(This is part 3 in the 3 part Defending Paul series. If you haven’t read part 1 CLICK HERE or part 2 CLICK HERE, and read those first)
In Part 1 of this series, I attempted to shine a little light on what appears to be a dark dilemma coming from the letters of Paul - a choice between “law” and “grace”.
In Part 2, we closely examined the details of Paul’s ministry to ascertain if Paul truly taught, as he was accused of by the Pharisees, that the Torah or “law” was done away with. We examined his own testimony as well as the words of those defending him and accusing him. Like any proper investigation the facts of the case were well established, and the book of Acts was our primary witness.
The detailed accounts in the book of Acts helped us identify 6 main points to clarify any misunderstanding from Paul’s teaching. The first 3 of those points were addressed in Part 2:
1 - Paul was falsely accused in his day of breaking Torah and teaching against Torah
2 - Paul defended himself and proved that he both kept, and taught Torah
3 - The real grievance that emerged was not that Paul taught against Torah, but that Paul taught Torah THROUGH or according to the Way of the risen Messiah, Yahushua
What we will now establish together in Part 3 of this series is that there is no dilemma, no either/or choice necessary. This conclusion hinges on understanding the synergy of Torah (law) and grace, Spirit and Truth. These two elements are not in opposition to each other but are in fact codependent. Yahushua declared to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:23) that the true worshipper will worship the Father in spirit AND in truth. This synergy is evidenced in Paul’s life and words as seen throughout his ministry and the testimonies recorded in Acts.
This brings us to the conclusion of the matter, and the final 3 of our 6 points:
4 - Many today, like the Pharisees in his past, falsely accuse Paul of the same crime - the sin of lawlessness, which is breaking and teaching against Torah
5 - There are verses in many English translations of Paul’s writings that seem to contradict his own testimony of keeping and teaching Torah
6 - Peter offers us the key to understanding Paul and the other Scriptures
Let us begin with this issue of false accusation.
If the accusations against Paul in his own day of breaking Torah and teaching against it were proven false, it seems to me that those who are currently using Paul’s letters to teach a doctrine that claims Torah is null and void are actually accusing Paul of the same thing he was accused of by the religious leaders of his time. If their accusations were proven false, maybe we ought to come to Paul’s defense in these matters instead of joining our religious voices with his past accusers.
Paul kept Torah and taught Torah. (If you are still not convinced of that fact, go back and read Part 2, or better yet, read the book of Acts.) He preached that Yahushua was the promised Messiah, risen from the dead - the Way to walk out Torah. He told his students to emulate him as he was emulating Messiah.
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of MASHIACH. 1 Corinthians 11:1
Yahushua Messiah Himself made it clear that it was essential to keep and teach Torah.
Whoever therefore shall break (loosen) one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of YAHUAH: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of YAHUAH. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Parashiym, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of YAHUAH Matthew 5:19-20
He also makes it clear that He did not come to destroy, or make void, the Torah.
Think not that I am come to destroy the Torah, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one Yod or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Torah, till all be fulfilled. Matthew 5:17-18
The topic of grace and law (Torah) can be an exhaustive one, and often becomes the battleground between Torah keepers and those that follow traditional christianity. Many in christianity have been taught that keeping Torah amounts to “legalism” or salvation by works as opposed to faith. Yet James writes that “faith without works is dead.” (See James 2:18-20) Those well known words from one of Yahushua’s own disciples solidify the synergy of grace and truth instead of their opposition.
When talking with many christians about Torah, it seems to me that they may feel the basis of their faith is threatened. They may erroneously think that the Torah, or “law” as many are accustomed to saying, displaces grace. Almost as if they are on opposite sides of a teeter-totter. As the importance of keeping Torah goes up, the importance of grace goes down. Let it not be! (Romans 2)
To me this is a great deception and a doctrine of demons (1 Tim 4:1). Torah and grace are not like light and darkness, mutually exclusive. They are more like a light bulb and electricity. Together they make light and are mutually inclusive and dependent on each other. I believe where the opposition and confusion comes in is that we have somehow been led to believe that we must choose between these two aspects of YHWH’s nature.
YHWH is a just and holy Elohim. There is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). And yet He is merciful. Does that mean He must compromise His holiness in order to show His mercy? Or that He must deny mercy in order to uphold His holiness? No way! Justice and Mercy kiss! (Psalm 85, especially verses 9-10)
Must we forsake the Torah, the “law”, the loving instructions of the Father, in order to receive His grace? Or must we deny His grace and rely on our own works to “save” us if we desire to obey His Torah, His instructions? Again, no way!
