New Testament Church Doctrinal Controversies Briefly Surveyed
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New Testament Church Doctrinal Controversies Briefly Surveyed
What kinds of doctrine disputes, controversies, and outright heresies afflicted the first-century Christian church? How can we learn from them and apply insights from them to our present spiritual walks as Christians? Much like today’s church, the first-century church was periodically affected and rent by doctrinal controversies. Below the New Testament’s record of many of these false teachings and false teachers are described so Christians can learn from them.
Simony and Simon Magus
The early Catholic writers blamed these many heresies, such as the later Gnostic heresies, on Simon Magus as their originator. The story of Simon the Sorceror, or Simon Magus is found in Acts 8:9-24. After he tried to buy the power to give the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, Peter sharply rebuked him. Now, let's consider what reliable history is based upon. How reliable is (say) Ireneaus in “Against All Heresies” (written c. 180 A.D.) when blaming heresies on Simon Magus? We normally write history using various primary sources written near or at least within the lifetime of various events occurring. In the case of Simon the Sorceror, what we do we really know about him, besides what's written in Acts? The stories about Simon the Sorceror, or Simon Magus ("the Great") assumes the basic reliability of such documents as the writings of the early Catholics Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, the Acts of Peter, and/or Pseudo-Clementines. Somehow, although Justin and Irenaeus strongly opposed the teachings of Simon the Sorcerer, it's been claimed that their brand of Christianity originated in Simon's teachings. What the earliest Catholic Church writers and others wrote about him is usefully summarized by D.E. Aune in "Simon Magus," Bromiley, gen. ed., "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia," vol. 4, pp. 517-18. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus' writings describe Simon's theology as being Gnostic, which is sufficient proof Simon couldn't have been the true founder of Sunday-keeping Christianity.
Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy that (among other teachings) claimed the physical world in general, including the human body, and the God of the Old Testament who created it, are evil. Early forms of this heresy started to affect the first century church, such as indirectly shown by John’s emphasis on Christ’s bodily nature (I John 1:1; 4:1-3), which Gnostics denied. Although it can be argued that some of the later Gnostic writer Marcion's teachings are like some of today's traditional Christian teachings, it is very dubious to rely much on such stories about Simon the Sorceror by even Justin and Irenaeus. Furthermore, here's an interesting problem worth some thought: Should people use these historical sources from the Sunday church's early writers, but then claim Simon founded their religion despite these writers sharply attack his beliefs as they understood them to be?
What can we today can learn from Paul's dealings with the problems the Corinthian church? Let’s turn to a book of the Bible in which the early church was simply wracked with controversies.
Paul had to correct the Corinthian church in a number of areas. Today, when Christians make the same or similar mistakes, we can learn to do better from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Although this is a very broad subject, for a book could be written about what we can learn from this letter, I'll focus on several obvious subjects covered within the letter.
Paul, early on, criticized the Corinthians for their party spirit and divisions that were focused on personalities and human leadership (see I Cor. 1:10-15; I Cor. 3:3-5). Instead, as per the principles mentioned in Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 3:11; Ephesians 2:14; 4:3-6, John 17:20-23, Christians should strive to maintain unity so long as doctrinal purity on doctrines crucial to salvation isn’t sacrificed in the process. (Ernest Pickering’s “Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church” deals with this common dilemma for many Christians down through the centuries). Christians should focus on God and Christ, who laid the foundation for us to build our good works on (I Cor. 3:11-15) that determine how high or low our position will be in the kingdom of God. Likewise, today Christians should not follow human personalities such that it causes divisions over trivial doctrinal or administrative issues.
Paul also rather sarcastically puts down their high level pretensions or pride against each other (I Cor. 4:6-11). Similarly, Christians today shouldn't have pride or unrealistic assessments of ourselves.
Paul had to excommunicate or disfellowship someone guilty of adultery and/or incest, a man who was sexually involved with his mother or stepmother. (See I Cor. 5:1-13). From this incident, we can learn several things that are still good lessons for today. There is very much a place for church discipline. Although extreme measures like shunning go much too far compared to what the Bible actually teaches (i.e., the practice by which family members will not even talk to the person who has been cast out of or left the faith), there is a place for elders to tell seriously sinning members to stop coming to church until they repent of their sins. If church growth (i.e., quantity) is emphasized at the expense of quality of conversion, church discipline can go by the wayside. Second, the laws of sexual morality found in the Bible should be taken seriously by Christians, and not discounted as obsolete ordinances for a by-gone age. Rather instead, they apply just as much today as in the ancient past, since human beings are still made of the same flesh and blood, regardless of any technological developments or societal changes. Third, this passage mentions the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread (verse 6-8) and how their symbols and rituals applied to their circumstances. This is good evidence that these days can be and should be observed by Christians of any ethnic background today, not merely by Jews.
In I Cor. 6:1-8, Paul condemns Christians who sue each other in the courts of the world. So today, Christians of the same church, especially the same congregation, are wrong if they sue each other rather than settling their disputes with the aid of other Christians. (See the conflict resolution process described in Matt. 18:15-17).
The problems related within marriage described in I Cor. 7 are very much up-to-date. Paul deals with the issue of believers married to unbelievers, and when they could be or may be (lawfully) divorced from each other. How many people who attend church today have wives or (especially) husbands who are unconverted? This chapter also recommends celibacy to singles, but also says it isn't a sin to marry. The reasons given for this recommendation, besides those related to the present distress of Paul's day (v. 26), are still current today, such as married people being more divided in their service to God compared to serving their husband or wife also. He also says that widows may remarry, but only in the Lord (v. 39), meaning to other Christians, not to unbelievers.
Now I Cor. 8 (and 10:23-33) would seem to not apply to Christians today at all. After all, how many people today in modern Western countries or poorer traditionally Christian countries seriously would have problems in buying meat that wasn't offered to idols? But there's an excellent principle here, which is similar to the one described by Paul in Romans 14, which concerned meat eaters tolerating vegetarians and vice versa. The basic principle is that if we believe something isn't a sin, but others in the church think it is a sin, we shouldn't flaunt our freedom in front of them or push them to disobey their consciences. For example, suppose someone says it isn't a sin to drink alcohol, but someone else in their local church thinks it is a sin, or is a recovering alcoholic who has to totally avoid drinking alcohol. The one who drinks alcohol shouldn't drink it in front of the person who thinks it is a sin, such as at his or her own home during a shared dinner. The "wet" Christian also should avoid going to bars where easily offended "dry" church members are apt to see him enter or leave.
Paul in I Cor. 9 defends his ministry, including the right to be paid, although he chose not to exercise that right. People today who think ministers have to be unpaid volunteers or should only get poverty level compensation are plainly mistaken. Of course, high pay would also be a serious problem, especially if it tempts ministers into being mere hirelings who work only for the money they get.
Then in I Cor. 10, Paul shows that Christians today can learn from the bad personal examples of ancient Israel. Just as God punished them for testing Him, by worshiping idols, for grumbling, and for (sexual) immorality, we are wrong to do the same things today. This means we should be knowledgeable about the Old Testament, which can teach us to obey God better also, not merely about the New Testament.
Paul in I Cor. 11:23-33; 10:15-17 also tells us about how to take communion/The Lord's Supper properly, with the right attitude and focus, so God doesn't punish us. Such directions apply just as much today as they did then about taking the symbols of Jesus' sacrifice.
Besides Acts 2, I Cor. 12 and I Cor. 14 are the most important chapters in the Bible relating to the whole issue of speaking in tongues. (Unlike certain other doctrines, this issue comes down to an interpretation of little more than three chapters of the Bible). Pentecostalists would especially think I Cor. 14 is foundational to their whole movement. But I Cor. 14 also tells us how to conduct church services in general, not merely about how to administer this gift during church services. I Cor. 12 is much broader in scope than being just about speaking in tongues, for it makes the well known analogy between the church and Jesus' body. It points out that different parts (church members) have different functions as God allows them to have, as per the gifts they are given. This basic truth is just as true today as it was then. The gift of speaking in tongues concerns speaking other worldly languages, not angelic or heavenly ones, according to the description of the gift found in Acts 2:6-11. Such gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesying aren't presently found (as least as publicly acknowledged) in the true church, but that they could come back again before Jesus returns. John MacArthur (in "Charismatic Chaos") mistakenly claims that the gift of speaking in tongues permanently passed away with the closing of the canon of Scripture in the late first century A.D. To analyze the whole issue of speaking in tongues would be a digression from this general overview of I Corinthians’ present relevance to Christians today.
Then there's I Cor. 13, which is the famous "love chapter." It's obviously very relevant to Christians today. It came up, in part, as a response to people who over-emphasized the importance of spiritual gifts compared to love. Love is more important than faith and hope, or any spiritual gift such as speaking in tongues or prophesying.
The "resurrection chapter," of I Cor. 15, gives a good overview of what will happen to the (saved) dead when Jesus returns. It's also important for stating the condition of the dead. They can only be saved by being resurrected after Jesus returns, not by having immortal souls that go to heaven after they die (see verses I Cor. 15:12-19). Some in the local church were denying this teaching despite it was so central to Christian belief, since Jesus Himself was resurrected.
