Tag Archives: antimissionary

Questioning Paul

Read today’s article, where you, in part, again defend Paul. Obviously, I have to come to read him very differently and would like to run something by you. Can you give me your thoughts on the following words of Paul, namely in Galatians 4:21-26 (and a bit beyond, in Galatians 5-1)?

“21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenantsone proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children WHO ARE TO BE SLAVES; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. “

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5-1)

Here Paul, although supposedly speaking figuratively, plainly says that the covenant on Mount Sinai produced slaves (even though the opposite actually happened there – Jews were freed from slavery there, becoming servants of G-d). According to Paul, Jews who are still bound by Torah and the Mosaic covenant are not the spiritual children, but the children of the flesh and are born not of Sarah, but of Hagar. Christians (primarily his Gentile audience), however, are Sarah’s true children, who are free. Following Torah as given on Mount Sinai, according to Paul, is a yoke of slavery from which Christ came to set humanity free (Galatians 5-1).

Would love to hear what you thought of the above. May be the billions of Christians over the many centuries didn’t misread Paul after all but received much of their view of Judaism from him?

-from a private email discussion

There’s a lot more to this conversation. For a little background, the person asking the above-quoted questions is a Jewish friend of mine who believes that Paul was anti-Torah and anti-Judaism.  He very gently but firmly is questioning my faith and our exchange, from my point of view, has reached something of an impasse. Not being a theologian or a historian, especially within the context of Messianic Judaism, I don’t always have all the convenient answers at my fingertips.

A “normative” (i.e. not Messianic) Jewish person has a wide variety of resources to draw from, such as Jews for Judaism, in questioning the validity of the “Christian texts,” while in response, all I’ve got is me.

For obvious reasons (obvious to my regular readership), I can’t really rely on traditional, Evangelical Christian apologetics, since I’m often a critic of Evangelical Christian theology.

To add a bit of dimension, where I “stalled” in the conversation, my friend questioned whether one could look at Paul’s letters in the same fashion as the writings of Moses. Moses received direct revelation from God while Paul was writing letters. Can his letters be elevated to the point of scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit? Moses knew he was recording the thoughts of God. Could Paul have imagined that his letters would also be included in canon?

In the body of believers, we tend to see deep theological meaning in Paul’s letters. Further, we (or at least I) believe that there are messages “encoded” within said-letters that are difficult to understand without a “Rabbinic” comprehension of the text. Scholars such as Mark Nanos and Roy Blizzard have written erudite works unpackaging the “hidden” meanings within Paul’s writing. But the Sages in more normative Judaism across the long centuries and into the modern era, reading the letters of Paul from a Rabbinic perspective, see nothing but a condemnation of Jewish people and Judaism in Paul’s writings. If Paul’s letters are so “Jewish” that most Christians don’t “get” Paul, why don’t most Jewish sages “get” Paul the way we do when peering through a Messianic Jewish lens?

The Jewish PaulIn line with the above, I’ve attempted to answer the “Hagar and Sarah” question with my own commentary based on Ariel Berkowitz’s paper A Torah-Positive Summary of Sha’ul’s Letter to the Galatians. However my explanation of more hidden meanings doesn’t seem to pass the “pshat test,” whereby the plain meaning of the text is still the primary meaning, even if there are other more hidden and even mystic meanings contained within.

Finally, many if not most of Paul’s letters were written to a primarily Gentile audience, with many or most of them having limited literacy (according to my source) and for those fresh out of paganism, virtually no apprehension of Judaism, Jewish thought, Hebrew idiom and word play, and Jewish symbolism. If Paul were writing to a bunch of Rabbis or other learned Jews, we could understand Paul crafting letters with great amounts of complicated theological detail, but wasn’t he trying to get his ideas across to mostly common Greek-speaking people?

It’s possible that no one can answer these questions or at least that no one will be willing to answer these questions on my blog, so I may continue to be stuck until subsequent investigation (which experience tells me could be months or years) helps me to understand where the answers lie (or, Heaven forbid, that there are no answers to give to my Jewish friend). I should say that my primary goal isn’t to “convert” him or otherwise convince him to become “Messianic.” My goal is to show why any intelligent and reasonable person could accept the writings in what the Church calls “the New Testament” as scripture at all and why we would go jumping through all of the hoops we have been in order to refactor Paul as pro-Torah and pro-Judaism after nearly two-thousand years of Church doctrine has been teaching the exact opposite?

I plan to put links to this blog post in the relevant groups in both Facebook and Google+. I’d like to encourage the readers there to post your responses here so my friend (and any other interested parties) can read them. If they’re “trapped” in closed groups on either of those social networking platforms, then they will not be available for my audience here.

Thank you.

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?