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Welcome to Home Shalom and Shalom Farm. We pray your visit here be blessed. We are learning to walk in the Ways (Torah) of our Father YHWH and follow Y'shua, His Messiah until He returns to "set things straight". We call it a "Messi-Life". Our walk is neither tidy nor perfect, but it is filled with passion, devotion and desire to serve our King. We are learning to be humble servants, and to be good stewards of the things that He has entrusted to us: His Word, our marriage, our children, our family, our community, our health, and our farm. Hitch your horse and stay a while--our door is always open!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

By request: A quick Midrash on Romans 14

Before any honest discussion of Paul’s writings can begin we need to remind ourselves of who he was and what his letters were meant to be. Firstly, Paul was accused of overriding the “Jewish” Torah, but he consistently and adamantly denied ever doing so (please read Acts 25). This is crucial. If Paul is lying in court to save his butt from stoning, he can't be trusted as a teacher. If Paul did teach that the Torah was no longer relevant, then he is NOT teaching what the Messiah taught (read Matt 5:17-19), and therefore can't be trusted as a teacher. Since it is unanimous that Paul can be trusted, any modern church doctrine that claims to be based on his writings, yet overturns the Father’s written Torah commands is simply an incorrect doctrine.

Secondly, we must always remember that Paul’s writings were not considered (by him, the author) to be as weighty as scripture itself. The only writings the Paul considered to be Scripture, were the same writings that Yeshua considered to be Scripture…the “Old Testament”. As I believe that Paul’s writings are inspired, accurate, and consistent with the Torah, I do in fact consider them to be Scripture. The early church, however, did not have written gospel accounts, nor any of Paul’s epistles for decades after Yeshua ascended. Paul himself didn't really come on the scene for 14 years after the road to Damascus event that changed his life (read Galatians for his testimony). All the earliest Church had was the Torah and the rest of the O.T., plus the eyewitnesses of what Yeshua preached in relation to these already existing foundational documents.

The key to context is remembering that Paul’s letters were mostly responses to other letters that we do not have. Imagine listening to a talk show called “Ask the Torah Expert” but we can’t hear what the callers are asking, just the brilliantly worded and inspired answers from the host. Imagine further that we ourselves know little-to-nothing about the Torah. Now imagine this popular and life-changing show being translated from Greek into English, or perhaps from Hebrew to Greek and then into English. Oh yes, did I mention it was recorded 2000 years ago? If we took his out-of-context advice, and tried to live it out, we would end up very confused, and acting very peculiar indeed. This is what Peter warned about when he said: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. (2 Peter 3: 15-17)

With all that as a foundation to several of our misunderstandings of Paul’s teachings…here is how I understand Romans 14. The entire chapter deals with food customs that were dividing the Roman congregation. From the beginning of Romans 14 to the end, food and drink are mentioned 16 times. What is acceptable to eat, and when it is acceptable to eat it, are the two issues Paul tackles in this chapter.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:1)

Paul begins this chapter by telling the Romans not to pass judgment on one another in regards to differences of opinion--specifically in this case: eating meat vs. eating only vegetables. Why the dietary battle? It's not about calories, nor is it about genetic modification or organic standards.

“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean [koinon] of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean [koinon], to him it is unclean [koinon]." This word, "koinon" would be better translated as "defiled." Therefore, verse 14, when translated properly, should read: "I know and am convinced by the Master Yeshua that there is nothing defiled of itself; but to him who considers anything to be defiled, to him it is defiled." (Romans 14:14)

There were those in the congregation that considered the meat sold in the meat markets to be ceremonially "defiled" (koinon). The Roman congregation assumed most of the meat sold in the local market was defiled because it had been offered in sacrifice to idols. This is certainly a disputable matter, but has NOTHING to do with the type of meat (i.e. choosing beef over ham for example), as beef is Biblically permissible food, and Ham is not. That matter is not in dispute here. This issue is purely about whether otherwise Biblically acceptable food would still be acceptable if had been offered to an idol first.

The Roman's issue was not unique. (Read 1Cor. 10:18-28). His answer to the Corinthians' concerns over this issue was that they should eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience about whether the meat had been sacrificed to an idol (1Cor. 10:25). But if they knew for certain that meat had been sacrificed to an idol, they were to avoid eating it (1 Cor. 10:28). Paul's advice to the Romans was identical. He said he was convinced that nothing was defiled of itself. In other words, he told the Roman believers not to live in fear by automatically assuming that meat sold in the marketplace had been sacrificed to idols. However, he went on, if someone in the congregation could not in good conscience eat such meat (because they could not be certain it had not been sacrificed to an idol), then to him it was defiled and he shouldn't eat it. It is natural for those who are "weaker in their faith" to err on the side of caution, and we should never accidentally discourage them by our different choices due our deeper understanding of Torah.

This principle came in to play just today. A Jewish nieghbor of mine asked me if I thought a conch was OK to use instead of a ram’s horn for sounding the "shofar" in worship. I pointed out that a conch was really the exoskeleton of an “unclean” animal, so it might not be acceptable for worshipping the Father. Then I pointed out that it seems like the outer skin of the wilderness tabernacle was made from some sort of “unclean” animal, so there seemed to be precedence in Scripture for that sort of thing. She wasn’t eating the conch, just blowing on its painted shell. Her heart was certainly in the right place, even asking the question showed that. This was totally her call to make…a bonefide disputable matter. She chose to blow it…only afterwards mentioned that she got it from a Buddhist Monk in Tibet--which if it was my conch, would have been the deal breaker. However, it is NOT up to me to judge another man’s servant…as Paul wisely points out.

Then, Paul tackles WHEN it is OK to eat:

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” (Romans 14:5)

Fasting (not eating) is an interesting subject in the Old Testament. It is obviously an endorsed practice, but the guidelines and timeframes are NOT spelled out clearly. In the Talmud (a collection of Jewish commentary and traditions) however, Pharisees fasted regularly on Monday’s and Thursday’s. The Gospel of Luke points out: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' (Luke 11:11-12). The early church was in conflict about whether to simply follow Jewish tradition in this and many other matters. Paul's point in Romans 14:5-6 is that since no particular days of the week had been sanctioned in the Torah for fasting, those who chose to fast on a regular schedule would be accepted if they honestly did it to honor YHVH. Likewise, those who didn't view any particular day as mandatory for fasting would be accepted if they did it in the proper spirit and gave thanks to YHVH.

Paul goes on in the rest of chapter 14 to urge the believers in Rome not to judge one another and not to cause their brethren to stumble, and to be sure that regardless of what they each individually decide-- that they are not simply following the crowd but are doing it with trusting faithfulness in the Father. “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” This principle again carries into all disputable matters. As 1 John points out, "Sin is transgression of the Law". Paul now takes that one step further...not only is breaking the Torah a sin, but even within the freedoms provided by the Torah, you are still sinning if you are not being faithful to what YHVH has placed on your heart by His Spirit. Did you give that sandwich to that homeless man you walked passed this morning...you know The Father prompted you to? Did you pray for your coworker who asked for prayer? You know you should...did you? Both situations are not specific Torah commands, yet both situations would be sin if you broke faith with The Father due to disobedience.

There are very reasonable and far more self-explanatory answers to the few other places in the New Testament that seem to give us fresh license to repeal God’s eternal commandments. The Romans 14 verses do take a little more study to put them into context. The real question is “why in the world would God care what we eat?” What does what we eat have to do with our spirits, and with love? The simplest explanation is that the Father wants us to be SET APART for Him. This is brought up again and again and again in both the Torah, and the New Testament. What we shove in our face is a decision that we must make several times per day. This gives us that many more times per day to actively remember who we are, and make a difficult (at first) choice to abstain from foods that our Father calls “abominations”.

The desire to ignore clear commandments is embedded in our fleshly nature. Just a subtle twisting of YHVH’s words to Eve were enough to fool her into eating “unclean” fruit. Satan is a one-trick pony. He uses our own fleshly inertia against us, and uses the opposite of “legalism” -- ”loophole-ism” to offer us a way to miss the blessings contained in childlike obedience to the Father. Paul's writing style, along with some translation issues, seem to offer loopholes when there are other clear explainations not far below the surface. We must not fall prey to Satan's lame, tired, and obvious trick.

When “good Christian folks” choose to temporarily fast for a predetermined time (a vegetarian “Daniel Fast” for example), they inevitably will give a proud testimony about how much closer they felt to The Father, or how they finally heard from The Father after a long drought. This is a wonderful and blessed thing. However, when “Torah Keeping” folks chose a PERMANENT LIFESTLYE of fasting, and choose the Bible’s own guidelines about what is acceptable for food, suddenly it is “legalism” that demands a defense! I have heard testimony after testimony of those who have changed to a 24/7 Biblical diet and have been blessed due to their obedience. Yeshua, who never disobeyed a single Torah command, invites us to follow Him on His walk.

Our body is supposed to be the Temple of the Holy Sprit. Can we really be putting dead pigs on His Holy Altar (i.e. eating bacon) and honestly say we are a loyal disciple at the same time? The gay rights movement proudly waives a rainbow flag almost as a dare to The Father. The rainbow is His sign to human beings that He will not flood the earth again for our disobedience to His commandments. In some ways isn’t the traditional “Easter Ham” a similar insult to the God we claim to honor and obey?


YahKheena said...

Again, an excellent post Ben!!

I'm learning to discern between what is disputable and what is not and to allow 'grace and space' for those area's. This lesson has been a hard one for me because I have a zeal for truth and Torah I've found myself in the seat of Moses, not good. So in Yah's wonderful way he is ever leading me and guiding. This post has help me is a way you'll never know thank you brother. (I do believe it was you who wrote it, am I correct in this? )


Andi said...

:) Again Ben - a solid Midrash...and excellent points, often times I slip in areas of reading Paul and I find myself having to go back and 'Think'....and then Abba again reveals it me....it is our brains, not Him....and we are the Temple of Holy Spirit....thank you brother.