The third month was chosen for the revelation because everything that is closely connected with the Torah and with Israel is triple in number. The Torah consists of three parts: The Pentateuch, The Prophets, and the Writings. The oral law consists of Midrash, Halakhah, and Haggadah… (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. Buber pp. 186-187)
-quoted by Max Arzt in
Part 2: “The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),” p.285
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement
My friend Tom and I have been toying with the idea of studying Torah together for quite some time, but the recent events that have seen me leave (once again) church have added emphasis to the proposal. This past Sunday, Tom and I were talking over coffee and started to define some of the parameters for our study.
First of all, I’m not sure a study focused on Torah is the best way to go. Sure, the timing is right. We are very close to the end of the current Torah cycle, and the new cycle begins with Torah Portion Beresheet on October 18th, less than three weeks away.
But Tom said that he wants to have a study that specifically focuses on Messiah and what he means in our lives. I don’t know if I want to study the sidra for each Shabbat with the idea that I must find the Messiah within its pages. What if I don’t?
The second goal of our Torah study is that we might be able to see the Messiah clearly in its pages. Remember Luke 24. This chapter establishes for us one of the key hermeneutic principles of approaching Torah. Here Yeshua tells us specifically to look in the Torah in order to see Him. “And beginning with Moshe and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
When we first started looking for Yeshua in every Torah Portion, we were concerned that we would not be able to find Yeshua anywhere. However, much to our surprise, after beginning the work we found it difficult to stop! We have discovered that the person and work of Messiah are evident in even the most technical sections of the Torah. And the more we see Him, the more we can worship Him.
“How to Study the Torah”
While I don’t always agree with everything presented at this website, I’ve found Berkowitz’s insights valuable in the past and, when I saw this link show up in my Facebook feed, I decided to have a go at it. Seems Berkowitz has no problem seeing the Messiah in the Torah, but maybe another approach would work better for Tom and me.
I started reading the Berkowitz article with an idea to base our Bible study upon its principles. I said I found Berkowitz valuable, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. In taking the text at face value (and not allegorizing), he says:
This also applies to what appear to be legal sections. If God said to put a fence around the top of our houses, for example, He does not mean to build fences to protect the Torah! Literally, what is being referred to is a protective enclosure being placed around the top of a house to prevent people from falling off. (In that part of the world, most dwellings had flat roofs, which facilitated people congregating on them.) We have no permission at this point to go beyond the literal face value of the text.
Well, yes and no. Yes, I can agree that it’s a bit of a stretch to create a midrash stating that the Torah commandment to build a fence around the edge of your flat roof also means building fences around the commandments, manufacturing additional barriers to keep the observant from getting too close to the “edge” of sin. I do however, think that we can take the particular commandment and infer a general principle from it (this isn’t my original idea, I got it from one of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons). I believe the specific commandment about building a fence around your roof can be expanded to the general principle of removing all physical hazards on your property that could potentially cause injury to family and guests. These would be acts of kindness and express concern over the well being of the people around you. I don’t think there’s too much of a stretch involved here, but it does require we think beyond the immediate situation described.
Also associated with this principle is the necessity of determining the intended meaning of the passage. Since Moshe was the writer of the Torah, we must try to put ourselves in his shoes as he wrote it, even as we attempt to discern the Lord’s intent in giving each teaching. Moreover, we also need to put ourselves into the shoes of the people who first received the Scriptures and seek to know how they understood the text.
I agree with this wholeheartedly and I think many Bible students and scholars don’t take this far enough. Remember, almost without exception, all of the writers of the Bible are Jewish people and the Bible’s contents (with the exception of some of Paul’s letters and a few other portions) were intended to be read exclusively by Jews.
We have to at least attempt to understand what the writer was intending his readers to get out of the document, including any allusions, less than obvious references, traditions, and interpretive praxis that could be employed to derive meaning. The answers to all that are likely not easily gleaned from the plain meaning of the text and require some knowledge of the Judaism of the time period in which the document was authored.
