Chapter 8 (Aaron’s Consecration) pages 151-163
I must admit that, having now read North’s chapter twice, I’m extremely apprehensive about beginning a critique of it. There are so many errors on its pages (whether misinterpretations of Scripture, assertions that have no Scriptural authority or the use of labels to undermine the work of christians in differing societies) that I fear that I may find it tedious to complete and give up halfway through - but persevere I must...
Perhaps the main problem here - as in the other chapters - is that North knows what he wants to say but thinks that Scripture needs to be made to support him? Perhaps he just hasn’t spent sufficient time thinking about the Scripture passages and their meaning? Perhaps his exposition is just plain sloppy? Whatever the reason, it’s too easy for the reader to be taken in by the sheer ‘logic’ of it all but, when his words are compared to the Scriptural account, it’s evident that what seems acceptable is, in fact, misguided.
North begins this chapter by quoting Lev 10:8-11 and then proceeds to discuss it as if it’s a passage that stands alone, surrounded by unrelated Scripture. But the entire passage is about an incident in the life of Israel when two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered what was unacceptable to God and were destroyed because of it (10:1-3) - North doesn’t mention these two sons throughout his chapter and, if my memory serves me correctly, he fails to mention the incident either.
What the priesthood had to do with the dead bodies is similarly unmentioned (10:4-7) as is Aaron’s failure to obey the legislation concerning the sin offering presented to the Lord through his grief over the loss of his sons (10:12-20).
And 10:8-11 sits right in the middle of the passage! The context is surely the incident that surrounds it! But North acts as if the context is irrelevant and fails to draw parallels with the Israelites’ experience, choosing to strike out against fundamentalists in his own, very personal attack.
Concerning these fundamentalists, North comments concerning Deut 14:26’s suggestion to the Israelites that they may spend their tithe on wine or strong drink [NB - the Bible’s ‘strong drink’ probably corresponds today most closely to the UK’s ‘real ales’, being a cereal based drink aimed at the purification of water] (page 152 note 1)
‘Fundamentalist Christians and other anti-alcohol legalists have great exegetical problems with this passage’
going on to regard the fundamentalists’ abstention of alcohol (page 153) as
‘...the anti-alcohol heresy...’
Not exactly mincing his words here, is he? Continuing his attack, he comments (page 156)
‘The question arises: Are these prohibitions [against drinking alcohol] still in force? The fundamentalist insists that...Christians...are no longer authorized to drink strong drink. The prohibition against drinking wine inside the temple has now been extended to the whole world, the fundamentalist insists’
and (page 159)
‘Fundamentalists do not use wine in any form because wine can be misused by undisciplined people’
and, again (page 160)
‘Like wine, cultural and political power can be abused, so they reject it as a matter of morality. Thus Christians are supposed to shun power, influence, and culture in the same way that they are to shun wine. Culture means dirty movies and perversion...’
Well, certainly these fundamentalists are gross sinners, aren’t they? Actually, in the UK, a fundamentalist can be someone who stands up for the authority of the Scriptures and who may - or may not - drink wine. There’s no indication in that label that a person is teetotal. An alternative definition here in the UK is an extreme religious believer who’ll resort to violence to achieve his own ends.
Therefore, I’m a fundamentalist in the former sense of the word. But I’m an abstainer of alcohol? Certainly not! But I’m labelled as being a believer in the ‘anti-alcohol heresy’ because North decides that the definition of the label should be used to undermine the work of God amongst people who take that label upon themselves to show that they believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
North’s care in teaching here is so sloppy that, with equal abandon, I could assert that all the books that have come out under the ‘Institute for Christian Economics’ publishing house must be equally sloppy - a grossly unfair assertion and one that I wouldn’t make, but North, by writing off the believing ‘fundamentalist’, begins a war upon part of the believing Church.
Why didn’t North begin by saying something like
‘Some fundamentalists that I’ve met (but I do not mean to colour all fundamentalists with the same brush) believe that...’?
Is his experience of the universal Church of God so narrowly defined that he thinks that all fundamentalist believers are abstainers from both wine and strong drink?
