One thing I wanted to ask about. I have just finished reading Soteriology (even though I'm probably good few months away from asking questions related to it - the list is long) and I wanted to ask what would be best studied next. I understand the need to re-read the studies I completed and I'm in fact looking forward to doing so, but maybe I should in your view read all the series on your website (I'm looking forward to this too - either option is very good)? I know you are a very busy person and I find it hard to imagine how you fit all your ministry related and professional commitments into your schedule, but I still have to say that the remaining installments of the Basics series just cannot come soon enough.
For me to be your friend in Christ is an honour. You are the one teaching and I'm the one learning, who has only just begun the journey. All I can offer in return for this teaching - a fruit of decades of your commitment to our Lord - is prayer, and this I offer daily. This is the friendship which changed my life and helped me to see things for what they really are. I have got much study and growth left before I can discern what God's will towards me is with regard to the ministry, but I want to be a teacher like you one day, and by that I mean I want to be able to give an in-depth teaching like you're giving.
Now another batch of questions.
Can Galatians 3:19 be understood as evidence why we don't need to observe the Mosaic law any longer? Also, what does Paul mean by 'because of transgressions' (to prevent them, to show how we cannot escape them)?
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.
Thanks as always for your overly generous words. They are deeply appreciated. I also value your friendship greatly and draw great encouragement from your enthusiasm for the Word of God and from your prayers.
As to your question, from what I can detect your present approach is absolutely fine. I am sure that you know that I have a recommended/suggested sequence for study as one my FAQs (see the link). One thing I have observed over the years is that regular visitors to Ichthys tend to focus either on the major studies or else on the weekly email response postings, rarely going from one to the other (in spite of many links). I hesitate to place any sort of burden on you as you are obviously stretching and straining to the limit now in attempting to balance a busy life with an intensive and aggressive regimen of preparation for ministry including study of the original languages on your own! So please take this as something you might try rather than any sort of "mandate". If you do have some time to spare, you might want to meld into your approach reading the weekly postings, and perhaps systematically pushing back to the beginning of them (this should keep you busy!). I realize that there is much there that is repetitive and not necessarily the most interesting things for everyone, but I personally find that I derive great benefit from considering even more familiar doctrines from slightly different angles in response to questions I receive. I may have told you this already, but many years ago when I first conceived the idea of answering questions by email I had the notion that there would be a very small and finite number of questions repeated over and over again to which I would need only give the same precise reply. Nothing could have been further from the truth. As a prospective Bible teacher yourself, reading the different ways other people think about these things (and considering how you might answer different without doubt from how I have done in many ways) could be a very helpful exercise. As I say, I only offer this as a possible suggestion in response to your question.
I am committed to finishing the Basics Series, but it is slow going. As my dissertation director said to me very many years ago, "writing is a slow process". That is very true, especially when it comes to large pieces. I suppose I should have kept the Basics Series truly "basic", but it has turned out as it has turned out. I am working on part 5 now, Pneumatology. The only thing I know is that I will finish someday God helping me and leaving me here long enough to do so.
On Galatians 3:19, yes, I think it does demonstrate clearly that much of the previous purpose of the Law has by definition been abrogated since the Son has now come (good observation!). As to the phrase "added on account of transgressions", here is what I write about that in BB 3B Hamartiology:
The Law is the instrument whose purpose it is to demonstrate sin as being thoroughly sinful (Rom.7:13; cf. Rom.3:20; Gal.3:19-22), that is, to convict all who consider it of their innate sinfulness (and so lead them to understand their need for Christ: Gal.3:23-25).
Now, we are blessed to have Christ Himself as the object of visible object of our faith.
What does Paul mean by 'For through the law I died to the law' in Galatians 2:19? Does it mean that by not being able to fulfill the law Paul 'died' to it - became unworthy of it. I'm not sure, please clarify.
The "for" in Galatians 2:19 is the Greek conjunction gar and signals an explanation of what was previously just said. That is to say, Galatians 2:19 is an explanation of Galatians 2:17-18. Paul is not concerned with the Law anymore either to keep it or to violate it; his present status in Christ is not concerned with keeping the Law but also not tolerant of committing the sins it forbids. The whole issue of Law is now dead to him. What matters now is Christ. The Law "put him to death" (Rom.6-7), but in doing so it also removed itself from being an issue in his life any longer when he responded to Jesus Christ in faith. Now, after salvation, he, and also we, live to and for Christ. And if we follow through on that truth, imitating Him and walking in love, there will be no "Law" against what we do and we shall be fulfilling whatever remains of the Law that is necessary to fulfill without ever giving it a thought.
The Hamartiology study really helped me progress my understanding of the purpose the law was given, and hence the nature of the sin. One question that appeared to me refers to the law losing its power through the sacrifice of Our Lord. What is the relationship between Matthew 5:17 ('Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them') and Hebrews 8:13 ('by calling this covenant 'new', he has made the first one obsolete)?
My current understanding of Jesus' words is that he isn't saying the law is wrong and needs to be abolished, but he has fulfilled it and hence, as something fulfilled, the law has served its purpose (although some could understand this exactly as abolishment). On the other hand, this covenant is now 'obsolete', which may seem as though it actually has been abolished, at least in a sense. Please clarify and correct my understanding. By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete.
