Tag Archives: supersessionism

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

Acts 19:1-7 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now we’re back to MacArthur the Supersessionist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More’s the pity.

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

Does the Church Interpret the Bible Based on Traditions?

Question: What if I believe only in the written text of the Torah?

Answer: I’m glad to hear that you have such strong faith in the “Hebrew Bible.” My question is, how do you know that this is true? Certainly, you must be relying on tradition. Otherwise, how do you know that the words you have before you are the original words written by Moses and the prophets? How do you know that they ever received this to begin with? What other way is there than to rely on the integrity of the Jewish people over the ages?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
-from “What If I Believe in Only the Written Text of the Torah?”
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman has written a multi-part series on the nature of Midrash which I plan to explore. The above-quoted text isn’t part of that series but I think it’s a good place to start my own investigation for a couple of reasons. The first, as I previously mentioned, is I have my doubts of the effectiveness of the philosophy of sola scriptura as practiced by certain expressions of “the Church”. I really don’t believe that most Christians really, really access “scripture alone.” To be fair, I believe they think they do and that they are sincere in their convictions, I just think they are either blind to the presence of interpretive tradition, or if aware of it, they do not believe it has as much influence on their “vision” as it actually does.

One of the things I admire about Judaism is that it admits to relying on tradition to interpret the Bible and in fact states that it is impossible to understand what the Bible is saying without a system of interpretation and tradition to use as a lens.

That’s going to freak out a lot of Biblical literalists in the Church and this isn’t the first time I’ve made such a statement (see Removing the Garments of Torah and The Purpose of Torah in New Testament Judaism series for examples).

I do want to state upfront that just because a tradition exists, either in the Christian or Jewish frameworks, doesn’t mean we should automatically accept it as fact and truth. On the other hand, without tradition (and I agree with the Jewish perspective on this), at least to some degree, we’d never be able to understand let alone implement various portions of the Bible.

I should also mention at this point that many (most?) Hebrew Roots groups echo the question stated above, believing in the accuracy and authority of the written Torah but disdaining any of the Rabbinic commentaries which are used to interpret and operationalize Torah (and how do they tie their tzitzit and lay their tefillin without relying on Rabbinic tradition?). Such groups seem to take what they want from normative Judaism while escorting the Rabbinic sages and their rulings and interpretations to the nearest dust bin.

And that, really, is Judaism: a faith in the integrity of the Jewish experience as transmitted to us by previous generations. It turns out that everything we believe, including faith in the word of the written Torah, is based on this faith in the Jewish people. Perhaps that is the reason we call it Judaism (or Yahadut, or Yiddishkeit) and not “Torahism” (or Karaism)—because the most basic faith we have is in the Jewish people, and from there extends our faith in the written word and in the prophets.

As I read Rabbi Freeman, I get the impression that one of the functions of Judaism is to provide the traditions by which Jews interpret the Torah. This gets complicated in that there is no one “Judaism” and thus no one authoritative interpretation of Torah, although within the larger “Judaism” construct, meanings heavily overlap.

But how the Chabad traditionally interprets a portion of the Torah and how to perform the associated mitzvot may differ greatly from how a Reform or Conservative synagogue may read and understand the same material. Thus, from an outsider’s point of view, it makes Judaism seem very inconsistent, highly variable, and the meaning taken from the Bible to be incredibly fractured.

But what about the untold hundreds or even thousands of denominations, subgroups, and sects of Christianity? The answer my Pastor would give me is that there is only one right answer, which is why the Fundamentalist movement was established in the early days of the 20th century…to create (or return to) that one “right” answer. My Pastor has tried to explain the core meaning of Fundamentalism to me, apart from all of the media hype and unfair interpretation of the “label,” and I’ve recorded that understanding on my blog so I wouldn’t lose track.

Really, Fundamentalism at its center is just “getting back to the basics” of Christianity, but those “basics” were established barely a hundred years ago. Would the apostles have understood their faith in the same way as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, or Steven J. Cole?

