Yeshua. The Law magnifies our individual sins, but it also magnifies the grace of God which rescued us from death earned by sin to eternal life earned by his righteousness.

Chapter 6 – Through his death, Yeshua rescued us from the eternal death we deserved because of our sins. The only appropriate response is to repent from all sin and live according to God’s Law. If we go on living in sin, we will be enslaved again to it. He set us free from slavery to sin in order to become slaves of righteousness to God. We obey God’s Law in response to his free gift of eternal life.

Chapter 7 – Through the physical death of Messiah, we died spiritually to the condemnation of the Law. Through his resurrection, we are enabled to live and bear fruit in righteousness. The Law defines sin, but our old sinful natures gravitate to that which is opposed to God, turning the Law that was meant for life into death through our disobedience. The Law does not bring death, but our violation of the Law does. Even while we believe in God and long to obey him in our hearts, a part of us is always in rebellion, drawing us back into slavery to sin.

Chapter 8 – Yeshua released us from the condemnation we deserved, enabling the Spirit of God to live in us, manifesting in a mind focused on the Spirit and living righteously rather than on the flesh and living according to its sinful desires. The flesh constantly pulls us back, but we have been made children of God and only have to cry out to him. His Spirit helps us and intercedes for us, gradually transforming us to be more like Yeshua through our trials and conflicts. We may suffer all kinds of external trials, but none of these things can ever separate us from the Love of God.

Chapter 9 – God’s promises to Israel are certain, but not all who are descended from Israel are counted as Israel. Believing gentiles are counted by God as his people, and only a remnant of natural Israel will be saved. Those Israelites who tried to earn their salvation through the Law will lose it because they didn’t obey through faith.

Chapter 10 – Messiah is the goal of obedience to the Law for all who obey in faith. The Law promotes a better life, but it is only through faith and submission to Yeshua that we are truly saved. The natural descendants of Israel can’t appeal to ignorance because all of Scripture points to Yeshua.

Chapter 11 – God has not rejected natural Israel. He will always preserve a remnant of those who believe in him rather than in their own obedience. Some natural branches of the tree of Israel have been cut off and believing gentiles have been grafted in, but God can as easily cut off those gentiles again and graft the natural back in. The whole tree of Israel will be saved by this process of cutting out the bad and grafting in the good, but God’s promises to the descendants of Israel can never be revoked, and he will forgive those who repent. We have all sinned and God shows mercy to us all equally.

Chapter 12 – God showed mercy to forgive your sins, so don’t live as if you’re still part of the world. Don’t be proud in your salvation or in the spiritual gifts that God has given. We are all one body and we are all important to its health and function. Work for each other’s good. Live in harmony with everyone as much as possible with humility and without prejudice. Respond to animosity with kindness, forbearance, and honor.

Chapter 13 – Submit to whatever authorities are over you where you are and give them the respect and honor due their position. All of God’s Law can be summarized in the single commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. We are living in dark days, so live in the light, by living in obedience to God’s commandments and showing love to each other. Live like Yeshua lived rather than giving into the sinful desires of your flesh.

Chapter 14 – Welcome those whose faith is not as strong as yours and don’t berate them for their weaknesses. Don’t get caught up in worthless arguments over whether to eat meat or be a vegetarian and on what day to fast completely. Live according to your own consciences, not condemning each other for differences of opinion. Our lives are no longer our own, but we all live and die for the sake of God. None of us are perfect, and we will all answer for our own failings. Be considerate of each other’s opinions and don’t tempt or offend a brother contrary to his conscience. Food and drink are relatively minor issues in the Kingdom of God. It’s not a sin to eat meat or drink wine, but don’t do it if it creates a problem for a brother.

Chapter 15 – We should make allowances for the weaknesses of our brothers. We should learn from the example of Yeshua and from the Scriptures and may God help us to live in unity. Messiah became a servant for all, both Jew and Gentile. Overall, you’re doing well, even if you need some correction. I will visit you when I can after I go to Jerusalem but pray for my deliverance from unbelievers there.