A really good example of this is a lecture that Boaz Michael delivered some years ago called “Moses in Matthew”. I don’t think a recording of that teaching is available commercially, but I managed to get a copy of it and reviewed its contents in a blog post called “The Jewish Gospel”, Part 1 and Part 2. Rabbi Joshua Brumbach also reviewed it on his blog about three years ago.
I don’t want to attempt to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, so for the details, you can click on the links I’ve provided. In brief though, Boaz aptly illustrated that without understanding the highly specific mindset of Jews living in occupied Palestine in the late Second Temple period, we sometimes misunderstand (sometimes to a great degree) what Jesus (Yeshua) was teaching, leading us to a far less than perfect comprehension of the message of Messiah to his people Israel and, across history, to us.
Berkowitz continues in his article making statements I believe are in support of what I just said above:
For example, it makes a difference to our understanding of the Torah if we know that each of the ten plagues was brought against one of the gods of Egypt. It changes our perception of the book of Deuteronomy if we are aware that its format virtually follows that of other middle to late Bronze Age suzerainty treaties and covenants. Moreover, are we aware that our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets can help us understand the structure of Genesis, as well as why Rachel stole the family idols from Laban? Finally, what is meant by the designations “Way of the Philistines” and “King’s Highway?”
Closely connected with this rule is the principle of studying the Torah in Hebrew, its original language. There are sometimes words, thoughts, or concepts in the Hebrew of the Torah that are almost impossible to express in a translation. For example, it is helpful to know that the Hebrew word sometimes translated into English as “sacrifice” is the word korban (קָרְבָּן), which has the same root as the word meaning “to draw close.” Hence, a sacrifice is that which helps us draw close to God. In addition, there are virtually no English equivalents for the Hebrew words tahor (טָהוֹר) and tamei (טָמֵא) (often rendered pure and impure, or clean and unclean, respectively).
Again, and specifically speaking to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, we would also have to know how other Jewish teachers of that time period wrote, what common allusions and references they shared, the midrashic associations the readers were supposed to make, and so on. Reading Jewish texts of any time period requires knowledge of not only the religious and cultural Judaism of that point in history, but what it was to live as a Jew listening to or reading the teachings of the Rabbis.
This isn’t information always available to us.
But if we don’t always have the past at our fingertips, we do that the present:
Jewish practice and interpretation of the Torah began centuries ago—in many cases even before the time of Yeshua. Although we do not believe in the authority of the oral law, it nevertheless contains much that is useful for us today (such as an incredibly insightful periodic interpretation of the Torah). It is helpful for us, therefore, to read some of the best of the modern Jewish commentators (at least those of both the Rishonim and Akharonim), because in them we may find accurate interpretations of the most difficult passages of the Torah. Moreover, it can also be helpful to examine some of the rabbinic applications of the Torah, as some of these halachic teachings might shed some light for us on a given passage.
Christians don’t always take me seriously when I say that in order to understand the Bible, including (especially) the teachings of Jesus, you have to understand something about Judaism. However, this is true. Christianity has its interpretive traditions which, from their earliest inception, were designed to minimize if not outright delete any “Jewishness” from the Jewish texts. And yet, as I’ve seen time and again, ignoring a Jewish interpretation of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, has led to tremendous errors in the development of Christian theology and its resultant doctrine. This isn’t to say that Christianity has completely missed the boat. The Church grasps the principles of loving God and doing good to other human beings very well. They just don’t know what to do with Jewish people as having a unique covenant relationship with God, and especially have not a clue how to understand the Judaism of Jews in Messiah.
Unfortunately, Berkowitz had to employ this rather reductive list of the three rules of interpretation, which I’ve previously encountered:
- First ask, “What does the passage say?”
- Next ask, “What does it mean?”
- Finally, ask, “What does it mean to me?”
Not to say that this list is bad, but if you didn’t understand that it must be expanded to include what I’ve described previously about comprehending the entire historical, cultural, linguistic, midrashic, and every other area of context in which a particular text of the Bible was written and read, then you’ve going to miss a lot.
And in describing interpretation, Berkowitz doesn’t mention that interpretation begins at translation. He admits that most people don’t have a sufficient command of the Biblical languages to read them, and thus tend to rely on translations, but he doesn’t say that some translations do heinous violence to the text. The English Standard Version, for example, changes Greek verb tenses in some of Paul’s letters and in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make the scriptures read as if the Old (Sinai) Covenant has already completely passed away and that it has totally been replaced by the New Covenant. However, the verb tenses in the actual Greek indicate that the old is in the process of still passing away, and there is no indication in the originals that the New is even here yet.
Berkowitz does say that there are a number of good study aids available and I would add to that list a variety of different translations and a lexicon to help with some of the problems modern translators have introduced.
Berkowitz states that the number one requirement in Bible study is to “rely on the Spirit of God to be our teacher.” I can agree, but I’ve argued with a few people here on my blog that the Spirit doesn’t have to exist in isolation from other resources and that we don’t have to “check our brains at the door,” so to speak.
In addressing the use of commentaries, Berkowitz says:
Some people simply will not use commentaries or study aids when studying the Bible. They say they want God to teach them, not man. The problem with this statement is that God has specifically blessed certain people in the body of Messiah with the gift of teaching. We are not disputing the fact that people can discover wonderful things in the Torah by themselves. But God’s usual method is to gift certain people who can, in turn, teach others the truths of His Word. Hence, we all need to rely on the God-gifted Torah teachers whom the Holy One places in our path.
Furthermore, we must also realize that most commentaries were originally sermons or verbal teachings before they appeared in print. If we are willing to ask another person his or her opinion about a given passage in the Bible, we should be willing to consult a commentary. There is no difference, other than the fact that one is a verbal opinion about the Torah and the other is written.
We are not islands unto ourselves. We are members of the body of Messiah, each equipped with certain areas of understanding which, when combined, help bring to all of us a more complete understanding of the Bible. Thus, we should not throw away all the books and say “we will just study the Bible.” God never meant for His people to function like that. In the resources section of this Web site we provide a continually growing list of Bible study aids, such as commentaries, that we recommend. There will undoubtedly be others, especially in other languages. But this is a good beginning for those who are new at Torah study.
I’ve come the long way around to ask a simple question. Tom and I (and whoever decides to join us) need a structure and format for our studies. We could just shoot from the hip or talk off the tops of our heads, but that’s rather self-limiting.
We need a study that is focused on the Messiah. We’d like to not have the study devolve into a “what’s right” and “what’s wrong” about theology and doctrine, which, for example, so many of these religious blogs tend to do. We would like the study to be specifically Messianic rather than traditionally Christian. If at all possible, we’d like the study not to be too expensive. Unfortunately, a lot of good teaching material out there also costs a proverbial arm and leg.
I’m open to suggestion (without the obligation of having to take everyone’s suggestions). Any ideas?
In advance, thank you for your help and insight.
Oh, and by the “coming year,” I mean within the next few weeks to a month or so, not the beginning of 2015. Thanks.
27 thoughts on “Can You Help Us Find a Bible Study for the Coming Year?”
Very busy day and have not yet read your blog, below, but several people in our Sunday school class did “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus” and now we are doing “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus.” Much of it was already familiar to me, but not everything; you may enjoy them. http://ourrabbijesus.com/
James, how about just reading the bible together and discussing what you read instead of looking for someone else’s structured study that is likely to influence the way you read and understand scripture?
http://www.regionschristiancenter.org/the-rabbis-son/ – free; http://skipmoen.com/products/genesis/ WebYeshiva has some great free courses (many more archived) that you could use as basis for further study. A number of groups including http://www.partnersintorah.org/ and http://www.chabad.org/templates/jnet/module.htm provide free phone/skype study partners, and although they are geared to unaffiliated Jews, likely they would accept a person with a Jewish spouse who would like to learn.
I would wonder why your friend set the parameter of searching for Messiah in torah (only) rather than studying and following wherever it leads. Is he up for being changed by what he learns, or just looking to validate where he stands currently?
You may be familiar with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s, “Heavenly Torah,” and J. Soleveitchik’s, “Halachic Man.”