Can you see how insinuating a choice that doesn’t even exist has caused a dilemma that is totally unnecessary? We do not need to choose between obedience to the Torah and the grace of Yahushua! In fact, Paul himself teaches that grace is the POWER that enables us to DO the works of the Torah!
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is YAHUAH which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Phillippians 2:12-13
“For the grace of YAHUAH that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to reject that which is not of YAHUAH and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and in Fear of YAHUAH, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of YAHUAH H’AGADOL (the great YAHUAH), and our Saviour YAHUSHA HA’MASHIACH; Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise you.” Titus 2:11-15
Is it becoming clear how grace and Torah (truth) go along hand in hand and are not opposed to one another? No wonder the enemy of our soul desires to separate these two essentials of the believer’s walk. For when we possess both grace and Truth we are empowered to do the good works that are in line with the salvation that we have received through Yahushua! If the enemy can keep us caught in the dilemma of choosing between grace and Truth, he can also keep us powerless and from bringing good pleasure to YHWH.
What a tricky scheme the devil has devised against us! Not only has he introduced a lie, but that lie is the very weapon used to divide believers, causing some (who have misunderstood the doctrine of grace) to point a finger at those who have chosen to walk out their salvation in obedience to the Torah, declaring them to be “legalistic.”
The term “legalistic” in and of itself is another one of the enemy’s tools to divide and destroy true worshippers who worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The opposite of keeping the “law” or Torah is not grace. The opposite of keeping the law is breaking the law. Can you see how we’ve been duped into fighting the wrong battle?
If we simply read the accounts of Yahushua’s life from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the writings of the other disciples - the letters of Peter and James as well as John’s letters and the Revelation he received, we will find it quite clear that the Torah and Commandments were taught, kept, and loved. So where did this doctrine of “legalism” (equating keeping the Commandments with earning our salvation) come from? Could it be that it’s a tactic of the kingdom of darkness to mislabel obedience with a term that makes us believe we are nullifying grace if we keep Torah?
The question itself is enough to open our awareness to the fact that some doctrine taught as foundational in christian churches may need to be reexamined in light of what we’ve learned from Paul’s life before we use his letters to teach something that he neither lived nor taught.
But how can we be sure that Paul really taught Torah when many of his letters seem to be teaching against it? We know from our study in Acts that Paul himself lived and taught Torah. We also know he lived and taught grace. These two concepts were intimately united in Paul’s life and teaching. So why do some parts of his letters seem to contradict his life and teaching?
This brings us to the next main point, the issue of translation and the meaning of words in their original language.
In Matthew 5:17 (see above) Yahushua said He DID NOT come to destroy the Torah but to fulfill or complete it. So “fulfill” cannot mean destroy, or make void. In fact, the word translated as “complete” or “fulfill” is the greek word “pleroo”, and it means to bring to a full understanding, to fill up to its full meaning. Furthermore in this context, because the word “pleroo” is juxtaposed against the word translated as destroy, it clearly does not mean to destroy or do away with. Knowing what a word doesn’t mean is vital when attempting to understand what it does mean.
So when it seems in Paul’s letters that he is teaching that the Torah IS destroyed, or done away with, is Paul contradicting Messiah? I dare say not!
If Paul truly taught in opposition to what Yahushua Himself taught as well as what the disciples of Yahushua taught in their letters, then I don’t think Peter would refer to him as “our beloved brother Paul.” (2 Peter 3:15) However, he certainly did warn the readers of Paul’s letters to be careful when reading them.
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a renewed heavens and a renewed earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the long-suffering of YAHUAH is salvation; even as our beloved brother Pa’al also according to the wisdom given unto him has written unto you; as also in all his cepheriym, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable pervert, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the Torahless, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our ADONAI and Savior YAHUSHA HA’MACHIACH and of YAHUAH the Father. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:13-18
Paul didn’t contradict Messiah. Our interpretation of what Paul taught contradicts Paul.
So when it seems that some of his teaching (or doctrine) does contradict Torah and the teaching of Yahushua,
I see only a few possible explanations:
*Paul is a heretic (already proven false by Peter’s own testimony and the accounts in Acts)
*The translation is insufficient, mistranslated, or even doctored
*We don’t understand, being “unlearned” and “unstable” (as Peter states) and have actually twisted his letters to our own destruction.
