15 Mar 2016

Old Testament Roots of the New Testament ‘Doctrine of Church’: What does it mean to BE the People of God, Part 2

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Bible, Christian hope, Church, Ephesians, Faith, Family, Forgiveness, Hermeneutics, Jewish Backgrounds, Mission, Patternism, Psalms, Unity, Worship

doctrineOpening Thoughts – Hebrew Bible & Doctrine

This is a continuation of The OT Roots of the NT ‘Doctrine of the Church’ Part 1 that should be read along with this one and is located HERE.

Since I believe Paul was the author of 2 Timothy and I believe the words of 3.15-16 are true, I therefore hold the Hebrew Bible is good for, and expected to be used by God’s People, for doctrine.

All Scripture {refers to those mentioned in vv 14 & 15} is breathed by God, it is useful for teaching/doctrine, for rebuke, for improvement, for training in righteousness, so that God’s people may be complete, proficient and ready for every good work.”

(For more on the “Old Testament” background for Paul’s testimony to Scripture see my blog 2 Timothy 3.16: The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament’)

That Paul means what he says is easily demonstrated from his (and Peter’s) actual use of the Hebrew Bible in his letters.

The Old Testament, as it is called, is not simply illustrative material to be used sparingly. The NT simply assumes the doctrine of God from the Hebrew Scripture, for example (cant get any more fundamental than that). The NT itself, regardless of what some Christians in centuries after it was written claimed, does not drop a “new” doctrine of God’s People on the world. It does not teach that the church has supplanted, or replaced, or superseded Israel – the People of God – in the Hebrew Bible. Rather the NT teaches that God has renewed his One People.  This renewal of the One People includes Gentiles, which the Hebrew Prophets themselves promised would happen. As Paul states explicitly Gentles are “grafted” into the Olive Tree – that is Israel. Some, not all, branches were broken off the Tree and Gentiles were grafted onto those broken branches. The renewing comes through the ministry of the Jewish Messiah in whom all God’s promises are “yes” (2 Cor 1.20) and the lavish provision of the Holy Spirit in God’s renewed people.

Luke, in Acts, especially sees this great continuity and renewal of God’s One People. Something amazing took place on Pentecost as we have always known and rightly point to. But it is not the case that God’s People began on Pentecost. The covenant with Israel was renewed and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is the sign that God has renewed his covenant with Israel (this is why Peter quotes Joel 2 but see Ezekiel 36.16-38 among other places).

So today I pick up with where I left off in Part 1 of the Old Testament teaching on the “church” … the assembly of God’s Family. Yesterday we saw that the Hebrew Bible doctrine of the church proclaims: 1) God’s People are his Family, we are his children/daughters/sons; 2) God’s People are his “Bride” and exclusive intimacy and loyalty is celebrated; 3) God’s People are One though diverse; 4) God’s People are not family, bride and One by merit but by divine grace for we are “chosen”; and finally 5) God’s People are God’s treasured possession. And now we see …

Possibly the most important word in the Bible

Possibly the most important word in the Bible

The People of God are Loved Unconditionally

One of the greatest blessings a child, a wife, a stranger, even a pet, can have is the knowledge that he/she/it is loved and loved and loved unconditionally. The Hebrew Bible proclaims loudly, and unambiguously, that Yahweh’s people are his beloved. Indeed steadfast love (hesed) is declared by Israel’s Scriptures to be THE, yes THE, defining characteristic of Yahweh.

Hosea is commanded to go, ironically, redeem his wife from slavery (hmmmm Gomer is reenacting the Exodus!), and “love her as the LORD loves the Israelites” (3.1). If you interviewed one of God’s sons or daughters in 700 BC on the way to the Temple and asked “How do you know Yahweh loves you?” The reply would be Psalm 136. They would say 1) Yahweh created the world – he loves forever! 2) Yahweh redeemed and saved us from slavery in the Exodus – he loves forever! Psalm 136 thunders “his hesed endures forever” a total of 26x. Its like the millioneth verse of “Just as I am” in the Bible!

