Paradoxes of Poverty and Salvation: What does “poor” mean? do Paul and the Gospels agree on salvation?

I talk in more detail about the law issue here:

I want to examine two paradoxes here. 1. The poor being rich. 2 The law not saving you and saving you.

In the story of the rich young ruler, the commandments are sufficient for attaining eternal life. However, notice that even though the rich young ruler says he keeps the commandments he still believes that he isn’t doing something right. Maybe it is his method of keeping them that may be at fault? Could it be that the commandments naturally lead to a communal life? (love your neighbor as yourself) This may especially be the case after the holy spirit came at the church in Acts. The holy spirit writes the laws on our hearts. The holy spirit dwells in the body of believers. To attain selflessness and have the law written on our hearts we may need to act as one part of a greater body. I argue in detail for similar things here: https://kingdomofgodcommunes.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Unless-He-Gives-up-All-His-Possessions.pdf There may have been a tendency to use “poor” to mean people who lived communally in the Greek scriptures (Christian writings)

The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from the founder of the group Ebion. But that’s a legend. Almost certainly the term came from the Hebrew word “Ebyon” which means “poor.” The normal hypothesis is that these Jewish-Christians accepted the early Christian policy of giving away their possessions for others and so took on lives of voluntary poverty. The church fathers who know the linguistic meaning of their name claimed that they were called “the poor ones” because they were “poor in faith.” (!)

https://ehrmanblog.org/ebionites-gospel-members/ emphasis mine, accessed 2020-07-23

44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45 NRSV)

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 NRSV)

29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:25-34 NRSV)

Notice the kingdom is associated with selling your possessions and living communally. It is interesting that the same terminology could have been used for the “poor” in the Greek Scriptures. Jesus actually says that those who leave everything will receive a hundredfold more in this life which matches the paradoxical language here:

As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, G4434 yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:10)

The same word may be used in these verses to speak of the “poor” who live communally (although this is by no means certain and some may have double meanings)

For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor G4434 saints which are at Jerusalem. (Rom 15:26 KJV)

Only they would that we should remember the poor; G4434 the same which I also was forward to do. (Gal 2:10 KJV)

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: G4434 for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luk 6:20 KJV)

Blessed are the poor G4434 in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:3 KJV)

Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: (Act 11:29 KJV)

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor G4434 of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (James 2:5)

The same paradoxical language is used in a negative way in Revelation. Previously, poverty on paper through communal living is meant to convey greater real material riches and spiritual riches, while here the opposite is meant:

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, G4434 and blind, and naked: (Rev 3:17 KJV)

The following parallels include everyone who joins the kingdom of heaven movement being rewarded a hundredfold with houses and other material possessions. This means that they would have hundreds of people that would share their houses and possessions with them and ensure that the would never lack their basic needs including food or drink, see: Matthew 6:31-33 and Luke 18:29-34.

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

(Mark 10:17-31 NRSV)

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

(Mattthew 19:16-30 NRSV)

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

(Luke 18:18-30 NRSV)

Compare this to the following:

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And 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. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

(Galatians 2:15-21 NRSV)

I think we need to consider three things for this second paradox:

  1. The language is different “keep” as opposed to “work”
    In Luke 18:21 “keep” is G5442
    in Matthew 19:17 “keep” is G5083
    in Mark 10:20 “keep” is G5442

This is guarding and treasuring not just observance:
https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G5442
https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G5083

  1. The Essene context that “works of the law” has https://www.jstor.org/stable/4193122 suggest this was obtaining salvation through observances and purity rather than Mathew’s list of substantial matters and heart/attitude conditions Matt 19:18-19 (Jesus the new covenant mediator focuses on heart: Matthew 5:38~, Jer 31:33) This may also be why communal living is emphasized since living communally requires putting the community first rather than yourself.
  2. Galatians is using “law” for “Sinai law.” Paul’s not comparing the “old” and “new” covenants but the unconditional-blessings given to Abraham with conditional-blessings at Sinai (which Israel broke). He’s using the covenant of Abraham as an analogy for repenting and accepting mercy (Jeremiah 3:12-14) with the work of Christ and grace compared with justifying yourself through “works of law” and being susceptible to Sinai curses: Gal 3:16-18, Gal 3:10-12, Deuteronomy 27:26. Likewise in Romans 10:5-10 Paul compares the Moab covenant to Sinai with quotes from Lev 18:5 and Deut 30:11-14. Some Jewish tradition considers Sinai lacking and hence the need for Moab: https://www1.biu.ac.il/indexE.php?id=15430&pt=1&pid=14638&level=0&cPath=43,14206,14376,14638,15430 Paul uses a similar analogy in Galatians 4:21~ See the following article:

The Covenant on the Plains of Moab
By Haggai Ben-Arzi*

At the end of this week’s reading, the Torah summarizes Moses’ orations, emphasizing that another covenant was made between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel: “These are the terms of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to conclude with the Israelites in the land of Moab, in addition to the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb” (Deut. 28:69).

This raises a fundamental question: why was there need for another covenant? After all, when the covenant was made at Mount Sinai the people of Israel undertook to obey the Torah and its commandments, as we read in Exodus:

“Then he [Moses] took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands’” (Ex. 24:7-8).

An answer to this question is given in Tractate Shabbat (88a). Regarding the verse, “and they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Ex. 19:17), Rabbi Abdimi said, “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, ‘tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’” In other words, according to the gemara, the covenant at Mount Sinai was made under duress, and any agreement made under duress is not legally and morally binding.

Indeed, that is what the gemara concludes: “This furnishes a strong protest [modaa rabba] against the Torah.” Modaa rabba signifies legal grounds for cancelling a contractual agreement; “If the Holy One, blessed be He, were to take them to court on charges of not upholding their undertakings, they could answer: we agreed under duress” (Rashi, loc. cit., s.v., “moda`a rabbah”).

The coercive element in the covenant at Mount Sinai can be interpreted in various ways. Rabbenu Tam ascribes the coercion to Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai: “For it was by the Word [of G-d], lo, under duress” (loc. cit., Tosefot, s.v., “moda`a rabba le-oraita). In other words, direct Revelation of the Lord created a situation in which there was no free choice, for who can refuse the direct word of G-d?

The element of coercion can also be explained in terms of the emotional state of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They were still in a state of shock and utter confusion; having left Egypt only seven weeks earlier, they were still agitated by the dramatic events of fleeing the country, being chased by the Egyptians, the Red Sea being split, and encountering tremendous hardships in the wilderness. In such an emotional state any consent or undertaking could have no “resolve,” a necessary condition for making consent binding.[1] For this reason they accepted an undertaking whose terms and implications they barely knew.

If the covenant at Mount Sinai was faulty and lacking, then another covenant was needed that would not have the deficiencies of the previous covenant. Indeed, the covenant on the Plains of Moab was made at the end of the trek through the wilderness, forty years after the exodus from Egypt. During these forty years the people learned the entire Torah and knew exactly what obligations they were taking upon themselves. During these forty years they learned the significance of obeying the commandments, both as individuals and as a nation.

The covenant on the Plains of Moab was thus concluded with full awareness and clarity of mind. This covenant is the one that binds later generations, and not the covenant at Mount Sinai. Only here does Scripture say, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deut. 29:13-14). The midrash (Tanhuma 3, and Rashi, loc. cit.) learns from this: “[The covenant was made] also with future generations.”

Regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab one can ask where the people’s consent appears. At Sinai, the Israelites declared their consent three times: “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’” (Ex. 19:8); “and all the people answered with one voice, saying, ‘All that things that the Lord has commanded we will do!’” (Ex. 24:3), and “Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’” (Ex. 24:7).

In the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which as we said was binding on the people for future generations as well, only Moses spoke and the people remained silent. What sort of covenant is this if the people do not express their explicit consent to be party to it?

The people’s response turns out to have been given in actions, not in words. Immediately after the covenant on the Plains of Moab they crossed the Jordan River to the Plains of Jericho, where a great circumcision ceremony took place for all the Israelites born in the wilderness. “This is the reason why Joshua had the circumcision performed…none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised…and it was these that Joshua circumcised, for they were uncircumcised” (Josh. 5:4-7). The people’s consent to the covenant found expression in their agreeing to observe the commandment of circumcision, just as Abraham entered a covenant with G-d by circumcising himself and his son:

God further said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and You…Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact.” (Gen. 17:9-13)

Indeed, immediately after the covenant of circumcision at Jericho, the Holy One, blessed be He, told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” (Josh. 5:9).[2] The process of the exodus from Egypt and forging the bond between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel, did not reach its conclusion at Sinai, rather in the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which begins with Moses, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and concludes with Joshua son of Nun, on the western side of the Jordan River.

The covenant on the Plains of Moab is what created mutual accountability within the Jewish people. Regarding the verse, “Concealed acts concern the Lord our G-d; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching” (Deut. 29:28), Rashi says, based on the gemara (Sanhedrin 43b): “Even for overt acts [transgressions committed openly] He did not punish the people collectively until after they crossed the Jordan River…and became accountable one for another.”

This mutual accountability, which requires that we care and be responsible for every Jew, is what turns us from a collection of individuals into a well-formed national entity. The Israelites became a people in the full sense of the word only after the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your G-d, which the Lord your G-d is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your G-d, as He promised you” (Deut. 29:11-12). We became a people neither with the exodus from Egypt, nor at Mount Sinai, but only upon entering the land that we were to settle.

Actually, one could also argue “moda`a rabba le-oraita” regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab. According to Rabbenu Tam, the covenant at Mount Sinai was lacking because there was no free choice in the face of Divine Revelation. But revelation did not come to an end at Mount Sinai. Throughout their wanderings in the wilderness the people witnessed overt miracles—the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that went before the people and protected them; the manna, the quail, and Miriam’s well, which fed the people in an unnatural way. Although a distinction should be drawn between direct Revelation at Mount Sinai and the miracles in the wilderness, as Maimonides notes (Sefer ha-Mada, Hilkhot Yesodei Torah, ch. 8, halakhah 1 and 2), does not latter state of ongoing miracles in which the Israelites lived for decades essentially deprive a person of free choice?

This is apparently why Joshua did not make do with the covenants of Moses, and towards the end of his life arranged a ceremony renewing the covenant in Shechem: “Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned Israel’s elders and commanders, magistrates and officers; and they presented themselves before G-d” (Josh. 24:1).[3] On this occasion he gave them anew the choice whether to stand by the Lord and His Teaching or to abandon the Lord and go in the ways of other peoples: “Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve Him with undivided loyalty…Or, if you are loath to serve the Lord, choose this day which ones you are going to serve” (Josh. 24:14-15). As in the covenant at Mount Sinai, here too the people rose to the challenge placed before them by their leader and undertook to worship the Lord:

But the people replied to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord.” Thereupon Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses…” And the people declared to Joshua, “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d and will obey none but Him.” (Josh. 24:21-25)

The advantages of the covenant at Shechem are clearly evident. By the end of Joshua’s life the people had experienced decades of fighting for conquest of the land, most of the battles being in difficult conditions and without supernatural intervention.[4] Here the people not only knew the Torah but also were familiar with the combination of the Promised Land and the Torah, not only with overt Divine Providence, but also and primarily with covert Providence, operating through nature and history. Here the people were no longer “a people that dwells apart,” rather a people that rubs up against the peoples of Canaan and is influenced by their culture.

This is where the true test came, and the Israelites stood it with flying colors, evincing the highest level of faithfulness to the Lord and adherence to the Torah: “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d, and we will obey none but Him” (Josh. 24:24). Henceforth the relationship between God and His people does not end with Revelation at Mount Sinai, rather it begins there, continues with the covenant on the Plains of Moab and the Plains of Jericho, concludes with the covenant of Joshua at Shechem. This city was rightfully dubbed “the city of the Covenant,” for there alone was the covenant between the people and their G-d concluded.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

Dr. Haggi Ben-Arzi teaches at the Center for Basic Jewish Studies, as well as Yellin College and Lifschitz College in Jerusalem. His book, Megillat Sheshet ha-Yamim was recently published.

[1] “Resolve” requires an emotional state of consciousness enabling a person to make a decision on the basis of responsible consideration. Therefore the Halakhah stipulates that any agreement made without absolute and complete resolve is not legally binding. For further reading, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Hilkhot Mekhirah, ch. 11, esp. hal. 2 and 6.

[2] The place where this covenant was made is called Gilgal, based on the Hebrew verb, galoti (= “I have rolled away”). Some people identify biblical Gilgal with the Deir Hajla (the monastery of St. Gerasimos), situated one kilometer west of the Jordan River, near Kibbutz Beit Ha-Arava and the outpost Beit Hogla. Near the monastery on the Jordan River is a prominent hill that some people identify as Gibeath-Ha’araloth (“Hill of Foreskins”).

[3] This invocation is reminiscent of the invocation introducing the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel” (Deut. 29:9).

[4] Save for the miracles that accompanied the first stage of crossing the Jordan River and the people entering the land (at Jericho, Beth Horon, and the Valley of Ayalon).

https://www1.biu.ac.il/indexE.php?id=15430&pt=1&pid=14638&level=0&cPath=43,14206,14376,14638,15430

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