Tag Archives: Tanakh

One Perspective on Messianic Judaism

Long-time commentator ProclaimLiberty (PL), in response to Chaya, another of my enduring readers, has framed a detailed outline of his perspective on the Messianic Jewish viewpoint on God, Messiah, and the Bible. After a bit of editing on his part, he’s asked me to post it here, and I agreed. From here to the end is what PL has crafted. The comments section is open. Since I didn’t author what you’re about to read, please direct any specific questions to PL. Thank you.

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@Chaya — You wrote:
“@James, @PL and others, I would like to know what you view as the, “MJ viewpoint,” because, according to my understanding, there are many viewpoints and the situation continues to evolve/change.”

I would answer that I see two possible ways of trying to envision what is “the MJ viewpoint”. One would be some sort of aggregate summary of whatever those who claim to represent MJ seem to be expressing. Since there seem to be a great many conflicting expressions extant, I suggest that this method is intractable. It lacks a coherent objective model by which to qualify the various subjective views and how well or badly they actually reflect “genuine” MJ. The other method, which I believe to be more accurate and much easier to define, is a theoretical or philosophical construct or model. Hence I would answer that the definition of “the MJ viewpoint” may be stated simply, though its ramifications can be elaborated broadly. I would like to outline it thusly:

Orthodox JewsPoint 1. Messianic Judaism (“MJ”), or Jewish messianism, begins and ends with Jews and Jewish behavior and outlook. It is, however, the nature of HaShem’s choice of the Jewish people that they affect all of humanity because ultimately all humans are one Adamic (or even Noa’hide) family. Nonetheless, Jewish messianists must define themselves within Judaism and the Jewish people; and their lifestyle must reflect the traditions that are definitive of the Jewish people and their (our) four millennia of developing civilization. MJs must not view themselves as factional separatists (“minim”) at odds with other Jews.

An MJ organization in the USA called “Hashivenu” (@ hashivenu.org) expressed this as one of their core principles with the phrase: “The Jewish people are ‘us’, not ‘them’.”. They elaborated it, with a degree of perspective developed from prior Hebrew-Christian experiences, as follows:

Like a boat that had drifted from its moorings, we were not cognizant of what was happening to us until a key event, conversation, or combination of factors jolted us awake to the realization that we were farther from our Jewish moorings than we had realized.

For most of us, experience in evangelical contexts taught us to look at Jews only as people to whom we ought to witness. For us, the subtext of every family gathering became “How can I bring the subject up?” and the objective in our relationships with Jewish family, friends and acquaintances became “How can I witness to them without their closing the door on the Gospel and on me?” As important as these issues are, we realize now how wrong it was for these evangelistic concerns to be the sole axis of measurement of relationship with other Jews, even our own family members. We became church-culture chameleons, adept at blending in, showing that even though we were Jews, “we weren’t like the other Jews”: we were real Christians, too. More often than we were prepared to admit, though, we felt ourselves uneasy strangers in a strange land of potluck suppers, hallelujahs, and obligatory right-wing politics. But we had been taught, “You can’t go back to what you were. This sense of distance from the Jewish people, Jewish ways, and from family is the cost of discipleship, the cross you are called to gladly bear. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” One day we discovered that we had become habituated to speaking of the Jewish community in third person. We awoke with a start.

Now we know we can go home again. In fact, we must go home again for, truly, there is no place like home. And home for Jews is Jewish life. No doubt, we will have to remodel that home a bit to properly accommodate Yeshua, our Messiah, but better to remodel our own home than to be a permanent guest at someone else’s address.

We dare to believe that among the many mansions prepared for Yeshua’s people, some have mezuzot on the doors. We dare to believe that by rediscovering and reclaiming our own identity as Jews, we will be better brothers and sisters to Gentiles who love our Messiah. In all aspects of life, we want to live in a Jewish neighborhood socially, culturally, conceptually so that we and our children and our children’s children will not only call Yeshua Lord but also call the Jewish people “our people” and Jewish life “home.”

MessiahPoint 2. MJ is a Jewish messianism that views Rav Yeshua ben-Yosef ben-David as a valid candidate for the position of the ultimate Jewish King Messiah, on the basis of his teachings, his example, his piety, and his resurrection from death. His qualifications are derived from the Tenakh and elaborated in later Jewish literature. The qualifications for Messiah cited by the RamBam focus on only a portion of overall messianic qualifications, which are termed the “ben-David” Messiah who will restore the Jewish kingdom and rule therein as the “conquering king”. His rather “Johnny-come-lately” perspective on the Messiah neglects other messianic qualifications that have been described as a separate messiah-figure termed the “ben-Yosef” Messiah who suffers and dies because of the sins of Israel and on our behalf. Without benefit of a resurrection, it would be rather difficult for a single messiah to fulfill the entire set of qualifications. While it can be argued that Rav Yeshua has not yet fulfilled most of the requirements for the conquering king ben-David Messiah, hence the prophecy and expectation of his return to do so at the proper time, he has fulfilled the purposes of the ben-Yosef suffering servant Messiah admirably well, and he has been suitably positioned via resurrection and ascension to enable such a return and task-completion. Meanwhile a proper understanding of the Torah perspectives he taught enables would-be Jewish disciples to pursue a form of ‘Hasidut that would demonstrate the validity of his messiah-ship.

Point 3. MJ derives its view of Rav Yeshua from the writings of his disciples who were commissioned to teach his perspective on how to apply Torah toward Jewish living. These disciples were all Jews (though one may have been a convert, or at least a former Hellenist). Rav Yeshua’s teachings were essentially Pharisaic in character, particularly with regard to their interpretive methodology. From a much later Jewish perspective we would describe him as a ‘Hasidic “admor” and “tzaddik”. However, these “apostolic writings” were adopted and preserved by non-Jews who professed to follow their teachings; and these non-Jews, who called themselves Christians, were excessively influenced by political influences by which they distorted the interpretations of the apostolic testimony to exclude its particularistic Jewish application and perspective, and to denigrate Jews and Judaism — even creating a fictitious Greek-styled demigod, known today in English as “Jesus”, in place of the original Israeli rabbi Yeshua in his natural context. Nonetheless, MJs have identified and continue to research correspondences between the apostolic writings and other Jewish literature in order to re-develop their native Jewish character and improve general understanding of what Rav Yeshua and his apostles actually intended and taught. Their exegesis is not derived from traditional Christian doctrines but from the Jewish text and its context.

