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What the Bible says about Gnostic Judaism
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 18:20

The word translated “walk” is halakhah in Hebrew. Israel had to walk "in the way."

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 2, reads under "Judaism":

The authoritative Jewish way of life as expressed in moral law and ritual precept. It embraces the whole body of Jewish teaching, legislation, and practices that proceeded from interpretation and reinterpretation of the laws of the Bible. . . . Although legalistic in content, the Halakhah is designed to bring all human occupations into relationship to the service of God and to establish the supremacy of the divine will as the measure of all directions and strivings of human life.

On the surface, this sounds good; we should search and meditate as to how the Scriptures apply to every aspect of life. However, these interpretations were merely human opinions. Some of them were right on, but others were grossly off the mark. The Halakhah was not the Word of God.

Over the centuries, the Jews first gradually elevated these interpretations to be equal with Scripture, and then to be more important than Scripture. Mark 7:3 describes such a tradition that did not come from God's law but from Halakhah. Jesus says that they rejected the commandments of God so that they might keep their own tradition (verse 7). He also said their traditions destroyed the effect of God's Word (Mark 7:13). Halakhah was their tradition—the Jewish way of life.

In addition, not only were they zealous in collecting these interpretations and putting them into books, but in their zeal, they encouraged each other to live rigidly according to these interpretations. They were also zealous in proselytizing. Jesus says in Matthew 23 that they would encompass land and sea in order to gain one proselyte, and then they would make him a child of hell.

It became a major problem for Jesus and the church when the Jews did not have the humility to admit that many of their interpretations were wrong. They did not agree with God's Word, and they viewed Jesus, and then the church, as enemies to be obliterated.

Halakhah, the Jewish way of life that Paul called "the traditions of my fathers" in Galatians 1:14, had been his religion. It was in question in the book of Galatians, not the law of God. It was the Jewish way of life, the Halakhah, with ascetic, demon-driven Gnosticism added to it. This was the yoke of bondage that could not be borne.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Five)

Acts 8:9-13

Here is the earliest indication of Gnosticism as a religion—or at least a philosophy, a way of life that eventually became a religion—having an impact on the Christian church. Gnosticism was mystical and charismatic, not rational. Rational means "relating to, based upon, or agreeable to reason." Mystical means "having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence." Gnosticism was ascetic and exclusivist, and it relied heavily on magic.

When these elements are combined with Jewish zeal, a religion was created that undoubtedly appealed to a large segment of the Christian church. Paul goes on to show in the book of Galatians that the primary racial group in the foreground of the book of Galatians are not Gentiles. They were Jews who were practicing Halakah, but who had been heavily influenced by Gnosticism, having made it part of their worship routine, that is, a part of their lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Six)

Acts 15:21

Notice, the Gentile converts to the Christian church would attend services from time to time in the Jewish synagogues. Maybe they were the only places they could attend services, and they would hear the law of Moses preached there. The council at Jerusalem had no problem at all with that!

By the time of Galatians, the Gentiles there were being deceived into accepting a strange mixture of Gnosticism and Judaism as the religion of the New Covenant. These Gnostic Jews defined their relationship with God through the law—but law to them was not the same thing as law to a true, God-fearing Christian. When we think of "law," we immediately think of God's law, perhaps specifically the Ten Commandments or generally the Pentateuch. Maybe some of us would think of all the instruction of God, which is really what Torah includes. But "law" to the people deceiving the Galatian Christians was Halakha.

This should not seem strange to us because hundreds of millions of people today call themselves "Christian" yet believe that the law is done away. This happens as a result of hearing something said often enough until it is assumed to be true. In the same way, the Jews honestly and sincerely believed that Halakha was the law of Moses.

