Epistolic Ministry for Hard Questions
We all love to receive letters, but not many of us love to send them. Yet a significant part of our Jews for Jesus missionary work is a 20th-century epistolic” ministry of letter-writing. We pattern ourselves after the Apostle Paul, who, through letters defended the faith, exhorted believers, passed along information, asked for favors, made appointments, presented doctrine, settled disputes, kept in touch, responded to problems and answered questions. (Of course, unlike Paul’s letters, many of which became Scripture, ours merely communicate as best we can what has already been written in the Bible.)
Today, with the help of computers, we can keep in touch simultaneously with many people by mail. This is helpful in passing along information. Yet to engage in real “epistolic” ministry like Paul did, we modern missionaries must invest time and effort in write individual letters to meet individual needs.
That was what I did for Robert,* who called our Johannesburg office one day because a friend at work had been telling him about Christ. As a religious Jew, Robert could not understand the relationship of the Law to the New Testament, nor Jesus’ relationship to the Law. He asked about New Testament passages that seemed to contradict one another (i.e., Jesus said that the Law would not pass away and Paul said that Christ was the end of the Law).
As we talked, I remembered many debates in seminary on that issue. My professor had said that this particular issue of Law versus grace was one of the hardest we had to deal with! Sensing that Robert was sincere and that he wanted a detailed answer, I told him I would respond at length by letter. Instead of mailing my answer, I faxed it to get his attention! I wrote:
I’ve been thinking about our discussion and here are some of my thoughts in reply to some of your questions:
It is true that the Law of God would be “forever,” but “forever” was meant in terms of continuing until it accomplished what it was meant to accomplish. The Law was given to point to the One [the Messiah] who would fulfill it. The ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law have a built-in obsolescence. You must agree that many of the ceremonial and civil laws do not apply to you today. This is because they were expressly called “patterns” or “copies” of the real (read Exodus 25:9).
You don’t stone your children for being disobedient, and you didn’t stone me for driving on the Sabbath when I came to visit you! The tabernacle in the wilderness no longer exists—and if you are going take the Law seriously, you need to deal with a provision for your sin. Where is it?
The Law was given so that God’s people of the promise could live in their land of promise in order to fulfill His plan for them to be a light to the nations. The Mosaic Covenant was an outgrowth of the Abrahamic Covenant (many of its provisions were preparatory) and the New Covenant is an outgrowth of the Mosaic Covenant. Many of the ceremonial and civil laws were temporary teaching devices until the “surety” of the New Covenant arrived (Hebrews 7:22). This does not contradict the “foreverness” of the nature of God’s law.
Jesus, who is the New Covenant, fulfilled the spiritual promises to Abraham’s seed. The New Covenant is called a better covenant because of the progress of God’s revelation.
Read Genesis 12:1-3. Is the world blessed because Jews keep kosher laws and the Sabbath, or because through the Jewish people God brought the Messiah? Read the Scriptures thoroughly with an open mind and heart and you will see my point. Is it possible that Jewish culture has twisted the text?
This ties in with your questions about Matthew 5:17-20. When Jesus used the word “fulfill,” He verbalized His task as the Messiah who would be perfectly obedient to the Law, transcend the Law and bring the Law to its purpose. When the New Testament says Jesus is the “end” of the law, it means that He both completed and fulfilled it. Isaiah 2:3 and Jeremiah 31:31ff point to that expectation.
It is interesting that Matthew 5:18 is very much a mirror of rabbinic statements on the “foreverness” of the Law. It is inconceivable that the Law should be altered until all is accomplished, i.e., until what it looks forward to arrives. In Matthew 5: 20-22 Jesus called His disciples to a deeper righteousness than that of the Pharisees. He was not talking about literal obedience to the civil and ceremonial law (compare with Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:19). The Pharisees did not qualify for the kingdom, even though they performed the smallest commandments, because they lacked love. The deeper, more difficult righteousness asked for by Jesus fulfills the Law and all righteousness.
You ask what it means to be a proper Jew. It is to have faith in the Messiah of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You err in saying that the doctrine of the Messiah is a minor one. The Old Testament is centered on the word “promise.” This promise is the One who was to come. The promise to Abraham is a thread that unites all the Old Testament writings. What does it mean for the Jewish nation to bless the world? The Law will always be the Law of God, but to be a light to the world does not mean to follow the Old Testament commandments. It means to follow the Messiah, and as a result, those commandments are fulfilled in your heart. If Messiah lives in your heart, you will do all that you need to do. That is the real meaning of giving glory to God.
The issue is not the Law, but Jesus. Was Jesus the one who came to fulfill the Law or not? If not, Judaism is a valid expression of who you are as a Jew. But if Jesus is the Messiah, then you need to rethink what a proper Jew is. The New Testament proclaims Jesus as the one who completed God’s promise to Abraham.
Robert called me the next morning! He was surprised that I had taken the time to write and fax my response, and it had provoked him to thought. We scheduled another time to meet, when I planned to show him Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,…that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
“Epistolic” ministry is vital in our time-starved world. Answering by letters gives me the time to collect my thoughts and zero in on issues that are important to those who will receive them. And, after all, everyone likes to receive letters!
*fictitious name used to protect privacy
Andrew Barron is the Director of Jews for Jesus Canada. He and his wife Laura live in Toronto with their children Rafael, Ketzia and Simona. Andrew first heard the Gospel while a science student at Florida Institute of Technology. A friend shared a Gideon’s New Testament with him and challenged him to read it. Andrew used to work as a crew activity planner and orbit designer on the early Space Shuttle Missions.