Tag Archives: Ismar Schorsch

Forgiveness: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35 (NASB)

Christian tradition has upheld the high ethical teachings of Jesus concerning forgiveness. While the parable of the Unforgiving Servant is found only in Matthew’s Gospel, its message is stressed in the Lord’s Prayer, which became a vital expression of Christian faith. The prayer for Jesus’ disciples with its dynamic petition, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” finds a prominent position in the Didache, which demonstrates that the early Christians emphasized the theme of forgiveness in the life of the church…Could the Lord’s prayer as recorded in the Didache have been influenced by the wording of this parable?

-Brad H. Young
Chapter 6: The Merciful Lord and His Unforgiving Servant
“The Parable in Christian Tradition,” pg 120
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I’m only a little more than half way through Young’s book but each chapter follows a similar pattern, taking a particular parable of Jesus (Yeshua) and running it past a specific analytical matrix. This isn’t unlike what Roy Blizzard has done in his book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus which I reviewed last spring. Blizzard compared various teachings of Jesus to those of the Rabbinic sages within a generation either side of the (earthly) lifetime of Jesus and determined that Jesus very much taught within the Rabbinic context of the late second Temple era.

The ParablesYoung, chapter by chapter, takes a specific parable of Jesus, shows his readers the traditional Christian interpretation, and then re-examines the parable through the lens of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries, as well as later Jewish writings. This method also reminded me of a teaching by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and president Boaz Michael that he gave a few years back called “Moses in Matthew” which I had the opportunity to listen to (as an audio recording) and review nearly thirteen months ago.

This method of understanding the words of the Master brings into question traditional Church exegetical concepts such as “the sufficiency of Scripture” and “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” both of which suggest that all you need to understand the Bible in general and Jesus in particular is you and a Bible translated into your native language (which for me is English). While most Evangelical Pastors will also say that a good concordance is helpful and it’s even better to understand the original languages along with something of the context in which the Biblical writers authored their works, they tend to neglect understanding the Judaism in which each Bible writer lived, worked, learned, and taught.

Apprehending Scripture from within an ethnically, religiously, historically, linguistically, culturally, and experientially Jewish framework often yields different interpretative results than the traditions handed down by the Christian Church in its many denominational “flavors”.

Although humor is difficult to define and understand because of cultural barriers, Jesus’ dry wit comes through in this story of one very fortunate servant.

-Young, ibid

I quoted this short sentence to illustrate both the point of “cultural barriers” and how we could miss something so elementary as humor. When we read the Bible, we tend to believe that it is always written in the utmost seriousness and, in many conservative Fundamentalist churches, the literal meaning of the text is always given tremendous weight. But what if the writer is saying something ironic, using Hebrew and Aramaic wordplay, rabbinic idiom? What if the writer is telling a joke?

Delitzsch BibleIf we don’t access resources to support our understanding of how Jesus most likely was teaching and how his immediate audience (those listening to him) and extended audience (the originally intended readers of the Gospels and Epistles) were expected to understand what he said, we are left with what we think it all means from a 21st century Christian American point of view.

Please keep in mind that point of view almost never takes ancient Judaism into account let alone immerses itself in said-Judaism as a pool of interpretive wisdom. In other words, we’re probably making a lot of wrong assumptions and coming to many erroneous conclusions.

In the cultural context, the sacred calendar of the Jewish people may provide the setting in life for this parable. The ten-day period between the Jewish New Year and the day of Atonement was designed for seeking forgiveness between individuals. A person was not prepared to seek divine mercy during the great fast on the day of Atonement if he or she had not first sought reconciliation with his or her neighbor. The day of Atonement was the experience of the community as every person participated in the fast. The preparation for this collective experience, however, focused on the necessity to forgive one another on a personal level so as to approach God without a bitter heart. Mercy from above depended upon showing mercy to those below (Compare to Matthew 5:23-24).

-Young, pp 123-4

We can see a corollary in Talmud:

For transgressions that are between a person and God, the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for the transgressions that are between a person and his or her neighbor, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if one first has appeased one’s neighbor.

-See m. Yoma 9:9 (Mishnah, ed. Albeck, 247)
quoted by Young, pg 124

We see the scene of the parable being unpackaged right before our eyes in the pages of Young’s chapter to illustrate what we should plainly see Jesus teaching: that the forgiveness of God and atonement for sins is dependent on our forgiveness of others who have sinned against us. If we believe we have been forgiven by God and our sins washed away, and yet fail to forgive those who have sinned against us, will the God of Heaven truly forgive? If we have sinned against another and asked God alone for favor rather than first seeking out the forgiveness of the one we have offended, will God forgive in the stead of the person against whom we have sinned?

Of course, if we have sought forgiveness and been spurned, we can only be held responsible for our own part. We cannot make another person forgive us if it is not in their heart to do so.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18 (NASB)

A Rabbi TeachingThe lack of forgiveness in response to our sincere desire to repent to one against whom we have sinned is on the other’s head as long as we’ve done all we can to make amends and repay them for the wrong we have done.

There’s another implication in Young’s interpretation of Jesus’ parable based on his invoking the time period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, it is believed that a Jew is written into the Book of Life year by year. It is an opportunity to have God hit a sort of “cosmic reset button” for the year to come, but it requires great effort on the part of the individual to make amends for sins committed, both against man and God, to perform good deeds, and give to charity.

This is quite foreign to a Christian’s point of view, particularly if you believe “once saved, always saved.” The moment you confessed Christ as Lord and believed in him, you were saved from your sins and guaranteed a place in Heaven when you die. You need to nothing else, and in fact, it’s impossible for you to do anything else.

That’s the truncated version of the traditional Christian understanding of the Gospel message, anyway.

It is said that there are two resurrections. The first is called the “resurrection of the righteous” and only those who “died in Christ” will be resurrected at the second coming of Jesus. They/we will all be raised into the air to meet him, and according to traditional Evangelical doctrine, the Church will then be raptured into Heaven to wait out the full fury of the Tribulation on Earth. Then, when all the bad stuff is over, Jesus leads the Church back down to Earth to establish his Kingdom where the Church will rule with him over a New Earth.

Or so it goes as far as many Christian churches are concerned.

The second resurrection is called the “great white throne” judgment where everyone who has died is resurrected and judged by God, with the righteous living in bliss for all eternity, and the wicked being cast into the lake of fire to suffer torment for all eternity.

But how does that judgment work? If we just believe in Jesus will we be saved automatically? Will we be given a free pass into Heaven? What about being forgiven by God as we’ve forgiven others?

What if the final judgment is like the ultimate Yom Kippur service? Have you ever been to a Yom Kippur service? It’s the single most solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, full of tears, fasting, remorse, repentance, trembling, and fear.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

The unmerciful servant does not forgive like his master. The lord of the servants, however, is not only merciful but just. The one who would not forgive will not receive a reprieve. His fellow servants recognize the injustice and report the actions of their unmerciful coworker to the lord. He is enraged.

-Young, pg 128

MessiahBelief in Jesus is hardly sufficient by this Biblical standard. What you think and feel is only part of the equation. What you do out of your faith is what really matters.

They were passing through in the morning, and they saw that the fig tree had withered from its roots. Petros remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed is withered!”

Yeshua answered and said to them, “Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, anyone who says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but rather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you ask in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgression.

Mark 11:20-26 (DHE Gospels)

If this is so as we are judged by God day-by-day, how much more so is it true when we come before the Throne of God at final judgment and the great day of atonement?

Yet, for all its importance, the ritual of the synagogue is but a means to an end. In Judaism, behavior takes priority over belief. Faith without deeds will not change the world.

-Ismar Schorsch
“The Root of Holiness,” pg 553, July 12, 2003
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

James 2:14-20 (NASB)

It is doubtful that Schorsch meant to parallel the teachings of James the Just, brother of the Master, but this may reflect the fact that principles from ancient Judaism (for the teachings of Jesus and James are wholly Jewish), some at least, have survived the passage of time and endure in modern Jewish practice. As Christians, for anything we find good and gracious in our theology and doctrine, we must give thanks not only to God but to Judaism for its origins.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

However, if we accept that, we must also accept that a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus place a much greater burden on the shoulders of a Christian than many Pastors have led us to believe. Fortunately, I currently attend a church where this burden is taught and where sincerity of repentance and love and forgiveness of our neighbor and brother is held in great value.

Also fortunately, the God of Justice is also the God of Mercy:

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

He remembered His covenant for them and relented in accordance with His abundant kindness.

Psalm 106:45 (Stone Editon Tanakh)

…but if that nation repents of its evil deed of which I had spoken, then I relent of the evil [decree] that I had planned to carry out against it. Or, one moment I may speak of concerning a nation or kingdom, to build and establish [it], but if they do what is wrong in My eyes, not heeding My voice, then I relent of the goodness that I had said to bestow upon it.

Jeremiah 18:8-9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

God is eager to do good to all those who call upon His Name in sincere repentance and who do what is right, but to those who call upon Him yet continue to do what is wrong, there is no mercy, but instead, righteous judgment.

As Christians, we cannot afford to take our (so-called) salvation for granted, for who is to say that God won’t keep His word as He has given it and as Jesus has taught it? Who is to say that our forgiveness (or lack thereof) of others won’t be the model by which God will (or won’t) forgive us?

Young writes this by way of conclusion to his commentary on this parable:

The parable shows the deep roots of Jesus’ teachings in ancient Judaism. Jesus’ Jewish theology of God saturates the drama of the story as the action moves from scene to scene. The listener is caught up into the plot of the mini-play and participates in the trial, triumph, and tribulation of the servant. What happens when it is impossible to pay one’s creditor?

…The cultural and religious background is based on the teachings concerning the great day of fasting in Israel’s sacred calendar, which each person seeks forgiveness from God. The creation of humanity, in the very image of God, demands full accountability, which means that one must be merciful in the same way that God shows mercy. The images created by the parable lead the listener to join the actors on the stage. Each individual must ask God for forgiveness of a colossal debt. To what extent, however, do I extend mercy to others who have wronged me?

-Young, pg 129

The answer would seem obvious and Young addresses it again in the following chapter, “Chapter 7: The Father of Two Lost Sons,” his commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32):

Jesus makes this a major theme in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” On the day of Atonement, the Mishnah instructs the people to make things right one with the other before seeking forgiveness from God (m. Yoma 8:9). Thus the idea of human forgiveness is strong in Jewish theology.

-Young, pg 134

These parables are not cute little sayings of Jesus to teach us some interesting moral lesson. They are cautionary tales, warnings to the disciples, including us, that what we do and why we do it really does matter, and, looking back to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, what we have been given can be taken away at any time should we prove to be faithless and insincere, both to God and to our fellow human beings (also see Matthew 25:14-30).

coffee-and-studyWhile I suppose it’s not absolutely necessary to study the Bible from a culturally and religiously Jewish perspective and still live a good and upright Christian life, we see here, as I’ve pointed out many times before, that without a little extra “help” through an understanding in the wider body of Jewish religious literature, we can often miss the point, giving more power to Christian traditional interpretations than in what Jesus said in context. The Church has been taught to avoid that context because it has been taught that (if not the Jewish people) Judaism has been sitting on the shelf long past its expiration date. The Law is dead. The Jewish people just don’t know it yet.

Except that’s not the case and can’t be. Without a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus filtered through an ancient and arguably modern practice of Judaism, the words of Jesus are just words on a page, devoid of some or much of their actual meaning. And without that meaning, the depth of our faith and how we actually live it out, including forgiveness, is just as absent of meaning. It may be good and even sufficient, but it could be so much more.

To what then may we compare (entry into) the Kingdom of Heaven?

I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or provoked me or sinned against me, physically or financially or by failing to give me due respect, or in any other matter relating to me, involuntarily or willingly, inadvertently or deliberately, whether in word or deed: let no one incur punishment because of me.

-Bedtime Shema from the Siddur

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Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 3

We were sitting in the State Dining Room just to the left of George Healy’s arresting portrait of Abraham Lincoln, seated forward and listening intently. I couldn’t help recalling the stinging words from his Second Inaugural Address: “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Jewish and Catholic Views on Abortion,” pg 264 – Jan. 28, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Through Grace Church we ought to probably say for our first time guests we believe in two things that make the church what it ought to be. One is love. And that’s an honest kind of biblical love. The other is sound doctrine. And so our commitment is not only to love the brothers and exercise the ministry of spiritual gifts and the responsibilities of fellowship to one another, but it is also to systematically verse by verse teach the Bible. Believing that if we protect the saints, the saints will do the work of the ministry.

And so in our study of the Scripture, we find ourselves in the book of Acts which is the historical record of the early church from the day of Pentecost through those early years. And we have come in our study to the 18th chapter and really begun what is one message in three parts as often we find is the case. We’re studying the subject generally from Judaism to Jesus. And beginning in 18:18 the Holy Spirit gives us three incidents or three little experiences that illustrate to us the transition that was taking place from Judaism to Jesus.

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

This is continued from Part Two of my review and is the third and final offering in MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” series and thus my third and final review of the material. I thought I was through with MacArthur when I finished my reviews of the various sessions of his Strange Fire conference, but he keeps popping up on my radar screen. Hopefully, this last review of his sermons will put all the “demons” surrounding my dubious interest in this Pastor to rest.

When Christianity was established and a new covenant was introduced, there were many Jews who found it very difficult to make all of the transition very rapidly. And so there were people in the midst of transition, coming to Jesus Christ from Judaism and caught somewhere in the transition.

And we come in to this study to the third section of our transitional study, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 19 and we meet a group of 12 men who also are in transition. Now remember this, that the whole of Judaism pervaded all of these people’s lives, Christianity came in and it took a while for all of the adjustments to take place. In some cases like Paul, he couldn’t let go of some old patterns. Like Apollus (sic) he just didn’t know the whole Gospel.

Paul personally had two extraordinary visions of the Master, was hand-picked by the exalted Jesus to be God’s emissary to the Gentiles and to take the Gospel message to the then-civilized world, and yet MacArthur has the bald-faced chutzpah to say that Paul couldn’t let go of Judaism because “he just didn’t know the whole gospel.” Amazing.

John MacArthurI think MacArthur, like many Christians, believes that the gospel or “good news” is a New Testament invention of Jesus rather than one that is more expansive, dates back much farther in Jewish history than Jesus, and is not simply defined by the textual contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you’d like (or maybe need) a primer on what “gospel” and “the gospel message” means, please see the thirty-minute episode The Gospel Message of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come.

At this point, it might be good to have a look at the scripture MacArthur is referencing:

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. There were in all about twelve men.

Acts 19:1-7 (NASB)

Now remember, MacArthur is teaching that this passage indicates a transition is taking place in the lives of Jewish believers “from Judaism to Jesus.” In reading the text, I’m not seeing immediate signs of any difficulty with Judaism, struggle in transition, or some sort of apparent conflict between Judaism and Jesus. What does MacArthur have to say (besides, quite a lot)?

Now that question posed in 19:2, “have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed” has become the favorite question of a modern movement in Christianity. And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong. The point of view that I take here is simply the exposition of the text. But I want to approach it in the light of a current movement because then I think you can see its significance.

We live in a day when the movement that we know of is Pentecostalism or if you will the later movement begun in 1960 called the charismatic movement has posed this question as the question to ask Christians. “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” The view that they take is that you can be a Christian and not possess the Holy Spirit. And at some point after your salvation you then by a certain activity allowed through certain information to come to the knowledge of the fact that the Spirit is available to you and that you can receive the Holy Spirit in certain ways.

Strange FireRemember, MacArthur originally delivered this sermon in January 1974, nearly forty years before his controversial Strange Fire conference. And yet, he approaches the issue of Pentecostalism in basically the same manner four decades ago as he did just four months ago, and anticipates the response to his message in the words, “And it’s not that I am here for the purpose of having a fight with any other Christians or egoistically declaring my own theology or trying to convince myself and you that I’m right and they’re wrong,” knowing his message would sound like he was looking for a fight and to define right and wrong by his standards. When he says his point of view “is simply the exposition of the text,” he creates the illusion that he is only reporting the facts with no filters in place and no embellishment of the Biblical text. As we’ve seen time and again in analyzing his messages (and in examining just about anyone’s theological bent), there are always interpretive filters in place. The Bible can’t be understood without interpretation, even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Here, in the guise of an analysis of Acts 19 and even a replacement theory viewpoint of “from Judaism to Jesus,” MacArthur takes a stab at the Pentecostal church.

And we’re going to approach this question to try to show that the Christian, whoever he is, receives the Holy Spirit in full permanent, personal in dwelling from the moment of salvation. And this is an important question. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this. People say to me, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” And I say, “Of course.” And one fellow said, “Oh, I didn’t realize. You’re one of us.” I said, “Well I don’t know about that, I might be one of you, what are you?”

It’s actually an interesting situation. Some people who were believers received the Holy Spirit and some didn’t know that they were supposed to. I don’t think that Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10) expected to receive the Holy Spirit. They just did. For that matter, did the apostles in Acts 2 really expect to receive the Spirit as “tongues of fire” or did it just happen to them without any expectation?

Are you only a believer if you receive the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 and Acts 10 way? I don’t recall any “tongues of fire” and speaking foreign languages or prophesying when I became a believer. Maybe I’m the same boat as the disciples in Ephesus who received John’s baptism but not the Spirit. For that matter, Acts 8 records the Ethiopian becoming a believer during his conversation with Philip but is conspicuous in that he did not receive the Spirit. He was just baptised in water and went on his merry way back home. Did Philip not know about the Spirit? Did he not receive it in Acts 2?

I wonder what MacArthur would think about all these monkey wrenches in the machine? When he became a believer, did he see tongues of fire, speak in foreign languages and speak prophesies? If not, why not? Is that one of the “gifts of the Spirit” we don’t experience today? Do we just presume that the Spirit inhabits us when we declare our faith in Messiah?

If you make the book of Acts the norm, then you got tremendous problems. You’re going to have to allow for revelation current today. You’re going to have to allow for Apostles today. You’re going to have to allow for all of the signs and wonders and miracles that accompanied the early church and the various manifestations. Not just in some segments of Christianity, but throughout unqualified. There are many problems.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur spends quite some time going over various arguments he has with Pentecostals, which isn’t what I expected to read about and isn’t the focus of my interest in this sermon series. He does seem to say that we can’t expect to receive the Holy Spirit as believers in the manner commonly observed in the Book of Acts, so I guess that covers those of us who didn’t have a “tongues of fire” experience. Actually in this, I tend to agree more with MacArthur than some of his opponents. We don’t seem to find the same experiences when we become believers as the apostles and early disciples did.

So now we’re back to MacArthur the Supersessionist:

So as we see in the book of Acts is a transition. The new covenant comes, the old covenant has died and as the book of Hebrews says, “It fades away, it decays and grows old.” But as the new covenant arrives, the people come to Christ which is a momentary miracle; they still find it difficult to make the full transition. And so in the book of Acts, there are various transitional things occurring. There are some old things that just kind of die slowly. Some old forms like for example, the early church met in the synagogue.

Again, this is straight replacement theology, with the New Covenant directly replacing the Old Covenant rather than, as we see in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the New Covenant restating and reasserting the conditions of the previous covenants for Israel. In fact, only one condition in the Abrahamic Covenant can be directly applied to Gentiles having a binding relationship with God, and that’s only through faith as Abraham had faith. And it’s only because that one condition in the Abrahamic covenant is carried over and restated in the New Covenant that Gentiles have access to reconciliation with God through faith.

In other words, there’s no provision in the covenantal structure for new to replace old. New simply ratifies older and re-emphasizes it. It took me a long time to figure this out, about eleven blog posts worth, starting with this one. The revelation in my self-education is why I can’t swallow the traditional Christian replacement theology model. The Bible, and particularly the language around the New Covenant, just doesn’t support it.

