Tag Archives: supersessionism

The Servant Prepares for the Sabbath

In 1922 the highly respected Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner claimed that any sound methodology critically examining the historical Jesus must meet at least two requirements. First, critical research must place Jesus believably among the Jewish people in first-century Israel. Second, the historical analysis should explain how the church and the synagogue parted ways, resulting in the formation of the new Christian religion. In 1985 Sanders upheld the validity of these foundational principles in his widely acclaimed book, Jesus and Judaism. Since one-third of the recorded sayings of Jesus appear in parables, these Gospel illustrations have the potential to solve a number of mysteries surrounding the nascent faith. Who is Jesus of Nazareth and how did Christianity originate? How has the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influenced Christianity?

-Brad H. Young
Epilogue: Jesus, the Parables, and the Jewish People, pg 297
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I sometimes (often) think that last question should read, “Do the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influence Christianity at all?” Even in the church I currently attend which is “Jewish-friendly” and “pro-Israel,” I’d have to say, “not very much.” Here’s what I mean:

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2

In this rabbinic parable, two wicked men have associated together in doing evil in this world for many years. Before they die, one repents and the other does not. The man who did not repent sees his friend who did repent standing among the righteous while he stands among the wicked. He “reasons” that a wicked man can repent and appeals to the company of the righteous but is rejected, for he failed to repent while still alive.

This compares well to Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) as well as to the following:

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)

the-teacher2This illustrates that the parables of the Master compared favorably with other rabbinic parables. His audience would have known well what he was communicating since what Jesus taught was similar to the topics and methods employed by other teachers in late second-temple period Israel (and remember what I’ve said before about repentance and eternal judgment).

But what you may have missed earlier is the comparison of the current life to the eve of Shabbat and the life of the world to come to the Shabbat.

Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, Friday afternoon can be a rush to get everything ready before Shabbat arrives at sundown. All the meals that will be consumed during Shabbat must be prepared ahead of time, the Shabbat table must be set, special clothes should be laundered and ready to wear, everything that must be purchased and organized before the Shabbat has to be taken care of, all with an eye on the lowering Sun and the purpose for all the labor…the Shabbat rest and the drawing near to God.

This is a pattern that happens every week. For one-seventh (and a little more) of the week, observant Jews experience a foretaste of the world to come, of the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility when the problems of the world and regular life are set aside and a greater apprehension of God through the Torah study, prayer, and worship becomes available.

But day-to-day life is just like the afternoon prior to Shabbat. We have our work, our labors, our worries, our concerns. What we are working for makes a difference. If we are working just to accumulate wealth and the illusion of material security, when the “Sabbath” comes, when we die, when we are judged, we finally realize that all of our work has been wasted.

If, on the other hand, we are working to authentically prepare for “Shabbat,” that is, to prepare our lives and our souls for an encounter with God in a life beyond this one, after the resurrection, in the face of Divine judgment, then our work is not in vain and will be rewarded. We will have prepared our home in the Kingdom.

But if you’re a Christian who has no true understanding of a Jewish Sabbath, all of this will be missed in reading the parables of Jesus. What a pity.

But there’s more we’re missing:

It is like a consort who had a Cushite maidservant. The consort’s husband went off to a foreign province. All night the maidservant said to the consort: I am more beautiful than you. The king loves me more than he loves you. The consort replied: Let morning come,and we will know who is more beautiful and whom the king loves.

Similarly, the nations of the world say to Israel: Our deeds are more beautiful, and we are the ones whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires. Therefore Israel says: Let morning come, and we will know whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires — as it is said, “The watchman replied, Morning comes” (Isa. 21:12): Let the world to come, which is called morning, arrive, “and you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked” (Mal. 3:18).

-See Midrash Tanchuma, ed. Buber (Num. Rab. 16:23); trans. Stern, Parables in Midrash, 116
quoted by Young, pg 286

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

This parable can be applied in a number of ways, not the least of which is how arrogantly western nations, the mainstream news media, and the sadly deluded BDS crowd believe they are so much more “righteous” than “apartheid” Israel. However, at least historically, this parable also tells us a tale about the Church and how Christianity has viewed itself in comparison with Judaism and the Jewish people. Classic supersessionism is illustrated in the above-quoted parable, with the Church believing itself more beautiful than Israel and more loved than Judaism, as if the maidservant would ever be able to replace the consort in the heart of the King.

Imagine this to be the result of the arrogance of such a belief:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

I’ve previously applied this parable to those disciples of Jesus who failed to count the cost of following him and thus failed to commit the effort required to serve the great King of Israel. However, as part of being the King’s slave, we must be prepared to serve what he deems as his first love, Israel. If we place ourselves as Gentile servants higher than the Jewish nation, are we not committing lawlessness? For after all, even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) [to the nations], not the other way around.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

hagar_and_sarahThere are still many Christians who believe because they “have Christ,” they are inherently better than Jewish people, sometimes even those Jews who are considered “Messianic”. If you believe God replaced Israel with the Church, then you believe you deserve the bridegroom’s place at the head of the banquet table. And you believe you, the maidservant, are more beautiful and better loved by the King than the consort.

And you are wrong.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

See how all this fits together? How can we believe anything else except what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote about?

But some of you reading this may think that I’m saying Christian faith is meaningless because we are not Jewish, we are not Israel. I’m saying nothing of the kind. I just don’t want you to “reverse causality.” It is through the covenant promises God made to Israel that the people of the nations even have a shot at repentance, redemption, and salvation, through faith in King Messiah, the King who is in a far off land but who will soon return.

Let the morning come and show who the King loves, but let us put our hearts and lives in order, as if we were preparing our homes for the coming Shabbat. Then we will be ready when the bridegroom arrives.

In many ways, the Gospel parables belong to the rich cultural heritage and folklore traditions of the Jewish people. No one will grasp the meaning of Jesus’ parables without an extensive knowledge of ancient Judaism. Christian interpretations have tended to sever the parables from their cultural roots and apply them to new situations. In the destiny of humankind, the transcendence of the colorful illustrations goes beyond a single interpretation at one time and place in history.

-Young, pg 298

I sometimes encounter words and phrases such as Sola Scriptura, “let scripture interpret scripture,” and “Biblical sufficiency” as indicators that we only need a Christian reader and a Bible to fully and completely derive all of the meaning of the teachings of Jesus. I hope that I (and Young) have been successful in bringing into question the validity of such a simple equation.

