Before we begin, please watch for my latest book, Parashot Drashim A Commentary on the Weekly Torah Readings for Both Jews and Gentiles coming out soon.
I really recommend the video for this one. To watch the video of this interview, click on this link: Watch the video.
Steve: Today we have a special guest. He is a classically trained Pharisee who studied under the great Rabbi, Gamaliel. He is a Benjamite, and like his namesake from that tribe, received a calling from God to lead God’s people. His letters to the Messianic communities he organized throughout Asia make up the majority of the New Covenant writings, and also have contributed to much confusion regarding Gentile observance of the Torah commandments.
I am sure you have guessed by now who we have in the studio today: that’s right, it’s that little ol‘ tent maker from Tarsus, Shaul.
Shaul, welcome to Messianic Moment.
Shaul: Todah, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Steve: My first question is this: how do you feel about most every Bible titling Acts 9 as “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus?”
Shaul: I hate it!! First off, my name is not “Paul”- that is a Greek form of my name. Your name is Steven- how would you feel if I called you “Esteban?” That’s your Spanish equivalent, but it’s not your name, is it? Next, I never converted to anything. My whole life, before my acceptance of Yeshua and afterward, I lived as a Pharisee. The only difference was that when I learned (the hard way, I should add) the truth about Yeshua I stopped persecuting my brothers in Messiah and joined them in helping other Jews come to faith. Eventually, I went mainly to the Goyim (the Nations) to bring them to faith, as well. But I never stopped talking to my fellow Jews.
This whole idea that there were Christians when I was organizing the kehillot throughout Asia is ridiculous. That term was just starting to be used at the end of the First Century. There were two religions when I was a kid: Judaism and Paganism. When Yeshua came, there were still only two religions: Jews who accepted him as Messiah, Jews that didn’t (but they were all still Jews worshiping as Jews do), and the Pagans. When I was walking all over the world, there were Jews who rejected Yeshua, there were Jewish Believers, there were the Gentiles who did T’shuvah and accepted Yeshua (converting to Judaism), and (you guessed it)…Pagans. The Believers didn’t “officially” through practice become a different religion from Judaism until Constantine made it that way.
Steve: Thank you for clearing that up for us. Now, let’s get right to the question that comes up often, and one you had to deal with throughout your ministry: Do you, or do you not, believe Gentiles that accept Messiah Yeshua need to obey the Torah?
Shaul: Oy vez mear! Again? OK- let me try to answer this for you in two parts. First off, we need to remember that the Gentiles I talked to were pagans whose religion was based, in essence, on hedonism. They could drink to excess, have sex with anyone (and anything) they wanted to, and eat themselves into oblivion. The most basic, self-centered and physically pleasurable experiences a human can have were the foundation stones of their religion. For those that were willing to repent of their sins and turn to Yeshua for forgiveness, the culture shock was tremendous. Even the most fervent of those doing T’shuvah would find it difficult to go from hedonistic pagan to observant Jew overnight. That’s why the Elders in Jerusalem only had them do 4 things immediately. We all figured they would get around to the other 609 commandments in Torah as they became more accustomed to living a holy lifestyle. So, what I was against wasn’t the Torah, but trying to force feed it to these new converts all at once.
Steve: That makes sense, but there are so many things you wrote about, such as in Romans where you say uncircumcised or circumcised makes no difference, and also in the first letter to the Corinthians, it seems you told them they can eat whatever they wanted to. What’s with that?
Shaul: Look- the most important thing I wrote to the Corinthians was in the passage you guys have annotated as Chapter 9:19-22. I told my congregation in Corinth that I would be whatever I had to be and say whatever I had to say to get out the Good News of Messiah. So what I really mean is that the ends justify the means- no matter what I say, so long as I bring people to Messiah and help them find the forgiveness and salvation that is offered by God through his Grace in Yeshua ha Maschiach, so be it! As for what to eat and the other things, you need to consider that there were many Believing Jews who did not agree with me , or the Elders, that the Gentiles converting to Judaism needed to have some level of dispensation (Oy! I hate using that word, but it fits here) with regards to their observance of Torah. As I said earlier, following Yeshua was a real game-changer for them.
So, nu? Where was I? Oh, yeah…what I wrote in my letters
So what I was against wasn’t Torah, but the idea that you needed to obey Torah to be saved. Again, we all figured that they would eventually learn all the commandments, so I just took them bit-by-bit., but too many people misunderstood what I was doing and that led to them thinking that Gentile Believers didn’t need to obey what’s in the Torah. Never did I say that or mean that. Never!