Chapter 16 – Be generous and welcoming to the men and women who serve the Kingdom in their various capacities and give my greetings to all those in your community who also work faithfully for the Kingdom. Do not allow anyone to cause division among you but remain faithful to God in the preaching of the Gospel and obedience to his commandments.

Conclusion

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is very clear in some ways and very cloudy in others. Chapter 14 is especially confusing for many Christians for two reasons: 1) They have inherited an antinomian (anti-Law) view of Jesus and Paul, and so they interpret everything in that light, and 2) At least half of the conversation is missing, so it’s easy to fill in the gaps with what we’ve been taught rather than what Scripture actually says. Reading our own assumptions into a text is known as eisegesis, and it’s always a bad idea.

Paul’s original readers understood the full context of his words because he wrote them in response to a controversy they were experiencing at that moment. In order to understand what he intended for them to get out of his letter, we need to separate what we think he meant from what he actually wrote. Once we are able to do that, we are free to consider his words within the context of the whole of Scripture (not just the New Testament or Paul’s other letters) and of the controversies that we know were an issue at the time (not just the controversies we’ve been told were an issue).

Taken at face value, Romans 14 isn’t really that difficult to understand and isn’t anti-Torah at all.

Killing the Passover

The how, when, were, and why of killing the Passover.

Whenever I tell someone that we keep Passover as a Christian, I expect them to ask if I sacrifice a lamb. Sometimes, they actually do ask. Other times, I think I can see them wanting to ask, even if they don’t. Let me put your mind at ease.

No, I don’t sacrifice a lamb. I don’t even kill one.

Technically speaking, that means we don’t really keep Passover, because in Biblical usage, the lamb is the Passover. What we really do is a memorial of Passover, called a seder, which itself is a memorial of the original Passover in Egypt. We usually gather with several other families and read an abbreviated Passover Hagaddah that has been modified to emphasize the prophetic and messianic symbolism of Passover. We have a large meal, including most of the traditional Passover foods (matzah, horseradish, charoset, etc), in addition to lamb and other dishes.

Even though we usually have lamb at our seder, it’s not a real Passover because the lamb wasn’t killed specifically for that purpose. It’s just grocery store lamb. If we were in Jerusalem, we might do things differently.

Let me tell you why that might make a difference, and as I do, please keep in mind that, although everything I write is based in Scripture, it is my own interpretation and I am not always correct. I always reserve the right to be wrong and to change my mind at a later date. 😉

The Victim

In this manner you shall eat [the lamb]: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.
Exodus 12:11

Throughout the Old Testament, the term “Passover” (pesach in Hebrew) refers to the lamb, not to the day, the week, nor any other part of the meal.

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats…
Exodus 12:5

The Passover must be an unblemished, male yearling, either a sheep or a goat.

A goat?

Yep. We almost always speak of a Passover lamb, but the Passover can also be a goat.

“Without blemish” means that it must have no scars, no injuries or past broken bones, no defective parts, and no illnesses. Rabbinic tradition has a long list of characteristics that qualify as blemishes, many of which I’m sure would be familiar to judges in best-of-breed contests at dog shows and county fairs.

“A year old” probably doesn’t mean what you think. The ancient Hebrews counted their days and years differently than we do. The Hebrew for “a year old” is ben shanah, which literally means “son of a year”, and really means that it must be within the first year of life. We usually count our age by the years we have passed, but the Biblical pattern is to count age by the year you are in. A Passover must have been born sometime after the previous year’s Passover. I believe the rabbinical standard is that the lamb must be at least a few weeks old and preferably already weened.

The Scene

And you shall kill the Passover to YHWH your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that YHWH will choose, to make his name dwell there.
Deuteronomy 16:2

‘Since the day that I brought my people out of the land of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, and I chose no man as prince over my people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.’
2 Chronicles 6:5-6

Once the Tabernacle had been completed in the Wilderness, God told the Israelites that they must stop slaughtering animals anywhere except at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 17:3-4) to get them out of the habit of performing their own sacrifices independently of the priests whom God had appointed. However, he also told them that, once they were in the land, they could resume slaughtering animals for meat wherever they lived, but they had to bring all sacrifices to one specific place where he would “make his name to dwell” (Deuteronomy 12:13-15).