We want the Bible to be easy to understand because otherwise, it would take a lot of time and effort to even begin to comprehend the parables in a similar manner to the original first-century Jewish audience. We want to think that when Jesus was speaking, he was speaking to us…to 21st century American Christians.

He wasn’t. Not even close.

jewish-davening-by-waterNo, I’m not saying that his teachings don’t apply to our lives today, but in order to see just how they apply, we must attempt to grasp how they were understood and applied to Jewish lives nearly twenty centuries ago in a land, culture, and linguistic context far removed from our own.

I can only say that the more I study, the more I’m convinced that in order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the Judaism in which he lived and taught. You have to study ancient and arguably modern Judaism. It is said that a disciple is a student who learns from doing, from imitating his or her Master. We are disciples and we are slaves. Our Master is a great teacher and a King. Learning through imitation isn’t a matter if cheap pantomime or cosplay where we play “dress up” and attempt to superficially mimic our Master, it’s drawing near to his every wish, desire, and command in order to deeply comprehend his meaning and intent in all things. Only then can we apply this to our lives and behave in obedience in every aspect of our daily existence.

Only then will we be worthy of his praise when he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21). Only then will we be properly prepared for the Sabbath. Let the morning come.

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Why the Torah is the Tree of Life

I also raised My hand [in oath] against them in the Wilderness to scatter them among the nations and to disperse them among the lands, because they did not fulfill my laws, they spurned My decrees, desecrated My Sabbaths, and their eyes went after the idols of their fathers. So I too gave them decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.

Ezekiel 20:23-25 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In a moment of great pique, God has the prophet Ezekiel tell his exiled brethren of the relentless misdeeds of their fathers, which brought about their loss of the land. God insists at one point: “Moreover, I have them laws that were not good and rules they could not live by.” The import of these harsh words is that God might just be the author of inadequate or even malevolent law, a proposition that flies in the face of God’s goodness, love, and perfection.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Divine Music in a Human Key,” pg 468 (May 14, 1994
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The twenty-fifth verse in Ezekiel 20 relates a startling admission on the part of God through the prophet, that God gave Israel “decrees that were not good and laws by which they could not live.”

When reading those words, I was immediately reminded of the traditional Evangelical Christian reasoning about why God gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai in the first place. I mean, if God was going to cancel the Law with the death and resurrection of Jesus, or at least have it pass into obsolescence to be replaced by the much more “livable” grace of Christ, by what rationale did God require and demand that the Israelites keep the Torah mitzvot?

The answer, and I was also startled when I first heard the Pastor at the church I attend present it to me, is that God wanted to illustrate that no one could possibly keep the law and that we all need God’s grace to save us from sin.

So God sets forth a lengthy set of conditions associated with the Sinai covenant between Hashem and Israel, with a generous collection of blessings for obedience to God’s Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and an abundant list of curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

God, being faithful to His Word, has indeed blessed Israel when they cleaved to His Torah and cursed them when they strayed from obedience.

The haftarah reading for Bamidbar, Hosea 2:1-22, chronicles the course of God’s response to His covenant people, from wrath in response to Israel’s faithlessness when she “played the harlot” (v 7) by abandoning her “husband” (God) and chasing after foreign lovers (idols), to the promise of renewing the intimate relationship between Hashem and Israel when they returned to Him in obedience:

And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord.

Hosea 2:21-22 (JPS Tanakh)

Laying TefillinAfter all of that, with generation after generation of Jews all striving, sometimes succeeding and often failing to willfully keep the commandments, yet in their heart, always loving and revering the Torah, they never suspected that God was just setting them up for a huge fall. And then, during the Roman occupation, just a few decades before the destruction of Herod’s Temple, God was going to yank it all away from them and abruptly declare that He had planned to have Israel fail and fail miserably all along, in some sort of demented preparation for the coming the Messiah and “the law of grace.”

I enjoy reading mystery books that have a creative and unanticipated plot twist to keep things interesting, but God, according to Evangelicals, is the undisputed master if “I didn’t see that one coming,” the ultimate jumping of the tracks where the train carrying all the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem becomes the carriages transporting endless hoards of formerly pagan Gentiles to Rome.

Ezekiel 20:25, especially when read out of its immediate context and outside the overarching plan of God for Israel, could be interpreted as supporting this “double-dealing” motivation of God except for this:

But note what has been accomplished by this exegetical twist: The holiness of the text has been preserved. Whatever blemish we may detect has nothing to do with the original power and beauty of the Torah, but derives solely from inferior mediation. Not the author, but the interpreter is at fault.

-Schorsch, pg 469

It is said that Biblical interpretation starts with translation but it obviously doesn’t end their. The value of our Holy Scriptures rises and falls with the correct understanding of what we’re reading. Putting on the supersessionism-colored glasses forged by the Gentile “Church Fathers” and polished by the men of the Reformation, we indeed do read the Bible “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) rather than accessing the plain sight of God.

But how can man see with God’s vision? We probably can’t, though we are experts at saying we really can, and in saying that, we reveal ourselves to be deluded or liars.

This thing you call language though, most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master?

-Spock/Kollos (Leonard Nimoy)
Is There in Truth No Beauty? (1968)
Star Trek: The Original Series

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

The above quote references a “mind-meld” between Mr. Spock and a non-humanoid being named Kollos, an ambassador for his planet who is non-verbal and who can only communicate with people through telepathy. He experiences “humanity” for the first time seeing the world (or the bridge of the Enterprise) through Mr. Spock’s senses and communicating through spoken language which he never had done before. You and I like to think we are familiar and even (as I said above) “experts” on understanding the Bible, but an outside observer, if they could access our point of view, might accuse us of what Kollos accused the people on the Enterprise, depending on language for so very much without truly being its master.

We depend on the Bible for so very much, but who can say if anyone can be the master of a document that, while scripted in this world by human beings, was inspired by the mind and spirit of God?

But it’s just about all we’ve got, just like language is just about all we’ve got to communicate with one another, to learn about one another. We only have the Bible to teach us about God.

But no one of us being its master, how dare we say that any part of the Bible, down to even the tiniest jot or tittle, in any way has been cancelled, annulled, eliminated, replaced, folded, spindled, or mutilated?

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

It is a Tree of Life for those who cling to it, and happy are those who support it.”

