The theme of this year’s conference is “The Gifts of the Spirit.” To be honest, when the First Fruit of Zion staff first suggested this theme, I was not excited about it at all. I’m not what you might call a Pentecostal type of person. Growing up, my Jewish background was secular and non-religious, until my family got involved in a Baptist church, and then eventually Messianic Judaism, but I have never been what you might think of as a holy roller.
So when the staff suggested this theme for the conference, I groaned. I thought, “What in the world would we possibly have to say about gifts of the Holy Spirit?” I pictured us trying to act Pentecostal and Spirit-filled.
“Let’s Get Pentecostal,” pg 5
Gifts of the Spirit
Note: This book is a compilation of the presentations given at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, organized by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and held during the festival of Shavuot in May 2013 at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.
I was surprised at the conference, and again by reading black text on a white background, that the modern Messianic Jewish movement was highly influenced by the Pentecostal church. Early Messianic services emphasized the Holy Spirit, called Ruach HaChodesh in Hebrew, but said-services were indistinguishable from their Charismatic Christian counterparts. Small wonder Boaz was less than enthusiastic when his staff suggested a “Gifts of the Spirit” theme for last year’s Shavuot conference.
But like so many other beliefs and practices in modern Christianity, the concept of the Holy Spirit was appropriated from ancient Jewish origins. After all, “Pentecostal” refers back, way back to the Acts 2 event which occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which in the Church is called Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
–Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
While the giving of the Spirit depicted above was a unique experience, Pentecost, or Shavuot, is an annual event, speaking to the Jewish people of the will of God and their response to Him. It is said that God gave Moses and the Children of Israel the Torah on Shavuot, so devout Jews consider it is the anniversary of the giving of the Law to the Israelites. But for Messianic Jews, and not a few Gentiles, it is also the anniversary of another gift, the power of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the apostles to fulfill their mission and their purpose of spreading the good news of the Moshiach to the Jews and Gentiles in Judea, Samaria, and ultimately across the globe.
And so we come to the Holy Spirit and what it means in Messianic Judaism today.
So that’s our objective at this conference. We want to recontextualize the role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. To accomplish this, we must first understand the Spirit and the gifts from a Jewish perspective. What were the gifts? How did they function among first-century believers? Why? What was their purpose? What role did they play in first-century Messianic Judaism?
-Boaz Michael, pg 7
I quoted above how the Holy Spirit of God filled the apostles on an occasion which my Pastor calls “the birthday of the Church.” And yet, is this a completely New Testament concept?
This is not a New Testament idea. The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah compares a person to a vessel. God’s Spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.
-ibid, pg 9
The Church believes that when a person truly becomes a believer, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, even though in the modern age, there are no visible or auditory cues that speak of the event; no rushing of wind or tongues of fire. Also, in Acts 2, the in-filling of the Spirit was like those more ancient days of which Boaz speaks, when the Spirit didn’t fill everyone, but only certain ones in order to enable those people to accomplish certain tasks, such as the apostles, the witnesses of the resurrected Messiah, to be able to spread the gospel message.
Boaz also writes of many other incidents in the Torah and the Prophets whereby a person or even groups of people received the Spirit.
And if we compare the events in Exodus 20 to the Acts 2 experience of the apostles, there are striking similarities, enough for Boaz to call the Acts 2 event a “second giving of Torah.”
What does it all mean? It means that the disciples of Yeshua experienced the day of Pentecost as a second giving of the Torah. They knew the rabbinic legends about the words of fire dividing into seventy languages as they left the mouth of God (Boaz references Shmot Rabbah 5:9). They knew the story of God’s voice speaking to all mankind in every tongue. Those legends gave significance to the miracles and signs and wonders that they experienced on Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.
-ibid, pg 12
I’m reminded of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and subsequent book which I know fails to address the ancient Jewish perspective on the Holy Spirit. But then, MacArthur’s purpose was not to examine the Biblical history or merits of the Holy Spirit, particularly from a Jewish point of view, but to more narrowly focus on the detrimental effect Pentecostals and Charismatics have on the larger body of the Christian Church today. Boaz Michael and the Shavuot conference “Gifts of the Spirit,” held five months prior to the MacArthur conference, took a completely different course. While Michael cites the Jewish perspective as linking Spirit and Torah (Bible), MacArthur declares that Pentecostalism divorces the Word of God from the Spirit of God, inordinately focusing on the later and all but ignoring the former.
