Monday, September 22, 2008

Gabriel Was Not A Trinitarian

By Anthony Buzzard

Recovering the Biblical Son of God

Churchmen of all stripes frequently complain about disunity among Christians. The current ecumenical movement attempts to neutralize contemporary de­nominational divisions and contentions by promoting elements of faith on which all believers in Christ can agree. The question is, Does such a version of faith, an irreducible minimum which everyone approves, reflect the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints" Jude 3), which Jude saw slipping away even in the first century?

If churchmen desire a common meeting point for differing denominations, why should they not consider with all seriousness the classic words of Gabriel delivered to Mary? When angels speak they are concise and logical. Each of their words must be carefully weighed and every ounce of information extracted. Replying to Mary's very reasonable objection that she was as yet unmarried, Gabriel declared, "holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason indeed (dio kai) the holy child to be begotten will be called Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

I suggest that this Christological statement from the angel Gabriel be taken as the basis for identifying who Jesus is. It should be understood as a clarion call for unity, a rallying point for divided Christendom. What better way of calling Christians back to their first­century roots?

The message is simple and clear. The Son of God of Gabriel's announcement is none other than a divinely created Son of God, coming into existence ­ begotten - as Son in his mother's womb. All other claimants to divine Sonship and Messiahship may safely be discounted. A "Son of God" who is the natural son of Joseph could not, on the evidence of Gabriel, be the Messiah. Such a person would not answer to the Son who is son on the basis of a unique divine intervention in the biological chain. Equally false to Gabriel's definition of the Son of God would be a son who preexisted his conception. Such a son could not possibly corre­spond to the Messiah presented by Gabriel, one whose existence is predicated on a creative act in history on the part of the Father.

Gabriel does not present a Son of God in transition from one state of existence to another. He announces the miraculous origin and beginning of the Messiah (cp. Matt. 1:18, 20: "the origin [Gk. Genesis] of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God." The later concept of the Incarnation of a preexisting "eternal Son" cannot possibly be forced into the mold revealed by Gabriel. A preexistent Person who decides to become a man reduces himself, shrinks himself, in order to adopt the form of a human embryo. But such a Person is not conceived or begotten in the womb of a woman. He merely passes through that womb, adopting a new form of existence.

Begin at The Beginning

Conception and begetting mark the point at which an individual begins to exist, an individual who did not exist before! It is this non-preexisting individual whom Gabriel presents in the sacred documents for our recep­tion. This Son of God, of Scripture as opposed to later church tradition, is a Son of God with a history in time only, not in eternity.

Following his marvelous promise that the Messiah would be the seed of Eve (Gen. 3:15), a prophet like Moses arising in Israel (Deut. 18:15-19) and the descendant by bloodline of David (2 Sam. 7:14), God, in a precious moment of history, initiated the history of His unique Son. This was a Son through whom God expressly did not speak in previous times (Heb. 1:2). Naturally enough, since that prophesied Son was not then alive!

Only a few pages later Luke traces the lineage of Jesus, Son of God, back to Adam who likewise is called Son of God (Luke 3:38). The parallel is striking and immensely informative. Just as God by divine fiat created Adam from the dust as Son of God, so in due time He creates within the womb of a human female the one who is the supernaturally begotten Son of God. It is surely destructive of straightforward information and revelation to argue that the Son of God did not have his origin in Mary but as an eternal Spirit. This is to dehumanize the Son - to make him essentially non-human, merely a divine visitor disguised as a man.

Luke presents Jesus as Son of God related to God in a parallel fashion to Adam (Luke 3:38). The attentive reader of Scripture will hear echoes of Israel as Son of God (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1) and Davidic kings (Ps. 2). Like Israel before him, Jesus, the Son of God, goes through water to begin his spiritual journey (Luke 3:21; cp. Exod. 14, 15). In the wilderness and under trial Jesus proves himself to be the obedient Son unlike Israel who failed in the wilderness (Exod. 14-17; 32-34; Num. 11).

The whole story is ruined if another dimension is added to the story, namely that the Son of God was already a preexisting member of an eternal Trinity. Gabriel has carefully defined the nature of Jesus' Sons hip and his words exclude any origin other than a supernatural origin in Mary.

Gabriel's Jesus, Son of God - the biblical Son - originates in Mary. He is conceived and begotten by miracle. In preexistence Christology, the main plank of Trinitarianism, a conception/begetting in Mary's womb does not bring about the existence of God's Son. According to Gabriel it does. Neither Gabriel nor Luke could possibly have been Trinitarians

The Angel Says...

No need for centuries of complex wrangling over words. All that is required is belief of the angelic communication: "For this reason precisely (dio kai)-the creative miracle of God through His divine power - the child will be Son of God." For no other reason, for this reason only. (Note the very watered-down rendering of the NIV, "so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.") Jesus as Son of God is "the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32; 8:28). Christians are also given this title, "sons of the Most High" (Luke 6:35; cp. Ps. 82:6). Jesus' royal Sonship is established by his miraculous begetting. That of the Christians originates with their rebirth or regeneration.

As the center of a new ecumenism the simple truth about the identity and nature of Christianity's central figure has the backing of those many scholars who know well that neither Luke nor Matthew show any sign of believing in a pre­human eternal Son of God of the post-biblical creeds. Raymond Brown's magisterial treatment of the birth narratives in his Birth of the Messiah makes a major point of the fact that neither Matthew nor Luke believed in the Incarnation of a pre-human, prehistoric Son.

Commenting on Luke 1:35, "therefore," Raymond Brown says, "of the nine times dio kai occurs in the New Testament, three are in Luke/Acts. It involves a certain causality and Lyonnet (in his L'Annonciation, 61.6) points out that this has embarrassed many orthodox theologians since in preexistence Christology a conception by the holy spirit in Mary's womb does not bring about the existence of God's son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him...And so I cannot follow those theologians who try to avoid the causal connotation in the 'therefore' which begins this line, by arguing that for Luke the conception of the child does not bring the Son of God into being."

Raymond Brown insists that according to Luke, 'We are dealing with the begetting of God's Son in the womb of Mary through God's creative spirit." Ill "Orthodoxy" derived from later Church Councils has to turn a blind eye to Gabriel's definition of the Son of God. It contradicted Gabriel by denying that the conception of Jesus brought about his existence as Son of God.

