Paul’s Gospel v Modern Liberalism, Messianic-Judaism and Jewish-Millenniumism

It’s important not to misuse an argument of Paul’s, which was an argument about a specific issue, as if it is an argument about a completely different issue.

Misusing Paul in that way gives rise to some unfounded arguments in the popular issue of grace v Law (so-called); and the not-so-modern question of Arminianism v Calvinism.

Grace v Law

Paul’s argument in grace v Law was not an argument for grace v righteousness, as if grace is somehow an option instead of righteousness. The importance of righteousness was always a given. The only dispute was how to obtain or achieve righteousness. But many today are making it about whether or not righteous living is truly a necessity – but that’s not what Paul was on about.

Paul argued that while the Law hadn’t been successful at making men righteous, grace achieved righteousness and was imparting it powerfully. Grace taught believers to live ethically. Therefore grace superseded the Law as the means of righteousness. That’s what Paul meant.

It’s a misuse of Paul’s argument to pit grace against righteousness. Paul said that love fulfils the ethics of the Law. That should eliminate any popular, modern licence for continuing in sin.

But it’s also important to understand that when Paul said love and the Spirit-led life fulfils the ethics of the Law, he wasn’t introducing new ways – not even Messianic ways – of keeping the ‘law’, such as modern-Judaism. Nowadays it’s becoming increasingly popular amongst some Christians to venerate the observance of modern-Judaism and to incorporate a mix of some of its elements into their own Christian eschatology and lifestyle. But modern-Judaism is in fact something which could never even have been conceived in Paul’s day, not even by the Jews. By Law Paul meant (and his readers would have understood), Moses’ complete system of Law – the package deal. They either kept it all, or they were guilty of all. Adjusted ways of keeping the Law such as we see in modern-Judaism, and even in Messianic-Judaism, are far from what Paul or the Jews would have termed Moses’ Law.

(Modern-Judaism is not the same as Moses’ Law: it’s something unknown to Moses’ Law and to the Prophets. In fact modern-Judaism’s methods of ‘keeping’ Moses’ Law would have been outlawed by the very Law which modern-Judaism purports to keep! Modern-Judaism was a later invention of unbelieving Jews after the destruction of the Temple in AD70 when it became forever impossible to adhere to the outlines of Moses’ Law.)

Grace v Law was a pertinent issue for the early Church in Paul’s day, because had they insisted on it, it would still have been possible for the churches to keep Moses’ Law, seeing the Temple, the Levitical priesthood and everything associated with it (such as the written genealogies which were required in order to authenticate the priesthood) were all still functioning in Jerusalem, still in exact accordance with Moses’ Law, at that time. It was a crucial question for the Church – and the Apostles and elders answered it – but AD70 forever eliminated the very question itself. Since modern-Judaism isn’t Moses’ Law, and since Moses’ Law has ceased to exist, any contemporary questions about how we should follow Judaism can’t directly quote Paul. He never discussed Judaism! He never discussed a Messianic way of keeping modern-Judaism. The Bible had only two concepts: Law (Moses’ Law), and then grace – nothing else.

Being clear about Paul’s and the Bible’s concepts of grace and Law spares us from the following tangents: the tangent that Christians today should be incorporating elements of modern-Judaism (such as ‘feast’ days) into our lifestyle; that God still requires national-Israel to ‘observe’ the ‘feasts’; that all nations shall again be obligated to keep the Feast in Jerusalem during a future millennium, complete with memorial sacrifices; that the Gospel is really nothing more than an unexpected interlude for Gentiles, between God’s real kingdom-purposes for Israel; and that there may be an alternative way of salvation for Jews in modern-Judaism even without believing in Jesus. Each of those are tangents away from the Apostles’ doctrine.

Arminianism v Calvinism

Calvinists argue with Arminians over certain questions, and cite statements made by Paul as their authorities. But what if Paul’s statements, particularly his statements in Romans 9-11, weren’t about the same questions? What if Paul’s statements were in answer to an entirely different issue?

That wouldn’t necessarily invalidate the popular question which Arminians and Calvinists debate today – but it would make Paul’s statements, on which Calvinists rely, inadmissible as direct evidence with regards to the issue they are debating.

So what issues was Paul responding to? To begin with, the design of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is such that chapters 9-11 don’t appear to have had the purpose of putting a disclaimer, a qualifier or a limitation on the thesis which he had just finished presenting (his thesis that salvation was available for all who believe, in chapters 1-8). Rather, chapters 9-11 appear to be Paul’s response to a number of objections to his thesis which he anticipates. Otherwise his statements in chapters 9-11 would be about as irrelevant and as contradictory as a tennis ball suddenly landing in a football field in the middle of the game.

Paul had already dealt with the objection that salvation by grace meant we can continue in sin (in chapter 6). Now he deals with the objection that salvation being through faith to all who believe, without the works of the Law, and regardless of ethnicity (as Paul had asserted) might appear to mean that God’s promises had failed to the majority of the Jews (seeing Israel was predominantly not believing in the Gospel, which the believers at Rome were observing.

Had God deceived their nation?

Was it unjust of God to offer salvation on His own terms – that is, by grace through faith? And if Israel missed-out because of unbelief, was that now unjust of God?

How could Paul’s Gospel be right seeing it implied that God raises up nations and governments for purposes which don’t necessarily mean they are automatically saved?

Those are the types of objections Paul had to deal with.

Then some in the church at Rome went the other way, and wondered – Is God no longer interested in saving Jews at all?

In answer to those questions, and in order to defend his thesis (that salvation is available to all who believe), Paul went on to appeal to precedent in the Scripture in both the Law and the Prophets, showing situations in which God’s sovereign prerogative was not unjust. God Who Promised salvation for all nations through faith, Paul explained, chose the descendants of Jacob (Israel) to be the custodians of the Promise, and gave them the Law (temporarily) until the time of the Promise drew near, then He sent forth His Son, and the promised-salvation was then being received by faith (as promised) and only by faith (seeing the Law had been unable to save anyone), and unbelievers missed-out, even if they were Jewish. None of that was unjust, nor a breach of Promise – rather, it was the exact scenario the Old Testament Scriptures had foreseen. That’s what Paul was saying. He was defending His Gospel.

To say Paul’s statements are directly about the tenets of Calvinism, then, would be like reading a recipe for a cake and applying it instead to instructions for changing a flat-tyre. (Not that instructions about how to, or how not to, change spare tyres don’t also exist. It’s just that these aren’t them.

Conclusion

The good news of salvation by grace is available for all who believe in Jesus, it teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and keeps us free from obligation to Moses’ Law and to other man-made obligations, now and forever.

Stand fast in that freedom – and preach it to the nations, to first-world and developing nations, and to Jews – it’s good news!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply (Choose Facebook or Standard)

 

Please enable us to use MORE time to reach MORE PEOPLE ... Donate NOW.

close
Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonYouTube Icon