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Question 72.

Dear Father Christopher
Why after Christ wasn't any of the Jewish religion followed e.g. circumcision, the Jewish Passover and other requirements of the Law?
Many Thanks Nicky.

 

Answer to Question 72.

Dear Nicky.
Firstly we must understand that circumcision is not righteousness? Abraham was accounted as righteous before the covenant of circumcision was given. He was accounted as righteous because of his faith in God. (Gen. 15: 6) God promised Abraham that through him would descend a great nation and he would be their God. As an outward sign of this promise every male belonging to Abraham's household whether family or servant had to be circumcised. Circumcision was therefore the visible and outward sign that a person belonged to the tribes that came forth from Abraham and who inherited the promise God made with him: these being the 12 tribes of Israel who descended from Abraham's son Isaac and the Arab tribes who descended from his son Ishmael.
During the first years after Christ, the first Christians were converts from the Jewish faith, but very soon the new Christian faith came to the Gentiles, in other words the Greeks who were not circumcised. Some at the time insisted that unless the Greeks be circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved. (Acts 15:1) This proved a great burden on the Greeks and a dispute arose among the apostles whether it was actually a necessity. The subject was a big issue and it was decided to call together the first Apostolic Council to deal with the problem. Some time before the council, Peter, on one of his journeys was hungry and while waiting for the food to be prepared, he fell into a trance and saw a vessel come down from heaven full of wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And the Lord said to him, Peter, arise kill and eat. But Peter refused and said: "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean." Then the Lord said to him: "What God has cleansed, that call not thou common." Peter didn't understand the vision until he was called to go with three men to the house of a gentile named Cornelius. As a Jew, it was forbidden to enter the house of a gentile, but the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with the men doubting nothing: for I have sent them. At Cornelius' house Peter was received by Cornelius, together with his kinsmen and close friends. God had called him to preach the Gospel to these people. Then Peter realized the meaning of the vision he had, that God had shown him not to call any man common or unclean. While Peter preached to them, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone that heard the word. The Jews who were with Peter were astonished that the gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit while still uncircumcised. Peter then said: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord."
At the Apostolic Council, Peter testified what had happened at Cornelius' house and said: "God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."
Barnabas and Paul also testified that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit.
After much discussion it was decided that as God had put no difference between the Gentiles and themselves and had given them the gift of the Holy Spirit, then circumcision was not a necessity for salvation, but all who believe will be saved through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ.
In his teachings, St Paul said to the Romans: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Romans 2: 28-29) Circumcision of the flesh was an outward sign, but the Jews should have also been circumcised in the heart, of which Israel failed miserably. Paul says: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God."
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul makes it clear that Abraham was accounted as righteous not because of his circumcision, but because of his faith. The promise from God that he should be the heir of the world was not given to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
The Covenant that God made with Abraham was that he would be a father to many nations. This promise was made to Abraham and his seed. St. Paul points out that seed is in the singular and does not mean seeds as of many and to all his descendants in general, but to a particular seed, which is Christ. Christ therefore is the fulfilment of this covenant and when he came he made a New Covenant. The sign of this new covenant is Baptism and the old sign was no longer required.
Anyone who is baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity is joined to Christ through this new covenant and receives spiritual circumcision. This spiritual circumcision is of the heart and no longer of the flesh. For as Paul says again: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3: 26-29)
In the same way that the first covenant was fulfilled in Christ and a new covenant began, so also the celebration of the Jewish Passover prefigured the true Passover of Christ from death to eternal life.
The Jewish Passover was celebrated in remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians. As we read in Exodus, God told Moses to tell the people of Israel to prepare for that last night in Egypt. Each household was to kill an unblemished lamb and take from the blood and strike it on the two side posts of their doors. The lamb was to be roasted with fire in other words barbequed and was to be eaten on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They had to eat it quickly and be dressed and ready to go because it’s was the Lord’s Passover. The Passover had two meanings, the first was that that night the Lord passed through the land of Egypt and smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. As he went, he passed over all the houses that had the blood on the doorposts and the firstborn of the Israelites were saved. The second meaning is the crossing over of the Red sea which symbolized the crossing over from slavery to freedom, of deliverance from evil and the travelling from death to a new life.
The event as seen in the light of the New Testament prefigured the true Passover which was fulfilled in Christ. The word Passover in Greek is Pascha. It means the passing over of Christ’s body from death to the Resurrection: The passing over of man from this life of bondage to the devil to the heavenly land of milk and honey; to Paradise. This for us is the New Passover, Pascha or Easter, the feast of all feasts where man is delivered from the evil that had him in bondage until Christ set us free through his death on the Cross and his Resurrection. The Jews had to kill an unblemished lamb and put the blood on the doorposts. For us the unblemished lamb that is sacrificed is Christ himself and his blood is not painted externally on our doorposts but within us who are according to St. Paul the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our mouth is the door of this temple as is expressed in a prayer before Holy Communion: “I am not worthy, Lord and Master, that Thou shouldest come under the roof of my soul; But for that Thou desirest, O Lover of mankind, to dwell in me, I make bold to draw near. Thou biddest me to open the doors that Thou, my Creator, mayest enter in with mercy proper to Thee, and bring light to my darkened mind.”
The Mosaic Law, the Law of the Old Testament and all the Jewish festivals like the Jewish Passover were given to Israel for one purpose only; to prepare them spiritually for the coming of the Messiah. Christ the Messiah is the same God of the Old Testament that gave them the Law, thus when he came as a man he didn't come to destroy the law which he had given, but came to fulfil it and renew it. Christ said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. As already said, the purpose of the Old Testament Law was to prepare Israel for the coming of Christ, but the laws and observances were not perfect. The people were still in an age of darkness without the grace and light of the Holy Spirit to enlighten them and show them a different and superior code of conduct. Let’s not imagine for one second that the nations of the Old Testament understood everything we have been taught in the New Testament. From Adam and the fall people lived distant from God, living in their transgressions without laws. This lawlessness led the people to such wickedness that we are told God repented that he created man. “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Gen. 6: 5-6)
As preparation for the coming of Christ, the Law of the Old Testament was given to teach the people right from wrong. Without the Law there was no definition of what was pleasing to God for as St. Paul says “I would not have known sin except through the Law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the Law had said ‘you shall not covet’”. (Romans 7:7)
The law then defined what sin was and without it the people were unaware of its existence. But even with the law, the people were not ready to accept spiritual laws like turning the other cheek and loving their enemies. They needed to be educated slowly and in a way they could understand. An eye for an eye was, for that period of time before grace, the most effective law, because in the majority of cases the fear in breaking the law held them bound to keeping the law.
Our best teacher to help us understand the Old Law and how things changed with the coming of Christ is St. Paul. He said: “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 22:26.)
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
The Old law can then be likened as laws for children who are not ready to think like adults, but by this I mean they are like children in the spirit who have not grown spiritually. We can explain this using an image of our modern day educational system. The Old Testament is like the education we are given in infant and junior schools and the New Testament like the education we are given in senior school. University, which is optional, can be likened to those who have put into practice the teaching of the New Testament and have received a master’s degree in the spiritual life.
With the coming of Christ a new covenant was given and with the new covenant a new law. That is why St. Paul says: “we are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6: 14), and that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3: 6).
Paul also tells us the Old Law and its ordinances acted like a middle wall of partition, a barrier that separated and kept apart the Jew from the Gentiles. (Ephesians 2: 14-16) It encouraged discrimination and hatred of the Gentiles to the point where any contact of a Jew with a Gentile was considered unclean and contaminating. At that time this barrier and separation was necessary to protect the Jews from the idol worshipping Greeks. But Christ brought down this wall of partition in his flesh. With his death on the Cross, Christ abolished and put to death the enmity that existed before and brought about the reconciliation of both Jew and Gentile with themselves and with God.
By destroying the middle wall of partition and abolishing the commandments of the Old Law, Christ proceeds to the making of a new creation. Christ is the new man and the true image of God, the prototype and the first-fruit of the new mankind. In his person Christ creates a new man, the new humanity which without any discrimination consists of both Jews and Gentiles. The Old Law which separated the Jew from the Gentile had no place in the new humanity, it had to be abolished for a new law in Christ, a new law teaching peace and reconciliation, a new law of love for all people.


With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher