Born Again Idol Worshipper

jesus-idolAs Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the great Kabbalist and philosopher living at the turn of the century put it, “There is faith that is actually denial, and there is denial that is actually faith.” When a person says that he believes in God, but in fact, that God he believes in is really a conceptual spiritual idol, an image of God that he has conjured up, then his faith is actually denial of truth, heresy. However, when a person professes atheism because he just can’t believe in some almighty king with a white flowing beard floating somewhere in outer space, in a sense he is expressing true faith, because there is no such God.

-Rabbi David Aaron
“Chapter One: Getting Rid of God,” pg 7
Seeing God: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah

In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of original sin, Adam’s rebellion against God’s will in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases that original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.

But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this obstacle is more a matter of will, not at all inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world.

Any time we install a feature of creation and call it God, we are committing the sin of idolatry, the Jewish cardinal sin. It need not be a material object; it can be something much more abstract or elusive: a nation, history itself (as in Marxism), financial reward, or another human being.

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Introduction,” pp x-xi
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

It’s not really pleasant to be called an idol worshipper but that’s exactly what happened to me recently.

No, it wasn’t done in an unkind way and I understand the complete sincerity of the person involved and their desire to be “a light to the world,” so to speak, by encouraging me to reconsider what this person believes is a very bad decision on my part…worshipping a man as God.

I think it’s rather amazing that I checked out both Rabbi Aaron’s and Rabbi Gillman’s books from my local library a week or more ago, before I knew I’d be having this conversation with my friend. In reading their first chapters, they both seem to be speaking to the idea of worshipping idols, albeit from different directions. Rabbi Gillman’s book sounds somewhat like my friend in that it’s a Jewish person attempting to be a light to the nations by writing to Christians and letting us know how we’re not getting it right. We aren’t examining the Bible through the correct lens. There are just too many areas of the Tanakh (Old Testament) that either fail to speak of God becoming man and Messiah, or that directly speak against such a thing.

My friend and I have had these conversations before and while I try very hard to take his suggestions and information and examine them objectively, I continue to run headlong into my faith in Jesus as Messiah. I’ve been challenged to re-examine that faith against the Tanakh and seek my answers within its pages. Can we “prove” Jesus is the Messiah without touching the New Testament at all?

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:24-27, 31-32 (NASB)

I suppose I just cheated because I’m quoting from the New Testament, but look at what’s being said. Jesus, using only Moses and the Prophets (which makes perfect sense as none of the New Testament writings existed during this time in history), “explained to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

If I take that statement at face value, that means it’s possible to support having faith in Jesus as Messiah using only the Torah and the Prophets. Too bad Luke didn’t record what Jesus actually said. It would have made things a lot easier to investigate.

crossLately, I’ve been writing a lot to Christians in the church defending Messianic Judaism and the observance of the Torah mitzvot by believing Jews. I’ve spent almost no time at all directly addressing Jewish people who are religious but have no faith in Jesus, and who see worshipping Jesus as God as idolatry. Rabbi Aaron implied, based on the above-quoted passage of his book, that someone who doesn’t believe in a God that is not credible because He is quantifiable, physical, and definable, has more faith than a person who can point to Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Is worshipping Jesus worshipping an “image?” Is worshipping Jesus who lived a human life actually worshipping a man?

You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but you shall utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.

Exodus 23:24 (American King James Version)

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…

Deuteronomy 4:15-16 (NASB)

Those two verses don’t seem to have a direct bearing on the worship of God in corporeal, living form, since “images” and “graven images” address more manufactured items, like statues and such.

This all goes to the heart of how we Christians understand that Jesus was at once human and Divine. For most Jewish people, this does not compute. Rabbi Gillman’s book is written specifically to refute Christianity, although I’m certain with the best intentions.

When Christians try to explain their/our faith to most other groups, we rely a lot on the New Testament and we speak in all manner of “Christianese.” However, does this work very well with most Jewish people? The majority of Messianic Jewish people I know came into the movement by way of the church. Most of them became familiar with and invested in the Torah and a lived Jewish experience only later on. Faith in Jesus preceded a Jewish understanding of faith in Jesus.

Not being Jewish and not having that lived experience and education, I can only present the basis of my faith from a Christian/Gentile point of view.

A lot of Jewish people have a point in “defending” themselves against Christianity. Conversion and assimilation are considered a real threat to Jewish continuance forward in time. While I don’t believe that God would ever allow the extinction of the Jewish people and of Israel, Jewish people are still afraid. Further more, people like my friend and Rabbi Gillman authentically believe they are providing Gentile Christians a service in explaining how we are mistaken and how to correct our mistakes.

This is the sort of dialog that the church hasn’t done well at during the past twenty centuries or so. But if we can’t show from the Tanakh that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, what can we Gentiles in Christianity say to the Jewish people who challenge the validity of our faith and our identity in Christ?


14 thoughts on “Born Again Idol Worshipper”

  1. Hi James. Have you read the book “The Concealed Light” (Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources) by Tsvi Sadan, and published by Vine of David (FFOZ) ??? That is a good source for showing that Yeshua meets all Jewish expectations about HaMashiach. Maybe your Jewish friend could read it, and then you can tell him about Yeshua’s life…

    On the other hand, this book can also teach us Christians about getting a better and more clear understanding of the Messiah of Israel…

    Shalom !

  2. Everything you need to share the good news is in the tanach. However, if a person is hard-hearted, they won’t see it, and will find some way to discount it. The truth is available only for those who desire it.

  3. Yes, I have a copy, Alfredo. Thanks. But as Chaya says, there can be a lot of distance between someone and Yeshua for a wide variety of reasons. Simply giving someone a copy of a book and suggesting they read it will be very unlikely to be convincing.

