Tag Archives: Jesus


Book Review: Mishnah and the Words of Jesus

Midrash is the art of keeping an ancient text alive. The Rabbis were masters of drawing water from stone, of transforming the most mundane passages of Torah into luminous nuggets of spirituality.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Accountability,” pg 330, March 8, 2003
Commentary on Torah Portion Pekudei
from his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Probably anyone who has ever focused on the teachings of Jesus is aware that he was a product of the religious milieu that emerged in the 1st century of the present era.

-Roy B. Blizzard
“Chapter 3: A Good Eye”
Mishnah and the Words of Jesus (Kindle Edition)

I sometimes complain that certain teachers and scholars in the realm of Messianic Judaism periodically “flirt” with taking some of the various texts compiled in the Talmud and anachronistically applying them, some composed many centuries after the Apostolic Era, to the letters of Paul and the teachings of Jesus. If we were to assume that the author of, for example, the Zohar (which is not part of the Talmud) spoke in the same voice as Jesus and the apostles and applied no other methods of examining how this could be reasonably and rationally accomplished, then we would be making a terrible mistake. I don’t say this is done routinely, but in reading or listening to lessons such as D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews (which he has been conducting for well over a year and the series shows no signs of abating), we must be cautious to make sure that when we apply midrashic methods of studying the New Testament epistles, we are not projecting the later voices of the Rabbis backward in time, making the writer of Hebrews speak lessons that he (or she) would not have known or intended.

On the other hand, there is a way we can justify viewing Hebrews, or Paul’s epistles, or the Gospels, through a “midrashic lens,” or perhaps better said, a “mishnahic lens,” so to speak, and I think that’s the point of Dr. Blizzard’s book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus. Instead of starting in the future and working his way into the past, Blizzard begins with the scholars and sages contemporary to Jesus or appearing just before and after him historically, and then works his way forward. Blizzard suggests, and I agree with him, that the teachings of Jesus were understood as completely consistent with the way the various Rabbinic branches of the normative Judaisms of his day were teaching.

Continuing in Chapter 3, Dr. Blizzard writes:

In the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5 and following, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Where did Jesus get that idea? Who are the meek? What does it mean to be meek? If we did not know that Jesus was a rabbi, speaking Hebrew, using rabbinic methods in his teaching, hinting back at something that has already been said or written, and that his listeners basically have all of this material memorized, we would not understand. (emph. mine)

And as I’ve said before I think most of us in the Church don’t understand. Instead of reading the teachings of the Master with an eye on these first century Jewish “rabbinic methods of teaching,” Christianity in all of its various flavors, imposes its own interpretive traditions on the text, forcing anachronistically, meanings onto and into the words of Jesus, Peter, Paul and the other New Testament teachers, that were formulated (at best) decades after the end of the Apostolic Era, but more than likely many, many centuries after, and these traditional interpretations are wholly detached from anything that would have occurred in the thoughts of Jesus and the apostles.

In Chapter 2: “Teaching, Tithing and Silence,” Blizzard states:

Perhaps we would all do well to heed Gamaliel’s injunction to provide ourselves with a teacher in he matter of tithing to relieve ourselves not just of doubt, but of the erroneous teaching that has been prevalent in the Church for over a thousand years. (emph. mine)

Hillel and ShammaiIn this instance, Dr. Blizzard is referencing associations between the teachings of Jesus as related to the Mishnah, specifically the sages Shammai, Hillel, and Gamaliel, as related to passages in Torah that speak of generosity and compassion toward the poor, which modern Judaism refers to as tzedakah or charity, but with the underlying meaning of justice and righteousness. However, I think Blizzard’s words can be applied to a much wider scope and indeed, to many of the common teachings of the Church about the meaning of the Bible, particularly in terms of the continuance of Torah in the lives of the Jewish people, the continuance of the Jewish people in God’s love and plans for the present and future, and the continuance of Judaism as a valid lifestyle by the Jewish people of devotion to and worship of the God of Israel.

If, on the other hand, the Church could see the strong parallels between the teachings of Jesus, his contemporaries, and those Rabbis who closely followed him in history, such as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who was present at the fall of Jerusalem and is considered single-handedly responsible for formulating “the direction that Judaism would take” after the destruction of Herod’s Temple and the great exile of the Jewish people into the diaspora, then perhaps we could initiate a desperately needed corrective action in the Christian Church and in Christian hearts.

Blizzard emphasizes this in the following quote from Chapter 4: “The Will of the Father.”

How important it is that we study rabbinical literature, the sayings of the rabbis. The way in which they teach, the word pictures they paint, the images upon which they draw, because it gives us an understanding of the words of Jesus, the ideas, the concepts upon which he is drawing. In many instances, without a knowledge of this background, because of the images, the idioms, the metaphors, etc., so widely used by the sages and rabbis, we are unable to understand the depth, the meaning, of the words of Jesus.

It’s not only ironic but profoundly sad that most churches reject the very lessons and teachings that would enable the clergy and laity to understand Jesus Christ the most. By rejecting the teachings of the Mishnah which sit at the very heart of the various ancient and modern streams of Judaism, Christianity rejects the very heart of the meaning of the teachings of her Savior.

Chapter 4 of Blizzard’s brief but powerful book is a tour de force of comparisons between the specific teachings of Jesus and quotes from the different rabbis recording in the Mishnah. There are too many of them for me to record here, but fortunately, Blizzard’s book is quite affordable (especially the Kindle version, which can be downloaded in seconds), so I heartily recommend you purchase a copy and read it for yourself.

Not only is the Mishnah very Pharisaic, it is also very Pauline which, of course, is to be expected in view of the fact that Paul refers to himself as “a Pharisee of Pharisees.”

Blizzard shifts his focus at this point, from comparing the teachings of Jesus to the Mishnaic rabbis to making comparisons between the Mishnah and the Pharisaic Apostle Paul. Blizzard further states:

I want to emphasize that the ideas reflected here in the Chapters of the Fathers can be found in the teachings of all the New Testament writers, which, again, is just what we should expect. Why? Because they are all Jews. They all came from the same background, the same religious and spiritual heritage.

The Rebbe and the ChildBlizzard introduced the first chapter of this book, “Tzedakah and Righteousness,” by saying he intended to compare the teachings of Jesus to “the words of the rabbis prior to, and contemporary with, and following Jesus, recorded for us in the Mishnah, Order Nezikin, Tractate Avot…” and then he said something that especially attracted my attention:

In the teachings of Jesus, there is one underlying and overriding theme, a theme on which Jesus constantly dwells, a theme that serves as the foundation upon which biblical faith is built. If one looks at the Bible as a whole, if one includes additionally all Jewish literature that is extant, the Oral Law, the Written Law, the commentaries, and search for one, single, overriding theme that is the foundational theme of biblical faith, one would have to conclude that that foundational theme is summed up in the Hebrew word tzedakah… (emph. mine)

Blizzard follows the thread of tzedakah, which as I said, in Judaism is associated with charity, righteousness, and justice, through the teachings of Jesus, the rabbis of the Mishnah, and across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings to paint an overarching landscape of God’s message to human beings.