This problem needs addressing in the text - and it needs addressing immediately.
What North actually asserts is that, instead of the Scriptures teaching an abstention under the New Covenant, that it actually commands that it’s to be drunk! He notes (page 158) that
‘...God requires covenant-keepers to partake of [wine]’
noting that the exception (note 8)
‘...is valid for former alcoholics: weaker brethren (I Cor 8:9)’
The Scripture here cited is to lend weight to his assertion but it has nothing to do with his point - it concerns not eating ‘food’ that has first been offered to an idol and, by doing so, stumbling the brother who’s weak in faith.
Just in case we think that we might have misunderstood North, he conveniently repeats himself (page 163) saying
‘Abstaining from all liquor is also a denial of personal responsibility’
and (page 163 - my italics)
‘...God mandates fermented wine for His Supper, a judicial rejection of the mentality of the absolute prohibition against liquor...’
Notice North’s statement - God has mandated that alcohol be used in Communion (that is, God has commanded it to be used). But where? Certainly, the liquid that Jesus drank was wine - there can be no doubt about that - but He certainly never said that the only valid liquid for the Communion table was wine, neither that it shouldn’t be wine.
And in nations that have no vineyards? Or places where the expense of wine is beyond the finance of the poor? Or where wine just can’t be obtained? All these believers are condemned, according to North, for not drinking wine - the same as he condemns all those who abstain from wine.
It appears to me that, in this case (and I may be wrong), North is far too reliant upon the sacrament of christian living than the reality of a life of obedience lived in the power of the Spirit that can be free to partake or abstain in each circumstance in order not to unnecessarily offend or stumble a fellow believer.
The subject of alcoholic consumption under the New Covenant is a controversial one, nonetheless, and there are certain principles that need to be applied not only to this area of christian living but to many others. I have, therefore, included a short exposition of Romans 14:1-15:7 in the Additional Notes to North’s Part 2.
North states (page 151) that
‘The wine in this passage is analogous to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’
though we’re not told in what particular way that it’s similar. At the very least, we can say that it represented a prohibition but the extent to which North intends us to take this is uncertain.
But, later, North goes on to say (page 153) that
‘Like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, wine was specially reserved for God in the Mosaic sacrifices. The wine of sacrifice was exclusively His property...like the boundary in the garden, this was not intended to be a permanent boundary, but it was a requirement of that dispensation’
So, the teaching here is that, at some point in man’s history, God would have let him taste of the forbidden tree? But the only reason for the tree’s existent was to confirm to God that Adam and Eve would be obedient to His voice and will. When you remove the prohibition from the tree, there’s no longer an impartation of knowing what’s evil because it was the action of breaking the prohibition that brings that knowledge.
Besides, North needs to show from Scripture when God had intended to remove that restriction - or at least a declaration by Him that He was going to - before He has any justification for his belief.
North asserts that the ‘average Israelite’ (page 151-2)
‘...was specifically authorized by God to drink [wine] at the third-year feast...(Deut 14:26)’
which is incorrect. The passage in question (Deut 14:22-27) deals with the tithe of the land that had to be set apart for the Lord ‘year by year’ (v.22) - that is, annually. It was the contribution for the poor which was to be taken from the tithe that occurred every third year and this is dealt with in the subsequent passage (Deut 14:28-29). The conversion of the tithe into money for the practicalities of travel took place annually.
North sees the prohibition of Lev 10:9 as being applicable only when the High Priest was within the Tabernacle courts. He states (page 151) that
‘This prohibition applied to the priests [sic - should be High Priests and his sons, the Levites were priests] only while they were inside the tabernacle or temple’
and, again (page 151), in referring to Wenham’s commentary
‘Why did the prohibition against wine cease when the priest left the tabernacle?’
But this is too simplistic an interpretation. If we follow North’s line of reasoning here, we see that the High Priest had every right to minister to the Lord while under the influence of alcohol! Just because he wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol within the Tabernacle courts didn’t mean that he couldn’t have got well and truly ‘relaxed’ and ‘joyful’ (pages 159 and 161) before the time came for him to offer sacrifice that day.