Just as important to them, however, is that law was their means of election with God—that is, they believed that the very fact that they possessed the law (Halakha), combined with the quality of their law-keeping, motivated God to choose them. This idea, of course, circumvents God's exercise of His sovereignty over His creation, and is thus false.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Five)

Galatians 1:4

Much of the controversy involved in this letter has to do with Gnostic Judaism, which was not the system that God gave to Moses. Judaism was the national religion of the Jews during Christ's and Paul's time, but it had only a very loose basis on the law of the Old Covenant.

Paul refers to the sacrifice of Christ here as a reminder that He fulfilled the sacrificial law—in living a sinless life and then willingly laying it down, He fulfilled the requirements of every sacrificial ordinance, such that the "blood of bulls and goats" was no longer required in a physical sense. Fulfillment does not equal absolution, however; James 2:8 shows that when we "fulfill" the royal law according to Scripture, we are doing what is right, and there is no way to stretch this into saying that we each individually do away with the law. In Matthew 5:17, Christ shows that fulfilling is the opposite of destroying. Christ's fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets is to be an example for us to follow (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 1:25; II Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:8).

The "world" being referred to here is the Greek aion and means "age"—a time period. The "present evil world" or "present evil age" which we need to be delivered from by God could be a reference to the strong influence the Jews had on the Galatians, as well as the Jews' wish to bind them (the Galatians) to the traditions and ordinances they had added to God's instruction, which He calls "burdens" elsewhere (Matthew 23:4; Acts 15:10).

David C. Grabbe

Galatians 1:6

When the apostle Paul penned this epistle in the early AD 50s, only two decades had passed since the death and resurrection of Christ and the founding of the church. It took only twenty years before some had perverted the gospel into something so different that it was no longer good news (verse 7)!

Paul continues in verses 11-12: "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ." The glad tidings Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles proclaimed throughout the world is revealed—that is, it comes from God and can be learned only through supernatural disclosure (Romans 16:25-26; I Corinthians 2:10; Colossians 1:26).

The true gospel message, then, is not readily available to all. In fact, a person cannot even pick up the Bible and find it there! One cannot stumble over or happen upon it. God must open one's mind to receive it (I Corinthians 2:7-16), "because the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). Jesus says that He designed even His parables—seemingly simple stories with obvious lessons—to hide meaning rather than reveal it (Matthew 13:10-17)!

In the first century, the apostles battled two pernicious false gospels: legalism and Gnosticism. Legalism grew primarily out of Judaism, holding that salvation came through works of the law rather than by grace. Paul preached against this deception repeatedly (e.g., Galatians 5:1-6; Ephesians 2:8-10, etc.), affirming that salvation is by grace, though good works form a necessary part of Christian growth and are indeed what God is working with us to accomplish.

Gnosticism consists of a whole group of heresies, all with the central ideas that knowledge (gnosis) is the means to salvation and that spirit is good and flesh is evil. In practice, it soon devolved into the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as peculiar ideas about the nature of God and Christ (e.g., Colossians 2:8, 18, 20-23; II Peter 2:4-22; I John 1:5-10; 2:18-23, etc.). Eventually, Gnostic ideas came to dominate "Christianity," and its modern descendants are proclaimed far and wide every Sunday.

The most pervasive false gospel today is also quite deceptive: the gospel about Christ. Churches that preach this gospel teach about the Messenger rather than the Message He brought. Certainly, we are to study Christ's life, for He is our example of Christian living (I Peter 2:21; I John 2:6, etc.). However, when He preached the gospel, He did not trumpet His own virtues but revealed the way to the Kingdom of God.

In commissioning His disciples, He says: "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:7-8). Nowhere does He tell them to "preach Jesus"; His concern is always in proclaiming God's Kingdom. Before His ascension, He tells them "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [My] name to all nations" (Luke 24:47). He was so fixated on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom—and ensuring that His disciples understood it before He sent them out to preach it—that it filled His conversation during His post-resurrection appearances to them (Acts 1:3).

What gospel we learn is vitally important. We need to be sure that it is the true gospel Christ brought, the revelation of the imminent Kingdom of God. Paul's warning about false gospels should give us the proper perspective: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel (Part 6)


 




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