You might like this free course. Warning, you may become a MOOC-a-holic like myself 🙂 https://www.coursera.org/course/jerusalem
I sent you a comment and it disappeared. I assume you didn’t get it?
@Michele: I assume the book is written in a format that would facilitate a weekly study, correct?
@Onesimus: Looks like you didn’t read the article written by Ariel Berkowitz (link above). He talks about being guided by the Holy Spirit *and* also using external sources and his rationale for making that suggestion. I like how he conceptualizes the intermix.
@Keith: I suggested that to Tom last time I saw him and he was less than enthusiastic. It may have been a concern about cost though, so I’ll have to see what he thinks of the suggestion.
@Chaya: The reason your comment disappeared is because you put more than two links in it and WordPress thought it was spam. I restored it.
I’ll have to take a look at those resources when I have more time and my brain is more active. Remember, one of the requirements is a specific focus on Messiah Yeshua, so it’s not a matter of just any ol’ Bible or Torah study.
Thanks for the rapid and enthusiastic replies, everyone. Keep ’em coming.
I like Lois Tverberg’s works, but I think they might be too basic for you. I know you like depth.
My personal leaning is to pick a “teacher,” that has been around a while and stood the test of time, a member of the, “dead torah teachers’ society.” Then you can look back and examine the person’s life and the influence of their teaching.
I thought as much about Tverberg’s book. “Dead Torah Teacher’s Society”. Interesting spin on the movie title.
Yeah, James, if your buddy is concerned about the cost, I think FFOZ has a program called Corners of the Field or something like that where they’ll help out with the money.
The problem with using a structured study plan is that you are being directed to see particular things in scripture while other things will be ignored. You are more likely to see what the study author want you to see than what scripture itself is saying.
You will be shown what the study author thinks is important and are likely to miss the things he overlooked when preparing the study.
As for Berkowitz’s claim that “God has specifically blessed certain people in the body of Messiah with the gift of teaching” as his justification for reliance on commentaries, he is assuming that commentaries have been written by people appointed by God to be teachers.
Considering the conclusions presented by the commentary and study-bible publishers I’ve come across I think that assumption is at best questionable. (John MacArthur comes to mind)
Those “people in the body of Messiah” who have been blessed “with the gift of teaching” are more likely NOT to be unapproachable celebrity ministers/scholars but will be people within the part of the body of Messiah that we are personally connected to and can communicate with personally.
Depending on how academic you and Tom want to get, and where you want to focus your study (on the Tanakh generally, or Apostolic Scriptures specifically?), you might enjoy this one by Tim Hegg.
It covers 20 messianic texts of the Tanach, and includes cross references to the Targumim, Lxx, and rabbinic commentaries.
Huh. Did my post go to ‘spam’ or did it just disappear?
I appreciated this essay as containing a well-timed expansion of the responses I’ve been exchanging with Onesimus in other recent topics, regarding the epistemology with which scriptural study should be approached. While considering also Ariel Berkowitz’s invocation of the notion of being guided by HaShem’s Spirit while also using the best available external sources, one must recognize that this presumes the erstwhile students possess a sufficient degree of spiritual discernment to distinguish the perspective of HaShem’s Spirit from those of one’s own human spirit, and their respective attitudes which influence the interpretive matrix. Of course, such discernment must be applied also against the external materials employed for their insights.
Your goal of finding the Messiah on every page of Torah put me in mind of a metaphorical image I encountered long ago which shows that HaShem’s signature may be read on every leaf of every tree in the forest. However, this is not necessarily the most appropriate way of approaching the study of botany, nor of specific tree species, nor of forestry (lest we fail to see the forest for the trees [:)]). On some level, it is true that one may extract some spiritual insight about the Messiah from any given aspect of Torah (and from the Prophets also), if only because Rav Yeshua so thoroughly exemplified the Torah as to become virtually a living embodiment of it. However, this is not necessarily the best model by which to study these scriptures. Nonetheless it is clear in this essay that you are seeking to employ whatever tools you can find available to understand the whole of whatever passages you review, and not to skew the meaning by imposing the search for messianic implications too forcefully upon them that they cannot speak for themselves. You are already fully conscious that almost all of these scriptures were written for purposes other than to drop hints about the Messiah, and that the messianic implications are almost incidental or “co-incidental”. Of course, given HaShem’s subtlety, one must wonder whether any apparent coincidence is really coincidental.
@Keith: Not sure finances are the entire story. We’ll see. Thanks for the “heads up” on the “Corners of the Field” option.
@O: I know in the past you said you are not advocating for just a person, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit while throwing all Bible teachers under a bus (so to speak), but that’s what it sounds like you’re saying to me.
Last summer, I wrote a review of an article written by retired Bible translator Paul E. Meier for Messiah Journal in this blog post. Meier also advocates for the idea that we each are granted different gifts by God. Not all of us are born Bible scholars, or historians, or fluent in Biblical languages. I don’t expect God to wave his hand and suddenly make me fluent in Biblical Hebrew and Greek, though I’m sure He’s capable of it. I believe He expects me to do the work to learn the languages if I want to read the texts in their original words. The Holy Spirit and the believer have a cooperative relationship. God doesn’t just “beam” stuff into my head without me having to do any footwork.
If that’s not how God works, how come He didn’t just “beam” the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into Canaan, with the indigenous populations already subjugated? That’s because, for their part, the Israelites were expected to hold up their end in the relationship. That’s how I think the Holy Spirit works, too.
@Rob: While my study partner has a somewhat “One Law” bent to him, as you know, I don’t. Whatever study materials we eventually settle upon, we’ll both have to agree to use. I know Hegg will posit ideas and theologies I don’t agree with so I don’t know how edifying his material will be relative to my spiritual growth. I put a link to this blog post in Facebook mainly to show you that I was referencing the Berkowitz article, which is posted on your website. That said, I know you are offering your help sincerely, so thank you.
And dang. That price. The Torah Club commentary suggested by Keith is more affordable.
@PL: Thanks for all that. It occurs to me that if the Holy Spirit were communicating the same, clear message to all Christians across time, then we certainly wouldn’t have had the problems between Christians and Jews that history records. Further, I think we non-Jewish disciples would have a much better view of our role in the redemptive plan of God for Israel and that only through Israel, will the rest of the world also be redeemed.
Your comments to “O” and to me have given me an idea for another way to present the Apostolic Scriptures that will communicate their being “captured” by a “non-custodial” people and their need to be “rescued” and put back in their proper “home” (context).
Just thought about this one. What about Derek Leman’s Daily D’var?
It’s a thought, but a daily newsletter might not adapt well to a weekly study. Also, it took me several minutes on Google to find where to sign up: http://mountolivepress.com/lists/
James said :
What was my first comment here?
And what was my last comment here?
Those “people in the body of Messiah” who have been blessed “with the gift of teaching” are more likely NOT to be unapproachable celebrity ministers/scholars but will be people within the part of the body of Messiah that we are personally connected to and can communicate with personally.
Seems like I’m advocating a more personal approach to teaching, with people you are actually in fellowship with.
The only ones I’d metaphorically throw under the bus are those who insist we need them to tell us what scripture “REALLY” means. Those who claim some kind of special “anointing” or some kind of special training” to understand mysteries that are hidden from the “average believer. Those who train us to believe we are unable to understand scripture without the aid of their study resources.
James it’s simple.
The Holy Spirit HAS been communicating the same message – but not everyone has been listening to HIM. They’ve preferred to heed false teachings of men so ignore the Spirit.
Its simple; your thoughts/beliefs are direct from heaven. Everyone else is hearing from a different source.
If the Holy Spirit can reveal “the truth,” to a person reading an English translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew words, with no dictionary, commentary,nada, then surely he can provide the same revelation without a badly mistranslated narrative.
So the God who created the heavens and earth is incapable?
As I’ve said many times before – man prefers to trust man and man’s traditions rather than seek and trust God. The more man trusts man instead of God the less he will be willing to hear from God.
You are assuming that no human being at all could possibly be a good resource or be an instrument of the Holy Spirit. You’re also assuming that it’s an either/or situation. Is God incapable of using human beings for his own purposes? What about Moses? What about Paul? Should those who followed either of these men be condemned because they didn’t rely on the Holy Spirit alone? I think you’re being kind of rigid here.
James you continue to ignore important parts of what I’ve written on this topic.
I’ve made it clear that other believers play an important role in the way we gain understanding of the truth. But it is the level of authority we give to those other believers that often becomes a problem, when they are made a conduit through which biblical understanding is filtered such as reading scripture through the lens of a commentary or study bible or study aid instead of reading and dealing with scripture for ourselves.
Spend more time with scripture and less time with books about scripture. Become familiar with what scripture actually says before seeking the opinions of others.
Seek for (and expect) the Holy Spirit’s help when addressing scripture – and then AFTER you’ve dealt with scripture for yourself, discuss what you have learned with other believers and refer to what others have to say to see how their understanding compares to your own.
That may reveal flaws in your own understanding, sending you back to scripture to reassess, or it may confirm you were on the right track.
I know you say I’m misunderstanding you, but then you make statements that seem as if you’re saying that using legitimate study resources is completely at odds with allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. You are also assuming exactly how I use study guides, believing that I hold them up as equal to God, which I don’t. Believe it or not, I can tell the difference. Additionally, you are assuming that I spend X (less) amount of time in the Bible and Y (more) time in commentaries, but unless you are having me followed 24/7, you can’t possibly know that. You seem to be projecting your general assumptions about how you think all Christians (except you) study onto me and everyone else who comments on my blog. You don’t know that I don/t pray and seek the Spirit’s guidance before, during, and after study. Tim, you don’t have the corner market on truth. If I were to take your own advice about your advice, I’d have to say “thanks,” but remember, you’re just one man. How do you know the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to me as well? Do I have to become a charismatic to be approved of by God?
James, have you studied any of Dwight Pryor’s material? He has a great set of DVDs (12 sessions, about 28 minutes each) on “Unveiling the Kingdom of Heaven.” There is an accompanying book to go with them, typical size of a paperback book. They would be great for you to blog about, also. 🙂
Here’s the link for “Unveiling the Kingdom of Heaven”. http://jcstudies.com/resourceDetail.cfm?productId=242
James I’ve read what you’ve been writing over a long time and see effects of the teachers you have chosen to focus upon. This is displayed in the beliefs you express as well as in things you have done (such as your Tent of David venture into the Baptist church).
No James, but believers need to receive the Holy Spirit in the biblically portrayed way to be equipped for an effective ongoing life of a believer in Messiah.
I’m sure he does – but as you have pointed out several times we have choice. That includes the choice of who we listen to.
The Spirit guides us into truth and glorifies Messiah.
Regrettably, “O”, your epistemological model is flawed. I have known numerous spirit-filled people who are ready, able, willing, and even desperate to be taught by the Holy Spirit, only to complain that “the heavens seem as brass” (viz: Deut.28:23), though there seems to be no explanation for it (spiritually or otherwise). It does not depend solely on “listening”, nor on pleading. Sometimes it is HaShem’s demand of us that we seek understanding with all due diligence, for our own good. And that means seeking wisdom from other humans, wherever it may be found and by means of such filters as may be required to discern where human shortcomings detract from it. Incidentally, another all-too-common problem is that the human spirit of the would-be learner may have a splinter or two in its own eyes, which distort its vision of whatever knowledge HaShem sends its way. There is no magical formula that enables a “just me and G-d” approach to reading the scriptures. You cannot accuse or assume guilt about anyone, that they “just haven’t been listening to the Holy Spirit” if they have failed to understand something from the scriptures, or have understood it differently from your own reading of them, or have obtained information from sources of which you do not (yet) approve. You’re well within your rights to demand justification or explanation about any assertion or interpretation someone may present, for your own growth and edification. But, along the way, be prepared to face many challenges to prior assumptions.