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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Ten Testimonies

In the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer of the epistle employs ten proof texts drawn from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings to make his case that Messiah is more exalted than angels. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster connects the dots between the ten passages to reveal the larger message. A fun exploration of apostolic methods of Bible interpretation.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Six: Ten Testimonies
Originally presented on February 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Each of Lancaster’s sermons about Hebrews seems to have a different emphasis, sometimes radically different. Last week, we focused on a Judaic study of Christology, if we can say there is such a thing. This week, we use the “midrashic method of Bible study,” as Lancaster says, to prove a simple statement: Messiah is greater than the angels.

Actually, Lancaster’s explanation for the distinction between how Christians do Bible study and how Rabbinic Judaism approaches the same task is worth the price of admission alone. It’s the reason (or one of them) why I’m doing a review on the Meaning of Midrash, humble though it may be, based on a series written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. It’s not just the way religious Jewish people study the Bible, it is, according to Lancaster, the way the Bible was studied in the Apostolic era; it’s the way that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote the Book of Hebrews.

Thus, in order to understand the Book of Hebrews, we need not only to understand something about midrashic Bible study, but we need to apply that method when we read the Book of Hebrews. Otherwise, we’re going to sail right past the meaning and come up with (probably) some pretty goofy conclusions.

This is also why many, many Christians Pastors and scholars, people who are very smart, well-educated, and well-read can be firmly convinced, based on educated and rational grounds, that they know what the Book of Hebrews is saying and yet still (probably) be very, very wrong.

I should note at this point that the very first person to comment on part one of my “Reviewing the Meaning of Midrash” blog post took Christianity/Messianic Judaism to task, rather severely so, for our use of Rabbinic commentary to “prove” Yeshua was Messiah and that Messiah was/is Divine. I can only conclude that any further mention of Midrash from a Christian (me) is going to be viewed unfavorably among Jewish people. I mean no offense, though I understand (to the best of my ability) why you experience offense from me. However, this is the only way I can say what I’m trying to say right now.

Be that as it may…

This kind of goes back to what I said in The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake. If the most fundamental foundation by which we understand the Bible and our Christian faith is in error, then our theological and doctrinal conclusions are also very likely to be in error. In fact, it’s by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit that the Christian Church continues to serve God just as, I believe, observant Judaism continues to serve God, even though most Jewish people do not currently recognize the Messiah’s face or voice.

So what is the “midrashic method of Bible study” according to Lancaster?

    1. A Rabbinic dissertation or midrash attempts to solve some sort of identified “problem” or topic in the Bible.
    2. The solution is stated and then a series of proof texts are presented to support the solution.
    3. The proof text references assume that the audience has memorized large portions of the Bible, since typically only a short phrase or sentence from each proof text is presented.
    4. Keyword associations are used to link the proof texts whereby portions of scripture are deconstructed and then reconstructed to create new meanings (which can be terrifically unsafe).

And this is how Lancaster says that the Bible was studied in Apostolic times. If he’s right, then the traditional methods of Bible study we employ in our churches are nowhere near what is required to understand the apostolic texts including the Book of Hebrews.

Some of you think that’s a big “if.”

Talmud Study by LamplightLancaster presented ten proof texts along with their explanations and yes, they’re very involved. It would make a very long blog post if I were to try to replicate his commentary here, plus it would be very unfair, since such a detailed review might make it unnecessary for you to actually listen to his sermon.

Here’s the goal of these proof texts again: To prove the Son, that is Messiah, is superior to the angels…not necessarily in the world today, but in the world to come.

…having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Hebrews 1:4 (NASB)

You’re probably thinking of Philippians 2:9-10 where it says, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,” but according to Lancaster, you’d be wrong. The inherited name is the “Son of God.”

How do we know this? Start in Psalm 2.

Like I said, it would take a lot of space and be very complicated to go through all of these connections and compress a nearly fifty minute sermon into a few paragraphs (OK, more than “a few”).

But Lancaster uses the Rabbinic associative method to link Psalm 2 to 2 Samuel 7 where it speaks both literally of Solomon and prophetically of Messiah, Son of David, building a house, which can be both a house and a family or congregation.

The linkage got kind of tricky when we arrived at the third text Deuteronomy 32:43, because the writer of Hebrews used an alternate version found only in the Septuagint, and almost all of our Bibles use the Masoretic text. However, the quote references the joy of both the Jewish people and the Gentiles, which is important later in the study and important in general.

D. Thomas LancasterIt also speaks of the angels worshiping Messiah, which connects to the fourth text, Psalm 104 quoted in Hebrews 1:6. Lancaster was speaking fast and furious, so it was tough to take notes on everything he said (his speaking notes would be a great download to offer with the recording for people like me). This point goes back to point two when it speaks of a Throne and a Kingdom forever and is echoed in text five, which is Psalm 45, Solomon’s wedding song. This is also a Messianic prophesy since it addresses the Son of David. It also speaks of the Throne and the Scepter.

An apparent contradiction is revealed since Hebrews 1:10-11 states everything that God has made, both Heaven and Earth, will be destroyed so that only God remains, but the sixth proof text, Psalm 102 tells us that Hashem’s Throne will last forever, even when everything else perishes, as is stated in verse 12. Verse 18 of this Psalm says the words were recorded for a future generation, which Lancaster says is us, we who are servants and children who will also be eternal with God.

Proof text seven is Psalm 110 and the key in this scripture is not just that Messiah is sitting at God’s right hand but that the Throne we have been referencing is God’s Throne and is also the Throne of Messiah, which is how Messiah’s Throne can be forever.

