The surpassing righteousness of love

The truly righteous actions can’t be legislated.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees were famous for abiding by the letter of the law in scrutinizing detail, yet they were guilty of disobeying the spirit of it.

Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law ​– ​justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”

They had become examples of legalistic rule-following; outwardly appearing to obey the law when in their hearts they were just as wicked as the vilest law-breakers whom they would condemn. Yeshua continually called them out for their hypocrisy, and this is what enraged them against him.

For Yeshua, outward actions should stem from the sincerity of the heart; it is not possible to make the heart right just by conducting some outward ritual. This is why it is impossible to legislate morality; it must be something that springs from a place of inward purity, not just outward conformity.

Not every Pharisee or scribe was wicked, and many ultimately came to faith in Messiah among the early believers, albeit struggling to understand how the law would apply to believers in Messiah, as is demonstrated in Acts 15. However, for Yeshua, of primary concern was regenerative work of God’s Spirit on the heart.

John 3:6-8 – “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. “The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

When the heart is right, the actions will be right. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees can only be surpassed when the actions that conform to the Word of God are sincere with no agenda or motivation for self-aggrandizement.

1 John 3:14, 16 – We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. … This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

If our true motivation is love for others, not just rule following to make ourselves look good, then we can be confident that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. When the Spirit of God is present in our lives, we can’t help but do things that benefit others, because God is love. And only when we act in truly loving ways towards others is when our righteousness surpasses that of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. We can then see the kingdom, and others can see the kingdom in us. It is then that the kingdom of God is manifest in our lives.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The centrality of compassion

Yeshua was consistent in his emphasis of mercy towards others.

In the content of the Sermon on the Mount, we have a glimpse of the essence of Yeshua’s teaching during his public ministry. It is likely that these sayings and principles were valued because of their central themes that had become repeated in various locations throughout his travels in Israel. This can be shown from the parallel rendering of this teaching in the gospel of Luke where the same general information is presented in a similar way, but there it is only about a fourth as long as the discourse in Matthew 5-7.

Some believe Luke is simply providing a condensed representation of the same event. Others depict the two passages as being separate occasions by highlighting the differences in location, as Luke says Yeshua “stood on a level place” like a plain, while Matthew reports, “he went up on the mountain” and “sat down” to deliver this information to his disciples.
I would agree that it is not necessary to beat the information into the same mold to try to reconcile the passages as occurring in the same place and the same time. It is just as likely that these central teachings of Yeshua were repeated as he traveled around.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary states that Luke’s representation could be a different instance, “as we know that our Lord delivered some of His weightiest sayings more than once, there is no difficulty in supposing this to be one of His more extended repetitions; nor could anything be more worthy of it.”

The Cambridge Bible commentary relates, “There is no need to assume two discourses—one esoteric and one exoteric, &c. At the same time there is of course no difficulty in supposing that our Lord may have uttered the same discourse, or parts of the same discourse, more than once, varying it as occasion required.”

Regardless of how one views the particulars of these events, in both passages there is an emphasis on mercy and compassion.

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Here it appears that Yeshua was conveying that those who extend kindness or goodwill towards those less fortunate than themselves will have kindness and goodwill extended towards them by others. From this perspective, it is almost a re-statement of the Golden Rule which occurs later on in the discourse:

Matthew 7:12 – “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

These themes are repeated in the Luke version, as well.

Luke 6:31, 36 – And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. … Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

I think that from this repetition we can conclude that compassion towards others, even adversaries, is a central theme of Yeshua’s teachings. If this was the same message he continued to present in all of the various places he traveled to within Israel, then it had a unique prominence of emphasis. Because of this importance, it is incumbent upon us, if we claim to be his followers, that we also demonstrate this compassion as a central expression of who we are in him.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The integrity of all who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Those who are righteous can’t help but show it in their actions.

Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Yeshua taught that those who diligently seek after righteousness, doing what is right in the sight of God, will have their desire fulfilled. Longing for righteousness appears to be a characteristic that defines the integrity of believers and helps them grow.

Righteousness, that is, the constant capacity to act in right ways, is the ultimate goal for all people. Doing the right thing is the very definition of integrity.

Peter also taught that these right actions are the expectation that God has for all nations. He came to this realization through an angelic revelation regarding the state of the non-Jewish nations. Cornelius, a commander in the Roman army, was stationed in Judea. Cornelius had sent to Peter to have Peter come to his house based on an angelic visitation in prayer.

Acts 10:22 – [The messengers of Cornelius] said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who has a good reputation with the whole Jewish nation, was divinely directed by a holy angel to call you [Peter] to his house and to hear a message from you.”

In response to a vision presented in Acts 10:9-16, Peter complied and went to the home of Cornelius.

Acts 10:29-31 – [Peter asked him] “So may I ask why you sent for me? ” Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, at three in the afternoon, I was praying in my house. Just then a man in dazzling clothing stood before me “and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms have been remembered in God’s sight.

The fact that Cornelius was praying at three in the afternoon illustrates his devotion to the Hebrew God, since that was typically the time of the afternoon prayer and the sacrifice of the second lamb of the day at the temple. That he was praying to the Hebrew God meant he was a God-fearer: a non-Jewish believer who was not a formal convert to the Jewish religion but believed in their God. The alms he had provided to the Jews in Judea were financial loans and gifts designed to help those in need. According to Peter, these gifts were demonstrations of the righteousness of Cornelius.

Acts 10:34-35 – Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

What is the example Peter is basing this on? What standard is Peter using as the basis for those who fear God and do what is right are acceptable to him? Well, it is the example of the holy Spirit being poured out on the non-Jewish believers in that household.

Acts 10:44-45 – “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on those of other nations.”