Jesus never violated the Law, but our Lord means "fulfill" here in the sense of "complete". The Law is an impossible standard of sanctification and the demands it makes on the human race could only be "fulfilled" by someone dying for all of our sins. Jesus' sacrifice for our sins on the cross is what "fulfills" both the letter of the Law (in its symbolism) and also the demand of the Law (in requiring death for each and every violation of it). Therefore the Old Covenant which showed by shadows the need for a Substitute and demonstrated by its requirement the impossibility of any human being living up to it (and thereby the need for God's intervention for salvation) has blessedly been made obsolete by the New Covenant wherein we are forgiven our sins through the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ who has now indeed come visibly in the flesh, making shadows of salvation now unnecessary.
Could you please clarify the following: 'Paul tells us that, in effect, "the Law killed him" (Rom.7:9), because through the Law he became conscious of just how sinful he was, even though he had hoped actually to be and to be proved to be sinless and righteous through the Law (Phil.3:6)'. I cannot understand - on one hand Paul became conscious of how sinful he was, on the other, he describes himself 'as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless'.
Yes. Paul was "blameless" in terms of "keeping the Law" as this was (imperfectly) defined by the Jewish scholars and religious officials of his day. He really did try to "do" everything that one was told to "do" in order to "keep the Law perfectly". The problem was that, just as today when Christians want to pretend to be sinless, since this is in truth impossible, the standard has to be bent into something "do-able", they end up redefining sin to their own benefit into a set of things which they are able to avoid. Paul went above and beyond in trying to do not only the easy things but the hard things as they were defined by the best Rabbis of the time (Gamaliel in particular). However, he came at some point to understand that in reality the Law had much deeper meaning than even the best of the best were letting on because to understand it truthfully is to understand that no one can keep it fully. The tenth commandment was the one Paul couldn't get past (Rom.6-7). He realized that he did have lustful and covetous thoughts, and that there was no way for him to stop them permanently. I believe he had that experience before the road to Damascus when the Lord appeared to him, that his zeal in persecuting the Church was in large part a result of trying to compensate and atone for his failure to be perfect (perfect, that is, in his own honest standard and not the "righteousness in the Law" as others taught it), and that he was thus primed and ready for our Lord's appearance to Him.
Could you please clarify Romans 2:12-13:
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
Since 'justification' comes through the faith, what does Paul mean by 'the doers of the Law will be justified'. Also, the initial portion of this verse - 'perishing without the Law' and being' judged by the Law' is not entirely clear to me.
Also, what does Paul mean in 1 Tim 1:8:
'But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully'? Since he uses present tense, how does that relate to the New Covenant, not based on the Law?
Paul phrases things in this way to cover every possibility. Jews who felt that keeping the Law was the way of salvation would be happy to admit that those who have nothing to do with the Law will be condemned. They also would admit that for those who are "under the Law", sin is a problem (though as mentioned above they have restricted the meaning of Law-breaking to things they were capable of refraining from). The surprise is that "those who do" are justified, not just those who hear. And "doing" is doing everything perfectly from the beginning to the end, and not just a select menu that fits nicely with one's proclivities to sin. This part of the verse causes reflection upon what had just been said: "will be judged by the Law". For it says, in effect, that such individuals will be held to account by the Law, the perfect standard, so that at this point anyone with the slightest bit of humility or the least suspicion that they are have not always been and are not now absolutely sinlessly perfect will begin to see the impossibility of Law-keeping as a means of salvation.
Yes, the Law "is good". I find many wonderful things in the Old Testament and in the "Law" in particular. But it has to be understood and used "according to the rules". That is to say, it has to interpreted correctly understanding its purpose: which is to lead those who read it to salvation (Gal.3:24). Paul quotes the OT often, "using it lawfully", as, for example, when he says:
For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.
1st Corinthians 9:9-10
Who does Paul refer to in Romans 3:10-19?
On Romans 3:10-19, with the exception of the final verse, these are all quotes from the Old Testament designed to show the "total depravity" of all human beings. When in verse 19 Paul says "the Law speaks to those under the Law", he means that the Law is preaching even to those who are trying to keep it and telling them as it tells all human beings (as proved by the quotes preceding) that "all sin an fall short of the glory [perfect standard] of God" (Rom.3:23 a bit further down).
What does Paul mean by saying 'against such things there is no law' Galatians 5:22-23?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
It seems obvious that there is and should be no law against these things, so I'm trying to work out if there is another meaning to the passage.
Yes, these things in Galatians 5:23 are obviously not unlawful and that is Paul's point: instead of trying to refrain from doing things which are drawn up on a list (and any such list can only really be for the purposes of example anyway so comprehensive is the problem of sin), those who truly do love God should be living as God wants them to live: in love. Acting in love fulfills the Law because "love does no harm" (Rom.13:10). So if we are actively living as God would have us to do we will not have to worry about running afoul of negative prohibitions.
Could you please clarify John 9:41:
Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, We see, your sin remains.
How do these words relate to the sin of ignorance? You wrote that a sin is a sin, regardless of one's awareness of it. As always, it's a matter that I would like to understand and my assumption is that my limited knowledge doesn't allow me to, and not that what you wrote is incorrect.
Thanks. Here is the way I see John 9:41: If the Pharisees were literally blind or, more to the point, if they were merely willing to acknowledge their spiritual ignorance of all that was happening, admitting that they did not understand anything about the truth or about Jesus, they would not be guilty of sin, merely ignorance. The sin consists of arrogantly pronouncing that they did know the truth when they did not, and further in contesting and opposing the true Messiah and calling Him a liar.
Another question on John 9:41 - rather than saying - 'If you knew your blind', Jesus says - 'If you were blind'. Since Pharisees effectively were blind, does Jesus say what he says, because he assumes that blindness comes with the awareness of it (as in the case of a blind person - blind in terms of literal eyesight, who has got no choice but to acknowledge the blindness)? It would also help me if you could clarify the passage that comes before:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind."