This is a concept I harp on with some regularity; that we must engage the Bible as a single document that is inexorably interconnected, rather than “cherry pick” various verses and passages of scripture willy-nilly as they seem to map to our preconceived theologies and doctrines, and then string them together to create the illusion that the entire theme of the Bible is represented by those few bits and pieces we’ve jumbled into our religious collage. I think by now, most Christians realize that you can prove just about anything if you connect the dots between carefully selected words and phrases in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean the Bible as a cohesive unit really says what you are making it say.

I know. I could be accused of the same thing. After all, I have a point to prove just like everyone else. But although I think there’s a lot of truth in Blizzard’s belief that the Bible’s central theme is tzedakah, I have been trying to make the argument in my various blog posts, that the central theme is actually about God’s desire and His plan to unite all of humanity under a single King, and for God to dwell among His people without requiring that His Jewish people stop being Jewish or stop practicing Judaism in order to bring honor and glory to the Jewish Messiah and the God of Israel.

What is the central theme of the Bible according to the various streams of normative Christianity? Here’s a rather harsh sounding rebuke from Dr. Blizzard in Chapter One:

Jesus has become an idol, if you will, our focus of attention, our focus of worship, and it seems that very few think of God anymore. Seldom do we hear anyone speak of the glory of God, his grandeur and mercy, the holiness of God, and the other many attributes and characteristics of God.

I should mention at this point, that a good friend of mine, once a Jewish believer, has rejected Jesus as the Messiah, in part, because of what Dr. Blizzard said in the above-quoted paragraph. My friend spares no effort in explaining on his blog what he sees are the errors in Christianity.

Now before my Christian readers get really mad at Blizzard, he went on to say…

Please understand that I am not trying to lessen the importance of Jesus. What I am trying to do is emphasize that, in all the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the gospels, his focus is not upon himself, what he is, what he is doing, or what he is to become. Additionally, Jesus has very little to say about God and, in particular, the Worship of God.

My point is that, in the teachings of Jesus, there is not all that much emphasis upward.

Blizzard then maps the teachings of Jesus and the sayings of the rabbis in the Mishnah, back to what he sees as the central emphasis of Jesus and of Judaism which is the care and concern for other human beings as the primary means of living our faith and worshiping God.

tzedakah-to-lifeIn addition to the focus on Jesus as Savior, the Church tends to focus on the concept of preaching the gospel, which translates into God’s personal plan of salvation for the elect. And that’s where it stops for a lot of churches. Fortunately, Blizzard’s rebuke of Christianity doesn’t include each and every church. Many churches, such as the one I currently attend, focus heavily on studying the Bible as a means of knowing how to serve God and other human beings, primarily through acts of charity and support of missionary efforts to some of the more desperately needy people groups on our planet.

In fact, one of the things some churches do really well are acts of tzedakah as well as something called Gemilut hasadim, which can be translated as acts of loving-kindness. Christians get the idea of grace from this Hebrew term. The difference is that tzedakah or acts of charity can be performed only on the poor, while gemilut hasadiam, which involves giving money or a personal service, can be done for anyone.

However, Blizzard’s distinctly “Jewish” presentation of these concepts alongside the teachings of Jesus and the Mishnah, provide an exceptionally fresh look at an essential something that often goes stale in many churches or in many individual Christian hearts. By linking something that the church actually does with how vital those actions are in ancient and modern Judaism, Blizzard successfully creates a link between what else is vital in Judaism, especially the Judaism of the time period around the Apostolic Era, and what the Church isn’t doing and isn’t teaching because these are things the Church has ultimately dismissed as having been “nailed to the cross” with Jesus.

Roy Blizzard’s book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus is a perfect example of why I find it absolutely necessary to access my faith in Christ by way of studying Judaism and, in my case, particularly Messianic Judaism. I’m certainly not Jewish, but it is quite possible and even desirable to be a Christian and to study Messianic Judaism in order to understand and then practice what I learn from the Bible.

Roy Blizzard
Dr. Roy B. Blizzard

There were quite a number of other gems in Blizzard’s book, but I should limit my review, not only for the sake of length, but to permit readers such as you to allow “Mishnah and the Words of Jesus” to unfold itself in your own experience.

However, I do want to say something else in wrapping up this blog post. It may sound like I’m distinctly “anti-Church” and interestingly enough, “anti-Christian,” even though I identify myself as a Christian, a disciple of Christ or Messiah. This isn’t actually true. While I point to the warts and moles I see on the Church and which, for the most part, the Church choses to ignore, I also see the beauty that has been maintained among those whose highest goal is to wholeheartedly serve Jesus Christ by serving humankind.

I’ve written God Was In Church Today and In Defense of the Church recently as much to remind myself as to remind everyone else that the Church is good. But in the words of Boaz Michael of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), “the Church needs to change.” Hopefully, scholars such as Dr. Roy Blizzard, Messianic Jews such as Boaz Michael, and even ordinary, everyday people like you and me, can contribute to that change for the sake of Israel and in the service of God.

One final thing. At the top of this blog post, I quoted Ismar Schorsch briefly commenting on Midrash. It is true that Midrash and Mishnah are not the same thing but they do have something in common. They both represent a way of thinking about God and a way of communicating about God as we study the Bible. You can study the Bible apart from any acceptance and understanding of the rabbinic sages and still learn a lot, but I believe you will not only miss a great deal of important detail in your study, but you’ll perpetuate a system of misunderstanding the Bible’s panoramic message, especially about God, Israel, the Jewish people, Judaism, and the role we non-Jews play as the crowning jewels of the nations. For the sake of Israel, and for the sake of the return of the Messianic King, we owe it to ourselves, to the Church, to Israel, and to God to learn all we can learn by setting aside our “institutionalized Christian learning,” and stepping outside the box, so to speak. If you’re not sure how to begin, Dr. Roy Blizzard’s Mishnah and the Words of Jesus is a good place to start.

Church of Christ Dublin

What Makes You Think Your Church Is Better?

It’s funny. We still live in a celebrity culture. Even Christians have chewed hard on it.

Whenever a celebrity Christian author or blogger talks about “leaving church,” all of a sudden masses of Christians think a new conversation has suddenly began, and people left and right start firing off opinions.


A few words about “leaving church.”

Virtually every time I catch wind of the phrase—leaving church—almost always the person using the phrase never explains what he/she means by church.

-Frank Viola
“10 Reasons Why I Left the Institutional Church in Search of the Ekklesia”

No, I’m not talking about me doing any leaving, but in considering my recent writing on the role of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish worship space and how some Hebrew Roots proponents believe that the Torah of Moses is somehow owed to them, I pondered other applications of Viola’s article which I quoted above.

I first found the article several days ago in Facebook and read it, but Viola’s issues don’t really resonate with me. In re-reading his missive though, I started clicking links to find out more about him getting to his personal blog and figuring out that he writes these articles, in part, to market his books and ideas. That’s not a bad thing. If you produce something you want someone to buy, you have to market it. I’m an author in my spare time and I work for the marketing department of my “day job,” so I know how it goes.

But when Viola talks about “leaving church,” he isn’t saying what you might imagine. He separates out what he calls the “institutional church” from something more “organic” and what he calls “the Deeper Christian Life” (which he’s written a number of books about, and all of them seem to do well on Amazon).