Cornelius was a man who a) feared God, and b) did what was right; that is, continually provided righteous sacrificial gifts of giving from the heart. Cornelius hungered and thirsted for righteousness, but he was not circumcised; he was not a Jewish convert. But Peter had learned that if someone fears God and does what is right, they are righteous in God’s sight, and God demonstrated this by an outward display of them being filled with his holy Spirit. By Yeshua’s definition, those individuals who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be filled, their thirst satisfied by God.

This corroborates with the apostle John who likewise stated with plain language the heart condition of true believers over those who only professed to be so.

1 John 3:6-10 – “Everyone who remains in him does not keep on sinning; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. Children, let no one deceive you. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works. Everyone who has been born of God does not practice sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.”

The message of the Bible is to live with integrity by fearing God and doing the right thing according to his Word. This is how we know we are truly God’s children, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, because that is who we are. And Yeshua promises that if our hunger and thirst are real, we shall be satisfied.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Revere God and protect and keep his commandments: for this is everything expected of mankind.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Zion, the eternal monument

The transformation of an earthly icon into a spiritual witness for all eternity.

When we encounter the name Zion in the Bible, we are immediately drawn to the city of David, Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 5:7 – “Yet David did capture the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.”

Throughout the historical pages of Scripture, Zion is equated with the city of Jerusalem, and the sacred place where God dwells within his temple. The name itself appears to be derived from a form of a Hebrew word meaning a conspicuous sign, or a monument like a pillar or signpost. Certainly, Jerusalem has been that throughout the pages of history.

However, as we move into the writings of the prophets, the picture of Zion becomes a bit more ethereal, more hazy in time and space, and becomes transformed into an ideal. Zion becomes equated with concepts like Eden and eternity; it comes to represent the source of God’s presence on the earth throughout time.

Isaiah 51:3, 11 – “For Yahweh will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Yahweh. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and melodious song. … And the redeemed of Yahweh will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.”
Micah 4:5-7 – “Though all the peoples each walk in the name of their gods, we will walk in the name of Yahweh our God forever and ever. On that day — this is Yahweh’s declaration — I will assemble the lame and gather the scattered, those I have injured. I will make the lame into a remnant, those far removed into a strong nation. Then Yahweh will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time on and forever.”

We find that this prophetic Zion becomes defined more clearly as we move to the culmination of God’s revelation in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews pulls the prophetic Zion imagery into the present reality of the work that God was doing among his people at that time.

Hebrews 12:22-23 – “Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels, a festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to a Judge, who is God of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect…”

This imagery of the heavenly Jerusalem, a spiritual Mount Zion, is further expressed in the closing pages of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 21:2, 10 – “I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. … He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”

Here, the New Jerusalem is identified with a high mountain like Zion, and is named Jerusalem like Zion. However, it is NEW, it is no longer the earthly mountain or city; it is something different, something that had become an eternal, iconic representation of God and his people.

It is possible that Yeshua was even referencing this imagery when he defined the “city on a hill” that could not be hidden, whose light would be visible everywhere by its conspicuousness.

Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.”

In the fullness of the revelation of God’s word, we find Zion, the monument and signpost city, represents the presence of the heavenly kingdom, the Kingdom of God on this earth, now and for eternity. It is the “kingdom which cannot be shaken,” (Hebrews 12:28), and it will never fade nor diminish in its power or influence (i.e., its light), but only continue to grow until it covers the earth.

Revelation 21:23-26 – The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there. They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Contextualizing the positive through the negative

Contrasts illustrate the truths of the Bible more clearly.

Core of the Bible podcast #59 – Contextualizing the positive through the negative

Today we will be looking at the topic of integrity, and how we can learn about God’s expectations for positive ethical behavior by looking at the results of bad ethical behavior.

Proverbs 11:3 – “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”

The book of Proverbs provides a wealth of God’s wisdom in brief statements. The juxtaposition of positive and negative characteristics help to illustrate each other, causing them to stand out in bold relief to one another. When we understand the characteristics of the negative quality, we look to its opposite in order to understand the positive quality more fully. This is the beauty of the proverbs that contrast good and bad qualities.

In this verse, the integrity, the completeness or wholeness, of someone who is righteous or upright is contrasted with the twisted ways of those who are deceitful, or who act covertly in order to accomplish their own ways, even if it means overthrowing the actions of the righteous.

Many Bible versions will list this negative quality as “perverseness.” While this is not technically incorrect, the word “perverse” tends to have a different connotation in our modern vernacular. Relating the underlying Hebrew word as “crooked” brings out some of the meaning of the original: the idea of twisting or distortion of something by acting covertly in an intentional manner. This is an apt description of how someone who is treacherous would act in order to accomplish their own ends. In the end, it destroys them.

This brings out an interesting facet of what the Bible teaches: the consequences of one’s own actions. While we may come to the Bible to learn about eternal answers to questions we may have, I believe that many times we tend to skip over the simpler, obvious teaching because we are looking for deeper or more significant meaning in a passage. It may also be that we don’t have a complete recognition of the cultural underpinnings of these ancient writings, which is one of the reasons I find exploring this type of literature so fascinating.

For example, in Psalm 35, David implores God to come to his aid and defend him against his enemies.

Psalm 35:1-8 – Oppose my opponents, Yahweh; fight those who fight me.  Take your shields ​– ​large and small — and come to my aid.  Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers, and assure me: “I am your deliverance.”  Let those who intend to take my life be disgraced and humiliated; let those who plan to harm me be turned back and ashamed.  Let them be like chaff in the wind, with the angel of Yahweh driving them away.  Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of Yahweh pursuing them.  They hid their net for me without cause; they dug a pit for me without cause.  Let ruin come on him unexpectedly, and let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it ​– ​to his ruin.”

This is what is known as an “imprecatory” psalm, one in which the writer calls down curses or imprecations on their enemy. These writings have confounded Christians over the years because we in our modern days try to read back into these passages the teachings of doing good to enemies for their good, not calling down God’s wrath upon them. Therefore, this type of writing seems out of place with the overall purpose and plan of God in desiring us to overcome evil with good.

