I had no idea there was such a thing as Trinity Sunday until I was sitting in a little, local Lutheran church with my Mom last Sunday and the Pastor was preaching on it. I guess it’s a “thing,” just like Reformation Day, which I’d never heard of either until several years ago. Seriously, I know more about the Jewish religious calendar than the Christian version.
I checked this with my friend Tom earlier today, who had never heard of it either, and he’s been a Christian a lot longer than I have.
Anyway, part of the service included the congregation reciting the Athanasian Creed, which is Christianity’s formal codification of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this supposedly can be traced back to the 6th century CE.
Apparently, it all began with a 4th century CE presbyter and ascetic (and also a heretic according to Pastor) named Arius, who taught that God the Father was superior to the Son, and that Jesus was a created being like the angels. There’s a Biblical basis for this found in Proverbs 8, but I won’t get into the details.
Apparently, in the first few centuries of the (Gentile) Christian church, there was a lot of disagreement over the nature and character of God and the relationship of God the Father to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know):
Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Before the council of Nicaea, the Christian world knew several competing Christological ideas. Church authorities condemned some of these ideas but did not put forth a uniform formula. The Nicaean formula was a rapidly concluded solution to the general Christological debate.
Long story short, Constantine got all the Bishops together (I am severely oversimplifying all of this) to hammer out these issues, and they eventually concluded with the Trinity as we have the doctrine today.
I’m probably going to make a lot of people mad at me, but it seems that between Biblical canon and the present day Church, a bunch of religious authorities got together and decided the exact nature and character of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the so-called Church Fathers got a few things wrong, in my humble opinion, such as supersessionism or replacement theology. I mean if they could reinvent the nature of Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah King to eliminate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, why should I believe they didn’t get the Trinity wrong, too?
See? I told you I’d make people mad. But it gets worse.
Why is the codification of the Trinity any different than the Jewish codification of halakah in Talmud? Okay, I probably just got myself in trouble on a number of levels, but please, give me enough rope to hang myself with. Christianity likes to think of itself as relatively tradition free compared to Judaism, but it seems to me that there are some similarities, at least in terms of process.
You have ancient Christian counsels that got together and defined all kinds of things about Christian belief and praxis, and you have ancient Jewish authorities that got together and (more or less) did the same thing about Jewish belief and praxis. Christians say they are “Bible-believing” and are led to interpret scripture by the Holy Spirit (also “scripture interprets scripture”), but really, what Christians believe and do today, especially relative to the Trinity doctrine, was decided centuries after the last book of the Bible was added, and more centuries after the Gentile Church divorced itself from the original Judaism.
In other words, it may well be that the Apostle Paul had no idea that Jesus was supposed to be the second person of the Godhead.
I know the Pastor of the church I take Mom to every Sunday would call me a heretic too, most Christians would, but how sure are we that we have a Triune God? Just asking.
Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot” Aish.com
Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.
In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:
A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.
Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.
But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.
So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.
As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.
I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.
Ultimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.
But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.
Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.
That’s too bad, because I really wanted to hear something new about Cornelius that would help me in my current investigation as to the status of a Gentile who directly worships and relates to God without necessarily being part of a Jewish communal setting (or a traditional Christian venue, for that matter).
In other words, was Cornelius and his Gentile household chopped liver, even after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), or did (does) God consider the Gentiles as having some sort of value in their (our) own right?
Before someone complains that I’m being too “whiney” again, I’ll say straight out that I think a Gentile can have a direct relationship with the God of Israel through faith in and by the merit of Rav Yeshua and his symbolic, atoning sacrifice. Moreover, I think even before Cornelius had his vision which resulted in him sending messengers to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:3-8), I think God had regard for the Gentile Cornelius. In fact, the wording of verses 1 and 2 as well as the angel’s message from verses 3 onward tell us so.
Cornelius was devoted to God as expressed through his prayers and acts of tzedakah (charity) to the Jewish people, and God responded kindly and valued Cornelius. God was about to do Cornelius and his household a big favor. He was about to have Peter deliver the good news of Rav Yeshua to them.
