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Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context

One of the subjects of discussion which came up at the conference was the book GALATIANS: A TORAH-BASED COMMENTARY IN FIRST CENTURY HEBRAIC CONTEXT by Avi ben Morddechai.

The theory of this book is that Paul in Galatians is effectively a Karaite out of his time and that the "works of the law" that Paul is standing in opposition to is the Oral Law of Rabbinic Judaism.

Friday night we got into discussion and debate about this book, but as time to light the Erev Shabbat candles before sunset came upon us, we had to cut the discussion short. Of course we always want to answer all questions, and so I am opening discussion on this issue here, for any wishing to discuss the book, or its theory, or the Oral Law vs. Karaitism debate in general.

I must respond this theory proposing to give the proper understanding of Galatians. This new theory was proposed by my good personal friend, Avi ben Mordechai. My response to this theory is purely academic. I have nothing personal against Avi. I have known Avi for over ten years and count him as one of my best friends.

Back in 1996 in his 1st edition of Messiah volume 1 Avi gave earliest understanding of Paul and Galatians from a Torah Observant view.

In the first edition he addressed Galatians 3:10 and Rom. 3:19-20 by retranslating the Greek word "ek" as meaning "out of and away from" rather than "by" or "of". Thus he was understanding Paul as saying that a person cannot be justified "out of and away from the works of the law".

Now in 1997 Avi and I had a series of month long meetings, I had addressed this matter with him. I told Avi that I disagreed with his take on these verses for two reasons. First I said that I did not believe the Greek was the original, so I would have to look at it in the Aramaic, secondly, I said that the phrase "works of the law" was a theological technical term used by Paul's opponents, and that it was not a reference to the Torah itself. I said that I had been teaching that for years, and that recently a document found at Qumran had substantiated this point.

I told Avi that "works of the law" was a technical theological term used by the Qumran community to describe their halacha, and was presented as a method of justification. I showed Avi that MMT reads:

Now we have written to you some of the works of the Law, ... And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness...
(4QMMT C:26-27, 31)

And that this is an amazing inverse literary parallel to Gal. 2:16; 3:6:

Now we have written to you some of the works of the law, ... And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness...(4QMMT C:26-27, 31)

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Yeshua the Messiah, even we have believed in Yeshua the Messiah, that we might be justified by the faith of Messiah, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.... Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.(Gal. 2:16; 3:6)

Similarly I showed him that Paul makes a similar usage of "Under the Law". Avi made use of this information and revised Messiah volume 1 in later editions to reflect this information. Avi pointed out in the third edition: "Nowhere in ancient rabbinic literature is the phrase 'works of the law' found..." (Messiah Vol. 1; 3rd ed. p. 292)

In the third edition of Messiah Volume 1 Avi concluded quite correctly:


"...he [Paul] is then understood to be using a Qumran legal term... So, what were these pertinent (miqsat) 'works of the law' that Paul was referring to? Simply, about two dozen purity laws... The fact that Miqsat Ma'ase HaTorah, 'some of the works of the law' is not found in rabbinic literature indicates that the idea was not normative to Judaism. Rather among the Oral traditions of some of the P'rushim (Pharisees), the same traditions that Paul upheld, there was more of a leaning to relax many of the Torah precepts, an idea opposed forcefully by the Yahad hyper-purity community doctrines."
(Messiah Volume 1; 3rd ed. p. 292-293)

Now at this point I think Avi absolutely had it right!

But now in his book Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context, Avi writes regarding Gal. 2:16 and the phrase "works of the law" :

"'works of the law' (ma'asei haTorah) can be understood as a false system of justification, which was a Pharisaic system of decreed and traditions..." (p. 216) and "'works of the law' which meant Pharisaic oral traditions and Pharisaic authority." (p. 217)

In this the new book Avi has totally abandon the facts he himself presented in the third edition of Messiah One. With no explanation at all Avi goes from defining "works of the law" as "a Qumran [Essene] legal system... about two dozen purity laws... not found in rabbinic literature... the Yahad hyper-purity doctrines" to "a Pharisaic system of decrees and traditions... Pharisaic oral traditions and Pharisaic authority." (p. 216-217)

And to my surprise, the 478 page book never seeks to explain why the very sound theory presented in the third edition of Messiah Vol. 1 Chapter 7 is to now be rejected. Avi’s new book never even opens the matter for discussion, but seems to simply sweep Messiah Vol. 1 Chapter 7 and with it 4QMMT under the rug.

Avi’s new theory that Paul’s opponents in Galatians were Pharisees has serious problems. Te begin with, Paul identifies himself as a Pharisee. While there is no evidence that Pharisees made any special use of the phrase “works of the law”, this exact phrase was used in an anti-Pharisaic Essene document (4QMMT) and was proposed as being “reckoned as righteousness” for those who keep them.

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In Paul’s letter to the Galatians his opponent is a hard-liner Essene who, like the author of MMT, maintains that we are to be justified by the “works of the law”. Paul’s opponents position is adequately expressed by MMT:

Now we have written to you some of the
works of the law, those which we determined
would be beneficial for you...
And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness,
in that you have done what is right and good before Him...
(4QMMT (4Q394-399) Section C lines 26b-31)

Paul reminds his readers that he spent three years in Damascus (Gal. 1:17). This is no accident. Paul was reminding his readers that he knew what he was talking about. He had spent the required three years of study required to enter the Essene community, and not just anywhere, but at Damascus, the birthplace of Essene Judaism.

Much of the confusion about Paul's teachings on the Torah involves two scripture phrases, which appear in the New Testament only in Paul's writings (in Rom. Gal. & 1Cor.). These two phrases are "works of the law" and "under the law", each of which appears 10 times in the Scriptures.

The first of these phrases, "works of the law", is best understood through its usage in Gal. 2:16. Here Paul writes:

knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law but by faith in Yeshua the Messiah,
even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua,
that we might be justified by faith in Messiah
and not by the works of the law;
for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Paul uses this phrase to describe a false method of justification which is diametrically opposed to "faith in the Messiah". To Paul "works of the law" is not an obsolete Old Testament system, but a heresy that has never been true.

The term "works of the Torah" has shown up as a technical theological term used in a document in the Dead Sea Scrolls called MMT which says:

Now we have written to you some of the
works of the law, those which we determined
would be beneficial for you...
And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness,
in that you have done what is right and good before Him...
(4QMMT (4Q394-399) Section C lines 26b-31)

The second of these phrases is "under the law". This phrase may best be understood from its usage in Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace." Paul, therefore, sees "under grace" and "under the law" as diametrically opposed, one cannot be both. The truth is that since we have always been under grace (see Gen. 6:8; Ex. 33:12, 17; Judges 6:17f; Jer. 31:2) we have never been "under the law". This is because the Torah was created for man, man was not created for the Torah (see Mk. 2:27). "Under the law" then, is not an obsolete Old Testament system, but a false teaching, which was never true.

There can be no doubt that Paul sees "works of the law" and "under the law" as categorically bad, yet Paul calls the Torah itself "holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12), certainly Paul does not use these phrases to refer to the Torah itself.
One way of handling this may be similar to the issue in Rabbinic Judaism of Ashkanazi vs. Sephardic traditions.


Let me give you all a peak at what some of the work of the International Nazarene Beit Din will be in coming months and years.

1. Establishing a list of canonical books – According to tradition, one of the first things done by Ezra’s “Great Assembly” was the establishment of the canon of the Tanak. Likewise the new Pharisee Sanhedrin at Yavne is also credited with establishing a canon for the Tanak. Without actually questioning the received canon, the Emissaries and Elders of the International Nazarene Beit Din should create lists of officially recognized books for both the Tanak and Ketuvim Netzarim.

2. Compile a Nazarene SIDDUR – According to tradition the core of the Siddur was compiled by Ezra’s “Great Assembly” so the work of producing an “official” Nazarene Siddur should be done by the INBD.

