Tag Archives: divinity

Did Paul Know Jesus was the Second Person in the Trinity?

First, a quote: “The Church cannot indefinitely continue to believe about Jesus what he did not know to be true about himself,” J. W. Bowman, The Intention of Jesus (London: SCM, 1945), p. 108.

This is not really a historical claim but a theological one, and it reflects a common assumption: The assumption that the theological/religious validity of claims about Jesus rest upon what Jesus believed and taught about himself. In my book, Lord Jesus Christ (pp. 5-9), I’ve noted the irony of how this assumption has been shared by critics and advocates of Christian faith, and also how it has worked mischief in the historical investigation of Christian origins.

-Dr. Larry Hurtado
“Questioning a Common Assumption,” May 13, 2014
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

Dr. Larry Hurtado has been prolifically writing on something rather compelling over the past few days. Did Jesus know he was Divine during his “earthly ministry?” Did Jesus know he was to be an object of worship?

I think most Evangelicals would assume the answer to those questions is a resounding “yes,” but here we have one of the most preeminent New Testament scholars in the world drawing that assumption into question. I think Hurtado’s comments deserve further scrutiny.

(NOTE: I should mention here that I have no intention of matching my meager brain power and limited knowledge of New Testament scholarship with Dr. Hurtado’s. I merely want to bring this issue to my readership in order to explore what he presents on his own blog and to see what responses his viewpoints elicit here.)

Looking at the evidence in the New Testament, Hurtado concludes that the “high” view of Jesus as Divine Messiah didn’t emerge until what he calls “post-Easter.”

But I’d like to make two observations. First, the earliest extant Christian texts themselves make it perfectly clear that the “high” notions about Jesus sharing in divine glory, exalted to heavenly status, worthy of worship, etc., all erupted after Jesus’ ministry, not during it, and that the crucial impetus for these notions was what earliest believers saw as God’s actions, particularly their belief that God had raised Jesus from death to heavenly glory. (See, e.g., Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 2:36).

To underscore the point, the remarkable escalation in the status/significance of Jesus to the “right hand” of God, to sharing the divine name and glory, and to the central and programmatic place he held in earliest Christian devotional practice all rested on the fundamental conviction that God has exalted him and now required that Jesus’ exalted status be recognized, and that he should be reverenced accordingly.

My second observation is this: Why should this be taken as some kind of threat to the theological legitimacy of traditional Christian faith?

-Hurtado, ibid

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

This sounds like it was only after the resurrection that it was known to anyone else including Jesus that he was indeed the Divine Son of God the Father.

I think a lot of people would find that startling, but as Hurtado says above, why should that be a threat? And yet on the aforementioned blog post and two others, many, many comments were generated, some of them rather “impassioned.”

Indeed, more explicitly than any of the other Gospels, GJohn makes it clear that the author saw and accepted a distinction between what he regarded as the level of understanding of Jesus among his followers during his earthly life and the subsequently enhanced level of understanding in the “post-Easter” period.

But my point here is that even GJohn doesn’t make the high Christological claims affirmed by the author rest simply (or even particularly) on demands and teaching of the earthly Jesus. Instead, the text fully affirms that the realization of Jesus’ glorified/glorious status came subsequently, through the revelations of the Spirit.

-Hurtado, Jesus and Christology: The Gospel of John as a Case Study, May 14, 2014

Hurtado wrote this as a follow-up to his prior missive, which continued to inspire passionate discourse, and based on those comments, he wrote a third blog post, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions on May 15th.

He breaks his response down into four points to which he comments on his blog at length:

  1. His response to his emphasis that the NT makes God’s actions (esp. in raising Jesus from death and giving him glory) the basis for the “high” Christological claims and the remarkable devotional practice in which Jesus was included with God.
  2. His position about texts such as John 1:1-2, where, of the “Logos” (here, the “pre-incarnate” identity/form of the incarnate Jesus), we read: “he was with God and he was God”.
  3. What we are supposed to make of statements ascribing “pre-existence” to Jesus (to use the typical theological buzzword). If you entertain these, how could Jesus not have known this and spoken of it?
  4. What about subsequent creedal controversies and formulations? E.g., the three “persons” (or “hypostases”) that comprise the “Trinity,” etc.?