In reading his ten reasons for leaving the institutional church and his ten (eleven, really) reasons for becoming part “of the organic expression of the church (the ekklesia)…”, I started thinking of my own current church experience and of the aforementioned Hebrew Roots movement, (I used to belong to a Hebrew Roots congregation) and the common statement one often finds in Hebrew Roots about leaving “church” AKA “Babylon.”

On a fundamental level, unless you leave the faith altogether and become an atheist or a member of a religion other than Christianity (and I include Hebrew Roots and even, to a degree, Messianic faith as part of “Christianity” … faith in and worship of Christ/Messiah), you never really leave “the Church,” the community of believers in Jesus. As Viola points out, you really have to define what you mean by “church,” especially if you think you’re leaving it. Even if wherever you worship isn’t called a “church,” you probably still worship with other people in a somewhat organized fashion and have a theology and doctrine that is more or less recognized as “Christian.”

So what are people leaving and what are they looking for? Having done no research at all and having no data to back up my personal opinion, people are leaving congregations and organizations where they do not feel connected and are joining or at least searching for congregations where they feel they belong.

Seems pretty obvious, huh?

That probably is one of the reasons why there are so many denominations and so many different types of worship venues, styles, and whatnot. Identify a disenfranchised Christian population and cater to them. Churches split periodically for a wide variety of reasons and create new churches that satisfy the desires of those who were previously not satisfied.

Church splitBut to split, you have to possess a sufficient population of dissatisfied people to gather around and create a new church. They all have to also be dissatisfied in the same or very similar way so that you don’t gather together a group of individuals with each of them wanting something completely different out of the new church.

I have no statistics about how many people leave traditional, institutional churches each year specifically to enter into an entity called “Hebrew Roots”. It gets more complicated in that within the umbrella term Hebrew Roots is a plethora of different sorts of congregations, with overlapping but differing beliefs, practices, theologies, and so on. Often, these different subgroups don’t get along with each other for a number of reasons. Some believe in praying only in Hebrew, others prefer English, some pronounce the Sacred Name of God one way, some do so a different way, some believe it should never be pronounced at all, and on it goes.

Another confusing factor is that many Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism” when in fact, their definition of the term flies in the face of what I consider Messianic Judaism to actually be.

Be that as it may, a non-trivial number of Gentile Christians are leaving various institutional churches each year (again, I have no specific numbers) and joining some variation of a Hebrew Roots or sometimes authentic Messianic Jewish congregation, small group, home group, or study group.

What are they looking for?

Like I said above, they’re looking for other people who think, act, and believe just like they do, or enough like they do that any differences don’t really matter.

So what’s the attraction?

Both Hebrew Roots in all of its variations and Messianic Judaism in all of its variations have one thing in common. They believe institutional Christianity in all of its variations has the Bible all wrong. They believe that “the Church” (big C) made a big mistake in “establishing” that the Law was nailed to the cross with Jesus, that grace replaced the Law, that Jewish people need to convert to Christianity and functionally (though not genetically or in name) stop being Jewish, and that Judaism as a faith and worship form is a dead-end made up of “dead works” and no spiritual life.

I believe “the Church” made its big mistake early on and through nearly two-thousand years of reformations, revivals, and any other course change you could possibly imagine, the Church never, ever corrected that mistake. In fact, the mistake has become so ingrained in the Church, that it never even occurs to any of the institutional and local expressions of Christianity to even question the initial interpretive error that is now driving some individuals and groups away from “church” and into something that is attempting to behave as a corrective effort.

How many Christian denominations exist today? Somewhere in the thousands? Tens of thousands? Heck, how many translations are there of the Bible just in English? Almost as many it seems. So many expressions of “the Christian faith” and “the Word of God,” apparently created to satisfy the perspectives, opinions, wants, and needs of various human beings who don’t want to leave God but who want God and Christ on their/our own terms. There’s even a brand new Bible translation called The Gay Bible.

Do I sound cynical?

No wonder Jesus asked poignantly, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Human beings are a pain in the…

Frank Viola
Frank Viola

I wonder how God puts up with us?

Frank Viola’s answer to all this is in a book he wrote called Reimagining Church. No, I’m not going to rush out and buy it or any of his other books. My current wish list of books is already long and getting longer all the time. It’s also crafted to suit my current perspective on God, Messiah, and everything and I suspect based on what I’ve read of Viola’s writing so far, that we probably don’t share a lot of opinions.

Viola (Pagan Christianity), a leader in the house church movement, believes the church as we know it today is nothing like what God intended it to be. According to Viola, the first-century church, which should be our pattern, met in homes without any official pastor. All members of the church were involved in worship, spontaneously breaking out with teaching or song as they were moved. Decisions were not made until everyone reached consensus. There were no official leaders or elders, but there were men who served and taught and helped others, thus leading by example. Viola believes that to bring the church back on track, both clergy and denominations must be completely abolished. Churches should not have buildings nor should they worry about doctrinal statements. Such radical ideas will best be received by Emergent and postmodern readers. Skeptics will cringe at Viola’s strident tone and all-or-nothing approach. More concrete examples of what Viola has seen work well in his 20 years of house church work would have greatly strengthened the book.

-from Publishers Weekly
as found at Amazon.com.

If I had to pick a “reimagining of church,” it would probably look more like Beth Immanuel and less like the so-called first-century home churches that Viola seems to hold up as an ideal. But then Viola is doing what I said we all do, finding a congregation (or making one) that reflects his own desires and ideals. We all want to have it our way, as the old Burger King commercial goes.

So what’s the real answer? Underneath our vain attempts to assuage our own discomfort in the world of religion and to make ourselves feel better in a body of faith, I’m going to trust that at least some people are actually searching for something authentic, something real, something that will allow them to actually encounter God on God’s terms.

Is there more than one way to do that? Can you encounter God in a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, and dare I say it, in a Jewish synagogue? My personal opinion is yes, since I’ve encountered God in all three communities (and I don’t mean just a Messianic Jewish synagogue, I mean a synagogue where they don’t believe in Jesus).

One of the things Viola writes that I can agree with is that we all need to worship in community rather than as “lone wolves” (my words, not his) or just as an individual family or a few families who come together.

I wanted to know Christ deeply, and I discovered that we can only comprehend “the breadth, depth, height, and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” when we are “together with all saints.” It’s not an individualistic pursuit, but an intensely corporate (collective) one.

BabelAll that said, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be incredibly difficult sometimes to find a group that meets your needs. For some, they have to build it, if at all possible and within the will of God (and make no mistake, like Babel, it’s possible to build something outside the will of God, it just won’t last past the return of Messiah).

I don’t have an answer for you. I know that may be disappointing, but I’m caught in the same trap as everyone else. If you’re human, you can only see everything from ground level, so to speak. No one has the perspective of God. We’re all down here wallowing in the mud, struggling to climb to even slightly higher ground so we can get a better look at what we think is better.

Problem is, we all think we’ve got the inside track on “better,” that by “coincidence,” just happens to map perfectly to our personal wants, needs, and desires. Imagine that.

I can only imagine that God looks down at all of us, covered in mud, dead leaves, and our own grandiose arrogance and just shakes His head, the way we would at some teenage kid who thought he or she had the whole world figured out. “Yeah,” He says. “Just you wait. You’ll find out what’s really going on one day and aren’t you going to be shocked out of your socks.”

So people leave “church,” however they define it, because it’s “Babylon,” because it’s “pagan,” because it’s “apostasized” from the true faith of Messiah and has thrown away the Torah like a used diaper and the Jewish people along with it.

But are any of those folks doing any better? I guess it depends. At the center of all this isn’t the institution, and it isn’t the rituals, and to some degree, it isn’t even some of the interpretations and doctrines, it’s the authentic, true, real, and valid desire to serve the living God of the Bible. We may get a lot of things wrong, all of us (yes, you too and yes, me too). But somewhere in there, we probably manage to do a few things right as well.

I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t grade on a curve, but I prefer (here I go with what I prefer) to think of God as a forgiving Father. No, not forgiving of an endless list of willful sins, but forgiving as the Father is of a toddler who throws tantrums, falls down all the time, says incredibly silly stuff, but who is continually struggling and working hard in a two or three-year old’s best effort, to growing older, growing better, and growing up.

But we all grow up in different families, and in different neighborhoods, and in different towns or cities, counties, states, provinces, and countries. The people aren’t the same, the cultures aren’t the same, the languages aren’t the same, but God is the same. I guess that’s how we can look at our churches, our “ekklesias,” our communities in Christ/Messiah, however large or small they may be.

There’s a difference between thumbing your nose at God and just making goofy mistakes because as human beings, we don’t know any better. The waters are cloudy and we don’t see what’s in the pond too clearly. We complain at each other for being in the “wrong church” or even being in “church” at all instead of where we think all the “cool kids” in Christ are supposed to hang out. We keep forgetting God has an “opinion” too and that it’s not an opinion at all but the final truth.

We just don’t have unfiltered access to that truth, we only think we do. Hence thousands or tens of thousands of different Christian religious organizations which we say, depending on which one we belong to, that ours is the one, and it’s the best, and God loves us because we aren’t part of that other one down the street.

Oh brother (rolls eyes).

Leave the church? You can leave anything you want to, but as long as you are a believer, you don’t leave the body of Messiah, which is a good thing. Even if you leave religion, you don’t leave the universe and so you don’t escape God by becoming an atheist (you only think you do).

dad-and-babyThe only thing we can do is our best and believe me, it’ll never be as good as we think it is, but that’s OK. Fortunately, God is forgiving and He does understand that we all are as dumb as a box of rocks (as compared to God) and He doesn’t really expect that we will ever get to a point where we get most things right.

Our biggest “silliness” is thinking that we can and that we do get most things right and that we somehow are better than other churches, synagogues, congregations, whatever.

Think about all of the arguments we all have about our religions. Now think about how all that sounds to God. No, really. If that’s difficult to picture, recall any argument you’ve seen between two pre-schoolers fighting over a toy and how they each had a really, really good reason why they should have the thing instead of the other kid.

Now do you get it?


The Ironic Good News of Galatians

Commentators sense the need to argue this point to varying degrees, although none finds it necessary to go to any great lengths. In other words, this conclusion is apparently self-evident. James Dunn’s approach is representative: “The fact that Paul uses the Christian technical term for ‘the gospel’ also is clear indication that those whom he was about to attack were also Christian missionaries. He calls their message ‘another gospel’ because it was significantly different from his own; but he calls it ‘gospel‘ because that was the term they no doubt also used in their capacity as missionaries like Paul.”

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 10: Paul’s ‘Good News Of Christ’ Versus The Influencers’ ‘News Of Good,” pg 285
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

As I write this, I have just finished reading this book (I know, it took a long time) and I really do intend to review it as a unit rather than chapter-by-chapter as I’ve historically reviewed other books. However, gathering my notes together for a comprehensive review will take a little more time and I have a good reason for pulling Chapter 10 out of the stream and devoting special interest to this topic.

As Nanos points out in this chapter and more generally in his book, the issue of what exactly the “gospel of Paul” vs. the “gospel of the influencers” indicates is of great importance in understanding Paul’s letter to the Galatian assemblies as well as the identity of the influencers.

I’ve commented before about how the word “church” (ekklesia) has taken on a life of its own in modern Christianity when the most general use of the word in the time of Paul simply meant “assembly,” as in any group of people coming together for a common purpose. This does not deny that the “ekklesia of Messiah” isn’t something quite a bit more specific, but the twenty-first century technical term “church” seems to be used in a way that we may not be able to anachronistically retrofit back into the first century text.

And so it goes with the word “gospel” (I can’t reproduce the original Greek here as Nanos does in his book). If we believe, as modern normative Christianity does for the most part, that Paul’s use of the word “gospel” in Galatians and his other letters must always specifically mean “the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” and can never mean any other kind of “good news,” then we (Christianity or at least Christian doctrine and scholarship) may again be guilty of employing anachronistic retrofitting to force modern Christian theology back, two-thousand years in time and halfway around the world, into Paul’s thoughts, intentions, and writing when it may not have been what he meant at all or at least not all of the time.

I am surprised that you are so quickly defecting from him who called you in [the] grace [of Christ] for a different good news, which is not another except [in the sense] that there are some who unsettle you and want to undermine the good news of Christ.

-Galatians 1:6-7 (Nanos, pg 286)

In the original quote from the book, Nanos inserts the Greek text alongside the English words, which I’ve already indicated I am unable to duplicate here. But focusing on this bit of scripture, can the “good news” of the influencers be related to the “gospel message of Christ” and at the same time be “not another” and “different”? For that matter, what is Paul’s “good news” to the Gentiles and is it what we think of when we read our Bibles or listen to a message from a Pastor on Sunday morning?

Paul actually denies that this other “good news” should rightfully be considered “another.” Paul does not exactly say with F.F. Bruce that it is “no gospel,” but he gets thereby at the sense of Paul’s usage, for Paul does reverse himself in calling it that “which is not another…”

-ibid, pg 287

As I was reading this chapter, I was reminded of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode The Gospel Message which I reviewed last summer. According to the introduction to this episode:

The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited also produces strong evidence that the way “the Church” commonly understands the term “gospel” today does not entirely (or even mostly, sometimes) fit its original and intended meaning. Moreover, the term “gospel” meaning “good news” can mean different kinds of “good news” depending on context.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Paul’s life and work. But the issue for identifying the influencers and their relationship with Jesus Christ is whether Paul’s use of…must be limited to the lips of believers in Jesus or even to a declaration about Jesus in a formal sense that it has come to have in the Christian tradition, with the results then applied to exegesis of Gal 1:6-7, as the conclusions of the prevailing views assume…

Because gospel is and has been for a long time used as a uniquely Christian term, it is anachronistic for our investigation, having lost the more fluid sense of good news or announcement or message of good originally communicated, and its verbal cognate is further limited by the lack of an English verbal form of “gospel” (i.e., “to gospel”), thus the translation “announcing” or “proclaiming the gospel.”

-Nanos, pg 288-9

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This suggestion is bound to offend some Christians, and it’s certainly not my intention to do so. It is my intention to use what Nanos presents in his book to “shake the establishment” so to speak, and investigate an aspect of the writings of Paul that I think has been long neglected, especially at the level of the local community church: reading Paul specifically within the intent and context of his letters and letting Paul tell us what he meant rather than letting centuries old Christian tradition tell Paul and us what he meant. While I can’t promise that Nanos’ viewpoint is 100% correct in all respects, I think his approach shows much promise and has the ability, if we let it, to shake Christianity out of its apathy regarding our understanding of the Bible, and getting us to see the scriptures in a way that has been abandoned since the death of the last apostle.

On page 290, Nanos defines the usage of the plural of the word we translate as “gospel” in the time period of Paul and how it functioned within the “imperial cult for the announcement of significant event concerning the divine ruler: birth, coming of age, enthronement, speeches, decrees, and actions are ‘glad tidings’ of happiness and peace…” He also presents this by way of illustration:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (emph. mine)

-Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV)

We can start to see the Greek word we read in English as “gospel” or “good news” having a somewhat more diverse or expanded meaning beyond what we consider in the Church, but lest I cast Nanos in an uncomplimentary role or misrepresent him, he did also say the following:

It should be clear by now that I do not intend to suggest that the usage of…in its various forms for the message or proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ by Paul generally represented anything other than messianic eschatology, but at the same time I want to make it clear that this was not the only way in which it could be or was used by Paul or his Jewish or pagan contemporaries, to which I now turn.

-Nanos, pg 292

In other words, Nanos isn’t saying that “gospel” is never used by Paul to refer to “messianic eschatology”, only that Paul doesn’t always use the Greek word for “good news” in the same way. It isn’t a matter of either/or but depends on the immediate context of the message.


That instance (2 Sam 4:10; 2 Kgdms 4:10 in LXX) also constituted an ironic twist on the double meaning of… (though in the plural): the messenger thought that he was “bringing” David “good news” … about the death of Saul, only to be killed, for the value of the news was perceived differently by David… (emph. mine)


PaulThis brings up the point of how the difference in the good news of Paul vs. the good news of the influencers was intended. We know that Paul intended his good news to be good for the Gentile addressees of his letter, but what about the influencers (I’ll speak more about the identities of the addressees and influencers in my forthcoming general review of “Irony”)? On page 314, Nanos says that “it is not to say that the influencers did not regard their message as good news for these Gentiles. I think they did.” I’ll expand on this in my next review, but from the influencers’ point of view, as understood by Nanos, the Jewish influencers really did think they were doing the Gentile believers in Christ a big favor by “completing” their transition of identities from pagan worshiping goyim, to God-fearing Gentiles, and finally to fully integrated members into the Jewish community in which the Gentiles were then worshiping and participating through entry into the proselyte rite.

In other words, “good news” is in the eye of the beholder. While Paul may have referred to the message of the influencers as “good news” ironically and even sarcastically, Nanos maintains that the influencers were sincere in their intent to bring good to the Gentiles, not understanding or not wanting to understand that through Christ, the Gentiles would be equal co-participants in Messiah-devotion and worship of the God of Israel in a Jewish synagogue and community context.

But this flies in the face of how Nanos defines the following verse:

For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves…

-Galatians 6:13 (NASB)

While many Christians understand that piece of scripture to be Paul’s accusation that the Jewish people who were trying to entice the Gentiles to convert and to “keep the Law” hypocritically did not observe the mitzvot themselves, Nanos says that Paul had one very specific Law in mind:

…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

-Leviticus 19:18 (NASB)

While the Jewish influencers in the Galatian synagogues may not have been aware that Yeshua of Nazareth cited this as one of the two greatest commandments (see Mark 12:31 for example), they would have been quite aware of the commandment in Torah. Nanos says that Paul accuses the influencers of not observing this specific mitzvot by ignoring what was actually in the best interests of their Gentile neighbors in Christ for the sake of the influencers’ own interests. Again, I’ll speak more on this at a later time, but I mention it now only to draw attention to the seemingly contradictory motivations of the influencers as presented in the Nanos book.

Moreover, the association of the declaration to Abraham of the promise of a son with the label good news continued in the rabbinic tradition on Genesis, though obviously with no association with Jesus: Gen 18:1-15; b. Baba Mesia 86b; Mekita, Pischa 14; cf. Fragment Targum to Gen 21:7 and Gen. Rabbah 50:2.

-Nanos, pg 294

A Jewish person recently commented on one of my blog posts how Christians have sometimes erroneously misinterpreted the sages to support their (our) stance that Yeshua is the Messiah and that the Messiah is Divine. Further, in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, I stated that there is a very real danger in reading Talmud and interpreting Midrash written well after the Apostolic Era as if it existed in the same form during the time of the apostles. On the other hand, Nanos is presenting his argument by establishing the usage of the Greek word for “gospel” at the time of Paul first, and then projecting it forward in time rather than trying to make the future apply to the past.

It occurs to me now that without saying so explicitly, what Nanos does in “Irony” may also be (though I say this rather provisionally) what Lancaster is doing in his lectures. That still doesn’t excuse deliberately reading into the Rabbinic sages what they never intended relative to the identity of the Messiah (which is something I’ll need to write about someday), but I think it’s valid to establish a method of reading the Apostolic scriptures “Jewishly” and then looking forward in time through Jewish literature at how that perspective has been maintained or evolved across history.

Another important aspect of Paul’s application of the broader semantic field of…comes to the front when we consider his usage of this language with regard to the figure of Abraham. Paul appeals to “the good news proclaimed beforehand…” to Abraham (i.e., before his circumcision). The content of this good news was that “In you shall all nations be blessed” (3:8). This good news was obviously proclaimed before Jesus or any message could be directly attributed to him or his followers…


Certainly the scripture in the above-referenced quote is about Jesus as the Messiah, but said-good news was not delivered by the followers of Jesus (which would have been historically impossible) and thus while the good news does address a future Messiah who would be a blessing to the nations, it was not specifically describing the “mechanics” of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of personal salvation, which is how the Church understands the “good news” today.

The Jewish PaulNanos continues to deliver additional examples of how “gospel” could have been meant differently by Paul in different contexts, and how “gospel” as attributed to the influencers could have been considered “good” to the Gentiles by them, even as Paul considered it “another gospel” which is “not a gospel” at all, for it undermined the good news of the Messiah for Paul’s Gentile students in the Galatian communities.

Nanos paints a portrait of the letter-writing Paul not as crafting a cold, calculated, and logical religious treatise as much as he was delivering a “snarky” commentary as an offended parent to misbehaving teenagers who were being led astray by a misinformed group of “agents of social control” in their local Jewish communities. While being “snarky” doesn’t mean Paul checked his brain at the door and was incapable of composing a complex and scholarly dissertation in letter form, it does mean that Paul was writing a letter in response to a specific event or set of events, and he was quite possibly hurt and angry as he addressed the error of the addressees and the troublesome actions, though possibly even well intended on some level, of the influencers.

My take away from this chapter is that we need to stop being married with the highly technical meanings we assign to certain words and phrases in Christianity, and instead, we should “get down in the mud” so to speak, with Paul as he’s writing his letters, get into his head, get into the situation, as much as history will allow, and experience, in this case, Paul’s Holy Epistle to the Galatians as a letter fired off by a fired up Paul trying to avert what he could only see as a disaster, if his Gentile protegés were led off the path of Paul’s “gospel” to believe in another “gospel,” one that said they would never be equal co-participants in the Jewish community of Messianic followers and worshipers of the God of Israel unless they were circumcised and converted through the proselyte rite into Judaism.

Paul had the good news of the Messiah for the Gentiles that through the covenant promises God made to Israel, by faith as Abraham exhibited before his circumcision, the people of the nations could be grafted in and be made part of the glorious hope that began with God’s elevating the Hebrews, continued with the first stirrings of the New Covenant in the life of Jesus and the Apostolic Era, and that will ultimately be realized with Messiah’s return, a promise of what is to come.

Addendum: The full book review is now online.

The village church

In Defense of the Church

I know after today’s morning meditation, it probably seems like I’m becoming really “anti-Church,” but I want to correct that perception. I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, February 16th after returning home from services. Actually, I started to mentally compose this blog post while in church, realizing that my last several missives were particularly critical of normative Christianity. After I’ve said all that, can I really be supportive of the Church?

I reminded myself earlier that, in spite of the Church’s imperfections, God is in church. I know He was there today (as I write this). Here’s one of the reasons I know:

Pastor Bill and his wife Joan: We visited Millie in her Life Care Center in Florida where she is receiving treatments for the neuropathy in her hands and feet brought on by the chemo/radiation cancer treatments — this condition is reversible, but it takes a long time — thanks for your prayers for Millie.

I can actually see Pastor Bill and Joan doing this. Pastor Bill is an older gentleman with a penchant for the old, traditional hymns. I can see him expressing compassion, warmth, and gentle humor as he was making this visit, offering care to the sick as Jesus has taught us.

I took the above quote from the Prayer Bulletin that’s included in the general Sunday bulletin handed out at the door when anyone enters for services. The bulletin contains all kinds of information. If you’ve ever visited a church on Sunday, you know what I’m talking about, but for me, the prayer bulletin is the most “Christ-like” piece of paper I anticipate. It tells me that the church cares, not just the entity of the local church, but the church that is made up of hundreds of individual believing human beings, each doing their best to walk with God and to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Yes, as I’ve said before, the theology and doctrine needs some work, perhaps a lot of work in my humble opinion, but if I’m in a church where the people pray for one another, and where Pastors, members, and attendees visit the sick, donate food to the hungry, and ask God to help the needy (and who among us doesn’t need God?), then they obviously correctly understand some of the most important lessons the Bible teaches us.

Today (as I write this) we had a guest speaker, a young missionary to the Congo which this church sent out four years ago, and who is now back on furlough to give his report. He’s a farmer from the small town of Notus, Idaho, and yet he’s also a dynamic speaker (a little too dynamic sometimes) who has a passion for his work with the Congolese people. He had to hold himself back to an hour since he’s used to preaching anywhere between three to eight hours during any given service in the Congo.

CongoA lot of what Sparky (yes, that was the young missionary’s name) had to say reminded me of the message Conrad Mbewe presented during John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, how although about ninety percent of the people in the Congo are considered “Christian,” it’s a strange and bizarre form of Christianity that blends Christian beliefs with indigenous religion and superstition, combined with other Christian groups’ teachings of health and prosperity theology. It’s really mixed up stuff, driven by demonology and magic fetish objects.

Sparky’s message came from a number of Biblical sources and essentially said “Don’t be afraid.” The Congolese Christians are always afraid. They’re afraid of Satan, of demons, of magic, of curses, of all kinds of things. Sparky tries to counter that in his mission as he did in his message, by saying we are not given a spirit of fear but of love and courage when we become believers.

While Sparky was teaching, I thought of my own so-called “mission” into the Christian Church. Although I see the Church, and particularly people like Sparky as doing a tremendous amount of good, there’s still something missing that, when restored, will take the Church the final mile that leads to the return of the Messiah King. As I mentioned, that’s why I’m here, why I write, and why I strive to move forward and to not give up on the Church.

There’s a lot of good in the Church. It’s easy for me and those like me to just toss the Church aside because our theologies clash in the extreme in certain areas, but that’s not all the Church is. The Church is praying for people. The Church is visiting the sick. The Church is teaching courageous faith in God that never gives up and that is never defeated. The Church feeds the hungry. The Church shows compassion. The Church loves.

And even though the Church has flaws and labors under a lot of misunderstanding, God has not abandoned the Church and on any given Sunday, you will find God in Church.

From a Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots perspective, it’s easy to miss seeing God in Church, but that’s because we are looking at the Church’s imperfections and not her beauty. This is the same reason Christians often miss the fact that God (again, in my humble opinion) is also in the synagogue on any given Shabbat, any time a minyan is davening, whenever the Torah scroll is removed from the ark.

God hasn’t given up on the Jewish people either, even though, at this time, they resist or do not recognize the face of Messiah, he who has come and he who will come again in power and glory as King.

first-baptist-churchIt’s for the sake of both those worlds and the hope that when Messiah returns, he will find faith among people, that I must remind myself the Church, even as she exists today, still contains God within her walls. God is with His people, Jews and Gentiles. God is waiting. God is patient. God has a plan. He has a plan in the Congo with Sparky. He has a plan for Jewish people in Virginia. He has a plan for Baptists in Idaho. We each have a different role to play in that plan. We are all unique in that plan. The plan requires tremendous diversity of roles and people but all to an identical goal…the goal of bringing glory to God and the coming of King Messiah.

Once again, God reminded me that I’m only one small part of the plan, but that I do have my role to play.

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work.

-Ethics of the Fathers 2:21

I don’t have to do everything. I don’t have to change everything. From my point of view, it may be that I don’t see me changing anything. But if I’m faithful to play out my role, God will do the changing.


Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 3

We were sitting in the State Dining Room just to the left of George Healy’s arresting portrait of Abraham Lincoln, seated forward and listening intently. I couldn’t help recalling the stinging words form his Second Inaugural Address: “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Jewish and Catholic Views on Abortion,” pg 264 – Jan. 28, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Through Grace Church we ought to probably say for our first time guests we believe in two things that make the church what it ought to be. One is love. And that’s an honest kind of biblical love. The other is sound doctrine. And so our commitment is not only to love the brothers and exercise the ministry of spiritual gifts and the responsibilities of fellowship to one another, but it is also to systematically verse by verse teach the Bible. Believing that if we protect the saints, the saints will do the work of the ministry.

And so in our study of the Scripture, we find ourselves in the book of Acts which is the historical record of the early church from the day of Pentecost through those early years. And we have come in our study to the 18th chapter and really begun what is one message in three parts as often we find is the case. We’re studying the subject generally from Judaism to Jesus. And beginning in 18:18 the Holy Spirit gives us three incidents or three little experiences that illustrate to us the transition that was taking place from Judaism to Jesus.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974

This is continued from Part Two of my review and is the third and final offering in MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” series and thus my third and final review of the material. I thought I was through with MacArthur when I finished my reviews of the various sessions of his Strange Fire conference, but he keeps popping up on my radar screen. Hopefully, this last review of his sermons will put all the “demons” surrounding my dubious interest in this Pastor to rest.

When Christianity was established and a new covenant was introduced, there were many Jews who found it very difficult to make all of the transition very rapidly. And so there were people in the midst of transition, coming to Jesus Christ from Judaism and caught somewhere in the transition.

And we come in to this study to the third section of our transitional study, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 19 and we meet a group of 12 men who also are in transition. Now remember this, that the whole of Judaism pervaded all of these people’s lives, Christianity came in and it took a while for all of the adjustments to take place. In some cases like Paul, he couldn’t let go of some old patterns. Like Apollus (sic) he just didn’t know the whole Gospel.

Paul personally had two extraordinary visions of the Master, was hand-picked by the exalted Jesus to be God’s emissary to the Gentiles and to take the Gospel message to the then-civilized world, and yet MacArthur has the bald-faced chutzpah to say that Paul couldn’t let go of Judaism because “he just didn’t know the whole gospel.” Amazing.

John MacArthurI think MacArthur, like many Christians, believes that the gospel or “good news” is a New Testament invention of Jesus rather than one that is more expansive, dates back much farther in Jewish history than Jesus, and is not simply defined by the textual contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you’d like (or maybe need) a primer on what “gospel” and “the gospel message” means, please see the thirty-minute episode The Gospel Message of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come.

At this point, it might be good to have a look at the scripture MacArthur is referencing:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

-Acts 19:1-7 (NASB)

Now remember, MacArthur is teaching that this passage indicates a transition is taking place in the lives of Jewish believers “from Judaism to Jesus.” In reading the text, I’m not seeing immediate signs of any difficulty with Judaism, struggle in transition, or some sort of apparent conflict between Judaism and Jesus. What does MacArthur have to say (besides, quite a lot)?

Now that question posed in 19:2, “have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed” has become the favorite question of a modern movement in Christianity. And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong. The point of view that I take here is simply the exposition of the text. But I want to approach it in the light of a current movement because then I think you can see its significance.

We live in a day when the movement that we know of is Pentecostalism or if you will the later movement begun in 1960 called the charismatic movement has posed this question as the question to ask Christians. “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” The view that they take is that you can be a Christian and not possess the Holy Spirit. And at some point after your salvation you then by a certain activity allowed through certain information to come to the knowledge of the fact that the Spirit is available to you and that you can receive the Holy Spirit in certain ways.

Strange FireRemember, MacArthur originally delivered this sermon in January 1974, nearly forty years before his controversial Strange Fire conference. And yet, he approaches the issue of Pentecostalism in basically the same manner four decades ago as he did just four months ago, and anticipates the response to his message in the words, “And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong,” knowing his message would sound like he was looking for a fight and to define right and wrong by his standards. When he says his point of view “is simply the exposition of the text,” he creates the illusion that he is only reporting the facts with no filters in place and no embellishment of the Biblical text. As we’ve seen time and again in analyzing his messages (and in examining just about anyone’s theological bent), there are always interpretive filters in place. The Bible can’t be understood without interpretation, even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Here, in the guise of an analysis of Acts 19 and even a replacement theory viewpoint of “from Judaism to Jesus,” MacArthur takes a stab at the Pentecostal church.

And we’re going to approach this question to try to show that the Christian, whoever he is, receives the Holy Spirit in full permanent, personal in dwelling from the moment of salvation. And this is an important question. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this. People say to me, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” And I say, “Of course.” And one fellow said, “Oh, I didn’t realize. You’re one of us.” I said, “Well I don’t know about that, I might be one of you, what are you?”

It’s actually an interesting situation. Some people who were believers received the Holy Spirit and some didn’t know that they were supposed to. I don’t think that Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10) expected to receive the Holy Spirit. They just did. For that matter, did the apostles in Acts 2 really expect to receive the Spirit as “tongues of fire” or did it just happen to them without any expectation?

Are you only a believer if you receive the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 and Acts 10 way? I don’t recall any “tongues of fire” and speaking foreign languages or prophesying when I became a believer. Maybe I’m the same boat as the disciples in Ephesus who received John’s baptism but not the Spirit. For that matter, Acts 8 records the Ethiopian becoming a believer during his conversation with Philip but is conspicuous in that he did not receive the Spirit. He was just baptised in water and went on his merry way back home. Did Philip not know about the Spirit? Did he not receive it in Acts 2?

I wonder what MacArthur would think about all these monkey wrenches in the machine? When he became a believer, did he see tongues of fire, speak in foreign languages and speak prophesies? If not, why not? Is that one of the “gifts of the Spirit” we don’t experience today? Do we just presume that the Spirit inhabits us when we declare our faith in Messiah?

If you make the book of Acts the norm, then you got tremendous problems. You’re going to have to allow for revelation current today. You’re going to have to allow for Apostles today. You’re going to have to allow for all of the signs and wonders and miracles that accompanied the early church and the various manifestations. Not just in some segments of Christianity, but throughout unqualified. There are many problems.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur spends quite some time going over various arguments he has with Pentecostals, which isn’t what I expected to read about and isn’t the focus of my interest in this sermon series. He does seem to say that we can’t expect to receive the Holy Spirit as believers in the manner commonly observed in the Book of Acts, so I guess that covers those of us who didn’t have a “tongues of fire” experience. Actually in this, I tend to agree more with MacArthur than some of his opponents. We don’t seem to find the same experiences when we become believers as the apostles and early disciples did.

So now we’re back to MacArthur the Supersessionist:

So as we see in the book of Acts is a transition. The new covenant comes, the old covenant has died and as the book of Hebrews says, “It fades away, it decays and grows old.” But as the new covenant arrives, the people come to Christ which is a momentary miracle; they still find it difficult to make the full transition. And so in the book of Acts, there are various transitional things occurring. There are some old things that just kind of die slowly. Some old forms like for example, the early church met in the synagogue.

Again, this is straight replacement theology, with the New Covenant directly replacing the Old Covenant rather than, as we see in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the New Covenant restating and reasserting the conditions of the previous covenants for Israel. In fact, only one condition in the Abrahamic Covenant can be directly applied to Gentiles having a binding relationship with God, and that’s only through faith as Abraham had faith. And it’s only because that one condition in the Abrahamic covenant is carried over and restated in the New Covenant that Gentiles have access to reconciliation with God through faith.

In other words, there’s no provision in the covenantal structure for new to replace old. New simply ratifies older and re-emphasizes it. It took me a long time to figure this out, about eleven blog posts worth, starting with this one. The revelation in my self-education is why I can’t swallow the traditional Christian replacement theology model. The Bible, and particularly the language around the New Covenant, just doesn’t support it.

“Paul after this charity good while in Corinth and then he took his leave of the brothern, (sic) sailed from there to Syria, with him Priscilla and Aquila. Paul having cut his hair in Cenchrea for he had a vow.” And that tells us he was in transition, he was still making vows on an Old Testament basis, Nazarite vow and he did it in thanks to God for delivering him from Gallio and from those Jews in Corinth who wanted to take his life.

No, Pastor MacArthur, that tells us Paul took a Nazarite vow in accordance to Numbers 6. There’s nothing in the text that says anything about a transition. Please stop reading into the text.

Now this shows you this stringent nature of Paul’s Judaism, even though he was a Christian, he still wanted to fulfill this vow in the right way and he wanted to be there for the feast which was a Judaistic feast.

MacArthur sets Christianity and Judaism in sharp contrast to one another, making them mutually exclusive. One could not practice Judaism as a Jew and at the same time pay homage to and be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

That is a crazy statement to make, but all too many Christians don’t see the glaring error in Biblical interpretation. If Sola Scriptura is really supposed to mean “by scripture alone,” traditional Biblical interpretation in the modern Christian church doesn’t meet this standard by a long shot. You can’t be reading the plain meaning of the text in the larger context of the book and the even larger context of all of the scriptures and come to the conclusions at which MacArthur arrives.

I was about ready to dismiss the rest of his sermon when I came across this paragraph:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

MessiahI find it astonishing that MacArthur can read one of the key texts that describe the New Covenant and still not know what it means. Do we have a new heart and a new spirit yet as Christians? We do? Really? Then why do we still struggle? Why do we still sin? If we got that new heart and new spirit already, what can we look forward to in the Messianic Era when human beings are perfected and King Messiah establishes his reign of total peace and understanding of God?

I hope you understand that. And again I hope you understand that this is said with a sense of love and a sensitivity to the fact that many could construe that I am bitter towards these people (the twelve disciples Paul encounters in Acts 19:1-7). I am not; I am zealous for the glory of God. Well so we meet the third party in transition. Let me close by saying this. We met three little transitions here, didn’t we? First Paul, then Apollos, then the 12. And you know something? We’re a long way from the book of Acts. But we see these three groups still. You know that in the church of Jesus Christ we’ve got people like Paul who are saved, have come all the way to Jesus Christ, but they’re hanging on to legalism?

There’s no way to know what MacArthur really thinks and feels, so I guess I have to take it for granted that MacArthur really doesn’t have it in for the twelve presumably Jewish disciples under discussion because they had the baptism of John but not the Holy Spirit. MacArthur, referencing his first two sermons as well as this one, says that Paul, Apollos, and the twelve were all Jews in transition from Judaism to Jesus.

They’re hanging on to old patterns, traditions, even some Jewish people who find it very difficult to fully absorb themselves in the life of the church. And I say this; I praise God for Jewish Christians who function fruitfully in the ministry of the body of Christ as opposed to maintaining isolation. But you know we have many believers today in Christ who are still they’re not in yet. They’re still holding on to old things. And then we have people like Apollos, sure we have people who good people, honest people, repentive sin, they just believe in God, but they’ve never met Christ.

It seems that MacArthur is praising the Jewish people who have become believers and assimilated into the Gentile Christian Church, while “challenging” or “not praising” those Jews who are believers but who “can’t let go of the old ways” and saying they know God but haven’t met Christ. They’re “not in yet,” according to MacArthur. So much for Messianic Jews, apparently. They aren’t real believers until they set aside the mitzvot and the traditions and function just like goyim in the Church. Ham sandwich, anyone?

Maybe they think of Jesus as a wonderful teacher, a man of great ethics, they never come to the cross and the resurrection. And then we’ve got a lot of people running around who are uninstructed in the Holy Spirit. Much of it is because they don’t even know Jesus Christ. Some know Christ. And grieve the Spirit by misunderstanding His marvelous work. I hope you’re not in transition. I hope like the writer of Hebrews says, “you will come all the way to the fullness of experiencing all that God has provided for you.” Let’s pray.

Ending MacArthur seriesAnd so we come to the end of the sermon and the end of the sermon series. As far as praying goes, now that I’ve reviewed three of MacArthur’s sermons as well as writing multiple reviews of the “Strange Fire” presentations, I pray I can let go of John MacArthur. He can travel his particular trajectory and I can travel mine.

We both read the same Bible and we pray to the same God but, like Abraham Lincoln once said, in our own ways, as Messianic to supersessionistic Christian, we “each invoke God’s aid against the other.” I actually don’t want to oppose Pastor John MacArthur. I don’t want to define myself as an “anti-MacArthurite.” But I do, as I have made abundantly clear, disagree with him pretty much across the board. I think he represents everything that inhibits Boaz Michael’s vision of Gentiles partnering with Israel in rebuilding David’s fallen tent. I think MacArthur is the living embodiment of Boaz’s statement, “The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.”

More’s the pity.

Addendum: Turns out my Pastor preached on this part of Acts as well recently. Tomorrow’s morning meditation will contain my Pastor’s take on some of this, which should augment and occasionally modify what MacArthur preached.


If You Could Personally Witness Just One Event in the Bible…

Have you ever read a passage of the Bible and thought, Oh, I wish I were there! I have. I have longed to be the third dude on the road to Emmaus, listening to Yeshua expound on the Messiah’s role.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Lk. 23:7)

Being present on Shavuot (Pentecost) when the Holy Spirit birthed a revival in Jerusalem would have been amazing. Many would, no doubt, choose to witness the parting of the Red Sea or the crucifixion of Yeshua. As for me, I would choose something in the future. I have always been intrigued by the prophets in the eleventh chapter of Revelation. These two witness appear sometime during the Great Tribulation and proceed to prophesy for three and a half years.

-Ron Cantor
“The Cantor Comment: Fire-Breathing Prophets!”

Actually, I share in Cantor’s first wish. I’ve always been slightly annoyed that Luke didn’t include what Jesus actually said when he “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” I want to know. Certain parts of my life would go a whole lot easier if we just had a detailed “map” of how Jesus saw the various portions of the Torah and the Prophets which referred to him.

Alas, such is not to be.

I was considering leaving a comment on the blog with Cantor’s article, but his story really didn’t seem to be asking the question I wanted to answer. I wanted to answer the question, If you could personally witness just one event that occurred in the Bible, which one would it be?

Here’s mine:

From it Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. When they entered the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

-Exodus 40:31-38 (NASB)

I haven’t literally dreamed of being there, but if it were possible, it would be my fervent wish. Imagine the scene. Moses has just finished erecting the Tabernacle. Millions of people are surrounding the structure, waiting in hushed anticipation, expecting a miracle, expecting God.

Torah at SinaiThen, something appears from the sky and begins its descent toward the Tabernacle. It probably looks like a big cloud, but it would be familiar to any one who had been in the company of the Israelites and who had been present at Sinai for the giving of the Torah.

The Torah text doesn’t describe it this way, but I imagine this event happens at night. The cloud is slightly illuminated from within, but when it enters the tent, the darkened structure bursts into magnificent, blazing light. Millions of people cry out as one, praising God and glorifying His Name.

This probably isn’t the typical scene most Christians would want to attend. Most believers would likely choose an event from the New Testament, being present at the Olivet Discourse, witnessing the resurrection or the ascension, perhaps accompanying Paul on one of his journeys, but for me, nothing describes the desire of God to dwell among His people quite like the end of the book of Exodus.

Now I turn it over to you. If you could be present during any event that happened in the Bible, what would it be and why?