Paul said that if no one is resurrected, the saved dead were lost, which means they couldn't have been conscious souls living in heaven then: "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (I Cor. 15:16-18). So if the saved dead, of whom he's speaking here, aren't resurrected, then they are unsaved and aren't restored to consciousness. (The doctrines of the resurrection and the immortality of the soul basically contradict each other, as this text reveals, so therefore the latter is wrong). Therefore, nobody goes to heaven or hell at death, but they lie unconscious in the common grave of humanity until the resurrection, some when Jesus returns, but most later, at the end of the thousand years of His rule (the millennium) and after wards (Revelation 20:4-5).
This brief overview of Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church covers a number of doctrinal and other controversies. So much of it is so very relevant to Christians today, regardless of specific church denomination, so long as they take the Bible seriously, as having authority over their lives. Let’s now zero in on another issue that Paul dealt with his letter to the Corinthian Church, which concerns the role of women in church services.
Should women speak in church?
don't believe women shouldn't be ordained as ministers or priests. (As a grammatical point, however, if the Catholic Church ever did ordain women, which I seriously doubt they ever would, they should be called then "priestesses"!) Correspondingly, they shouldn't preach in church or establish churches (except perhaps when no men are available, and they are studying the Bible in their homes) But let's explain how some how religious liberals justify ordaining women as ministers, and why that reasoning is unsound.
The basic approach of a liberal Christian (here I don't mean politically liberal, although the two often go together) is to think the values and teachings of Scripture don't stand forever, that they weren't for all time. They put their human reasoning over the Bible's text as an authority for how to live their lives. Often they will assert Scripture has errors of history, science, and/or morality in it that reflect the outlook of the society of the time it was written in. Therefore, they believe, we today can know more than the authors of Scripture did, which allows us to ignore its plain teachings after considering all the texts on the doctrines in question. As supposedly enlightened modern Westerners (the legalization of abortion on demand indicates otherwise), we may think women and men's sex roles in society and family life should be totally interchangeable, as per the tenets of standard brand "equality" feminism. (There are also the difference feminists, but that brings up a whole other issue, in which these feminists can start sounding like patriarchalists when making generalizations about the personalities and values of the respective genders. For example, they might say, "If women ruled the world, there would be no war." So then they think women are better than men by being more nurturing and peaceful. But then this mostly concedes the point of patriarchalists who say women are ill-suited to serving in combat positions in the military because they aren't aggressive enough!) If so, equality feminists would reject what the Apostle Paul taught in (say) Eph. 5:22-24 about wives obeying their husbands as an outdated view that reflects the Jewish and gentile culture of the ancient world he lived in.
My response, as a fundamentalist who believes the Bible is inerrant and infallible in the original ancient autographs/manuscripts, is to say the values taught in Scripture (properly interpreted through various hermeneutical/exegetical principles) should override any human reasoning to the contrary. Therefore, feminism is wrong to the degree it teaches that the sex roles of men and women should be the same in society and family life. So when Paul writes, "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (I Timothy 2:12), he obviously didn't believe women should become overseers or elders. (This doesn't apply to women teaching their children or even their husbands at home, as the case of Apollos being taught by Priscilla and Aquila shows, Acts 18:26). Since the innately difference personalities of women and men haven't changed over the centuries, this teaching should still be obeyed today, for it speaks to something intrinsic to the human condition and to the way God made women and men genetically. (For secular evidence that men and women are innately different in their personalities, you'd want to read George Gilder's "Men and Marriage," which may be the most influential yet intellectual anti-feminist book published in the past generation). Therefore, the differences we see between men and women aren't mainly created by society and the ways little boys and girls are raised by their parents and teachers, but reflect biologically driven realities. By accepting the teaching of Scripture, we merely accept also what we could discover and reason from nature based upon anthropological/sociological studies, such as what Goldberg did in "The Inevitability of Patriarchy."
Feminism isn't merely at war with nature, but it's at war with God as well. After all, God is both all-knowing and almighty: He knew feminist reasoning long in advance when inspiring the writing of the Bible, yet rejected it. Therefore, we're in no position, for example, to complain about God's use of a masculine persona when relating to His creation, including humanity, and when having the Bible written. For example, Jehovah ("The Lord" in the Old Testament) is an emphatically masculine God, and Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son, told us in his model prayer to pray to "Our Father who is in heaven." Yet, we know that God is neither a man nor a woman intrinsically (compare to the risen saints being like angels, Luke 20:34-36) and has personality characteristics of both genders in His make up (such as in balancing mercy, an especially feminine trait, with justice, a particularly masculine emphasis).
Anyway, turning now more directly to Scripture, the
religious liberals will argue based upon ambiguous texts that women were
ordained in the first-century church. Then they would be allowed to
preach in church and to establish churches as ministers. But this is the
classic case of proof-texting and making a selective case
for preconceived doctrines based mainly upon human reasoning determined
in advance of opening up the Bible. For example, "Junia" or "Junias" in
Romans 16:7 was an apostle. The name in the original Greek is
something like the names "Sidney" or "Ashley," and can
refer to either gender. To cite this unclear text as decisive
evidence that the primitive church ordained women as apostles is simply absurd.
A nearby text that's also abused for this purpose is Romans 16:1, which says
Phoebe was a "deaconess" or "servant." (And, of
course, a "minister" is a "servant," right? But to be
a deacon/deaconess, like Stephen and the six other men chose initially to wait
on tables (Acts 6:2-6) was to have a mainly physical job that served a
spiritual purpose. The apostles said the deacons' responsibility was to
tend to a more physical task, like watching the distribution of food
for widows (Acts 6:1). The Twelve then could devote themselves
more to prayer and the "ministry of the word," which would
include public teaching/evangelization. To be a deacon (or deaconess)
isn't the same as being an elder/overseer, which the respective lists of
qualifications in I Timothy 3:1-10 show aren't the same.
My personal theory as to why only men should be ordained is that being an elder/pastor/overseer/minister involves exerting authority over others in the congregation (as per I Timothy 2:12; Heb. 13:7, 17) as one way of serving it (here there's an obvious analogy between the church and the loving leadership of good Christian husband in the home), which men would be better at and would represent better as authority figures than women to people in general. For there does seem to be more "cattiness" (i.e., gossipy backbiting) when women have to submit to a female boss compared to a male boss on average, that her authority isn't as naturally accepted by members of her own sex even. But here I am speculating some obviously.
So I hope this answer has helped you some. I don't believe Scripture allows for the ordaining of women, nor that they should be allowed to preach in church or establish churches (excepting small "women only" house churches in which no men at all are available as believers). Please feel free to email me if you have follow up questions on this issue.
Divorce (I Cor. 7):
Now Jesus said in Matthew 5:32: "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery." He mentions this exception again when dealing with the Pharisees on the matter of divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:9): "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." The key issue concerns what the "exception clause" applies to: What is "sexual immorality"? The Greek word "porneia" here has a broad meaning, and doesn't just mean adultery or incest, but concerns all sorts of general sexual sin. Indeed, it's the root word for "pornography" in English.
I basically believe that divorce and remarriage for other reasons besides adultery wouldn't be permissible within a Christian marriage for both parties excepting arguably obvious and major fraud and when an unbelieving spouse departs. Let's now consider exceptions which are based on other texts outside of Jesus' statements in Matthew. Here it's assumed that Jesus in Matthew was speaking to a Jewish audience so that all the married people were of the same faith. Perhaps the most serious issue concerns how to interpret I Cor. 7:15: "But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace." This may authorize divorce from an unbeliever, but does it authorize remarriage also? The "Bible Background Commentary: New Testament" says something strikingly interesting about this: "Paul addresses the specific situation not address in Jesus' general principle that he has just cited (7:10-11): the innocent party is free to remarry . . . 'Not under bondage' or 'not bound' alludes to the wording of Jewish divorce documents, which told he woman, 'You are free to remarry any man,' and further applied to divorce the precise language of freedom from slavery. Being 'bound' would mean that she was still married in God's sight; not being 'bound,' or being 'free,' meant that she was free to remarry" (p. 467). Hence, given this historical information, it would be permissible for a Christian who got divorced from an unbeliever to remarry within the faith, at least so long as he or she didn't intentionally drive away his or her unbelieving spouse! (Notice the part about "willing to live with him" or "willing to live with her" in verses 12-13).
I'm uneasy over the idea of the spouse committing adultery also being free to remarry as well, especially if he then gets married to "the other woman." It could be that when a marriage is dissolved in God's sight that neither party is bound to the old marriage covenant anymore, thus freeing the adulterer also. I'm not comfortable stating that view without further consideration.
Another possible ground for divorce and remarriage has to be raised, although I'm more hesitant here, concerns fraud. Notice the situation described in Deut. 22:13-21. If a woman who gets married isn't a virgin, and the man objects, and the charge is proven true, he could get a divorce by (well) her being executed! It can be argued there is a principle here in which if (say) a man concealed from his wife that he had been divorced, had had children by a prior relationship, or even was an alcoholic or criminal, that she could get divorced from him if this is discovered early on and acted upon. Admittedly, I'm not sure if this principle should be extended beyond obvious matters of fraud related to prior sexual experience (i.e., the man who says he's a virgin, but is actually divorced and has three children in another state). Also, notice that today, if such fraud were discovered in today's world, the woman wouldn't actually be executed! (Compare this to John 8:2-12, the famous incident in which the woman caught in adultery wasn't condemned to be executed by Jesus, although He still said she had sinned). The (ex-) wife who committed fraud would still be alive, and thus (arguably) the man's wife still lifelong until one or the other commits adultery.