What does Jesus here mean by 'seeing' and 'not seeing'? It would be easy to understand if Jesus said 'so that those who know that they do not see' and 'that those who think they see', but Jesus says 'see' and 'not see' referring to the ability to see and not to one's perception of it.
Yes, I agree entirely the literally blind know and acknowledge that fact. The Pharisees were unwilling to do so. Also, if a person in that day and age were blind not only would there be no way for him to become a teacher or a Pharisee, but it is also the case that people with physical ailments and disabilities were looked down on as "sinners" (Jn.9:2). This is another instance of Pharisaical misapplication of the Law (cf. Lev.21:21). As to the second part of your question, John 9:39 refers to the spiritual illumination of willing unbelievers (and in the case of those whom Jesus healed of literal blindness, the restoration of their sight); in the case of resistant unbelievers, it refers to the confirmation of their spiritual blindness (especially in the case of those self-proclaimed guides of the people who were "the blind leading the blind": Mk.15:14; Lk.6:39).
Could you please explain the relationship between:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world".
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.
If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
John 9:39, which only seems to be the "outlier" here, doesn't specify "whose judgment". Here is how I translate the verse:
Jesus said, "I have come into this world for [each case] to be decided: that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind."
It is also possible (and on reflection perhaps desirable) to understand the Greek word krima here as referring to a "decision" instead of a post-decision judgment: the cross of Jesus Christ is the great dividing point, the crisis, the judgment, the distinction, the crux of decision between salvation and condemnation. Jesus was judged in our place that we might not come under condemnation but that we might have life through faith in His Name. That was the purpose of His coming: to give us all a choice. We are born with the image of God, the ability to choose, but without the cross that there would have been nothing and, more particularly, no One to choose "for". Jesus' death in our place gives us a chance to make that "decision" for life and thus to avoid death.
After a few questions relating to this passage and passages related to it, I think I grasped the meaning of John 9:41. Let me know if this interpretation is correct:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world"
Our Lord came, as you said, to make a distinction and division between those who want the truth and are willing to accept it and those who don't, "so that those who do not see may see". 'Do not see' refers to one's own perception and awareness of blindness - as in the case of the blind man whose sight was restored. Unless we know we that we don't know, we might not be looking for the truth (which is why being lukewarm is so dangerous). On the other hand, the 'may see' part refers to actual spiritual sight - our Lord's coming can be perceived as the one and true opportunity to expose one's genuine desire to know and understand the truth and hence to vote 'for' and 'against' . . . "and that those who see may become blind".
Again - 'those who see' refers to the perception of those 'who see' (also the 'worldly', superficial perception of these matters) as opposed to 'may become blind', which is a description of their actual spiritual status. The 'become' is again this transition, the 'voting for or against', in this case 'against'. So those, who think they see (in their own eyes), will become, or will be exposed as actually being blind - spiritually.
And the same interpretation applies to the passage that comes later:
Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."
As you wrote: 'if they were merely willing to acknowledge their spiritual ignorance of all that was happening, admitting that they did not understand anything about the truth or about Jesus, they would not be guilty of sin, merely ignorance.'
This again refers to one's own perception of their 'sight' or understanding - if the Pharisees admitted to be blind, they would be, as you wrote, guilty of ignorance and as you wrote: 'The sin consists of arrogantly pronouncing that they */did/* know when they did not, and further in contesting and opposing the true Messiah and calling Him a liar'.
I think the pieces have finally come together for me, step by step. I stumbled upon distinguishing between the perception and actual state of one's understanding of truth (blindness and sight) and which applies where, so that the passage is perfectly harmonious. If we take one's own perception of things to refer to the first part ('those who do not see', 'those who see' - one's own perception based on awareness of one's shortcomings or pride), and actual spiritual status to refer to the latter ('may see', 'may become blind') everything makes sense (finally!). So the transition is from 'bad' to 'good' and the other way round with the addition of the first part referring to the perception (accurate with regard to those who admit their blindness and false with regard to those who don't) and the latter to actual spiritual status. Please let me know if all of this is correct and, as always, your patience is much appreciated, this was one of the passages that I have thought about for a while - I understood the general meaning of it, but I always want to understand every word and the reason behind things were said the way they were. This is also to do with the fact that I would like to teach and be able to address questions asked by others in the future.
You have said it far better than I have! The only small bit of fine-tuning I would wish to make is on the first part, "that those who do not see may see": I take this to mean first the physically blind regaining their sight (as this has just happened), but by extension and most importantly that those who do not know Jesus may do so and be saved.
Regarding the second part of the same passage ("so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind") you wrote: 'As to the second part, John 9:39 means the spiritual illumination of willing unbelievers (and in the case of those whom Jesus healed of literal blindness, the restoration of their sight), and in the case of resistant unbelievers the confirmation of their spiritual blindness (especially in the case of those self-proclaimed guides of the people who were "the blind leading the blind": Mk.15:14; Lk.6:39)'.
a) I'm still uncertain about why our Lord says 'that those who see' - He could specify that He means here merely the perception of unbelievers in question, but He doesn't do it. Aren't the ones who see actually 'blind'? The passage refers to spiritual sight, and weren't those who rejected the truth blind anyway?
b) Can this passage be understood in the following way:
. . . so that those who do not see (those who know they don't see) may see (may actually start to see, having accepted the truth), and that those who see (those who think they see, but in fact don't see) may become blind (actually blind, having rejected the truth).