However, it is helpful to understand that what may appear to be a psalm or prayer of vindictiveness is more likely a statement of allowing the natural consequences of their enemies actions to fall upon them. This is very typical in the writings of that time.

In ancient Jewish thinking, since God is just, the Creation itself is imbued with a mechanism of justice. Sometimes the forces of nature are blended with concepts of angels or messengers of God. In this psalm we see David asking God to “take your shields…and come to my aid,” and asking that the “angel of Yahweh” pursue his enemies. To our Western way of thinking, these concepts appear to be spiritual forces that David is requesting God to provide to protect him and to rout his enemies. However, these are more likely literary expressions as to how it would appear to his enemies when the consequences of their actions were to fall upon themselves. David is simply asking God for those consequences to come to fruition.

Some other instances where this type of literary design is seen include other representative psalms:

Psalm 104:1, 4 – “My soul, bless Yahweh! Yahweh my God, you are very great; you are clothed with majesty and splendor. … and making the winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.”

Psalm 148:8 – “lightning and hail, snow and cloud, stormy wind that executes his command…”

In one of Elihu’s responses to Job, he also mentions the will of God being accomplished through the natural elements:

Job 37:11-13 – “He saturates clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. They swirl about, turning round and round at his direction, accomplishing everything he commands them over the surface of the inhabited world. He causes this to happen for punishment, for his land, or for his faithful love.”

These examples merely illustrate how that, to the ancient way of thinking in middle Eastern culture, the will and purpose of God blended seamlessly with the natural elements, and one served only to highlight and magnify the other.

Psalm 8:1, 3-4 – “Yahweh, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! You have covered the heavens with your majesty. … When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?”

Additionally, besides the proverbs, there are other examples of how the wickedness of the wicked comes back to them in time. In one of Bildad’s responses to Job:

Job 18:5, 7-8, 21 – Yes, the light of the wicked is extinguished; the flame of his fire does not glow.  … His powerful stride is shortened, and his own schemes trip him up.  For his own feet lead him into a net, and he strays into its mesh.  … Indeed, such is the dwelling of the unjust man, and this is the place of the one who does not know God.

Here Bildad explains it as a common understanding that the wickedness of the wicked leads themselves to ruin.

Another example is this additional psalm of David:

Psalm 9:15-16 – The nations have fallen into the pit they made; their foot is caught in the net they have concealed.  Yahweh has made himself known; he has executed justice, snaring the wicked by the work of their hands.

So in this instance, is God causing this “snaring of the wicked” to happen directly or only indirectly as being the architect of consequential just recompense? We also see a hint in this passage that through this natural consequence of their own actions, Yahweh has “made himself known.”

In a psalm attributed to Asaph, we see a similar representation.

Psalm 73:11-12, 16-19 – The wicked say, “How can God know? Does the Most High know everything? ”  Look at them ​– ​the wicked! They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.  … When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless  until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny.  Indeed, you put them in slippery places; you make them fall into ruin.  How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors.

According to Asaph, until he “entered God’s sanctuary,” or came to understand the spiritual reality behind the natural events, it appeared unfair that the wicked lived in relative ease while he, attempting to be righteous had the sense in v. 13 that he had “purified his heart and washed his hands in innocence for nothing,” being “punished every morning” and “afflicted all day long,” (v. 14). But once he took God’s perspective on the wicked, he realized the relative ease with which they were living was really a slippery path to destruction if they were not to repent from their ways.

The biblical idea that God has created the universe to act in a certain fashion, or to react to our actions in a certain fashion, is itself a slippery slope of sorts, as it can lead one to a form of fatalism or consequentialism. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined or inevitable, therefore, people have no ability to influence the outcome of their lives. Consequentialism regards all actions as justifiable as long as the consequences are favorable; i.e., the ends justify the means.

However, what the Bible actually describes is a system of justice based on the consequences of actions also known as “reaping what you sow.” In this view, people still are influencing their circumstances, so it is not fatalism. People are also held accountable for the “rightness” of their actions, so it is not strict consequentialism. In the Bible, people do receive the consequences of their actions, but they also have the ability to change their actions from negative and hurtful to positive and ultimately self-sacrificial. If fatalism were true, there would be no calls to repentance, and if consequentialism were true, there would be no accountability for doing bad things as long as the immediate result was good. No, the Bible teaches that God desires people to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do, even if the immediate consequences are unfavorable for us. But the Bible also warns us if we continue to do the wrong things, even with the best of intentions, the end result will be bad.

It is from these ethical theories of men that God desires to free us. When we act at all times with integrity, we can avoid those twin traps of fatalism and consequentialism and we can stand assured before God that our actions are based on the truth of his Word and not just our assessment of our own circumstances.

Going back to our anchor verse for today:

Proverbs 11:3 – The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.

We can see here that the righteous or upright can be guided in the correct way to walk by recognizing the opposite of the crooked, twisting, covert ways of the treacherous. Here are some other similar examples from these contrasting proverbs:

Proverbs 11:5-6 – The righteousness of the blameless clears his path, but the wicked person will fall because of his wickedness. 

Proverbs 11:6 – The righteousness of the upright rescues them, but the treacherous are trapped by their own desires.

Proverbs 11:18 – The wicked person earns an empty wage, but the one who sows righteousness, a true reward.

Proverbs 13:6- Righteousness guards people of integrity, but wickedness undermines the sinner. 

Proverbs 13:20 -The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.

Rather than seeking to define our own ethical behavior, God has defined it for us. In these types of proverbs, the contrast between the right way and the wrong way is the method of highlighting the differences and end results that God desires us to recognize in these alternative paths. The righteous are guarded or protected by their righteousness; it clears a path for them when the way is unsure or blocked with obstacles. It rescues them and provides them an eternal reward. The wicked will lie and cheat, they are trapped by their own desires; they will be undermined by their own sinfulness which provides only an empty wage, and will ultimately cause their own downfall.

