Jesus vs. Paul

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “ The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe. (Matt 23:1-3 NASB)

One of the challenges of military life is that you must follow those in positions of authority over you, whether they are great leaders, horrible tyrants, or complete incompetents.

Naturally, following a good leader is easy.

Less so in dealing with the power-hungry or the clueless imbeciles.

For the Air Force, the rank of Chief Master Sergeant is a good example of this (and I expect the same is true in other service branches).

Chief stripes

A “Chief” usually earns that rank through years of dedication, service, and commitment not just to the Air Force but to the people under the Chief’s command. Usually, a Chief Master Sergeant has earned a great deal of honor; even if you don’t get along with the individual on a personal level, you can respect what they have achieved to reach that rank.

But there are a few who are so incompetent, abrasive, or self-serving that use of the term “Chief” pays disrespect to all those others who have earned that position. For these select few, many enlisted simply refer to their pay grade. “I work for E-9 So-and-so, and I can’t wait to get out of the service.”

Still, E-9 So-and-so wears the rank insignia of Chief Master Sergeant on his or her sleeve, and so the rest of us have to follow the lawful orders we’re given, regardless of how ridiculous they seem. All they tell you, do and observe.

Christians often point to various Bible verses as an explanation for why we hold particular moral stances. Our opponents (rightly) wonder why we might quote one verse and say it applies, then declare that another verse is “not for today.”

A perfect example of this is the question of the Bible’s stance on homosexuality. Some Christians quote Leviticus or other passages to say that homosexuality is a sin. People on the other side of that debate then look at everything else that Leviticus instructs its audience to follow, and rightly ask why in the world we ignore so many other commandments.

What commandments apply?

What commandments don’t?

What commandments are Christians supposed to follow?

(Note that “commandments” does not refer to a nice list of ten of them. It refers to the whole Law of Moses, the 613 rules given to Israel to follow in the first five books of the Bible.)

Maybe Jesus has something to say about this. The religion is named after His title as “the Anointed One,” so we probably should pay attention to Him.

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matt 5:17-20 NASB

Ouch.

This passage, the quoted passage from Matthew 23 above, and several others raise a series of compelling questions for modern Christianity.

First and foremost, does the Law of Moses apply to Christians today? Are we expected to follow all those commandments? This overarching question leads to others, which are the point of this series.

Did Jesus tell us to keep all of the Law? Did His teaching and ministry do nothing to change it?

We often look at Paul’s epistles and the other books of the New Testament to justify our position on this matter, so another question is raised:

Does Paul’s “gospel” conflict with what Jesus taught? Is Paul mistaken?

And some ask, aren’t we simply picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignoring the parts we don’t?

Doesn’t that make us terrible Christians who don’t even follow the faith we claim? Doesn’t that failure to obey the commandments mean we’re condemned to the same hell and damnation we preach?

Answering may take a while, but these questions do deserve answers.

Because if the answers are “yes,” then Christians really need to course-correct our faith and shut our mouths until we get our story straight.

So… on the one side we have Jesus, ostensibly the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the Son of God revealed to mankind. And He says:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

On the other side we have Paul, one of those oft-maligned Pharisees, a shining star among the religious leaders of his day, a learned teacher of the Law of Moses and an unlikely follower of Jesus Christ. And Paul says:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Round one… FIGHT!

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