Torah-Observance is evidence of the love of God being Perfected in Us

     I’ve always believed that the only lawful observance of Torah is when it is motivated out of a love for God. Anything else is either works based theology or futile attempts at self-righteousness. Furthermore, this love of God that desires to express itself in obedience to the commandments is evidence of something that is happening on the inside of each Christian who has chosen this path. The answer to what this “something” is, I found in I John 2: 3-6.

I’ve recently developed a deeper understanding of these scriptures. I’ve been taking a Greek course and part of our homework has been to translate I John. When I came to chapter 2, I found some remarkable things that I would like to share. Here are the verses in the New Kings James Translation: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know Him and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love fo God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as he walked.” Let us break this down.

To begin with, John tells us that the evidence that we know Jesus, is obedience to the Torah. The Greek word for commandments here is “”. It is the same Greek word that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) used to describe the commandments of God. When we know Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural bi-product of this knowledge is a desire to walk in His Commandments. The next verse can be a little confusing. “He who says, “I know Him and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him.” Ouch for all those still steeped in the pagan side of Christianity. On the other hand, I would not be so bold as to say that all who keep Sunday, Christmas, and Easter don’t know Jesus. I think that many, if not most, have real spiritual relationships with God and they have a desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him. This is really what John is talking about here. They just haven’t yet received the revelation of keeping all the commandments. They are wonderful Born-again, Spirit-filled, Christian people who would agree with us that the commandments of God should dictate our lives, they are just a little confused about what that really encompasses. But, they do know Messiah and He knows them.

Verse 5 is the one that is difficult to translate but it a very powerful verse. “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” What we want to focus on here is the word “perfected.” It is the Greek word, “” which has the meaning of to complete, to accomplish, to carry through to the end. This is easy enough to translate but what is difficult is the tense that this is written in. It is written in the perfect tense. The Perfect tense is the present state resultant upon a past action. Basically, something has happened in the past that has a present time ramification. For example, when Jesus is tempted by the devil, He responds with, “It is written…” this phrase is written in the perfect tense. Meaning, that what was written long ago still has a direct impact on the present reality. As I pondered this in the present verse. I began to understand. Jesus has purchased our sanctification and our perfection. It is already paid for although it may not be acquired yet. Nevertheless, I think John is saying that our desire to keep Torah because we know God and love Him, is the evidence that what Jesus purchased for us long ago is becoming a present day reality in our lives. The love of God is being perfected in us as we walk with Him in obedience to what he says, not because we either need to be good enough or merit favor with God, but because we desire to live a life pleasing to Him because we love Him. The presence of this in our souls is the evidence of the love of God coming to perfection in us and driving us toward sanctification, and ultimately perfection. This tense is difficult to translate but this is the essence of the verse. Really good stuff. The last verse of this section just fits nicely with the position and drives home the point.

John writes, “he who says that he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as he walked.” If we really abide in Christ we ought or we owe it to Him to live a life that looks like that of Jesus. He was obedient to every commandment that applied to Him. Never missed a one and never sinned. In this, He is our role model, completely obedient to the Torah. If we say we are in Him, we ought to live just as he lived. Amen

The Prophetic Picture of Habakkuk 2:3-4

For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it, Because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, the proud, his soul is not upright in him, But the just shall live by his faith.”(Habakkuk 2:3-4 NKJV)

A friend of mine emailed me these verses along with a commentarial note from the Jewish Publication Societies Study Bible or Tanach. Here is the commentary on this passage. In reference to verse 3, it states, “This verse is associated in Jewish tradition with the coming of the Messiah and is reflected in the language of the twelfth principle of the thirteen principles of faith of Maimonides.” (1) Neither of us had ever heard of this verse, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry” as referring to the coming of Messiah. And this reference is not from just some ordinary everyday rabbi. This is from Maimonides, or Ramban as he is sometimes referred to, is generally regarded as one of the greatest rabbinical minds in history. This really peaked my interest. Hence, I began to delve into the Hebrew of this passage.

The first word of the verse, in Hebrew, refers to “the vision.” It is the word from which “seer” is derived in the Old Testament (Strong’s # 2377); hence, vision is an appropriate translation. The next word blew me away when I read it. It is the word “moed” (Strong’s #4150) and has the meaning of “an appointed time.” Its use in Scripture gives us a clearer picture of what this “vision” is about. When God would visit Israel above the mercy seat and talk with Moses face to face, that was said to be a “moed.” An appointed time where God will meet with mankind. I’m beginning to see inside the mind of Ramban here. The essence of what we are reading thus far is this, “the prophetic vision of the appointed time when God will meet with mankind face to face.” This is exactly what Maimonides had in mind when he labeled this passage as Messianic. He was correct. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of this passage. The appointed time when God would put on flesh and meet mankind face to face on their turf, was an appointed time which had been prophesied about for years prior. The final word in the first part of that verse is also interesting. It means literally, “to blow.” (Strong’s 6315) A possible translation for what we have thus far could be, “The prophetic vision of the appointed time when God will meet with mankind face to face will blow, even if it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come to pass.” The Keil and Delitzsch commentary writes, “The prophecy is for the appointed time; it relates to the period fixed by God for its realization, which was then still far off. The vision had a direction towards a point, which, when looked at from the present, was still in the future. The goal was the end, the Messianic times, in which the judgment would fall upon the power of the world.” (2) This sets the stage for the next verse.

