How does a Christian know what Jesus wants of us? From a traditional Church perspective, the answer is easy. Read the New Testament, that is the Apostolic Scriptures.
So primarily, Christians study the words of Jesus as recorded by four Jewish guys (I’m being way overly simplistic here regarding the source materials of the Gospels) Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the “Acts of the Apostles,” which is mainly about the life of the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, as recorded by the aforementioned, Luke, and a whole bunch of letters generally attributed to the aforementioned Paul.
But arguably, Jesus taught almost exclusively or exclusively to Jewish audiences. The Gospel of Matthew is definitely written to Jews, while Luke’s Gospel may well have been intended for a wider audience. According to some sources, Acts may have been composed as part of Paul’s legal defense when he appeared before Caesar in Rome (as possibly was Luke’s Gospel), and we have to assume that most or all of Paul’s letters were addressing his Gentile students, although he may have had messages for particular Jewish people or communities as well.
Here’s one startling thought that occurred to me. For the most part, we can’t really depend on the actual, quoted words of Jesus or Rav Yeshua as a guide to worship and devotion for the non-Jewish disciple.
Remember, I said that Jesus primarily or exclusively taught Jews about the true interpretation of Torah and performance of the mitzvot. He was a Jewish teacher teaching Jewish students about the Jewish mitzvot. What does that have to do with non-Jews?
In yesterday’s blog post about the Roman Centurion Cornelius, I mentioned that Marc Turnage in his presentation defined circumcision as the dividing line as to whether or not a person is Jewish, and thus, whether or not a person is obligated to the Torah mitzvot.
Of course, it’s not just circumcision, but a bris (brit milah) performed on a male, either on the eighth day of life for a boy born to Jewish parents, or as part of the proselyte rite undergone by a male Gentile converting to Judaism.
So if Jesus is a Jew teaching Torah to Jews and is not presupposing Gentiles reading his recorded words (let alone trying to act them out), we can’t always rely upon a red-letter edition of the Bible to be the Gentile Christian’s sole guide to a life of holiness.
So what can we do?
What did the vast majority of non-Jews in the diaspora do when they heard the good news of Rav Yeshua? For that matter, who did they hear those words from?
As far as the Apostolic Scriptures are concerned, most of the time, they interacted with the man who Yeshua specifically appointed (in Acts 9) to be the special emissary to the Gentiles, the man known as Saul of Tarsus but who most Christians call the Apostle Paul.
Paul had the responsibility of interpreting Jewish teaching so it would apply to non-Jewish lives. That’s no easy task. Well, it might not have been too much of a chore if his audience were Gentile God-fearers who had already spent a lot of time in the synagogue hearing Jewish teachings (see Acts 13:13-43 for example). But he may have fought quite an uphill battle when addressing pagan Gentiles who only knew their own mythology (such as in Acts 14:8-18).
So get this. Paul didn’t teach the Gospel message to the Gentiles in exactly the same way as Jesus taught it to the Jews (which may be why Paul called it “my Gospel” in Romans 2:16, 16:25-27 and in other epistles). Why? Because the Jewish message had to be interpreted and adapted by Paul so it would not only make sense to non-Jewish audiences, but fit their particular legal status in Jewish community. This is really important, since Jews are named subjects of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) and Gentiles are not!
From that, we have to understand that the “admission” process must be different for Jews than Gentile initiates. Jews are born into the covenants, all of them, whether they want to be or not. Gentiles are born into no covenant with God at all except perhaps the Noahide covenant (Genesis 9). Our entry, so to speak, must be via a different process with different criteria involved.
I often wonder if this is why more traditional Jewish people don’t mind what Jesus taught so much, but most of them absolutely loathe Paul. Paul, when interpreted through traditional Christian and Jewish lenses, seems not to be teaching Judaism at all, but rather, creating a new religion. For modern observant Jews, this makes Paul a traitor to the Jewish people, and an advocate to the elimination of Judaism (and Jews, even in Paul’s day, also believed this of him — see Acts 21 starting at verse 15).
Ironically, many Christians believe the same thing, that Paul threw Judaism under a bus and replaced it with Christianity, but in this case, that’s considered part of God’s plan and not the ultimate insult to God and the Jewish people (more’s the pity).
No, I’m not saying that we non-Jews shouldn’t read the Gospels. We really need to get to know our Rav and what he taught. However, we cannot always assume we can apply each and every lesson he taught to Jews about the Torah to ourselves as non-Jews without some interpretation, anymore than we can assume to apply what and how Moses taught the Torah to the Children of Israel to the Church today.
Although the Apostolic Scriptures record that it was sometimes difficult to teach the Jewish people about the good news of Rav Yeshua, it would have been extremely difficult to get that across to Gentile pagans who lacked a Jewish educational and lived context. That’s why the Apostle to the Gentiles had to be highly educated, multi-lingual and multi-cultural, both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He had to be thoroughly Jewish and yet be able to “talk the talk,” as such, of non-Jewish peoples who lived in a wide variety of religious, cultural, and social venues.
That’s why the job was so hard and required such a unique individual.
But this is (in my opinion) why we modern non-Jewish disciples of the Rav, cannot simply imitate modern Jewish worship practices and performance of the mitzvot and say we understand the teachings of Yeshua and how to respond to them. That’s as erroneous as modern Christians in their churches today saying that Jesus did away with the Law for the Jew and that everyone, including born Jews, must abandon Judaism, Torah, and Talmud and become goyishe Christians in order to be reconciled with God.
So how did Paul interpret Jesus for the Gentile? We may never have a solid answer, but I’m convinced that we’ll never get anywhere near that answer unless we’re willing to ask the question.
Ultimately, it may not be as complex as most folks who are “Judaicly aware” imagine. In fact, it might not be that different from what most traditional Christians do now, apart from a specific attitude toward the centrality of Israel (rather than the Church) in God’s plan of redemption.
Please keep in mind that everything I’ve just written I pretty much composed off the cuff. It’s not the result of an exhaustive review of the Bible and associated scholarly literature. If anything, it’s the result of my imagination and a number of years of reading, writing, listening, and learning. I still think the message has merit.
The main problem is one of approach. Too often, the importance of the Jewish background of the prayer and of the language that Jesus used has been overlooked or minimized. Jesus was a Jew, speaking Hebrew to his Jewish followers during the difficult days of the Roman occupation of Israel in the Second Temple Period. A modern Christian has a quite different understanding of prayer, Scripture, and faith than a Jewish teacher like Jesus, not to mention the great differences in language, culture, and history. One can easily miss the great depth of Jesus’ message, even while believing in him. Here we will try to rediscover something of the original Jewish atmosphere in which Jesus taught his followers how to approach God in prayer.
I’ll start by profusely thanking Toby Janicki for graciously lending me his personal copy of Young’s book. Apparently it is out of print, and even used copies on Amazon are kind of pricey, especially for a forty-six page text.
As Young states, we Christians in the Church tend to almost take the Lord’s Prayer, or rather “the Disciples’ Prayer” for granted. It’s one of those things we read in the New Testament that we think we all understand correctly and completely. After all, the prayer itself is quite short. What’s there to misunderstand, right?
The answer to that question is “plenty,” and for the reasons I quoted above.
To start off, I won’t quote the Disciples Prayer here. It should be pretty familiar to most Christians, even those who don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible. For reference, there are two, parallel versions of this prayer in the Bible and they aren’t identical. You can find them in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The differences, I suspect, have to do with the different audiences of each Gospel, with Matthew written to the Jews and Luke written to the Greeks.
Our Father Who Art In Heaven
Young suspects (pg 3) that Luke removed the “Jewish elements” of the prayer, since his version does not contain the words we read in English, “who art in heaven”. This was a familiar prayer formula in first century Judaism but would have seemed foreign to Greek readers. Picturing a “Father in Heaven” might have summoned images in Greek minds of some “god” such as Zeus sitting on an Olympian throne (pg 4). Luke may have felt it prudent to avoid such false associations by editing Jesus’ words (a Gospel writer editing the words of the Master to fit a specific audience is somewhat startling, don’t you think?).
But for a Jewish audience, the “Father in Heaven” reminded them of the love and care Hashem had and has for the Jewish people, and they would have recalled many references from scripture of the kindness of God toward Israel:
Whoever is wise let him note these things, and they will comprehend the kindnesses of Hashem.
–Psalm 107:43 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Jesus taught his disciples that God is not just a generic Father in Heaven, but He is “your” Father and “our” Father. The relationship between God and Israel isn’t just corporate, it’s personal. As Gentile disciples of the Master, we are grafted into that relationship with God, and thus we can call God “our” Father and “my” Father in Heaven.
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Young says (pg 7) that the word we read as “Hallowed,” at least in the King James Translation, is more accurately rendered “sanctified”. He “retrotranslated” the Greek into the Hebrew word “yitkadesh” which means “be sanctified” so the phrase should read like “may Your Name be sanctified”. He also compares this to the Hebrew word “v’hitkadishti” found in Ezekiel 38:23
I will be exalted and I will be sanctified… (emph. mine)
–Ezekiel 38:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
But as Young asks (pg 8), two-thousand years ago, what did “sanctify” mean to the Master’s Jewish disciples? Young makes comparisons to Leviticus 22:32 and Ezekiel 36:23 but he also said this:
The name of the Lord can be either sanctified or profaned by the conduct of people. In fact, because a martyr would frequently cause others to glorify God as a result of his sacrifice, the Hebrew idiom, “to sanctify the Name,” was often understood as referring to someone who would give his life for his faith.
-Young, pg 8
Adds some dimension to the crucifixion of Christ, doesn’t it? Perhaps as his disciples watched Jesus slowly dying on the cross, they remembered these words and what they truly meant to the Master. Perhaps they finally understood one day, that to pray this prayer was to ask that they be considered worthy to also die for the sake of Heaven.
But it’s not just how you die, but how you live, for “one sanctifies God by living a holy life.”Recall Matthew 5:16 (DHE Gospels):
So also, shine your light before sons of men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in heaven.
According to Young (pg 10), we mistakenly believe this phrase refers to Heaven or some future, Messianic Kingdom that Jesus will establish after he returns. But what did Jesus mean when he said, as he often did, “the Kingdom of Heaven?”
The Greek word “eltheto” doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English but it suggests “may it be” or “let it be”. But again, in Hebrew and to a Second Temple Era Jewish audience, what did this mean? Young (pg 11) says the phrase is quite similar to words we find in the Kaddish: “May He cause His Kingdom to reign.” Young also makes a comparison to the Hebrew words “tamlich malchutcha” or “May you continue establishing Your Kingship,” indicating a continual process rather than a point fixed in time. It is associated with the idea of a Kingdom that has already arrived, and yet is still in the process of coming.
The overarching concept of God having reigned, His currently reigning, and His reigning forever, is all over the Bible. Exodus 15:18, Psalm 93:1, and Psalm 146:10 only scratch the surface, and all of these references may well have come to the minds of the disciples as they listened to Jesus teach them how to pray.
Young states (pg 13) that, referencing Matthew 10:7, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” the phrase “at hand” or “engiken” in Greek (Heb. “karav”), is “the perfect indicative” and is better understood as an already completed action. It’s could be better said as “The Kingdom of Heaven is here.”
On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would say the holiest name for God. When he pronounced the Tetragrammaton, the people would fall on their faces and affirm, “His honorable name is blessed and his Kingdom is forever and ever.” The Kingdom is present. God is reigning. He rules as the people recognize his Kingship. He rules when he redeems people. (emph. mine)
-Young, pg 14
This not only speaks directly to Lancaster’s point in the aforementioned sermon, but it expands the meaning of how God’s Kingdom can already be here in a completed form and still having not quite arrived. As each individual comes to faith and acknowledges the Kingship of God in the world and in their lives, the Kingdom is continuing to be established, one human being at a time, across all time, and across human history. As the Gospel message is progressively spread throughout the Earth, the Kingdom is also being spread, expanded, established, affirmed. When the time of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25) is fulfilled, Israel will be redeemed by Messiah and the Kingdom that has already arrived and yet still arriving, will become perfected in our world, and the Messiah King who is already enthroned in the Heavenly Court, will ascend to his place of honor in Jerusalem.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
–Matthew 5:3 (NASB)
Young says this is a poor translation of the Greek “hoti auton estin” and does not actually imply that the poor can “own” the Kingdom of Heaven.” The “poor in spirit” (followers of Jesus) do not own the Kingdom as a possession. Young renders the same verse in Hebrew and then translates that back into English to say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they make up the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, the followers of Jesus comprise, or are the building blocks, or are the substance of the Kingdom.
These are people who have already accepted the rule of the King and thus not only become part of the Kingdom as subjects, but are the very essence of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Messiah’s Kingdom. “May you continue establishing your Kingdom, and may your will be done” are parallel phrases in this prayer and declare that we desire more hearts turn to the Father by way of the Son, further establishing God’s rule and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As In Heaven
We already touched on this phrase in the section above, stating that this is an affirmation of what God is already doing. Young (pg 18) references the Greek “genathato” as “may it be,” translating it back into the Hebrew “hayah” which is “to be” or “asah” which indicates “to do”. A more literal translation, taking the Hebrew into account, would be “Let it be your will in heaven and earth” or “Let your will prevail in heaven and earth”.
Young says (pg 19) that “to do His will” is idiomatic Hebrew indicating that it is people who do God’s will, thus is a call for obedience or a declaration of obedience to God, for one continually establishes His Kingdom by continual obedience, thus sanctifying His Name.
No finer act of sacrificial obedience to God can be found than in Jesus at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39:46):
Of course, the greatest example of the battle to do the will of God is Jesus himself in Gethsemane. Jesus had already predicted his betrayal and sufferings. The brutality of Roman executions was well known, and more than a few had actually witnessed crucifixion. Jesus was keenly aware of the deeper significance of his sufferings. Still, conscious of his own crucifixion looming before him in the next hours, he prayed, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus did not succumb but performed the will of God. A person overrules his own volition in order to do God’s will.
-Young, pp 20-21
Jesus has been called an Apostle (Hebrews 3:1), a “sent out one,” and he taught that no servant is greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16), thus Jesus depicted the perfect servant of God, who would obey, even to the death, as an act of love toward his disciples ( John 13:34, John 15:13) and ultimately toward humanity (John 3:16).
Young quotes from Rabbi Alexandri’s prayer (pg 21), saying, “Sovereign of the universe, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to do Your will.” We must all repent continually for it is sin that causes us to rebel against God, preventing us from making His will our will and establishing His Kingdom.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
You wouldn’t think this would need interpreting. Why isn’t it plain that we are to ask God to fulfill our daily needs? Is this asking for our food today, or that our food be prepared for the following day? Young makes a connection to Proverbs 30:8 stating that Jesus may have been deliberately alluding to the scripture, “Remove me far from falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food that is needful for me.”
So “daily bread” may mean something more like “all of my needs”. This simple phrase in the prayer can be unpacked into a complex set of Jewish conceptualizations interconnected throughout the Bible.
Consider Exodus 16:4-10 and particularly verse 4:
Hashem said to Moses, “Behold! — I shall rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day’s portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not.”
This speaks not only to obedience but utter dependence and emphasizes not only the study of Torah, according to Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai (pg 25), but being “totally dependent upon God for…every need.”
God is the great provider and we should not even doubt that His providence will always be available (see Matthew 6:25-26, Luke 12:22-24).
And Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors
Young cites (pg 29) Matthew 18:23-35 as a lesson in forgiveness and links how we as disciples forgive others to how we will be forgiven by God. He shows a parallel between this part of the Disciples’ Prayer and what Ben Sira (Sirach) taught (170 BCE): “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.”
But is it that we impact how or if God will forgive our sins by the quality of forgiveness in our own hearts, or is an unforgiving heart inhibited in prayer, thus never reaching God…or is it a little of both?
“Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your knowledge. This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: Love your fellow as yourself. The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.”
–Matthew 22:36-40 (DHE Gospels)
There’s a slight difference in Luke’s version of the prayer. Matthew asks for forgiveness of “debts” where Luke says “sins.” Young (pg 30) says this is probably associated with the use of the Hebrew word “chayav” which can mean both guilt to which we are accountable and a debt to be paid.
If we again consider Jesus as an Apostle of God, then to the degree he forgave represented God’s forgiveness, and Jesus forgave generously, even to his enemies:
Yeshua said, “My Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
–Luke 23:34 (DHE Gospels)
Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil
Young (pg 31) considers “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil” to be parallel statements. The word for “temptation” in Hebrew suggests “test” or “trial,” just as HaSatan tested the Master (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:1-12, Luke 4:1-13) hoping to cause him to stumble. Please keep in mind that it wouldn’t have been much of a test if Jesus was totally incapable of sinning, of disobedience to God. He would only have been exalted by resisting the temptation to do what was evil in God’s eyes, that is, if it was possible for him to fail.
When Jesus taught his disciples this portion of the prayer, he of course knew that it was not only possible for the disciples to fall prey to testing and to sin, but that indeed, they would fail. Consider Peter’s denial of the Master after declaring that he would follow Jesus even unto death (Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, John 18:15-27).
Young notes parallels (pg 32) not only in scripture (Psalm 119:133) but in one of the Psalm scrolls from the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Cave 11, “Let not Satan nor an unclean spirit rule over me” (Heb. “al tashlet bi satqan v’ruach tumah”). Also, the Testament of Levi states, “And do not let Satan rule over me to lead me astray.”Young further quotes abundantly from the Talmud where very similar wording is to be found.
We see here, as I’ve written in other “meditations,” that there is a great deal more information packaged into even the briefest portions of our Bible than we might imagine, even if we are seasoned students of the Bible. If we apprehend scripture from a solely Christian perspective but fail to take into account the Hebrew thought behind the Greek text, we fail not only to get the full message of Jesus, but in many cases, the correct message of Jesus. Thus even with the best intentions and a wholehearted desire to serve God, we end up traveling down many unintended and undesirable paths in relation to God, to the Jewish people, to Judaism, and to Israel.
Even though Jesus taught his disciples this prayer in Hebrew, in an entirely different setting nearly two millenniums ago, the petitions contained in this short prayer transcend time and are appropriate to the modern-day disciple. Today, perhaps more than ever before, Jesus’ followers need to be challenged again to respond to this timeless message.
-Young, pg 36
The challenge is to encounter the teachings of Jesus and his Jewish disciples on their own terms, meeting them on their own “home ground,” so to speak, rather than in the places that make us feel comfortable. Most Christians get a little nervous when a lesson about Jesus seems “too Jewish.” Oh sure, they can accept a few Hebrew words and a few Jewish thoughts, but once you start re-translating the entire concept of the Gospel message of Moshiach into a wholly Jewish context, most Gentile Christians, especially those raised in the Church and quite accustomed to the traditions associated with Biblical interpretation, will quickly lose their bearings and feeling in danger of becoming lost, will retreat to more familiar territory, even if that territory has a poorer view of the revered Savior.
Young’s small book was published thirty years ago and sadly is very expensive to acquire, but it also is part of a larger body of scholarship that is continually being added to, which holds the promise of truly illuminating the mind and heart of each and every believer, showing us the Jewish face of Yeshua behind the Gentile mask of Jesus.
Imagine if a forty-six page booklet can say so much about just a few verses in the Gospel that teach such a brief prayer, what could be learned if we approached the entire Bible from the same perspective?
But the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.
We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.
That is some of my commentary from yesterday’s morning meditation (If you haven’t done so already, please click the link and read part 1 before continuing here) based on First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and director Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” presentation. The original lecture series is a couple of years old, but it was recently released on audio CD and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to this teaching. I learned a few things from this lecture and by sharing some of it, I hope you can learn a few things, too.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
–Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)
It’s interesting that Matthew’s rendition of this event (Matthew 22:36-40) doesn’t include a more direct reference to the Shema. Many Christians imagine that Jesus replaced the 613 commandments of the Torah (though the Torah wouldn’t be formally codified in this manner for many centuries after the resurrection) with just two, thus substituting grace for the law. But that’s not how it would have sounded to Messiah’s original Jewish audience.
In yesterday’s blog post, I related the part of Boaz’s teaching illustrating how the Master (or any Jewish teacher in those days) could quote from just a single verse in a Psalm or other portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and his audience would immediately recall the full text of the part of scripture to which he was referring, connecting the teaching to the much wider body of words and imagery. When Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments and in Hebrew said, “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel), the people listening wouldn’t have just thought of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, but to the rest of the content of that chapter as well as Deuteronomy 11 and Numbers 28 which also are part of the Shema. The reason the Pharisee who was an expert in the law agreed with Jesus so strongly is because he not only agreed with the interpretation of the immediate text under discussion, but the wider implications of how Jesus was presenting and teaching the Shema and Torah as good news and hope to Israel.
And again, Christians tend to miss this point, especially since we are (most likely) reading the text in English and not viewing it with a Jewish mindset. But the further importance of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels being presented at the same time as Boaz’s teaching is that “retro-translating” the Greek back into a “Hebrew voice,” allows for a more “Jewish” reading of this lesson, giving us a closer look at how the ancient Jewish listeners were hearing and understanding Jesus. Even reading the Gospels in Greek would still “miss” what the ancient Jews were hearing when Jesus taught.
We can see a further connection here:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
–Matthew 7:24 (NRSV)
The two greatest commandments do not replace the Torah nor do they really condense the Torah. This teaching actually unpackages the meaning of the Shema and defines any Jewish person who has faith in God and who is zealous for the Torah to be both hearers and doers of the Word and will of God.
That’s a lot to pull out of a short discussion between Jesus and a legal expert.
But Boaz’s teaching is called “Moses in Matthew” and in referencing Matthew chapters 1 and 2, he says that it was the Apostle’s intent to mirror the birth and childhood narratives of Jesus with Moses. That may not be immediately obvious to the Christian reader, which is why lectures such as this one are so important.
I won’t go into all of the details (since my notes are limited) but making the connection requires some knowledge of Jewish midrash (Maybe books such as those written by Daube and Lachs would help) about the early life of Moses and his parents, information that isn’t available in the Bible (and Bible sufficiency proponents will likely struggle at this point). But Jesus’s audience would have been aware of some form of the midrashim connected to the early life of Moses, and when reading how Matthew wrote about the early life of Jesus, Boaz believes Matthew’s audience would be saying to themselves, “I’ve heard this story before.”
Klinghoffer fails to grasp the depth of Matthew’s hermeneutic (along with the hermeneutic of other NT authors), noting, “Pointing out the imprecision of proof texts like these, one feels almost unsporting. It’s too easy” (66). To the contrary, as top Matthew scholars have observed, “Matthew was not above scattering items in his Greek text whose deeper meaning could only be appreciated by those with a knowledge of Hebrew. Indeed, it might even be that Matthew found authorial delight in hiding ‘bonus points’ for those willing and able to look a little beneath the gospel’s surface.”3 At times it is clear that Klinghoffer simply failed to get the NT author’s point (see again 66, citing Matt 2:23 and Isa 11:1).
Boaz Michael’s perspective on Matthew’s Gospel is not in isolation. Now to continue with the main portion of my missive.
Please keep in mind that the point isn’t whether or not midrash is literally true. It probably isn’t. But the cultural context of the midrashim and what it means to a Jewish audience is what connects and binds the interpretive stories about Moses to the stories Matthew was telling about the young Jesus and his family.
Boaz went on in his teaching to compare the temptation accounts in Luke 4 and Matthew 4. They’re not the same. Matthew includes specific details that Luke leaves out, such as the Master fasting for forty days and forty nights. That specific time period (as opposed to just forty days) is mentioned only four times in the Bible, and three of those events are related to fasts (Elijah’s fast is one of them). How could Matthew’s readers not associate Jesus’s fast in the wilderness with that of Moses on the Mountain with God. It is further said in midrash that Moses dined on the bread of angels on the Mountain (somewhat contradicting that he was fasting) and in Matthew’s account of the temptation, the Adversary said that Jesus could command stones to become bread.
The order of the temptations is reversed from Luke to Matthew, with Matthew’s account presenting Jesus being taken to a high mountain and shown all the nations as the last temptation. Just before Moses’s death, God took him to a high mountain and showed him all of the nation of Israel.
(You might be thinking that these comparisons aren’t very strong, but it’s the way Matthew is writing his entire Gospel that provides the complete illustration of Messiah and Moses. The Gospels differ from each other, not because the Gospel writers were inconsistent, but because they each had a different emphasis on Messiah to present, like four different artists each painting a different portrait of Messiah. Same guy but different styles and interpretations.)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him…
In between these two events, Yeshua (Jesus) delivered what has come to be called “the Sermon on the Mount.” It might surprise you to hear that Boaz believes Jesus going up the mountain and then coming back down can be compared to Moses going up to receive the Torah and coming back down. That probably sounds a little thin to you, but consider the function of the sermon itself. It’s been called the greatest distillation of the Torah. Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Torah and descended to deliver it to Israel. Jesus ascended the mountain to teach the Torah and descended when he had finished.
Also, when Moses descended, he encountered the faithless Children of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf. When Jesus descended, he encountered a leper (actually, a Jewish man with a form of “spiritual skin disease”) who through faith was made clean of his disease. There’s a “mirror effect” being created between Moses and Jesus by Matthew for his readers.
Now here’s something really interesting.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
Anyone involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups for more than five minutes will recognize this passage as the core message of those two movements. Yes the Torah will pass away, but not until Heaven and Earth pass away. Now here’s the really cool part.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The words of the Torah will pass away at some point in the future, but Messiah says that his words will never pass away.
The Torah is greatly praised both in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the New Testament but if you study the Torah, a great deal of its content has to do with daily living in Israel, daily human living on earth. All of that will eventually fade away after a long, long period of time.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
With no temple currently existing in Jerusalem, most Christians think the Torah has already been done away with and been replaced by Christ’s grace, but I believe another temple will be built. It would be impossible to observe the laws related to the temple without the Torah being in effect for the Jewish people. We know that the Gentile nations will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot every year in the Messianic Era. Again, observing the festival requires a temple in Jerusalem and the laws of the Torah for temple worship. Jesus said the Torah will be with us as long as there are a heaven and earth. Eventually there will be no Torah and no Temple, but we aren’t there yet. But even when we get there, the words of the Lamb will remain, for they are eternal.
All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
–Psalm 86:9, 11
I’ve said in today’s “meditation” as I’ve said many times before, that the Torah remains and functions. It remained and functioned after Christ’s ascension and in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. In order for prophesy to be fulfilled, the Torah needs to remain in force for the Jewish people until all has been completed and as long as there is a heaven and an earth.
But if you’re a Christian reading this, you’re probably wondering what that means to you. Even if you’re willing to accept the continued authority of the Torah for the Jewish people (a big “if” for many Christians), what does it have to do with a believer who isn’t Jewish?
There’s a great deal in even a surface reading of the Torah that has to do with a Christian living a holy life. All of the principles upon which we live a life of faith are from Torah; caring for the disadvantaged, feeding the hungry, comforting the widow, helping a neighbor, visiting the sick…these are all from Torah and they all apply to Christians today.
Boaz said that the heart of discipleship is to study the teachings of our Master and to apply those parts of the teachings that directly connect to us to our daily living. Remember, Jesus primarily taught to Jewish audiences who were perceiving his teachings from a Jewish worldview. Paul was the primary agent responsible for taking those Jewish teachings and crafting them in a manner “digestible” to a God-fearing Gentile audience.
The first discourse Paul gave at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-43) was a teaching of Jesus the Messiah as the culmination of Jewish history condensed (and most likely summarized by Luke) by the Apostle and presented to Jewish and God-fearing Gentile listeners. Their response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
But as time passed, the message of the good news of Messiah became increasingly “Gentilized” and eventually divorced from its Jewish context. Even those Christian scholars who can read the New Testament in the Greek can easily miss the “Hebrew voice” of the Apostles and thus lose a great deal of their intent and meaning.
Which is why teachings such as this one given by Boaz Michael are important. It’s why studying midrash and Jewish thought are exceptionally helpful in augmenting our understanding of the Bible.
The value of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements for non-Jewish believers is to teach us the Torah and how to read it in relation to the New Testament scriptures. It’s to help us filter the Bible through the eyes of Jewish thinkers, writers, and sages. It’s to encourage us to think outside the traditional Christian “box,” not to turn us into quasi-Jewish people, but to define and illuminate the Christian relationship to the Jewish people, the chosen ones of God, and thus to Messiah himself, the first-born son of Israel.
If you are intrigued but unfamiliar with the perspectives I’ve been discussing in yesterday’s and today’s blog posts, I encourage you to go to First Fruits of Zion and see what else they have to offer. As a fellow Christian and student of the Bible, I’ve found many of their materials invaluable in my own exploration of my faith.
Who is the Jewish Jesus and how does a “Jewish” understanding of the scriptures make us better Christians? It’s a journey I hope you’ll join me on as we investigate this “undiscovered country,” including the Jewish Gospel of Matthew.
No word in the Jewish religion is so indefinable and yet so indispensable as the word Torah. Torah is the most comprehensive term for the substance of Judaism. Torah is Teaching. Torah is Law. No one can hope to achieve even a minimal appreciation of the Jewish religion without learning, and then reflecting on, the idea of Torah and its place in the life of the Jew. Torah has been for ages the sum and substance of Jewish scholarship. But it would be utterly wrong to conclude from this emphasis on study that Jewish spirituality runs dry in the sands of intellectualism.
After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
–Acts 21:19-21 (ESV)
Last night’s conversation with Pastor Randy about the second chapter (sermon) in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians wasn’t quite as intense as the previous week’s talk (though it had its moments early on). A lot of the focus was on who Paul’s intended audience was supposed to be, what Paul was trying to say, and why he was saying it.
I think Pastor Randy wanted to pull in all of the material from the letter whilst I wanted to try to contain our investigation to the current chapter of Lancaster’s book, which only covers Galatians 1:6-10. Yes, that’s pretty hard to do, but as I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t satisfied with my original reading of Lancaster’s book, and I wanted to take this opportunity to go through it again with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, sifting its pages, and uncovering its message, along with Paul’s message to the Galatian churches.
Pastor Randy remains convinced that Paul was writing to the Gentile and Jewish populations in the churches in Galatia, and it’s hard to refute that. Pastor did back away from his comments of the previous week regarding Paul’s addressing of “Brothers” as being only to Jews, but he maintains the term can be applied to both Jews and Gentiles in the community of believers.
And then I brought up how silly it would be for Paul to tell Jews not to become circumcised and convert to Judaism.
And then he brought up how some/many of the Jews in the diaspora may not have been circumcised and may not have been all that Torah observant.
It would seem, summoning Occam’s razor to my rescue, that the most reasonable understanding of the Jewish population of the diaspora was that they were observant to Torah relative to the normative halachah of their day, and that the Jewish males would routinely have been circumcised on the eighth day, even as Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day.
