John's declaration in 1:17 is not of disjunction but conjunction. We have received one blessing after another he says. The Torah (a blessing) came from Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus the Jewish Messiah (more blessing). These are both expressions of God’s holy will. This is only one of many examples of historical bias imposed on a New Testament text or a new covenant author like Paul. This next point is so important for you to consider as we carefully look at our relation to Torah. When Paul speaks of the Torah (the law) the specific context of each letter is crucial. When he writes that his Jewishness is rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus, is he saying that it was a bad thing that he was a Pharisee among Pharisees? Compare Philippians 3 with Romans 9 where he writes that to he and his kinsman,"belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen." His consistent witness is that all that came before was great, but in Jesus, it is even greater. So much greater is the light that comes through Jesus the Messiah, every other light pales by comparison—even that of the Torah. Paul does not put down God's Torah, rather he lifts up his Son, the living Torah. You see, our non-contextual, preconditioned imposition of law vs. grace thinking makes us often miss the very point Paul is trying to make. And by the way, here is something we also misunderstand. Paul says concerning the Torah that he lived blamelessly and that his conscience was clear. That makes no sense to us because we think of the law as burdensome and odious, something God gave knowing nobody could keep it. Paul's testimony rejects this prejudice, this caricature. And that makes sense in light of our study of Torah so far. Since Augustine in the fourth century—who was the paragon of an introspective conscience—the western church has been preoccupied with a sense of guilt, unworthiness, and shame; and the quest for relief from it. Augustine led a licentious life. Enormously burdened by guilt, he found relief in God through Jesus Christ. No surprise, Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. He was like a little Augustine, besieged with guilt. He too was torn, introspecting endlessly on his unworthiness. He also found relief in God through Jesus Christ. Now I am not disparaging their authentic experience of God's forgiveness and favor. Praise him for that! I am interested in how their experience in their cultural setting has colored our own. We are taught to think that Paul was just like them. We believe Augustine was a little Paul and Luther was a little Paul. But nothing could be further from the truth. Saul the Pharisee was not besieged with pangs of a guilty conscience. Paul was not an Augustine; he was not a Martin Luther. And yet this mindset persists. The result is that in the West, we have this continuing psychological need to find absolution for our guilt and sin. And the church over the centuries has emphasized this. Listen, I know this is radical, but I am challenging you to think. Suppose I ask you to explain to me what it means to be saved. Many of you would answer, “Well, it means my sins have been forgiven so that when I die, I’ll go to heaven.” Is that fairly accurate? The first thing you think of when you say salvation is forgiveness of sins.
That is true; it is not the whole truth. From the time of the Protestant Reformation, salvation has been almost exclusively defined in terms of the forgiveness of sins. That is called a juridical model, we think primarily of God as a judge. We are found guilty, and Jesus covers those sins, and we are declared forgiven and free. Do not misunderstand me, that is an essential biblical model. But, and this may come as a surprise to you, it is only one of many found in the New Testament. I can't go into all that now, listen to my teaching on the whole Gospel for the whole man. Here is something to wrestle with, if that was Paul's primary theological construct go home tonight, pull out your Concordance and look for the word forgiveness or related words in his letters. You will barely find it. As one scholar says, there is a striking absence of the concept of forgiveness in Paul’s epistles. And yet we have been taught otherwise. What we see in the church today and what we see in America is a glaring indictment of the failure of the twisted, distorted, western Christian concept of being not under law but grace. It is a failure because it is not biblical. We must seek the mind of Messiah if we are to rightly relate to the Torah.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.