Proverbs 3:18

It’s not just a matter of poorly interpreting the Bible but in selectively reading it. Christians can “cherry pick” those scriptures that seem to support a classic supersessionist view of an expired Torah, but they can’t explain those portions that support a high view of Torah, a continued zealous observance of Torah by multitudes of believing Jews in New Testament times (when Acts 21:20 speaks of “how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law,” the Greek word we translate into English as “thousands” is literally “tens of thousands,” and that Greek word is the basis for the English word “myriads,” telling us that vast numbers of Jesus-believing Jews were completely over-the-top zealous for the Torah), and since the Bible (in my opinion…and the Epistle to the Hebrews notwithstanding) doesn’t speak of the Torah expiring like an aging carton of milk in the back of the fridge, then I have no reason to believe that God intended to annul the Sinai Covenant and its conditions for the sake of the inaugurated but not yet arrived New Covenant…not until after Heaven and Earth pass away.

Tree of LifeUntil then, the Torah is a Tree of Life, first to the Jew and also to the Gentile, defining, among other things, who we are in relation to God and who we are to each other, Jewish believers remaining wholly and completely Jewish in identity, role, and responsibility, and grafted in Gentile believers taking on, not a Jewish role, but one that uniquely defines us as the people of the nations who are called by His Name, who have a calling that is not Israel but that supports Israel, for our salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22).

The one mystery I have struggled with up until recently was why, after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, is worshiping God “not enough” anymore?

Many, many years ago, long before my wife and I became religious, we attended a Passover Seder at a friend’s home. At one point during the reciting of the Haggadah, he stood up and joyously cried out, “No one comes between a Jew and his God!” Even as a non-believer, it was quite obvious to me that he was referring to Jesus and Christianity, perhaps viewing Jesus as a layer of abstraction that was thrust between people (or Jews) and God when no such separation existed before.

We can debate whether or not the Temple and sacrifices separated Jewish people from God or actually brought them closer and say that Jesus draws Jews (and everyone else who will believe) closer still rather than further away, but from a Jewish point of view (I can only assume, not being Jewish), being told you now can only come to God through Jesus rather than praying to Him directly with no intermediary, makes it seem as if the rules have changed and a brand new player was added to the game, one that the Jewish people never needed before.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-16 (NASB)

The Torah is the Tree of Life, the source of everything that is good and is from God for a Jew. It was never too far away and it was never intended to be impossible to observe. God did intend for the Jewish people to observe the mitzvot and by obedience, they would draw closer to God and receive good life and prosperity in the Land. Why would that ever change? Not through Jewish disobedience, because God always provided Israel a way back through repentance. Not because of the coming of Messiah, but I’ll get into that at a later time (see below).

the-joy-of-torahSo far we’ve seen that Judaism is a religion of joy, and hopefully, I’ve shown that this joy emanates from observance of the mitzvot and study of the Torah, and that the Tree of Life brings a Jew (and realistically, all of us who embrace the Word of God) nearer to God. But where does Jesus fit in?

I know that’s an odd question and I know many of you think you know the answer. In my next meditation, I’ll see if I can show you a new answer (new to me, anyway) and why God didn’t change the rules, just as the New Covenant was never intended to replace the Sinai Covenant. God doesn’t destroy anything He has created, but He does continually reveal Himself to us across the history of the Bible.

It’s revelation I’ll speak of next time.

No “Christian Seders,” Please!

I don’t think I’ve ever reblogged another’s material before, but after seeing this reblogged at the Rosh Pina Project, I was compelled to read the original. Having read the original, I found myself greatly impressed by this thoughtful woman’s insights and sensitivity and thought it important to share.

Addendum: I think this news story is the flip side to the plea for “no Christian seders:” Passover: The Jewish Holiday for Gentiles.

Sicut Locutus Est

155 NOTE: In March 2013, I posted a series of Facebook Notes about so-called “Christian Seders” and the special obligation Christians have in Lent and Holy Week especially to be vigilant about the way our observances may have an impact on Jews, Christian understandings of Judaism, and related matters. I have been asked by several colleagues to re-post these reflections this year. I am happy to do so. I need to make it clear, however, that I am not an expert on these matters. What I say below is my take on controverted questions, born mostly of my own reading and of my interfaith relationships. Please take them as such.

No “Christian Seders,” Please!

With Holy Week on the horizon,  many Christian congregations have started announcing Seder dinners to observe Maundy Thursday. People of good will recognize this as a devout and well-intentioned attempt to honor the Jewishness of Jesus, and…

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Hurtado, Wright, and the Significance of Israel

In this posting I query another of Tom Wright’s major emphases in his mammoth new work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. This concerns his emphatic view that in Paul’s view ”Israel” becomes effectively the church, or more specifically becomes simply all those who put faith in Jesus.

-Larry Hurtado
“‘Israel’ and the People of God: Wright & Response”
from Larry Hurtado’s Blog

For those of you who don’t know, Larry Hurtado is a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins with quite a number of published works to his name. I follow his blog because I find his research and insights into the early church to be interesting and informative.

How Hurtado started commenting on Wright’s latest book is as follows:

Late in 2013 I was asked by the journal, “Theology,” to review N.T. (Tom) Wright’s then-forthcoming book on Paul. As I am committed to preparing an essay on Paul for a conference in Rome in June this year, I agreed. A few days later a huge parcel arrived for me, and upon opening it I found that I had agreed to read/review a work of two volumes comprising over 1600 pages! I’ve sent off the review now, and it’s been accepted for publication in due course. But, even with the special generosity of the editors, I had to confine the review to 1800 words, which required brevity and a selection of things to mention. I have more to say about the work, however, and so in this and subsequent postings will give some further observations and thoughts beyond what I was able to include in the “Theology” review.

Hurtado has written a small series of blog posts thus far, reviewing different aspects of Wright’s tome (and at 1600 pages, it can correctly be referred to as a tome).

This morning, Derek Leman wrote a brief blog post regarding “Hurtado’s critique of Wright’s low view of the Jewish people,” but I felt there were a few more things that could be said.

The first is that N.T. Wright is a well-known and read scholar and author, and I find his perpetuating Christian supersessionism (also known as “replacement theology” or “fulfillment theology”) by replacing Israel with “the Church” to be at least disturbing if not completely offensive. Not that Wright is trying to be offensive. He’s being honest within the context of his understanding and convictions. I just happen to believe he’s wrong and I’m gratified that a scholar of Hurtado’s stature is willing to challenge Wright’s low view of Judaism on his blog.

But Hurtado said something else in last Sunday’s blog post:

But (as I see it) Paul did continue to see the family of Abraham, the full company of the redeemed, as comprised of believing Jews (such as himself) who remained Jews, and gentiles who remained gentiles. To be sure, their respective identities were to have no negative impact upon accepting one another, for they were all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). But along with that oneness there remained (for Paul) the significance of “Israel” as fellow Jews, who were (as he saw it) heirs of divine promises (Rom 9:4-5). Although at present, most of his fellow Jews were “enemies” (so far as concerns the gospel), they were, nevertheless, “beloved” by God, whose gifts and calling were irrevocable (11:28-29).

