To better understand the faith that Paul teaches, we need to go back to the time of the first century. Judaism was dominated by a group called the Pharisees, whose affairs and leadership were both supported by, and limited by, the Roman government. The first issue that must be addressed is the term "Pharisee" itself.
A modern dictionary (1) gives two definitions:
Our modern western culture equates #1 above with #2. Pharisees are "the bad guys," and the beliefs they held were wrong too. After all, didn't Yeshua call them hypocrites, evil, sons of snakes, etc.? How do we reconcile this with the fact that twenty years into his ministry for Yeshua, Paul still identified himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, 26:5). As a good Pharisee, Paul upheld and kept the Torah all of his life -- we see this throughout the book of Acts and in his letters.
When we read the "New Testament" in its proper Hebrew context, we find that Paul, (properly named Sha'ul), read, understood, taught, and wrote about the Scriptures and the Messiah from a Pharisaic Hebrew mindset. Paul was personally taught by Gamliel, who was himself a Pharisee and the head of the Sanhedrin. There is a real possibility that Paul was being prepared to take over the Sanhedrin's leadership. This would have made Paul the equivalent of "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court" of Israel.
Paul called himself a "Hebrew of Hebrews," a term that means he was not a Hellenistic Jew (Jews that had largely abandoned much of the Torah in order to be "more accepted" in the Greek/Roman culture they lived in). As we will see, Scripture shows that none of this changed when Paul became a believer.
PAUL'S MISSION TO THE GENTILES
Paul received his "marching orders" from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. This council was called to address the specific issue of Gentiles having to prove themselves through works of the Torah PRIOR to salvation (Acts 15:1). The Gospel was now going out to a very pagan Gentile world, and these new believers were coming directly into the faith of Israel through the Messiah.
No longer did they have to "come up through the ranks" of Judaism as Gentiles had before. This was a "new way" of doing things, but it was confirmed by God (Acts 15:8). It was difficult for many Jews to embrace this "instant acceptance of Gentiles," as these converted pagans knew nothing of Torah and they brought a lot of terrible practices with them.
Peter's comment (Acts 15:10) pointed out to those who wanted the gentiles "to become Jews first," that if God had commanded perfect Torah observance as a prerequisite to faith, then they all were in jeopardy, as none of them could keep it perfectly prior to faith. Nonetheless, once these gentiles accepted Yeshua, the Council in required them to immediately follow certain minimal Torah commands (Acts 15:20). This was done in order to fellowship with Jewish (and also other Gentile) believers who already knew and kept Torah.
The council gave these basic Torah commands with the understanding that these gentiles would learn more of Moses' Torah as they attended Synagogue/Temple. (This is the meaning of Acts 15:21.) If the gentiles did not follow the minimal commands of the council, they would have been thrown out of the Synagogues and not exposed to the continued reading and study of God's word.
THE TORAH IN THE LIFE OF PAUL
In the book of Acts, Luke makes it clear that those of Israel who accepted the Messiah of Israel AND followed the Torah, were the "ecclesia" (meaning, "called out ones" and NOT "the Church") (2) Paul did not hold a different view. Scriputre shows that He himself kept Torah and spoke in favor of it:
He circumcised a man who had not yet been:
He took a Torah vow:
He continued to follow the Levitical feast day of Unleavened Bread:
He kept and encouraged others to keep Passover:
He continued to follow the Levitical feast day of Shavuot (Pentecost):
He kept Yom Kippur (this is the fast mentioned in the following verse):
He proved he did not teach against Torah by taking a vow:
He cited his continued Torah observance in his defense before a Roman governor:
And again to another Roman governor:
And to a Jewish audience:
THE TORAH IN PAUL'S TEACHINGS
Paul taught others to keep Torah in the same way. An excellent example can be seen where he instructed Timothy to "rightly divide" the word of God. This means that there is a correct way to "sort out" Scripture. What is this way? This was to be done according to Torah, as Torah (including the rest of the Tenakh), are the Scriptures Paul wrote about to Timothy, saying:
There are several important teachings in these three verses:
Unfortunately, most people coming to faith today are first taught a church's particular theology regarding the "New Testament" (i.e., one not grounded in Torah) and then the "Old Testament" is interpreted for them according to their church's view of the "New Testament." This was not the method of the original Nazarene Messianic community.
To the first believers, the letters of the New Testament, though inspired, were not simply "more books of the Bible," to be read any way one pleased (i.e., ahead of a proper understanding of the Torah.) The epistles epistles of Paul, James, Peter and John were viewed as containing halachtic teachings -- explanations (often to gentiles) of how to follow Torah as a believer (or community of believers) in Messiah Yeshua.
Today, there is a "Jesus" that is preached almost exclusively from the New Testament. Did Paul and the other disciples preach Yeshua using the New Testament? Of course not -- all they had was the Tenakh. The Torah, which is the Word of God, came first, and nothing can contradict it or it is to be rejected.
We are saved by faith alone -- but this faith, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, (both "Old" and "New" Hebrew Testaments) is a trusting relationship that is inseparable from following God's word on how we are to live -- His Torah. Yeshua Himself is inseparable from the Torah, as He is its goal and fulfillment -- the "walking Torah." This teaching is consistent through the "New Testament" when interpreted correctly.
Paul himself says if you are a Gentile who has chosen to follow the Messiah -- you now have a relationship to the Torah of Israel - The Torah that holds the covenants of promise:
RELATED STUDY INFORMATION
Interpreting Paul's Difficult Writings
Paul and the "Curse of the Law"
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