There are over 40,000 different religions all around the world. All of them fall into one of three basic categories with the goal of achieving eternal salvation. One of them is salvation by works. That’s where one believes that by doing good deeds, or practicing certain rituals that an eternity in paradise can be achieved.
Salvation by faith is where one places complete and total trust in a savior for their salvation because no amount of prayers, rituals or good deeds could ever be enough to make one worthy of it. This is the intended Christian model.
The third variety, which your well-meaning pastor has demonstrated, is salvation by faith plus works. Its practitioners agree that Christ indeed died on the cross but there is something else that one must do to really be worthy of entrance into His paradise. So, with Christ doing his part and you or I doing ours, we’ll share in the glory of achieving salvation.
The Vanishing Hebrew Scripture Message
Following Christ’s crucifixion ancient Israel suffered the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the nation on the whole was dismantled after several failed attempts to revolt from Roman rule. As a result the influence of the Hebrew perspective of the Good News message began diminishing. Over the following centuries the sparse Christian population in Rome grew to what would become the Holy Roman church and the Hebrew teachings began to further disappear from the salvation message. When the Roman Empire became an official Christian state, the Gospel and the apostolic accounts were adopted as a European doctrine rather than a Hebrew one. Translations of the New Testament invited the inadvertent replacement of certain words containing their intended Hebrew thoughts and concepts with words in Greek or Latin that didn’t have the same exact meaning, further fading away the complete Old Testament influence that all Jews (including Christ) were immersed in.
Some Examples of Hebrew “Lost in Translation” to English
One can look for indications of how the bible has been written, in the modern era, to say different things in different versions. For instance the NKJV version of Matthew 3:8, tells of John the Baptist speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to one of his baptisms to “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance[.]” Check out that same passage in other bible versions, maybe one you own:
English Standard Version: Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
American Standard Version: Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance.
King James Version: Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.
New International Version: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
Douay-Rheims: Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
However, in the Jewish New Testament that same passage reads: “If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it!” David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., © 1989, p. 4. Other bible versions share the same demand.
See the difference between them? The five versions I cited command the priests to produce works making them worthy of repentance. The Jewish version says to do works after you’ve repented that reflect the contention you have truly repented, two different things.
The word “church” though cited many times in our bibles isn’t mentioned anywhere in the original Old or New Testaments scriptures. Instead the original terms such as synagogue, or community was substituted with the Greek word ӗkklēsia (ek-klay-see’) which means a popular meeting, a religious congregation, or assembly. For instance:
“And I also say to you that you are Petros, and upon this rock I will build my community, and the gates of She’ol will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18, The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels: A Hebrew/English Translation. © 2011 by Vine of David, vineofdavid.org, p. 65.
“Suppose a man comes into our synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressing in rags.” James 2:2, Stern, p. 312.
“News of this reached the ears of the Messianic community in Yerusha-layim [Jerusalem], and they sent Bar-Nabba [Barnabas] to Antioch.” Acts 11:22, Stern, p. 171.
This Isn’t Anything New
Whether for innocent reasons or sinister, man from time to time has sought to change His message into the preconceived notions that would satisfy his sinful ambitions or beliefs. To get a better understanding about just how variations, though ever so slight have always plagued the passing down of Hebrew and Christian ancient manuscripts, pay a visit to: biblicalheritage.org/grkmss.htm For right now, here is a commentary about where the Catholic churches’ deviating from the Hebrew inspired teachings helped bring about the Protestant Revolution:
[In the early 4th Century, when Emperor] Constantine, for political reasons, gave the edict of toleration and supposedly embraced Christianity and joined a church to the state, that was the darkest hour in the history of the church. For in joining the church to the state, he introduced into the church a multitude of pagan practices, of which the church has never been able to fully free itself.
To the church of Sardis, the protestant reformation, Jesus said, “I have something against you, I have not found your works complete before God.”
The Protestant Reformation came as a protest against the evil practices that had arisen within the Catholic Church, especially the selling of indulgences. For the pope was desirous to build a great cathedral in Rome, St. Peters. And the money wasn’t coming in fast enough to build this glorious monument that he was desiring to put up as a symbol for Christianity. And so someone in the council came up with a bright idea. “Everybody likes to sin, why don’t we sell them forgiveness for sins.” And they can buy an indulgence before they ever indulged. So as they’re indulging, the thing is covered, because they’ve already bought their forgiveness. “So you want a little escapade on the side. You want to go out and get drunk? Fine, go down and buy your drunk indulgence. You want to have an affair? Go down and get an adultery indulgence.” And they started selling the indulgences to the people. And this so incensed Martin Luther that he took his ninety-five thesis, his objections to the practices that had developed within the church, and he tacked them on the door, and he protested. And thus, the name Protestant. Beginning of the Protestant reformation. Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, founder of Calvary Chapel worldwide fellowship, graduate of Life Bible College, prolific author, courtesy of blueletterbible.org
At the very top of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis, was, as cited above, the Roman Church’s deliberate practice of pardoning sins in exchange for money but requiring no real change in the payer’s life conduct. In short, if you sinned against your neighbor or the Lord, all you had to do was confess to your local priest and/or pay him an indulgence (a sum of money) and/or engage in a penance (reciting ten “Our Fathers” or ten “Hail Mary’s,”) to be rid of the guilt. No real change in the person’s conduct was required.
This kind of creeping, withering away/watering down of the Hebrew scripture messages about forgiveness, involving a conduct based change, would gradually be replaced with a simple, mental change of thought. Below is an example of the gradual slide from the Old Testament intent in the area of forgiveness found in the modern era:
So, while we are to exercise church discipline, we must always be willing to forgive. Keep in mind though, forgiveness isn’t synonymous with restoration [reconciliation]. We are to forgive the sinning brother whether forgiveness is asked for or not. But unless the person is repentant, they cannot be restored to the fellowship. Remember, the reason they were dis-fellowshipped was because they were rebellious and that rebellion was damaging to the body. Morgan, G. Campbell, The Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ, 1943, p. 106.
The Jews, including Christ believed that people should mean what they say they stand for in their relationship and conduct toward the Lord and other people. Their faith should be reflected in their conduct because the Old Testament taught it. We, even today, thousands of years after the fact, embrace that kind of thinking too don’t we? We want our leaders to act out the beliefs they claim to have don’t we? We expect our neighbors and co-workers to not just talk the talk but walk the walk don’t we? That demand for accountability comes from the Old Testament (the Torah) and the writings of the prophets, and sages, which were studied and held dearly for generations by the Jewish people.
I hope you can see what Luther referred to when we compare our westernized English language bibles to the written and oral laws it evolved from which the 2nd Temple era Jews and Christ practiced. So, let’s sharpen our focus on what the Jewish concept about forgiveness was all about. Please advance to Part 3.