"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Deuteronomy 30 – a Chapter Abused by Paul of Tarsus

February 9, 2012

in Christianity:,Judaism vs. Christianity,Judaism:,Leaving Christianity,Noahide - The Ancient Path,Saul/Paul of Tarsus,The Torah

by David Dryden

It is nearing the end of Moses’ life. He has seen the people of Israel through over 40 years of difficulties and stresses, as they trekked through the wilderness, waiting for their time to enter the land of promise, the land of Canaan. As they, the next generation of the children of Israel, now stand on the verge of entering that land after so long a wait, Moshe gives his final heartfelt speech before they enter the land, the last speech of his life.

The fifth book of the Torah, the Law or Instruction of Yahweh the Supreme Being, commonly known as Deuteronomy [1] is a record of that final speech. It is filled with an emotive cry to the Israelites to serve the one true Deity, and is tainted with the fearful prophecies of their future disobedience and punishment, but is also given rays of hope when it speaks of a future returning to Yahweh and gives the blessings to the tribes of Israel.

We find ourselves at close to the end of the book where Moses is admonishing the people concerning the laws Deity have given them through Moses. Let’s see what is said:

(11) For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. (12) It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ (13) Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ (14) But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. (15) See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, (16) in that I command thee this day to love YHWH thy Deity, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then thou shalt live and multiply, and YHWH thy Deity shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. (17) But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; (18) I declare unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. (19) I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; (20) to love YHWH thy Deity, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him; for that is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which YHWH swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. [2]

As you see in the title, this article is about how this chapter has been abused. Before we can deal with its abuse, let’s see what it clearly states.

The plain meaning

The context of this passage that I’ve just quoted is that in Deut 28:1-14, Moshe describes the blessings Israel will get if they keep the commandments of the Almighty. If you read it, you will see that Israel would be blessed in so many ways if they remain faithful to the commandments. Examples of this blessing can be seen in the reigns of King David and King Hezekiah later on in Israel’s history. Verses 15-68 describes the curses that would fall upon Israel should they sin against the Almighty and break his commandments. The curses are oh-so brutal and are quite shocking to read. It emphasizes Yahweh’s hatred for continual sin and stubbornness in that sin, especially among his chosen people, the people who were supposed to be setting the example. Examples of the curse can be seen in Israel’s exile in Babylon, and the destruction of the temple in the year 70CE, and the horrible treatment of the Jewish people from then until even now. Although they have their land back [bless the Lord for that], a lot of them still choose to remain in the lands of exile and become assimilated, absorbed into those pagan countries.

Deut 29 warns the people of Israel that they have experienced too much of the Lord’s power and mercy, and too many miracles for any one of them to turn his back on the covenant, and some more punishments are highlighted to drive home the point.

Deut 30 is a passage of such hope that it shines as a bright light amongst passages dark with warnings. It promises a time, after these curses have been fulfilled, when Israel will return to the Almighty and keep his commands with a fresh obedient heart.

Now, there has been a constant theme throughout this context, a theme which has been solidly beating away like a drum beat holding the rhythm of a song together. The theme and aim of the passage is this: that Israel should keep the commandments, stay faithful to the covenant of Yahweh. It can be said that when Deut 29:28 (verse 29 in christian versions) says that the revealed things belong to Israel forever, it refers to the instructions and prophecies and the pieces of knowledge given by Yahweh, in order that they may keep the whole Torah, the whole of the Instruction of the Deity.

We can see this pattern of thought continue in the passage we are analysing now with the very first words “for this commandment which I am commanding you this day”. So we should know the answer to the question “which commandment?” The commandment Moses has been commanding the people is either simply to keep the laws that have been given, or the commandment is simply a condensing of the whole Torah which Yahweh gave to Moses. This is not just the 10 Statements/commandments, but the whole law, including the dietary laws, the laws of sacrifice, the laws concerning kings and priests. The whole context screams one message: Torah.

OK, lets get into the actual passage and see what it is actually saying.