This is a very serious issue. Is the Jesus of the creeds, the Jesus under whose umbrella churches gather, really the created Son authorized by Scripture in Luke 1:35 and Matthew 1:18, 20?

Again, the exhaustive work of Brown on the birth narratives brings us the important fact that the Jesus of the Gospels is quite unlike the "eternally begotten" Son of the later creeds:

"Matthew and Luke press [the question of Jesus' identity] back to Jesus' conception. In the commentary I shall stress that Matthew and Luke show no knowledge of preexistence; seemingly for them the conception was the becoming (begetting) of God's Son (p". 31).

"The fact that Matthew can speak of Jesus as 'begotten' (passive of gennan) suggests that for him the conception through the agency of the Holy Spirit is the becoming of God's Son. [In Matthew's and Luke's 'conception Christology'] God's creative action in the conception of Jesus begets Jesus as God's Son...There is no suggestion of an Incarnation whereby a figure who was previously with God takes on flesh. For preexistence Christology [Incarnation], the conception of Jesus is the beginning of an earthly career but not the begetting of God's Son. [Later] the virginal conception was no longer seen as the begetting of God's Son, but as the incarnation of God's Son, and that became orthodox Christian doctrine. This thought process is probably already at work at the beginning of the second century" (pp. 140-142).

Do we really believe the words of the Bible or has our tradition made it difficult to hear the text of Scripture without the interfering voices of later tradition? There is the constant danger for us believers that the words of the Bible can be drowned out by the clamorous and sometimes threatening words of ecclesiastical teaching, which mostly goes unexamined. At stake here is the whole nature of the Savior. Is he really a human being, or did he have the benefit of billions of years of conscious existence before deciding to become a man? Is this latter picture anything more than a legendary addition to Apostolic faith.

Who Defines the Son of God?

The Son of God, Messiah and Savior, is defined in precise theological terms by Gabriel, laying the foundation of the whole New Testament and fulfilling the promises of the Old. Christians should unite around that clear portrait of Jesus presented by Gabriel. Jesus is the Son of God on one basis only, his miraculous coming into existence in Mary's womb. This was God's creative act, initiating His new creation and providing the model of Christian Sonship for us all.

Though obviously we are not, like Jesus, brought into existence supernaturally, nevertheless we, like him, are to receive a supernatural birth from spirit being born again under the influence of the Gospel promise (Gal. 3:2; Eph. 1:13, 14; Rom. 10:17; Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11, 12; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; James 1:18). The "divine" nature of Jesus has no other foundation than the stupendous miracle granted to Mary and to humanity. A Jesus who claims to be Son of God for any other reason should be rejected. A natural son of Joseph cannot qualify as the Messiah, nor can a per son whose existence did not originate in his mother's womb by a divine creative miracle.

The constitution of Jesus as the unique Son of God is given its basis by the superb words of Gabriel in Luke 1:35. This definition of the Messiah, Son of God, should be allowed to stand. It was later, post-biblical tradition which interfered with the definitive, revealing statement of Gabriel. Once Jesus was turned into a preexisting Son of God who gave up one conscious existence for another, Christology immediately became problematic (as witnessed by the centuries of disputes, excommunications, and fierce dogmatic decisions of Church Councils).

A Son of God who is already Son of God be­fore his conception in his mother is a personage essentially non-human. Under that revised scheme what came into existence in Mary was not the Son of God at all, but a created human nature added to an already existing Person. But Gabriel describes the creation of the Son of God himself, not the creation of a human na­ture added to an already existing Son. The two models are quite different.

No Contradiction

Some may object that John 1:1ff ("in the beginning was the Word. ..") present us with a second Personage who is alive before his conception. If that it is to be argued, let it be clear that John would then be in contradiction of Luke and Matthew. Matthew's and Luke's Jesus comes into existence as the Son of God, not in eternity, but some six months later than his cousin John the Baptist.

John cannot have contradicted Luke and Matthew. The solution is to harmonize John with Luke, taking our stand with Luke. John did not write, "In the beginning was the Son of God." What he wrote was "In the beginning was the word” (not Word, but word).

Logos in Greek does not describe a person before the birth of the Son. The logos is the self-expressive intelligence and mind of the One God. Logos often carries the sense of plan or promise. That promise of a Son was indeed in the beginning.

The Son, however, was still the object of the promise in II Samuel 7:14. David did not imagine that the promised Son of God ("My Son"), David's descendant, was already in existence! That Son was in fact begotten in due time. He was "raised up" - that is, made to appear on the scene of human history - when Mary conceived him. Acts 13:33 applies "this day I have begotten you" (Ps. 2:7) to the origin of the Son in his mother.

F.F. Bruce agrees with us: God "raised up" Jesus "in the sense in which he raised up David (Acts 13:22, cp. 3:22, 7:37). The promise of Acts 13:23, the fulfillment of which is here described [v. 33], has 'to do with the sending of Messiah, not his resurrection which is described in verse 34" (Acts of the Apostles, Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, p. 269).

The word, plan and promise which existed from the beginning was also "with God." In the wisdom literature of the Bible things are said to be "with God" when they exist as decrees and promises in His divine Plan Job 27:13; 10:13; 23:14). Wisdom was also "with God" (Prov. 8:22,30) in the beginning but she was not a person. Neither was the logos a person, but rather a promise and plan. So closely identified with God was His word that John can say "the word was God." The word was the creative purpose of God, in promise and later in actuality. That creative presence of God eventually emerged in history as the Son of God begotten in Mary, the unique Son (monogenes).

Forcing John

A number of unfortunate attempts have been made to force John not only into contradiction with the clear Christology of Matthew and Luke but into agreement with the much later decisions of Church Councils. There is no capital on "word" in John 1:1, a, b, and c. And there is no justification for reading "All things were made through Him." That rendering improperly leads us to think of the word as a second divine Person, rather than the mind and promise of God.

Eight English translations before the KJV did not read "All things were made by Him." They read "All things were made by it," a much more natural way of referring to the word of God. Thus, for example, the Geneva Bible of 1602: "All things were made by it and without it was made nothing that was made." No one reading those words would imagine that there was a Son in heaven before his birth. And no one would find in John a view of the Son different from the portrait presented by Gabriel in Luke.

