Human Ageing in View of the Divine

Summary: Science-based medicine is inching closer to extending the human lifespan. If, in the distant future, people can live forever, does that change our faith and religion, given its promise of eternal life? Warning: This post speculates about a future that may never happen. Even so, it’s worth exploring.

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I've been reading a fascinating book by Dr. Michael Fossel, professor of clinical medicine, Michigan State University. Fossel is an optimistic proponent of the telomere theory of ageing. This theory states:

  1. Humans age because our cells age.
  2. Cells age because they stop dividing after a certain number of divisions (called the Hayflick limit).
  3. Cells stop dividing because the caps of the chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten with each division.
  4. When telomere caps are too short, the cell ceases dividing and eventually breaks down, slows the production of energy, and releases excess garbage in the form of free radicals.
  5. When your cells are unable to repair themselves and remove cellular garbage, your skin, tissue and organs begin to break down.
  6. As your body stops repairing itself and your tissue breaks down, you eventually succumb to a disease of old age, such as cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s.

This is the telomere theory of ageing in a nutshell. (I’m a layperson, not a medical professional, so take my simplified summary with a grain of salt.)

It should be noted there are other theories of ageing currently in scientific circles, such as the theory of damage accumulation, the theory of life force, the theory of free radicals, among others.

“Big if true…”

Suppose for a moment Fossel’s theory is correct. Fossel theorizes that extending your cells’ telomeres will actually reverse cellular ageing processes and help prevent the diseases of old age. He theorizes:

  1. Your cells will resume dividing like they did when you were young.
  2. Young dividing cells will better repair you skin, tissue, organs and immune system.
  3. With your body now repairing itself and recycling cellular damage, you’ll be less prone to diseases of old age, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.
  4. A human body that is always fighting off diseases of old age will live longer if not indefinitely: you’re not limited to 70 or 80 years. Your lifespan would be limited only by external factors (e.g. getting hit by a bus).

Dr. Fossel cites experiments which he believes proves the telomere theory of ageing. He says if we take skin cells from an elderly person and grow them in the lab, it will predictably produce old skin: weak, thin, easily tearable. Likewise, taking skin cells from a young person and growing them produces young skin: thick, strong, rugged skin. The moment of truth came when Dr. Fossel took the elderly skin cells and extended their telomeres. The result? The elderly cells acted as though they were young, and produced young skin.

This has significant implications beyond removing skin wrinkles from the elderly. Diseases of ageing, like heart disease and cancer (currently the number top 2 leading causes of death in the West) can be combatted by this same technique.

Fossel recently founded a new medical company, Telocyte, to apply these techniques in modern medicine. Their first target? Alzheimer’s disease. This disease of old age is the result of a breakdown in cellular function that clears plaques from the brain. As this recycling breaks down in old age, plagues build up on the brain, killing brain tissue and reducing cognitive function, eventually resulting in death.

Fossel believes by lengthening the telomeres of cells responsible for the cleanup of plaques on the brain, we can not only prevent Alzheimer’s, but even reverse it in existing patients.

A healthy skepticismbrain-salt-l

Before I go any further, a word about critical thinking.

Disciples of Yeshua in the 21st century desperately need a healthy skepticism. The internet, for all its blessings, is also a curse: an overload of information. Many people believe what they want to believe, and the internet quickly supplies it.

In the Hebrew Roots movement in particular, I’ve seen many people believe all kinds of nonsense. Conspiracy theories, flat earth, all-natural elixir cure-alls and other quackery.

This skepticism should apply to medical science as well. I am skeptical of the claims of Dr. Fossel, and you should be too. While he may not be a quack selling brain salt elixir, his theory could be wrong, or too simple, or any number of variables could invalidate it. It’s too early to tell, and the proof will be in the pudding. If we see Fossel’s company curing Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, then we can start to get excited. But until then, it’s just another claim in a sea of (mis)information.