In Jerusalem, Not Just at the Temple

It took a few centuries, but eventually God designated Jerusalem as that place. Since the time that King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy City, it has been the only place on earth that God allows sacrifices.

Unlike other sacrifices, though, and contrary to popular opinion, the Passover does not need to be killed at the Temple. Deuteronomy 16:5-6 says that the Passover may only be killed “at the place that YHWH your God will choose”, which sounds like it’s talking about the Temple. However, verse 7 says that it may also only be cooked and eaten at the same place.

According to Josephus, more than 250,000 Passovers were killed in Jerusalem within a few hours in one afternoon. I suspect that number might be an exaggeration, but it seems nearly impossible for even half that many to be killed so quickly at the Temple. How much greater would be the difficulties in all the people remaining there on the grounds to cook and eat their Passovers! So much greater, in fact, that it would be completely impossible. There is simply no way to fit potentially millions of people into the Temple grounds at the same time, which is what would be required if “the place that YHWH chooses” is limited to the Temple.

Whatever the Jews were actually doing in the first century, God’s instructions for Passover requires the lamb to be killed at Jerusalem, but not necessarily at the Temple.

Has the Place of God’s Name Changed?

I have heard the argument that the place where God would put his name has changed since Yeshua’s resurrection, namely that the place is now in us, so that the Passover can be killed wherever we are. However, if the place has become purely metaphorical and not an actual place, then I think the Passover and all other sacrifices must also become purely metaphorical.

There is some truth in that. We have no Temple, no altar, and no Levitical priesthood, but we do have a Tabernacle and Altar in Heaven, where Yeshua is the High and only Priest. Whatever sacrifices that we once would have made at the altar in Jerusalem, we now make solely through worship and good deeds rather than blood. However, no altar or priest is required for the Passover, and as I have demonstrated, the place of God’s name was never at the Temple, but all of Jerusalem.

The Killing

If you have never participated in the slaughter and butchering of an animal, you should find a way to make that happen. Not because it’s pleasant in any way, but because everyone should know what is involved, what happens when the life leaves one living creature so that another–you and me–can live.

The principles of God’s Law require that the animal be killed as humanely as possible, and it’s blood must be drained out. Fortunately, both requirements can be completed by a quick cut across the throat with a very sharp knife. A lamb won’t necessarily cooperate with you, but if it is held firmly, it will stand relatively still, and allow you to kill it and drain the blood in just a couple of minutes.

Although most English translations say something like “you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD”, there is only a single Hebrew word behind “you shall offer…sacrifice”, zavach. Technically, the word only means “kill”; “offer a sacrifice” is the translator’s interpolation. It’s an understandable rendering, though, because the word is frequently used in the context of holy sacrifices, and Deuteronomy 16:2 says the Passover is to be killed “to YHWH”.

The Passover is very similar to a peace offering (aka thanksgiving offering or zevach shelamim), but unlike the peace offering and the other four kinds of offerings made at the Temple, no part of the Passover or its blood ever touches the altar. At least, not according to God’s instructions. This is yet more evidence that it does not need to be killed at the Temple.

Once the Passover is dead, it is skinned, cleaned inside and out, and prepared for roasting over a fire whole. The simplest method is to put it on a spit with the legs bound up against the body.

The Timeline

Nisan 10

For the first Passover in Egypt, the lamb (or goat) was to be selected on Nisan 10 (Exodus 12:3) and kept by the family until Nisan 14 when it was to be killed. I don’t know what the ancient Jews did in later centuries, but Yeshua–whom we knew did it correctly–and his disciples don’t appear to have selected a lamb until just hours before it was to be killed. \

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
Mark 14:12

I can’t be absolutely certain, because the Scriptures don’t say one way or another, but I doubt that they had been leading a lamb about with them for the prior four days.

Nisan 14

We do know, however, that they killed a Passover on Nisan 14. Mark tells us so just a few verses down.

And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
Mark 14:16

See the section below on The Last Supper for more on that.

