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Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 2

Now, I’ve entitled this portion, beginning in chapter 18 verse 18 through chapter 19 verse 7, we’ve entitle (sic) it From Judaism to Jesus because it does portray for us a transition. We have made the mention in past studies that the Book of Acts records for us transitions and we see the fading out of Judaism and the coming in of Christianity. In understanding this, we have to understand that it sometimes was a slow transition. Salvation is not a transition; it’s a momentary miracle. But losing all of the trappings of Judaism came a little slower. People would get saved and then find it hard to let go over everything, and so there was a certain amount of difficulty in making the transition from Judaism to Jesus. And as I said last week, we find that true very often today, even with Jews who come to Jesus Christ and find it difficult to break with patterns that were so much a part of Judaism.

Now, I think part of this is due to the fact, maybe most of it is due to the fact that Judaism in itself is such a distinct kind of life. Now, we could talk for a long time about the distinctions of Judaism and I don’t mean to do that, but in some generality to point out to you the distinctness of Judaism, in order that you might understand how difficult the transition comes about.

-John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 2,” January 20, 1974
Commentary on Acts 18:24-28
GTY.org

I reviewed part one of this series last week and I can’t say I’ve received Pastor MacArthur’s rendering of ancient or modern Judaism with any sort of enthusiasm. MacArthur characterizes the Book of Acts as a chronicle of transition, literally “from Judaism to Jesus.” I couldn’t disagree more, but to give him a fair shake (to the best of my admittedly waning ability), I’ll continue to read the sermons of this series and offer my comments.

MacArthur says that the transition away from Judaism was really difficult for the Jewish people because of this:

For example, a Jewish town or a Jewish city or township or village, no matter whether it was centered right in the midst of a Pagan country or whether it was butted up against a Pagan society in another city, still maintained an amazing uniqueness, and no matter how much interrelation and intercourse economically and culturally and all it happened to have with Pagans, it seemed never to be tainted by Paganism. There was just such a unique identity and this was particularly around the time of Christ and the time of the New Testament.

You couldn’t even enter a Jewish town or enter a Jewish village without feeling like you had almost stepped into another world. You get that feeling today when you go to Jerusalem, not so much when you see the hustle and bustle of a modern city, but when you happen to be isolated with a group, say, of Orthodox Jews who are doing what only Orthodox Jews do, you feel that somehow something’s wrong. You’re out of whack or they’re out of whack with the world.

Interestingly enough, even among modern observant Jews, the sense of distinctiveness between the Jewish community and the surrounding peoples is considered not only normal but necessary in order to fulfill the requirements of God for the Jewish people.

MacArthur distinguishes Christianity and Judaism in a number of ways during his sermon, but I found this paragraph rather telling.

I think that, for most of us, we tend to look at religion in this frame. But Judaism was not such an isolated creed of theology. You see, it was a whole way of life. It pervaded every single human relationship. It pervaded every single attitude toward eating and drinking and clothing and all kinds of things in terms of economy, not just a set of observances, not just a creed, but a way of life and you could never just suck Jewish theology out and remove Judaism. No, because Judaism was a way of life.

Although, at least in theory, being a Christian should also be a way of life, in fact, MacArthur seems to say that Judaism is more of a way of life than Christianity. He says this is why the Jewish people had so difficult a time in giving up Judaism, because it completely defined every aspect of Jewish living. Really, MacArthur. You say all that and you still don’t see a problem with requiring that Jewish people surrender everything that defines them, makes them unique, and enables them to continue forward through history without being destroyed on the altar of assimilation?

To his credit, MacArthur does say that there was faith, grace, and salvation in the Old Testament, but he blows past that part very quickly and “starts in” on the Rabbis.

…throughout the history of Israel, there have always been rabbis, which means teacher or master. And all of these rabbis were teaching and interpreting and adding to Scripture. And, of course, the esteem of a rabbi was so great that what the rabbi said was often written down. And all of these things were gathered and gathered and accumulated until today, you have this monstrous set of volumes known as the Talmud. And the Talmud is all of these rabbinical statements added onto the Biblical, and you will find that if you visit any rabbi who was at all involved in what he ought to be involved in as a rabbi, you would find that he has not only prescribed his life around the Old Testament, but perhaps even more so around the Talmud where he is following up all of the interpretations and suggestions of all the rabbis, some of which, most of which are unnecessary and unbiblical.

ancient_rabbisThis is MacArthur’s conceptualization of Rabbinic Judaism, the body of religious and cultural Judaism that enabled the continuation of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple and after most of collective human Israel had been exiled from their Land. In the world according to MacArthur, the Rabbis were just a bunch of guys who added unnecessary stuff to the Bible.

He briefly makes some sort of commentary on the “Shimah.” I’ll take it for granted that whoever transcribed MacArthur’s sermon didn’t know the accepted English spelling of “Shema” and that MacArthur didn’t find it necessary to proofread the text. On the other hand, his sermons could have been transcribed years or decades after the fact.

But then there’s this story:

There was a rabbi by the name of Rabbi Jacanon Van Saccai (sic). It was written of him that he said this at his death. And it was interesting because he was called The Light of Israel. He lived at the time of the destruction of the temple. He was a very famous man, highly esteemed. And he was the president of the San Hedron (sic) or the ruling body of Israel. So he was not a small-time rabbi, but a very important man. On his deathbed, he began to weep just bitterly and profusely, and some of his students who had studied under him and sat at his feet couldn’t believe this.

Just to clarify, MacArthur is referring to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai who I’ll discuss a bit later, and the “San Hedron” is the Sanhedrin, which is not a ruling body but the highest religious court assembly in ancient Israel.

