“Misquoting Jesus”: A book review of Bart Ehrman’s bestseller

     I recently began reading, “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman.  It made the New York Times Bestseller list and was written in 2005.  It tells the “Story behind who changed the Bible and Why.”  While Dr. Ehrman is a biblical scholar, he writes so that even the layman can understand.  In his introduction, Dr. Ehrman gives his testimony which begins with life in an Episcopalian church as a young man being raised in Kansas.  Then, he has a “born-again” experience and goes off to Moody Bible Institute to learn the Bible.  Additionally, he would study at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary.  He raises two very poignant objections to beliefs that conservative evangelical Christians hold regarding the bible.  First, that it in inerrant (Meaning without error) in the originals and that scripture is inspired by God.  In regards to the former, he gives an almost heart wrenching account of how this belief was shattered through his deeper studies of the Biblical text.  He is correct, the Bible is not inerrant.  It does have errors.  It does have issues.  Dr. Ehrman concludes that, “at the end of the day, the Bible is a very human book.”  I’m not exactly sure what conclusion Dr. Ehrman will draw from this statement but I’d like to offer my own.  To begin with, by his own admission, the majority of the errors in scripture are fairly insignificant.  He writes, “Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.”  Agreed, I’m not aware of any biblical error that changes any major tenet of Christianity.  Additionally, I have no real problem with saying that the Bible is a very human book.  And I don’t think that God would have a problem with it either.  God has always desired to co-labor with people.  Very rarely, does He ever act independently of His image-bearers.  So, there is no really question that scripture was written by humans.  I think God wanted it that way.  Let’s examine this closer.  What really is scripture?  Simply, it is a record of the experiences that humans have had with God and instruction that come from men who lived lives of intimacy with Him.  Scripture is not God and it is not the experience of God.  It is not Father, Son, and Holy Bible.  It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

     There is a tremendous fallacy in modern western Christianity.  We exalt the Bible to the status of God and try to make it something that it is not.  As one pastor friend of mine told me, “I used to preach that God has exalted His Word above His Name and that if we were to go to the throne of God in heaven, we would see that right above the throne of God would be the King James Bible.”  I’m happy to report that he has since come to his senses.  I’ve also experienced this when I was studying Greek.  The Greek word for “Word” that John uses in chapter one to describe Jesus is the Greek word, “logos” pronounced “logos.”  The instructor point to his Bible and says, “This is the logos.”  To which I reply, “No it isn’t, Jesus is the logos.” We can’t make scripture something it is not. When we give it this supreme status and label it as infallible and inerrant we set up young men, like Dr. Ehrman, for failure.  Simply because, the deeper into scripture that these young men go, the faster this illusion will vanish and it will cause some trauma.  The bible is not inerrant.  Scripture is the launching pad for the God encounter.  God desires the relationship and the encounter.  The primary mission of Jesus Christ was not to write a book.  It was to redeem mankind so that the fellowship that was lost in the garden could be restored.  His mission was the redemption of mankind, not to write a sacred book.  Humans recorded what He did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  But being under inspiration does not mean that they would be perfect.  I think God knew full well that they were going to make mistakes.  But the mistakes are not evidence of un-inspiration.  This is where Dr. Ehrman’s logic is difficult to follow.