The King James translates the first verse as follows: “for the commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.” Now the word “hidden” is not a good translation of the hebrew and conveys a slightly different meaning to the original. When a modern person sees the word hidden, they think of something they can’t see that needs to be revealed. That is NOT the connotation of the hebrew word. The verb in Hebrew is niphlet, from the word pala [strongs number 6381, for those who know hebrew, it is in the Niphal form] which means something divergent from the norm [3], something beyond one’s power, or difficult, something marvellous, extraordinary or wonderful [4]. As you can see, this is NOT hidden. The Jewish Publication Society’s version of the bible translates it better with the phrase “it is not too hard for you”. Other versions say “too baffling”, but the main meaning of beyond beyond one’s ability or intelligence is still there. [ASIDE: It should be noted that even some Jewish translators and commentators translate the word as “hidden” (See Rashi and the Targums). But although my own opinion and those of other Jewish rabbis differ (see Ibn Ezra and Septuagint) on the meaning of this word in this context, we all agree on the main conclusion of the passage from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 in context, as seen in the next paragraph.]

The rest of the passage shows that the commandment is not beyond the Israelites’ ability or reach; the doing of it, and fulfilling of the commandment is within one’s reach and it’s attainable. Verse 14 says that the word, contextually talking about the commandment, or the words of the commandment, is within reach so that the Torah can be done. The last verses reinforce this by showing the Israelites, and in principle anyone who wishes to obey the Almighty, that they have a choice. They can choose life, to keep the commands and love Yahweh, or death, to reject both the commands and Yahweh. Note that since the Almighty, through Moses, is given the Israelites a choice, it shows logically that the choice is possible to make. Scriptures states that the Lord knows our frailities [5] and, because of his love, wouldn’t give anyone a burden he knows they cannot bear. Thus the Almighty gave the Israelites all they needed to succeed and to prosper, and he showed that the Torah is not too difficult to be kept.

Warning

Unfortunately, such a blessed scripture is also not out of the reach of those who wish to pervert its plain meaning and give a meaning that is not inherently there. By that, I don’t simply mean those who derive messages from this scripture that are in line with the spirit of what it means, the main principle, that Yahweh’s instructions are within our reach, but that message is not the exact word-for-word rendering of the passage. I am talking about those that will forget the context of this scripture and use it for their own purpose.

Now I know of some who will say that you can derive almost anything from scripture. That is true to an extent. You can derive almost any message from any book if you take passages out of their textual and historical context. You could take the law of the land out of context and get a murderer set free totally scott free. So yes, if you misuse the biblical text, you can get anything from it. Please note that it is if you misuse the text. If you read the bible as writings are normally read, you will see such a thing is not possible. There may be some minor difference in opinion, but you won’t be able to get any message out of it.

Others will say that there are many opinions about passages of scripture and we should respect them all. Well, if those opinions are similar to the ones stated in the previous paragraph where passages are taken out of context, or words in a passage are ignored or misunderstood, then such opinions would be against the natural tone of scripture. We know there is right and wrong, and conflicting opinions cannot be right. One cannot say about the same class of premeditated murder that the death penalty is wrong, and another say the death penalty is right and both opinions be right. So no, we cannot respect any opinion about scripture except those that are, more or less, in line with its plain message. If a person rightly takes scripture by what it says, using the proper methods of interpretation, they will see that on a good number of issues there can only be one right opinion.

So we’ve seen the plain understanding of Deuteronomy 30 verses 11-20 based on its natural context. But there is one person who has taken this lovely scripture and crafted it in a way that is alien to that context. This person is responsible for taking many scriptures of the Hebrew Scriptures, commonly and erroneously known as the “old testament”, and shifting their meaning to promote ideas that are alien to the Hebrew Scriptures. He is very popular, and to many his words are equal to the word of Yahweh himself, or taken to be from the Almighty. Let me tell you who this person is, and what he has done.

The Accused: Paul, the “apostle” to the Gentiles

Paul is one of the main founders of christianity. Many may object to that saying that Jesus is the only founder of christianity, but I beg to differ. Although I may not accept the claim that Jesus is the promised Davidic king who will usher in world peace and a universal knowledge of Deity, some of his message was ok. When a young ruler comes up to him asking him how to get eternal life, his first answer was pretty good. He said that if the ruler wanted life, he had to keep the commandments[6]. There was no sign that Jesus had any conception of what Paul would say in the future. At another point in the new testament, Jesus was asked again, although this time being tested, what a person must do to gain eternal life. He simply asked the lawyer who asked him that question what was in the law, the Torah. The lawyer summarized the answer using two laws: first, you shall love the Lord your Deity with all your being; and secondly, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. What was Jesus’ answer? He said that the guy had answered correctly and that he should do this and he will live [7]. He even said that he hadn’t come to abolish the law but to keep it, according to some interpretations of Matthew 5:7. So some of Jesus’ teaching were ok.