3. Codify and compile an “official” Nazarene Halacha. (This will almost certainly take years).

a. Codify Yeshua’s halacha. The Bei-Din has already done some of this, for example the Shabbat Halacha and the Halacha on Polygamy and Divorce. There are several other areas where Yeshua gives us halacha on topics like vows and oaths and several other issues. These will be heard along with parallel review of the parallel halachot on the same issues in the Mishna, Talmud, Halachic Midrashim, and Dead Sea Scrolls.

b. Do the same with the halacha of the Emissaries (Acts-Rev.)

The next two items are parallel as to priority:

c. Go line by line through the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as Philo’s and Josephus’ description of Essenes. Extract the halachic material and consider its value for our community especially in context of how it may or may not contrast with Pharisaic halacha.

d. Go over each and every case recorded in the Mishna using the Gemara and re-hear each case, effectively creating a parallel Nazarene Halacha.

This will also involve separating out, to the best of our ability, “Oral Torah from Sinai” and “Decrees of the Elders” which are (in the Mishna) usually from a time after Nazarenes had established their own Beit Din and would not have recognized either the Pharisaic or the Essene Beit Dins.

Some of these processes will cross over. For example Essene Halacha forbid marriage between an uncle and a niece (Lev. 18:13 forbids aunt and nephew marriage) (Dam. Doc. V, 9-10) while Pharisaic Halacha encouraged this (b.Yevamot 62b-63a) (Which is why this section of the Damascus Document criticizes the "Wall Builders" (Pharisees) for their loose halacha on this matter).
i have to say that it's wonderful to see that the Nazerene movement is being so active! :)
i especially have a question about the canon though...

So for example will we include Sefer Enoch in the canon of the Tanakh because when reading it it seems kinda vital to understanding Alaha Himself even better... :)

And for the Nazerene Writings i have some propositions for the canon(i have tips because i myself am making a Peshitta translation in Dutch and have included these to be canonical):
- The epistle from the Corinthians to Paulus
- The third epistle from Paulus to the Corinthians
- The epistle to the laodocians

Also i have the propisition that will solve the whole "how can we determine what is Yeshua's halacha and what not" why don't we use the Limudah (Didache is the Greek version) because the Limudah is from the Apostles themselves (it was included in all the first NT canons!) and it shows how a Nazerene congregation should act and be like the touched subjects are baptism, fasting, relations between workers and their bosses, food (meat really), praying, explanation of the Qorbana service, who really is a teacher, prophet or Apostle?, how to recieve foreign believers in the assembly, explanation of the High Days, appointing bishops and teachers and the last part is about the return of Yeshua (more in detail than other sources)

If all the Nazerene congregations would use the Limudah as the main guide line then there would be a real oneness within our movement and there would be no different sects like in Messianic Judaism where the one sect even calls themselves "a church who believes the Godhead" and the other one is just an exact replica of Rabbinic Jews and some of them aren't even circumcised and wearing tzitzit ... :S

So, the Limduah, how does that sound rabbi??
Btw do you not see a contradiction against calling yourselve rabbi and being a believer in Yeshua??
and i have also posted something and i can say i don't agree with the rabbi's vision and have posted why (although i believe anna did a beautiful job at showing why we shouldn't use that term...)

selam
All Anna did was insist on taking a passage out of context and read it through Christian eyes. If you read the passage in context and apply basic hermeneutics, it cannot be taken as a blanket ban on the term "Rabbi".
James Trimm said:
All Anna did was insist on taking a passage out of context and read it through Christian eyes. If you read the passage in context and apply basic hermeneutics, it cannot be taken as a blanket ban on the term "Rabbi".

like i said i understand you're take aswell as anna's but Rabbi means "my great one" and i mean it's a non-Torah based Pharisaic term for almost infallible leaders (in their eyes anyway) what is based in the Torah though is the appointing of deacons and bishops/leaders for the Assemblies.. but Rabbi is not in the Torah so i mean why do we as Nazarenes have to use a Pharisaic term for our teachers then??
Yochanan was not a Pharisee... but what is wrong with "Pharisee"... Paul said "I am a Pharisee"
Exactly!
Aharon S. .אהרון ס said:
Serkan,

It is our opinion based indisputable verses (rather than HaRav Yeshua's supposed ban on the term Rabi/'Rabbi' which is not an indisputable verse, i.e. it is not in p'shath/literal form), and by understanding accurately and in-depth the first-century sects of Judaism, that the Pharisees are not evil nor bad. The Talmud itself lists something like 7 different kinds of Pharisees, 5 or so which are not good - does this mean the Pharisaic document called the Talmud is anti-Pharisaic? Of course not - how would it even be a Pharisaic document in the first place if that were so.