We know that Paul is not a heretic. Peter affirmed him (2 Peter 3:16). The other elders in Yerushalayim affirmed him (Acts 21:21-24). The account of his life and ministry as laid out in the book of Acts clearly show the life of a righteous man, keeping and teaching Torah. So we know that neither Paul’s life nor his actual words (as written by him in their original form) contradict Messiah Yahushua or anything that Messiah lived and taught.
If the words of Paul that we read today in our English translations seem to contradict the teaching of Messiah, declaring the Torah to be done away with, then we know that there must be an issue with the translation. The depth of research that can be done looking into the original language of Scripture compared to the English translations, is enormous. Many books have been written on the subject alone. - Check out this book by Todd D Bennett - The Scriptures
My desire is to help make complex matters clearer. So let me attempt to summarize and lay a very basic plumb line to help bring understanding to the issue without going into the exhaustive research and study that you can delve into at your own leisure.
When I was in high school I studied French. I learned that not all words or phrases can be translated directly, word for word. For example, a common term of endearment in French is “mon chou.” It would be the equivalent of calling your husband “my sweetheart.” However, translated literally, “mon chou” means “my cabbage.” Clearly, calling your love your cabbage in English would bring confusion instead of warm fuzzies! (There’s another phrase that probably wouldn’t translate well word for word!)
The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic for the most part. Although the oldest writings were most likely in Paleo Hebrew which is a pictorial language.
("How to read each of the 22 OTIOT")
Not many modern American believers, Christian or Messianic, are fluent in any of those languages. We are indebted to translators who have worked in the past for our benefit of having the Scriptures in our own language. This was a major issue in times past, as the Roman Catholic Church strongly resisted having the Bible translated into any modern language, believing that it should not be in the hands of individual believers but instead be read and taught only by Clergy of the Catholic Church and in Latin.
In today’s society, having the Bible translated in thousands of different languages is common and probably taken for granted. So much so, that it may be possible that we English readers forget that the Scriptures were not written in English and our myriad translations are just that, translations of the original language, the original understanding, and the original culture of those that wrote, taught, and read the Word of YHWH. Yahushua Himself was a Hebrew, of the tribe of Yahudah. He lived in a Hebrew culture and taught to those familiar not only with Hebrew thinking and culture, but also with the Hebrew Scriptures - the Torah, Writings, and Prophets. (What modern Christianity calls the “Old Testament”.)
Recently, my husband and I have been learning some of the Paleo Hebrew letters. Those who’ve studied and read the Scriptures in this pictorial language have enriched our understanding of Scripture as we see how deep the communication of our loving Father has gone to reveal Himself to us in His Word! ("How to read each of the 22 OTIOT")
There are many wonderful resources to help us better understand the Scriptures as we read them in our own native language. I personally use an app on my phone called Bible Hub. It’s a free app that allows me to look up the original Hebrew or Greek word in any Scripture and find the meaning, the root, the uses, and the other scriptures that use that same word. This helps, among many other things, to establish meaning and context, both of which are essential pieces to understanding texts and letters.
Therein lies another highly important concept. The letters of Paul, and the other disciples and prophets, are precisely that - letters. They are not individually numbered isolated verses that can be quoted and used outside of the context they are written in or the audience they were written to, to create or justify any doctrine whatsoever. Letters are best read and best understood when read in totality, from start to finish - at least at first reading. Once the entire context has been established, then a reader might go back and re-read certain key points because the intent of the author has been established.
It may have become somewhat of a lost art, but have you ever written a letter to someone? I grew up writing letters to my friends and family as making long distance phone calls was expensive back then. When I wrote a letter to someone, I assumed they would read the whole letter from beginning to end. If they only read part, or read it out of order, they may very well come up with a different understanding than my original intent. It could perhaps lead to a misunderstanding between us or even an argument or breech of friendship. If they took an isolated sentence out of context and used it to attempt to establish a meaning other than the one I intended, or even contrary to my intention, it could ruin our friendship.
