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Jesus and Jewish Law

Tim Staples

Tim Staples describes how God’s Law for man gradually evolved from the early Jewish Law into the New Law; then he explains why it was better of God to allow Adam and Eve to sin than to prevent them from making a free choice.

Transcript: 

Host: We go now to Jordan in North Carolina watching on YouTube. Jordan, you are on with Tim Staples.

Caller: Hey, I appreciate the opportunity, guys. I’m gonna go ahead ask my question.

Tim: Welcome, my friend.

Caller: Yeah, so I’ve got two questions, if the first one’s low-hanging fruit then maybe we can move to the second one. My question is, if Jesus was a Jew, did he condone Jewish Law? Or put another way, did Jesus believe that the laws put forward by, I believe it was Moses, were truly from God? You know, for example, one’s stoning for adultery, being put to death for working on the Sabbath.

Tim: Right, sure. Well Jordan, in fact, Jesus tells you as much when he says “Not one jot or tittle of the Law will pass away until all are fulfilled.” And now we have to make a further distinction. I mean, in other words, he approves of the entirety of the Mosaic Law in statements like that.

But he also acknowledges that not all those laws come immediately from God. For example, in Matthew chapter 19 he says, “Moses gave you the law concerning divorce, but from the beginning it was not intended to be so,” and he quotes Genesis 2:24, you know, “the two shall become one flesh,” and he incorporates that into his own teaching where he elevates marriage to the level of Sacrament.

So Jesus has, within his own teaching, the idea that we teach today as Catholics, that while all of the Old Testament is inspired by God absolutely, some of the laws are, as Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “God who spoke in days of old or in the Old Covenant in various and partial ways, now in these last days has spoken through His Son.” He’s given us His definitive Word through His Son.

So try to follow me on this, Jordan. See, what God does when He first introduces Himself to the people of God through Abraham, He takes them out of a very violent tribal culture, and He doesn’t give them the Sermon on the Mount all at once; He gives them bits and pieces. He also allows them to use many of the laws that they were already familiar with. Though God helps them, elevates the discourse, and helps them to make better laws, He doesn’t change everything immediately.

So there are still aspects of the Law that you and I would cringe at, that God permits, but it’s not what we would call God’s perfect will, right? It’s not His antecedent will, but it’s His consequent will. As a result of the sin and rebellion of Adam and Eve, and centuries of rebellion that left people in this messy state, God comes in and begins to fix it. And He fixes it over about a 1800-2000 year period of time until He perfects it in Christ.

But what’s very important, Jordan, is that you understand, as Hebrews 7:11-12 says, if perfection came through the Levitical Law–and a little bit of background here, Jordan: the writer of the Hebrews is writing to a people who were attempting to say, “Hey, you can’t change the Old Testament Law, man. That’s the Law, Charlton Heston gave it to us, and nobody can change it, right? So you can’t change this thing.” Well, yeah. God can. In fact, God did, and this is why Hebrews 7:11 will say, if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood, then he’s reasoning with his Jewish listeners, or readers, and he says: “What further need was there, then, that another priest should arise and be called after the order of Melchizedek, and not after the order of Aaron?” Quoting Psalm 110:4, a prophetic text that is a messianic Psalm that looks forward to the new Messiah who’s coming, He’s going to be a priest–but not after the order of Aaron, after the order of Melchizedek.

Now Jordan, follow me on this: the next part of that says, all right, after it says, “What further need was there that a another priest should arise and be called after the order of Melchizedek, and not after the order of Aaron?” Now look at verse 12: “For where there is a change in priesthood, there is of necessity a change of law.” So what does that tell you? We have a New Law in Jesus Christ that abolishes the Old. The Old Law is no more. So all of those questions about, you know, was Jesus in favor of “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth?” No! He wasn’t.

