When the Student Surpasses the Teacher

I have taught continuing education, my mother and older sister have taught in the public school system, and as a member of the Council for two different houses of worship, I have also taught Bible school, study and given the message on Shabbat many, many times. So, as a teacher with “teaching” in my very DNA, I can tell you that one of the greatest gifts a teacher can receive is when one of their students surpasses them in knowledge and ability.

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However, there is a situation that when the student surpasses the teacher it isn’t such a good thing.

I am talking about the writings of the Apostles in the New Covenant, especially those of Shaul of Tarsus, better known as Paul.

As most of you know, nearly 2/3 of the entire New Covenant content is from Shaul’s letters to the Kehillot.

NOTE: There were no “churches” in the First Century. The statement in Acts about how the communities of Believers, which during Shaul’s time were becoming more and more made up of Gentiles converting from their pagan religion, would have been called a synagogue (Greek for “gathering”) or more likely, Kehillot (plural for Kehillah) which is the Hebrew word meaning “community.”

Shaul’s letters were directed to new Believers who were mostly Gentiles, and neophytes of the Jewish lifestyle and forms of worship found in the instructions God gave to Moses, which Yeshua and all the Apostles taught. They were, if you read them carefully, each specifically written to address specific problems within that specific Kehillah.

The letter to the (mostly) Gentile Believers in Rome was meant to introduce himself and to get their aid in spreading the Gospel. The letter to the Colossians was to refute the Gnostic influences that were infiltrating their community. He wrote to the Gentile Believers in Thessalonica to help strengthen their understanding because he was forced to leave them early (due to rioting.) To Titus, he wrote because there were problems within that community of Gentile Believers, and the letter to the Galatians was to refute the legalism that the local Jewish Believers were trying to force upon the newly converting Gentiles.

It is important to understand Shaul wrote using what I call “Jewish Logic.” Jewish logic is the argumentation process in which you never say what something is until you have stated everything it isn’t. When we read the Epistles Shaul wrote, especially the letter to the Gentile Believers in Rome, we can see that he would state the negative side (arguing for the doing away with of the “law”) then come back later with the positive argument that what he just said wasn’t true. But, because the Gentiles had never run into this type of argumentation, plus to avoid the problems the Jewish population was having with the Roman rulers, they were more than happy to read only what they wanted to read, which was the negative statements that they misused to justify doing away with the instructions in the Mosaic covenant, which led to the eventual religious separation between the (now being called) Christians and the general Jewish population.

The fact is that none of Shaul’s letters were against obedience to the instructions God gave in the Torah.

Yeshua taught God’s instructions using a Drash (parable) to show the Remes (spiritual meaning) whereas the Pharisees had only taught the P’shat (literal or plain meaning) of those instructions. This is why it was so often said that Yeshua taught with authority and that no one had ever taught as he had.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, here is a link to Wikipedia to help you: PaRDeS.

The letters from Shaul were written by a very educated man who still thought with a Jewish mindset, using Jewish logic that was lost on Gentiles who had no idea of the cultural and religious meanings behind the words that any Jewish reader would readily have understood.

The problem is that these misinterpretations were later written down as doctrine by Constantine in the Third Century CE, and today are considered more important than what Yeshua, himself, said.

It is almost the exact same thing as the Tanakh and the Talmud: within Orthodox Judaism, the Talmud, which is the teaching of the great Rabbis in Jewish history, is considered scripture and often followed instead of the instructions in the Torah.

In other words, modern Christianity has taken what the student (Shaul) said and made it more important than what his teacher (Yeshua) said.

For example, Yeshua tells us in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to change the law; yet I hear so many people use Romans 10:4 to deny what Yeshua said because Shaul said:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

 and also in Colossians 2:16-17 where Shaul says:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

and again in Colossians 2:13-14 where he says:

When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our trespasses, having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross! 

These are but a few of the examples of Shaul’s teachings that have been used, incorrectly, to deny that the Torah is still valid for all those who accept Yeshua as their Messiah.

We must read the letters Shaul wrote not from the viewpoint of someone wanting to avoid being associated with the Jewish population but from the viewpoint of a Pharisee who knows obedience is secondary to faith, but still necessary. And, when we are in the proper “Jewish” mindset, reading these letters we can finally see the truth in them: they are not polemics against the instructions from God but apologetics to enforce the truth that salvation is faith-based and not performance-based, but that doesn’t excuse us from obedience to those instructions.

I have great respect for Shaul and I can see his compassion and concern for the Gentiles he brought to salvation. His knowledge of the Bible was exemplary, and his understanding of the difference between legalistic observance and faithful obedience was far above that of most people.

Still and all, I really wish he had dumbed-down his letters. I believe if he had written to his audience instead of how he understood things, maybe much of the schism between the early Gentile Believers and the Jewish Believers would have been much less, or maybe even never had occurred.

In conclusion, what I ask of you is to re-read these Epistles and forget what you have been taught they mean: read them from the viewpoint of the Apostle James (2:14), knowing that faith is how we are saved and obedience to God’s instructions is how we prove that faith.

Thank you for being here, and if you are still confused about anything Shaul says, please let me know in the comments or contact me through my website and I will be glad to give you my interpretation. Then you can make your own decision.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

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