But the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.
We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.
That is some of my commentary from yesterday’s morning meditation (If you haven’t done so already, please click the link and read part 1 before continuing here) based on First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and director Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” presentation. The original lecture series is a couple of years old, but it was recently released on audio CD and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to this teaching. I learned a few things from this lecture and by sharing some of it, I hope you can learn a few things, too.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
–Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)
It’s interesting that Matthew’s rendition of this event (Matthew 22:36-40) doesn’t include a more direct reference to the Shema. Many Christians imagine that Jesus replaced the 613 commandments of the Torah (though the Torah wouldn’t be formally codified in this manner for many centuries after the resurrection) with just two, thus substituting grace for the law. But that’s not how it would have sounded to Messiah’s original Jewish audience.
In yesterday’s blog post, I related the part of Boaz’s teaching illustrating how the Master (or any Jewish teacher in those days) could quote from just a single verse in a Psalm or other portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and his audience would immediately recall the full text of the part of scripture to which he was referring, connecting the teaching to the much wider body of words and imagery. When Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments and in Hebrew said, “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel), the people listening wouldn’t have just thought of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, but to the rest of the content of that chapter as well as Deuteronomy 11 and Numbers 28 which also are part of the Shema. The reason the Pharisee who was an expert in the law agreed with Jesus so strongly is because he not only agreed with the interpretation of the immediate text under discussion, but the wider implications of how Jesus was presenting and teaching the Shema and Torah as good news and hope to Israel.
And again, Christians tend to miss this point, especially since we are (most likely) reading the text in English and not viewing it with a Jewish mindset. But the further importance of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels being presented at the same time as Boaz’s teaching is that “retro-translating” the Greek back into a “Hebrew voice,” allows for a more “Jewish” reading of this lesson, giving us a closer look at how the ancient Jewish listeners were hearing and understanding Jesus. Even reading the Gospels in Greek would still “miss” what the ancient Jews were hearing when Jesus taught.
We can see a further connection here:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
–Matthew 7:24 (NRSV)
The two greatest commandments do not replace the Torah nor do they really condense the Torah. This teaching actually unpackages the meaning of the Shema and defines any Jewish person who has faith in God and who is zealous for the Torah to be both hearers and doers of the Word and will of God.
That’s a lot to pull out of a short discussion between Jesus and a legal expert.
But Boaz’s teaching is called “Moses in Matthew” and in referencing Matthew chapters 1 and 2, he says that it was the Apostle’s intent to mirror the birth and childhood narratives of Jesus with Moses. That may not be immediately obvious to the Christian reader, which is why lectures such as this one are so important.
I won’t go into all of the details (since my notes are limited) but making the connection requires some knowledge of Jewish midrash (Maybe books such as those written by Daube and Lachs would help) about the early life of Moses and his parents, information that isn’t available in the Bible (and Bible sufficiency proponents will likely struggle at this point). But Jesus’s audience would have been aware of some form of the midrashim connected to the early life of Moses, and when reading how Matthew wrote about the early life of Jesus, Boaz believes Matthew’s audience would be saying to themselves, “I’ve heard this story before.”
As an aside, I just read Dr. Michael L. Brown’s review of David Klinghoffer’s book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus in which Dr. Brown writes the following:
Klinghoffer fails to grasp the depth of Matthew’s hermeneutic (along with the hermeneutic of other NT authors), noting, “Pointing out the imprecision of proof texts like these, one feels almost unsporting. It’s too easy” (66). To the contrary, as top Matthew scholars have observed, “Matthew was not above scattering items in his Greek text whose deeper meaning could only be appreciated by those with a knowledge of Hebrew. Indeed, it might even be that Matthew found authorial delight in hiding ‘bonus points’ for those willing and able to look a little beneath the gospel’s surface.”3 At times it is clear that Klinghoffer simply failed to get the NT author’s point (see again 66, citing Matt 2:23 and Isa 11:1).
Boaz Michael’s perspective on Matthew’s Gospel is not in isolation. Now to continue with the main portion of my missive.
Please keep in mind that the point isn’t whether or not midrash is literally true. It probably isn’t. But the cultural context of the midrashim and what it means to a Jewish audience is what connects and binds the interpretive stories about Moses to the stories Matthew was telling about the young Jesus and his family.
Boaz went on in his teaching to compare the temptation accounts in Luke 4 and Matthew 4. They’re not the same. Matthew includes specific details that Luke leaves out, such as the Master fasting for forty days and forty nights. That specific time period (as opposed to just forty days) is mentioned only four times in the Bible, and three of those events are related to fasts (Elijah’s fast is one of them). How could Matthew’s readers not associate Jesus’s fast in the wilderness with that of Moses on the Mountain with God. It is further said in midrash that Moses dined on the bread of angels on the Mountain (somewhat contradicting that he was fasting) and in Matthew’s account of the temptation, the Adversary said that Jesus could command stones to become bread.
The order of the temptations is reversed from Luke to Matthew, with Matthew’s account presenting Jesus being taken to a high mountain and shown all the nations as the last temptation. Just before Moses’s death, God took him to a high mountain and showed him all of the nation of Israel.