North’s restriction upon Lev 10:9 to make it refer only to the Tabernacle boundaries immediately opens up the possibility that a similar fate might befall a subsequent High Priest that befell Nadab and Abihu when they were unable to choose the right type of fire to offer to the Lord (Lev 10:1-2). As I’ll comment later, I believe that the reason for this prohibition being included at this point in the narrative is that Aaron’s sons were inebriated - though this may not necessarily be correct.
It appears that the incident of Nadab and Abihu restricted the High Priest’s entry into this area to just once every year (Lev 16:1-2) and that, when he came, he wasn’t to be under the influence of alcohol.
North has, unfortunately, restricted the Scripture to refer to consumption of alcohol within the Tabernacle.
North notes (page 153) that
‘[Wine] was not burned on the altar because, like leaven, it was a fermented product’
I presume that this is a reference back to his previous teaching in an earlier chapter that said that leaven was not burnt on the altar because it represented covenantal continuity - but he doesn’t say that that is the case.
From a totally practical point of view, wine was not poured onto the altar of burnt offering because it would have had the effect of putting the fire out - and the flames must continue forever.
North asserts (page 153) that
‘...the king...was also prohibited from drinking wine’
quoting justification from Prov 31:4-5. Actually, the passage doesn’t command that kings should ’t drink ‘wine or strong drink’ and neither do we find any such legislation in the Mosaic Law. We’re told a few things concerning what the king both should and shouldn’t do (Deut 17:14-20) but commands about the consumption of any type of alcohol are lacking.
North’s statement (page 153) that
‘This advice...governed the highest civil magistrates: kings and princes’
is not proven. Besides, if we’re to take the context of the passage in Proverbs into account, we see that there’s a command there as to who should drink wine. It reads (Prov 31:6-7)
‘Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more’
If North is choosing to use the verse as a command that had been laid upon the kings and rulers of Israel (actually, v.1 says that it was a saying of the king of Massa, not of any king of either Israel or Judah) then the verses quoted must be taken equally as a command that wine and strong drink is only ever intended for the poor, miserable and distressed - something that North would not go along with.
Though the intention of the proverb, as North shows, is to remind rulers that they should be level headed whenever they dispense justice, it cannot be accepted in the same manner as if it had been a direct command laid upon the future king in the legislation of the Mosaic Law.
That a similar reason for the prohibition of wine for the High Priest existed is observed accurately by North.
Again, North shows that he’s failed to read the entire chapter in Leviticus when he states (page 154 - my italics) that
‘...if the priests failed to officiate correctly at the sacrifices, God would [not ‘might’] bring sanctions against both priesthood and people. Theses boundaries had to be respected’
Though not a sacrifice, the reason (context) for the prohibition regarding wine was the unholy offering to God of Nadab and Abihu in which they were judged swiftly and finally. But according to North’s scheme of things, what sanctions did God bring against the nation as a result of their sin? What did God do to the nation because Nadab and Abihu failed to distinguish between the holy and unholy?
The Bible is silent on the matter. Why? Because the priests suffered for their own sin, there were no national consequences. North’s ‘would’ of the quote needs to be tempered to make it accurate and bring it in line with Scripture.
Additionally, as will be also shown when the reader wades through my comments on Lev 8-10, the sacrifices were not offered wholly in accordance with the Levitical commands in chapters 1-7.
I cannot see any justification for North’s statement (page 154) that
‘Within the tabernacle, there could be discussion and study, just as there was later in the temple (Luke 2:46)’
It must be remembered that the Temple in question was a relatively large area by the time of Christ and that the Tabernacle was fairly small to ease transportation and re-erection. There’s little likelihood that Israelites could find space to discuss matters when the Tabernacle was set up because of the need for the sacrifice and offering of various items and this would have necessitated the usage of the entire east side of the laid out area.
Besides, what’s more significant, we don’t find mention of this practice! Perhaps I’m being unfair to expect God to tell the Israelites whether they could use the Tabernacle area for the discussion of their religion when He was very specific as to how it should be used, for instance, with regard to sacrifice? I think not.
