As They Were Ministering To The Lord

prayingWhile they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts 13:2 (NRSV)

Last Sunday, I was wondering how Pastor Randy was going to preach for an entire hour on just three verses from the Bible. He told me there was a lot packed in those three verses (Acts 13:1-3) and he was right. However, his explanation of the Greek word translated as “worshiping” in the above quoted verse was especially interesting.

According to, the word “leitourgia” (which is rendered as “worshiping” above) is related to the English word “liturgy:”

  1. A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.
  2. often Liturgy Christianity The sacrament of the Eucharist.

[Late Latin ltrgia, from Greek leitourgi, public service, from leitourgos, public servant, from earlier litourgos : liton, town hall (from los, dialectal variant of los, people) + ergon, work; see werg- in Indo-European roots.]

That’s a lot to pack into the word “worshiping” and reading that verse in English totally obscures the meaning of what’s being said. It might have made more sense to translate the word as “ministered” (which the King James Version actually does) in order to render the meaning more accurately.

According to Pastor Randy, the sense of the word can refer to the duty of the Levitical Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem and as the dictionary definition states above, addresses the discharge of a public office.

But what was that about liturgy again?

Pastor Randy didn’t touch on this, but what may also have been communicated by Luke when he used the word “leitourgia” was that the worshiping of God was being performed using liturgical prayer, or more specifically, a Jewish prayer service.

This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility if we consider that the “church” in Syrian Antioch was actually a synagogue servicing believing Jews and Gentiles. What other model for worship of the Jewish Messiah would they have?

The other day I wrote a blog post citing New Testament scholars Larry Hurtado and Paul Trebilco on the topic of “Early Christian Identity.” That source, along with many others I’ve quoted from over the many months I’ve been writing this blog, continued to confirm that the early Jewish believers in the Jewish Messiah unquestionably identified themselves as Jews worshiping (ministering, praying liturgically, providing a service to God) within a wholly Jewish context.

The Huffington Post recently published an article called The Apostle Paul Lived and Died as a Dedicated Jew written by psychologist, college professor, and journalist Bernard Starr, who expands greatly on this topic in his book Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew

PaulMost Christians and Jews don’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus was a Jew and lived a completely Jewish lifestyle, but when Paul comes up in conversation, most folks aren’t really sure who he was or what he was up to. Actually, I’m being generous. Most Christians and Jews actually believe Paul took the Jewish teachings of Jesus and made up a new religion called “Christianity.”

In the article I mentioned above, Starr writes:

It’s widely acknowledged that Jesus was a thoroughly practicing Jew throughout his life. Anglican Priest Bruce Chilton expressed that conclusion explicitly and concisely in his book “Rabbi Jesus”: “It became clear to me that everything Jesus did was as a Jew, for Jews, and about Jews.”

But what about Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles? It’s generally accepted that Paul was the true founder of a new religion called Christianity. Biblical scholar Gerd Ludemann, author of several books about Jesus and Paul including “Paul: Founder of Christianity,” affirms that “Without Paul there would be no church and no Christianity.” Ludemann adds, “He’s the most decisive person that shaped Christianity as it developed. Without Paul we would have had reformed Judaism … but no Christianity.”

Paul converted Jews and then Gentiles to Jewish Christianity, basing these conversions on his belief in the teachings, resurrection and divinity of Jesus. But powerful evidence within “Acts of the Apostles,” the book of the New Testament that chronicles Paul’s mission, reveals that Paul, like Jesus, remained a dedicated Jew until his execution. In fact, if Paul had simply stated that he was no longer a Jew but the leader of a new religion, he would not have been imprisoned or executed.

Actually, that last part is probably not true. It was a crime in the Roman empire to promote an illegal religion. If Paul was spreading the “good news” about a form of Judaism, as attorney and Bible scholar John Mauck asserts in his book Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity, then he was innocent of the charge of “atheism”. If, on the other hand, he really had “converted” from Judaism to Christianity and was promoting a brand new religion to Jews and Gentiles, he was guilty and would have deserved to be sentenced to a harsh punishment by the Roman court up to and including death, according to Roman law.

However, both Starr and Mauck emphasize the same thing: That Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, lived a lifestyle completely consistent with that of an observant Jew and even died as a Jew. He didn’t “convert” in the sense that he left Judaism for a new religious form. He did “convert” in the sense that he recognized that Yeshua (Jesus) was indeed the prophesied Messiah, and from that Jewish platform and the mission given to him by Messiah in visions, he proceeded with unabashed courage to take the Gospel of Messiah “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles,” in order to fulfill the command Jesus uttered in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Paul didn’t create a new religion and he didn’t abandon being Jewish or “morph” the Jewish “Way” into something alien to the Jewish disciples.

According to Starr:

Still, Paul said nothing about a new religion. On the contrary, he presented himself to the Roman Jewish community as a loyal Jew who was being persecuted for his revisionist views. Since the Romans had no quarrel with him, as a Roman citizen, and with the Sanhedrin a continent away, there would be no viable case against Paul — if he had denounced his affiliation to Judaism and declared a new religion. At this point in his life, facing trial and execution for blasphemy against Judaism, didn’t Paul have every reason to sever his tie to Judaism? The Sanhedrin, representing traditional Judaism, sent a clear message by their action against Paul: “We will not accept your beliefs and teachings about Jesus.” Despite this definitive rejection, Paul didn’t choose the obvious way out of the clutches of the Sanhedrin: declaration of a new religion. This strategy never even showed up for discussion. Paul chose to go to his death as a Jew. Why?

Paul’s vision was to make his brand of Judaism — with the recognition of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah — a world religion easily accessible to everyone. He never surrendered that passion. But after his death the accelerating conversion of Gentiles to a movement that began as Jewish Christianity became increasingly distanced from Judaism — and a new religion was launched.

derek-lemanLast week, Derek Leman published a blog post called Jewish “Unbelief,” Romans 11, Isaiah in which he supported (rightly in my opinion) the position that “Jewish unbelief” in Jesus as Messiah was a temporary state and initiated by God for the sake of the Gentiles. God never intended to abandon His people Israel and in the end, “all of Israel will be saved.”

Derek is supporting the same points I am; that the Jewish believers remained Jewish and maintained normative Jewish religious practices as disciples of Messiah. He also soundly (again) refutes traditional replacement theology (supersessionism). The Gentile Christians did not replace the Jews in the covenant promises and God’s love for Israel and His devotion to them has never wavered.

I was so impressed with this particular blog post of Derek’s that I sent the link to Pastor Randy last Wednesday morning. During my Wednesday evening conversation with Pastor, I found that he had printed the blog post. He agreed with everything Derek wrote up until this point:

  • Unbelief in Torah and Yeshua.
  • Unbelief in Yeshua; belief in Torah.
  • Unbelief in Torah; belief in Yeshua.
  • Belief in both Torah and Yeshua.

The core of the disagreement is the word “Torah.” He and I still haven’t settled upon a mutual definition of the word (it’s not all that easy to define) and our conversations about Torah tend to get a little “slippery” in how we apply it in the days of Paul vs. modern times. Pastor isn’t convinced that Jesus ever intended for the Jewish disciples to conform to the Torah mitzvot much beyond the lifetime of Paul and certainly not after the New Testament canon was closed.

But what about the Torah in the days of Paul?

You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.

Acts 21:20 (NRSV)

I quote from this verse fairly often. Thousands of Jewish believers all zealous for the Torah. I think Pastor can accept this because, after all, it’s right there in scripture.

So Paul lived and died fully and completely as an observant Jew and, based on what I read in the New Testament record as well as what I’ve written, including my conclusions on Acts 15 taken from Mauck’s Paul on Trial book, Paul never taught the Jewish believers to set aside Torah, nor did he teach the Gentile believers they had to keep Torah in an identical manner to the Jews.

