January 7, 2013

One Man, One Faith

Christianity has been called one of the three 'Abrahamic religions;' which is true. However,
how it came to be a religion of Abraham is completely misunderstood, even by Christian scholars!
Almost every Christian (and I use the term loosely, to refer to a self-identified member of one of the myriad churches that assume the name of Christ) 'knows' that their faith was an off-shoot of Judaism. It's obvious-- Jesus was a Jew, and he started a new religion before his death at the hands of his countrymen, right?

This is the simplistic version of 'church history' promulgated in virtually every school of divinity, and from every church pulpit, down thru the ages. The truth, as usual, is far more interesting, but also more complex, than anyone (including pastors) cares to investigate. Therefore, the folk-tale is accepted as 'gospel,' regardless of its falsehood.

To know the true origins of the Christ-based faith, one must do a little Bible study. First, we have to understand the concept of covenants, basically a treaty or legal agreement, having a number of characteristics. (See Genesis 31 for an example).

The important things to note are that a covenant is made between two parties, and its terms apply to the full retinue of each party (i.e. extended family, and hangers-on). A covenant spells out the benefits (blessings) and the penalties (curses) that will accrue to the parties, depending on whether they fulfill or abrogate the terms agreed upon. The Bible describes several covenants within its pages, sometimes between humans, and sometimes between God and humans.

Now, the pivotal covenant that God made 'with Abram' (Abraham's name before the encounter) is described in chapter 15 of Genesis. At the climax, it states:
[vs. 17] It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking furnace and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. [18] On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”

Some vital details are invariably overlooked by the trained scholars. Verse 12 tells us that “a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and terror and great darkness fell upon him.” In other words, he apparently fainted in fright, and was not fully functional when the events of verses 17-18 occurred. The educated ones tell us that 'God' appeared to Abram that night, to 'cut the covenant' with him. But, we just saw that Abram was in no condition to sign a legal deal! And if 'God' was moving among the sacrificed animals, what is the significance of the two 'objects?'

Ah, those are questions the learned always skate around. The text refers to 'a smoking furnace and a flaming torch.' Clearly, they are representative; but of what? In the book of Exodus, God's appearances to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness are likened to a smoking furnace (Ex 19:18). Also, God is said to have led them in the form of a pillar of 'fire and cloud' by day (Ex 14:24).

What about the flaming torch? This item is also translated as a 'burning lamp' since a torch was used as a lamp then. In the New Testament, the apostle John introduces Jesus as the 'true light which... enlightens every man' (ch. 1:9); and
in John 8:12, Jesus describes himself as the 'light of the world.' If that doesn't quite clinch it, Jesus makes an outrageous statement that infuriates his Jewish listeners, in Jn 8:56, by saying that Abraham rejoiced to see 'his day' (i.e. Jesus' reality).

When did Abraham see 'Jesus' day,' I ask you Bible students? There is no other record of direct evidence except the incident captured in Gen 15! If Abram was 'out of action,' yet a covenant was made, who were the parties to the deal? None other than God 'the Father,' with 'the Son of God'... who was acting on behalf of 'fallen' mankind, as embodied in Abraham! The 'torch/lamp' represented God the Son, later to become 'the Son of Man' (i.e. divinity in human flesh).

Every biblical covenant was inaugurated, or initiated, and then confirmed or ratified. At the inauguration, generally a 'monument' was erected to mark the occasion and often, to witness to its solemnity. (For ex. see the Jacob/Laban deal). The agreement was usually confirmed with a blood sacrifice, hence reference to 'cutting a covenant.' The Abrahamic covenant was initiated in Genesis 15, but was only confirmed almost 2,000 years later, by the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross. Let's review the proof of this claim.

In Daniel's prophecy of ch. 9:27, he refers to the future (to him) Messiah who “will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.” Briefly, a prophetic 'week' represents seven years, so that the middle would be three and a half years, the length of Jesus' ministry. Jesus' sacrificial death obviated the need for the animal sacrifices and grain offerings made in the temple (Heb 7:26-27).

At the last supper, Jesus made an enigmatic statement as he passed out the wine goblet: “this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for [the] many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Indeed, he was confirming the original covenant of faith, inaugurated in Abraham's day, and as predicted by Daniel.

Only by taking this 'big picture' view of the entire scriptures can we tie the pieces together and see the reality. And this is why the writer of the book of Hebrews can make his claims in the critical chapter eight, in particular, stating that “He [Jesus] is also the mediator of a better covenant” (vs. 6).

What was it that made Abraham so acceptable to God, that he should receive a covenant? Genesis 15 gives us the answer: “[6] Then he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Christians say, in brief, that Abraham was deemed righteous by his faith in God. Much later, in the New Testament, the apostles' writings show how everyone is, similarly, deemed righteous through faith in Christ, God's 'Word with us.'

Now, do you see how all this comes together to provide the answer to the question in the essay's title? Clearly, the Jews are NOT partakers of the Abrahamic covenant, by their own choice! A believer in the Judaic system does not believe in salvation by faith. Not at all; they adhere to the Mosaic, or Sinai, covenant which is based on human works, i.e. obedience to the commandments, of which there are many. Besides the Ten Commandments of movie fame, the rabbis added numerous others over the years, so that there are 613 biblical laws, not counting later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions for Jewish religious adherents.

The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to forensically demonstrate how the 'New Covenant' (which is really the Abrahamic covenant) is superior in every way to the 'Old Covenant' mediated by Moses in the desert at Sinai some 430 years after the time of Abraham. Note that the covenants are called new or old based on the time of their confirmation, not their inauguration. Jesus ratified the New Covenant with his blood sacrifice some 1500 years after Moses' covenant.

Finally, we have the story of Abraham's son, Ishmael, born of the servant, Hagar, and accepted by the Moslem world as the origin of their Islamic faith. I don't want to add a lengthy discussion here of how Islam diverges from the faith of Abraham, but I think if you followed the argument above, it should become apparent. Only those who believe in God and accept his freely-given grace (the gift of salvation, not earned by human works) can be 'adopted' as children of Abraham (see, esp. Romans 4). Islam, like Judaism, is predicated on the observance of laws, rules, to earn righteousness (salvation). Therefore, despite  Muslims' tremendous earnestness, theirs is NOT truly an Abrahamic faith!

In conclusion, scripture, when taken in its wholeness, establishes that the genuine, Christ-based faith (as opposed to what is erroneously called Christian) derives directly from Abraham; there is no 'Jewish phase' involved! True Christianity is not an offshoot of Judaism merely because Jesus was a Jew. And, just in case a few naive readers are confused on the issue-- no, Abraham was not a Jew! This is impossible, since the Jews arose from the tribe of a man called Judah, who was a great-grandson of Abraham. Remember that!

Furthermore, the foregoing study ought to be conclusive proof that there is no such thing as 'Judeo-Christianity' in God's eyes. As Paul and others wrote, you are either under the Law (i.e. in a works-based religion) or else under grace (which is true Christ-based faith); you cannot be under both, as is taught in practically all the mainstream denominations!  (See Deut 30:19, Gal 3:12).

Out of the patriarch, Abraham, there did indeed arise three religions; three worldly systems that each went astray from the original intention. Yet, there is only one, true faith coming from Abraham's story. It is described in the words of the Bible, over a span of two thousand years. That faith never got 'canned' and sold as a religion; it exists in the heart of everyone who goes directly to God in faith and belief. They are the spiritual descendents of Abraham, born of the Spirit, the true inheritors of the promised Kingdom of God.

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