I do believe that to marry a person divorced on non-Biblical grounds would be committing adultery. For example, and this does sound harsh, a woman who gets divorced because her ex-husband was a wife-beater or chronic, unrepentant alcoholic or drug addict, can't remarry based on those grounds alone. True, typically many men guilty of such offenses often are adulterers also, but until such an offense occurs (including after the divorce), his ex-wife wouldn't be free to remarry. A Christian couple could get divorced for many other reasons, such as general incompatibility, but then that doesn't give either partner license to remarry, for the marriage wasn't ended in God's sight by that source of trouble. Hence, single, never married people should be especially careful about marrying a divorced person. They have every right, and a Biblical duty, to ask that divorced person about the circumstances of his or her divorce if he or she doesn't volunteer this information beforehand. It's our duty to follow Scripture and to believe in faith that God knows best for us even when it seems to be very difficult to follow. If a Christian couple got divorced, and neither committed adultery, and there was no obvious fraud (especially concerning prior sexual experience) in question concerning the original marriage, both have to live celibately single the rest of their lives. Then they have to become eunuchs for the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:11-12).
Now, if someone wasn't a Christian when they got divorced and remarried in sin, but later repented, got baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and truly accepted Jesus as their personal savior, can that sin be forgiven? I believe that the answer is "yes." God can forgive any sins. But that would assume full spiritual conversion occurred after the remarriage in question, not before. If someone is just as much a Christian before divorcing as they were after remarrying, then this option isn't available.
Does the bible teach about two types of speaking in tongues? Is it possible to truly have the gift of speaking in tongues today?
The distinction that has been made about two types of tongues ("prayer language"/"public language") is an artifice to get around the texts that regulate speaking in tongues so that people can still do whatever they want. This distinction has to be artificially read into Scripture (i.e., eisegesis). A similar claim is to say everyone has to speak in tongues after being baptized, but that not everyone afterwards has to speak in tongues, which almost makes this gift a condition to salvation. Consider this: If this minister is praying in public, then he is bound by the same restrictions as he would be if he were preaching from the pulpit. Suppose he suddenly breaks into some unknown language. So long as the ungifted are around him, and no interpreter is present, he should be silent then when it comes to his (alleged) gift: "Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified" (I Cor. 14:16-17).
Now John F. MacArthur Jr.'s book, "Charismatic Chaos," is a useful book to read on this general subject. But he goes too far in certain ways in attacking the claims of Charismatics. For example, I think this gift is theoretically possible even today among true believers, but I don't believe presently any authentic manifestations of it occur. I don’t see any truly convincing evidence that it exists reliably in the true Church of God today, but that may change shortly before Jesus returns (cf. Acts 2:17). After all, the Two Witnesses will prophesy, and they will be human beings who will be killed before being resurrected miraculously and then ascending to heaven (Rev. 11:3-13). It’s a poor argument to claim this gift passed with the closing of the canon of Scripture. That meaning that has to read into I Cor. 13's discussion of tongues ceasing and the perfect's arrival. Rather, this text (vs. 8-10, 12) refers to Jesus' return and/or the Restoration of All Things.
Let’s survey this subject more generally starting at this point. So then, is speaking in tongues a gift of God or a deception of the Devil? Can someone speak in tongues without it being either? Can Christians today truly have this gift? Or was miraculously speaking in other languages a gift limited to the first century and the early church? Are “tongues” just other human languages, such as Chinese or Arabic, or are they special angelic languages? Must Christians speak in tongues before they can have salvation? Can people correctly speak in tongues during a church service when no one translates those tongues for others present? Are there ways today to scientifically investigate the claims of Pentecostalists that didn’t exist in the past? These questions and others are answered below. The Pentecostalist and Charismatic movement’s claim that Christians today have the gift of speaking in tongues is shown to be invalid, for the Biblical reasons explained below.
Much of the basic issue about the Charismatic movement’s claims concerns whether the "tongues" in question have to be real human languages. Furthermore, most of the Biblical data bearing on this controversy about speaking in tongues is found in three chapters of the Bible: Acts 2 and I Corinthians 12 and 14. So this doctrine doesn’t require a huge study to figure out, unlike the case for whether works contribute to the salvation process or not, or whether God is a Trinity or not. Furthermore, the last two passages are also about how to conduct church services in general, not merely about how to administer the gift of speaking in tongues during church services. And I Cor. 12 is much broader in scope than being just about speaking in tongues: It makes the well-known analogy between the church and Jesus' body. It points out that different parts (church members) have different functions as God allows them to have, as per the gifts they are given.
Are “Tongues” Just Other Human Languages?
Now, if we use the Bible to interpret the Bible, rather than reading into a given passage possibly preconceived ideas, we'll find that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak other human languages, such as Japanese, Quechua, or Amharic. On the day of Pentecost, one of the annual Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23, the Holy Spirit first came en masse to a large group of (seemingly average) people at once. Acts 2:4 states what happened miraculously in a nutshell: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Now, were these angelic languages or some other special language of the Holy Spirit unknown to other human beings? What does the Bible itself say? Verses 5-6: "And there were dwelling in JerusalemJews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. [They were pilgrims in town visiting for this special annual Holy Day--EVS] And when this sound [from the Spirit's arrival] occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language." In verses 9-11 is a list of all the places/nations these Jews from around the known world had come. Yet, they could understand the 120 disciples of Jesus as they spoke. Interestingly enough, the miracle was as much in the hearing as in the speaking, for these people could understand what was being said.
So, in a typical Charismatic service today, do most or any of the people actually understand what those supposedly speaking in tongues are actually saying? Someone may claim to have the gift of interpretation of tongues, but it's hardly like the whole gathered group can understand what's being said as it is originally spoken. So that's a key difference between what happened in Acts 2 and today's Pentecostalist services. Notice how the miracle in Acts 2 was the opposite of what occurred at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:6-8, in which people were miraculously made to not understand each other.
Did Paul Speak with the Tongues of Angels?
In Mark 16:17, we find the gift of speaking in tongues would appear among true Christians: "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues." Now, how do we know that this gift wouldn't be, say, the ability for a native monolingual Spanish speaker to suddenly speak Chinese or Navaho? After all, if someone spoke (say) Urdu around me, as a number of my college roommates did who were from Pakistan, I wouldn't be able to understand them any more than if it was an alleged angelic language. Now, it is true, that Paul said hypothetically (using an "if") that if he spoke with the tongues of men and of angels, but didn't have love, it would be like making noise on instruments (See I Cor. 13:1). Speaking conditionally, he said, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels . . ." But should this be taken as a literal statement of fact? Notice this isn't a flat statement, but a conditional, a hypothetical. Do we then take literally his other conditions before saying love is of much greater importance also literally, as flat statements? Would we ever have knowledge of all mysteries? Would we ever have all faith, such as to literally move mountains? (Verse 2) Would we ever give up all our possessions to the poor and have our dead bodies burned? (Verse 3) Notice he said if these hypotheticals were true, but that he didn't have love, it would be of no value. Therefore, I Cor. 13:1 shouldn’t be taken as a statement of fact, but rather a what-if hypothetical about if one had a particular gift in an overwhelming measure, but if one still lacked love, it would be of no value. After all, could Paul speak all human languages? I seriously doubt it, despite he said he spoke more tongues than all the Corinthian Christians together (I Cor. 14:17). So why should we believe he spoke angelic ones also? Doctrines that assert believers can have the gift to speak in the tongues of angels should be built upon the flat statements or assertions of Scripture, not hypotheticals.
Are Interpreters Required When Someone at Church Publicly Speaks in Tongues?
Another major problem with standard Pentecostalist services is that they often aren't conducted in an orderly fashion in accordance with the directions given in I Cor. 14. For example, if someone speaks in a tongue, but he has no interpreter, he should remain silent. The gift has to be regulated administratively within the church even when its manifestations are authentically a gift from God (verses 27-28): "If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God." So if a lot of people speak in tongues all at the same time but no one understands or interprets them, it can't be a true gift from God, but some kind of error or deception is happening. Paul also said to speak in a tongue was a wasted effort when no one could understand what was being said (verses 9, 11, 16-19): "So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. . . . If you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." After all, if someone stood up, and spoke Chinese for an hour at services in a sermon, I wouldn't understand a word of it. Paul in this chapter's context interpreted tongues as regular human languages (verses 10-11): "There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world [not heaven], and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me." Obviously, these aren't angelic languages or some special language of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it would be as if I started to speak, and someone heard Arabic or Swahili.
How Can Tape Recordings Be Used to Test the Claims of Pentecostalists?