Now Paul appears to have had something else in mind. When it came to the law, although he may have acknowledge some positive things about it, at times he was downright disrespectful to the concept of it. In Galatians, he states that no person can be justified by the law (Galatians 2:16) because all who are under the law are under a curse as he understands a part of the law [8] to be saying that everyone is cursed who doesn’t do every part of it perfectly (Galatians 3:10). To him, all have sinned and come short of the glory of the Lord (Romans 3:23) and here we get to the “positive” thing about the law, in Paul’s eyes. He says that by the law comes the knowledge of sin. That means the law is there simply to show you what is wrong, and that is it (Romans 3:20 and the whole of Romans 7)! A christian commentator said that this simply means that the law is like a mirror, showing you all your faults, but that is all. You need something else apart from the law to rescue you from those faults, since the just punishment from those crimes against the law of the Lord is death (Romans 6:23). And that outside source is faith, faith in Jesus and his death as the most powerful sin offering which cleanses of all sins and gets a person eternal life. He even goes as far as to say that the power of sin comes from the law (1 Corinthians 15:56).

You may notice the difference in Paul’s message to Jesus’ during his life. Whereas Jesus had some pro-Torah traits, Paul seems to denounce it as simply a means of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3) and something to be rescued from. I know the majority of christians say that what Jesus was talking about was before he died, but after he died it all changed. And whose word do we have to tell us it all changed? Principally Paul, which is why he can be considered one of the founders of christianity. Jesus may have started the ball rolling, but it is Paul who breathed life into the beast.

Now remember that Paul’s major tenet is that no man can be justified by the works of the law. All the law, the Torah, is good for is showing you were you go wrong. It apparently doesn’t help to correct you in the sight of Deity for ALL are sinners. Since the law cannot be kept perfectly, it is not possible to keep it at all without going under a curse.

Now I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of how Paul is deceptively wrong in his theology and writings. I will simply point the person reading this to Ezekiel 18 which, while showing the punishment for sin, shows how a person can be forgiven and given a clean slate with no need for messiah or sacrifice. I won’t go into the fact that the Torah has means within itself to receive forgiveness, and not simply by sacrifice. The Torah itself says it is for good in Deut 6:24. A person can read Psalm 19 and 119 to see how great, beautiful and ultimately freeing the Torah really is. I’ll leave a fuller rebuttal for another time. For now I just want to focus on Paul’s treatment of Deuteronomy 30.

The crime: the raping of scripture

Now I will just remind you here that the context and the text of Deut 30:11-20 is the importance of keeping the Torah, and that it is attainable. Of course this is opposite to what Paul has said about the Torah, and I think it is because of this why he chooses to deal with it in Romans 10:4-9. Let’s see what he does.

(4) For Christ is the fulfillment/goal/purpose/intended end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (5) For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, “The one who does them will live by them.” (6) But the righteousness which is of faith says this, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down); (7) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” (8) But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;” that is, the word of faith, which we preach: (9) that if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [9]

Lets remind ourselves what Paul’s stance on law-keeping is. He says that no one can keep the Torah perfectly so we are all sinners condemned. So what is he saying here. He is saying that Jesus is the reason, the intent, the goal, and the end of the law when it comes to righteousness for believers in Jesus. Why? Because the righteousness of the law is, according to Leviticus 18:5, that a man who keeps the law shall live in it. This is shown in a very positive way in the Torah where the wise Deity gives his creation commands they can keep and promises they can attain to. A man who keeps the law and rejects the ways of the nations shall prosper. Joshua is a great example, who obeyed the Lord and prospered.

