The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- 1 Corinthians.

This is the first of two letters written by Shaul addressing problems that the community of believers was having in the town of Corinth. Those problems included interpersonal relationship issues, pridefulness with regard to which apostle they thought they should listen to, and sexual perversity within the congregation. It appears from this letter that these issues were not being handled, and the result was that this congregation membership was generally falling from faith.

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This letter, as with all the letters Shaul wrote to the congregations he formed (that made it into the New Covenant) is not a prophetic warning or a direct-from-God message; rather, it is clearly a chiding of the people for having gone so far astray from the lessons Shaul first taught them when he organized that congregation. If anything, it is a letter like one would receive in a job as a First Warning, explaining what one has been doing that is not satisfactory and stating what actions are needed to correct the poor performance.

As always, Shaul starts off with a compassionate and loving greeting to the congregation, stating how he is so thankful for them.

Then he rips right into them, starting off with an appeal for them to get together and end the dissension and division within their congregation. Apparently, there are loyalties to different human teachers instead of loyalty to God.

Off topic a bit, the problem in Corinth was not so far from what happened within Judaism, as one of the famous “feuds” of our history is that between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, two famous and well-respected Rabbis who had differing opinions about the meanings within the Torah, as well as their interpretations of what was correct, vis-a-vis, Halacha (literally, the Walk, which is the Talmudic instructions for everyday activities and worship).

Back to the Corinthians….

Shaul tells the Corinthian believers that wisdom comes from spiritual maturity and from God’s spirit. He goes on to tell them that when he was there he gave them milk, not solid food- you may recall I stated in the introduction that Shaul did not try to convert people overnight, but slowly. Here he confirms this policy, as he tells the Corinthians how he only gave them “baby food”, and even states they are “infants in Messiah” (1 Cor. 3:1). He goes on to say they still aren’t ready for the meat. He even says that some of them have become arrogant, and he asks if he should come to them with a whip or in love?

Chapter 5 begins with Shaul berating them all for not expelling one of their brothers who is living with his father’s wife (based on how this is stated, I assume the woman was the man’s stepmother). Now, to make sure we understand this, I am not talking about a son living in his mom’s basement. No! This reference is that the son is having intimate relations with his mother: a real Oedipus. And despite this sin, which Shaul points out is even wrong for the pagans, the congregation has not done anything about it.

Another problem he addresses is that they are suing each other, instead of handling their problems as they should: together and within their own congregation. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with these two issues.

Chapter 7 talks about marriage, celibacy, and a well-known phrase- being unevenly yoked.

Here we have an interesting point: Shaul says in 1st Cor. 7:10 that he gives a command and specifies this is not his command but the Lord’s, in saying that divorce is not allowed and if someone does divorce, then they need to stay celibate or reconcile with their spouse. Then, in 1st Cor. 7:12, he states that it is his opinion, not the Lord’s, that in an unevenly yoked marriage if the unbeliever wants to leave, that’s OK, but the believer must not initiate a divorce.

Because Shaul specifically separates what he is saying from what people may think he is hearing from God, I believe this to be definitive proof that his letters are not from God, but from himself. I say that because he separated what he says from what God says, and so it is obvious- at least, to me- that unless Shaul specifically states what he is saying is from God, then he is speaking for himself.

Oh, yes, no doubt that at some times, in some letters, he was given divine wisdom, but that is not a direct command from God.

Shaul seems to me to be someone who really hates marriage. His advice in Chapter 7 is for women to remain virgins and men to not marry, as marriage not only has many problems, but also can separate people from God in that being married will, by necessity, cause them to be concerned with the ways of the world, such as thinking more of providing for the family than worship, getting along with people instead of doing as God said to do, etc.

If you ask me, Shaul had some issues, himself. And this argument against marriage is against what God said we should be doing from the very beginning: to be fruitful and multiply.

Chapter 9 is a conundrum to me: Shaul states that it is acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols so long as you are spiritually mature enough to know it won’t separate you from God because the false gods are nothing. Yet, he ends up saying that when it comes down to it, since there are so many who are spiritually weak, and think it is a sin to eat food sacrificed to idols, then he will not eat any meat, at all, just to make sure he is not causing one of these weaker people to stumble into sin.

You may ask, since eating meat sacrificed to idols was one of the four “No-No’s” the Elders in Jerusalem included in their letter to the Gentiles (Acts 15), why is Shaul going against the Elders? According to the NIV Study Bible, the Council in Jerusalem existed from 50-51 AD, but this letter to the Corinthians was written around 54-55 AD, so Shaul certainly should have known about that letter. This is so confusing to me: why would Shaul go against the Elders? I wish I knew!