Now today the Charismatic movement's claims can be tested in ways that didn't exist in the past. For example, suppose some Pentecostalists assert that they can interpret tongues. Here’s a practical way to test whether anyone can really interpret tongues or not: Tape record what is said to be a tongue. Then apply these two approaches: 1. After an investigator tapes the Pentecostalist service during which this alleged gift manifested itself, he could play back the tape for the purported interpreters separately from each other. Do their interpretations agree? If they don't, something bogus is taking place in the speaking, the hearing, or both. If God is inspiring the interpreters, they should interpret the tape recording identically. 2. After making the tape recording, the researcher could check whether or not highly repetitious phrases or sounds occurred, transcribe them phonetically, and then ask (cf. Matthew 6:7), "Would God would miraculously inspire ‘vain repetitions’ in His people?" Does this supposed “tongue” have a "vocabulary" of highly repetitious sounds or "words," in a way a normal English speech or conversation would never be constructed? Does its sounds resemble a Hindu mantra’s? From our knowledge of actual human languages, could we say such sounds or repetitious noises were actual words being spoken in coherent statements that have meaning? Or are they just noises with less meaning than (say) what whales make to each other in the oceans? Another interesting approach would be to see if there are other (false) religions (Hinduism would be a good place to start) that have prophets making similar sounds to what occur among Charismatics, who should believe that Christianity is the only true faith (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If the same sounds occur, it's a sure sign of something kind of psychological self-deception or even demonic manifestation is happening.
Can People Speak in Tongues Without Help from God or Satan?
Historically the pagans in Corinth (and elsewhere in the Roman Empire anciently) worked themselves up into an ecstatic frenzied state of euphoria similar to what many Pentecostalists say they experience today. In the context of citing a scholar of the Roman Empire’s mystery religions, John F. MacArthur Jr., in “Charismatic Chaos” (p. 164) describes how the human mind psychologically could work itself up into an emotional/psychological state of ecstasy: “The worshiper would get into a state where his mind would go into neutral and his emotions would take over. The intellect and conscience would give way to passion, sentiment, and emotion. This was ecstacy, an intoxicating condition of euphoria.” Nor is everyone who claims to be speaking in tongues is demon-possessed or demon-influenced. People apparently can work themselves up into these manifestations in ways that don’t have much directly to do with God or Satan. Considered purely on a scientific and rational basis, the human mind and its relationship to the brain even today remains a rather mysterious faculty/organ. We humans can do all sorts of odd things when under the influence of hypnotism, mesmerism, or some other psychologically or emotionally induced state.
Is Speaking in Tongues a Condition for Salvation?
It's a Pentecostalist overkill to assert that Christians need to speak in tongues (i.e., 17th century King James Version English for "languages”) in order to worship God correctly. It's not a requirement to speak in tongues to be a Christian, as Paul shows in I Cor. 12:30: "All do not speak with tongues, do they?" See also I Cor. 14:16, 23-24. It should never be deemed a condition to salvation that someone has to speak in tongues first, for that’s merely one more version of salvation by works. As noted already above, most of the discussion about tongues comes from about three chapters of the Bible (Acts 2, I Cor. 12, 14). Why does this subject consume so much of modern Christianity's time and energy despite it doesn't take up much space in Scripture? The famous "love chapter” of I Cor. 13 remains very relevant to Christians today when discussing the claims of Pentecostalists. As I Cor. 13’s emphasis on love shows in this very context, our priorities may not be right then, if Charismatics claim others aren’t Christian (or fully good Christians) if they haven't spoken in tongues. This very passage is, in part, a response to people who over-emphasized the importance of spiritual gifts compared to love. Love is more important than faith and hope, or any spiritual gift such as speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, or prophesying.
Can Christians Have Spiritual Gifts While Deliberately and Systematically Disobeying God’s Law?
Now can someone really have long-term true spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, while systematically disobeying as a matter of public teaching and deliberate personal practice major commandments of God? This isn’t about temporary weakness or occasional sins, but constant, intentional disobedience to God’s law. What did Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never new you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matt. 5:21-23). True, one could argue about whether this text describes gifts that came from God, or counterfeit gifts that came from Satan. After all, Satan certain does have the power to do miracles also (Rev. 13:13; II Thess. 2:9; Ex. 7:11-12, 22). It’s a very dangerous teaching to believe all miracles must be from God. As Scripture warns us (I John 4:1): “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” One way to “test the spirits” is to consider whether their alleged spokesmen are actually obeying God’s law. As the man born blind that Jesus miraculously healed told the questioning Jews (John 9:31): “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” If a Pentecostalist claims to have special spiritual gifts from God, but isn’t obeying God as a matter of systematic conduct, could he really retain those gifts long term? That is, if someone really has the gift to heal, prophesy, speak in tongues, etc., he or she will be drawn to know all of God’s truth required for salvation eventually. The Bible teaches that Christians shouldn’t work on the seventh-day of the week, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday (Exodus 20:8-11). Instead of mentioning Easter or Christmas, the Bible tells us to observe the seven Biblical Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23, such as Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. The Bible also commands Christians to love their enemies (Matt. 5:38-48), which therefore logically includes their not killing their enemies on the battlefield. So if someone says they speak in tongues, but systematically disobeys the seventh-day Sabbath, totally ignores the seven Holy Days, and believes it’s fine for Christians to wage war, how likely is their gift really from God?
When Did the Apostles First Fully Receive the Holy Spirit?
Evidence that the disciples/apostles didn't receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost comes from what could be called the "gentile Pentecost" at Cornelius' household. Here God had a miraculous, publicly noticed receipt of the Holy Spirit by the gentiles in order to show He didn't play favorites spiritually (at least permanently, in His plan for humanity). Notice Acts 10:44-47, especially the last verse: "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’" If the gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as the apostles did, then they received it on Pentecost, when similar publicly noticed miraculous events took place. It’s true the disciples made use of the Spirit before being converted at Pentecost, such as when they cast out demons. But it's necessary to make a distinction between having the Spirit with you and having the Spirit in you. Notice John 14:17: "The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you." The Spirit was with them, but not in them to give them salvation.
Will All Tongues Always Be from the Devil in the Future?
As explained in detail above, true Christians should examine the present-day purported manifestations of the gift of speaking in tongues very skeptically. As a matter of religious epistemology (“how do we know that we know”), belief in the Bible’s text should override belief in any personal experiences that would seem to contradict its teachings. But this gift should not be always in the future automatically be rejected as the result of demonic influence. There’s nothing in Scripture that explicitly says this gift passed away permanently after the writing of the Bible was completed around 100 A.D. The miraculous gifts of prophesying and speaking in other human languages could well return to the true Church of God shortly before Jesus returns. After all, aren’t we in the latter days, not long before Jesus returns? Wouldn’t this text (Joel 2:28-29), quoted by Peter (Acts 2:17-18) on the Day of Pentecost in 31 A.D., apply then even more forcibly in the years to come? “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Does justification by grace through faith alone abolishes the need to obey the law? True, Paul told the Galatians that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). But does being justified by faith mean a Christian is free to sin as much as he or she pleases? Paul didn’t think so: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). How does this argument prove that Christians need not observe the Sabbath, but still avoid committing adultery, theft, and murder? But just because obeying a law doesn’t justify us doesn’t mean we don’t still have to obey it. Although the law can’t save us, it still has a valuable role to play: It tells us what to do and not do. It guides our Christian conduct. It defines “love” so that we aren’t making up our own rules to guide our conduct towards God and our fellow man. After all, couldn’t a 60’s hippie define “love” to include fornication and/or adultery? God doesn’t leave it up to our own discretion to figure out what “love” is. James explained that the law was a spiritual mirror that tells us how to improve our behavior: “But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). The law defines sin, thus telling us what it off-limits in our Christian walk. As Paul knew, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7). If there was no law, there would be no sin, for “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:12), “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), and “where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). Hence, if Jesus’ death cancelled the whole law, not just the penalty of the law assessed for violating it when one accepts His sacrifice by faith, no one would have sinned since His crucifixion in A.D. 31. Complaining that the law has no value because it doesn’t save us is like arguing that because a curling iron can’t cook dinner, it’s totally useless. The law has a proper function, that of guiding conduct and assessing sin, but it can’t give humans eternal life. It’s necessary to carefully analyze soteriological terms, such as “grace,” “law,” “faith,” “repentance,” “justification,” and “sanctification,” and put them into their correct logical relationship with each other. True, obeying the Sabbath doesn’t earn salvation. Neither does avoiding adultery or murder. But God still wants us to obey all Ten Commandments nevertheless. Salvation theology shouldn’t be simple-mindedly reduced to bumper-sticker slogans like, “Christ replaces the law!” or “Being Christ-centered frees us from obeying the law,” which ignore both Scripture and sound theological conceptual interrelationships.
DOES BEING UNDER GRACE AND NOT THE LAW ABOLISH THE law?
“Christians are not under law, but under grace.” True, but does this principle release us from literally obeying even the laws against murder? Paul made a point of anticipating how this principle could be abused, that it doesn’t authorize us to sin (i.e., to break the law): “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:15). Importantly, Paul does use the term “under the law” in places to refer to a state in which someone hasn’t been forgiven for their sins and is still not reconciled to God by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice by faith. This term doesn’t have to mean believing one is under the jurisdiction of the law, i.e., believes in obeying it. After all, any conservative Evangelical Protestant would say Christians have to avoid theft, murder, coveting, lying, idolatry, etc. By using the “jurisdictional” meaning of “under the law,” rather than a dispensationalist (time period during which God works with humanity in a certain way) one, even Evangelicals would believe they are still “under the[se] laws”! Notice how Paul uses the term “under the law” to mean “a state of being guilty of sin” in Rom. 3:9, 19:
We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin . . . Now we now that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under [or “in,” lit. marg. NASB] the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.
