Thursday, 30 August 2012

'Do not commit adultery' Matthew 5.27-32

At the end of last week’s Blog, I asked the question, ‘Is this what the Torah is really about….how to relate to God and to other human beings, in a functional, life enhancing way ….??’ 

The second illustration that Jesus gives in Matthew 5.27-32  suggests that this is exactly what the Torah is about:

You have heard that it was said to those of old,'You shall not commit adultery'

But I say to you that

1. whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

2. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

3. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Furthermore it has been said,
‘Whoever abandons his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’

But I say to you that

1.      whoever abandons his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and

2.      whoever marries a woman who is abandoned (but not formally divorced) commits adultery.

There is a parallel passage in Matthew 19.8-9:

Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

I say to you,

1.      whoever abandons his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and

2.      whoever marries her who is abandoned (but not formally divorced) commits adultery.

You will see that the translation above is different from all translations of the New Testament.  This is because the translators made a tragic, and damaging mistake.  They failed to differentiate between ‘divorce’, formalized by the giving of a certificate of divorce, and ‘abandonment’, emotionally, physically, and in relationship…..WITHOUT formalizing the split by giving a certificate of divorce.

The effect of this ‘abandonment’ locks the abandoned wife into a prison in which she cannot rebuild her life with another because she is still married to the one who abandoned her.

This second illustration of ‘righteousness’ that Jesus gives explains what the Torah is really about, particularly in the sexual relationships between men and women.

His teaching on ‘adultery’, ‘divorce’, and ‘abandonment’ explains how to relate to each other in a functional, life enhancing way…….rather than locking each other in prisons of resentment, bitterness, and hatred.

Until next week….

Thursday, 23 August 2012

'You shall not murder' Matthew 5.21-22

Jesus gives 5 examples of ‘your righteousness’ , each introduced by the two phrases:
1.      You have heard that it was said to those of old….and
2.      But I say to you 

These are technical phrases that refer to the interpretation of Torah. The Rabbis in the first century engaged in endless discussions, and arguments, about how the Torah was to be best interpreted, obeyed, kept, and observed. As we have seen in last week’s Blog, they developed a multitude of extra laws in order to maintain a punctilious observance of the basic Torah. 

Jesus took a different view, and it was the view that God intended when He gave the Torah to Moses.
The 5 examples are NOT intended to be an exhaustive and complete analysis of all the relevant commandments in the Torah with the implication that all those not mentioned are irrelevant.

Jesus selected the 5 examples as examples, and the principles taught are to be applied to all the others.

In each example He quotes the Torah Commandment, and then interprets it with reference:
1.      to the attitude of the heart in addition to the basic written stipulation, and
2.      to the ultimate aim of ‘perfection’ in Matthew 5.48:
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Note:  perfect  means to be complete, mature & whole as James 1.4 explains:  Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
To be ‘perfect’ refers to the maturity of experience…it does NOT refer to
being in a state of flawlessness which, as Aristotle defined, is so good that nothing of the kind could be better.

The Old Testament uses two Hebrew words that are translated ‘perfect’:

1. 8549  tamiym means whole: Someone who is whole, complete or full. One who is mature and upright as one who is whole.

2. 8003  shalem means to be in a state of wholeness, complete, literally or figuratively; to be safe in mind, body or estate.

Both words refer to ‘perfection’ as ‘wholeness’.
Therefore, in these 5 examples Jesus’s teaching is a goal or target to be aimed at and worked towards.  Failure to achieve ‘perfection’ now is not a disaster, as the Apostle John writes:
1John 2.1-2:  My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ  the righteous.…

So, to the first example of 'righteousness' that Jesus gives in Matthew 5.21-22:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 
You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment'

Jesus quotes from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.13, ‘You shall not murder’,  and from Exodus 21.12: He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 

But I say to you....

1.      whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
The correct translation of the Aramaic is, ’whoever provokes his brother to anger…’
2.      And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.
The root of the Aramaic word ‘raca’ means ‘to spit on’
3.      But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
‘You fool’ means ‘you are an empty, worthless person’

Jesus adds 3 examples which explain the attitude of the heart to the basic written stipulations in Exodus…and which explain how a correct attitude of heart will lead to the ultimate aim of ‘perfection’, wholeness, and maturity.

All 3 examples refer to how to, or not to, have a functional, correct, life enhancing relationship with others.

Is this what the Torah is really about….how to relate to God and to other human beings, in a functional, life enhancing way ….??  Until next week…

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What is 'righteousness'?