“Behold, the proud, his soul is not upright in him, But the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) The obvious point being made here is a juxtaposition of the unrighteous versus the righteous. One position of selfishness and one position of selflessness. Even in the dire circumstances presented in the book of Habakkuk, the lifestyle of the righteous doesn’t change. They continue to live a live of dependency upon God. The JPS commentary catches this point as well. It writes, “According to one of the Rabbis in b. Mak. 23b, this saying encapsulates all the commandments…In its original context the saing is clearly interwoven with the first part of the verse. The saying there focuses on a person whose life is swollen and crooked. Then the verse moves to the opposite pole, a pious person who keeps his or her trust in the LORD under the dire circumstances described in the book, ie, when the righteous are asked to wait while those who do not deserve worldly power wield it over them.” (3) I thought the first part of this commentary was interesting. Mainly, the Rabbinical thought recognized that faith fulfilled the law. That the righteous will live by faith and the external evidence of this faith is to love the Lord and to love all others regardless of their behavior. Of course, the verse “the just shall live by faith” is rich within Christian history. It was the battle cry of the Protestant reformation. A closer look at the Hebrew will reveal a little more than how the verse is translated.

The first word in the verse is the Hebrew word, “zaddikim.” (Strong’s 6662) In modern Hebrew, if one is considered pious, the are referred to as a “Zadik.” (the im ending on the Hebrew noun makes it plural) this man is the embodiment of piety, holiness, and love. The next word is one that is also very familiar, it is “emunah” (Strong’s 530) It is the word from which “amen” is derived. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes it as, “it is used to refer to those whose lives God establishes.” (4) So far, the meaning of verse reads, “The righteous, holy, pius person, God will establish them because of their trust in Him.” The last word is the most transforming of all the words in the verse. It is a derivative of the verb, “haya” (Strong’s 2421) It is the word from which “YHWH” is derived. “The verb involves the ability to have life somewhere on the scale between the fullest enjoyment of all the powers of one’s being, with health and prosperity on the one hand and descent into trouble, sickness, and death on the other.” (5) Additionally, the longer that one lives this lifestyle, the more transformed into the image of YHWH they will become. So, let’s put all this together. The full meaning of the Hebrew here reads, “The righteous/pious/holy person is established by God’s because of their dependency upon Him as they love Him and all others, fulfilling the law, and as they continue in this lifestyle, they will become more like Him.” It is my opinion that it is of no coincidence that the verse follows something so strongly Messianic. No wonder Luther was quickened to it. This also matches Paul’s understanding of the verse when he writes, “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is reveal from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17) Paul has this same understanding. Mainly, that a person quickened to life by faith in God, will begin a transformation of becoming more like God as they move from faith to faith. The longer a person lives in faith, the more they love God, love others, they will become more like God.

 

Endnotes

1. Berlin, Adele, Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, page 1229.

2. Keil, C.F., Delitzsch, F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 2004, volume “The Minor Prophets”, page 400.

3. Ibid, Berlin, page 1229.

4. Harris, R. Laird, Archer, Gleason, L., Waltke, Bruce K., Theological ?Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1980, page 522.

5. Ibid, 279-280.

The Sabbath and the People of God

“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9 NKJV)

The above quoted verse, in the English translations, never mentions the Sabbath. It is my opinion that this is one of the most grossly mistranslated verses in all of the New Testament. This was a recent revelation for me and I stumbled upon it when I was reading George Lamsa’s Translation, “The Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text.” Dr. Lamsa translated the verse, “It is therefore the duty of the people of God to keep the Sabbath.” As a torah-observant Christian, this translation really warmed my heart but I questioned its accuracy in the Greek translations. So, I began to dig into the Greek of the verse and the following is what I’ve found.

Before we begin, I must say that I am no Greek scholar. I purchased a course from National Bible College in Florida and studied Greek through it. I say that this is one of the most mistranslated verses in scripture because the fallacy of the translation is even obvious to a novice such as myself. So let’s look at the Greek.

The verse reads, “” I will endeavor to break this verse down and explain the Greek to those who have no background in it. The sentence begins with a preposition. This particular preposition “intimates that, under these circumstances something either is so or becomes so.” (1) When it is placed at the beginning of a sentence…accordingly should be its translation (2). This tells us that the previous verses set the stage of the “certain circumstances” from which we can draw a conclusion. The context of the first 11 verses of chapter 4 are juxtaposing the Sabbath, grace, and faith. The writer is making the point that if we would enter into the “rest” of God that we must cease from our works, just as God ceased from His works on the seventh day, the Sabbath. This is the backdrop for the “” of verse 9. The writer uses this word to indicate to his readers that, “under these circumstances, the following must be applicable.” Consequently, the word should be translated “Accordingly.”