The next referenced text is Psalm 8 which is quoted in Hebrews 2:5 and speaks of all things subjugated to the Son, but this is not apparent now because we are reading about the age to come.

Text nine is Psalm 22 which is the classic prophesy of the suffering and crucifixion of the Son. Verse 22 says the Son has brothers and verse 23 identifies some of those brothers, the congregation as “you who fear the Lord,” which is taken to mean God-fearing Gentiles. Verse 24 follows up with identifying the offspring of Jacob, the Jewish people also as that congregation.

While Psalm 22 says that God has not hidden his face from Messiah, the tenth proof text, Isaiah 8 says God has hidden his face, in this case, speaking of the current exile of the Jewish people…but the exile will not last forever.

The conclusion of the lesson ties everything up, but you need to listen to the sermon to get Lancaster’s summarized points in his own voice along with all of the details I had to leave out of my review. However, the big point, like in the last couple of sermons, is that the original audience of Hebrews as well as we modern readers, should place our hope and faith in Messiah, so that we will become part of the body of his servants, of his children, his congregation, and be built up into a house for Hashem.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned above, it wasn’t just Lancaster’s whirlwind tour of the Bible that I found illuminating, it especially was the method he used to open up the scriptures. I won’t pretend that there aren’t a lot of pitfalls, trap doors, and sinkholes in employing this method, especially when traveling at rocket-like speed through different parts of the Bible, but if indeed we can say this replicates how the apostles and disciples would have understood the New Testament (or all scriptures) in general and Hebrews in specific, then there are also many definite advantages.

Glasses on Open BibleAs I’ve said previously, this isn’t going to sit well with people who are used to studying the Bible through normative Christian processes. It’s not that Christians don’t have a rich and well-defined scholarly approach to Bible study, but the premise upon which Christianity builds that study may not lead down the path of the original author’s intent and what the original audience, especially a first century Greek-speaking Jewish audience, would have heard.

But what about the guidance of the Holy Spirit? I’ve said before that the Holy Spirit can guide us, but I don’t think He will overwrite our free will. If we are determined not to see a particular perspective, even if the Spirit is pointing our nose right at it, then we won’t see it. We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit, but we also have free will and the desire to confirm what we think we already know, rather than (sometimes) learn what God really has to say to us, especially if it is unexpected or contrary to long held belief and tradition.

As I also said above, this re-enforces my desire and intent to review the Midrashic approach to scripture as presented by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and Chabad.org. That doesn’t mean that everything R. Freeman teaches and everything the Chabad believes completely or even greatly meshes with the study on Hebrews, but at least gaining some additional familiarity with how Rabbinic interpretation works, especially if indeed this is how Hebrews is written, may well give those of us who don’t have the benefit of a classic Jewish education a bit of a leg up.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Radiance of Glory

A quick immersion into the Christology of the apostles and the writer of the book of Hebrews based on Hebrews 1:2-3: “… His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

What role in the creation of all things did the Son play? From where did the apostles derive their high view of Messiah in His divinity?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Five: Radiance of Glory
Originally presented on January 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts his message by taking his audience through a brief summary of last week’s sermon focusing on his conclusions. Those conclusions are going to be important in just a few moments, and again at the end of this review.

This week, the topic is Christology or the study of Christ and particularly his Divine nature. This is something not really (or at all) studied in the Church because it’s pretty much assumed (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, three in one). People pray directly to Jesus, people interchange the Father and the Son, even in song lyrics with statements like, “thank you God for dying on the cross for me.” I personally have always been bothered by how most Christians treat the three persons of the Trinity (and remember, the word “Trinity” never shows up in the Bible) as if they’re interchangeable units, like spark plugs or kitchen knives. One’s just as good as the other, one’s exactly the same as the other.

Lots and lots of what Lancaster calls “Father-Son confusion.”

Lancaster manages to compress a lot of complex concepts into his almost forty-four minute sermon which is reflective of how densely packed he says is Hebrews 1:1-4:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Remember from last week, Lancaster said the first few sentences in Hebrews 1 were the premise of the writer of Hebrews, and now that writer has to spend the rest of the chapter and into Chapter 2 to support this thesis, that Messiah is higher and more exalted than Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and even the Angels.

The question of Christology is summarized by Lancaster in a question asked of him by one of his sons:

“How can Jesus be God if he’s the Son of God?”

Oh, is that all?

Lancaster spends the rest of his sermon trying to answer this question and with the goal of being able to read Hebrews, as well as the rest of the apostolic scriptures, with the same understanding as the apostles and early disciples. This has the benefit, from my point of view, of not having to wade through nearly two-thousand years of subsequent anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah, and anti-Temple theology and doctrine that was spawned from the early centuries of Church history by the so-called “Church fathers” and certainly cemented in place five-hundred years or so ago by the authors of the Reformation (who are by and large the authors of the Christianity we have today).

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28 (NASB)

Here’s where we start getting into “deep stuff” about Messiah. We’re talking about Fathers and Sons and Sons as heirs and all that’s supposed to mean. We’re also starting to decouple our brains from the literal meaning of these ideas because the world of mysticism speaks in metaphor and in symbols. Literal access to scripture is no help in comprehending the Divine nature of Messiah. To do that, we have to travel much more dangerous roads.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NASB)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

John 1:1-3 (NASB)

CreationPrepositions play a part in Lancaster’s narrative as he tries to weave together the role of Father and Son in Creation. Was the world created “through,” “by,” “in” the Word, the Son, the Word made flesh? Not very much help, according to Lancaster. It doesn’t sound very Jewish.

