It is quite possible that the greatest literary accomplishment of the year 1844 was the publication of The Three Musketeers. The swashbuckling adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan penned by Alexandre Dumas have delighted readers and audiences ever since, inspiring dozens of stage and film adaptations. Not quite so popular is the trilogy Dumas published as a sequel, which concluded with The Man In The Iron Mask. The story has been told in film, with such notables as Richard Chamberlain and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, but it does not come close in popularity to its predecessor. Perhaps the subject matter is the cause. The tale concerns a man sentenced to life in prison behind a mask so that no one may know his identity. Dumas based his novel on an intriguing footnote of French history, but with much literary license. The mysterious man in Dumas’ story was Philippe, twin brother of King Louis XIV of France. As the king’s identical twin his very existence posed a threat to Louis. Therefore he was doomed by royal decree to live out his life anonymously behind a mask. This Baroque version of identity theft constitutes a fate worse than death. Not only is the man denied his rights as a member of the royal house, his very personhood is stripped from him, so that in time even he forgets who he is. No wonder The Man In The Iron Mask is so disturbing; this prince of the royal house suffers a fate none of us would ever wish to share.
And yet most Christians and Jews labor under precisely such an identity disability. We have all forgotten who we really are.
Most people have experience the peculiar phenomenon of the pink elephant in the living room, that awkward situation in which a group of people are confronted with an obvious, but uncomfortable, issue. Because it is obvious everyone knows or suspects what the others are thinking, yet because it is uncomfortable no one is willing to address it. Therefore the issue goes unresolved and the relationships within the group, however cordial, remain tense, fragile, and shallow.
My purpose is to address the pink elephants that keep Jews and Christians from cooperating in a spirit of mutual trust and support, touching on areas of disagreement and misunderstanding that have bedeviled us for centuries. The intent is not to pour salt old wounds, but to move through the uncomfortable territory and arrive at common ground where we may stand together as one people united in the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This journey is beset with many openings for offense. Given the likelihood that I shall stray into one of those openings, I ask in advance for pardon, for no offense is intended. I am confident that if we persevere together, we will overcome the awkwardness and find the common ground which we desperately need in this critical hour.
This is the final part of a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
Salvation: The Great Question
What especially upset the Jewish establishment was the message Yeshua and His followers preached that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works. In keeping with the division of the world between Jews and Gentiles, the prevailing understanding of the day was that anyone who wanted to be reconciled to God and learn His ways needed to convert to Judaism. Formal, legal conversion required circumcision, mikvah (baptism), and presentation of a sacrifice at the Temple (when possible). Gentiles who went through that process were called “proselytes”. Sadly, the conversion process also involved complete immersion in the Jewish traditions to the point that the proselytes adhered more to the doctrines of the men who had instructed them than the Torah itself. That is why Yeshua included an indictment of this process in His confrontation with the Pharisees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 NKJV)
This is the third in a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
The Very Jewish Paul
Was Paul hopelessly confused on the question of the Law of God? No, not at all. The confusion comes when we attempt to view him as a man who walked away from Judaism after he met Yeshua on the road to Damascus. That is not true. Paul remained an observant Jew until the end of his life, as we know from his own words:
But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39 NKJV, emphasis added)
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” (Acts 23:6 NKJV, emphasis added)