So in both these transitions there is a move from perceived quality to actual quality. Please correct my thinking.
c) Associated with the last point is my next question - how specifically do the ones who 'see' become blind - is it by hardening their hearts to the truth? If that is the case, then, like I wrote above, their hearts must have already been hard - is it about further hardening?
I agree with you that there is a change of status described by our Lord in John 9:39, and it is of two parts: 1) from bad to good, and 2) from good to bad. It was our Lord's practice to speak in parables for a variety of reasons, chief among them to allow a measure of free will to those listening to Him. After all, He was (and is) the Son of God and was given to do the most amazing miracles during His first advent. Reaction to Him and His message, therefore, had to be tempered in order to allow a full and complete coverage of Israel over the three and one half years of His pre-cross ministry, both reaction for Him (so as to head off as much as possible merely transitory and temporary belief or belief based solely on signs and miracles from those not really ready or willing to accept Him as Savior: cf. Jn.6:26-71), and also reaction against Him (so as to prevent before the appropriate time as much as possible the sort of unified determination on the part of the power structure of the country in opposition to Him which would eventually lead to His crucifixion). We see these two parts here also in John 9:39 in the transition #1 from bad to good (to belief from unbelief) and from good to bad (good standing in the eyes of the world shown to be worthless in God's sight). So the two parts of this verse are different, but that is easy to see coming, since very clearly there is an analogy here between physical blindness and spiritual blindness. It is the latter that is important, and our Lord's coming into the world forces the decision ("for judgment I have come") as to whether to believe in Him (so as to transition from spiritual blindness and death to spiritual vision and rebirth) or on the other hand to have one's supposed spiritual insight refuted and proved to be blindness in fact. In the latter case, unbelievers always adopt some sort of personal rationale to justify their unwillingness to seek God in His way or instead to reject God entirely and without subterfuge. In our Lord's day, the former had become an "art form" among the ruling religious caste so that they had become "blind guides leading the blind". In the second part of John 9:39 our Lord addresses this problem in an emphatic way by characterizing it as sighted persons becoming blind: analogous in the parable to those who falsely claim to see being shown up as actually being spiritually blind. That is why our Lord says two verses later that if it were a matter of mere physical blindness there would be no culpability, but because these individuals claimed to be spiritually sighted when in fact they were not even saved they were guilty before God for that presumptuous position both in terms of being spiritually blind and also in terms of leading others "into the ditch".
Could you please explain:
For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.
Should it be understood as a passage parallel to John 9:39:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see."
I think that's a fine parallel, because as the next chapter in Isaiah makes clear (if not already clear from the context) the meaning has to do with the revelation of the gospel as the shadows become reality in the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord.
You wrote: 'Yes. Paul was "blameless" in terms of "keeping the Law" as this was defined by the Jewish scholars and religious officials of his day. He really did try to "do" everything that one was told to "do" in order to "keep the Law perfectly". The problem was that, just as today when Christians want to pretend to be sinless, since this is in truth impossible the standard has to be bent to something "do-able". Paul went above and beyond in trying to do not only the easy things but the hard things as they were defined by the best Rabbis of the time (Gamaliel in particular). However, he came at some point to understand that in reality the Law had much deeper meaning than even the best of the best were letting on -- because to understand it truthfully is to understand that no one can keep it fully. The tenth commandment was the one Paul couldn't get past (Rom.6-7). He realized that he did have lustful and covetous thoughts, and that there was no way for him to stop them permanently. I believe he had that experience before the road to Damascus when the Lord appeared to him, that his zeal in persecuting the Church was in large part a result of trying to compensate and atone for his failure to be perfect (perfect, that is, in his own honest standard and not the "righteousness in the Law" as others taught it), and that he was thus primed and ready for our Lord's appearance to Him.
a) Could you please give me some links regarding how the Law was defined in Paul's day? I have always assumed that it was simply the Pentateuch and not a code of rules designed by human beings.
b) A couple of further questions regarding these passages:
Romans 7:9 (NASB): I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;
What does Paul mean by 'I was once alive apart from the Law'? Does it refer to a time before He embraced the Law as his spiritual guide (i.e., maybe a time of childhood?)?
Philippians 3:6 (NASB): as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
Am I correct to understand that Paul being 'killed by the Law' and Paul being 'found blameless' according to the law are not contradictions due to the fact that two different 'Laws' are meant here - Paul was killed by 'the real Law' and his correct understanding of it, but 'found blameless' according to the 'bent standards' of the 'Law', as defined by Gamaliel et al.?
If this is correct (which obviously it may not be), then should Romans 7:9 quote 'I was once alive apart from the Law' be understood as 'I was once alive apart from the 'real and correct understanding and meaning' the Law'?
d) Another problem I've got there is what you mentioned about Paul's problem with the 10th commandment - since this commandment is a part of the Law and in all probability (but please correct me if that's not the case) also a part of the 'Law', as defined by Paul's contemporaries, that again makes understanding the 'found blameless' quotation problematic.
e) Finally, I wanted to ask about 'using the Law lawfully'. What specifically does it mean? What passages can be used in that way? There are obviously parts of it no longer valid (i.e., animal sacrifices), but how can we discern what can be 'used lawfully' and in what way?