I don’t want to re-create the full content from Hurtado’s blog and reader comments, but I do want to draw attention to one particular paragraph (for full context, please use the links I provided and read all three of Hurtado’s posts):

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant! Were the patristic texts and creedal statements saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say? Certainly. Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations? Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort. But that’s a historical judgement about that later period, and/or a theological judgement. And my emphasis is on the historical question of what the NT texts say and how to understand them in their own historical context.

-Hurtado, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions

This goes not only to what Jesus thought of himself prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, but what Paul and the Jesus-believing Jews (and Gentiles) believed about the nature of Christ relative to God during the Biblical period.

The Jewish PaulDid Paul believe in the Trinity? Again, an Evangelical wouldn’t miss a beat in saying, “Yes, of course,” but again, we have Hurtado, who we have every reason to believe is presenting a credible case from current NT research, saying that Paul wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity.

I should mention that Derek Leman at Messianic Jewish Musings has been writing a great deal about the Divinity of Jesus lately, and a lot of his perspectives are based on Hurtado. His own research and conclusions will be presented in his forthcoming book Divine Messiah, which should be available for digital download from Amazon as early as May 23rd, so maybe Leman’s text will offer some insights.

In addition to my recent commentary on Zetterholm and the implications of his research on our view of the Church, I’ve recently read an article at Bible History Daily called The Origin of Christianity by Noah Wiener, which is a review of Geza Vermes’ work, From Jewish to Gentile: How the Jesus Movement Became Christianity (November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review).

By contrast, the early second century Epistle of Barnabas shows a distinctly gentile Christianity in its presentation of the Hebrew Bible as allegory instead of covenantal fact. The clearly divinized Jesus in this document is distanced from the Jewish Christians and the divide between the Christian communities continued to widen over time. Geza Vermes writes that after Hadrian’s suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt, the Jewish Christians quickly became a minority group in the newly established church. At this point we can see the origin of Christianity as a distinctly non-Jewish religion; late in the second century, the Jewish Christians either rejoined their Jewish peers or become part of the newly gentile Christian church.

-Wiener

The implication here, as I’m reading it, is that many of the Biblical truths we hold onto as Christians were conceptualized and codified after the Gentiles formed the Christian Church and left Jesus-worship within the Jewish context. In other words, the Jewish apostles and disciples wouldn’t have imagined many of the theologies developed later by the Gentiles in relation to their own understanding of scripture (the Tanakh/Old Testament) and of the teachings of Messiah. In fact, Jesus himself, even “post-Easter,” may not have seen/see himself as “the second person of the Trinity,” at least not using that particular language.

This isn’t to deny the Divine nature of Messiah, the profound mystery of him being “the visible image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) or his sitting at the right hand of the Father in all exalted honor and glory, but exactly how we see the nature of Jesus may be based more on Evangelical assumptions and long-cherished traditions than how the original authors of the Gospels and Epistles actually understood the nature and character of Messiah.

It seems clear then, that the origin and development of Christianity as a completely separate entity from the ekklesia we see recorded in the Bible, departed from the original theological and doctrinal template taught by the apostles, and I imagine Paul, witnessing the Evangelical Church of the twenty-first century CE, would find little if anything to relate to or even recognize as devotion to Messiah, Son of David.

Any thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, is that all?

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

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

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

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

1 Corinthians 15:28 (NASB)

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

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NASB)

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

John 1:1-3 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

This is wisdom “talking:”

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

Proverbs 8:22 (NASB)

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

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

Or how about…

In wisdom the Lord created the heavens and the earth.

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

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

1 Corinthians 1:24 (NASB)

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

1 Corinthians 2:7 (NASB)

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

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

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

And now back to the text for today:

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

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

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

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

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

Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB)

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

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

Caveat

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

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

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

A Physical Object is Merely “I am”

The mitzvos are primarily physical deeds performed with physical objects: animal hides are fashioned into tefillin and wrapped around one’s head and arm; flour and water become the instrument of a mitzvah in the form of the matzah eaten on Passover; a ram’s horn is sounded on Rosh Hashana; a citron and palm fond are taken on Sukkot. For the physical world is ultimately the most appropriate environment for the function of the mitzvah to be realized.

