Tag Archives: Brad Young

Seeking Treasure and Pearls

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-46 (NASB)

Are the parables concerned about the cost of discipleship or the cost of the kingdom? This is one of the most complex and difficult questions of Gospel scholarship. It is a crucial issue that must be resolved in order to understand the teachings of Jesus.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 11: The Find,” pp 220-1
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I didn’t want to review Young’s book piece by piece, but taking each of the parables in turn, something new keeps turning up in my perception of the Master’s teachings and I feel compelled to share.

The scripture from which I quoted above is actually considered two separate but related parables: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Christian commentators, theologians, clergy, and the average “believer in the pews” believe they have this one figured out.

Christian interpretations of the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price show a strong christological interest. Irenaeus taught that the treasure is Christ. Such an allegorical approach has been rejected, however, by the consensus of modern scholars.

To imagine that the historical Jesus told a parable in which he himself appears as the great treasure accidentally discovered…is nonsense. Even though Matthew suggests that these parables were taught to the disciples in private, the Jesus of history did not ordinarily speak about his person in such a way…

Origen, too, understood the treasure and the pearl as referring to Christ, but took the allegorical method one step further when he discussed the meaning of the field in light of salvation history. The field represents the Scriptures and the treasure is Christ. The Jews rejected him, hence the treasure has been passed on to the Christians.

-Young, pp 200-1

Frankly, that all sounds horrible. I know from a 21st century church perspective, it may seem “obvious” and easy to come to such conclusions, but when you fit these words back into their original context, coming out of the Master’s mouth, and that his audience was his Jewish inner-circle of disciples, then it seems ridiculous to believe he was teaching such supersessionism.

Young goes on:

As a kingdom parable, its message is closely tied to other teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. For instance, Flusser properly understands “selling all” as an allusion to “seeking first the Kingdom,” which means that these illustrations are connected to Jesus’ teachings concerning the reign of God (Flusser, “Gleichmisse,” 129-33).

-ibid, pg 202

treasureNow, at least for me, things are starting to make sense. If the “hidden treasure” and the “costly pearl” represent the coming Kingdom of God, then “seeking first the kingdom” can be linked to searching for that “treasure” and selling all we own, that is, making all of our other priorities and concerns subordinate to the Kingdom.

However, Young also compares the treasure and the pearl to the cost of being a disciple, although, as we see, he believes we must make a choice between the two interpretations:

The cost of discipleship is actually a secondary theme supporting the theme of overriding passion for God’s reign. Jesus is consumed with a passion to see God’s rule realized. The kingdom is above all.

-ibid, pg 221

As a brief aside, I should mention that in Young’s opinion, it is the Kingdom, not the Church that is Christ’s “overriding passion” and the Kingdom is inexorably tied to the primacy of Israel in the redemptive and salvational plan of God.

So we must choose an interpretation for these parables: the value of the Kingdom or the cost of discipleship. Young has come to his conclusion but in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” In other words, is it too much to ask for both?

Yes, I’m suggesting (though not demanding) that Jesus could have inserted more than one meaning into his parables. However, based on other material Young included in his chapter, there may be even more going on in these parables.

The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price have a rich background in Jewish tradition when viewed in the context of Torah learning. Accepting the kingdom meant entering into obedience to God and searching the deeper meaning of his revelation in Torah. The Gospels portray Jesus as a dynamic teacher; who raises up his disciples for total commitment in the kingdom of heaven. In Jewish thought, the recital of the Shema was the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom, because one was making a declaration that one has chosen the LORD to the exclusion of all other gods, and God’s way of living life. Praying the Shema opened up communion with the one true God. Such devotion to God and God’s revelation in Torah was not without sacrifices.

-ibid, pg 206

ShemaThis paragraph is pregnant with possibilities. The plain meaning, as I take it, is that we can find both the value in Torah study as a means of learning obedience to God’s commandments and by performing them, gain entry into the kingdom, and the cost of discipleship and Torah study relative to the sacrifices one makes as a student of the Master and a servant of God.

In this regard, the story of R. Johanan is of interest, even though it first appears in sources from the Amoraic period. Rabbi Johanan and R. Chaya bar Abba were traveling from Tiberias to Sepphoris. As they passed through some of the most fertile land in the entire country, R. Johanan began to recall how he sold certain plots of land in order to finance his studies. The talmudic legend stresses R. Johanan’s sacrifice for Torah. Rabbi Chaya bar Abba is concerned that his friend will not have the resources necessary for his old age. But R. Johanan is filled with joy because he learned Torah. The exchange was well worth the sacrifice.

-ibid, pg 208

Rabbinic commentary is replete with examples of self-sacrifice for Torah study, with revered sages being depicted as living frugally if not in abject poverty, all for the sake of studying Torah. But these tales tend to give the impression, at least to the outsider, that Torah study was for its own sake rather than for the higher purpose of performing the mitzvot which would be pleasing to God. After all, if all one did was study without putting their knowledge into practice, is a person complete?

While I think we can reasonably infer that Jesus, as a teacher, expected his students to study and learn his teachings within the larger context of the Torah, he also expected them to go and do, spreading knowledge of the Kingdom of God among the lost sheep of Israel and afterward, the nations of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

I know this once again brings up the question of Gentile disciples and the Torah. Certainly we are not forbidden study of the Torah nor even obligation to the mitzvot, but it is an obligation that has its own distinctive nature and indeed, we Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah have a distinct role that we must not abandon if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled through us.

I recently read an article that stated in part, “My friend Aaron just called “Messianic”, Messi-Antics. When I have said Messianic in the past, I mean someone that (sic) believes the Torah is God’s way of sanctifying His elect unto Himself, whether Jew or Gentile,” implying that there is only a single method of obedience to God through the Torah, and that Jew and Gentile were offered the self-same behavioral path of sanctification.

But it’s not performance of the mitzvot that makes us holy, especially mitzvot that are not apportioned to us. Above all else, if we don’t consider ourselves as separated from the values of the world by our faith, our repentance, our turning to God with a pure heart, our steadfast walk in continually desiring an encounter with God in prayer, then donning a tallit and laying tefillin won’t make much of a difference, even for a Jew. Nor will it matter if we call ourselves a “Messianic,” a “Christian,” or anything else. What we value isn’t a name, a label, or a brand, but rather sanctifying the Name of God.

Helping the HomelessYes, obedience, as I said above, is part and parcel with that sanctification of God’s Name and seeking first His kingdom, but obedience isn’t complicated. Most of the  time, it’s not even specific to role:

As a person who wants for nothing, it hit me pretty hard this morning to hear Homeless Shelter’s (name changed for privacy) plea for donations to help the homeless beat the heat. The Shelter believes that every person has a right to safe and adequate shelter and they’ve been sheltering, supporting, and advocating for homeless adults and children since 2005.

Donations are down this time of year because people think, “Hey, it’s warm out. They’re fine.” But as you know, triple-digit temperatures cause many problems. That is especially true for homeless adults and children. And it’s not just discomfort, but heat exhaustion and other serious illnesses.

So because we are a responsible company who likes to give back to our community, we’re collecting donations to help the Sanctuary help those in need.

By next Friday, July 18, please leave with the receptionist any of these much-needed supplies that we may take for granted.

I received that in a company email at my “day job” yesterday as a request for donations to a local homeless shelter. The person who wrote it wasn’t a manager but a regular employee who approached the charitable contributions committee where I work and asked if they would help her in fulfilling what she felt was a personal commitment to help the homeless. Fortunately, my employer is very community minded and thus, we’ve all been prompted to make various donations in cash or goods for the sake of people who have far less than we.

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…

Romans 2:14-15 (NASB)

What is of value to God? Don’t we in some ways already know what to do to please Him, to obey Him?

This isn’t to negate Torah (Bible) study, since it is by study that our “instincts” to do good are refined and honed and we can not only feel but know what is right to do.

jewsSo far, all of the “different” interpretations of the parables in question seem to fit together. If the overarching commitment is to seek first the kingdom, that hidden treasure, that pearl of great price, then the means to do so is to study the Bible, to enter into discipleship, to subordinate all of our wants and needs to those goals, to perform acts of lovingkindness and mercy to our fellow human beings, even as God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to us. I’m less concerned about “looking Jewish” or having the wrong “religious label” than I am with buying a case of bottled water and various sun protection products and donating them to my local homeless shelter.

But beyond all of that, there is still another treasure to consider.

Clearly, these two parables (See Mekilta Derabbi Yishmael on Exod. 14:5) have a different reality behind their word-pictures than the Gospel parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. Nevertheless, the images used in the colorful dramas as well as the action of the plot in each story are quite similar. The rabbinic parables illustrate the undiscovered treasure of the people of Israel, while the Gospel texts portray the intrinsic value of the kingdom and the cost associated with obtaining it.

The people of Israel became the precious treasure of God while the pharaoh of Egypt failed to comprehend the intrinsic value of the great nation he had released. By the same token, the disciple should recognize the intrinsic worth of the incomparable kingdom of God as he or she surrenders all to obtain it.

-Young, pp 212-13

Young compares the more traditional rabbinic parable of the treasure as the people/nation of Israel to the value of the kingdom of God and the cost of discipleship, but I want to take that comparison a step further. I want to say that we can bind these interpretations of value together, seeking first the kingdom, study of Torah, the cost of discipleship, and the preciousness of Israel. I think they’re interdependent. I don’t think you can separate them out into self-sustaining components.

For if you toss even one of those elements onto the trash heap, the rest will go with it.

Consider the recent abandonment of Israel by Evangelicals. Consider what I wrote about Yom Hashoah in the church. There is more than just human compassion in praying for the peace of Jerusalem. Even the Master said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

How can we seek first the kingdom? How can we search out the hidden treasure and then sell all we own to possess the pearl of great price? The kingdom isn’t just Torah study, nor is it just performance of the mitzvot (however we choose to interpret what “performance” means). It is also loving your fellow human beings and particularly loving and supporting your Jewish fellow human beings and the Jewish nation of Israel. That is the physical seat of the Throne of David and the center of Messiah’s Kingdom.

In order to assert that value, we “join the army,” so to speak, by making a commitment to Messiah as his disciples. We are students who learn by studying and by doing. We apply what we have learned by showing to others the mercy and kindness God has shown to us. Above all other nations, God has chosen to love Israel, so in that too, we must emulate the Almighty.

We are partisans or freedom fighters, declaring fealty to our Lord, holding our ground, defending his Land as he even now is on the journey to return and to re-claim that which is his own.

hopeAll of this constitutes the hidden treasure, the costly pearl. Am I saying in absolute terms that Jesus meant to imbue his two parables with the meaning I am assigning to them? No, of course not. How could I?

I am saying that a parable can contain more than one literal meaning. I am also saying that parables can be inspirational. Interpreting a parable is like interpreting a poem or an artistic painting. The reader or observer can often extract meaning from these works that the writer or painter never meant to convey. But the meaning is just as real and, in this case, I think, just as Biblical.

It’s what I hope to do with these “meditations” I write. I’m not just out to make some sort of theological point. I want what I write to inspire someone to do what they might not have done before, to entertain a thought that had never occurred to them before.

It’s quite possible that the Bible contains far more than we’ve given it credit for. I don’t mean to manufacture false interpretations or to add my own words to the Bible. However, I believe that the Spirit is with us when we read the parables of Jesus and the inspiration we feel when we consume his teachings goes far beyond just a series of words printed on paper, which is what they are without the Spirit.

Seek first the kingdom by seeking first the treasure beyond which all other treasures pale by comparison. Seek first God. His Spirit will provide all the wealth we will ever need.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and learn the true origins of the current (and historic) conflict between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Forgiveness: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35 (NASB)

Christian tradition has upheld the high ethical teachings of Jesus concerning forgiveness. While the parable of the Unforgiving Servant is found only in Matthew’s Gospel, its message is stressed in the Lord’s Prayer, which became a vital expression of Christian faith. The prayer for Jesus’ disciples with its dynamic petition, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” finds a prominent position in the Didache, which demonstrates that the early Christians emphasized the theme of forgiveness in the life of the church…Could the Lord’s prayer as recorded in the Didache have been influenced by the wording of this parable?

-Brad H. Young
Chapter 6: The Merciful Lord and His Unforgiving Servant
“The Parable in Christian Tradition,” pg 120
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I’m only a little more than half way through Young’s book but each chapter follows a similar pattern, taking a particular parable of Jesus (Yeshua) and running it past a specific analytical matrix. This isn’t unlike what Roy Blizzard has done in his book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus which I reviewed last spring. Blizzard compared various teachings of Jesus to those of the Rabbinic sages within a generation either side of the (earthly) lifetime of Jesus and determined that Jesus very much taught within the Rabbinic context of the late second Temple era.

The ParablesYoung, chapter by chapter, takes a specific parable of Jesus, shows his readers the traditional Christian interpretation, and then re-examines the parable through the lens of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries, as well as later Jewish writings. This method also reminded me of a teaching by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and president Boaz Michael that he gave a few years back called “Moses in Matthew” which I had the opportunity to listen to (as an audio recording) and review nearly thirteen months ago.

This method of understanding the words of the Master brings into question traditional Church exegetical concepts such as “the sufficiency of Scripture” and “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” both of which suggest that all you need to understand the Bible in general and Jesus in particular is you and a Bible translated into your native language (which for me is English). While most Evangelical Pastors will also say that a good concordance is helpful and it’s even better to understand the original languages along with something of the context in which the Biblical writers authored their works, they tend to neglect understanding the Judaism in which each Bible writer lived, worked, learned, and taught.

Apprehending Scripture from within an ethnically, religiously, historically, linguistically, culturally, and experientially Jewish framework often yields different interpretative results than the traditions handed down by the Christian Church in its many denominational “flavors”.

Although humor is difficult to define and understand because of cultural barriers, Jesus’ dry wit comes through in this story of one very fortunate servant.

-Young, ibid

I quoted this short sentence to illustrate both the point of “cultural barriers” and how we could miss something so elementary as humor. When we read the Bible, we tend to believe that it is always written in the utmost seriousness and, in many conservative Fundamentalist churches, the literal meaning of the text is always given tremendous weight. But what if the writer is saying something ironic, using Hebrew and Aramaic wordplay, rabbinic idiom? What if the writer is telling a joke?

Delitzsch BibleIf we don’t access resources to support our understanding of how Jesus most likely was teaching and how his immediate audience (those listening to him) and extended audience (the originally intended readers of the Gospels and Epistles) were expected to understand what he said, we are left with what we think it all means from a 21st century Christian American point of view.

Please keep in mind that point of view almost never takes ancient Judaism into account let alone immerses itself in said-Judaism as a pool of interpretive wisdom. In other words, we’re probably making a lot of wrong assumptions and coming to many erroneous conclusions.

In the cultural context, the sacred calendar of the Jewish people may provide the setting in life for this parable. The ten-day period between the Jewish New Year and the day of Atonement was designed for seeking forgiveness between individuals. A person was not prepared to seek divine mercy during the great fast on the day of Atonement if he or she had not first sought reconciliation with his or her neighbor. The day of Atonement was the experience of the community as every person participated in the fast. The preparation for this collective experience, however, focused on the necessity to forgive one another on a personal level so as to approach God without a bitter heart. Mercy from above depended upon showing mercy to those below (Compare to Matthew 5:23-24).

-Young, pp 123-4

We can see a corollary in Talmud:

For transgressions that are between a person and God, the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for the transgressions that are between a person and his or her neighbor, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if one first has appeased one’s neighbor.

-See m. Yoma 9:9 (Mishnah, ed. Albeck, 247)
quoted by Young, pg 124

We see the scene of the parable being unpackaged right before our eyes in the pages of Young’s chapter to illustrate what we should plainly see Jesus teaching: that the forgiveness of God and atonement for sins is dependent on our forgiveness of others who have sinned against us. If we believe we have been forgiven by God and our sins washed away, and yet fail to forgive those who have sinned against us, will the God of Heaven truly forgive? If we have sinned against another and asked God alone for favor rather than first seeking out the forgiveness of the one we have offended, will God forgive in the stead of the person against whom we have sinned?

Of course, if we have sought forgiveness and been spurned, we can only be held responsible for our own part. We cannot make another person forgive us if it is not in their heart to do so.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18 (NASB)

A Rabbi TeachingThe lack of forgiveness in response to our sincere desire to repent to one against whom we have sinned is on the other’s head as long as we’ve done all we can to make amends and repay them for the wrong we have done.

There’s another implication in Young’s interpretation of Jesus’ parable based on his invoking the time period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, it is believed that a Jew is written into the Book of Life year by year. It is an opportunity to have God hit a sort of “cosmic reset button” for the year to come, but it requires great effort on the part of the individual to make amends for sins committed, both against man and God, to perform good deeds, and give to charity.

This is quite foreign to a Christian’s point of view, particularly if you believe “once saved, always saved.” The moment you confessed Christ as Lord and believed in him, you were saved from your sins and guaranteed a place in Heaven when you die. You need to nothing else, and in fact, it’s impossible for you to do anything else.

That’s the truncated version of the traditional Christian understanding of the Gospel message, anyway.

It is said that there are two resurrections. The first is called the “resurrection of the righteous” and only those who “died in Christ” will be resurrected at the second coming of Jesus. They/we will all be raised into the air to meet him, and according to traditional Evangelical doctrine, the Church will then be raptured into Heaven to wait out the full fury of the Tribulation on Earth. Then, when all the bad stuff is over, Jesus leads the Church back down to Earth to establish his Kingdom where the Church will rule with him over a New Earth.

Or so it goes as far as many Christian churches are concerned.

The second resurrection is called the “great white throne” judgment where everyone who has died is resurrected and judged by God, with the righteous living in bliss for all eternity, and the wicked being cast into the lake of fire to suffer torment for all eternity.

But how does that judgment work? If we just believe in Jesus will we be saved automatically? Will we be given a free pass into Heaven? What about being forgiven by God as we’ve forgiven others?

What if the final judgment is like the ultimate Yom Kippur service? Have you ever been to a Yom Kippur service? It’s the single most solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, full of tears, fasting, remorse, repentance, trembling, and fear.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

The unmerciful servant does not forgive like his master. The lord of the servants, however, is not only merciful but just. The one who would not forgive will not receive a reprieve. His fellow servants recognize the injustice and report the actions of their unmerciful coworker to the lord. He is enraged.

-Young, pg 128

MessiahBelief in Jesus is hardly sufficient by this Biblical standard. What you think and feel is only part of the equation. What you do out of your faith is what really matters.

They were passing through in the morning, and they saw that the fig tree had withered from its roots. Petros remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed is withered!”

Yeshua answered and said to them, “Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, anyone who says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but rather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you ask in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgression.

Mark 11:20-26 (DHE Gospels)

If this is so as we are judged by God day-by-day, how much more so is it true when we come before the Throne of God at final judgment and the great day of atonement?

Yet, for all its importance, the ritual of the synagogue is but a means to an end. In Judaism, behavior takes priority over belief. Faith without deeds will not change the world.

-Ismar Schorsch
“The Root of Holiness,” pg 553, July 12, 2003
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

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?

James 2:14-20 (NASB)

It is doubtful that Schorsch meant to parallel the teachings of James the Just, brother of the Master, but this may reflect the fact that principles from ancient Judaism (for the teachings of Jesus and James are wholly Jewish), some at least, have survived the passage of time and endure in modern Jewish practice. As Christians, for anything we find good and gracious in our theology and doctrine, we must give thanks not only to God but to Judaism for its origins.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

However, if we accept that, we must also accept that a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus place a much greater burden on the shoulders of a Christian than many Pastors have led us to believe. Fortunately, I currently attend a church where this burden is taught and where sincerity of repentance and love and forgiveness of our neighbor and brother is held in great value.

Also fortunately, the God of Justice is also the God of Mercy:

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

He remembered His covenant for them and relented in accordance with His abundant kindness.

Psalm 106:45 (Stone Editon Tanakh)

…but if that nation repents of its evil deed of which I had spoken, then I relent of the evil [decree] that I had planned to carry out against it. Or, one moment I may speak of concerning a nation or kingdom, to build and establish [it], but if they do what is wrong in My eyes, not heeding My voice, then I relent of the goodness that I had said to bestow upon it.

Jeremiah 18:8-9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

God is eager to do good to all those who call upon His Name in sincere repentance and who do what is right, but to those who call upon Him yet continue to do what is wrong, there is no mercy, but instead, righteous judgment.

As Christians, we cannot afford to take our (so-called) salvation for granted, for who is to say that God won’t keep His word as He has given it and as Jesus has taught it? Who is to say that our forgiveness (or lack thereof) of others won’t be the model by which God will (or won’t) forgive us?

Young writes this by way of conclusion to his commentary on this parable:

The parable shows the deep roots of Jesus’ teachings in ancient Judaism. Jesus’ Jewish theology of God saturates the drama of the story as the action moves from scene to scene. The listener is caught up into the plot of the mini-play and participates in the trial, triumph, and tribulation of the servant. What happens when it is impossible to pay one’s creditor?

…The cultural and religious background is based on the teachings concerning the great day of fasting in Israel’s sacred calendar, which each person seeks forgiveness from God. The creation of humanity, in the very image of God, demands full accountability, which means that one must be merciful in the same way that God shows mercy. The images created by the parable lead the listener to join the actors on the stage. Each individual must ask God for forgiveness of a colossal debt. To what extent, however, do I extend mercy to others who have wronged me?

-Young, pg 129

The answer would seem obvious and Young addresses it again in the following chapter, “Chapter 7: The Father of Two Lost Sons,” his commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32):

Jesus makes this a major theme in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” On the day of Atonement, the Mishnah instructs the people to make things right one with the other before seeking forgiveness from God (m. Yoma 8:9). Thus the idea of human forgiveness is strong in Jewish theology.

-Young, pg 134

These parables are not cute little sayings of Jesus to teach us some interesting moral lesson. They are cautionary tales, warnings to the disciples, including us, that what we do and why we do it really does matter, and, looking back to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, what we have been given can be taken away at any time should we prove to be faithless and insincere, both to God and to our fellow human beings (also see Matthew 25:14-30).

coffee-and-studyWhile I suppose it’s not absolutely necessary to study the Bible from a culturally and religiously Jewish perspective and still live a good and upright Christian life, we see here, as I’ve pointed out many times before, that without a little extra “help” through an understanding in the wider body of Jewish religious literature, we can often miss the point, giving more power to Christian traditional interpretations than in what Jesus said in context. The Church has been taught to avoid that context because it has been taught that (if not the Jewish people) Judaism has been sitting on the shelf long past its expiration date. The Law is dead. The Jewish people just don’t know it yet.

Except that’s not the case and can’t be. Without a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus filtered through an ancient and arguably modern practice of Judaism, the words of Jesus are just words on a page, devoid of some or much of their actual meaning. And without that meaning, the depth of our faith and how we actually live it out, including forgiveness, is just as absent of meaning. It may be good and even sufficient, but it could be so much more.

To what then may we compare (entry into) the Kingdom of Heaven?

I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or provoked me or sinned against me, physically or financially or by failing to give me due respect, or in any other matter relating to me, involuntarily or willingly, inadvertently or deliberately, whether in word or deed: let no one incur punishment because of me.

-Bedtime Shema from the Siddur

Book Review: The Jewish Background to the Lord’s Prayer

brad-young-bookThe main problem is one of approach. Too often, the importance of the Jewish background of the prayer and of the language that Jesus used has been overlooked or minimized. Jesus was a Jew, speaking Hebrew to his Jewish followers during the difficult days of the Roman occupation of Israel in the Second Temple Period. A modern Christian has a quite different understanding of prayer, Scripture, and faith than a Jewish teacher like Jesus, not to mention the great differences in language, culture, and history. One can easily miss the great depth of Jesus’ message, even while believing in him. Here we will try to rediscover something of the original Jewish atmosphere in which Jesus taught his followers how to approach God in prayer.

-Brad Young
from “Introduction: The Disciples’ Prayer,” pg 1
The Jewish Background to the Lord’s Prayer

I’ll start by profusely thanking Toby Janicki for graciously lending me his personal copy of Young’s book. Apparently it is out of print, and even used copies on Amazon are kind of pricey, especially for a forty-six page text.

As Young states, we Christians in the Church tend to almost take the Lord’s Prayer, or rather “the Disciples’ Prayer” for granted. It’s one of those things we read in the New Testament that we think we all understand correctly and completely. After all, the prayer itself is quite short. What’s there to misunderstand, right?

The answer to that question is “plenty,” and for the reasons I quoted above.

To start off, I won’t quote the Disciples Prayer here. It should be pretty familiar to most Christians, even those who don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible. For reference, there are two, parallel versions of this prayer in the Bible and they aren’t identical. You can find them in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The differences, I suspect, have to do with the different audiences of each Gospel, with Matthew written to the Jews and Luke written to the Greeks.

Our Father Who Art In Heaven

Young suspects (pg 3) that Luke removed the “Jewish elements” of the prayer, since his version does not contain the words we read in English, “who art in heaven”. This was a familiar prayer formula in first century Judaism but would have seemed foreign to Greek readers. Picturing a “Father in Heaven” might have summoned images in Greek minds of some “god” such as Zeus sitting on an Olympian throne (pg 4). Luke may have felt it prudent to avoid such false associations by editing Jesus’ words (a Gospel writer editing the words of the Master to fit a specific audience is somewhat startling, don’t you think?).

But for a Jewish audience, the “Father in Heaven” reminded them of the love and care Hashem had and has for the Jewish people, and they would have recalled many references from scripture of the kindness of God toward Israel:

Whoever is wise let him note these things, and they will comprehend the kindnesses of Hashem.

Psalm 107:43 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Jesus taught his disciples that God is not just a generic Father in Heaven, but He is “your” Father and “our” Father. The relationship between God and Israel isn’t just corporate, it’s personal. As Gentile disciples of the Master, we are grafted into that relationship with God, and thus we can call God “our” Father and “my” Father in Heaven.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

PrayingYoung says (pg 7) that the word we read as “Hallowed,” at least in the King James Translation, is more accurately rendered “sanctified”. He “retrotranslated” the Greek into the Hebrew word “yitkadesh” which means “be sanctified” so the phrase should read like “may Your Name be sanctified”. He also compares this to the Hebrew word “v’hitkadishti” found in Ezekiel 38:23

I will be exalted and I will be sanctified… (emph. mine)

Ezekiel 38:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

But as Young asks (pg 8), two-thousand years ago, what did “sanctify” mean to the Master’s Jewish disciples? Young makes comparisons to Leviticus 22:32 and Ezekiel 36:23 but he also said this:

The name of the Lord can be either sanctified or profaned by the conduct of people. In fact, because a martyr would frequently cause others to glorify God as a result of his sacrifice, the Hebrew idiom, “to sanctify the Name,” was often understood as referring to someone who would give his life for his faith.

-Young, pg 8

Adds some dimension to the crucifixion of Christ, doesn’t it? Perhaps as his disciples watched Jesus slowly dying on the cross, they remembered these words and what they truly meant to the Master. Perhaps they finally understood one day, that to pray this prayer was to ask that they be considered worthy to also die for the sake of Heaven.

But it’s not just how you die, but how you live, for “one sanctifies God by living a holy life.” Recall Matthew 5:16 (DHE Gospels):

So also, shine your light before sons of men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in heaven.

Thy Kingdom Come

Young spends a significant portion of this small book discussing the meaning of the Kingdom, and it’s somewhat reminiscent of an episode of the First Fruits of Zion television series called Thy Kingdom Come.

According to Young (pg 10), we mistakenly believe this phrase refers to Heaven or some future, Messianic Kingdom that Jesus will establish after he returns. But what did Jesus mean when he said, as he often did, “the Kingdom of Heaven?”

The Greek word “eltheto” doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English but it suggests “may it be” or “let it be”. But again, in Hebrew and to a Second Temple Era Jewish audience, what did this mean? Young (pg 11) says the phrase is quite similar to words we find in the Kaddish: “May He cause His Kingdom to reign.” Young also makes a comparison to the Hebrew words “tamlich malchutcha” or “May you continue establishing Your Kingship,” indicating a continual process rather than a point fixed in time. It is associated with the idea of a Kingdom that has already arrived, and yet is still in the process of coming.

I wrote a review last week about a portion of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series called The Partisans that speaks to this difficult to comprehend matter.

Lancaster
D. T. Lancaster

The overarching concept of God having reigned, His currently reigning, and His reigning forever, is all over the Bible. Exodus 15:18, Psalm 93:1, and Psalm 146:10 only scratch the surface, and all of these references may well have come to the minds of the disciples as they listened to Jesus teach them how to pray.

Young states (pg 13) that, referencing Matthew 10:7, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” the phrase “at hand” or “engiken” in Greek (Heb. “karav”), is “the perfect indicative” and is better understood as an already completed action. It’s could be better said as “The Kingdom of Heaven is here.”

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would say the holiest name for God. When he pronounced the Tetragrammaton, the people would fall on their faces and affirm, “His honorable name is blessed and his Kingdom is forever and ever.” The Kingdom is present. God is reigning. He rules as the people recognize his Kingship. He rules when he redeems people. (emph. mine)

-Young, pg 14

This not only speaks directly to Lancaster’s point in the aforementioned sermon, but it expands the meaning of how God’s Kingdom can already be here in a completed form and still having not quite arrived. As each individual comes to faith and acknowledges the Kingship of God in the world and in their lives, the Kingdom is continuing to be established, one human being at a time, across all time, and across human history. As the Gospel message is progressively spread throughout the Earth, the Kingdom is also being spread, expanded, established, affirmed. When the time of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25) is fulfilled, Israel will be redeemed by Messiah and the Kingdom that has already arrived and yet still arriving, will become perfected in our world, and the Messiah King who is already enthroned in the Heavenly Court, will ascend to his place of honor in Jerusalem.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3 (NASB)

Young says this is a poor translation of the Greek “hoti auton estin” and does not actually imply that the poor can “own” the Kingdom of Heaven.” The “poor in spirit” (followers of Jesus) do not own the Kingdom as a possession. Young renders the same verse in Hebrew and then translates that back into English to say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they make up the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, the followers of Jesus comprise, or are the building blocks, or are the substance of the Kingdom.

These are people who have already accepted the rule of the King and thus not only become part of the Kingdom as subjects, but are the very essence of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Messiah’s Kingdom. “May you continue establishing your Kingdom, and may your will be done” are parallel phrases in this prayer and declare that we desire more hearts turn to the Father by way of the Son, further establishing God’s rule and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As In Heaven

We already touched on this phrase in the section above, stating that this is an affirmation of what God is already doing. Young (pg 18) references the Greek “genathato” as “may it be,” translating it back into the Hebrew “hayah” which is “to be” or “asah” which indicates “to do”. A more literal translation, taking the Hebrew into account, would be “Let it be your will in heaven and earth” or “Let your will prevail in heaven and earth”.

The Death of the MasterYoung says (pg 19) that “to do His will” is idiomatic Hebrew indicating that it is people who do God’s will, thus is a call for obedience or a declaration of obedience to God, for one continually establishes His Kingdom by continual obedience, thus sanctifying His Name.

No finer act of sacrificial obedience to God can be found than in Jesus at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39:46):

Of course, the greatest example of the battle to do the will of God is Jesus himself in Gethsemane. Jesus had already predicted his betrayal and sufferings. The brutality of Roman executions was well known, and more than a few had actually witnessed crucifixion. Jesus was keenly aware of the deeper significance of his sufferings. Still, conscious of his own crucifixion looming before him in the next hours, he prayed, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus did not succumb but performed the will of God. A person overrules his own volition in order to do God’s will.

-Young, pp 20-21

Jesus has been called an Apostle (Hebrews 3:1), a “sent out one,” and he taught that no servant is greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16), thus Jesus depicted the perfect servant of God, who would obey, even to the death, as an act of love toward his disciples ( John 13:34, John 15:13) and ultimately toward humanity (John 3:16).

Young quotes from Rabbi Alexandri’s prayer (pg 21), saying, “Sovereign of the universe, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to do Your will.” We must all repent continually for it is sin that causes us to rebel against God, preventing us from making His will our will and establishing His Kingdom.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

You wouldn’t think this would need interpreting. Why isn’t it plain that we are to ask God to fulfill our daily needs? Is this asking for our food today, or that our food be prepared for the following day? Young makes a connection to Proverbs 30:8 stating that Jesus may have been deliberately alluding to the scripture, “Remove me far from falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food that is needful for me.”

So “daily bread” may mean something more like “all of my needs”. This simple phrase in the prayer can be unpacked into a complex set of Jewish conceptualizations interconnected throughout the Bible.

Consider Exodus 16:4-10 and particularly verse 4:

Hashem said to Moses, “Behold! — I shall rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day’s portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not.”

This speaks not only to obedience but utter dependence and emphasizes not only the study of Torah, according to Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai (pg 25), but being “totally dependent upon God for…every need.”

God is the great provider and we should not even doubt that His providence will always be available (see Matthew 6:25-26, Luke 12:22-24).

And Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors

ForgivenessYoung cites (pg 29) Matthew 18:23-35 as a lesson in forgiveness and links how we as disciples forgive others to how we will be forgiven by God. He shows a parallel between this part of the Disciples’ Prayer and what Ben Sira (Sirach) taught (170 BCE): “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.”

But is it that we impact how or if God will forgive our sins by the quality of forgiveness in our own hearts, or is an unforgiving heart inhibited in prayer, thus never reaching God…or is it a little of both?

“Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your knowledge. This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: Love your fellow as yourself. The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (DHE Gospels)

There’s a slight difference in Luke’s version of the prayer. Matthew asks for forgiveness of “debts” where Luke says “sins.” Young (pg 30) says this is probably associated with the use of the Hebrew word “chayav” which can mean both guilt to which we are accountable and a debt to be paid.

If we again consider Jesus as an Apostle of God, then to the degree he forgave represented God’s forgiveness, and Jesus forgave generously, even to his enemies:

Yeshua said, “My Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34 (DHE Gospels)

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

Young (pg 31) considers “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil” to be parallel statements. The word for “temptation” in Hebrew suggests “test” or “trial,” just as HaSatan tested the Master (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:1-12, Luke 4:1-13) hoping to cause him to stumble. Please keep in mind that it wouldn’t have been much of a test if Jesus was totally incapable of sinning, of disobedience to God. He would only have been exalted by resisting the temptation to do what was evil in God’s eyes, that is, if it was possible for him to fail.

When Jesus taught his disciples this portion of the prayer, he of course knew that it was not only possible for the disciples to fall prey to testing and to sin, but that indeed, they would fail. Consider Peter’s denial of the Master after declaring that he would follow Jesus even unto death (Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, John 18:15-27).

Young notes parallels (pg 32) not only in scripture (Psalm 119:133) but in one of the Psalm scrolls from the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Cave 11, “Let not Satan nor an unclean spirit rule over me” (Heb. “al tashlet bi satqan v’ruach tumah”). Also, the Testament of Levi states, “And do not let Satan rule over me to lead me astray.” Young further quotes abundantly from the Talmud where very similar wording is to be found.

Conclusion

We see here, as I’ve written in other “meditations,” that there is a great deal more information packaged into even the briefest portions of our Bible than we might imagine, even if we are seasoned students of the Bible. If we apprehend scripture from a solely Christian perspective but fail to take into account the Hebrew thought behind the Greek text, we fail not only to get the full message of Jesus, but in many cases, the correct message of Jesus. Thus even with the best intentions and a wholehearted desire to serve God, we end up traveling down many unintended and undesirable paths in relation to God, to the Jewish people, to Judaism, and to Israel.

That said:

Even though Jesus taught his disciples this prayer in Hebrew, in an entirely different setting nearly two millenniums ago, the petitions contained in this short prayer transcend time and are appropriate to the modern-day disciple. Today, perhaps more than ever before, Jesus’ followers need to be challenged again to respond to this timeless message.

-Young, pg 36

DHE Gospels
Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels

The challenge is to encounter the teachings of Jesus and his Jewish disciples on their own terms, meeting them on their own “home ground,” so to speak, rather than in the places that make us feel comfortable. Most Christians get a little nervous when a lesson about Jesus seems “too Jewish.” Oh sure, they can accept a few Hebrew words and a few Jewish thoughts, but once you start re-translating the entire concept of the Gospel message of Moshiach into a wholly Jewish context, most Gentile Christians, especially those raised in the Church and quite accustomed to the traditions associated with Biblical interpretation, will quickly lose their bearings and feeling in danger of becoming lost, will retreat to more familiar territory, even if that territory has a poorer view of the revered Savior.

Young’s small book was published thirty years ago and sadly is very expensive to acquire, but it also is part of a larger body of scholarship that is continually being added to, which holds the promise of truly illuminating the mind and heart of each and every believer, showing us the Jewish face of Yeshua behind the Gentile mask of Jesus.

Imagine if a forty-six page booklet can say so much about just a few verses in the Gospel that teach such a brief prayer, what could be learned if we approached the entire Bible from the same perspective?

Is Sola Scriptura Enough to Understand Paul?

Apostle-PaulIs the Torah to be considered as a dead husband that nobody liked anyway? This is the way many Christians interpret Romans 7:1-6: “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies she is released from the law of her husband” (verse 2 of Romans 7:1-6). Paul refers to an ancient halachah (principle of the law) to illustrate his new relationship to the Torah because of his faith in Jesus. But one question is never asked when studying Romans 7:1-6. And it is only when the full impact of Paul’s Jewish heritage is understood in light of his entire teaching concerning the believer’s response to the Torah that this question can be carefully considered. Nonetheless, we must ask: Was Paul speaking about the death of the Torah or was he referring to the death of the flesh? Is the Torah, for Paul, a dead husband?

Brad H. Young
“Is Paul Against the Law?”
Biblescholars.org

Dr. Roy Blizzard promoted this article on his Facebook page, and since I’ve read both Blizzard and Young in the past, I was interested in seeing how their perspectives have developed.

What I read made me think of how I recently brought up the issue of sola scriptura in relation to a presentation given by Pastor Steve Lawson at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference last October.

I found myself wondering if sola scriptura as offered by Lawson would match up with how Young is interpreting Paul in Romans 7.

To interpret Paul correctly on this passage, it is first imperative to recognize that the saying, “when a person dies he is free from the law and the commandments” (kivan shemet adam naaseh chofshi men hatorah vehamitzvot), was a well-known concept in halachah, which probably was almost proverbial in ancient Jewish thought (b. Nidah 61b and parallels). When Paul says that he is writing to those who know the law (Romans 7:1), it is clear that he speaks concerning a practice of halachah with which the Jews in the congregation of Rome would be quite familiar. The marriage laws concerning a woman and her husband would also be fairly well known. Of interest to the issue is the fact that Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, who according to Luke was the teacher of Paul in his early days as a student in Jerusalem, addressed questions relating to these laws in the Mishnah. Gamaliel the Elder taught that a woman is free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony that her husband had died (m.Yeb. 16:7). Scholars have noted that the passage in Romans 7:1-6 might well betray the influence of Paul’s teacher Gamaliel. While the similarity between Paul and Gamaliel on this point of halachah should not be denied, it is also true that such teachings were probably common knowledge to Jewish men and women who lived pious lives according to their devout faith. Paul could have been acquainted with this principle from many sources, including Gamaliel the Elder.

-Young, ibid

sola scripturaI tried to choose the most representative paragraph in Young’s brief article to illustrate that a thorough understanding of not only scripture but of Judaism (or the various Judaisms) as it (they) existed during Paul’s lifetime is absolutely essential to correctly understanding Paul. Without addressing the complete social, religious, historical, national context in which Paul was writing, plus his education and as much of his “psychology” as we can apprehend after all this time, we are quite likely to get Paul wrong and, as a result, construct completely erroneous theologies, doctrines, and dogmas based on our misunderstanding, all the while believing we are standing on the rock-solid foundation of “sola scriptura.”

But am I being unfair? After all, I do believe the Bible (correctly understood) is the basis for a life of faith. I just think it’s more complicated than reading the Bible and taking the text (especially in English) at face value.

I recalled that a gentleman named Tim Hegg, who is well-known in Hebrew Roots circles, took exception to another criticism of sola scriptura, written by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) author, Pastor Jacob Fronczak for Messiah Journal issue 111 (Fall 2012).

The full text of Hegg’s rebuttal can be found at TorahTalkOnline.com (PDF) but I’ll take the liberty of inserting the relevant quotes here.

According to Hegg, Fronczak asserted “it (the Bible) needs no outside help to be correctly interpreted”as a tenet of sola scriptura. Hegg responded:

Wrong!

Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible must be interpreted according to its historical, grammatical sense. This means that knowing the history, culture, and language in which the inspired word is given is necessary for receiving its divinely intended message. But Sola Scriptura also states that the Bible is self-interpreting, meaning that since it is God’s inspired word as a whole, it is never self-contradictory. Therefore, the truth of the Scriptures is found in the whole of the Bible’s message, allowing the whole to interpret the parts

The first part of Hegg’s response sounds good, but it is dependent upon how well the interpreter knows the “historical grammatical sense” and how much they’re willing to take into account the “history, culture, and language in which the inspired word” was given. In other words, would the interpreter who is an adherent of sola scriptura take into consideration ancient Jewish thought and Paul’s relationship with Rabban Gamaliel the Elder when attempting to understand Paul’s relationship with and description of the function of Torah in the community of first century Jewish believers?

Also, when Hegg says that “the Bible is self-interpreting, meaning that since it is God’s inspired word as a whole, it is never self-contradictory. Therefore, the truth of the Scriptures is found in the whole of the Bible’s message, allowing the whole to interpret the parts,” he seems to be leaving out the necessity of understanding the context to its fullest degree.

By that, I mean in order to resolve those areas of the Bible that seem internally inconsistent (how Paul in some parts of the Bible seems pro-Torah and in other parts seems anti-Torah), we have to employ a much wider net of information gathering than I think Christian interpretive tradition is willing to allow.

Here’s more about what I mean:

If Paul employs a known analogy from halachah in Romans 7:1-6, perhaps the Jewish tradition can throw light upon Paul’s message and the conclusion he desires to draw from the evidence he cites. The sage, R. Simeon ben Pazzi, taught “…and the servant is free from his master”(Job 3:19). A person, as long as he lives is a servant to two masters: the servant of his Creator and of his [evil] inclination. When he does the will of his Creator, he angers his inclination, and when he does the will of his inclination, he angers his Creator. When he dies, he is freed, ‘the servant is free from his master!’ (Ruth Rabbah 4:14, M. Lerner pp.78-80). Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi’s saying, “When he dies, he is freed…” not only recalls Paul’s words in Romans 7:1-6, but also provides a clear parallel in thought to his discussion of the servant who either is enslaved to his evil inclination or to his Creator in the preceding chapter of Romans. In Romans chapter 6, Paul teaches that an individual is either a servant of sin to obey the flesh or a servant of righteousness to obey God.

-Young

In order to grasp the meaning of how Young is understanding Paul, not only is understanding other areas of scripture necessary, but understanding ancient, and to a certain degree, modern Judaism is required as well. If you had no idea Paul was employing “a known analogy from halachah in Romans 7:1-6,” you might not consider investigating Jewish tradition in order to “throw light upon Paul’s message.”

Rabban GamalielThe conclusion you draw about what Paul is saying can be dramatically altered by inserting or omitting the Jewishness of Paul’s thinking, education, life experience, personal history, and teachings. If Paul was a disciple of Rabban Gamaliel, we know, as a disciple, he would have memorized his Master’s teachings to the degree that he could teach from the same perspective and understanding. To the degree that Paul became a disciple of Jesus (although not in a traditional sense), Paul would also have studied and memorized all of the teachings of this Master. If we don’t understand the full impact of what that means in terms of the late Second Temple model of Jewish discipleship and look to the relevant sources that would support authentic comprehension of Paul’s letters, we’re going to miss the point of everything Paul wrote, and as a result, misunderstand the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian.

I encourage you to read the full content of Young’s commentary on Paul and Romans 7. It only takes a few minutes, but it may also open your eyes, not only to Paul as you’ve never seen him before, but to the level of complexity involved in approaching and interpreting the scriptures. Sola scriptura is a good, basic place upon which to stand, but if you aren’t employing the proper interpretive tools to correctly understand “scripture alone,” you aren’t going to have a very accurate view.

The Church created a basic set of interpretations early on in order to foster separation between Gentile Christianity and Judaism, with Judaism and the Jewish people cast in the role of the villain. We like to think we’ve come a long way in revising our understanding of the Bible, but the deep core of those original interpretations lives on, underground, unseen, and most Christians are unconscious of how much they permeate their (our) Biblical thinking. We have it within ourselves to dismantle those ancient assumptions and to take a fresh look at Paul. Interestingly enough, we’ll have to go back even before the so-called “Church fathers” to our “Jewish fathers” and their fathers, to the Jewish Paul and the Jewish Gamaliel, to see a vision of Jesus and of Paul that has been lost since the time of the apostles.

Only with such a lens can we see not only what Paul wrote, but the intent, the thought, the heart he used to pen his letters and what he wanted his original audience and us to understand.