Humans are going to live longer regardless

Whether the telomere theory of ageing holds or not, one thing is certain: humans are living healthier, longer lives. In the last 250 years science-based medicine has more than doubled human life expectancy:

The advent of surgery, vaccines, and antibiotics has greatly increased human lifespan worldwide.

200 years ago, it would be rare to see a person live to 70. Today, it’s the norm and we think nothing of it.

If this trend continues – and it likely will barring an apocalyptic event such as World War III – future generations will likely enjoy a longer lifespan. Fewer instances of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases of old age.

Consider the present: humanity has already eradicated small pox, nearly eradicated polio, and we have a cure for Hepatitis C.

New medical innovations like CRISPR enable us to cure genetic diseases; last month (November 2018), the FDA approved an investigational new drug application that aims to cure Leber Congenital Amaurosis, the leading cause of childhood blindness.

Eventually, humanity may reach a point where human disease is all but eradicated. At that time, humans may live indefinitely.

Eternal life in Christianity and Judaism

If medical and scientific progress continue, it’s likely humans will eventually live very long, if not indefinitely.

This got me thinking:  What does it mean for people of faith if science-based medicine allows us to live forever?

Judaism and Christianity are united in hope of eternal life via resurrection. It’s so central to our faith that the Apostle Paul said our faith is in vain if there’s no eternal life:

“How can some of you say there’s no resurrection of the dead? If it’s true there’s no resurrection, then Messiah wasn’t raised. And if Messiah wasn’t raised, our faith is in vain.”

-Apostle Paul, Letter to Corinth

It’s central to mainstream Judaism as well. The fundamental 13 principles of Jewish faith include a confirmation of the resurrection:

“I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.”

-Maimonides, 13th principle of Jewish faith

This is the eternal life that Judaism and Christianity speak about: that one day, at the time God sees fit, God will raise the dead back to life and we will live with Him on earth. This is the “Kingdom of God” spoken of in the gospels; the Olam Haba (Age to Come) that Judaism is waiting for.

For us, this message of the resurrection is based on an actual historical event: Messiah was raised from the dead by God some 2000 years ago. It’s not merely a matter of faith, but also one of evidence. The early disciples of Jesus knew whether he was dead or not – if anyone hid the body or made a false claim about his resurrection, it would have been them – and yet, all of them went to their brutal deaths proclaiming it to be true, refusing to recant: this man Jesus literally rose from the dead and appeared to them in the flesh after his death.

The idea of eternal life has impacted to billions of believers through the ages.

For example, at Hanukkah we remember the Maccabees who firmly believed that “after our death Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us and all our forefathers will praise us” (4 Maccabees 13). It was this conviction of eternal life that empowered them to stand up to a wicked and brutal empire. “You may kill us today, but one day we will be living again.”

For Christians, it was this same message of eternal life – now tangible and nearer with Jesus’ resurrection – prodding on the early believers to preach the risen Jesus, even with the threat of torture and death through Rome’s sadistic brutalities.

And on the darker side of things, it’s the same hope of eternal life that animates Islamic extremists to commit suicidal terrorism, believing they will enter Paradise with Allah for murdering unbelievers.

The hope of eternal life is still powerful today.

The recently deceased President George H.W. Bush hoped for eternal life, anticipating seeing his wife and his 3 year old son “on the other side.”

Messianic Jewish pioneer and Rabbi Stuart Dauermann spoke of his conversation with a dying woman, a skeptic of eternal life:

The medical technician said, “Lady: that’s the biggest tumor I ever saw.” And it was on her liver.

Lillian didn’t have long to live, and we had a conversation.

She said to me, “Ah, what the hell. When you’re dead you’re dead.”

I responded, “Lillian, you don’t know that. You’ve never died before!”

That brought her up short.