Which path seems more compelling to follow? When viewed in its larger context and cultural setting, I believe this becomes self-evident. This is why this type of contrasting teaching throughout the proverbs is such a powerful method of conveying truth.

Contrasted with the “crookedness” of the wicked, there is no covert or hidden agenda with a righteous person; what they say, they will do. They are known as a “straight shooter,” someone who can be trusted because they are faithful and loyal. Everything is open and above-board in dealing with a righteous person, and you will always know where you stand.

In Matthew 5:33-37, Yeshua encourages believers to exhibit these characteristics in all of their outward relations: “Be a person of your word, not requiring any oath to substantiate your actions. Simply say yes or no, and do what you say.” When we act in this way, we can honor God and magnify the positive characteristics and ethical characteristics that are displayed, and contrasted, in his Word.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

We always have the choice to do what’s right

If we don’t, then there is no choice to be had.

Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

This verse is one of the key passages used to support the hypothetical concept of original sin. The theory of original sin generally states that every person is born sinful, stained with the genetic sin from Adam and Eve. Therefore, according to this theory, every person is born guilty of someone else’s sin and there is no way for anyone to please God because sin is in our very nature.

This premise is further substantiated through a famous passage in the New Testament written by Paul to the Roman congregation.

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

However, what Paul was doing in this passage was symbolically contrasting Adam with Yeshua, and showing how following the paths of either of their lives results in diametric opposites; one to death, and the other to life.

Romans 5:17 – For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Yeshua the Messiah.

The sin of Adam and Eve was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which represents choosing to make one’s own decisions about what is right and wrong. The tree of life, however, is representative of following the instruction of God, since God knows what is best for us.

There are other passages which illustrate that we are responsible for our own actions, not the actions of others. Most famously in Ezekiel 18.

Ezekiel 18:20-21 – “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

The whole chapter goes into much more detail regarding personal accountability, and I encourage you to read the entire context.

Additionally, if Paul actually believed in the concept of original sin, then he contradicts himself in his letter to the Corinthian congregation.

2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

The reason that making this distinction about original sin is important is because we are urged by Yeshua to live lives of integrity. He directs each one of us to be a person of our word and not be hypocritical. Being born from above is representative of the new perspective that we can live according to the instruction of God, the tree of life, from the heart. We are no longer to just coast through life’s circumstances at the whim of our own best judgment; that is the path of Adam that leads to death.

If we are inherently sinful from birth, then there is nothing that can be done about our sinful actions, and we are destined to die in our sin. This also makes God an unjust judge by unfairly assigning blame to us for something we had no control over.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Yeshua said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

By contrast, Yeshua, through his sacrificial example, taught and demonstrated that we can choose to follow him and abide in the instruction of God by the Spirit of God working in and through us. Every admonition of Yeshua for people to follow and abide in him is hollow if they have no real choice in the matter.

We lead lives of integrity when we do what’s right, as defined by God, not by us. This involves us having the ability to choose to do so.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [that is, doing what’s right from the heart, not from legal obligation], you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The challenging discipline of obedient giving

Yeshua takes being nice to another level.

Core of the Bible podcast #57 – The challenging discipline of obedient giving

Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and how the principles of giving that are outlined throughout God’s word provide opportunities for believers to exhibit the love of God in practical and effective ways that can soften even our enemies.

Yeshua said it this way:

Luke 6:34-35 – “And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”

In a former essay, we have looked at the importance of being kind to our enemies, those who may act in adversarial ways towards us. But in this passage lies another aspect of being compassionate that may get overlooked because of our general unfamiliarity with the culture that this teaching arises out of.

In today’s American culture, we typically view “alms” or giving to the needy as something that is a direct donation to their welfare, just giving whatever you have in your pocket or your wallet to someone who is begging on the street or in a public place. This was certainly one form of giving to those in need. However, this passage is speaking to a more involved and challenging type of giving.

As far as giving to beggars is concerned, this ideas stems primarily from a passage in Acts 3 where the Greek phrase was interpreted as giving alms or giving charity to a beggar at the temple.

Peter and John were confronted with one such individual as they approached the temple complex, a favorite place for those who sought for handouts.

Acts 3:2-3  – “A man who was lame from birth was being carried [to the temple]. He was placed each day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could beg from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money.”

Clearly, the man did not have the ability to earn his own living through labor since he was unable to walk on his own, and his friends or family would carry him to the high-traffic area around the temple as a way of helping him to ask for donations to meet his needs. This was one type of alms-giving or beneficence. Those who would beg for handouts were those who had no other means of income: the lame or blind who could not work, widows and orphans (who had lost their husband/father as the provider). In the Hebraic culture, these were considered legitimate reasons for true charity, and helping and giving donations to these individuals is highly commended.

In regard to the man at the temple, Albert Barnes writes the following:

“The man had been always lame; he was obliged to be carried; and he was well known to the Jews. … his friends laid him there daily. He would therefore be well known to those who were in the habit of entering the temple. Among the ancients there were no hospitals for the sick, and no alms-houses for the poor. The poor were dependent, therefore, on the Charity of those who were in better circumstances. It became an important matter for them to be placed where they would see many people. Hence, it was customary to place them at the gates of rich men as illustrated in Luke 16:19-20 –

“There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. “But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate.”

Barnes: and they also sat by the highway to beg where many persons would pass, such as Mark 10:46 –

“They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.”

Also John 9:1, 8-9 –

“As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. … [After Yeshua healed him] his neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit begging? Some said, “He’s the one.” Others were saying, “No, but he looks like him.” He kept saying, “I’m the one.”

Barnes continues: “The entrance to the temple would be a favorable place for begging; for: great multitudes were accustomed to enter there; and, when going up for the purposes of religion, they would be more inclined to give alms than at other times; and especially was this true of the Pharisees, who were particularly desirous of publicity in bestowing charity. It is recorded by Martial (i. 112) that the custom prevailed among the Romans of placing the poor by the gates of the temples; and the custom was also observed a long time in the Christian churches.”