“Paul after this charity good while in Corinth and then he took his leave of the brothern, (sic) sailed from there to Syria, with him Priscilla and Aquila. Paul having cut his hair in Cenchrea for he had a vow.” And that tells us he was in transition, he was still making vows on an Old Testament basis, Nazarite vow and he did it in thanks to God for delivering him from Gallio and from those Jews in Corinth who wanted to take his life.

No, Pastor MacArthur, that tells us Paul took a Nazarite vow in accordance to Numbers 6. There’s nothing in the text that says anything about a transition. Please stop reading into the text.

Now this shows you this stringent nature of Paul’s Judaism, even though he was a Christian, he still wanted to fulfill this vow in the right way and he wanted to be there for the feast which was a Judaistic feast.

MacArthur sets Christianity and Judaism in sharp contrast to one another, making them mutually exclusive. One could not practice Judaism as a Jew and at the same time pay homage to and be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

That is a crazy statement to make, but all too many Christians don’t see the glaring error in Biblical interpretation. If Sola Scriptura is really supposed to mean “by scripture alone,” traditional Biblical interpretation in the modern Christian church doesn’t meet this standard by a long shot. You can’t be reading the plain meaning of the text in the larger context of the book and the even larger context of all of the scriptures and come to the conclusions at which MacArthur arrives.

I was about ready to dismiss the rest of his sermon when I came across this paragraph:

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

MessiahI find it astonishing that MacArthur can read one of the key texts that describe the New Covenant and still not know what it means. Do we have a new heart and a new spirit yet as Christians? We do? Really? Then why do we still struggle? Why do we still sin? If we got that new heart and new spirit already, what can we look forward to in the Messianic Era when human beings are perfected and King Messiah establishes his reign of total peace and understanding of God?

I hope you understand that. And again I hope you understand that this is said with a sense of love and a sensitivity to the fact that many could construe that I am bitter towards these people (the twelve disciples Paul encounters in Acts 19:1-7). I am not; I am zealous for the glory of God. Well so we meet the third party in transition. Let me close by saying this. We met three little transitions here, didn’t we? First Paul, then Apollos, then the 12. And you know something? We’re a long way from the book of Acts. But we see these three groups still. You know that in the church of Jesus Christ we’ve got people like Paul who are saved, have come all the way to Jesus Christ, but they’re hanging on to legalism?

There’s no way to know what MacArthur really thinks and feels, so I guess I have to take it for granted that MacArthur really doesn’t have it in for the twelve presumably Jewish disciples under discussion because they had the baptism of John but not the Holy Spirit. MacArthur, referencing his first two sermons as well as this one, says that Paul, Apollos, and the twelve were all Jews in transition from Judaism to Jesus.

They’re hanging on to old patterns, traditions, even some Jewish people who find it very difficult to fully absorb themselves in the life of the church. And I say this; I praise God for Jewish Christians who function fruitfully in the ministry of the body of Christ as opposed to maintaining isolation. But you know we have many believers today in Christ who are still they’re not in yet. They’re still holding on to old things. And then we have people like Apollos, sure we have people who good people, honest people, repentive sin, they just believe in God, but they’ve never met Christ.

It seems that MacArthur is praising the Jewish people who have become believers and assimilated into the Gentile Christian Church, while “challenging” or “not praising” those Jews who are believers but who “can’t let go of the old ways” and saying they know God but haven’t met Christ. They’re “not in yet,” according to MacArthur. So much for Messianic Jews, apparently. They aren’t real believers until they set aside the mitzvot and the traditions and function just like goyim in the Church. Ham sandwich, anyone?

Maybe they think of Jesus as a wonderful teacher, a man of great ethics, they never come to the cross and the resurrection. And then we’ve got a lot of people running around who are uninstructed in the Holy Spirit. Much of it is because they don’t even know Jesus Christ. Some know Christ. And grieve the Spirit by misunderstanding His marvelous work. I hope you’re not in transition. I hope like the writer of Hebrews says, “you will come all the way to the fullness of experiencing all that God has provided for you.” Let’s pray.

Ending MacArthur seriesAnd so we come to the end of the sermon and the end of the sermon series. As far as praying goes, now that I’ve reviewed three of MacArthur’s sermons as well as writing multiple reviews of the “Strange Fire” presentations, I pray I can let go of John MacArthur. He can travel his particular trajectory and I can travel mine.

We both read the same Bible and we pray to the same God but, like Abraham Lincoln once said, in our own ways, as Messianic to supersessionistic Christian, we “each invoke God’s aid against the other.” I actually don’t want to oppose Pastor John MacArthur. I don’t want to define myself as an “anti-MacArthurite.” But I do, as I have made abundantly clear, disagree with him pretty much across the board. I think he represents everything that inhibits Boaz Michael’s vision of Gentiles partnering with Israel in rebuilding David’s fallen tent. I think MacArthur is the living embodiment of Boaz’s statement, “The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.”

More’s the pity.

Addendum: Turns out my Pastor preached on this part of Acts as well recently. Tomorrow’s morning meditation will contain my Pastor’s take on some of this, which should augment and occasionally modify what MacArthur preached.

How Far Can We Explore the Bible?

The Bible is not a book but a library. It abounds with a spectrum of complementary, contrasting, and conflicting views, preserved by different sources and traditions. Diversity is not anathema. The Talmud records that books like Ezekiel, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther made it into the canon of Hebrew Scripture after much dispute, because they often contain often large chunks of theologically objectionable material. The editors did not put a premium on consistency and uniformity, but rather on assembling clashing voices driven by a hunger for the holy. A tolerance for diverse opinion and practice is imbedded in the foundation text of Judaism and in the vast exegetical literature that it inspired.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Conceiving of God,” February 13, 1999
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Sounds kind of like how I relate to the Book of Hebrews and why I feel is it so problematic, but Schorsch’s commentary on the “theologically objectionable material” and its “clashing voices” in the “foundation text of Judaism” speaks to me of the whole Bible and especially those portions, like Hebrews, that “clash” with other portions. Perhaps that “clash” is deliberate (at least on God’s part) and exists not just to inform us, but to challenge us.

I must admit to being bothered by John MacArthur (yes, him again) and the Sufficiency of Scripture crew, because for them (as least as I read them), the Bible is to Christians what an auto repair manual is to a car mechanic.

You’ve probably heard of the “Bible” described by the acronym Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Cute. There’s even a song with that title.

But it’s incredibly reductionistic and highly limiting of the power and the depth of the Word of God, as if the record of God’s interaction with man is just a history book, as if God were describing the workings of an internal combustion engine, which a sufficiently skilled human being can completely disassemble, describe the role and function of each and every part, and then reassemble and start-up with relatively no creative effort at all.

God is just a machine and the Bible is the instruction manual.

OK, it’s probably kind of unfair of me to say that, but there seems to be so much more “encoded” in the Bible, not necessarily though some arcane mystic means by which we must enter into an extraordinary metaphysical process to pry loose, but that requires we look at the scriptures as more than a book and even more than a library. If we believe that “all scripture is God-breathed,” (2 Timothy 3:16) then we must allow for the “breath of God” to be experienced as we open its pages and immerse in its waters. In other words, there’s a lot more to the Bible than meets the eye.

Even MacArthur’s commentary on scriptural sufficiency heavily, actually almost exclusively, references Psalm 19 and Psalm 119, both lyrical monuments to the glory, wisdom, and righteousness of the Torah of Moses. MacArthur just removes these passages from their original context and reforms them to suit his purposes.

This is probably why I have problems sometimes in Sunday school class. I expect to dive into a bottomless ocean of Biblical mystery and find myself wading in the shallow end of a swimming pool.

I’m being unfair again, but frankly, the Bible can take us just as far as we want to go and then, even farther. But just how far is that?

You’ll get a good idea of what I’m talking about if you’ll read Part 1 and Part 2 of my review on Boaz Michael’s lecture Moses in Matthew:

The two-hour seminar introduced many of the typologies throughout Matthew to Yeshua’s “Moses-like” fulfillment. The Gospels are composed in a thoroughly Jewish manner and need to be understood within that context to fully see what and why things take place and are said. The Moses in Matthew seminars are currently being offered at various locations and if you have the opportunity to attend one of these seminars, definitely do it! I found myself not only intellectually engaged and enlightened, but spiritually encouraged by this discussion.

-Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
“Moses in Matthew”
Yinon Blog

Gateway to EdenI’ve written before about the implications of treating Matthew and the other gospels as Jewish literature rather than Christian documents about Jesus and admittedly, the former is where my heart lies. It’s also where my head goes when I want to know more, learn more, see more clearly the path of God as He walks (metaphorically speaking) from Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) across early creation, on the road down to Egypt with Jacob, on the road up to Sinai with Moses, across the path of the Judges and the Prophets, and into the time of the apostles and beyond.

Why should God be so “Jewish” up until the end of the “Old Testament” (Tanakh, Jewish Scriptures) and then abruptly exchange His tefillin (and in Jewish legend even Hashem lays tefillin) for a cross around His neck (again speaking metaphorically)? Why would God set fire to the Torah scroll and when the flames have died out and the embers have cooled, sweep away the ashes and set a good ol’ King James Bible on the bema…uh, pulpit in front of Him to read to the Christian faithful as He evicts the Jews not only out of paradise but out of significance, love, hope, mercy, and completely off of the path of eschatology?

You think I’m kidding?

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

-John MacArthur
“Understanding the Sabbath”
Grace to You

In other words, according to MacArthur and Protestant tradition, God destroyed everything that made the Jewish people Jewish, the Temple, the Torah, everything that defines Judaism, everything that sustains Jews. If you destroy what gives a people their life, don’t you destroy the people too?

My Pastor encouraged me to listen to some Christian sermons, probably since so much of my information comes from Jewish sources. I’m not sure that was such a good idea and the experience doesn’t seem to be producing the result I think he hoped for.

Why am I rehashing stuff I’ve rehashed and reheated many times before? What new information can I hope to produce? What new insights do I think will appear?

I suppose it’s one way to continue on the journey I declared couple of months ago. Challenged to stop sitting on the fence, I decided to hop off but not on the side I think my Pastor and the Church desired of me.

I’ve also been meaning to write some sort of commentary on Tzvi Freeman’s and Yehuda Shurpin’s series Is Midrash for Real?.

MidrashNow I’ve done it. I bet I’ve crossed somebody’s line in the sand. On the other hand, how do you get further into understanding the meaning of creation unless you break a few barriers and blow past a few “Do Not Enter” signs?

In a comment on one of my blog posts, I quoted from an article written by Adrian Kent called Our quantum reality problem or When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable. I did this to illustrate how difficult it is for us to quantify and operationalize our observations of the universe. Shouldn’t our exploration into the deepest parts of a Spiritually inspired Bible, a Bible that was just as much authored by the finger of God as the pen of man contain just as much, if not more, difficulty and even “bizarreness?”

If God is truly infinite and unknowable in an absolute sense and even a created universe is only explained (and still imperfectly explained) by the shifting colors and currents described by quantum mechanics, how can we expect to experience the Bible as merely equivalent to the owner’s manual of a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle?

I’m not necessarily advocating for treating midrash as in any way the same as the Bible, but I am saying that we need to stop limiting ourselves by limiting the Word of God and thus limiting God. We must be willing to admit that God is God and He is not quantifiable. Even referring to God as “He” is a convention, just as the Bible describes God as having arms, or as walking. These are just literary devices to allow us to conceptualize the unimaginable.

“To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.”

-Leto, pg 275
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert (1976)

The Bible, among its other functions, sets up a basic framework for our faith. The framework exists as an environment in which to explore what that faith means, to discover our identity as God has given it to us, and what that identity means in relation to other people and in a relationship between the created and the Creator.

pathThe danger in this exploration is to read into the Bible what God did not put there, but there’s an equal danger in believing we have already discovered everything God breathed into the scriptures. Oversimplifying the matter, Christianity seems to be in danger of doing the latter and Judaism risks the former, at least in their most extreme expressions.

Somewhere there is a middle ground, a straddling path, a place where we can tether one foot in the pages of paper and ink and let the other one begin to stride among clouds. Even commentaries such as D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series (now, as I write this, at thirty-nine recordings and still counting) is just slightly slipping away from the Bible as a repair manual and entering the Bible as the barest beginning of an exploration into the hem of the garments of God.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Hebrews 5:12 (NASB)

If you think you have attained absolute knowledge of God and His Word, interestingly enough, you may still be dining on Gerber’s and have missed a few other culinary opportunities. The Bible contains an unending adventure of epicurean delights at the edge of uncertainty and I intend on tasting some delicacies.

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” -H.L. Mencken

The Challies Chronicles: Interlude Courtesy of the Rabbis

Ismar SchorschA third-century Palestinian amora, Rabbi Hanina bar Yitzhak, posited that three common experiences are merely unripened fruit (novelet) of phenomena unknown to us: sleep (foreshadowed death), dreaming (prophecy), and Shabbat (the world to come). Hence to dream is but a faint reflection of the intensity of a direct communication from God. The Talmud speaks of the ratio of these relationships as being one-sixtieth. Together, these views of Rabbi Yonatan, Rava, Rav Hanina, and the Talmud add up to a consistent effort to limit the potency of dreams as recorded throughout the Tanakh, without fully denying the possibility of fleeting contact with the Divine.

The shift away from revelatory dreams mirrors what Rabbis had done with prophecy itself. They declared it to have ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, to be found henceforth only among “fools and children.” In a culture reconstituted around the centrality of a sacred book rather than a sacred space, the scholar outranked the prophet. Exegesis replaced prophecy as the key to determining God’s will.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Living in Two Worlds,” pg 157
Commentary on Torah Portion Miketz
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

This is another brief interruption in my Challies Chronicles series which seeks to take the live blogging of Pastor Tim Challies on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, and use it as a platform for analysis and critique.

As I was reading Schorsch’s commentary on last week’s Torah reading, the above-quoted text jumped out at me. The essence of what Schorsch writes, that the Rabbis shifted away from certain “gifts of the Spirit” and toward a more “Bible-based” platform for understanding the revelation of God, seemed like it should be something MacArthur would agree with. Of course, the framework of Judaism would probably result in MacArthur immediately rejecting this information, since it comes from an “alien” (i.e. “Jewish”) source.

But since I stand outside of MacArthur’s own framework, I am at liberty to see the parallels. Evangelical Christianity didn’t invent this shift in perspective nor is it the sole owner of the material. It is true that Ismar Schorsch is only one author and represents the Conservative branch of Judaism, nevertheless, he is mining a rich field of Rabbinic knowledge and wisdom.

But I like what he writes next:

But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be? The reality of God’s presence permeated every aspect of the Rabbi’s discourse, piety, and daily lives. In their religious quest, they crafted a Judaism that enabled one to live in two worlds — the material and the spiritual, the transitory and the eternal, the here-and-now and the here-after — simultaneously and harmoniously.

-Schorsch pp 157-8

Tom Pennington at Strange FireWhile Tom Pennington in my recent Strange Fire commentary acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the current world, restricting its activity only in the areas of such direct spiritual gifts as prophecy, miraculous healings, and “tongues,” I wonder if he’s saying something similar? I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound like the Rabbinic sages, and after all, much of what the Rabbis taught were in the form of midrash or commentary, not directly pulled from scripture. On the other hand, while the Strange Fire speakers present their arguments as based only on scripture, the reality of what they produced at the conference was all inferred information, so both “camps” can be accused of standing on less than absolutely solid ground.

In other words, the Strange Fire speakers have a theory that just happens to fit words in the Bible.

At the heart of their arguments, “Cessationists” exist in a world of polarity. Either you believe this or you believe that. Either the Holy Spirit always enables prophecy in human beings or it never does.

While I myself am a skeptic of many of the strange claims regarding holy vomiting (though I don’t think the practice is mainstream Pentecostalism) and other highly dramatic experiences where the Spirit of God seems to perform on command (tonight and tonight only, on this very stage…), I’m not willing to say that God is quite so rigid as to be subject to such terms as “always” or “never,” at least not as defined by mortal human beings.

I suppose that’s one reason why I’m attracted to Jewish thought. It allows God a little “wiggle room” should He decide to supernaturally act in our world in a way our doctrine doesn’t always anticipate.

Schorsch wrote, “But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be?” How could they be, indeed. God is an ethereal substance that, once we are open to Him, we soak up like a sponge. If the Holy Spirit really in-dwells within all believers, then we are each a nexus point for a simultaneous connection of physical and spiritual reality. This doesn’t make us spiritual super-people, capable of “leaping tall buildings in a single bound,” but it does expose us to realities that a mere secular individual would be blind to.

But you have to be willing to see beyond the visible light of the universe into a spectrum that exists only in the realm of God. That’s a place we enter when we pray, a sort of doorway that leads from one room of existence to another. We can’t really enter into that other room in this life, but once we gain awareness of it, we can no longer afford to ignore it, either.

torah-tree-of-lifeWe stand in two worlds if we’re willing to see it. My beef with MacArthur’s perspective is that he seeks to define that other world in concrete and quantifiable terms when, from my perspective, the vastness of God extends far, far beyond what can be crammed into our understanding of the Bible.

If I can paraphrase the bard (Hamlet to Horatio), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I suppose MacArthur and party could say the same of me relative to demonology, but my orientation tends to naturally seek the positive aspects of the “spiritual plane,” which in this case, is the Spirit of God.

While I always will remain a devotee of Jesus of Nazareth, I think Judaism, or certain areas of Jewish thought, does a better job of allowing God to be God, than certain areas of Christianity.

Schorach said that the Rabbis crafted a Judaism post-second Temple, that could exist in two worlds. That makes it sound like the Judaism of the Rabbis is “man-made,” a common criticism of Judaism by the Church. But did the Christian Reformation start and Fundamentalism continue to craft a different kind of Christianity than what existed at the end of the first century of the common era?

Maybe both Christianity and Judaism are products constructed as much by their “revered sages” as molded by the hand of God.

Without Faith and Grace

leaving_edenJudaism and Christianity parted company over how to read these few spare chapters in universal history. For the Church, the Garden of Eden became the soil for the doctrine of original sin. In their waywardness, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, fell hostage to the domain of the devil. The narrative bespoke the immutably depraved condition of human nature. To know the Torah was not sufficient to do it. In the words of Paul, “In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-23) Not human willpower then but divine grace alone in the person of God’s own Son who had died on the cross could hope to break this vicious cycle of human malice.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Teshuvah in Place of Original Sin,” pp 34-35 (October 16, 1999)
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
from the book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I know we’ve already read Torah portion Noah this year, but as I’ve been working through the commentaries in Schorsch’s book each week, I’ve been taking notes of the more compelling articles. For each Torah Portion, there is a small but powerful collection of Schorsch’s writings which he composed over a number of different years. Going over this collection is like opening his mind and listening to Schorsch musing on how he encountered each Parashat across each annual reading cycle over time.

I’m also grateful that this book includes his thoughts on Christianity and comparisons to Judaism, not because I’m trying to “shoot down” Christianity (or necessarily Judaism), but it’s helpful to have an intelligent mind discuss my faith from the “outside.” Like my conversations with my Pastor, it hones my ability to look at my own beliefs, especially when they’re challenged, and discover if I truly know and can explain why I have the faith I possess in Jesus as Messiah.

It’s a steep learning curve sometimes and I can hardly claim to have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. However, I can say that the ducks are lining up in a somewhat more orderly fashion than they have in past years.

Original sin vs. the Jewish understanding of “the Fall” makes for interesting reading. Judaism in all its different modern streams, is not going to consider the need for a spiritual savior (though Moshiach is considered the redeemer of national Israel in Jewish thought, generally speaking). The Torah is accepted as sufficient, and always has been, to negotiate the Jewish relationship with a perfect God.

That’s hard for me to believe since no man can obey the commandments perfectly, and the Tanakh is a blatant record of that fact. The New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 starting in verse 27 promises that the covenant once written on stone tablets and scrolls made of animal skin will, in future times, be written on the heart, thus the “disconnect” between the desire for Holiness in man and the imperfection of living out that Holiness will cease to exist. Man and God will have a far more intimate relationship in those days than we enjoy in the present, or at any point in the past.

Gateway to EdenBut for Christianity, Jesus is the arbiter of that covenant, the gatekeeper, the doorway, and only by a profession of faith in him and the resultant transformed life, can man access the New Covenant of God. After that perfect writing of the Torah on a circumcised and human heart of flesh, can man perform the mitzvot with complete fidelity and with true justice and righteousness. Prior to that event, Christian or Jew, no man obeys God in the manner God desires, or for that manner, even in the manner we ourselves would wish.

In my own approach to a closer walk with God, I find myself slowly moving in a direction, but then, the tether that binds me to the habits of the past snaps me back like a rubber band that has been stretched just a little too far…and it stings.

It is not until we come to the late and marginal Book of Jonah that we first confront in full view the idea of teshuvah, repentance, as efficacious. Nor is it an accident that we read all of it in the synagogue on Yom Kippur afternoon, for Jonah encapsulates the essence of the day: that atonement, resolve, and initiative can get us beyond the impediments of our past and ourselves.

-Schorsch, pg 35

For all of the prophets of Israel we see in the Tanakh (Old Testament) who implored that nation of God to abandon her sin (which she regularly failed to do), only the Gentile city of Nineveh heeded a reluctant prophet and turned away God’s “evil decree.” It wasn’t permanent, of course, and later down history’s road, Nineveh sinned and fell, but consider how many times (if you can) that Israel too listened to the words of the prophets and averted disaster.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

The Master’s commentary on the matter is plain and dismaying. And yet, I heard one person tell me that if Israel had turned away from their sins and returned to Torah and God in the days that Jesus walked the earth, the Messianic Age would have come and flourished even in that very instant.

The world is waiting for Israel’s national repentance, without it, Messiah will not come and both Israel and the nations continue to suffer from our own folly.

Schorsch would say that the story of Jonah and Nineveh tells us that human beings can, in and of ourselves, hear the warnings of God, repent in sincerity, and the result is that God’s promise of destruction will be averted. But without Messiah, how were Nineveh’s sins forgiven? They certainly weren’t Israelites. History doesn’t record that they sent representatives to Jerusalem to offer the appropriate sacrifices for guilt and sin (and we know that the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted in the Temple, even in the days of Jesus).

Jonah's KikayonOnly God’s grace can explain why Nineveh survived when they repented. God is an “either-or” engine or sorts. “Either you repent and I will spare you, or you keep sinning and I will destroy you.”

This may also explain why, when they were faithful, when they did obey God, when they did perform the mitzvot, however imperfectly, and offered the required sacrifices, that is required by God, in the Temple in atonement for that imperfection, God chose to respond to sacrifices and the blood of goats and bulls, by sparing Israel, forgiving the apple of His eye, cherishing His often wayward bride.

On the basis of this small book, the Rabbis softened their understanding of the divine-human relationship with a large dose of compassion. God stood ready to forgive and humans had the capacity to grow. Thus Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the early second century proclaimed:

“Repent one day before your death.” When his students asked him how one might know that day, he replied: “Then repent today for you might die tomorrow.” (Avot DeRabbi Natan, ed. Schechter, page 62)

In other words, each and every day, and not just Yom Kippur, was suitable for repairing one’s ties to God.

-Schorsch, pp 35-36

Such is true of the Christian as well, and more so, since we do not have a traditional day in our religious calendar set aside specifically for repentance and “repairing one’s ties to God.” If anything, we are rather casual about the whole affair, for we are taught that once we were saved at some altar call or camp meeting, our place in Heaven is assured. We can never again fall from God’s hand.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NASB)

That’s quite a promise, but I still say we should not rest on our laurels so comfortably, for the Master also said this:

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NASB)

FallingTo “fall away” means we must have some place to fall from, in this case, from our faith in God (and I didn’t fail to notice that those “falling away” did so during the great tribulation). This does not seem to be the illusion of faith or describing those people who are not among the elect (for the Calvinists among you), but those who were in the Father’s hand at one point, who will fall away because lawlessness increased, their love grew cold, and they listened to false prophets.

We must always be alert and cautious. Like Nineveh, when we see the warning signs and hear the voice of God calling to us to beware lest we perish, we should respond immediately and “don sackcloth and ashes,” so to speak, declare a time of fasting and mourning, even if it is only with our own individual soul, and turn back to God, rather than risk falling from His hand down to the depths of despair.

In short, the rabbinic concept of teshuvah rested on deeds rather than on faith, on the discipline of Torah rather than on divine grace. Its implicit optimism about the correctability of human nature tempered the near fatalism that darkened the original meaning of Genesis.

-Schorsch, pg 36

I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, Nineveh was redeemed for a specific time, but we have no indication whatsoever that it never returned to sin (and knowing the nature of human beings, I believe it must have returned to that dark place) and was forever redeemed as a city before God. Repentance, teshuvah, is not a single act that once accomplished, is accomplished forever. We have Christ’s warning that we can fall away. True, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “bail out” on our own accord. We cannot be dragged unwillingly from the presence of God, but we can wantonly walk out of our own free will, thumbing our nose at the Divine in a suicidal gesture right before our final exit.

Schorsch says that human beings have pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and effectively refrain from sin, but again, the Tanakh is the witness against him (and against us all). Also, if the Covenant of Moses was sufficient forever in an unratified form, why does God promise a New Covenant, with the Torah not written externally, but inscribed internally across the fabric of our hearts (and please keep in mind that the content of the previous covenant remains unchanged, only the “material” upon which it is written does)?

I don’t know if I completely buy the classic Christian interpretation of the events in Eden, but I do believe that no amount of human effort, all by itself, will ever pay the debt we owe to God for our willful rebellion. From Adam in the beginning and down across each generation, we have failed God, and laughed at God, and denied God again and again. Even the best among us falls short, as Paul said (referencing Psalms 14 and 53), there is no one righteous, not even one of us…ever (Romans 3:10-12), apart from the Master himself.

dust-and-ashesWith much respect to Schorsch and his commentaries, which I enjoy very much, we cannot possibly walk the walk without both faith of the heart, and the grace of a most merciful God. Without both faith and grace, our repentance would be a faint and temporary glimmer in the dark, and we would all meet the ultimate fate of historical Nineveh well passed Jonah’s intervention, and the fate of all the “great cities” that have risen and crumbled to dust across the vast corridors of time.

Divine grace is certainly necessary, and no human being can even come close to “meeting God halfway,” so to speak. But we are still required to change directions, to face away from our sin and to turn toward God. Once that’s accomplished, often with God’s insistent “prodding,” then and only then do we have life, and the will to live it in obedience.

Sukkot: From Sticks and Leaves

Under the sukkahYou won’t find any intimacy with G-d by keeping the so-called “Noahide laws”. If all you need is to be ethical then you don’t need the Bible. Everyone has a conscience and already knows how to be ethical.

But the Tanak says that G-d wants more than ethical followers–He wants INTIMACY with us. The prophets all say that the Gentiles will be joined to G-d and joined to His People (Israel), that they will flock to Jerusalem/Zion to learn the Torah, they will keep Shabbat, Sukkot, etc. Have you read Isaiah 56, Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Joel 2, Amos 9, etc, etc?

Here’s something else: you will FAIL to keep the Noahide laws, which means you NEED atonement. As it happens, tonight is Yom Kippur so it’s a good time to consider how you have no atonement unless you accept Yeshua. Your Orthodox friends have deceived you but you need to realize that Yeshua is G-d. Thus, to deny Yeshua is to deny HaShem. That’s it! There’s no way around it!

Shalom,

Peter

-from a comment on
orthodoxmessianic.blogspot.com

The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God.

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Yom Kippur
“Why Pray? To Help Us Hold Up the Heavens,” pg 660
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Why am I starting a blog post about Sukkot by quoting people talking about Yom Kippur? Patience. The answers are coming.

I don’t often engage Peter, especially by referencing his home ground (his blog). There is a great deal about which we disagree and endless rounds of “head butting” have produced nothing but bruises and headaches. I can do without both.

Occasionally, however, he makes a good point, such as saying that simply engaging in ethical behavior for its own sake or imagining that it is only what we do that pleases God misses the point. As Professor Schorsch points out, in the end, it’s our engagement of God on God’s own terms, in prayer, devotion, supplication, and “brokenness” that forges a relationship and helps to deepen the bonds between mankind and our Creator.

But Peter also misses the point in imagining that a Gentile going beyond the Noahide laws and attempting to keep the full 613 mitzvot as the Jewish people are commanded somehow will make the difference. Does keeping the Torah mitzvot (a much longer list of activities than the Noahide laws), in and of itself, foster intimacy with God and spiritual growth within our souls? Didn’t Peter say something about atonement and a believer’s relationship with God?

Dependence is part of the human condition, of which we are also reminded by the fragile nature of the sukkah itself. Our feelings of thanksgiving and anxiety, of uplift and unease, are united by the inescapable sense of how subordinate we humans actually are to God’s will.

-Schorsch
Commentary on Sukkot
“An Undertone of Angst,” pg 674

Not all sages agreed, however, that sukkot were huts. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus early in the second century contended that the protection came in the form of a divinely provided cloud cover (ananei kavod). That is, for the duration of their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Israelites were fed by manna and sheltered by clouds, beneficiaries of a caring God.

-ibid, “Huts of Clouds?” pg 683

rainningWhile Judaism richly interweaves faith, prayer, and mitzvah performance, it is still less what we do than who we depend upon in our weakness as human beings, as if a Christian (non-Jewish believer in Jesus), by either wearing or not wearing tzitzit periodically during prayer, or even continually during waking hours by donning a tallit katan, will cause God to grant or withhold favor, blessings, and intimacy. If I fail to wear tallit and tefillin in prayer or refrain from building a sukkah in my backyard this year, will God frown upon my Christian soul if I choose to approach God in earnest prayer, with supplication, with a wounded spirit, and a broken and contrite heart? Is it only prayer, devotion, and tzitzit and sukkah construction efforts that create the “magic” combination and gets God’s attention?

This year, as in past years, I have built my little sukkah (it’s a kosher sukkah kit my wife and I ordered from Israel some years ago), but I didn’t build it because I thought that not doing so would result in my being sent to Hell without so much as a pitcher of ice water and an electric fan. I didn’t even do so because I thought God would withdraw his lovingkindness from me if I didn’t. I didn’t even do so because there’s a commandment in the Torah to build and live in a sukkah for eight days.

That’s not the point.

But I didn’t say that Christians are to totally refrain from all of the Torah mitzvot either. In fact, Christians who show true fruits of the spirit and authentically transformed lives actually do observe many, perhaps most of the Torah mitzvot, which in part, was the intent of the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentiles we see recorded by Luke in Acts 15. We just don’t adopt those practices that have been given specifically to Israel, the Jewish people, because being people of the nations who are called by God’s Name (Amos 9:11-12) doesn’t make us Jewish or Israel.

I build a sukkah every year for two simple reasons. One, because my wife and children are Jewish and as the head of my family, it is my responsibility to build a sukkah for them, supporting and encouraging their Jewish Torah observance. Two, because, as Professor Schorsch says, building a sukkah illustrates the vulnerability all human beings experience in a universe created by God, and how we very much depend on Him for shelter from the elements and even for every single morsel of food we need to sustain our lives.

You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16 (NASB)

It may have been huts or tents and not literally clouds that spared the Children of Israel from wind, and rain, and harsh desert heat for those forty years in the desert, but the handiwork of man only goes so far. After that, only God can protect and nurture.

In short, grace in Judaism is not undeserved. If we take the first step, God will meet us more than halfway.

-ibid, “Creating Settings of Holiness,” pg 682

rain_on_meI agree, we (not just Jewish people, but everyone in relationship with God) cannot be inactive in God’s grace, and in fact, God expects us to actually do something in participation with Him, but it’s God who does the heavy lifting and in the end, even if we fail completely in our attempts to interact with His Holiness, He is more than gracious enough to meet us, not only more than halfway, but all the way, as we crawl and bleed into the desert sand, in order to lift us up, hold us lovingly, and shelter us from harm.

For it is obvious and known that nothing we can do in and of itself can “force” God to draw nearer if it is against His Will. Our deeds are not righteous, and though He greatly desires obedience, it is not obedience that “makes” God become intimate with us or shelter us from the storm. It’s the fact that in the eyes of God, we are more helpless than newborn babies, unable to do anything for ourselves, as measured by an infinitely powerful and Holy God. It is only out of grace, mercy, and even pity that God takes the fragile sticks and leaves we build from our lives and makes them capable of withstanding even the mightiest of hurricanes.

This year, Sukkot begins tonight at sundown.

Chag Sameach Sukkot!