Christian tradition from the second century embarked on an amazing embellishment of the biblical story which obscured Jesus' Messianic Sonship and humanity. Once the Son was given a pre-history as coequal and coessential with his Father, the unity of God was threatened and monotheism was compromised, though every effort was made to conceal this with the protest that God was still one, albeit no longer one Person, the Father, but one "Essence," comprising more than one Person. But this was a dangerous shift into Greek philosophical categories alien to the New Testament's Hebrew theology and creeds (cp. John 17:3; 5:44; Mark 12:28ff).

Several other "adjustments" became necessary under the revised doctrine of God. John was made to say in certain other verses what he did not say. This trend is well illustrated by the New International Version in John 13:3,16:28 and 20:17. In none of these passages does the original say that Jesus was going back to God. In the first two Jesus spoke of his intention to "go to the Father" and in the last of his "ascending" to his Father. The NIV embellishes the story by telling us that Jesus was going back or returning to God.

A Son whose existence is traced to his mother's womb cannot go back to the Father, since he has never before been with the Father.

In John 17:5 Jesus spoke of the glory which he "had" before the foundation of the world. But in the same context (vv. 22 and 24) that same glory has already "been given" (past tense) to disciples not yet born at the time when Jesus spoke.

It is clear then that the glory which both Jesus and the disciples "had" is a glory in promise and prospect. Jesus thus prays to have conferred on him at his ascension the glory which God had undertaken to give him from the foundation of the world. John speaks in Jewish fashion of a preexisting Purpose, not a preexisting second Person. Our point was well expressed by a distinguished Lutheran New Testament professor, H.H. Wendt (The System of Christian Teaching, 1907):

"It is clear that John 8:58 ['Before Abraham was I am'] and 17:5 do not speak of a real preexistence of Christ. We must not treat these verses in isolation, but understand them in their context.

"The saying in John 8:58, 'Before Abraham came to be, I am' was prompted by the fact that Jesus' opponents had countered his remark in v. 51 by saying that Jesus was not greater than Abraham or the prophets (v. 52). As the Messiah commissioned by God Jesus is conscious of being in fact superior to Abraham and the prophets. For this reason he replies (according to the intervening words, v. 54ff) that Abraham had 'seen his day,' i.e., the entrance of Jesus on his historical ministry, and 'had rejoiced to see' that day.

"And Jesus strengthens his argument by adding the statement, which sounded strange to the Jews, that he had even been 'before Abraham' (v. 58). This last saying must be understood in connection with v. 56. Jesus speaks in vv. 55, 56 and 58 as if his present ministry on earth stretches back to the time of Abraham and even before. His sayings were perceived by the Jews in this sense and rejected as nonsense.

"But Jesus obviously did not (in v. 56) mean that Abraham had actually experienced Jesus' appearance on earth and seen it literally. Jesus was referring to Abraham's spiritual vision of his appearance on earth, by which Abraham, at the birth of Isaac, had foreseen at the same time the promised Messiah, and had rejoiced at the future prospect of the greater one (the Messiah) who would be Israel's descendant.

"Jesus' reference to his existence before Abraham's birth must be understood in the same sense. There is no sudden heavenly preexistence of the Messiah here: the reference is again obviously to his earthly existence. And this earthly existence is precisely the existence of the Messiah. As such, it was not only present in Abraham's mind, but even before his time, as the subject of God's foreordination and foresight.

"The sort of preexistence Jesus has in mind is 'ideal' [in the world of ideas and plans]. In accordance with this consciousness of being the Messiah preordained from the beginning, Jesus can indeed make the claim to be greater than Abraham and the prophets.

"In John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father to give him now the heavenly glory which he had with the Father before the world was. The conclusion that because Jesus possessed a preexistent glory in heaven he must also have preexisted personally in heaven is taken too hastily. This is proven by Matt. 6:20 ('Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven'), 25:34 ('Come, you blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'), Col. 1:5 ('the hope which is laid up for you in heaven about which you heard in the word of Truth, the Gospel'), and I Pet. 1:4 ('an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, which does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you').

"Thus a reward can also be thought of as preexistent in heaven. Such a reward is destined for hu­man beings and already held in store, to be awarded to them at the end of their life. So it is with heavenly glory which Jesus requests. He is not asking for a return to an earlier heavenly condition. Rather he asks God to give him now, at the end of his work as Messiah on earth (v. 4), the heavenly reward which God had appointed from eternity for him, as Messiah. As the Messiah and Son he knows he has been loved and foreordained by the Father from eternity (v. 24). Both John 8:58 and 17:5 are concerned with God's predetermination of the Messiah" (cp. Teaching of Jesus, pp. 453-460).

Note: Things which are held in store as divine plans for the future are said to be "with God." Thus in Job 10:13 Job says to God, "These things you have concealed in your heart: I know that this is with You" (see KJV). "He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him" Gob 23:14).

Thus the glory which Jesus had "with God" was the glory which God had planned for him as the decreed reward for his Messianic work now completed. The promise of glory "preexisted," not Jesus himself.

Note that this same glory which Jesus asked for has already been given to you ( see John 17:22, 24). It was given to you and Jesus whom God loved before the foundation of the world (v. 24; cp. Eph. 1:4). You may therefore say that you now "have" that glory although it is glory in promise and prospect, to be gained at the Second Coming. Jesus had that same glory in prospect before the foundation of the world John 17:5).

Paul can say that we now "have" a new body with ­God in heaven (II Cor. 5:1) - i.e., we have the promise of it, not in actuality. That body will be ours at our resurrection at the return of Christ. We now "have" it in anticipation and promise only. ('We have a building of God..." II Cor. 5:1). We do not in fact have it yet. This is the very Jewish language of promises decreed by God. They are absolutely certain to be fulfilled.