     First, Dr. Ehrman makes an assumption.  The assumption is that if scripture has errors, it must not be inspired.  Also, he makes the assumption that only the originals were inspired because the copies have issues.  He writes, “If he wanted his people to have his words surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew).  The fact that we don’t have the word s surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us.  And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.”  This is a huge assumption to make.   Mainly, that we dictate the terms of what the inspiration of the Holy Spirit must look like.  He assumes that it must be perfect and that it must have remained intact over time.  Perhaps this is not the case at all.  Perhaps what we have, this jumbled up mess of language, manuscripts, and mistakes is exactly what God wanted us to have.  And if this is so, then what we do have is inspired.  What we do have has withstood some pretty impressive test.  As I have already alluded to, God co-labors with humans and He expects us to make mistakes.  Not to mention that there is a spiritual war going on where the Devil and his demonic hordes would love to destroy the recorded encounters of God with humans.  No wonder there are issues.  If there are issues with the text, we should probably not hang that on God but on the enemy that seeks to destroy all that is good about God.  Perhaps, logic like Dr. Ehrman’s plays right into the hands of the enemy, unbeknownst, I’m sure, to Dr. Ehrman.  Be that as it may, God expects us to make mistakes and this is what grace is all about.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that since God co-labors with humans and He expects us to make mistakes that perhaps what we have in scripture today is what he intended for us to have?  Or, doesn’t it stand to reason that an enemy has been seeking to destroy what has been recorded of God to blind the remainder of humanity but what has been preserved is every major doctrinal piece of Christianity and the errors are of small significance?  Wouldn’t that point to some inspiration?  I think so.  I believe that what we do have, mess and all, is inspired.

     I’m not writing this as a “bash-Bart” review.  I simply want to hear what the man has to say.  He makes some valid points.  My heart goes out to him as I too came through the fog of finding out that the bible is not inerrant.  It was painful and it shook me.  But, I soon realized exactly what I have stated earlier.  It is my hope, that Dr. Ehrman may find this realization.  I appreciate his scholarship and his viewpoints, and I, like he, am searching for facts.  However, when those facts are discovered they will be interpreted by scholars through their own worldview.  “Misquoting Jesus” is coming from Dr. Ehrman worldview that scripture is not inspired and not inerrant.  Hence, the conclusion that he will draw will be tainted toward this direction.  Nevertheless, we will press on and continue the book.  Iron does indeed sharpen iron.

Inerrancy versus Inspiration

     Before leaving this topic, perhaps some points from the evangelical conservatives are in order.  Up to here, their voice has not been heard in either Dr. Ehrman’s work or in my own.(although there are echoes of it in both)  Hence, I will attempt to summarize their arguments on inerrancy and inspiration.  My dear and beloved friend Patrick Pegues wrote his master’s thesis with the underlying premise that, “He who defines the terms, wins!”  Absolutely!  The point is this.  Once a scholar defines the terms of his argument, he can simply construct his arguments around this point to validate the definition.  This seems to be very appropriate in the case of inerrancy and inspiration of scripture.  We have already discussed my own and Dr. Ehrman’s views on this issue, so let’s allow the conservative evangelicals to weigh in with their voice.

     Charles Caldwell Ryrie wrote in his book, What You Should Know About Inerrancy, ironically published by the Moody press, states that, “inerrancy is from Latin, in ‘not” + errancy “in a state of error.” The inerrancy of the Bible means simply that the bible tells the truth.  Truth can and does include approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as those do not contradict.”  It should be noted that not even all conservative evangelicals agree on the definition of inerrancy and inspiration, but the quote from Ryrie gives the synopsis. 

   The doctrine of inspiration is much more complicated.  The following is a quote from “EVANGELICAL DEFINITIONS OF INSPIRATION:CRITIQUES AND A SUGGESTED DEFINITION” and the author attempts to define for us the term.  He writes, “Spirit’s taking possession of the personality and processes of the human authors so that the otherwise impenetrable wisdom of God is made known through that which is written.” (1) He will cite a number of biblical passages where God instructs different authors to write what they wrote, or prophets that dictated to scribes, or the apostles who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  He gives us five characteristics of inspiration.  First, “those evangelicals do not worship the Bible.  Rather, it is the authoritative instrument inerrant in the original manuscripts that God uses to make known his truth to his people in the present age.”  Secondly, “that inspiration is limited to a small company of messengers whom God specifically choose to use in communication of his Word to mankind.  It is not a universally shared experience but one that is phenomenoligcally distinctive.”  Hence, it does not continue to the present day. “The canon was completed with the appearance of the final book written within the apostolic circle.”  Thirdly, ) The uniqueness of inspiration rules out the possibility of either a partial inspiration of Scripture

or degrees of inspiration. All of Scripture is equally inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Fourthly, differences in Biblical genre, which must be recognized, mean that the relation between the divine and human participation is not always the same. For this reason a distinction has been

Suggested between the prophetic mode (e.g. Jeremiah) and the scribal mode (e.g. Luke) that is similar to the distinction made by Aquinas between the speculative judgment and the practical judgment exercised by the authors of Scripture.  Behind many texts there is the possibility of a

Complex contributory process, which includes the relating of historical incidents (Job, Ruth), the selection and collection of hymns wisdom (Psalms, Proverbs), observation and reflection (Ecclesiastes), or the critical study and use of many sources (Luke). Lastly, the mode of inspiration involves a great mystery. Scripture does not provide a full explanation

of the way in which the divine and human authors interact in the production of the sacred books. Therefore no theologian can pen the absolute and final word on the subject.” (2)

     Having now given them voice on the subject, here is how they answer Ehrman.  Michael Kruger writes in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society a book review on Misquoting Jesus.  He writes, “Ehrman declares in his conclusion, ‘If God really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he miraculously inspired them in the first place.’  In other words, if God really inspired the New Testament there would be no scribal variations at all.  It is this shocking admission by Ehrman that reveals the core problem with Misquoting Jesus.  Ehrman is working with his own self-appointed definition of inspiration which sets up an arbitrary and irrational standard that could never be met.  Does inspiration really require that once the books of the Bible were written that God would miraculously guarantee that no one would ever write it down incorrectly?  Are we to believe that inspiration demands that no adult, no child, no scribe, no scholar, not anyone would ever write down a passage of scripture where a word was left out—for the entire course of human history?  Would Ehrman have been more pleased if the New Testament were delivered from heaven on gold tablets, and not through normal historical processes?  I imagine he would then object to the act the New Testament does not bear the ‘marks of history.’  It seems clear that Ehrman has investigated the New Testament documents with a priori conviction that inspiration requires zero scribal variations—a standard that could never be met in the real historical world of the first century.  Ironically, as much as Ehrman claims to be about real history, his private view of inspiration, by definition, prevents there from ever being a New Testament from God that would have anything to do with real history.” (3)

     Daniel Wallace, also writing for the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, has this to say.  “Inspiration relates to the wording of the Bible, while inerrancy relates to the truth of a statement…Regardless of what one thinks about the doctrine of inerrancy, the argument against it on the basis of the unknown autographs is logically fallacious. This is so for two reasons. First, we have the text of the New Testament somewhere in the manuscripts.  There is no need for conjecture, except perhaps in one or two places.  Second, the text we have in any viable variants is no more a problem for inerrancy than other problems where the text is secure.  Now, to be sure, there are some challenges in the textual variants to inerrancy.  This is not denied.  But there are simply bigger fish to fry when ti comes to issues that inerrancy faces.  Thus, if conjectural emendation is unnecessary, and if no viable variant register much of a blip on the radar called ‘problems for inerrancy,’ then not having the originals is a moot point for this doctrine” (4) 

      Having heard all viewpoints, let us press on to chapter one.

 Endnotes

  1.  Hodges, Louis, “EVANGELICAL DEFINITIONS OF INSPIRATION:CRITIQUES AND A SUGGESTED DEFINITION” journal of the evangelical theological society, June 94, viewed on line at http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-1/JETS_37-1_099-114_Hodges.pdf.
  2. Ibid, page 102-103.
  3. Kruger, Micheal, “Review of Misquoting Jesus:  The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, 2006 page 4.
  4. Wallace, Daniel, “The Gospel According to Bart” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, June 06, page

     

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The Manifestation of Messiah Necessitates Law

“Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold My Elect One in whom My Soul delights!  I have put My Spirit upon Him.  He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.  He will not Cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.  He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His Law.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)

 

     No real question that this passage refers to Messiah.  The New Testament quotes it in Matthew chapter 12 with reference to Jesus.  The Jewish Targums reference it to Messiah.  Hence, it would seem appropriate to break this verse down to examine its deep meaning.

     What one will notice immediately when comparing the Old Testament passage with the New Testament is an apparent discrepancy in translation.  Mainly, that the Septuagint, which is quoted in Matthew 12, has a seemingly different translation than that of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. (the Hebrew manuscript used for just about all English translations) The passage in the New Testament is this:  “Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!  I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles, He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax, He will not quench Till he sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21 NKJV)   The bulk of the passage seems to be congruent.  However, it is verse 4 that comes into question.  There is a huge difference between, “The coastlands will wait for His Law.”  And, “In His name, the Gentiles will trust.”   Or do they?  While discrepancies between the Septuagint and the Masoretic do exist, this particular passage, if examined closely, doesn’t seem to be one of those occasions.  Let’s examine this latter part of verse four from the Hebrew and then the Greek, and we will arrive at a consensus of meaning but not of wording.

     The Hebrew here is “oooWljy mya WjrWtlO” which is roughly translated. “And on His Law the coastlands will hope.”  The Greek of the Septuagint reads, “Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.” Which is also roughly translated, “And upon His Name, Gentiles will hope.”  Again, here are the verses linguistically, now let’s dissect their meanings and I believe we will arrive at a consensus of ideas if not of words.

     First, we will begin with the Hebrew.  The first word of the verse is “WjrWtlO” Let the dissection begin.  The “O” in the beginning of the word is called the conjunctive vav and it is the most frequently occurring word in all of the Old Testament (over 50,000 times).  Its meaning is “and, even, but, or also.” The Hebrew student will notice that this is also a vowel called a “shoorook” which makes the sound “oo”.  It is different from the consonant vav but when the conjunctive vav is attached, it oftentimes will become a “shoorook” which changes it pronunciation but does not change its translation. The “l” which follows is called an inseparable preposition.  They are called inseparable prepositions because they attach to the root word and become part of that word.  With the lamid “l”, the meaning is “to, toward, for.”  The next part of the word is “hrWt” and is pronounced “torah.”  One need not be a Hebrew scholar to determine the meaning of this word, it is “law.”  Lastly, the “W” on the end of the root word is called a pronominal suffix.  Its meaning is simply third person or “His.”  So, to summarize all that encompasses this first word, “And for His Law” is the literal translation.  The next word “mya” is an obscure Hebrew word.  It is roughly translated,, “regions or coastlands.”  However, we must consider what this word would have meant to the Jewish people of the 1st century and the subsequent time previous, particularly, to the time when the rabbis where translating the Septuagint.  All the “regions” surrounding Israel were bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.  The passage must be referring to the peoples of those coastlands that they would be the ones hoping or trusting in His Law.  The rabbis of the Septuagint translated that word “eqnh” in the Greek.  The Greek meaning of this word is actually “race; people, or the Gentiles.”  From the Jewish perspective the people of the coastlands would be considered the “eqnh” of the coastlands.  This is evident in the New Testament with the writing of Paul. He refers to the Gentile Christians as “eqnh” (please see Romans 10:13, 15:27, 16:4, Gal 2:12)  so, our first discrepancy is resolved.  The coastlands and the Gentiles are really referring to the same group of people.  To reiterate, the Masoretic text and the Septuagint are using different words but they are saying the same things.  Now, what we have from the Hebrew so far is, “And for His Law, the Coastlands (or the peoples dwelling therein, namely the Gentiles).”  The final Hebrew word is “ljy”.  This is a fantastic Hebrew word.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains it much better than I could.  It states, “This “yahal” is not a pacifying wish of the imagination which drowns out troubles, nor is it uncertain, but rather “yahal” is the solid ground of expectation for the righteous.  As such it is directed towards God…no greater testimony to such confident expectation is given than when Job cries out, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15).” (1)  This type of “hope” for the Gentiles can only come through the Messiah of Israel.  Without Him, we are a lost cause.  Hence, the passage in question is strongly Messianic and refers particularly to the ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles.  Let’s put this together:  “And for His Law, the coastlands (the people dwelling therein, the Gentiles) will hope.” This seems to reconcile any apparent discrepancies between Gentiles and coastlands,  However, there is another discrepancy that needs to be cleared up.  Mainly, Law vs Name.

     The Greek reads, ““Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.”  Again, this is roughly translated, “And upon His name, the gentiles will hope.”  Having cleared up the issue of the Gentiles, let us move into “the name.”  The Greek word “onomati” means “fame, reputation, character, and the sum of all a person is.”  The rabbis who translated the Septuagint, used this word as a reference to the Messiah (This is my own supposition.)  Meaning, that in His character and Person will all the nations hope.  Here is the first point of the verse.  That the character of Messiah would be such that it would usher in order and good government which the nations of the world would confidently place all their expectations.  In His complete character comes Law.  Here is the second point, for the ministry of the messiah to establish a system of lawlessness would be outside of the bounds of His character.   Modern theologians would have us believe that Messiah would come and “do away with the Law” and establish a system of lawlessness. This doesn’t seem to make much sense for two reasons.  First, Jeremiah testifies, “Why does the land perish and burn up like a wilderness, so, that no one can pass through it?  And the LORD said, ‘Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but they have walked according to the dictates (“Imaginations” in Hebrew) of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their father taught them.” (Jeremiah 9:12-13) For the Messiah to come and “do away with the law” and establish a system of lawlessness, would not make any sense.  Why would God send Messiah to reconcile us so that we can live a lifestyle that is exactly like the lifestyle of the children of Israel when he sent them into exile?  Secondly, Paul clarifies this in the New Testament.  He writes, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”  What the apostle is saying is that it makes no sense for Messiah to “set us free to commit sin or break the Law” because this would make us slaves of sin.  Messiah has set us free for obedience out of love and not out of fear.  Thus, Paul clarifies, “And having been set free form sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” And again, “But now having been set free form sin, and having become slaves of God you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Romans 5:16-18-22)  For pastors and theologians to tell us that Messiah has nailed the law to the cross is simply not acceptable.  The character and nature of God is to establish order and government.  This must have been the intention of the rabbis translating the Septuagint.  Torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in Messiah.  The very character and nature of Messiah and His ministry towards us establishes order and government by making the goals and proposals of the law possible.  Through Jesus, it’s possible to consistently love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Law without the Messiah is an incomplete system.  This is why the Old covenant needed to be updated with something New.  However, Messiah without Torah makes no sense either.  It creates a lawless system.  The Messiah establishes upon the earth a system of good government by making the demands of the law an achievable reality in the life of all who believe in His name, both Jew and Gentiles, through the Holy Spirit.

     All of these principles find agreement in the first part of the passage. In the passages quoted at the beginning of the article, the word “justice” is mentioned three times.  It is something that Messiah is going to “establish.”  The Hebrew word for justice is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Justice doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the established system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom meaning that the system that is established yields a social more or law that all are expected to order their lives according too.  Mainly, that of Torah, according to this passage.  The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that judgment will separate the people of justice from the people of lawlessness.  This is exactly the function of a life ordered around the torah, it separates from the world making one holy.

Another Possibility

.  In all fairness, there may be another explanation for the discrepancies in the text.  We may be seeing a corruption of the Septuagint by pro-anti-nominal Christian (anti-nominal means without law or torah) scribes.  This is a possibility for two distinct reasons.  First, the Greek word for torah is very similar to the Greek word for name.  The Greek word for Torah is “nomos” pronounced “nomos.”  The Greek word used in the passage for name is “onomos.”  The simple addition of an “o” can completely negate the role of law and replace it with name.  It is a faulty theology, as we have already established that God would not establish a system of lawlessness for this is out of order with His character.  Secondly, the other manuscripts of the Old Testament (The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Latin Vulgate, the Aramaic Peshitta, the Masoretic text) all use the word law.  This points to an issue with the Greek of the Septuagint.  Even if the passage has been corrupted, we can still obtain its original meaning, as we have demonstrated above. Isaiah is telling us here that Messiah would establish a system of government for the Jews and the Gentiles that are hoping and trusting in His name.  That system of order would be His law or, the Torah. It was long held by Jewish rabbis that Messiah would come and completely explain the Law of Moses.  This is so evident with Jesus in his “Sermon on the mount” and in the “Sermon on the plain.” 

     In conclusion, the Messiah of Israel will establish a system of justice and order.  The torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah.  The believer that accepts Torah as a standard of holiness and orders their life according to it by the power of the Holy Spirit, will find fulfillment of all the promises that the law has given.  It is the way of “life” and it is beautiful.

 

 

 

Endnotes

  1. Harris, Laird R., Archer, Gleason L., Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.” Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1980, page 373.

Keep Justice and Do Righteousness, Its Just What We Do

“Keep Justice and do righteousness…” (Isaiah 56:1 NKJV)

     What does it mean to covenant with God?  Before we answer that, maybe we should define what we mean by covenant.  A covenant is an agreement that is reached upon by two parties.  Both are in agreement and both enter into the contract of their own free will.  They choose the covenant.  There is no coercion or manipulation in the covenant.  In Scripture, we use the terms “Old” to describe the “Testament, or Covenant” that existed prior to the advent of Christ.  We also use the term “New” to describe the “Covenant” that is inaugurated at the Last Passover meal of Messiah.  Both are covenants that God has made with His People.

     Who are the covenant people of God?  This also is not an easy answer and it is not really the purpose of this article.  However, one consideration will be taken into account.  That being, the person who is in a covenantal relationship with God is one who has had an internal change of “heart” or character or awakening and this has caused them to order their lives where God is the top priority.    The people of God make covenant with Him after this spiritual change has taken place.  This is “just what we do.”  What happens next is the “living out” of that covenant.  It is the “doing” of the covenant that becomes the lifestyle. Having established this, we will state the thesis of this article.   God and His People have an objective standard in the covenant relationship, and that standard is “mishphat” and “tzaddik”.  These are to be guarded, kept sacred, and considered precious, holy, and something that is to be watched over with great care.  It is what we do. It is how we live our lives.  Everything that we do, from the most menial task to the most paramount of activities, we do all of these with mishphat and tzaddik.  This is the covenantal standard of how we conduct business.  Let me explain what these are as we break down the verse that is quoted above.

      The first word in this passage is the Hebrew word, “rmv” pronounced “shamar”.  It carries the basic meaning of “to exercise great care over.”  It is generally translated as “to guard or to keep.”  The gist of it is to consider something as being precious, sacred, and something that has value that needs to be watched out for and considered/protected.  This is the essence of this word.  OK, so what is it we are supposed to watch over and consider sacred, holy, and the normal standard of operation.  It is the Hebrew word, “mishphat.” And later on in the chapter, it is the Sabbath.

         The Hebrew word for judgment is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Judgment doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government is mishphat.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the established system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom meaning that the system that is established yields a social more or law that all are expected to order their lives according too.  This is what Solomon asked God for and this is what was granted to him.  It became what he “did.”   The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint and the New Testament is “krinos” pronounced “krinos.”  Krinos carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that “mishphat” will separate the people of covenant from all other peoples.  Mishphat is just what we do.  In Mishphat, there is no favoritism and all deserve to be treated equally.  There is no bias regardless of talents, looks, or personal attributes.  Holiness is the standard.  Law is not mishphat but the “doing” of the pentatutacheal ordinances by God’s people is considered mishphat.  Mishphat is how we relate to God, who holds the ultimate seat of government” and how we are to respond to Him, as His covenantal people.  God says “do” and in our “doing” we are guarding and keeping Mishphat. The application here of the commandments/torah of God is self-evident.  It is just what we do as will be evident in the next word.

      The next Hebrew word that is translated “to do” is the Hebrew word, “hve” pronounced “asah.”  The basic sense of the word is just “do.”  It does carry with it a sense of ethical obligation.  In other words, as a covenant people, this is “just what we do.”  Covenant people are frequently commanded “to do” certain things in scripture.  This is not because God is some power hungry ogre whose desire is to dictate the terms of our lives without care for us.  He commands us “to do” because the things that He says to “do” are just what “we do” as a covenantal and holy people.   The “doing” is simply the observable demonstrable act that we are the covenantal people of God.  For example, keeping the Sabbath.  God tells us plainly in scripture, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak also to the children of Israel saying; Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD. Who sanctifies you.  You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you…Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”(Exodus 31:12-17)  On a side note, for those of you who say, “Well, that just applied to the Jews of old and I’m not a Jew so it doesn’t apply to me.” Or “that was the Old Covenant and now in the New, we can keep whatever day we want to keep as holy.”  My response is twofold.  First, the position that God would move from a position of order (a specific day-the Sabbath) to a position of lawlessness and subjectivity ( I can keep whatever day “I” think is best) doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the standard presented in the whole of scripture. (see my article entitled the Manifestation of Messiah Necessitates Law)  Secondly, it is also written in the New Testament that Sabbath observance is for the Christian.  The purpose of it is to proclaim to the world that we are the people of grace and faith.   We have entered into salvation by grace and faith and not by works; hence, we rest on the Sabbath day from our works just as God rested from His works and kept the Sabbath day holy. (Hebrews 4:9) If He keeps it holy, then, we, as His covenant people, should keep it holy also.  It is just what we “do.”  We guard, keep sacred, and value the Sabbath.  For more information on this see my article entitled, “The Sabbath and the People of God.”  The fact that we value the Shabbat is the demonstrable act that confirms our guarding of Mishphat. 

     The Hebrew word for righteousness here is the word, “qdoooox” transliterated as “tzaddik.”  It is also a wonderful Hebrew word.  Its meaning is also somewhat complex.  In essence, it refers to an ethical and moral standard or conduct in life.  That standard springs forth from God who is ultimately the standard of righteousness.  It is also significant that man requires relationship with God to be an outlet of His character.  Hence, because covenant people are internally changed and motivated out of a love for God in the affairs of their lives, “tzaddik” is oftentimes, “just what we do.”  Modern Hebrew still uses this definition and a person who does consistent good and lives a holy life, is called a “tzaddik.”  The outworking of righteous living that stems from a right standing with God is tzaddik.  It is the natural bi-product of what happens when we are rightly related to God.

     Speaking of “what we just do” and the Sabbath, The Lord makes some statements about these things.  In the passage quoted above, “Keep justice and do righteousness” it would be appropriate here to quote the bulk of the passage.  Here it is:  “Thus says the LORD: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.  Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”  (Isaiah 56:1-2)  In this passage God is making some statements about what Mishphat and Tzaddik look like and what happens to the individual who “gaurds and values” them.  First, the word that we discussed previously, “shamar” is the same Hebrew word that the LORD uses here regarding the Sabbath.  No small coincidence as it is the sign of the covenant, as we have previously discussed.  God equates mishphat and tzaddik with “guarding, valuing, protecting, and regarding as precious, the Sabbath.”  For the covenant people it should be just a knee jerk reactions like “keeping his hand from doing evil.”  It even goes so far later in the chapter as to welcome “sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him.”  Again, the heart that has been changed to honor the LORD and serve Him, becomes a covenantal person.  The verse states, “Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast to my covenant, even them I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My House of prayer.” (56:6-7) Again, the demonstrable act that confirms the covenant is that of Sabbath honoring.  “It is just what we do.”