I’ll get back to that in a moment, but before I forget, we also discussed the identity of the influencers:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
–Galatians 1:6-8 (ESV)
Who were these “troublers and distorters?” Christian expository preaching for centuries has referred to them as “Judaizers.” We will take a look at that terminology as we wrestle with this question in the ensuing material, but for now, we will adopt a term currently popular in Pauline studies and simply refer to them as the “influencers.” They are within the Galatian communities who are influencing the God-fearing Gentiles to undergo conversion.
One quick observation about the “influencers:” They are most likely believers in Yeshua of Nazareth. This possibility is lost on many interpreters. They might be Jewish believers or believing proselytes to Judaism, but they are almost certainly believers.
How do we know? We will consider the evidence as we work through the epistle, but from the outset, Paul says that they “want to distort the gospel of Messiah.” A non-believer does not want to distort the gospel; he wants to refute it and repudiate it. Only believers distort the gospel. Paul says that they preach “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,” but they [are] preaching a gospel, they [are] teachers of good news. For that reason we may deduce that they are believers in Yeshua of Nazareth.
-Lancaster, “Galatians” Sermon Two
When I arrived for my appointment with Pastor Randy, he was working on his computer with translations of Galatians 1:6-8 from the ESV, the KJV, and the Greek text in preparation for our meeting. Here’s the relevant portions of vv. 6-7 from the King James Version with emphasis added:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
I can’t reproduce the Greek but the question Pastor was asking is if the “gospel” being preached by the Influencers was indeed the gospel of Christ, or another preaching altogether. While we can agree that there is no other “gospel” of Christ, there can be other types or fashions of “good news,” and Pastor’s opinion is that the Influencers didn’t have to be believing Jews based on the text or context, and indeed, they might not be believers at all.
There’s a certain merit in this, since during Paul’s time with the Jewish communities in the area of Galatia, he encountered many Jewish people and God-fearing Gentiles who listened to the message of the Gospel, but not all of them came to faith.
One of the big, big problems that all Jewish people had with “the Way,” including many of the Jews within the Way, was how to admit Gentiles as equal covenant members without requiring that they become circumcised and convert to Judaism. Acts 15 answers that question, but Galatians was almost certainly written before the Acts 15 event. The decision that Gentiles were not required to convert seems to have been clear to Paul as he was writing the letter to Galatia, but James and the Council had not yet rendered a halakhic ruling based on legal proof-texts. The “Jerusalem Letter” made the decision official, but at this point, Paul is going by his understanding of the Messiah’s plan for the Gentiles through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Getting back to circumcision, Pastor maintains that Paul very well could have been telling both Gentiles and Jews that they did not have to become circumcised and observe the Law in order to be disciples of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
OK, I accept that was Paul’s message to the Gentiles, but to the Jews? Would Paul ever say such a thing?
…and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
–Acts 21:21 (ESV)
That’s what finally got back to the Jews in Jerusalem about Paul, and they were taking it very seriously. What was Paul going to do to quell these rumors?
What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.
–Acts 21:22-24 (ESV)
That’s the solution, but was Paul being disingenuous? That is, was he just going through the motions to mollify the Jerusalem Jews by undergoing a Jewish vow ritual, something he no longer saw as relevant in his life because of his faith in Messiah?
In other words, was he lying to the Jerusalem Jews (and was James and the Elders supporting his lies) about whether or not he was telling the diaspora Jews not to circumcise their sons and to forsake Moses? Did he really tell all those things to the Jewish populations in Galatia?
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
–Acts 22:3 (ESV)
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.
–Acts 23:6 (ESV)
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
–Philippians 3:4-6 (ESV)
Paul was certainly working to establish his “Jewish credentials” in these circumstances. I know that a lot of people, when in fear of their lives, would lie to save themselves, but if Paul were telling diaspora Jews to not circumcise their sons and to go against the Torah, would he have lied about it, even to save his own life?
That hardly seems likely. We know from the New Testament record that Paul endured enormous hardships for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, and that his own life was worth less to him than preaching the good news of Moshiach to the Jews and the Gentiles. If he was trying to save his own life, he wouldn’t have done what we know he did on numerous occasions, which resulted in him being beaten, left for dead, shipwrecked, arrested, put in prison, and ultimately executed by the Romans.
We also know this about some of the Jews in Jerusalem.
And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law…
–Acts 21:20 (ESV)
Jews…who have believed and all zealous for the law. Believing Jews zealous for the law. Jewish disciples of Jesus as the Messiah who were also zealous for the Torah.
Of course they were upset at the thought that Paul was rumored to be teaching against the law to the diaspora Jews. Of course they were upset when they thought he had taken Trophimus the Ephesian into the Temple (Acts 21:29).
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
–Acts 21:27-28 (ESV)
Paul was believed by the Jews from Asia to have taken a Greek into the Temple, defiling it (think “Maccabees” and Chanukah), and speaking against the people (Jews) and the Torah, and they called to the crowds of Jerusalem Jews to help capture this “traitor.” Either that was true and Paul lied about it to save himself, or it was untrue and Paul was defending himself from these vicious rumors. As I mentioned, Paul lying about this seems completely inconsistent with what we know about his history. If he’s telling the truth and the rumors are false, then Paul never told the diaspora Jews to not circumcise their sons, to not observe Torah, and he never took a Gentile into the Temple or spoke against Jewish people or Israel.
But if Paul supported Jewish observance of Torah and circumcision and if there were Jerusalem Jews who were both believers and zealous for the Torah, then they obviously didn’t see any sort of inconsistency between faith in Messiah Jesus and a traditional Jewish life of Torah observance.