The part I emphasized is important to note (especially for my critics) since I don’t say that Torah doesn’t apply to Gentile believers at all. In fact, we see that Christians are often better at performing some of the weightier matters of the Torah than much of Messianic Judaism and (as far as I can tell since they don’t blog, write, or teach about this aspect of Torah), just about all of the Hebrew Roots movement.

praying_jewWhat can we say then? Paul was born, lived, and died a Jew. Even after his encounter with the Messiah and being commissioned as an Apostle to the Gentiles, he remained completely Jewish, taught other Jewish believers to maintain the Torah mitzvot, and defended himself by stating that he never committed the crimes against the Jewish people and against the Temple of which he was accused. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees.

And, to return to the beginning of this missive, just before he and Barnabas were sent out by the congregation at Syrian Antioch on what has been called “Paul’s first missionary journey,” he and the other Messianic Jews and Gentiles were “praying, prophesying, teaching, fasting, working, and ministering/worshiping/praying liturgically in the manner of the Jews” together.

At the end of his article, Starr tells us:

Nevertheless, an understanding of the deep connection to Judaism held by the founders of Christianity should highlight the common ground of Judaism and Christianity and pave the way to reconciliation between the two faiths.

I’m convinced that in the coming days of the Messiah, he will teach us that there is only one faith; faith in the God of Israel. Right now, two peoples are contained in two separate religious expressions: Judaism and Christianity. One day, Moshiach will reconcile us as two peoples, Israel and the people of the nations called by His Name, occupying a single body: the body of Messiah.

May he come soon and in our day.

The Tzemach Tzedek once told his son, my grandfather, an incident in his experience, and concluded: For helping someone in his livelihood, even to earn just 70 kopeks (a small, low-value Russian coin) on a calf, all the gates to the Heavenly Chambers are open for him.

Years later my grandfather told this to my father and added: One should really know the route to the Heavenly Chambers, but actually it is not crucial. You only need the main thing – to help another wholeheartedly, with sensitivity, to take pleasure in doing a kindness to another.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Sivan 28, 5708
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

108 days.

9 thoughts on “As They Were Ministering To The Lord”

  1. I’m curious — You mention Acts 21:20 about the tens of thousands of Jewish believers who are all zealous for Torah, along with your inference that your Paster Randy “can accept this because, after all, it’s right there in scripture.”

    Is there any reason you know why he wouldn’t also see Matt.5:18-19 “right there in scripture”?

    Of course, the Acts passage merely observes a historical fact, from which someone might not feel obligated to derive any sort of recommendation that it should represent continuing normative behavior. The Matthean passage, on the other hand, implies that the Torah continues to prescribe valid behavior as long as heaven and earth continue to exist. One might argue that any legal requirement for this prescription could be limited to Jews, per Acts 15, though that still leaves open the question about why verse 21 envisions non-Jews attending synagogue each Shabbat where Torah was taught. Performance of “weighty” Torah precepts or principles by non-Jews would seem to be a logical expectation, as you have often suggested.

    Also true it may be that Pastor Randy probably has little impetus to consider what might be appropriate behavior for messianic Jews. I don’t imagine that he is likely to be called upon to prescribe how MJs should conduct themselves in our present era, and whether the example of Acts 21:20 should have any bearing upon it. Nonetheless, it might be nice if he and other Christians like him would recognize the validity of MJ insistence that it should be so.

  2. I think (and I hate speaking for others out of turn) that one of the issues is the lack of definition of “Torah”. Today in Judaism, the term “Torah” includes all of the Talmudic wisdom and rulings of the sages, which is something that my Pastor doesn’t believe should have the same weight as the Bible. As I mentioned before, he’s told me that from his perspective, revelation from God stopped when the Biblical canon was closed. I can only imagine he would accept whatever the “Torah” was at that point in time as incumbent upon the Jewish people relative to Gentile Christian observance, but I don’t think he’d readily accept the past nearly two-thousand years of Jewish rulings and traditions of the sages as direct revelations from God upon the Jewish people, particularly within a Messianic framework.

    If I’ve gotten anything wrong about his thoughts and perspectives, I certainly invite him to comment and correct my errors.

    1. Ahh — I see the potential problem. Of course, the idea of “closing” the biblical canon is merely a historical ploy to deny Jewish authority to interpret and apply Torah, contrary to Rav Yeshua’s command to his own in Matt.23:3a that “all that they tell you, do and observe …” (which clearly is not countermanded by the subsequent criticism; or why say it at all?). This would also affect one’s view of continuing insight and “revelation”.

      We Jews do recognize a hierarchy of authority within our literature, and we don’t shift things from one category to another, so one might consider that also as a form of closure. But never do we stop studying, examining, questioning, interpreting, and applying the living Torah. Of course, we only apply our authority and insights to our own community, though anyone who wishes to enter into the study of our Torah must submit to our revelation and insights insofar as we also consider them authoritative, because we are still the “owners” of the literature who are the only ones qualified to interpret it properly in its full context. More controversial is the fact that the Rav-Yeshua messianic literature, that is so interwoven with Jewish references to Torah, Tenakh in general, and even midrashim and the midrashic methodology including the Apocryphal material, also “belongs” to us in large measure (if not entirely); and it cannot be interpreted properly without traditional Jewish insight and interpretive methods. That may sound as if this Jewish perspective were selfish and insular, but we have found that the reaction to that perspective is highly indicative of a potential student’s willingness to even consider Jewish opinion and experience with the texts, which affects the student’s ability to learn from the text without subjecting it to an external critical lens that distorts it.

      So an impending area of discussion would examine how well Jewish literature of the past two millennia conforms with and preserves written and unwritten insights that could have been known to Rav Yeshua and Rav Shaul because they reflect aspects of prior centuries’ “authoritative” Torah interpretation. Such discussion would need to refrain from traditional Christian anti-Jewish polemics that overgeneralized arguments between Rav Yeshua and various Jewish subgroups about fine points in the development of halakhah, as well as arguments about political behavior that does not apply to our current era. A few things have changed in the Jewish world since the time of those arguments, including some corrective attitude adjustments recommended also by Rav Yeshua.

  3. Ahh — I see the potential problem. Of course, the idea of “closing” the biblical canon is merely a historical ploy to deny Jewish authority to interpret and apply Torah, contrary to Rav Yeshua’s command to his own in Matt.23:3a that “all that they tell you, do and observe …” (which clearly is not countermanded by the subsequent criticism; or why say it at all?). This would also affect one’s view of continuing insight and “revelation”.

    I can’t even begin to fathom how to respond from a traditional Christian perspective since almost universally in all the streams of Christian thought, revelation stops at the Biblical canon. Of course, Christian thought never took Jewish authority to continue to interpret into consideration since, as you say, those interpretations would only apply to Jewish communities. With the Christian/Jewish schism post third and fourth century CE, that was pretty much the end of communication regarding Messiah between Gentiles and Jews.

    Reintroducing that link is going to be difficult at best since it requires a fundamental shift in perspective by Christian thinkers. What Matt. 23.3a suggests is such a foreign concept for the Protestant church, I don’t know how I’d even go about introducing it.

    1. Well, the Pentacostal and Charismatic movements re-introduced the notion that revelation did not necessarily cease 19 centuries ago. Of course, that notion also has been abused terribly to justify everything from charlatanism to insanity. Re-introducing the notion of messianic Judaism also was difficult 4 decades ago, and it is still resisted in some quarters. It could be viewed also as having been already abused in some measure.

      Thus I understand very well your sense of the difficulty about re-introducing a notion of the continuity (more than merely a restoration) of Jewish authority. It has been hard enough to convey the idea that Jewish believers are entitled to be something more than or different from merely some ethnic expression of Christianity. But this suggestion derived from Matt.23:3a undermines a fundamental viewpoint underlying the Nicene Council and the creeds it developed. It opens a door to a very scary world in which large segments of Christian doctrine could need to be re-invented. Furthermore, it threatens to unleash another wave of Christian guilt over its historical treatment of Jews. On the other hand, theologians love that sort of challenge; and if Christianity hasn’t learned how to request and accept forgiveness, something truly is fundamentally wrong (though there may be some need to learn a bit more about how repentance and atonement work).