Sir Anthony Buzzard was born in Surrey England and educated at Oxford University. He holds Master's degrees in languages and theology and presently teaches at Atlanta Bible College. He has authored numerous books and articles including The Doctrine if the Trinity: Christianity's Self inflicted Wound. In 1996 he was a nominee for the Templeton Prize for progress in religion. He can be reached at:

Christians and the Law (Torah)

by Charles Hunting

Part 1

Bringing the doctrine of the one God to the attention of believers is an essential element in the restoration of biblical faith. I am convinced, however, that we face an equal challenge in the matter of legalism — the confusion of the Old Testament Mosaic system with the freedom of the New Covenant taught by Jesus and Paul. The question is this: Can the current semi-Mosaic systems being offered as New Testament faith be reconciled with the worldwide commission of the Church? Jesus announced the Christian mission in Luke 4:43, 44: "I must give the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do. So he proclaimed the gospel in the synagogues of Judea." The same saving Gospel of the Kingdom was later directed by Jesus to all the nations (Matt. 28:19, 20). The urgency of the task had been underlined by the Messiah, who challenged a half-hearted disciple in Luke 9:60 to "go and announce the Kingdom of God everywhere."

A word about my personal experience. I came out of the Worldwide Church of God (the Armstrong movement) when I found out that top men at headquarters knew that Old Testament tithing laws were not incumbent on the New Testament Church. That study then led me to look at the whole subject of legalism. My mind went back to Mr. Rod Meredith's class in the epistles of Paul at Ambassador College. Why was Galatians postponed to the last day of the course, allowing only one hour for the lecture and no discussion? The fact is that under that Armstrong system many of us had unexpressed reservations about Paul's clarion cry for freedom. We simply could not deal with Paul's express language about the cessation, in some sense, of the Law, of Torah (Gal. 3:21-29). The Law had been added under Moses only until the coming of Jesus. Paul could hardly have made things clearer.

I was present when Mr. Armstrong exposed his uneasiness with Galatians. He told an assembly of ministers in the dining hall at Pasadena not to spend their time in the book of Galatians. It took me 15 years even to think of asking why this charter of freedom from Paul's pen presented an apparent threat to us.

I later found that any attempt to reassess the fundamental issue of the Worldwide theology regarding our view of the Law was a futile exercise. I turned in my credit cards and left, not because I was ill-treated but because I was strongly suspicious of our unfair treatment of major New Testament themes.

Subsequently I have spent much time investigating this subject from Scripture, creedal statements and commentaries. I have never been in a situation where the Mosaic system of holy days or food laws affected me personally. But there are parts of the world where citizens would be risking life, loss of education, starvation of their children and possibly jail time for attempting to live by the semi-Mosaic system we espoused and imposed.

We had better be very sure of our ground before asking others to risk their lives for refusing to eat pork. Such demands may have been made of Jews under the Law of Moses in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, but did Paul make this demand of his Gentile converts?

The good news of a coming Kingdom, entrance into which required one to keep parts of a Levitical system in a world totally out of sync with it, was not good news at all, but could be a road to unnecessary and burdensome struggle and opposition. Not that adverse conditions induced by faithful obedience make a system wrong. I am simply asking you to consider whether in fact Paul would have in any way endorsed our partial Mosaic version of the faith.

There are a number of laws taught to Israel in the Mediterranean which are quite awkward for the rest of the world. I will mention only a few. Harvest-related festivals and holy days in the down-under world of Australia and South Africa do not fit at all with the seasons. They are backwards in southern climes. Spring festivals in the fall, Feast of Tabernacles in the spring. Israel's Levitical rites lose their meaning. Surely there is no need to elaborate.

What about the denial of the rather healthy seal meat and whale blubber diets to Eskimos? We have substituted the sugar-loaded, teeth-rotting Western diet, and the results have been disastrous. Are Eskimos bound to come under the food laws of Leviticus 11? And where are the instructions for the irregular sunsets in the extremes of latitudes? The prescribed days are well suited to the Mediterranean world. Even in the UK one may lose one's job for quitting at 4:30 on Friday evening. When I queried a high-ranking Worldwide minister on these and other problems, his reply was "tell those foreigners to move out." Maybe the Eskimo could move his canoe into the Hudson River and spear the mercury- contaminated "levitically clean" fish of that notoriously dirty river?

As for the holy day and Sabbath keepers of Saudi Arabia, their problem would be rather short-lived. They could be subject to the death penalty in parts of the Islamic world. Would the preaching of the Good News to the Muslim world be enhanced by following Moses as well as Christ? Is God looking for a company of martyrs for the cause of Moses and the Old Covenant? None of these problems arose in Israel, since all the laws governing religion, agriculture, food, vacations, child-rearing, hygiene, education, judicial system, etc., were clearly defined and reasonable. The package was for a total way of life for a chosen nation. It was quite feasible for the family of Israel. But just how practical are those laws for the citizens of other climes in widely dissimilar circumstances?

Just how do we get the message of the Kingdom of God to people who are faced with hostile governments? Does their salvation depend on adherence to the semi-Mosaic system we advocated? Would our three tithes system really enhance the spreading of the gospel in India and other parts of the world where poverty acknowledges no boundaries? Remember, we ministers were not required to pay second or third tithes. "These tithes were for us Levites, not from us." What of the man in Malawi who is the only one of thousands known to us who holds down a job? Is he to tithe on the $30 he makes a month teaching school? He is already paying for his bed on a mortgage.

A conference was held to consider what should be required of the Gentiles in reference to the Mosaic system. Acts 15:5 states that "Some of the Pharisaic party who had become believers came forward and declared, ‘Those Gentiles must be circumcised and told to keep the Law of Moses.'"

The whole Mosaic system was waived. James declared the following in verses 28, 29: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and our decision, to lay no further burden upon you [Gentiles] beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from meat that has been offered to idols, from blood, from anything that has been strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves free from these things you will be doing well." It was obvious that these prohibitions were partly in deference to Jewish converts. An additional warning to the Gentiles on the endemic problem of fornication was specifically included.

Were the Gentile Christians thus deprived of the blessings of the Mosaic Torah? Hardly. Peter had said to his Jewish Christian opponents: "Why do you put God to the test, putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" (Acts 15:10).

Our agility in the WWCG to take these plain statements and obliterate them by obscuring their obvious meaning was marvelous. The standard of conduct for Christian believers given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5, 6, 7) clearly stated the core beliefs for all converts, whether Jew or Gentile.

