Now that we have taken a fresh approach to reading the letters Shaul wrote to the congregations he had created, we need to remember that the New Covenant was formulated from many letters and gospels, as well as Codex’s and other materials, by a group of Gentiles who had already been worshiping as far from how Yeshua worshipped as one can get.
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According to Wikipedia, the new Covenant was compiled by approximately 40 different people, sometime around 90-95 AD; other historical documents I have seen state that by that time, even the celebration of the Shabbat was changed from the 7th day of the week (the way Yeshua celebrated it) to the first day of the week (Sunday).
The Epistles have been so misused and misunderstood by men who were not Jewish and already had an agenda to separate the believers of Yeshua from the Jewish roots of the movement that I am not at all surprised that nearly every Christian denomination bases almost everything it does on these letters, almost totally ignoring the Torah.
And remember that these are letters were NOT received in a divine vision and were NOT dictated by God but written by a man to counteract the damaging influences from both without and within those congregations; congregations of Gentile believers who were failing to maintain their faith.
Shaul received his vision from Yeshua on the road to Damascus, sometime around 36 CE, and almost every Bible you read will say this is when he converted to Christianity. The truth is he never converted to anything: what happened was not a conversion, as evidenced by the fact that Shaul continued to worship as a Jew, continued to enter and preach in the synagogue everywhere he went, and even took vows in accordance with the Torah (1 Corinthians 11:1).
A more accurate statement of the event is not that it was a conversion to a different religion, but a revelation of the truth of his existing religion, that truth being Yeshua is the Messiah mentioned throughout the Tanakh to be sent by God.
The first letter we have from Shaul is to the Thessalonians, which was written about 12 years after Shaul’s revelation of Yeshua. The rest of the letters included in the New Covenant range from 50 CE through 66 CE.
In all of these letters we see the same challenges to these neophyte Gentile believers: believing Jews forcing them to get circumcised in order to be saved (legalism), outside influences weakening their faith (arguments about genealogies and Gnosticism), false teachings from outside and even inside the believing community (2 Timothy 2:16), and misplaced loyalties and the formation of cliques within the congregation that was tearing it apart (1 Corinthians 3).
Although it wasn’t mentioned specifically, I think we can also assume there were challenges forced on these believers by non-believing friends, family, and neighbors who were persecuting them for their change in lifestyle, which smelled like death to those non-believers (2 Corinthians 2:15).
I once read a book that identified a conundrum in marriages that were having relationship problems: the conundrum was that if one member of the couple tried to improve the relationship, the other member went out of their way to reestablish the previous, hurtful relationship. Why? Because it had become comfortable.
Now, here we have a Gentile believer in Yeshua who is being told to give up all the hedonistic, drunken, and sexually perverse things he (or she) does in order to live a righteous life with the promise of resurrection. That’s a pretty hard sell, and hard for a person to do, even with support from families and friends, so imagine how much harder it must have been for the Gentiles who chose to live that way back then! It’s no wonder Shaul had to keep on top of them to maintain their faith.
Shaul spent those first 12 years after his revelation of Yeshua traveling all over Asia and the Middle East. Shaul’s missionary work was very successful, but something happened after the Jewish leaders of this new sect within Judaism had all died: the message in Shaul’s letters became polluted by many of the Gentile believers who were now leading this movement, leading it further and further away from what Shaul told them, from what Yeshua taught, and from how God said we all should live.
They did what Shaul had constantly warned against- they listened to the false teachings.
Besides that, there was the political issue of the Romans persecuting the Jews (who were rebelling against Roman rule), so as these people- who had been protected while worshipping the Roman religion- became more “Jewish” in their lifestyle and worship, they became afraid of being associated with the Jews and falling under Roman persecution.
Of course, that backfired on them: after the Romans put the Jewish rebellion down for good in the 2nd Century, they turned their attention to the (now called) Christians because the one thing Rome hated as much as rebellion was creating a religion other than the official Roman one.
This is a little off topic, but I think it is important to note. Shaul never stopped preaching Yeshua is the Messiah to Jews. Some say he stopped talking to Jews when he said, in Acts 13:44, that he would now go only to the Gentiles, but that is wrong. He was in Antioch when he said this, and he said it to the Jews there who were ridiculing him and Barnabus. What he meant was that he would now go to the Gentiles there in Antioch. He never meant that he would only talk to Gentiles from then on. He always went to the synagogues first, in every town he traveled to; this is confirmed no less than 9 times throughout the Book of Acts.
The letters Shaul wrote were not intended to change the way these believing Gentiles worshipped and lived because they had already accepted God as the only God and Yeshua as his Messiah. Rather, they were written to keep the people on track learning how they should live in accordance with the Torah. Not legalistically, as the believing Jews were telling them they had to, but the way Shaul wanted them to do it- slowly, motivated by faithful belief and not legalistic observance. Shaul didn’t require the Gentile believers to convert completely to a Torah observant lifestyle overnight, but rather to learn as they could, sort of taking it one-step-at-a-time.
The letters Shaul wrote did not give new commandments from God or change how God said people should live and worship. No. They were written in order to offset the detrimental influences that were turning these new believers from faithfully following the way Shaul told them to live and worship.
Shaul did a wonderful work for God, bringing salvation through Messiah Yeshua to both Jews and Gentiles. What happened, as we can see from these letters, is that the people who were walking the path to salvation through faithful obedience to God’s word got detoured away from proper worship by human intervention.
Shaul did what he could, from a distance, to combat this redirection of worship. However, looking at the Christian world, with all the different denominations, the many ways the Torah is ignored, and the replacement of God’s Holy Days with so many man-made celebrations and ceremonies, well… I am sorry to say that Shaul’s best attempts failed to overcome human intervention which led to a complete reversal of what his letters were designed to do.
Shaul could see that the congregations he created were being choked by the weeds growing all around them, just as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) warned against.
This concludes my teaching series on the Pauline Epistles, and I pray that I have succeeded in showing you that these letters are not really God-breathed scripture, but simply managerial directives.
I hope that you feel edified and maybe now can see these letters from a different viewpoint. I welcome, as always, any comments you may want to make.
I will be going back to my usual teachings in my next posting, so until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!