THE PROBLEM WITH INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES BACKWARD
There is a town in Russia where there are two synagogues on opposite sides of the same street. Traditionally in a synagogue, there is one wall which signifies the direction in which the worshippers should pray, facing towards Jerusalem. The communities which established the two synagogues originally came from different parts of the country. As each community traveled and settled in different places, they preserved the orientation towards Jerusalem of their original building. Now, in the same location, they indicate opposite directions.
Some traditional teachings of the Church are backwards, the exact opposite of what the Scriptures actually teach. It was not always that way. It happened over time. How did this happen? The Church began to approach the Scriptures by beginning in the "New Testament," forming an understanding of its teachings, and then going backwards to approach the Scriptures which God gave first. Historically, logically, and Biblically this approach is wrong. Historically, the followers of Yeshua tested what they heard against what God had already revealed to Israel at Sinai and in the thousand years following. Logically, they couldnt have tested the established revelation, which they knew to be true, by a new revelation which they did not know to be true. Biblically, God had commanded, and Yeshua affirmed, that a new teaching or claim of Messiahship be tested against what God had already revealed.
Interpreting the Bible backwards produces a message, a teaching, that is backwards. Beginning at the end both obscures the beginning and trivializes all of history that doesnt fit into an assumed triumphalist march. It invites, it almost insures, that one will read into the text what one thinks it should say, rather than read out of the text what it actually does say. Equally devastating is the fact that this approach provides absolutely no basis for demonstrating the authenticity of the "New Testament" or the Messiahship of Yeshua. It simply assumes both. That, however, is not consistent with the "New Testament" itself. Nor is it faith. It is only ignorance.
How can anyone know that the "New Testament" really is what it claims to be? How can anyone know that Yeshua is the Messiah? How should we know? There are many religions that have their own holy books which claim to be the authentic revelation of God, even the culmination of and the key to understanding all that came before. How can we know whether any such claim is true or false?
Is the Koran what it claims to be? Is the Book of Mormon? Is the Talmud? They all claim to be the correct interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures. What about the many other books which make the same claim of divine inspiration and authority? Each book, each religion, claims to be true, no matter what its teaching. Judged only by itself, each is true, even as all the ways of a man are right in his own eyes.
It is pointless to discuss what is true and what is false if we do not agree on the standard by which such judgments should be made. It is pointless to discuss the implications of what God has said when we do not agree on the proper way to know or understand what He has said.
A particular religions proclamation of a teaching does not make the teaching true. Nor does a particular religions rejection of some teaching make that teaching necessarily false. To those who already believe in that religions authenticity and authority, such acceptance and rejection are indeed authoritative, but that begs the primary questions: What is the basis for the claim of authority? How can it be tested? And, is the claim then substantiated?
How could anyone in the first century, or today for that matter, know whether the teachings in the gospels, in the letters, and in Revelation are true or false? Put yourself in the first century when the teaching of Yeshua and His disciples first went forth. "The religious authorities say it is true," or "The religious authorities say it is false," is not a sufficient answer. If there is a God who has revealed Himself so that people might know Him, then each individual is responsible before God for judging whether these teachings are true or false. If you want to know and do what is pleasing to God, how can you determine whether or not these teachings are from God? How can you determine whether or not Yeshua is the Messiah? There were others then, as there are today, who claim to be the Messiah. There are many who claim to bring a new relevation. How do you know which claim, if any, is true?
Any claim to authenticity must be based on what is already acknowledged to be true. The claim to New Covenant or Messianic authenticity must be based on what is already known to be from God. That is why we are told throughout the "New Testament" that Yeshua who he is, what he said, what he did, etc. fulfills what was promised in the Law, the prophets, and the writings. These are referred to by the Hebrew acronym TaNaKh for Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim . The New Covenant scriptures base their claim to authenticity upon Tanakh. Matthew 1 begins with a genealogy. Why? Though unimportant in all the creeds of the Church, that genealogy qualifies Yeshua to be considered as possibly being the Messiah. Without that genealogy, he could not be the Messiah. We are told repeatedly throughout the gospels that, "This was done that it might be fulfilled..." The purpose is too demonstrate that Yeshua is the promised Messiah, because, as Revelation 19:10 says, "the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy." It is fulfilled prophecy that testifies of who he is.