Jesus had come to fulfill or "fill with full meaning" the whole of the Old Testament (the "Law and the Prophets"). He had not come to reinforce in the letter the Old Testament covenant under Moses. If he had, then Paul would be plainly exposed as a false prophet. (This is the view taken by some who accept Jesus but not Paul — without realizing that such is an impossibility.) Certainly the Hebrew Bible has not lost any of its validity, but it is to be understood in the light of the New Covenant. For example, while physical circumcision was absolutely required of Jew and Gentile within the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14), Jesus, speaking through Paul, made it clear that circumcision is now to be understood in a non-physical, spiritual sense — of the heart, internally and not externally. That is a major revision of the letter of Old Testament Law (Torah).

That brings us to other biblical evidence. Paul says, "Remember then your former condition, Gentiles as you were by birth, and ‘the uncircumcised' as you are called by those who call themselves ‘the circumcised' because of a physical rite. You were at that time excluded from the community of Israel, strangers to God's covenants and the promises that go with them. Yours was a world without hope and without God. Once you were far off, but now you are in union with Christ Jesus through the shedding of Christ's blood. For he himself is our peace. Gentiles and Jews, he has made the two one, and in his own body of flesh and blood has broken down the barrier of enmity which separated them; [how?] for he annulled the Law [the Torah] with its rules and regulations,[1] so as to create out of the two a single new humanity in himself [not through Moses or the Levitical priesthood], thereby making peace. This was his purpose, to reconcile the two in a single body to God through the cross, by which he killed the enmity. So he came and proclaimed the good news: peace to you who are far off, and peace to those who are near; through him we both alike have access to the Father in the one spirit" (Eph. 2:11-18, REB).

Paul's remarks address our initial question. I have written this out to save you the time of looking it up and will use the REB (Revised English Bible) translation throughout except where noted. Can we ignore the very plain statements in Paul's letter?

The Temple veil was rent and access to God was no longer gained through the Levitical system but through God's resurrected Son and the New Covenant teachings which he ratified with his death. "This cup is the New Covenant sealed by my blood" (Luke 22:20).

Consider the question of being estranged from "God's covenants and the promises that go with them." These covenants and promises had been made to Israel through Abraham, Moses and David. A major component of the Mosaic system was of course the priesthood given to Levi. Hebrews 8:6 is enlightening: "But in fact the ministry which Jesus has been given is superior to theirs [the Levites], for he is the mediator of a better covenant, established on better promises." There are two different covenants, two different ministries involved — one instituted by God through Moses and a different one by the same God through Jesus.

The latter says, "The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The command to believe and obey the Gospel is quite clear, readily understandable, and available to the entire world. It is accessible to all in its simplicity, unhindered by any set of circumstances, legislative, geographic, or otherwise. It is a matter of the mind not a matter of physical ordinances. The rite of circumcision best illustrates the enormous change. Circumcision has not been abolished! But the physical is no longer required. It has given way to the spiritual. We must still all be circumcised in our hearts. "The real Jew is one who is inwardly a Jew, and his circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; he receives his commendation not from men but from God" (Rom. 2:29). Here, one of the lynch pins of the Old Covenant requirements is finished, but it has retained its meaning in a fulfilled sense. The Old Testament was, as in so many other cases, a shadow of the substance of the Christ who has now come. Shadows fail, but the full intention of the command remains.

The Day of Atonement: Legalism or Illegalism?

The first covenant commands a yearly fast day as a reminder of sin. It was annual because there was no lasting effect or freedom of conscience, which is a prerequisite for permanent and unhindered access to God. This can be achieved only through the sacrifice of Christ. This spiritual truth is declared by the writer of Hebrews. "The Law contains but a shadow of the good things to come, not the true picture" (10:1). The Day of Atonement is certainly "not a true picture" of the atonement we now enjoy on a continuing basis through the Messiah's sacrifice. Hebrews continues: "With the same sacrifices offered year after year for all time, it can never bring the worshipers to perfection…First he says, ‘Sacrifices and offerings…you do not desire or delight in,' although the Law prescribes them. Then he adds, ‘Here I am: I have come to do your will.' He thus abolishes the former to establish the latter. And it is by the will of God that we have been consecrated, through the body of Jesus once for all" (10:1-10).

Who, on the basis of this teaching, can maintain that an abolition of Torah, in one sense, has not occurred? Did we not earlier read in Ephesians 2:15 that Jesus "abolished the Torah of commandments in dogmas"? If this is a new concept to you, please give it your serious attention.

I think I am not stepping out of line in wondering if what we do during the Day of Atonement might not be a denial of the effectiveness of Jesus' sacrifice — and not just a harmless vestigial activity? And should this Old Covenant shadow be taught to the whole world as a part of the Kingdom of God message? I think not.

Hebrews 3, while pointing out the faithfulness of Moses in God's household, states of Christ: "he is faithful as a son, over the household. And we are that household, if only we are fearless and keep our hopes high" (3:6). "The ‘today' of the next verse signals a fresh moment of history which is always conditioned by our response of obedience or disobedience, of faith or unbelief."[2] It is something for "now" with all its difficulties and something to be perfected in the future.

But what is the subject of this "today"? It is the entrance into God's "rest." This "rest" can be experienced even now by union with the person of Jesus. "But Jesus holds a perpetual priesthood because he remains forever; that is why he is able to save completely those who approach God through him, since he is always alive to plead on their behalf" (Heb. 7:24, 25).

Brushing cupboards and floors bare of leaven, removing the residue from a trip to McDonald's seem a bit short of the mark when we grasp what Christ's sacrifice has already done for us: "May the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of an eternal covenant, make you perfect in all goodness" (Heb. 13:20, 21). This, and not our domestic cleaning activity, is the real solution when it comes to our sinful nature. It seems to me that Paul would be highly agitated by a return to the shadow now that Christ has appeared as High Priest (Heb. 9:11). "One greater than the temple, and its institutions, remains with us" (Matt. 12:6).

Paul does not treat lightly this issue of mixing two systems and undermining the work of Christ with works which he does not require: "Your self-satisfaction ill becomes you. Have you never heard the saying, ‘A little leaven leavens all the dough?' Get rid of the old leaven and then you will be a new batch of unleavened dough. Indeed you already are, [why and how?] because Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us be keeping the feast [note the present continuous verb, which does not point to a single annual observance], not with the old leaven of depravity and wickedness but only the unleavened bread which is sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Note the spiritualizing of the literal bread.