Next he takes us into a Rabbinic argument (words are flying past much too quickly for me to pick up all of the references) where the sages are debating on what basis did God create the world.

Was it for the sake of Abraham? No? For the sake of David? For the sake of Moses? No? How about for the sake of Messiah? Saying the world was created for the sake of someone is another way of saying that such a person is highly exalted. For the sake of Messiah was the world created. Don’t worry if these abstract mystical concepts are beginning to give you a headache. They affect me the same way.

Plunging deeper into the wine dark waters of mysticism, the sages teach that God created the world through the agency of wisdom, as if wisdom was a separate being from God, an agent where God was the owner of the plan but giving the plans to wisdom, she (yes, wisdom is a “she”) executed those plans by being the agency of creation.

Proverbs 3:19 and 8:22-23 give us a portrait of wisdom as creator but let’s not be too literal. We are talking about God’s wisdom, and here’s the important part when considering Messiah…wisdom is an attribute which does not encompass the totality of God’s transcendent being, but neither is wisdom not God.

This is wisdom “talking:”

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.

Proverbs 8:22 (NASB)

Lancaster links various texts such as the one above with the Targums in terms of “Beresheet” or “In the Beginning,” the creation narrative and the agency of creation. Is it IN the beginning or BY the beginning or something else? Some examples are:

From the beginning with wisdom God created and perfected the heavens and the earth.

Or how about…

In wisdom the Lord created the heavens and the earth.

According to Lancaster, THIS is how the apostles learned the Torah, not how we are taught the Bible in the Church today, and it explains John’s highly mystical introduction to his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and…”

…but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:24 (NASB)

…but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory…

1 Corinthians 2:7 (NASB)

Tree of LifeI realize there’s a lot of connections happening here and again, it’s important to look at all this in a somewhat fluid manner, not trying to understand a literal reality here, since we have definitely crossed over, not really into the Twilight Zone, but into a metaphysical realm where mere human beings, even being apostles, are trying to relate in human language, explaining their Christology to us across the long march of post-apostolic history.

Lancaster takes this even further and references something called “The Wisdom of Solomon” contained in a book called the Catholic Published Bible. “The Wisdom of Solomon” was supposedly written by King Solomon and existed about a century before the earthly ministry of the Master, thus we know the apostles would have had access to this material. I won’t go into everything Lancaster cited, but he did produce a nice, numbered list of attributes of wisdom we can make use of:

  1. Wisdom is the worker of all things.
  2. Wisdom passes through all things holding everything together.
  3. Wisdom is the breath of the power of God.
  4. Wisdom is the expression of God’s Glory.
  5. Wisdom is the brightness of everlasting light.
  6. Wisdom is the image of God’s goodness.
  7. Wisdom makes all things new.

And now back to the text for today:

He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s as if the writer of the book of Hebrews is stating that what was said of wisdom is true of the Son — the Divine wisdom is within him.

And if that isn’t enough, how about Paul’s Christology?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB)

Hopefully you are starting to see the connections. Anti-missionaries jump on the word “image” in terms of the Torah prohibition to not worship an “image,” but again, we’re not talking about a stone statue or a painting and the word “image” isn’t quite literal. Adam was created IN the image of God but the Divine Messiah is THE image of the invisible God. Take the mystic concept of the image of the Heavenly Adam, the Divine Messiah, the agency of creation, God’s powerful Word, and unite it with the earthly Adam, human nature, human beings and we have the person of Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.

Lancaster quoted someone saying of a Maggid (I didn’t catch the specific reference because I can’t write that fast) that he taught Hassidism as if it were Mussar, that is, he taught mysticism as if it had life applications. Often teachings such as these, while intellectually fascinating (for me, anyway), don’t really do much to change our day-to-day lives, but Lancaster said something that impacted mine. It’s what I learned for today.

Caveat

Before I go on, I must respond to what should be a natural objection of most Christians (and I’ve mentioned this before). Lancaster is crafting the apostolic Jewish understanding of scriptures in general and Hebrews in specific based on Talmud and various mystic writings in Judaism that were authored (for the most part) after the apostolic era, sometimes many centuries after. Is it valid for Lancaster to construct an ancient Jewish perspective of Hebrews and the related Biblical texts based on subsequent Jewish perspectives? That’s the $64,000 question. I think (but this is an assumption on my part), that Lancaster believes the concepts and ideas contained in these later writings, existed in oral form or in some earlier but now lost documents during or before the apostolic era, and thus are valid material to project into an apostolic Jewish framework. If that assumption is wrong, then it’s quite possible some or all of the elements of Lancaster’s premise and thus his conclusions are wrong. But, on the other hand, Christianity bases it’s interpretations of the Biblical texts entirely on material, commentary, and tradition created after the close of Biblical canon, by many hundreds if not thousands of years, so we might as well say that Christian Biblical understanding is just as “anachronistic” as Lancaster’s “Messianic” perspective. Lancaster’s assumptions at least have the benefit of possibly really existing during the time of the apostles. I don’t have the same confidence in the Gentile Church Fathers, those involved with the various Church Councils, the Reformationists of five centuries ago, and the Fundamentalists of a century ago to be able to represent the thoughts, comprehension, and intent of the original apostolic writers of what we now call the New Testament. Now on with the show.

What Did I Learn?

waking-up-happyLancaster said that the only practical application some of these lessons seem to have is only relevant to hating on people who don’t have the same interpretation as we do.

