Jewish Holy Days — Part 2
I received the following comment from my latest post. My response was too long to reply directly, so I created a new post.
Yeshuah [sic] followed those feast days. Yeshuah said specifically that anyone who tried to undo the laws of Moses would be considered the least in Heaven. Yeshuah taught us to use our faith and our righteousness through Him to be a beacon. How can we be righteous through Him and not follow His example and His express teaching. The letters as canonized are from the Pope of the first Catholic church. The intent was not the teaching of the ways of The Christ as the center, but to cement the church and the pulpit as the focus, thereby making them untouchable by the governments. The early church even went so far as to forbid people learn to read so they could keep them under control.
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. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The argument is [that] He fulfilled and therefore ended the law. If so, why would he say this to the multitudes mere days before his crucifixion? If it were not meant to stand until ALL THINGS had passed, why say it personally to the masses?
Thank you so much for such great questions and observations. As I understand your points, I see several things that can be placed into two categories — the church (the canonization of the Bible, the intention behind that canonization, etc.) and Jesus (the original intent of Jesus and the continuation of the Law). I want to address these in reverse order.
Jesus and the Law
As you didn’t really address the passages I cited in the original post I can only assume that you’re in agreement with my initial interpretation of them but not my conclusions. Furthermore, it seems that you feel Matthew 5.17ff is some kind of trump card or overrules my original post and conclusions. I almost addressed Matthew 5 in my original post but I decided against it. It now appears that I made the wrong decision.
As I have addressed the eschatological understanding of ancient Judaism before, and, therefore, Jesus’ and the first followers understanding as well, I won’t go into great detail here. It suffices to say that “heaven and earth” doesn’t mean what we think it means. If it does then we must ask some very hard questions; questions that make some people who believe we must still follow the Mosaic Law feel very uncomfortable. If neither “the smallest letter, [nor] the least stroke of a pen” of the Law was to end before “heaven and earth” passed away, and “heaven and earth” means this planet (at least), then why don’t Jewish people today make the commanded pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual feasts? Why aren’t there animal sacrifices? Why is there no longer a Temple? These things are specifically commanded in the Torah but aren’t being followed. This isn’t a recent development in Jewish history. These questions can be summed up this way — Why haven’t the Jewish people followed every “smallest letter and the least stroke of a pen” of the Law for over two millennia if “heaven and earth” are still here?
There are about three possible answers to that question: 1) Jesus didn’t really say those things in Matthew 5.17ff. 2) Jesus did say them but he was (at the very least) a false prophet. Or, 3) the phrase “heaven and earth” means something other than what we think it does. Option 3 offers the best response to these inquiries.
Jesus and the rest of first century Judaism (and, most likely, beyond) understood “heaven and earth” as poetic imagery of the established power structure under consideration. In the context of Matthew 5.17ff, that structure would be Old Covenant Israel with it’s Law, Prophets, and cultic practices. Jesus was saying that he didn’t come to immediately end the Old Covenant. But it would end, i.e., brought to its fulfillment. This can be seen clearly by his statement, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (verse 18; emphasis added). That is, the Law will end but not yet; not until “its purpose is achieved” (NLT). And, as we saw in the original post, that purpose of the Law was to be a custodian of the Jewish people until the coming of Christ and the establishment of G‑d’s Realm (Galatians 3.19ff).
You asked, “[If Jesus] fulfilled and therefore ended the law...why would he say this to the multitudes mere days before his crucifixion? If it were not meant to stand until ALL THINGS had passed, why say it personally to the masses?”
It seems from your questions that you understand my stance to be that the “fulfill[ment] and…[end of] the law” was the crucifixion of Jesus. That’s not my position. My view is that the law continued until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Which just “happened” to be about a generation (40 years) from Jesus’ death (again, see Jesus’ use of the phrase “this generation” in Matthew’s Gospel, specifically in chapters 23 and 24).