Please clarify - your response helped and it is eye opening for me that people had something to do with how the Law was interpreted, I'm just trying now to put all the pieces together.
a) First, in looking over this response I see that I didn't finish my thought in one of the critical sentences which should read after completion: "The problem was that, just as today when Christians want to pretend to be sinless, since this is in truth impossible the standard has to be bent to something "do-able", they end up redefining sin to their own benefit into a set of things which they are able to avoid". Offhand I cannot think of where to point you to figure out the precise nature of what Law-keeping meant in Paul's day (E. Schόrer's The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Christ [Edinburgh rev. ed. 1973; 4 vols] is a very good place to start and has exhaustive bibliographical references). We do have some examples from the Bible which illustrate the point nicely that instead of learning from the Law that we are all sinners the legalists of Paul's day had done much "redefining":
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."
Matthew 23:23 NIV
These spices from the spice garden were very clearly not what the Law had in mind in commanding that a tenth of one's produce be given for the support of the Levitical priesthood, and anyone who has ever had any kind of a garden should realize how difficult it would be to be precise with giving a tenth of everything that might possibly grow. But the Pharisees and their allies made a deliberate show of their "perfection" according to the Law by bringing in a tithe of even small spices something that is clearly ridiculous. Our Lord's words "without neglecting the former" mean "without doing what the Law really requires" but the real point is that the Law is all about "justice, mercy and faithfulness". It is designed to lead us to the Lord, not to be a vehicle for salvation in and of itself.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"
Luke 13:14-16 NIV
Even the Sabbath, perhaps the premier part of the Law because it allowed time for learning about the truth of the Word of God and resting in Him in faith, had been perverted into a mere set of rituals and not only that: it had gotten to such a point that its entire purpose and message had been turned upside down as this incident illustrates very clearly.
There are of course many such examples in the gospels in particular. My point is that "keeping the Law" was not really "the Law". The Law as it actually is meant to be used "lawfully" provides a consciousness of sin (Rom.3:20) but this sort of "pseudo" Law-keeping is designed to show "I have not sinned" (which is a lie: 1Jn.1:8-10). Therefore, Law-keeping is an interpretation of the Bible a horrendously false one. If interested in the details, the Mishnah is the best place to start. This is a commentary on the Torah dating to at least two centuries after Paul (in my view it is even later). The Talmud (written in Aramaic) is a commentary on the Mishnah. Most traditional Jewish extra-biblical literature of this sort is designed to give specific answers to your question, and there are many different answers depending on the specific question. Trying to reconstruct precisely what the main stream views were in Paul's day, however, is impossible (we only have what the Bible shares with us about that), but given the disagreements recorded in the literature just mentioned among all of the Rabbis about nearly every single point, it is a fair bet that there was no precise agreement in Paul's day either. That is why he went to Jerusalem and studied at the feet of the prominent Rabbis of his day. Paul did his best. But even doing one's best would fall short of the true Law and on a daily basis. It took Paul actually considering the Bible to come to understand this, and his process of seeking the truth was what made Him open to that truth when our Lord appeared to Him on the road to Damascus. This is a long way to answer your question that while you are correct, nevertheless the essential spiritual truths involved in the interpretation of the Pentateuch was and remains something unbelievers will never get right. For those who see it as a means of salvation not for the underlying message of salvation through God's Substitute but through "following the rules" the creation of an amalgamation of "rules to keep the rules" is inevitable. This is why I try not to lay down rules (as in communion, for example).
b/c) Paul was blameless in adhering to the standards set down by human beings who had reduced the spiritual truth of the Law to a system of superficial behavioral rules which might possibly be kept if rigorously followed. Paul like all of us was guilty of breaking the Law when it was considered from an honest perspective. He started out by following the rules; as he grew and began looking to the scriptures themselves, he came to have a certain amount of unease which must have peaked very shortly before the Lord appeared to Him (in my view). The Law "put him to death" in the sense that in reading it honestly he began to realize that the system he had been taught was not the truth: there is no righteousness for sinful human beings through any effort on their part. Righteousness can only come from God through faith in Jesus Christ.
d) This illustrates what I have been saying. There is at least one reference in the Mishnah which seems to equate covetousness with the percentage a person gives. So by giving two percent instead of one percent a person is by definition "not covetous". Of course this says nothing about lusting after another person's possessions. Pharisaical Law-keeping is all about redefining to the possible and personally acceptable, and ignoring the obvious that complete compliance is impossible.
e) By "lawfully" Paul means 1) doing what is really in accordance with love and staying away from acts definitely proscribed by the Law which are not loving, and 2) using it to teach the truth, the most fundamental part of which contained in the Law is the truth of Jesus Christ. The Law is still a wonderful thing, but it has to be understood correctly and applied in light of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ not in the adoption of behavioral patterns which, aside from being for the most part mere human interpretations, are no longer even appropriate in the face of the reality of the coming our Savior and His complete atonement for "all of the sins committed under the first covenant" (Heb.9:15).
In Leviticus 11:44 what is meant by 'any of the swarming things'? Polish translation reads 'little animals' here.
These categories are sometimes difficult to nail down in terms of contemporary biological nomenclature. The Hebrew here uses a combination of sharatz and romes to describe these creatures, and we find this same combination for the variety of small aquatic life described in Genesis 1:21. There, these creatures are found in water; here, they are found on land. In Genesis they are said to have a "spirit of life" which indicates that they are not insects but creatures which breath. So I think your Polish translation is actually quite good since what is meant are small non-Kosher animals of a generic sort (probably as opposed to insects).
You wrote: 'but it is also the case that people with physical ailments and disabilities were looked down on as "sinners" (Jn.9:2). This is another instance of Pharisaical misapplication of the Law (cf. Lev.21:21)'.
How should we interpret Lev.21:21?
On Leviticus 21:21 and similar passages, it was important for symbolic reasons for the priests who were types of Christ, our true High Priest, to have no physical defects because they were meant to represent Him. He was sinless, and the absence of physical blemishes in the priests symbolized the absence in Jesus of a sin nature. So this restriction teaches the important point that our Lord had no sin nature (as all of the rest of us do) and was therefore qualified to bear the sins of the world as our Substitute. Because of the symbolic purpose of the restriction, Leviticus 21:21, while including such things as "physical ailments and disabilities", also entails any obvious blemish or physical imperfection which might not be at all disabling et al.
Regarding Leviticus 21:21, am I thus correct to understand that although according to this passage (and some others) a blind person would not be qualified to be a priest, the physical blemish or disability should not contribute to them being perceived as a sinner, the way the Pharisees perceived it?
Yes indeed. It is very typical for "religious" people to assume that because a person has a physical ailment or disability that this is the result of sin. Analogously, when bad things happen, it is also generally assumed that the person in question is being disciplined or judged by God. That is what Job's friends assumed. Sometimes this may be true, but, as in the case of Job, the exact opposite may be the case. All Christians who are trying to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted and will suffer (2Tim.3:12; 1Pet.5:9). This is because now we are here on earth representing our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn.15:20). So while it can be true that illness or catastrophe is the result of discipline or judgment, it is also very often true that the worst sinners and unbelievers flourish in this life (Ps.37:35ff.), while the best believers suffer the most difficult sorts of testing (e.g., Job, Joseph, Paul). God knows "which is which", and while we might be correct in seeing disaster and catastrophe coming upon an obviously sinful or arrogant person as just recompense from the Lord, it is always dangerous to be judging like this in cases about which we know very little (Matt.7:1; Lk.6:37). When it comes to believers whom we know are otherwise "good" to all appearances, we ought to at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they are being tested for spiritual refinement (as opposed to being disciplined for some hidden sins):
His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
John 9:2-3 NIV
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
What does Paul mean by 'did not arrive at that law'? Does he mean 'did not arrive at the justification or righteousness which was the purpose of the law?
Yes, I think you are exactly right. While some translations suggest that the Mosaic Law is what they didn't achieve (and it is true that no one has ever followed the Law perfectly and that even if they did this would not produce salvation), the word "of righteousness" is actually present in the best Greek. ms. (Sinaiticus as a marginal addition but it seems to be in the original hand). So the Greek actually says "did not overtake the law of righteousness": they pursued it, but they did not catch up with it, that is, with the righteousness necessary for salvation which only faith can provide.
Colossians 2:14 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Is the 'certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us' the Mosaic Law or a list of sins committed by each one of us (I know these are related)?
Here is how I translate this part of Colossians 2:14: ""[God] has erased the charge against us along with its particulars (tois dogmasin)". The charge is our condemnation; the particulars are indeed the specific sins we have/will commit in our lives.
A question on your expanded translation of Deuteronomy 29:19:
If [such a person] hears the words of this curse, but reassures himself in his heart, saying, "I will have peace [and prosperity], even though I am walking in the stubbornness of my heart", so as to sweep away the well-watered with the dry (i.e., the rest of you will be cursed by your association with him unless the Lord acts).
What is meant by 'to sweep away the well-watered with the dry'? Does 'well-watered' stands for those, who live according to God's commandments?
Yes, that is how I take it. When God brings complete destruction, even those who are walking in His ways cannot expect to be completely insulated from the corporate judgment, especially not in a nation that is called by His Name but it is still always better to be walking with Him even so:
"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You said, 'Woe to me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.'" [The LORD said], "Say this to him: 'This is what the LORD says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.'"
Jeremiah 45:2-5 NIV
Could you please clarify Hebrews 13:10-14:
10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
In particular, verse 10 is unclear to me and the meaning of the offerings being burned 'outside of camp'.
The "camp" represents the community of the elect; being "outside" indicates separation from God on account of a lack of holiness. This distinction between the sacred and the profane is the true purpose of the Law (Lev.10:10; cf. Ezek.22:26; 44:23) not a genuine holiness and lack thereof but a symbolic one. The reference to Jesus "suffering outside the camp" is to the symbolism of the sin offering which, once sacrificed, was burned "outside the camp" (e.g., Ex.29:14; Lev.4:12; 4:21). Jesus was "made [a] sin [offering] for us" (2Cor.5:21; cf. Rom.8:3), and suffered fiery judgment for every single human sin in order that we might have fellowship with God within the eternal "camp" of the New Jerusalem because of His substitutionary death on our behalf. Since we are now believers in Jesus and a part of His Body, since our true life is hidden away in Him (Col.3:3-4), since our true citizenship is in heaven and not on earth (Phil.3:20), we need to embrace our alienation from this world and separate ourselves from it, going "outside" of the structures and communities which the world proclaims important and being willing to suffer reproach for the sake of Christ (as this passage says; cf. Heb.11:26). This perspective was particularly important to grasp for the Jewish believers to whom Paul was writing and particularly appropriate: they were inside Jerusalem, the "earthly camp", but were in need of mental and spiritual departure in turning away from the earthly allegiances which were dragging them down spiritually, turning back instead towards Jesus Christ, being willing to suffer reproach for His Name.
In your last response you wrote: Yes, I think you are exactly right. While some translations suggest that the Mosaic Law is what they didn't achieve (and it is true that no one has ever followed the Law perfectly and that even if they did this would not produce salvation).
I'm aware that salvation comes through faith and not through the Law, fulfillment of which was not possible anyway. Although, I thought that the perfect standard of fulfilling the Law completely could result in salvation (this is purely a theoretical question, as I'm aware that no human could achieve that).
