Tag Archives: Judaism

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

Is Unknowingly Committing A Transgression A Transgression?

As some of you may know, I’ve slowed down the frequency of blog posts here pretty dramatically compared to past years. Although I haven’t particularly avoided Jewish-based themes, I’ve tried to target my content more for non-Jews and avoid some of the controversy that continues to surround a non-Jew intersecting the domain of Messianic Judaism or any other kind of Judaism.

tefillin
Image: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

But I just read Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s latest Shabbat Shalom Weekly column and he wrote about a personal experience of his that I have never considered before:

For several years I have been studying Inside Stam, (Stam — acronym: Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzuos) a fascinating book on the laws pertaining to Tefillin, Mezuzos, Sifrei Torah by Reuvain Mendlowitz. I was very excited to have my tefillin checked by him on a recent trip to Israel. Much to my surprise, Rabbi Mendlowitz told me that I needed to replace the “fake straps.” Fake straps?

Straps on tefillin must be made from kosher animals and painted black. It seems that an unscrupulous individual had sold counterfeit straps made in the Far East from horse hide bonded with black plastic and passed them off as kosher! What this meant to me is that I, and hundreds if not thousands of others, unknowingly were not fulfilling the mitzvah of wearing tefillin!

Now obviously, Rabbi Packouz never thought for one second that his tefillin straps were counterfeit, and with proper intent, believed he was fulfilling the mitzvah involved. It would be like eating a bowl of chicken soup that someone had sprinkled undetectable amounts of some non-kosher food into. It’s not the eater’s fault and they wouldn’t even know they were consuming treif.

So can we say that R. Packouz really failed to fulfill the mitzvah of donning tefillin? He obviously thinks so:

There are those who might say, “It’s OK. God understands. It’s what’s you wanted to accomplish and whether the tefillin were kosher or not doesn’t really matter.” It is presumptuous to assume that we know what God “understands.” If the Almighty “went to all of the trouble” to convey so many specific details on how tefillin are made and how they should be worn, then perhaps there is much more to the mitzvah than one’s intentions.

When the Hubble telescope was launched into space in 1990, the photographs were not as clear as expected. Upon investigation it was found that the mirror was ground with an error from the prescribed curve of only 10 nanometers — but resulted in creating a “catastrophic spherical aberration” in the images.

Some things have to be perfect to work.

But R. Packouz is making an assumption that, in not knowing exactly what and how God “understands,” He literally requires all mitzvot to be observed strictly, even, in this case, if it is impossible for the Jewish person involved to know the tefillin straps were fake.

R. Packouz suggests having your (if you are a Jew) tefillin straps checked by a competent, God-fearing sofer (scribe). That makes sense, but the Rabbi trusted the sofer he originally bought his tefillin from, and apparently, the sofer trusted whoever he purchased them from.

Part of me wants to say that God will pardon such transgressions because they were made without intent, but then I remember that in the days of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, there were sacrifices made for unintentional sin (once the person realized he or she had committed unintentional sin).

Christianity seems a lot more flexible when it comes to transgressions, unintentional and otherwise. I can see why some Christians consider Jewish mitzvot to be a straitjacket. On the other hand, maybe Christianity in general treats the requirements of God like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

If You’re Not A Jew, Who Are You?

NoahIt’s the beginning of a new Torah cycle, and even though I haven’t been diligent with my studies lately, I am not unmindful of them either.

I’m recycling some older thoughts but I think they are worth the review. I came across an article from the Ask the Rabbi column at Aish called Who is a Jew?. The answer is pretty straightforward. You’re a Jew if your mother is Jewish or if you convert to Judaism. Period, end of story.

I know not everyone agrees with this definition, but it does fit the Orthodox perspective and generally, it’s one I can agree with.

Because the upcoming Torah portion for this Shabbat is Noach (Noah), Rabbi Kalman Packouz in his Shabbat Shalom Weekly column wrote about the Noahide Laws. I know this can be a controversial subject among those who read this blog, but I’m making a point. Be patient.

According to Rabbi Packouz, and you’ve heard this before, you don’t have to be a Jew to merit a place in the world to come. His article explains that even from the beginning, Hashem always intended to create the Jewish people, give them the Torah, and have them be a light to the world as the nation of Israel.

As for the rest of us, what are we to do with that light? It’s there. It’s shining. Where does it lead those of us, that is, the vast majority of the world’s population who are not Jewish?

R. Packouz’s response is predictable; the 7 Noahide Commandments.

I’ve written at length about them many times before so I won’t repeat myself here. You can search this blog and probably find a lot more information, opinions, and comments on the topic.

However, some folks who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” have proposed that the Noahide Laws can at least be used as a guide for the halachah which applies to non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua.

I don’t know if that’s true in an absolute sense, but if you have no other path, it gives you a place to start. There are plenty of Jewish sources which are instructive to Noahides, and in fact, when you go over those laws, they aren’t particularly outrageous:

  1. Don’t murder
  2. Don’t steal
  3. Don’t worship false gods
  4. Don’t be sexually immoral
  5. Don’t eat the limb of an animal before it is killed
  6. Don’t curse God
  7. Set up a legal court system and do justice
generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

You can get more details by reading R. Packouz’s article or visiting sites such as Noahide.org.

Of course, these laws and the perspective of Jewish authorities found at Aish and elsewhere do not take Rav Yeshua and his teachings into consideration, and again, I’ve written a great deal about factoring in our reconciliation to Hashem through devotion to our Rav and by his merit.

According to the teachings of R. Packouz and particularly Rav Shaul (Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles), God really did presuppose that all of humanity would be reconciled to Him, but that Jews would be Jews and the people of the nations would be the people of the nations.

Why am I writing this and why should you care?

Basically to say what I’ve said before. There’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish. I mean, most of the world isn’t Jewish and we’re still created in the image of the Almighty. We’re given a place in the world to come, the blessings of the resurrection, and even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as disciples of our Rav.

We can even call Rav Yeshua our Rav and not feel like we’re ripping off the Jewish people.

Do we have to obey the Noahide Laws? Well, we probably do if we live generally moral lives. Even if we’d never heard of the Noahide Laws, whether we call ourselves Christians, Messianic Gentiles, or anything else, chances are we don’t murder, steal, worship false gods, or practice sexual immorality. We certainly don’t eat the limbs of a living animal, hopefully don’t curse God, and live in a nation with a system of laws and courts.

In other words, we are likely observing the Noahide Laws whether we know it or not.

What else is there? What else does there have to be?

We know in general that meeting regularly with like-minded believers to build each other up is a good thing. It’s a good thing to pray. It’s a good thing to study the Bible, both in groups and as individuals. It’s a good thing to treat others, even people we don’t like, with kindness and generosity.

Coffee and BibleAll of these principles can be found in the Bible and they don’t apply just to observant Jews.

As we begin another Torah cycle and start another year, it’s good to remember that we don’t have to be Jewish in order to be close to God. However, that knowledge was brought to us in general by the Jewish people, and in specific by our Jewish Rav. After all, he specifically selected one Apostle to bring the good news of Moshiach to the goyim, that is, to the rest of us.

Rejoice.

Blessing God in a Dark World

Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 (NASB)

It would be less frustrating if the Almighty’s face weren’t hidden. Everything would be clear and our decisions easy. We’d certainly sleep better at night. But that’s not our challenge, that’s not our opportunity for growth.

We need to rouse ourselves now, to move forward with faith and optimism, recognizing that even though He may be hidden, it’s all in His hands. And on Purim, we can take a small drink (emphasis on small), just to help ease our anxieties and inhibitions and clear the path to this recognition.

We pray that this be the year where the whole Jewish people comes to recognize the Almighty’s presence and where the mask of darkness is removed from our world.

-Emuna Braverman
“When God Hides His Face”
Aish.com

I was recently challenged to do the following:

James..there’s a lot you could write to us about glorifying G-d with all our soul/nephesh (Kiddush Hashem) in life now and in the face of death.

terrorism in nice
Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

That’s no small request, especially since I don’t always know how to glorify God when my soul feels like it’s been run over by a tank.

The world’s a pretty horrible place. The most recent atrocity is the terrorist attack in Nice, France, and particularly how Europe is treating a terrorist attack against non-Jews vs. how it normally responds when Palestinian Arabs murder Israeli Jews.

As I said in my previous blog post, I get tired. I get tired of all the woe and grief in the world. I get tired of arguing with the religious pundits. I get tired of arguing with the social justice warriors (SJW), particularly the religious ones.

I want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my eyes.

But that’s hardly blessing God in the face of adversity, in the face of a faithless and morally corrupt world, in the face of all the bad things and then the worse things that are going to happen between now and the return of Messiah.

I think a common problem, as least as I understand it, in blessing God during adversity is that we aren’t always focused on God, we’re focused on the adversity.

OK, to be fair, when someone steps on your toes, it hurts and you yell “Ouch!” Pretty hard not to pay attention to the pain.

But after the momentary “ouch,” and once we regain our composure, we can rededicate our focus on God once more.

Of course, it’s easier to do that if our focus on God was there before the “ouch”.

That’s right. The secret to focusing on God while under duress is to focus on God before trouble begins and to make it a habit.

That’s one of the things I like about observant Judaism. There’s a blessing and a ritual for everything. I know many Christians see that as a straight-jacket, but it can also be very organizing. If you develop a discipline of praying to God and blessing Him at regular and specific times of day, chances are God will be a lot nearer at hand when the world blows up in your face than if you were just praying to God whenever you felt like it (which for many Christians, usually means praying whenever you want something or when you feel an “ouch”).

Although the majority of Jews living in Israel are secular, there is something about the Jews in the Holy Land. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, God is particularly close to Jews in Israel, Jews who have returned to the Land in response to prophesy.

Like Paul, we have our hope in the resurrection, but like Paul, we should always be aware of the nearness of trouble, pain, and death. If we lose our hope in God, we’ve lost everything, so indeed, let us “party hardy,” because nothing really matters in the long run. We might as well be wasting our time playing Pokémon Go, because life and death, faith and God don’t mean anything.

I previously said that in response to an SJW, the most important thing to me was playing with my grandchildren, celebrating life rather than wallowing in oppression, victimhood, and sorrow.

prayers in the darkHowever, that’s just one small expression of what’s really, really important. Drawing nearer to God. If we start doing that now and do it everyday, we will already be closer to God when trouble comes. If we wait until trouble and pain comes, it may become too hard to focus our attention on Him, especially if we’re yelling “Ouch!” all the time.

In principle, it’s not that hard. Read the Bible every day. Set aside fixed times of prayer. Perform some sort of devotional on a daily basis. Be aware of opportunities to do good in your community every day and perform at least one mitzvah (commandment) each day, always with an awareness of the God who is over your head.

Is it easy?

No. If it were, we’d all do it. If it were, I probably wouldn’t complain so often and give in to bad impulses to engage intractable people on social media.

Oh, and I did another minor Facebook “purge” this morning, just for the sake of my peace of mind. I like being exposed to a variety of opinions, but I draw the line at hostility and self-righteousness.

If we wake up being thankful to God for our lives and go to sleep asking for His protection, and if we regularly “touch base” with Him during the day, on the day of woe, He will already be our old companion.

The opinions of men, their transitory social imperatives, their fluid and relative morality, this is like sand on the beach, there one day and washed back out into the ocean the next. Only God is our rock and our deliverer, both from the world and from the darkest parts of our own souls.

If I were better at this, I’m sure my soul wouldn’t have such large dark parts. But the arm of God is not too short to save, even someone like me.

My Aberrant Theology

There are days.

Really, I don’t know why I respond to Facebook clickbait sometimes.

No, that’s not fair. It’s not “clickbait” as such. The person who posted the statement is honest and forthright. We just happen to disagree, that’s all.

He said:

Q: What do you say when someone protests, “We’re not under the law, we’re under the New Covenant!”
A: I would respond as follows…

Q: When the Scriptures describe the New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (which is also quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12) what is the first thing God says He will do in the fulfilling of the New Covenant?
A: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”

Q: What is the law that God will write on our hearts as part of the New Covenant?
A: According to Romans 8:1-11 those who walk in the Spirit will submit to God’s Law, so that it “might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” So, we are no longer under the “condemnation” or “curse” or penalty of the law, but we are most certainly still instructed by God’s law. In fact, it is now being written on our hearts, so that we might faithfully walk it out. According to Ephesians 2:8-10 this is why we were saved by grace through faith: that we might walk in “good works” which God, “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

new heartI happened to mention that Jeremiah 31:31 states only the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and not the Gentiles at all, participate in the New Covenant. Christianity sidesteps this little problem by cherry-picking various New Testament scriptures while ignoring the fact that there’s no linear progression from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and those particular passages. In this case Ephesians 2 was invoked.

My response was to point to a two-part series on Ephesians 2, Abraham, and the unique Jewish mission I wrote over 14 months ago, specifically citing the works of Carl Kinbar and Derek Leman.

The response to my response was to have Kinbar and Leman (and by inference, me) accused of “aberrant theologies”.

“The inappropriate emphasis of Jewish or Gentile identity will inevitably result in aberrant theologies.” … as demonstrated by Kinbar and Leman.

Just to be clear, the dictionary definition of “aberrant” is “departing from an accepted standard.” Synonyms include “deviant, deviating, divergent, abnormal, atypical, anomalous, irregular.”

Reminds me of those times when the head Pastor of the church I used to attend stated that he spoke “sound doctrine,” implying that anyone who disagreed with him was teaching “unsound doctrine.”

In other words, “agree with me or you’re wrong.”

Of course, the arguments being used against me are based on Covenant Theology which I’ve already discounted, at least within my own little world view.

This is all my fault. If I’d just learn that people don’t want to discuss, they want you to be “aberrant,” then I’d (hopefully) not engage them, even the nice ones, in such conversations. They never end well. If you’re mainstream, you are always right. That’s one of the reasons I don’t go to their churches. No room for minority opinions. No place for the occasional oddball. The Church is for conformists (of course, most religious institutions require such a thing by definition).

TempleI guess it doesn’t matter if I’m right either. Let them have their victories over the Jewish people and Judaism, over the Torah and the Temple. God will be God no matter what I say or no matter what anyone else says, either.

I just don’t believe God will delete my Jewish wife and children based on a theological technicality that wasn’t even conceived of until after the Gentile Christians threw the Jewish disciples of Yeshua out of their own party sometime in the early second century CE and after.

No, that’s not really what Covenant Theology says…well, not exactly. I just don’t think you have to drag the Jewish people and Jewish praxis into the mud in order to elevate the Messiah. I believe both ascend together. Why would the King of Israel bring down his Israelite subjects, the named members of the covenants with God, in order to elevate a non-covenant people? After all, without those covenant people who are already near to God, how can a non-covenant people be brought nearer to the God of Israel by them and by their King?