Almost two thousand years ago, the events of Acts chapter 2 took place. It was the morning of Shavu’ot in about the year 30 CE. The disciples had made their trek to the Temple Mount from the various places where they had stayed the night before. They met up at the southern end of the Temple Mount, where numerous mikva’ot were located. They immersed themselves as they physically and spiritually prepared to enter the Temple precincts. The twelve then made their way to Solomon’s Colonnade, where they had often gathered to hear the Master teach.
As they walked and talked together, the conversation began to drive to the Master’s last words to them before he ascended. He had told them that they were not to depart from Jerusalem until he sent the promise of his Father to them. They were going to be “clothed with power from on high” and baptized with the Holy Spirit. They asked one another, “What did he mean?”
“Chapter 8: Gentiles and the Holy Spirit,” pg 135
Gifts of the Spirit
This is a continuation of Part 1 of this blog post and the (almost) finale to my review of this book (see below for more details) as well as my “re-visit” to the 2013 Shavuot conference “Gifts of the Spirit” organized by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and hosted at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.
The beginning of Toby’s presentation doesn’t say much about “Gentiles and the Holy Spirit,” but I quoted him because I just love the imagery. I love the careful and solemn preparation of the apostles as they made themselves ready physically and spiritually to enter into the Temple and into this Holy Festival. We don’t have anything quite like that in Christianity, and “grace” has taught us we can stroll into God’s court anytime we feel like it, dressed in a ragged t-shirt and old cut-offs and be just as casual as we want to be.
I suppose I’m being unfair to a lot of Christians out there, but I think the sheer majesty and awe of God was set aside just to make Christians feel more comfortable. I don’t think such an attitude is for the better.
What about Gentiles and the Holy Spirit? Toby took us through a bit of Biblical history and Talmudic education in describing those few non-Jews who experienced the Holy Spirit before the first advent of the Messiah. Rahab (Joshua 2:16) is probably the most encouraging example, as she is said to have prophesied when she told the two Israelite spies, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned.”
Toby cites Sifrei to Deuteronomy 1:24 to provide the Jewish interpretation of the Joshua 2:16 statement. Generally though, those Gentiles thought to have received the ability to speak prophesy through the Holy Spirit were deemed by the sages to have received an incomplete form. Of course, this is commentary, and Christians feel free to set aside Jewish opinions about the God of Israel.
From a Jewish perspective though, in ancient days, it was thought the only way a Gentile might receive the full blessings of the Holy Spirit was by becoming a proselyte (Leviticus Rabbah 2:9; b.Shabbat 31a).
An important point though is to realize that in the future Messianic Age, “all flesh” will receive the Spirit in great abundance:
“It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the Lord has said, Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”
–Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)
This is important because any Gentile before the Messianic Age who does have the gift of prophesy as a disciple of Messiah, Son of David; Jesus Christ, can be considered a “first fruits” of Joel’s prophesy. Of course, the Jewish sages debated back and forth as to whether or not this meant just Jews or Jews and Gentiles, everyone on Earth, or only Jews and Gentiles who have repented. Personally, I think “all flesh” means “all flesh;” all humanity turning to God, but we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens.
But speaking of “first fruits,” Cornelius and his entire household (see Acts 10) are the first Gentiles to receive the Spirit after the ascension of the Master. Interestingly enough, prior to receiving the Spirit, the Gentiles did not overtly repent (as recorded by Luke) so it is assumed that by receiving the Spirit, they had previously repented.
We also see (and I’ve pointed this out before), that between receiving the Spirit and being immersed (mikvah), Peter did not order Cornelius and the males of his household to be circumcised. They did not have to convert to Judaism (at least in the traditional manner) and take on board the full yoke of Torah obedience.
The Acts 10 event was repeated by Peter in Acts 11 and subsequently in Acts 15, used as a legal precedent (Toby referenced a “ma’aseh” or ruling on halachah based on the occurrence of an actual event) to establish the legal status of Gentiles entering this Jewish religious stream while not being compelled to undergo the proselyte rites.