Steve: I understand. Yet, even today there is still confusion with your letters to your Gentile Believers regarding what they need to do and don’t need to do. Can you please explain again for us this whole idea of being “under the law?”
Shaul: No problem. Let’s start with this: righteousness, from God’s view, is sinlessness. If you have no sin you will be perfectly righteous. That means if someone could live the Torah exactly as it says, never violating so much as a stroke of the Torah, then that person would be righteous, or as you like to say today, he would be “saved.” Here’s the problem with that- no one can live the Torah perfectly! If someone could, then we’re all screwed because there would be only three people in heaven: God, Yeshua and that one jerk who ruined it for everybody else.
Now for the second thing. Pretty much all the Jews at that time didn’t accept the fact that no one could ever live the Torah perfectly and believed righteousness was only possible through perfect Torah observance. This is what the Pharisees I was (am still am) a member of taught the people. Let’s call that school of thought “Legal Righteousness”, which is almost the opposite of what God offered through Messiah, which we can call “Faithful righteousness.” It was this “faithful righteousness” that Avraham Avinu demonstrated.
So, because we can’t live the Torah exactly, God sent his Messiah to help us overcome ourselves. Messiah Yeshua was, is, and always will be the ONLY human being who was both “legally” and “faithfully” righteous because he lived the Torah exactly and had total and perfect faith in God. That’s why God sent him to us!- so that through his righteousness we could be seen as righteous, also. Righteousness is not possible for us except through the Messiah, and especially so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why more than ever it is faith in God and Messiah Yeshua that saves us, not special knowledge or traditional practices. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore God’s commandments.
Steve: I can see that a little more clearly now. Let me restate this for our audience… you are not against following the Torah and did not tell your congregations they don’t need to. You only said what they needed to hear in order to keep them on the right path, which would result in a gradual conversion to Judaism. Is that right?
Shaul-: Tov Meod– you got it!! And I was against those that were confusing my congregations with the legal righteousness the Pharisees were teaching. I always expected that my people would eventually observe the Torah because Yacov was right.
Steve: I’m sorry…Yacov?
Shaul: Yeah, Yacov. You know, James. He said that faith without works is dead, which means that once you faithfully believe in God, you have to show that by your change of lifestyle. If someone truly doesn’t want to sin, and the Torah is the User Manual for not sinning, then by definition someone who has really done T’shuvah will live in accordance with the Torah. I told my people they could take it slowly because if I shoved Torah down their throats, they would have upchucked it and gone back to their old ways.
Steve: It seems that you constantly fought against that- every letter in the New Covenant that you wrote to a congregation was addressing the problems they were having with adjusting to giving up their paganistic ways and becoming Jewish.
Shaul: Exactly. Oy- what a mishigas they made of things. I had to constantly keep them on track, and these Yiddisher nudniks that kept telling them they had to obey everything really got my goat. If you read Galatians you will see just how mad I was. I would’ve paid the Mohel, myself!
Steve: Yes, frustration castration, right?
Steve: Well, our time is almost up and I really want to thank you for coming all this way to answer these questions for us. Is there anything you would like to add before we close?
Shaul: Just this…listen, people, keep your eyes on the finish line. Once I learned the truth, I fought for the rest of my life against people trying to figure it out and believing that they just had to know what everything meant in order to be righteous. That’s how I started out, and believe-you-me, none of that matters. All that matters is what Yeshua said- love God and love each other. When people love each other they don’t care about anything except the way they feel when they are together, and they only want to make the one they love happy. You wanna know how to make God happy? Do what he says. Too many people today want to know everything: did Yeshua exist before people, how does God pronounce his name, which commandments don’t matter anymore, and many other things that all boil down to nothing more than a new form of some Greek-thinking, Gnostic legalistic drek. All that matters is this: do you believe in God? Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah? If you say “Yes” to both of these, then love God and each other and don’t sweat the small stuff. It won’t help you to stay saved, but it can lead you to wrong thinking.
Steve: Well, words from the wise to the wise. Let those that have ears listen. Thank you, again, Shaul, for being here with us and we look forward to seeing you again in the Olam Haba.
Shaul: Zeit gesunt, Bubbie.
Steve: If you liked this program, please comment and let us know. You can also suggest a guest for future interviews. In the meantime, l’hitraot! Baruch ha Shem!!