The comparison between the two terms, “under sin” and “under the Law,” shows that the law makes everyone guilty because they violated it, since it makes “all the world . . . accountable to God.” The “tutor” analogy of Gal. 3 is susceptible to the same interpretation, since the “tutor,” the law, leads us to Christ because the law itself can’t forgive sin or give us eternal life. Notice that a key phrase in v. 22 helps explain another analogous phrase in v. 23 since they effectively have the same meaning: “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law.” Before we had faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we were kept in a state guilty of sin. But after accepting Jesus’ sacrifice by faith, “we are no longer under a tutor” (v. 25). This obviously doesn’t mean we can sin with impunity, and violate God’s laws against (say) having sex outside of marriage. After all, as explained above, the law defines what is and isn’t sin, since “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4). It’s absurd to think that God abolished the law, which then would allow us to do anything we wanted without sin being charged against us. Christians are to live a transformed life, and to stop sinning since “the requirement of the Law [would] be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). Instead, God removed the penalty inflicted by the law when we accept Jesus as our personal Savior, since “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Although the “dispensationalist” definition of “under the law” does appear in Gal. 4:4, 21, the overwhelming point of Galatians was to prove that gentiles didn’t need to receive circumcision (note the “bottom-line” conclusion in Gal. 5:2, 11-12), not that (say) they were free to disobey the laws against murder, theft, adultery, etc. Clearly, being under grace and not the law no more releases Christians from observing the Sabbath or paying tithes than from obeying the law against adultery or avoiding theft, since it’s too general a principle just to abolish the former without wiping out the latter.
DID THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL IN ACTS 15 ABOLISH THE SABBATH?
“Acts 15 proves that the Old Testament law was abolished for Christians.” It’s commonly argued that the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 abolished not just circumcision for gentiles, but the entire Old Testament law. Advocates of this position will cite Acts 15:5, which mentions what some of the Pharisees who became Christians said concerning having the gentiles circumcised: “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” Hence, when the Council decided to set aside circumcision, it’s said that it also set aside the entire Old Testament law code. The Greek of v. 5, however, indicates this interpretation is unwarranted: It’s a periphrastic construction, or an intentional roundabout way to say something, which the “and” between the second and third verbs (“direct” and “observe”) strongly suggests. But even if the linguistic issues are discounted, does anyone plausibly think that the conference in Acts 15 not only abolished the four laws that the anti-Sabbatarians hate (the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and clean/unclean meat), but the laws against murder, adultery, coveting, idolatry, or theft? Were the two Great Commandments, which Jesus quoted with approval, trashed as well? Once again, the anti-Sabbatarians overshoot their mark, since their argument disposes of much too much. Furthermore, if the entire Law of Moses was obliterated, why are these four laws from the Old Testament singled out as being in force?: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well” (Acts 15:28-29). If Jesus’ death annihilated the entire “Law of Moses” or the entire “Old Covenant,” then why are these four laws retained? The mere fact that they still exist proves that the Old Testament law wasn’t completely abolished! Furthermore, when the apostle James announces the final decision of the Council, if he meant to nullify the authority of Moses, why does he say (Acts 15:21): “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath”? Why cite Moses as an authority when you’ve just destroyed his authority?
All the absurdities flowing from the antinomian interpretation of Acts 15 proves alternatives should be considered. The conference in Acts 15 was really about what could be called “justification,” or the initial stage of the salvation process. After all, what set off the entire debate was this assertion: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (v. 1). The real dispute was over what gives salvation, not so much over what laws still have to be obeyed intrinsically. It’s especially important now to realize that the Jews considered circumcision as an initiation rite analogous to what Christians consider baptism’s role in Christianity: You can’t be a (male) Jew without being circumcised. This worked fine for those born Jews, but what about adult male converts to Judaism? (Another problem cropped up concerning those ex-pagans who were circumcised for “the wrong reasons”!) Previously, before the Acts 15 Council occurred, in Judaism historically near and before the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a running debate had festered between different rabbinical schools over which Old Testament laws needed to be imposed on gentile converts of Judaism. These four laws (listed in vs. 28-29) weren’t randomly plucked from thin air, but were the same ones that the standard alternative non-Pharisaical interpretation of what the law imposed on gentile converts so they could become full members of the covenant community of Israel. The Pharisees (or at least one of their major schools) believed circumcision had to be added to this list of four requirements (which originates in Lev. 17-18), but their opponents in Judaism felt otherwise. Actually, all the church did in Acts 15 was to choose the competing interpretation among Jews that denied that gentiles had to be circumcised in order to become converts to the faith. So when Peter calls some aspect of the law a “yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear,” it shouldn’t be assumed that this was the entire law of Moses. Again, it’s necessary to note that just because obeying any given law doesn’t justify us, whether it be the law against murder, the law about helping the poor, or the law about tithing, that doesn’t prove no sin is assessed when we violate it or that we don’t still have to obey it. Since the issue in debate concerned circumcision and the initial stage of the salvation process as Judaism had considered it, it’s wrong to assume that the Acts 15 Council abolished the entire Old Testament law.
What the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 decided concerning circumcision and the law of Moses has often been misunderstood. Wilf Hey and John Meakin in their truly brilliant essay, "Acts 15 The Jerusalem Conference," describe that the ONLY issue under discussion was circumcision, not the whole law of Moses, when considering what was made no longer binding on the gentiles. Acts 15:1 states the issue thus: "And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" This same subject is repeated periphrastically (which means a roundabout or indirect expression is used to mean the same thing) in Acts 15:5: "But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'" At the council, Peter got up and discussed the gentiles having been justified by faith, and mentioned (v. 10) that a "yoke" should not be placed on the gentiles that the Jews could not bear. From the context of the verses right around it (v. 9, 11), the immediate issue that turned circumcision into the yoke was a false approach to how a person was justified and saved which had grown up in Jewish tradition, not the content of the Torah itself. The whole law was not the subject here, but circumcision was in particular, as Bacchiocchi noted (Sabbath in NT, p. 32), since the context was a general discussion of circumcision and its justifying role. (Compare Peter's language with Paul's in Gal. 2:3-4). In verse 24 (NKJV), the Greek not only implies a periphrastic construction (i.e., makes a rather convoluted reference to circumcision), but that it is a one-time act. The standard WCG interpretation of this verse is to say "circumcision" and "the Law of Moses" are basically separate entities, with the former just one law out of the latter, and that the conference abolished both, excepting the still binding regulations found in verse 29. However, the construction of the Greek is points to to a periphrastism, as Hey and Meakin note:
The argument in verse 5 is surely not that the Gentiles 'must be circumcised AND required to obey the law of Moses': The Greek actually has three verbs, all infinitive [a verb, in the form of "to run," "to jump," "to laugh," that has not been conjugated yet, which means to be given a subject and changed in form, such as "I run," "He jumps," "she laughs"--EVS]: 'to be circumcised', 'to charge' and 'to preserve'. The last two are shorn of modifiers and joined together with 'and'. This is periphrastic: The first is accomplished with a view to the second. In effect a rewording can be that the Gentiles are 'to be circumcised, charged [thereby] with a view to preserving the law of Moses'. Note that the 'and' is actually placed between the second and third verbs (in the original Greek text), very much suggesting a periphrastic interpretation.
This argument is quite technical, but--alas!--very important when considering how to interpret Acts 15. For if the main subject was circumcision, and how the gentiles were to be considered Christians, then interpreting this conference to mean almost the whole law of Moses was abolished is incorrect.
A further, important issue is to realize that when the four still remaining stipulations from the law of Moses are singled out by the conference, this does not mean they are all that is left. As Hey and Meakin, as well as Bacchiocchi noted in “The Sabbath in the New Testament answers to questions,” p. 29-34, 101-102, 163-164, the gentiles felt the need to become part of the covenant community of Israel to be saved. Here, the council considered the church (Bacchiocchi) "not as a new Israel arising out of the rejection of the old, but as the 'old Israel' being restored according to God's promise," especially as shown by James' citation of Amos 9:11. Among the Jews themselves they had disputed over which laws the gentiles who wished to obey God had to observe (compare Isa. 56:3-8). The standard, more liberal Jewish interpretation of the law said the gentiles needed only to observe the same four laws that the Jerusalem Council eventually selected, which all come from Lev. 17-18, because (gentile) foreigners were specifically mentioned in them. The competing Jewish interpretation of what the gentiles had to do said they had to perform the circumcision as well. What happened at the Jerusalem conference was that latter rabbinical view, which the Christians who were Pharisees had accepted, lost out to the former, more liberal interpretation, when both had had significant followings in Judaism. The important, bottom-line point of this discussion is that the four laws the Jerusalem conference listed were not arbitrarily or randomly picked out of the Torah, nor should they be seen as all that is still binding from the Torah (or the law of Moses) upon Christians, but rather what in particular allowed the gentiles to be grafted into spiritual Israel, the church.
WAS THE SABBATH NAILED TO THE CROSS?