Even if it were possible to fulfill the Law perfectly there would still be a sin problem because everyone sins (e.g., Rom.3:23; 1Jn.1:8-10) and so no salvation. We are born with sin natures and that results in sin in the case of all human beings. "All sin" (Rom.5:12 in the Greek); and "before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law" (Rom.5:13 NIV). The Law takes (some) sin "into account", but it does not cover every possible area of human sinfulness, being an (admittedly perfect) pattern of representative holy behavior, not a comprehensive description of sin.
Could you briefly explain Romans 5:13:
"for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law."
So the sin was present before the Law was given, but it was not imputed - what is the meaning of 'impute' here?
"Imputation of sin" is an erroneous doctrine based upon the inadequate translation by most versions of this section of Romans. What the verse actually means is that every single personal "sin was not taken into account" by human beings when these had not been so specifically spelled out as they came to spelled out by the Law. To take a secular example, in any human society there is much in the way of behavior which may be anti-social, harmful, immoral, unethical, and generally dangerous and repugnant yet for all that may not be illegal at first; if it comes to proscribed later, it is then illegal but even so it was the same behavior before and after the coming of the law which prohibited. Over time, law tends to catch up with bad behavior, sometimes of course even going far beyond what it is truly salutary to outlaw. But both before and after the development of a legal code, there is still behavior which is wrong, whether or not it is illegal. Sin is sin, whether or not the Law spells it out as such, but before the Law "sin was not being recognized as sin" in the same way that was true after the Law. Nevertheless, "sin was in the world" before the Law, and as a result "death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam" (Rom.5:14 NASB). So even though the people between Adam and the Law did not break a specific command as Adam had and did not violate specific strictures of the Law since it had not yet been given, sin was in the world nevertheless and death reigned nevertheless. Paul is here proving that sin is sin, written down or not, and that all are sinners, with or without the Law. One of the great problems Paul's contemporaries and all since who have tried to keep the Law have had is the need to restrict "what is sin?" to what is in the Law as they read it. But of course the Law is merely a template. Correctly understood it pronounces all guilty of sin (as for example the 10th commandment).
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Romans 3:20 NIV
Please also see: in BB 3B "The so-called 'imputation of Adam's sin' ".
Regarding Romans 5:13 - we should thus understand the words 'sin is not imputed when there is no law' as meaning 'imputed by human beings'? As you wrote, sin is sin, so does Paul mean here only the acknowledgment of the people who committed the sin, and not the acknowledgment of God, which is absolute and just?
Why doesn't Paul specify that he means 'imputed by human beings' (if that is the meaning)?
The problem is with the word "imputed" which has picked up theological connotations over the centuries something not terrible in and of itself except that the theology invested in "imputation" is entirely wrong and entirely unsupported by what the Greek text actually says in Romans. The only thing actually "imputed" in scripture is God's righteousness, and the only One who imputes is God: just as He "considered" Abraham righteous on account of Abraham's faith (not because of anything he had done), so He "considers" us righteous when we believe in Jesus Christ. We have God's righteousness not because we are inherently righteous or have done anything for God but because by believing in Jesus Christ we benefit from His sacrifice which propitiated all sin and opened the door for God to forgive us justly and completely based upon Christ's work (not our own). Therefore are we righteous, possessing now an "imputed" righteousness from God but what that means is that in God's "books" we are righteous because we now belong to His Son the righteous One who washed away our sins with His blood. Sin is not "imputed" in this way, and that is not what Romans 5:13 says. It says, "sin was not taken into account" (NIV is good here). The subject is not expressed because this is a passive impersonal construction. By interpretation we supply the agent: human beings. That is because, obviously, God has taken everything into account, and Jesus died for all sins, even when these actions were not or are not recognized as sins.
Paul's point here is that before the Law specified certain actions as sinful, these actions were not necessarily regarded by everyone as sinful but they were nevertheless sin in God's eyes, and all who committed them were accountable for them. That is why "death ruled from Adam to Moses" and did so even over those who had not sinned like Adam, that is, over those who did not commit a violation of an express command of God. God told Adam not to eat of the tree of knowing good and evil, but he did so anyway violating an expressed command of God. Before the Law, there were no commands of God written down, but that does not mean that people were not sinful. The fact that they died shows that they were under sin's reign as much as Adam who did violate a specific command. After the Law there are more commands which are "regarded as sin", but even for those who do not know the Law, sin is sin. And sin is sin even if it is not in the Law expressly (or even if the Law is being falsely interpreted to advantage so that it might be fully "kept" which is actually impossible).
I admit that Paul's expressions are often challenging. As even Peter says, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (2Pet.3:16 NIV). Nevertheless they can be understood with a deep enough theological frame of reference, hard work, and proper interpretation. That is probably also why everything in the Bible which is not obvious at first glance is so and why Jesus spoke in parables: to separate out those who really want to know the truth (and are thus willing to do what God wants done to get it: pray, search out good teaching, read scripture, study, believe, apply, and go on to help others).
A reflection on Romans 7:4:
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Does by saying: 'you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ' Paul means that with the death of Jesus, the Law died (as it was completed)? So in this sense, the death of Our Lord was the fulfillment of the Law? I understand from your previous answers the reasons why we don't have to observe the Law, I'm just wondering whether Jesus' death is the precise moment when the Law loses its power (and hence 'we are made to die to the Law'). Please correct my thinking.