Terminology surrounding Passover and Unleavened Bread in the New Testament is a little fuzzy. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that the Passover was killed “on the first day of Unleavened Bread”, but the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is on Nisan 15, while the Passover is to be killed on Nisan 14. There are two possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy.

  1. The terms “Passover” and “Unleavened Bread” were used idiomatically for the the entire holiday season, just as today’s Christians use “Christmas” and today’s Jews use “Passover”. The days leading up to the official start of the ceremonies could be referred to as “the days of” the feast, even though the feast hadn’t technically started yet.
  2. Although the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on Nisan 15, the eating of unleavened bread begins on Nisan 14, with the slaughtering of the Passovers.

I favor the second explanation, and so I dive into what is probably the most controversial part of this essay.

Between the Sunsets

…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
Exodus 12:6

The phrase “at twilight” is curious. In Hebrew, it is ben ha’erevim, which literally translates to “between/among/at the sunsets”. Note that it is plural. In most cases, where Torah says to do something at or near sunset, it says b’erev, at evening.

I’m not an expert in Biblical Hebrew–someday I’d like to rectify that, but I have a fairly demanding day job–but the only other place in Torah I could find that uses this same phrase is concerning the morning and evening sacrifices in Exodus 29:39 and Numbers 28:4. In both cases, every day’s sunset is intended, not mid-afternoon. I believe it means the same thing here in Exodus 12:6.

The Passover is to be killed “at the sunsets”, not between 3 and 6 PM.

I realize that the Jewish tradition during the second Temple period appears to have been to kill the Passovers at the Temple between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, but if that’s they way they did it, I believe the did it incorrectly.

I used to enjoy stirring the pot, so to speak, but for the last decade, I much prefer to resolve controversy than create it. So I don’t casually say that the entire Jewish religious system and almost everyone since the first century got something this major wrong.

Besides the unusual phrase in Exodus 12:6, I offer you two other proofs.

First, Deuteronomy 16:6 specifies that the Passover must be killed “in the evening at the going in of the sun”. (Young’s Literal Translation is especially helpful.) Not just in the evening (afternoon), but in that part of the evening during which the sun is passing below the horizon.

The Last Supper

Second–and far more importantly–three of the four Gospels say that the disciples “prepared the Passover” at the beginning of Nisan 14, not at the end when Josephus and the Talmud say it was done. Remember that the Passover is not a day, but the lamb itself. In the first century, the day might have been sometimes referred to as Passover, but there is only one thing that Matthew 26:19, Mark 14:16, and Luke 22:13 could mean when it says that the disciples “prepared the Passover”, they mean that they killed and cooked it.

I don’t think there’s any other reasonable interpretation of that phrase. All of the usual protestations of “that’s not how the Jews did it” are irrelevant if that’s the way that Yeshua did it. The Passover wouldn’t be the only doctrine that he corrected.

Two Sunsets

Having said all that, I don’t really think the Jewish establishment had the timing of the Passover completely wrong. I have explained why I believe that the phrase ben ha’everim refers to the time at which the sun crosses the horizon, but recall that it is also plural, as in two or more sunsets, just as the daily evening sacrifices also occur ben ha’everim, day after day.

Recall also that the biblical day begins at sunset, not at midnight or sunrise. (See the section entitled “In the Face of the Sabbath” in the article Will the Real Sabbath Please Stand Up.) At the moment that the sun is partly below the horizon and partly above, the day itself is half between one date and the next. The significance, I believe, is that the Passover must be killed while the sun is crossing the horizon on the 14 of Nisan, but it might not matter whether it is crossing the horizon into Nisan 14 or out of it.

Yeshua and his disciples were right to kill their Passover at sunset at the end of Nisan 13 going into Nisan 14, and those who killed their Passovers at the Temple in the final moments as the sun was setting at the end of Nisan 14 were also right. Those who killed it while the sun was still up were not so right.