A text we have referenced already that brings several of our themes of what it means to be church in Israel is Deuteronomy 7. I quote several verses that should be memorized, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant of love to a thousand generations” (Deut 7.7-9). Knowing we are loved compels us to faithfulness to him. Paul and Peter both never tire of this notion in talking to the Gentiles coming into the People of God.  Paul drawing deeply from the depths of the Hebrew Scriptures declares the only proper motivation for obedience …

For the Messiah’s love pushes us/compels us. We have come to the conviction that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all in order that those who live should no longer live for themselves … (2 Cor 5.14-15)

The Aleph opening to the great Hesed & Torah Psalm ... 119

The Aleph opening to the great Hesed & Torah Psalm … 119

The People of God are Taught

God’s Family is taught. In fact they are taught by God their Father. In the Hebrew Bible the family is a place of learning. Every family, every marriage, every relationship has expectations and even obligations. More than that they have a reason for “being.” This is true in God’s Family.

In God’s Family one expectation, if you will, is that our Father teaches us and trains us. Yahweh’s teaching is throughout the Hebrew Bible, but Genesis to Deuteronomy is his Fatherly teaching par excellent. English readers are done no favor by translators who continually translate the Hebrew Torah as “law.” The English word “law” is completely misleading. The false rendering of Torah as law is the continuing residue of anti-Jewish views that have permeated European Christianity for centuries.

Torah at its core is not a legal word at all! Psalm 119 is the Torah psalm and if we are to understand the biblical view of Torah, not Protestant denigration of Torah because it is reacting to medieval Roman Catholicism and its anti-Jewish sentiment, we need to wrestle with the narrative of the Pentateuch and Psalm 119. Torah is principally fatherly instruction. We see this in Proverbs 3.1, “My child, do not forget my teaching” … that is do not forget my “torah.” Psalm 119 uses many words that are basically synonyms for torah throughout the psalm. The Family lifts the prayer – thru the psalm – “Open [our] eyes so that [we] may behold wondrous things in your torah” (119.18). “[we] treasure your word [synonym for torah] in our heart … teach [us] your statutes” (119.12), etc etc etc literally etc. God’s teaching results in Wisdom … the nations will say “surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people” (Deut 4.6). The child learns to imitate its parent and that is what is happening in God’s Torah. His Family is taught. God’s people are taught by God how to live as human beings, they are taught how to reflect his glory in all they do … they are not taught how to save themselves.  The New Testament picks up on this notion of God’s people being taught in many many places but John “his anointing teaches you about all things … (1 Jn 2.27, etc)

dwelling-place-keynote.001-e1422284473259Dwelling/Temple/Priests

God’s Family is his house, his dwelling place, his temple and collectively his priests. Think of it this way, when God created the world, the Garden of Eden was his “special spot” where he walked and talked with humanity. Israel, the People, is now that spot. The filling of the tabernacle with the glory of the Lord (Exodus 40) and the narrative of Numbers lets us see it is not necessarily a physical temple that confined God. God went where he wanted to go! But he was in Israel’s midst. In language straight from Eden, “I will place my dwelling in your midst … I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be slaves no more; I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Lev 26.11-13).

Israel, the People of God, not the literal temple is where God “lives.” His living with us is restoration of fellowship that was lost in Eden! Israel is RESTORED to what was lost in the Fall. The People then are the temple. As such they are “dedicated” they are “sanctified” by the Presence of the Holy One in their midst (Paul applies this very notion to the Corinthian church!). The people who live and work in temples are Priests. The Family’s calling from the beginning is tied to worship. “thus says the LORD, Israel is my first born son … Let my son go so that he may worship me” (Ex 4.22-23). These Israelites are essentially pagans at the very moment Moses makes this statement.

Israel did not get this “job” because they were qualified. God qualified them. At the moment of the marriage to the Bride redeemed from Egypt, Yahweh declares “this is what you shall say to the family of Jacob … You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed the whole earth is mine but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19.3-6). Israel’s calling a priestly kingdom is directly tied to God’s purpose for ALL of creation.

Israel is to humanity what the promised land is to the earth. Israel is God’s sign to the world what new humanity can be. They represent that promise and reality TO the world. They call the world to worship the One True God (this is the very mission of Paul himself!). He is Israel’s God but he is for the world. So as priest’s we worship God on behalf of the nations. The Psalms repeatedly have the kingdom of priests inviting the nations to worship Yahweh, “let them [nations] praise the name of the LORD” (Ps 148, etc).

The People of God are the dwelling, the home, the temple, the palace of God in the world (people sometimes do not realize that temple and palace are the same word in Hebrew). We are holy because HE is dwelling in us and among us. We glorify him and praise him. We show the world what it means to live in relationship with God as Father. Peter makes a big deal out of this notion for a bunch of Gentiles that entered into the Family of God.

369971d2bb34fe16c12f7b28ffd9dc0dThe People of God are Exclusive and Inclusive

Finally, God’s Family is both exclusive and inclusive/open at the same time. Yahweh has a lot at stake in Israel, his family. God’s People are the vehicle of his mission in this world. I am convinced that the ultimate reason for the People’s existence goes back to the purpose of creation in the first place. Israel is the place on earth where – in theory – God’s will is done on earth as in heaven! The point of Israel’s existence is not ethnic or racial at all but kingdom.

Even in the Hebrew Bible not all of Israel was literally and ethnically the sons and daughters of Abraham. A passage that falls thru the cracks that says a great number of non-Israelites went with Israel at that moment of redemption in the Exodus: “a great number of other people went up with them” (Ex 12.38). Ethnic Non-Israelites are permitted to celebrate Passover (if they are circumcised) and permitted in most Israelite worship (no circumcision specified). We read of stories of a harlot pagan becoming part of the Family and Ruth becomes the line of the greatest king. Ezekiel sees that even in the redistribution of the land that aliens will be treated like citizens, “So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourself and for the ALIENS who reside among you … they shall be to you as citizens of Israel … in whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the LORD God” (Ezekiel 47.21-23).

The church has never been good at this notion of an “inclusive exclusivity.” Some reject it outright but the Bible does not. Israel is inclusive within itself but it is exclusive to God. Yahweh is OUR God and we are his people but he is not only our God.

Wrapping Up … The Distinctive People of God

These images, themes and metaphors we have briefly explored (I know it does not seem that way but it has been brief) help us to understand what the Bible as a whole means for us to be God’s distinctive people in this world. Other nations had priests and high priests that looked just like those in Israel, this is not what made Israel distinctive. Other nations had worship rituals that were virtually identical to those of practiced by the People of God, this is not what made Israel distinctive. Other nations had tabernacles and temples that were identical to the People of God, this is not what made Israel distinctive.

The Old Testament claims that the distinctive nature of the People of God lies in that Yahweh acted in history to 1) claim a people as his own beloved, treasured, family as his priests … that did not claim him! 2) that he redeemed this people out of another nation that did not ask him to do it 3) that Yahweh called them to an exclusive, holy relationship where justice and mercy flow from our sense of being “mercified.” 4) God’s people are distinct because of what Yahweh has done to and for them and that he calls them to be “like him.”

Thus the Old Testament Doctrine of the Church, that Paul, Peter and Luke apply to “new testament” assemblies, is that: We are God’s Family; We are God’s Bride made pure by his own act of grace; We are One while different and diverse; We are Chosen while unwanted; We are treasured beyond measure; We are taught by God himself; We are God’s special dwelling place within creation – his temple, house, palace, and as such his priests on behalf of the world. Israel is distinct, like Adam, because they are completely the product of God’s grace.

Israel is, in a very real sense, God’s New Adam. We are exclusively his and open in welcoming those not like ourselves into this wonderful family that is the beach head of God’s Renewed Creation.

In mind I find it awesome, awe inspiring and humbling.

3 Responses to “Old Testament Roots of the New Testament ‘Doctrine of Church’: What does it mean to BE the People of God, Part 2”

  1. Rich constant Says:

    Pretty nice Bob.
    Thanks for all the work it’s a pleasure meeting your thoughts.
    Pushing us into acting our way into better thinking.

  2. Mark S. McClain Says:

    Excellent article. Another helpful resource to consider is the “Commentary of the New Testament use of the Old Testament” by Beale and Carson.

  3. Dwight Says:

    One of the things that has struck me in the last year is how many of the OT concepts are thrusted forward into the NT, even if in different forms. The sacrifice, is obvious, is giving up one thing as an offering for another, lamb offering for sins, Jesus as the lamb for all sins once and for all. The Temple where God dwells is now the person in whom God dwells. The priest, the children, cleansings/ washed and made clean-baptism, etc. Some things changed, but the concepts didn’t. And then we have the children of God, that were brought out of bondage into freedom.

Leave a Reply