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The Torah and the Sermon on the Mount

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Sometimes there is a theological issue on my mind that is more a matter of perspective than proposition. Often such an issue is particularly paradoxical–perhaps to the point of contradiction. But I don’t think so. That makes it hard to express and defend succinctly. So I’ll try this.

Was he a Jew so I would be one too,
A Torah-loving man for human good
As spoke he on the Mount in Sermon true?
His life was also sermon, good as would
Bestow a God of love who bore his law–
Which was no law but kind command!
He drew us all from where in fear and awe
We’d froze afraid to love, afraid to stand
Before a God who’s good; afraid to hope
That we, not Jews, but “gentile sinners” might
Be known by God like Abraham and Job,
Like Aaron in the temple day and night.
Messiah on the Mountain opened once
His mouth and Torah gave the rest of us.

On the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

I was reading the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy today. Couple of quotes I thought I would reflect upon:

[…]history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.

Yes, the sticking point, though, is in which parts of the Bible are considered to be history, metaphor, etc.

Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it.

Indeed, it is helpful to point out how ancient writers’ understanding of the role and nature of their work differs from modern literary assumptions. The one area this document does not address is how the ancient writers’ culture viewed the nature and composition of history itself.

Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

In this statement the entire doctument becomes relative to future insights concerning what might be “measured focus of truth” at which a particular author of a particular passage aimed. I am thinking particularly of stories such as the Creation, the Flood, and Jonah.

In short, it would be helpful to Christian unity to realize that the principles on which the conservative Evangelical camp bases its position on inerrency, does not necessarily exclude opposing positions. As the Rabbi says: “As long as the Book is open, all questions are permitted.”

Jesus and the Law

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Following is a somewhat lengthy quote from David Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission”. I appreciate his treatment of Jesus’ mission, his approach, and how that might relate to how the church might go about her mission to the world.

It is important to first understand how Jesus related to the culture and religion of his day. It is not enough to simply say “Jesus said” or “Jesus did”, and make an immediate inference for our approach to ministry. Rather, we need to understand how Jesus related to the particular set of practices and attitudes of first century Judaism and their history. Only when we have isolated such principles can we make an eventual comparison to the unique set of practices and attitudes of our society. Only then can we begin to understand what Jesus means by “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

This approach is both demanding and liberating. It requires a lot of work; it requires us to make good use of the best exegetical insights of all the ages, including modern scholarship. It means we cannot be content with a shoot-from-the-hip approach to missions that simply applies Bible verses to modern questions.

Yet it is liberating–and I mean that in a gospel way; it is life-giving to learn to understand how Jesus gave life to the people he met, each in a unique way, each according to a transcendent set of principles that he referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The first of these principles is, of course, love for one’s neighbor, inseparable from love for God.

Towards such an approach, here is what Bosch observes concerning Jesus’ relationship to the Law:

According to the gospels, particularly Matthew, Jesus seems to view the Torah in a way that is not essentially different from that of his contemporaries, including the Pharisees. At closer look, however, there are some fundamental dissimilarities. For on thing, Jesus attacks the hypocrisy of allowing a discrepancy between accepting the Law as authoritative and yet not acting according to it. For another, he radicalizes the Law in an unparalleled manner (cf. Mt 5:17-48). Third, in supreme self-confidence he takes it upon himself simply to abrogate the law, or at least certain elements in it.

Why does he do that? This, of course, is the question his contemporaries also ask, either in utter amazement or in bitter anger. The answer lies in several mutually related elements, all of which involve Jesus’ understanding of his mission.

First, the reign of God and not the Torah is for Jesus the decisive principle of action. This does not imply the annulment of the Law or antinomianism, as though there could be a basic discrepancy between God’s reign and God’s Law. What happens, rather, is that the Law is pushed back in relation to God’s reign. And this reign of God manifests itself as love to all. The Old Testament knows of God’s unfathomable and tender love to Israel–dramatized inter alia, in the enacted parable of the prophet Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute. Now, however, God’s love begins to reach out beyond the boundaries of Israel. This, says William Manson, was an absolutely new thing in the religious history of humankind.

Particularly enlightening in this quote is the fact that Jesus reversed the rapport between Torah and Kingdom. Where the people of his day understood the Kingdom as an institution governed by the Torah, Jesus understood the Torah as a particular application of his Father’s Kingdom principles. This explains why he both radicalizes and abrogates the law, each in their respectively appropriate context to the respectively appropriate audience.

Applying the Torah in this way gives rise to the seemingly paradoxical situation where Jesus assumes, epitomizes and radicalizes the values of his day, all while subverting them in favor of the novelty that is his advent–a reality that, incredibly, supersedes the Torah and religion itself.