“The law, including the Sabbath, was nailed to the cross.” The seemingly most relevant text cited to support this assertion is Col. 2:13-14: “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The NASB translation here prevents the misleading interpretation read into the KJV’s translation, which has “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances,” which would seem to be a reference to the Old Testament law in general. The term translated “handwriting” in the KJV and “certificate of debt” in the NASB is “cheirographon,” which means “a (handwritten) document, specif. a certificate of indebtedness, bond,” according to the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon (p. 880). Hence, it was our sins (i.e., our debts owed to God) committed for violating the law, not the law itself, that were nailed to the “stake.” Here it’s necessary to keep the soteriological terms in their proper logical relationship with each other, since being forgiven for our sins for breaking the law doesn’t entail abolishing the law itself. (Ending the law itself wouldn’t remove from us the guilt assessed from previously committed violations anyway). Does anyone really believe that God abolished the laws against stealing, murder, idolatry, lying, coveting, or adultery when His Son died? It was a sin, a transgression of the law, to murder the day before Jesus died, and it remained a sin the day after He died. Why is the Sabbath command singled out as a law abolished by Jesus’ crucifixion and death, but not the others?
Which Law Was the Tutor That Led Us to Christ?
Now how to properly interpret what and which law(s) were referred to in Gal. 3:24-25 provoked enormous controversy in the SDA church at its 1888 convention at Minneapolis, spilling over into the issues of righteousness and justification by faith.77 Now we face the same debate they did: Is the law of Gal. 3:24-25 a reference to the ceremonial law?78 Or is it the moral law (i.e., the Ten Commandments, Deut. 16:5, Lev. 19:18, etc.)? The best view is that it was both. Note that Gal. 3:10 refers to "ALL things written in the book of the law to perform them." Verses 10, 12, and 13's references in the Old Testament point to or are in the context of the moral law when looked up, not the ceremonial. The second half of v. 21 strongly points to the moral law: "For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law." But now, we turn to the biggest and trickiest issue in interpreting this passage: What does Paul mean by "under the law" (here in v. 24-25, "tutor," NASB, "schoolmaster," KJV)? Is the dispensationalist interpretation correct, which means we are no longer under the jurisdiction of the law? Or, rather, does it mean we personally are "under the law" (i.e., under condemnation) when we are personally guilty of violating it until we accept Jesus as our personal Savior?
Which law is the schoolmaster or tutor that leads to Christ? When making this analogy, did Paul refer to the ceremonial law or to the moral law in Galatians 3? The interpretation of Galatians 3 has long been both murky and controversial. Today let’s place some attention and throw some light on part of this often misunderstood passage.
Galatians 3 teaches that we are no longer under the penalty of the law when we accept Christ’s sacrifice.
In order to explain this passage, we need to look at the context of what laws it is discussing. Does the context discuss animal sacrifices and ceremonial washings? Or does it refer back to moral laws of the Old Testament?
Verses 6-9: This concerns imputed righteousness, or justification. Like Abraham, the gentiles have their sins removed by faith alone, not by observing the law. Obedience to the law can’t remove the penalty of sins already committed. Only faith in Jesus’ sacrifice provides forgiveness. Obedience to the law is required, but it has a different function than one of providing forgiveness for sin.
Verses 10-13: The cited Old Testament texts here concern the moral law, not the ceremonial law. Today we in the Church of God would believe the laws cited in these chapters of Deuteronomy and Leviticus are all still in force.
Verse 14: The Holy Spirit gives us salvation conditionally by its presence within us. We first gained the Holy Spirit by faith after being baptized and the laying on of hands. It’s not first gained by obeying the law, although chronic disobedience without repentance can later cost us its presence and cause us to lose salvation.
Verse 15: The word “added” here is different than the word translated “added” in verse 19, which shows no contradiction arises here. Verse 15: “epidiatasso” means, “ordains something in addition.” In verse 19, it’s “Prostithemi.” For verse 15, “add” means the agreement, the will, covenant, or testament, can’t be further extended or completed. If this shouldn’t be done to the will of someone who died, how much less likely would the will or covenant of God Himself be changed!
Verses 16-19: Discuss the promises God made to Abraham. The law’s revelation at Sinai, which Israel had mostly forgotten while in bondage in Egypt, doesn’t cancel that covenant with Abraham. Romans 5:20: “The law came in that the transgression may increase.” But the law already existed, since it defines sin, and people sinned before the time of Moses, including Abraham Himself.
This addition doesn’t “complete” or further extend or add to the promise made to Abraham, which was good by itself. Rather something totally intrinsically separate was placed along side the Abrahamic covenant, which was the law revealed in the Old covenant.
Two other Bible translations are worth noting for the key phrase: ("to make transgressions manifest"(NWT), "for the sake of defining" (NASB, margin) instead of “because of transgressions.” Notice that there has to be a law in force in order for transgressions of it to occur, including in the time before Israel reached Mt. Sinai.
Verse 21: Obedience to the law doesn’t produce eternal life since it can’t remove sins. Faith in Jesus’ sacrifice does this.
Verse 22: All men are under the law means that they have the penalty of law on them for breaking it. Belief in Jesus’ sacrifice removes it off them.
Verse 23: We were under the custody or penalty of the law before we believed.
Verse 24: The tutor or schoolmaster leads us to Christ since His sacrifice is the only way by which the law’s penalty can be removed from us. Compare Romans 10:4: “For Christ is the end [goal, NASB margin] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Verse 25: We are no longer under the tutor after we are forgiven for our sins by believing in Jesus’ sacrifice. This does not mean that we no longer need to obey the law. Every time we break it in the future, we sin again.
So to conclude, the tutor analogy of Galatians 3 doesn’t teach that the law is abolished. On the contrary, it teaches that we’re under its jurisdiction until we repent and accept by faith Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. Amazingly enough, when correctly understood, Galatians 3 actually proves the law is still in force
If the curse of the law is being condemned for breaking it, Gal 3:10 also gains significance here: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.'" You become cursed when you fail to obey--that is, sin--thus meriting eternal death. Hence, there is good evidence that when Paul uses "under the law" phraseology, it can be used to mean condemnation rather than being under the jurisdiction of the law during an old covenant dispensation.
When examining Gal. 3:15-25, we have to determine whether Paul is using a dispensationalist/jurisdictional interpretation, or means our personal condemnation as sinners is resolved by Christ's sacrifice.80 Very suggestive here is v. 22: "But the Scripture has SHUT UP ALL MEN UNDER SIN, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." Isn't it rational to see "under sin" as analogous as to being "under a tutor," judging from the above? To be under sin to be on death row spiritually speaking (Rom. 6:23), so it can 't be easily said the law was a shield protecting the people of God here. Then v. 23 seems to be similar in saying, "We were kept in CUSTODY UNDER THE LAW." Both verses seem to be referring to personal condemnation then, if we use v. 22 to explain v. 23's greater ambiguity, remembering to be under sin's penalty leads to a spiritual death penalty (Rom. 6:23). And if we are sinners condemned by the law as God's standard of righteousness (note James 1:23-25), what are we to do? "Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). We look to Christ and His sacrifice to save us from our sins: "For Christ is the end (goal, NASB margin) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4).81 "Therefore, the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). As Walker commented: "So Paul was not talking dispensationally, but experimentally. He was not speaking of conditions which existed before the cross. He was speaking of his standing as an individual after exercising the 'faith of Jesus Christ' as contrasted with his personal 'shut-up' condition before the exercise of this releasing faith in Jesus Christ."82 Hence, the dispensationalist/jurisdictional interpretation of Gal. 3:19-25 is highly dubious compared to the personal condemnation interpretation.83
THE ALLEGORY OF GALATIANS 4: WHAT DOES IT PROVE?
Note that Paul plays a word game on the term "law" in verse 21, using it dispensationally and as a reference to Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch:91 "Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?" He immediately follows this quote with a reference to Genesis, not Exodus, "For it is written . . ." (v. 22). As Walker commented, "But not withstanding the fact that he (Paul) started quoting from Genesis rather than from the twentieth chapter of Exodus, the dispensationalists still must have it that when Paul said 'the law' here, he had his mind exclusively on the Ten Commandments."92 When we turn to Galatians 5:1-13, where Paul gives us the "bottom line" of this allegory, he repeatedly condemns circumcision and also condemns justification by law. There's nothing here about Sabbath-keeping, the Holy Days, tithing, or the Ten Commandments as being non-binding on Christians. (For just because you aren't justified by the law doesn't mean you don't have to obey it). Hence, Pasadena and other dispensationalists are reading way too much into Gal. 4:21-31 if they think the latter are abolished as well.
Furthermore, when Paul said, "You who want to be under law," he well may have meant primarily the law of circumcision, and the ceremonial law generally, not the moral law or the Ten Commandments. Again, Gal. 5:1-12 is full of condemnations of circumcision. Also, judging from v.4, it is a condemnation of Christians trying to justify themselves by their works, which is hardly the same as saying God's law need not be obeyed by Christians (Rom. 3:31). As in Gal. 3:2-5, he also condemns those trying to be righteous while ignoring the Holy Spirit's role in helping us in v. 5: "For we through the Spirit by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness." Now, the dispensationalist interpretation here is surely in the main correct, for the ceremonial law was done away at the cross (Heb. 9:1-4, 9-10; Eph. 2:15). However, this doesn't prove the Ten Commandments were, or other laws you can find New Testament support for (Lev. 19:18) were abolished also. Again, Pasadena simply infers too much from this text.
The Revolutionary Implications of the MMT for Interpreting Paul’s “Works of the Law”
One of the great puzzles in Paul’s writings is the meaning of the term “the works of the law.” For example, Paul wrote: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). The term appears again in Gal. 3:5: “Does He [God] then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” A long time problem in interpreting this term is that it appeared absolutely nowhere in ancient Jewish literature outside the New Testament. IF this term means all acts of lawkeeping and obeying God, whether it be caring for the poor, avoiding stealing, keeping the Sabbath, or getting circumcised, then the classical Protestant Reformation’s view of how Christians are saved is fundamentally correct: works--literal acts of obedience--have nothing to do with being saved (except, perhaps, as being evidence of having saving faith). However, IF this term has a narrow meaning, as referring to rituals of the ceremonial law, or various Old Testament judgments not tied to the Ten Commandments (i.e. the moral law), then this opens the door to the view that Paul merely condemned obeying the CEREMONIAL law as a condition to salvation, with particular emphasis on circumcision. For various gentiles were seriously tempted to be circumcised because standard Jewish theology said that one could not enter the Old Covenant relationship with God, and thus be saved, without being circumcised (compare Acts 15:1). For the Jews, circumcision was seen to be the equivalent of baptism for Christians--as absolutely necessary to gain an initial relationship with God, and thus necessary for salvation. So, when Paul wrote (say) Gal. 2:16 or Rom. 3:28, did he mean no acts of obedience were a condition to salvation, or just no acts of obedience to the ceremonial law were a condition to salvation, such as circumcision?
As described in Martin Abegg’s article, “Paul, ‘Works of the Law,’ and MMT,” in the November/December 1995 Biblical Archeology Review, there has been uncovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls an ancient Jewish document using this term for the first time outside the Bible. This document is known as the MMT (Hebrew for Miqsat Ma’ase Ha-Torah, “Pertinent Works of the Law” by one translation). It describes the works of the law in a list based upon ceremonial rituals, or various judgments, but not upon the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath. Examples of laws listed in it are: cleansing lepers, letting blind and deaf people into the Temple, carrying gentile corn into the inside of the Temple, intermarrying with Ammonite and Moabites (i.e. gentile) converts, plowing with different animal simultaneously, mixing wool and linen in cloth together, and presenting gentile offerings. Since none of these “works of the law” concern the great precepts of the Ten Commandments, or such duties as caring for the poor, or even tithing, keeping the Sabbath, Holy Days, etc., the MMT’s definition of “the works of the law” radically narrows the meaning of what Paul was condemning in Gal. 2-3 and Rom. 3-4. Consider in this context carefully what Peter was condemned by Paul for in Galatians 2:12: “For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and to hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.” So was Peter performing one of “the works of the law” by keeping himself as a Jew separate from the gentiles when eating meals? This is further evidence that the term “the works of the law” doesn’t refer to literal works done while obeying the moral law. These then can be a condition (not that they earn) to salvation, which is in accordance with certain always troubling scriptures like Matt. 19:17 or Rom. 2:13: “[I]f you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “[F]or not the hearers of the Law are just before God (contrast Gal. 3:2, 5), but the doers of the Law will be justified.” Hence, Paul can be seen as generally dealing with the initial stage of salvation--”justification”--and seen as denying repeatedly circumcision as being what reconciles you to God in this first stage of the salvation process. In contrast, “sanctification” can be seen as requiring some literal works of obedience to the moral law, as the chain link of logic in Rom. 6: 13, 16, 19, 22 would indicate.
THE CONTROVERSY OVER COLOSSIANS 2:16-17
Now, let's consider that key anti-Sabbatarian text, Col. 2:16-17, KJV: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Pasadena maintains that Col. 2:16-17 shows the weekly Sabbath was a shadow pointing to Christ, and since He came, the fourth commandment is no longer binding on Christians: "The Lord of the Sabbath has come, and the reality has replaced the shadow (Col. 2:17)."93 "Colossians 2:16-17 tells us that the reality, or substance, is Christ, and now that he has come, now that we have the reality and have entered into it, there is no more requirement for the physical figure, just as there is no more need for the physical sacrifices."94 But, is this correct?
IS THE SABBATH A MEMORIAL AS WELL AS A “SHADOW”?
But now, does this text really accomplish what it's said to do? One is faced with the factor that seems to be impelling Barnes toward the above interpretation: Could something created before Adam and Eve sinned, which is plainly a memorial of creation (Ex. 20:11; Heb. 4:4; Mark 2:27-28; Gen. 2:2-3), be a type of sin that Christ was later to take away? Note that this text is far more ambiguous than Paul's ringing denunciations against circumcision still being binding (I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:2, 6, 11), which you would think a priori (before investigating the evidence) would be necessary to abolish one of the Ten Commandments. Verse 16 involves not letting other people--in context, the false Gnostic teachers harassing the Colossians--judge the Colossians concerning these activities (compare v. 22), which hardly qualifies as an abolishment. To say the "anyone" of v. 16 includes other Christians judging them is falsified by the surrounding verses, which aren't about Christians judging one another, as in Rom. 14 and I Cor. 8.99 The real force of this text lies in v. 17 for anti-Sabbatarians. But notice a funny thing here: These things "ARE" a shadow of things to come, not "were," which would make much more sense if they had been abolished at the cross. After all, we in the Church had long maintained that the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day are pointing to future, unfulfilled events at Jesus' second coming and afterwards. For here the type has not met the antitype, unlike the case with the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost. Curiously, HWA's view that "the body of Christ," for the word "is" isn't present in the Greek, in v. 17 is a reference to the Church judging these things instead of outsiders, wasn't attacked specifically by the WCG in the latest round of changes.100 I've never seen an official refutation of this view, although it apparently got dropped by the time the November/December 1990 Good News came out, long before the 1992 Holy Day booklet revision.101 Dr. Stavrinides' view, which had replaced HWA's evidently, was that Paul was telling the Colossians to ignore the heretical teachers that they were dealing with. The latter were taking them to task concerning how102to observe or do these ceremonies or activities. We can simply see all acts of obedience to God as being secondary to the reality that is Christ, which can't replace Him. Hence, we may say the Holy Days and the Sabbath are binding, but realize Christ is far more important than observing any of God's laws.
THE CONTROVERSY OVER ROMANS 14’S DAYS
Romans 14:5-6 is another important text Pasadena urges upon us for making the Sabbath voluntary (KJV): "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.? When we examine this scripture, we find the context of Romans 14 doesn't involve discussions of the law, the new or old covenants, or the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Instead, it dwells rather narrowly on the subject of eating meat or vegetables, and not offending others or defiling your own conscience. Like Col. 2:16, there is this issue of human judgment involved, which might not be what God thinks: "[F]or that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). It could be that the Roman Christians were affected by the then-popular idea certain foods shouldn't be eaten on certain days, and they ended up judging each other for observance or non-observance. As Bacchiocchi observes:
Fifth, the fact that Paul devotes 21 verses to the discussion of food and less than two verses (14:5-6) to that of days suggests that the latter was a very limited problem for the Roman Church, presumably because it had to do with private conviction on the merit or demerit of certain days for doing some spiritual exercises such as fasting. Support for this view is provided by the Didache (ch. 8) which enjoins fasting on Wednesday and Friday than on Monday and Thursday, like the Jews.109
Also, there's the possibility "every day" refers to work days only, not the Sabbath. For we find in Ex. 16:4-5 the manna fell "every day," but this was clarified later to exclude the Sabbath (v. 28-29). (Note incidentally how these verses prove the Sabbath existed before Sinai or the old covenant's ratification as a clear command not to work). And, as Bacchiocchi observed that there wasn't a fully converse situation concerning he who does not "observe the day to the Lord,": "[Paul] does not even concede that the person who regards all the days alike does so to the Lord."110 Certainly before we rip out one of the Ten Commandments, we had better come up with something more clear than this text.
GALATIANS 4’S DAYS AND SEASONS: A REVERSION TO PAGANISM?
Galatians 4:9-10 is another text Pasadena is now citing to prove the Sabbath and Holy Days have been done away111: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years." The basic problem with saying this refers to the Sabbath and Holy Days is that in the immediate context of the passage Paul discusses how the Galatians came out of paganism: "However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods." What the Galatians would be apt to do if they would "turn back to the weak and worthless elemental things" would be to go into paganism again. For it must be noted that Paul didn't write the words "Sabbath" or "Festival" or even "new moon" (the Feast of Trumpets lands on a new moon). Unlike Col. 2:16-17, the targets here aren't obviously Old Testament observances. The term translated "elementary things" ("elemental spirits"--RSV), "stoikheia," which were what the Galatians were returning to, could well be a reference to gentile practices. Since the Galatians were gentiles, and hadn't practiced Old Testament rituals, it doesn't make much sense to say they were RETURNING to that which they had never been involved with before becoming Christians. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich's lexicon (p. 769) mentions how according to some authorities "stoikheia" refers to (their emphasis) "the elemental spirits which the syncretistic religious tendencies of later antiquity associated w. the physical elements. . . . It is not always to differentiate betw. this sense and the next, since heavenly bodies were also regarded as personal beings and given divine honors." While various scholars will say this term is at least in part a reference to Old Testament practices, such an interpretation doesn't make much sense in the immediate context of v. 8. Compare this appearance of "stoikheia" to Col. 2:20's use: "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees . . ." Perhaps some worldly gentile philosophy ("according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world"--v.8), and maybe some kind of ascetic Jewish gnosticism judging from verses 21-22, were mixed together at Colossi, with the former predominating.112 Hence, to assert Paul in Galatians 4:9-10 was referring to Old Testament practices is dubious when the context of v. 8 is considered.