I agree with your point about Jesus having fulfilled the Law (cf. Rom.10:4). This passage, however, is making an analogy which focuses on us, namely, believers who were "married" to another but who have now "died" to that former husband and are subsequently married to a new Husband, Jesus Christ. So the human husband / human wife analogy is not meant to be precise; the point of comparison which shifts is that of death. In the conclusion, we are the ones who have died to the old husband. This indicates the absolute nature of the shift from Law to Christ we can't have two husbands and are dead to the former so that we might properly love and serve the Latter. So I don't think we can use this passage to prove the death of the Law (or anything about divorce and remarriage, et al.). The point is, Paul is not talking about the Law but about Christians we are "dead to the Law". So if we go back to the Law, we are going back to our first husband and abandoning Jesus Christ (Paul says elsewhere that this is "falling from grace": Gal.5:4).
When you write, "And, after all, we have just been told in chapter 7:1-6 that we are now dead to sin in a manner analogous to a woman whose first husband has died."
I'm aware these are synonymous, but doesn't Paul in Romans 7:1-6 refer to us dying to the Law rather than to sin?
Yes, but I believe that is the effect of "dying to the Law" which is the code that makes our sins plain to see. Cf. in the previous chapter: "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Rom.6:2 NIV).
Your answer regarding Galatians 2:19 helped me understand what Paul means. Although, one questions remains, and, as far as I know, that there are two different ways this passage is interpreted. Some say that 'For through the Law I died to the Law' means that through one doctrine (Law of Grace in Christ), we die to the Mosaic Law, this is also what Luther wrote:
This peculiar form of speech sounds much sweeter than if Paul had said: "I through liberty am dead to the law." By putting it in this way, "I through the law am dead to the law," he opposes one law with another law, and has them fight it out.
Others say: 'Doddridge, Clarke, Chandler, and most others, however, suppose that he here refers to the Law of Moses, and that the meaning is, that by contemplating the true character of the Law of Moses itself; by considering its nature and design; by understanding the extent of its requisitions, he had become dead to it; that is, he had laid aside all expectations of being justified by it'.
Please let me know what is your take on this and whether it is possible that Paul could have spoken these words with 'double meaning'.
I see this verse as containing a very common Pauline point of view: the Law, correctly handled, brings knowledge of sin and sinfulness, and that is the first step in understanding the need for salvation through repentance/faith in Jesus Christ:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Romans 3:20 NIV
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."
Romans 7:7 NIV
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
1st Timothy 1:8-10 NIV
I get the general idea of Romans 4:13-15, but Paul's wording I find difficult to understand. Could you walk me through this passage:
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
What purpose in this passage is served by 'but where there is no law, there also is no violation'? How does it relate to Paul's earlier points about the promise to Abraham?
I think the reason why Paul includes verse 15 is in order to make the contrast between grace and works a very vivid one. He will say this directly in the next verse (v.16). Here he is drawing the sharpest possible distinction between a system which seeks to establish righteousness through obeying the Law and God's true way of doing things, namely, dealing with His children on the basis of grace whereby righteousness is given through faith, not works. The Law was being misused by Paul's contemporaries of the Jewish faith, and this section makes it clear that the Law is not an instrument of salvation but one of punishment for failing to meet God's perfect standards. As he will point out elsewhere (in chapters 6-7 and also notably in Galatians), that is the true purpose of the Law, namely, to demonstrate that no one can be perfect and earn salvation or attain righteousness through works. The true purpose of the Law, therefore, is to lead us to faith and the righteousness which comes by grace thereby.
Could you please clarify Galatians 3:17-18:
What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
What does Paul mean by saying that the Law 'does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise'?
Genesis 15:6 says that "Abraham believed in the Lord and He credited it to him for righteousness". As we know from Romans chapter four, Paul often makes use of Abraham as the example of salvation through faith. Since God dealt with Abraham based upon his faith, Paul's point is that the Law, which is based upon works, cannot and does not render null and void the principle already established so much earlier at the beginning of the Jewish race that faith is the means whereby we enter into covenant with God not Law.
Also, could you clarify 'Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.' in relation to:
It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers
Acts 3:25 could be interpreted as if 'referring to many'. Please explain.
It's a good question. In Galatians 3:16 Paul is making the point that Christ is the ultimate and primary fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham. That does not mean that the Jewish people generally or that Jewish believers in particular are not beneficiaries of the covenant they certainly are. So I take Paul's words here as not being restrictive in the sense of excluding everyone but Christ but rather explanatory in the sense of demonstrating that the primary and ultimate fulfillment of this promise is Christ.
One more question on the law from Romans - what is the relationship between
4:15: for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
5:13: for until the Law sin was in the world?
So on one hand there was no violation, on the other hand sin was in the world before the Law was given?
With constant prayer for you and your ministry and in our Lord,
Yes, without the Law, there can be no violation . . . of the Law. Paul's point is that just because the Law does not spell something out as wrong does not mean that said thing is not wrong and sinful. The Law is not a comprehensive catalog of sin but an exemplar of godly conduct. Those who use it for the former are misusing it; they are attempting to proclaim themselves righteous because they seem to comply with what the Law actually states (even this is impossible and requires ignoring some things and redefining others, of course). The fact that before the Law was given there was "sin in the world" is absolute proof that the Law is not the arbiter of sin; and, clearly, the coming of the Law does not render anything wrong which doesn't happen to be in it now as somehow "not sinful". The combination of these brilliant proofs should on their own be enough to demonstrate that there is no actual righteousness to be had by "keeping the Law", even if someone misguidedly thinks that is possible.
Thank you again for all your kind words and for your friendship in Jesus Christ.
I look forward to your next "batch".
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,