The question is this: why should we return to Moses and the Levitical system for our instructions when Christ's sacrifice has already paid the price for our sins on a continuing basis and when the New Testament Church celebrated the Lord's Supper not once a year but "when you meet for this meal" (1 Cor. 11:33)? The celebration was "when you meet together in church," "when you meet as a congregation" (1 Cor. 11:18, 20)

Something seems terribly wrong with our adherence to a system that has been superseded by a new covenant under the Messiah. Moses was a magnificent servant of God, but he is dead. The Levitical priest has been replaced by a unique member of the tribe of Judah, not Levi!

As the writer of Hebrews said: with a change in the priesthood there is of necessity a change of the law, yes, a change of Torah! Jesus is our intercessor and High Priest at the right of the Father. It is not as though there are two names listed (Jesus and Moses) under heaven by which we can be saved. Just one! Our point is underlined by that fact that a new priest has risen:

"But a change of the priesthood must mean a change of law…For here is the testimony: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.' The earlier rules are repealed as ineffective and useless, since the Law brought nothing to perfection; and a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:12-19).

The Cause of Spiritual Blindness

At the risk of belaboring the point, does not Paul warn us of spiritual blindness as a result of pursuing a Mosaic course of religious activity? We should note that the Jews, who are precise about keeping the laws of Moses, holy days, etc. are still in the dark about the Messiah who has come. This prevents them from being dedicated witnesses to the return of that same Christ to establish the Kingdom! Paul, passionate exponent of Judaism though he had been, certainly seemed unenthusiastic about the writings of Moses, if they prevented his audience from advancing to the Messiah:

"In any case their minds have become closed, for that same veil is there to this very day when the lesson is read from the Old Covenant; and is never lifted, because only in Christ is it taken away. Indeed to this very day, every time the Law of Moses is read, a veil is over the mind of the hearer. But (as scripture says) ‘Whenever he turns to the Lord the veil is removed'"[3] (2 Cor. 3:14-16).

Earlier verses in 2 Corinthians 3 thrill to the newness of spirit available under the New Covenant ministry of Jesus: "And as for you, it is plain that you are a letter that has come from Christ, given to us to deliver, a letter not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart" (3:3). The old covenant "ministry that brought death, and that was engraved in written form on stone" (3:7) is a shorthand description for the whole Mosaic system.

Sinai or Mt. Zion?

One is given a choice, either to accept the covenant made between God and ancient Israel under Moses and the Levitical priesthood, or the covenant between God and the present Israel of God under the Messiah. Paul talks of this in Galatians 6:15-16: "Circumcision is nothing;…the only thing that counts is a new creation. All who take this principle for their guide, peace and mercy be upon them, the Israel of God!" This covenant was made with Jesus and the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek.

Note the clearly stated contrast in Hebrews 12 between the New Covenant and the one made at Mt. Sinai. The writer starts his dissertation with the plain statement:

"It is not to the tangible, blazing fire of Sinai that you [Christians] have come, with its darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, its trumpet blast and oracular voice, which the people heard and begged to hear no more; for they could not bear the command, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.' So appalling was the sight that Moses said, ‘I shudder with fear'" (12:18-21).

This is Mt. Sinai. This is where you Christians have not come, where the Law was given under the Old Covenant that rules religious Israel to this very day. With this awesome exhibition God ushered in the Old Covenant. God's voice shook the very ground on which they stood. The covenant was inaugurated with a fearsome display of power. But Israel soon forgot.

But you Christians, have you come to Mt. Sinai for your instructions?

"No, you have come to Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels, to the full concourse and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all…and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant…See that you do not refuse to hear the voice that speaks" (12:22-25).

Isn't this the echo of a long-ago admonition given by Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy 18:15:

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; it is to him you must listen."

The writer of Hebrews does not leave us guessing at the implications of this scenario. He says, "By speaking of a new covenant, he has pronounced the first one obsolete; and anything that is becoming obsolete and growing old will shortly disappear" (Heb. 8:13). "The earlier rules are repealed as ineffective and useless, since the Law brought nothing to perfection; and a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God" (7:18, 19). "But a change in the priesthood must mean a change of law" (7:12).

To sum up, we ask the question: Is Mt. Sinai where we find our home for laws and direction? The writer describes them as obsolete, growing old, shortly to disappear, ineffective, useless. This is Mt. Sinai! Paul comments on this same theme in his letter to the Galatians:

"Tell me now, you that are so anxious to be under Law, will you not listen to what the Law says?…This is an allegory: the two women stand for two covenants. One covenant comes from Mt. Sinai; that is Hagar and her children born into slavery. Sinai is a mountain in Arabia and represents Jerusalem of today, for her children are in slavery [under the old Sinai covenant]. But the heavenly Jerusalem [Mt. Zion and the new covenant] is the free woman, she is our mother" (4:21-26).

One organization, in order to rescue their semi-Mosaic system, would have us believe that the expression "being under the law" means "being under the penalty of the law." No Scripture is quoted to support this concept. One could ask whether those whom Paul was addressing in this passage were people who were anxious to be under the penalty of the law? I would think not!

Part 2

Which Days Do We Keep Unholy?

Paul writes about some persistent points of division and disagreement in the Christian church in Romans 14. His inspiration is "the law of concern" for fellow man. The issue is special days of worship and what we may or may not eat. On the question of varying opinions as to food he concludes, "Let us therefore cease judging one another, but rather make up our minds to place no stumbling block in a fellow Christian's way. All that I know of the Lord Jesus convinces me that nothing is impure in itself; only, if anyone considers something impure, then for him it is impure. If your fellow Christian is outraged by what you eat, then you are no longer guided by love. Do not let your eating be the ruin of one for whom Christ died. You must not let what you think good be brought into dispute; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but justice, peace and love, inspired by the Holy Sprit" (Rom. 14:13-17).

When Paul makes the statement in verse 20, "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. Everything is pure in itself," one must assume that the writer's use of the word everything refers to food, not arsenic or barbed wire! In Paul's statement we find no support for enforcing Mosaic food laws. The Apostle recognized that a major problem is created if we require converts to Christ from the Gentile world to alter their diet by submitting to Moses. This would be to miss the point of the new international faith, "for the kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking."

