The Reign of Love: Questions

I have received a number of queries about different aspects of my most recent book, and, rather than answer each one privately, it seemed a good idea to make it a public forum.  I may soon transfer it to our Forum section, but I shall begin it here on the front page.

Cliff McGhar poses two questions.  The first is:

You write (p.41):  "Christianity did not develop in opposition to the moral and religious beliefs of pagans and unconverted Jews...Christ came...not to destroy the law but fulfill it."  

You mention pagans and unconverted Jews but there are those who argue that Christianity developed in a way that was opposed to the law as they see it as far as the Sabbath and dietary laws.  Some argue Christians violate the law in this way and that Christ would never have advocated changing the day of worship or eating pork, oysters, etc.

An excellent question, Cliff.   There are two sets of passages in the Gospels, which seem to oppose each other.  On the one hand, Our Lord says he did not come to destroy the law or even change one jot or tittle, but to fulfill it; on the other, he violated Jewish rules by picking grain and healing on the Sabbath and eating with Gentiles.

The contradiction is only on the surface.  Man, he tells us, was made for the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for man.  The nitpicking rules we find in the Pentateuch--many of which seem childish to us--were there to keep the Children of Israel on the straight and narrow path from which they so frequently strayed.  What Christ means by the Law, in the sense of the Law he came to fulfill, we see clearly when he speaks of divorce and remarriage (in the Sermon on the Mount).  Moses, he tells his hearers, had granted them this dispensation, because he knew his people had had hearts, but it was not so in the beginning.  Obviously Adam had one real wife, despite later Jewish legends.  In forbidding divorce and remarriage, He was both reeneacting the Law as given to Adam and Eve and fulfilling it with a new teaching on love and friendship.  The core of the Law are the 10 Commandments, and Jesus not only confirmed them--in the great Sermon and elsewhere--but confirmed them by telling his followers to keep not just their hands clean of murder and adultery, but their hearts free of hate and lust.

Cliff's second question is like unto the first.

Later on the same page you mention the practice of some Christians discouraging Easter and Christmas due to pagan influences.   I have heard maybe people like Messianic Jews, or Seventh Day Adventist celebrating Jewish feast days, and I know a Christian woman celebrating Hanukkah.  I ran across an article written by a Jew explaining that it doesn't make sense for Christians to celebrate Hanukah anymore than a Jew celebrating Christmas.   Would you say he is correct?  Of course I'm sure Messianic Jews have a response to this.

The writer was correct, and he probably knows that few Christians appear to know, namely, that Hanukah is the celebration of an uprising to kill Gentiles and initiate the rebellion of the Maccabees.  The Catholic Church, by the way, regards the Jews killed in those wars as martyrs.

It took a few decades for the early Church to conclude that it was not a branch of Judaism.  Saint Paul had a great deal to do with this, in his successful argument that Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised or keep kosher laws.  In this he was supported by Peter, though Paul complained that later Peter was guilty of backsliding for a time.  Of course, in the early years Jews who converted to the Faith continued to live as Jews and attempted to participate in Jewish religious life.  This became increasingly difficult.  Eventually the Church ruled that all Christians, no matter from what background, were forbidden to keep Jewish customs.  Various Judaizing sects of Christianity or pseudo-Christianity have attempted to reverse this, but they have no case to make.  Listen to an authority you might trust:

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:  Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.  One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretans are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.  This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;  Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.  

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.  They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

The words, of course, are those of Saint Pau in his Epistle to Titus, whom he had left on Crete.  The quotation is from Epimenides, a Greek religious poet whom--very interestingly--Paul refers to not as a false prophet but merely as a prophet.  In chapter 3, Paul adds:" But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain."  In other words, he condemns quibbles over Old Testament ritual laws and assertions of privilege based on a genealogy that can be traced back to Jacob.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

6 Responses

  1. Clif McGhar says:

    Thank you very much Dr. Fleming. I am enjoying the book.
    One of the first things a Seventh Day Adventist will ask is if you believe in the Ten Commandments, then why don’t you honor the Sabbath Day?
    Of course they go into Christ saying he was not abolishing the law and state that man tried to change the Sabbath that God set for us.
    I appreciate you answering this issue.

  2. Clif McGhar says:

    There were Seventh Day Baptist although I don’t know that I ever met one.

  3. Clif McGhar says:

    Also the quoting of Epimenides suprised me, not that I know Epimenides.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Epimenides is a legendary poet/seer from Knossos in Crete. A number of stories are told connecting him with Athens and with the historical law-giver of Athens, Solon. The Greeks of Crete had an old story of Zeus, perhaps a residue of Minoan religion, which held Zeus to be mortal. His reverence for Zeus is the main reason he calls his own people liars. This has become known as the Paradox of Epimenides: All Cretans are liars, said the man from Crete. St Paul cites him twice, the passage here and in his famous speech on the Areopagus. Paul seems to have been struck by the faith expressed in the great god to whom Cleanthes the Stoic wrote his hymn, and in whom we have our being. What is extraordinary to me is not so much that Paul cites a pagan religious author or knows a piece of Greek literature but he seems to assume that Epimenides was an actual prophet.

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Tom,
    I just started your book over the Christmas break and have really enjoyed it. The distinctions you draw between individuals and persons, the references you use from Homer, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment to illustrate this significance is especially good. The Buckles just stopped in on their way through from somewhere so I spread the delight in reading it by giving them a couple of copies to enjoy too. I will try to offer more comments as I read further along but so far have found it quite a good read and especially as a thoughtful corrective for the exaggerations, misunderstandings and even absurdities surrounding the ordinary life of families today.

  6. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks, Robert, for your judicious remarks. I look forward to further observations.