Since Jesus explained in Matthew 5.17, by using a well known Hebrew idiom, that He came to explain, and correctly interpret, ‘the Law and the Prophets’…….perhaps we might ask how He did it?

Jesus introduces His explanation in Matthew 5.19-20:

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these Commandments (in the Torah/ the Law of Moses), and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds (= excels/is better than) the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, (which includes the observance of their self invented extra laws) you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

He contrasts ‘your righteousness’ with ‘the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees’.   Matthew’s reporting of His teaching is a very abbreviated prĂ©cis, and his report assumes that those who read will understand:
1.     What ‘righteousness’ was….and is.

The definition of ‘righteousness’ is given in Deuteronomy 6:25:
Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these Commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.’

Therefore, ‘righteousness’ is observing all these Commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.
The problem was and is….how do we practically live our lives in His way, and with what attitude?

2.  Jesus is about to explain, by using 5 separate illustrations, the difference between the correct understanding of ‘righteousness’ and what ‘the Scribes and Pharisees’ understood and taught about ‘righteousness’.

‘The Scribes and Pharisees’ were convinced that the Commandments of the LORD were vitally important, and to break a Commandment had serious consequences.  Therefore, to protect and prevent people from breaking any of the LORD’s Commandments in the Torah, ‘the Scribes and Pharisees’ invented additional commandments of their own that were intended to act as an early warning system to prevent the breaking of one of the LORD’s Commandments.

The early warning system operated in 4 areas:

1.   (Rabbinic) Halacha:
These are laws that have been fixed as a result of a manipulated interpretation of the Tanach based upon Rabbinic logic.
For example:
In Shabbat 119b: A rule that when one prays on Erev Shabbat and then recites, ‘and thus the heavens and the earth were finished’, one’s iniquity is taken away and one’s sin is purged. 

2.  Minhagim:
These laws are built on the axiom ‘minhag Yisrael torah hi’ = ‘a custom in Israel is Torah’.

For example:
In Pesachim 7b: The Rabbis made a custom that one must wait until three stars appear in the evening sky before concluding an observance of a Sabbath.  This effectively extended the Sabbath to 25 hours. 

In contrast, Nehemiah fixed the observance in line with the local sunset conditions:
…at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Nehemiah 13.19

3.  Takanot:
These laws were new decrees added to the Torah with the authority of the Oral Law, but without any Scriptural justification or authority. The ‘takanot’ are a clear violation of Deuteronomy 4.2 & 12.32:

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it…  Deuteronomy 4.2
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.  Deuteronomy 12.32

In Shabbat 44a: R.Meir ruled: All lamps may be moved, except a lamp which was lit on the Sabbath; if it is extinguished, it may be moved; but a cup, dish, or glass lantern may not be stirred from its place.

4.  Ma’asim:
These laws refer to the practical observance of Torah according to Rabbinic Judasim. Each ma’asei  was derived from stories, incidents, or actions of individual Rabbis as the source for the new law (ma’asei), often introduced with the phrase, ‘Once it happened’..  These laws were NOT derived from the Tanach.

For example:
In Berachot 2a: Once it happened those of Gamaliel came home (late) from a wedding feast and they said to him, We have not yet recited the (evening) sh’ma. He said to them, ‘If the dawn has not yet come up you are still bound to recite’. And not in respect to this alone did they so decide, but whenever the Sages say until midnight, the precept may be performed until the dawn comes up.

I have quoted these examples from Avi Ben Mordechai's Commentary on Galatians, which I warmly recommend to you.

These examples would be laughable in the way that they twist and manipulate the Biblical texts…..but, tragically, they are not laughable because they have governed the behaviour of Orthodox Jews for the last 2000 years.

A recognition and understanding of these legal terms is essential in order to understand the Sermon on the Mount and the conflict in the Gospels between Jesus and ‘the Scribes and Pharisees’.

This is why Jesus began His expalnation of 'the Law and the Prophets' by saying:
unless your righteousness exceeds (= excels/is better than) the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, (which includes the observance of their self invented extra laws) you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
 Until next week…..when we will look at His 5 illustrations.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Hebrew Idioms: Matthew 5.17

Perhaps the most misunderstood Hebrew idiom in the New Testament is the famous comment that Jesus made in Mattew 5.17:  
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 

For the last 2000 years, this comment has been understood by the Christians to mean that ‘the Law and the Prophets’  have been replaced by the Law of Christ…..and thus ‘the Law and the Prophets’ are largely irrelevant. 