I hope you read that quote carefully. In the realm of Messianic Judaism in its various expressions, it is generally affirmed that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah are united and yet remain distinct identities, each possessing unique (though somewhat overlapping) responsibilities to God. Jews in Messiah are still Jews and Gentiles in Messiah are still Gentiles, though all are “one” in God’s love, in the promises of salvation, and participation in the Messianic Kingdom.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Larry Hurtado is a Christian scholar of early Christianity, not a “Messianic”. And yet we see him stating something that is quite familiar to those of us who are affiliated with or otherwise “friends” of the Messianic Jewish movement. And this isn’t the first time. I’ve mentioned before, primarily in Larry Hurtado on ‘A Muslim Reads Galatians’ and Jewish Identity in the Way, that Hurtado is associated with supporting the continuation of Jewish identity and Torah observance among the early Jewish disciples of Jesus.

Today, the typical “Christian on the street” (so to speak) takes it completely for granted that when Jews came to Christ, they stopped being Jewish (or at least stopped behaving “Jewish”) and converted to Christianity. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of Evangelicals truly believe Paul preached a “Law-free” gospel of Christ and that the Jewish believers were no longer “under the Law.”

But the Christian on the street, that is, the average man or women in a church pew on Sunday morning, most likely doesn’t keep up with current Christian scholarship, nor are they aware that there are bodies of Christian scholars who disagree with each other and strongly debate key principles of Christian theology and doctrine. It is more comforting for traditional church goers to believe that everything is settled and has been for many centuries. Christianity is what it is. All the questions have long since been answered. There are no mysteries. Sunday school is merely to discuss what everybody already knows (except perhaps the “baby Christian” who has just come to faith). Even seasoned Pastors tend to believe that, though their knowledge base is usually much broader than that possessed by their flocks.

The implication of Hurtado’s statements upon Messianic Judaism is interesting and encouraging. In Messianic Judaism and the somewhat related movement of Hebrew Roots, we talk to ourselves all of the time about the Torah not being “dead” or “nailed to the cross” with Jesus. We talk (and sometimes argue) about Jewish distinctiveness and uniqueness of obligation within the wider Messianic body.

But having a conversation with yourself isn’t very illuminating and that dialogue most often stays within our particular silos, rarely escaping into normative Christianity (or Judaism), at least in a form that can be heard or accepted by those groups.

So when a Christian and not Messianic scholar and author such as Hurtado can independently study the Bible and arrive at a conclusion which states “Jews who remained Jews, and gentiles who remained gentiles” and yet “they were all ‘one in Christ Jesus'”, it is remarkable. The significance of Israel as Israel remained in the Apostolic Era, and even unbelieving Jews were considered beloved by God and possessing gifts and a calling that are irrevocable.

One Caveat to consider is that Hurtado is defining Paul’s perspective not necessarily his own. But if this is indeed how Paul saw things (and I think it likely), then Paul, the author of much of what we think of as early Christian theology and doctrine, was setting the pattern for how we Christian (Gentile) believers should understand ourselves in relation to the Jewish people and Israel.

It’s pretty hard to ignore Paul and still call yourself a Christian.

The Christianization of Acts 20

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (NRSV)

Christians sometimes cite Acts 20:7 as evidence that the early believers met on Sundays: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” The narrative does not support that interpretation. If Paul met with the Troasian believers on Sunday morning, they had a very long church service. Paul spoke until midnight: “Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

The Greek text of Acts does not indicate that they met on Sunday morning at all. Instead it literally says, “On the first of the Sabbath …” The word “day” does not appear in the Greek. According to the Jewish reckoning of time, the first of the week begins Saturday after sunset.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Tzav (“Command”): Acts 20:1-21:14, pg 653

It’s been awhile since I dug into a Torah Club study but I needed to get my bearings.

I probably shouldn’t even write this but part of my returning to church is to “experience church” relative to my own unique perspectives and practices.

I’d like to think that Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend, and I have formed a friendship, and within the confines of that relationship, we are free to engage in candid and forthright conversation. He reads my blog, when he has time (he’s a really busy guy), so nothing I put here is meant to be kept from him.

I know that my criticism of “the Church” does frustrate him on occasion and I think he is authentically puzzled why, when he presents his educated and logical arguments about theology, I just don’t “get it” and accept his basic understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity.

Last Sunday morning, Pastor’s message was based on Acts 20:1-12. I was particularly interested in his lesson on the following verses:

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20:7-12 (NRSV)

Pastor always includes a page of notes in the Church bulletin, and I review what he’s going to talk about before services start. When I came across the section called ”Parenthetic Conclusion: Sunday worship,” I knew where he was headed. Then there was the quote from Justin Martyr he inserted. I’ll only use part of it here:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

-Justin Martyr
The First Apology
“Weekly Worship of Christians” (c. CE 155)

Justin MartyrI won’t try to replicate all of Pastor’s points, but he did say the phrase “first day of the week” (although as Lancaster states above, the word “day” does not appear in the literal Greek) appears only three times in the New Testament (actually, there are a few more). In addition to the above-quoted verse, it can be found in Mark 16:9, the declaration of when Jesus rose from the tomb, and 1 Corinthians 16:2, which is part of Paul’s instructions to set aside funds for Paul’s intended donation to the poor and needy in Jerusalem.

There were a number of conclusions Pastor derived from Acts 20:7-12:

  1. The Roman rather than Jewish calendar was being used to fix the date of the gathering, so that we see they were meeting on Sunday evening rather than Saturday night after Shabbat.
  2. The breaking of bread was likely an enactment of the “Lord’s Supper” indicating the practice of communion.
  3. Preaching and teaching of scripture was a common activity in such assemblies.
  4. Collecting tithes for the church on Sunday was becoming a more common practice.

Both Pastor and my Sunday school teacher said this is evidence that “church services” within Paul’s lifetime weren’t all that different from what we have today: preaching the Word, meeting on Sunday, gathering tithes on Sunday (presumably as part of the service), and taking communion.

Sunday Worship

I’ll get into my reaction in a moment, but the one thing that puzzled me was Pastor’s proof that Paul had to be meeting with these believers in Troas on Sunday evening rather than just after Shabbat had ended (Saturday at sundown). He says that if this was a Saturday night, Paul, who intended to leave by ship the next day, would have had to wait two days, until Monday, to depart, so it had to be Sunday night.

But I either couldn’t hear the rationale or it went by so fast that I just plain missed it. I’ve read Acts 20 numerous times since listening to the sermon, but I just can’t see where this is coming from. I emailed Pastor after I got home from services asking for details, and hopefully he’s respond soon. Once I receive a response, I’ll edit this blog post to reflect his views.

Addendum, Tuesday, March 18: Pastor responded to my email with his explanation. He’s pressed for time, so the rationale is brief. I’ll put it in the comments below rather than interrupt the flow of the narrative here more than I already am.

Justin Martyr, Sunday, and Supersessionism

Now to my response. In the absence of the information Pastor possesses regarding why the assembly at Troas must have been meeting on Sunday, it is my opinion that a shift from a Saturday to Sunday Sabbath occurs here much too early in history. We have Justin Martyr’s writing declaring that Sunday is the proper day of Christian worship, but that isn’t published until some time after Paul’s death (and I find the reasoning, that it’s the day God separated light and darkness, completely disconnected from anything taught by Jesus or the Apostles). I don’t know that Martyr is relying exclusively on his interpretation of scripture and I suspect that he, like many of the other “church fathers,” may have had attitudes about Jewish people and Judaism that colored his thinking and possibly had him making doctrinal decisions about practice based on that bias.

I know Wikipedia is a poor source to quote, but it will have to do for my current analysis:

Justin was confident that his teaching was that of the Church at large. He knows of a division among the orthodox only on the question of the millennium and on the attitude toward the milder Jewish Christianity, which he personally is willing to tolerate as long as its professors in their turn do not interfere with the liberty of the Gentile converts; his millenarianism seems to have no connection with Judaism, but he believes firmly in a millennium, and generally in the Christian eschatology.

Justin saw himself as a scholar, although his skills in Hebrew were either non-existent or minimal. His opposition to Judaism was typical of church leaders in his day but does not descend to the level of anti-semitism. After collaborating with a Jewish convert to assist him with Hebrew, Justin published an attack on Judaism based upon a no-longer-extant text of a Midrash.

-from the Wikipedia page on Justin Martyr

Economic supersessionism is used in the technical theological sense of function. It is the view that the practical purpose of the nation of Israel in God’s plan is replaced by the role of the Church. It is represented by writers such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, and Barth.

-from the Wikipedia page on Supersessionism (Replacement Theology)

HavdalahNone of what I just quoted is rock-solid evidence that Martyr’s declaration of Sunday as the proper meeting day for Christians was motivated by supersessionistic ideology (and it was stated above that Martyr was probably not anti-Semitic), but it does open the door to the possibility that Martyr may not have been operating purely on his understanding of scripture. Based on my understanding of early supersessionistic bias and the church fathers (See my four-part article ”Origins of Supersessionism in the Church” in issues 109-112 of Messiah Journal), I believe there was a focused effort to create a set of practices of worship that specifically separated the budding Gentile Christian Church from its Jewish origins and heritage, replacing the Jewish institutions to which Paul and the other Apostles were accustomed with completely separate rituals, including a calendar disconnected from the Jewish holy days.

Please keep in mind that I have no problem with Christianity choosing a day of the week for corporate worship, but I consider it a tradition based on an emerging (in the mid-second century) reverence for the day of Jesus’ resurrection, not necessarily on a decision of Paul or any of the other Apostles.

Breaking Bread

Depending on the translation you’re using for Acts 20:7, the words the NRSV Bible renders as “break bread” are also read as “the Lord’s Supper” (New Living Translation) or “break the Eucharist” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Actually, all of the other translations I’m looking at just say “break bread”. I can’t access the Greek for this term, so I don’t know if it contains something that doesn’t translate into English, but, as Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said, ”Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In other words, just because something is longer than it is wide, doesn’t mean it’s a phallic symbol.

Applied to the current context, I might say, “Sometimes breaking bread is just breaking bread, grabbing a loaf and tearing it in two or more pieces.” The term “breaking bread,” as far as I know, could just as easily indicate a meal of fellowship. It’s typical to “break bread” with friends and companions as a sign of affiliation and trust. Why does it have to mean communion unless we’re trying to make this verse fit a later institution created by the Church?

We were gathered for the disciples came, A.V. and T.R.; discoursed with for preached unto, A.V.; intending for ready, A.V.; prolonged for continued, A.V. The first day of the week. This is an important evidence of the keeping of the Lord’s day by the Church as a day for their Church assemblies (see Luke 24:1, 30, 35; John 20:19, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:2). To break bread. This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians. Comparing the phrase, “to break bread,” with St. Luke’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist (Luke 22:19) and the passages just quoted in Luke 24, and St. Paul’s language (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:24), it is impossible not to conclude that the breaking of bread in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an essential part of the holy sacrament, which man may not for any specious reasons omit.

-from the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 20:7

The key scripture as far as “the Lord’s Supper” goes seems to be 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 but Acts 20:7 only mentions “breaking bread”. In comparison to that verse, almost all translations of 1 Corinthians 11:20 refer to “the Lord’s Supper”, so I can only imagine the original Greek is more specific here (only the Aramaic Bible in Plain English states, ”When therefore you assemble, it is not according to what is appropriate for the day of our Lord that you eat and drink.”).

I’m going to have to set the early initiation of what Christians call “communion” today to one side for the moment except to say that it is certainly not definitive that the group in Troas was assembled for the specific purpose of taking a weekly communion or Lord’s Supper. It’s even possible, as I mentioned above, that the very concept of a communion might have been a later invention of the Church.

Tithing

We see a strong record of Paul collecting money or directing the various assemblies to set aside money which he would collect when he arrived (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). However, we also see Paul having a specific concern for the poor in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:10). Paul’s companions we find in Acts 20:4 were to accompany Paul to Jerusalem, presumably with donations from the various congregations they represented.

TithingSo Paul was collecting money for the poor and needy in Jerusalem, but this does not mean he was collecting money to pay for the operational costs of the local churches or the Jerusalem “church”.

No, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for the church to ask for donations from the congregants to support the costs incurred in running such an institution, I’m just saying the practice can’t be directly attributed to specific references in the Bible.

It is true that in ancient times, the Israelites did donate materials and services in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert (Ex. 35:4-36:7), and King Solomon heavily taxed his citizens and required tens of thousands to contribute labor in the service of building the Temple in Jerusalem (starting 1 Kgs 6). But again, none of these point specifically to a church tithe. Frankly, neither does Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).

But like I said, I don’t think it’s wrong for the administrative office of the local church to request that members and attendees contribute to the upkeep of the church, since those attending are consuming the church’s resources. I also think it’s reasonable and Biblical for churches to collect money for the poor and even money to support missionaries (Paul alluded that he deserved to be supported but preferred to support himself to avoid being a burden). But I maintain that the modern concept of tithing, especially by having men pass around metal plates through the pews so that people can give their weekly donation, isn’t exactly what we see in Acts 20 or any of the other referenced scriptures.

Resurrection Day

I’m returning to the issue of Sunday here but with an eye on it being a day of reverence early on in the first century community of “the Way.” Do we actually see concrete evidence that the day of the Master’s resurrection was directly revered and added to (or replaced) the list of holy days traditionally observed in the various Judaisms? Did the followers of Christ move away from a Sabbath rest because Sunday became so incredibly important to them?

There’s no smoking gun but a lot of inference. I know that Sunday was an important day of gathering in the mid-second century, but is that because of what was gleaned from the Bible, or because the men establishing Sunday as the Christian assembly day needed to separate their religion from Judaism? In the latter case, the “invention” of Sunday worship would have come after the Apostolic Era ended and the church fathers would have just “mined” the various scriptures and verses to support such a decision, declaring it “Biblical” and “Holy Doctrine” of the Church.

Revelation 1:10 was brought up in Pastor’s sermon as well. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he had his well-known (but not always well understood) set of revelations and visions, but what did “the Lord’s Day” mean to him at that time? It’s assumed by many Christians to mean “Sunday” but Pastor thinks rather that it indicates Resurrection Day, that is, Easter.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows, and I think Christian theologians have developed various educated theories over the centuries. Each church denomination has adopted a set of practices that appear to map to certain parts of the Bible, but the question for me is which came first?

Do we believe, for example, that Sunday is the official day of Christian worship because it was established in the Bible, or was Sunday established nearly a century after the Apostles were all in their graves because the leaders of the Gentile Christian church needed to separate their movement from Judaism (and in this case, especially Shabbat observance) and they found portions of scripture they could leverage to support their requirements?

Past and Present

I know that sounds terribly cynical and I know this will make a lot of Christians feel hurt and angry. I know it can’t possibly please Pastor Randy when I write these things, and I know he’s being absolutely honest and sincere when he preaches on Acts 20 and draws conclusions that are consistent with modern Christian practices.

ShabbatHowever, I don’t think it’s all so clear. In fact, I believe if Paul were to walk into a Christian church today, even if he understood our language, he would hardly connect the experience to the practice of the assemblies he established in the diaspora nearly twenty centuries ago, and he absolutely wouldn’t see the Jewishness of everything he taught and the Jewish Messiah he lived and died for in modern Christian observance. I’m sure he’d wonder why modern disciples weren’t gathering on Shabbos.

I’m not saying modern Christian observance is bad or wrong as a set of practical traditions, just that it’s mostly not what Paul did. Yes, he’d understand collecting money for the poor. Yes, he’d understand preaching. Yes, he’d understand studying the scriptures with a learned teacher. Yes, he’d understand sharing a communal meal (though that’s more like Oneg than communion).

But I think it’s OK to admit that Christianity has evolved, and not in an entirely linear fashion, since the days when Paul planted his “churches.” I think it’s OK to admit that the majority of what Protestants believe and the majority of what they do has a history of more like five-hundred years rather than two-thousand. Evangelical Christianity is more a product of the Reformation than what you might call “Apostolic” or “Messianic Judaism”.

Purim

I knew it was Purim when I walked into the church Sunday morning. So did Pastor Randy and Pastor Virgil. So did those few people in the church I know to be Jewish. Most other people would have missed it, though. I kept pondering the significance of experiencing the “Christianization” of the scriptures in Acts 20 as I listened to the Pastor’s message in church on Purim. Why is there a desire to “rush” history, so to speak, and to give the early Judaism of our faith the bum’s rush out the door while the Pharisaic Apostle Paul (or Saul if you prefer) was still alive and desiring to reach Jerusalem before Shavuot or Pentecost (Acts 20:16). He’d already been delayed so he couldn’t be in the Holy city for the Pesach sacrifice and meal (Acts 20:5).

Paul and the Moadim

Paul was an observant Jew and as such, he desired to obey the mitzvot associated with the moadim, the appointed times chronicled in the Torah. This is a clue we should pay attention to. Paul’s desire to return to Jerusalem was connected to specific seasons and events, Passover and Pentecost, Pesach and Shavuot. Wouldn’t it make more sense to believe that Paul also revered the Shabbat as did his forefathers? The Church (big “C”) changed quite a lot of things later on, but for Paul, there was nothing inconsistent with being an Apostle of the Messiah and practicing the Judaism of the Way. In fact, departing from the Torah and the traditions would likely never have occurred to him.

Regrets and Conclusion

I’m actually feeling pretty down about having to write this. I’ve been keyed up since hearing the sermon. I was nervous around the others in Sunday school yesterday. I didn’t sleep well last night. Obviously this bothers me. Last week, I wrote about fellowship in the church and today it seems like I’m doing a big turn around by disagreeing with the conclusions of Pastor’s sermon. Believe me, I’m not disagreeing just to disagree. I’m not being oppositional or “anti-Church.” I’m being who I am as a believer operating with a particular understanding and perspective on the Bible. I’m looking through a different lens, I’m standing at a different look out point. The Bible I see looks a lot more “Jewish” than most of the people I worship with suspect. I apologize if what I’ve written results in hard feelings. That’s not my intention, believe me. But someone needs to stand up for the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, and represent who I believe he was and is, and what he was trying to teach.

I started writing this “meditation” early Sunday afternoon and stopped. I figured I needed a “cooler head” before actually getting into this, and I really thought about not writing it at all. I consulted with a good Christian friend. I agonized over it. Finally, I needed to do this. I’m sorry. It’s not against you, or Pastor, or anyone else. It’s for Paul and it’s to keep my head from exploding.

The Jewish PaulThere’s the Paul the Christian church sees, the murderous Jewish Pharisee who encountered Jesus on the way to Damascus one day and became blind. Having his sight restored, he converted to Christianity and left his Judaism behind, preaching a Torah-free faith to Jew and Gentile alike. Then there’s Paul the Jewish Pharisee, who met the Messiah in a vision and having been blinded and his sight then restored, embarked on a journey to tell the good news of Moshiach to his brothers and sisters as well as the Gentiles, that the Messianic Age was at hand, the pinnacle of the history of the Hebrews was within reach, and even the Gentiles could be redeemed by coming alongside Israel through Messiah.

When Messiah returns, we’ll know, everyone will know. For now, I am a loyal subject of the Jewish King and I await his return. May he come soon and in our day. Amen.

Finding the Spirit of Haman in the Church

Recently a number of leaders in the Protestant community of the United States have urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments. To strengthen their endorsement, several of these leaders have also insisted that they speak on behalf of the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.

It is good and necessary for evangelical leaders to speak out on the great moral issues of our day in obedience to Christ’s call for his disciples to be salt and light in the world. It is quite another thing, however, when leaders call for commitments that are based upon a serious misreading of Holy Scripture. In such instances, it is good and necessary for other evangelical leaders to speak out as well. We do so here in the hope that we may contribute to the cause of the Lord Christ, apart from whom there can never be true and lasting peace in the world.

At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.

In what follows, we make our convictions public. We do so acknowledging the genuine evangelical faith of many who will not agree with us. Knowing that we may incur their disfavor, we are nevertheless constrained by Scripture and by conscience to publish the following propositions for the cause of Christ and truth.

-from the introduction to
“An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties:
The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel”
Also known as the “Knox Seminary letter”
found at BibleResearcher.com

A few days ago, I had a private email conversation with someone over a number of issues and the name of a well-known Evangelical Christian Pastor came up in connection with the letter I quoted above (he’s supposed to be one of the later — but not one of the original — signatories). The association wasn’t complementary and having looked up and read the letter after finishing the email dialog, I can understand why.

From an Evangelical Christian point of view, when you read the ten points listed plus the rest of this letter’s content, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye. Nothing would seem amiss in the text of the letter and you’d probably think of it as standard, Evangelical Christian doctrine.

Sadly, it is standard Evangelical Christian doctrine and thereby hangs a tale.

I’m writing this “meditation” several days before you’ll read it. I’ve set it to publish automatically early (in my time zone) on Sunday morning, when millions of Christians across the country are getting ready to go to church. Today is also Purim, the celebration that is commanded of the Jews of Ahashuerus’ ancient Persian Kingdom, ”their descendants and all who joined them…” (Esther 9:27 – NRSV).

”All who joined them” is an interesting phrase because it seemingly refers to the objects of the following statement:

In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them. (emph. mine)

Esther 8:17 (NRSV)

I mentioned before that we aren’t quite sure exactly what that statement means except that obviously many non-Jews became strongly affiliated, perhaps even to the point of conversion, with the Jewish people. They were the ones who ”joined them” and thus they, along with all their descendants, have received a commandment to perpetually celebrate two days of Purim each year.

The descendants of the Jews in that ancient Persian land are considered today to be all Jews everywhere, but what about the descendants of the Gentiles who joined with the Jews? If they were only converts to Judaism, then their descendants are also Jews. If ”professing to be Jews” however, meant pretending to be Jewish or perhaps coming alongside the Jewish people in fellowship and solidarity, then they are something else. Modern day Iranians perhaps, since King Ahasuerus’ kingdom realm is part of modern-day Iran? Those Gentile descendants could have traveled far and wide in the thousands of years since Esther (Hadassah) and Mordechai walked the earth. Today, they could be anyone.

I don’t think I can expand the concept so far as to “command” all Gentiles everywhere to celebrate Purim (although, why not, since it’s such a fun holiday?). So assuming we’re not just talking about born-Jews and proselytes today, who joins or comes alongside the Jews today?

UnityThe most obvious answer are the Gentiles participating in the various streams of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. None of the Gentile populations in the numerous branches of those two movements directly claims to be Jewish (with the exception of adherents to Two-House Theology) but all have an affiliation with the Jewish people and Israel to one type and degree or another. In my little corner of Messianic Judaism, it is common to say that Gentiles have come alongside Israel, we have joined them, not as Jews, but maybe like the Gentiles in Shushan.

Then it’s obvious that we non-Jews who are in some way among Jews in Jewish communities (or primarily Gentile communities who affiliate with Jewish or Hebrew practices in the case of Hebrew Roots) are, along with the Jews, commanded to celebrate Purim. And again, as I said before, I think there are excellent reasons for all Christians everywhere to celebrate Purim as well.

But obviously not all Christians will agree with that statement. Probably most Christians won’t agree with that statement, and certainly the original and later signatories of the aforementioned open letter would absolutely not agree with me.

I was tempted to go over each point of the letter and write a rebuttal, but since that letter has been around since 2002, plenty of other rebuttals already exist, including an article at pre-trib.org and the Rapture Ready discussion forum (not that I’m likely to agree with all the points or perspectives of either population, but I do want to illustrate that not all “normative” Christians go along with the Knox Seminary letter).

Just a few days ago, as I’m writing this, Tim at the Onesimus Files blog, wrote a short but powerful article with accompanying links in support of Israel as remaining in God’s promises and refuting that the Gentile Church has replaced “earthly Israel” as the “spiritual” or “new Israel.” A day or so later, Judah Himango at his blog Kineti L’Tziyon wrote Purim: 5 unusual lessons for Yeshua’s disciples (and for those of you who may not know, “Yeshua” is the original Hebrew name for “Jesus”).

I don’t always agree with either Tim’s or Judah’s perspectives on certain things, but we do agree that God has not done away with the centrality of Israel in God’s prophetic, Messianic promises, and that the non-Jewish people of the world must come alongside the Jewish people by becoming disciples of “the King of the Jews,” who came once as Yeshua ben Yosef and who will return in power as Yeshua ben David, and through the worship of the God of all, the One God, Israel’s God.

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Genesis 12:3 (NRSV)

That’s God speaking to Abram (later named Abraham) and blessing him with an eternal blessing that applies to all of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob who today are the Jewish people. God not only promises to bless the nations who bless Abraham and his descendants and to curse those who curse them, but He inserts a veiled promise that all the families, the nations of the earth shall be blessed by Abraham’s seed, Messiah.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

So we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah come alongside Israel through Messiah, the seed of Abraham through whom the entire world will ultimately be blessed.

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

We can say that those people who are not Jewish and who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ have no obligation to observe Purim. However some atheists and agnostics and people of other religions do “bless” or support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and who think well of the Jewish people, though it’s popular in secular society worldwide to refer to Israel as an “apartheid state” and to demand a boycott of Israel’s products and services, thus bringing themselves under a curse (they don’t believe the God of Israel exists and thus that the curse exists, but the Messiah hasn’t returned yet).