And they asked him how such a man who had lived as he could have such fear of death, and this was his reply and I quote, “If I were now to be brought before an Earthly kind who lives today and dies tomorrow, whose wrath and whose bonds are not everlasting and whose sentence of death even is not that to everlasting death, who can be assuaged by arguments or perhaps bought off by money, I should still tremble and weep. How much more reason have I for it when about to be led before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed by (sic) He who liveth and abideth forever, whose chains are chains forevermore, whose sentence of death kills forever, whom I cannot assuage with words nor bride (sic) with money and not only so, but there are before me two ways: one’s a paradise and the other one to hell. And I know not which of the two ways I shall have to go. How then shall I not shed tears?” End quote. The man believed that there was only one (way) to enter into heaven and that was to keep the law and he knew in his conscious (conscience?) that he hadn’t done it, and he had a fear of spending forever in hell. You see, he had no concept of faith, no concept of grace. He was in a system that bound him and if he didn’t do what the system wanted him to do, he believed he’d go to hell forever.

This is a fairly well-known story, but my memory of it didn’t match MacArthur’s description which seems to contain blatant assumptions about why the revered sage was so fearful. I did a bit of research and found more about the rather tragic deathbed scene as recorded by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld at Torah.org

In spite of it all, R. Yochanan was plagued with doubts for the rest of his life. The Talmud records that on his deathbed, he tearfully told his students that he has two paths before him — to Heaven and to Hell — and he was literally unsure along which one he would be led (Brachos 28b). He took it upon himself to change the course of Jewish history, and to his dying moments was never truly sure he had chosen right. (I heard this explanation of the Talmud from R. Berel Wein.)

jewish-traditionBut according to Rabbi Rosenfeld, R. Yochanan was not terrified of “going to Hell” because he relied on an unreliable Torah and lacked the grace of Jesus Christ, he was deeply troubled that he had not made the correct decision in preserving the Jewish people and the Torah.

According to the Talmud (Gittin 56), when the Romans had surrounded Jerusalem in the final siege that heralded the destruction of the Temple, many Jewish people wanted to fight and die rather than give in to the Romans, but R. Yochanan was concerned that this would only result in total extermination of the Jews and elimination of the Torah from all the earth.

As the story goes, R. Yochanan had himself smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin and eventually made an arrangement with the Roman general Vespasian to establish a center of learning in Yavneh, along with its sages, so that the study and observance of Torah could continue.

This agreement wasn’t incredibly popular with a lot of Jewish people as you might imagine, and even to the end of his days, R. Yochanan was tortured with whether or not he made the right decision to hand Jerusalem and the Temple over to the enemy, even to preserve Jewish lives and ensure the continuation of Torah study.

Sorry to occupy so much space on what seems to be a minor portion of MacArthur’s sermon, but I felt it necessary to set the record straight and present the Jewish point of view (to the best of my ability) on the life and death of Yochanan ben Zakkai.

MacArthur tends to play fast and loose with Jewish history, Jewish concepts, and Jewish people (see his comments on “sloppy” below), and since he’s made the decision to eliminate Judaism at Acts 2 and to declare that it was going through a slow and agonizing death, I have some concerns that MacArthur, for all of his apparent education, may not truly understand some of the things and people he’s talking about.

Now that we have MacArthur’s opinion on R. Yochanan, this is how he sees the apostle Paul:

Well, now watch. Into this system comes a man by the name of Paul and he’s running around say(ing), “Grace. Grace. Forget all the laws.” And the Jews are having culture shock. There’s no way they can handle that. That’s why when he went into the synagogue the reaction was so violent. See?

Never mind a more scholarly approach that does not present Paul as rather gleefully “Law-free,” such as what I’ve been studying in the Mark Nanos books The Mystery of Romans and The Irony of Galatians. According to MacArthur, Paul just made Judaism go away and proceeded to enter the various synagogues in the diaspora claiming, “Grace. Grace. Forget all the laws.” This isn’t a description of a real to life, complicated, intelligent human being with a very difficult task as the Jewish emissary of Messiah to the Gentiles. MacArthur seems to be describing Paul as a cartoon. Who’s adding to scripture now?

And what about Peter and Acts 10?

“And which were all matter of four-footed beasts of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things,” that’s snakes and reptiles and birds, fowls of the air. “And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.'” Now, that sounds like a simple thing. He sees in his vision all these animals and the voice says, “Go ahead, Peter, just kill them all and eat.”

Now what’s he saying? Well, in effect, he’s saying there’s no distinction because in the Old Testament there were certain things a Jew couldn’t eat, right? And Peter had lived all his life that way. And now in the New Covenant, Jew and Gentile were going to be one in the church, and God didn’t want any difference anymore. There is no difference.

You think Peter could’ve gone, “Oh, fine Lord. Sure. Just pass the plate. I’ll eat whatever’s there.” No. Couldn’t handle it.

Verse 14. “And Peter said, ‘Not so Lord.'” Peter actually said, “No, Lord.” That’s pretty flagrant disobedience. This can’t be. Are you kidding me? “For I’ve never eaten anything that is common or unclean in my life, I’ve never done that. Salvation or no salvation, I can’t handle it.” See.

jewish-t-shirtMaybe what’s rubbing me the wrong way is MacArthur’s casual and even disrespectful manner in talking about Yochanan ben Zakkai, Paul, and Peter. He seems to be making fun of them because they couldn’t “let go” of this “Jewish stuff.” Maybe it’s because my wife and kids are Jewish. I just get the feeling MacArthur wants to laugh at them or to discount them. I hope I’m not being too personal in my review.

It also seems like MacArthur is reading a lot into the text (adding to scripture?), as if God really expected Peter to start shoveling a sheet load of “trief” down without so much as a by your leave. In fact, the vision of Peter in Acts 10 had nothing to do with unclean food:

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. (emph. mine)

Acts 10:28

There’s also a difference between unkosher animals and unclean foods, but for the sake of time, I’ll refer you to the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television episode All Foods Clean or my review of the program for the details.