As I noted in the original post, the letter to the Hebrews clearly shows that the Law and it’s rituals were still continuing after the death of Jesus and the beginning of The Way. In chapter 8, the writer quoted Jeremiah 31.31-34 and then stated, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (verse 13; NIV; emphasis added).
And even though St. Paul wrote that “Christ has brought the Law to an end” (Romans 10.4; GNT), he continued to practice it (see Acts 17.2; cf. Acts 21.24, Acts 21.26; and Acts 24.18).
But contrast Paul’s observance of the Law to the instructions given to the first Gentile converts in Acts 15. There’s no mention of them having to observe the Law. Why is that? Because the first followers of The Way of Jesus understood that they were living in the time between times — what scholars call “the already but not yet” — the Old Covenant age was coming to a close and the New Covenant age (or G‑d’s Realm) was starting. Once the Realm of G‑d was fully established, the Old Covenant Jewish age would no longer be enforced or needed because it was “obsolete and outdated” (cited above).
The purpose of the original post was to show why, as a follower of Jesus, I don’t follow the Mosaic Law including the Jewish Holy days. I believe that the purpose of the Law (to lead the Jewish people to G‑d’s Realm as revealed in Jesus) was fulfilled by the time Jerusalem fell in 70 CE. Since that time until now and going on into the future, G‑d’s Realm has been established and continues to grow and expand.
The church and the Bible
In the first part of your comments, you stated,
The letters as canonized are from the Pope of the first Catholic church. The intent was not the teaching of the ways of The Christ as the center, but to cement the church and the pulpit as the focus, thereby making them untouchable by the governments. The early church even went so far as to forbid people learn to read so they could keep them under control.
I’m sorry to say this, but these statements are inaccurate. If, by “the Pope,” you’re referring to Pope Innocent I (5th century), then you’re leaving out 400 years of development of the New Testament canon. Furthermore, in 367 CE, roughly 40 years before Pope Innocent I, Athanasius stated that our current list of New Testament books was “canonized.”
Further still, if you’re referring to the First Council of Nicea in 325 CE, there’s no record of the council even discussing the canon.
As to the intent of the “Catholic church” (which, at that point in history, was the only church) wanting itself to be “the center…[and] focus” instead of “the teaching of the ways of the Christ,” I completely disagree with this. While there may be some truth to it, by and large it’s just not veracious, especially in the very early days of the church. Now, granted, much later (say, by the time of the Reformation) these accusations are a lot more accurate.
Concerning the church “forbid[ding] people to learn to read so they could keep them under control”; again, that’s not quite right. The early followers of Jesus spoke (mostly) Greek. Their “Bibles” were written in that language, even the Jewish Scriptures. In the second century, the “Bible” was translated again into the common language of the people — Latin. In the 4th century, Jerome wrote the Vulgate (again in Latin) specifically for the common person. After Rome fell, however, the “Bible” was still in Latin and only really accessible by the elite (rich and clergy). So, it wasn’t so much of the clergy trying to “keep [people] under control” (although that did happen in some cases) as it was they were the only ones who could afford to get a proper education!
However, The Celtic Christian Church (c. 4th - 9th centuries) were some of the most literate people around reading, speaking, and writing Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. And there were other exceptions — German in the 8th century (Charlemagne) and Slavonic in the 9th century (Cyril and Methodius).
Lastly, of course, there’s the first English translation in the 14th century (John Wycliffe) and an updated Czechoslovakian (John Huss).Then, of course, the Reformation brought a slew of new translations (because of the printing press).
So, there’s been a whole history of people in the church translating the Bible into the languages of common people. This tradition goes on today with the Bible I recommend, The Common English Bible. If you haven’t given it a read, you really should.
Now, I say all of that to say this: If one has read this blog long enough, one will see that I have a really big problem with the “religious business institution” called the “church.” We have moved away from following The Way of Jesus as a way of living and made it into a “religion” and “business.” The ancient church and, to a great extent, the Celtic Christians, modeled following The Way of Jesus as a lifestyle — a way of living — adapting it to different cultures and societies. We should do the same today.
Thanks again for your comments and questions!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC