Tag Archives: Bible study

What I Learned in Church Today: Christians and Deuteronomy 5

When I go to Jerusalem, I still get goosebumps.

-Pastor Randy

That was the good news in church today (as I write this). Pastor was talking about how God put His Name in Jerusalem making it the most unique place on Earth. God never removed His promises from Israel and so He is still with them today.

Last week, Pastor started his sermon on Exodus 19:1-25 but he only got to verse 9 before time ran out. He started at verse 10 today and finished the sermon he meant to finish last week.

But since my Sunday school class teaches on each week’s sermon and since the class did get through that portion of Exodus last week, we moved ahead of Pastor and the teacher gave the lesson for Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-33.

It was kind of painful.

What do the following say about a “mediator” of the old (first) and new covenants?

  • Galatians 3:16-19
  • Hebrews 8:6-13
  • Hebrews 12:24 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6

-from the Sunday school class notes for Sept. 7th.

If you’re familiar with those verses, you can guess where teacher was going, which is the traditional teaching that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant which was “fulfilled” at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Believe it or not, I didn’t breathe a word in this part of the lesson, mainly because it would have taken too long to explain why I disagreed with the entire line of thought associated with this version of replacement theology (New Covenant replacing the Old in the sense that the Torah is replaced by grace for the Jewish people).

The other part is that even though the New Covenant has only just begun to enter our world, teacher acted like it was a done deal. I was sitting with two or three guys and mentioned to one of them (who is currently listening to Lancaster’s audio CD series What About the New Covenant) that the Word (Torah, actually) has yet to be written on our hearts and we won’t all “know God” until the resurrection (and never mind how the New Covenant was only made with Judah and Israel and the complicated explanation attached to how we Gentiles even fit in).

My young friend who is listening to the aforementioned CDs has heard four out of five lectures so far and says he’d like to listen to them all a second time. I’ve been pursuing this line of reasoning for years now and it’s finally just beginning to gel for me. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone really unfamiliar with this way of understanding covenants to be abruptly thrown into it, kind of like learning to swim by being dropped by helicopter into the middle of the Pacific Ocean without so much as water wings.

Kohen GadolAnother thing in class, and it’s come up before, is how teacher acts like we Gentile Christians were once “under the Law” (meaning Torah). He was talking about that part of Hebrews where we find Jesus entering the Heavenly Holy of Holies once and for all and presenting his own blood as the final atonement for sin. Teacher was saying what a relief that we (Christians) don’t have to go into the Temple once a year and kill an animal.

I did speak up on this one and said that we never had to do that. The Sinai Covenant doesn’t apply to us. We are grafted in under the blessings of the New Covenant which doesn’t require that we offer animal sacrifices for the atonement of our sins (and anyway, only the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, not anyone else, least of all Gentiles).

A couple of times, someone mentioned how when Jesus died and the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), that means all Christians can boldly approach the Throne of God without fear.

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

Exodus 20:18-21 (NASB)

Apparently the torn veil means we Christians are better or better off than the ancient Israelites because we don’t have to be afraid of God the way they were.

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

At one point, I thought I’d successfully communicated that Christians often treat God too casually, as if He were a big, cosmic teddy bear. Several people seemed to agree but when it came right down to it, the teacher said that we can approach God, go up and touch Him, and crawl into His lap like He was our big, old, friendly grandfather. Oy.

And the whole point of the torn veil, which I’ll explain in more detail in Wednesday’s review of Lancaster’s sermon on The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, is that it allowed Messiah as our High Priest to enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies with the blood he had just shed, not that it lets just any ol’ Christian into the Divine Presence in the most sacred place in the Heavenly Court.

To be fair, I just figured that out while listening to Lancaster’s recorded sermon last week, but it makes a terrific amount of sense now, especially with the realization that the New Covenant has been inaugurated but is yet to arrive in its fullness until the resurrection and the second coming of Messiah. We’re still living in Old Covenant times and until the resurrection and we are perfected, no, we can’t enter into the place where our High Priest is. Only he can go because only he has been resurrected.

On the other hand…

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 1:3-7

The Torah at SinaiMaybe I’m pushing too hard and fretting too much over nothing. After all, they’re going to believe what they were taught. It’s a lot to expect that everyone should listen to my interpretation as if I’m always right or something. I’ve learned plenty in church and it’s their church, not mine. All I can and probably should do is put in my two cents worth and let it go at that. Fruitless discussion indeed.

I keep wanting to say that I disagree but I know it would take to long to explain why. And like I said, there really wouldn’t be much point in introducing one controversial interpretation after another.

Next week. Pastor will be going over Deuteronomy 1-5; 22-33 while Sunday school will be one week ahead of Pastor and will teach on Deuteronomy 9. Today, Pastor said that we can’t miss the next two weeks because he has to explain some points he brought up in today’s sermon. One of them was law vs. grace and he said it’s not as simple as there was once law and now there’s grace. I can’t wait to see how he treats this topic.

Reflections on Romans 1 and 2

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

When I was preparing for last week’s Sunday school class for the study on Romans 10:1-13, I decided to read the entire Epistle to the Romans. I’ve studied Romans before, principally using the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans, but there’s something to be said for just reading the Bible and letting it speak to you.

I prefer, when I can, to read entire books in the Bible rather than just a few verses at a time. Imagine reading your favorite novel three or four sentences at a time, then putting the book down for four days, picking it up and reading another few sentences.

First of all, it would take you forever to get through the novel and secondly, you probably would have a tough time keeping the book’s overarching narrative in your mind as a complete story.

But we think nothing of treating the Bible or any of the books it contains as if it were a large collection of “sound bytes”.

Paul wrote each of his letters to be read as a whole, including Romans. Why don’t we read them that way? The impression we get of the epistle (or any other single book in the Bible) will probably be different and perhaps yield a more complete impression in the mind of the reader.

Alas, I can’t review the whole epistle to the Romans in a single blog post, so I’ll have to break my own rule. But I can use a series of blog posts to communicate my overall impression of Romans a few chapters at a time? Hopefully, that will be sufficient.

None of this is scientific or scholarly. I don’t read Biblical Greek and I didn’t use any references or other study aids while reading Romans. I just read Romans and took notes on the margins of the pages as I was reading. That’s what I’m going to share with you.

Oh, these are just impressions. Little bits and pieces that I picked up in my overall read of the letter. I’m not going to comment on all the verses in each chapter. Just what prompted me to write a note down.

Take it for what it’s worth.

The first thing I noted in my reading of Romans was the above-quoted verses. Paul was not ashamed of the Good News of Messiah. That good news is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

What is “salvation?” We like to think that it’s as simple as being saved from the consequences of our sins and being reconciled to God, but remember, for Jesus and for Paul, based on the New Covenant promises, having your sins forgiven is only the first step.

The New Covenant promises are aimed solely at the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, and include restoring national Israel to its former glory and elevating her as the head of all the nations of the world. It’s the promise that Israel’s Messiah King will rule with justice and mercy, not over just Israel, but the nations of the Earth. It’s the promise that Messiah will completely end the Jewish exile and return all Jews to their nation. It’s the promise to rebuild the Temple and to restore the sacrificial system in accordance to the commandments. It’s the promise to defeat all of Israel’s enemies and bring them (us) under subjugation. It’s the promise to establish a reign of worldwide peace and tranquility. It’s the promise of the resurrection for the just, that they (hopefully, we) will live in the resurrection under Messiah’s reign, for that is the hope of our faith. It is the promise…

You get the idea.

So when Paul says something as simple as “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” he’s really saying all of the stuff I put into the previous, large paragraph. That’s why it’s first to the Jew. Because promises were made to the Jewish people. Gentiles, by God’s mercy and favor, get to come along for the ride…but I’ll get to that in a subsequent blog post.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:21 (NASB)

balaam_israelI read this the same weekend I read Torah Portion Pinchas and hopefully you’ll see the connection. After Israel was spared being cursed and was in fact blessed by the Gentile prophet Balaam, Balaam had the “brilliant” suggestion to have Moabite and Midianite women seduce the men of Israel sexually to incite them to worship their (foreign) gods.

It worked. If not for the zeal of the Kohen Pinchas (Phinehas), the plague of Hashem might have consumed the whole nation:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of friendship. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'”

The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Assail the Midianites and defeat them—for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you—because of the affair of Peor and because of the affair of their kinswoman Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was killed at the time of the plague on account of Peor.”

When the plague was over…

Numbers 25:10-19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Israelites knew God but they did not honor Him.

There’s also the corresponding Psalm for this Torah Portion:

But to the wicked God says,
“What right have you to tell of My statutes
And to take My covenant in your mouth?
“For you hate discipline,
And you cast My words behind you.
“When you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
And you associate with adulterers.
“You let your mouth loose in evil
And your tongue frames deceit.
“You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son.
“These things you have done and I kept silence;
You thought that I was just like you;
I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
“Now consider this, you who forget God,
Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright
I shall show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:16-23 (NASB)

Even in the condemnation of the faithless and the wicked, God still offers a path back to salvation and redemption.

Or not…

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (NASB)

teshuvahGod always offers a way back, but you have to be willing to take it. You can only access the path of teshuvah and return to God if you repent of your sins. If you don’t, if you are guilty of what the above-quoted verses state, if you fail to acknowledge God, then God, according to how I read Paul, will give you enough rope to hang yourself with.

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Romans 2:4 (NASB)

God doesn’t always “drop the hammer” the minute we stray from the path of light and into darkness. In fact, often he just lets us do what we want to do, and it’s easy to take that as a sign that God doesn’t seem to mind. No, that’s not it. He’s giving us the rope with which to hang ourselves, but he’s also giving us time to realize how badly we’ve messed up. He’s giving us time to repent. For when our time is up, then and only then will it be too late.

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I quoted this yesterday and for the same reason. To illustrate that we have lots and lots of time, at least as humans measure time (but maybe not as much time as we think), but in the end, God’s justice prevails. Don’t take God’s patience lightly.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:9-11 (NASB)

I found this rather sobering. God puts the Jew first in both good and evil. If the blessings of the New Covenant come to the Jew first, so does tribulation and distress. There’s a definitely negative aspect to being at the center of God’s attention. I read “no partiality” both as God delivering consequences equally upon the Jew and Greek and as God not being partial to Israel giving her only good but not evil.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law…

Romans 2:12 (NASB)

under-law-torahIt seems that Jews will be held to a higher standard than Gentiles. But was Paul writing to believing and unbelieving Jews and to pagan Gentiles when he said “under the Law” and “not under the Law”? Paul was writing to the “church” in Rome, which Nanos said was more likely to the believing and non-believing Jews and the believing Gentiles in the synagogue. Paul had no audience with the pagans and his letter wasn’t addressed to them. So who is under the Law and not under the Law? Were the believing Gentiles under the Law?

…for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:13-16 (NASB)

This is getting very close to something like having the law “written on hearts,” for how would Gentiles who were not given the Law at Sinai “instinctively” know to do the things of the Law? And what did they do? Did Gentiles “instinctively” put tzitzit on their garments and lay tefillin? Did they “instinctively” start observing the Shabbat and keeping kosher? Or is being kind, gracious, and compassionate a more “instinctive” response in doing the Law?

If Paul is talking about Gentiles who are already disciples of Jesus, then they would possess the Holy Spirit and the finger of God would be just beginning to write the Law upon their hearts.

But the Jewish believers (and non-believers) already had the Law.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

Romans 2:17-21 (NASB)

Is it possible to take a gift for granted. Were there Jews who relied on outward behavior alone to justify them before God. Yes, it is the “doer” of the Law who is made righteous, but only by faith. Performing the mitzvot without faith is not effective. See Psalm 50 above if you don’t believe me.

Hopefully, a believing Jew would not take the Torah for granted, but if Nanos is right, Paul was also writing to Jews who were not believers in Jesus as the Messiah, and some of them may have strayed from their faith, relying on behavior and ethnic identity alone to justify them before Hashem. This is Paul’s dire warning to his brothers.

…you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

Romans 2:21-24 (NASB)

Hypocrisy? Jesus accused his brothers among the Pharisees of hypocrisy more times than I can count.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

Matthew 23:1-3 (NASB)

PhariseesI’ve quoted Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF) more than once to illustrate while Jesus accused at least some of the Pharisees of not practicing what they taught, he confirmed that what they taught was correct, and that they had the proper authority to be teachers in Israel.

Applying that forward to Paul, he may well have accused some of the Jews in the Roman synagogues of hypocrisy but at the same time acknowledged what they taught was correct and that they had the authority to teach in the synagogues. Thus, Paul was criticizing the hypocritical practices of some of his audience, not their validity as Jews nor the validity of the Torah as a continued covenant obligation for Jews.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.

James 2:18-23 (NASB)

Faith and works are required. They come as a set. You cannot properly separate them. Faith without works is dead but so is works without faith.

Make no mistake though. God fully intended (intends) for Jews to observe the mitzvot.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

That completely shoots down any Christian argument that God gave the Jews the Law to prove how impossible it would be to keep, thus showing them that they could only be “saved” by faith and grace alone, apart from the Torah.

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

If a Jew fails to perform a mitzvah, does he stop being a Jew? Does he become “uncircumcised?” This used to puzzle me. The whole “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” thing has been used to justify calling Christians “spiritual Jews” and to support the old, tired theology of supersessionism. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.

Paul is trying to inspire zeal for the Torah and for faith in Messiah in his non-believing Jewish brothers in Rome. How would he do that by insulting them and rejecting them? Worse, how would he do that by denigrating the Torah? He couldn’t.

JewishBut he could be saying that a Jew is justified before God if he is outwardly a Jew, that is, if he is obedient to the commandments, and if he is inwardly a Jew, that is, if he has faith in God and that faith is the motivation for obedience. The two go together…faith and works.

I had intended to cover Chapter 3 as well in this first “reflection” but I can see this “meditation” is long enough as it is.

This is an experiment of sorts, so let me know what you think. Should I continue writing my reflections of Romans for the entire epistle?

Next up: Reflections on Romans 3.

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.

Pop!

balloon-poppingAuthor’s note: I started writing this on very little sleep, which means that my internal filter, normally thinner than most bloggers, is approaching full transparency. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow, things will look better, but right now, my “culture clash” with church life is experiencing a power surge.

Pop! That’s the sound of my balloon popping. I suppose I could have titled this “WHAM!” and said it was the sound of my crash dummy hitting a steel wall at 60 mph, but that might be a bit much. Let me explain.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14

Pastor Randy (he’s back from Brazil…yay!) was preaching on Acts 11 today, specifically on verses 19-30, and saying what a great guy (v 24) Barnabas and outlining all of Barnabas’ good qualities and why he was a terrific choice to send to Antioch. Of course, as Pastor rightly says, no one is perfect. Pastor mentioned the above-quoted verses from Galatians 2 and said something like (I can’t quote him word for word, so this is an approximation):

Paul criticized Peter because Peter had slipped back into some practices of Judaism and pulled Barnabas down with him…

Like I said, it’s not an exact quote but it gets the point across. Galatians 2 is coming up on the list of things Pastor and I will be talking about during our upcoming Wednesday night discussions. You see, I don’t think Peter’s problem was that he “slipped back into Judaism.” I think he was intimidated by “certain men” sent from James who weren’t on board with Jewish/Gentile table fellowship and he made the mistake of backing off. Maybe he started listening to the old and mistaken halachah that said “Gentiles were unclean,” but it’s not like Peter “came out of” Judaism and then slipped back into it, as if Judaism and being a disciple of the Jewish Messiah are mutually exclusive terms.

I flashed back to last week’s hollow man experience, and even though I subsequently regained some balance, my experiences during today’s service and in Sunday school afterward reminded me of the gulf of culture between me and normative Protestant Christianity.

It’s the feeling I get when one of the Pastors leads the congregation in an “old-time” hymn that “everyone knows,” except I don’t know it. It’s the feeling I get when people in Sunday school start using “Christian-isms” in their speech, and even if I understand what they’re talking about, it still sounds like a foreign language. Ironically, the person I’m thinking of used the “Christian-ism” term “baby Christians” when describing how more mature members of the faith can erect barriers at a number of different levels that inhibit very new Christians. Without realizing it, she was exhibiting the very behavior she knew put off “baby Christians.”. While I suppose I’m not a new believer, I’m fairly new to normative Christian culture. This re-entry thing has lots of trapdoors.

Another way I felt pretty strange today was noticing how, in our discussion about the events of Acts 11, modern Christian missionary concepts were dropped with complete anachronistic abandon into the synagogue (“church”) at Syrian Antioch. I don’t think that the Jewish Hellenists who fled Jerusalem after Stephen’s death were witnessing to the Greek-speaking Gentile pagans on the street. In fact, I don’t think that full on idol worshiping Gentiles were even “witnessed to” by Jewish disciples until Paul’s encounter recorded in Acts 14:8-18. The world of religious Judaism would have been exceptionally difficult to describe to pagan Gentiles. It’s far more likely that God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogues were the first non-Jewish audience (outside of the Samaritans) of “Jewish evangelists.”

tape-over-mouthBut I kept my mouth shut. As I’ve already said, I didn’t sleep well last night and got up at 4 a.m., so I was (and still am) pretty tired. It was wiser for me to be silent than to open my mouth and inject everything that was going through my head into the middle of the Sunday school class conversation. It’s not like anyone was saying anything wrong, but the perspective from which they were looking at the Acts 11 material was completely off to one side of how I see it. It’s not that I must have my way, but it just seemed like the story of the ancient Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah had been stripped of its religious and cultural Jewish context and had been remade out of wholly Gentile Christian cloth…from the twenty-first century.

In presenting Acts 11:27-30 the study notes for today’s Sunday school lesson read:

How did this church respond, and what is there about Christians that gives them such joy in giving away what the world worships?

Paul and Barnabas were charged with taking a donation to the Jewish population in Judea when a famine is prophesied as relief for the suffering. The donations were given with abundance and joy but is this a “Christian” quality and one that had never been seen before in Israel?

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

I suppose I could have mentioned that tzedakah was Jewish value long before there were such people as “Christians,” but it didn’t seem worth it to drop a bomb in the middle of the room. I figured this was just another indicator of the cultural and perceptual rift between me and the rest of the class.

Then I thought of another one. As I listen to people talk, in the foyer before services, in the sanctuary before (sometimes during) and after services, in the hallways between services and Sunday school, during and after Sunday school, I realize that these people have known each other for quite a while. I can’t believe they’ve developed these relationship seeing each other just once or twice a week at church. They probably associate with each other outside of church, go to lunch, go to barbecues at each other’s homes, and that sort of thing.

I remember when my wife and I were invited to a Christian’s home a few years back. My wife said it was OK if I went but she wasn’t interested. She doesn’t invite her Jewish friends to our house. She sometimes is involved in social activities at the synagogues here in town, but she doesn’t feel comfortable in primarily “Christian” environments and she doesn’t feel comfortable taking me to primarily “Jewish” environments. I kind of doubt I’ll be inviting people from church over to our home for a Sunday dinner any time soon.

This is quite an interesting effect of a “bilateral” life. It doesn’t affect anything else in what you would consider normal, family life, but my family life, defined as it is, will never intersect with my religious life.

If I can separate my experience from my emotions for a minute, this could actually be a useful study of the impact of the propositions put forth in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David. One thing I am hoping Boaz will do eventually is to collect the stories of people who have actually followed his pattern of returning to churches to find out the real results in people’s lives and in the church environment.

I’m atypical in that my wife and I are not only intermarried, but I’m a believer and she isn’t (in the Messianic world, there are many intermarried Jewish/Gentile Christian couples, but they share faith in Jesus as Messiah). I know I’m only one voice, but if Boaz can bring together enough voices, we can all see the outcome of returning to the church for those folks like me who think so differently about God, the Bible, Messiah, and everything.

My day at church wasn’t a complete loss, though. I usually don’t care much about the music at church. It’s more something I tolerate than enjoy, but occasionally a little gem will be sprinkled in among the usual fare.

Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity. Seek hope in God.

149 days.

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Four, Wind and Sail

wind-sky-spirit-ruachAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Is given by inspiration of God – All this is expressed in the original by one word – Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired – from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Genesis 2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans. Plutarch ed. R. 9:p. 583. 9. τοὺς ὀνείρους τοὺς θεοπνεύστους tous oneirous tous theopneustous. Phocylid. 121. τῆς δὲ θεοπνεύστου σοφίης λόγος ἐστὶν ἄριστος tēs de theopnoustou sophiēs logos estin aristos.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible for
2 Timothy 3:16

You may be wondering how this connects to my ongoing discussion with Pastor Randy about D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. The answer is, “not much.” Frankly, we started our discussion last night with trying to clarify his thoughts on Divine Election (Pastor has a paper he wants to loan me that describes all of the various positions), but then moved to how we can understand the Bible (Pastor has some reservations relative to how Lancaster derives certain conclusions in his book from the Galatians text). We addressed Sermon Four of the book eventually, but it didn’t occupy the significant portion of our time together, nor was it the most compelling topic upon which we touched.

Going back to “God-breathed,” Pastor said that the Greek word used has the implication of wind filling a sail and pushing the boat along (Correction, according to Pastor Randy’s comment below, “the phrase about ‘the wind filling a sail’ has to do with the II Peter 1:21 passage and the meaning of men being ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.” See the following quote). He told me he believes that as God gave His inspiration to the human writers of the Bible, the authors did not say anything, at least as originally given in their manuscripts, that contradicted what God intended.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

People, that is, prophets and those people who have written the Word of God we have in our Bible, did not hear something from God and then interpret what it meant through their own intellect and emotions. God used their personalities, their vocabulary, their style of writing, their perceptions to craft His message, but the message was and is His message, not the prophets’, and the message “carried them along” as it was first given and recorded in the original documents, and the message was and is exactly what God meant to say and meant to carry us along as well.

But then we have a problem.

We don’t have the original documents…any of them.

Also, Bible reading and translation is an enormously complex task.

According to Pastor Randy, and I agree with him, we have to start with what the text literally says. We also have to apply the immediate context of the scripture, not taking it out and making it stand on its own. Beyond that, we have to consider the history, the culture, and the circumstances in which the scripture was written. On top of that, we have to connect the scripture to the larger context of the entire Bible, including other times when similar circumstances were mentioned and similar or identical wording was used. If, for instance, in describing the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, in understanding the Matthew 22 passage, we must also take into consideration the context, history, culture, and circumstances in which Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 take place, including the author and his personality, vocabulary, style of writing, and personal experiences. We cannot separate what Jesus was trying to say from what Moses was trying to say, however Jesus and all that was in play when he was talking may modify the original meaning, giving it a somewhat different shape, color, and texture.

paul-editedOh, and let’s not forget the intended audience. Moses may not have been aware that what he was writing was ultimately intended for the entire world, but we realize that God has a greater scope. Jesus may well have understood that his words would eventually be consumed by all of humanity across time, but his immediate audience, like Moses’ was the Jewish people or more specifically in Jesus’ case, the Pharisee he was addressing at that particular moment.

We must take all that into consideration when reading the Bible and seriously attempting to understand its message.

And we must constantly remind ourselves that it is all God-breathed.

Pastor Randy and I spent most of our time together exploring how to understand the Bible, with the promises and pitfalls built into such an effort. We discussed how we don’t necessarily have to “reinvent the wheel,” since many people have read and observed the literal meaning of the text from a variety of perspectives, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard their work and rely only on our own. Pastor described how he approaches understanding texts looking at those who came before him. He reads a variety of expert analyses and takes into consideration what the scholars they did and didn’t take into consideration.

For instance, a particular writer may have a good grasp of the original language but not sufficiently address the history involved, or another writer may have a good handle on the historical context, but not the cultural context. Pastor said he looks at the various scholarly opinions in that manner and ultimately settles on which one he…wait for it…

…which one he likes best.

What?

Pastor Randy is a literalist, an educator, a scholar, a linguist, and is very serious about pursuing as accurate an understanding of the Bible as he can achieve, but after much discussion we agreed that even under the best of circumstances and intentions, there will always be this little, fuzzy, grey, area in the middle of our understanding where we fill in the blanks with our own personalities.

Geordi La Forge (played by Levar Burton): I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
Data (played by Brent Spiner): Your gut?
Geordi: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You’re right, sometimes they do.
Data: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

-from the Star Trek: the Next Generation Episode
The Defector (original air date 30 Dec. 1989)

In the scene from which I just quoted, Data concludes that in any meaningful analysis, the observer must fill in whatever blanks there are in the facts and other available information with their personality. In Data’s case, he was in a bind because effectively, he had no personality. All he had were the facts. By the way, it turns out Geordi’s “gut” was wrong. The defector in question had been fed disinformation by his superiors to mislead the Enterprise and ultimately to provoke a war. Fortunately, Picard’s “gut” proved to be more accurate and the ruse was exposed.

All this doesn’t mean that we can never understand the Bible or that we should always equivocate on its meaning, but we should be a little less than one-hundred percent certain that we always know what everything in the Bible means all of the time.

It also means that when we realize we’ve made a mistake based on subsequent study and analysis, we should admit it.

Pastor Randy says that’s one thing he admires about Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). When Boaz and the organization came to the conclusion, several years ago, that they had made a significant error in understanding what the Bible said in relation to Jewish and Gentile covenant responsibilities to God, after much prayer and soul-searching, he announced that FFOZ was making a major shift in its theological and doctrinal position. Boaz knew it would cost FFOZ much of its income and might even result in the organization collapsing completely. Thank Hashem that the latter did not occur, but many sacrifices had to be made. Sadly, to this day, Boaz and his group continue to be severely criticized and harangued by their detractors as a consequence.

That’s the price of integrity and following God where He calls you to go. That’s also part of the ongoing struggle of understanding God through His Word and maturing as people of Spirit and of faith.

ancient-sail-boatI tried to get Pastor Randy to say that you can have a room full of people with equal intelligence, equal qualifications, all people of good character, and they could still disagree with each other on what parts of the Bible mean, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said that we’re all human and we’re all capable, not just of making mistakes, but of following our own human desires. We all can and do sin.

Does that mean there is only one right person (or close-knit group of people) who understands the Bible correctly and it is because he or she is the best person morally and ethically that their understanding is right? Does that mean all of this person’s critics are liars and haters who purposely want to bring the “right” person down in order to elevate their own agendas?

I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that you can gather a group of people together who are of good will and intent who will disagree. Sure, some of the people in that room will be liars and haters, but they should be easily spotted by their lack of integrity and good character (their fruits) in how they treat others and how they walk with God. Even the best of us can allow our personal, pet theories and biases affect our judgment. We all want to be right and to be admired and respected.

But at the end of the day, the best of us (and I’m hardly saying I’m among the best) will put all that aside, suck it up, and make the hard call, even if it costs them, because that’s just what God’s true servants do. Once we realize that the evidence is solid about some piece of scripture, even if it’s not what we want it to mean, we’ll go forward and accept it and embrace it, because that’s part of who we are if we are disciples of our Master. We’ll also continue to study, to learn, and to mature, because God continually breathes in us.

For a ninety minute conversation, last night’s talk with Pastor Randy inspired a lot in me that I could write about…and maybe I will, but I won’t try to cram it all into a single “meditation” today.

But I do want to be a sail. And I do want to be available to the wind. And I do want to let my sail conform to the wind, to the shape it causes me to manifest, to the direction it drives me, toward the destination to which it guides me.

I don’t know yet what distant and alien shore God has planned for my future, but I can feel His hand on me. Do I have the integrity and courage to let Him take me where He wants me to go? I hope so. I pray to possess those qualities that I may serve Him…even in something as “simple” as reading the Bible.

Pastor will be out of the country for the rest of April so naturally, we won’t be meeting each Wednesday evening for the next several weeks. We’ll revisit Lancaster’s Galatians next month and reformulate our study plan for the book…I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll try to continue writing in the spirit of what my Pastor, and ultimately God, provokes in my mind and heart, and move forward with integrity and purpose. Unfurling my sail and setting my course for uncharted seas as the wind sends me forth.

Following the Galatian Letter

paul-editedPaul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5 (ESV)

In the Holy Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul argues against Gentile believers in Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth undergoing conversion to become Jewish. Paul maintained that Gentile believers attained salvation and inherited the blessings promised to Abraham through faith, not conversion.

The Apostle Peter said that the writings of “our beloved brother Paul” contain “some things hard to understand.” If that was true in Peter’s day, how much more so today. Paul was a prodigy educated in the most elite schools in Pharisaism. He wrote and thought from that Jewish background. Unfortunately, that makes several key passages of his work almost incomprehensible to readers unfamiliar with rabbinic literature. I invite Christians to use this book as an opportunity to study Paul’s epistle to the Galatians from a Jewish perspective.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from the Introduction (pg 1) of his book
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach

I reviewed Lancaster’s book the better part of two years ago, but I never thought my write-up did the book justice. Normally, Lancaster writes in an easy to follow manner, making complex theology accessible to laypeople and non-scholars such as me, but Galatians was probably a bit of a stretch to try to get to fit into a comfortable mold. I’m sure I missed a lot along the way, although when I pulled the book out of my closet (my wife allows me exactly one closet for all of my books…she’s trying to train me not to be a “pack rat”), I saw that I have voluminous notes scribbled all over a mass of bits and scraps of paper like so much ticker tape parade confetti. I was obviously trying to “get it.”

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

That’s Peter’s description of and probably experience with the writings of Paul, as Lancaster quoted from in his introduction, and we can see from the full quote that not only can Paul’s meaning be misunderstood, but it can be deliberately “twisted” with the potential result of “destruction” by people Peter refers to as “ignorant and unstable.”

I don’t think you have to be “unstable” to misunderstand Paul and especially his letter to the churches in Galatia, but a lot of us are ignorant (I don’t mean that in a pejorative manner) of what it was to think, write, and live as a highly educated Pharisaic Jew in the middle of the first century, a mere decade or two before the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It may be ignorance, at least in part, that makes Paul’s Galatians letter so difficult to grasp. I’m sure it’s my ignorance that resulted in me not fully comprehending Lancaster’s book back in the summer of 2011.

But that’s about to change.

This coming Wednesday evening, my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy at my church are taking a left turn at Albuquerque, so to speak, and following Paul’s classic letter into Galatia. This time, Pastor Randy and I will be pursuing Paul’s letter together. Frankly, I can’t wait.

study-in-the-darkI wish Pastor would put his bio on the church’s website (which needs serious help, but I’m working on it) so I could access more than just my failing middle-aged memory to describe him. He’s not only been a missionary and a Pastor, but he also has a history as an educator in a scholarly setting. I’ve seen what he studies and reviews just to get ready for a single sermon, and it usually involves anywhere between twelve and twenty books. In our discussions we may not always agree on everything, but my respect for his knowledge and insight continues to grow geometically with each encounter. Admittedly, it’s an honor to just sit in the same room with him for ninety minutes or so once a week and be able to access his thoughts and experiences, especially since his education and background are a great deal of what I lack.

Lancaster repurposed twenty-six sermons on Galatians, which he delivered to his congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2008, to create this book I’m about to revisit. That’s twenty-six weeks and twenty-six opportunities for me to not just re-read Lancaster’s book, but to study it and to learn from two fine scholars and devoted believers in Christ.

Along the way, I’m hoping not only to learn a lot more about Paul’s letter, but more about the nature of how Paul saw non-Jewish God-fearing believers within a Jewish worship and faith context, who they were in the Jewish Messiah King, and how he saw their role, and our role, in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m hoping to learn a little something more about myself as a Christian, too.

I was able to talk with Pastor Randy briefly just before services began this morning (as you can imagine, Sunday is his especially “busy” day) and confirmed our meeting for this coming Wednesday and the plan to cover Sermon 1: Letter to the God-Fearers (Galatians 1:1-5). I’m planning on taking notes as I read through the book and during my discussions with Pastor Randy so that I can collect the results of this experience, not just for my own edification, but hopefully for yours.

I invite you to come along with Pastor Randy and me on this weekly adventure as we return to the churches of Galatia by way of Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. May we all learn the wisdom and message of our Master together through the voice of his Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, and through this, may we all draw ever closer to God.