But Paul, knowing his background, is not saying these words in the same light. Since he claims that the law has be kept perfectly and nobody can do it thus those under it are sinners and heading only towards death, he is saying here that the law is like an unattainable goal, something you cannot reach. Only if you keep it you can live. But you can’t keep it perfectly, so you can’t live. BUT, to continue this thought, the righteousness of the faith he proclaims, the faith in Jesus, the faith that not part of the condemning law, is ….. And here, he quotes from our blessed chapter. We’ll compare it with the original piece by piece to see if he is honestly interpreting scripture in a proper manner.

“Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down);

What? Christ is in text of Deuteronomy 30? Really?

Actually the Hebrew says “It is not in heaven [for you] to say, Who shall ascend to heaven for us and take it to us and cause us to hear it and AND WE SHALL DO IT?” Question: what is the “it” according to Deut 30, which is not in heaven? The verse before tells us it is the commandment that Moses is commanding: the Torah. What does Paul say it is? In fact he rehashes the following phrase to say “that is to bring Christ down” instead of “to take it to us”. And he misses out the rest of the sentence, most likely because it doesn’t fit what he is saying about faith, NOT works, which is what the original text is talking about.

Christians should not got to the ancient greek version of the Torah for help, since it goes with the actual message of Deut 30 saying, “it is not in the heaven, [that] one is saying, who shall go up for us into the heaven and take it for us, and we shall hear it and do?”

So Moses is saying one thing, and Paul is saying something else. Let’s see what else Paul says.

or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)

Again, the Hebrew says, “and it is not from the other side of the sea [for you] to say, who shall cross over for us to the other side of the sea and take it for us and and we may hear AND WE SHALL DO IT?” Again the emphasis is on the point that we take it and we do it. What is “it”? The commandment in verse 11, the Torah.

Where does Paul get the words “descend into the abyss”? The ancient greek version doesn’t say that, but is an accurate translation of the Hebrew. So it appears that Paul gets it from his own head and not from the scripture or the spirit of the scripture. If he is not going with the spirit of the scripture, which is inspired from the mouth of the Supreme Being, Creator of the universe, Deity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then what spirit is he using?

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;” that is, the word of faith, which we preach:

So here Paul goes almost exactly with the Hebrew here except he misses a bit out. He cuts out the small phase “that thou mayest do it” or “for the doing of it”. Again, what, according to Deut 30, is “it”? The Torah. Is this the word that Paul preaches? NO! He is preaching a faith, a righteousness distinct from the Torah , not even part of the original text. The text says nothing about a messiah, nothing about a prophet, nothing about Paul’s faith. It is promoting a faithfulness to YHWH by means of keeping his law.

Why did I use the word “raping” in the title? Because it is a violation and defacing of scripture. Paul’s misusage of this scripture destroys and strips away the natural wording, meaning, and context of the scripture. If Paul was charged with raping scripture, what would the verdict be?

There can be no other verdict than “guilty”.

Conclusion

As I gained a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, and saw some of the things Paul did with it, it was very difficult to see him as having any credibility. It hurt to see him take the word of the loving and righteous Creator and twist it so. If there really was a case for Jesus in scripture to back up his point, then he wouldn’t need to do this.

I wonder about those who accept his word. I know they may have excuses for his misuse of scripture. Maybe they truly believe he had the spirit of a deity who sent his son to die for our sins. Unfortunately that deity didn’t follow the procedure Yahweh, the Deity of the Torah and the Hebrew scriptures, had set up. The Almighty has given Israel a special role in the world and a law which sets them apart. It isn’t an unattainable goal of perfection, but a responsibility in a relationship, a covenant relationship. It’s almost like a family relationship where you have Yahweh and his firstborn son, Israel. The son may slip up at times, but because the father loves the son he disciplines him and forgives him when the son is repentant.

I believe that when a person understands the real meaning of the Torah, that person will see the internal mistakes in Paul’s logic and the way in which he misuses scripture.

Notes and References

1. The historical name of the book given by the Hebrews is Devarim.

2. Deuteronomy 30:11-20

3. Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the Commentaries of Samson Raphael Hirsch, by Matityahu Clark.

4. Brown Driver Briggs Abridged Hebrew Lexicon.

5. Psalm 103:10-17

6. Matthew 19:16-17

7. Luke 10:25-28

8. Deuteronomy 27:26 – the actual meaning is talking about affirming to the covenant of law, not perfectly keeping each part.

9. Romans 10:4-9

 

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