    1. Like I said : “On the other hand, this book can also teach us Christians about getting a better and more clear understanding of the Messiah of Israel…”

  4. You do beg the question here that is at the heart of a conflict between Christian and Jewish understandings of the Messiah. Discovering in the Tenakh various passages that reflect Rav Yeshua’s life, death, and even resurrection may demonstrate how the record of these events in the besorot (including the genealogies that qualify him as ben-David) can qualify him as meeting criteria for the ben-Yosef Messiah along with reasonable hope for eventually meeting also the criteria for the ben-David Messiah role, does not make him more than a human assigned to a unique role in history. His rabbinic teaching function qualifies him as a “Master” or “Lord”, but does not make of him even a demigod, let alone an appendage or component of the one and only LORD G-d Who created the Universe. One cannot argue from the Tenakh for the Messiah to be viewed as Deity, though one can argue for him to be viewed as bearing the image of Divinity as do other humans. Rav Shaul’s description of him to the Philippians (Phil.2:5-11) is consonant with Jewish writings after the period of the Tenakh, and it also fits various elements in the Tenakh. A perspective of this sort does not interfere with the role of a mediator who can represent HaShem even as a designated “Angel of the LORD” can do. HaShem may be addressed through such a representative, and HaShem may answer through such a representative, without invoking any danger of idolatry or “avodah zarah” such as worshipping a man as if he were himself a “second” god alongside HaShem. Hence Christian theology cannot “compute” for the Jewish mind any view or doctrine that is not consistent with the Tenakh. Since it is extremely unlikely that the Jewish writers of the apostolic writings were actually expressing any such inconsistencies, one must infer that inconsistent interpretations should be re-examined to eliminate them in favor of consistent ones. That has been one of the primary tasks occupying MJs. Relaying such alternative corrected views to Christians (and other interested parties) is then a truly revolutionary challenge. But it does offer a hope of reducing idolatry in the world.

  5. I’m not so sure that Messianic Judaism as a movement represents a single perspective in this matter. Like Christianity, I experience multiple “Messianic Judaisms,” all with differing or overlapping perspectives on many issues, not the least of which would be the “Deity of Jesus.” Even trying to get a group of relevant individuals together to discuss this would be like dropping a bomb in the middle of a city. For Christians, any suggestion that Jesus isn’t literally God is a showstopper. For Jewish people, the suggestion that the Messiah must also be literally God is equally abhorrent. How does Messianic Judaism negotiate a path through this?

    1. Well, I did say that there were “other interested parties” who represent a challenge to the relaying of developing MJ views. These include some inside the movement for whom there is still significant hesitancy about adopting views that challenge aspects of Christian orthodoxy. And the arguments underlying such development can be just as lively as those that appear in Talmud to depict how various Jewish views were developed and codified. I can’t say that the notion of “negotiating a path” is as relevant as one of argument and counter-argument to define the relevant parameters; nor can I guess how we may yet arrive at a point where we can say that we “affirm with one voice” any given position despite the existence of dissenting ones. It took centuries to codify each of the Talmuds; can we hope to codify and disseminate universal MJ perspectives any quicker?

  6. My impression (and I could be totally wrong about this) is that in Jewish discourse, disagreements, even passionate ones, are more “easily” tolerated than they would be within Christianity, which would take a “my way or the highway” approach to this sort of debate.

    1. It’s true that in the study of Talmud, even arguments considered settled long ago are revisited and argued afresh. And the notion of “pardes”, and that of 70 faces to the Torah, allow for all sorts of “theoretical” alternative views. But, at the end of the day, there are some points that are still considered settled.

      As for the notion of Messiah being called by the Name of the Most High, there is a Hebrew idiom to consider, by which a name identifies a “purpose” to be served by an individual, which may well be an additional name to the one his friends call him when they get together. It is not necessarily a description of the individual himself (or herself). Given the Messiah’s designated role as HaShem’s representative and mediator, it is understandable that he would be “called” to serve under this Name, for this purpose.

  7. A Jewish friend of mine left this response on Facebook:

    “What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: His name is ‘the L-RD’ (Yud Kay Vav Kay) as it is stated, And this is the name whereby he shall be called, the L-RD (as above) is our righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:6) Mid. Rab Lamentations 1:51; cf. b. Bava Batra 75a

  8. In response to the quote I pulled from Facebook, I received the following in a private email:

    Is there a link to a Jewish site with text for that quote or a page from a Jewish book, especially the Midrash Rabbah Lamentations 1:51 part? I searched and searched, and all I see are Messianic, Protestant and Catholic sites passing this around. In my experience Christians and Messianics routinely pass around made up or out of context Talmudic or rabbinic quotes, so I was wondering where I can see this in context.

    The closest I found was in Baba Bathra 75b (not 75a, as the above quote purports).

    “R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Three were called by the name of the Holy One; blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah and Jerusalem. [This may be inferred as regards] the righteous [from] what has just been said. [As regards] the Messiah — it is written: And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness. [As regards] Jerusalem — it is written: It shall be eighteen thousand reeds round about; and the name of the city from that day shall be ‘the Lord is there.’7 Do not read, ‘there’ but ‘its name’.”

    From the above, we can glean the following. Messiah is said to be called by G-d’s name, but so are the righteous people (which come first in the text, before Messiaht!) and Jerusalem. King Messiah’s name this text says will be “The L-rd is our righteousness”, but the righteous King Zedekiah’s name was almost identical to that: “My righteousness is L-rd”, which doesn’t mean that Zedekiah was either the ‘L-rd” or G-d in any way.

    I’m debating how far to take this conversation, since it opens an unusually difficult can of worms. I think there are individuals who resolve this issue within themselves or who fall back on the opinion/perspective of their religious group, but I don’t know if this matter can truly and absolutely be satisfied for all parties concerned.

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