Zealous for the law

As you may know, I was on AK Richardson’s YouTube show about a week and a half ago (which I discussed a little about here). As he normally does after he has a guest on his show, he did an episode the next week where he reviewed the discussion. There were a number of points he made that I’m hoping to discuss in various articles in the near future, but to begin with, there is one argument he made that I wanted to discuss right away.

During his review, he referred to my point that Israel will keep the law perfectly when the New Covenant finally comes fully into effect and replaces the Old Covenant completely, and also that, when Paul visited Jerusalem some time after the Jerusalem Council, the church there was comprised of Jewish believers who were still zealous for the Mosaic law and who were upset that Paul was teaching Jewish members of the body of Christ in the churches he’d helped create to avoid practicing the Mosaic law (please see the chart in my comparisons post if you aren’t familiar with the points I was making). In response to these points, AK claimed that Paul actually didn’t teach the Jewish members of the churches he helped create to avoid keeping the Mosaic law, and that it just wasn’t a topic that concerned him, as far as Jewish members of the body of Christ went. (And I apologize to AK if I’m misremembering the way he put it; I’m writing this from memory a few days later, and I haven’t watched the video a second time, so it’s possible I’m not recalling his words exactly as he spoke them.)

The problem with this assertion is that Paul clearly did teach that members of the body of Christ should not be following of the Mosaic law. In fact, that was a large part of what his epistle to the Galatians was about. AK said that Paul was okay with Jews in the body of Christ keeping the law, but in his epistle to the Galatians, Paul is pretty clear that nobody in the body of Christ should be doing so. It’s just not true that it didn’t matter to Paul if Jews in the body of Christ kept the law or not, because he didn’t want anyone in the body of Christ to be practicing law-keeping. He told his readers that, if they tried to keep any of the law, they were then required to follow the whole thing, so if there were any Jewish believers in that church (and, based on the examples from the Hebrew Scriptures which he used in that epistle, it seems extremely likely there were), they would have understood that he was telling them to knock off any law-keeping they might have still been doing.

This means that, if Paul really was teaching the same things that Peter and James were teaching, and if there really is no difference between the body of Christ and the Israel of God, as AK claims, Peter and James failed miserably in getting the message across to the members of the church they were overseeing in Jerusalem that they should not still be following the law, much less be zealous for it.

Now yes, Paul did “become as under the law to those under the law,” as he put it, but that doesn’t mean he became a law-keeper for the sake of following the law the way the zealous law-keepers in Jerusalem were doing. This was basically him playing along with Israelites so as to not scare them off before he even got a chance to evangelize to them in the first place. That’s why he had Timothy circumcised as well. Not for the sake of keeping the law, as those in the Israel of God were following it for, but so that Timothy could accompany him on a particular journey where he wouldn’t have been welcome otherwise, since he had a Jewish mother. This wasn’t done for the sake of law-keeping, which is the reason the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were zealous about keeping it for, but for the sake of helping evangelize to unsaved Jews in other parts of the world who likely wouldn’t have listened to him if Timothy hadn’t been circumcised.

The bottom line is, Jews in the church known as the Israel of God could not only follow the Mosaic law, they still had to follow any of it that they could, whereas Jews in the church known as the body of Christ not only didn’t have to follow the Mosaic law, they weren’t even supposed to try to do so (aside from the sort of exception that Paul made to help evangelize to unsaved Jews; but if they joined the body of Christ — presuming he wasn’t preaching the Gospel of the Circumcision to them — he would have quickly put an end to their law-keeping as well).

Now, as far as the other points AK made, I’ll try to respond to some of them in the future as well, but I should say that he actually did make at least one good point in his review, about the reference to the cultivated and wild olive branches in Romans 11 that I’d included in my comparison chart. His comments on that actually led me to remove the specific row from the chart, because he was actually correct that the wild olive branches aren’t a reference to the body of Christ, at least not entirely, although he’s still mistaken about the identity of the tree itself, which is not a reference to Israel, as most people incorrectly assume it is (olive trees sometimes are used prophetically to refer to the nation of Israel, but they’re sometimes also simply connected to things related to Israel without actually being specifically about Israel, and this is one of those cases, although that’s a bigger discussion for another time).