But what if they were meant, as Boaz suggests, to go hand in hand? Moreover, what if the giving of the Spirit is the fulfillment of prophesy in a way MacArthur likely missed? Jeremiah 31:33 referring to the New Covenant, states that God will put His Torah within His people and write it on their hearts, while Ezekiel 36:27 says that God will put His Spirit within His people in order to cause them (the Jewish people in this context) to walk in His statues and to obey His rules (Torah).
Of course, MacArthur and his conference presenters didn’t totally deny any activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of a genuine believer today, just that certain “gifts of the Spirit” were not carried over into the post-canonical world.
I guess I should mention that Strange Fire presenter R.C. Sproul did speak about Pentecost in relation to the Charismatic movement, but his perspective was hardly Jewish and he suggested (and I don’t know if he really meant this…I hope not because of its anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic implications) that only those Israelites (such as the prophets) who received the Holy Spirit were saved, not all Israelites who had faith and genuinely obeyed God.
Strange Fire speaker Tom Pennington did say that the work of the Spirit in today’s Church is not null and void, only that specific gifts have ceased:
The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.
Church doctrine states that in order for believers to rightly interpret the scriptures, they must be helped by the Holy Spirit. It is also believed that the Spirit draws each person to God, indwells within each person as he or she comes to faith, and then enables them (us) to break free of the chains of sin and to live lives pleasing to God. While mainstream Christianity depends on the Holy Spirit to help us understand the words of God, the Jewish perspective, according to Boaz, goes even further:
It means that the work of the Spirit is fundamental to Messianic Judaism. If the Torah is important to Messianic Judaism, so is the Holy Spirit. We should not try to separate the two. They are married together.
-Michael, pg 13
It’s one thing to speak of the activity of the Spirit in the apostolic era and before, and another thing to apply it to the life of a believer in the 21st century. Unless you are deeply involved in the Charismatic movement, your experiences with the Spirit of God may not seem very tangible or even noticeable. We assent to the existence of the Spirit of God and we believe the Spirit is influential in our lives, but only invisibly, intangibly, unperceptively. In other words, when/if the Spirit is at work in our lives, chances are, most of the time, we can’t tell.
As MacArthur’s conference pointed out (at least to me), the different factions of Christianity seem woefully out of balance. The Pentecostals seek the Spirit above all else. Evangelicals/Fundamentalists rely solely on reading/studying the Bible for their understanding of God. Some people primarily pray. Some focus on preaching. Others believe evangelizing on the mission field is the only way to go. Boaz suggests that we need to be sitting on a three-legged stool to avoid falling this way, that way, or the other way. The three legs are:
- The Spirit of the Lord
- The Torah of Moses
- The Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom
Note that each of the three legs must be of equal length, of the same strength, and equally secured to the platform upon which we are seated so we don’t start leaning in a particular direction or have our foundation break down beneath us. Boaz mentioned another “three legs” which we should be pondering.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
–1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NASB)
In reflecting on the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, which I attended last May, MacArthur’s “Strange Fire,” and Michael L. Brown’s hastily constructed response to MacArthur called Authentic Fire, I can’t help but think that the FFOZ Gifts of the Spirit book, while not really a “response” to MacArthur, would have been a better way to speak to the Pentecostal community than the “Strange Fire” approach. In fact, as I recall, there were a number of Pentecostals at the Shavuot event, and they were made to feel welcome and participate fully. If FFOZ’s “Gifts of the Spirit” had received the same “press” as “Strange Fire” in the Christian media space, it might have made MacArthur’s efforts superfluous.
Something to consider at any rate.
22 thoughts on “Gifts of the Spirit, Torah, and Gospel”
It seems there have been more than enough books offering differing and even contradictory viewpoints on this topic.
Surely the important thing is to consider what scripture itself says about the gifts of the Spirit, their purpose, their use and their availability.
That said Tim, it’s obvious that there are different interpretations of “what scripture itself says about the gifts of the Spirit.” I spent an extensive amount of time and effort evaluating MacArthur’s interpretation, not I’m looking at the same issues through a different lens.
But James, “interpretation” of scripture is the problem. People “interpet” it to fit preconceived beliefs and don’t accept what it actually says. In fact most of the time its seems those interpretations are intended to show why scripture doesn’t really mean what the words on the page are saying.
Hence the reason for the current blog series.
I agree with your last statement regarding the curiosity if The Gifts of the Spirit conference had received as much airtime as Strange Fire did, if MacArthur’s conference would have been at all necessary. I suppose, though, that it would. As much of a stir as MacArthur’s conference made, there are quite a lot of people who never heard anything about it. I think the only people who were really following the Strange Fire event(s) were those who are MacArthur fans and those who are staunch Charismatics/Pentecostals.