Of the lives of the apostles, MacArthur said:

Now, we want to live by biblical doctrine, but I’m not interested in going back there. I’m not interested in having trouble over what I eat like Peter did. I’m not interested in going over to the temple in Jerusalem and making vows like Paul did and having to take a Nazarite vow and cut all my hair and haul my hair half way across the world so I can burn it properly in Jerusalem. I’m not interested in all the trappings of Judaism.

I suppose I don’t blame him for saying that since he believes Judaism was horribly burdensome and became extinct after Acts 2, but he really shouldn’t worry since, not being Jewish, he wouldn’t have been required to observe Torah in the manner of believing (or unbelieving) Jews (see the Acts 15 legal decision). Besides, a Nazarite vow was totally voluntary and most Jews likely never took that particular vow.

But what does any of this have to do with Acts 18:24-28? Not much. Apparently it takes MacArthur quite a while to set the stage for what he’s actually going to talk about.

And you see, here’s Paul. You say, “He’s a Christian. What’s he doing?” Sure, he’s a Christian, but as a Christian, he’s also a Jew. He’s been a Christian a little while. He’s been a Jew all his life. And he’s saying to himself, “I’m grateful to God for what He did, and the way that I know best how to show Him how grateful I am is to do what all good Jews do.” And the high point of their thanks is to take a Nazarite vow, and so he did what a Jew would do. Because that was his life, that was the way he thought.

This is part of what was taught during the sermon and at Sunday school last week at the church I attend. I didn’t go last week, but I did do the homework for class, which is based in part on MacArthur’s opinion of Paul and Nazarite vows. I didn’t find anything in Numbers 6 that mapped to why MacArthur believes one takes such a vow out of gratitude for what God has done. My understanding is that one took a Nazarite vow in order to temporarily experience a heightened state of ritual purity.

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 18:24-28 (NASB)

I didn’t really think much about all this. It made sense in those days that because information traveled rather slowly throughout the then-civilized world, different bodies of believers might have inconsistent knowledge of the teachings of the Master and the experience of disciples in other places.

But MacArthur interprets this portion of scripture in a unique way:

Now, Apollos is a Jew and he is from the city of Alexandria.

He was a powerful man in terms of teaching. And let me just say at this point that his power at this point was the natural. He was not a Christian at this point, so consequently, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I believe that Apollos was not a Christian but that he was a student of John the Baptist.

Now, see, here is a man who accepted all the way of the Lord in the Old Testament, accepted the ministry of John the Baptist, saw that John pointed to Jesus and said, Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” and he believed that Jesus was the Messiah. You say then, “Why wasn’t he a Christian?” Because he didn’t know what happened in the death, resurrection and Pentecost that followed the life of Jesus. He was pre-cross.

On the wrong side of the cross? Oh gee. Is that concept even in scripture as applied to the apostolic age? And Apollos didn’t have the Spirit?  What about verse 25 where it says, “and being fervent in spirit?” In reading MacArthur’s sermons, I get the impression the man is always shooting from the hip. Anyway…

No, he wasn’t a Christian. But technically, neither were any of the apostles, including Paul, or any of the Jewish (and arguably Gentile) disciples. You can’t anachronistically force the concept of Christianity as we understand it today back into the apostolic era. Apollos was a Jew and he practiced Judaism as a disciple of Moshiach (Messiah).

And just to wrap things up:

Now, there’s another angle in this word. It’s used one other time in Ephesians 5:15, which would be helpful. Paul says “See that you walk acrabos, with exactness.” The Christian should live his life with the same kind of preciseness that we interpret the Scripture, with the same kind of preciseness that God wrote it. God didn’t give us a sloppy revelation, did he? And God doesn’t want us to slop up his revelation and God doesn’t want us to slop up our lives either. Same word in all three areas.

Well, there you meet two in transition, Paul and Apollos. And how exciting it is to see what God is doing in their lives and how grateful we are that the Spirit of God brought about the transition that they might have influence on us.

MacArthur in churchSee what I mean about “sloppy?”

What really scares me is the thought that, back in January 1974 (and no doubt today), the people listening to MacArthur’s sermon probably lapped it up. How many of them would have decided to look up his references and examine his sources, especially about Jewish Biblical and Rabbinic history? After all, the entire thrust of this sermon series is to declare the elimination of Judaism in any form in the pages of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. But I don’t find MacArthur’s presentation on Judaism to be either serious or accurate.

It’s like he’s saying, “Gee, look how dumb these Jews were. They had Jesus and grace and still couldn’t give up that nasty, ol’ law. Thank the Lord we’re nothing like them. I’m so glad God doesn’t care about what food I eat or what day of the week I worship, or any of that terrible stuff.”

OK, I made that last bit up, but it certainly seems to fit the tone of what MacArthur was preaching.

I can’t do this. I can’t think like he does. I can’t believe like he does. How am I supposed to participate in the rebuilding of the Tent of David in the Christian church when men like MacArthur and sermons such as this one are expending no small effort in cheerfully burning that tent down to the ground?

See Part 3 of my review on this series to see how it turns out.

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Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 1

Coming to the 18th chapter of Acts, I’ve entitled this particular message, “From Judaism to Jesus.” The story of the book of Acts has proven to us to be a study in transitions. I want to belabor the point for a moment, because I think it’s important for you to understand that.

The book of Acts, written by Luke, describing the early years of the church after its beginning, is really a book of transitions. It’s a book of beginnings. In a sense, it’s the genesis of the New Covenant. It’s all of the beginnings as the church begins to find itself and form itself and sever itself from Judaism. It was particularly a time of transition for the Jews of the early church. The old things of Judaism faded out very slowly, slowly, and the new gradually phased in.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the transition, or the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus. He very clearly lays it out. He says, for example, that Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests and all of those great characters of Judaism have all been replaced, as it were, by Jesus. He goes beyond that, and he says that the laws and the ceremonies and the rituals and the patterns of the Old Testament have given way to a whole grace kind of life. No longer are you ruled by externals but you’re ruled by the Spirit within.

God’s people, Israel, have given way to God’s people, the church. The system of multiple sacrifices has given way to the one final sacrifice. All the way through Hebrews, as we studied it some months ago, we saw the tremendous viewpoint of the New Covenant as it means the old is set aside. The writer of the book of Hebrews even says, “The old decays and fades away.”

John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 1: Paul in Transition”
Commentary on Acts 18:18-23, January 13, 1974
GTY.org

As Borowsky has already said, Christian scholars, educational organizations, and other groups are already changing their own assumptions which previously provided for the continuation of supersessionism and attempting to pass down their knowledge to the church. But how well is that knowledge being passed down to the families who worship in their churches every Sunday?

The answer is, not very well. This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian. Human nature tends to lead us on the path of least resistance in whatever activities we may find ourselves, including how we understand God and the Bible. While believers may go to church diligently, attend Sunday school classes, participate in mid-week Bible studies and the like, most won’t “go the extra mile” and actively pursue the latest research in New Testament studies, fresh understanding of Scripture, and become involved in interfaith activities. Most people get to a certain level in their lives, whether it is in marriage, at work, or in their faith, and then they’ll plateau and just stay there.

James Pyles
“Origin of Supersessionism in the Church:
Part 4: “Leaving Supersessionism Behind”
Messiah Journal, December 2012/Issue 112
First Fruits of Zion

When I wrote, “This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian,” perhaps I should have clarified that this can include the individual Christian Pastors and teachers, particularly those who either don’t keep up with the latest developments in Biblical scholarship or who choose to discard them in favor of centuries old Christian tradition.

I’ve been encouraged to take a look at some of the sermons of various Christian Pastors including John MacArthur. But where to start? In terms of MacArthur’s recorded messages, at the Grace to You website, if you go to the Sermons page, you’ll see a list of sermons that goes all the way back to 1969. Assuming that MacArthur’s messages were recorded for every Sunday spanning from 1969 to today, that’s a lot of material. How should I choose something representative?

I decided to do a search on a topic that is of particular interest to me. What is John MacArthur’s opinion of Messianic Judaism?

I don’t know. The search didn’t turn up any sermons that specific, but I did come across a three-part series called “From Judaism to Jesus.”

The title alone is provocative because it full-out states that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jewish Messiah, as if Judaism and the Messiah are mutually exclusive terms. That seems not only inaccurate but a little crazy. The Jewish people from ancient days have been longing for the coming of the Messiah as the savior and deliverer of Israel, as the King of the Jewish nation, and as the Monarch who would place Israel at the head of all the nations and inaugurate an age of world-wide peace.

So how could there be a “transition” from Judaism to Jesus as if Jesus was an entirely new and unanticipated “thing” in the plan of God?

John MacArthurAccording to John MacArthur, Jesus replaced Judaism. This is classic supersessionism, also known as fulfillment theology and replacement theology. I’ve been assured that MacArthur is not anti-Semitic, but I don’t know what else to call someone who advocates a theology that in part has resulted in every persecution and pogrom that has ever victimized the Jewish people, culminating in the worst of all atrocities, the Holocaust.

In part one of MacArthur’s sermon series, he invokes the Epistle to the Hebrews to support his position. The primary reason I’m reviewing D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is to see an alternate interpretation of this book of the New Testament, one that more accurately portrays the intent of the anonymous author toward his Jewish audience and that flows more evenly with the letters of Paul, which I believe also have been misunderstood, and which I believe, when correctly interpreted, offer messages of hope and good news to the Jewish people and to the normative Judaisms of his day (and for Judaism today) and only then also offer good news to the people of the nations as well.

MacArthur and other supersessionists like him, have put the cart before the horse and say that Paul, as well as the writer of the Book of Hebrews, offered “good news” to the Gentiles that grace had replaced the Law, and that if the Jews wanted a piece of it, they had to dismantle Judaism and leave its broken pieces behind them in the dirt, boarding the train to Heaven with Jesus in their new identities as goyishe Christians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

You may remember this quote from my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians. The traditional view of Paul and the mainstream historical interpretation of the message of the New Testament may seem totally benign and all but unquestionable to the Church, both across time and in the present, but the damage it has done to collective Jewry over the last twenty centuries has been incalculable.

Of course, men like MacArthur would counter that consequence aside, if how he preaches the “good news” is an accurate interpretation of the scriptures, he can only tell the truth of the Word of God. He can’t help how it’s been misused.

But he fails to ask himself the question (and frankly, I understand why) if he and the Church’s traditions and “ritual” interpretations of scripture are accurate. After all, these traditional interpretations of the Bible are based on the earliest writings of the “Church fathers” in the first few centuries of the common era, who unswervingly sought to distance the newly minted Gentile Christian “Church” from anything related to Jewish people, Judaism, and the Jewish nation that had been razed by the Romans and left wandering the diaspora without King, Temple, or Priesthood.

mj112The basic understanding of the writings of the Epistles has changed only somewhat for many Christians since the time of the Church fathers and the later Councils such as Nicaea, and for many Protestants, the core of Biblical interpretation has changed hardly at all in the five hundred years since the Reformation.

In the last part of my “Origin of Supersessionism in the Church” series for Messiah Journal, I wrote an optimistic message of how the Church was leaving behind this dark set of chapters from its past. Shocked out of apathy by Shoah, Christianity was seeking a way to reconcile with the Jewish people, and even in some cases, embracing the Jewish Roots of the faith. But that optimism may have been misplaced. I wrote it long before I read John MacArthur’s opinion on what Judaism means to Christianity today:

It was ordained of God. It’s a way of life, a point of pride, a divine institution, and it doesn’t die easily. We see that even today. Jewish people who come to Jesus Christ, if they’ve been involved in any depth of Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism in some cases, they become Christians, but it’s very difficult for them to break with all of those traditions. They very often hang on to those things.

Dr. Feinberg himself expressed to me that this is one of the tragedies or one of the problems the church has to deal with, and that is allowing the Jews to become a full part of the body of Christ. Very often, they themselves resist that. The statistics are staggering when you think that in LA there are multiple tens of thousands of Jewish believers and a few hundred of them are involved in local churches.

So it’s very difficult for the transition from Judaism to Jesus. The church needs to do everything it can to stretch out its arms of love to incorporate them in every way and at the same time allow those old institutions to die out.

It amazes me that MacArthur, in the same breath, can complain about how most believing Jews don’t join the local church and also make “from Judaism to Jesus” the key phrase of his diatribe.

Am I being too harsh in calling MacArthur’s sermon a diatribe, “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something”? Maybe. I don’t think (I’m trying to be fair) that MacArthur meant to attack the Jewish people in general and Jewish believers in particular, but imagine how all this sounds to Jewish people.

How does this sound?

In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…

I personally know Jewish people who are deeply involved in religious and cultural Judaism who are also disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and not only do they not see Judaism and faith in Moshiach as mutually exclusive, they see their devotion to the Messiah as the logical and ultimate extension of their Jewish faith and Jewish identity.

John MacArthur would take that all away and replace it with a pale shadow of the richness of a Jew kneeling before the King of Israel in homage, devotion, and in celebration that Messiah, Son of David, has come and will one day return to restore all that has been lost, bringing the world to perfection in the coming Messianic Age.

It’s funny, because MacArthur saw this vision as well, he simply rejected it out of hand.

It indicates the difficulty in his mind of seeing Christianity as a unit all its own composed of Jew and Gentile, but rather, they saw it as an extension of Judaism. It’s understandable, right, because Jesus was their Messiah? He was the fulfillment of Judaism.

burning-the-talmudMacArthur couldn’t have mapped out his theology more openly (and notice that he said Jesus was – past tense – the Jewish Messiah, not is). Instead of seeing Biblical history extending forward across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings into the Apostolic scriptures and up through history to today, an extension of the original promises of God to Israel culminated in Messiah, he sees a total break in Biblical prophesy. The “extension” shatters at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and by the time Luke records the Acts of the Apostles, those promises have reformed into an entirely new and unanticipated entity. Jews are absorbed into the new thing called “the Church” where Jews and Gentiles are rendered as a completely homogenous mass, something like mixing the different ingredients for “Wonder Bread” into a bowl and baking it up in an oven. Once it’s fully baked, take out the loaf, slice it up, and each piece is pretty much like any other piece…

…anonymous and nutritionally deficient. Everything important has been bleached out.

You have to remember, then, that there was flux in the book of Acts, and that many of these Jewish people who are coming to Christ are finding it hard to get all the way over to the features of Christianity. Not only because of the strength of Judaism but watch this— Secondly, because all of the features of Christianity hadn’t been revealed yet. They really didn’t know what to substitute for it.

Christianity is a substitute for Judaism or rather, a replacement. As the missus would say, “Oy!”

In fact, the Romans considered Christianity a sect of Judaism. As they stood apart and looked at it, they just figured it’s a sect of Judaism. That’s how tightly tied it was.

I apologize, but there’s only one response to that last quote: Oh, duh!

To give you an idea of how entrenched he (the apostle Paul) was in Judaism, Galatians 1:13. He says, “You heard of my manner of life in time past in Judaism. Beyond measure I persecuted the church and wasted it. I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation. More exceedingly zealous in the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “I was a Jew in every sense, even beyond the normal pattern of my fellows.”

Philippians 3:5. “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was a superlegalist. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” He carried through every little nitpicking iota of the ceremonial legalist system. He was a Jew at the limit of Judaism’s capacities.

Yet he became a Christian. When he became a Christian, you can’t make a change even though the man’s heart was changed, and he was a new creation, the transformation of his person took time. I’ve always said, “You take a person with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition and get him saved, and you’ve got a Christian with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.”

MacArthur says that Paul was “entrenched” in Jewish tradition, but in reading MacArthur’s sermon, it’s more than abundantly clear that his own entrenchment in Christian interpretive tradition has blinded him to what the Bible is actually saying. MacArthur’s shooting all around the target but even after decades, he’s still missing it.

In the quote above, MacArthur unfavorably compares Judaism to having “a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.” He had to know how this would sound. I guess his audience didn’t mind. I know I would have, though. In fact, I do mind it right now.

So what am I supposed to learn from reading the sermons of Christian Pastors? What am I supposed to learn from reading John MacArthur’s sermons? Granted, he delivered this sermon over forty years ago, but based on his more recent sermons and commentaries, I have no reason to believe he’s changed his viewpoints on Jews and Judaism one bit.

If I’m being offered a choice between MacArthur’s version of Christianity and a more Judaic and Messianic perspective, based on part one of “From Judaism to Jesus,” I know which direction to go in.

The road

Addendum: In his sermon, MacArthur said that by Acts 2, God considered Judaism to be a dead issue. I just read that in 1942, Adolf Hitler said something quite similar and planned to create “a Museum of Judaism, to remember the dead Jewish religion, culture and people.” Go to the small article at Aish.com and find out how Hitler’s intent completely backfired and ended up “as a living testimony to the indestructibility of the Jewish people.” I think that speaks to Christian assumptions about the “death” of Judaism as well.

For more, go to Part 2 of my review.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Word of Exhortation

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Hebrews 13:18-19 (NASB)

Sermon Two: A Word of Exhortation
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this second sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster thrusts his audience into a Biblical mystery and casts us all in the role of detectives who are trying to solve that mystery. What is the mystery? We have to answer a series of questions. We should attempt to answer these questions each time we study and analyze any book of the Bible.

The questions are:

  • What
  • When
  • Who
  • To Whom
  • Why

In other words, when considering any book of the Bible, we must try to discover what sort of literary genre it is, when was it written, by whom was it written, to whom was it written, and why was it written.

Lancaster prefaces his attempt to address this mystery by saying that some of his audience, the congregation at Beth Immanuel, might find this presentation long, tedious, and boring. Not the best way to introduce a topic and certainly he was risking alienating his audience. On the other hand, before you paint a masterpiece or write a classic symphony, you must learn the very basics of art or music. So too with Biblical studies.

What, When, Who, To Whom, and Why.

First off, while the Book of Hebrews is assumed to be an epistle, the title “The Epistle to the Hebrews” is traditional and probably wasn’t the original title of the document, if it had a title at all. It doesn’t come with a superscription, that is, it doesn’t say, from so and so to the community of such and thus at this place or that, the way most of Paul’s letters began. Also, according to Lancaster, it doesn’t even sound like an epistle until you get to chapters 12 and 13, especially chapter 13, part of which I quoted above.

What?

If it doesn’t read like a letter until nearly the very end of the document, then what else could it be?

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. (emph. mine)

Hebrews 13:22-24 (NASB)

The words I put in bold in the above-quoted scripture are the answer, but what exactly is a “word of exhortation?” What sort of literary genre is that?

But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” (emph. mine)

Acts 13:14-15 (NASB)

Papyrus FragmentIn Acts 13, we see a traditional example of a Sabbath service in a synagogue in the diaspora (and probably in Israel) in the first century. Prayer services were conducted on every day of the week, but on Shabbat, there was also a Torah service which added a reading from the Torah, a reading from the Prophets (haftarah), and finally a sermon or drasha (Rabbinic commentary) on the Torah reading. When Paul stood up (v 16) and began to speak, he was starting to deliver his sermon, his drasha, his discourse, his teaching on Yeshua the Messiah based on the Torah portion that had just been read.

According to Lancaster, that’s how the vast majority of the Book of Hebrews reads. It’s not a classic epistle, it’s a sermon, probably delivered by the author, perhaps to whatever synagogue community to which the author belonged, or maybe a sermon the writer wanted to deliver to the intended recipients of this document, and then transcribed into a letter and sent to the remotely located recipients who were most likely very far away from where the author and his community were located.

I should say at this point that Lancaster told his own audience that we can’t really answer any of the “What, When, Who, To Whom, and Why” questions very well, and each opinion Lancaster offers resides firmly in the realm of educated guesses. Please keep in mind that neither Lancaster or I are saying that any suggestions offered in his sermon or in this blog post are definite facts. They aren’t. But they are attempts to address the mystery with some sort of credible hypothesis.

So, the suggested answer to “What is it” is, “a Drasha or Sermon”. The “word of exhortation” is a sermon.

When?

Does it matter? Yes. Imagine, as Lancaster suggested, you were reading Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but you thought it was delivered by an American President in 1963 rather than 1863. It would sure give a different meaning to what “four score and seven years ago” meant and thus change much or all of the meaning of this address.

The same is true of any Biblical document including Hebrews. Lancaster offered various proofs establishing that Hebrews must have been written earlier than the year 95 CE, and probably before 70 CE.

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:3-5 (NASB)

Notice that the references to the high priest, the sacrifices, and the Temple are in the present tense (in Greek as well as in this English translation). Although there are detractors, Lancaster believes this is firm evidence that the Temple had to still exist when the letter, uh…sermon was written. He further places it in the mid-60s, maybe before 64 CE but not too much earlier, however you’ll have to listen to the recording to get the details.

Who?

Who wrote the letter, uh…sermon to the Hebrews? No one knows. It’s a mystery. The letter/sermon has no superscription (if it’s a sermon and not a letter, this is probably why it’s absent). The author is anonymous. Not that the intended audience thought the author was anonymous. They probably knew who wrote this missive.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

Hebrews 13:18 (NASB)

If the author said “Pray for us,” that likely indicates that the audience knew who to pray for and who “us” included.

D. Thomas LancasterI won’t go into the details about Lancaster’s proofs, but he’s really sure it couldn’t have been Paul. The style and theology are wrong and the Greek is a lot better than Paul’s. In fact, it shows no signs of having originally been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and looks like it was written by a native Greek-speaker and probably to native-Greek speakers (more on that last part in a minute). The bottom line though, in Lancaster’s opinion, is that it wasn’t written by Paul or any of the apostles, but probably by someone close to Paul, someone who probably knew how Paul thought, perhaps someone close to other apostles, like the “number one disciple” to an apostle, like the role Peter fulfilled for Jesus or the role Timothy fulfilled for Paul.

But we just don’t know who wrote Hebrews. Please listen to the recording though to hear some of Lancaster’s rather intriguing suggestions for authors and the evidence that exists supporting each possible writer.

To Whom?

Who was the intended audience? Not us, that’s for sure. In fact, as Lancaster says, not one word in the Bible was written primarily for any person, Christian or Jew, in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t apply to us, but a lot of believers read the Bible as if it were written directly to them (us). It wasn’t, and that makes a great deal of difference when we try to understand the Bible, including Hebrews.

The language and the contents provide the answer, or at least a good guess as to the answer.

The language was written (in all likelihood) by a native Greek speaker since the Greek is so much better than Paul’s. That indicates it must have been written to native Greek speakers. On the surface, that would seem to say that the audience was in the diaspora, but the sermon reads more like a Rabbinic commentary with lots of references to the Temple, to the sacrifices, and to the Torah, so it seems reasonable that the audience should be Jewish (to the Hebrews). But the present-tense references to the sacrifices present a problem.