Paul in Romans 14:14, 20 was certainly not affirming the food laws of Leviticus 11. In that chapter a precise list of animals, clean and unclean, is presented. To eat what is not prescribed is an abomination. Paul, however, in a chapter which mentions eating and food some 20 times, uses the very opposite adjective from the one found in Leviticus 11. There, under the law of Moses, foods are clean (katharos) or unclean (akathartos). For Paul, dealing expressly with eating and food, all things are katharos — clean. Curiously, Herbert Armstrong, in his booklet on this subject, stated the exact opposite in regard to Paul's language. Armstrong asserted that Paul had not used the opposite term from Leviticus 11.

Samuele Bacchiocchi (The Sabbath in the NT, p. 134) evades the unwanted information by a similar misstatement of fact in regard to Paul's words:

"That the Mosaic law is not at stake in Romans 14 is also indicated by the term ‘koinos' — common, which is used in verse 14 to designate ‘unclean' food. This term is radically different from the word ‘akathartos' — impure, used in Leviticus 11 (LXX) to designate unlawful foods."

What he does not tell us, however, is that Paul expressly reverses the Mosaic taboos when, in verse 20, he uses the exact opposite of "akathartos," unclean or impure, with his bold, liberating claim, "All things are pure." Paul here uses the term katharos, which is the opposite of akathartos. The Apostles had very clearly waived the temporary restrictions given to Israel under the law. For Paul the law (torah) which alone has value is the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2; I Cor. 9:21). Paul, after all, had written a whole book — Galatians — to explain that the law given to Israel through Moses was a temporary custodial guide valid only until the coming of Christ. Paul was horrified that believers should want to move back under the Old Covenant, when Christ has invited them to the freedom of the New Covenant brought by him as Messiah.

Hebrews 13:9 reinforces our lesson: "Do not be swept off your course by all sorts of outlandish teachings; it is good that we should gain inner strength from the grace of God, and not from rules about food which have never benefited those who have observed them." This statement points to the existence in the first century of Christians whose scruples over food were nothing but a burden to themselves and to others — and a potential cause of division and unrest in the church.

A leading commentary on Romans reads Paul with accuracy when it notes, "‘Nothing is unclean of itself': This remarkable statement undercuts the whole distinction between clean and unclean foods on which Paul, like all other observant Jews, had been brought up" (John Ziezler, Paul's Letter to the Romans).

The same freedom of choice pertains to the selection of a day for worship:

"Again, some make a distinction between this day and that; others regard all days alike. Everyone must act on his own convictions" (Rom. 14:5).

The Sabbath

When God the Creator and Father of mankind completed His six days of creation, He rested on the seventh day and declared it holy. It is not called the Sabbath but the "seventh day." The word shabbat is not used. To force the word shabbat on this particular seventh day adds to the text. There is no mention at this stage of a weekly Sabbath for mankind. No ordinance with a set of rules and regulations is given. Nor is there any scriptural support to show Sabbatical laws were imposed on Adam or his descendants until the time of the Exodus. That the Sabbath ordinance was mandated for all humanity is not stated in Genesis — a fact recognized by Jewish commentary.

The first seventh day has its own uniqueness. When the first six days are mentioned, each ends with the identifying phrase, "Evening came, and morning came." Then the particular day is noted. This is not the case with the seventh day on which God rested. There is no biblical record of any instruction given to Adam on how to conduct himself on subsequent seventh days. The word Sabbath appears nowhere in the Bible until Exodus 16:23 where, along with circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14), it becomes the divine sign for Israel under the terms of the old Covenant (Exod. 12:43-49).

Exodus 16:23: "Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance [not the Sabbath], a holy Sabbath to the Lord." 31:16, 17:

"The Israelites must keep the Sabbath, observing it in every generation as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the Israelites, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh He ceased work and refreshed Himself."

The Sabbath originates in this instruction through Moses (Neh. 9:13, 14; 10:29-33). The Sabbath was included in the summary of the law, the ten commandments: "When He finished speaking with Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Lord gave him two tablets of the Testimony, stone tablets written with the finger of God" (Exod. 31:18).

It should be noted that the word forever, olam in Hebrew, does not always contain the sense of permanence which it has for us. It is limited to a certain period of time, or as long as circumstances remain the same. The Sabbath finds its limitation as the sign along with circumcision in the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant. Physical circumcision was likewise commanded "forever" (Gen. 17:13, olam), but Christians in the New Testament did not insist on it.

The framework of obedience in which Christians must live is not that of the covenant given to Moses, Hebrews 12:18-29 speaks of New Covenant believers: We have not come to Mt. Sinai. 2 Corinthians 3:3-18 contrasts the killing effect of the letter of the law with the liberating power of the spirit. Blindness results from adherence to Moses. It is cured in Christ: "Whenever he turns to the Lord the veil is removed."[3]

The Two Covenants

Psalm 110:4 says, "God has sworn an oath and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever, a Melchizedek in my service.'"

Repeated in Hebrews 7:17, this forms a crucial link between Jesus as a priest of the order of Melchizedek and the covenant with Abraham. This permitted the writer of Hebrews to assert categorically that the old priesthood and the law have been replaced by a new arrangement. "The Levitical priesthood and the law associated with it have been superseded by the new and ‘better hope' based on the superior quality of the new priest…God announced His intention to set aside the whole Levitical system because it had proved to be ineffective in achieving its purpose. Its ‘weakness' is not in the law or its purpose, but in the people upon whom it depends for its accomplishment. Its ‘uselessness' derives from the fact that the law…was able to cleanse only externally."[4]

We appeal to Hebrews 7:28 for instructions on the difference between the two priesthoods: "The high priests appointed by law [the Levitical system] are men in all their weaknesses, but the priest appointed by words of the oath which supersedes the law is the Son, who has been made perfect forever."

The writer of Hebrews shows the contrast between the new priesthood, whose appointment was validated by God's solemn oath, and the Levitical priesthood, which was based on the law without the benefit of a divine oath. This makes Jesus the priest of the new age. It states categorically that the new priesthood is a divine institution unconditionally guaranteed by God's solemn oath. The hopes of the Christian community are anchored in the absolute reliability of the New Covenant arrangements.

The promise to Abraham, the father of the faithful, was also confirmed by a divine oath (Heb. 6:13-18). This oath, not given to the Levitical priesthood, "is the impregnable guarantee that excludes all doubt and gives to faith assurance of the promise…It is final, eternal, and unchangeable."[5] This is not the case with the Levitical priesthood.

