You Can't Buy Righteousness

by:  Lonnie Lane

Have you ever considered how much we take our language ability for granted? We utter sounds that are divided into units we call “words” with which we communicate our thoughts to one another. God spoke to Adam who understood Him, so language is a part of our human makeup. We make certain marks on a page (unless you’re still using a rock or clay tablet) to further communicate with others. But that had to be discovered. Someone had to even conceive of the idea and then teach it to others. Linguists believe the Hebrew language has been around since about 3500 BCE. It is believed that Hebrew set the stage for almost every modern alphabet, making it the first written language simple enough for everyone, not just scribes, to learn. It made it possible for written records to be available to the masses for the first time. The language being that of the Hebrews, we would think that God has something to do with it, especially since He calls Himself “The Word.” Being able to communicate in written language was surely something of a necessity to God considering He gave Moses His teachings to write down.

Supposedly almost every modern system of writing descends from Hebrew. Most of us read translations of the Bible, and some read translations or paraphrases of translations. We can get pretty far from the original meanings this way. Because of the translators’ unfamiliarity with the indigenous Hebrew language or culture, there are many errors in the translations due to ignorance of the way Hebrew speakers think. The translators, such as those who translated the King James Version (KJV), had basically no understanding of Hebrew culture or the spoken language. They just knew classical Hebrew from their studies with no interaction with Hebrew speaking people.  They just translated what they expected it said from their limited knowledge of Hebrew and Greek.

Some of the problem has to do with idioms, which are common expressions, but when translated word-for-word make little sense in the new language. Imagine someone translating such expressions as, “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “I could eat a horse” or  “sweating bullets” or “born on the wrong side of the tracks” into another language word-for-word. We understand what we’re saying but it would make no sense in another language. Such is the case with many translations of idioms from Hebrew to English in our very own Bibles. Imagine that, error in our Bibles! Who would have thought? As a result of these translation errors, doctrines have been formulated and held to for centuries that are just not based on what the texts said in the original languages. It is a fascinating study and numerous books (see footnote 1) are available today so that laypersons like me can address those errors and set things straight. My next few articles will address some of these translation errors in order to clear up some misperceptions and erroneous doctrines.   

...God will deliver mankind from the torments of sin by restoring them to Himself.

It would seem that these corrections, now becoming available to us, are part of God’s end time plan of restoration to prepare the way for Yeshua’s return, as Peter prophesied, “…that He (God) may send Yeshua, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the  period of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:20b, 21). That verse seems to be coming up a lot lately. So let’s look at a number of these mistranslations and address what changes in our theological thinking they may call for.

 A good place to begin is at the beginning. So let’s start with Adam and Eve and the famous Genesis 3:16 statement by God, that has reverberated down through the centuries, to define relationships between men and women in Jewish, Christian and Arab cultures. We are citing the KJV because it is the foundational translation for all other English translations. The verse tells us of God’s words to Eve: “Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Not too pleasant a prophetic word, is it?  But what if that’s not what God actually said? What if the words traditionally interpreted as “to rule” as which can also mean “to reign,” actually said “to be like” or “to be comparable” or “he will be just like you”? 

If that is how it should have been correctly translated, in what way might Adam be just like Eve?  Let’s look at what God then said to Adam:  “And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life” (:17).  Well, now. It’s not only Eve who will be the bearer of sorrow, but Adam as well. They are both experiencing the consequence of sorrow for their sin though they will experience it for different reasons. The sorrow for Eve is related to the bearing of children, whereas Adam’s sorrow would come through the hard work he would be required to do in order to produce food for them.

Their sorrow, or grief, was not to rob them of the blessings of progeny and produce, though they would continually have to deal with fatigue and pain of his or her labor. Their mutual sorrow was of the realization of their own foolishness and of what they had forfeited, and in the realization of human mortality now that they were forever banned from Garden and the Tree of Life. The penalty for each is essentially the same – sorrow, which makes sense of the statement, “He will be just like you” when God told her of her sorrow. Rather than “he will rule over you,” Adam and Eve alike would be subject to sorrow and death, neither of which any person, male or female is exempt. This verse has been the justification for oppressive and sometimes cruel male dominance over women for centuries. I wonder how much oppression of women would have been eliminated if the verse had been translated this way.

While we’re here with Adam, the words in 3:19, “sweat of your brow” can also be translated as “the dripping of your nostrils,” though nostrils also represent “face” which, either way, may well mean crying due to the sorrow of hard work, especially when you consider the life Adam lived in the Garden of Eden where there was no sorrow and only great joy. He may have wept over how he took it all for granted and didn’t appreciate the blessings of God that were his then. Enough to cry about, wouldn’t you think?

Moving on from Adam and Eve, we follow the sequence of events in which we learn of God’s own sorrow at the sin of mankind and His relentless intention to bring man back to righteousness and to Himself. That was God’s goal in giving Moses the Torah. An unfortunate translation is calling Torah “the law” or “works of the law” when the Hebrew calls it the “teachings” or “instructions” of God. The root of the word Torah means to teach, or to instruct. Torah was never meant to be a legal treatise but is the world’s first and lasting code of morality. It is to introduce Israel and subsequently the world on how to live in justice and righteousness with one another, and before God who Himself is holy, righteous and just. The whole theme of the Bible, beginning with Genesis and Exodus, which are primarily books of history, is to reveal that God will deliver mankind from the torments of sin by restoring them to Himself.

God has designed us for righteousness, peace and joy...