All types of giving are highly recommended in the Bible, as we know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving freely is a required dynamic within the economy of the kingdom of God.

However, in the middle Eastern culture of the Bible, giving of alms was actually more than just providing pocket change to beggars; in its wider sense in the New Testament writings it means any act of compassionate giving.

Acts 9:36  There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.

Acts 10:1-2  There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.

Acts 24:17  “After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people.

While compassion is encouraged throughout the Bible, we should understand it is based on the eternal instruction of God throughout the Torah. God has always encouraged his people to be generous, and we will look at some of those ways as we dive deeper into the topic of giving.

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Since banks as we know them today did not exist in Bible times, there were only a few means for someone who had fallen on hard times to extricate themselves from dire financial circumstances.

Sometimes, individuals would be sold as servants of others in an effort to pay off debt or to help their families. This was a form of indentured servitude, a commitment to the benefactor to recoup their investment. This was widely practiced and is mentioned in several passages of the Bible in Exodus and Deuteronomy. (Unfortunately, it is usually misunderstood as the brutal, savage chattel slavery that we typically associate with that word).

However, these types of bond-servants were provided many rights for fair treatment under the gracious instruction of Torah, and many times had benefitted so much from their service to their masters that they desired to remain with their benefactor’s family even after their term of service had expired. To illustrate this, there was a process provided for in the Torah to identify those who had chosen to become servants for life by piercing their ear.

Deuteronomy 15:16-17  – “But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you, take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life…”

An additional measure of relief in the Torah for those who had become deep in dept was instituted in the release of all debts every seven years which is also described in Deuteronomy 15:9. In this way, no one would be able to get so far in over their heads financially that they couldn’t receive a fresh start.

But for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys that, by far, the most common way of helping others was the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 – “If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, then you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs.”

This was a commendable deed on behalf of the giver, and a prompt repayment would be an indication of the honor of the one who had received the help. Those receiving charity were more likely to sense that trust is being established, and their self-worth is raised through this trust.

This process has more to do with the receiver than the giver. If someone encountered an individual in need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay the loan back whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance. Many times, people will struggle to accept outright handouts because of their pride. They don’t want to be made to feel they are unable to do meet their needs on their own. This is actually an emotionally good and healthy response for anyone who is otherwise able to provide for themselves but may have just fallen on hard times; it happens. A great measure of trust has been placed in them and they are more likely to be inclined to repay as a way of thanking their benefactor and demonstrating they are worthy of trust; a coveted value, indeed.

Unfortunately, as loans were given to those in need, sometimes those who were less honorable would gladly take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends. This is presented to us in the biblical texts and from other writings of that era.

There is a book called the Wisdom of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, a writing from around 150-200 BC that was included in the Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Scriptures.  This version of the Bible was widely known and referenced in the time of Yeshua and the disciples. In this book is a passage that explains this concept of private loans in a little more detail, some of the blessings of following the commandment of Moses from Torah, and also some of the downfalls of providing loans to others.

It begins with the blessings of obedience to the command of Torah:

Sirach 29

[1] He that shows mercy will lend to his neighbor, and he that strengthens him with his hand keeps the commandments.

[2] Lend to your neighbor in the time of his need; and in turn, repay your neighbor promptly.

[3] Confirm your word and keep faith with him, and on every occasion you will find what you need.

Here we can see how the idea of giving of loans and prompt repayment are both the qualities that are designed to reinforce the community and provide for ongoing needs. However, the text also speaks of the negative side of giving when someone lends with the best of intentions but the receiver is not willing to repay.

[4] Many persons regard a loan as a windfall, and cause trouble to those who help them.

[5] A man will kiss another’s hands until he gets a loan, and will lower his voice in speaking of his neighbor’s money; but at the time for repayment he will delay, and will pay in words of unconcern, and will find fault with the time.

[6] If the lender exert pressure, he will hardly get back half, and will regard that as a windfall. If he does not, the borrower has robbed him of his money, and he has needlessly made him his enemy; he will repay him with curses and reproaches, and instead of glory will repay him with dishonor.

[7] Because of such wickedness, therefore, many have refused to lend; they have been afraid of being defrauded needlessly.

This same negative perception of being taken advantage of is prevalent today and actually prevents people from being generous with those in need; no one wants to be taken advantage of. However, the text encourages faithfulness to the Torah command regardless of the outcome.

[8] Nevertheless, be patient with a man in humble circumstances, and do not make him wait for your alms.

[9] Help a poor man for the commandment’s sake, and because of his need do not send him away empty.

[10] Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.

[11] Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold.

[12] Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from all affliction;

[13] more than a mighty shield and more than a heavy spear, it will fight on your behalf against your enemy.

This is the same type of instruction that Yeshua provides in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-21  – “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 5:42  – “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

What Yeshua is encouraging in both of these passages is a type of universal generosity toward those in need. If we are to give out of pocket, give cheerfully. If we are to lend, then we should lend without any hope of repayment; if we are repaid, then that is to be considered a bonus.

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Now we may understand and be willing to help friends and relatives who can’t help themselves, and lend to those who have fallen on hard times. But here is where this principle really gets challenging: according to Yeshua, the faithful disciple should also be willing to lend to their enemies, not just friends and acquaintances.

Remember our starting passage from Luke 6?

Luke 6:34-35 – “And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”

This is a drastic diversion even from the cultural practice of the day, and highlights the extent of compassion believers should be willing to demonstrate at all times. It is one thing to forgive a friend or acquaintance of a debt, but to lend in the same fashion to an adversary? This would be a truly unorthodox and radical admonition to his followers. It is such a revolutionary and profound concept that it still shakes us to the core to this day, two thousand years later. True compassion is like that; it is profound, challenging, and requires real commitment and, many times, heart-wrenching, white-knuckled, gut-twisting sacrifice. This is the type of genuine life transformation believers are called to.

