Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is it "not too hard" to avoid sin?

If anyone is without sin they can get into heaven. If anyone was to obey the law fully, not sinning even once they could earn their way into heaven. But no one can do that due to fallen human nature. It is impossible for anyone to earn their way to heaven because we are fallen. Thus came Christ and he was sinless and his sinlessness is imputed to us if we believe.

At least, that's a widely taught view.
But what then do we do with passages such as Deuteronomy 30 - where Moses announces that the law isn't too difficult to keep?

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. 15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deut 30:11-20)

Is the law impossible to keep or isn't it? Moses seems to think it is eminently keepable... "it is not too hard for you" (30:11). In light of this is it reasonable to challenge some of the assumptions implicit in the statements of doctrine above? Should we strive to find ways of understanding Paul's thought that avoids contradiction with Moses?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Romans 3:10-18

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul makes six “No one is righteous” etc quotations from the Old Testament.

If we bother to read the context of those quotations, we see that the passages he is quoting from (mostly Psalms) are not actually asserting that no one is righteous, rather that unrighteousness is confined to a specific group at a specific time:
The Gentiles who are currently invading, the Jews who are oppressing the poor, the enemies of the writer etc.

Similarly the writers believe that some people are righteous: The Israelites who are being invaded by wicked Gentiles, the poor and humble who are being oppressed by their countrymen, the writer himself and those around him whom his wicked enemies are attacking.

It is from these passages that Paul is quoting. To try and extract from them the idea that every single person in the world is horribly fallen and wicked is a complete falsification of the text... that is not what any of these passages are saying.

I don't believe Paul was so stupid as to misunderstand 6 out of 6 passages he quotes. Especially as 5 of them are Psalms, Paul was probably intimately familiar with all of them, as they would have been sung regularly.

So what is Paul's point? Looking at Romans, his point is clear:
Some Jews and some Gentiles at specific times in history were wicked.
That's the point Paul is trying to make, and he has chosen 6 scriptural passages that agree with that point.

In the greater context of his argument, he is trying to prove that the Jews are not magically protected from wickedness merely because of their Jewishness. And so he lists in Romans 2 many crimes common to Jews of his own day, and then in Romans 3 turns to scripture and notes that scripture speaks in similar words regarding evil Jews and evil Gentiles, it does not bother to distinguish one from the other. Jewish wickedness is not any better in God's eyes than is Gentile wickedness, and thus correspondingly Jewish righteousness is not any better in God's eyes than Gentile righteousness (which is what Paul is trying to prove).

Paul is not trying to allege that every human being is evil (he doesn't believe that). He is making a point about a lack of difference between Jewish evil and Gentile evil by speaking of the historical unrighteousness of specific people in specific times and specific places.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

No one is righteous?

Lots of people read “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” etc (Rom 3:10-18) and they get the idea that Paul is saying no human is righteous in their natural state, that we are all horribly fallen, radically tarnished before a holy God, unable to achieve ourselves any meaningful level of righteousness.

People so often don't bother to read context.

Paul in Romans 3:10-18 makes six quotes from Old Testament passages. I strongly recommend when reading the New Testament that you have a look at the Old Testament context for every Old Testament quote... context can be very important.

The above interpretation of Romans 3 contradicts all six of the passages Paul is quoting from... quite an impressive level of disachievement all things considered.

I know it's an extremely daring and radical suggestion... but perhaps Paul didn't systematically and repetitively misquote and misinterpret the Old Testament? Perhaps Paul did know the context?

Edited because I still proper grammar can't use.