Entering God's Rest

We have noted the uniqueness of the seventh day of creation — the day of God's rest. This becomes a symbolic act for all humanity. It denotes a time when Christians cease from all our own work and its limited aims in our present mortal existence. God's rest points to a totally different set of goals and purposes by which to direct our lives. But it is not an effortless stroll towards a future position of authority promised in 1 Corinthians 6:2: "It is God's people who are to manage the world."

Israel under the Levitical priesthood sometimes kept the Sabbath, the Holy Days and new moons but too often strayed from the faith and obedience which would have led to the rest God designed for them. The writer of Hebrews provides the road back to success by quoting Psalm 95:

"Today [this is for now!] if you hear his voice do not grow stubborn. If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest still awaits the people of God; anyone who enters God's rest, rests from his own work, as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the old example of unbelief" (Heb. 4:7-11).

We are not promised a relaxing walk in the park. We are, however, given the absolute assurance, the peace of mind and confidence that God has bound Himself, by an immutable oath through His Son, to carry us forward to the goal. How? By grasping our status as Hebrews 3:1-6 says, "Therefore, brothers of the family of God, partners in a heavenly calling, think of Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of the faith we profess; he was faithful to God who appointed him…Jesus has been counted worthy of greater honor than Moses…Christ is faithful as a son, set over the household. And we are that household, if only we are fearless and keep our hope high."

The third and fourth chapters of Hebrews define the complete outline of what is required of us "now," "today," in order to enter the "rest" God offers. God is now working through His Son, the High Priest at His right hand. Success does not come through observing a semi-Mosaic system. We "have become partners with Christ if only we keep our initial confidence firm to the end" (3:14).

What does this partnership with God's risen Son entail? 4:1-3:"What we must fear therefore, is that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, anyone of you should be found to have missed his opportunity, for indeed we have had the good news preached to us, just as they had. But the message they heard did them no good, for it was not combined with faith in those who heard it. Because we have faith, it is we who enter that rest." How then do we enter the rest which God designed for all humanity?

What is required is faith in the saving partnership with Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of a coming Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus said it was for this cause that his Father sent him. "I must give the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do" (Luke 4:43). When Jesus carried out this task he entered into his "rest" by doing not his own work but the work of his Father. We can enter into that same "rest" and partnership with Jesus when we cease doing our own work and concentrate in collaboration with Jesus in doing God's work (Luke 4:43).

The field is the world. The seed is the Gospel message of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:19). In performing the work of sowing, Jesus assured his followers that they would one day occupy executive positions in the kingdom: "You have stayed with me through my trials; and just as my Father has covenanted to me the right to rule, so I will covenant to you the same right. You will eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30). The task was to proclaim that Kingdom message to the world. The seed planted in the mind of peoples regardless of their circumstances did not demand adherence to the temporary laws of the Old Covenant, required for the discipline of the nation of Israel.

The change from Old Covenant requirements to the New Covenant is radical and dramatic. "Thou shalt not kill" is heightened to "love your enemies." And we are to set out on the ultimate quest for eternal life in the age to come: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33).

The New Testament shifts to an emphasis on sharing the Gospel message of hope with anyone who will listen. It demands a love toward God the Creator and His Son Jesus who gave his life in sacrifice for our sins under a New Covenant. Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments." We enter rest (not a weekly Sabbath observance) by faith and obedience — a "sabbatism" (Heb. 4:9), not a single Sabbath day.

The writer of Hebrews is quite clear about the two different time frames. In chapters one and two he points to the exalted position given to Jesus now and in the age to come. Hebrews 2:5: "For it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come [the coming New Age] which is our theme." And the subjection of this earth to man is yet future: "You put everything in subjection beneath his feet. For in subjecting everything to him, God left nothing that is made to be subject. But in fact we do not yet see everything in subjection to man" (2:8).

We are then invited to see in Chapter 3 the superiority of Jesus to Moses and that "today [now] if you will hear his [Jesus'] voice" we become partners with him (not Moses). The New Covenant is not a mixture of the Old Covenant and the New. Paul sweeps away the Old Covenant and its relevance for today when he says in Colossians 2:9-17:

"For it is in Christ the Godhead in all its fullness dwells embodied; it is in him you have been brought to fulfillment. Every power and authority in the universe is subject to him as head. In him you were circumcised, not in a physical sense, but by stripping away of the old nature, which is Christ's way of circumcision…And although you were dead because of your sins…he has brought you to life with Christ. For he has forgiven us all our sins: he has cancelled the bond which was outstanding against us with its legal demands; he has set it aside, nailing it to the cross…

"Therefore, allow no one to take you to task about what you eat or drink, or over the observance of a festival, new moon, or sabbath. These are no more than a shadow of what was to come; the reality is Christ's."

With this "trio" of Jewish sacred days Paul refers to a unit of observances to which Christians are not to feel obligated. No less than 12 times in the Old Testament this description of the weekly, monthly and annual observances appears as one package. Paul sees all three as a single shadow. Sabbaths — annual, monthly and weekly — are plainly and equally "types" of the one who is our Passover, our Sabbath and our Atonement, our rest. Moses is dead. Christ lives!

This is what I see is a fundamental issue: God gave the world through His Son a commission to bring a message of hope to the entire world. We are invited to join His Son in that commission. Mosaic barriers to getting that message to the world have been eliminated. We are now free to move around the world. I may well be in Malawi during the days of Unleavened Bread. Breadcrumbs in the houses will not be an issue. They will be lucky to have had any bread to produce crumbs!

It is an enormous blessing to possess the knowledge of the unique God of Israel. The same belief is held by millions of Jews. Over a billion Muslims also believe there is One God. Unfortunately for the Jews they look to Moses. They have rejected the Messiah who came. The Muslims look to Mohammed. Some believers in Jesus still look partly to Moses and not fully to the Messiah who came not to abolish the Torah but to complete it. Paul insists that compromising the Old with the New is a way to blindness. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16:

"In any case their minds had become closed. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."²

End Notes:

1. The Greek says: “the Torah of commandments in dogmas.”

2. Hebrews, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 90

3. See also The Law, The Sabbath and New Testament Christianity, Anthony Buzzard (from 800-347-4261).

4. Word Biblical Commentary, Hebrews, p. 185.

5. Ibid., p. 187.