R.C. Sproul
R.C. Sproul

So the best we can say at this point is that Judaism and Christianity both heavily utilize tradition to tell each religious body and their various subgroups  (actually, each of the subgroups have their own traditions) what the Bible is supposed to be saying and how we are to live out what the Bible tells us in our individual and corporate worship lives.

I’ve also recently mentioned the story of Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts, which Rabbi Freeman too mentions in his commentary.

Another gentile who accepted only the Written Torah, came to convert. Shammai refused, so he went to Hillel. The first day, Hillel taught him the correct order of the Hebrew Alphabet. The next day he reversed the letters. The convert was confused:”But yesterday you said the opposite!?” Said Hillel: “You now see that the Written Word alone is insufficient. We need the Oral Tradition to explain G-d’s Word.”

Rabbi Freeman’s point, citing Hillel, is “that without an oral tradition, there is no written Torah. Written symbols on a scroll are meaningless without context. We have no clue what the words mean, or even whether they are at all true.”

But is that really true? Does not understanding the original language in and of itself impart some meaning? Of course, you also have to understand the historic, cultural, national, linguistic, traditional, theological (and many other) contexts involved that subtly or significantly modify the meaning of the plain text. Could the overall understanding of those contexts be codified to become an interpretative tradition?

Because the prevailing interpretations have probed Paul’s text without sufficient appreciation of the powerful role of ironic inversion at work, at the formal as well as functional level, the interpretation of the apostle’s scathing rhetoric has exaggerated and, regardless of other plans, continues to accentuate the differences that are imagined to separate Christian and Jewish identity, behavior, and even intentions toward God and neighbor. The legacy of this perception of the Jewish other has proven often tragic for the Jewish people, at least in a world that has been often dominated by those who look to Paul to shape reality, and for others, as a foil to justify their twisted construal of what is right.

-Mark D. Nanos,
from the Prologue of his book (pg 2)
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

It is Nanos’ belief that Christianity’s understanding of the basic nature and personality of the apostle Paul has changed not very much since the days of the so-called “Church fathers” and hardly at all in the last five-hundred years since the Reformation. While the Church doesn’t cite time-honored Christian tradition as the necessary element to understand the letters of Paul or as required to comprehend his actions as recorded in Luke’s Book of Acts, nevertheless, my recent reviews of some of the sermons of John MacArthur have convinced me completely that Christianity’s understanding of the meaning of scripture is totally reliant on revered Christian traditions.

When, on occasion, I’ve tried to challenge those traditions (and not the scriptures themselves), the reaction I observed could at least be called resistance.

Judaism has its traditions as well, but Jewish authorities are quite upfront about saying that they have a tradition and that, as far as Rabbi Freeman goes, “Judaism-colored glasses” (my phrase, not his) are required when reading the Word of God.

The Torah says to rest on the seventh day. I once met a man who told me that he tried to keep the Sabbath as written in the Torah, but it was too hard—by four in the afternoon he just had to get up out of bed! Who says his interpretation is worth anything less than anyone else’s?

The Torah says that “these words should be totafot between your eyes.” What on earth are totafot? Where is “between your eyes”? When do you wear them, and how?

The Torah says, “You shall slaughter an animal as I have commanded you.” What was it that G‑d commanded Moses? How can we know? There seems to be no hint whatsoever in the entire Five Books of Moses. Obviously, everybody knew what Moses had been told; they did it all the time, and nobody needed it in writing.

Praying with tefillinGood points, Rabbi Freeman. Of course modern Christians would say all that stuff is dead and gone, so who cares if we don’t know how to properly rest on Shabbat, figure out what “totafot” means or how to put them “between your eyes,” and what the correct method of “slaughtering an animal” was as required by God?

But even if I took the Christian point of view, I’d have to admit those things meant something once. Just how were they enacted in ancient days without sufficient written instructions? When asked, how did Moses answer those questions? In the days of the Temple, how did Solomon address those issues? And did Jesus even obey those requirements since the Temple still stood during his “earthly ministry?”

