Bible Studies/CHRISTIAN VALUES

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Question
QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Mealy,

I hear quite a lot about Judeo-Christian values as the foundation of our country.  However, I also noticed that many of the quotes of Jesus himself are actually lifted from the Old Testament, such as almost every comment in his Sermon on the Mount.  So the question is this: If much of the philosophy of Christianity is based or "borrowed" from Judaism, what are the Christian values that are unique to Christianity?  It's not the Ten Commandments, obviously, since these Commandments are from Jewish law.  It's not the giving of charity, praying or loving God, since those are also from Jewish philosophy.

ANSWER: Dear Bruce,

As a Bible expert, I'm going to try to give a biblical answer. In brief, there is little in terms of Christian "values" that is not already found in the Old Testament. That stands to reason, because the Old Testament is part of the Christian Bible, and, indeed, it was the Bible of Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament. Jesus, Paul, and other NT writers did not regard faith in Jesus as something distinct from, and in competition with, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the prophets. They believed that Jesus was the central figure foreseen by the prophets of the OT, who uniquely brought the people of Israel into the greatest OT promises (forgiveness of sins, a "new heart" (Ezek. 36:26; Jer. 24:7; 31:33; 32:40), and the renewing presence of the Holy Spirit.

The only values that come to mind right away that are distinctive of Jesus and the New Testament are these: self-sacrificial service (e.g. Mt. 20:26-27; 23:11; Jn 13:1-15; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:5-8) and voluntary simplicity of lifestyle (one could almost say "poverty") as an expression of complete faith in God (e.g. Mt. 6:11, 19-34; 1 Tim. 6:8; Heb. 13:5-6).

I only wish more contemporary Christians embraced these distinctive Christian values.

Webb Mealy



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Mealy,

Thank you for those answers.  Self-sacrificial service and voluntary simplicity of lifestyle sound very noble, but those two tenets seem hardly adequate for starting a new religion.  It seems that there should be more than that.  Especially since most people, and most Christians, do not strive or want to lead a simple lifestyle of poverty, yet consider themselves pious believers in Jesus.  But the philosophy to provide self-sacrifical service and lead an abstemious lifestyle are actually contained in the Old Testament.  One of the Ten Commandments forbids envy or coveting, which seems to imply a prohibition against seeking riches.  And the command for the giving of charity is a fundamental and ubiquitous recommendation throughout the OT.  That's not exactly the same thing, but it's pretty close.  

With regard to Jesus being a central figure somehow encoded in the OT, I'm sure you're aware that most if not all the "references" to a future messiah, when applied to Jesus, were the result of mistranslations and twisting of the wording of the OT in order to make it appear to refer to Jesus.  You referred to Ezekiel.  But in that same book, the prophet says "And if the wicked man turn away from his wickedness that he did and performs justice and righteousness, he will cause his soul to live.  Because he contemplated and repented from all his transgressions that he did, he shall surely live; he shall not die." (Ezek 18: 27-28).  This provides a clear and unequivocal path to salvation and forgiveness of sin without the introduction of any need for Jesus.  To further rule out the acceptability of "vicarious salvation" (allowing the death of someone to atone for the sins of others), see Exodus 32:32-35, in which God rejects Moses' offer of vicarious salvation for his people.

With regard to adding values to the OT or adding anything, how does the Christian belief explain commands in the OT such as "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it, to observe the Commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you" (Deut 4:2) and from Psalm 19: "The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise..." etc.  These divine statements, as clear as glass, order the reader to observe the OT as is, with no additions.  To make sure the message is clear, the very last prophecy in the OT, by Malachi, states, "Remember the Torah of Moses, which I commanded him at Horeb, for all of Israel - its decrees and its statutes" (Malachi 3:22).  

I suppose the real question I have is that if the Torah of Hashem is "perfect," and vicarious salvation is shown to be unnecessary as in Ezekiel and Exodus, and if we are commanded not to add or subtract anything from the OT, why do we need Jesus and Christianity?

Bruce

Answer
Dear Bruce,

Please forgive this very long answer. Your questions have made me think a lot, and I wanted to give you real answers, to share my own genuine thoughts and beliefs, rather than rattling off stock responses.

You observed, “Self-sacrificial service and voluntary simplicity of lifestyle sound very noble, but those two tenets seem hardly adequate for starting a new religion.”

I don’t see Jesus (or his students and associates, whom he appointed as “apostles,” i.e. emissaries, as trying to start a new religion. In my view, Jesus believed his calling from God was to fulfill the promises of the religion of his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For example, he had little to say about the Gentiles and virtually no contact with them. His mission was to bring revival of faith in God, and spiritual renewal, to his fellow Jews, in fulfillment of the prophecies I spoke of that talk about Israel and Judah being fully reconciled to God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and forgiven of their sins once and for all. Jeremiah prophesies of a New Covenant for the people of God:

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. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my Torah 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. (Jer. 31:31-34 ESV)

Jesus saw himself as a servant of this New Covenant of radical inner renewal. He preached faith and service, service and love, love and obedience. He preached that true faith in the God who made all things, and who is capable of taking care of every created being that turns to him, frees people to live in mutual service and simplicity, rather than in competition and hoarding. If that doesn’t sound like a new religion in relation to Judaism, that’s because it’s not. It’s a native radicalization of Judaism based on pointing the people of God to their original identity as holy priests in God’s Kingdom (Exod. 19:6). Although Jesus doesn’t use the term “priests” in his teaching, his faith- and service-based program implies calling the whole nation to step into the Exod. 19:6 identity of priests whose role is to serve their fellow human beings and the living world into which God created humans as managers and caretakers (Gen. 1:24, 28 || 2:15).

You observed that “…most people, and most Christians, do not strive or want to lead a simple lifestyle of poverty, yet consider themselves pious believers in Jesus.”  

If it is tempting to think that Jesus failed, because so few people actually follow him (as distinct from simply congratulating themselves that they believe in him), I would point out that failure is a hoary tradition in Judaism. Think, for example, of Moses, who saved the Israelites out of Egypt, only to have nearly all of them turn to faithlessness (Exod. 32; Ps. 106:1-33). Or think of Elijah, to whom God admitted that only 7,000 men of Israel were faithful to him (1 Kgs 19:1-18). The most beautiful and true things in the world are ignored or spat on by most.

You observe: “But the philosophy to provide self-sacrificial service and lead an abstemious lifestyle are actually contained in the Old Testament.  One of the Ten Commandments forbids envy or coveting, which seems to imply a prohibition against seeking riches.”

I’m not knowledgeable as to how the rabbinic oral tradition deals with the tenth commandment, but I can say that envy directs itself against people (holding an ill will against someone else, an “evil eye”), whereas coveting directs itself towards things (“you shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's,” Exod. 20; Deut. 5). I recall that trying to get rich quickly is discouraged in the proverbial literature (Job 20:15; Prov. 13:11; 20:21; 28:20, 22), but that is not at all the same idea as the idea that one should give no attention whatsoever to the making and maintenance of wealth. This latter idea is a corollary to Jesus’ radical call to total faith in God, and it would be stingy not to give him credit for preaching it and living it. Even this is not necessarily unique, but after all, that which is wise is rarely discovered exclusively in one place and in no other.

You observe, “And the command for the giving of charity is a fundamental and ubiquitous recommendation throughout the OT.  That's not exactly the same thing, but it's pretty close.”

Once again, Jesus radicalizes a value that is already present in the Torah and the Prophets. Don’t simply share your surplus—share your entire life: “Freely you have received, freely give”  (Mt. 10:8). Rather than striking out and founding a new religion, Jesus digs deep to the foundation of Judaism: total, living faith in God as creator and sustainer (e.g. Ps. 145:9; Jer. 2:9-13). He preaches and lives a faith so radical that it dares to abandon all concern with one’s own needs. He challenges his fellow Jews to focus on loving and serving others, resting in the confidence that God will replenish what one expends in good faith. This is a significant step further than sharing out of one’s abundance.

“With regard to Jesus being a central figure somehow encoded in the OT, I'm sure you're aware that most if not all the "references" to a future messiah, when applied to Jesus, were the result of mistranslations and twisting of the wording of the OT in order to make it appear to refer to Jesus.”  

This is a huge topic, but I would submit that no application of OT prophecy to Jesus in the NT falls outside the normal parameters of biblical interpretation shared by Jews of the first century. Every scripture put forward in favor of identifying Jesus as Messiah is subject to more than one reading, and every one of them is debatable. That said, rabbinically trained believers such as Saul of Tarsus (who studied under Gamaliel, and sometimes used his Roman name, Paul) and Apollos of Alexandria (who very probably came under the influence of Philo) regularly held their own in debates about whether Jesus was the Messiah, and much of their argumentation centered around OT prophecy. In the years immediately following Jesus' crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, thousands of Jews (admittedly a small minority) came to believe in him, and they would not have been convinced unless they found OT prophecies such as Isaiah 52–53 and Zech. 12–13 to be striking testimonies to him.

“You referred to Ezekiel.  But in that same book, the prophet says "And if the wicked man turn away from his wickedness that he did and performs justice and righteousness, he will cause his soul to live.  Because he contemplated and repented from all his transgressions that he did, he shall surely live; he shall not die." (Ezek 18: 27-28).  This provides a clear and unequivocal path to salvation and forgiveness of sin without the introduction of any need for Jesus.”

It’s  very true that God does not require something or someone to punish in order to forgive created beings that have left the path of love, justice, and mutual support in the community of their fellow created beings. All God asks—in order to extend full and complete forgiveness and amnesty—is for the being that has turned to destructiveness to repent, to “turn,” (shuv ) again towards life and justice. God is absolutely free with forgiveness for the repentant—without distinction based on special status of any kind. This is the wonder of God, which the vicious-minded completely miss. The God who revealed his deepest character to Moses on Sinai does not have a nature that requires punishment or revenge:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exod. 34:6-7)

I understand the reference to “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children” not as a contradiction to what had just been revealed, but as God’s taking responsibility for the fact that human sin has a cascading effect. An abusive father tends to result in a son who is abusive, and so on. God will freely forgive the repentant sinner, but God does not guarantee to the sinner that the knock-on effects of his or her sin will be removed, because those effects end up involving the free will of those against whom the person has sinned, and each of them has to take responsibility for their own reaction to being sinned against. I can do what I can to make amends for the harm I’ve caused others, but only they (with God’s help) can decide that they want to pass on the harm no further.

I understand that many Christian theologians believe that God requires a scapegoat in order to forgive anyone, and they are fundamentally mistaken. So I am in agreement with you here. But there are two problems that remain, even granting and celebrating God’s completely forgiving nature.

The first problem is that those against whom I have sinned can make a claim against me before God on the basis of the Torah. The Torah, revealed through the mediation of angels for the good of the commonwealth of Israel, lays out specific penalties for social wrongdoing, and these penalties stand whether or not God forgives you. For example, suppose I have killed someone. If I truly repent, I owe God nothing for this grave sin. But the person’s family may come to God, as the supreme Judge, and say, “You decreed that every murderer must die. Consistency with your own Torah demands that you execute this person.” What happens then? Traditionally, either I must die, or I must pay a ransom of some sort to satisfy the family of the murdered person (which the Torah specifically forbids: Num. 35:31). According to Jesus and his apostles, this is where Jesus steps in. He offers his life as a ransom in the place of every sinner, so that no accuser can appeal to the lex talionis and practically nullify God’s decision to grant amnesty to the repentant. This is all theologically complex and debatable, but it is really what Jesus and the writers of the NT taught. For example:

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Jesus, Mt 20:25-28 || Mk 10:42-45)

(Notice how the above passage ties in directly with the value of self-giving service that I named as unique to Jesus/Christianity.)

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Torah of Moses. (Stephen, preaching to his fellow Jews in Acts 13:38-39)

But to the person who doesn’t work, but puts belief in the One who acquits  the ungodly, their faith is credited to them as being in the right. Similarly, David also speaks about the blessedness of the person that God credits as being in the right completely apart from doing what the Torah requires: “Blessed is the man whose lawless acts have been forgiven, whose sins have been covered over. Blessed is the man whose failure God does not hold against him.”  (Paul, in Romans 4:5-8, quoting Ps. 32:1-2, writing for his fellow Jews)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those who were under the Torah, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Paul, in Galatians 4:4-5)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Paul, in Colossians 2:13-14)

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Messiah Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:3-6)

You observed, “To further rule out the acceptability of "vicarious salvation" (allowing the death of someone to atone for the sins of others), see Exodus 32:32-35, in which God rejects Moses' offer of vicarious salvation for his people.”

Very true. God does not want, and does not accept, scapegoats or whipping boys. On the other hand, God does, according to my Christian theology, put forward the freely-offered life of his own Son, Messiah Jesus, as the definitive answer to every created being that insists on revenge and opposes God’s decision to grant amnesty to the repentant without penalty:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Paul, in Colossians 2:13-15)

When Paul speaks of “the rulers and authorities,” he is thinking in particular of Satan, the accuser, who now has no legal (i.e. Torah-based) argument to make in the divine court to oppose God’s free forgiveness of the repentant.

So that’s the first problem which, according to the Jewish believers who wrote the New Testament, God took away in the willing and innocent death of Messiah Jesus. No one has to be persuaded by this; I’m just pointing out that this is what they taught, and it made sense to them as Jews. As a Gentile who hears the message of Messiah Jesus from these Jewish believers, I accept their testimony.

I’ll mention one counter-argument to this being alleged as a problem, although I don’t doubt there are any number of possible objections. The argument is this: Why could God not simply declare a blanket amnesty to the world for all who repent, and turn away the claims of all those who had been wronged? After all, God is sovereign, God has first and last rights as the creator of all. Two answers have been put forward in the New Testament:

(1) Jesus Messiah died in the place of sinners because otherwise God, in overturning his word in the Torah (by releasing the repentant from its penalties), would be susceptible to a complaint that he had treated people unequally. Some people would have suffered punishment under the Torah for their offenses, and others would have gotten off scot-free. God therefore grants the claims of the injured, but pays them himself, in the person of his Son. As Paul says,

Now, we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those who are in its jurisdiction. And it says these things so that every mouth may be shut, and the entire world will come under God’s jurisdiction. That’s why “no flesh is going to be found innocent in front of him” [Ps. 143:2] by doing what the Torah requires: because it’s through the Torah that the full recognition of sin comes. But now God’s justice has been revealed apart from the Torah, with the Torah and the Prophets testifying to it. This is the justice of God that is revealed through faith in Jesus the Messiah, to the benefit of everyone who believes. There is no distinction: all have sinned and fail the glory of God. Without cost, all are found innocent by his grace, through their redemption by Messiah Jesus. It was Jesus whom God put forward as a gift that makes amends through faith in his blood. This was to show forth God’s just judgment through the forgiveness of past sins by God’s mercy. It was also to demonstrate God’s justice in this age, so that he may be seen to be just in finding innocent the person who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:19-26)

(2) Jesus Messiah died in the place of sinners because God wishes to show, to express, how much he loves humanity—the wrongdoers and the wronged. He could have responded to all claims of injustice by saying, “I have forgiven, and you must also. Deal with it.” But he chose to prove, in the person of his own Son, that his amnesty was based on love for all, not on callous disregard for the suffering of the wronged. As Paul says a little later in Romans,

Didn’t the Messiah die on our behalf at the moment when we were still weak, still godless? 7If you think of it, a person would hardly die even for a tsadik —though for a truly good person one could possibly even get up the courage to die. Yet God demonstrates his love for us, because the Messiah died for us when we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8)

This is how God loved the world: by giving his only Son, so that whoever trusts in him will not perish, but have eternal life (John, a Jew, writing in John 3:16)

These are some of the New Testament responses to the counter-argument that God did not need to appoint a redeemer in order to put forward an amnesty for the repentant.

But there is a second, and even greater, problem than the problem of God remaining just and true to his Torah on the one hand, and extending forgiveness and amnesty for sins, on the other hand. The second problem is the problem of humans being trapped in alienation from God and God’s ways. Your original question was, if God freely forgives the repentant, what need is there for a death? The answer, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, is that no one had the power to repent, so God had to go to them, in the person of his Son, and meet them in their state of unrepentance, and demonstrate his love to them “while they were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8). In a way known only by God, this act of self-giving to the point of facing death at our hands opens up our ability to see ourselves for what we have become, and enables us to take hold of God’s freely offered cleansing and amnesty (Isa. 55:1-9). As Zechariah prophesies (I paraphrase):

On that day. . . I am going to pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace, a spirit enabling them to ask for my help. They will look on me, the one they pierced, and they will mourn for me [literally, “him”] like one grieves for a first-born son who has died. That day there will be lots of weeping in Jerusalem. . . . The land will grieve, each family grieving by itself, husbands and wives by themselves, . . . all the families, all the men, all the women, each and every one, weeping. On that day a fountain will be made available to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: a fountain of cleansing from sin and the stain of wrongdoing. (Zech. 12:9–13:1)

Similarly, Isaiah prophesies,

Yet the LORD was pleased with his wounded one, whom he had made to suffer.
When you [the readers!] make his life an offering for sin,
He shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
Through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
He shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
And he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:10–11)

According to this prophecy of Isaiah, God does not wound or kill the Servant on our behalf; rather, the Servant represents God to us, and, by facing in himself the hostility that we harbor towards God, he reconciles us to God and gives us the gift of repentance that we could not generate in ourselves. Messiah, the Servant, is none other than the saving “arm of the LORD” (Isa. 52:10; 53:1).