Most of the time, when writing to a friend or family member, there is a base of understanding and shared experience that doesn’t even need to be written in the letter. There are certain things we already know about each other from our previous experiences and understanding. If I were writing to someone I’d never met and who didn’t know me at all, say a letter accompanying my application for a scholarship to a University, I might give more background information on my character, beliefs, and intent. But when writing to an individual or group of people that I’ve had previous relationships with, I would not need to lay again certain foundations. (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Again, for the sake of simplifying a complex topic, my explanation of language and translation above is not a scholarly one, digging into roots, grammar, and usage of specific words. That is always a part of my own personal biblical research as I read privately in the Word, or when I’m teaching or writing on any matter of Scripture. The proper meaning and translation of words and phrases is essential to understanding all Scripture. There is no room for changing word meanings or concepts when translating into other languages. That’s why the matter of translation, while a gift to those who don’t speak or read Hebrew, Greek, or Paleo, is a precarious and holy endeavor. I encourage everyone to obtain resources for personal study. These tools, many free through apps and in local libraries, can be utilized, and arguably even must be utilized, to fully understand the Scriptures when reading them in any English translation.
One essential point. The Ruach ha’Qodesh (the Holy Set-Apart Spirit) is the ideal Interpreter! (John 14:26) He truly will teach us all things. May we never approach His Qodesh (Holy) Word without first bowing our hearts in prayer, submitting to the leading of the Ruach, and not our own or another’s wisdom or interpretation.
Hopefully the above discussion highlights the common sense understanding of communication and the written language, laying some good groundwork for why translation and context are so important. That being said, I wholeheartedly recommend a translation that stems as closely as possible from the original languages, including the original Names of Our Creator and His Son. I personally use the Cepher and the HalleluYah Scriptures as well as my study tools mentioned above. (Resources)
So here is my conclusion of the matter, thanks to Peter’s admonition found in 2 Peter 3:16. If the “unlearned” and “unstable” are the ones who pervert Paul’s teaching, as well as the other Scriptures, would it not be a great idea for us to become “learned” and “stable”? Peter tells us that when these unlearned and unstable hearers twist Paul’s teachings and the Scriptures, the result is their own destruction! That is a huge consequence that should cause us to pause (selah) and truly search out how we can avoid this massive error.
I have done an in-depth study on those two words and will devote my next posts to that topic: Becoming Learned and Stable. Let me give you just a few brief highlights from my studies:
*The word translated as “unlearned” in 2 Peter 3:16 is the greek word “amathes” and it means ignorant and untaught.
*The word translated as “unstable” in that verse is the greek word “asteriktos” and it means unsettled, literally someone who does not have a staff to lean on and hence cannot be relied upon. They have no foundation and are like a house built on the sand. (See Matthew 7:26-27)
*The word translated as “learned” is the greek word “manthano” and it means to learn from a person who is the object of our learning, in other words to be discipled by someone in order to learn from them.
*The word translated as “stable” is the greek word “sterizo” and it means to make fast, establish, fix firmly, a support that fixes and plants down (like a tent peg or a house built on the rock - see Matthew 7:24-25)
There are other greek words that have been translated in other verses as learned or stable, that actually have very different meanings. That is why it is so important to go back to the original word, for sometimes the same English word is used in the translation for 2 very different original words with very different intents and meanings.
Paul and Peter were both learned and stable. Their foundation was in the Torah. Peter learned Torah as a Hebrew in a community of Hebrews. Paul learned Torah from a more formal standpoint, being a disciple of Gamaliel, and was actually in line to be the next high priest. Paul also learned the oral traditions of the Pharisees (he was a “Pharisee of Pharisees” see Philippians 3:5) which were additions to the Torah. It was about these additions that Yahushua reprimanded the Pharisees and teachers of the law. (See Mark 7:9 & 13).
Peter had the privilege of walking side by side with Messiah through His entire ministry on earth. He was able to learn how to rightly divide and apply Torah to his life by following Yahushua and His daily example as well as hearing His teaching directly from Him. He then taught others and his teaching and life can be glimpsed by reading the book of Acts and the 2 letters he wrote.
Paul “met” Yahushua after His resurrection, on the road to Damascus. His was a more abrupt introduction! He had a lot of unlearning to do and so his writings tend to focus on those things he had to purge out of his own walk and understanding.
Both Peter and Paul had much to suffer to be purified from their false understandings. They had to unlearn false doctrine, and re-learn according to Yahushua’s Way. For Yahushua is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life! No one comes to the Father except through Him. He is the mediator of the Covenant, the Torah, which is now written in our hearts so that we will DO it! It has not been done away with, it has been empowered, by the Ruach of Yahushua Who lives in us, and transcribed it onto our hearts so that we will desire to obey Him. (See Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 10:16)
Revelation 14:12 states that we are required to have 2 witnesses to be declared His Covenant people - the Commandments of YHWH, and the belief of Yahushua. This is not an either/or equation! Can you see how the lie of ha’Satan has been very purposeful to set these things in opposition to one another so that we will be caught up in the wrong conversation, trying to answer the wrong question? We are not to argue between Law and Grace, Commandments and Yahushua. We are to embrace both! Yahushua, just like the one with His same name (Yahushua son of Nun), crosses us over the “Jordan River” into the promised land. Mosheh didn’t bring the people across, Yahushua did. And then once they had crossed over, they were to obey the Commandments given to them through Mosheh so that they could live in the land of their inheritance given to them by the Father, through Yahushua.