A Twilight Sacrifice

The Passover doesn’t fit neatly into either category of holy sacrifice or common meat. In some ways the Passover is like the sacrifices made at the altar:

  • It is killed at the command of God and eaten under strict conditions.
  • It must be unblemished (Exodus 12:5).
  • It can be killed and eaten only in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:2).
  • It appears to be related to the peace offering, and the rules of the peace offering concerning who may touch or eat it apply (Leviticus 7:19-20, Numbers 9:6, 2 Chronicles 30:17).

But it is also like any other animal slaughtered for food:

  • It can be killed by any ritually clean person, not just a priest, a Levite, nor even the person who provided or selected the animal as with other sacrifices (Exodus 12:6, 2 Chronicles 30:17).
  • Neither the Passover nor the blood ever touch the altar.
  • It must be killed in Jerusalem, but not necessarily at the Temple (Deuteronomy 16:5-7).

Eating the Passover is a community event. No one is allowed to eat it alone. If your family is too small to eat a whole lamb, you are to join with some other family, eating the Passover under one roof, even if it isn’t your own. No part of the Passover may be kept past the morning. If there are leftovers, they are to be burned up. And as you eat, you are to maintain a physical and spiritual attitude of readiness to leave Egypt, whatever Egypt you are in.

The Motive

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to YHWH; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
Exodus 12:14

God said to keep the Passover as a memorial. In the context of Exodus 12, that means a memorial of that night in Egypt when all the firstborn of Israel who were covered by the blood of the lambs were spared, while the firstborn of Egypt died.

However, God’s memorials never memorialize just one thing.

All of God’s appointed times are prophetic of events past and future, like stones thrown into a pond, sending ripples across time. There are, for example, hints of the Passover in the story of the three angels who visited Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18-19:

  • God meets a prophet in the wilderness
  • A meal prepared in haste with unleavened bread
  • The righteous in the house are saved, while the wicked outside are struck down.
  • Escape from the place of oppression
  • Doubt and rebellion in the wilderness

The Passover pattern also shows up in the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 and Peter’s escape from jail in Acts 12. If you pay attention as you read the Bible, I’m sure you’ll see more connections.

The Plot Twist

The lamb itself has numerous thematic connections with Yeshua himself.

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Corinthians 5:7b

Consider these parallels:

  • The original Passover was selected on Nisan 10. Yeshua entered Jerusalem just before the 10th of Nisan and went to the Temple where he was examined by the priests, religious teachers, and common people.
  • The Passover must be unblemished. Yeshua is the only man who ever lived a sinless life.
  • No bones may be broken on the Passover during preparation or the feast. None of Yeshua’s bones were broken despite the severe beating and crucifixion.

Those aren’t minor things. They contribute to the prophetic confirmation of Yeshua’s identity as Messiah and the Son of God. They aren’t the most important parallels, though.

The Passover’s blood was painted on the doors of the Hebrew homes so that God would see that covering, that atonement, and withhold his judgment from those houses. The next morning, the Hebrews walked through those blood stained doors into freedom and God’s presence in the wilderness. Yeshua’s blood washes away our sins so that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sinfulness, but Yeshua’s perfect righteousness. He became the door that we can walk through to escape from slavery to sin into freedom in the presence of the Father.

The Passover in Egypt died so that the firstborn sons of Israel could live, even as the firstborn sons of Egypt died. Yeshua died so that we could all live, and then he became the firstborn of the resurrection of the righteous dead into eternal life.

Without Yeshua voluntarily giving his life, we would have no hope of true freedom. We would be bound in Egypt, living short, meaningless lives, enslaved to sin until we die, when we would be condemned to the second, eternal death of the Lake of Fire. No advocate and no defense.

If you trust him enough to believe his words and follow his instructions, he has become your Passover and your Salvation.

Does the Bible Say Not to Eat a Rare Steak?

Does Leviticus 17 say it's a sin to eat rare meat?

“It is impossible to remove all blood from your food. Microscopic traces will remain. Unless you eat your steaks well done, to remove all the blood… Sorry, still some left in there.” -Anti-Torah Guy

Anti-Torah Guy is right that it is impossible to remove all of the blood from an animal. I don’t care how thorough your butcher is or how many times you soak, salt, and wash that steak, there will still be trace amounts of blood.