(You might be thinking that these comparisons aren’t very strong, but it’s the way Matthew is writing his entire Gospel that provides the complete illustration of Messiah and Moses. The Gospels differ from each other, not because the Gospel writers were inconsistent, but because they each had a different emphasis on Messiah to present, like four different artists each painting a different portrait of Messiah. Same guy but different styles and interpretations.)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him…
In between these two events, Yeshua (Jesus) delivered what has come to be called “the Sermon on the Mount.” It might surprise you to hear that Boaz believes Jesus going up the mountain and then coming back down can be compared to Moses going up to receive the Torah and coming back down. That probably sounds a little thin to you, but consider the function of the sermon itself. It’s been called the greatest distillation of the Torah. Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Torah and descended to deliver it to Israel. Jesus ascended the mountain to teach the Torah and descended when he had finished.
Also, when Moses descended, he encountered the faithless Children of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf. When Jesus descended, he encountered a leper (actually, a Jewish man with a form of “spiritual skin disease”) who through faith was made clean of his disease. There’s a “mirror effect” being created between Moses and Jesus by Matthew for his readers.
Now here’s something really interesting.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
Anyone involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups for more than five minutes will recognize this passage as the core message of those two movements. Yes the Torah will pass away, but not until Heaven and Earth pass away. Now here’s the really cool part.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The words of the Torah will pass away at some point in the future, but Messiah says that his words will never pass away.
The Torah is greatly praised both in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the New Testament but if you study the Torah, a great deal of its content has to do with daily living in Israel, daily human living on earth. All of that will eventually fade away after a long, long period of time.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
With no temple currently existing in Jerusalem, most Christians think the Torah has already been done away with and been replaced by Christ’s grace, but I believe another temple will be built. It would be impossible to observe the laws related to the temple without the Torah being in effect for the Jewish people. We know that the Gentile nations will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot every year in the Messianic Era. Again, observing the festival requires a temple in Jerusalem and the laws of the Torah for temple worship. Jesus said the Torah will be with us as long as there are a heaven and earth. Eventually there will be no Torah and no Temple, but we aren’t there yet. But even when we get there, the words of the Lamb will remain, for they are eternal.
All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
–Psalm 86:9, 11
I’ve said in today’s “meditation” as I’ve said many times before, that the Torah remains and functions. It remained and functioned after Christ’s ascension and in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. In order for prophesy to be fulfilled, the Torah needs to remain in force for the Jewish people until all has been completed and as long as there is a heaven and an earth.
But if you’re a Christian reading this, you’re probably wondering what that means to you. Even if you’re willing to accept the continued authority of the Torah for the Jewish people (a big “if” for many Christians), what does it have to do with a believer who isn’t Jewish?
There’s a great deal in even a surface reading of the Torah that has to do with a Christian living a holy life. All of the principles upon which we live a life of faith are from Torah; caring for the disadvantaged, feeding the hungry, comforting the widow, helping a neighbor, visiting the sick…these are all from Torah and they all apply to Christians today.
Boaz said that the heart of discipleship is to study the teachings of our Master and to apply those parts of the teachings that directly connect to us to our daily living. Remember, Jesus primarily taught to Jewish audiences who were perceiving his teachings from a Jewish worldview. Paul was the primary agent responsible for taking those Jewish teachings and crafting them in a manner “digestible” to a God-fearing Gentile audience.
The first discourse Paul gave at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-43) was a teaching of Jesus the Messiah as the culmination of Jewish history condensed (and most likely summarized by Luke) by the Apostle and presented to Jewish and God-fearing Gentile listeners. Their response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
But as time passed, the message of the good news of Messiah became increasingly “Gentilized” and eventually divorced from its Jewish context. Even those Christian scholars who can read the New Testament in the Greek can easily miss the “Hebrew voice” of the Apostles and thus lose a great deal of their intent and meaning.
Which is why teachings such as this one given by Boaz Michael are important. It’s why studying midrash and Jewish thought are exceptionally helpful in augmenting our understanding of the Bible.
The value of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements for non-Jewish believers is to teach us the Torah and how to read it in relation to the New Testament scriptures. It’s to help us filter the Bible through the eyes of Jewish thinkers, writers, and sages. It’s to encourage us to think outside the traditional Christian “box,” not to turn us into quasi-Jewish people, but to define and illuminate the Christian relationship to the Jewish people, the chosen ones of God, and thus to Messiah himself, the first-born son of Israel.
If you are intrigued but unfamiliar with the perspectives I’ve been discussing in yesterday’s and today’s blog posts, I encourage you to go to First Fruits of Zion and see what else they have to offer. As a fellow Christian and student of the Bible, I’ve found many of their materials invaluable in my own exploration of my faith.
Who is the Jewish Jesus and how does a “Jewish” understanding of the scriptures make us better Christians? It’s a journey I hope you’ll join me on as we investigate this “undiscovered country,” including the Jewish Gospel of Matthew.