None of this addresses the work of the Holy Spirit with Gentiles today, but it does provide a valuable lesson on the Biblical and Jewish perspective of the Holy Spirit as it encounters non-Jews who have come to faith in Messiah.
Jordan Levy opens the next presentation and Chapter 9 with the discussion, “The Ruach HaKodesh in Early Messianic Judaism”. In Jordan’s case, she’s not talking about the beginnings of the Messianic Jewish movement in the 1960s and 70s, but rather the 19th century CE. She cited Jewish luminaries of that era such as Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein, Raphael Hirsch Biesenthal, Paul Philip Levertoff, and Abram Poljak to make a case for how these Jewish pioneers in the Messiah saw the mystic presence and acts of the Spirit of God.
None of this particularly maps to Pentecostalism, nor was it meant to. Remember, the basic mission of this conference and book is to explore the meaning of the acts of the Spirit within a Jewish, and specifically within a Messianic Jewish, context.
Jordan’s presentation was dense with content and meaning, and I won’t try to replicate it here, but in quoting Abram Poljak (On the Way [Mottlingen, Germany: The Hebrew Christian Community, 1958], 25), she says in part (these are Poljak’s words):
In order to reach and to mislead the elect, Satan starts by getting his tools to the forefront of many churches and communities, inspiring them to interpret the Bible according to his purposes… “de-mythologizing” the Bible … as a book of fairy stories. Others are to make a fetish out of the Bible, and to kill off the Spirit … by the letter.
And where that is not sufficient, Satan dispenses his spiritual gifts with reckless abundance. Many of his tools are brilliant preachers, they can speak in tongues, heal the sick, and perform other miracles … (emph. mine)
-Levy, pg 174
John MacArthur and the many other presenters at last October’s Strange Fire conference did a very thorough job (some might say too thorough) of pointing out the “reckless abundance” of the “spiritual gifts” which ultimately are used to discredit Pentecostals and Charismatics as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t mention the other side of the coin, so to speak.
Just as one can become overly focused on spiritual gifts, one can also “kill off the Spirit … by the letter” of the Word by making a “fetish out of the Bible.” Is it possible to be too focused on studying the Word of God? Christians are frequently accused of bashing people with the Bible (not literally, of course), using scripture to condemn anyone and everyone, not necessarily because God does, but to satisfy the personal, social, religious, or political bias of the “basher.”
I mentioned in a previous blog post how FFOZ Founder and President Boaz Michael urged us to approach our faith with a sense of balance, founded on three legs:
- The Spirit of the Lord
- The Torah of Moses
- The Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom
If you are out of balance, regardless in which direction, that likely represents at least a skewed understanding of God, the Spirit, Messiah, and everything else, and at worst, you end up abusing God and the people around you by a gross misunderstanding of the imperatives of what it means to be a believer. This means being overly focused on the Spirit or being overly focused on the Bible (especially the bare words without sufficient context) are equally dangerous.
In “Chapter 10: Tanach and the Gifts of the Spirit,” Jeremiah Michael offers a series of connections between Paul’s text in 1 Corinthians 12 and how Paul is linking back to numerous portions of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible or Old Testament), both to illustrate that the “gifts of the spirit” is not merely a New Testament concept and to show the purposes of those gifts across time.
I have to admit that I got a lot more out of Jeremiah’s presentation in book form than when I heard him speak last May. I think his presentation was so academic that my goofy brain couldn’t process it all through hearing. I had a much better experience seeing and following the patterns and logic of his paper when reading it in text.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
–1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (NASB)
Jeremiah quoted this scripture to establish linkage between the Messiah and the Spirit. In his inventory of the Tanakh, he then provided linkage between the Spirit and various “gifts,” thus connecting Messiah to those gifts as well, not just as Messiah possessing said-gifts, but dispensing them.
It would be impossible in the space allotted, for me to give you a comprehensive list of all of Jeremiah’s references so I’ll only present a severely truncated version here. See the book Gifts of the Spirit for the full article.
Jeremiah’s key verse linking the Spirit to Wisdom is found in Isaiah 11:2. This is also associated with Tevunah/binah or understanding and da’at or knowledge, but again, I’m only presenting the bare bones of this data.
I mentioned da’at or knowledge above, which also uses Isaiah 11:2 as its key verse. Jeremiah states (pg 189):
What is the biblical difference between wisdom and knowledge? Wisdom is a discipline that brings forth a deep and intimate knowledge of God and his ways (and) can only be gained by divine assistance. Knowledge, however, can be gained quickly — and forgotten quickly. Knowledge can come without divine assistance, but this messianic knowledge comes from God.
I guess this explains why extremely intelligent and well-educated, i.e., knowledgable people, can still be unwise.
Psalm 89:14 is the key verse and Hebrews 11 presents the definition of faith. Jeremiah says (pg 193):
…having faith means that you have the chutzpah and endurance to push through for the sake of the Master and of God.
The second aspect of faith is the idea of being faithful to act in accordance with God’s will.
Over two years ago, I reprised a blog post called Getting in the Wheelbarrow which I originally wrote for another blog, and the Rabbinic story within wonderfully outlines the differences between faith and trust. I think actually trusting God takes much more effort than simply having faith that He exists, but as we see in this section of Jeremiah’s presentation, faith is tough to exercise as well.
This topic is a special case and, in reviewing my notes for both Jeremiah’s and Jordan Levy’s presentations, I’m going to be writing a separate blog post on the spiritual gift of healing. Frankly, I think we have really misunderstood what this gift does and what it means.
However, to get a peek ahead, look at Jeremiah’s key scriptures: Malachi 4:2 and Jeremiah 3:22-23.
Prophecy and the Interpretation of Tongues
This is the final spiritual gift addressed by Jeremiah in his paper, but his key “verses” come from midrash and Jewish tradition, since strictly speaking, people didn’t speak in alien or angelic languages in the Old Testament…or did they?
First some New Testament foundation:
For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
–1 Corinthians 14:2-3 (NASB)
And now a reference back to the Torah:
I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
–Deuteronomy 18:18 (NASB)
Read in its context, the passage from Deuteronomy 18 is presumed to be in a human language, but mapped to 1 Corinthians 14, we see it doesn’t have to be. Or, as D. Thomas Lancaster suggested in the last chapter of the book, was Moses speaking in the seventy languages of the nations…all at once?
As a side note, Jeremiah makes a comment on page 201 that I found rather interesting, especially since religious Judaism is believed by most Christians to be rather intellectual and spiritually sterile.
I was in Israel a few months ago and witnessed some genuine charismata there — a true zeal for God. If you ever want to experience Orthodox Jewish charisma, go to the Kotel, the Western Wall, on a Friday night.
In his conclusion, Jeremiah says:
Paul summarizes 1 Corinthians 12 by linking the gifts of the Spirit of Messiah with the metaphor of a body that contains many parts, yet is whole and unified.
While nothing in Jeremiah’s presentation necessarily connects up the line of history to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement of today and how or if the gifts of the spirit are apportioned to human beings, it can be assumed that the purposes of these gifts are just as valid today as they were in the apostolic age or in the time of the Old Testament prophets.
Jeremiah’s final words tell the tale:
We who are believers in Messiah can, through his Spirit that dwells within us, be his body, with all the members working together and exercising these spiritual gifts to bring about the kingdom and, in some way, to enable us to live in the Messianic Era now.
As said by other presenters, the gifts of the spirit are a means to an end, not the goal themselves. The goal is always the Messiah and him crucified, and him risen, that we may prepare ourselves and prepare the world for the return of the King and the dawning of his rule from his throne in Jerusalem. May he come soon and in our day.
I had planned to finish off the review of this book in two parts, but putting in the review of the final chapter pushes this blog post to over 4600 words. Therefore, please see Part 3 for the final word on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book and the last article presented by D. Thomas Lancaster.