ACCEPTING TORAH AND REJECTING PAUL OF TARSUS
Paul of Tarsus laid the foundations for the classic Christian mistrust of Torah. He taught that the Torah could not save us, only Christ could; that there was an unbridgeable gap between humanity and God, and that Torah could not bridge the gap; and that Torah could not show us any way of cleansing us of our sin – only Christ could.
What most people don’t realise, is that these concepts are alien to the religion of ancient Israel. They are common to the pagan mystery religions of the ancient Mediterranean region, but alien to Judaism. Of course, Paul’s Gentile audience could not have known this; they lapped up everything he lied to them about. Gentiles wondered why the Jews wouldn’t accept Paul’s message – after all, Christ was supposedly the fulfilment of everything Jewish. Truth was, in his promises Christ was built in the very image and likeness of a pagan god, and nothing like the God of Israel.
To Jews, ‘being saved’ literally means that – from physical or psychological danger; it has no mystical, heavenly connotations. To Jews, there is no other-worldly, mystically unbridgeable gap between God and humanity – only that God is an immortal, all-powerful Spirit and we are mortal with limited reach. And to Jews, sin corrupts, yes, but psychologically and socially, and has real consequences – it doesn’t alter the essence of our souls so much that it prevents God from loving us – nothing can stop God from loving us, or from reconciling us to God. Otherwise Paul taught a god with limited powers!
Paul of Tarsus was the most cunning deceiver that history has ever encountered – from the beginning, this is how Followers of the Way have viewed him – the Deceiver. The beliefs outlined above are the cleverest brainwashing techniques that religion has ever taken on board. They are designed to lure the unknowing, the unsuspecting, and grip them so that they can never leave.
Torah, on the other hand, is something that God calls the human soul to, something the human soul chooses. There is no deception involved.
How do we get close to a God we cannot see?
To understand what Torah is, you have to understand how other contemporary religions approached their gods. You see, pagan gods could be seen, you didn’t have to experience them ‘in your heart’, you could see and touch their statues. The revolution of Abraham and of Moses, was they were teaching a God who could not be touched or seen.
In the time of Moses, many people would have said, “So how do we know God is there? How do we ‘touch’ God? How do we experience God if we can’t see God?”
When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, the Israelites made a golden calf to worship. They couldn’t yet leave behind the old ways of thinking, they had to have a god they could see and touch, useless though it was. They could believe that something they could see would help them, much more than something they couldn’t see.
There had to be a way of impressing the Hebrew psyche that their God existed, even though they could not see YHVH. Even the mishkan – the sacred tent of meeting, or tabernacle – was erected to show the Israelites that God was with them. It was much like leaving a jacket over the back of a chair. There was no one around you could see, but the jacket showed that its owner was somewhere there. In the same way, the mishkan showed Israel that God was around – somewhere.
This is the reason for all the cult and ritual. It wasn’t to atone for sin (so said all the prophets; prayer and good works would do just as well). No. The cult and ritual were designed to give Jews a sense of the Presence of a God they could not see.
And not only the ritual. Torah gave Israel a code by which to live, which would also have the same effect.
There is none like YHVH among the pagan gods!
So sang the Israelites when they were saved from the Egyptians after crossing the Sea of Reeds. There was indeed none like YHVH. The pagan gods had no moral dimension to them; they fornicated amongst themselves, they ended human life on a whim, and they demanded only appeasement; no moral action as we would understand it was required. They also experienced pain, passion, hurt and suffering – just like human beings.
YHVH on the other hand was a revolution. YHVH demanded righteous behaviour; that we act with justice and concern for one another. Moral, just action was the other side of the coin for Jews to experience God.
Torah – a code of Piety and Justice
To the modern mind, the world is divided into the religious and the secular. The ancient Jewish mind saw no such division. Everything was the realm of religion – the realm of God. The only division was between piety – that which dealt directly with our relationship with God; and justice, that which dealt with our relationship with each other.