The next word in the sentence “” is the verb of the sentence. The “-” ending on this verb indicates that this verb is in the passive voice. “The passive voice indicates that the subject is being acted upon.” (3) Hence, whatever conclusion the writer is about to reveal, the subject of the sentence will be acted upon. An example of the passive voice could be the English sentence, “The ball was thrown.” The ball is the subject and the verb “to throw” is acting upon the subject. The verb itself means to “leave behind as in remains.” According to Thayer’s Lexicon of the New Testament, the word should be translated here, “is reserved.” (4)

The next word is the one where translators have just dropped the ball, the word is “”, which is transliterated, sabbatismos. See where we are going? The  ending indicates the normative case and that this is the subject of the sentence. So, in the passive voice, this subject is going to be acted upon. This particular word is found only here in the entire New Testament. The best way to describe it is that it is a verb that has become a noun. It means, “to keep the Sabbath” Thus, it becomes, “a keeping Sabbath” or the “Kept Weekly Sabbath.” Corresponding words are found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. When the word is a verb it is “” It is found in Leviticus 23, and several other places, and has the basic meaning of “to keep the Sabbath.” As noted scholar David Stern writes, “In the Septuagint, the related Greek word was coined to translate the Hebrew verb shabat when it means “to observe the Sabbath.” (5) It is painfully obvious that the word means “to keep the Sabbath.” Being that this is the only place in the New Testament that this word is used, to translate it correctly, one would look back at the way it was previously translated from the Old Testament Scriptures. If scholars had done this, they would know that this refers to Sabbath. Let’s review what we have so far.

Thus far, the verse should read, “Accordingly, the keeping of the Sabbath is reserved…” This is the essence of the Greek thus far. The keeping of the Sabbath functions as the subject of the sentence and it is going to be acted upon. “Is reserved” functions as the verb. The remainder of the sentence will determine who is going to act upon the subject. Generally, the “dative case” in Greek is the case that identifies the direct object of the sentence. For example in English, “the ball was thrown by the boy.” this is an example of the passive voice where the subject is being acted upon, mainly, being thrown, by whom, by the boy. Thus, the direct object generally acts upon the subject of the sentence in the passive voice. So, let’s look at the direct object.

The phrase of the verse is “” will give us the direct object. The ending on the first two words indicates the Dative case. This is the case that means “to or for.” and is the direct object of the sentence, thus, it will do the acting upon the subject. The phrase “” literally means “to or for the people.” Consequently, the people will be performing the action upon the subject of the sentence. So, what we have so far is, “Accordingly, the keeping of the Sabbath is reserved for the people.” Meaning, that the people are the ones “keeping the Sabbath.” Let’s finish the verse.

 

The “” ending indicates the Genitive case which is the case of possession. It is translated with an “of.” Thus “” literally means “of God.” When we combine the direct object with the genitive case we get, “to or for the people of God.” Now, let’s put it all together. The verse should read, “Accordingly, the keeping of the Sabbath is reserved for the people of God.” Amazing, this is a new Testament reference, in Greek, that indicates that the people of God should be keeping the Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath, as the writer of Hebrews was writing to Hebrews. It is a foregone conclusion that he was not talking about Sunday worship as it would not be established for another 100 years or so. The conclusion that the writer of Hebrews has drawn is this: The outward manifestation that we are a people of grace and faith is that we keep the Sabbath. It sets us apart from the world and proclaims that we rest on this day, having entered into His rest by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, we proclaim to the nations that we are a people of faith by resting from our work on the seventh day just as God rested from His. Even conservative evangelical scholars admit this. Jamsion, Fausset, and Brown commentary states, “This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath.” (6)

Many have attempted to relegate this verse to a distant future. That is, in the sweet by and by, we will enter into an eternal Sabbath rest. The Nelson Study bible commentary writes, “Jews commonly taught that the Sabbath foreshadowed the world to come, and they spoke of a “day that would be all Sabbath.” (7) With this statement, we completely agree. The Sabbath does foreshadow a future and it is a “shadow of things to come.” However, to completely negate it’s connotations for today is to take it out of the context of chapter 4 of Hebrews. It is here in this chapter that the writer is speaking of “Today.” He quotes from a Psalm to illustrate his point about the relevance of his teaching for the here and now and not just the sweet by and by when he writes, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Thus, the keeping of the Sabbath, according to the Greek of this scripture, is relevant for today, or as Lamsa translated it, “It is therefore the duty of the people of God to keep the Sabbath.” The two verses that follow round out the point of the whole section. We will let them, here, speak for themselves. “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter the rest…” Hebrews 4: 10-11a NKJV)

Endnotes

1. Thayer, Joseph, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2005, page 71.

2. Ibid.

3. Machen, J. Gresham, McCartney, Dan G., New Testament Greek for Beginners, Second Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2004, page 87.

4. Thayer, page 64.

5. Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992, page 673.

6. Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A.R., Brown, David, “A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments.” Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass, 2002, vol 3, page, 537.

7. Radmacher Earl D. (General Editor), The Nelson Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, page: 2083..