The Tabernacle cannot be assumed to have been used for study and teaching because of a Scripture reference that’s around 1400 years distant from it and in a structure that was very much different from the one under consideration.
But, of course, North needs the High Priest’s teaching of the Law to Israel to occur within the Tabernacle area so that he has justification for asserting that the consumption of wine was solely a prohibition that was commanded within the Tabernacle courts (page 152 and 154-5), writing that
‘...the prohibition applied only to the tabernacle. Why not outside? Because the focus of concern was not the teaching of the law as such; it was the teaching of the law in a holy place’
It was alright, therefore, to be inebriated while teaching the Law to the Israelites outside the Tabernacle but the High Priest had to be sober if he did the very same act within the Tabernacle courts...I don’t think so.
North denies the authority of Scripture when he asserts (page 154-5 - my italics) that
‘The declaration of the law from within the tabernacle had far greater authority than the declaration of God’s law outside the tabernacle’
In other words, it’s the place in which God’s written words are read that determines the weight that we can attach to them. Certainly not! God’s written account presented to us as the ‘Bible’ carries equal authority whether, personally speaking, I read it sat on the toilet or within a church building - or, to put it in it’s Old Testament context, whether the Israelite sat up reading it in his tent by candlelight or whether he heard it being proclaimed to him by the High Priest within the Tabernacle.
The authority was inherent in the text, not in the place that it was read.
North again makes an error when he observes (page 158) that
‘...wine...prior to the Mosaic economy...was even allowed to the priesthood...(Gen 14:18)’
But, try as we might to see Melchizedek as a participant in the bread and the wine that he brings to Abram after his victory (the content of his Scripture citation), we can’t find it. The Scripture only tells us that he brought the bread and wine, it doesn’t say that he either ate the bread or drank of the wine - neither does it say that he didn’t eat and drink.
As there’s silence in the Scripture concerning this, we can’t build a fact upon it.
On the one hand, North sees that a person in certain employment and/or when judgment and concentration need to be used shouldn’t be (page 161)
‘...under the influence of alcohol or drugs...’
because that person would be
‘...a threat to society’
He then goes on to consider the position ‘after work’
‘Why should alcohol be prohibited, if the person does not subsequently drive? What about relaxation? There is no biblical prohibition’
but here he’s opened his teaching up to the allegation of supporting drug use so long as it’s practiced outside office hours. Certainly, as North says, there’s no prohibition against it and, judging by North’s further statements (page 162-3)
‘Wine is for celebration after daily work is over. A mild alteration of the senses in this case is legitimate...We are not to become...alcoholics...’
it is only addiction that’s condemned by God, not its use in relaxation. So why not use narcotics so long as we don’t arrive at a state of addiction? North doesn’t, unfortunately, address the issue of drug use within the pages of the chapter, tantalisingly hinting at the legitimate use of drugs but hiding behind silence - but he does condemn the use of (page 162)
‘...distilled liquor [I presume items such as whiskey, gin etc.,] , drugs [state-banned items?], and television [even christian broadcasting and information programs?]’
which appears to contradict his position of the legitimacy of using drugs for relaxation. His exact label of these three items is ‘mindless, addictive escapism’
North also misquotes Eph 5:17-18 stating (page 163) that
‘The New Testament prohibition against drunkenness is a boundary against alcoholism’
Of course, the Scripture means no such thing. Yes, the Bible does warn against addiction in the context of choosing Church elders (I Tim 3:3, Titus 1:7) and deacons (I Tim 3:8) and it’s reasonable to understand that any addiction pulls away from a dependency upon Christ - but the Ephesians passage speaks of getting drunk not getting addicted.
Finally, North notes (page 162) that
‘The Mosaic priesthood has not been inherited since its demise at the fall of Jerusalem’
Actually it hadn’t been a matter of inheritance through the line of Eleazar (or any other line) for quite sometime before Jerusalem’s sacking. The Romans had selected who they wanted to be High Priest in order that there might not be any provocation by the religious leader of the nation to rise up against Roman rule.
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