According to Turnage, in the late second temple period in Roman-occupied Judea and in the diaspora, from a Jewish point of view, there were three types of people:
Jewish, either by birth or conversion
Pagan Gentiles wholly divorced from God
God-fearing or God-worshiping Gentiles who viewed God from the perspective of Abraham and Isaac (but not Jacob)
These God-fearers existed on the fringes of Jewish community, attending synagogue, hearing the Torah read, rejecting (according to Turnage) the pagan Greek and Roman gods, and swearing devotion only to Hashem, God of Israel. However, this was not as far as they could go in approaching God. They were just missing one last piece of the puzzle.
Turnage compares the vision of Cornelius to Peter’s where Peter does an amazing thing. He says “no” to God. Specifically, he tells God he won’t obey the directive to kill and eat unclean or non-kosher animals.
Turnage states what is obvious to me; that the vision was never about food but rather about people, specifically non-Jewish people. This was God’s lesson to Peter that God Himself did not consider the Gentiles unclean or common. He also states this is obvious proof that Peter never saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as somehow ending his status as a Jew and his relationship with the Torah mitzvot. Again, that seems entirely obvious to me but is something of a revelation coming from a more traditional Christian.
God backed this up in the aforementioned Acts 10:45 by showing Peter and his Jewish companions that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, something that was thought only to be available to the Jewish people by covenant promise (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) up until that moment.
Peter was forced to realize that Gentiles were not common or unclean, that they (we) were indeed, through God’s grace and mercy, and by the merit of Rav Yeshua, also able to access the covenant blessings of God, even though we were not named participants in the New Covenant.
During the legal proceeding to formally establish the status of Gentiles in Jewish community we see in Acts 15, Peter testified to his experience with Cornelius as proof that the Gentiles were not common and unclean, and that God accepted them (us) to the degree that they (we) also can receive the Spirit of God upon hearing the good news of redemption brought about by Rav Yeshua. We who were far off have been brought near or at least nearer (Ephesians 2:13).
Turnage was clear that none of this meant that the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, even after receiving the Spirit, were required to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. We lack the sign of circumcision (for males) that would be required for conversion to a proselyte and that would obligate us to the mitzvot. Cornelius was not circumcised, neither was his household (interestingly enough, unlike the non-Hebrews in Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:27).
In this case, it wasn’t necessary, since God’s plan for worldwide redemption required that both Israel and the rest of the nations of the world were all to be redeemed while maintaining their own national and ethnic identities.
Turnage rightly states that the challenge of the “first century church” (his language, not mine) was not convincing people to believe in Jesus, it wasn’t a theological challenge, but rather, an ethnic and sociological dilemma. How would it be possible to mix both Jews and Gentiles, two groups that are difficult to put together, into Jewish community and covenant life?
Paul was always attempting to solve that puzzle as we read in his many epistles including Romans and Ephesians, but also in 1 Corinthians 7, according to Turnage:
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
–1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)
Since Turnage uses circumcision as the dividing line between Jews and even the believing Gentiles, and since that dividing line includes obligation to the mitzvot for the Jews but not for even the believing Gentiles (remember, Cornelius received the Spirit and was not previously or subsequently circumcised), then, based on the brief record we have of the life of the Centurion, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav have no obligation to the mitzvot either.
I know I’ve said this about a billion times before, but since I’m re-examining my relationship with God as a Gentile, and I just viewed Turnage’s video, I thought I’d mention it again.
We have no information about how Cornelius’s life changed after Acts 10. Perhaps in many ways, it didn’t change much at all, at least from a day-to-day lived experience. He probably still prayed continuously. He probably still did great works of charity for the Jewish people. But additionally, he also probably thanked Hashem for the good news of Messiah, the indwelling of the Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a place in the world to come, which indeed, Cornelius lacked before the revelation of Moshiach.
For Turnage, the central focus of being a believer rests back in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20. Are you going to obey God or not?
The question of obedience is an interesting one because Turnage assumes quite casually that to obey God for a Gentile does not require observance of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people.
Just as we are not required (our males) to be circumcised in order to have a life with God, because of not being circumcised, not converting to Judaism (because it’s not required of us), we also do not have to observe the mitzvot that indicate an individual is Jewish.
We don’t know what Cornelius did with his life after the revelation of Rav Yeshua. It would be easier if we did have some record to see how he changed from God-fearer to Messianic disciple.
But I didn’t write this missive to answer the “mystery of the Gentile mitzvot”. I wrote it to establish that through the example of the life of Cornelius, Gentiles are not considered common and unclean to God. Quite the opposite if God allows His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We Gentiles have a relationship with God just the way we are.