I then went on to say, ”Look, Lillian. Yeshua said this,  ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ Now, if some guy standing on a streetcorner says this, or some other clown, you could dismiss it as the rantings of a fool. But when a person who lived the most remarkable life ever lived, and whose life and teachings have had compelling force for thousands of years says this, then it’s something else entirely.”

She was listening now. I went on.

“Lillian, it’s like playing a game of poker. You can take all your chips and put them on your proposition, ‘When you’re dead you’re dead.’  Or you can take those chips and place them on Yeshua who said that by believing in him and in what he said, you will continue living even on the other side of death. Which choice will you make?”

She gave a smart answer. No surprise. “Well, I don’t have much choice do I?”

I agreed.

Eternal life is a powerful hope indeed!

But what if Lillian had a choice? What if her choice was, “Keep being a skeptic of faith if you please; medicine will cure your cancer.”

If humans can one day attain eternal life without faith and religion, what does that do to faith?

Addressing religious objections to medical life extension

Some may think this is a non-issue. Some of you fine readers will say,

“The Lord will return before then.”

Maybe so, but maybe not. It’s been 2000 years. What’s another few hundred? No one knows.

“It’s not our place. Extending human lifespan is playing God.”

Maybe. But many religious people used to think that surgery was also playing God, but I bet none of you will turn down life-saving surgery today.

Additionally, God commanded humans to subdue the earth. Doesn’t that include subduing disease?

“This is crazy talk. We’ll never solve death.”

That’s entirely possible, even likely. But the trajectory of history shows an increasing lifespan thanks to medicine and science. If the trajectory continues, we’re looking at very long lifespans, possibly indefinite lifespans. You may think I’m crazy, and you might be right. But it’s my blog, and I get to think out loud even the wild-eyed thoughts! Smile

“It’ll never happen, because God decreed death as a curse in Genesis.”

God did curse humanity with death in Genesis. But that curse included men working by the sweat of our brows and women having great pain in childbirth, and both of those have been alleviated.

Let me tell you, friends, I work hard, but I don’t sweat and I don’t work the fields. I consider that a blessing. My God-given technological skills have allowed me to provide for my family without back-breaking field tilling. And even if I was a farmer, I’d utilize technology – GPS-guided tractors, engines, crop rotation, irrigation, and more – so that farming isn’t so terrible an existence.

As for the curse on women, my wife gave birth just last year. She didn’t have much pain in childbirth thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Ditto for our other 2 children, both of whom are happy and healthy.

In short, the “curse on humanity” is still here – people are still dying, men are still working, and women still have pain in childbirth – but all those things have been alleviated by technology and medicine. Perhaps the curse of death can be alleviated as well.

Religious outcomes of medical eternal life

Maybe some of my readers will reject one or both, but suppose both are true:

  • Eternal life provided by God is real
  • Science-based medicine will provide eternal life, or something close to it.

Supposing both are true for a moment, what would religion look like?

The powerful message of eternal life that has animated so many Jews, Christians, and Muslims would probably be less impactful.

“Will you live forever?” will be answered with, “If I want to.”

That removes a reliance on God in some way.

Impactful statements from God will be less impactful. John 3:16’s famous, “All who believe in Me will not perish, but have everlasting life” would be rendered passé.

There will still be the desire to live with God – enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the Olam Haba – but that won’t be as powerful if death isn’t looming over every head.

So, I suspect religion and faith would be in decline because of one its central fruits would be duplicated by science and medicine.

On the other hand, it could make death even scarier for some. Like the man in a horror film running away from his tormentor, closing door after door on his pursuer, so too the person running from death through all kinds of medical interventions, trying everything to keep death at bay.

Maybe humans are designed to die, whether biologically or spiritually speaking. I spoke with my grandmother a few months before she died, talking to her about medical innovations that could extend human life. She told me, “I’d pass. I’m ready to die when the time comes, and I don’t want to live here forever.”

It took me by surprise. What I wish I would have asked her is, “Are you saying that because of all the pain and health trouble of old age? Would you still say that if you were healthy?”

As a healthy 35 year old, I want to live forever. I don’t want to die. But maybe time will change me.

Another interesting potential outcome of very long or indefinite lifespans is a good one: the accumulation of wisdom.

Young people are idiots who think they know everything. (I submit this blog post as evidence! Winking smile) Older generations have learned lessons that youth have yet to learn. The elderly have lived, experienced, and learned lessons difficult to pass on merely through words. And even if they coudl be transmitted by words, the young aren’t listening; they already know everything.

Having long-living people would likely increase humanity’s wisdom. Our leaders would likely be the more elderly people with more wisdom. Wisdom would dictate avoidance of war, because people who have experienced the hell of war would go to great lengths to avoid it. Culture would begin to see the elderly as wise, rather than as the nearly-irrelevant dementia-riddled burdens today’s culture views them as.

Long or indefinite lifespans would have repercussions worldwide; overpopulation would likely pressure us to move to other planets. Resource scarcity might produce war and famines. I won’t discuss these here, as I want to focus only on its impact on faith.

If science-based medicine can cure diseases, reduce suffering, and even give us eternal life, where does that leave faith? It will be a disruptive time.

Conclusion

The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, all because of modern medicine. Some see this in an atheistic light – “Look what we did…without God!”

But maybe God is the platform here, and we are built atop it. God told us to take dominion over the earth and subdue it. Subduing disease surely falls in line, then, with God’s own commandment to humanity, one that predates even the curse of death.

The appearance of Messiah 2000 years ago changed the world forever; even our reckoning of time (BC/AD). It also ushered in an era where the Christian ethic reigns: compassion, healing, feeding the poor, caring for the needy, hospitals, medicine, food and more are in abundance. Perhaps modern medicine is an outgrowth of Christianity. Indeed, many western hospitals were founded by pious Christians; many hospitals still bear names like “Saint Joseph’s” or “Methodist Central.”

Viewed in that light, modern medicine and its ultimate goal of wiping out disease is of godly origins. I welcome it. But how will your faith be affected, fine Kineti reader, if you can achieve eternal life in the here and now through medicine alone?

Paul’s Identity as a Messianic Jew: A Necessity for a More Accurate Interpretation of His Letters

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I’ve been teaching on Romans at my local Messianic congregation in Minnesota. It’s a Pauline deep dive from a Messianic perspective: starting with the premise that Paul is a Jew who is Torah-observant and considers himself part of a global Judaism centered around the Jewish Messiah.

This premise – which I believe is evident in the New Testament – brings us to better, more sound interpretation of Paul’s letters, which are often difficult to understand.

For example, Paul’s statements on the Torah appear conflicting. Consider:

  • Negative: “The Torah came in so that sin might increase.”  (Rom 5)
  • Positive: “The Torah is holy, good, and righteous.” (Rom 7)

How we interpret each of these statements creates either a negative or positive view of the Torah in modern followers of Jesus. Does Paul see the Torah as good and useful for instruction? (And thus, shouldn’t we?) Or is it an obsolete document no longer to be followed?

Here’s where our premises – our theological assumptions – are important: Paul’s statements about the Torah are more accurately understood if we grasp his identity.

Much of Christianity views Paul as an ex-Jew who ditched his Hebrew name, converted and helped start a new gentile religion. If this is to be believed, we can read Paul’s statements on the Torah in the negative. It exacerbates: if Paul is negative on the Torah, then grace, favor, and righteousness are pitted in opposition to God’s law. This negative view has produced all kinds of anti-Judaism and even anti-Semitism within historical Christianity. I think Paul the Jew would be horrified.

