The Christian Deliteralization of the Old Testament

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Authorship of Luke-Acts

The first verses of Luke and Acts show that both books were written by the same author.

The organization of the New Testament, grouping Luke with the synoptic gospels, causes Acts to be separated from the Gospel of Luke by the Gospel of John, but the two works by Luke should be read together.

Opening of the Gospel of Luke

"Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received" (Lk 1:1-4).

  • Luke is neither an "eyewitness" nor a "minister of the word" (1:2). If the eyewitnesses are the same group as ministers of the word, Luke is in the second (or a later) generation of Christianity; if the eyewitnesses are one group and the ministers of the word are another, then Luke is in the third (or later) generation of Christianity.
  • "Many" others have tried to tell the story (1:1). Luke must be in possession of those other narratives.
  • Luke plans an "orderly" account (1:3). This implies that he thought the other accounts were disorderly.
  • "Theophilus" is either a name (Godlover) or a description of the reader (lover of God).

Opening of the Acts of the Apostles

"In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1-2).

  • Luke talks to "Theophilus" about his "first book"--the Gospel of Luke, which describes "all that Jesus did and taught" (1:1).
  • Acts is therefore Volume 2 of Luke's history of Christianity, the story of what the Apostles did after Jesus' ascension into Heaven.

Acts 2: The Day of Pentecost

Pentecost was a Jewish festival that took place 50 days after Passover and that celebrated the giving of the Law (Torah) to Moses on Mount Sinai. For Luke, this is the day the Spirit replaces the Law; this gift fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:25-7 that GOD would write the law in people's hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit; see also Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the Spirit raises the People of Israel to life. Christians see themselves as the resurrected, Spirit-filled Israel promised by Ezekiel.

Note the signs which proved that the Spirit was present:

  • Sound of a mighty wind.
  • Tongues of fire over the heads of the disciples.
  • The disciples began to make strange and joyful noises.

Acts 10: The "Pentecost" of the Gentiles

Simon Peter has a vision on the roof about clean (kosher) and unclean animals (vv. 9-20).

He is then sent to visit Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews; vv. 20-24). The Gentiles were unclean people (not kosher)--Cornelius is a Roman centurion from the Italica cohort (v. 1).

Peter realizes that GOD has declared the unclean people clean (kosher; vv. 27-29).

As he preaches the gospel (vv. 36-43), they receive the Spirit just as the apostles did on Pentecost (vv. 44-46)!

Note the signs which proved the Spirit was present.

Since they had already received the Spirit, Peter decided they could be baptized with water and become full-fledged Christians even though they weren't circumcised and they didn't keep the Jewish Law (Torah = "Law" = the Pentateuch = the first five books of TNK / LXX / OT = GELND).

Acts 15: The Council of Jerusalem

The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is not included among the "official count" of 21 ecumenical councils, but set the pattern that all of the councils of the Church have followed ever since. When confronted with a controversy that could not be settled on the local level and that has implications for the whole Church, the bishops (the successors of the apostles) gather together and ask God to show them how to resolve the conflict.

In this case, there was a controversy between Judaizers, who argued that to be Christian, one had to be a Jew (v. 1). Because the word "Christ" symbolizes being "King of the Jews," it made perfect sense to think that one had to become a Jew in order to join Jesus' Kingdom.

Jesus was a Jew. He was circumcised and worshiped in the Temple.

His Mom was a Jew.

His 12 apostles were Jews.

Jesus focused His work on Jews living in the Holy Land.

He said that none of the Law (Torah) would be lost until it was fulfilled.

The literal meaning of the Law was perfectly clear: "God wrote it; I read it; that settles it." Converts to Judaism had to be circumcised keep the precepts of Torah. When the rabbis counted up all the commandments in the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch, the first five books of TNK, a.k.a. Torah), they found 613 commandments, precepts, decrees, and ordinances!

Many Christians objected to the approach of the Judaizers (v. 2), especially Peter and Paul.

At the Council, Peter told the story of how the Spirit was given to unclean, uncircumcised, pig-eating, emperor-worshiping Italian soldiers who worked as members of the Army of Occupation (15:8-11). The decision of the Council: "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us" that no law be imposed, other than the Famous Four Commandments [(15:28-29).] The Gentile converts were required to abstain from:

  • eating meat sacrificed to idols;
  • eating blood;
  • eating the meat of strangled animals;
  • engaging in unclean sexual relationships.

In other words, 609 commandments were dropped, just like that. (The Ten Commandments were not mentioned in this decision and the text does not tell us why; I presume that it was because the apostles expected all human beings, Jew and Gentile alike, would understand that the essential moral precepts of the Decalogue were not abrogated by the focus on the Famous Four Commandments.)

Notice that of the Famous Four Commandments, only one is still in force due to the change in our culture. This is a second kind of deliteralization of the Scriptures. Pagan temples no longer raise funds by selling leftover sacrificial meat on the open market, so there is no danger of violating the First Commandment by purchasing meat in our supermarkets. We no longer think that the life of the animal is in the blood rather than in the organism as a whole, so the two commandments based on the ancient view are no longer in force (the meat from strangled animals is bloodier than that from animals who have had the blood drained from the body). Only the precept about unclean sexual relationships is still in full force.

A Radical Re-interpretation of the Old Testament

The Council of Jerusalem marks a major turning point in the Christian re-interpretation of what we call the Scriptures of the "Old Testament". This seems to me to be one of the greatest moral miracles in the New Testament. It is astonishing to me that God could persuade faithful Jews like Peter and Paul to teach that the time of Torah was over and to cease taking the commandments in the Pentateuch literally.

Old Covenant (Old Testament) New Covenant (New Testament)
First sign of acceptance: circumcision (surgery). First sign of acceptance: Baptism (a bath).
Salvation came through obedience to Torah (Law). Salvation came as a grace (a free gift, unearned).
The Messiah (Christ) was a human king who would marry, father an heir, win battles, and die. The Messiah is the God-Man who conquered sin and death and now lives and reigns forever (fulfilling Psalm 89).
Life is regulated by 613 commandments in the Torah. Life is regulated by the Holy Spirit.
The official place of worship was the Temple in Jerusalem: one God, one People, one Holy Land, one Holy City, one Temple. The official place of worship is the Body of Christ: "wherever two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I" (Mt 18:20; Acts 9:5, 22:8, 26:15).

Changing the Sabbath Day

The decision in Acts 15 does not directly address the question of how and when the Church changed from the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday as the Day of the Lord.

Sifting the Torah

Paul vs. the Judaizers: "Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law" (Gal 5:3).

Jesus declared all foods clean--but not all behavior (Mk 7:14-17)!

Some elements of the Old Law that are no longer in force:

  • Kosher laws concerning food.
  • Prohibition of tattoos.
  • Animal sacrifice.