“The mitzvos relate to the very essence of G-d” is a mainstay of chassidic teaching. But the very notion of something relating to another thing’s essence is a philosophical oxymoron. The “essence” of something is the thing itself, as opposed to manner in which it affects and is perceived by that which is outside of it. Hence the philosophical axiom: “The essence of a thing does not express itself or extend itself.” In other words, if you see it, it is not the thing itself that you see, only the manner in which it reflects light and imprints an image on your retina; if you understand it, then it is not the thing itself that you comprehend, only a concept which your mind has pieced together by studying its effect on other things; and so on.

Nevertheless, G-d desired to project His essence into the created reality. This is the function of the mitzvos: through observing His commandments and fulfilling His will, we “bring” the very essence of G-d into our lives. And this is why He chose the physical object as the medium of the mitzvah’s implementation.

Spiritual entities (i.e., ideas, feelings, etc.) intrinsically point to a source, a cause, a greater reality that they express and serve. The spiritual is thus the natural medium for the various expressions of the Divine reality that G-d chose to convey to us – unlike the physical, whose deeper significance is buried deep beneath the surface of its corporeality, the spiritual readily serves as the expression of a higher truth.

But when it comes to the projection of G-d’s essence, the very “virtues” of the spiritual disqualify it: its capacity to convey, to reveal, to manifest, runs contrary to the introversive nature of “essence.” Here, the physical object, the most non-transcendental element of G-d’s creation, is the most ideal vehicle for G-d’s essence capturing mitzvos.

A physical object merely is: “I am,” it proclaims, “and my being is wholly defined by its own existence.” As such, the physical object constitutes the greatest concealment of the Divine truth. Precisely for this reason, it is G-d’s medium of choice for man’s implementation of His will.

In other words, the object of the mitzvah is not a “manifestation” of the Divine. Were it to reflect Him in any way, were it to reveal anything of the “nature” of His reality, it would, by definition, fail to capture His essence. But capture His essence it does, simply because He willed it to. G-d, of course, could have willed anything (including a manifest expression of His reality) to convey His essence, but He chose a medium that is most appropriate according to logical laws he established in creating our reality – a reality in which “essence” and “expression” are antithetical to each other. He therefore chose the material world, with its virtual blackout on any revealed expression of G-dliness, to serve as the “tool” with which we perform the mitzvos and thereby relate to His essence.

-from a commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (Chapter 4)
“Essence and Expression”
Iyar 17, 5772 * May 9, 2012
Chabad.org

Yesterday’s “extra meditation,” The Blood of the Prince, took a look at the “deity of Jesus” issue and inspired many passionate responses. Here’s the same issue from a different point of view.

You may have just read this lesson from the Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers and wondered what it had to do with anything. In Christianity, the physical and the spiritual are usually seen as two separate and often incompatible entities. Christians are always trying to escape “the flesh” so they can connect to the Spirit. Yet in Judaism, this isn’t necessarily the same picture.

The connection of flesh and spirit is a question that was discussed with some fervor recently on Gene Shlomovich’s Daily Minyan blog post, Crisis? A Jewish husband believes that Jesus is the Messiah but not G-d. Once again, the question of the Deity of Jesus was brought up and once again it was not resolved, except in the minds of people who feel they know for sure that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”

Some of us however, aren’t so sure how it’s all supposed to work, which I guess is why we have faith but not always complete knowledge of who and what God is and isn’t.

But the commentary I quoted from includes a very interesting statement:

A physical object merely is: “I am,” it proclaims, “and my being is wholly defined by its own existence.” As such, the physical object constitutes the greatest concealment of the Divine truth. Precisely for this reason, it is G-d’s medium of choice for man’s implementation of His will.

I started thinking about something the Master said that sounds at once somewhat similar and yet is entirely different.

