Monday, August 8, 2011

As without Torah, but not without Torah

Being free from them all, I have made myself servant to every man; that I might gain many: And with the Jews, I was as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; and with those under Torah, I was as under Torah, that I might gain them who are under Torah; And to those who have not Torah, I was as without Torah (although I am not without Torah to Elohim, but subject to the Torah of the Mashiyach,) that I might gain them that are without Torah” (1 Corinthians 9:19-21)

Under Torah” refers to religious (halachic) traditions of how Torah is to be observed. The terms “works of Torah” and “under Torah” predate Paul by hundreds of years. These terms were discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls (A Sectarian Manifesto 4QMMT:4Q394-399); while originally referring to the ultra religious halakha of the Essenes, the same principles apply to the Pharisees’ halakha. These two phrases are also mentioned in Romans 6:14, 15; 9:32; 1 Corinthians 9:20; 21; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, 23; 4:4, 5, 21; 5:18. “Under Torah” refers to the orthodox/traditional interpretation and observance of Torah. The Renewed Covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:33 is to write the Torah of YHWH upon the hearts of His people, not the “Torah of men.” The Idiomatic expression “works of Torah” provides insight to those of a “traditional” Jewish upbringing. Paul references Jews at the beginning of this chapter (Romans 3); in verse 19 he states “Now we know” referring to those who understand Torah and halakha.

When Rav Shaul (Paul) talks about “as being without Torah” he clarifies by saying that he is “not without the Torah of Elohim, but subject to the Torah of Mashiyach.” Rav Shaul rejects Rabbinical interpretations of Torah and extra unscriptural fences around Torah that he knows Y’hoshua did not endorse. He has, by being “subject,” transferred his allegiance from the Rabbis he trained under, to Y’hoshua as final arbiter. If Y’hoshua and the Rabbis agreed, which they often did, then there was no problem. But if they disagreed, Y’hoshua’s interpretation always overruled theirs. This was no small admission at the time. The Netzarim community began with very small numbers. The idea of even one Rabbi could outdo all others was revolutionary, as the Talmud records the opposite scenario: “My son! Be careful concerning rabbinical decrees even more than the Torah… the Torah contains prohibitions… But anyone who violates a rabbinical decree is worthy of death” (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin, 21b).

In another place, Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishnah says: “If there are 1000 prophets, all of them of the stature of Eliyah and Elisha, giving a certain interpretation, and 1001 rabbis giving the opposite interpretation, you shall incline after the majority and the instruction according to the 1001 rabbis, not according to the 1000 prophets… Elohim did not permit us to learn from the prophets, only from the rabbis who are men of logic and reason.” So we see that even if Y’hoshua was thought of as a prophet, rabbinical rules would still discount him and put traditions over what he teaches. And as the first, and more ancient quote shows, to have that disagreement in the first place was and is a dangerous business!

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