We believe that the bias against the Pharisees is one based in age-old Christian fables and anti-Semitism.

i'm not against the pharisees and i'm always the first to get upset when people use "Pharisee" to call someone a hypocrit so i'm anything but the typical "jesus came to replace the hypocrite judaism which was of the pharisees" believer yet the Gospel even tells us that the Pharisees came to warm Yeshua about king herod trying to kill him so, so far for the christian legend...

but the word rabbi is not rooted in the Torah to call teachers and it's literal meaning explains why Yeshua did not encourage it and again the Apostles never used such terms amongst eact other that's what you can plainly see when you read the Limudah
Aharon S. .אהרון ס said:
I wasn't trying to say that YOU are that typical stereotype, not at all.

With the Limuda, I don't have a solid opinion yet on it, so I am not able to say whether I believe it is truly original or not.

Serkan said:
Aharon S. .אהרון ס said:
Serkan,

It is our opinion based indisputable verses (rather than HaRav Yeshua's supposed ban on the term Rabi/'Rabbi' which is not an indisputable verse, i.e. it is not in p'shath/literal form), and by understanding accurately and in-depth the first-century sects of Judaism, that the Pharisees are not evil nor bad. The Talmud itself lists something like 7 different kinds of Pharisees, 5 or so which are not good - does this mean the Pharisaic document called the Talmud is anti-Pharisaic? Of course not - how would it even be a Pharisaic document in the first place if that were so.

We believe that the bias against the Pharisees is one based in age-old Christian fables and anti-Semitism.

i'm not against the pharisees and i'm always the first to get upset when people use "Pharisee" to call someone a hypocrit so i'm anything but the typical "jesus came to replace the hypocrite judaism which was of the pharisees" believer yet the Gospel even tells us that the Pharisees came to warm Yeshua about king herod trying to kill him so, so far for the christian legend...

but the word rabbi is not rooted in the Torah to call teachers and it's literal meaning explains why Yeshua did not encourage it and again the Apostles never used such terms amongst eact other that's what you can plainly see when you read the Limudah

ok then thank you akhi over at the HOly Land hehe :D

well sure i'm glad you are taking the time to investigate it at least you won't be dissapointed!

can i give you a link to the complete Limudah?
http://www.essenescrolls.com/peshitta/p-aesv-book-acts.php

and you know all the earliest NT canons had the Greek version of the Limudah (the didache in greek) and nowone ever really dared to claim it was a false book yet the christians did drop it because according to the Apostles you have to fast before Tevilah and they in general rejected it solely on the basis that they had to actually do something for their religion and the church was nog going to let that happen!! *sigh*
>I think that's to read into the text something that isn't there

Probably because I was keeping a long story short, as the more lengthy version would have overshadowed my main point. In Acts 9 we are told that Paul was going to Damascus to seek out followers of "The Way". The Way was a euphemism used by the Essenes to refer to themselves, which the Nazarenes had adopted as well. This combines with much information that indicates that Nazarene Judaism first began as a "split" from Essene Judaism. All of this is in my book Understanding Paul and also Nazarene Theology. The brief statement about Damascus was only intended to bring to mind the whole argument, which would be familiar to many Nazarenes from past studies. Just as a Physics professor will not re-explain relativity every time he refer to it.
Sorry but the whole Torah is "OLAM" and just in case man would try to twist that into meaning anything less that forever, several times YHWH CLARIFIED with the phrase "FOR ALL OF YOUR GENERATIONS" .

If Paul WAS saying what YOU say he was saying, then he would automatically be WRONG because Deut. 12:32-13:18 would require us to reject him.

However I do not beliefe Paul was an apostate from YHWH's Torah.

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