On the other hand, he’s wrong about cooking it well done. Unless you’re prepared to incinerate it, no amount of cooking will remove all the blood. It will just be cooked blood.

So, what do we do with commands like this one?

For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.
Leviticus 17:14

In addition to all of these: Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 3:17, 7:26, 19:26, Deuteronomy 12:16, 12:23, 15:23. Not to mention Acts 15:20 and 21:25.

God really, really does not like his people eating blood, and no matter what Anti-Torah Guy and his compatriots might say, the Apostles clearly reiterated that commandment for all believers in Yeshua, Jew and Gentile. They considered abstaining from blood to be the absolute bottom rung of acceptable behavior for gentile converts, right beside idolatry and sexual immorality.

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
Acts 15:28-29

[Read more on this passage in Acts 15 here.]

If it’s impossible to remove every drop of blood from meat and God hates it when people eat blood, does that mean it’s impossible to obey God in this matter? Definitely not! God wouldn’t command us to do something that we were completely unable to do. He told Israel that obedience was not too hard for them (Deuteronomy 30:11), so unless God was lying to them, it is not impossible to obey the command not to eat blood. All you have to do is ask him how.

Ta-da! Asked and answered.

Leviticus 17:13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.”

Well….that’s just another iteration of the command not to eat blood. How does that tell us how to keep the commandment?

Draining the blood from an animal that was shot with an arrow or pierced with a spear–the primary ways that animals were hunted at the time Leviticus was written–will never remove every drop of blood from the tissue. A butcher will cut the animal’s throat and let the still-beating heart pump the blood out, but you can’t do that with an animal that has been hunted. Of course, it will still lose a significant amount of blood–must hunted animals die from blood-loss, after all–but the process will never be as thorough.

In both cases–the butcher and the hunter–draining the blood from the animal will only remove blood from arteries and veins, mostly the former. Draining the blood will never remove blood from capillaries and other tissues.

Yet, God still said we may eat an animal that was hunted as long as it is drained before the blood has a chance to coagulate.

The only possible conclusion is that God never expected anyone to get every drop of blood out of an animal’s tissues. He only expects us to remove the blood that can be drained by opening the major blood vessels!

As long as the animal was bled properly, most of the red fluid that oozes from a fresh cut of meat is myoglobin, not hemoglobin, which is what gives blood its red color. They are chemically similar, hence the similar color. A rare, bloody steak isn’t actually so bloody at all.

Bleeding the animal either at the time of death or immediately after is sufficient to remove the blood for the purposes of the commandment, and almost all animals butchered commercially in the United States meet that requirement. If there is still some blood in the animal after bleeding it–as there always will be–and other fluids that resemble blood, then that is God’s problem to deal with. Your job is to obey his instructions. It’s his job to deal with the consequences of that obedience. Anything more than that is a tradition of man, not a commandment of God, so don’t be afraid to take your steak off the grill before it’s shoe leather, because that’s another kind of sin in itself.

(The production of a healthy product fit for human consumption and the humane treatment of animals are important issues too, but beyond the scope of this article.)

Matthew 9:14-17 and the Three Fasting Parables

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. Matthew 9:14-17

Yeshua was frequently confronted by members of the leading, Jewish, religious groups of the day, but the conversation in Matthew 9:14-17 wasn’t one of those times. In this passage, it wasn’t the Pharisees or the Sadducees, but the disciples of John the Baptist.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:14-17

Fasting has has been an integral part of religious practice in almost every religion throughout history. There’s a place for it in every theological system. Even atheists fast for the positive effects on mental and physical health. Religious Jews in the first century fasted at least one day each week, and religious Christians followed their example. But…back to John and his disciples…

Frequently, when the Pharisees asked Yeshua a question, he didn’t answer them directly. He gave them a roundabout answer, or he challenged them back, or he answered some other question that they didn’t ask. But these weren’t Pharisees and they weren’t trying to trap Yeshua with their question. They were sincere believers who really wanted to understand why they fasted frequently, while Yeshua and his disciples didn’t. So, Yeshua answered plainly through the use of three analogies: one about a wedding and the groom, one about patching an old garment, and one about putting wine into wineskins.

The Limits of Analogies

Whenever you’re dealing with analogies, you always have to be careful that you’re not taking the analogy further than the author intended. If an analogy was perfect, it wouldn’t be an analogy anymore. It would be the very thing that you’re analogizing.

Let me take an example from another Gospel passage.

Yeshua used another analogy when he was speaking with Nicodemus.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
John 3:8

The Spirit is like the wind in that you can’t see it directly, even though you can see its effects. The Spirit doesn’t behave like a gas, expanding to fill the available physical space. It doesn’t behave like matter, effected by gravitational forces, inertia, temperatures, etc. If the Spirit was exactly like the wind in every respect, then it would quite literally be the wind. At some point, every analogy breaks down, so if you try to carry it further than the author intended, you’ll also come to all kinds of unwarranted conclusions.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all talk about this conversation and all three accounts include all three analogies together, so we can be certain that they are all part of the answer to the original question about fasting. I think understanding the meaning depends on keeping each analogy within the context of why Yeshua’s disciples didn’t fast.

The Bridegroom and His Friends

Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Matthew 9:15

The wedding analogy seems fairly obvious. Weddings are festive occasions with food, drinks, and dancing. In today’s terms, if you were invited to a bachelor party or a wedding rehearsal dinner, would it be appropriate to fast at the event? Of course, not. It would be rude.

Consider the wedding at Cana in John 2. It was such a big party that the bridegroom ran out of wine! It would have been a social disaster for him, if Mary had not convinced Yeshua to work a miracle, turning six jars of water into the finest wine. It might seem like a minor thing to you and me, but in that culture, the host’s honor could have suffered severe damage. And just as it would be dishonorable for a wedding host to fail to provide sufficient food and wine for his guests, it would also be dishonorable for a wedding guest to refuse his hospitality.

Weddings and the preliminary festivities just aren’t the right time for fasting, and in this analogy, Yeshua’s disciples are like bridegroom’s friends celebrating his imminent marriage.

It’s tempting to push the analogy further and make comparisons to the church being the bride of Christ, and maybe that’s why Yeshua chose that particular analogy, but it wasn’t the point Yeshua was trying to make at the time. Remember that he was answering a question about fasting, not about eternal salvation, the messiah, or the end times.

The Patched Garment

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.
Matthew 9:16

The connection between fasting and patching a garment is less obvious, but set aside all the sermons and Sunday school lessons that you’ve heard about this “parable”, and focus on what it actually says.

In ancient cultures, cloth was expensive. The average person might own a total of two sets of clothes, frequently only one. When a garment began to wear out, they didn’t throw it away and buy a new one. They patched it and patched it and patched it again. There is no reason to suppose that the person in this analogy would do any differently. The goal is to preserve the old garment, not replace it.

I’m sure you know that new clothes–especially ones made of natural fibers, and there was no other kind in the first century–can shrink significantly when you first wash them and sometimes continue to shrink for a few subsequent washes. If you were to take a piece of brand new cloth and sew it onto an older, cotton shirt, the patch will shrink the first time you wash it, and cause the shirt fabric around it to bunch up or possibly tear even worse than before. The right way to patch an older garment is with cloth made of the same material and then shrunk to the same degree. That way, when you wash it, the patch won’t shrink again.

Likewise, if you have a brand new garment that needs to be patched, you can either patch it with a matching, brand new piece of cloth, or you can wash the new garment until it is fully shrunk and use a pre-shrunk patch.

Just as there is a time to fast and a time not to fast, there is a kind of cloth to use as a patch on an old garment and another kind to use on a new garment. If you don’t patch a cloth correctly, you could do more harm than good.

Wine and Wineskins

Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.
Matthew 9:17

Keep reminding yourself that the point of all three analogies is to answer the question of why Yeshua’s disciples didn’t fast. There is nothing wrong with either the new wine or the old wine, the new wineskins or the old wineskins.

Think of the wedding at Cana again. When Yeshua turned the water into wine, the master of the feast remarked that the best wine is always served first, and the lesser wine served after everyone is at least a little intoxicated. The best wine in this context is the oldest, most fermented wine. In Luke’s account of Yeshua’s conversation with John’s disciples, Yeshua makes this point explicit:

No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
Luke 5:39 KJV

Clearly there’s no fault in the wine, whether new or old. The goal in this story is to preserve all the wine and all the wineskins.

As wine ferments, it releases gases. The vessel needs to be able to expand or release the gas. In this case, skins were the normal method of storing. New wine would be put into new pliable wineskins. The wineskin expands and eventually hardens as the wine matures. Once the skin has aged in this way, you can’t use it for new wine again, because the expanding gases will burst the wineskin. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the old wineskin. It’s still perfectly suitable for storing old wine, water, or any number of other substances.

New wine goes into new wineskins. Old wine goes into old wineskins. If you swap those around, you’re liable to break something.

For Everything There Is a Season

Yeshua frequently taught using parables, simple stories used to illustrate a theological idea. Recall the parables of the sower, the prodigal son, and the lost coin.

Luke 5:36 calls the analogies of the garments and wineskins “a parable”, and that’s technically correct since the Greek word really only means “metaphor”. However, although these analogies certainly illustrate an idea, there’s no real story in them. They aren’t a parable in the way we normally think of that term. They are simple analogies.

It’s tempting to ascribe deep meanings to every tiny element of a parable, but we can get ourselves into all kinds of unnecessary theological complications by doing so. The point of all three of the analogies in Matthew 9:14-17 (and Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39) is really very simple: There is a time and place for everything, including fasting.

You fast in times of sorrow, when you’re troubled, when you’ve got a big decision to make, and you need some spiritual focus and insight. A king might fast when he’s deciding whether or not to go to war, but he stops fasting once the troops are on the march. They all need their strength for the hard work ahead. A man might fast when he’s deciding whether or not to marry a woman, but once the decision is made and the marriage arranged, the fasting ends and the celebrating begins.

It’s not appropriate to fast at a party, sew a new cloth patch onto an old garment, or put new wine into old wineskins. Fasting is good and celebrating is good. You just don’t mix the two, or you risk ruining both.

Gentiles and the Law in Romans 2

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Romans 2:13

In another attempt to say that Christians have no obligation to keep the Law of Moses (aka God’s Law), Freddy wrote, “Paul tells us in Romans that the Gentiles who have no law do by nature what law empells them to do so they are a law unto themselves.”

Here is the passage to which Freddy is alluding:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:13-16 ESV

Clearly there is nothing here that implies that being “a law unto themselves” excuses Gentiles from keeping the Law. In fact, Paul said exactly the opposite in this very passage: God will judge them according to their obedience of what they understand of his Law, even if they don’t know that it is his Law. Let me paraphrase and expand this passage to clarify what I believe Paul intended:

Nobody is righteous in God’s eyes merely because he knows the Law. The righteous, those who are justified by God’s mercy, are not those who know what the Law says, but those who actually do what the Law says. Consider Gentiles who have never heard Moses taught in a synagogue. When they instinctively do what God commanded us to do in the Law, even though they know nothing of Moses, it is as if they are Moses, the stone tablets, and the scrolls in themselves. Their actions show that, in their hearts, they already know the basic dos-and-donts of the Law. Not just their visible deeds, but also when their consciences prompt them to do good or make them feel guilty for doing wrong. Since at some level they know what is right and wrong, that knowledge will serve as a witness to their obedience or disobedience to the Law when God, through Jesus Christ, judges all of our hidden deeds and thoughts, as the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven requires.
Romans 2:13-16 (Paraphrased and Amplified)

In other words, at the final judgment, God will hold everyone–Jew or Gentile–accountable for their disobedience to what they instinctively understand of his Law, whether they have read the Bible or not. As Paul pointed out in the previous chapter, Romans 1, everyone is born with a basic understanding of right and wrong as defined by God’s eternal Law. By refusing to heed our conscience, we gradually silence it, but our willful deafness will not be a defense. We can’t claim ignorance of the Law today when we knew yesterday.