Hebrew Roots/Restoration/Grace & Law/Spirit-Led
WALKING BY FAITH
When the Law was given, it was the duty of the priests to teach the people the Law and its application to their daily lives. But after the return of the Israelites from captivity into Babylon, corruption began to take hold of the priesthood through the infiltration of Greek influences, and the people lost confidence in the priesthood. Filling this gap, a sect called the Pharisees gained popularity as they took over the role of teaching the people. Houses of learning, called synagogues were established and these laymen began teaching the people what has been called the Oral law, i.e. how to interpret the general principles of the Law of God into situations of life. For instance, the Law says to remember to keep the Sabbath day holy and to refrain from work on it. The Oral law spelt out the details of how to keep the day holy and what would be considered as work etc.on the Sabbath. And so, the Oral law (Works of the Law) took precedence over the Law of God in what was taught to the people.
Legalism is bondage, whereas we have been called to freedom in Christ. Yeshua invited His followers into a relationship with Himself and the Father, saying, "Come unto Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29) Firstly, it is a call to an ongoing relationship with Him which will result in inner rest and assurance, because He is not a harsh and domineering overseer. Being harnessed to Him is not a restrictive bondage but a corrective process of being conformed to His likeness which releases us from the burden of our own sins and shortcomings and the fruitless efforts of attempting to achieve our own righteousness, into true life and liberty.
Yeshua called the Pharisees of His day to account because they were abusing the authority they had of sitting "in Moses' seat" to instruct the people regarding the application of the Law to the situations of daily life; saying "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders" instead of drawing them closer to God in their relationship, they were binding the people up in ritual and legalistic observances (Matthew 23:1-4).
They also exercised an illegitimate authority in corrupting the Word for their advantage (Matthew 15:1-9; 23).
They were, in effect, teaching the commandments of men as the decrees of Yahweh God (Isaiah 29:13).
Much of His teaching was in correction of the scribes and Pharisees. For instance, Yeshua walked in liberty regarding the Sabbath and taught men so. The Pharisees accused Him of breaking the Sabbath and doing what was "not lawful" to do according to their interpretation (Matthew 12:2). If He had broken the Sabbath, it would have been sin and He would have been an imperfect sacrifice. So, although it was the scribes and Pharisees accusation that He broke "the law", it was not an actual fact that He did break the Law, regarding the Sabbath. It just went against their 'law' - i.e. their interpretation of how to apply the law in various situations of life. As He said, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:12)
It was all about the things which one could and could not do, on the Sabbath according to the regulations which had been compiled into the body of 'laws' to govern their behaviour in all situations of life which they referred to as "the law". This collection of laws was called "The Works of the Law" and was referred to often by Paul.
The difficulties which Paul faced in his ministry from the believing Jews undermining his work, stemmed from this very thing. Having sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the most prominent teacher of the time, he excelled in all the teaching of the Jews, which included the oral law interpretations and applications from the Mosaic law. He also had been guilty of the same thing through his zeal for "the traditions of my fathers", in persecuting the early assembly. Having the excellent tuition in all the legalities of the interpretation of the Oral Law of his day, he was the ideal choice, to father the fledgling assembly through the troubled waters of legalism from other brethren who were also zealous for the traditions of the fathers (Galatians 1:11-24; Philippians 3:5-9 ).
The "traditions" based upon the Law had become legalism, and these "Works of the Law", the interpretation of the Law, were the dominating and dividing factor of every sect of Judaism at the time.
THE WORKS OF THE LAW
The Dead Sea Scrolls brought to light a document called Miqsat Ma’ase Ha-Torah, or MMT, which translated means the Precepts of the Law, or the Legal Rulings of the Law. This document was a collection of sacrificial and purification rites and many other regulations regarding Sabbaths and holy days which was written by the sect of the Essenes at Qumran. It was an extremely legalistic articulation of every detail of their lives to maintain ritual purity, and which had a large influence as one of the sects of Judaism in the first century. The contents of this document did not become included in the oral law of the Talmud because the Pharisaical sect was the only one which continued after the dispersion of the Jews. So the knowledge of this body of the 'law' which the Essenes used, as well as the terminology for it, passed away. As a result, this type of terminology has not been understood until the discovery of this document in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Talmud which was the written form of the "works of the law" of the Pharisees, was not transcribed from oral to written form until well after the dispersion, and for that very reason it became necessary. No other sect of Judaism survived after the destruction of the temple, and so, their traditions became the standardised form of Oral law which have been accepted as the traditions of Judaism, and is current today in Rabbinic Judaism.
The discovery of this document has revealed that when Paul used the term "works of the law" he was using a terminology which applied to Oral teaching of the law such as the Essene (Qumran) sect held. In the Greek the equivalent of "works of the law' (ergoon nomou) is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term 'ma’ase ha torah'. The term "ergoon nomou" is the term used by Paul which is translated into English as the "works of the law". These "works of the law" in the contemporary use of the term in Pauls' time, refer to oral laws based upon the Law of God, and not to the actual keeping of the Law in itself.
LEGALISM IN THE ORAL LAW
In the Essenes Oral law, as part of their focus on ritual purity, Abraham, Phineas and others, were held up as examples of those who were accounted righteous with Yahweh through their righteous acts, or works of righteousness. On that basis, great effort was made to be scrupulously correct in every observance of the Law, so as to be righteous. The emphasis was on the "deeds of the law" and not on the faith relationship that motivated obedience to the Law. This is the emphasis which the Judaisers tried to bring in to the believers.
Paul corrects this error concerning Abraham at length in Romans 4 and Galatians 3, to show that him being accounted righteous was by faith alone apart from "works of righteousness". This whole concept of ritual purity by works of righteousness was a counterfeit teaching in opposition to walking in the Spirit; as he said to them, "Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3)
He was not negating obedience to the Law of God by this, but counteracting the legalistic interpretations of how to apply the Law to one's personal life which was to be by the guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God, in the new covenant. The oral law had a purpose in the old covenant in giving them direction and guidance.
This was Moses seat of authority, to interpret the Law to varying needs, problems and circumstances for the people (Exodus 18:13), which became a shared authority after Jethro's divinely-given wisdom (Exodus 18:17-26). This was the function and position which the Pharisees were fulfilling in the second temple era. But with the impartation of the Holy Spirit, this became unnecessary, as Yeshua said, He would now be their Helper, Comforter, Counsellor and Teacher and they needed no man to teach them (John 14:16-18,26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15).
The role of the Holy Spirit did away with the need of the Oral law for personal guidance in interpreting the application of the Law of God into individual situations of life, for His followers in the new covenant. It did not do away with the Law itself, but it personalised and internalised the Law. The new covenant believer was to walk by faith in the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit applying the principles of the Law of God to his life.
It was no longer a walk according to knowledge of the written Law, but a walk of faith by the Spirit of God.