Shaul starts Chapter 9 with another one of his “Look at me” conversations. He states how he neglected many of the rights he has being an apostle of Yeshua. He goes on to say that he has always worked for himself and not depended on any of the congregation to support him, even though the Torah itself says not to muzzle the ox when it is grinding out the grain- in other words, the worker deserves his wages. He actually would rather die than be deprived of boasting about how he is self-sufficient, waiving, so to speak, his rights to be supported. This is something Shaul does often in his letters- he constantly kvetches about how he has suffered for his loved congregations, how he hasn’t been a burden to them, and that he is suffering so as an example to them how they should be.

You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like a guilt trip.

Now we come to a very important statement by Shaul, one which helps us to understand the foundation of his approach to the Gentiles he was converting to a righteous form of worship and lifestyle, through acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah; and consequently, why he has been so misunderstood.

In Chapter 9, verses 19 through 23, he states that he approaches everyone he is trying to get to accept Yeshua as the Messiah in a way they will understand. To put it plainly, he is saying that he plays to his audience. To the Jews, he speaks as a Jew, and to the Gentiles he speaks as a Gentile (he was, after all, a Roman citizen.) He concludes with telling us why he was such a successful missionary: his secret to reaching people is that he “becomes all things to all men in order that he can get the word of God out to everyone.”

This is important to understand because it is, I believe, the very crux of the problem which has caused so many to misunderstand Shaul’s letters. He doesn’t have a single approach to everyone, but rather different approaches to different people, speaking in a manner they will be familiar and comfortable with, in order to get a singular message across: that message being Yeshua is the Messiah, God is the one and only true God, and the only way to receive salvation and eternal life is to accept Yeshua as the Messiah and live a Torah observant life, as best as they can.

For the Jew, their lifestyle will not change, only their understanding of the Torah (Yeshua taught us the deeper, spiritual meaning and not just the plain language text); for the Gentile, it will mean a paradigm shift in lifestyle, so they do not have to become “Jews” overnight, but only at a pace they can handle.

(That is why he is telling these Corinthian believers that they are still babies in Messiah and being fed milk instead of meat.)

Shaul goes on to chide them some more because of their eating at services, specifically about how they do not share the food to ensure that everyone gets a part of the meal. He says it is wrong for them to eat in cliques, the result, no doubt, of the problem he pointed out earlier regarding different loyalties. Their prayer services are improper, and the eating of food and drinking of intoxicating liquor is wrong. He tells them that anyone who eats or drinks in a manner unworthy of the Lord is sinning. He ends up saying if they can’t wait for everyone to eat at the same time, then they should eat something at home before they come to services, so they won’t be so hungry.

He goes on to talk about spiritual gifts, and how no one gift is really more important than another, all being like parts of the body working together. But the most valuable gift is love. He states that the most important things are faith, hope, and love, and that love is the greatest of all. And as for speaking in tongues (the fancy term for this is Glossolalia), anyone who speaks in tongues should be silent unless there is someone to interpret what they are saying, which would be by the spirit of God. I can tell you that in my experience this is one of the most ignored instructions, having been in multiple congregations where people just mutter out loud, incoherently, not edifying anyone but appearing to be oh-so-spiritual.

Shaul finds that there were so many different opinions floating around about the End Days (in Hebrew, Acharit HaYamim) that he repeats his lessons about the resurrection of Yeshua, what will happen to us, and about what the resurrected body will look like.

He finishes this first letter with a plea for contributions to the work he is doing for other congregations, relating how other congregations have already helped. He says he wants to visit, but not for just a short visit and hopes to do so soon, but now he is busy in Ephesus (you can read how busy he was in Acts 18).

Next, we will see how well the people listened to him in his second letter to them, written less than a year later.

I hope to see you then, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Ephesians

This is one of the Epistles that many modern-day scholars believe was not written by Shaul.

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It was written around 62 A.D., which is the time when Shaul was imprisoned in Rome (although it was more like house arrest), to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, as well as any Jewish believers who may have been there. Ephesus was located in what today we call Turkey.

You may recall that when Shaul was first in Ephesus (Acts 19) there was a silversmith named Demitrius who made money creating idols of the false gods, and when he heard how Shaul had been turning so many away from idol worship, he started a riot.