Secondly, ‘the Law and the Prophets’  were written for, and refer to, the ethnic Jewish people who rejected Jesus as Messiah, and continue to do so.  Therefore, ‘the Law and the Prophets’ must, for Christians, be treated with suspicion, and should be regarded as an historical anachronism.

These views spring from a tragic and fundamental failure to understand that Matthew 5.17 is a classic, common, frequently used Hebrew idiom.

An amplified translation and explanation of Matthew 5.17 is as follows:

Jesus was speaking to Jews in His Sermon on the Mount, and many of the Jews who listened to Him were of the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, and Elders, as well as thousands of non partisan Jews. So, Jesus clearly states that He does not want any of the Jews to misunderstand what He has come to do.  Therefore, He begins by saying, ‘Do not think or misunderstand My mission’.

Furthermore, do not think or assume that I have come to destroy by interpreting incorrectly  the Law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, or the teaching of the Prophets that they gave to Israel under the anointing power of God.  

I have not come to misinterpret the Law and the Prophets.

Rather, I have come to bring to you an understanding and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets which will explain how God wants you to behave in your lives, and how He wants you to relate to Him, to your families, friends, acquaintances, and enemies….with the right attitude.

The Rabbis discussed, and argued in the first century, about ‘the Law and the Prophets’.  If they disagreed with each other….which they did frequently…they would accuse those who disagreed that they were ‘destroying the Law and the Prophets’. 

For the Rabbis, ‘to destroy’ actually meant that a particular interpretation of some passage or verse was wrong, and therefore, was destroying ‘the Law and the Prophets’.  It did NOT mean, and never has meant, that ‘the Law and the Prophets’  was replaced, abrogated, or superceded.

Similarly, if two Rabbis agreed with each other about the interpretation and understanding of a passage, one might say to the other:
‘You are fulfilling the Law and the Prophets by interpreting this passage as God intended.’ 

Jesus was using a common Hebrew idiom that was used time and again in Rabbi’s discussions.  He was saying that His mission was to explain, and correctly interpret, ‘the Law and the Prophets’… that ALL people could understand how to behave towards each other and towards God.

Perhaps it might be an idea to reread ‘the Law and the Prophets’ in the light of Jesus’s explanation and interpretation….

More next week….with some examples!!

Friday, 3 August 2012

What did Jesus 'write on the ground'?Part2

When those who heard Him, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest to the last, and Jesus was left alone……with the woman standing in the midst of the onlookers.

I bet she was nervous!

Jesus had confounded her accusers who could no longer handle any further dispute with Him.   But what about her case?

It seems very clear that the accusation against her was a put up job, not least because the man with whom she was supposed to have committed adultery was not there…nor were any of the required witnesses to the act.

I suspect that the woman was paid by her accusers to offer herself as the accused….for the sole purpose of putting Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma:

1.      If He was the Messiah He must condemn her to death by stoning in accordance with Deuteronomy 22.22-24:
If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die….then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones ….

2.      The occupying Roman government had forbidden the Jewish
Sanhedrin from carrying out capital punishment. Therefore, if Jesus was to prove Himself to be Messiah by acting in accordance with (1), He would be committing a crime of rebellion against the occupying Romans, and would Himself be subject to the death penalty.

An interesting dilemma….neatly avoided by Jesus when ‘He wrote on the ground with His finger’ in accordance with Jeremiah 17.13:
Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, The Fountain of Living Waters.

Following the departure of His accusers, the woman now becomes irrelevant….or does she?

How did her accusers force her to lie, apart from paying her to do so?

Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’
She said, ‘No one, Lord.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’

The answer that Jesus gave to her confirms two points:
1.      She was innocent…and had not been ‘caught in adultery’. His statement of her innocence confirms that she was party to a put up job intended to test Him.
2.      His phrase ‘sin no more’ is a Hebrew idiom that means ‘keep the Commandments’.  It is clear that, although she had not been ‘caught in adultery’, she had, nevertheless, been less than honest!!

What could have persuaded her to be less than honest?

There might be a clue in the Psalm that was designated to be read for that particular week, the week of the Feast of Succot.

Psalm 25 has a particularly striking prayer in 25.16-20:
Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; bring me out of my distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins.
Consider my enemies, for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. Keep my soul, and deliver me; let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You.

Perhaps when she prayed this prayer, the LORD answered and healed her?  I hope so….