I was watching a Dutch TV interview (dtd 18 March 2008) of Geer Wilders, who created the controversial Dutch film “Fitna” that criticizes fundamentalist Islam. I was struck by a comment that Wilders made about the Christian Bible. In his view, “the New Testament is a more moderate book” than the Old Testament view of God, and, therefore, that made it more appropriate for modern times than the OT.
His view is not uncommon. It is reflected in the modern teachings that the OT God was a stern and vengeful God while the NT teachings of Jesus present a God of love and kindness. Some go as far as to say the NT “has done away” with the OT Law completely. “It’s been nailed to the cross!” they cry. Isn’t it funny, though, that these same people will hypocritically protest whenever the Ten Commandments are removed from public display? Yet, how many even know what the Ten Commandments say? There is such confusion in Christianity!
This article will just hit the highlights of a very large topic. I encourage you to study each of the issues uncovered here in more depth on your own. While I prefer to quote Scripture in an article on Christianity, I will quote sparingly for the more important points and provide references for the rest. Please look them up. As one wise old man in the Church of God used to say, “Blow the dust off your Bibles!” Your destiny could be at stake.
This article will hit a number of areas. Where can we find the answers? Did Jesus come to change the teachings of the OT? WWJD? What was the early Church like? Finally, what is God’s expectation of Christians today?
Where Are the Answers?
The Bible is the most neglected bestselling book on the planet. Many buy Bibles, but very few actually open it up and read it. Those who do read it have been taught to read into it. Yet, the Bible itself claims to be inspired by God (2Ti 3:16). The Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God (Ex 31:18; Dt 9:10). The prophets would say, “Thus sayeth the LORD…”, claiming to speak the words of God. We are to measure what any minister, preacher or prophet says against the Bible:
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
~ Isa 8:20
Yet, most professing Christians would be shocked to learn how few of their traditions have biblical support! When the Ten Commandments say “Remember”, they forget! When the Bible says to not worship God as the pagans do, they will follow pagan customs that have been “Christianized”. When the Bible says to worship on certain days, they will cry, “The Law has been done away!” Is that what the Bible says to do? What was changed from the OT to the NT?
Did Jesus Change the Law?
Jesus came to be born as a human, live a perfect life and be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Some have misinterpreted this to mean Jesus “kept the law for us”. Yet, there is no such verse in the Bible! Instead, it says:
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Notice that Jesus said He came to “fulfil” the Law, yet some will read this as “I am not come to destroy, but to do away.” Yet, if the Law has been “done away”, it has been effectively destroyed! It is a complete contradiction of “to make completely full”, “to fill up” (Strong’s G4137). No, Jesus came to “magnify the Law” (Isa 42:21). According to Jesus, if you lust after someone, then you have committed adultery in your heart (Mt 5:27-28). If you are unjustly angry towards someone, you have committed murder in your heart (vv 21-22). The Law was made harder to keep! The intentions were factored in, as God can see the heart! In the OT, only actions were punishable by the law because human judges cannot see a person’s heart.
So, is God’s Kingdom on the earth? No? Then, why would some preach that the “Law has been done away”? The phrase “all be fulfilled” is an obvious reference to the Kingdom of God being established upon the earth. That is the filling up of the prophecies by bringing them to pass.
A man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life (Mt 19:16). What was Jesus’ response? “… but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17c). The saints are the ones who keep the commandments in spite of Satanic opposition (Rev 12:17; 14:12). Keeping the commandments is the identifying mark of true believers during the Great Tribulation. Likewise, it is the breaking of the commandments that will lead to receiving the mark of the Beast (in particular the 1st Commandment).
What Would Jesus Do?
Most of us have seen those WWJD bracelets. Are we or are we not to follow Jesus’ example (1Pe 2:21)? So, why don’t we? Instead of looking at what Jesus would do, how about we look at what He did do? Jesus did many things that professing Christians today claim they don’t have to do. Jesus:
- Kept the Sabbath (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; Jn 6:59; 18:20) on a customary (i.e., regular) basis (Lk 4:16). He even claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, and thus He taught how to correctly observe it (Mk 2:27-28).
- Kept the “Jewish” Holy Days, or festivals, that were laid down in Lev 23 (Jn 2:13; 6:14; 7:11; 11:55-56).
- Taught tithing (Mt 23:23). He even used the opportunity of paying the temple tax as a teaching occasion (Mt 17:24-27).
- Taught that the reward of the saved is on the earth (Mt 5:5; 6:10; 24:30-31; 25:31-46; Rev 5:10), not in heaven (Jn 3:13).
- Taught that a person’s soul can die (Mt 10:28; Cf. Eze 18:4, 20).
- Taught the resurrection (Mt 22:23-32; Lk 14:14; Jn 5:28-29; 11:24-25), which is a basic doctrine (Heb 6:1-2; Cf. Ac 17:32; 24:15; Ro 6:5; 1Co 15:12-14).
- Taught that His followers were to not engage in warfare at this time (Mt 10:16; Jn 18:36).
What Was the Early Church Like?
Jesus was a Jew. He had to keep the Law perfectly. He never railed against the religious leaders of His day for keeping the Law! He railed against them because of their traditions (Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:7; Cf. Col 2:21-22; Tit 1:14). Their traditions actually distracted from and contradicted the intent of God’s Law. If Jesus advocated breaking the Law, then He would have been guilty of inciting rebellion. As such, He could not be the perfect sacrifice, and He could not have died for our sins. He had to keep the Law perfectly in order to qualify to be the sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus’ Apostles were Jews. They were raised Jews. Even Saul, who later became Paul, was a “Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Ac 23:6). As a Pharisee, he would have had to keep a strict observance of the Law. Even after everything he had been through, Paul said:
17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
~ Ac 28:17
The early Christians were indistinguishable from the Jews, as far as the Romans were concerned. At first, they were called “Nazarenes” (Ac 24:5) to distinguish them, but they were just considered another sect of Judaism, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees.
As a scholar of Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins, I have worked extensively in the area of Jewish/Christian relations in the first century of the Common Era. In my work I have emphasized that the clear division between Jews and Christians that existed in later times simply did not exist in the first century. On the one hand, later Second Temple Judaism was characterized by its sectarianism, and many diverse groups were incorporated within the umbrella of ‘Judaism’. On the other hand, the boundaries around the early Christian movement were extremely fluid in the first century.
Many believers in Jesus as Messiah were Jews, who continued to practise the traditional Jewish way of life. These Christians, although accepting the messiahship of Jesus, still observed the Torah and therefore remained within the sphere of Judaism. I have argued that their religious tradition should not be termed ‘Jewish Christianity’, which implies a break from Judaism, but ‘Christian Judaism’, a sectarian form of Judaism that made messianic claims about Jesus of Nazareth. Other believers in Jesus, however, were quite different from this Christian Jewish group. These Christians, of whom Paul is the best known, placed all emphasis on faith in Christ and rejected the traditional Jewish lifestyle based upon the Torah. By the early second century, this non-Jewish Christian tradition had evolved into the distinct (Gentile) religion of Christianity.
~ Portfolio of Dr. David Campbell Sim, BA, MA, PhD, The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations [web link no longer available]
Dr Sim does make the mistake that many have made concerning Paul, however, in that he believes Paul broke from Jewish tradition after conversion. However, Acts 28:17 makes it clear that he held to Jewish tradition until the end.
Just as educational is the paper by S. Mark Veldt of Western Michigan University, “Christian Attitudes toward the Jews in the Earliest Centuries A.D.” (2007), which states:
Especially enlightening are the instances in which Christian writers align themselves with the Jews against pagan and heretical opponents, for these occasions demonstrate that Jewishness continued to be a sign of Christian orthodoxy throughout the period.
Acts 15 is often cited as a break from the Law of Moses. However, reading verse 1 makes it clear that some were claiming that “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” The entire controversy was clearly over circumcision of the Gentiles. It should be noted that they quoted from the OT Law that stated certain things should be adhered to by the Gentiles. These were not the only things they were to adhere to, though, and a thorough reading of Exodus through Deuteronomy makes this clear. For example, “murder”, “stealing”, etc., are not named, but the Gentiles would have had to followed those prohibitions as well. They even assume that Gentile converts will know the Law of Moses, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (v 21). Obviously, then, they are expected to be going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day!
God’s Expectations Today
God claims to not change (Mal 3:6). Note that He doesn’t change for our benefit. Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb 13:8). God told the ancient Israelites to not inquire how the pagans of the land worshiped their gods because He did not want to be worshiped in that way (Dt 12:29-31). God does not want syncretism. Throughout the OT, we see warnings for mixing other practices with true worship. God commanded to not add to or diminish from His words (Dt 4:2). We are instead to worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).
Modern Christianity is full of syncretism with pagan practices:
We are called to come out of “Babylon”, the mother of religious confusion. Most pagan practices can be traced back to Babylon. There is a symbol of Babylon in the Book of Revelation, and there is a warning for participating in her abominations.
Mainstream Christianity today has diverted far from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the early Church. Satan has deceived the whole world (Rev 12:9), has ministers that appear as ministers of righteousness (2Co 11:14-15) and has led the majority of people down the broad road of destruction (Mt 7:13). Paul’s letters make it evident there were heresies very early on (Ac 20:29).
From early on, there began to be 2 main branches of Christianity, both of which had a man named Simon as a prominent member (Cf. Ac 8:9-24). One became a very large church that represented the broad way that many followed. The other became a very small flock (Cf. Lk 12:32) that represented the narrow way that was persecuted down through the ages by the other. This smaller line was a faithful line of followers that kept God’s commandments. Most of what we know of them is from the writings of its oppressor, but we can see they persevered in their core beliefs, were scattered by persecution and carried the true Gospel of the Kingdom of God with them wherever they went.
They were a spiritual lineage that passed down what they knew through the ages and fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that the grave would not prevail against the Church. Look at the Reluctant Messenger web site for Sabbath keeping churches (no affiliation) or this site’s “Links List” for a few of the scattered small groups (Jn 11:52; 16:32; Ac 8:1, 4) that hold fast to the ways that please God.
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