Tag Archives: cornelius

Cornelius Is Not Common Or Unclean And Neither Are We

I just watched a brief video by Marc Turnage at the Jerusalem Perspective website called Character Sketch: Cornelius the Centurion. It’s about 5 minutes, 25 seconds long, so when I started watching the presentation, I knew it wasn’t going to reach much depth.

That’s too bad, because I really wanted to hear something new about Cornelius that would help me in my current investigation as to the status of a Gentile who directly worships and relates to God without necessarily being part of a Jewish communal setting (or a traditional Christian venue, for that matter).

In other words, was Cornelius and his Gentile household chopped liver, even after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), or did (does) God consider the Gentiles as having some sort of value in their (our) own right?

Before someone complains that I’m being too “whiney” again, I’ll say straight out that I think a Gentile can have a direct relationship with the God of Israel through faith in and by the merit of Rav Yeshua and his symbolic, atoning sacrifice. Moreover, I think even before Cornelius had his vision which resulted in him sending messengers to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:3-8), I think God had regard for the Gentile Cornelius. In fact, the wording of verses 1 and 2 as well as the angel’s message from verses 3 onward tell us so.

Marc Turnage

Cornelius was devoted to God as expressed through his prayers and acts of tzedakah (charity) to the Jewish people, and God responded kindly and valued Cornelius. God was about to do Cornelius and his household a big favor. He was about to have Peter deliver the good news of Rav Yeshua to them.

According to Turnage, in the late second temple period in Roman-occupied Judea and in the diaspora, from a Jewish point of view, there were three types of people:

  1. Jewish, either by birth or conversion
  2. Pagan Gentiles wholly divorced from God
  3. God-fearing or God-worshiping Gentiles who viewed God from the perspective of Abraham and Isaac (but not Jacob)

These God-fearers existed on the fringes of Jewish community, attending synagogue, hearing the Torah read, rejecting (according to Turnage) the pagan Greek and Roman gods, and swearing devotion only to Hashem, God of Israel. However, this was not as far as they could go in approaching God. They were just missing one last piece of the puzzle.

Turnage compares the vision of Cornelius to Peter’s where Peter does an amazing thing. He says “no” to God. Specifically, he tells God he won’t obey the directive to kill and eat unclean or non-kosher animals.

Turnage states what is obvious to me; that the vision was never about food but rather about people, specifically non-Jewish people. This was God’s lesson to Peter that God Himself did not consider the Gentiles unclean or common. He also states this is obvious proof that Peter never saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as somehow ending his status as a Jew and his relationship with the Torah mitzvot. Again, that seems entirely obvious to me but is something of a revelation coming from a more traditional Christian.

tongues of fireGod backed this up in the aforementioned Acts 10:45 by showing Peter and his Jewish companions that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, something that was thought only to be available to the Jewish people by covenant promise (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) up until that moment.

Peter was forced to realize that Gentiles were not common or unclean, that they (we) were indeed, through God’s grace and mercy, and by the merit of Rav Yeshua, also able to access the covenant blessings of God, even though we were not named participants in the New Covenant.

During the legal proceeding to formally establish the status of Gentiles in Jewish community we see in Acts 15, Peter testified to his experience with Cornelius as proof that the Gentiles were not common and unclean, and that God accepted them (us) to the degree that they (we) also can receive the Spirit of God upon hearing the good news of redemption brought about by Rav Yeshua. We who were far off have been brought near or at least nearer (Ephesians 2:13).

Turnage was clear that none of this meant that the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, even after receiving the Spirit, were required to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. We lack the sign of circumcision (for males) that would be required for conversion to a proselyte and that would obligate us to the mitzvot. Cornelius was not circumcised, neither was his household (interestingly enough, unlike the non-Hebrews in Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:27).

In this case, it wasn’t necessary, since God’s plan for worldwide redemption required that both Israel and the rest of the nations of the world were all to be redeemed while maintaining their own national and ethnic identities.

communityTurnage rightly states that the challenge of the “first century church” (his language, not mine) was not convincing people to believe in Jesus, it wasn’t a theological challenge, but rather, an ethnic and sociological dilemma. How would it be possible to mix both Jews and Gentiles, two groups that are difficult to put together, into Jewish community and covenant life?

Paul was always attempting to solve that puzzle as we read in his many epistles including Romans and Ephesians, but also in 1 Corinthians 7, according to Turnage:

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)

Since Turnage uses circumcision as the dividing line between Jews and even the believing Gentiles, and since that dividing line includes obligation to the mitzvot for the Jews but not for even the believing Gentiles (remember, Cornelius received the Spirit and was not previously or subsequently circumcised), then, based on the brief record we have of the life of the Centurion, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav have no obligation to the mitzvot either.

Divine TorahI know I’ve said this about a billion times before, but since I’m re-examining my relationship with God as a Gentile, and I just viewed Turnage’s video, I thought I’d mention it again.

We have no information about how Cornelius’s life changed after Acts 10. Perhaps in many ways, it didn’t change much at all, at least from a day-to-day lived experience. He probably still prayed continuously. He probably still did great works of charity for the Jewish people. But additionally, he also probably thanked Hashem for the good news of Messiah, the indwelling of the Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a place in the world to come, which indeed, Cornelius lacked before the revelation of Moshiach.

For Turnage, the central focus of being a believer rests back in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20. Are you going to obey God or not?

The question of obedience is an interesting one because Turnage assumes quite casually that to obey God for a Gentile does not require observance of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people.

Just as we are not required (our males) to be circumcised in order to have a life with God, because of not being circumcised, not converting to Judaism (because it’s not required of us), we also do not have to observe the mitzvot that indicate an individual is Jewish.

We don’t know what Cornelius did with his life after the revelation of Rav Yeshua. It would be easier if we did have some record to see how he changed from God-fearer to Messianic disciple.

family prayingBut I didn’t write this missive to answer the “mystery of the Gentile mitzvot”. I wrote it to establish that through the example of the life of Cornelius, Gentiles are not considered common and unclean to God. Quite the opposite if God allows His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We Gentiles have a relationship with God just the way we are.

Oh, I could embed the YouTube video of Turnage’s brief presentation directly into this blog post, but I don’t want to take web traffic away from the Jerusalem Perspective site. To view the video, you’ll have to click the link I provided above.

One more thing. I chose the “featured image” at the top of the page because finding something that looks interesting and somehow represents Jewish mystic visions isn’t all that easy.

Shammai, Peter, and Cornelius

hillel_shammaiShammai’s school of thought became known as the House of Shammai (Hebrew: Beth Shammai‎), as Hillel’s was known as the House of Hillel (Beit Hillel). After Menahem the Essene had resigned the office of Av Beit Din (or vice-president) of the Sanhedrin, Shammai was elected to it, Hillel being at the time president. After Hillel died, circa 20 CE, Shammai took his place as president but no vice-president from the minority was elected so that the school of Shammai attained complete ascendancy, during which Shammai passed “18 ordinances” in conformity with his ideas. The Talmud states that when he passed one of the ordinances, contrary to the opinion of Hillel, the day “was as grievous to Israel as the day when the [golden] calf was made” (Shabbat, 17a). The exact content of the ordinances is not known, but they seem to have been designed to strengthen Jewish identity by insisting on stringent separation between Jews and gentiles, an approach that was regarded as divisive and misanthropic by Shammai’s opponents.


And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

Acts 10:28 (ESV)

I suppose I could have called this blog post, “Things I Learned in Church Today,” but then, I’d have a lot of blog posts with the same title. I recently came across a “statistic” on a blog (it’s not based on any real data) that said the vast majority of Christianity, something like “99.99999999999%” is “anti-Judaic.” I’ll agree that the church has a rather poor track record relative to Jews, Judaism, and Israel, but that’s changing. I know because the church I attend is very pro Jews, Judaism, and Israel. It’s not just the Pastoral staff but the regular members, too. In my Sunday school class, the teacher, who by trade is an electrical contractor, opined on how much we Christians owe the Jewish people at the very start of class.

But what did I learn in church about Jews, Judaism, and Acts 10? I learned about something called the “18 measures.” Apparently, this was something debated between Hillel and Shammai and while the specifics of these “measures” crafted by Shammai are no longer known, two of them were said to be “anti-Gentile.” Pastor Randy came to speak with me right before services began and shared what he had found out during his research. He said that one of the measures of Shammai stated that it was “unlawful” for a Jew to enter a Gentile’s home because it would be possible for a corpse to be present without the Jew’s knowledge (resulting in ritual defilement: see Num. 19:11-16). This could include a dead person buried under the house, since it seems it was the custom in some households to bury the family patriarch under the structure.

Or was Shammai looking for excuses to keep Jews and Gentiles apart? After all, Israel was occupied by Gentile forces and the Romans never went out of their way to be friendly or courteous to the Jewish population. Quite the opposite in fact. The Jews had good reason to want to avoid Gentiles and particularly Roman soldiers.

Was this part of what Peter was thinking of when he was confronted by God with the news that he was to visit the household of a Roman Centurion? In the above-quoted passage from Acts 10, the greek word translated as “unlawful” as in “how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate…” isn’t the word for “Law,” but the word for “tradition.” Basically, Peter was telling Cornelius that it was against halakhah for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile because the Jew might well become ritualistically “unclean.” God showed Peter the contradiction (in this case) between the prevailing halakhah of his day and the teachings of God that no human being is “unclean.”

I don’t know if Peter was specifically thinking of Shammai during this whole transaction, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

But am I being too hard on Shammai?

Shammai is a much misunderstood character and you malign him with your words…. according to the Mishnah in Treatise Avot, one of Shammai’s favourite sayings was “Always receive all men with a cheerful expression on your face!” (Avot, chapter 1, para. 15)

-ProfBenTziyyon, 18 Jan 09

I’m not trying to be hard on Shammai or for that matter, on Peter. I did think this was an interesting detail that works to “flesh out” the humanity and the lived context for Peter as he was faced with doing a very hard thing. About fifteen years earlier, Jesus gave his Jewish disciples the “commission” to make disciples out of the Gentiles, but as far as we know, that command received no attention until the Master spurred Peter into action using a vision (Acts 10:9-16).

In this case however, if Peter has responded to halakhah rather than God, the good news of Christ would never have come to Cornelius and his household and arguably the rest of us would have suffered the same fate. Or God would have chosen a different messenger, but He chose Peter. It was Peter who had to grow beyond his prejudices and perhaps only a Jewish apostle could deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles. I mean, the angel (Acts 10:3-6) could have told Cornelius everything he needed to know, but it was more than just information that needed to be delivered, it was the forging of new connections and relationships. While Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, was a “God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation,” God had a far better destiny for him as one of first Gentiles to ever receive the Holy Spirit and be reconciled to God. Peter, for his part, and his Jewish companions needed to be witnesses and to see for themselves that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” They needed to see that even the Gentiles could receive the Spirit and be saved, even as the Jews had done.

This, as much as anything else in the Bible, was an incredible miracle, because God so loved the world.

What biases and prejudices prevent you and me from doing the will of God?

The Uncircumcised Convert, Part 2

mikveh-project“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:47-48 (ESV)

When Simon Peter heard the Gentiles speaking in the languages and saw that they had received the Spirit just as he and the other Jewish believers had, he could no longer theologically exclude them from participation in the kingdom or discipleship. (see Acts 10:47-48) They had not gone through a legal conversion to become Jewish, nor had they been circumcised. They were still Gentiles, yet they had experienced the Spirit of God, just as the Jewish believers had.

Simon Peter explained to the six men that had accompanied him from Joppa, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” By skipping circumcision and going directly to immersion, Simon Peter inverted the process by which a Gentile might ordinarily become a disciple of Yeshua. Prior to that occasion, he and the other disciples required a Gentile to first submit to conversion/circumcision. Immersion could follow later.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Vayeshev (“And he dwelt”) (pg 235)
Commentary on Acts 9:32-11:18

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this commentary before continuing here.

This is the second time in his commentary on Acts 10 that Lancaster suggests Peter or the other Jewish apostles may have previously converted Gentiles to Judaism by first having them circumcised and then entering them into Jesus discipleship. As I mentioned in Part 1, I can’t think of any record in the Bible that points in this direction. I do note however, that Philip also did not require the Ethiopian eunuch to be circumcised prior to immersion. However, that more than likely means the eunuch was Jewish (and did not need to convert) since Luke makes no point of the eunuch being a Gentile as he does of Cornelius (although as previously mentioned, there are a number of assumptions in play).

What Lancaster says regarding circumcision and conversion of Gentiles does fit nicely into Shaye J.D. Cohen’s opinion (see his book, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition) of how Gentiles were made into Jewish disciples as I mentioned in another commentary.

However, as the history of Israel progressed, the concept of conversation to Judaism for the Gentile began to become more formalized. Cohen cites three essential elements of conversion to Judaism: belief in God, circumcision, and joining the house of Israel. Again, this is a definition of a convert to Judaism, not conditions required for the Gentile to join “the Way” as disciples of Christ. Cohen even references the difference:

For Paul, circumcision represents subjugation to the demands of the Torah (Gal. 3-5).

In other words, while Paul did not see circumcision and thus full obedience to the mitzvot as a requirement for the Gentile Christians, he did see it as a necessary step for full conversion to Judaism. The natural conclusion then is that a Gentile becoming a disciple of the Jewish Messiah in the time of Paul was not the same as a Gentile converting to Judaism.

Another indication that Gentiles entering into Jesus discipleship were not converting to Judaism is found in the aftermath of Peter’s experience with Cornelius.

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Acts 11:1-3 (ESV)

This wasn’t exactly a friendly inquiry on the part of Peter’s fellow Jewish apostles.

Rumors of his (Peter’s) activities among the Gentiles preceded him. It did not take long for word of Simon’s Peter’s theological leap and halachic faux pas to reach the rest of the Judean apostolic community. The inclusion of the Samaritans had been controversial enough. Simon’s fraternization with Gentiles raised astonishment and disbelief.

No one objected to Gentiles joining the assembly of Yeshua so long as they first went through a proper conversion, but according to the rumor, that had not happened. People were even saying that Simon Peter had entered the home of the Roman soldier, eaten with him, and invited him to immerse for the name of Yeshua.

Such an association of Gentiles with Jews, and the Gentiles being allowed into discipleship within a Jewish sect without first converting to Judaism, must have seemed outrageous to the Jewish apostolic community in Jerusalem. Luke points out in verse 2 that “circumcision party criticized him,” meaning the people present were Jews, either people born Jewish or converts to Judaism. A Jew eating with a Gentile was a violation of halachah. Lichtenstein in “Commentary on the New Testament” on Acts 11:3 considers this matter further.

“You went to uncircumcized men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3). This does not present a difficulty, for Cornelius was a God-fearer and certainly had kosher food. And the objection of the circumcised men is only about [Peter’s] approaching uncircumcised men and eating with them, for Jews were forbidden to approach a foreigner.

-Lancaster, pg 236

Cohen might not entirely agree with Lichtenstein, since he believes God-fearers were still polytheists, integrating the God of Israel into a panthenon of other “gods.” However, it is quite likely that Peter and the six Jews in his company would not have eaten with Cornelius unless the food was kosher and there’s nothing to say, Cohen aside, that Cornelius must have been polytheistic.

ancient-rabbi-teachingIn his defense, Peter and the other Jews who accompanied him recounted the events that occurred prior to entering the Roman’s home and what happened once Peter engaged Cornelius, including the giving of the Spirit to the Gentiles. (see Acts 11:4-17) Fortunately, upon hearing the explanation, the other apostles understood the graciousness of God, even to the Gentiles.

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:18 (ESV)

Lancaster presents his final interpretation of the “Cornelius event,” raising another interesting question.

The apostolic leadership accepted Simon Peter’s testimony and the corroboration offered by the six men from Joppa. The were forced to concede that Sinon had acted properly in setting aside the halachah about the uncleanness of Gentiles. More than that, they realized that God accepted the Gentiles into the kingdom. They did not determine whether or not the new Gentile believers should be encouraged to remain God-fearers or go on to full conversion. They only determined that they should receive Gentile brethern without objection as fellow disciples and heirs of the kingdom.

Uncertain of what else to make of the situation, they blessed God.

-Lancaster, pg 237

As we can see, both from the text in Acts and in Lancaster’s interpretation, the early Jewish apostles struggled to understand how to integrate the Gentile disciples into the Jewish Messianic community. The realization that Gentiles may not have to convert to Judaism (and according to Lancaster, at this point the jury was still out on this matter) in order to become disciples was revolutionary. All other sects of Judaism who were actively pursuing Gentiles as disciples required that the Gentiles convert to Judaism as a matter of course. In other words, it was a “no brainer.” Only in the Jesus sect was the method of entering Gentiles into a Jewish sect still something of a question mark. God didn’t just flip some sort of “spiritual switch” and suddenly, all of the apostles “just knew” what to do with the Gentiles and what it all meant.

But if the Gentiles didn’t have to convert; if they didn’t have to accept circumcision, then how was Torah and halachah to be applied to them? As we saw above, Paul and Cohen’s commentary on Paul understand that conversion to Judaism and circumcision meant the Gentiles would be fully obligated to the Torah mitzvot. As of the events in Acts 11 that question hadn’t even been brought up let alone answered. The apostles had no idea what was coming next. Neither did Cornelius and his household or any other Gentiles who subsequently became disciples.

It will be weeks before Lancaster’s Torah Club commentary addresses the events in Acts 15 which presumably will answer these questions. I hope you are looking forward to the future revelations of Volume 6 of the Torah Club as much as I am.

The Uncircumcised Convert, Part 1

corneliusAnd he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

Acts 10:28-29 (ESV)

Simon Peter still had no idea why he had been called to Caesarea. The notion of Gentile inclusion in the kingdom had not occurred to him. Though the Master had told the apostles to “make disciples of all the nations” and to witness on His behalf “even to the remotest part of the earth,” He had never implied that this might mean accepting Gentiles as Gentiles (see Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8). Simon naturally assumed that any Gentiles entering the kingdom and taking on the yoke of discipleship would necessarily convert to become Jewish first.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Vayeshev (“And he dwelt”) (pp 231-2)
Commentary on Acts 9:32-11:18

I don’t know where D. Thomas Lancaster discovered that bit of information about Peter in his commentary on Acts 10 or even if it’s simply an interesting opinion, but if true, then it begs the question, did Peter or any of the other apostles actually convert a Gentile to Judaism as part of the process of making disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) from the nations? As far as I’m aware, there’s no record in the New Testament prior to Acts 10 of the apostles converting a Gentile to Judaism, or allowing a Gentile to enter into the kingdom without conversion in the context of Jesus discipleship. The thousands we see coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah in Acts 2 and later are almost certainly all Jews. For that matter, what do we know of the Ethiopian eunuch encountered by the apostle Philip prior to Peter being summoned by Cornelius?

And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Acts 8:27-28 (ESV)

The Ethiopian eunuch is sometimes considered the first Gentile convert (E.g., Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.1.13). That seems unlikely. Luke makes no issue about his non-Jewish status as he does regarding Cornelius in Acts 10. Ethiopia was home to a continuous Jewish presence from the days of Solomon up until the modern era. Beta Israel Jews, also known as Ethiopian Jews, claim Jewish ancestry reaching back to the Solomonic Era. One may safely assume that an Ethiopian who went to the trouble of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship the LORD in His Temple was Jewish. Luke says, “He had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). The eunuch had traveled a great distance to reach Jerusalem, more than a month’s travel time. He had probably come to attend one of the pilgrimage festivals. While in Jerusalem, he purchased several Greek versions of the scrolls of the prophets – reading material for the trip home.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Vayetze (“And he went out”) (pp 176-7)
Commentary on Acts 8:1-40

I think we have to accept that Lancaster is making some assumptions here, as he says, but they are certainly compelling assumptions. Luke indeed makes “no big deal” of the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion to the “Jesus sect” but draws a tremendous amount of attention to Cornelius and his household of Gentiles when they receive the Holy Spirit.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.

Acts 10:44-45 (ESV)

Peter and his Jewish companions were astonished that the Gentiles could also receive the Holy Spirit while Philip…but wait. Did the Ethiopian eunuch receive the Spirit during his encounter with Philip?

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:34-39 (ESV)

Immediately after rising from the water, Philip is taken away by the Spirit, but there is no mention at all of the Ethiopian eunuch receiving the Spirit as did Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 or the apostles in Acts 2. Of course in Acts 10 the Gentiles received the Spirit (verse 44) and then were baptized in water (verse 48). Did the Ethiopian eunuch receive the Spirit prior to immersion and the event was simply not mentioned by Luke?

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:37-41 (ESV)

philip_and_the_ethiopianNotice that Peter tells his Jewish audience that to receive forgiveness of sins, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but when Luke describes the results in verse 41, he only says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” He doesn’t say that after they received his (Peter’s) word, they received the Spirit and then were baptized. It’s possible, given that these were Jews being discussed, Luke assumed his readership would know that they received the Spirit based on verses 1-4. That same thought process might have been in use when Luke describes the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. However this is just guess-work on my part.

But while the Jews who received the good news of the Moshiach in Acts 2 came to faith in Jesus but did not have to convert to Judaism (and arguably, neither did the Ethiopian eunuch), what about Cornelius and his household in Acts 10? If Lancaster’s assumption is correct, Peter should have expected Gentiles to convert to Judaism as a part of becoming disciples of the Jewish Messiah.

I mentioned in a previous meditation that Shaye J.D. Cohen in his book, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition said it was not uncommon for those from the various sects of late Second Temple era Judaism to make converts from the Gentiles including the God-fearers. If Peter expected, as did the other Judaisms of his day, that Gentiles would have to convert to Judaism in order to enter into discipleship, then he should have had Cornelius and the other male God-fearers present circumcised as part of the conversion process.

When Simon Peter heard the Gentiles speaking in the languages and saw that they had received the Spirit just as he and the other Jewish believers had, he could no longer theologically exclude them from participation in the kingdom or discipleship. (see Acts 10:47-48) They had not gone through a legal conversion to become Jewish, nor had they been circumcised. They were still Gentiles, yet they had experienced the Spirit of God, just as the Jewish believers had.

Simon Peter explained to the six men that had accompanied him from Joppa, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” By skipping circumcision and going directly to immersion, Simon Peter inverted the process by which a Gentile might ordinarily become a disciple of Yeshua. Prior to that occasion, he and the other disciples required a Gentile to first submit to conversion/circumcision. Immersion could follow later.

-Lancaster, pg 235

This presentation on Lancaster’s Torah Club commentary went longer than I originally planned, so I’m splitting it into two parts. Please join me tomorrow for the second and final part in Monday’s “morning meditation.”

Gift of the Firstborn of Israel

Firstborn (bechor) as one of the names of the Messiah is seen in the heavenly conversation found in Psalm 89:27. There God himself says of the Messiah, “I will make him My firstborn. The highest of the kings of the earth.” The Bible gives to the firstborn a significance that goes far beyond the laws regarding earthly inheritance. Commenting on the verse, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn” (Exodus 13:2), the midrash says, “God said to Moses, ‘Just as I have appointed Jacob firstborn – as it says, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), so will I appoint King Messiah firstborn,’ as it is said, ‘I will appoint him firstborn'” (Exodus Rabbah 19:7).

-Tsvi Sadan from his book
The Concealed Light, pg 16
Firstborn (bechor)

A few days ago, on one of my meditations, I said:

The Master said that Salvation is from the Jews,” (John 4:22) but then, so is peace. This is another reason why we Christians, and indeed, the entire world, owes the Jews a debt that can never be repaid. It is their King who will finally come and bring peace for everyone, not just the nation of Israel, but the nations of the earth.

However, I had neglected to anticipate that this might be seen as offensive or at least inaccurate from a traditional Christian point of view. By way of explanation, I offered an additional comment:

Israel was always meant to the the beacon that would lead the rest of the world to God. Consider Isaiah 49:6 and Isaiah 51:4. By extension, Jesus said of himself that he was (and is) the light to the world (John 8:12) and he passed that torch (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun) to his disciples, including us, when we said that we are a light to the world (Matthew 5:14).

There’s an unbroken chain in the transmission of God’s Word from God Himself, to His people Israel, and to Israel’s firstborn son of Creation and the firstborn of the dead Jesus Christ. Jesus is called the King of the Jews, which hardly divorces his work of salvation from the Jewish people. We thank, praise, and honor God for our salvation and redemption from sin, however He chose to provide those gifts through the birth of Jesus and the light of His nation Israel, which was always to be our guiding light, since the very beginning.

God is God alone, but Jesus doesn’t exist in isolation. He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected within a specific context so that “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:2)

(To be fair, I must say that the conversation that was started on my own blog post was continued at Steven’s blogspot, http://washedfeet.wordpress.com/)

To me, the connection between God, Israel as firstborn, and Jesus as firstborn is pretty self-evident, but apparently not everyone shares this view. In an attempt to be fair and check my thinking and perceptions, I decided to explore the names of the Messiah and how they reveal his character and relationship to God and Israel. Part of the result is that I found the above-quoted passage from Sadan’s book. It seems that not only does midrash confirm the near interchangeability between the Messiah and Israel but the Torah does too. If we feel we owe a debt of gratitude to Jesus Christ for being saved by the grace of God through the blood of the Messiah, then by inference, we are offering that gratitude to Israel as well; which is also God’s firstborn.

I know this will probably not sit well with some and it’s not like I’m going out of my way just to be a pest, but I do feel honor-bound to point out the truth of the Bible as best as I can understand it in defense of not only Israel but of God’s intent in choosing Jacob’s children as his own treasured, splendorous people. I do not believe the nature, character, and purpose of Messiah can be separated from Israel as a people or a nation, either in function or in prophesy.

The one who has “borne our griefs” and who has “carried our sorrows” that we Christians see in Isaiah 53:4 is viewed as the “Suffering Messiah,” Jesus Christ. The church can scarcely begin reading this passage before envisioning Jesus on the cross. However, from a Jewish point of view, it is Israel who is suffering, as a people, rather than Messiah:

“If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with a man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the Lord was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: “To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution”. Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? “He will see his seed, prolong his days”. And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: “The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand”. It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come.”

sourced from Talmud – Brachot page 5a

I’m hardly an expert, but is it so hard to imagine that Isaiah may have been referring to both Israel and Messiah? I’ve never been a big fan of always applying a prophesy to a single event or person. I believe it’s possible for Isaiah to have been giving a “multi-layered” message that to his immediate audience may have meant one thing, and to an “extended audience” may mean something else.

Admittedly, this is a dangerous thing to do and I’m stretching the limits of Bible interpretation quite a bit here, but for a good purpose. I’m trying to illustrate that Jesus is not only (in some mystical fashion) the personification of the Divine, but the living personification of Israel as a people. To say that we are “saved by Jesus” in some way is to say that “salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22 ESV)

The link between Jesus and the well-being of Israel wasn’t lost on Paul either, and he went out of his way to communicate that message to the non-Jewish disciples in Rome. Apparently the non-Jewish disciples didn’t have a problem with this understanding:

For they (the Gentile believers) were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. –Romans 15:27 (ESV)

More than a few non-Jews in the Messianic movement have been accused of worshiping Judaism rather than God and sad to say, that’s true in many cases. I suppose in my comments, I could be accused of “the glorification of the flesh of Israel,” (though I’ve never been comfortable with some of the stereotypical Christian phraseology) but that is not my intent. What I am trying to communicate is not the exalting of Israel as a people above God or above the Messiah. The Master himself said that no servant is greater than his master (John 13:16) and certainly Israel serves God and not the other way around. On the other hand, Israel serves God and the living, breathing, walking, talking, expression of the ideal Israel is the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.

The rest of Sadan’s commentary on “firstborn” (bechor) as a name for the Messiah links these ideas together with how we disciples of the Master tend to see his most outstanding act on behalf of the world:

Reference to Messiah in connection with the command to consecrate all the firstborn is highly significant. Moses gives two reasons for the injunction: remembrance of the Exodus by celebrating Passover and remembrance of the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Exodus 13 appears to suggest that Israel’s freedom is achieved through the Passover lamb and the Egyptian firstborn. In addition to the classic clash over the rights of the firstborn, here the decisive divine act reveals that the right of the firstborn belongs not to Pharaoh but to Jacob. In a manner of speech, this massive human death is responsible for Israel’s redemption; in a sense, the death of the Egyptian firstborn was a sacrificial death.

The rather shocking idea that the death of the firstborn brings about redemption is found in the very command to consecrate all of Israel’s firstborn. The translation, “You shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is every firstborn” (Exodus 13:12), fails to reveal the true meaning. The Hebrew for “set apart” here actually signifies “sacrifice.” Israel, accordingly, was to sacrifice their firstborn. It is only in verse 15 that we learn that the death of the firstborn is replaced by the process of ransoming. Further still, it is the tribe of Levi that becomes the substitute for the firstborn (Numbers 8:18), since the Levites have no inheritance in Israel…

By appointing Messiah as the Firstborn, God thus sets him up to be the preeminent Firstborn, the ultimate Lamb. As such, he has no substitute; no one can pay the ransom for him. Rather, he is bound to pay the ultimate price to redeem Israel by sacrificing his own self.

Sadan, pp 16-17

There doesn’t appear to be a reasonable and legitimate way to separate Messiah as the firstborn, from Israel as the firstborn. Further, the ultimate and “preeminent Firstborn” must sacrifice himself as the “price to redeem Israel.” That was and is the great purpose of the Messiah as the sacrifice of the firstborn, to act as the substitute for firstborn Israel, much in the matter that the Levites were “sacrificed” for the sake of each firstborn child of the other tribes. It was Messiah’s purpose to die for the redemption of all Israel.

Most Christians are probably asking right about now, “but what about us?” That’s where God’s grace comes into play and where our gratitude should be expressed. Up until this point, everything is happening within the context of Israel’s relationship with God. Up until this point, the Gentiles; the rest of the world, haven’t been involved except in the role of conquerors and persecutors of the Jews. Except for Israel, up to this point, all of the other people groups on earth have been pagan, polytheistic, idol worshipers.


But the endlessly bountiful graciousness of God (and this was always part of His plan) opened the doors of salvation for the rest of us, too. Though from a Jewish perspective, this was completely “out of scope” for the plan, God allowed the sacrifice of the ultimate Firstborn to redeem not only Israel, God’s firstborn, but the entire human population of the earth.

I can’t even begin to express how amazingly HUGE this is. The Jewish disciples couldn’t have possibly understood the fantastic impact of the Master’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 when he commanded them to “make disciples of all nations.” I’m not even sure that they “got it” until nearly two decades later when Peter, seeing the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit, exclaimed:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. –Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

I think this must have been the moment when it truly dawned upon Peter what God had in mind and the staggering and mind-blowing impact the Messiah’s sacrificial and redemptive death and resurrection would have in the world. Not only would all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26) but “that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17 ESV)

The Jewish Pharisee Paul (also known as Saul among the Jews) was specifically commissioned by the Master (Acts 9) to be the emissary to the Gentiles and to carry the Good News of salvation offered by God through the Jewish Messiah to the nations. I promise you, the Gentiles had no idea what was about to happen to them, how their lives would be changed, and how the entire fabric of the next two-thousand years of human history would be inexorably altered by the will of God, all thanks to the grace of the Creator of the Universe and His choice of the Israelites as His “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

This entire debate started when I tried to describe Jesus as the Minister of Peace to the entire world. This point was entirely lost on my audience (apparently) and so, employing Sadan’s book once again, I’ll conclude with part of his commentary on another name for the Messiah: “Prince of Peace” (sar shalom):

Rambam very likely based his interpretation on the opinion of Rabbi Yose Haglili, who lived shortly after the destruction of the Temple and who is recorded as saying, “The name of Messiah is Shalom, as it is said, ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'” (Masechtot Ketanot, Derech Eretz II).

…The Prince of Peace therefore, is greater than Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, and the rest of Israel’s prophets, for none of them were able to establish lasting peace.

Sadan, pg 239

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and the security of Israel, for in praying for Israel’s peace, you are praying for your own, thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, King, Master, and Savior.


The Prayer of Cornelius

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”Acts 10:1-3

The shortest prayer service of the day takes place in the afternoon, or at least just before sunset, and is called Mincha.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Mincha: the afternoon prayer”

moshe.gorin: The KSA says the ikar time for mincha is mincha ketana (9 1/2) hours after sunrise but the Rebbe davened before then. If you’re davening alone, when is best?

Torah613: The Rebbe davvened earlier (probably) because he davvened with the Yeshiva’s minyan, which was daily at 3:15.

Straight halacha would imply that Mincha Ketanah is better, so if it isn’t a question of davvening betzibur, MK is better.

Disaclaimer: As in all halachik questions, a competent Rov should be consulted.

mosheh5769: Whether we pray alone (bediavad) or with a Minyan (betzibbur), the prefered time for Mincha is Mincha K’tanah. Some say that if you pray in Mincha Gedola, you are still Yatza, but Lechatkhila, it is proper to pray at the time of Mincha K’tanah.

I don’t know where and who, but I have no doubt Taryag will help, there is a Posek who ruled that it is better to pray Mincha K’tanah alone than to pray Mincha Gedola with a Minyan. Why, I don’t remember, and I don’t know if other Poskim poskened in the same way.

Anyway, the best time to pray is at the time of Mincha K’tanah and not earlier. But of course, if a Shul has the custom to pray earlier (like the Yeshiva’s Minyan as it has been explained by Taryag) and if there need you to complete the Minyan, even if it is not your custom, you should complete the Minyan and daven earlier.

-from the discussion thread “Best time for Mincha”
Archived thread at Chabadtalk.com

We don’t know much more about the late Second Temple figure Cornelius than what we read in the verses I quoted above. He was what we call a “God-fearer;” a Gentile, a Roman centurion who, by definition, would have been a pagan polytheist, and who, during his assignment in the land of the Hebrews, came to realize that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was and is the God; the One and Unique Creator of the universe.

Coming to that realization alone must have taken great courage and conviction. His actual response to his realization was certainly astounding, given who he must have been and where he had come from. We know he “gave alms generously to the people”, who we assume to be the Jews among whom he lived. The messengers sent to bring Peter to Cornelius after the Centurion’s vision referred to him as “an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation” (Acts 10:22). And oh wow! Cornelius was so favored by God that this happened.

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” –Acts 10:30-33

Incidentally, the ninth hour is at about 3 p.m. in the way we tell time today, about the time of the Mincha prayers. But why is that important? So who taught Cornelius to pray the Mincha prayers. Ok, there’s nothing to say that he was truly praying Mincha, but here’s why I think he was. Consider this.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius comes to faith in the One true God of the universe. Now what does he do? We know that he gives alms, probably to the poor among the Jews. Whatever else he did resulted in Cornelius being “well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation”, which is no small thing since he was also part of the Roman occupying army. As far as we are able to understand, that group of non-Jews who were called “God-fearers” worshiped on Shabbat among Jews in the synagogue. Where would he have learned the prayers and how to worship? What was the only available model Cornelius could have used to worship a God who was virtually unknown in the Greek and Roman world?

I’m not suggesting that Cornelius “lived as a Jew” in the sense of fully taking on Jewish customs including the various religious and identity markers. It is doubtful (but what do I know) that he would have shown up in the Court of the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Temple. After all, he had to consider appearances and what would the troops in the Italian Cohort have said if one of their Centurions was seen in such a public place among the Jews. On the other hand, his reputation preceded him among the Jewish people based on his being a devout and charitable man. Desiring to worship God above all other considerations, what would he have done? He would have consulted his Jewish mentors as to how to approach God. Prayer offered to the God of Israel is available to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. –2 Chronicles 6:32-33

Even in the days of King Solomon, a non-Jew could come to Jerusalem, pray facing the Temple, and expect to be heard by God. Why couldn’t the Jews among whom Cornelius lived and worshiped have taught him the same thing?

How did Jews pray during the Second Temple period? I’m no expert, but assuming the Jews in the time of Cornelius and Peter had similar traditions about prayer to those of Jewish people today, they would have prayed as Jews pray now. They would have prayed the Shacharit (morning), Mincha (afternoon), and Maariv (evening) prayers. If Cornelius wanted to learn how to pray from the Jews, they would have taught him how to pray the way that they prayed, with perhaps only a few variations, because Cornelius was not Jewish. In those days, siddurim (prayer books) were not used and the prayers were generally memorized. That means, Cornelius would have had to say the prayers by memory, probably in Hebrew or Aramaic (given that the Centurion was posted to a foreign land, it’s not inconceivable that he was bi-lingual or multi-lingual). He also would have prayed at the times set by halacha for prayer which, in the afternoon, meant around 3 p.m. or the ninth hour.

Why am I writing this and why should you care? What does it matter to a Christian in the 21st century if a Roman centurion, who came to faith in Jesus almost 2,000 years ago, happened to worship and pray in a manner similar to the Jews? Have you ever wondered why Christians don’t pray in the same manner as the Jews today?

I’m not saying that we must pray morning, afternoon, and night (though it wouldn’t be a bad idea). I’m saying that there’s nothing stopping us from considering where we come from as a faith. However you pray and however you worship in your church, your way isn’t the only way. In fact, if you go back more than a few decades or a few centuries, the way you may consider “Christian” and “holy” probably wasn’t practiced, as least in a manner you’d recognize. Go back far enough, like 2,000 years, and the way a God-fearer and a Christian prayed and worshiped wouldn’t be much different than the way a Jew prayed and worshiped.

Imagine that.

We tend to take prayer and worship for granted because we can always pray and worship anytime we want. But in many ways, the church considers prayer and worship as optional or at least voluntary. We get to choose our own way and manner of doing things. However, for believers and God-fearers like Cornelius, that privlege and honor to worship the King may have come with a commandment attached, maybe at the level of rudimentary “halacha” for non-Jews who had faith.

Today’s amud discusses the halachah regarding hearing the Torah reading when one is in prison. Although today in many places things may be different, it used to be that most prisons would not allow a sefer Torah inside—even for an important person or a minyan of prisoners. When the Vilna Gaon spent about four weeks imprisoned it was impossible for him to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the Torah reading. After he left prison he called a baal koreh to read for him all four parshios he had missed while in prison.

Although missing so many weeks is very unusual, many greats were meticulous to make up the reading that they had missed that day.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Prisoner’s Duty”
Siman 135, Seif 11-14

Our Gemara reviews a series of Mishnayos where the obligation to fulfill mitzvos is taught to be more inclusive than plainly stated. Regarding the mitzvah to read the Megillah on Purim, R’ Yehoshua b. Levi teaches that the expanded inference is meant to include women. Although this rabbinic mitzvah is one that is restricted to time, and women are generally exempt, here woman are obligated because “they were also included in the miracle.”

Rashi explains that women are obligated in the mitzvah to read the Megillah to the extent that a woman may read the Megillah for her husband or other men.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Women’s obligation in reading and hearing the Megillah”
Arachin 3

The level of “commandedness” which defines Jewish tradition, worship, and prayer seems very “heavy-handed” to most Christians and the spectre of “man-made rulings” is generally disdained in the church (and among many Gentile believers to call themselves “Messianics”). And yet, how would an “upright and God-fearing man” like Cornelius have seen his responsibilities to God as taught to him by his Jewish mentors? Would the Jewish sense of halacha have meant to him what it meant to the Jews? We don’t know. But imagine if we, as Christians, could experience some of the sense of duty and obligation to God, to the prayers, to our way of worship, as Cornelius may have? How much more would God be a part of our lives today? How much more would God be our lives today?

ShemaOne of the functions of tradition and halacha in the life of a Jew is to make every act holy. You cannot eat without blessing God and considering the food on the plate sitting in front of you (or even without considering the plate). You cannot wake up in the morning without gratefully thanking God for returning your life to you. You cannot go to bed at night without asking God to send his angels to guard your soul as you sleep. You cannot progress through your day without ceasing your labors at specific hours in order to devote yourself to God in prayer. And for one day a week, you cannot do many things as you do them on the other days of the week, but instead, you cease labor entirely and dedicate the day to family, prayer, worship, and God.

I’m still not saying that as Christians we should live like Jews, but consider what we’re missing by not taking tradition more seriously. Tradition can be like a straight-jacket or a pair of wings. It can bind us inescapably to a collection of actions and rules that threaten to smother us, or it can send us free into flight away from a mundane world and into the presence of God with practically every move we make.

Maybe this is why the Jews considered the foreigner Cornelius an “upright and God-fearing man”. Maybe this is why God found that Cornelius merited a vision of an angel, and made him and his household a bridge between God-fearers and disciples of Christ.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. –Acts 10:44-48