But in reality, if you, out of obedience to Yeshua and the Word, are extending generosity toward an adversary, are they really still an enemy? Don’t enemies need to be adversarial toward each other? If you, as a believer, are not acting in a reflexive way toward someone who is adversarial toward you, are the two of you really enemies? Isn’t it more likely that if only one is acting in an adversarial fashion but the other is extending an olive branch that this is not a description of two enemies, but only one? In this type of challenging obedience, adversarial overtones can be dissipated by the removal of escalation through the extension of friendship and value without obligation.

Are you up to the challenge of what it really means to be a follower of the Messiah and demonstrate true compassion? Hopefully, having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving as we have looked at today can make us more responsible givers. In outwardly loaning to those who have need, we can allow them dignity. Inwardly considering these helper loans as outright donations, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future. If we are giving advantage to those around us, even our enemies, then they cannot take advantage.

God is honored when we honor and respect him in all things, including how we manage our finances and our relationships with others. By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are his children by operating by the same principles he provides to us.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Humility before God is where the path begins

Recognizing our inability to be righteous on our own.

Isaiah 66:1-2 – “Yahweh says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build to me? Where will I rest? For my hand has made all these things, and so all these things came to be,’ says Yahweh: ‘but I will look to this man, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.'”

Everything in the life of a believer begins with humility of reference: the one who is of a contrite spirit. The Hebrew word Isaiah uses here for “contrite” means “stricken,” and is also translated in other passages as “crippled or lame; not having the ability to walk on one’s own.” To my way of thinking, that is a powerful metaphor for the believing life.

These are two of the biggest hurdles for those who do not believe; to recognize that God is the all-powerful Creator and that his Word is supreme. There is a pride that will not yield to God’s authority, as one prefers to chart their own way through this life.

One of my favorite sayings of the ancients that is attributed to Solomon comes from the Septuagint version of the Bible where it reads, “Unwearied endurance in seeking Yahweh is better than a masterless charioteer of one’s own life,” (Sirach 20:32). The masterless charioteer may have the freedom to choose their own way, but in doing so they must recognize that their way is fraught with unnecessary strife and adversity.

A few examples from the other writings of Solomon in the book of Proverbs can illustrate this:

Proverbs 11:5 – The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way, but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.
Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who is wise listens to counsel.
Proverbs 19:3 – The foolishness of man subverts his way; his heart rages against Yahweh.
Proverbs 21:2 – Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Yahweh weighs the hearts.

By contrast, one needs only to look at how Solomon also depicted the path of the righteous:

Proverbs 3:33 – Yahweh’s curse is in the house of the wicked, but he blesses the habitation of the righteous.
Proverbs 10:2 – Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but righteousness delivers from death.
Proverbs 11:6 – The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them, but the unfaithful will be trapped by evil desires.

There are over 80 references to the positive attributes of the righteous in the Proverbs alone; this is no small indication of God’s desire for all people. Solomon’s conclusion even at the end of Ecclesiastes is also a famous verse, noted for its simplicity and universality for all people:

Ecclesiastes 12:13 “This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”

Yeshua begins the most significant teaching in the New Testament writings, the Sermon on the Mount, with the assertion that every principle he was about to teach on begins with simple humility before God.

Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

There is no need to go further into the Sermon on the Mount if one has not begun with the humility of heart that Yeshua honors. Recognizing that one is not able to walk the path of this life on one’s own is a true demonstration of the contrite spirit, and one that Isaiah assures believers will provide an ongoing rejuvenating experience.

Isaiah 57:15 – “For the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, says: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Did Yeshua teach pacifism?

All interests are subservient to the eternal interests of the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:39 – But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The concept of forgiveness runs strong within the teachings of Yeshua. In order to not retaliate to aggressive behavior or a personal affront requires a measure of self-control and maturity to allow the insult, and sometimes injury, to pass.

But to what extent does the Bible teach that should believers remain non-retaliatory? Should a father protect his family from home intruders? Should a believer be engaged with a national military conflict? These are difficult questions because the Bible speaks to many different types of situations and has been used to support many different positions on this topic.

Even though I am a veteran of the American military, as I have grown in my biblical understanding over the years, I have gravitated toward a more pacifistic stance. From a philosophical standpoint, the idea of believers serving in opposing military forces would mean that believers are essentially killing other believers for the sake of their respective national interest. This would mean that the national interest has taken precedence over the universal spiritual kingdom of God. Under any other circumstance, believers would not be pitted against each other in a fight to the death.

In fairness, though, I must also admit that the passage quoted above about turning the other cheek is contextually about personal responsibility, and is not an absolute morality standard. If we believe love is the primary response for believers, we must remember that Yeshua also taught that the greatest love for others is self-sacrifice. Yeshua used the example of the good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep; however, as King David was famous for, that was typically in protecting the sheep from the wild animals, not other humans.

But is that self-sacrifice to be exhibited in acts of aggression toward others? Is it morally defensible from the Bible to kill a human aggressor in order to save others?

1 John 3:16 – By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Once again, John is not setting up a universal morality standard here, as the context of this passage is in ensuring that believers are diligent in providing for one another’s physical needs. In that sense, we should put the interests of others above ourselves.

1 John 3:15, 17-18 – Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. … But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Paul reiterates this point, as well.

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

If I was to land upon a more definitive position regarding what might be called biblical messianic pacifism within the Kingdom of God, I would offer the following: in personal quarrels, forgive and do not retaliate. When faced with endangerment of others not able to protect themselves, placing oneself as a non-lethal protector and defender is justifiable and honorable.

Some may argue that God is not against war, as he commanded the Israelites to kill and essentially exterminate the Canaanites. But we must remember the campaign against Canaan was God’s judgment upon those nations for their detestable idolatrous practices, and was not primarily about Israel’s interests. Moses made this abundantly clear as he spoke to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan to take the land.

Deuteronomy 9:5-6 – “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations Yahweh your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

God’s use of Israel in war was a measure of physical judgment upon the Canaanites that was a metaphorical baseline within the over-arching biblical narrative: God’s enemies would be vanquished and his universal kingdom would be established in their place. However, to presume any war fought today is a righteous and holy war against idolatrous barbarians because of their wickedness and rebellion against God would require mental gymnastics beyond the scope of reason.

How we apply Yeshua’s admonition to turn the other cheek may lead us to differing conclusions regarding personal defense and national interests. But we must remember that even national interests are subservient to the eternal interests of the Kingdom of God. Doing what is biblically “correct” in any situation requires a holistic view of the entire Bible, not just cherry-picking proof-texts to support a personal or public agenda.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

How to change the world (or at least your corner of it) for God

Understanding why you believe is the strongest root for what you believe.

Core of the Bible podcast #52 – How to change the world (or at least your corner of it) for God

Today we will be exploring the topic of the integrity, and how living out the firm convictions we hold about God’s word can be a shining example to others who don’t know God. These firm beliefs can have a positive influence into the world around us, and ultimately glorify God.

A clear example of this type of successful witness is illustrated by the early life of the prophet Daniel. In his days, the Jewish people had been taken captive to Babylon, and Daniel’s life began to take on a different purpose.

Daniel 1:1, 3, 5, 8 – “During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. … Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. … The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. … But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.”

One of our admonitions from Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount is to demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands (Matt. 5:20). Sometimes these external commands take the form of direct regulation, and sometimes these “commands” come in the form of allowances or tolerations of our culture that would violate the purity of our relationship with God. We must resist both forms of this type of cultural influence if we are to maintain our integrity and our holiness as God’s people.

In the case of Daniel and his friends, they were removed from their home and brought to a completely different culture under a new political regime. Even though they were favored within this new dynamic, Daniel and his friends, in their integrity, resolved not to be negatively influenced by this turn of events and to remain loyal to God.

The Hebrew culture that Daniel had been raised in had very specific dietary requirements in order to maintain faithfulness to the Torah, or instruction, of God for his people. This is spoken of in detail in Leviticus 11 where various types of animals are considered “unclean” for consumption by God’s people. These dietary commands were intended to be an indication of the holiness, or set-apartness of God’s people from among the other nations.

Leviticus 11:45-46 – “For I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy. This is the law concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in the water, and all creatures that swarm on the ground…”

Since Daniel and his companions would have no idea what kind of meats might be provided to them during their captivity, they determined it would be best to stick only to vegetables, since there were no dietary restrictions in Torah regarding vegetable foods.

Now, to me, this demonstrates a high level of integrity that Daniel and his friends possessed. They had been removed from their homeland and were living in a totally different environment. And even though they were captives, they were being treated well. It would have been easy to justify eating whatever was provided to them. However, even given the “freedom” to eat all types of foods and meats in his new environment, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to the requirements of Torah at any cost.

Daniel 1:9-12, 15 – “Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff … “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. … At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king.”

Now there are many people who have taken this information to mean that God desires all people to be vegetarians because of the positive effects of this type of diet on Daniel and his friends. And if someone chooses to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, I wouldn’t contest it. I think it’s totally fine and if done properly it can provide all of the necessary nutrients people need and it can have many healthful benefits. However, I don’t believe that this verse or passage should be used to justify that God desires all people to be vegetarian. Clearly, as mentioned previously in Leviticus 11, God has definitely allowed his people to eat meats, just specific kinds. This, to me, indicates something else was going on here. In this instance of Daniel in Babylon, I believe God was providing a unique case of nourishment for the point of demonstrating his ability to provide for those who remain faithful to him. Daniel and his friends became examples to this chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s staff that their God was able to meet their needs, even if it meant going against the cultural command or regulation of eating the royal rations.


This idea of foods and holiness continued to be an issue into the age of the apostles and the early Messiah believers. This may seem counterintuitive to most believers today because of the general understanding that Yeshua removed all restrictions on unclean foods for believers in the New Covenant. However, I am going to be presenting a different perspective today and one that I hope can at least be considered based on a demonstration of the information and history on this topic.

Regardless of how people today think there were no dietary restrictions on believers, the Bible clearly relates that there were at least some, which was demonstrated by the first council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Let’s look at that findings of that council to see what those restrictions were.

Acts 15:19-21 – [James speaking] “Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the nations who turn to God, but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”

Okay, so we can immediately determine a couple of things from this passage. Firstly, there were clearly sexual restrictions, and food restrictions on meat offered to idols, meat that had been strangled (or not bled out), and from blood specifically. These restrictions are all based in Exodus 20, Leviticus 18, and 19.

Exodus 20:4-5 – Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them…” [Food offered to idols would be considered serving the idol].

Leviticus 18:29 – “Any person who does any of these detestable practices is to be cut off from his people.” [The entire chapter there describes in graphic detail a whole list of defiling sexual practices].

Leviticus 19:26 – “You are not to eat anything with blood in it…”

So for believers today to say that there were no Torah dietary restrictions on believers in Messiah after the death and resurrection of Messiah, that is just not the case.

Secondly, this command is being directed at “those among the nations who turn to God.” Who are these people? Well, we know that the Jews had been scattered among the nations to Assyria and Babylon hundreds of years earlier in an event recognized as the Diaspora or Dispersion or Scattering. It is known that many if not most of them continued to live in those areas.

To demonstrate this, let’s review a list of those individuals who had assembled at that significant Pentecost in Jerusalem at the beginning of the apostolic age:

Acts 2:5-6, 8-11 – Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. When this sound [rushing wind] occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them [the apostles] speaking in his own language. … “How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), Cretans and Arabs ​– ​we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.”