Now, whoever wrote this to the congregation did so to help them stay on track. It seems he concentrated on telling them to remain humble and to be more loving towards each other. As with all the letters we know Shaul did write, this one begins with praising God and Yeshua, then turns to the congregation.

In the very beginning the writer opens up a can of worms for future religions in that he states there are those chosen for salvation and others who are not. This is a clear statement for Predestination, which he never really identifies in any of his other letters so absolutely.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons the scholars think he did not write this letter?

He identifies Satan as the power of the air (today nearly all communication is sent through the air. Hmmmm….) and is the spirit of disobedience. He reminds the Ephesian believers that before they accepted Yeshua they were dead, meaning that their sinful lives would result in death and not eternal life.

To explain how they were dead before, but now alive in Yeshua, the writer uses the example of the Torah creating a barrier between the Gentiles and the Jews, but Yeshua, through his sacrifice, destroyed that barrier by abolishing it.

This has been misunderstood to mean the Torah is not applicable to Gentiles who believe in Yeshua. That could never be something Shaul, a life-long Pharisee and life-long Torah observant man, would ever preach. In the letters we know he wrote, he allows that the Gentile believers should learn the Torah slowly, at a pace they can handle, but never comes out and says, directly, that they don’t have to obey the Torah.

One thing you need to understand is that if the Messiah Yeshua, the Son of God, had ever taught or preached anything other than obedience to his father’s commandments in the Torah, that would have made him a rebellious son and a sinner. As such, he could not have been the sinless lamb whose sacrifice would be accepted.

But we know he was raised from the dead, so that proves his sacrifice was accepted, which means he was not a sinner, which means he did not teach against the Torah- ever!

Back to the letter.

The writer pleads with the congregation in Ephesus to be humble, loving, and to strengthen their faith so they will not be fooled by the craftiness of men. Sadly, that seems to be exactly what has happened throughout the last two millennia, with many different men (and in some cases, women) craftily taking people from one Christian belief system into a different system of beliefs, ceremonies, rules, holidays, and tenets, all which they created on their own.

The writer warns against sexual immorality, telling them that they have thrown off their old selves and taken on new ones, so they should not give the Devil a foothold.

Obviously, all these warnings and admonitions, just as with the other letters Shaul wrote to the other congregations, are specifically addressing issues that existed within the congregation.

As I have said, these letters are managerial directives.

The best part of this letter is Ephesians 6:14, where we are told about the Armor of God that is to be worn every day:

  • Belt of truth
  • Breastplate of righteousness
  • Feet wearing the sandals of peace
  • Shield of faith (to put out the flaming arrows of the Enemy)
  • Helmet of salvation, and
  • Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Torah)
    (That’s good news for me- I was on the Varsity Fencing Team in High School)

The writer ends this as Shaul would, greeting those in the area and asking for prayer for the saints, and for himself.

To review, the main issues with this letter are the introduction of the idea of predestination and that Yeshua’s death abolished the Torah. In no other letters does Shaul indicate that the Torah is invalid or done away with, nor does he indicate that salvation is not available to anyone, which is the opposite of the idea of Predestination. When we examine this letter closely against the letters we know Shaul wrote, we can see not only differences in style of writing, but in the messages it sends.

The next letter will be the one written to the Philippians.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Galatians.

This is one of the earlier letters written by Shaul, which he wrote to the Gentile Believers who lived in the Roman province of Galatia, located in a central part of (what is today) Turkey. This was written around 48 AD.

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The problem this congregation was having dealt with the Jewish population insisting that these neophyte Gentile believers had to make a complete conversion to Judaism, starting with receiving B’rit Milah (circumcision, also called a “bris”).

Shaul starts off this letter by qualifying his position as an apostle for Yeshua, reviewing the revelation he received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and also how he had been accepted by the Elders on the Council in Jerusalem as a legitimate apostle, endorsing (as he calls it) the gospel he preaches.

He even goes as far as to relate when he went against Kefa (Peter), who Shaul accused of being a hypocrite. He relates that Kefa would eat with Gentiles when there weren’t any Jews around, but when the believing Jews were there, he ate only with them, excluding the Gentiles.

In Chapter 2, from verse 15 through 21, Shaul explains how he came to realize that he could never live in accordance with the Torah, and as such the law did him no good as far as receiving salvation. He said he died to the law when he came to realize that faith in Yeshua was the only way to receive salvation. He said being justified in faith to Yeshua is the only way.

This statement has been totally misunderstood, and misused, to justify that Gentiles do not have to obey the Torah. The issue Shaul talks of (as he covered briefly in his letter to the Romans) is “legalism”- the idea that one must be in perfect accordance with the laws in the Torah to be saved.

