I recently read the following in a Facebook post by a local Central Florida pastor:
“The law may be good advice for us, but it is not and was never intended to be GOOD NEWS! The old and new covenants are never to be mixed.”
When I read this last sentence–and the paragraph leading up to it–my heart sank. To say that I was deeply saddened would be putting it mildly. This sentiment is far too common among Christians, especially those in the evangelical denominations; and it is based on a dichotomy that doesn’t even exist in the Bible, i.e. that grace and law, the new and old covenants, Christianity and Judaism, and by extension even the teachings of Jesus and Moses, are all mutually exclusive. There is a tremendous amount of church tradition and history that leads us to this perspective, but I do not believe we can substantiate it with an honest, balanced and (most importantly) contextually-sound reading of the Bible. In fact, if we consider the full counsel of God’s Word, then we have to abandon this polemic entirely in favor of that which Paul wrote to Timothy:
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:14-17)
When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, the New Testament didn’t yet exist. Additionally, in order for us to accept the pastor’s statement as axiomatic, we have to adopt a different perspective than Paul, the Apostles, or Jesus. Jesus was a devoutly observant Jew, born to observant Jewish parents. He remained an observant Jew his entire life, and he will return one day as an observant Jew to reign as King Messiah from his throne in Jerusalem. When Jesus and his contemporaries (including Paul) read the text of the Bible, they were far closer to the world (land and culture) in which it was written. When we read the Bible 2000 years later, we have a tendency to miss a lot because we can’t connect with that world in a tangible way. In fact, the most common mistake we make is forgetting that the Bible wasn’t even written in our own language.
The world of the Bible was a tremendously different place than the world around us today. So when we pick up the Bible to study, we often forget to consider the world of those who wrote it, what life was like for them, and what God was trying to communicate to them. Instead, we subject the Bible to our own concepts of reality from today, our own insecurities and beliefs, our own sensibilities and social mores, the framework and matting of our own culture. This has been the case for the last 1900 years, ever since the Gentile followers of Jesus started to separate and define themselves apart from the original Jewish followers of Jesus. But what can a person do when trying to understand text written by someone from a totally different time and culture? Mistakes are bound to happen. But if we are dedicated and diligent, we can find our errors, fix the mistakes, and get back on the right course.
- a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.
- stories or matter of this kind: realm of myth.
- any invented story, idea or concept: His account of the event is pure myth.
- an imaginary or fictitious thing or person.
- an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.
We have first to acknowledge that some traditional explanations [myths] have actually superseded the Word of God and become dogma in much of Christian theology–ideas not rooted in Scripture but instead propagated and made to flourish over the last two millennia–supplied by Gentile Christian theologians who were facing inexplicable gaps and seeming contradictions in a text that was thoroughly Jewish. This is exactly what Jesus condemned in some of the religious leaders of his day when he said, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mar 7:8). When tradition contradicts the Word or leads us away from obedience to our Heavenly Father, we must have the connection to Scripture to recognize the detour and avoid it–or at least recognize our error and return to obedience.
Only several hundred years ago I would have been risking excommunication and perhaps torture or execution for questioning mainstream Christian dogma, but I’m hoping that the modern reader will be more lenient. Over my next several posts, we will unpack the pastor’s statement above to see how misunderstanding, confusion, and “manufactured truths” [myths] have impacted Christian doctrine and, in some cases, lead us away from Scriptural truth and, in other cases, diminished the message of God’s Word.