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” –John 8:56-58 (ESV)

Of course, the statement “I am” not only recalls the Pirkei Avot commentary, but Exodus 3:14:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”

The Master is apparently saying not only that Abraham believed in him, Jesus, by faith (see Hebrews 13:11 as well), but that the great “I am” of Exodus is also the Christ. The quote from the Pirkei Avot commentary says that a physical object’s loudest cry of “I am”  (including physical man) declares that it is defined by its physical nature, and that physical nature is also the ultimate hiding place for the Divinity of the Creator. Which “I am” reference can we apply to Jesus…or can we apply both?

I’ve explored Messianic Divinity before and have leaned toward an alternate “explanation” for the joining of humanity and Divinity in the person of Jesus Christ than the one held by the church. That doesn’t make me a popular fellow by more traditional Christian thinkers (whether in the church or the Hebrew Roots movement) but at least I’m willing to question my assumptions and admit that I don’t know everything (which seems a prudent position given the ultimate “unknowability” of God).

That said, I’m taking somewhat of a different position today and exploring the other side of the coin, albeit through the interface of a commentary on the classic Jewish texts. I’m hardly saying that what was written in the Pirkei Avot directly or indirectly applies to the concept of the Messiah in general or Jesus in specific. The two “I am” references are competely disconnected in practicality. I’m just choosing to use this comparison as a “jumping off point” for exploring both Jesus and God.

That’s a big jump.

But then, I never said that Jesus wasn’t Divine in some manner or fashion, I just failed to jump on the mainstream Christian bandwagon in terms of an explanation. Judaism may not hold that a man can also be God and worthy of the worship and honor due to God alone, but it does (and I’m not even speaking of Jewish mysticism here) acknowledge the ability of the Divine to somehow exist within our universe and even to play by the rules of that universe, though as a matter of choice, not limitation:

Indeed, since the purpose of creation is that the essence of the Divine should be drawn down into the physical reality, the objective is to do so on its (the physical reality’s) terms, not by overriding them. So if the logical laws that govern our reality and dictate that “expression” is incompatible with “essence,” our bringing of G-dliness into the world is to be achieved “blindly,” without any perceptible manifestations of the Divine essence.

On the other hand, however, if G-d’s essence is truly to enter our reality, He must enter it as He is, without hindrance or inhibition. If His reality tolerates no limits or definitions, “revelation” must be no less conducive to His essence than “concealment.”

In other words, for Him to be here implies two (seemingly contradictory) truths: if He is to be truly here, then His presence must be consistent with our reality; yet if it is truly He who is here, He must be here on His terms.

This is why created existence has two distinct components: the Present World and the World to Come the process and its culmination. The process of drawing down the Divine essence into the created reality is carried out under an obscuring veil of corporeality, in keeping with the created rule that “the essence of a thing does not express itself or extend itself.” At the same time, the product and end result of this process are a world in which G d is uninhibitedly present, in which also the expressions of His reality fully convey the quintessence of His being.

In Jewish mystic tradition, the Angels and even the mysterious essence of the wisdom of Torah must be “clothed” in the mundane in order to exist in our world. Though God the Ein Sof, the infinite and unknown Creator does not interact with the world, something we call the Shekinah, which in most Christian Bibles is translated as “God’s glory” did enter our world, incinerating the top of Sinai and entering the Tabernacle in the desert, constructed by the hand of man. That Shekinah, we call “God” too, but it doesn’t seem to bother us that God existed simultaneously as Ein Sof and Shekinah (if something that strange, mystical, and metaphysical can even be expressed in temporal terms).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:1,14 (ESV)

I don’t know how it all works so I have no answers to give you. If you’re comfortable with your answers, then I guess that works for you. Frankly, I’m more “comfortable” or at least better able to tolerate the vast uncertainty of the nature of “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Once we say that we know all there is to know about God, it is humanity defining Divinity rather than the other way around. I don’t think I could live with that.

The Blood of the Prince

tallit-prayerThis is one of those “hot” topics. A Messianic Jewish rabbi friend of mine recently got an email from a distraught woman urgently asking him to intervene on behalf of her husband. I would like some opinions on the matter from my readers. I will paraphrase that email below to protect all parties:

Please pray for us and help us. You see, my Jewish husband (who is from Israel) believes that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel through whom God redeems and saves, but he refuses to believe that Jesus is God too. My husband is adamant that he will not accept this belief. I don’t know what to do – I don’t want him to be lost. I need urgent help and I think my husband will benefit from your counseling. I am really hoping that you would be able to convince him of his error before it’s too late.