You can see this division in the so-called Ten ‘Commandments’ (more correctly, the Ten Decrees or Edicts). As everyone knows, they were written on two tablets. On the first tablet, on both sides, were inscribed the five decrees relating to piety (having no other gods, not making graven images, not bowing down to them, not using God’s name falsely, keeping the Sabbath day holy). On the second tablet, again on both sides, were inscribed the seven decrees concerning justice (honouring our parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not giving false testimony, not coveting our neighbour’s property, and not coveting our neighbour’s wife).
Even the most famous prayer of all time – the Abbun d’bishmayya – the Our Father, is divided into these two classic divisions, the first half dealing with God and heavenly concerns, and the second half with earthly, bodily concerns.
Approaching God through Torah
Torah, commonly translated as ‘Law’, actually means ‘Instruction’ or ‘Teaching’. When we follow someone’s teaching, we inevitably get a sense of the Teacher themselves. So it is in the case of Torah. Torah was meant and designed to mould the Jewish heart and soul, and by the doing of it, we would develop a sense of God, and thereby draw near to God.
Christians say, “We will believe”, Jews say, “We will do”. In fact, this is exactly what the Israelites said. Before Moses went up Mount Sinai, the Israelites said, “All that YHVH has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8)
I recall a middle-aged Jewish woman who did not believe in God. Actually she said that she found it difficult to believe in God, even though she so very much wanted to. Yet she still said the prayers, did the ritual, performed the mitzvot (commandments). So I asked her why she still did these things, even though she couldn’t believe that God existed. She replied, “I do these things, because I hope one day to get a sense of what God is.”
The commandments of Torah
Commandments are precepts or principles – a set of instructions – that we are required to do to experience God. I would like to set out just some of them for you, to give you a taste of what Torah is like.
If you read these commandments in the Hebrew, many of them specifically refer to YHVH (Messianic Jews please note, NOT ‘Jesus’). We are not to have any other gods besides YHVH, and we are to acknowledge only YHVH in our worship. The above commandments have no place for praying to ‘Jesus Christ’; we are to revere YHVH alone.
ON KINDNESS AND MERCY
All these precepts, which come from the book of Leviticus, were designed to give us a sense of specialness and sanctity. They give us a sense that, when we do our best to fulfil them, we are imitating our God.
ON THE POOR
The poor are an enormous concern in the Torah; in most cultures of the time, they were a fact of life, and their hardship was of no concern to rulers. Yet Torah remembers the least of society, and tells us what we need to do for them to make their lives a little easier.
I do not need to lay out the implications of these commandments. It’s obvious that they are not being followed today in Israel. Would there be peace if the Likud party were to follow Torah? And why don’t the Orthodox religious parties Likud is allied to remind them of Torah?
It was virtually unheard of in ancient times for any law to take animals into account, yet this is what Torah did. It also had concern for animals to be slaughtered for food, in that it stipulated the slaughter should be quick and painless. This was almost 3,500 years ago, two millennia before Buddhism and Jainism came onto the scene with their concern for animals.
Paul’s ulterior motives
From the above examples, we get a glimpse of how Torah is still relevant, how profound a heritage has been passed down to us, and why it is important for us to do our best to follow Torah. Torah is for our benefit and our wellbeing.
It was in Paul’s interests to get his followers to mistrust Torah. To do this, he had to invent a theology whereby deeds were worthless, and faith was the only thing that mattered. He had to invent an unbridgeable gap between God and humanity, one that only Christ could bridge through his death and resurrection; and he had to invent complicated beliefs to make sure that Christians would take no note of Torah, believing that ‘Christ’ was the completion and end of Torah. When we come to understand Torah, we realise how Paul deceived his gentile audience, and has sadly passed on through the generations a lie.
Torah was given to Israel to mould and create a special people that could carry a message of righteousness and justice to the whole of humanity. This was the mission that God gave to Israel. By damning Torah, Paul worked against the will of God.