When you think about it, no one, believer or not, can be justified by faith, alone. There must be some level of adherence to the commandments God gave regarding worship and treatment of others. If Shaul is teaching faith without obedience, then isn’t he teaching anarchy?

The Torah says not to kill, not to commit adultery, to honor father and mother, to be humane to animals, which Holy Days God requires us to celebrate, and many, many other things that form a way of life. Judaism isn’t just a religion: it is a total lifestyle, shaping not just the individual but the entire nation!

It is inconceivable that anyone preaching a gospel of love would also preach a life of lawlessness, which would be all that one could have if the Torah was ignored.

Do you recall the drash (parable) Yeshua gave about the seed being sown (Mark 4)? Some that fell on good soil started to take root but was choked by the weeds growing with it. This is the issue Shaul was facing in Galatia; the external pressure being placed on the neophyte believers was “choking” their faith, causing them to follow a performance-based salvation (legalism) instead of a faith-based salvation.

Shaul reminded the Galatians that Abraham was found righteous by reason of his faith, long before the law (Torah) was given, therefor obedience to the law is not going to get anyone saved. This is the crux of his discussion in this letter- he didn’t go into how to use the law properly, only that to obey the Torah to earn salvation is useless.

For the record: God told Isaac that he will make the same promise to Isaac that he gave Abraham because Abraham did all that God told him to do. (Genesis 26:4-5)

The idea Shaul is trying to get across to the Galatians (who, at one point, he actually calls “foolish” and later asks them why they listen to others) is that the law was given to be a sort of guardian, keeping God-fearing people (before Yeshua came) under a system of laws which defined the difference between sin and righteousness. Shaul even goes as far as to say that before we had the Torah, there was no sin because there was no law identifying what is sin.

Shaul makes some excellent points in this letter, such as in Chapter 3, he states that being in the body of the Messiah means we are all the same- there is neither Jew nor Greek, free nor slave, male nor female- all are one in the body of Messiah.

Of course, he is talking figuratively.

Another important lesson is that it is fine to be zealous for a cause, so long as the purpose is a good one (Galatians 4:18). But the purpose of the Galatian Jews telling these Gentiles they had to be circumcised to be saved was not good because their purpose, which may have been meant to be helpful, was (in fact) undermining Shaul’s authority and teachings and bringing the new believers back to a religion based on obedience, which has been translated in most Bibles as being “under the law”. This is one of the reasons that people have misinterpreted this to mean obedience to Torah is wrong for Gentiles.

One of the well-known lessons from this letter is Shaul’s definition of the Fruits of the Spirit, which is what we are supposed to live by. Those fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The purpose of this letter was never to be a polemic against the law, but rather to recommit these confused people to faithful obedience to Torah, which is what Shaul preached to them about being one with the Messiah. He said being circumcised or not makes no difference with regard to salvation through Messiah, and that the ones telling them they must be circumcised are only trying to bring them back under the system of performance-based salvation, which Judaism has lived under for centuries.

Shaul never meant for the Galatians, or anybody accepting Yeshua as their messiah, to ignore the Torah or any of the laws: he only wants to make sure that the reason people choose to be obedient to the Torah is done from the faithful desire to please God, and NOT to “earn points” towards salvation.

Search as diligently as you can, and you will not find anywhere, in any of the letters Shaul wrote, any statement that those who are in Messiah can ignore God’s laws or reject the Torah. On the other hand, neither has he outrightly stated that they must obey the Torah. I believe this is because there was never a question of whether or not to obey the laws, only a question of WHY to obey the laws.

At the end of this letter Shaul says (Galatians 6:16), “Peace and mercy to all who obey this rule (i.e., his teachings about circumcision and faith), even to the Israel of God”. The term “Israel of God” is confusing- who is that, exactly? Isn’t there just the one Israel, the Jewish people? Can there be a different “Israel”, an Israel of people who aren’t Jews?

This confusion has given birth to the ridiculous and blasphemous belief called Replacement Theology, which states that because the Jews rejected Yeshua, God has rejected the Jews as his chosen people and Born-Again Christians are now the chosen people of God, the very “Israel of God” Shaul mentioned.

Boy oh boy, would I love to show how wrong that is, but it will have to wait for another time.

The next letter we will analyze is to the congregation in Ephesus, which (if you recall from Acts) was not one of Shaul’s favorite places to be and gave him quite a lot of tsouris.

That’s it for now, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!