Question for my readers: should this woman be concerned about the spiritual fate of her husband? If this Jewish man never changes his mind on the nature of the Messiah, should he be concerned about his final destiny and should we?

-Gene Shlomovich
Crisis? A Jewish husband believes that Jesus is the Messiah but not G-d
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Daily Minyan blogspot

I’m not in the habit of quoting one person’s full blog post to begin one of my own, but this question, which I thought was unanswerable, may just have been answered (though judging by the subsequent comments that have been accumulating as I’ve been writing this missive, maybe not). There was a lively debate by various folks commenting on this blog but it degenerated (and is still degenerating) into a “Jesus is God” vs “Jesus is Messiah but not God” vs “I don’t know what Jesus is” kind of debate. A few people took a stab at actually trying to answer Gene’s question, but no one really knew or could support their opinions from scripture…that is until now:

I am convinced that Peter’s first introduction to Messiah (John 1:41), and his own confirmation of that introduction (John 6:69, 11:27) brought him into sonship, and is all that is expected of any Jew to be saved and secured for Kingdom status (Romans 10:13, 11:26).

-Brad

Then Gene replied:

@Brad…

Thank you for providing an answer to my exact question directly from scripture.

Traditional religious Judaism doesn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about whether or not Jews are saved. In the merit of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Jews are all considered to have a place in the world to come. However, in Christianity and the various corners of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements (which all overlap but are not really the same), there are a couple of important questions that have remained unanswered:

If Jews are “saved” through the merit of the patriarchs, what significance does Jesus have as the Messiah to them?

On a more fundamental level, the question is:

Are Jews saved?

I’ve struggled with these questions as well. To say that the process of salvation for a Jew is identical to a Gentile means that prior to the coming of the Messiah, no Jews could be saved. I also means that the millions of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity because they believed we Christians practiced paganism and polytheism, have been consigned to hell, often having suffered torture and murder at the hands of the church who was attempting to force their conversion, first.

I’m not sure I have the answer regarding “salvation” relative to all Jews everywhere, but it appears that Brad, armed with “only” a Bible, has answered the first question. Let’s take a look at his material in a more detail. His statement can be broken up into two main sections:

I am convinced that Peter’s first introduction to Messiah (John 1:41), and his own confirmation of that introduction (John 6:69, 11:27) brought him into sonship…

PrayingSo what do we see when we are introduced to the Messiah and that introduction is confirmed? What brought Peter into “sonship?”

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi”, “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”. He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas”. –John 1:35-42 (ESV)

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” –John 6:66-69 (ESV)

Mary, the sister of Martha, also faced the same question and arrived at the same conclusion.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” –John 11:25-27 (ESV)

Now here’s section two:

and is all that is expected of any Jew to be saved and secured for Kingdom status (Romans 10:13, 11:26).

So what is actually expected of a Jew for salvation through the Messiah?

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” –Romans 10:10-13 (ESV)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27 (ESV)

“No distinction between Jew or Greek” seems to be relative to the issue of salvation, so the Messiah has always been a vital element, but as Paul also said, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved,” so this two is part of God’s plan for Israel.

Putting it all together, nothing else but what has been presented above is required to answer Gene’s question (and I’m paraphrasing): “Is a Jewish man ‘saved’ if he comes to faith in Jesus as the Messiah but not as God clothed in flesh and blood?”

Peter believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the holy one of God and that he had words of eternal life. Mary, sister of Martha also believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God that that “everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die.” Everyone, Jew or Gentile, who calls on the Lord’s name shall be saved, and Gentiles, in God’s mercy, are brought into the Kingdom through the temporary hardening of the Jews. In the end, as Paul continues, “all Israel will be saved.”

God will not abandon the life of his heritage Israel nor let the blood of the Messiah go to waste:

The poor man stood in the doorway, smelling the sweet, freshly baked bread, and held out his hand for something to eat. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, for he had not eaten in days. He had tried to find work, but no one wanted to hire him. At last, hearing that Rabbi Yitzchak of Kalush had an open heart and an open door, he came to his house late one Friday afternoon.

Even before they opened the door, he could smell the fresh baked bread . . .

The cook looked at her challahs, golden baked and twisted, and sprinkled with poppy seeds. The cook did not want to give him a slice from the challahs. They were for Shabbat. She looked in the kitchen cabinets and drawers for an old, stale piece of bread, the kind that is usually given to beggars, but she found none.

“Slice up a loaf,” a man’s voice said, “no blood will be lost because of it.”

And so she cut into the loaf, soft and white, and gave the poor man a thick slice to eat. Unless a person has truly been hungry, he cannot know the meaning of bread. The poor man ate greedily. As he left, a man with kind eyes nodded. He was the one who had told her to cut the bread. The poor man knew that this man had saved his life.

-from a commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (4:3)
“The Blood Not Lost”

The Son of God is the bread of life to all mankind but particularly to His people the Jews. The blood of the Prince was not spilled in vain on Jewish soil and was not wasted for the sake of Israel. We in the church should not consider the Jew with contempt:

Ben Azzai used to say: “Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything; for there is no man who does not have his hour, and nothing which does not have its place.” -Avot 4:3

Emissaries

It is not uncommon for a first-time visitor to fall in love with Yerushalayim. And the place most people feel most attracted to in Yerushalayim is the Kosel itself. When someone told Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, that many people who live in Yerushalayim do not visit the Kosel at least once in every thirty days, he was astounded. “That is like a man whose ailing mother lives in the same city as he does, who doesn’t visit even once a month! Just as being in such a position is obviously morally untenable, the same should be true about one who is able to visit the Kosel once a month but fails to do so.”

Yet many visitors—perhaps because they come from so far—understand that the Kosel should be visited as often as possible and envy those who live so close, who sadly often visit much less than they would like.

One man on a short trip to Yerushalayim was all broken up about having to go back home to America. “If only I could bring the Kosel with me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Why can’t they instantaneously transport me there every day for shacharis? I would have so much more composure and could much more easily cope with the pressures of the day.”

But of course this was impossible.

When a friend heard about his trouble he made a novel suggestion. “Why not take a small piece of the Kosel back with you? That way you will feel connected and just looking at it will bring you back to the good times when you were here.”

He was very impressed with this idea, but as a religious Jew he was afraid to take such a step without consulting with a posek.

When this question reached Rav Moshe Feinstein, he ruled that this is forbidden. “It is clear that even one who uses the stones of har habayis transgresses me’ilah; how much more so regarding a fragment of a stone from the Kosel itself!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Memento?”
Me’ila 15

They say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” so I suppose it’s not surprising that when you have a fabulous resource or experience just minutes from your front door, you might not take every opportunity to visit it. That’s why people who live in cities with wonderful museums containing priceless treasures don’t visit them on a regular basis (usually it’s only when out-of-town guests come to visit).

This is also true of the relationship between Jews in Jerusalem and the Kotel or what some Christians call “the Wailing Wall.” This is also true of the relationship between some Christians and God.

Think about it.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Examine the experience of someone who has just converted to Christianity, someone who was far off from God who has now been brought near by the blood and grace of Jesus Christ. That person is typically very excited and absolutely thrilled. He takes every opportunity to pray, to go to church, to go to a Bible study, to fellowship with other believers. He is a sponge, taking in every detail, every experience, every subtle nuance of being a Christian.

But sooner or later, the fire cools off. Since God is always near, how often do we visit Him? For some Christians, beyond going through the motions, not very often.

I suppose I should say at this point that this experience is common among people of all faiths, not just the church, but after all, the community of believers in the Jewish Messiah, is my primary audience.