The Commandments, the Torah, the Law and the blood of Yahushua that renewed the Covenant, giving us his testimony as our evidence and witness of being cleansed from all unrighteousness, work in tandem. We learned this from James - faith without works is dead! They need each other.
Is it possible that some teachers focus on one aspect more than the other? I think so! Paul’s heart was for people not to be like the Pharisees who rejected Yahushua and added to the Torah. James warned the readers of his letter that if all they had was faith, and they did not do the works of righteousness (Torah, Commandments) then their faith was useless. The teachers we read from in the Renewed Covenant books (the “New Testament”) are teaching the two sides of the same coin. We aren’t supposed to pick sides. Remember Paul warned against that (see 1 Corinthians 3:4). We are not to be followers of any person. We are to be followers of Yahushua.
I imagine if you’ve read this whole post, then you are a dedicated seeker of truth as am I. You desire to be learned and stable and you do not want to twist any of Paul’s teachings, much less the other Scriptures! You are seeking life and truth, not destruction! Let us continue to show ourselves approved of YAH, rightly dividing the Word of Truth as Paul counseled Timothy. (See 2 Timothy 2:15)
Before we wrap up this series on Defending Paul, and before we launch into our next series on Becoming Learned and Stable, let us read one more time what Peter, after issuing his warning about Paul’s letters, recommends we do.
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the Torahless, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our ADONAI and Savior YAHUSHA HA’MASHIACH and of YAHUAH the Father. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18
Here is Peter’s brief to-do list:
*Beware of the error of the torahless
*Grow in grace
*Grow in the knowledge of the Father and the Son
Based on this list, here are a few personal recommendations that have helped me on my road to becoming learned and stable.
*Understand the Torah - If we don’t want to be led away by the error of the torahless, we must know and do the Torah. Read the “Old Testament”, the Tanakh - Genesis through Malachi. Understand the foundation that keeps us stable in our faith. This is the same foundation that Yahushua Himself had as well as all of His disciples.
*Study the “4 gospels” - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - to truly grow in knowledge of the Son. We must first understand the things of the Father from the Son. Learn what He taught and how He lived before studying how His followers lived and taught. Start with the Father and the Son.
*Get a good translation of the Scriptures (Resources) and get the resources needed to look up words in their original form, or as close to it as possible. I recommend going back to the pictorial Hebrew at best. Looking up the modern Hebrew and Greek is much easier and can give great insight as well. The original language will help us understand the true meaning of words like “grace” that have been twisted and misapplied to create doctrines that even deny the true intent of the Father and the Son.
*I recommend waiting to study Paul’s letters until you have a solid foundation in the Torah, in the teachings of Yahushua Himself, and in the teachings of the other disciples who walked with Yahushua. Also remember to use a good translation and your study tools to always refer back to the original words, and remember to measure Paul’s words against Torah and Yahushua. If they seem to contradict those 2 witnesses, you can be certain that you need to dig deeper to better understand Paul as his teaching cannot contradict Torah or Messiah.
We do not want to be led away with the error of the Torahless. Peter, John, James, and Yahushua were not Torahless. Neither was Paul. and as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Son and the Father, we will become learned and stable in Torah and in Messiah. This is not an “either/or” doctrine but an “and” and “amen” endeavor that takes time and patience, AND it’s well worth the effort! HalleluYAH!!!
Here is the patience of the qodeshiym (“saints”, set-apart ones):
here are they that guard the commandments of YAHUAH,
and the belief of YAHUSHA.
And they (those who have gotten the victory over the beast) sing the song of Mosheh the servant of YAHUAH, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, YAHUAH ELOHIYM TSEVA’OTH; just and true are Your Ways, King of the qodeshiym.”
And they overcame him (the accuser of the brethren) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death….the remnant…which guard the commandments of YAHUAH, and have the testimony of YAHUSHA HA’MASHIACH.
Revelation 12:11 & 17