The Gifts of the Spirit conference was indeed peaceful, loving, and a source of hope. I was nervous based on the subject matter, but my anxiety over the issue quickly melted once the conference got started and I was able to rest knowing that nobody was going to be bashed for their particular beliefs and nobody would be considered “unsaved” if they didn’t preform some public show of “faith”.
Looking forward to future installments of this series.
There’s a well-known but little referenced law of the universe that says a good car crash attracts a larger audience than a love-in. I know, that sounds pretty raw, but sadly, that’s human nature. Even if both “Gifts” and “Strange” received identical marketing in the Messianic/Christian space, I suspect MacArthur’s conference would have been more of a draw for the reason I just stated.
It think the world of faith for some people will undergo a radical transformation when Messiah inaugurates an era of peace and unity. No more car crashes tolerated.
I agree. And yet, there are quite a lot of people who haven’t heard of either event.
It’ll be a wonderful day when those crashes aren’t tolerated, but measure for measure they are dealt with as they should be. Yikes. I know that I’m not innocent of being a rubber-necker at times…
Good article. I note that your pastor calls Pentecost “the birthday of the Church.”.
I don’t quite see it that way myself. I see the church as the extension of the same purpose and calling that was originally given to Israel in the Torah.
When Jesus visited the earth, He divided Israel into two groups: (1) those who correctly recognized Him as the promised Christ, and (2) those who didn’t. The (smaller) portion of Israel that acknowledged Jesus as the Christ continued the calling of Israel, and the church grew forth from them.
In Matt 16:13-19, we read:
“13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
This, I think, is a better marker for the “birthday of the church”, because this is where Christ established Himself and His twelve disciples as its foundation. However, the church is the “second foundation”, built upon the earlier foundation of Israel and his twelve sons.
This is why in the final kingdom of God, we see the twelve sons of Israel and the twelve disciples both depicted as being foundational to the kingdom (Rev 21:12-14). I believe that these two groups are also the 24 “elders” of Revelation — an appropriate title for those who played foundational roles.
Pentecost was not the beginning of the church, it was the promised giving of the Spirit to the (already existing) church.
I don’t know that Sproul is an antisemite, but I can tell you he signed the anti-Israel (and IMNSHO antisemetic) “Open Letter to Evangelicals,” document created by a Scottish seminary with a history of antisemitism. Sproul, like Piper and many other neo-Calvinists support replacement theology, although JM does not. You may have heard, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The corollary is, “If it bleeds, it sells,” and of course, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”
Jerry said: I don’t quite see it that way myself. I see the church as the extension of the same purpose and calling that was originally given to Israel in the Torah.
That’s more or less my point of view. Instead of Acts 2 indicating a sudden shift in God’s plan for Israel and humanity, it’s a logical extension of everything that came before, which presupposes the continuation of Israel and the Jewish people.
@Chaya: I can only go by what he said in his presentation. I don’t know his heart, but his words have an ominous ring to them.
As you know, James, the Gifts of the Spirit is more than speaking in tongues…although that particular gift seems to get lots of attention… I’ve heard it said that the gift of wisdom seems to be the ability to make decisions and give guidance that is according to God’s will.
The gift of knowledge is the ability to have an in-depth understanding of a spiritual issue or situation.
The gift of faith is being able to trust God and encourage others to trust God, no matter the circumstances.
The gift of healing is the miraculous ability to use God’s healing power to restore a person who is sick, injured, or suffering.
The gift of miracles is being able to perform signs and wonders that give authenticity to God’s Word and the Gospel message.
The gift of prophecy is being able to proclaim a message from God.
The gift of discerning spirits is the ability to determine whether or not a message, person, or event is truly from God.
The gift of tongues is the ability to speak in a foreign language that you do not have knowledge of, in order to communicate with someone who speaks that language.
The gift of interpreting tongues is the ability to translate the tongues speaking and communicate it back to others in your own language.
The gift of administration is being able to keep things organized and in accordance with God’s principles.
The gift of helps is always having the desire and ability to help others, to do whatever it takes to get a task accomplished. This is a long list and yet we all know not all ill people are healed, not all people understand spiritual issues, not all have seen the signs and wonders etc etc…
and the one I especially like…proclaim a message from G-d.
There will be three more blog posts in this series, spread out over this week and next. The second in the series addresses another specific chapter, but the last two take the rest of the content, so you’ll see some variety of approaches in how the gifts are addressed, as well as a general theme the “Gifts of the Spirit” presenters use to examine said-gifts.
you said “The gift of tongues is the ability to speak in a foreign language that you do not have knowledge of, in order to communicate with someone who speaks that language.”