Now that law had its place, because again, going back to a tribal situation where, think of this, Jordan: somebody rapes somebody in your family, the tribal law was: “I’m gonna kill your whole family and your whole tribe and eliminate your whole nation.” Right? I mean, that’s the way things worked. God presents the the “eye for an eye tooth for tooth” to mitigate against that, to say, “Guys, cool your jets here,” to bring in a more civilized law leading up to, of course, you know, Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies,” and so forth, which the ancient people could never even have fathomed. “What are you talking about? Love your enemies? No, I’m gonna make toast out of my enemies.”

But at any rate, I hope that gets at it, but go ahead Jordan, I think you had one more thing?

Caller: Yeah, that gets at it perfectly, and I appreciate you giving me time.

So my next question is pretty simple, it’s just, if God is omniscient, He knew Adam and Eve would eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, so it seems perfectly reasonable to me for God to just leave the Tree out of the garden. So why wouldn’t he do that, and thereby, you know, eliminate any reason to send Jesus or any other?

Tim: Yes. Well, you know what, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a wonderful answer to that question. I mean, there is a certain mystery, to be sure, but God willed for there to be freedom, my friend. He did not have to–you’re right, He could have eliminated any possibility of a fall, but what that would eliminate, ultimately, is love. Because it’s freedom, my friend, that makes possible significant evil, the Catechism says, but it also makes possible love. Because if there’s no choice, Cy, there really isn’t love as you and I understand it.

Jordan, I use this example of my wife. If on our wedding day, August 26th of 2000, if I had a gun to her head and she didn’t want to marry me, she may have said yes, but would that be love? No! Because love must, at its core, involve that choice. Hence, yes, God knew Adam and Eve were going to fall, and He also knew all the consequences that would come of that, He knew of the coming of His Son, He knew of salvation–He knew, of course, He knows all things because He’s God, but the bottom line is, Jordan, love is worth it.

Caller: Was love part of the Garden of Eden?

Tim: Absolutely. Absolutely, love is–but without the choice, there wouldn’t have been love. In other words, if Adam and Eve could not choose to love God, obey God, or not, then they would be robots. And I don’t know about you, Jordan, I like the idea of being free. I like the idea that I can either choose to love God or I can choose not to. There’s an inherent dignity there.

Now I know there are a lot of folks, I’ve had them–I don’t know if you’re in this camp, Jordan, but I’ve had folks tell me, “No Tim, I would rather not be free. I would rather be that robot.” And I’m sorry, I just disagree. I mean that would be like being a German Shepherd or a monkey or something else, but I think they’re… ultimately Jordan, that would be–that, to me, that’s a certain cowardice that doesn’t like the incredible dignity we have.

Because look, the bottom line is, it’s because of that freedom that we are able to ascend the heights of a Mother Teresa and to descend to the depths of an Adolf Hitler. We have an enormous power in this freedom that we have. You won’t see a German Shepherd leading millions to try to conquer the world, because they don’t have the ability to do that. And you also won’t have a German Shepherd creating an organization that feeds millions, and saves the lives of the poor. So yeah, absolutely, there was love in the Garden, because there was choice.

Caller: Okay, so couldn’t we choose to love God but not be given the freewill to eat from the Tree? If he just left out the Tree, we would still have the free will to love God.

Tim: You can forget about the Tree. The Tree is a symbol of the choice. Without a choice, then there is no love as we understand it. If all you can do is “this,” that would be robotic. And you wouldn’t have the dignity that we have as human beings to be able to say “No.”

Maybe we’ll have to leave it at this, my friend, but there’s something so profound about freedom. As the Catechism says, it makes love a possibility. But there’s something so profound that God gave it to the angels and to men. Before there was ever a creation, a material creation, He also created angels with a choice. That tells us something, doesn’t it? It does. He wanted the angels and men. That’s one of the things that distinguishes rational creatures from irrational; the angels and men had the opportunity. Two-thirds of the angels chose God, one third chose against God; we don’t know the numbers when it comes to we human beings, but we have that choice. Therefore, and thereby, we have love.

Host: Thank you Jordan, thank you for those very provocative questions.

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