Paul, implicitly referring to Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 12–13, writes:

Just as God was in Messiah, reconciling the world himself—not counting their offenses against them—so he has also put the message of reconciliation in us. So we’re ambassadors on Messiah’s behalf. It’s as though God were pleading through us, when we ask on behalf of Messiah: come back  to God! (2 Cor. 5:19-20)

From all of these passages you can see that there is a great deal of thinking in the New Testament about the death of Jesus that has nothing to do with the notion of a scapegoat who satisfies God’s alleged inability to forgive sins without punishment. I, for one, do not find the scapegoat concept in the New Testament at all.

You asked a few more questions.

“With regard to adding values to the OT or adding anything, how does the Christian belief explain commands in the OT such as ‘You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it, to observe the Commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you’ (Deut 4:2) and from Psalm 19: ‘The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise...’ etc.  These divine statements, as clear as glass, order the reader to observe the OT as is, with no additions.  To make sure the message is clear, the very last prophecy in the OT, by Malachi, states, ‘Remember the Torah of Moses, which I commanded him at Horeb, for all of Israel - its decrees and its statutes’ (Malachi 3:22).”

There are many possible answers to this question. Among them are these: (1) In Deut. 4:1-14 Moses clearly is telling the people of Israel not to add to or subtract from the commands given him on Sinai. That is, he is saying that when you pass on this corpus of laws to future generations of Israel, do not leave anything out of it that is in it, and do not add anything new to it, making people think that some innovation that you dreamt up was actually given on Sinai. Moses is not saying that God has spoken and from now on will be utterly silent. Otherwise all the prophets who spoke to the people in the generations that followed, and gave them commands from God, would have been liars and breakers of this command. If the prophets were not breaking it, then the Sinai Torah is not God’s last and only word, as though God were the absent God of Deism, who will never again be actively involved in the creation. Far from it: God promises to send prophets before Messiah comes, even according to the very prophecy of Malachi that you cite (Mal. 4:4-6). Moses himself, of course, also looks ahead to God sending another prophet like him (Deut. 18:15). And Messiah himself will have the authority to issue commands from God (e.g. Isa. 55:4). (2) There is no plausible rationale—and certainly no scriptural rationale—that can get you to the position that the words of Moses in Deut. 4:1-14 refer not to what they appear to refer to, but to the present canon of the Hebrew Bible, which did not come into final form until 800 or more years later. (3) Jeremiah prophesies that there will be a new covenant:

"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.  For 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."  (Jer. 31:31-34)

Jeremiah even dares to say that there will come a day in which the very ark of the covenant of the LORD will be done away with, and will never again come to mind—despite the fact that God commanded on Sinai the making and preservation of this symbol of his enthroned presence:

Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.  And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.  At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. (Jer. 3:14-17)

In summary, the Tanach itself contains strong indications that God is not finished speaking to humanity.

You finished your letter by asking, “I suppose the real question I have is that if the Torah of Hashem is ‘perfect,’ and vicarious salvation is shown to be unnecessary as in Ezekiel and Exodus, and if we are commanded not to add or subtract anything from the OT, why do we need Jesus and Christianity?”

I have answered most of this already, but I will add one more thing. “Christianity,” as practiced by most people in the world right now, is a Gentile religion. Much of it is pretty tenuously connected to the actual teachings of Jesus and his apostles, let alone to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If the “we” in your question means Jews, Jews don’t need Christianity as such. They need God. And Jesus, if he is truly Messiah, as his first Jewish followers believed, and as I, a Gentile, believe through their testimony, then “we” need him because he is the One whom God appointed to reconcile us to him and to one another. I’ll wrap up with a passage from Paul:

At that time, you [Gentiles] were separated from Messiah. You were shut out from the community of Israel, and you were foreigners to God’s promised covenants.  You had no hope, and you were without God in the world. But now, in Messiah Jesus, you’re not far away anymore: you’ve been brought in close by the blood of Messiah.  Because he himself is our peace! He’s the one who has made the two into one. And he’s broken down the dividing wall, the hostility, in his own flesh. He has abolished the law of commands and rules, in order to create, from the two, one new human being in himself. He made the peace! And he reconciled the two, in one body, to God through the cross. He had put their hostility to death on the cross! (Eph. 2:12-16)

Thank you for your searching questions!

Webb Mealy

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J. Webb Mealy

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Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.

Experience

Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (www.sentpress.com), author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Organizations
Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

Publications
See my online publication, www.simplegospel.net, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See www.sentpress.com, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

Education/Credentials
PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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