Did the beliefs of Paul go against Judaism’s central beliefs? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Sometimes it’s hard to come back to this book because while these claims need to be answered, it can get tiresome to see the same kinds of things show up. Granted, Campbell is not as much a fundamentalist as many others are, he still is one in his approach. Nevertheless, let’s leap back into the matter. This time, we’ll see if Paul went against core beliefs of Judaism.
Obviously, the Christians would disagree with some beliefs of Judaism of their day, such as the role of the Law and if the Messiah had come, but there would be a lot of overlap. Christians use the same Old Testament that Jews see as their Scriptures today. Despite what many non-Christians would tell you, Christianity, which includes belief in the Trinity, is monotheistic. We do believe a good God created all things as well.
Campbell tells us that the Tanakh says repeatedly that God will not take human form. He gives four references. Let’s look at them. The first is Numbers 23:19.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
Next is Exodus 33:20
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Followed by 1 Samuel 15:29:
He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
And last is 1 Kings 8:27
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
Now maybe I’m missing it, but I don’t see anywhere in those God saying “I will never dwell in human form among you.” It’s apparent that Campbell didn’t bother looking up any Christian scholarship on this. I don’t say that because Christian scholarship is unbiased, but if you’re going to say the Christian position can’t handle these verses, you need to at least look and see what they say about it.
With the Numbers reference:
God is different and separate from mankind, transcendent beyond the realm of humanity with all of its tendencies toward falsehood, deceit, misfortune, and calamity. Therefore he has no need to repent of any moral or ethical turpitude or misdeed. God is immutable, and his word bespeaks his incomparable integrity. On the other hand, Balaam and Balak were the antithesis of God, men of banal character. Concerning this pagan prophet Allen remarks, “He is himself the prime example of the distinction between God and man.” Balaam’s words were ineffective before God, for as the prophet often explained, “I can speak only what Yahweh speaks to me!” On the other hand, God’s word is entirely efficacious; what he says he will do, what he speaks he will accomplish.” His word is never uttered into the void and never fails to produce what he intends (Isa 55:11).
The word for God used here for the first of three times in this oracle is ʾēl, which derives from the basic word for deity in Semitic languages. Most often in the Hebrew Bible the term occurs in the plural form Elohim, denoting the power or majesty of the One True God (though occasionally of the multiple gods of the nations), or ʾēlîm, the plural form often used in reference to the plethora of gods and goddesses of the nations. The short form ʾēl often occurs in epithets that highlight some aspect of the relationship between God and his people, such as ʾēl-šadday (“God Almighty,” Gen 17:1), ʾēl-ʾĕmet (“God of Truth,” Ps 31:6). The present form ʾēl occurs by itself most often in the poetic materials of the wisdom, hymnic, and prophetic literature such as the Books of Job, Psalms, and Isaiah.
R. Dennis Cole, Numbers (vol. 3B; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 411.
The point in Numbers is about the behavior of God. Men lie and cheat and change their minds. God does not do that. His behavior is not like that of a man. It does not mean that God cannot take on the nature of a man. Man is not essentially a fallen creature. Man is fallen by virtue of Adam’s fall.
God will only partially fulfill Moses’ request; he will let his goodness pass before him (v. 19) for no man can see God’s face and live. God further says that when his goodness passes before Moses, the name Yahweh will be proclaimed as part of the theophany. The proclamation of the divine name might hint that something of God’s eternal qualities are revealed to Moses. But even in this manifestation Moses has to be protected (vv. 21–22). God’s glory is to be more fully revealed in Jesus Christ: “we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (John 1:14).
James K. Hoffmeier, “Exodus,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (vol. 3; Baker reference library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 361.
God’s glory always comes veiled. There are theophanies in the Old Testament as well where people are said to see God. In the incarnation, there was a veil as well. 1 Samuel 15:29 is much akin to Numbers 23 so there’s no need to expand there further. The difference that is worthwhile is that this is a judgment God has made and God is not going to change His mind in it.
And for 1 Kings:
A crucial theological issue emerges before Solomon begins his specific petitions. If God is unique “in heaven above or on earth below” (8:23), and if “even the highest heaven cannot contain” the Lord, then Solomon correctly exclaims, “How much less this temple I have built!” Though Moses was a man “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut 34:10), he was not allowed to see all God’s glory (Exod 33:7–23). God’s magnitude would simply overwhelm a human’s capacity to grasp it. Tokens of the Lord’s presence, such as clouds and pillars of fire (Exod 40:34–38; 1 Kgs 8:10–11), appear, of course, and people cannot stay near them. On what basis, then, can Solomon hope that God will dwell on earth, in this temple? How will the Lord “live among the Israelites and … not abandon” (1 Kgs 6:13) them?
Solomon’s confidence in God’s willingness to condescend to human level must ultimately emerge from four principles. First, he knows God has revealed himself in the past, particularly in the lives of Moses, Joshua, and David (cf. 1 Kgs 8:21–26). Thus, Solomon does not pray for a brand new occurrence. Second, the king understands that the covenant described in written Scripture, in the Pentateuch, teaches that God desires a relationship with Israel as a nation and with individual Israelites (cf. Deut 7:7–9; 1 Kgs 8:23). He can approach God in prayer because he is the Lord’s “servant” and because Israel is the Lord’s people (8:30). Such assurance comes from the covenant itself.
Third, Solomon can expect God to fulfill the promise made in Deut 12:4–11 to “put his Name” (Deut 12:5) in a central worship site. Fourth, he can hope for God’s presence because of what he knows about God’s character. Since God is loving (1 Kgs 8:23), faithful (8:24), consistent (8:25), and relational (8:30), it is reasonable to assume that he will continue to meet human beings where they live. God is lofty, holy, and mysterious, yet approachable and personal at the same time. The temple will serve as the physical symbol of these divine realities. Here the unapproachable Lord becomes approachable and ready to help those who worship, sacrifice, and pray.
Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings (vol. 8; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 143–144.
The point here is Solomon knows God will dwell with man, but he can’t believe it will happen. How can it be? This God who cannot be contained by the heavens will dwell with men? Solomon’s mind would be blown by the revelation in Christ.
Let’s give one final quote from Campbell.
Paul considers his authority from the visionary Christ so great that Paul can even contradict Moses. In Romans, Paul states that Moses was wrong when writing “the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the Law shall live by that righteousness.” Rom. 10:5-13. The passages Paul references, Lev. 18:1-5 and Deut. 6:24-25, clearly state that if a man keeps God’s laws he shall be righteous. But Paul vehemently disagreed. Paul even claimed the teaching of Moses brought death by leading people away from “the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3:7-18. Because Moses is, according to Leviticus and Deuteronomy , speaking on God’s behalf, Paul is saying that God was wrong too, and that Paul’s authority is greater than that of God. Not surprisingly, Paul’s message was poorly received by the Jews of his day.
Let’s just say this. If you are interpreting this passage and you think you have interpreted it right so that Paul is not only saying Moses was wrong, but God is wrong, you need to recheck your interpretation.
We shall continue next time.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)