Point 4. Because of historical persecutions of Jews by Christians during at least 15 centuries (some would say as much as 18 or 19), Jews in general resist any involvement with Rav Yeshua or the apostolic writings, and mistakenly assume that anyone who does so must be some sort of a Christian or to have joined forces with them against Jews. Regrettably, there are well-known historical examples of just such treachery by Jewish converts to Christianity. Hence MJs who attempt to reclaim and restore the original Jewish character of the apostolic literature about Rav Yeshua frequently are required to assert that they are not Christians, and that neither they nor the writings are anti-Jewish. However, since some modern Christians have learned to eschew the anti-Semitism of past Christian tradition, and even to become ardent supporters of Jews and Israel, MJs do interact positively and cooperatively with them when possible.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein
Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

Point 5. Among the implications in the Jewish apostolic literature is a view of how Jewish redemption can be extended to the rest of non-Jewish humanity, which is the basis on which the non-Jewish religion of Christianity began (before it became directed against Jews and Judaism). Therefore, many non-Jews seeking the authentic roots and origins of faith in Rav Yeshua have turned to MJs for help in their parallel quest to understand the Jewish context of the apostolic writings. However, for MJs such assistance must be prioritized as secondary to MJ re-development and restoration of Jewish praxis and knowledge, without which there is little or nothing meaningful to offer that can support the non-Jewish request for help. Regrettably, this left somewhat of a vacuum during the initial decades of MJ development, which has become filled with a wild mixture of notions that falsely claim an MJ or related label.

The Hashivenu website offers a few additional core values elaborating its statements of MJ principles. Though their formulation is, at this stage, somewhat dated, I would still recommend them as worthwhile reading. I suspect that “the MJ viewpoint” described above is not much different from the views of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein in 19th-century Hungary, a century prior to the formulation of the MJ paradigm of the 1970s in the USA and just as different from the HC viewpoint as it was from the 19th-century views of the Jewish Christian Feivel (Paul Phillip) Levertoff. Consequently I would not place much credence in the notion that “there are many viewpoints and the situation continues to evolve/change”. I see two basic models, which I would associate with “MJ” (Lichtenstein) and “HC” (Levertoff), respectively, and which have persisted for more than a century. The MJ model re-emerged in the 1970s, but still it has been overshadowed by the HC model, despite the latter’s adoption of terminology more suited to MJ. The strength of HC has been its appeal to Jews who wish to maintain a semblance of Jewish culture and identity within an otherwise foreign Christian religious environment. A weakness of MJ (in terms of popular perspective and appeal) has been its somewhat insular Jewish perspective and its more demanding requirement to conform with Torah-based Jewish culture that differs from the surrounding mainstream environment and which is therefore often denigrated or disdained. Perhaps we should also consider a form of the perspective mentioned in statement #5 above, which may be termed the gentile seekers of “Hebrew Roots” (“HR”). While this is not at all a part of MJ, in some ways it resembles HC, adopts MJ terminology, and associates itself with MJ. That might offer an appearance that the “MJ movement” (so-called) comprises three perspectives and a lot of developmental confusion. However, much of HR suffers from effects derived from the supercessionism developed by earlier versions of Christianity. HR tends not to recognize continuing Jewish distinctiveness and validity, as it focuses on trying to distinguish itself otherwise from traditional Christianity by trying to act in some manner that it perceives to be Jewish in some first-century sense. It suffers from the lack of clear MJ guidance cited above in statement #5, because it is true that MJ is still challenged by the need to develop itself by elaborating an otherwise stable MJ viewpoint into stable, well-defined, and wide-spread praxis.

A significant consideration in current discussions of “Judaism” is the notion of “continuity”, which is a reflection of a primary reason mentioned in Torah for why HaShem so favored Avraham Avinu (in addition to his extraordinary faith). He, as the primary of three visitors to Avraham, in Gen.18:19, is quoted as “saying”: “For I have known him, so that he will command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.”. It is well-recognized that various forms of Orthodox Judaism have diligently continued the practice of teaching Jewish children thoroughly to perform both private and communal aspects of Judaism, generation after generation. The modernized halakhah practiced by Conservative Judaism has only been tested for a few generations so far, and there is some question about whether it can successfully maintain itself or whether it will succumb to assimilationist pressures and the effects intermarriageof intermarriage with non-Jews. Reform Judaism has been through a cycle of recognizing that many aspects of Jewish practice that they previously discarded left their children with little by which to distinguish themselves as Jews or with which to identify, which has contributed to their assimilation, their intermarriage with non-Jews, and their loss to the Jewish people. Within the current generation they have re-adopted some of the distinctive forms, within religious contexts rather than lifestyle ones, in order to stem this loss. Even newer forms of so-called Judaism have arisen within the current generation, and these have not been tested for their ability to maintain Jewish continuity. Messianic Judaism has included examples of multi-generational families that have maintained at least as much Jewish identity as the Reform or Conservative movements, even among those whose praxis and theology is more like that of Hebrew-Christians, but the movement still faces assimilationist and intermarriage pressures arising from close association with Christians of one sort or another who still don’t quite grasp or support the Jewish responsibility to remain a distinct people. It has been stated in various places that if the Jewish people does not maintain its communal distinctiveness, thus ceasing to exist as an identifiable people, then Hitler wins a posthumous victory. Some would note that such a victory also belongs to the spirit of Amalek, and to HaShem’s ancient adversary known as HaSatan. Regardless of whether anyone grants credence to such pessimism, I would insist that a proper response is to ensure that no actions taken by any Jew should ever contribute toward such an outcome – and we might extend such a principle to apply it to anyone who seeks HaShem’s favor. Therefore I would like to reiterate from my defining statement #1 above that MJs should conduct themselves as Jews, preserving Jewish tradition in their actions and in their teaching to their children (and to anyone else who may care to listen). Incidentally, we can see from Rav Yeshua’s observation in Mt.5:19 that this is also a recipe for greatness in the kingdom of heaven. May it be so for all MJs, and for the gentiles who affiliate with us (and let us say, “Amen”).

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Up to Jerusalem

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Review of Messiah Journal: Christian Theology and the Old Testament

I’ve slowly been reading through the various articles in the latest issue of Messiah Journal (issue 116/Summer 2014) but haven’t had the time to comment on it before this. While there are many good and worthy articles contained therein (as always), I was most taken with the one written by Paul E. Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” (pp 76-94).

First, a little background:

Paul Meier and his wife, Inge, spent over three decades as Bible translators with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International in Nigeria before retiring in 1996. Meier and his wife heard Messianic Jewish pioneer Abram Poljak in Switzerland in the 1950s and, since 2000, have worked with friends who knew Poljak to preserve his writings in an online archive at www.abrampoljak.net. To learn more about their experiences in Bible translation, visit their website at www.israel-pro.org.

-from the article’s introduction, pg 76

I’ve spent almost no time on either website mentioned above. I want to focus on Meier’s article and what it means to me both generally and in terms of recent issues in my little corner of the blogosphere.

Meier compares the Bible to a structure with two stories. Access to that structure is on the main floor. To understand the structure as a whole, a visitor must start with the first room on the first floor, visit each room in turn, and only then proceed to the second floor and visit all of those rooms in turn. Upon completing the visits to all of the rooms, the visitor then returns to the first floor, exits the building, and contemplates the experience as a whole to gain insights as to what the structure means.

The first floor is what Christianity calls the Old Testament and the second floor is the New Testament. The building is locked, so to gain entrance to the main lobby, you need a key. This key is “interpretation”. In many Christian churches, the main agent of interpreting the Bible is the Holy Spirit.

But…

If we believe that God inspired the books of the Bible, we must also accept that God had an overarching plan and purpose as he inspired these various texts. Yet if this is the case, we need to ask, why are there so many extant interpretations of these same texts? Why do so many interpreters arrive at different conclusions? How can they all claim to have been led to these disparate conclusions by the same Holy Spirit?

-Meier, pg 77

Meier “hooked” me at “overarching plan and purpose.”, because I believe the Bible is a holistic document describing the historically sweeping panorama of God’s plan for Israel and the world, not something to be carved and sliced like a Thanksgiving turkey (“I only like the drumsticks”). I have asked the exact same question that Meier posed above to Pastors and online religious pundits, and their answers have ranged from “sin” to “not trusting the Holy Spirit” to “being influenced by the interpretations of men.” None of these responses have been particularly satisfying, since you’d expect some subset of Christians who are truly receiving interpretive revelations from the Spirit to all share an identical perception and understanding of the Bible.

And that body does not exist. Instead, we have churches upon churches upon churches and many other congregational groups that all have their individual “take” on the Bible, and even within a single congregation, it’s common to encounter many different individuals who have their own way of looking at different areas of scripture. I think I’m getting a headache.

Meier’s answer makes as much sense as any other one and perhaps more sense than most:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

-ibid

In other words, not all believers are created equal in terms of how the Holy Spirit will speak to them of the Bible, nor are all believers identical as far as their innate cognitive, perceptual, and interpretive skills sets relative to the Bible. We are each granted the gifts God has provided “according to the measure of his grace” which may have something to do with why we all see the message of the Bible differently.

That doesn’t explain why many of us have contradictory perceptions of the Bible, but what can and does get in the way is our own humanity, our needs, our wants, our “I’ve got to have it this way”. This may also explain why it’s better for us to congregate in somewhat diverse groups rather than go it alone in Bible study or only study with people who think and believe exactly as we do.

Think of it as a group of people all trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together. But the pieces of the puzzle aren’t loosely collected in a central box, they’re loosely collected in the pockets of the different people building the puzzle. First, these people have to come together and be willing to cooperate by sharing their pieces with the others. Ideas of how the pieces fit together will vary, sometimes widely, but (and this is where I think the Holy Spirit comes into my little analogy) finally with all the pieces on the table, one by one, the group begins to see a pattern starting to emerge.

puzzleBut what if you go to a Baptist church, and the person who holds some of the vital pieces to the interpretive puzzle attends a Messianic synagogue thousands of miles away? Interesting problem. We might have to expand our understanding of Biblical hermeneutics to realize that it’s not just the particular method we employ in our interpretive process, it’s the people we have on our team, the necessary talent that they possess and we lack, that will make the difference.

A second principle to keep in mind is the fact that the different texts that comprise the Bible were written in diverse literary styles; furthermore, they were composed over hundreds of years, and each text reflects a then-current understanding of the past, present, and future. Different parts of the story were revealed at different times; God alone sees the entire story from beginning to end.

-ibid

This will likely appeal to dispensationalists and progressive revelationists, and Meier does believe that God progressively revealed himself in history. On the other hand, most dispensationalists believe that the text of the Bible becomes more important and relevant as time passes, leaving the older sections of the Bible to decay and finally become obsolete. This leads most Christians to possess a very high view of the New Testament and a lower to very low view of the Old Testament, with some church Pastors almost never referring to the Old Testament at all in their sermons and classes.

As Meier says (pg 78), the “Christian aversion to the Old Testament is not a modern phenomenon.”

Meier spends some time on the “church fathers,” introducing Marcion (the Heretic) who we tend to dismiss but who nevertheless has an echo of influence on the modern Church. And then there’s this:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-ibid, pg 81

churchThis hasn’t subsequently gone away. Any church that teaches “the Church” is the primary body of Messiah and the center of God’s attention and relegates national Israel and the corporate body of Jewish people to playing second fiddle is an inheritor of “Gentile triumphalism.” And lest you are tempted to include Jews in “the Church,” I must remind you that the price of admission a Jewish person must pay for entry into “the Church” is a surrender of most if not all that makes that individual a Jew, apart from a string of DNA, including any view of the Torah that has the mitzvot remaining relevant and obligatory for a Jew.

If you are thinking the “men of the Reformation” corrected all of the errors that came in before them, think again:

The great reformers Calvin and Luther modified their inherited filter and read the Old Testament in fresh light; unfortunately, they were not able to overcome their inherited tendency to interpret many Old Testament prophecies allegorically.

-ibid, pg 84

Thus the history of the (Gentile) Church, from its very inception in the second century CE into the modern age, has inherited interpretive traditions and structures that are so integrated into general Christian theology and doctrine as to be indistinguishable from actual “God-breathed” scripture itself. My own attempts to summarize Gentile involvement in the New Covenant, which depart from standard Christian fare, illustrate how tightly bound are inherited interpretive tradition in Christianity to what the Bible does and doesn’t say.

If I could give the Meier article to each person reading this review, I would, because it’s just that important to how Christians interpret and (often) misinterpret the Bible. I can’t describe everything Meier wrote, but I can point to a few important matters related to how we generally devalue the Old Testament and build our New Testament “castle” in the clouds with practically no foundation at all.

The Old Testament is a record of the history of the Hebrew people, the history of Israel. A theology in which Israel has no prophetically significant role in the future is a theology in which Israel has no significant role in the present.

-ibid, pg 79

I point you to recent events in Israel to illustrate Christianity’s (or some of its representatives) disdain for the Jewish people as a result of the devaluation of Israel’s history, the Old Testament.

Further:

If all prophecies concerning Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and all that remains to be accomplished is the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, then there is no difference left between Israel and the church or between Israel and the nations. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Messiah JournalThis is the classic error in much of Christianity including some portions of the Hebrew Roots movement, and their requirement for this lack of distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Messiah necessitates them making artificial, interpretive shifts in their viewpoint of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to justify their position.

If Israel has been replaced by the church, either through having been deprived of its original identity or else through having been set aside during the so-called church age, then all the prophecies concerning the future of Israel must be divorced from the context in which they were delivered — the context of the greater story of Israel as told by the Old Testament. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Do you see where this is going? Regardless of whether Israel’s original identity as a unique and especially chosen nation, the Jewish nation, is removed (Hebrew Roots/One Law) and/or replaced with a fused Jewish/Gentile identity, or it is set aside during the “church age” (Christianity), the result is exactly the same, and the cause is a misunderstanding and misapprehension of the content and significance of the Old Testament in being the chronicle of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.

When we do not understand the Old Testament on its own terms, it becomes difficult if not impossible to understand God’s nature, plan, and purpose. We find it difficult to explain why God chose one nation through which to reveal his being to the rest of mankind and to express his desire to bring salvation, because we fail to acknowledge the historical reality that Israel and God have been in covenant for millennia and that God chose to reveal the texts of the Old Testament within the context of this covenant relationship.

-ibid, pg 80

And yet, many, many Christians put the New Testament at a far more exalted level than the Old Testament, ironically enough, cutting themselves (or the true understanding of salvation and the Good News of Messiah to Israel and then the nations) off at the knees.

A third problem is that many Christians believe that the Old Testament must be understood through the eyes of the New Testament.

-ibid, pg 82

Abrahamic CovenantI’ve spoken with Christians, both in person and online, who do not believe that any rendition of living relationships and events in the Old Testament have any intrinsic value or meaning, but only exist as “types and shadows” of Jesus and the Church. Some don’t even believe that the people we see in the Old Testament were real people, only “stories” pointing to Jesus. From their perspective, Abraham and Sarah never existed as actual individuals. Neither did Boaz and Ruth. They were mere representatives of Christian redemption and salvation. Only the Church matters, just “me and Jesus”.

An interesting variant of supersessionism is brought out by Meier, one that I hadn’t considered before. Typically, I have run into a replacement theology that says the Church has taken the place of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises and blessings. But something else has emerged:

As a result, he now incorporates, as N.T. Wright has put it, “Israel-in-person.” This type of “fulfillment” theology is merely a new incarnation of replacement theology, regardless of what exactly was fulfilled in the life of Jesus…

-ibid, pg 83

I ran into this “Israel-in-person” theology just the other day in the Jesus-believing blogosphere which illustrates that even with the best intentions, and even with believers who have a strongly stated love for Israel and the Jewish people, it is still quite possible to let a deeply underlying tradition and multi-generational history of how we view the Old Testament and consequentially, the Jewish people, distort the reality of God’s New Covenant plan for Israel (and for Gentile Christians), present and future.

You may be thinking that I’m (again) removing the Gentiles from any connectedness to the New Covenant, for it is only through the blessings of that covenant that we may be saved, but look at this:

Jesus stated that he was sent only to the house of Israel, yet he came to prepare that house to carry God’s message to all humanity. This plan was described throughout the Old Testament (for instance, Psalm 87, Isaiah 49;6).

-ibid, pg 85

JudaismThe plan and purpose of Messiah in relation to Israel, the New Covenant, and inclusion of Gentiles can only be properly understood by taking a high view of the Old Testament and being willing to make the Old Testament the foundation of your understanding of the Bible, reading scripture from earlier to later rather from Paul backward. Otherwise, you end up with what Meier calls a “Christianized Jesus” rather than Moshiach, Son of David, the Jewish King.

One of the key points Meier made was:

God revealed his nature and his intentions progressively across the history of Israel. Yet later revelations do not replace earlier ones; rather, they build upon them.

-ibid, pg 86

If you remove the earlier covenants and their conditions in order to “make room” for later ones, you are removing the foundation and framework of the house in order to put on the siding and the roof. You end up with a structure that cannot possibly stand.

Of all the different forms of replacement theology Meier described, I found the following most illuminating as it describes my current church experience:

On the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative scholars take an overly restrictive stance, teaching that one must rely on these kinds of typological interpretations only when the New Testament explicitly confirms them.

-ibid, pg 88

Have you ever heard a Christian Pastor or lay teacher say that commandments in the Old Testament only remain valid for Christians if confirmed in the New Testament? I have. It’s like saying the “sacrament” of marriage remains valid because it was confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8) but keeping Kosher is not, presumably because of Mark 7:19 and Acts 10:15.

Really, who made that rule up? Obviously someone who didn’t believe “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For if all scripture comes from God, and the only Bible Paul had when he wrote those words was the “Old Testament,” then whatever we have in those ancient scriptures can stand on its own “legs” and doesn’t need the writings of the apostles to support it.

sefer torahThere’s a lot more I wish I could share with you about Meier’s article, but this blog post is long enough as it is. I may write one more “meditation” on something Meier said about how much we do (or don’t) translate sections of the Old Testament into the languages of people in other cultures who have never been exposed to the Bible before. How much of the Bible do we really teach them in their own language, and what impact on their understanding of the true Jesus Christ do missionaries impart who not only distort the Old Testament due to their devaluing it, but who actually leave out much or most of the Old Testament books in their work with new disciples of the Master?

I don’t believe Meier is attributing bad motives to Christians who take a low view of the Old Testament. After all, they (we) are doing what Christians have been taught to do for hundreds and hundreds of years, by a tradition that goes back to the early church fathers and was then inherited and re-enforced by the men of the Reformation.

But a low view of the Old Testament means a low view of Israel in God’s past, present, and future plans, and a low view of Israel fragments the foundation upon which the redemption and salvation of Gentile Christianity is supposed to rest. When we disdain the Old Testament and set aside the centrality of Israel, we not only insult God, we destroy our own future in the Kingdom.

This is why I keep on writing as I do. I cannot allow so many believers to innocently, unknowingly face a supposed salvation in which they feel utterly secure, but in reality, one that is constructed firmly on shifting sand.

A Quick View of the Coming of Messiah Through a Jewish Lens

cloaked-in-light-tallitBelief in the eventual coming of the mashiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. It is part of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief. In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the mashiach: ingathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service.

Modern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. They note that the messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The mashiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to “the End of Days” (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times.

from “Mashiach: The Messiah”
Judaism 101

The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder. Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.

-from “Today’s Day”
Wednesday – Cheshvan 5 – 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Tales of the Messianic Era series

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post called A Quick View of Revelation Through a Christian Lens, which presented what I thought was a traditional fundamentalist Christian viewpoint of the Book of Revelation and the “end times.” It turned out to be one of my more popular blog posts and I hope laid the groundwork for further investigations into this area of study.

I want to be fair, and since I’m searching for a more Jewish understanding of this topic, I thought the next step should be for me to offer the opposite side of the coin: to show a portrait of a wholly and non-Messianic Jewish perspective on the coming of Moshiach. What would a distillation of the Jewish prophesies about Messiah taken just from the Tanakh (Old Testament) look like? Fortunately a few days ago, one fell quite conveniently in my lap.

The real Jewish messiah appears on the scene. He’s not Jesus, but a virtuous and devout Jewish man who is able to unite all Jews, a scholar and wise military leader. The nations of the world hate and oppose him and work against him, as they’ve done to every Jewish leader in Israel’s history. He’s nothing like what they expected to see – not the glorious all-powerful heavenly Jesus. He regathers the rest of the Jews from all around the world. Many wars against Israel break out, but the Messiah leads Israel in defeating their many enemies and in rebuilding the Third and final Temple.

True prophets once again appear in Israel and they are able to recognize the lineage of all Jews, including of priests, Levites and especially that of the Messiah himself, with many Jews recognizing their leader as the awaited Messiah. Christians, however, almost unanimously speak against him, brand him the “antichrist” of their bible, preaching fiery sermons in their churches against the “antichrist” and against the Jews who fell “under his spell just as Jesus, Paul and John predicted”. No Christian may believe in him, or they risk losing their salvation. Jews are ridiculed and the New Testament is held up as having predicted everything the Jews will do. Muslims, who along with Christians likewise believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that no one else fits the bill, also reject the kingship of the Jewish Messiah and join with the Western world in their opposition to him and the nation of Israel.

Finally, all nations gather against Israel for the ultimate conflagration, attacking Jerusalem and causing much damage. The war against Israel appears to be won and situation is hopeless. However, G-d himself intervenes, and sends his fire on earth and destroys the armies of “G-g and Magog and all the cohorts.” The weakest in Israel chases away thousands. The nations of the world are humbled, they are in awe of what G-d has done for Israel, of His salvation. The idols of the nations which do not save (including Jesus) are destroyed, are put away for good and are remembered no more. All false prophets and idol worshipers will be ashamed, they will realize that they inherited nothing but lies from their forefathers. The earth will be finally at peace. G-d raises all the righteous dead and all peoples of the earth are required to come to Jerusalem to worship Hashem in his Temple. The true Messiah of Israel (which could be the resurrected king David himself) will fear G-d, rule justly and will forever reign as prince/king over the Jewish people.

Jewish in Jerusalem(I just want to mention that although Islam considers Jesus a prophet, they do not see him as their “Messiah.” Rather, the Mahdi is the redeemer of Islam).

Just about all Christians and not a few Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish adherents are bound to find the above rendition of the coming of Messiah disturbing. The Jewish Messiah is treated by Christians as the “antichrist” because he’s “too Jewish” and fits the description of Moshiach in Jewish understanding too closely. The Church is waiting for someone who never comes, waiting for a rapture up to Heaven that never occurs. In the end, Christianity becomes just another enemy of Judaism and Israel that God defeats. Humiliated, Christians all over the world discover that they’ve been following a false god all along, and either they surrender their “faith” and pay homage the true King of Israel and worship Israel’s God, or they remain defiant, and continue to pray for a Jesus who never existed and who will never answer.

That’s a horrible thought. Here’s a worse one.

The above summary, at least on the surface, seems to fit quite well with what we understand of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh. That is, if we don’t factor in the New Testament, this summary seems to connect almost seamlessly with the words of the ancient Jewish prophets about the coming Moshiach.

You don’t have to worry about the distinctions between the raptured Church and resurrected Israelites because no such dissonance exists. It’s all about Israel. Period.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t tremendously far from what I’ve been trying to find in Messianic Judaism, a completely Jewish Messiah King whose focus is first and foremost on national Israel and the Jewish people. From this focus, the people of the rest of the world receive blessings, but ultimately it’s all about Israel. Period.

If there isn’t a “happy meeting place” between the ancient portrait of the Jewish Messiah King who has yet to come and the promise of a resurrected Yeshua who will come again, then either New Testament Christians must be ready to admit that there is a very fuzzy connection between the Old Testament prophesies of Messiah and how the New Testament describes Jesus, or we have to take a whole new look at the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh and see who we are really supposed to be waiting for.

This isn’t going to be easy, especially when I’m tossing aside the Church’s assumptions and traditions that make it possible to reconcile what doesn’t seem to fit very well, and re-examine the identity of Messiah and his redemptive mission at its core.

I know in my previous blog post, I received a large number of responses explaining the problems with some of the Christian assumptions about the return of Jesus. I’m hoping a similar reaction will be forthcoming, discussing the Jewish viewpoint of Moshiach and how (or if) a Jewish perspective can factor in and make it understandable that Jesus is the same Messiah we find in the Old and New Testaments.

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
never again will they learn war.

Isaiah 2:2-4 (NASB)

tallit-prayerWho is the Messiah who will redeem Israel, gather in her exiles, restore tranquility within her borders, vanquish her enemies, rebuild the Temple, and establish a rule of peace and justice over the entire world? Is it the man we see described by such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah? Or is it the Son of God who we encounter in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the one spoken of by the apostle Paul as he established the churches of the Gentiles, and the one who we find in all majesty and glory within the pages of Revelation?

Or somehow, is it both?

The Obscured Messiah in the Bible

tallit-prayer“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

I think most Christians and Jews would agree that this passage of scripture is referring to the Messianic age when David, King Messiah, will rule as Israel’s “prince” forever. Jews believe this text also confirms that Messiah will build the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, while some Christians believe the Temple is only a spiritual manifestation rather than a physical structure.

In the past several weeks, I’ve been challenged by a Jewish friend of mine to see if I can (or can’t) find Jesus in the Old Testament (Tanakh). Like most Christians, it’s difficult for me not to see Jesus in the Torah and the Prophets, but I want to be honest and actually make as much of an unbiased examination as I can. Interestingly enough, it was in last Sunday’s Bible study at church where some serious questions about Christian hermeneutics came up for me. I listened to my teacher explain some of the Jewish texts in a way that didn’t make sense. On the other hand, he had to interpret the scriptures in this manner if he was to locate Jesus there.

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually.’”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’”

Jeremiah 33:14-22 (NASB)

This passage from Jeremiah 33 says several important things:

  1. In the Messianic Kingdom, God will fulfill the good news he has announced to Israel and Judah, in other words, the Jewish people.
  2. Messiah, a descendent of David, will be raised up as a “righteous branch.”
  3. Peace will be established for Israel and there will be safety in Jerusalem.
  4. Messiah, a descendant of David, will sit on the throne of Israel forever and the Levitical priests will once again offer sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple.
  5. The descendants of David and the Levitical priests will be multiplied to a number that cannot be counted.

temple-prayersSome Christians believe there will be a Temple and that sacrifices will be offered, but they believe Jesus, the Messiah, will be offering those sacrifices as a memorial (as opposed to an actual, functioning, sacrificial system). And yet, we see it is the Levites who will be sacrificing, not Messiah as a King-Priest. It’s understandable that the Priests would have families, children, and grandchildren across the future years but is this saying that Messiah also marries and has children (descendants)? Interesting, but I suppose you could also say that’s metaphorical and “David’s descendants” are the Jewish people.

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. On that day the prince shall provide for himself and all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering.”

Ezekiel 45:21-22 (NASB)

Waitaminute? What? Who makes an offering for his sins and the sins of the people? The prince? Who’s the prince? It can’t be Jesus because Jesus never sins.

My Bible teacher says that the prince is David not Christ. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary treats this concept a little differently:

In the period here foretold, the worship and the ministers of God will be provided for; the princes will rule with justice, as holding their power under Christ; the people will live in peace, ease, and godliness. These things seem to be represented in language taken from the customs of the times in which the prophet wrote. Christ is our Passover that is sacrificed for us: we celebrate the memorial of that sacrifice, and feast upon it, triumphing in our deliverance out of the Egyptian slavery of sin, and our preservation from the destroying sword of Divine justice, in the Lord’s supper, which is our passover feast; as the whole Christian life is, and must be, the feast of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

My teacher didn’t see these verses the same way and used the following to establish that the prince must be literally David:

“Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.

Ezekiel 34:23-24

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28

messiah-prayerBut we are presented with a problem. The term “David” in Messianic prophesy, almost assuredly refers to Messiah, not literally David. Also, Ezekiel 37:24 refers to David as “king” and “one shepherd” which must certainly be Messiah. It also describes this figure as walking in God’s “ordinances and statues to observe them,” which can’t mean anything else other than Torah, which means for the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish people, the Torah of Sinai will still be in effect in the Messianic era and apply to all Israel.

If we believe that the “prince” is the Davidic Messiah, that is to say, Christ, then Christians have a serious problem. How can a future Jesus Christ as King of Israel offer sacrifices for sin? Christians have to assign the identity of the “prince” either to another individual such as David or to a set of generic princes (who do sin), then it would be more appropriate for them to offer such sacrifices. But given what I said above, the prince can be none other than Messiah, at least if my teacher’s “proof texts” are really proof.

Additionally, we have the matter of whether or not this is a “real” sin offering or simply a memorial, harkening back to days of old, and reminding us that Christ made the offering for sin once and for all with his body on the cross.

Going back to some more traditional interpretations, we find that Jeremiah 23:3-6 also describes a righteous branch rising up, but we find something interesting in Zechariah 6:11-13:

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’

If “Branch” is a name for the Messiah, then we seem to see him sitting on the throne as both King and Priest. Since Messiah is of the house of David and the tribe of Judah, where does this leave the Levitical Priests? Or does the Priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7) trump the Levitical priests both in the Heavenly Court and on earth?

Ezekiel 43:2-7 was used by my teacher to describe the Divine Presence inhabiting the Temple in the future Messianic age but that creates an interesting situation for Christians. If the Divine Presence is God and Jesus is God and they’re both in the Temple how are we to understand this? How do they co-exist as two, separate physical entities within a single structure (the Temple)?

These are just the examples that came to mind and that I took notes on during my Sunday school class (no, I didn’t breathe a word to anyone about what I was thinking). But can we prove, just from the Old Testament scriptures, that Jesus is Messiah and God? I’m not sure we can without factoring in the New Testament record and lots and lots of Christian theology and doctrine.

No, I’m not going to throw my faith out the window, but try to look at all of this from a religious Jewish person’s point of view. In order to establish Jesus as Messiah King, we need to seriously morph the original meaning of the ancient scriptures that point to Messiah, the Temple, and the Priesthood. I don’t know that Occam’s Razor is the best hermeneutic tool to use, but if we accept that the most succinct and straightforward explanation in the bunch is probably the correct one, then Christians are obviously jumping through a few extra hoops to get Jesus to fit in all of the Messianic prophesies, at least Jesus as he’s understood in the modern Protestant church.

up_to_jerusalem

The Tanakh doesn’t speak of the sacrifices in the Messianic era as being memorials, but indicate they are the sacrifices that would have been familiar to any Israelite in the days of the Tabernacle or Solomon’s Temple. Also, the same ancient Israelites wouldn’t have had a problem with King Messiah offering sacrifices for his own sins, since they would have believed any descendant of David would be as human as David and would thus have sin. Even the greatest tzaddik who ever lived wouldn’t be completely sinless, but given that Jesus is sinless, how are we to reconcile these differences?

Obviously I’m playing, you should pardon the expression, “devil’s advocate” in this situation, but as I said before, I want to give this challenge an honest examination. I believe there are answers to all these questions, but I don’t think we can always rely on traditional Christian thought to provide those answers.

One of the messages presented by the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series, A Promise of What is to Come, is that the Bible and especially what we read about the coming Messianic age, the Kingdom of Heaven, seems to make a lot more sense when we look at the information from a more Jewish perspective. That’s the whole point of the television show.

I will probably get some pushback from my Christian readers, but one of the reasons I can’t simply walk away from Messianic Judaism is that nearly twenty centuries of Christian reinvention of the Jewish Messiah and Jewish history has obscured much of the original interpretation and meaning to the Biblical text, both in the Tanakh and the Apostolic Scriptures.

I will be honest and say that I have learned much from my Sunday school classes, but I’ve also been exposed to material that is hardly sustainable (if it’s sustainable at all) based on my reading of the Bible. I know we can’t always get the full meaning of what the Word is saying by relying on just the plain meaning, but how many knots do we have to tie in the string, and how many twists do we bend the pretzel in, before we divorce the Word of God from the “lips” of God?

The next part of this series is: Trouble Breaking into Church with Messianic Prophesy.

The Jewish Gospel, Part 1

620_moses-in-matthewLast night, the new MJTI Interfaith Center in Beverly Hills hosted a seminar on the Gospels with special guest, Boaz Michael, the founder and director of First Fruits of Zion.

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

-Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
“Moses in Matthew”
Yinon Blog

I acquired an audio CD of this presentation from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) through the FFOZ Friends program and have been meaning to review it for awhile now. It’s hard for me to sit still and listen to a recorded audio lecture, but I took my wife’s portable CD player outside and, as I weeded in the back yard, allowed my mind to be illuminated by Boaz Michael’s teaching while my body took care of the home that God has graciously provided. I learned a few things. I’d like to pass them along to you (and I apologize if I got anything in Boaz’s presentation not quite right…it’s tough to take notes while weeding).

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

Deuteronomy 18:15 (NRSV)

According to Boaz’s teaching, the Gospel of Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience and was probably the only one of the Gospels originally written in Hebrew (although the Hebrew original is lost to us). The words of Moses quoted above foretell of a prophet greater than Moses who would one day rise up from among Israel. This prophet would be Messiah and he would also be a King and do many great signs and wonders. Messiah would be known by the prophesies he would tell and he would lead Israel back to faithfulness in the Torah.

In Matthew and the other synoptic gospels, it was asked if Yeshua (Jesus) was the prophet, but in John’s gospel, it was declared that he was (and is) the prophet.

Boaz tied his teaching to the release of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (this was a few years back) and he described at length the history of Franz Delitzsch and his mission to “retro-translate” the Greek language of the Gospels back into Hebrew. This doesn’t restore the “Hebrew text” but it does provide the “original voice,” the Hebrew voice of the gospels and the gospel writers.

That’s an important point to get because the focus of Boaz’s “Moses in Matthew” teaching is to be able to read Matthew the way a Jewish person would have read it during the early days of the Jewish religious movement “the Way.”

Boaz said something I consider very important (paraphrasing): “Every translation is really a commentary.” I know my own Pastor has said that we need to be able to understand the Bible in its original languages and within its own context in order to gain an objective understanding of what God is trying to say. My counter argument is that any translation imposes a certain set of assumptions being made by the translator so that interpretation doesn’t begin after translation but during translation. It’s at this point when we also start making connections from one text in the Bible to another and deciding what those connections mean.

And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears.

Isaiah 11:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The people of Nineveh will stand in judgment of this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the call of Yonah. But look! One greater than Yonah is here. The queen of Teiman will stand in judgment of this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Shlomoh. But look! One greater than Shlomoh is here.

Matthew 12:41-42 (DHE Gospels)

shlomo-hamelechThese verses tell a Jewish audience (and hopefully the rest of us) something about the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the Messiah, Son of David, and he shall be wise and understanding and knowledgeable, more so than Solomon. The idea is that Messiah isn’t just like Moses the Prophet, David the King, and Solomon the Wise, but he is greater than all of those. The Hebrew word translated as “delight” from the passage in Isaiah actually is better translated as “sense,” giving the idea of sense of smell, so it is like Messiah can sense, almost “smell out” the truth.

While a general audience can “get” the meaning of all this, it would, according to Boaz, have been quite a bit more obvious to a Jewish audience in the days of Matthew and in fact, it was Matthew’s intent to write in a manner that would demonstrate Messiah to them in a uniquely Jewish way. The gospels, and especially Matthew’s, are considered the greatest Jewish story ever told, if we just know how to properly read it.

Here’s another Jewish story:

During the fourth watch, Yeshua came to them, walking on the surface of the water. His disciples saw him walking on the surface of the sea and were terrified. They said, “It is the appearance of a spirit!” and they cried out in fright. Yeshua called to them, “Be strong, for it is I. Do not fear!”

Matthew 14:25-27 (DHE Gospels)

The full text of this event is in Matthew 14:22-33. You probably think you know everything there is to know about this story, including Peter’s brief ability to also walk as long as he kept his eyes on the Master.

