Sunday, July 11, 2010

How are Christians Saved and Should the Law be Followed?

The Bible is contradictory on thematic and factual matters and there is no denying this fact. I’ve been in numerous discussions with Christians, currently and in the past, about how the Bible can’t seem to get important matters like how one is saved straight. They (Christians) always try to simplify the problem by saying that “you just have to believe that Jesus died, rose again and is now seated at the right hand side of the father. Then, ask for his forgiveness of all your sins and everything else is secondary”. But, here lies the problem and the massive elephant in the room rears its ugly head. The fact of the matter is that things really aren’t that simple and we can’t wrap everything up in a “pretty little bow” for the modern human that looks at the Bible with a historically-critical analysis.

There are other obvious implications, we can safely assume that the Bible is not a god inspired work—at least if being factually accurate and thematically consistent—is an assumed attribute of a god inspired work. We can also discard the notion of Biblical inerrancy with relative ease. We can finally come to the safe conclusion that we don’t know what the hell--pardon the pun--is expected out of a Christian or how one is even going to obtain salvation to get to the long awaited paradise in Heaven they are anticipating.

Let’s just look at two contradictory examples from the book of Matthew and the writings of Paul. Modern scholars generally give Paul credit, without hesitation, for: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. We don’t know who wrote Matthew but it certainly wasn’t a disciple living contemporaneously with Jesus, nor was this person likely named Matthew. Furthermore, Paul’s writing predates the author of Matthew's by some twenty five to thirty years as modern Biblical scholars will attest. None of the gospels are thought to be written at the time of Jesus’ life.

There are two very crucial differences between how Matthew views critical matters like the law and salvation, and how Paul views the law and salvation. They both cannot be right as Bart Ehrman argues in his book Jesus Interrupted. Matthew makes it abundantly clear that the law is to be followed by believers. In fact, followers of Jesus must be even more devote and sincere in their obedience to the law than their counterparts. Matthew 5:17-20 attests that anybody who fails to follow the least of the commandments of the law, and teaches others to do likewise, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus said, “Everything is accomplished” we know that the law should be maintained until his second coming. This has still not happened so Christians remain under the law according to
Matthew. Coincidentally, Matthew is strong on apocalyptic and prophetic themes because he believed that Jesus would come back in his life time. By the time John was written, the theme of Jesus coming in their present lifetime dropped and was replaced with the notion of entering god’s kingdom upon death since Jesus had failed to fulfill the teaching that he would return before their generation passed. Obviously, the "righteousness" referred to here is in reference to keeping the law and doing it in a fashion that surpasses the teachers of the law--not just being saved by faith. But I digress. (yes, I know theres a weird spacing problem that shows up here but I don't know how to repair it or why it's happening)

As illustrated in Romans and Galatians, Paul believes that we are no longer under the law and the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only important matter to attend to. Paul believed that trying to keep the law would put you in danger of losing your salvation (Galatians 5:4). “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16).

In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus regurgitates a shortened list of the Ten Commandments—part of the law— that one must follow if they wish to inherit eternal life. So, are we apt to lose our salvation—as Paul says in Galatians 5:4—for following the law, or is it an expected practice of the Christian life as seen in Matthew 5:17-20 and 19:16-22, where Jesus declares that you must follow the commandments to enter heaven? Paul refers to “loving your neighbor as yourself” as a law to abide by but discards the six hundred plus other laws mandated by the author of Matthew. The Christian may try to mush the two messages together but that just creates a version that partially contradicts what Paul and the author of Matthew were trying to say individually.

On matters of salvation, Matthew emphasizes that salvation is not just a matter of belief. Salvation requires obedience to the law, the death of Jesus and action. In stark contrast, Paul states that we are “justified solely by faith and apart from the law” (Romans 3:28). What kind of action is necessary for salvation in Matthew’s eyes? We must clothe the naked, feed the hungry and welcome them into our homes when they need shelter. This theme is found in Matt 25:31-45 in one of Jesus’ great discourses. Paul makes it clear that we are not under the law or saved by works--faith alone will bring our salvation.

Bart Ehrman summarizes on pg. 92 of his book, “And so the problem is this: if Matthew’s Jesus was right, that keeping the law and loving others as yourself could bring salvation, how could Paul be right that doing these things were irrelevant for attaining salvation?” As I have argued in the past, god is horrible at communicating what his desire is on essential matters like what obedience to the law and salvation really entails. This speaks to the fact that the Bible is no more inspired by god than this month’s copy of GQ. Even if we could make heads or tails of what the creator of the universe wanted, we have to –at the very least—conclude that he sucks at giving out lucid and homogenous instructions for humanity which makes you wonder if he is worth our compulsory love anyway.


  1. I'm a bit disturbed at your assumption that GQ is not inspired by God.