Oh, I could embed the YouTube video of Turnage’s brief presentation directly into this blog post, but I don’t want to take web traffic away from the Jerusalem Perspective site. To view the video, you’ll have to click the link I provided above.
One more thing. I chose the “featured image” at the top of the page because finding something that looks interesting and somehow represents Jewish mystic visions isn’t all that easy.
Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.
Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp.
–Numbers 11:25-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
–Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
As at least some of you may know, the first quote is from Torah Portion Beha’alotcha, which was read in synagogues all over the world last Shabbos.
The second quoted scripture is the famous Pentecost event when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit of God and began speaking in many different languages, languages they did not normally know.
As Christians, we are taught that anyone who comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) immediately receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will guide us in all things. Yeshua said something to this effect.
These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
However, in each and every scripture I’ve quoted, the objects of receiving the Spirit and the audience of Yeshua’s words are Jews. So far, all we know (if we knew nothing else) is that Jews receive the Holy Spirit under certain circumstances, perhaps like the seventy elders and the Apostles, to prepare a specialized population for a highly specific set of duties.
But then there’s this:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.
Obviously the Roman (Gentile) Centurion Cornelius and all those other Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit. Peter and the Jews who were with him were direct witnesses to the event and it was something that was obviously apparent to them in a physical manifestation.
“These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
Peter reported all this to the “apostles and the brethren” in Jerusalem, and after hearing his testimony, they glorified God saying “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
This was even confirmed later by Peter at the legal proceeding held by James and the Jerusalem Council for formally establishing the status of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish community:
After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”
Clearly, God intended for non-Jews to enter into the community of faith and be saved in a manner identical to the Jews, receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers did.
More than that, it was foretold long before these events that many nations would turn to the God of Israel:
Many nations shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you.
–Zechariah 2:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)
The Tanakh is replete with prophesies regarding the nations turning to God at the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom Yeshua’s advent inaugurated into our world, but I’ll only quote this one as it was part of last week’s Haftarah portion.
It seems my last blog post caused a disturbance among some of my non-Jewish readers relative to the uncertainty of our status in modern Messianic Jewish community. It was never my intension to upset or disturb anyone. Actually, quite the opposite.
I wanted to emphasize that even though, as we saw in the passage I quoted from Zechariah, God will dwell among Israel, even as He rules the entire world, Gentile lives matter, too. We’re not just an afterthought in God’s redemptive plan. We are not just God’s left-handed, red-headed step-children, the ones you hide in the closet when company comes over. We have a very specific purpose in the Kingdom.
But it’s sometimes easy to get the idea that Gentiles are indeed an afterthought given all the emphasis on Jews and Judaism on Messianic Jewish websites and blogs, and in such publications, and sermons.
However, I also brought up some uncomfortable ideas regarding our existence in my previous article: we don’t have a very exact roadmap regarding mitzvot or lifestyle, at least nothing as detailed as do the Jewish people.
I decided to focus on the Holy Spirit in today’s “morning mediation” for a few reasons:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow my decrees and guard my ordinances and fulfill them.
–Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
This is part of the New Covenant promises Hashem made to Israel, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which we saw fulfilled in Acts 2 when it was given to the Jewish Apostles, and in Acts 10 when Peter witnessed it being given to the faithful Gentiles in the household of Cornelius.
But it’s interesting that a promise made exclusively to Israel somehow was transmitted to those Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua as the foretold Messiah.
Actually, we have another giving of the Spirit that needs to be included.
Then Yeshua came from the Galil toward the Yarden to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit me, for so it is appropriate for both of us to fulfill the entire tzedakah,” so he permitted him. When Yeshua was immersed, he quickly came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending in the likeness of a dove, and it rested upon him.
Part of what I learned in listening to D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is that Yeshua, as the arbiter of the New Covenant, came, in part, to deliver “samples” of the New Covenant blessings to Israel, and apparently through them, to the Gentiles. This was to be evidence that God will indeed keep His promises to Israel (and somehow some of those promises also apply to the nations) at the appropriate time.
We see the New Covenant promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36, we see Yeshua receiving the Spirit in Matthew 3, the Apostles receive the Spirit in Acts 2, and some faithful Gentiles receive it in front of Jewish eyewitnesses in Acts 10.
This should be pretty encouraging to some of the people who were dismayed at the content and discussion regarding my chopped liver blog post.
There’s just one problem:
The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
–Acts 8:34-39 (NASB)
The Ethiopian eunuch (a subject worthy of his own study), who was (in my opinion) most likely a Jew, did not receive the Holy Spirit, or at least Luke didn’t record it. But why, if he received the Spirit, would Luke have omitted this important point? If it was just assumed by Luke, then why did he include that the eunuch was baptized, which also could have been assumed?
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.
Apparently it’s possible to come to faith in Yeshua, to receive a water baptism, but not to receive the Holy Spirit.
I’m just shooting in the dark at this point, but as a believer for many years, while I can recall the moment I came to faith, no specific physical event occurred indicating that I had received the Holy Spirit. I was baptized in the Boise River along with my wife and children in August of 1999, but nothing like the Acts 2 or Acts 10 events occurred (although Acts 10 does not describe what Peter witnessed that told him Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit except that they spoke in tongues and praised God).
Is it possible in the community of faith for some of us to possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God and others to not possess it? Further, with no physical evidence of the Spirit resting upon us as described in the multiple Bible quotes I’ve offered, how can we say the Spirit is on us or in us at all? Did you speak in tongues and utter prophesies? I didn’t.
I know that there’s a general consensus in Evangelical circles that the “age of miracles” ended when Christian Biblical canon was closed, but there are all sorts of anecdotal stories other Christians tell of spiritual manifestations and even miracles that happen all around us (though they seldom if ever make it into mainstream news reports).
I don’t have a definitive answer to all this. Maybe someone out there does. I have to take it on faith that I do possess the Holy Spirit, only because Christian tradition says I must if I’m a believer.
On the other hand:
Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, My master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me workers of evil!”
–Matthew 7:21-23 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)
That’s rather sobering.
Think about it. There’s a class of believers who are capable of performing actual supernatural acts, apparently in the name of Yeshua, and yet, the Master does not know them and even calls them “workers of evil”.
How about this?
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”
–Acts 19:13-15 (NASB)
I’m not sure this is an example of what Yeshua was talking about, but just paying the Master lip service, so to speak, doesn’t seem to be enough to get you “into the club,” as it were.
So what do we do as faithful Yeshua-followers?
Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and the 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 22:37-40 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)
I know Yeshua was speaking to a Jewish audience, but I think that it is appropriate to consider this a commandment that also applies to us, that is, we non-Jews in Messiah. Why shouldn’t we also love God with all of our resources and love other human beings as we love ourselves? It would seem this “Torah” is one that also forms the core of our existence as disciples of the Master and worshipers of Israel’s God.
I still feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I can’t seem to close again. With all of this, what are we supposed to do next, particularly if we, in some way, exist either directly or tangentially in Jewish community?
That might take a long time to find out. Certainly an inventory of each and every instruction Paul gave in his epistles to the Gentile disciples, as viewed from a Paul Within Judaism perspective, would be in order.
It doesn’t answer the conundrum regarding the Holy Spirit or how some people could sincerely believe they were serving Yeshua and yet be so horribly wrong, but as far as getting some sort of handle of who Gentiles are supposed to be in what is essentially, a Jewish religious form, it might be a good place to start, at least for those of you who are experiencing a crisis of community.
My father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz  and Shach,  composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state. 
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan Chabad.org
The sacred Zohar teaches that God, the nation Israel, and the Torah, are one. This suggests that God may be experienced through those phenomena that are also perceived to be eternal. Since Israel is eternal [by Divine oath, Genesis 15] and since the Torah is eternal, God/Israel/Torah are inextricably linked by common eternity.
I know today’s “morning meditation” may be a little esoteric for some of you, and I’ve been debating whether or not to even write it. However, I think there’s a certain benefit in visiting the relationship between God, the Torah, and the people and nation of Israel at a more mystic or metaphysical level. God, after all, is not human, so we shouldn’t expect His methods to correspond to human limitations. After all, if God created the Torah, what is it?
It is true that the Zohar writes, “G-d looked into the Torah and created the World”.
Of course, the Torah, in its written form, only briefly describes the process and sequence of Creation. However, we should not think that because of its deceptively brief and general description that the Torah does not contain within the text the plan for the entire multitude of Creation.
