Tag Archives: doctrine

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

The Jewish PaulI finally got around to reading Larry Hurtado’s blog post The “Conversion” of Paul and found it illuminating. Here are the two most telling paragraphs:

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has. He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue. And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition. Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl). Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist. So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

Anyone who has read this blogspot for very long knows I don’t consider Paul (or Rav Shaul if you prefer) a convert, but rather someone who received a “Prophet-like” calling (to use Hurtado’s phrase) to become Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus Christ’s) emissary to the Gentiles.

What’s really cool though, is Hurtado, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, holds a view of Paul that you would hardly find preached in most normative Christian churches.

I still find it surprising that what the Church teaches (and I’m using the word “Church” in the broadest possible sense) is so at odds with the continuing research being done on the New Testament in general and on Paul specifically.

I suppose one explanation could be that, Christian (and Jewish) tradition about Paul being what it is, the average Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday wouldn’t tolerate a radical update to his/her doctrine. In order to make supersessionist/replacement theology work, Paul had to convert from the Judaism of his day to early Christianity. Most Jews and probably even some Christians believe that Paul even founded Christianity, converting it from a branch of ancient Judaism to a wholly Gentile religion.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Hurtado’s reply to one of his readers continues to establish his views on the Apostle, complete with Biblical citations:

Well, Michael, to go by his own testimony, Paul/Saul remained a devoted Jew, even in his ministry as “apostle to the nations” (e.g., Philip 3:4ff; 2 Cor 11:21ff.). But you put your finger on the historical phenomenon that I’ve worked on for over 30 yrs now, offering the best answers that I can find to the various component questions. Paul’s own statement (Gal 1:13ff) is that he shifted from opponent of the Jesus-movement to proponent when “God revealed his Son to me”. So, he accepted the exalted status of Jesus as thoroughly compatible with his commitment to the uniqueness of the God of Israel precisely because he was convinced (by a “revelation”) that this one God had himself exalted Jesus and now required him to be acknowledged and reverenced. In short, if God approved, who was he to withstand it?

In 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, Paul’s description of fellow members of Israel who don’t perceive/accept Jesus as “Lord” pictures them as having a veil over their minds. But “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).

We have to form our notions of what “Jewish traditions and biblical monotheism” could include based on the evidence, not preconceptions. And, as I showed in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord (3rd ed., 2015), “ancient Jewish Monotheism” could accommodate some amazing things.

Moreover, Paul was and remained a Jew, and so even the remarkable view of Jesus that he accepted must be included as one of the developments initially within 2nd temple Jewish tradition.

Coffee and BibleI’m probably just recycling things I’ve written in the past, but frankly, I learn more about what the Bible is actually saying by studying scholarly works rather than listening to a Pastor’s sermon or going to Sunday School.

I wish I could make blogs like Hurtado’s  “required reading” for all churches everywhere, but, in my  opinion, many or most Christians don’t want to actually learn anything new. They are quite content to have their theology “settled”.

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The Lone Wolf and the Elders

Just listened to a little of David Rudolph’s sermon entitled “Why Zakenim??” About 13 minutes into it, he mentions that there are some One Law interlopers at Tikvat causing trouble. What kind of trouble?

They’re talking about One Law (which is sin enough apparently) but they’re also trying to get people to sign a petition to remove David Rudolph from office.

These One Law interlopers apparently feel that there is enough grass roots support for this to occur.

Interesting.

For the record, I had nothing to do with this…but naturally I support it. The ironic thing is this: the message is about Zekenim at Tikvat. But Rudolph recently caused virtually all of the elders to leave. They’re now meeting at Grove Ave. Baptist Church on Saturday mornings. Why Grove? I have no idea except that I think it’s odd OUT OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN RICHMOND they chose the one where my family visits.

-Peter Vest
from “One Law Revolt at Tikvat Israel”
Orthodox Messianic Judaism blogspot

I periodically engage Peter, both in the comments section of his blog and in this one, about topics of mutual interest. Most of the time, we disagree, which is fine, but occasionally, he comes up with an opinion to which I must respond with a more detailed message. His commentary regarding Rabbi David Rudolph and the Tikvat Israel Synagogue is one of them.

In his blog post and subsequent comments, Peter makes it seem as if Rabbi David is running a “one-man show” as sole leader of the synagogue, and that a significant minority among the members of the synagogue are circulating a petition to have him removed because he opposes what has been called a One Law theology, which this group apparently wants to see put in place as Tikvat Israel’s official theological position.

Except that when I actually listened to Rabbi David’s sermon Why Zakenim or “Why Elders,” I got a completely different impression.

The link I just posted leads to a podcast of the sermon. It’s about twenty-five minutes long, so if you’ve got that amount of time, you might want to listen to the entire presentation for context.

This sermon is part of what Rabbi David calls the “Messianic Jewish Discipleship 101” series, which seems a compelling subject in and of itself. In this sermon, Rabbi David presents his view in support of congregational elders with passages taken primarily (but not exclusively) from the Apostolic Scriptures or what most Christians call the New Testament.

I won’t break down each and every part of the sermon for you. Like I said, you can listen to it for yourself, but in brief, R’ David presents a definition of the role of congregational elders in three parts:

  1. Shepherds to guide the flock
  2. Shepherds to guard the flock
  3. Shepherds to judge matters related to the flock

I was on the board of elders for a small congregation for several years and I can attest that we were called upon to fulfill all of those roles. When I attended a local Baptist church, the head pastor and the board of elders also fulfilled these functions. In listening to R’ David’s sermon, I discovered that he is part of a three-person board and additionally has another person acting as a Rabbi-in-training, so R’ David isn’t acting as a “one-man show,” in spite of what Peter intimated on his blog as I quoted above.

the shepherdThe portion of the sermon relevant to Peter’s blog post has to do with elders as guards (and probably as guides). It seems there were two incidents that had recently occurred at Tikvat Israel. The first had to do with a single individual who was visiting the synagogue for Shabbat services and handing out religious materials, apparently in contradiction to the official position of the congregation. R’ David was away that day, and his Rabbi-in-training, also named David, saw what was going on and gently (according to the sermon) redirected this individual to the congregation’s bookstore and some materials more in keeping with Tikvat Israel’s theology and doctrine.

The second incident had to do with another visitor who had the chutzpah to pass around a petition among the members calling for Rabbi David’s removal from leadership, apparently because R’ David does not support a “One Law” theology, and this individual wanted to see the Rabbi replaced with someone who supported One Law.

It’s important to note here that R’ David in his sermon clearly differentiated between visitors and members in the synagogue. In both of these cases, it seems that lone visitors were coming in from the outside and “disturbing” (my word, not David’s) the members of the congregation, rather than a minority group among the members calling for Rabbi David to step down.

The sermon didn’t give any details as to the reaction of synagogue members to the petition in question, but R’ David did encourage the members to speak up when they encounter someone from the outside (or apparently inside) who is making statements or actions that are in opposition to the formal standards of the congregation. R’ David was careful to say that differences in opinion aren’t really the problem. The problem is with individuals who attempt to cause division and disunity in the congregation. This is part of the function of elders in the synagogue (or church), to guard the flock from “disturbing” theologies or doctrines coming in from the outside.

If you go to the Tikvat Israel website’s About page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see items labeled “What We Believe” and “Position Papers”, and R’ David encouraged the members listening to his sermon to redirect anyone promoting “strange doctrines” to those materials so they could become familiar with the standards upon which the congregation is based.

I had a similar experience at the small Baptist church I mentioned before, where I attended services for about two years. The Pastor and I became well acquainted and we spoke regularly about our different theological and doctrinal views. At one point, I took our differences a step too far and criticized one of his sermons on my blog. He didn’t take kindly to that, nor the fact that I had leant someone at his church my copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series (on audio CD) What About the New Covenant.

Although, I could have remained at the church, I would have had to censor myself both in congregation and on my blog and I made a decision not to do that. I ultimately chose to leave the congregation, not because I thought poorly of anyone (quite the opposite, there are many good and kind people in that church who are authentically serving God) but because their doctrine and mine were pretty far apart in a number of key areas. I wouldn’t be serving God by remaining as a disruptive influence, regardless of my motives.

Please notice that while I admit to lending teaching material that stands in opposition to local church doctrine to one of the church’s members, I didn’t start passing around a petition to get anyone removed or otherwise oppose the head pastor or any of the church elders in authority. That would have been at least improper and at worst insane (though not in the clinical sense).

In retrospect and particularly after listening to Rabbi David’s sermon, I can see how the church’s pastoral staff and board of elders were fulfilling their function in relation to me since I represented a doctrinal position that was in conflict with their official position. If they were willing to listen to my ideas and perspectives and volunteer to consume any resources I was able to provide, that’s one thing. But if I was deemed to be an element that might contribute to disunity and discord, then the elders had a responsibility to draw my attention to that behavior and expect some changes on my part.

Which is exactly what happened.

David Rudolph
Rabbi David Rudolph

The result was that I decided to leave church and seek other avenues for community or association. Given all that, those two individuals who entered Tikvat Israel for the purpose of introducing doctrines contrary to the synagogue’s official position should expect the elders to address this issue and said-individuals could either decide to stay without trying to “rock the boat” significantly, or they could decide to do what I did and leave the congregation.

The only difference is that I attended that church for two years and, from what I got out of R’ David’s sermon, the two individuals involved were not regular attenders and certainly not formal members.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to think exactly in the same way as the worship community you attend, but remember that the congregation has a group of elders who are responsible to guide and guard the sheep. Although I don’t see myself in such a light, I very well could have been perceived by some to be a “wolf in the fold”. If I find myself in a “fold” where I am incompatible with the rest of the “sheep,” it’s the job of the elders to inform me of that and it’s my job to decide how to respond as a person of good conscience and as a disciple of the Master.

I think the individuals cited in Rabbi David’s sermon needed to do the same.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Six Foundations

What are the fundamentals?

Discover the six basic teachings of Messianic faith from Hebrews 5:11-6:3. This sermon presents and introduction and overview of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Fifteen: Six Foundations
Originally presented on April 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 (NASB)

As someone commented recently on another of these reviews, in this sermon, Lancaster takes a break in teaching about Messiah as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, but frankly, so does the writer of Hebrews. Lancaster says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews became frustrated with his readers. Why? Because he wanted to get into the deep mysteries of the priesthood of Melchizedek but he felt his audience wasn’t up to the challenge. They were still struggling with the very basics, the fundamentals of faith in Messiah. They were still consuming milk when they should have been dining on t-bone steaks by now.

Lancaster pauses to say something I don’t think many Christians, including Christian teachers and Pastors, are going to like.

If you’ve been reading this review series regularly and (hopefully) been listening to the previous recordings of these lectures, you know that within the first five chapters of Hebrews, we discover a multi-layered storehouse of meaning that is not evident on a surface reading, especially in English. The level of knowledge and education required to get this far exceeds, in Lancaster’s opinion, what is being taught in most (or all) Christian seminaries today.

In my opinion, all the various expressions of the Christian Church are so married to the static doctrine of their faith, that they can’t allow themselves to seriously examine the perspectives necessary to plunge into the hidden depths this Epistle possesses.

milkThe Hebrews writer considered the readers of his letter to be infants needing milk, unable to consume solid food, much as Paul addressed his own readership in 1 Corinthians 3. But if the original readers could follow the first five chapters of Hebrews and understand the deeper meanings are considered babies (since the writer to the Hebrews must have assumed he was being understood by his readers), then what does that make us in the Church today? Less than infants? Tiny, newborns? Undeveloped babies still in the womb? That’s hardly flattering at all. But what if it’s true?

Moving back to the text, Lancaster says this part of Hebrews outlines the basic foundations of Christianity or, in this case, Messianic Judaism as it was understood, taught, and practiced in the first century. He teases out a list of six items:

  1. Repentance from dead works
  2. Faith toward God
  3. Instructions about washings
  4. Laying on of hands
  5. Resurrection of the dead
  6. Eternal judgment

Even the summary Lancaster presents in today’s sermon is dense with information, and yet, these were the very, ground floor, teachings of what we think of as early Christianity among the Jewish believers. However, as you’ll see, every one of these fundamentals of the faith are completely Jewish teachings and were endorsed by the Pharisees.

And Lancaster says that even these fundamentals are almost completely beyond the comprehension of Christians today.

Repentance from Dead Works

When most Christians, including Pastors and teachers, read “repentance from dead works,” they believe, almost by reflex, that this is talking about repenting from works of the Law, that is, repenting from performing the Torah mitzvot.

Lancaster used some pretty strong language here and says the Protestant interpretation of “dead works” is dead wrong and in fact, the exact opposite of what the letter’s writer was trying to say.

For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

TorahWe covered a lot of this last week. Obedience to God doesn’t bring death. Sin brings death. These were Jews the letter writer was addressing. It would have been insane to tell a bunch of Jews longing to return to bring offerings at the Temple that observing the Torah was “dead works”. Dead works equals sin, according to how Lancaster reads this. He not only called the current Church interpretation of “dead works” wrong, he said the teaching was satanic. This is the first time I’ve ever heard Lancaster go this far in “calling out” a traditional Church teaching.

What was the basic teaching of Jesus? Did he say, “believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die?”

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Jesus taught repentance of sins, not repentance of Torah obedience. He taught teshuvah. He taught turning away from sins and turning back to God. In Lancaster’s teaching about the New Covenant, he says over and over that Covenant is all about having a relationship with God by obedience to the mitzvot, which is what the Jewish people, including the believers, were doing. The first mitzvah is repentance, and it’s a mitzvah we must perform daily, lest we slowly, subtly fall away from the teachings of the Master and thus, fall away from God. Remember, Lancaster believes the letter’s readers were in grave danger of losing faith in Messiah and apostatizing.

Faith Toward God

You’d think this was a no brainer for the readers of the letter and for us, but faith is a lot more than just believing God exists. True, we must believe God exists before we can do anything else, but belief isn’t the goal, it’s just the starting line in the race.

In James 2:19 we learn that even the demons believe and they tremble, but we certainly can’t say that their belief somehow equals faith in God. Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a commentary about the difference between faith and trust based on a rabbinic midrash, and I think it carries Lancaster’s meaning well.

We must trust in God’s sovereignty, that He is in control, and that He rewards obedience and punishes sin, both in this life and in the life to come. That means what we do matters. Our actions aren’t worthless or, as Derek Leman once put it, our deeds are not filthy rags. A transformed life in Messiah reflects that transformation in what we do.

Having faith equals having a relationship with God and, as Lancaster states in the aforementioned “New Covenant” lectures, covenant is all about establishing relationship, in this case, between man and man and between God and man. Lancaster said it’s a false teaching that all we have to do is “believe” intellectually or emotionally and do nothing else and that we are saved. If we don’t lead a life that shows fruit, our belief means nada.

As it turns out, Judaism at its core, is not a “religion of dead works,” but instead, its a covenant of intimate relationship between Israel and God.

Instruction About Washing

Washing? What? Is this about the various ritual washings such as Netilat Yadayim?

Some English translations of the Greek “baptismo” render the word “baptism,” but the problem is the word in Greek is plural. If this is supposed to be about multiple water and spirit baptisms, then it becomes a theological problem, since we are baptized in water and receive the Spirit only once. How can immersion be “immersions?”

Remember, this is a Jewish audience, an audience that would immerse on any number of occasions in the mikvah in order to render themselves ritualistically pure. They’d immerse daily before going up to the Temple. They’d immerse before getting married, women would immerse once a month, and the Torah prescribed many other circumstances that required immersion by Jewish men and women.

So what about the immersion of John the Baptist? Didn’t that replace all of the others? Lancaster calls John’s immersion the “Immersion of Repentance” which is also immersion into the Name of Yeshua. We see the first Gentile immersed in Messiah’s name in Acts 10.

But why would a group of Jewish believers need instruction about the mikvah as a fundamental teaching Messiah? They would have already been well versed in mikvah instructions from Torah. The way that the Greek expresses it, “baptismo didacus,” Lancaster believes that these were the instructions a new disciple would be given about the teachings of Messiah before being admitted into fellowship and immersed. We may even have those instructions preserved for us in the Didache, the set of teachings provided to new Gentile disciples of the Master, probably within or soon after the Apostolic era.

Do we have this today? So many churches, according to Lancaster, are focused on getting as many people saved as possible, but the Bible doesn’t say to make converts, but to make disciples (see this book review, and this short video for more). Is discipleship a lost practice in today’s Church? For many churches, the answer is “yes,” especially when compared to the process of discipleship as it existed in the various first century Judaisms. What we may be creating instead is a body of false converts where only a small minority of people in church pews every Sunday are actual disciples who are leading transformed lives in Messiah. The rest are merely those who said “Christ is Lord” and “believe” but otherwise are unchanged human beings.

The Laying On of Hands

laying on of handsBesides in Pentecostalism, the Church isn’t into laying on of hands anymore. In the Bible, people were cured of illness through laying on of hands, but the practice is much older and in fact, based on the Torah and sacrificial system. The first step in offering a sacrifice at the Temple was for the person making the offering to lay hands upon it, transferring identity, if you will, so that in the case of a sin offering, the sacrifice would be made in place of the person.

Moses laid hands on Joshua to transfer authority over the tribes of Israel to him. Lancaster believes that after the mikvah, the last step in admitting a disciple into the fellowship of faith was to lay hands on the person, even as it was for the conferring of authority to a new elder in the community.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.

1 Timothy 4:14 (NASB)

Presbytery is also translated as “board of elders.”

So the basic steps of training and inducting a new disciples would be:

  1. Education in the teachings of Yeshua
  2. Acceptance into the community
  3. Immersion of repentance and into the name of Messiah
  4. Laying on of hands by the board of elders or the head teacher

All basic stuff, according to the Epistle’s writer. Fundamentals of the faith, first century Pharisaic Judaism style.

Resurrection of the Dead

Now this you’d think the Church would have down cold. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday so I’m sure Churches all over the world are preaching about the resurrection today. But according to Lancaster, many churches avoid talking about a literal, physical, bodily resurrection and instead, preach going to Heaven as a bunch of spirits. That’s eternal death (of the body) not eternal life.

The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t Heaven and it isn’t sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp forever and ever. It’s the Kingdom of God established on earth populated by a people who have been raised physically from the dead, which is why we call Yeshua our “first fruits from the dead.” It is his resurrection that is proof that we too will one day be resurrected in the faith through grace. Then we live here under the reign of King Messiah as living, breathing human beings under the New Covenant, with the Torah written on our hearts…and we will know God.

Eternal Judgment

This too should be well understood in the Church, the fact that there will be a final judgment for all humanity, when we will have to give an account for every word and deed we’ve committed in this life. Like the Master said, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was “at hand” or “imminent” because Messiah had entered the world and his death and resurrection flipped the “on” switch to start up the New Covenant. It’s on the edge of coming and is entering our world even now. And yet it will not have arrived until the Messiah returns.

repentanceWe have time, but who knows how much. Repent now. Don’t wait. Repent and obey. Lead a transformed life. Exert every effort so that when the books are opened, your name will be written in the Book of Life and not in the Book of Death.

Basic teaching. Milk.

And each and every one of these six fundamentals is what the Pharisees taught and these teachings were despised by the Sadducees. But the Sadducees had control of the Temple and the Priesthood and had no reason at all to allow the Jewish Pharisaic believers in Messiah access to the sacrificial system. So who would be their priest?

What Did I Learn?

I’d never separated out six fundamentals of faith in Messiah during the Apostolic period from Hebrews before. But what made the biggest impression was how, if we are to believe Lancaster, the vast, vast majority of the people we call Christians today are misreading not only this Epistle, but misunderstanding the fundamentals of their (our) own faith that is taught by the Bible.

I’ve written about Christian Fundamentalism before, which can trace its origins in Church history back about a century, but it doesn’t look like what Lancaster taught today. In fact, if you click the link I just provided, it too presents six fundamentals of the faith. They are just six points that don’t resemble those points we read in Hebrews 6:1-2

I felt Lancaster was a little hard on the Church, a little too critical of their mistakes and errors. After all, Lancaster was raised in the Church and his father was a Pastor. How long did Lancaster have to study and how many of his previously cherished attitudes and beliefs did he have to painfully surrender before he got to the point where he could teach this interpretation of Hebrews at Beth Immanuel?

This may sound strange, but I have the good fortune of not having spent my entire life in the Church. I had much less to “unlearn” and not too many attitudes and emotional attachments to Church tradition to give up. I have had quite a long and interesting time of putting together the Hebraic viewpoints on the Scriptures in a way that actually makes sense relative to the entire Biblical record, and I freely admit that Lancaster’s teaching, both at Beth Immanuel and through First Fruits of Zion, have been highly instrumental in that unlearning and retraining process.

But successfully transmitting that information to long-term and life-long Gentile believers is the challenge. Even getting a Christian to the point of considering that teachings like this one have value seems all but impossible. Many believers are so cemented into their theology and doctrine, that it would take dynamite to blow them out of their viewpoint and move them to a perspective where the Bible looks like and teaches something that, in my opinion, is much more consistent across the board. Many Christians don’t even believe there is more than one perspective on the Bible, and for those who do, they see those alternate perspectives are representing error, cultish belief, and even heresy.

But the end result is still the same. We enter the fellowship of Messiah through faith by grace and undergo a transformation into a new being who we are now and who we are in the process of becoming, little by little, until Messiah returns and the New Covenant is completely enacted.

followWe just need to be willing to take the risk of listening to teachings like this one critically but with an open mind. Once we learn to accept that what we’ve been taught about the Bible isn’t what the Bible actually says, we are faced with the daunting task of changing the Church from within to be more consistent with what the revealed Word of God turns out to be.

Some will follow. Others will continue to resist, clinging to the doctrines they’ve come to love, regardless of how they misconstrue God’s intent, especially toward Israel.

“Sometimes you have to move on without certain people. If they’re meant to be in your life, they’ll catch up.”

-Mandy Hale

To learn more about the six foundational principles of ancient Jewish Christianity, consider D. Thomas Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles which is being offered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) for free between now and June 3rd.

The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974
GTY.org

I know, I know. I promised no more MacArthur, but in this case, “Big Mac” actually did me a favor. He helped me (though I’m sure it was unintentional) figure out why “the Church” thinks the New Covenant is all about them and why the New Covenant is supposed to replace the Old. I’ve read the relevant scriptures many times, but could never figure out how Christians fit themselves (ourselves) into the New Covenant language. But let’s review a bit. I looked back on a series I wrote called “The Jesus Covenant” (no, there’s no such thing, but at one point, I had no clue how non-Jewish people could enter into any sort of relationship with God at all related to covenant, and I had to call the series something) and found the key scriptures recorded in The Jesus Covenant, Part 1: The Foundation.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law (Heb. “Torah”) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:22-28 (ESV)

It actually helps if you read Jeremiah and Ezekiel cover-to-cover, rather than taking verses out of context in order to preserve the entire flow of thought of these prophets. You get a much more cohesive picture of what they’re actually saying. The exile

Notice in both of the above-quoted portions of scripture that God is specifically addressing “the House of Judah” and “the House of Israel.” Unless you subscribe to the Two-House theology and believe that any non-Jew who is at all attracted to Judaism and the Torah must be a hidden member of one of the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel,” then you can plainly see that the verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel referencing the New Covenant have absolutely nothing to do with the non-Jewish nations of the world, that is to say, most of humanity.

The New Covenant language applies only to the descendants of Judah and Israel in our modern world, the Jewish people.

Period.

You can see why it took me eleven or twelve separate blog posts in order to figure out where we Gentiles fit in. There’s no smoking gun, no signposts on the road to tell us, as there is with the Jewish people, where non-Jews fit in as far as God’s plan of redemption, restoration, and Messianic Kingdom world peace is concerned. You don’t have to read the whole series (though I wouldn’t mind if you did) to get the answer.

I basically spelled it out in The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians and in The Jesus Covenant, Part 11: Building My Model. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is how in all of Church history, Christianity had misinterpreted these scriptures so badly, forcing a connection between the Church and the New Covenant which does not exist and which specifically bumps Israel out of the picture entirely.

Then, in editing my third and final review of John MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” lecture series, I saw the quote that spelled it all out. I posted it at the top but here it is again, with emphasis added:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

Do you see it? Do you see where MacArthur, and presumably all the denominations of anything calling themselves “Christian” in any way anywhere made their mistake? Israel

All of the New Covenant language expressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-28 is specifically addressed to the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Further, when you take into account the larger context of these verses, you must realize that the prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, when Messiah comes (returns) as King and inaugurates the Messianic Era, when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh in such a way that the least of all human beings will still “know God” in a greater way than John the Baptist (read Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Joel 2:28-29, 32 and Luke 22:14-23 for context). Do you really think we have that today as Christians?

Since we don’t yet have a new heart and a new Spirit in us (I’m not saying that believers don’t have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only the “first fruits,” just the very leading edge of what these prophets are talking about) so that we are all functionally prophets, and since we (Gentiles) aren’t of the House of Judah or the House of Israel, then the New Covenant language can’t be talking about the rise of “the Church” beginning with Acts 2 and progressing across the rest of the New Testament and into the last nearly two-thousand years of “Church history!” The very best we can say, as I mentioned above, is that the giving of the Spirit to the Jewish apostles in Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit to Gentiles, starting with the Roman God-Fearer Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, are a sort of “first fruits” of the New Covenant promise that is yet to come!

This will definitely not make any traditional Christian at all happy. It might make some Christians angry and defiant. Some Christians, hopefully those who investigate and realize that the Bible doesn’t actually read the way they’ve been taught, might feel a sense of loss and even depression that “the Church” isn’t the center of the universe and our guarantee that all Gentile believers are the best thing God created since sliced bread and peanut butter.

But we really have no reason to be depressed or experience loss. It’s not as if God doesn’t love all the world. It’s not like this invalidates John 3:16. God still “so loves the world,” that is to say, all the people in it, not just the Jewish people. He has a plan for us, it’s just not the plan that “the Church” believes in. This hidden but massive error is the very foundation of supersessionism and anti-Semitism at the root of all expressions of Christianity everywhere on earth. We don’t see it or feel it because it’s buried so deep in our theology. It is the heart of what Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann has called cryptosupersessionism.

Christianity is completely unconscious of its presence and yet it colors everything we in the Church say, do, think, and feel about Christianity and what we believe being a Christian means. I know a lot of Christians including a lot of Hebrew Roots Christians will be upset about what I’m writing, saying I’m doing something terrible, elevating Israel above the Church, creating inequities and all that, but it’s not like we don’t have an exceptionally vital role to play in God’s plan.

RestorationI don’t want to repeat myself, since I’ve written at length a number of times before about the plan God has for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. For examples see Provoking Zealousness, How Will Christians Perfect the World?, The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, and my recent blog post Don’t Argue. This is why First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) President and Founder Boaz Michael in his Tent Builders presentation (see his book Tent of David for the details of his plan to correct the Church’s faulty vision) says that:

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

We’ve all been taught to believe what John MacArthur believes about the New Covenant. The Christian Church in all its incarnations is guilty throughout its existence of the most heinous act of eisegesis in the history of the Bible and Biblical studies. We’ve chronically and grossly misinterpreted the Old Testament and New Testament text (and even those titles are a tremendous misrepresentation of contents and purpose) in such a way that it forces the anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah presuppositions, agendas, and biases of the Church into and onto the text.

This is the error of “the Church”. This is where, for all the good Christianity has done, the Church has gone wrong since almost the beginning. This is the problem that the Reformation failed to address. This is why Gentiles are in the Messianic movement, not to move in on Jewish worship and identity space, but to right a two-thousand year old wrong. May Heaven grant strength and endurance for those of us who are delivering this message that some ears may hear and understand and not reject and disdain.

A brother will betray his brother to death, and a father will betray his son, and children will rise up against fathers and kill them, and you will be hated by everyone for the sake of my name. But the one who keeps waiting until the time of the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22 (DHE Gospels)

This is why I’m here. This is why I write. To deliver a message that the Church doesn’t want to hear. To point to the scriptures that Christianity doesn’t want to understand. Check those scriptures for yourself leaving your eisegesis and your assumptions at the door. Do you see what I see? If you do, why are you here and what do you need to do now?

There’s going to be an extra meditation today. I need to inject some balance into the messages I’ve been writing lately about the Church. In spite of all I just said, there is also much good in the Church. You’ll see.

Once Again Foolishly Rushing In

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

-M. Scott Peck

I post quotes in the sidebar of my blog to honor this “mission” to offer “morning meditations,” and so I added Peck’s to the list. But then I’m wondering if Peck lived a religious life ( I guess I should do a little research before asking such dippy questions)?

Judah Gabriel Himango to Toby Janicki:

With all due respect, you are not the Apostle Paul. You’re choosing to amplify “these other people needing correction” *over* the positive report from the Jewish world. That is disappointing.

You suggested we end the discussion. OK, I will not reply any further.

I am going to reproduce this discussion over on my blog, because it is noteworthy and important to understand the direction FFOZ has taken.

Shalom.

Judah Gabriel Himango to James:

James, you claim Hebrew Roots people are “attempting to appear indistinguishable from Chabadniks.”

The very first photo in the article shows the people at the conference. Please tell us which ones are indistinguishable from Chabad practitioners.

James to Judah Gabriel Himango:

I’m basing that on the quote from the article, Judah.

Kaiser said: “Many of the thousand-plus people who attended Revive 2013, a religious conference held at the Dallas Sheraton last June, wear tzitzit. Many keep kosher and observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Some of the men have beards and peyos.”

-from comments made on the blog post
“God-Fearers: The Balance of Torah”
by Toby Janicki
blogs.ffoz.org

What part of “peyos” don’t you understand? Anyway…

I didn’t transcribe the full conversation because it would have consumed too much space. Please visit Toby’s blog to read the article that inspired this set of transactions and the complete dialog that followed.

One thing I said when I first commented was:

I keep asking myself if I want to touch this conversation with a ten-foot pole, especially since it’s going to be enshrined in infamy on Judah’s blog, but here I am with my fingers tapping on the keyboard.

At the keyboardI was right. I am living to regret being the “monkey at the keyboard” and entering yet one more “spitting contest” between different factions of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots world. Actually, only one individual created a level of “discomfort” but that’s all it takes.

This is actually a reflection of a larger dynamic, a much larger dynamic, that has been going on for years and years. It waxes and wanes and I thought it was waning and that we’d finally get past all this “jockeying for position” and actually focus on something worthwhile like, oh…I don’t know…serving God, but then stuff like this happens, to which I respond and then based on a follow-up comment, respond again.

Finally, I read a Chabad commentary (one of my favorite sources, I must admit) and since it reminds me of the latest incarnation of our little debate, I write one more thing. I must be self-destructive or more likely, just a compulsive writer (are they the same thing?).

I should have removed my fingers from the keyboard and kept them off when I read Toby’s latest blog, especially when I saw that Judah was already involved but I didn’t listen to the voices of wisdom in my head.

As Alexander Pope famously wrote, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Guess what that makes me?

This is just my latest rant on how I periodically lose my faith in religious people but now I’m starting to ask, is involvement in religion worth it?

Note, I didn’t ask if my faith was worth it, but faith can be lived out in an entirely positive environment and doesn’t really require that anyone knows I even exist. I can give to charity, donate to my local food bank, and perform many other acts of kindness and compassion without having to argue about whether Gentile believers should wear tzitzit and payos or not. Really, why should I care?

“Speak (keyboard) in haste, repent at leisure,” to bend the Hasidic proverb all out of shape.

Of course, it’s not just the Messianic vs. Hebrew Roots “duke fest” that’s contributing fuel to today’s “extra meditation.” Part 1 and Part 2 (Part 3 publishes next Sunday morning) of my John MacArthur vs. Judaism reviews figure prominently in my disillusionment of religion and religious people.

Incidentally, I did consider, just for the sake of “balance,” sampling some sermons by R.C. Sproul but when I saw the one titled “Israel Rejects the Gospel,” I lost heart.

I’ll probably get over this after a good night’s sleep, but the overwhelming and competing demands of different religious groups and different religious individuals cannot be easily managed if at all. Muslims get violent if anyone draws a cartoon of the Prophet, and some Messianic Jews are rankled if a Hebrew Roots Gentile wears tzitzit on his belt loops or claims to be of the (two) House of Israel.

I get bent out of shape when John MacArthur says that God killed Judaism in Acts 2 on the first birthday of the Church.

God isn’t so chaotic so why are we?

Is religion worth it?

Up until recently, I’ve taken the Hebrews 10:25 directive to not neglect meeting with one another as a sort of commandment by God to regularly congregate with like-minded believers. But in my case, “like-minded” is hard to come by, which is also part of the problem I’m facing. If I had never encountered Hebrews Roots and later Messianic Judaism, I might be blissfully cruising along in some church oblivious to any of these debates and fully convinced (like many Christians) that my particular paradigm was always right about everything and all discussions were settled by God and the Bible, at least as my church interpreted them.

keyboardTomorrow morning, my latest review on D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series will published. The day after that, a commentary comparing the Jewish perspective on Oral Tradition to Christianity’s hidden but no less powerful Protestant tradition on Biblical interpretation will appear. Following that, my final review of MacArthur on Judaism will become available on Sunday and then my Pastor’s interpretation of the same portion of scripture will be published on Monday.

Is it all worth it? I mean, does it matter? Does God care? I know I can irritate or even anger people if I use the right “hot button” words and phrases (see the comments between Judah and me above).

Rabbis write for Jews, Preachers sermonize to their parishioners. Usually religious writers and speakers write and speak to already defined and self-contained audiences who are predisposed to accept their messages for the most part, or at least audiences that will not respond significantly if they disagree.

But then we have this little corner of the blogosphere, which is just part of the larger religious blogosphere and when populations collide, feathers fly.

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…Who is brave? The one who subdues his negative inclination…Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others…

Pirkei Avot 4:1

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Proverbs 26:11 (NASB)

No, I’m hardly calling myself wise and yes, I’m definitely the fool at the keyboard.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

Really Dr. Peck? I can think of only one place that my discomfort could propel me to step out of my “ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

End Rant.

Addendum: Since my wife’s car is in the shop, she has mine, so she and my grandson picked me up from work this afternoon. He and I spent the evening playing with his toys, eating pizza, reading books, and watching Jonny Quest. Since he has pre-school tomorrow, we had to take him home rather early, but after all that, I decided I didn’t want to have to manage a “controversy magnet” of comments (I saw what happened on Toby’s FFOZ blog) for the rest of the evening and into tomorrow, so I’m summarily closing comments. For those of you who had something to say, I apologize that those comments won’t see the light of day, but we’ve had this conversation before. Time to wind down the evening and hope for a more pleasant tomorrow, God be willing.

Precious Assumptions

If you believe certain words, you believe their hidden arguments. When you believe something is right or wrong, true or false, you believe the assumptions in the words which express the arguments. Such assumptions are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced.

from The Panoplia Prophetica

Be warned…you can be immersed in the Babel Problem, which is the label we give to the omnipresent dangers of achieving wrong combinations from accurate information.

The Mentat Handbook

Both of the above-quoted paragraphs come from the original 1976 hardback edition of Frank Herbert’s novel Children of Dune (pages 250 and 259 respectively). I’ve been criticized before for quoting from this series, since Dune and the indigenous people, the “Freemen” are based on Arab tribal culture, which some consider offensive. I apologize if anyone is distracted or dismayed by my choice of literature, but I think these quotes say something very important.

For the past few days, I’ve been monitoring the conversation on Derek Leman’s recent blog post Responding (Belatedly) to Gene. This is a debate, primarily between Derek, a person who has converted specifically within the context of Messianic Judaism and subsequently was educated as a Rabbi, and Gene Shlomovich, a Jewish person who was previously Messianic but who exited the Messianic framework and is currently affiliated with normative Orthodox Judaism (I apologize if these descriptions are inaccurate and am quite willing to be corrected).

The discussion between them is whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, whether or not the Messiah must be God, and whether or not it is proper for people to worship the human Jesus as a God. It’s actually a lot more complicated, but I don’t want to replicate all of the details here.

There have been plenty of other people who have chimed in with their opinions in the comments section of Derek’s blog. I choose not to participate because I don’t think I can contribute anything within that particular context. One more voice, more or less, isn’t going to change the outcome.

At the start of his blog post, Derek did wisely state:

I do not expect logical arguments and text-based discussions will in and of themselves persuade me to abandon faith in the divinity of Messiah or Gene to take up faith again in Yeshua. Such a naive view of dialogue overlooks two things: the complexity of persons (we are not logic computers) and the nature of evidence (what we believe about almost any topic, like which brand of automobile is best, is rarely just logic).

In other words, don’t expect the final, definitive statement on this important matter to issue forth from this conversation. It won’t.

But it does get people to thinking. It got me to thinking but not necessarily about the specific topic at hand.

Actually, this thought occurred to me last Sunday at church. I don’t know what inspired it exactly. I think I was mentally comparing general revelation, that is the revealing of God in the nature of our created universe, and specific revelation, that is, the Bible.

I expect general and specific revelation to be complementary rather than competing. But when someone tells me that the universe is ten to twelve thousand years old max, and all of our scientific observations tell us that the universe is reliably estimated to be about 13 1/2 billion years old, that’s nowhere near any sort of agreement. And that puts the Bible (or certain interpretations of it) at odds with the observable universe, and all sort of Christian and Jewish rationalizations have to be created to explain away tons and tons of evidence that all point to an old universe and an old earth.

Most of those rationalizations make otherwise highly intelligent and educated people sound kind of dumb.

More than 1,700 years in advance, the author of the Zohar predicted a revolution of science and technology around the year 1840. There he describes the fountains of wisdom bursting forth from the ground and flooding the earth—all in preparation for an era when the world shall be filled with wisdom and knowledge of the Oneness of its Creator.

From this we know that the true purpose of all technology and modern science is neither convenience nor power, but a means to discover G‑dliness within the physical world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Scientific Revolution”
Chabad.org

Curious Tales of TalmudSome of my Christian acquaintances might have a problem with me quoting from Jewish sources, and the vast majority of them would have trouble with anything to do with the Zohar (and I don’t think the Zohar is nearly as old as advertised above). Nevertheless, Rabbi Freeman is saying something important. He’s saying that the observable universe reveals God, and that scientific pursuits fill the world with “wisdom and knowledge of the Oneness of its Creator.”

Some people relate to their religion as if it contains the complete totality of all knowledge of God and complete comprehension of everything in the Bible, and based on that, they believe their conclusions on complicated theological, doctrinal, social, political, and scientific issues are all correct 100% of the time. Other people relate to science and technology in exactly the same way. Both types of people are wrong.

Stars ejected by the black hole have a different composition from that of the newly discovered stars. The 20 new stars have the same makeup as normal disk stars do, so the team doesn’t think these newly discovered stars came from the galaxy’s core, halo or some other exotic place.

“None of these hypervelocity stars come from the center, which implies there is an unexpected new class of hypervelocity star — one with a different ejection mechanism.”

Precise calculations require measurements taken over decades, so some of the stars may not actually travel as fast as they appear to, Palladrino said. To minimize errors, the team performed several statistical tests.

“Although some of our candidates may be flukes, the majority are real,” she said.

What might have provided the needed galaxy-fleeing kick, however, is still a mystery.

-by Nola Taylor Redd, January 27, 2014
“Strange, Hypervelocity Stars Get Ejected from the Milky Way”
Space.com

I love astronomy. The first time I was an undergrad, I took a few classes and fell in love. Unfortunately, my total ineptitude in math prevented me from pursuing astronomy as a degree and a career. But I still like to peruse the popular astronomy publications from time to time.

As you can see, the universe still has plenty of surprises available, and new observations can challenge the assumptions and hypotheses built on previous observations. Astronomy in particular, and all of the scientific disciplines in general, are undergoing a constant state of growth. This isn’t to say that science, which is just a formal method of observation, and scientists, who after all, are only human beings, are perfect and that bias, for a variety of reasons, is incapable of entering into perceptions and conclusions, but such conclusions cannot or at least on principle, should not be considered forever static, immutable, and settled for all time.

ReformationNow let’s turn to what we understand about the Bible. In Christianity, although continual research is being conducted into the New Testament as well as the rest of the scriptures, many believers, including clergy and even some scholars, behave as if all is said and done. Much of what the normative Protestant church believes today hasn’t changed much since the Reformation, and some of what we believe today, even though Protestants think they are wholly separated from Catholic influence, has actually been inherited, almost unchanged, from the very first days of the Eastern and Western (Roman) churches of the first few centuries of Christian history.

Since the Protestant Reformation (c. 1517), studies of Paul’s writings have been heavily influenced by Lutheran and Reformed views that are said to ascribe the negative attributes that they associated with sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism to first-century Judaism. These Lutheran and Reformed views on Paul’s Writings are called the “old perspective” by adherents of the “New Perspective on Paul”. Thus, the “new perspective” is an attempt to lift Paul’s letters out of the Lutheran/Reformed framework and interpret them based on what is said to be an understanding of first-century Judaism, taken on its own terms. (Within this article, “the old perspective” refers specifically to Reformed and Lutheran traditions, especially the views descended from John Calvin and Martin Luther, see also Law and Gospel.)

Paul, especially in his Epistle to the Romans, advocates justification through faith in Jesus Christ over justification through works of the Law. In the old perspective, Paul was understood to be arguing that Christians’ good works would not factor into their salvation, only their faith. According to the new perspective, Paul was questioning only observances such as circumcision and dietary laws, not good works in general.

