Authority and Obedience

authorityAuthority. That’s a word Americans have a problem with. We’re proud of our independence. Of our rebellion. It’s part of our heritage. We celebrate it every Fourth of July. Words like “authority” and “obedience” and “submission” make our skin crawl. We’d like to take them out of our vocabulary altogether. We don’t even grant God authority anymore.

This became strikingly apparent to me recently when I engaged in a pair of election-related conversations. The topic? Homosexuality. Basically, our conversations boiled down to a clash of worldviews. They elected that we individually and as a nation must support the decisions of people struggling with sexual identity confusion because it’s the kind and generous thing to do. (Love before obedience. People before God.) I maintained that the Creator has put absolute standards in place that must be obeyed, and any love given outside those parameters is actually destructive. (Obedience before love. God before people.) Needless to say, my theology was not popular.

But today I read a Bible passage and commentary that gets to the heart of the authority issue. I’m still reading through the Jewish New Testament. I just started the gospel of John. Here’s what Mr. Stern had to say in his commentary:

In the beginning was the Word. The language echoes the first sentences of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Word which was with God and…was God is not named as such in Genesis but is immediately seen in action: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’. ‘And God called the light Day.'” And so on, through Genesis and indeed throughout the whole Tanakh (OT). God’s expressing himself, commanding, calling and creating is one of the two primary themes of the entire Bible (the other being his justice and mercy and their outworking in the salvation of humanity). This expressing, this speaking, this “word” is God; a God who does not speak, a Word-less God is no God. And a Word that is not God accomplishes nothing.

This passage isn’t about homosexuality. It’s about the much more foundational issue of God’s authority. God is Creator. His Word is powerful. His Word is law. And all Creation bears testimony to his authority. This passage in John, supported by Genesis, sets the stage for the teaching ministry of Christ (the Word incarnate) by granting him this same divine authority. And while Jesus did command us to love men, he stressed obedience to God above all.

But no one in America wants to talk about obedience. It’s far easier to speak of “love”. Based on the incredible power displayed in Genesis as well as the ultimate love showed to us at the end of John’s gospel, I think it would greatly benefit us to find out what else God said and obey it.

 

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Christianity’s Jewish Origins

israelI’ve been asked lots of times why I take such an interest in all things Jewish. The answer seems obvious to me–because Christianity is an outgrowth of the Jewish faith. So does it not make sense to study the old to understand the new? After all, the New Testament fulfills the Old, and both Testaments are written primarily from within the Jewish culture. By understanding those foundations, it brings so much of the text into new light.

For just those reasons, I’ve begun my new read-through of the Bible using the Complete Jewish Bible. It can be tough going at times, as I didn’t grow up with the many Israeli names and terms used. (A glossary is included.) But the traditional Jewish background of now-Messianic translator David H. Stern provides an amazingly fresh perspective. Combined with Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary (I started in the NT), I’m learning a TON.

Here’s a familiar passage from Matthew and its complimentary commentary that I found particularly fascinating:

No one patches an old coat with a piece of unshrunk cloth, because the patch tears away from the coat and leaves a worse hole. Nor do people put new wine in old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wines spills and the wineskins are ruined. No, they pour new wine into freshly prepared wineskins, and in the way both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17)

16 This verse [16] and the next speak to the issue of whether faith in Yeshua [Jesus] the Messia can be combined with Judaism. Here the old coat is Judaism. the unshrunk cloth is Messianic faith which has not be adapted (“shrunk”) to the framework of Judaism as currently practiced. (“Shrinking” here is simply an aspect of Yeshua’s “patch” metaphor. It does not imply that Messianic faith must be diminished in order to fit into Judaism.) Combining unadapted Messianic faith with traditional Judaism doesn’t work–the patch tears away from the coat; that is, faith in Yeshua apart from Judaism–and, later on in the case of Gentiles, faith in Yeshua apart from the foundational truths about God taught in the Tanakh [OT]–is useless and worthless. Not only that, but it leaves a worse hole–attempting to combine unadapted Messianic faith with traditional Judaism leaves Judaism worse off than before. The implication is taught one must shrink the new cloth–adapt Messianic faith to Judaism–for Yeshua does not imply that there is anything wrong with patching an old coat! The early Messianic Jews did adapt Messianic faith to Judaism, but the later Gentile Church did not. Instead, some forms of Gentile Christianity became paganized precisely because the Tanakh was forgotten or underemphasized. Messianic Jews today are once again trying to bring New Testament faith back to its Jewish roots.

I love that last sentence! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do! Here’s the commentary for verse 17, the flip side of the coin:

17 Whereas in v. 16 Messianic faith has to be adapted to Judaism, here it is Judaism which must be adjusted to messianic faith. If one tries to put new wine, Messianic faith, into old wineskins, traditional Judaism, the faith is lost and Judaism ruined. But if Judaism is freshly prepared, reconditioned so that it can accommodate trust in Yeshua the Messiah, both the faith and renewed Judaism, messianic Judaism, are preserved

This understanding is undergirded by the writer’s careful choice of words: “new” (Greek neos) wine, “fresh” (kainos) wineskins. “Neos” means “new” in respect to time, implying immaturity or lack of development. “Kainos” means “new” or “renewed” in respect to quality, contrasting with “old” or “not renewed” and implying superiority. Old wineskins have lost their strength and elasticity, so that they cannot withstand the pressure of new wine still fermenting, although an old wineskin can be restored to service if its useful qualities are renewed.

The meaning of the figure is that the new wine of Messianic living cannot be poured into old religious forms if they remain rigid. But if the old religious forms become “fresh,” they can accommodate Yeshua. When “kainos” is rendered “new,” as in many translations, the implication seems to be the Judaism cannot possibly be a suitable framework for honoring Yeshua the Jewish Messiah–only the “new wineskin” of Gentilized Christianity will work. This is a peculiar conclusion, especially if it is recalled that Yeshua was speaking with his fellow Jews. As rendered here the point is that the only vessel which can hold the new wine of Messianic life in a Jewish setting is a properly renewed, restored, reconditioned and refreshed Judaism, such as Messianic Judaism was in the first century and aims to be now.

Taken together, verses 16 and 17 imply that both Messianic faith and Judaism should adjust to each other. However, the accommodating must be true to God’s Word; on that there is no room for compromise.

Isn’t that a fresh new approach to understand Christ’s metaphors? This translation and the commentary are filled with such gems! I’m loving this study so much I’m going to pass along buy links for both the Complete Jewish Bible and the Jewish New Testament Commentary. Or, they now come combined in a handy one-book Complete Jewish Study Bible. If I’ve at all whetted your appetite, it’s well worth the investment.

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