When we are rightly related to Yehovah, we are at peace and secure in a relationship with Him and with each other. Happiness and peace cannot be separated from morality and morality is inseparably linked to the salvation God brings, whether individual or corporate. Torah was not God’s idea of setting up rules that we better keep or else. He was providing a way of life that would be the most fulfilling life, and a way back to Him. For this reason, when believers ignore Torah, they are ignoring what would enhance our lives in Him as we live them out in the spirit of grace.  Torah also defines an elaborate sacrificial system for the purpose of, not just making Israel aware that sin is a violation of relationship with Him, but in order that the sin would be paid for so that the person could be freed from the guilt of the sin. It is, of course, a shadow of the ultimate payment for sin and full restoration to God that Yeshua would bring, but Torah is the very foundation of all in the Bible that comes after it. The prophets were all about keeping Israel faithful to Torah and not sinning as defined in Torah.

How then did the church come to see Torah as being a “legalism” to stay away from? When Paul wrote Galatians there was no word for legalism in Greek, but he was trying to convey to the Galatians that any extra laws, oral or otherwise, would never bring salvation. To break into the middle of his conversation, he was telling them, “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). There is much more to say on this matter, but enough to say here that Paul was not speaking about the teachings or instructions of Torah but that which was added could not bring salvation. So here is a case where even the Greek didn’t have a correct word for what Paul was saying, and made worse by our use in English of what we understand “law” to mean.   

What faith in Yeshua brings us is freedom from the penalty of sin. God’s intention was for mankind to realize that a violation of the teachings in Torah did more than just break a law for which payment must be made, but that it broke fellowship with others as well as fellowship with God. They violated a morality that mars the fabric of trust and justice within the community. David said that he hated the ways of those who sin for that reason. The sin of one can demoralize those touched by the violation, even if it’s only to be made aware of it, it still affects us. When you hear of something negative, sinful or evil that has taken place, it affects you not just emotionally, even if only for a moment, but our body chemicals and hormones respond to negativity. Even our brains are affected if we hold too many negative thoughts in our minds for a while. God has designed us for righteousness, peace and joy and Torah was designed to optimize those qualities in the communities in which we live. 

So what about those Pharisees and the “laws” they added to Torah? They thought they were living lives that made God smile at them - so pleased at their law-keeping. Their claim was that God also gave Moses an Oral Law to tell them how to keep the written law He gave him. God said to keep the Sabbath, for instance, but Torah doesn’t say how to keep the Sabbath. The Oral Law in minutia defines rules and laws the rabbis say must be kept. That’s where the “legalism” of the Pharisees came in. Much of what they held against Yeshua had to deal with accusing Him of not keeping those laws. In response, Yeshua had this to say about maintaining Torah but it not being effective for the added laws of the Pharisees and Scribes:  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  

Okay, the Pharisees are good here. They are sure they’re keeping them to the ‘nth degree. But then Yeshua goes on to say, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-20). The Pharisees and scribes were sure they were the only ones who qualified for the kingdom of heaven. And they had many of the people convinced as well. What then did this statement mean to those who heard Him say it?

Righteousness had always been that quality of life which brought salvation or deliverance from God. But in Yeshua’s day, as part of the Oral law, another meaning had been added; that of giving money to the poor or almsgiving. To the Pharisees, almsgiving, prayer and fasting were the three most important aspects to righteous living, with almsgiving being the most important of the three. (One wonders if the funds given to the poor didn’t first go to the temple treasury to then be dispersed to the poor. Is there a 1 Timothy 6:10 application here?) So at that time, according to the teachings of the Pharisees and scribes, righteousness (tsedakah) took on the more narrow meaning of almsgiving. Tsedakah is still thought of the same way today in many Jewish circles. My orthodox Jewish grandmother kept a tsedakah box in her kitchen to save her extra coins to give to the rabbi for those in need. I have no doubt that’s where they went then, but I’m less sure about it in Yeshua’s day considering the corrupt practices of selling sacrificial animals at high prices. You know, the ones Yeshua set free with a whip one day: “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2:14,15). There’s something in me that wants to cheer Him on when I read that story.

But here’s Yeshua saying, “If your Tsedakah isn’t more than the puny tsedakah of the Scribes and Pharisees, and not the great tsedakah the prophets spoke of, then you will not get into the kingdom of heaven. If you’re just giving money and not living in the righteousness of the Torah which is summed up as love for God and for your neighbor, even in the way you love and care for yourself, then there’s no kingdom admittance for you.  That was a revolutionary statement and one which, needless to say, the Pharisees and scribes felt was an attack against them. In reality, He was attacking their false beliefs, not them. He came to die for them! He wanted to rescue them with truth.  He was saying, if your righteousness is reduced to almsgiving, it’s your tsedakah, not God’s tsedakah.

If there is any application to this today, we might say if anyone is giving their tithe to the church but they are not walking in righteousness, their tithe counts not at all with God. And if the tithe is in order to buy favor with God rather than out of a heart of love, it counts for nothing as well. You can’t buy righteousness from God! It’s a heart issue.

 


1 Note: My research came from the following (or for your own study): Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Biven & Roy Blizzard; As God Said… by Joel M. Hoffman; or for a more in-depth study, Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages by Dr. Thomas F. McDaniel at:  http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/Volume%20Two.htm.

Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2012. 

 

Lonnie Lane

For Lonnie's other articles, check out our Exclusive Articles and Resources, especially the section on One New Man.

Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships, one in Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked” and numerous articles on this website. She has been the Producer of Messianic Vision's radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision's intercessors. Click Here to order Lonnie's book, "Because They Never Asked."

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

 

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