It seems like neither Christianity or Judaism can exist and practice their faiths without a rich tradition of…tradition.

Protestants, as I experience them anyway, seem to have a deep-rooted resentment against a central authority in religion. I’ve heard Evangelicals say some pretty rough things about Catholics and their Pope, and I’ve listened to more than one Christian say (more or less) that it was part of God’s plan for the Apostles to die off so “Christian authority” could be de-centralized. Never mind that Christians tend to revere the “Church fathers” and particularly the authors of the Reformation. Some churches, including the one I attend, even celebrate Reformation Day.

The oral tradition also includes later decisions and exegeses made by those who led the Jewish people and were empowered to make decisions on their behalf. These are the seventy elders in every generation, as established originally by Moses himself (read all about it in Numbers 11). It is to these sages that Moses refers when he charges the Jewish people that if anything is to difficult for them to solve, they must take it to these wise leaders, and “do not turn from whatever they tell you, not to the right and not to the left” (read that one in Deuteronomy 17:8–12). Otherwise, what on earth are we supposed to do when Faraday discovers how to harness electrical power? Is it fire? If not, what is it? So, a rabbinical assembly came to the consensus that we will treat it as fire, and not turn it on or off on the Shabbat. Now all the Jewish people can keep one rule and one Torah.

These same sages were empowered to protect the Jewish people from breaking the Torah by “building fences” about the prohibitions. If you can walk right up to the edge of a serious transgression, it’s unlikely that no one is going to fall off. Which should provide an answer to your question about the boundaries for walking on Shabbat.

All this is seen by Christians as “adding to the Bible.” I’ve heard Matthew 23:4 and the surrounding text applied to Rabbinic Judaism as a whole, casting all Jewish practices into the same bucket and observant Jewish people under a bus.

On the other hand, try telling people in a church to do away with their Christmas and Easter (or Resurrection Day) observances because they’re “man-made traditions” (not to mention the previously cited “Reformation Day”) and you’ll likely start a riot (OK, probably an angry and offended discussion, not a riot).

Christians don’t like the Rabbinic sages for the same reason they don’t like the Pope. They don’t like or trust a central authority that can establish binding religious rulings over their lives. It interferes with the “freedom of the gospel” they enjoy, but do Christians really have that much freedom?

It depends on the church and which Pastors and teachers are favored, with their books enshrined in the church’s library or bookstore. Which books are studied by the Wednesday night woman’s group or deemed worthy of possessing lessons to be followed by the men’s ministry? Are preachers like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Steven J. Cole considered the “sages” of modern Evangelical Christianity? Do the churches that follow their particular teachings not rely on these men and their theologies and doctrines to interpret the Bible for them?

But allow me to summarize the most crucial point: You can choose to believe in a book. Or you can choose to believe in a divine revelation. The divine revelation was encoded into a book by Moses, but its light never ceased to shine. In every generation, more and more of it enters into the world, through the medium of those sages who study the book and its surrounding traditions and all the accumulated wisdom that has unfolded over the millennia. One day, we will see how all that we unfold was contained in those original words Moses wrote. But to access it all now, make yourself part of the Jewish people, and have a little faith in us. After all, if it weren’t for us, where would that little book be?

To be fair, the whole concept of a set of traditions being required for understanding what God’s Divine Revelation means, especially as adapted across multiple generations, is alien to Christian thought, even if it’s not foreign to Christian interpretative practice. We just don’t talk about it, like some dirty family secret, some hidden skeletons in the Church’s closet.

Christian BookshelfAlso to be fair, Rabbi Freeman wouldn’t have written such an article if some Jewish people, perhaps a lot of Jewish people, weren’t as critical of midrash and oral tradition as we Christians are.

R. Freeman offered some additional resources for the Jewish (and Christian?) curious including The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, R. Freeman’s own article Is It Really the Torah, Or Is It Just the Rabbis, and a series of audio teachings by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow called The Oral Tradition. You also might consider Is Torah Just For Jews?

