We are going to do a study on Paul and the Torah. We are going to look at the Jewish view and the Christian view of Paul, and how they see him and his writings in relation to the Torah. To begin with, Paul was a first century Pharisee and an expert on the Torah. He was an accomplished teacher, raised up by the Lord to go to the non-Jews with the “basar” or “good news” that the Messiah had come in accordance with the Tanak (The Torah, Nevi’im and the Ketuvim= the “old testament”). His writings will also draw from deep, mystical Hebraic concepts about God. People who read Paul’s writings face several obstacles. They know very little about Paul’s training as a Pharisee of the School of Hillel. People are also very unfamiliar with the Hebraic methods of interpreting Scripture. These methods pre-existed Paul and include PARDES and The Seven Rules of Hillel. They also know very little about the mystical aspects of Paul’s view of God and these Hebrew concepts will be conveyed well in Hebrew, but are not carried over well into the Greek. For instance, to convey the concept of a legalistic observance of the Torah apart from faith, the phrase “erga nomos” is used meaning “works of the law. This phrase was created because such a concept did not exist in Greek. As a result, the Hebrew meaning of things was lost when Paul’s expressions were carried over into first century Koine (common) Greek. Further, when the Koine Greek was translated a second time into a modern language (like English), his expressions are further distorted. Most importantly, readers today approach Paul’s writings with a “built-in bias” instilled in them by Replacement Theology. For example, we were taught that we were “not under the Law” before we even began studying his writings. These concepts of Replacement Theology are reinforced by teachers who believe that it is true, further complicating the issue.
As we begin, there are several things to keep in mind when reading Paul. We need to know the overall biblical context; the historical context; Peter’s warning in 2 Pet 3.16; Yeshua’s warning in Matt 5.17-19; Paul’s positive statements about the Torah in Rom 3.31, 7.12, 22, 25; 1 Tim 1.8; 1 Cor 7.19; Acts 25.8, 28.17; Paul’s negative statements on the Torah, revealing that the problem wasn’t the Torah but man’s misuse of it; and Paul’s example of Torah observance in Acts 21.15-26, 28 years after Yeshua. So, in this study, what we are going to do is begin by looking at the introductions in the Epistles of Paul, then move to specific verses on his statements about the Torah.
In Rom 1.1, Paul calls himself an “apostle.” Contrary to what many people believe, “apostles” did not begin with Yeshua or the Book of Acts. The Hebrew word for “apostle” is “sh’liach” and it means a “sent one on a mission.” Moses was a sh’liach and there are sh’liachim (apostles) all through the Tanak (The “old testament”). There is a verse in Eph 2.20 where it says that God’s household was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” It is talking about the sh’liachim and the nevi’im (prophets) of the Tanak and not the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. Paul goes on to say that he was “set apart” with a “kedusha” to take the “basar” or “good news” (gospel) of God to the non-Jews. Acts 2.42 says that the first century believers were continually devoting themselves “to the apostles teaching” and at that point it refers to the sh’liachim of the Tanak. The framework was already there for the believers in the first century, which included all the writers of the Gospels and Epistles. A sh’liach in the ancient synagogues would read from and interpret the Torah from the Septuagint if it was a Greek speaking area, or from the Targums, an Aramaic paraphrase, if they were in an Aramaic speaking area. He interprets the Scriptures for the people.
There are three terms we are going to discuss, and one person. We are going to discuss Hellenism, Gnosticism, Anti-Nomianism, and the one person is Marcion and the Marcion Heresy. Paul will be charged with being a “gnostic” and teaching Gnostic doctrines, so we are going to look at this term first. We will be using information from the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion by R. J. Werblowsky; The Ghost of Marcion by Daniel Botkin; Yashanet: Romans; The Jewish Encyclopedia and several other sources.
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word “gnosis” and it means “knowledge.” It is used to describe mystical ideas and theories, usually confined to a limited number of “initiates” and a number of sects that arose in and around Judaism, Christianity and paganism in the Roman world during the first and second centuries. The beginnings of Gnosticism seems to be earlier, and some even suggest it originated in Jewish or Samaritan circles, influenced by certain oriental ideas. Gnosticism began in Tarsus of Cilicia, where Paul was born. We never hear that he was raised there, however. Paul espoused Pharisaic thought, not Gnostic thought. The various Gnostic systems differed in style and behavior, but most shared some beliefs. They distinguished between the Supreme Divine Being, and a secondary power responsible for the Creation and the material world, called the “Demurge.”
Dualism was the belief that the world is ruled by opposing principles and that was characteristic of most Gnostic systems with the tendency to divide the heavenly powers into pairs, male and female, left and right, etc. The Supreme Power was seen as good, but the “Demurge” or secondary power was seen as a fallen, lower and imperfect being. Some Christian Gnostics, like Marcion (more on him later), identified the first being as the “New Testament God of love” and the “Demurge” or secondary being as being the “Old Testament God of Law and evil.” The biblical model considered the Creation as “good” but Gnosticism considered the Creation as a result of a primordial fall from a pure, spiritual being or state.
The “soul” is in exile in this lower, material and evil world into which it has fallen, and from which it can be redeemed and returned to its celestial home by the means of “gnosis” or “secret knowledge.” The irreconcilable conflict between the “spirit” (or “pneuma” in Greek) and the material world of creation made for some similarities between Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism, a modern term used to designate a tradition of philosophy that arose around the third century AD and continued until the closing of the Plato Academy in Athens in 529 AD. Adherents to this philosophy were influenced by Plato and Greek thought, but mixed it with eastern mysticism, and later Christianity.
Some of the Gnostic sects demonstrated their liberation from the material world by demonstrating their freedom from the moral laws by practicing Anti-Nomianism (against traditional law)) in a higher, spiritual level. The early church combated the Christian forms of Gnosticism as a dangerous heresy, but later some of these doctrines found their way into Christian thought and Replacement Theology. The Jewish struggle against Gnosticism is reflected in the liturgical and other regulations against the “Minim” or “heretics.” In spite of its struggle against Gnostic heresy, Judaism and Jewish mysticism also “absorbed” certain Gnostic themes and ideas, such as Kabbalah and the Zohar, for instance.
Basically, what you have is a “secret knowledge” and two gods, a “good” god and a “bad” god, and they will battle things out. This “Dualism” as it is called is a characteristic of Gnosticism. It will be very “Hellenistic” because it began in the Greek world and tied to the philosophies found in Greek thought.
In Part 2, we will pick up here and take a brief look into our second term, Anti-Nomianism, which is an opposition and the negation of traditional law, and we will see how this concept carries over into the idea that the Torah was not for Christians.