Gardener's worldIgnorance of the Hebrew Scriptures is a serious impediment to Christian mission, a South African pastor told an audience in Derbyshire, England.

Cape Town-based Rev John Atkinson was addressing the annual UK conference of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), of which he is the international chairman.

Rector of Christ Church, Kenilworth, and also a theological college lecturer, he said many people wrongly characterize the Old Testament as ‘legalism’ whereas in fact it’s the basis for our understanding of the gospel.

Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan after an “expert in the law” asked him how you obtain eternal life. Jesus turned the question around, asking what was written in the Law (i.e. the Torah, or first five books of the Bible). And the man answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Deuteronomy 6.5 & Leviticus 19.18)

“Do this and you will live,” Jesus told the man, saying he had answered correctly. The Law, in other words, is a wholehearted expression of love for God (which includes love for your neighbour). It is not about outward observance, but is a matter of the heart.

“The Torah is the foundation of all Scripture,” said Rev Atkinson, adding: “The Hebrew Scriptures are the source of our understanding of grace.”

“Lack of knowledge of the Torah is a major impediment to Jewish mission as well as the Christian life. And I’m astounded at the ignorance of Hebrew Scriptures among students. It’s like trying to understand a concept without its context. Without knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, only a superficial understanding of the New Testament is possible.”

The early Christians at Corinth, like many modern believers not well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, were particularly susceptible to popular pagan religions of the time, which gave rise to ‘dualism’ – the theory that everything spiritual is good while the flesh is evil. So what you do with your body doesn’t matter, which of course has serious moral consequences.

“But the Bible never sees it that way. Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. But if you don’t want your body, why would God?”

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