Saturday 5 April 2014

Credited as Rightous: A response to Rabbi Eli Cohen

A post was recently put up on Facebook by Rabbi Eli Cohen on the 31st of March 2014 which I want to comment on.

There are four times the Jewish scriptures mention instances when through something particular, righteousness was/is counted (imputed on) to an individual.
Only in the first instance is it faith. In all of the other three instances, it is directly associated with DOING G-d's will on earth.

1. Genesis 15:6 and Abraham believed in G-d and it was counted to him as righteousness.

2. Deuteronomy 6:25 and it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before the L-rd our G-d as He has commanded us.

3. Deuteronomy 24:13 you shall surely return to him the pledge when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless you, and it shall be righteousness unto you before the L-rd your G-d.

4. Psalm 106:30-31 then stood up Phinehas, and wrought judgement, and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted onto him for righteousness, onto all generations for ever.

With regards to Abraham himself, although one of his hallmarks was his faith and trust in G-d, nevertheless, when we read in scripture about why he was chosen, scripture doesn't mention faith.

Genesis 18:17-19 and the L-rd said: 'shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing; 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 because I have known him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the L-rd, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the L-rd may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of Him'.

Similarly in Genesis 26:4-5 and I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all these lands; and by your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; 5 because that Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

It is quite clear from the above that obedience to G-d is the path to righteousness. At the same times this does not detract from the importance of faith and trust. On the contrary, it is only through faith and trust that one will truly live a life of obedience to G-d. It was Abraham's faith and trust that motivated his immediate compliance to G-d's directive to offer up his son on mount Moriah.

Genesis 15:6 is quoted in the NT when Paul is speaking on the subject of Justification before God, a legal declaration of someone becoming rightous upon placing their trust in God.

While in the first verse does refer to Abraham's justification before God, the other texts in Genesis speak on what Abraham's actions after his faith began. Faith comes first and the works that a man does are a result of his justification, not the cause.

Phineas was already in the righteous remnant and was already faithful to God, his good works were already prepared in advance by God and he demonstrated his faith by his actions by putting to death the couple who were profaning the LORD's tent with their sexual sin and God blesses him.

Here is what Ephesians 2:8-10 says on the matter:
"8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham to be his adopted son, as well as the future generations of Israel, but here is what we see in the chapter:

"12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.[a]
3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”[b]"

God is the one who makes the first move toward Abraham and Abraham responds to the call and 3 chapters later God says:

"15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away."

Abraham believes in the promise that God have uttered to him and Abraham then asks what he should do and the LORD gives him the instruction to present the offerings to him. Faith proceeds any good works and it's not the works that save mankind. Abraham's faith in God's promise that brought him reconcilation with God, not his own power.

Paul in Romans says:
"4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”[b]"

Abraham's obedience to God's commands in the scriptures was not what merited God's favour, his works were a demonstration of his love for God and of course would be an open testimony before men of his righteous life, especially in the sections of Genesis which Rabbi Cohen quotes. The sections in Deuteronomy in Deuteronomy 6:25 and 24:13 however doesn't speak on the forensic justification before God and it's also worth noting in the Exodus story, Did the Israelites get out of Egypt because of their obedience? Or did they put their trust in God and called out to him before he brought them out? It was only later that God expected their obedience as a means of showing him gratitude.

Christians don't downplay obedience, they just simply recognise that the good works that someone does is a demonstration of their right standing with God and not the cause of such right standing.

Answering Judaism

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