The idea is that there is a Heavenly Torah possessed by God that, when given to the nation of Israel at Sinai, was “clothed” so that it could exist in the material world and be comprehended by human beings. That makes all written Torah scrolls, though immeasurably precious, mere shadows of the supernal Torah of God. Alternately, all earthly scrolls are “encoded” with the information in the Heavenly Torah, and we could read it if we just knew how.
It is said that the world was created for the sake of Torah, but the world would have ceased to exist of the Israelites had refused the Torah at Sinai. Fortunately, this did not take place.
OK, I know what you’re thinking. Many of you are not going to be willing to take the Zohar as an authoritative source of information, and many of you don’t believe there is a supernatural equivalent of the Torah in Heaven that corresponds to the Torah on Earth.
But we know through the Epistle to the Hebrews that there is a Heavenly court that corresponds to the Temple in Jerusalem (when it exists) and God commanded Moses to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to a model he was shown on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25:40), indicating that there is a perfect Heavenly version of the Tabernacle Moses was to have constructed in the desert.
If the Tabernacle and every single object in it has Heavenly equivalents, including priests, and including a High Priest, why not the Torah?
This would make Israel, that is, the Jewish people and the inheritors of the Torah and the covenant at Sinai particularly unique among all the nations of the Earth. Even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) illustrating that apart from Israel, no other person or nation can be redeemed and reconciled with God. The means into eternity for the people of the nations is the eternity of Israel.
The Land of Israel shares in this eternity. The earth’s perennial cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, express a movement of regeneration and renaissance. There are intimations of immortality: The trees shed their leaves and fruits onto the earth, and when they decompose and merge with the earth, that very earth provides the necessary nutrients for the tree to bear fruit in the future. Plants leave their seeds in the ground, these continue to sprout plant life from the earth after the mother herb has been taken and eaten.
Further, the Land of Israel is invested with a special metaphysical quality which is inextricably linked to Knesset Yisrael, historic Israel. The first Hebrew, Abraham, entered into the “Covenant between the Pieces,” that God’s promise of world peace and messianic redemption will be realized in the City of Jerusalem. Hebron’s Cave of the Couples — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was the very first acquisition by a Jew of land in Israel, purchased as the earthly resting place for the founders of our faith. At the very same time, it is also the womb of our future, a future informed by the ideas and ideals of our revered ancestors. “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” [Proverbs 17:6].
-Rabbi Riskin, “The Unity of God, Torah And Israel”
In the quote from “Today’s Day” above, it is said that the Sages of the Talmud were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit. Since Christians believe that only Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit, this is going to seem at least confusing if not outright unbelievable. On the other hand, there’s another covenant to consider:
Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…
–Jeremiah 31:31 (NASB)
I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Given Acts 2:1-4, you’d think that only Jews who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) would receive the Holy Spirit, but what if we’re wrong? What if the Sinai Covenant and the fact that the New Covenant being made only with Israel and Judah have a direct impact on both Jewish disciples of Yeshua and the rest of the Jewish people, because God, the Torah, and Israel are one?
I do not agree that mainstream Jews are apostates. I think that is far too strong. In fact, I’ll go one step further, I believe a parallel outpouring of the Spirit has happened among traditional Jews, not unlike the one happening to the congregation of Messiah. Isaiah 59:21, “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.””
I know this stands outside of most of what I consider traditional Christian doctrine, but if God doesn’t abandon His covenants and His people and He always keeps His promises, then we Gentile Christians can hardly dismiss Israel out of hand. In fact, if the redemption of the nations, of we Christians, is solely dependent upon the “oneness” Israel has with the Torah and with God, and if God, according to the New Covenant, will redeem all of Israel (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34), then maybe one of the things we Gentile believers better get busy at is supporting Jewish observance of the Torah and stop working so hard at trying to convert Jews to Christianity. After all, Ezekiel 36:27 directly links Jewish observance of Torah with God’s Spirit being placed within them.
God will provide the revelation of Messiah to Israel and indeed, this has already begun as evidenced by the modern Messianic Jewish movement. But Messianic Jews are also to be Torah observant Jews. Maybe the main issue at hand isn’t non-Messianic but otherwise observant Jews, but those who are secular, assimilated, and yes, even “Hebrew Christians” who have set aside the Torah for the “promise” of a Gentile version of grace (not that grace and Torah are mutually exclusive…far from it).
God is with His people Israel, all of them. God is also with the Gentile disciples of the Master. None of us has the perfect apprehension of how to best serve God, though often we convince ourselves we possess such a thing. In the end, God will open all our eyes and show us what we saw correctly and what we were blind to. Then God will forgive, and all of the drama and trauma we experience in the world of religion today will just fade to black.
The Spirit is with us. Let us listen to what He is saying.
I know this blog post is probably theologically “sketchy” so I expect some pushback. On the other hand, this is something I felt needed to be said, no matter how imperfectly I said it.
1. Acronym of Turei Zahav on Torah law by R. David Halevi, d. 1667. 2. Acronym of Siftei Kohein on Torah law by R. Shabtai Hacohen, 1622-1663. 3. See “On Learning Chassidus,” Kehot, p. 18.
As the discussion that follows will demonstrate, I would not argue on behalf of all that Rabbinic authorities have asserted about Oral Torah. For example, I would not advocate the view that the teaching now found in the vast Rabbinic corpus was revealed to Moses at Sinai. Still, I would contend that the term is useful, for it rivets our attention on the central issues we must confront: Does the Written Torah require an ongoing tradition of interpretation and application in order to become a concrete reality in daily Jewish life? Does the tradition of interpretation and application of the Written Torah developed and transmitted by the Sages have any kind of divine sanction?
-Mark S. Kinzer
from “the 2003 Hashivenu Forum Messianic Judaism and Jewish Tradition in the 21st Century: A Biblical Defense of “Oral Torah,” pp.1-2
found at OurRabbis.org (PDF)
I assume that at least some of you who read my previous blog post about the “Oral Law” also clicked in the link I provided and read Dr. Kinzer’s paper. After I read it, I found myself pondering certain matters brought up by Kinzer, namely whether or not whatever we consider to be “Oral Torah” is at all authoritatively binding on the Jewish people as a whole or conversely, specific local communities of Jews.
Of course, why should I care? I’m not Jewish. Nothing we could consider a “Rabbinic ruling” was ever intended (perhaps with rare exception) to apply to a Gentile and particularly a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus).
But as I’ve mentioned before, Christians have used the Talmud and the wider concept of the Oral Law as one of their (our) clubs or blunt instruments with which we’ve battered, bruised, and bloodied (both literally and figuratively) the Jewish people across the history of the Church. If nothing else, it behooves us to take a closer look at our own behavior and whether or not we are actually opposing God in opposing Jewish traditions.
I know the concepts of “Oral Law,” “Jewish Tradition,” “Talmud,” and other similar labels are not exactly synonyms but they all point to the central question of whether or not the Torah contains all that a Jew needs to know to obey God and live a proper Jewish life. I’m not even arguing for the idea that the traditions as we find them today in Judaism were delivered whole to Moses on Sinai. I began this blog post quoting Kinzer who also does not believe such a thing.
What I want to explore is whether, both in ancient and modern times, those who lead or rule the Jewish people have the right, as appointed by God, to interpret the Torah and then to have those interpretive rulings be binding for general or local populations of Jews.
This idea probably seems a little ridiculous to many Christians, but I think Kinzer made a good point that it is at least possible that leaders in Israel have had and do have the divine right to issue halachah and expect that halachah to be adhered to, with penalties for non-compliance.
According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.
–Deuteronomy 17:11-13 (NASB)
This is one of the foundational scriptures that establishes a divinely appointed right of the Priests in Israel to issue authoritative rulings with consequences if their rulings are disregarded.
However, authority was not limited to the Priests:
The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.
–Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25
It’s important to note that, as was established earlier (Exodus 18:17-26) these judges were to hear the common disputes among the individual tribes and clans of the people and issue binding rulings, and only the most difficult cases were to be brought to Moses. This means there were many local judges who had the authority to make legal decisions and establish binding procedures, resolving disputes, including any over how a particular mitzvah (commandment) was to be carried out.
It’s critical to realize that these seventy elders or judges were not relying only on their human wisdom, nor were they only appointed by Moses. We saw in the Numbers 11 passage these elders being appointed and approved of by God as evidenced by the Holy Spirit resting upon each of them.
Now that’s authority.
The importance of this central judiciary and its role as the latter day expression of the Mosaic office becomes clearer with a careful study of the pericope. The passage begins by directing that certain types of cases should be brought from the local courts to the central court. These are cases that are “too difficult for you (yipalay mi-mecha),” and that involve homicide (beyn dam le-dam), personal injury (nega), or disputes over the appropriate law (din) to apply (Deuteronomy 17:8). The meaning of this last type of case (beyn din le-din) will become clear in a moment. The central court shall hear the case, and render a decision. The persons involved are not free to disregard this decision, but “must carefully observe all that they instruct you to do” (ve-shamarta la’asot ke-chol asher yorucha) (Deuteronomy 17:10). The words “carefully observe” (shamarta la’asot) appear frequently in various forms in Deuteronomy, always enjoining obedience to the words of the Torah itself. Here they enjoin obedience to the high court.
Thus the Priests and Judges were divinely empowered to interpret the Torah and to issue what amounts to extra-Biblical halachah as to how to perform the mitzvot, and these rulings were legally binding for the immediate situation and across time.
We can certainly see where the later Rabbis get the idea that God authorizes all leaders and teachers of the Jewish people to be able to issue binding halachah.
But you are probably saying that in the Apostolic Scriptures, we only see the Holy Spirit being granted to disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). Doesn’t this mean that, even if this authority continues to exist, it is only available and effective within the Church?
If the answer to that question is “yes,” then God has abandoned the Jewish people, national Israel, and every single promise He made as part of the Sinai Covenant. But as you know, I don’t believe that the Sinai Covenant was rendered void because Yeshua inaugurated the very beginnings of the New Covenant, nor to I believe one covenant ever replaces another.
So if the Sinai Covenant remains in effect, then God’s relationship with all Israel remains in effect, both with Messianic and all other branches of Judaism. I’ve also said before that a Jew is the only person automatically born into a covenant relationship with God, whether he or she wants to be or not. You don’t have to be a religious Jew to be a part of the covenant, you just have to be a Jew.
So if under the Sinai Covenant, God established that Judges and Priests have the authority to issue binding rulings upon the Israelites, we can at least suggest that authority moved forward in time and across ancient and modern Jewish history.
But does having authority automatically make you right?
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
I’ve previously referenced Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper (PDF) as evidence that Yeshua, though he had specific disagreements with the Pharisees, recognized that they had the authority to issue binding rulings on the Pharisaic community (and Yeshua’s teachings were very much in keeping with the Pharisees generally). If the Master acknowledged Pharisaic authority, this suggests that what once rested upon the Priests and Judges of ancient Israel was passed down to later authorities, and these authorities would eventually evolve into what we now call Rabbinic Judaism.
Yeshua didn’t always consider the rulings of the Pharisees correct, and even when he did, he recognized that they didn’t always obey their own decisions, so they could have authority and yet wield it imperfectly…but they did have authority
We even see Yeshua granting his own apostles that same authority; the ability to issue binding rulings upon the Jewish and Gentile disciples in “the Way”.
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
The concept of binding and loosing isn’t always well understood among some Christians. For an excellent treatment of what these legal terms mean in Judaism, please see the First Fruit of Zion (FFOZ) video teaching on binding and loosing which I reviewed some time ago. The video is only about thirty minutes long and well worth your time in helping you understand this important concept and how it applies to the current conversation (the image above isn’t “clickable” but the links in this paragraph are).
As far as how the ancient Messianic community applied this authority, the most famous example can be found in Acts 15.
Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Here we have James the Just, head of the Jerusalem Council of Apostles and Elders, issuing a legal ruling after the Council had heard testimony, deliberated, and cited Biblical proof text. This ruling established the requirements and limitations regarding the entry of Gentiles within Messianic Jewish community, specifically exempting them (us) from having to undergo the proselyte rite and convert to Judaism as a requirement of admission.
The importance of this text for our purpose cannot be underestimated. Yeshua here employs the same verse to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Pharisaic teachers as is later used in Rabbinic tradition to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Rabbis. As we have seen, such a reading of Deuteronomy 17:10 suits well its original function within the Pentateuch. Though Matthew 23 proceeds to castigate those very same Pharisees for their unworthy conduct, this fact only throws the initial verses into bolder relief. In effect, the Pharisaic teachers have authority to bind and loose – even as the students of Yeshua have authority to bind and loose.
Kinzer draws a line from the ancient Priests and Judges to the Pharisees and to Yeshua’s apostles as all having the authority from God to bind and loose, that is, to establish local interpretations that were not mere suggestions but had the force of law, even if those rulings were not explicitly stated within the written Biblical text. In fact, the purpose of “Oral Law” requires that it not be written or “hard-coded” into the mitzvot:
This view of the Oral Torah does not see it as a solidified code, given once for all to Moses on Sinai, and differing from the Written Torah only in its mode of transmission. Instead, it sees the Oral Torah as the divinely guided process by which the Jewish people seeks to make the Written Torah a living reality, in continuity with the accumulated wisdom of generations past and in creative encounter with the challenges and opportunities of the present. It thus presumes that the covenantal promises of Sinai – both God’s promise to Israel and Israel’s promise in return –remain eternally valid, and that the God of the covenant will ever protect that covenant by guiding His people in its historical journey through the wilderness.
I’ve heard the Torah compared to the United States Constitution. If the only Constitution we had was the original document from almost two-and-a-half centuries ago, it would be hopelessly archaic and incapable of dealing with many legal and social issues that exist in modern times but could never have been dreamed of by America’s Founding Fathers. If we didn’t have the ability to periodically amend the Constitution, we’d probably have to write new constitutions every so many years, just to keep the basis for our Government relevant.
So too with the Torah. Many of the issues facing modern Jews today could not have been taken into account when it was originally established. Even between the days of Moses and the days of Yeshua, hundreds, thousands, or more legal decisions and interpretations probably had to be made to address the shifting circumstances facing the Jewish people. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s Temple, with the Jewish people facing a seemingly endless exile, the Torah had to continue to be interpreted and legal rulings issued to ensure Jewish survival in a hostile world and across the changing landscape of history.
But you may disagree with my assessment and feel I haven’t proven my case. I really am not trying to provide definitive proof but rather, to open the doors to possibility. For many more details on this topic than I can provide here, I refer you to Dr. Kinzer’s original paper. All I’m saying is that, given the “paper trail” I’ve attempted to lay down and my faith that God has not abandoned the Sinai Covenant or His people Israel, I don’t think that what He once gave them, a method of continually evolving Biblical interpretation, died on the cross with Jesus.
I don’t think that God gave Moses what amounts to our modern understanding of the Talmud on Sinai 3500 years ago. I do think, at best, God gave Moses some general principles by which to interpret the written Law and gave other Priests and Judges (not just Moses) the authority to establish traditional methods of observing the mitzvot that aren’t explicit or even existent in the written Biblical text.
If that authority extends to the present, then we have to take another look at Rabbinic authority within the different streams of Judaism and the large and complicated body of work we collectively refer to as Talmud.
A final note. Are all of the rulings of the Rabbis absolutely correct and is Talmud perfectly internally consistent? Probably not. To the degree that the Sages were human, then they were driven by human as well as divine priorities making them, like all men of authority (and all men everywhere) capable of all kinds of error. Yeshua, while he agreed (in my opinion) that the Pharisees had the authority to issue binding halachah, didn’t universally agree with their rulings (see Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23 for example).
Even less often noticed is the fact that the ritual norms that Yeshua upholds in this text are not found in the Written Torah, but instead derive from Pharisaic tradition! The tithing of small herbs such as mint, dill, and cummin was a Pharisaic extension of the Written Torah. Yet, according to Matthew, Yeshua not only urges compliance with this practice – he treats it as a matter of the Torah (though of lesser weight than the injunctions to love, justice, and faithfulness). This supports our earlier inference that Yeshua’s teaching and practice encourage the Pharisees to think of him as one of their own. His criticism of the Pharisees (or, to be more precise, some of the Pharisees) is a prophetic critique offered by one whose commitments and convictions position him as an insider rather than an outsider.
Assuming I’m right about all this, I suspect when Yeshua returns, he will perform a similar function among his modern Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and encourage corrections and improvements on existing halachah and the traditions of Torah interpretation. I believe he will do so as a matter of his love for the Jewish people, not as a matter of criticism or censure. I believe we Christians, or whatever we call ourselves, dismiss God’s love for the Jewish people and His presence among them and their Rabbis at our extreme peril. Our redemption comes from the Jews (John 4:22) not the other way around.
"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