Yes, that is one of the aspects of tongues as demonstrated in Acts 2, however the gift can be more than that as is shown throughout other references.
Some of these references are addressed in an article I wrote on my own blog:
@James, yes, there is an undercurrent of antisemitism, especially in certain groups. I’ve been having recent experiences with Christians that go like this, “We love the Jewish people and Israel.” Okay, great, that is their desire and goal. “But don’t be too Jewish, and don’t make us feel threatened or inferior.” I have a group of friends that are thrilled that I have some background in Hebrew and knowledge of the ancient cultures to enhance their understanding of scripture. And then there is the group that has said, “You must think you are better than us, as if reading the bible in English and knowing nothing about the culture and history that informed its meaning is sufficient.” I have never said or implied I was better than anyone.
Regarding spiritual gifts, I don’t believe it is sufficient to believe they are for today. We need to encourage and allow opportunity for their expression, as well as provide discernment and “decently and in order.” I think even charismatic groups today seem to imply that it is the leaders and those who stand at the front that are allowed the use of spiritual gifts, as expression by the rank and file might be a threat to their authority. It didn’t use to be that way. Spiritual gifts are to build up the body; that is the reason for desiring to prophesy as well as other manifestations.
I’m not really sure what level of detail may be addressed adequately in a blog discussion such as this one, but it seems to me that the “strange-fire” discussion so far has been somewhat superficial, dealing with the arguments about whether these spiritual gifts ceased to be available or whether they continue to be available. The more important issues are really about how these gifts may be used, how they are to be exercised or not to be exercised in various venues, and whether any discernment is applied to their use to recognize the distinction between gifts from HaShem and psychological phenomena rooted in other sources. Let us not ignore that shamanism and other religious venues also evidence phenomena of healing, speaking “gibberish” (whether or not linguistic structure is apparent), insightful knowledge that appears to be extremely accurate and beyond natural capabilities of insight, apparent foreknowledge of events, and the like. There exists also deliberate fakery, based on varying motivations both selfish and altruistic; and there exists self-deception and delusion, often driven by over-stimulated expectations. It seems that the focus of JM is on the widespread abuse and misuse of human hopes and fears as such phenomena are employed. He seems to believe that the best course is to deny validity to any of it, rather than to present criteria to qualify some of it and disqualify the abuses. I, myself, have witnessed proper, sane, beneficial use of these gifts, though I have never been a member of a Pentacostal or Charismatic assembly as such. I’ve also witnessed misuse as well as utter nonsense (and nonsensical utterances). I know how tempting it can be to “throw out the baby with the dirty bathwater”, because of the difficulty in preventing people from trying to make things happen for themselves when HaShem seems not to be cooperating with human wishes. People forget that these gifts are not superpowers to be exercised at human discretion, but rather they are ad hoc initiatives by HaShem, despite any coincidence with human requests. If HaShem does not initiate speech, in whatever language, someone who speaks out of familiarity with the phenomenon, even if it sounds like recognizable language, will be speaking gibberish or nonsense (or their own opinions, which may be not far removed from gibberish or nonsense).
Sometimes I wonder what Rav Shaul’s experience of these phenomena might have been like within a solely Jewish context, that he was so familiar with them as to be able to instruct folks like the errant Corinthians in their non-Jewish context. The events of Acts 2 occurred in a Jewish context; and their purpose was clearly to address and impress a diverse crowd of Jews who had come to Jerusalem from numerous places outside of Israel in connection with Shavuot. I can well imagine that it wouldn’t happen very frequently that events would unfold exactly as they did on that day, and even the later events that demonstrated HaShem’s cleansing and acceptance of non-Jews (which so impressed Peter/Kefa after his perplexing vision in Acts 10). Would we say that these phenomena “ceased” because subsequent events did not require an exact duplication of the way HaShem imparted these giftings on those particular days? On the other hand, should we expect the usage that Rav Shaul described to the Corinthians to become an everyday, or even only weekly, occurrence? Under what circumstances should we expect any of them to occur? Since we can be rather certain that these gifts are not intended as toys for us to play with, what may we infer from their pattern of operation that might instruct us in our more everyday reliance on HaShem’s guidance as we walk in the light of His Torah instruction?
Sometimes I wonder what Rav Shaul’s experience of these phenomena might have been like within a solely Jewish context, that he was so familiar with them as to be able to instruct folks like the errant Corinthians in their non-Jewish context.
Under what circumstances should we expect any of them to occur? Since we can be rather certain that these gifts are not intended as toys for us to play with, what may we infer from their pattern of operation that might instruct us in our more everyday reliance on HaShem’s guidance as we walk in the light of His Torah instruction?