I encourage you to read the responding comments to Rabbi Freeman’s article (scroll down) so you can see that among individual Jewish people, what the Rabbi professes is not a “slam dunk” in their minds and hearts. Hopefully, that will help dispel the idea held among some Christians that Jewish people are “all the same,” meant in the worst possible manner.

When the Church and its “sages” disregard and denigrate Jewish traditions while upholding Christianity’s own long history of interpretive tradition (all the while denying its existence), then it participates in another historical tradition of the Church that, while also “hidden,” is nevertheless still a potent force in the lives of many Gentile believers: anti-Semitism and supersessionism.

For more on the same topic, see Tradition!, According to the Traditions: A Primer for Christians, and Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Tradition!, my review of Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar’s article “Messianic Jews and Jewish Traditions”.

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.

A Brief Introduction to Tent Builders

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

The church is fundamentally good but the church needs to change.

-Boaz Michael
from a short video introducing his
Tent Builders Seminar

I have inserted the link to the YouTube video at the bottom of this page, so you can see Boaz’s entire presentation below. It’s not quite seven minutes long, so it won’t take much of your time to review.

I’m writing this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I received a DVD in the mail from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) that contains an eighty-two minute “sampler” of Boaz’s eight-hour Tent Builders Conference, which he presented in various venues across North America (registration is now closed so I assume there’ll be no additional conferences).

This is, or was, the training companion piece to Boaz’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile, which I most recently reviewed last October 6th and October 10th.

I haven’t had a chance to view the DVD yet, but I feel it’s necessary because in spite of all of my efforts and my reading and re-reading of Boaz’s book, something’s still wrong.

I’ve gotten this sense of “wrongness” most recently from writing the first part of my review on MacArthur’s sermon series From Judaism to Jesus. If you’ve read that review, you know that I’m appalled and dismayed at MacArthur’s approach not only to the early Messianic Jews of the apostolic era, but to their modern-day counterparts, the Messianic Jews of the twenty-first century.

Boaz MichaelI’ve already read the second part of MacArthur’s three-part series and have written the review (it will appear online next Sunday morning). I can’t say my opinion of John MacArthur or any of his perspectives on Judaism has improved. More’s the pity, because Pastor MacArthur is one of the significant voices if not “the voice” of the modern Evangelical Fundamentalist movement in Christianity today. He’s been writing and preaching for over forty years and even though I had never heard of him before  last year, his name is practically a household word among the members of many churches.

I wanted to view the Tent Builders DVD sampler but only have the ability to currently hear Boaz’s brief introductory video on YouTube. He describes Tent Builders as a missionary effort which provides a purpose in which each Christian can participate. The “mission field,” so to speak, is the Church. Christians in the church or “Messianic Gentiles” who have left the church, can find in Tent Builders, a path back, a path that can lead to teaching that the church must see itself in partnership with Israel, not in competition with or as a replacement for Israel.

Another question that comes in…in relationship to something that’s happening in our current church scene today is explain why we have Messianic Jewish temples. What is the need for them? Are you familiar with this? Recently, there has been a…a…a surge of Messianic Jewish temples.

But what’s happened is, I think that many well-meaning Christian people, evangelical people, are catering more to a sociological minority movement than they are to the Word of God. Because the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.That is the one thing that the Apostle Paul spent the last months of his ministry trying to resolve…

Dr. Feinberg said to me one day, he says, “I don’t know why everybody thinks because we’re Jewish Christians, we’re something special. We’re not.” Something special to God. Something marvelous to be Jewish, but not something for which you deserve an entire church all to yourselves. And now they have Christian bar mitzvahs. What is a Christian bar mitzvah?…You know, there were some people who filled out applications to go to Talbot Seminary, and they applied because they wanted to become Christian rabbis. Dr. Feinberg said to me, “What is a Christian rabbi?” They’re out of their mind. They think a church wants a Christian rabbi? They think a synagogue wants a Christian rabbi? No, neither want either.

So you know what they do? They start their own Messianic temple. Some of these dear people really mean well; and I…I pray God that they’ll win people to Christ; but that isn’t what it’s all about.That’s, in a sense, Judaizing. I don’t see any need for that at all. I praise God for the Jewish people in our…in our church. All you have to do is read Acts chapter 13, and you read about the five pastors there. Some of ’em were Jews. Some of ’em were Gentiles. Some of ’em were white. Some of ’em were black. Read it, Acts 13. They all pastor the same church. We don’t have the Grace Community Irish-American Church. Don’t see the point.

-John MacArthur
“Bible Questions and Answers, Part 5”
Grace to You: Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time
scribd.com

Well, tact isn’t exactly one of MacArthur’s strong suits but beyond that, he obviously has definite, though incredibly uninformed opinions about Messianic Judaism. Do you think a few Tent Builders graduates in his church are going to make much headway?

In the video I’m referencing, Boaz does say that the goal is to find receptive churches who may have never considered the Messianic perspective on the good news of Jesus Christ and help them understand what it is to partner with Israel. The implication is that not all churches are going to be receptive based on a variety of factors, not the least of which is the doctrine of the church and how married they are, especially the Pastoral staff and Board of Directors, to said-doctrine.

Boaz says it’s important, even vital to change the church for the sake of Israel.

But what can one person do?

Tent BuildersYes, I did hear Boaz’s “pep talk” in the brief video, how easy it is to get discouraged, how we can be part of the hope for the future in summoning the Messianic Age.

Either God introduced me to a brick wall I’m incapable of breaching in any respect, or He put me in a situation I should be very capable of managing, but instead, I’ve managed to fail.

True, I’m not in John MacArthur’s congregation, but his thoughts, opinions, and presence are written all over the walls of the church I do attend.

How important is it to you that your children follow in your footsteps as Jews and that they marry Jews? If it is important, then you have to realize that you are their role model. Your love of Judaism and things Jewish is what will communicate to your children. You can’t legislate feelings — they are felt and internalized. When Jews came to America and found the difficulties facing them in living Jewishly, the lament was often heard, “Oy, it’s tough to be a Jew!” If it’s tough to be a Jew, then why would your child want to be Jewish? You have to feel the joy, the meaning, the beauty in being a Jew — it’s GREAT to be a Jew! Then you have hope with your kids.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

MacArthur would never understand in a million years that even as a Christian husband and father, it is very important for me that my Children live as Jews. I’ve really dropped the ball on this one, especially when my kids were growing up. If I knew twenty-five years ago what I know now, the course of my life and their lives would be very different, but in a universe created by God, you don’t get “do overs”. There are no time machines, and I can’t send radio waves back to the past to talk to my younger self.

Boaz called the church “the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah,” but the church, or at least MacArthur’s version of it, is also a stumbling block for me. If he were the only example of what it is to be a Christian when I was about to come to faith nearly twenty years ago, I’d have dropped Christianity like an angry rattlesnake.

Boaz said that if there is not a healthy Messianic community available to a “Messianic Gentile,” they should join a church for the sake of fellowship. After all, the mission of Tent Builders only works in the context of relationship.

But given men like MacArthur and the Calvinistic and supersessionistic shroud he has cast over church worship and teaching, what am I supposed to do with that relationship now? I’m hoping Boaz’s DVD has some answers.

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.

For Now We See Through A Bible Darkly

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

-Pastor John MacArthur
“Understanding the Sabbath,” September 20, 2009, posted on the Grace to You blog.
As quoted in Lois Tverberg’s blog post Test Your “Jesus Theories” in the Book of Acts

One of the folks who commented on a recent blog post of mine mentioned that Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango had written a particularly illuminating article recently, based on Tverberg’s November 2013 commentary. I finished reading Judah’s write-up, suitably impressed, and clicked the link to his source material.