That immediately reminded me of this incident and all of the other similar situations I’ve managed to get myself into. I didn’t create this blog with the idea of tilting at windmills or “going after” people who disagreed with me. I didn’t even create this blog with the idea of having to defend myself from the attacks of people who don’t agree with me. Nevertheless, reading back over the last several blog posts, I seem to be repeatedly taking the adversarial role. It’s a role that’s very seductive and also very undesirable.

Lancaster said that it’s the job of every disciple to internalize the teachings of his or her Master, to eat of the bread, so to speak, and drink of the Spiritual water, to incorporate our Master’s lessons into our very flesh and blood and being. Then, if we consider ourselves a Tabernacle, we bring the Divine wisdom into ourselves and into our families, and into our communities, and finally into the world, which is the lived expression of praying “Thy Kingdom Come!”

Pay attention. To what? The teachings of our Master? Why? Lest we drift away from him.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Solomon’s Porch

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.

Acts 5:12 (NASB)

Sermon Three: Solomon’s Porch
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this third sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster expands on why the writer of the Book of Hebrews constructed this word of exhortation to the letter’s recipients and further identifies them as Jewish disciples of Messiah living in or around Jerusalem sometime in the early 60s CE (common era).

Where did the first Christians go to church?

This is how Lancaster started his sermon. He says the question is nonsensical because the first Christians were actually Jews. They didn’t go to church because the modern concept of “church” didn’t exist. Neither did the modern concept of “Christianity.” The first Christians were Jews and they practiced Judaism. As you saw in the quote at the top of the page, the first Jewish believers commonly met in an area on the east side of the Temple called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Lancaster speculates that, because of the prophesy in Zechariah, saying the Messiah would descend upon the Mount of Olives and enter the Temple through the eastern gate, the disciples met there in anticipation, since the Mount of Olives was plainly visible from Solomon’s Colonnade.

Then Lancaster diverted his sermon, taking the audience back in time twenty years or so, recalling a conversation he had with his Father who had been a Baptist minister. Somehow, they got to talking about the Book of Hebrews and his Father, remember, this was twenty years ago, twenty years before Lancaster thought of producing this sermon series on Hebrews, commented on Hebrews 13:22:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

Thirteen chapters is hardly brief and in fact, Hebrews is one of the longest epistles in the New Testament. Lancaster’s father suggested that Hebrews was originally written in two parts: a longer sermon intended to be delivered to a Jewish audience and a shorter letter accompanying the sermon as an explanation.

That’s pretty much was Lancaster suggested in last week’s sermon.

Lancaster’s father said something else rather interesting. He said he thought that Hebrews was written to a group of believing Jews who had been kicked out of the Temple and who didn’t know what to do next. This was a group of Jews who, if they renounced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, would be allowed to return to the Temple. Hebrews then, was a letter and a word of consolation to those Jews to not give up their faith but to hold fast to their devotion to Messiah.

Traditional Christian teaching about the Book of Hebrews states that the epistle was a warning to believing Jews to not “backslide” into Judaism and return to Temple worship, so the senior Lancaster’s suggestion was the exact opposite of how most of the Church understands the meaning of Hebrews.

But Lancaster’s Dad’s interpretation has several advantages, according to the younger Lancaster:

    1. It doesn’t anachronistically require a fully-developed Christian identity that is separated from the normative Judaisms of the mid-first century CE.
    2. It doesn’t require that Jesus abolish the Torah or the Levitical system.
    3. It better explains the arguments within Hebrews (which will be covered in subsequent sermons).
    4. It fits much better with what we know about the early Jewish believers and their relationship with the Temple.

The Early Jewish Believers and the Temple

This part of the sermon fits within the realm of established fact as we see in the scriptures and doesn’t require any speculation. It does require setting aside traditional Christian doctrine about the early “Jewish Christians” and taking the scriptural text, primarily in Acts, at face value.

levites-aaronic-blessingWhat was the relationship of the early believing Jews to the Temple? They revered it, just as their Master Jesus revered the Temple.

Lancaster covered those portions of the Gospels that demonstrated Jesus’ devotion to the Temple, his first recorded appearance there as a boy to debate the scholars, evicting the moneychangers, calling the Temple “my Father’s house,” and so on. You can listen to the recording to get the details, including how Jesus, when he returns, will rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple services.

After the ascension, the disciples returned to the Temple. They may have received the Spirit while praying at the Temple (Acts2). Acts 2:46 mentions their presence at the Temple. Acts 3:1-3 speaks of the disciples participating in prayer services at the Temple. And Acts 5:42 asserts that the disciples were in the Temple daily teaching and preaching of the Messiah.

It is strongly believed in normative Christianity that the disciples must have given up the Temple sacrifices since Jesus fulfilled them all, and yet Acts also speaks of many Priests in the Temple coming to faith in Messiah because of the devotion of the disciples. According to Lancaster, these Priests didn’t give up their jobs and stop administering the sacrifices, but rather, found greater meaning in their Priestly duties, seeing Messiah’s blood in each of their services.

In fact, the only occasions on which the disciples were accused of speaking against the Temple, were when they were accused by false witnesses. The trial of Stephen before the Sanhedrin is an example, and Stephen took a full chapter in Acts to deny and refute the false accusations.

Lancaster also points out that the Bible never, ever says that the disciples stopped offering the sacrifices. This would have been a big deal and if it were so, you’d think Luke would have mentioned it. It’s assumed by most Christians that the Jewish disciples stopped offering Temple sacrifices based on doctrines that were much later established by the Christian church, not because it says so in the Bible.

If we look at Acts 24:17 and the surrounding text, we can see how, thirty years later after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, Paul was encouraged to offer sacrifices at the Temple to show many other believing Jews that the accusations stating Paul was teaching against Torah and against the Temple were utterly false.

Maybe you can accuse Paul of vainly clinging to obsolete Jewish customs by offering sacrifices but what about James, brother to Jesus, steward of the Throne of David, head of the apostolic community? If anyone should have known the truth about the teachings of Jesus, it should have been James. If Jesus had taught against the Temple and abolished the sacrifices, James should have known about it and advocated for that position. Obviously, he didn’t.

A plain reading of the relevant passages, without being filtered through Christian anti-Torah, anti-Jewish, anti-Temple bias reveals this. Except as viewed through the heavily-colored filter of Christian tradition, there’s nothing in the Bible that says the Torah, including the Temple sacrifices, were ever to be abolished. If you want more information about this, watch the First Fruits of Zion television episode The Torah is Not Canceled. It’s only thirty minutes long and well worth your time.

History records the death of James the Just, the brother of Messiah, the leader of the Council of Apostles and head of the entire body of believers, as happening in 62 CE. Lancaster dates the Book of Hebrews at just a few years later. According to Lancaster, this was also about the time issues came to a head between the disciples in Jerusalem and their arch foes, the Essenes, the group of corrupt Rome-collaborators who illegally had control of the Temple. The Essenes wanted the disciples out of the Temple and wanted them to renounce their faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Speculation

This next part can’t be firmly established through scripture or historical texts and is extrapolated from Lancaster’s understanding of the content in Hebrews. He believes that after the death of James, the Essenes held their own Sanhedrin, leaving out the Pharisees, and forbade the Jewish believers from Temple participation, cutting them off (“Koret”) until such time as they renounced Yeshua.

The Master even predicted this would happen in John 16:2. And this was the purpose of the sermon and letter of Hebrews: to encourage and support the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had been removed forcefully from Temple participation to keep the faith, keep faith in Yeshua, and not to break faith, even for the sake of returning to the Temple.

MessiahYes, Temple devotion was appropriate and desired. Every year during the pilgrim festivals thousands upon thousands of Jews from all over ancient Palestine and the diaspora nations would converge on Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple in obedience to the commandments.

But devotion to Moshiach and devotion to the Temple were not to be considered mutually exclusive and the writer of Hebrews was earnestly imploring the Jews in Jerusalem to not forsake Messiah in the face of being removed from the Temple.

For even if removed, and even after the Temple was destroyed, it has been promised in Messianic Days that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jews as well as many, many people from all the nations will go up to the Mountain of the Lord and the House of the God of Jacob and worship Him there in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

Well, again, quite a lot. I was wondering how Lancaster was going to firm up his suppositions from last week and I admit he did a pretty good job of it in this sermon. His point kind of wavers when he suggests last week that the disciples were Greek speaking Jews and this week they seemed more likely to be Jews who were native to the Land, but I suppose it could go either way, or even involve a more general population of Jewish believers.

I’m certainly getting a very different picture of the Book of Hebrews than I imagined, and indeed, one more consistent with my understanding of the over all message of the “good news” to the Jewish people.

At the very end of this sermon, Lancaster said he was finally finished setting up the required background and that in next week’s sermon, we’ll begin to actually study the Epistle to the Hebrews. I know that I’ve been turning some of the more difficult passages of this part of scripture over in my head and wondering how they can be seen as consistent with the overarching message Lancaster is presenting. Can all of the book of Hebrews, even the “pesky” parts, really be interpreted as an encouragement for believing Jews in Jerusalem to keep the faith in Messiah, even though denied access to the Temple, which both they and the Master revered? In my next review, we’ll begin to discover the answer.

Edit: Where it says above that the “Essenes” were involved in the death of James and in opposition to the believing Jews in Jerusalem, it should read “Sadducees”.  I apparently misunderstood what was said on the recording and apologize for the error.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Word of Exhortation

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Hebrews 13:18-19 (NASB)

Sermon Two: A Word of Exhortation
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this second sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster thrusts his audience into a Biblical mystery and casts us all in the role of detectives who are trying to solve that mystery. What is the mystery? We have to answer a series of questions. We should attempt to answer these questions each time we study and analyze any book of the Bible.

The questions are:

  • What
  • When
  • Who
  • To Whom
  • Why

In other words, when considering any book of the Bible, we must try to discover what sort of literary genre it is, when was it written, by whom was it written, to whom was it written, and why was it written.

Lancaster prefaces his attempt to address this mystery by saying that some of his audience, the congregation at Beth Immanuel, might find this presentation long, tedious, and boring. Not the best way to introduce a topic and certainly he was risking alienating his audience. On the other hand, before you paint a masterpiece or write a classic symphony, you must learn the very basics of art or music. So too with Biblical studies.

What, When, Who, To Whom, and Why.

First off, while the Book of Hebrews is assumed to be an epistle, the title “The Epistle to the Hebrews” is traditional and probably wasn’t the original title of the document, if it had a title at all. It doesn’t come with a superscription, that is, it doesn’t say, from so and so to the community of such and thus at this place or that, the way most of Paul’s letters began. Also, according to Lancaster, it doesn’t even sound like an epistle until you get to chapters 12 and 13, especially chapter 13, part of which I quoted above.

What?

If it doesn’t read like a letter until nearly the very end of the document, then what else could it be?

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. (emph. mine)

Hebrews 13:22-24 (NASB)

The words I put in bold in the above-quoted scripture are the answer, but what exactly is a “word of exhortation?” What sort of literary genre is that?

But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” (emph. mine)

Acts 13:14-15 (NASB)

Papyrus FragmentIn Acts 13, we see a traditional example of a Sabbath service in a synagogue in the diaspora (and probably in Israel) in the first century. Prayer services were conducted on every day of the week, but on Shabbat, there was also a Torah service which added a reading from the Torah, a reading from the Prophets (haftarah), and finally a sermon or drasha (Rabbinic commentary) on the Torah reading. When Paul stood up (v 16) and began to speak, he was starting to deliver his sermon, his drasha, his discourse, his teaching on Yeshua the Messiah based on the Torah portion that had just been read.

According to Lancaster, that’s how the vast majority of the Book of Hebrews reads. It’s not a classic epistle, it’s a sermon, probably delivered by the author, perhaps to whatever synagogue community to which the author belonged, or maybe a sermon the writer wanted to deliver to the intended recipients of this document, and then transcribed into a letter and sent to the remotely located recipients who were most likely very far away from where the author and his community were located.

I should say at this point that Lancaster told his own audience that we can’t really answer any of the “What, When, Who, To Whom, and Why” questions very well, and each opinion Lancaster offers resides firmly in the realm of educated guesses. Please keep in mind that neither Lancaster or I are saying that any suggestions offered in his sermon or in this blog post are definite facts. They aren’t. But they are attempts to address the mystery with some sort of credible hypothesis.

So, the suggested answer to “What is it” is, “a Drasha or Sermon”. The “word of exhortation” is a sermon.

When?

Does it matter? Yes. Imagine, as Lancaster suggested, you were reading Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but you thought it was delivered by an American President in 1963 rather than 1863. It would sure give a different meaning to what “four score and seven years ago” meant and thus change much or all of the meaning of this address.

The same is true of any Biblical document including Hebrews. Lancaster offered various proofs establishing that Hebrews must have been written earlier than the year 95 CE, and probably before 70 CE.

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:3-5 (NASB)

Notice that the references to the high priest, the sacrifices, and the Temple are in the present tense (in Greek as well as in this English translation). Although there are detractors, Lancaster believes this is firm evidence that the Temple had to still exist when the letter, uh…sermon was written. He further places it in the mid-60s, maybe before 64 CE but not too much earlier, however you’ll have to listen to the recording to get the details.

Who?

Who wrote the letter, uh…sermon to the Hebrews? No one knows. It’s a mystery. The letter/sermon has no superscription (if it’s a sermon and not a letter, this is probably why it’s absent). The author is anonymous. Not that the intended audience thought the author was anonymous. They probably knew who wrote this missive.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

Hebrews 13:18 (NASB)

If the author said “Pray for us,” that likely indicates that the audience knew who to pray for and who “us” included.

D. Thomas LancasterI won’t go into the details about Lancaster’s proofs, but he’s really sure it couldn’t have been Paul. The style and theology are wrong and the Greek is a lot better than Paul’s. In fact, it shows no signs of having originally been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and looks like it was written by a native Greek-speaker and probably to native-Greek speakers (more on that last part in a minute). The bottom line though, in Lancaster’s opinion, is that it wasn’t written by Paul or any of the apostles, but probably by someone close to Paul, someone who probably knew how Paul thought, perhaps someone close to other apostles, like the “number one disciple” to an apostle, like the role Peter fulfilled for Jesus or the role Timothy fulfilled for Paul.

But we just don’t know who wrote Hebrews. Please listen to the recording though to hear some of Lancaster’s rather intriguing suggestions for authors and the evidence that exists supporting each possible writer.

To Whom?

Who was the intended audience? Not us, that’s for sure. In fact, as Lancaster says, not one word in the Bible was written primarily for any person, Christian or Jew, in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t apply to us, but a lot of believers read the Bible as if it were written directly to them (us). It wasn’t, and that makes a great deal of difference when we try to understand the Bible, including Hebrews.

The language and the contents provide the answer, or at least a good guess as to the answer.

The language was written (in all likelihood) by a native Greek speaker since the Greek is so much better than Paul’s. That indicates it must have been written to native Greek speakers. On the surface, that would seem to say that the audience was in the diaspora, but the sermon reads more like a Rabbinic commentary with lots of references to the Temple, to the sacrifices, and to the Torah, so it seems reasonable that the audience should be Jewish (to the Hebrews). But the present-tense references to the sacrifices present a problem.

Some people think the author was in Jerusalem or Judea and writing to Jews in the diaspora, perhaps in Rome, but Lancaster’s theory is that the intended audience was a group of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem or Judea. The references to the Temple would have made much more sense to an audience who had direct and frequent access to the Temple and the sacrifices.

But was there a large group of Greek-speaking Jews in or around Jerusalem when Hebrews was written?

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Acts 6:1-6 (NASB)

Apostle Paul preachingThere could be a problem with Lancaster’s theory here. After the stoning of the Greek-speaking Jew Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), there was a great persecution of the believing Jewish community in Jerusalem and except for the apostles, the Messianic Jews were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1-3) so the question here is, did the “synagogue of the Freemen” (for the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem) exist when this sermon/letter was written?

As far as I’m aware, no one knows. Perhaps after the “heat” died down, a number of Hellenistic Jews returned to Jerusalem. The text above also says that the persecuted Hellenistic Jews were “scattered” to Judea, so if they remained in that area, Lancaster’s theory still makes sense.

Why?

According to Lancaster, the contents of Hebrews also answers this question. The letter is full of exhortations, that is, words of encouragement.

“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it,” (Hebrews 13:1) “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith,” (v. 7), “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” (v. 9)

According to Lancaster, he believes that the author wrote this sermon/letter to encourage and support a group of Greek-speaking Jewish believers who were in dire danger of apostasy; of falling away from faith in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah, and abandoning the specific stream of Jewish faith once known as “the Way”.

Lancaster concluded his lengthy sermon (just over forty-four minutes) with some interesting applications.

The first is that, even though he dates the letter/sermon at about 64 C.E, before the Jewish revolt against Rome, before the destruction of the Temple, and before the horrible exile from Israel and into the diaspora, the letter functions very much as a warning and a lesson of how Jewish believers were to continue to survive as Jewish believers in exile, without the Temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and without Jerusalem.

“Before the Holy One, Blessed be He, inflicts the wound, He prepares the remedy.”

A quick Google search didn’t render the source for that piece of Rabbinic commentary, but it is a principle, says Lancaster, that applies to Hebrews. Even though the original audience and probably the author, could not have known what was coming in the next few years, Hebrews, nevertheless, speaks to the believing Jewish population about how to survive faithfully in exile. Hebrews is the remedy for all future generations of Jews in the galut and across the long centuries, even into the present age.

The other issue Lancaster came up with is the danger of apostasy right here and now. I know there’s been a lot of concern about apostasy in my little corner of the blogosphere recently. Certainly, there have been believing Jews and Gentiles who have abandoned Yeshua-faith for more “normative” Judaism. But according to Lancaster, the anti-missionaries aren’t the “boogeyman” we should be afraid of.

It’s apostasy into secularism, into agnosticism, into materialism, modernism, hedonism, and “me-ism” that’s the real danger.

You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile.

1 Samuel 12:21 (NASB)

The Prophet said this in response to the Israelites’ request for a human King, rather than serve Hashem as their King, and even as he called this “evil,” Samuel granted their wish, only to adjure them to continue to “serve the Lord with all your heart.” (v. 20)

Biblical history tells us that Israel’s first King, Saul, did not obey and neither did generations of Israelites, and yet God has always kept a remnant for Himself. (see 1 Kings 19:18)

What Did I Learn?

Everything. To be more precise, I have never taken up a serious study of Hebrews before, so I really didn’t have a context in which to approach it. The text, as Christian tradition renders it, is very anti-Jewish people/Judaism, anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and probably anti-Israel. As I said in my previous review, the Book of Hebrews, along with Galatians, is among the weapons in the Church’s arsenal to be used to destroy any suggestion or hint that anything “Jewish” survived the first century and continued into the historic progression of Christianity after the leveling of the Holy Temple and the razing of Jerusalem.

It is such Christian traditions that allow men like John MacArthur to say that Jesus “obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism with all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the Temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it.”

conference2I personally believe nothing could be further from the truth, and I also believe that in order to make such an offensive and outrageous statement, Christian scholars, theologians, clergy, and laity have to not just tweak Biblical interpretation, but fold, spindle, and mutilate the original meaning of many portions of the Bible, deforming the intent of the Biblical authors (both the human ones and the Holy Spirit) in order to make a Jewish square peg fit with exceptional discomfort into a Gentile Christian round hole.

Every time I read, watch, or listen to a modern Messianic commentary on books like Galatians or Hebrews, I realize those writings don’t belong in a Christian “weapons depot” to be used against the Jewish people, Judaism, and a Jewish-oriented faith in Moshiach, but rather, they are to be an encouragement to Jewish and Gentile believers that the Gospel message is indeed first to the Jews as good news, and thereafter good news also to the Gentiles of the nations who are called by His Name.

Right now, based on this sermon of Lancaster’s, I have a working theory with which to approach the Book of Hebrews that doesn’t drive me crazy. Lancaster said the next sermon will go into more detail about the “Why” of this letter/sermon. I’m looking forward to hearing this lesson and reviewing it.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Fire on the Mountain

On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because HASHEM had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and God would respond to him with a voice.

Exodus 19:16-19 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Sermon One: Fire on the Mountain
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I’ve wanted to review D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture series on Hebrews for a while now, and since I have just finished my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come, I thought Hebrews, a particularly troublesome epistle for me, would be a worthy project.

Two interesting things happened to encourage me to start this project. The first was the sermon at church Sunday before last. The guest speaker (Pastor is out of town for a few weeks) taught on Hebrews 1:1-3. I took copious notes and disagreed with about half of what the person was saying. I almost wrote a blog post about it, but decided that I didn’t need to blog about every single experience I have, and certainly not about every single sermon I have issues with.

The next interesting thing was going over last week’s Torah reading, which was Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), a part of which I quoted from above because it factors in to Lancaster’s first lesson on Hebrews.

Lancaster begins his first sermon, “Fire on the Mountain” in the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series by announcing that the traditional Torah readings of the Book of Genesis had just ended (as he made the recording) and the Torah reading cycle was entering the Book of Exodus. Lancaster then briefly summarized the first twenty chapters or so of Exodus for his congregation and I began to think I’d clicked on the wrong audio file in attempting to access the start of his Hebrews sermons.

But there’s a connection between Exodus and Hebrews.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Lancaster takes his audience through a short and somewhat loose history of the introduction of the Epistle to the Hebrews and its canonization. The Eastern Church adopted the anonymously written letter almost immediately upon receiving it, but the Western (Roman) Church took its sweet time, not canonizing the epistle until the Fourth Century…three hundred years after it arrived on the scene.

Mount SinaiThe letter was so “Jewish,” so “Rabbinic” that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. It came with the title “To the Hebrews,” but what does that mean exactly? It could have been added later and may only reflect the opinion of some translator or interpreter as to the intended audience.

Lancaster then compared his experience with Hebrews to his experience with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, since both Galatians and Hebrews are typically used by the Church as “proof texts” that the Law is dead and has been replaced by grace. In other words, those two letters are the biggest guns in the traditional Church arsenal used to shoot down Judaism and replace it with Christianity.

To illustrate this, Lancaster described some of his personal history, especially related to Galatians, starting with being a “Pastor’s kid” attending Sunday school classes taught by his oldest brother David. Lancaster thought he knew Galatians pretty well growing up, but about twenty years ago, when attending a congregation that he called back then “the Messianic Jewish heresy,” he was prompted to re-read Galatians and all of his beliefs about what Paul was saying in that letter suddenly weren’t quite so clear.

I won’t go through the entire story, which culminated with yet another sermon series of Lancaster’s that eventually became the book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but twenty years ago, so disturbed by how the “Messianic Jewish heresy” was describing the continuance of Torah rather than its abrupt death at the hands of Paul, Lancaster called his brother David to get some guidance. Guidance arrived but not in the form Lancaster was expecting. Lancaster quotes his brother as saying about the continuation of the authority of Torah:

Maybe it’s not what we always teach, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But what’s all that got to do with the Book of Hebrews?

Lancaster set the stage for the further study of the epistle (or any Biblical document, really), but that’s not the emphasis of this thirty minute teaching. The emphasis in the first sermon was on the Kal Va-chomer argument or a comparison of two items from the “lighter” or somewhat less significant, to the “heavier” or more significant.

Jesus used this particular method on more than one occasion:

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (emph. mine)

Matthew 7:9-11 (NASB)

Galatians by D.T. LancasterLancaster gave a few other examples, both from the Gospel and Talmud of such an argument, including the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), which only implies the Kal Va-chomer argument (and seeing that the argument can be implicit rather than explicit is important because a reading of Hebrews 12:18-24 also indicates the Kal Va-chomer argument is somewhat implicit), but the point is that such an argument is not alien to Judaism in general and the teachings of the Master (and apostles) in particular.

Notice something important, though. Lancaster says that in the latter situation in the above example, the generosity of our (good and perfect) Father in heaven, when compared to the earlier situation, generosity of earthly (evil) fathers, the latter does not undo the former. That is, the fact that God is good, perfect, and generous does not invalidate, replace, or cancel the generosity or the status of our human fathers.

Another point to pay attention to is that the first situation, the generosity of imperfect but giving earthly fathers, must be true and have value in order for the second situation, the generosity of the good and perfect Father in Heaven, to be even more true.

Now let’s revisit Hebrews 12:18-24 which compares Mount Sinai and the Torah to Mount Zion and the Messiah. Paraphrasing, and these are my words trying to capture Lancaster’s message:

If you thought it was incredible, awesome, terrifying, and the greatest revelation of God to humanity when God appeared to the ancient Israelites and gave them the Torah at Sinai, how much more so will it be incredible, awesome, terrifying, and an even greater revelation of God to humanity when you confront Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and His myriads of angels?

But the latter doesn’t invalidate the authority, truth, and value of the former, it is just bigger, badder, has more authority, is more true, and has more value.

If the latter invalidated the former, the Kal Va-chomer argument would fall apart and neither situation could be true.

One verse later, the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses the same method again:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

Hebrews 12:25 (NASB)

If those who received the Torah at Sinai couldn’t escape the consequences of ignoring God, how much less will you escape the consequences of “Him who warns from heaven.”

Lancaster offered other examples of these arguments as presented by Jesus, but I think you get the point. Lancaster is saying that, like the traditional, majority Christian interpretation of Galatians, we have it all wrong about how we understand Hebrews. It took a rather pointed and shocking revelation from his brother David for Lancaster to decide to re-evaluate Galatians from a fresh perspective, setting aside Christian tradition, and interpreting the letter from its original, first century Jewish viewpoint.

Setting aside the traditional Christian interpretation and taking a fresh look at old epistles is one point that Mark Nanos makes about the Galatians letter in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context. This is the point that Lancaster is making about how we should treat the book of Hebrews, too. It’s the focus of this lecture series, which I imagine will actually start at Chapter 1, verse 1 in the next recording. I’m looking forward to it.

What Did I Learn?

d_thomas_lancasterI learned to shift my perspective when looking at the book of Hebrews, at least Hebrews 12:18-25. As I mentioned above, Hebrews has been a big problem for me. I had been so exposed to the traditional Christian interpretation of this letter, that I couldn’t see any way around its anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah message, which stood in such opposition to everything else I understand in the Bible. Now Lancaster has given me a basic tool with which to shift that understanding, a new lens with which to look at the text.

The website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, the congregation where Lancaster teaches, contains all of the audio recordings of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series (thirty-seven as I write this). Believe it or not, I only listed the highlights of Lancaster’s first sermon. You can listen to “Fire on the Mountain” and the other recordings of his Hebrews teachings on that page at your convenience.

I’ll review the second sermon, “A Word of Exhortation” next week.