If Yeshua, or any other Messianic claimant, does not fulfill the prophetic Messianic promises, then he is not the Messiah and people should not believe in him. To reject Tanakh the prior, authoritative revelation of God is to reject the Biblical basis for determining who is and who is not the Messiah. In John 5:45-47, Yeshua told those around Him that their failure to believe in Him was due to their failure to believe the writings of Moses. "If you believed Moses you would believe me for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings how will you believe my words." Anyone who rejects what Moses wrote will have no basis for believing what Yeshua said. The Law of Moses leads us to Yeshua. It is our tutor for that purpose. It defines Messiah. It did for the disciples. "Philip found Nathanael and told him, We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:45) The foundation of Yeshuas teaching is Tanakh. After Yeshua had risen from the dead, He taught his disciples so that they would understand correctly and accurately. He taught them what they later wrote down, lived by, and taught to succeeding generations of disciples. "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures." (Luke 24:27)
What Yeshua taught his disciples had to come out of what God had already revealed and taught Israel. It could not contradict it in any way, or the disciples were commanded by God to reject it. (e.g. Dt. 12:32-13:18) It could contradict their prior understanding of the text, but not the text itself. If the new teaching called them to turn away from the God of Israel, they were to reject it, even if it were confirmed with signs and wonders. Dt.13:1-18 In a following incident, Luke 24:44-45, Yeshua told his disciples, "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their mind to understand the scriptures." Their faith had to be based on the Scriptures.
His teaching, its source and foundation, was to be found there. His disciples needed to know who him and his message, so he taught them from Tanakh. The source and foundation of all of Pauls teaching was also Tanakh. If Paul was going to be faithful to Yeshua and what Yeshua taught, it had to be so. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1Cor. 15:3-4)
When Paul was on trial for his life, he said, "Neither in the Temple, nor in the synagogue, nor in the city did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me, but this I admit to you that according to the way which they call a sect, I do serve the God of our fathers believing everything that is accordance with the Law and that is written in the prophets." (Acts 24:12-14) If it didnt agree with the Law and the prophets, Paul didn't believe it. Defending himself in the ongoing trial for his life, Paul said, "Now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers." Acts 26:6 That was why he was on trial. Not for some completely new teaching that had just appeared, but because of the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
"And so having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great stating nothing but what the prophets and Moses said was going to take place." Acts 26:22 Paul maintained that his message came from what is in Moses and the prophets. That was the source for his teaching. As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, "Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesnt the Law say the same thing?" (1Cor. 9:8)
The Spirit of God gave Paul understanding that others hadnt had, but it was still an understanding of what God had already said. On trial for his life, he was not afraid to die but he was not guilty of doing what they accused him of doing. He was only guilty of believing the promises of God to Israel.
When he was under house arrest in Rome, Paul called the Jewish community to himself to communicate exactly what his message was, what the promise of God to the Fathers of Israel and their hope was. "And when they had set a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers, and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Yeshua from both the Law of Moses and from the prophets from morning until evening." Acts 28:23
Paul's message came from the Law and the prophets. He spoke from the Law and the prophets to convince people, to demonstrate that Yeshua is the prophesied Messiah. He tried to convince them in Rome, and everywhere else, that the kingdom of God that he proclaimed was what had already been written, already promised, in the acknowledged, authentic revelation of God, i.e. Tanakh. The Holy Spirit taught him, but the Holy Spirit taught him from Tanakh. Spiritually, logically, it could not be any other way.
How could a first century Jew know whether what Paul was proclaiming was true or not? How could anyone know? In Thessalonica, "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. This Yeshua I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah, he said." (Acts 17:2-3) Paul based his case for the Messiahship of Yeshua upon Tanakh. The Scriptures commend the Jews in the synagogue in Berea: "Now these were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so." Acts 17:11 Paul preached to them, and they examined the scriptures to see whether what he was saying was true or not. They are commended for checking Pauls teaching against Tanakh.
If his teaching did not agree with the Scriptures, then it was not true, and they were commanded by God to reject him and the teaching he brought. The Lord warned Israel to judge spiritual messages by looking "To the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, the light has not dawned on them." (Is. 8:20)
"These were more noble-minded...because they searched the scriptures" They searched the only scriptures there were the Law, the writings, and the prophets. They searched them daily to see if this new teaching was true or not. God commended them for that. God requires that of all Israel. That was the only way they could tell whether or not the teaching was true. If it agreed with Tanakh, they should accept it. If it disagreed with Tanakh, God required that they reject it. The result of their testing Pauls teaching by the standard of Tanakh was that, "Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men." (Acts 17:12) The acknowledged Word of God could not be judged accepted or rejected by some later revelation. It was the new revelation that had to be judged. If the new revelation did not agree with what was known to be from God, then the new revelation had to be rejected.
Historically, logically, and Biblically it could not be any other way. To establish a point, Paul and all the New Covenant writers refer to what has already been established and accepted.
Paul told Timothy, "From childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Messiah Yeshua. All scripture is breathed of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2Tim. 3:15-17) The Scriptures which Timothy had known from childhood were not the gospels and letters. They hadn't been written yet. Timothy had known Tanakh. These are the Scriptures which Paul says are able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Messiah. It is these Scriptures that Paul considered necessary to train people in the knowledge and service of God. He had already said of himself that he believed and taught everything that agreed with Moses and the prophets.
It is a tautology, but one which needs to be stated: Those who do not believe as Yeshua and Paul did have a faith that is different from that of Yeshua and Paul.
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