I think addressing those questions was the basic purpose of the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, PL.
@ ProclaimLiberty – I like your comments regarding spiritual gifts.
chaya1957 said: “Regarding spiritual gifts, I don’t believe it is sufficient to believe they are for today. We need to encourage and allow opportunity for their expression, as well as provide discernment and “decently and in order.” I think even charismatic groups today seem to imply that it is the leaders and those who stand at the front that are allowed the use of spiritual gifts, as expression by the rank and file might be a threat to their authority. It didn’t use to be that way. Spiritual gifts are to build up the body; that is the reason for desiring to prophesy as well as other manifestations.”
I think an old saying about “hitting the nail on the head” is appropriate here. What you have said is spot on.
The “strange fire” claims have concentrated on two extreme errors regarding Spiritual gifts: 1) that they are no longer valid, having allegedly been Divinely withdrawn, and 2) the abuse, misuse and even falsifying of spiritual gifts by professing Christians.
Neither of these extremes are compatible with the scriptural accounts of the nature, purpose and usage of gifts. I think chaya1957 points to a very important aspect of this issue – the CORRECT approach to the gifts could be seen a threat to the position of men who see themselves as THE church authorities in their particular organisations.
@James — I appreciate your attempt to relay the continuing discussion forward from the Challies Chronicles summation to this page of discussion. I hope it is successful in bringing everyone together “on the same page” so to speak.
There has been some mention of a related issue distinct from the controversial tongues, healing, knowledge, and prophecy ones, which might be considered under the rubric of the gift of “administrations”, which implies an aspect of coordination, order, and leadership. It has been noted that in some groups the use of gifts is tightly controlled “from the front”, so to speak, as if in fear of some existing leaders losing control to “loose cannons” in the congregation or audience. One possible benefit of the gifts is that they represent HaShem acting sovereignly through whomever He Himself chooses, rather than through some leadership structure developed by humans. That could be quite properly threatening to such structures, which are themselves not exactly in accord with the more egalitarian biblical congregational model. Where I have seen the gifts used successfully has been in a home-based fellowship whose “leadership” was based on the hospitality of the host family and the recognized wisdom and experience of various participants. Because of a fundamental reliance on the discernment exercised by the entire group regarding any congregational exercise or expression of a spiritual gift, it was HaShem who actually was leading the group rather than some fixed human leadership structure. Anyone who was recognized to be “out-of-order” by group discernment (e.g., lack of ratification for the accuracy or applicability or “sourcing” of their attempted expression) was not heeded, and at some point they would be offered considerate analysis of what might have been an error and instruction for improvement in future self-discernment. Of course, this format doesn’t lend itself to auditoriums and staged or even televised presentations, but whoever suggested that the gifts were ever to be exercised in that manner? Certainly not Rav Shaul in his instructions to the Corinthians. And there is far too little information in the event descriptions in Acts from which to derive any principles of operation.
Nonetheless, the somewhat free-form congregational fellowship structure I’ve described is not the common hierarchical structure of pastor (priest; rabbi), elders (deacons; governing-board members), and general members or “laity” (which some might characterize as a “Nicolaitan” structure). I’m not inveighing against practical organizational structures in general — I’m discussing an operational framework for spiritual giftings in any given group setting. Nor am I criticizing the recognition of educational and experiential qualifications implicit in titles such as “Rabbi”, “Pastor”, “Father”, “Reverend”, or such as “Deacon”, “Elder”, “President”, “VP”, “Secretary”, “Treasurer”, “Comptroller”, et al (i.e., elected or appointed representatives of organizational governing boards). I’m trying to point out that the authority and control dynamics of a practical organization (or of a staged presentation) are not suited to the “control” of a group as it pursues the exercise of spiritual gifts that rely on HaShem’s initiation and control. Confusion of these dynamics may explain a lot of why so many common human failings are evident in situations where people try to exercise these gifts, and why they don’t “work” properly.
I agree that anyone possessing even authentic gifts of the spirit can abuse those gifts. I also agree they should never be the basis for assigning authority or leadership in a congregation. The next installment of this series should have just published and there will be two more next week, all describing the gifts of the spirit within a Messianic Jewish context (from the viewpoint of FFOZ, since Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, uniform entity). I think you’ll see that the FFOZ conference (and book) on gifts takes a different approach than the one we often see in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
Hi, there. What do you think about people praying in community to know the spiritual gifts of a person? I’ve never seen this practiced.
I haven’t either, trugingstar. Can you clarify a bit.
Oh and welcome to my blog. Greetings.