Spirit/Flesh, Eastern Sabbath, Judaism and Repair

1. Source: Devorah Dimant, “Qumran Sectarian Literature,” Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period, ed. Michael E. Stone (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 537.

“The flesh is feeble and liable to sin, while the spirit is often that part which is capable of receiving God’s grace (I QH 3:21).”

This sounds a lot like Paul, who treats the flesh as sinful (e.g., Romans 6-8; Galatians 5). The Gnostics basically said the same thing, since they viewed spirit as good, and matter as bad. The Stoics, however, had a different idea, for they located human passions in the soul, as did Plato.

I’m not sure if Paul would say that the human spirit is righteous. As far as he was concerned, only those who believed in Christ had Christ and the Holy Spirit inside of them. It wasn’t universal. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he deemed the spirit in man to be sinful, along with the flesh. He says in I Corinthians 2:4 that the things of God are foolishness to the natural man, and the part of man that interacts with concepts is the spirit.

The Qumran concept reminds me of something I once heard Harold Camping say: when we become born again, our soul is resurrected. I’ve heard this idea in other Christian circles as well. But I’m not sure if it’s in the Bible, which doesn’t focus too much on the body-spirit-soul trichotomy.

2. Source: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 205.

“The observance of Sabbath among the Jewish Christians gradually ceased. Yet the Eastern church to this day marks the seventh day of the week (excepting only the Easter Sabbath) by omitting fasting, and by standing in prayer; while the Latin church, in direct opposition to Judaism, made Saturday a fast day. The controversy on this point began as early as the end of the second century.”

I’m not sure what Schaff means by “Eastern church.” Does he mean the Eastern Orthodox Church, or the churches of Asia minor, which had such luminaries as Polycarp and Melito of Sardis? The Armstrongites taught that the Eastern Church in Asia Minor kept the Sabbath and the annual holy days, and they were quick to point out that Polycarp was a disciple of John, meaning his doctrine must go back to the apostolic period. Samuele Bacchiocchi somewhat argues the same thing in his landmark book, From Sabbath to Sunday, for he appeals to the Quartodeciman controversy to argue that the Roman church wanted to pull Christianity away from Judaism, whereas the East desired to keep “Easter” on the Jewish Passover.

The Armstrongite depiction of the church fathers is not exactly accurate, for Schaff points out that the easterner Melito of Sardis upheld Sunday observance, as did Ignatius, who was possibly a student of John. So the Eastern Church was not the old WCG in the second century, and there’s a possibility that a student of John supported Sunday!

But perhaps the Eastern Church did honor the Sabbath in some way, shape, or form. The question I have is this: Schaff says that the Eastern Church fasted on the Sabbath before Easter. But didn’t the Eastern Church oppose Easter Sunday, preferring instead to keep the Jewish Passover? That’s how Bacchiocchi presents the Quartodeciman controversy!

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism’s Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 18-19.

“In the story of Creation the sages found God’s account of the making of Man, Adam and Eve, ‘in our image, after our likeness.’ According to them the power of will but also the possibility of obedience to God’s own imperative, God precipitated the crisis of the human condition. That freedom exercised, they lost Eden and assumed mortality. That represents the challenge of Eden met at Sinai, imposed upon Israel. It is the recovery of Eden, the conquest of the grave and the recovery of eternal life. In the complex story of Israel, the sages picked out the revelation of the Torah as the critical component. This they read in the context of Eden and its loss through the act of rebellion. God brought Israel into being in his search for the repair of Creation: a corporate community, counterpart to Adam and Eve, rendered capable of entering Eden by the nurture of the will, through commandments and the discipline of a sanctified society.”

I’ve heard and read Jews who claim that the “Fall” of Genesis 3 was not exactly a fall. For them, it was an act of maturity, as Adam and Eve went from being naked in Eden to developing culture and growing amidst adversity.

The way Neusner presents it, however, even the rabbinic Jews saw Genesis 3 as a Fall. Like a lot of Christians, they want to reclaim the immortality and paradise that humans had in Eden. For the sages, the solution is not Jesus Christ, but rather Israel’s obedience of God’s Torah.

I’m not sure how the sages believe Israel’s obedience will repair God’s creation. Does it have to do with the view that Israel keeping the Torah will bring about the Messiah? Or does it relate to the Jewish belief that Israel’s obedience will make her a light to the nations? As Deuteronomy 4:6-7 states: “You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?” (NRSV).

When I was at Harvard, one of my sessions was discussing whether Judaism had a missionary agenda. One of the Jewish students emphatically said “no,” so the class leader inquired, “Then what is the purpose of Judaism?” He replied, “Well, I guess it’s to do good and to hope that everyone else notices and does likewise.” He thought Judaism lacked a missionary element, but his words indicated otherwise. He wasn’t saying that Judaism actively sought converts, but he did acknowledge that it wanted Israel to influence the world for good.

Can the Torah by itself repair God’s broken creation? I think that the Torah can restrain sin–through punishments, rewards, etc. But the Hebrew Bible is clear that people need a new heart to obey God’s laws (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27). The law does not make people righteous, if people are inherently corrupt.

In a Jewish Theology class, a professor of mine said that Jews can receive a new heart when they study the Torah. I remember reading a midrash to that effect: when we study Torah, something good comes into us, as something bad and sinful goes out. Is this true? Maybe. It’s not as if the Hebrew Bible places all the responsibility for a new heart on God’s lap, for God often commands Israel to get a new heart, or to circumcise her heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Ezekiel 18:31). Maybe one way Israelites did so was through study and obedience of the Torah. I don’t know.

At the same time, the very existence of the Torah is evidence of humanity’s fallen condition. We actually need to be told not to kill, since our nature doesn’t always go in that direction. Is the Torah true repair, or is it a band-aid?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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6 Responses to Spirit/Flesh, Eastern Sabbath, Judaism and Repair

  1. Thankful Paul says:

    Hello

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  2. James Pate says:

    Hey there, Thankful Paul!

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  3. FT says:

    I have stubbornly seen it this way: Jesus (Yeshua) for justification, the Torah for sanctification. I know this is heatedly unsatisfactory for some.

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  4. James Pate says:

    I’m wondering, though, what justification and sanctification are. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve read my share of Protestant evangelical literature, and I know how they define them. But what I see when I read the New Testament and early Christian literature is that we still need to ask for forgiveness. Some of it suggests that we have to keep repenting and living a holy life in order to enter the good afterlife. Barnabas talks about giving alms for atonement.

    In light of all this, I wonder why Christ came to die, if there are other means for atonement (confession). And, if Christ’s death accomplished what a lot of evangelicals claim–I’m righteous in God’s sight and guaranteed for the good afterlife–then why do I need to keep on seeking forgiveness, or why can certain works of the flesh bar me from the kingdom of God?

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  5. Doug Ward says:

    At some point you might enjoy checking out the recent scholarly literature on the Quartodecimani. I recommend in particular

    Alistair Stewart-Sykes, The Lamb’s High Feast: Melito, Peri Pascha and the Quartodeciman Passover Liturgy at Sardis, Brill, Leiden, 1998.

    In my early days in WCG, I pictured the Quartodecimani as being basically “just like us”. (And I think Bob Thiel probably still does. (: ) But of course that’s not the case.

    One interesting fact: Strictly speaking–if you count days beginning at sunset–the Quartodecimani were actually Quintodecimani. Their annual Passover observance was held on the night after the usual COG date, on the same night as the Jewish Seders.

    And of course they didn’t restrict the Eucharist to once a year.

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  6. James Pate says:

    Hi Doug. I’m actually reading about that issue in Schaff, but I may check out the book you recommended, since it probably goes into more detail. According to him (if I understood him correctly), there were different Quartodecimans–those who kept Passover on the fourteenth, and those who kept it on the fifteenth. I’ll probably write some on this subject later today.

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