I think I gave Pastor something to think about but he is going to test my beliefs very stringently, as well he should.
What is Torah?
Silly question, right? Not according to the quote from Rabbi Maurice Lamm I put at the top of this blog post. And yet, Pastor Randy said that he and I need to have a working definition of “Torah” so that we can know what we’re supposed to be talking about in these conversations. When I say, Paul was a “Torah observant Jew,” what do I mean? I think I know what I mean, but the answer is far more complex than we might imagine.
It’s also important to understand what “Torah” was in the days of Paul and the Apostles so that we can establish how that relates to what Torah is today. What “Torah” observance is appropriate for a modern “Messianic Jew” to follow? Are those practices identical to say, an Orthodox Jew? How does that observance relate to modern Jewish halachah, let alone the future of the Torah and the rebuilding of the Temple?
The Torah is the foundation of faith in Yeshua. All of the concepts associated with the Gospel—such as God, holiness, righteousness, sin, sacrifice, repentance, faith, forgiveness, covenant, grace and the kingdom of heaven on earth—are introduced in the Torah. Basic sacraments and rituals like baptism, communion, prayer and blessing all come from the Torah. Faith in Jesus is meaningful because of the Torah. Without the Torah, the Gospel has no foundation on which to stand.
The Hebrew word torah is translated “law” in most of our English Bibles. The Torah is called the Law of Moses because Moses wrote it, but the Torah is more than just a legal code. The word “Torah” (תורה) is from the Hebrew root, yara (ירה) which means “to instruct,” or “to teach.” Although it does contain laws, Torah itself is not only a “law,” but it is God’s “teaching” and “instruction.” That explains why the word Torah is often used to refer to the whole Bible. From our perspective, even the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation fall under the broad definition of Torah. It’s all God’s instruction, and it’s all rooted in the Torah of Moses.
The Torah is the story of God’s people and how they came to be the people of God in the first place. The Torah is something all believers have in common. We all have this common ground. The Torah is our shared origin. It is God’s book.
And that hardly scratches the surface.
What is “Torah” relative to my conversations with Pastor Randy when trying to comprehend Paul, his letter to the Galatian churches, and the wider scope of how to understand Jews in Messiah today?
I am entertaining suggestions and comments. Please let me…let us know what you think and let’s see if we can be pointed in the right direction.
In 1873 the British and Foreign Bible Society commissioned Franz Delitzsch to prepare a translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. Delitzsch agreed and set to work utilizing his extensive knowledge of mishnaic Hebrew and first century Judaism to create a translation and reconstruction of the Greek text back into an original Hebrew voice. His reconstructing translation was completed in 1877. After the first edition, it went through extensive review and revision for the next 13 years. The final edition was published in 1890 under the care and supervision of Gustav Dalman. Sixty thousand copies were distributed for free throughout Europe resulting in tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to know Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.
Those Jewish believers and their influences are the very embers that have ignited this modern-day hope and revival.
This is the introduction on the Vine of David website to the Levy Hirsch Memorial Edition of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels. Over a century has passed since the last edition of this critical and faithful publication has been produced and Vine of David, the ministry arm of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) that specializes in early Messianic Judaism and the development of Messianic liturgical resources, has taken up the mission of publishing this Gospel and distributing it for free to any Jewish person, allowing Jews to explore the teachings of the Master, both in Hebrew and in English.
The Delitzsch Gospels is an elegant Bible and holding it, is like holding a bridge between Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) from the 19th century to those carrying the Messianic banner today. While there are other New Testaments written in Hebrew and other Semitic languages, Delitzsch’s translation uses sources and interpretations that are the most well-known.
Although the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels are specifically reaching out to the Jewish people, as a non-Jewish Christian, I find the resources this publication offers to be compelling. From the Translator’s Preface and Introduction to the abundance of reference materials, including maps and charts, this version of the Gospels provides history and context, not only of the Franz Delitzsch and the 19th century believing Jews, but a hint of the true Jewish origins of the Gospels and of the 1st century Gospel writers.
The heart of the Delitzsch Gospels are the Gospels themselves. Reading them reminds me of the experience of reading the Chumash or the Tanach. Opening the Gospel to Mattei (Matthew) 1:1, the genealogy of Jesus is presented in English on the left page and in Hebrew on the right. Even with Hebrew skills far less than fluent, I can still imagine going through the opening words of the first Gospel alongside both Christian and Jewish believers, and perhaps get a small sense of what the author was thinking in his own language as he began recording his understanding of the life of the Master.
Beyond the value the Delitzsch Gospels present to Jewish believers, this modern edition also offers a unique gift to Gentile Christians who have little or no understanding of the “Jewish Jesus”. It presents those in the church with a taste of “original” Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi who walked the streets of 1st century Jerusalem and who taught his disciples in the hills of Galilee. In reading and studying from the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, we all can attain a clearer vision of who Jesus was and is among his people, the Jews, and his mission to save the lost sheep of Israel.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the living God, called the Christ and the Moshiach? You may think you know. But the images invoked by reading his words and his life from the pages of Vine of David’s Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels may well introduce you to the Jewish Messiah and the Israelite Carpenter, Teacher, and King of Kings for the very first time.
To learn more, please visit the Vine of David. The blessings will be yours.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman