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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Eighty-Third (Romans Part 12)

We're starting on Romans chapter seven this week, and let me tell you, this is a rough one!  The reason it's rough is because there are a lot of confusing statements Paul makes and it's hard to figure out exactly what he means by them.  We're going to forge ahead though, and see what kind of sense we can make of all this!

Paul starts in this chapter with an example to illustrate the concept of law no longer being applicable to someone after they die.  The interesting thing is that he's pointing out the law not being over someone after he or she dies, but in the example it's the man that dies and the woman, the one who's still alive, is the one that no longer has to follow a law associated with adultery.  It makes sense in his context though, because it's through her husband's death that she is freed from the requirements of marriage, and Paul is equating this emancipation with Yeshua's death freeing us from the Law.

While Paul focuses on the adultery aspect, which is arguably the most talked about aspect of all the marriage requirements, there are many facets of marriage law in a traditional Jewish marriage.  These are listed in a contract, called a ketubah, which is signed by the bride and groom, as well as others, and means they are legally bound to comply with all of the requirements in that contract.  Once one of the individuals that entered the contract dies, the contract is nullified and the surviving individual no longer has to abide by it, with the exception of any clauses associated with the death (e.g. being required to pay burial costs).

Paul makes an interesting point here, because as we have seen, and will see later on (Romans 7:7), if the Law is what tells us what sin is, and we have died to the Law through Yeshua's death, then it follows that we have died to sin.  He referenced this earlier in this letter (Romans 6:2).  But the confusing part is that later on in this same chapter, Paul states that he still sins (Romans 7:19).  So, how can it be that you can still sin if you are freed from following the thing that defines sin (i.e. the Law)?

These are the kinds of things that get people wrapped around the axle when it comes to Paul's writings.  In this particular example, there are two options to make this all make sense.  The first is to believe that when he says we died to the Law he means no matter what we don't have to even think about the Law anymore, and the second is that we died to the requirement to follow the Law in order to be righteous but we should still try our best to be obedient to YHWH and follow His commandments.  

As far as the first option, the belief is that no matter how many commandments we break, it won't result in receiving the consequence of the second, permanent death (Revelation 20:14-15).  To put it simply, throw the Torah, or more specifically YHWH's commandments, in the trash and just live your life.  While I personally think if you were to talk to any disciple, Paul himself, or even Yeshua, they would vehemently disagree, even without these witnesses there are some real scriptural issues with this point of view.  If you didn't look at this passage of Paul's writing in the context of all scripture, this is the view you could come to though.

First, if this were the correct interpretation, why would Paul then go on later in this chapter to talk about how concerned he is that he still sins?  If he can just live his life and sin without consequence, why does he care that he still transgresses the commandments of YHWH?  Furthermore, why did he just finish saying that we should not go on sinning? (Romans 6:1-2, 15)

The other scriptural issue is that putting all Old Testament references aside, there are multiple New Testament verses telling us that the Law still matters.  James, when writing to believers, says we still are capable of wandering from the truth and being sinners, despite our status of being saved and in the body of Christ (James 5:19-20).  In fact, he says whoever brings someone back to the truth saves his soul and covers a multitude of sins.  Now, if sinning is defined as not following the commandments of YHWH, and if we could just throw these in the trash based on what Paul said, why then would we need to watch out for and help those that are saved, to turn them away from sin?  

Furthermore, earlier in his letter, James talks about doing the word and not just hearing it (James 1:22), which comes after him talking about believers being tempted by evil desires, which, when given into, become sins we commit (James 1:14-15).  So, again, how can we sin or be tempted by evil if the thing that defines evil is in the trash and we no longer need to abide by it?  It's clear that by these statements, the commandments of YHWH are still required to play an important role in how we live our lives, and we can find clarity of this through a Rabbinic teaching called Simcha Shel Mitvah.

For all the things that the Jewish teachers and religious leaders got wrong when it comes to Yeshua and YHWH's plan for man, we need to remember that much of what has been passed down by them through the ages is still accurate and truthful to provide clarification and understanding to certain concepts of scripture.  We sometimes need to look to these teachings to help us clarify what some writings are saying, and this is a perfect example of that.  To see what I'm talking about, we have to look at the Hebrew Sepharad version of the book of James, because where the Greek version uses the term "law of freedom" the Hebrew uses the term "law of joy" (James 1:25).

You may think, what's the big deal?  One word can't make that much of a difference!  Besides, either way, freedom or joy, James clearly isn't talking about an actual law, right?  Well, much like other slight differences between translations, this particular passage has caused controversy and confusion as people try to work out the meaning of the seemingly oxymoronic "law of freedom," because in general people think of a law as being antithetical to freedom.

No, the change of one word is in fact quite important because what James is talking about here is the concept of Simcha Shel Mitzvah, or the joy of commandedness (joy of being commanded/fulfilling commandments).  Mitzvah means commandment and simcha means joy.  Mitzvah is also used to mean the fulfilling, or following, of a commandment, and this rabbinical concept is referring to the joy a Jew gets from knowing that YHWH delights in his or her obedience.  So, when James is talking about the law of joy, he is talking about YHWH's Law, and in this context he is talking about following it.

Don't just take James' word for it, though.  John talks about confessing our sins, our transgressions of the Law (1 John 1:8-9), making sure we don't sin (1 John 2:1) and refusing to sin (1 John 3:9).  He even says following His commandments is how we are sure we know Him (1 John 2:4), and those who transgress the commandments are children of the Devil (1 John 3:10).

There are other references to following commandments in the New Testament, including in Revelation where those that keep the commandments of YHWH and their faith in Yeshua are called the saints (Revelation 14:12), but perhaps the most important are the words of Yeshua Himself.  He said if we love Him we will keep His word (John 14:21-23), we are blessed if we keep YHWH's word and obey it (Luke 11:28), the way we show we love YHWH is by keeping His commandments (John 14:31), and in order to be in His love we must keep His commandments (John 15:10).  While there are clearly some quotes that include following YHWH's commandments as well as Yeshua's commandments, there are "sea lawyers" out there saying Yeshua's commandments do not include all of YHWH's commandments so we only need to follow those of YHWH's commandments that are specifically recorded in scripture as Yeshua repeating them.

This is a deception, however, because in order for this to be true, you must ignore the verses that state we must walk as He did (1 John 2:6), because He followed all of YHWH's commandments in His walk, and those verses where Yeshua's commandments were not just repeating YHWH's but in fact were more stringent than what was written in the Torah (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-30), showing that not only does He expect us to follow the commandments, He expects us to follow them with our heart.  He doesn't want us to throw the commandments out, but to internalize them until our whole being acts according to them.

Well, looking at what we've gone through, I think we need to continue this next week.  Otherwise, I'll have overstayed my welcome and you'll never read these again!  I hope I don't sound like a broken record as we go through Romans, but Paul has a lot of focus on sin throughout this letter and a lot of confusing, seemingly contradictory statements regarding sin, grace and the Law, so it necessitates a look at all the facets of these topics.  I also have had the feeling for awhile that there is a judgment coming soon, and it will not just be on the unbelievers.  Things keep coming up that are confirming that feeling as well.  

I believe that Christianity as a whole has gone the same way the Israelites and the Jews did at times, in terms of turning away from YHWH and Yeshua, disobedience to them, and turning to the world, including incorporation of pagan celebrations, rituals and beliefs.  It's no surprise, because as we've identified before, man has had the same nature since the beginning of time.  The fact that the Israelites, including the Jews, were told they were YHWH's chosen and were shown it over and over did not keep them from straying away from YHWH, so why should we expect a group of people being told that they are saved would mean somehow man would suddenly stay obedient to YHWH?  The good news is that we have the ability to repent and be forgiven of this straying, but as they say, the first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem, and I don't know that the majority of Christians even know they have a problem, let alone will admit they have one.

Until next time, Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you! 

-Rob and Sara Gene

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