Why Jews Kept The Law
April 30, 2011
A little note to myself.
There's a general mistaken understanding among Christians as to why Jewish people kept the law. Most believe that they were doing so in order to be righteous. This is a mistake both because that was not their motivation but also because it fails to understand the meaning of the Hebrew word we translate as "righteous, just, justified, etc."
I've long had a question as to what Jews of Jesus day did with the promises made to them in the Torah, the law, the teaching, the first five books of the Bible. For example:
Deuteronomy 7:15 And the LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee.
It's obvious from the stories of healings in the ministry of Jesus that many of the people in Israel were not experiencing the fulfillment of this promise, e.g.
Luke 13:10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
So how did the Jews of Jesus day answer this failure to receive what God has promised. I suspect that this is, at least, part of what Paul is talking about when he says things like:
Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
The "righteousness of God" being essentially a synonym for redemption/salvation as that phrase is used in the Hebrew scriptures, e.g.:
Isaiah 56:1 Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
Psalms 24:5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Psalms 71:15 NRSV My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge.
Anyhoo… here's the quote I wanted to remember, from Judaism, by George Foot Moore, probably the leading book about Judaism during the times of Jesus. Speaking of various religious observances, dietary laws, laws of cleanliness:
"If they (i.e. these religious observances) came to be casuistically developed and more scrupulously attended to in the last centuries before the Christian era and in those that followed, at least in the circles of the pious and the associations of the Pharisees, it was a consequence of a clearer and more consistent notion of what is involved in the possession of a revealed religion, and a deeper conviction that the fulfilment of all the great promises of the Scriptures was dependent on the fulfilment of their conditions in the conformity of the people, collectively and individually, to the will of God made known to them in the twofold law.
If this is what is meant by the "legalism" of the Scribes and Pharisees, the name cannot be denied them, though another derivative of lex, 'loyalty,' would express their conscious attitude better."
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