But are any authentically believing and faithful Christians under the same curse?

Bad Christian theology regarding the “Holy Land” contributed to the tragic cruelty of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Lamentably, bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine, with the consequence that the Palestinian people are marginalized and regarded as virtual “Canaanites.” This doctrine is both contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and a violation of the Gospel mandate. In addition, this theology puts those Christians who are urging the violent seizure and occupation of Palestinian land in moral jeopardy of their own bloodguiltiness. Are we as Christians not called to pray for and work for peace, warning both parties to this conflict that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring both temporal reconciliation and the hope of an eternal and heavenly inheritance to the Israeli and the Palestinian. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know peace on earth.

-from point ten of the Knox Seminary “open letter”

This is in direct contradiction to God’s giving the land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity (see Genesis 15:18 and 17:8 … also see ”The Bible on Jewish Links to the Holy Land” at Jewish Virtual Library).

The quote from the “open letter’s” point ten reminds me of something called Christ at the Checkpoint which, according to their About Us page, exists:

To Challenge Evangelicals To Take Responsibility To Help Resolve the Conflicts in Israel-Palestine By Engaging With the Teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.

That sounds very nice, except under About Us/Manifesto, one of the twelve points listed states:

Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.

I have no idea how any Christian who reads and understands the Bible can make such a statement, but I said before that recent news articles report Evangelicals pulling away from supporting a Jewish Israel. Sadly, it actually makes sense for Evangelical Christians to turn a cold shoulder toward Israel and the Jewish people. It took Hitler’s ghastly Holocaust to shock the Christian church out of centuries of anti-Semitism and supersessionism, but World War Two ended nearly seventy years ago, and if I know one thing about human beings, we’re very shortsighted and of limited memory.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

-Edmund Burke

It seems that even those who (probably) do know the history of the Holocaust are (unfortunately) destined to repeat it as well, at least to the degree of denying that Israel is a Jewish state in accordance to the promises of God, and agreeing that it is not only reasonable but Biblical to carve up Israel into Israel and “Palestine.”

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse…

Genesis 12:3 (NRSV)

Uh-oh.

Rosh Pina ProjectThe Rosh Pina Project has been running a rather lengthy series on the 2014 Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) event (which ended on Friday the 14th) from a Messianic Jewish perspective.  Several authors on this blog have posted detailed commentaries and multiple videos of this year’s event, so if you want to learn more, the Rosh Pina Project is the place to go.

I find it ironic that the image in the banner at the CaTC homepage quotes Matthew 6:10, ”Your Kingdom Come.” I can only imagine that the folks at Bethlehem Bible College and the other CaTC supporters and allies believe that when God’s Kingdom comes upon the return of Jesus, the way they, and the folks who signed the Knox Seminary open letter, view God’s Kingdom lines up with the complete elimination of Jewish possession of Israel. The fact that point nine of the open letter states, The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the “Holy Land” cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” is, to me, a clear indication that the letter’s writers and signatories have no idea what God has promised Israel or what “Thy Kingdom Come” means.

I realize that makes me sound arrogant beyond belief. All of the signatories are Pastors and theologians with doctorate degrees up the wazoo, and I’m just one guy with no doctorate degrees and just a heck of a lot of chutzpah (and with chutzpah in mind, I invite anyone who agrees with the Knox Seminary letter and/or CaTC’s mission to watch The First Fruits of Zion episode Thy Kingdom Come for a bit of illumination).

I know it seems strange to say that there are Christians, well-known Christian Pastors even, who could be cursed by God because these well-known (and probably lots of not well-known) Christians believe ”the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” and that ”bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine.” Really. They should just join the BDS Movement and be done with it. I bet they’re big fans of Roger Waters’ vile opinions on Israel.

If these Christians are banking on ”He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” (Mark 16:16) they should remember Jesus also said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

SheepRemember the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). I used to think it was about being judged by how we do or don’t show kindness and compassion to others, especially strangers, but a year or so ago, I heard an alternative interpretation from a teacher at the church I attend, that Jesus is specifically addressing those Gentile believers who did not care for the disadvantaged, the hungry, thirsty, or naked of Israel, the Jewish people.

Imagine that.

I really hate to say this since I know it will hurt a lot of people’s feelings and make a lot of Christians mad at me, but the only conclusion I can pull out of all of this is that the “Spirit of Haman” not only roams the Islamic mosques and madrassas (seminaries) but that “Spirit” can also be found in some of our churches and seminaries. It breaks my heart to say that because there are a lot of good people in the church who indeed to love Israel and believe it is for the Jews only, but the evidence has been mounting that much of Christianity is turning away in the “Spirit of Haman” and bringing upon themselves the curse promised in the Abrahamic covenant, and the curse of Haman and his ten sons.

I wish I could have written a light, comedic “meditation” for today as a celebration of life and joy, but I discovered I’m not a comedy writer. I’m just a voice in the wilderness calling the churches of the nations back from where they’ve wandered off, pleading with them to repent of their ways, begging them to return to God before it’s too late.

John was a prophet in the wilderness and he called many Jews back to repentance in his day. I’m just a guy with a blog and I’m no prophet at all.

My friend Dan Hennessy is building an educational venture using “smart technology” to inform secondary and college-age students about the Holocaust. He’s developed a slogan for this “underground operation:”

“Education is resistance. Support the resistance.”

In our recent conversation, I countered with a quote from the film Terminator Salvation (2009) spoken by John Connor (actor Christian Bale) in the film’s trailer:

Humans have a strength that cannot be measured. This is John Connor. If you are listening to this, you are the resistance.

Like the scattered remnants of humanity all but decimated by the machines in John Connor’s fictional future world, I’m just a man alone or among a small group of partisans, fighting against a much larger and imposing force. But, like those celluloid (though movies aren’t on celluloid film anymore) resistance fighters, I’m just listening to a contraband radio set, so to speak, listening to words of freedom that have been all but forgotten, cherishing allies that have been thrown under the bus of “Christian political correctness.”

But I can hear a voice and because I’m listening, I am the resistance. Learn about Purim. Learn why the Knox Seminary open letter and Christ at the Checkpoint are tragically wrong about what the Bible says. I did so by becoming a student of Messianic Judaism but that’s not the only way. Become part of the resistance by blessing Israel and not cursing it, for surely we will all be judged by how we have treated Christ’s “little ones.”

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (NRSV)

And I say with some irony, Chag Sameach Purim. Have a joyous Festival of Purim.