4 April 2017
It is amazing and also noteworthy that whereas the Old Testament is seen mainly as the Jewish or Hebraic scriptures, that the New Testament, because so many Gentiles believe in it, is generally not reckoned by both parties, Jews or Christians, as also Jewish, written by orthodox Torah keeping Jews.
This is so important for realizing this fact lifts the discussion about these Jewish authored Covenants, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, from the often antagonistic argument which over the centuries has taken place between the Jewish and Christian faith!
As we know, all the first believers in Jesus the Messiah were Jewish. They were among those who, as believing Jews, wrote the New Testament which I prefer to call the New Covenant, promised already by God through Jeremiah, His prophet, when he said:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
This covenant made by God through His Son was for all those Jews never a departure from their Jewish faith (into a new religion) but the fulfillment of all that God had promised to them by way of the Messiah. The Lord Jesus never came to create a new religion but He was the fulfillment and way for His people to truly live as God’s children.
The verse: No man can come to the Father but by Me, said by an orthodox Rabbi, was written down by one of His own Jewish Torah keeping disciples John; it was not a later invention of Christianity.
The problem of the early days of this New Covenant based Jewish faith was not what to do with the Jews who came to faith in Jesus but what to do with the Gentiles who came to faith in Him!! Should they be “Judaized” and made to obey all the laws of Moses after being baptized into this Jewish originated faith, or not. That chiefly is the story which unfolds in the Acts of the Jewish Apostles: what to do with the Gentile believers to give them full entrance into the Jewish ecclesia of God.
Here are the appropriate scriptures which make this abundantly clear, namely: On the one hand the Jewish leadership not requiring the Gentiles to follow all the laws of Moses whereas they themselves did follow them. Here are these two passages from Scripture:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things.’ “Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”–to whom we gave no such commandment– it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. (Acts 15:1-31)
This passage is so clear that whatever later certain teachers even still today want to extract from it – that it is difficult to construct it otherwise.
The second passage in the Acts we find in chapter 21:
And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:17-25)
So here we have it. The early Jewish believers kept in reverence to the Torah of Moses a Jewish lifestyle while at the same time not requiring Gentiles to do the same. That is the clear unmistakable message of Scripture, entirely consistent with the Apostle Paul’s message in his epistle to the Corinthians:
But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:17-20)
However all this was written before the destruction of the Temple of God by Titus and the subsequent scattering of the Jewish people all over the world which made it virtually impossible for any true orthodox Jews to live as Moses had commanded them. Without a Temple in Jerusalem, without the required Levitical sacrifices, without a functioning High Priest from the house of Aaron, without a by God anointed king of the house of David, it became virtually impossible to live fully as an orthodox Torah keeping Jew in the diaspora. Even in Israel driving a car in the so-called ultra-orthodox Meashearim part of Jerusalem does not lead to the execution by way of stoning as required by Moses in the Torah but only results in some stones being thrown at the Sabbath offender. This is a far cry from what the Torah of Moses required:
Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Thus orthodox biblical Judaism became extinct after the fall of the Temple, the earthly abode of God Himself in Jerusalem. Israel today has no Temple but synagogues, often named by Jews their local “temple”, no sacrifices any more, not even a lamb on Yom Kippur, no High Priest but today a chief Rabbi – even two, no anointed king from the descendants of King David, but a democratically chosen and appointed Prime Minister.
Thus Jewish scholars redefined how after the destruction of the House of God and the exile Jews could still cling to their Jewish roots and ways. This was eventually coded in the Jewish Talmud and its accompanying Shulchan Aruch which today is the accepted hallmark of how an orthodox Jew is supposed to live altogether according to the Talmud explained in the kind of practical handbook of the Shulchan Aruch where there are at least 600 laws which are to govern the life of a Jewish person who today wants to live an orthodox Jewish lifestyle from the moment he rises. Many of these laws and regulations are even more stringent and stricter than the Tanach based laws of Moses.
This all means therefore that according to the laws of Moses expressed in the Tanach since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the sad dispersion of the Jewish people all over the world, there are no more orthodox living Jews who fully follow the laws of Moses, even if they wished to do so.
Now how does this all relate to the believing Gentiles whom, as we have already noted from the scriptures quoted, were not required to follow all the laws of Moses? How then should they live?
Jeremiah, in the passage already quoted about God’s promise that He would make a new covenant with His people, describes this covenant in the following way:
I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
The Lord stresses in that passage that the New Covenant He intends to make with them will not be “according to the covenant that He made with their fathers in the day that He took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, His covenant which they broke,… (Jeremiah 31:32)
This is also significantly stressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews when the author writes:
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:6-13)
Thus the author concludes:
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)
The New Testament, better named the New Covenant, explains therefore to believers how they according to this New Covenant should live their daily lives.
Now we come to the essence of this by God promised new covenant – an essence He describes “as putting His law upon our minds and hearts”, thus not a Judaism from without but a Judaism from within, as Jeremiah says “No more shall every man teach his neighbor and his brother” but God by His Spirit will lead His sons and daughters from within their hearts and minds. Thus the Apostle Paul explains this New Covenant and how it is to work within each one of us:
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:12-17)
Also in his epistle to the Galatians:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:1-7)
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)
As also John the Apostle so beautifully explains in his first Epistle:
Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us–eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. (1 John 2:24-3:1)
This all brings us to the often not understood incredible truth that Gentiles who come to receive the Lord as their Lord and Messiah are given the powerful position as sons and daughters of God, inheriting all that was promised to God’s own people. As John the Apostle writes in his gospel:
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (John 1:11-12)
And already Hosea prophesied that although God would do away with the ten tribes (see Hosea chapter 1) and call them no more His people, that nevertheless He would call the Gentiles who were formerly not called His people that “they would be called sons of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10)
Paul refers to this passage in Hosea when He explains how God in His great mercy and love included the Gentiles into His plan, calling them “the sons of the living God”.
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
… that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved.” “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:14-15, 23-26)
This is a very important point which is used in Scripture to also show the distinct difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Are we only servants or slaves ordered to live under the yoke of the law or are we truly sons and daughters of God Almighty, living in love with our heavenly Father? As Jesus admonished us to do when He said:
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
In Galatians we read:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 3:26-4:7)
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
The point these Jewish Scriptures are making here is the emphasis on the fact that when we truly have received the Lord into our hearts and lives we are not any more just servants or slaves before our God but His dearly beloved sons and daughters, heirs of all things, adopted as His sons and heirs, calling Him not just our God but our Dad, Abba Father, as written in 1 Corinthians:
Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come–all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
What an incredible position for those who believe, sons of God and heirs of all things! May this all become a heavenly reality for us!
Jan Willem van der Hoeven