Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Story: Part 6

My Story: Index
Continued from part 5...

It has been a while since I read Restoration, and I don't own a copy of it anymore, but I'll try to summarize it here.

Firstly, it mentions how all of the New Testament writers were religious Jews.  As religious Jews, the writers used specific words that have specific meanings in the context of 1st century Judaism.  Some examples include, "the word of God," "good deeds," "the commandments," "clean," "unclean," "the Sabbath," "the Law," and "righteousness."  To a 1st century Jew, Lancaster argued, all of these terms were defined in the Hebrew Bible, specifically the first 5 books, known as the Torah.

Lancaster really tried to hammer this home.  "The word of God" was the Torah.  "Good deeds" were obedience to the laws of the Torah.  "The commandments" were those of the Torah.  "Clean, unclean, and the Sabbath" were defined in the Torah, and "righteousness" came from obedience to the Torah. (however, he made the distinction that eternal righteousness was only from faith in Jesus.)

To illustrate the importance of understanding words properly, Lancaster wrote about Yankee Doodle.  "Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni."  Wait, macaroni?  Why?  What does a feather have do to with noodles?  Well actually, Lancaster taught, macaroni could refer to a style of dress or manners.  Nowadays, macaroni is a kind of noodle, but back when Yankee Doodle was penned it was something else.

And so it goes with words of the Bible.  Modern Christianity often has different definitions of the words that Lancaster said were defined in the Torah.   For example, in Modern Christianity "the word of God" is Genesis to Revelation, and, due to Jesus fulfilling some of the commandments of the Old Testament, there's an emphasis on the books of the New Testament.  This, however, was not how the writers of the New Testament defined "the word of God."  Rather, they would have defined the "word of God" with an emphasis on the Torah.

Another thing that Lancaster hammered home was that the "word of God will stand forever."  To a Christian, this point sounds entirely reasonable.  However, using Lancaster's specific definition of the "word of God," i.e. the Torah, his point sounds very different.  "The Torah will stand forever."  Implicit in this statement is that none of the Torah will be done away with.  None.  Not ever.  Not even by Jesus.  And not by Paul, nor by Christianity.  And Lancaster supported this idea with a passage from Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 13 talks about a prophet who may come in the future and lead the Israelites away from worshiping the true God.  How would that prophet lead the Israelites away?  By causing them to forsake the commandments of God.  And if such a prophet comes, the Israelites were to basically do two things.  One, they were to hold-fast to God's commandments.  And two, they were to put the false prophet to death.

Implicit in this passage is that true prophets lead the Israelites to obedience to the commandments of God.  Thus, Lancaster developed the following argument:

Premise 1: "The commandments" were those of the Torah.
Premise 2: True prophets lead the Israelites to obedience to the commandments.
Premise 3: Jesus was the Messiah and thus a true prophet.  The apostles were true prophets.
Conclusion 1:  Therefore, Jesus and the apostles led the Israelites to obedience to the commandments of the Torah.

That is the main argument in the book.

To Christians unfamiliar with the laws of the Torah, this argument may seem quite benign to typical Christian theology and beliefs.  However, it's actually not.  To illustrate, the argument implies that Jesus and the apostles taught to keep the Sabbath (from Friday night to Saturday night), the Feasts (Passover, the Day of Atonement, Pentecost, Hannukah (cf. John 10:22), etc.), the dietary laws (kosher and non-kosher), the sacrifices (bringing animals for ritual slaughter by the priests in the Temple), etc. etc.  As should be obvious now, these laws are not part of typical Christianity.  Rather, Christianity typically teaches that these laws have been done away with by Jesus' death and resurrection.  However, if Lancaster's main argument is correct, then Christianity is wrong in its teachings about these laws.

Most of the pages in the book are used to defend Lancaster's argument from objections that Christians may have.  For example, Acts 15 seems to do away with the food laws of the Torah.  Or, Colossians 2 seems to do away with the Sabbath, feast days, and food laws.  Or Hebrews 8 seems to do away with the Old covenant, the Sabbath, and the priestly laws.  There are several more.  Galatians comes to mind.  What do we do with these passages?

The answer, according to Lancaster, is that we need to reinterpret them correctly.  We need to re-examine those difficult passages in the light of their 1st century Jewish context, and in light of his main argument of the book (above).   Ultimately, those passages (and all of the New Testament, for that matter) needs to conform to Lancaster's main argument.  In other words, those passages need to be understood as promoting obedience to the commandments of the Torah.  If they cannot be reinterpreted and understood as doing so, then unfortunately those passages are wrong.  (Or, their correct interpretation has been lost, is unknown, etc.)  It's that simple.  "The Torah will stand forever."

Now, that's not to say that all of this is actually simple.  It's not.  And at the time, I became very confused.  My world was turning upside down, and I didn't know what to do.  Who could I talk to on a boat full of people with typical, Christian beliefs?  And what commandments was I supposed to do?  Was I to start keeping the Sabbath?  Eating kosher food?

That's what I'll write about next.

Go to part 7...

No comments: