Jews in Tunisia

Commentary on the Command to Fellowship: A Jewish Interpretation of Hebrews 10:23-25

Yesterday, reader ProclaimLiberty (PL) commented on how he understands the meaning of Hebrews 10:25. Later, I responded by quoting Hebrews 10:23-25 and describing how I understand those verses.

The issue is whether or not Christians can take these verses as a general commandment to enter into fellowship with other believers. That is, does Hebrews 10:25 command us to go to church?

Maybe not, at least not exactly.

PL emailed me a detailed translation and explanation of Hebrews 10:23-25 rather than post it in a blog comment because he wasn’t sure how to deal with the needed typography. I think I can represent what he wrote correctly here in WordPress and I think it’s a much-needed perspective on addressing the pesky challenge of whether or not returning to Christian fellowship should be an imperative for me. I’ll continue to review Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love The Church, but I thought this particular commentary was a worthy interlude.

Shabbat Shalom.

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@James – Maybe you’ll see a bit more of what I meant in reading the following alternative translation of the Greek text of the Hebrews 10 passage (as I take each verse through the stages of transliteration, literal translation, and colloquial rendition):

23κατέχωμεν τὴν ὁμολογίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος ἀκλινῆ, πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος:

Katechomen tin homologian tis elpidos aklini, pistos gar ‘o epangeilamenos:

Holding-tight/not-letting-go the saying/claim the [one of] expectation/anticipation [hope or fear] not declining, faithful/trustworthy for/[because of] the [ones] declaring/promising:

Let’s hang on to the claim that we anticipate unflaggingly, because those who declared it to us were trustworthy:

24καὶ κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων,

Kai kata-no-omen allilous eis paraxusmon agapis kai kalon ergon,

and consider one-another unto spurring-on [paroxysms, spasms] love/good-will and good efforts/deeds [mitzvot],

and consider how to spur one another onward in hesed and mitzvot,

25μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθος τισίν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν.

Mi egkataleipontes tin episunagogin eauton, kathos ethos tisin, alla parakalountes, kai tosouto mallon, ‘oso blephete engidzousan tin emeran.

not abandoning the gathering-together [under the same roof; around the synagogue] ourselves, just-as/seeing-that custom/ethos/habit/practice [of] some, but summoning/exhorting [one another], and so-much/all-the-more, as-far-as/how-much you see approaching the day.

Not abandoning the synagogue meetings [or the prayer minyans], as some have done, but rather calling and encouraging [one another], all the more, as you see daylight approaching.

[Note that this last phrase is an expression of hope that the situation will improve, possibly even invoking the anticipation of that “day” when Messiah ben-David will appear to set all things right.]

Note that this comes out just a bit different from the NASB rendition you cited.

As you can see, my colloquial rendition represents how I envision a modern MJ reflection of the first-century Jewish readership would perceive this passage. As I see it, the Hebrews writer was not exhorting his readers solely to hang onto their faith in Rav Yeshua as the messiah, but to continue in their Jewish praxis and to similarly encourage other beleaguered messianists to do likewise, because of the promised hope that Rav Yeshua would return to set right all the issues and persecutions they were facing, and that they would be found faithful when he came. I’ll turn your attention to a question that appears in Lk.18:8 – of which I will render the final phrase as: “But when the Son-of-Man comes, will he find faith in the Land [of Israel]?”). Note that while most English translations will say “in the earth”, rendered literally from Greek, the word reflects a cognate in Hebrew between “earth” and “aretz”, both of which may refer to the planet, to dirt, to a plot of land, or to the Land of Israel. Given Rav Yeshua’s dedicated focus on the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (cif:Mt.15:24), I infer that the Land of Israel is the intended primary focus of this question. If he will find faith anywhere on planet earth, Israel is the first place he should be expected to look. It is this question that I believe impels not only the writer of Hebrews but also my inference that the passage was intended to encourage these first-century messianists to remain solid witnesses that their trust in Rav Yeshua as messiah strengthened them as Jews and that they should share this strength and encouragement with fellow Jews who would likewise wish to be found faithful when the messiah should appear in Judgement.

ShabbatNow, extracting from this exhortation to Jews some sort of generalized principle for non-Jews raises the question about what non-Jewish affiliates should be expected to be doing while awaiting the messiah. Certainly they should be encouraging one another to do good deeds of all kinds, including their support for Jews to “be all they can be”. Of course, the practice of such encouragement is much facilitated by gathering together and interacting for fellowship, for meals, for worship, and for teaching, in whatever venues may be available. This may include virtual ones via the internet, though virtual meal-sharing is rather insipid, and it’s virtually impossible to pass the ‘humus around the table. [J] Nonetheless, one may recognize the truism that sharing such encouragement would tend to protect its participants from growing spiritually weak and falling away in apostasy, hence there is a valuable recommendation to offer against isolation. As you point out, that’s not exactly your problem, since you engage in a great deal of virtual interaction, receiving both encouraging and critical responses. The writer of Hebrews was rather far removed from any ability to comment on the merits or demerits of fellowship that lacks the benefit of ‘humus and falafel. But let’s not whine that we can’t dine together.

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6 thoughts on “Commentary on the Command to Fellowship: A Jewish Interpretation of Hebrews 10:23-25”

  1. I had heard that this passage, in light of the meaning of mkraei kodesh as, “holy appointments/rehearsals,” was encouraging people to continue keeping the biblical appointed times, looking to their fulfillment. Even in the first century, it would seem that some among the gentiles were moving away from this. Its funny, so many evangelical groups claim to be or desire to copy the first century Messiah followers, and if this was the case, they would go to the synagogue to learn and keep torah. Cognitive dissonance sure rears its ugly head.

  2. The idea of even some Gentiles going to synagogue and learning to keep Torah in response to their faith in Messiah is one of the hot button topics in our little corner of the blogosphere as you well know, Chaya. As PL said, the immediate meaning of the verses in question were written by a Jew to Jewish believers, encouraging them to continue gathering together in synagogues/prayer minyans, even though they were (according to D. Thomas Lancaster) barred from praying at and offering sacrifices at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It’s only when we step outside that immediate context that we may find some applications of that portion of scripture for the believing Goyim, but even then, we may not be able to interpret it as a commandment for Christians to go to church. Even if they/we desired it, Gentile Christians can’t really emulate a Jewish model outside of a Jewish context, at least not very well, though I suppose I should say that Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship is a very Jewish context operating with a Gentile leadership.

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