Did Paul Condemn Sabbath Keeping in Galatians 4:9-11?
Did Paul condemn the Galatians for keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days? Does that mean true Christians today don’t have to keep them? Were the gentile Galatians turning back to keeping the Old Testament law? Or were they sliding back into the bondage of their past paganism also?
One short set of verses in Galatians is commonly used to “prove” Christians today don’t need to keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days. But we shall see otherwise.
Paul condemned the Galatians for observing pagan time periods, not the Old Testament’s, in Galatians 4:8-11.
Verse 8: Paul in the immediate context of his condemnation mentions the Galatians’ pagan background.
Verse 9: What are the “weak and beggarly” elements? Are these Jewish or pagan?
The Greek word here is “stoicheia.” It’s crucial to understand this Greek word in order to interpret this section correctly. Scholars have long debated about what this word exactly means here. The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English lexicon (pp. 768-769) says “elements (of learning), fundamental principles” of basic education is one (possible) meaning. It could also refer to the basic “elemental substances” or “stuff” that the universe is made of. Some scholars believe it refers to the “elemental spirits” which ancient religious teachers associated with the heavenly bodies. After all, the planets are named for false pagan gods, right? Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, etc. People in the ancient world used to look up at the sky, at the stars, at what we call “outer space” today as divine, as a realm of the gods, as spiritual. Hence, “stoicheia” also was used to refer to the heavenly bodies, like stars, planets, the moon, etc.
Where does the Old Testament command the observance of “seasons”? The word here is “kairous,” which is a general term that refers to a “time period” or “point of time.” It doesn’t have to mean a three-month period between a solstice and equinox. Notice that the words “Sabbath” and those referring to the various holy days do NOT appear in this verse. So then, those against observing the Sabbath read desired meaning into this verse.
According to Troy Martin, the list in Gal. 4:10 uses terminology completely compatible with a pagan calendar system, and need not be Jewish at all ("Pagan and Judeo-Christian Time-keeping Schemes in Gal 4.10 and Col 2.16," New Testament Studies 42 (Jan. 1996), p. 112):
“When Paul refers to days, months, seasons, and years in Gal. 4.10, he lists categories most characteristic of a pagan time-keeping system. This list in Gal. 4.10 is not as easily related to Jewish practice, as the wide discrepancies among commentators prove. . . . Since the list in Gal. 4.10 can be either pagan or Jewish, only its context in Galatians can determine the issue. The immediate context of Gal. 4.10 argues for the pagan character of this list.”
We know that Paul observed the Holy Days, or else he wouldn’t have been hurrying to get to Jerusalem in order to observe Pentecost (Acts 20:16—Quote if have time). Hence, for the Galatians to keep these days wouldn’t have made them different from Paul.
Obviously not about the Old Testament law. Where does the Old Testament law say, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle”? Where does it command the worship of angels? The Old Testament didn’t teach asceticism such as this, even as part of the Nazarite vow.
As shown above, Galatians 4:9-11 doesn’t condemn the observance of the Sabbath and Holy Days, but various pagan time periods. A study of the word “stoicheia” and the immediate context shows the Galatians here were sliding back into paganism, not Judaism. So let’s not believe that Galatians 4:9-11 abolishes the Sabbath and the Holy Days.
Certain controversies that affected the early church are still with us today, in one form or another. We should learn from them to use the Bible as the key criterion for settling them, not church tradition or mere human reason. Then we as Christians can correctly teach the right doctrines and guide our conduct better to serve God better.
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77 Robert J. Wieland, The 1888 Message An Introduction (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980). While this book is really only for SDAs, it can be read with profit for its insights into proper soteriology (salvation theology) by WCG members.
78 Although I believe his views on this subject are incorrect, John Wheeler does the best job possible in largely propping up the old WCG "jurisdictional/ceremonial law" interpretation Gal. 3:17-22. See John Wheeler, "Essay: What is the law 'ordained through angels'?," In Transition, November, 20, 1995, p. 10. This Church of God newspaper can be subscribed to for $10 for six monthly issues from: P.O. Box 450, Monroe, Ind., 46772.
80 The SDAs are divided on this issue. On the one hand, the following sources use a jurisdictional/dispensationalist interpretation: Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980), vol. 6, pp. 951-963; Marvin Moore, The Gospel vs. Legalism How to Deal With Legalism's Insidious Influence (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), pp. 71-112. On the other hand, the personal condemnation view is found in Walker, The Law and the Sabbath, pp. 16-17; Crews, Answers to Difficult Bible Texts, pp. 56-57. The following SDA splits the difference by including both views: Erwin Gane, Galatians The Battle For Freedom (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1990), pp. 61-90.
81 In the entry on the Greek word "dikaiosynes" (righteousness), Thayer-Grimm's Greek-English Lexicon comments on Rom. 10:4: "(B)y a pregnant use, equiv. to that divine arrangement by which God leads men to a state acceptable to him, Ro. x. 4."
82 Walker, The Law and the Sabbath, p. 17.
83 What pushes me to the personal condemnation view here are two convictions: 1. Nobody has ever been saved by obeying the law, including the ancient Jews. 2. That righteousness of an "actual" type (sanctification) still exists (Rom. 6:16,19; I John 3:7). The latter involves the Holy Spirit creating within you holy righteous character as you obey the law by the Spirit's power. In contrast, imputed righteousness (Rom. 4:5-6) involves God arbitrarily out of his grace judging that you are righteous based on Christ's sacrifice. These two points lead me to say Rom. 10:4 and Gal. 3:24 can't be read to mean (1) Christ ended a period in which people were saved by their own righteousness (i.e. justification by works), or (2)ended Christians being sanctified (made actually righteous) by God's Holy Spirit helping them obey the law.
91 The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)--"The Books of Moses."
92 Walker, The Law and the Sabbath, p. 198.
93 WWN1, p. 6.
94 WWN2, p. 1.
99 Pasadena mistakenly takes "anyone" much too broadly, when it includes fellow Christians, as opposed to just these outsider Gnostic heretics: "The clearest point in the whole passage is that we shouldn't let people judge us regarding these things--not other Christians, not even people in our own fellowship" ("Festivals," WWN, March 7, 1995, p. 7.
100 HWA, Pagan Holidays--or God's Holy Days--Which?, pp. 28-29. John Wheeler has some useful, somewhat complementary statements on this subject: "Eating, drinking, and what is specifically part of Festival, New Moon and Sabbath observance--not the days themselves--were at issue. Essentially, Paul implies the brethren were doing these correctly and for the right reasons, and the heretics were not doing either. All these 'are a shadow of the coming things, but the body [of the coming things--not of the Festivals, etc.] is of Christ. . . . The Received Text reads 'but the body of the Christ' rather than 'but the body of Christ'; an addition which can be shown as such via analysis of the accentuation. That addition implies (apart from the accents) either that the Festivals, etc., are a 'shadow . . . of the Christ' or '(Let) the body of the Christ (judge)'--depending on whether or not 'the body of Christ' is a noun clause" (Letter, May 31, 1995, pp. 5, 7).
101 Evidently, the following article was the official notification to the laity that this view was wrong, but it contains no frontal attack on it. See K.J. Stavrinides, "The Colossian Heresy," Good News, July-August 1989, pp. 23-27. Compare this to what Bacchiocchi has to say out this passage in one place: "We have shown in chapter VII that this historical interpretation [that this passage showed Paul saw these practices as fulfilled types] is totally wrong because in this passage Paul is warning the Colossians not against the observance of these practices as such, but against 'anyone' (tis) who passes judgment on how to eat, drink, and observe sacred times. In other words, the judge is not Paul but Colossian false teachers who impose 'regulations' (2:20) on how to observe these practices in order to achieve 'rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body' (2:23). By warning against the right of false teachers to 'pass judgment' on how to observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious implication then is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping" (The Sabbath in the New Testament, p. 160).
102 Compare this with what De Lacey and Bacchiocchi say after reading again part of verse 16 that says no one should judge them "in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." D.R. De Lacey suggested that: "the judge is likely to be a man of ascetic tendencies who objects to the Colossians' eating and drinking. The most natural way of taking the rest of the passage is not that he also imposes a ritual of feast days, but rather that he objects to certain elements of such observation." Bacchiocchi goes on to comment: "Presumably the 'judge' wanted the community to observe these practices in a more ascetic way ('severity to the body'?2:23-21), to put it crudely, he wanted the Colossian believers to do less feasting and more fasting" (as found in Sabbath in the New Testament, p. 113).
109 Bacchiocchi, Sabbath in the New Testament, p. 162-3.
110 Ibid., p. 162-163. Note that this comment seems to be based on the Wescott-Hort/?critical? text version, not the received text version as found in the KJV above.
111 See Joseph Tkach Jr., "Questions and Answers from the Pastor General's Report Questions Relating to New Covenant Christianity," WWN, March 21, 1995, p. 7.
112 See K.J. Stavrinides, "The Colossian Heresy," Good News, July-August 1989, p. 23-27.