The study of tongues will have to remain for another time, however, we can see where all of these Jewish believers were living at that time: all over the known world. Additionally, Peter also emphasizes the mission to the Diaspora Jews by assigning his first epistle to those very Jewish believers:

1 Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…”

You see, non-Jewish Gentiles were not exiles that had been dispersed abroad, but Jewish colonies in these areas were. They were scattered everywhere, and this is why the apostle Paul began missionary journeys to these areas. He would begin first in the synagogue in those towns, and then share the gospel of the kingdom with anyone else who would listen if the Jews of that area rejected his message.

The third thing we can see from the Jerusalem council passage is that the restrictions that they came up with were aimed at those scattered Jews first and foremost. Why? Well James makes the following statement in v. 21: “For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”

Why would he mention anything about Moses and synagogues unless this was who the council’s resolution was aimed at? These facts help us identify that the message of these food restrictions was aimed at Jewish believers and the God-fearers (Gentiles who also worshiped the one true God) and were familiar with the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11. They would be familiar with it because “every Sabbath day [Moses] was read aloud in the synagogues.”

This also helps us recognize why food offered to idols became such a focus among the early congregations, as idolatry is absolutely forbidden in scripture and would have been a hotly debated topic.

There was much concern among the various congregations regarding the types of foods that would be acceptable to eat, and the potential opportunities to eat unclean foods were many and varied.

There were markets in the urban areas where meat was sold in the nations to where the Jews had been scattered. Sometimes that meat had been offered to idols before being put out for sale to the general public in the market. Also, banquets were routinely held in the shrine of some idol; they didn’t have restaurants in those days. All of these cultural routines had become a source of contention for many of the early believers, because they couldn’t tell if the food they were purchasing or eating, even if it met the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11, had been previously offered to an idol, thereby in their minds becoming unclean in the sight of the one true God.

The apostle Paul spends quite a bit of several epistles in attempting to address this cultural concern so that believers could maintain their integrity among the nations where they were living, and still remain faithful to God. Most prominently he addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 12, and Romans 14. Both of these believing communities at Rome and Corinth were living among idolaters, and would have plenty of opportunity to encounter food offered to idols. Some of the Roman believers had gone so far as to adopt the method of Daniel by only eating vegetables in order to avoid accidentally eating unclean food (Romans 14:2).

The ultimate point through all of this was that there was an emphasis on maintaining integrity and holiness as God’s people among the nations. God had emphasized to his people to “be holy because I am holy” in the context of the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11, and his New Covenant people in those cultures were trying to maintain that level of integrity in their daily practice.


Now we come to our practices as believers today. Do the food restrictions of Leviticus 11 still apply to believers today? If it was a simple matter of all of Torah being done away with at the cross, as most people hold to in our current time, then the answer would be no, we are not limited in our food choices. However, as many of you who have participated in these podcasts or followed my posts at coreofthebible.org may know, I hold that Torah is eternal, regardless of covenant. I believe this because Yeshua was absolutely clear on this point in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:17-19 – “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

I believe, as Yeshua taught, that only the Torah commands that have been fulfilled are no longer enforceable. This would include things like anything related to the priesthood or tabernacle, since those all foreshadowed the work of Messiah in life and in his substitutionary death on the cross. The commands have not “gone away” for the reason that they can still testify to the truth of Messiah, so that we can still see what they were and how they apply, but they have been fulfilled in Messiah. This is why we no longer have a need for a temple or animal sacrifices.

However, the food laws were not tied to the temple or the priesthood, but to the holiness or the set-apartness of God’s people. God’s people are only holy or set-apart when we live in holy and set-apart ways. We are still commanded in the New Testament writings to be holy.

Ephesians 1:4 – For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him.

1 Peter 1:15-16 – But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.

Unless a believer today thinks it’s ok by God to not be holy in all we do, then I believe we are commanded by God’s eternal Torah to abide by those same commands in regard to food. And really, when you pare the list down to its essentials, it essentially limits the modern believer’s diet only in regard to pork and shellfish. While God’s people have always been allowed to eat certain insects, I really don’t plan on beginning that practice.

Let me be quick to add that I believe this really is a personal decision of conscience between God and the individual, at least based on Paul’s instruction in this area. In regards to food practices of New Covenant believers, the term “conscience” is mentioned at least 8 times. Ultimately, Paul says that all things should be done in love, and that:

Romans 14:22-23 – Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.”

Look, I’m not going to go around and condemn believers who still eat pork and shellfish because I realize that they are likely simply living in the tradition they were taught; I don’t believe they are being purposely rebellious toward God. I can only share my perspective based on my studies and practices that I have come to know over the years of looking at and reviewing the roots of these types of issues in the ancient cultures and texts. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I do my best to live faithfully to the convictions I do have, and really, that’s all that can be expected of anyone. The issue comes down to one’s understanding of covenant, law, Torah, idolatry, and holiness. These are big topics that require a large scope of wisdom and understanding of ancient cultural practices that in many ways do not make sense to us in our modern world.

What we do need to keep in mind is that integrity is based on our own understanding of God’s word at any given time. As we grow in faith, our understanding of these kinds of things can shift and grow over time, which may require different actions as we come to new awareness of our relationship with our Creator.

What we should focus on is that our commitment to integrity has the ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal convictions based on God’s word that will not be shaken under any circumstance. This was how Daniel maintained a strong, positive witness for Yahweh even while in captivity in Babylon. This type of strong conviction is a highly valued commodity among all people because it is rarely seen in common practice.

Probably the simplest way to understand all of this information is that it is our obligation as believers to be so thoroughly committed to our faith that through our integrity we become the influencers of those around us, rather than allowing them to influence us. Don’t just know what you believe, but why. Understanding why we allow or don’t allow certain things in our lifestyle practice will provide the strongest witness to outsiders who are curious to understand more about the Bible, God, and Yeshua. These are the types of godly interactions that God can and does use to grow the kingdom, and to change the world.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

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Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.