But what about the rest of the story off the Daf? For those who truly appreciate what they can touch, how do you carry away a piece of holiness with you? In terms of the Kotel, you don’t. It’s an unspeakable crime to chip off a little bit of the wall and to carry it around with you as if it were a lucky charm. It’s not the stones themselves that impart holiness, it’s where they are built, why there were built, and what they represent. This doesn’t require that we literally carry a pebble or stone with us. But the man in the story was right in one important way. We do need to constantly carry holiness with us, no matter where we go. We need an anchor to hold us in place and to link us to God, as we are swept this way and that by the storms of everyday life.

We do not keep our traditions for the sake of the past but for their power to create a future, a power that will never end.

For the Torah was not given to this world so that it should return to its former glory, but so that it will transcend itself.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Traditions of the Future”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

One of the ways Judaism has carried holiness and a connection to God with them across history and no matter where they were living (having been driven out of one place and then another, and so on), was and is their traditions. Traditions themselves are not physical objects, though they can employ such objects, but they are concepts and ideas that represent love, faith, and devotion to God. You cannot carry a piece of the Kotel with you, but you can carry the desire to see Jerusalem in your heart. You can pray for the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. You can enter into prayer with a minyan and summon the presence of God within your midst.

What do we Christians carry around with us to transmit the sense of holiness?

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. –John 13:16 (ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

We are not greater than the one who sent us, but we have been sent. We carry that Spirit and that mission within us and that sacred duty must never leave us. Many Christians think that only “official” missionaries take the Good News of Christ to the unbelievers, but even if we never overtly speak of our faith, if our behavior is consistent with the one who sent us, then we always declare our love of God and humanity by the one we carry around inside of us.

What is holiness? It’s not a thing you can hold and touch and feel. It’s not a candlestick or a kippah or even a Bible, although in their proper contexts, these objects are important or represent something important. Holiness is a spirit and an inspiration. It is God, not only among His people, but within His people. He is represented by our words and our actions, not just during worship and prayer, but as we go about our business in every hour of every day. That is what we carry and what anchors us to Him.

We are holy and sacred as emissaries (and we are all emissaries) and it’s not just what we have, but what we do that matters.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere.

From “Today’s Day”
for Iyar 8 23rd day of the omer
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

ShekhinahWe, as mere servants, are not greater than the One who sent us, but we are one in goal and purpose. We must not exalt ourselves beyond our station as believers and disciples, but we must take who and what we are very seriously, because not only God, but a desperate and suffering world is watching us at every moment, looking with diminishing hope for evidence that there is a loving God and that He can save.

Yet there is another message we can take away with us from the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; a lesson that may explain much, but cause some concern as well. The quote from the Rebbe recalls this event:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. –Exodus 23:20-21 (ESV)

It may amaze you that God told Moses that a mere angel could forgive sins, but then, if the Name of God is upon the angel, then the angelic being wears God’s Divinity like a shroud, acting for Him in all things, as if it were God Himself.

But we all know an angel is not literally God.

Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30 [ESV]) and depending on how you interpret his words (and I’ve talked about this before), you may believe he was saying that he, Jesus, is literally and physically the same as God. This is a common belief and most people in the church, though they don’t understand it, do not doubt it for a second.

But just as an angel can carry the Name of God with him such that he can forgive sins and thus literally be called by God’s Name, how much more can the Son of God, the Creator’s personal and most trusted emissary, be also called by God’s Name, forgive sins in God’s Name, not be greater than the One who sent him, and still sit at the right hand of the Father.

I don’t understand it either, but it’s something to ponder as we live out the will of the one who sent us.

Shemini: Ordinary Miracles

These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shemini. Shemini means “the eighth.” It refers to the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was established. It is called “the eighth day” because it was preceded by seven days of dedication, during which Moshe erected and took down the Sanctuary each day, and taught Aharon and his sons the order of sacrificial worship…The Torah relates (Leviticus 10:1-2) that they brought an unauthorized incense offering and as a result, “Fire came forth from G-d and consumed them.”

Many explanations are offered as to why the brothers were punished by death. From a mystical perspective, it is said (Or HaChayim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1) that they died because their souls soared to such heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies. Nevertheless, their conduct is judged unfavorably because their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d’s intent in creation: the establishment of a dwelling for Himself amidst the day-to-day realities of our existence. (See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai) Their deaths show that our spiritual quest should not be directed towards the attainment of lofty rapture, but instead should remain firmly grounded in our actual lives.

This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading, which focuses on kosher food. For the establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism’s conception of Divine service involves living within the world.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Transcendence and Immanence”
In the Garden of Torah”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 475ff
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
Chabad.org

All that walk on four… (11:21)

When Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch was a child of seven, he asked his father: Why does man walk upright, while animals walk on all fours? Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “This is a kindness from G-d to man: although man treads upon the material earth, he sees the sublime heaven. Not so those that crawl on four, who see only the mundane.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Rebbe’s New Clothes”
Once Upon a Chasid
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
Chabad.org

I suppose I’m being unfair when I accuse Christianity of focusing on the Heavenly at the expense of the here-and-now. After all, Christians perform many wonderful services of charity and kindness to those around them and to those in far-flung corners of the world. But as I recall my past when I used to sit in a pew in a church sanctuary on Sunday morning, it seems as if a great deal of time was spent touting the advantages of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and that it’s all about “me and Jesus.” How many prayers have I heard offered up to the ceiling of the Sunday school classroom, asking for “a closer walk with thee” and thanking Jesus for the personal gift of grace and salvation?

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but now that our “ticket to Heaven” has been “punched,” so to speak, what are we supposed to do with the rest of our lives?

The commentaries I quoted from above may seem alien to most of you, but they do aptly illustrate the necessity of balancing the secular with the Divine. So many of the commandments given to the Israelites at Sinai were related to the world in which we live. There are commandments about food, commandments about clothing, commandments about marriage, commandments about farming, commandments about helping your neighbor, even if you don’t like him very much, commandments about…well, you get the idea.

Sure, there are also a lot of commandments about God, services of holiness, and acts of the Spirit, but there is an inseperable link between loving God and loving human beings (See Matthew 22:36-40). As far as I can tell, most or all of the commandments we see in the Torah that have to do with visiting the sick and feeding the hungry apply just as much to the Christian as they do to the Jew. That’s what I see in the Master’s teachings, anyway.

But many Christians still have this funny idea that we are only really serving God if we have some sort of formal “ministry” within the church, even as a lay teacher. Yet we see countless examples in the Bible of ordinary people who were devoted to God and who lived day-to-day lives that included acts of kindness and compassion to whomever they encountered who needed it.

Giving a jump start to the car of a guy who’s late for a job interview is just as holy as helping to build a new church on a mission trip to a foreign country. Where did we get the idea that we had to do something unusual and extraordinary; something way outside the normal boundries of our lives, in order to serve God and to obey the teachings of Jesus? As an “ordinary” person, you may be capable of committing more acts of holiness than even the greatest televangelist or Pastor of a “megachurch” you see on TV ( I suppose I’m employing more than a little tongue-in-cheek here).

And perhaps you are capable of even much greater miracles than these.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do… –John 14:12 (ESV)

Miracles, by the way, don’t always have to be violations of the laws of physics. Sometimes, offering a momentary smile to a person who looks sad, or helping a lost person find the right address can be a miracle as great as moving a mountain.

Reading the Bible, praying, meditating on the acts of God, and worshiping with your fellows are all absolutely necessary acts of holiness and they bring much joy to God and to your own heart. But they are no more or less vital than helping change a flat tire for someone, donating a can of soup to your local food bank, or spending time with a neighbor who is in the hospital after surgery.

Today (as I write this), I’m going to take my son to work, deliver a Bible and some other books to a Chaplin who is going to deliver them to a sick and elderly Jewish gentleman who has just discovered the Messiah in Yeshua, and spend some time over coffee studying the Word of God with a friend. I don’t say these things because I think it makes me a better or special person. I say them because I’m an ordinary person doing ordinary things. But the ordinary and the holy are all intermixed in everything we do. We have our feet on the ground, but our eyes turned to Heaven.

And of all the ordinary things you and I are going to do today, who knows which one of them is a miracle?

Whatever we “offer” to God and to human beings, let it be who we are and not some “strange fire” we think we need to burn with in our hearts. God made us perfect as the people we are meant to be.

Good Shabbos.