I see things in a more positive light: Paul remained a faithful, Torah-observant Jew, but was changed forever upon finding Judaism’s Messiah. It changed his direction and plans for life. Surpassing Paul’s grandest hopes and dreams, this Jewish Messiah would bring the whole world to know the God of Israel; creating an enlarged commonwealth of Israel whose members are not just Jews, but people from all nations. Not by circumcision and conversion to Judaism – God required no such thing - but by trusting in the Jewish Messiah. Paul saw himself as an instrument in bringing the whole world to the Jewish God.

This premise, I argue, is a better premise for accurately understanding Paul’s statements on Torah, faith, works, justification, and grace.

And this has been my area of study and teaching at my local congregation for over a year, now on my 12th teaching on Romans. As a study guide, I’m using the excellent Romans for the Practical Messianic by Messianic apologetic J.K. McKee.

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Romans for the Practical Messianic engages with relevant Jewish and Christian scholarship, in addition to Messianic theologians like David Stern, Tim Hegg, Daniel Lancaster, and others. It takes a conservative Biblical stance while approaching the letter from the premise that Paul is a Torah-observant Jew.

Romans in Simple Terms

Putting a teaching together usually takes me 4-5 days. A helpful aide in all this is putting the text in question into my own words. I find that if I can put the text into my own words, it shows I am at least understanding the words on the page, if not the meaning behind them.

imageThe masterful teacher and physicist Richard Feynman once said, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” My takeaway from that is, if I can’t explain something in simple terms, I don’t understand it.

I’m teaching on Romans 5 this Shabbat. Can I explain it in simple terms? Here’s my attempt. I leave you fine Kineti readers with Romans 5 in my own words:

God saw our simple trusting in Messiah, saw it was good, and set us right with Him. Because of this, we have shalom with God. This same trusting has caused us to enter into new divine favor. We bask in this favor! Shouting from the rooftops the hope we have in Him: the hope of eternal life by being raised from the dead.

We are glad even in suffering for the sake of Messiah's reputation. Suffering produces perseverance and endurance. The end result is character and hope. And all who hope in Him won't be disappointed! Even now, He's poured out His spirit on us, our hearts filled to overflowing.

Think back: we were evil people; helpless and blind to the things of God. Then, at the time appointed by God, Messiah forfeited His own life for us ungodly people. What righteousness! How rare it is that someone gives up his life to save even a righteous man. But God's greatness surpasses this still: showing how much He loves us by giving up His life even while we were evil! Messiah's work set us right with God, but above this, it saved us from God's wrath. His wrath would have been justified; after all, we were enemies of God by how we lived. But instead of wrath, God had a better plan in Messiah. His death caused us to have life, both today and in the age to come.

In the beginning, one man did wicked things and introduced evil into the world. With evil came its natural outcome: death. Now, all humanity is prone to the same: evil actions, and eventually death. How do we know what's evil and what's good? God defined this precisely in the Torah. What about before the Torah? Sin was still sin before then, but people didn't know. Thus, people still died, because it was still wickedness even before the Torah explained it.

Here’s the marvelous parallel: One man, Adam, did evil and it introduced death to all humanity. Now, one Man did something so grand and good, God's favor overflows onto the whole world. One man's evil action produced a death sentence for humanity, but Messiah's action produced an overflow of God's favor: life forever with Him. One man rebelled against God, and so God condemned him and all humanity. But one Man's righteousness caused billions to be set right with God.

God gave the Torah to amplify the reality of human evil and it's life-destroying outcome. But where sin became more apparent, God's forgiveness and favor multiplied. So while sin and death reign in humanity, God redeemed the situation by Messiah’s work. Before, sin and death. Now, favor and righteousness. This righteousness is so all-consuming, it overcomes even death itself: God will raise His people from the dead in that great day, and we will reign with Him.

Would the Torah Look Different If God Revealed It Today?

Moses with iPads

The Torah was given 3500 years ago; it’s filled with things that are directed toward ancients. Things like:

  • Sacrifice: Hundreds of commandments regarding sacrificing animals, which hasn’t been done in 2000 years. Ancient cultures utilized blood sacrifice in idolatry, but today it’s virtually disappeared. And because the Temple isn’t standing, we can’t keep these commandments today even if we wanted to.
  • Agricultural prominence: The Biblical holidays coincide with agricultural events. Ancient Israel was almost entirely agricultural, but today agriculture makes up a tiny percentage of human work.
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  • Care for women: A judicial system providing care for women (e.g. levirate marriage, where a man is obligated to marry his dead brother’s widow). In ancient cultures, women were almost entirely dependent on their husbands to provide food and wellbeing. Today, thanks to education and cultural changes, women are able to provide for themselves independently of men.
  • Plural marriage: Polygamy and concubines were permitted, likely because women and infants so often died during childbirth. Multiple female sexual partners would ensure children, who would then take care of parents in old age. But today, thanks to modern medicine, mother and infant mortality is exceptionally rare.
  • Slavery: Torah legislates slavery to reduce its ills (e.g. “You shall not return an escaped slave to his master.”). Up until the 20th century, slavery was prevalent in virtually every culture. Today, it’s all but abolished.
  • Work: Lighting a fire on shabbat was forbidden, possibly because fires were often used for work purposes. Today, a fire can be started effortlessly with a press of a thumb or flick of a switch. Moreover, people have fires for non-work reasons.

This is just a sampling; there are dozens of other commandments that, while they were important in the context of ancient Israel, are far less important now.

In fact, we religious people don’t keep many of these commandments. Faithful Jews and Christians don’t practice levirate marriage today, for example; there’s no need.

The corollary is, the Torah doesn’t address modern problems. For example,

  • Automobiles: Is it permissible to drive a car on shabbat? Turning the ignition technically starts a fire inside a combustion engine, and starting a fire is prohibited on shabbat.
  • Medicine: Many medical pills use gelatin capsules, which is often made from animals the Torah forbids eating.
  • Food: Kosher laws don’t address certain animals unknown to ancient Israel (e.g. turkeys). Moreover, could pork be kosher if fed a clean diet, or did God give kosher laws for reasons besides health? And by extension, if kosher laws are solely for health, would God forbid modern kosher-but-unhealthy foods, like fast food? (And yes, there are kosher McDonalds in Israel.)
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    A kosher McDonalds in Israel
  • Restaurants: Modern restaurants have grills on which both kosher and non-kosher animals are cooked. Is it permissible to eat kosher food cooked on a grill which inevitably brought it into contact with non-kosher food?
  • Electricity: Does electricity fall under the “no fire on Shabbat” prohibition? Flipping a light switch is technically starting a spark, which is technically a fire.
  • Construction: Modern houses are built differently than in ancient times. The Torah requires that ancient houses be built with guardrails on the roof so as to prevent people falling off. Today, most homes are not built by the person living in them, and it’s a very rare event to have someone walking on your roof.
  • Clothing: The Torah prohibits wearing wool and linen together as a garment. But modern clothing is often made up of multiple pieces of clothing (shirt, undergarment, pants, socks, etc.) How does one apply this commandment today, when clothing is made up of many pieces of garments, and each garment may be made up of multiple kinds of cloth?
  • Garment corners: God commanded Israel to put fringes on the 4 corners of their garments. Modern garments don’t have 4 corners. Do we put the fringes on belt-loops? Or as an undergarment (tallit katan)? Or do we even need to wear them?

Since the Torah doesn’t address such questions, we’re left to do our best to apply them in principle. Orthodox Judaism defaults to the most stringent application: no, we cannot drive on shabbat. Meanwhile, leftist streams of Judaism and Christianity all but dissolve the Torah; replacing it with a humanistic whatever-feels-good morality.

In the Messianic movement, most of us take a more pragmatic walk: yes, wear tzitzit in whatever way you can, because the principle is remembering God’s commandments, not whether you have 4 corners on your garment. Yes, you can eat clean animals even if cooked at a non-kosher restaurant, because contamination is a reality of the world.

Is the Torah irrelevant?

Liberal and leftist streams of Judaism and Christianity look at all this and say, “All those laws were for a different time, and need not be kept today.”

This isn’t to say the Torah is irrelevant. The values of the Torah are eternal; codifying a divine moral system in which murder, rape, and cruelty is immoral, while legislating care and provision for widows, orphans, and the poor.

And this is true historically. The values of the Torah set the stage for Western civilization, and enabled further moral advancements. For example, it was British and American Christians who, informed by the Biblical value that all men are on equal standing before God, abolished slavery. The whole world followed suit, and here we are a few hundred years later and slavery has all but disappeared.

Would a 21st century Torah look different?

Since we’ve achieved moral advancements built atop the Torah would the Torah look differently if God revealed it today?

This question came to mind while watching Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew and political conservative, engage in a discussion with an atheist at a secular university. Here’s the engagement in question:

Student: You had a great discussion with [atheist author] Sam Harris on your show about ignoring certain doctrinal texts, yet still believing in ideas like revelation.

Ben Shapiro: Yes.

Student: My question is, if you truly believe in the supernatural side of monotheism, why is it OK to perform, as you describe it, an “ongoing dialectic” – over time, pick and believe certain piece of doctrine, when you realize that the original parts were from an omniscient Being.

Ben Shapiro: So the answer that I gave Sam Harris, is that the omniscient Being, in this case God, gave us flawed human beings this book. This book was directed at a certain time and place. The people living 3000 years ago didn’t have the same education and values, the same evidence, the same scientific knowledge. They didn’t have the same 3000 years of development we’ve had since Sinai – and so God was speaking to a specific people at a specific time.

So a lot of the commandments are specifically directed at converting people away from more primitive practices to less primitive practices. To take an example, animal sacrifices. We now look at them and say that’s really primitive, pretty terrible. [Medieval Jewish sage] Maimonides puts this forth in 1100 [AD], this idea that there were pagan practices in which animals were slaughtered on behalf of pagan gods. And the idea was that you were appeasing these gods, and that these were use of animal sacrifices for perverse purposes. People weren’t willing to give up the perverse purposes at that time, and God knew that, so God converted the use of those purposes to the worship of Him.

[…]

Here’s the point. God didn’t just say to human beings, “Here’s the Law, I mean exactly what I say, forever, on these areas, without regard to what human beings are.” God injected an enzyme into human development. That enzyme, in my view, is revelation. And without that enzyme, there is no catalyst for Western civilization… Human beings using their reason and logic to apply eternal principles to new circumstances and new evidence over time.

The question the student poses is, if the Bible is from an omniscient God, why is it OK to not keep certain commandments?

Shapiro’s answer is that God gave the Bible to an ancient people with the understanding that people must interpret the Bible in new circumstances and evidence that would later arise. So while the principles of the Bible are eternal, circumstances may arise that change our application of those principles.

The principle to care for widows, orphans, the poor, women and children are eternal. But how we care for them looks different than 3500 years ago. (For example, we don’t leave the corners of our harvest fields for the poor, since many of us don’t have fields. Instead, we might give directly, or to charitable organizations that help the poor.)

The principle behind the commandment to create guardrails on the roof – to make homes safe for those in and around it – is eternal, but keeping it might look different in today’s culture.

Yes, a hypothetical 21st century Torah would look very different, but only in application. The eternal principles behind the application would remain the same.

Does this mean God changes? No; it means God gave an ancient people a law code – a civilizational document – for how to live good and upright lives. The principles behind this remain the same, even if applying those principles looks different 3500 years later.

Does this mean God wasn’t omniscient, or does this disprove divine authorship of the Torah? No; it means God was omniscient to the extent that He allowed human progress to shape the application of the eternal principles. God doesn’t assume we’re robots stuck in time, and it’s why the principles of the Bible remain relevant and applicable today.