“New Perspective on Paul”
-from Wikipedia

This “new perspective” isn’t popular among many Christian NT scholars precisely because it challenges the old assumptions, but it’s important to remember that the original assumptions that were the foundation of the development of early church theology, doctrine, and tradition, were motivated by a strong attempt to separate the Gentile church from Jews, Judaism, and Jewish origins. Those original assumptions, based on Supersessionism, also known as Replacement Theology or Fulfillment Theology, were completely anti-Semitic and derived less from an objective study of the canonized or soon to be canonized texts about the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and more on a heavy bias toward burying any connection to the persecuted normative Judaism of that day, and establishing that God, through Jesus, killed dead the Torah, the Temple, the Priesthood, and replaced them with rituals, traditions, and doctrine that resembled the practices of the church’s Jewish forefathers not in the least.

Unfortunately, plenty of Jewish people have been buried in bloody graves as a direct result of the church’s requirement to demonize Jewish people and Judaism in order to establish and elevate the “Goyishe Christ.”

I think it’s time for a change. I think it’s time for some new observations. Who knows? Maybe like certain astronomers have recently reported relative to hypervelocity stars, we’ll also find something unexpected. Astronomers observe a universe that is all around us and that has been all around us for over 13 billion years. You’d think that even in the mere few centuries we’ve been seriously studying the stars, we’d pretty much know all that there is to know by now.

sky-above-you-god1Except the universe is vast and our first stumbling efforts into astronomy have been slowly improving over time. Our methods and techniques for observation and information gathering and processing are becoming more accurate, bringing into focus a greater understanding of the mysterious universe that people have been staring into since man and woman stood together in Eden. Thus we continually collect data about the observable universe and add to, amend, or outright change our knowledge based on each new finding in order to sharpen our vision.

But it’s difficult to do that in religion, at least for some folks, because we are really reluctant to let go of obsolete dogma. I recently quoted a portion of a sermon delivered by John MacArthur in which he said:

When Jesus came, everything changed, everything changed.… He didn’t just want to clean up the people’s attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism with all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the Temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it.

I believe MacArthur to be sincere, well-educated, and very intelligent, but he is definitely “old school” and I suspect highly resistant to re-examining any of the evidence and conclusions regarding what Paul said, why he said it, and what it all really means (to the best of our ability to arrive at “really means”).

It would be the moral equivalent of MacArthur, if he were an astronomer, ignoring the pesky mystery of the “Strange, Hypervelocity Stars Get Ejected from the Milky Way” or somehow explaining that what we appear to plainly see in our observations must be wrong because it disagrees with established scientific “canon”.

What does all this mean for Derek and Gene’s discussion of the past few days, and how Christianity and Judaism have been banging heads over who and what Jesus is for many, many centuries?

As one of my quotes from Herbert’s aforementioned book states, we can still put together “wrong combinations from accurate information.” The universe is the universe and the Bible is the Bible. General and specific revelation are available to all of us and they’ve been available for a long time. The universe changes slowly and the Bible changes not at all, and yet we argue and argue and argue over what they both mean and how someone must be right and everyone else must be wrong.

According to the gospels, a veil was torn when Yeshua breathed His last upon the cross. Scripture says, “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38) The tearing of the veil is often wrongly understood as a sign that the old covenant, the Torah and the Temple system were all rendered defunct by the cross.

-from “Thought of the Week”
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

John 14:6 (NASB)

We were studying the lives of King Saul and King David in Sunday school last week (“a man after God’s own heart”) and the teacher said something I found odd. He said the fact that God took His Spirit away from Saul did not necessarily mean Saul lost his salvation. It depended on how Saul was in relation to the Messiah; to Jesus.

MessiahI know that a lot of Christians have to retrofit John 14:6 into the ancient Hebrew Scriptures in order to make the Christian concept of “salvation” work, but it’s completely anachronistic. There is nothing wrong with Saul, David, or any of the other Hebrews or even Gentiles of those days being wholly devoted to the God of Israel and Him only.

Jesus did something new (though not what most Christians think) and revolutionary. First of all, he gave the entire world access to God without Gentiles having to enter into the Sinai covenant by converting to Judaism. I got what I’m about to say next from a comment made on my blog, but let’s think of Jesus as a doorway. When we open the door and walk through, what do we find inside but God. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (emph. mine)

This doesn’t negate the vital role of Messiah and his mysterious and even mystic relationship to Hashem and God’s Spirit, all somehow Echad (and I don’t believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just identical and interchangeable components like so many spark plugs), but it does maintain a continual Biblical focus on the God of Heaven from Genesis, through the apostolic period, and beyond.

The FFOZ commentary continues:

According to the gospels, a veil was torn when Yeshua breathed His last upon the cross. Scripture says, “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38) The tearing of the veil is often wrongly understood as a sign that the old covenant, the Torah and the Temple system were all rendered defunct by the cross.

In the book of Hebrews (10:19–20) we are told that the veil symbolized Messiah’s body. He is the veil. Just as the life was rent from His body, so too the curtain was rent with the result that we might have access to the most holy place through Him. This is not the same as abrogating the Temple worship system; rather, it is a vivid dramatization of what the death of Messiah accomplished: access to God.

Embroidered upon the veil were two cherubim. The cherubim invoke the imagery of the Garden of Eden and the way to the tree of life, as the Torah says in Genesis 3:24, “And at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” The cherubim on the veil stood sentry in front of the Holy of Holies like the two cherubim that guard the way to the tree of life (immortality) and the Garden of Eden (paradise). As the curtain was rent into two pieces, a way between the cherubim was created.

We learn something new every day. I just did.

I’m not going to debate a “right or wrong” relative to Derek and Gene. I am going to say that just because someone zealously maintains a firm conviction in something doesn’t necessarily make that “something” factual. There are many mysteries left in the universe and many mysteries left in the Bible and in God. I happen to believe the “New Perspective on Paul” as related to the “Messianic Jewish” approach (and I realize that there are a ton of variations within those two general categories of study and knowledge) is the right way to go to re-evaluate all of the old assumptions which were based on some pretty bad motivations.

Discussions such as the one between Derek and Gene are, in my opinion, necessary, as long as they can be conducted without personalizing conflict, because they act as a crucible in which we can burn away many of the flaws in our beliefs and at least allow ourselves to question the “assumptions (that) are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced.”

“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”

-Jean de la Fontaine, French writer and poet