      Of course, even if the notion of Jewish authority continuity were wholeheartedly adopted, there would still be a lot of analytical work to do examining how it might apply to non-Jews, and in what measure. Along with that analysis is one that would examine how a number of statements in Jewish literature were developed. For example, some statements were polemical responses in defense of Judaism under the pressure of Christian assault. While we don’t throw away such opinions in Judaism, we do at times limit their applicability and effectivity to specific circumstances, even when they were responsible for accepted elements of halakhah. Ahh, to live in a world where Jews were safe enough to lower our defenses!

  4. Of course, even if the notion of Jewish authority continuity were wholeheartedly adopted, there would still be a lot of analytical work to do examining how it might apply to non-Jews, and in what measure.

    That would be highly useful for me. I tend to agree with you in principle, but trying to operationalize that principle, particularly in a manner that Protestant Christianity can understand and assimilate will be quite a chore.

    What helped me grasp the core of what I believe you’re saying is a paper I found on the web written by Noel S. Rabbinowitz called Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah? (PDF). Rabbinowitz’s findings open the door for believers accepting Jewish authority to establish binding halakhah over Jewish communities (and isn’t that what James and the Council of Apostles did for the Gentiles joining the Jewish movement of “the Way” in Acts 15?) during the Biblical period, but as you say, bridging the gap to include all or much post-Biblical Jewish authority will be the task to achieve.

    Someone a lot smarter than I am will have to approach that sort of research and documentation, and I’m hoping that some of the “luminaries” in the Messianic Jewish world have the time, resources, and the “chops” to do so.

    1. Yes, I believe Rabbinowitz addressed the interpretation of Matt.23 well, though he did not challenge the view that Rav Yeshua was violating halakhah in his disputes with various Pharisaic groups. I have heard alternative analyses that examined the halakhic issues to determine that he did not actually violate anything, but that his interlocutors were representing only part of the halakhic picture and neglecting aspects that would justify the disputed actions or views. Hence these passages represent issues and discussion in the formation, development and application of relevant halakhot. These encounters would then be more reflective of certain modern encounters between anti-missionaries and messianic Jews wherein the anti-missionaries slant their arguments with incomplete references in order to delegitimize rather than to discuss. I also dispute that Matthew was grinding a sectarian axe in his reportage of the events.

      Nonetheless, his identification of a literal piece of synagogue furniture called the “seat of Moses” which served as a place of honor for a Torah expositor to sit in, and Rav Yeshua’s figurative reference to that chair as a seat of Torah-teaching authority exemplified in Pharisaic interpretation, well justify the interpretation of verse 3a as a positive endorsement of Pharisaic authority, even though the remainder of the chapter demonstrates that the endorsement was qualified by proper prioritization of Torah values. This, then, justifies the kinds of analysis I suggested in my last post.

      Examples of the applicability question might include the use of visible symbols like the kippah, tzitzit, tefilin, tallit, and arba kanfot. These are intended for use by Jews, but non-Jews might benefit from understanding the kavanah behind each of them even if they are not to wear them. But even this suggested division is somewhat fungible, because there are clearly occasions in which etiquette, supported by halakhah, recommends that a non-Jew in Jewish space wear a kippah, and perhaps even a tallit (or at least a half-talit). Worship practices, on the other hand, might still reserve the honors of being called to the Torah and haftarah readings for Cohens, Levis, and Israelite Jews. However, for those congregations that incorporate also a reading from the messianic writings, there is no halakhah to inhibit non-Jewish participation. And these examples are specific to practices within Jewish space. Much further analysis will be required to consider all sorts of halakhic practices and the venues in which they are constrained. Ultimately, I imagine that this sort of analysis might be undertaken by the MJRC, but the discussion would require advance preparation of position papers and an ultimate summary of agreed positions and minority views.

  5. Ultimately, I imagine that this sort of analysis might be undertaken by the MJRC, but the discussion would require advance preparation of position papers and an ultimate summary of agreed positions and minority views.

    I’m hoping that a dialog will eventually occur “across the aisle” between Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians since, as you say, we (Christians) will likely “benefit from understanding the kavanah behind” the halakhah relative to Jewish using kippah, tzitzit, tefilin, tallit, and arba kanfot, as well as the larger world of Torah.

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