Some people think the author was in Jerusalem or Judea and writing to Jews in the diaspora, perhaps in Rome, but Lancaster’s theory is that the intended audience was a group of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem or Judea. The references to the Temple would have made much more sense to an audience who had direct and frequent access to the Temple and the sacrifices.

But was there a large group of Greek-speaking Jews in or around Jerusalem when Hebrews was written?

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Acts 6:1-6 (NASB)

Apostle Paul preachingThere could be a problem with Lancaster’s theory here. After the stoning of the Greek-speaking Jew Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), there was a great persecution of the believing Jewish community in Jerusalem and except for the apostles, the Messianic Jews were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1-3) so the question here is, did the “synagogue of the Freemen” (for the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem) exist when this sermon/letter was written?

As far as I’m aware, no one knows. Perhaps after the “heat” died down, a number of Hellenistic Jews returned to Jerusalem. The text above also says that the persecuted Hellenistic Jews were “scattered” to Judea, so if they remained in that area, Lancaster’s theory still makes sense.

Why?

According to Lancaster, the contents of Hebrews also answers this question. The letter is full of exhortations, that is, words of encouragement.

“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it,” (Hebrews 13:1) “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith,” (v. 7), “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” (v. 9)

According to Lancaster, he believes that the author wrote this sermon/letter to encourage and support a group of Greek-speaking Jewish believers who were in dire danger of apostasy; of falling away from faith in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah, and abandoning the specific stream of Jewish faith once known as “the Way”.

Lancaster concluded his lengthy sermon (just over forty-four minutes) with some interesting applications.

The first is that, even though he dates the letter/sermon at about 64 C.E, before the Jewish revolt against Rome, before the destruction of the Temple, and before the horrible exile from Israel and into the diaspora, the letter functions very much as a warning and a lesson of how Jewish believers were to continue to survive as Jewish believers in exile, without the Temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and without Jerusalem.

“Before the Holy One, Blessed be He, inflicts the wound, He prepares the remedy.”

A quick Google search didn’t render the source for that piece of Rabbinic commentary, but it is a principle, says Lancaster, that applies to Hebrews. Even though the original audience and probably the author, could not have known what was coming in the next few years, Hebrews, nevertheless, speaks to the believing Jewish population about how to survive faithfully in exile. Hebrews is the remedy for all future generations of Jews in the galut and across the long centuries, even into the present age.

The other issue Lancaster came up with is the danger of apostasy right here and now. I know there’s been a lot of concern about apostasy in my little corner of the blogosphere recently. Certainly, there have been believing Jews and Gentiles who have abandoned Yeshua-faith for more “normative” Judaism. But according to Lancaster, the anti-missionaries aren’t the “boogeyman” we should be afraid of.

It’s apostasy into secularism, into agnosticism, into materialism, modernism, hedonism, and “me-ism” that’s the real danger.

You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile.

1 Samuel 12:21 (NASB)

The Prophet said this in response to the Israelites’ request for a human King, rather than serve Hashem as their King, and even as he called this “evil,” Samuel granted their wish, only to adjure them to continue to “serve the Lord with all your heart.” (v. 20)

Biblical history tells us that Israel’s first King, Saul, did not obey and neither did generations of Israelites, and yet God has always kept a remnant for Himself. (see 1 Kings 19:18)

What Did I Learn?

Everything. To be more precise, I have never taken up a serious study of Hebrews before, so I really didn’t have a context in which to approach it. The text, as Christian tradition renders it, is very anti-Jewish people/Judaism, anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and probably anti-Israel. As I said in my previous review, the Book of Hebrews, along with Galatians, is among the weapons in the Church’s arsenal to be used to destroy any suggestion or hint that anything “Jewish” survived the first century and continued into the historic progression of Christianity after the leveling of the Holy Temple and the razing of Jerusalem.

It is such Christian traditions that allow men like John MacArthur to say that Jesus “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.”

conference2I personally believe nothing could be further from the truth, and I also believe that in order to make such an offensive and outrageous statement, Christian scholars, theologians, clergy, and laity have to not just tweak Biblical interpretation, but fold, spindle, and mutilate the original meaning of many portions of the Bible, deforming the intent of the Biblical authors (both the human ones and the Holy Spirit) in order to make a Jewish square peg fit with exceptional discomfort into a Gentile Christian round hole.

Every time I read, watch, or listen to a modern Messianic commentary on books like Galatians or Hebrews, I realize those writings don’t belong in a Christian “weapons depot” to be used against the Jewish people, Judaism, and a Jewish-oriented faith in Moshiach, but rather, they are to be an encouragement to Jewish and Gentile believers that the Gospel message is indeed first to the Jews as good news, and thereafter good news also to the Gentiles of the nations who are called by His Name.

Right now, based on this sermon of Lancaster’s, I have a working theory with which to approach the Book of Hebrews that doesn’t drive me crazy. Lancaster said the next sermon will go into more detail about the “Why” of this letter/sermon. I’m looking forward to hearing this lesson and reviewing it.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Fire on the Mountain

On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because HASHEM had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and God would respond to him with a voice.

Exodus 19:16-19 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Sermon One: Fire on the Mountain
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I’ve wanted to review D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture series on Hebrews for a while now, and since I have just finished my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come, I thought Hebrews, a particularly troublesome epistle for me, would be a worthy project.

Two interesting things happened to encourage me to start this project. The first was the sermon at church Sunday before last. The guest speaker (Pastor is out of town for a few weeks) taught on Hebrews 1:1-3. I took copious notes and disagreed with about half of what the person was saying. I almost wrote a blog post about it, but decided that I didn’t need to blog about every single experience I have, and certainly not about every single sermon I have issues with.

The next interesting thing was going over last week’s Torah reading, which was Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), a part of which I quoted from above because it factors in to Lancaster’s first lesson on Hebrews.

Lancaster begins his first sermon, “Fire on the Mountain” in the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series by announcing that the traditional Torah readings of the Book of Genesis had just ended (as he made the recording) and the Torah reading cycle was entering the Book of Exodus. Lancaster then briefly summarized the first twenty chapters or so of Exodus for his congregation and I began to think I’d clicked on the wrong audio file in attempting to access the start of his Hebrews sermons.

But there’s a connection between Exodus and Hebrews.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Lancaster takes his audience through a short and somewhat loose history of the introduction of the Epistle to the Hebrews and its canonization. The Eastern Church adopted the anonymously written letter almost immediately upon receiving it, but the Western (Roman) Church took its sweet time, not canonizing the epistle until the Fourth Century…three hundred years after it arrived on the scene.

Mount SinaiThe letter was so “Jewish,” so “Rabbinic” that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. It came with the title “To the Hebrews,” but what does that mean exactly? It could have been added later and may only reflect the opinion of some translator or interpreter as to the intended audience.

Lancaster then compared his experience with Hebrews to his experience with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, since both Galatians and Hebrews are typically used by the Church as “proof texts” that the Law is dead and has been replaced by grace. In other words, those two letters are the biggest guns in the traditional Church arsenal used to shoot down Judaism and replace it with Christianity.

To illustrate this, Lancaster described some of his personal history, especially related to Galatians, starting with being a “Pastor’s kid” attending Sunday school classes taught by his oldest brother David. Lancaster thought he knew Galatians pretty well growing up, but about twenty years ago, when attending a congregation that he called back then “the Messianic Jewish heresy,” he was prompted to re-read Galatians and all of his beliefs about what Paul was saying in that letter suddenly weren’t quite so clear.

I won’t go through the entire story, which culminated with yet another sermon series of Lancaster’s that eventually became the book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but twenty years ago, so disturbed by how the “Messianic Jewish heresy” was describing the continuance of Torah rather than its abrupt death at the hands of Paul, Lancaster called his brother David to get some guidance. Guidance arrived but not in the form Lancaster was expecting. Lancaster quotes his brother as saying about the continuation of the authority of Torah:

Maybe it’s not what we always teach, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But what’s all that got to do with the Book of Hebrews?

Lancaster set the stage for the further study of the epistle (or any Biblical document, really), but that’s not the emphasis of this thirty minute teaching. The emphasis in the first sermon was on the Kal Va-chomer argument or a comparison of two items from the “lighter” or somewhat less significant, to the “heavier” or more significant.

Jesus used this particular method on more than one occasion:

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (emph. mine)

Matthew 7:9-11 (NASB)

Galatians by D.T. LancasterLancaster gave a few other examples, both from the Gospel and Talmud of such an argument, including the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), which only implies the Kal Va-chomer argument (and seeing that the argument can be implicit rather than explicit is important because a reading of Hebrews 12:18-24 also indicates the Kal Va-chomer argument is somewhat implicit), but the point is that such an argument is not alien to Judaism in general and the teachings of the Master (and apostles) in particular.

Notice something important, though. Lancaster says that in the latter situation in the above example, the generosity of our (good and perfect) Father in heaven, when compared to the earlier situation, generosity of earthly (evil) fathers, the latter does not undo the former. That is, the fact that God is good, perfect, and generous does not invalidate, replace, or cancel the generosity or the status of our human fathers.

Another point to pay attention to is that the first situation, the generosity of imperfect but giving earthly fathers, must be true and have value in order for the second situation, the generosity of the good and perfect Father in Heaven, to be even more true.

Now let’s revisit Hebrews 12:18-24 which compares Mount Sinai and the Torah to Mount Zion and the Messiah. Paraphrasing, and these are my words trying to capture Lancaster’s message:

If you thought it was incredible, awesome, terrifying, and the greatest revelation of God to humanity when God appeared to the ancient Israelites and gave them the Torah at Sinai, how much more so will it be incredible, awesome, terrifying, and an even greater revelation of God to humanity when you confront Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and His myriads of angels?

But the latter doesn’t invalidate the authority, truth, and value of the former, it is just bigger, badder, has more authority, is more true, and has more value.

If the latter invalidated the former, the Kal Va-chomer argument would fall apart and neither situation could be true.

One verse later, the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses the same method again:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

Hebrews 12:25 (NASB)

If those who received the Torah at Sinai couldn’t escape the consequences of ignoring God, how much less will you escape the consequences of “Him who warns from heaven.”

Lancaster offered other examples of these arguments as presented by Jesus, but I think you get the point. Lancaster is saying that, like the traditional, majority Christian interpretation of Galatians, we have it all wrong about how we understand Hebrews. It took a rather pointed and shocking revelation from his brother David for Lancaster to decide to re-evaluate Galatians from a fresh perspective, setting aside Christian tradition, and interpreting the letter from its original, first century Jewish viewpoint.

Setting aside the traditional Christian interpretation and taking a fresh look at old epistles is one point that Mark Nanos makes about the Galatians letter in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context. This is the point that Lancaster is making about how we should treat the book of Hebrews, too. It’s the focus of this lecture series, which I imagine will actually start at Chapter 1, verse 1 in the next recording. I’m looking forward to it.

What Did I Learn?

d_thomas_lancasterI learned to shift my perspective when looking at the book of Hebrews, at least Hebrews 12:18-25. As I mentioned above, Hebrews has been a big problem for me. I had been so exposed to the traditional Christian interpretation of this letter, that I couldn’t see any way around its anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah message, which stood in such opposition to everything else I understand in the Bible. Now Lancaster has given me a basic tool with which to shift that understanding, a new lens with which to look at the text.

The website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, the congregation where Lancaster teaches, contains all of the audio recordings of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series (thirty-seven as I write this). Believe it or not, I only listed the highlights of Lancaster’s first sermon. You can listen to “Fire on the Mountain” and the other recordings of his Hebrews teachings on that page at your convenience.

I’ll review the second sermon, “A Word of Exhortation” next week.