abolish, apostles, exclusive, Gentile, Holy Spirit, Jerusalem Council, Jesus Christ, Jew, law, law written on our hearts, Moses, New Covenant, objective, Old Covenant, Pharisees, torah, transcendent, universal
In the next chapter of Boundary Stones, “Torah and Spirit Are Not Opposites,” Aaron Eby claims that being led by the Spirit and being led by the Torah are the same thing. This claim is made in contradiction to Scriptures. Mr. Eby apparently believes himself a better interpreter of the Bible than the Apostles and the overwhelming majority of Christians over the past 2,000 years. Mr. Eby’s Boundary Stone for this chapter reads:
The Spirit of God that spoke the commandments of the Law is the same Spirit that came upon the believers at Pentecost in Acts 2. The prophets predicted that in the New Covenant, God’s Spirit would lead us to obey his commandments and would write his Law on our hearts. This is the same Law that God gave through Moses at Mount Sinai. Therefore, the Spirit and the Law are not opposites. Instead, the leading of the Spirit causes us and enables us to carry out the commandments of God’s Law.
Has anyone else noticed that Mr. Eby is careful to capitalize “law,” but never capitalizes “he” when “he” refers to God? Just an observation.
Mr. Eby’s comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Torah of Moses. The Mosaic law was never intended to be eternal, but was only intended to govern the pre-Christian Israelite theocracy. He mischaracterizes the law written on the heart, claiming that it changes according to whim. He misinterprets the prophecies of the Old Testament, and the full impact of the New Covenant. He fails to grasp the meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, that it was for all flesh and not just the Jewish people.
Aaron Eby writes:
There cannot be two definitions of right and wrong. God does not have two different standards of righteousness.
How true! The question is, is the Torah our standard of righteousness, for all people and at all times, or is it merely the law of pre-Christian Israel?
To support his claim that the Torah is the universal standard of righteousness, Mr. Eby states:
We read in the book of Acts about the believers’ miraculous encounters with the Spirit of God. But the Holy Spirit had been moving, operating, and changing the lives of people from the very beginning. The Hebrew Scriptures teach us about certain heroes, long before the book of Acts, who were full of the same Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord did not teach them to disobey the Torah of Moses.
Mr. Eby is absolutely correct here, but he fails to grasp why the Old Testament saints were led by the Spirit to follow the Torah. Before Christ came, the Torah served as a guardian, holding the Israelites captive for their own good. The law was added because of transgression. Once Christ overcame sin, the law was no longer neccessary. Until Jesus came it was God’s will for Israel to observe the Torah. It is not surprising that the Holy Spirit led them to walk in the regulations and rituals God gave Moses before Jesus came. However, the Torah was a copy and a shadow of the true reality of Christ. Once the reality came, the shadow was obsolete.
There cannot be two definitions of right and wrong. God does not have two different standards of righteousness. The question is, can a law that was added because of sin be the transcendent, universal law of God? If the Apostles believed that the Torah was a burdensome yoke that was not to be passed on to Gentile believers, can the Torah be the objective standard of right and wrong?
The fact of the matter is the Torah of Moses was only a temporal law for the Jewish people. Under the Old Covenant, the Jews were God’s people to the exclusion of the nations. If a Gentile wanted to partake of God’s covenant, they had to become a Jew.
This sounds (superficially) not much different than converting to any other faith, but let me explain with an analogy. Israel was an earthly kingdom, just as the United States is an earthly republic today. To fully partake in the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans one has to be an American citizen. A North Korean is not granted freedom of speech or freedom of religion simply because s/he believes in the U.S. Constitutional Bill of Rights. One either has to be born an American or go through the proper legal procedures to obtain citizenship. It was much the same with Israel. One had to be born a Jew or go through a complicated conversion process to partake in God’s covenant. It was not simply a matter of belief, but legal citizenship.
This was precisely the matter of debate at the Jerusalem Council. Some of the Pharisees who had received Jesus as the Messiah were preaching, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. In other words, they were preaching that faith in Christ wasn’t enough. To join God’s covenant people, one had to undergo the citizenship process to join the Jewish nation. For males, this included circumcision. Peter stood up and pointed out that God made no distinction between the Jews who observed the Torah, and the Gentiles who did not. Consequently, the Apostles decided not to lay the burden of the Torah on the new Gentile believers.
As long as the Torah was in place it was actually a dividing wall of hostility between Israel and the rest of the nations. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
If the Torah was abolished by Jesus in order to unite Jew and Gentile as one people, it stands to reason that the Torah cannot be the universal, eternal law for all men. Paul tells us of another law.
Romans 2:14-16 ESV
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Being a Gentile myself, I can personally attest to this law. Whenever I have transgressed this law by lying, stealing, cheating, and the like, my conscience and the Holy Spirit bears witness to this law, and I am convicted. I can also attest that when I have worked on Saturday, or eaten bacon, I have never been convicted. The most reasonable explanation for this is that the Torah and the law written on our hearts are two different laws. Paul says that God will judge men according to the law of the heart.
This makes perfect sense because Christ abolished the law peculiar to the Jews in order to unite them with the Gentiles as one new man. The Old Covenant was only for Jews, but the New Covenant is for all people. Jeremiah prophesied about the New Covenant and the law written on our hears:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Aaron Eby disagrees, paricularly with the law written on the heart in verse 33–
One common interpretation of this verse is that the Law “within them” and “on their hearts” was a different Law than it is now. According to this reckoning, since the heart is a living medium, the Law is also changeable and adaptable rather than rigid and inflexible. One might suggest from this that the Torah commands are dictated by an ambiguous inner voice rather than being clearly engraved on stone or penned on parchment.
However, such an interpretation ignores the Hebraic symbolism that the prophet employed. Although in Western thought the heart is the source of emotion, the Bible speaks of the heart as the locus of our decision-making process, akin to the mind. It is our will, where we process judgments.
Thus, to have the Torah written on our hearts means that it becomes so ingrained in our decision-making process that we never deviate from it.
Once again, Mr. Eby misses the real point. The law written on the heart is not the Torah of Moses, but neither is it a flexible standard that changes with human emotions. It is the true, transcendent, objective, universal law that is grounded in God’s own divine nature. He Himself is the standard of righteousness. He does not change.
This does not mean His dealings with mankind never change. The Torah served as a guardian until Christ came, but once He came there was no need for a guardian.
If the Torah was written on my heart, I would naturally feel guilty about eating shrimp. If the Mosaic law was written on Gentile hearts, the Jerusalem Council wouldn’t have happened. The Gentiles would have practiced circumcision without the Pharisees telling them to.
The Apostles decided not to burden the Gentiles with the Mosaic law because the Spirit was poured out on them apart from the Torah, just as it was poured out on believing Jews on the day of Pentecost. On Pentecost, Peter explained what had happened by quoting the prophet Joel, And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. The New Covenant was not exclusive to the Jews, and the Apostles recognized that the days of exclusively Jewish Torah were over.