I really thought I was done with John MacArthur after my final series of reviews on First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit. But seeing that Tverberg had quoted MacArthur on her blog, I had to find the original sermon and see the quote in context.

It didn’t make me happy.

As you can probably tell from the above-quoted paragraph, in one fell swoop, MacArthur kills the Torah, the Temple, and Judaism (if not the Jewish people) and summarily replaces them with Gentile Christianity in a lecture I could characterize as one of the more noteworthy flowers in the garden of supersessionism.

I was still going to resist writing about all of this. After all, Judah covered the issues brought up by Tverberg’s blog and expanded on them in a way that would make anything else I had to say on the subject redundant. And I’m sure most cessationists and anyone else who thinks John MacArthur is “the cat’s meow” probably believes by now that I have nothing better to do with my time than to endlessly bash MacArthur, using my blog as a blunt instrument.

I wouldn’t have even put my fingers on the keyboard over all of this if I hadn’t read the following:

In 1982:

“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.”

– Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000.

In 1823:

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

– Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.

In the 16th Century:

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

– Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.

Rachel Held EvansI took these quotes (there are plenty more where they came from) from an article called “The Bible was ‘clear’ …” by Rachel Held Evans.

Here’s part of the commentary summarizing these quotes of various religious, social, political, and scientific opinions, all based on scripture (emph. below is Evans’):

Of course, for every Christian who appealed to Scripture to oppose abolition, integration, women’s suffrage, and the acceptance of a heliocentric solar system, there were Christians who appealed to Scripture to support those things too.

But these quotes should serve as a humbling reminder that rhetorical claims to the Bible’s clarity on a subject do not automatically make it so. One need not discount the inspiration and authority of Scripture to hold one’s interpretations of Scripture with an open hand.

We like to characterize the people in the quotes above as having used Scripture to their own advantage. But I find it both frightening and humbling to note that, often, the way we make the distinction between those who loved Scripture and those who used Scripture is hindsight.

So maybe let’s use that phrase—“the Bible is clear”— a bit more sparingly.

Now let’s compare that to how MacArthur summed up his 2009 sermon on “Understanding the Sabbath”:

Father, we thank You for a wonderful day. We thank You for the consistency of Your truth. We thank You for the Word which opens up our understanding to all things. We’re so unendingly thrilled at the glorious truth of Scripture that comes clear and unmistakable to us. (emph. mine)

I know that MacArthur is big proponent of sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible and, based on that, he believes that any and all conclusions at which he arrives must be air tight and iron clad because after all, it’s not him, it’s what scripture says, right?

But as Rachel Held Evans so aptly illustrated, lots and lots of people have depended on sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible over the long centuries of Church history, and in many cases (such as the “fact” that the Bible supports everything in the heavens orbiting Earth), they were wrong. They were also doing what so many of us in the body of faith do today: use the Bible to support whatever theological, social, political, scientific, or other important ax we have to grind, and after we sharpen the ax, we use it to chop down whoever or whatever we stand in opposition against.

Coffee and BibleNo, I’m not saying that we can’t rely on the Bible, but I am saying that given a good enough reason, we can all go off half-cocked and make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. To be fair, most of us are unconscious to our own process and as such, we actually believe we are being unbiased, unprejudicial, non-bigoted, and completely objective.

More’s the pity.

It’s one thing to constantly investigate yourself and your opinions to verify and re-verify that what you believe isn’t too heavily colored by whatever filters you happen to be wearing over your eyes (and we all wear some), and it’s another thing to be so sure that you aren’t wearing any filters at all, that any of your opinions, because they’re “based on the Bible” must be the truth because “the Bible is clear” on the subject.

Usually, “the Bible is clear” when we “discover” it says something that exactly maps to some long-held belief that provides us comfort and confirms our own identity and convictions. We don’t like it when the Bible contradicts us and says something clearly that we don’t want to be true. Maybe that’s the real litmus test of Biblical interpretation, when we let what the Bible says show us what we need to believe rather than the other way around.