Question

The Baha'is cult believes that certain religious leaders from various world religions were sinless manifestations of God. Sadly, they place Jesus within this common group, denying his exclusive status as God and Savior. In this regard, they assert that Moses was one of these "sinless" manifestations. Baha'i followers recognize that God punished Moses, which Christians take to be evidence of Moses' sin, but they insist that Moses suffered punishment only in an intercessory way: God punished him "on account of the people." For positive proof of Moses' sinlessness, they point to Scripture's statement that Moses was "faithful in all God's house" (Num. 12:7; Heb. 3:2). How should this statement of Scripture be exegeted?

Answer

In Numbers 12:7, where God says that Moses "is faithful in all [his] household," the verb translated "is faithful" aman. But nowhere in Scripture is aman used to denote sinlessness. Rather, in the niphal stem (in which it appears in Num. 12:7), it means "(to be) faithful/loyal/confirmed/established/verified/reliable." In Numbers 12:7, this detail is given about Moses in order to demonstrate why God spoke with Moses "mouth to mouth" or "face to face," clearly and not in riddles, and in a way that Moses could behold his "likeness." But it is simply not the case that one must have been sinless for his entire life in order for God to speak with him in this way (e.g. Gen. 32:30; Deut. 5:4; Isa. 6:1-7; Ezek. 20:35; Matt. 13:10-16). It is an inappropriate assumption to draw the idea "sinless" from the word aman.

Second, faithfulness does not imply absolute sinlessness, but rather subscription to the law, and fidelity to and belief in God. In the case of sin in Moses' day, faithfulness expressed itself by repentance and sacrifice, and by trust in God for forgiveness (cf. Paul's statements regarding himself prior to conversion that he was both "blameless" [Phil. 3:5] and the foremost "sinner" [1 Tim. 1:15]). Yes, a faithful man ought to sin less than a man who is not faithful, but there is not a precise correspondence between one's faithfulness and one's avoidance of sin.

Third, it is quite reasonable to interpret the verse as the NRSV does: "Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house." If this is the proper meaning, the verse does not speak to Moses' personal character, but to his position as leader of the people. In this case, God spoke clearly and face to face with Moses in order to empower Moses' leadership. In fact, this seems to be exactly what happened as a result of Moses' face to face encounters with God: he was empowered (e.g. Exod. 34:29-35). It would also be a statement of Moses' delegated authority from God as his covenant emissary, which would best explain why God took personal offense at Miriam's words against Moses ("my servant"). In the ancient Near-Eastern world, the king's covenant emissary bore the delegated authority of the king himself. To insult the emissary was to insult the king who sent him (cf. Matt. 10:40-41). In the case of Aaron and Miriam, their sin was comparing their own authority and visions to those of Moses (Num. 12:2). In so doing, they devalued God's representative, and thus devalued God. Their boldness stemmed from the grace God had shown them, but it was an incorrect and sinful assumption on their part -- they should have feared to speak against the Lord's representative (Num. 12:8; cf. 1 Sam. 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Sam. 1:14,16; 19:21).

In fact, I believe this is the best understanding of the interpretation of Numbers 12:7 offered in Hebrews 3:2,5-6. Moses was faithful "in" the house, as an "appointed" "servant" who represented the Lord before the people, and who led them as the Lord had charged him to do. Jesus, on the other hand, was not an appointed servant, but an appointed son. Jesus was not just the master's representative as was Moses, but he became the master himself ("over" the house, not "in" it). Just as with the Hebrew word aman, the Greek word pistos which appears in Hebrews does not mean "sinless," but "loyal, faithful, trustworthy, reliable, believing." Moses was entrusted with the leadership of the people of God as an apostle and high priest (Heb. 3:1), not as a sinless man.

Fourth, if the NRSV is wrong in its reading (though I am persuaded that it is correct), the phrase "faithful in all my household" still probably should not refer to the arena in which Moses was faithful, but rather to the faithfulness with which he discharged his duties as leader. In the alternative, it may also be that that "in all my household" is simply a way of stating the superlative nature of Moses' loyalty to God (i.e. Moses was the most loyal or was exceedingly loyal). The verb "he is faithful" is a participle -- a substantive verb functioning as a noun. In Hebrew, one way to form a superlative construction is by use of the divine name in conjunction with a noun/substantive (e.g. "mountains of God" means "the greatest mountains"). Another common way is to use the term mcol (literally: "of/from/above all"), as in ("the cunning of all" being understood as "the most cunning"). While bcol is clearly not mcol, in the context of this sentence it is arguably equivalent, and the switch from m ("of/from/above") to b ("in/with") makes sense in light of the fact that the noun of comparison ("household") is a collective singular. Thus, there are two different reasons (divine name, and bcol) to think that the sentence may really be saying that Moses is the most faithful person in the covenant community. But this is really nothing surprising. After all, we see throughout the Pentateuch that Moses continually remained loyal to God and continually called the people to follow him, and that the people continually rebelled and strayed. Moses wasn't sinless; he just kept loyal to God's program of leading the people to the Promised Land.

Fifth, even if we grant for the sake of argument the mistaken idea that "faithfulness" implies "sinlessness," we still have no implication that Moses was absolutely sinless. Rather, we have only a statement that he was the "most sinless" (i.e. he was less sinful than anyone else). Given the fact that God killed everyone in the first generation of that covenant community who left Egypt (except for Joshua and Caleb) because of their sin, and did not allow them to enter the Promised Land, and given those same people's constant rebellion against God, it is easy to understand that Moses would not have needed to be sinless in order to be the least sinful person in the land.

As a side note, you might also refute them with Exodus 4:24-26. In that passage God seeks to kill Moses because Moses fails to circumcise his son. There is no representation happening here, only personal sin.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.