But to an ancient Jewish audience, it says so much more.

When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water…

Genesis 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The Hebrew word translated as “wind” can also be translated as “spirit,” thus we understand that it was the spirit from God that was hovering over the water.

This is the part where you have to “think Jewishly” and moreover, to have access to popular Jewish writings and teachings that are now collected in a large number of written works but at the time Matthew was writing his gospel, were more likely conveyed through oral tradition in less refined forms.

Boaz states in his presentation that according to Midrash Rabbah, it was the spirit of Moshiach (Messiah) that hovered over the waters. We know (and Matthew’s Jewish audience would have known) that from Isaiah 11:1-3 the spirit from God rested upon Moshiach. We know from Matthew 3:16-17 that the spirit came from God “like a dove” and rested on Jesus.

According to midrash, whose spirit hovered over the water? The Spirit of Moshiach. Putting all this together, the Messiah “hovering” or “walking” over the water would have summoned an immediate connection between that event and Moshiach’s Spirit hovering over the waters at creation.

This is also an indication that Messiah is greater than Moses. Moses’s name indicates one who was saved or drawn from water. We also know of Moses, through the power of God, splitting the Reed Sea (yes, that’s “Reed Sea.” “Red Sea” is a poor translation) and walking at the bottom of the sea with the water over him. Yeshua is greater because he is over the water as was his spirit at creation.

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

Psalm 77:19 (NRSV)

walking_on_waterThis verse seems to reference Moses but it is also Messianic because footprints are “unseen” when someone is walking on top of water. Also water, in ancient Jewish thought, represents chaos. In the story of creation, God “binds” and limits the great waters with shores. Yeshua is above the chaos and Matthew telling this story as he does, is declaring to his Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah from creation. For the rest of us, his message is that the good news of Moshiach is “first to the Jews.” It is the story of Jewish good news.

But the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.

There’s another message here according to Boaz. In his presentation, he was addressing a traditionally Christian audience, one who was just becoming involved in FFOZ’s HaYesod program. Historically in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements (and I can attest to this personally), there’s been a tendency for Gentile believers to become enamored with the Torah to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible. It has tended to “defocus” Gentile believers involved in either of these movements from the Gospels and from the Messiah. Just as the Gospels don’t replace Moses and the Torah, Moses and the Torah don’t replace Jesus and the Gospels. The Gospels require the Torah to illustrate and validate the message of Messiah but always remember, the Messiah is the Prophet, the one who is greater than Moses.

But there’s more in Matthew that teaches us about Messiah:

They remained there until the death of Hordos, fulfilling the word of HaShem through the prophet, sayings, “Out of Mitzrayim I called my son.”

Matthew 2:15 (DHE Gospels)

This is a direct reference to the following:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

Hosea 11:1 (JPS Tanakh)

Modern Jewish commentators cry “foul” at Matthew’s application because Hosea is clearly referring to Israel the nation as God’s son, not the Messiah. But the heart of Jewish interpretation and application is taking scripture and applying it differently to other circumstances. This also does something special that I completely agree with. Matthew is creating a one-to-one equivalency between Israel and Messiah. Messiah is not only the Son of God, but the living embodiment of the nation of Israel; the Jewish people. Moshiach is Israel’s first-born son.

Yeshua spoke all these things in parables to the crowd of people, and other than parables, he did not speak to them at all, fulfilling what the prophet spoke, saying, “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter riddles from ancient times.”

Matthew 13:34-35 (DHE Gospels)

This compares to the following:

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.

Psalm 78:2 (NRSV)

But here we learn something else. Typically, a Christian will understand that Matthew 13:34-35 is relating back to Psalm 78:2. In a Bible study on the verses from Matthew, a Christian teacher would probably include a reference specifically to Psalm 78:2 rather than the entire content of that Psalm. But from a Jewish writer’s point of view, he intends for his audience to read or hear that portion cited from Matthew and to recall all of the Psalm.

bet_midrash_temaniPsalm 78 as a whole, describes the repeating cycle of Jewish faithfulness and unfaithfulness, faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God. Matthew wants his audience to “get” this point and associate it with Yeshua as Messiah and that Messiah has come to restore Israel’s faithfulness to God.

Again, if we just isolate and link Matthew 13:34-35 and Psalm 78:2, we miss the larger message Matthew is transmitting to his Jewish readership. We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.

I’m going to split this teaching into two posts for the sake of length. There are other important parts to what Boaz Michael spoke that I don’t want to miss or gloss over. Part 2 will be in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

The Signpost Up Ahead

waiting-for-a-signMay it be Your will … that You lead us toward peace … and enable us to reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.

-Prayer of the Traveler

Before we take a long trip in a car, we first consult a map to determine the best route. If we know people who have already made that particular trip, we ask them whether there are certain spots to avoid, where the best stopovers are, etc. Only a fool would start out without any plan, and stop at each hamlet to figure out the best way to get to the next hamlet.

It is strange that we do not apply this same logic in our journey through life. Once we reach the age of reason, we should think of a goal in life, and then plan how to get there. Since many people have already made the trip, they can tell us in advance which path is the smoothest, what the obstacles are, and where we can find help if we get into trouble.

Few things are as distressful as finding oneself lost on the road with no signposts and no one to ask directions. Still, many people live their lives as though they are lost in the thicket. Yet, they are not even aware that they are lost. They travel from hamlet to hamlet and often find that after seventy years of travel, they have essentially reached nowhere.

The Prayer of the Traveler applies to our daily lives as well as to a trip.

Today I shall…

…see what kind of goals I have set for myself and how I plan to reach these goals.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Iyar 21”
Aish.com

I can see the point Rabbi Twerski is making with this, but he missed a few things. When the first European explorers were sailing their tiny ships to the west and south across the unknown vastness of the ocean, they had no maps at all to guide them, and even those who went after them probably had maps that were woefully inadequate to the task of surely guiding their voyages. Exploring ships would be gone for years at a time and some of them never came back, making it difficult for those who wanted to follow to repeat their journeys with any sort of accuracy. Sailing uncharted waters doesn’t allow for consulting a map first to determine the best route. It’s a voyage into the unknown. Here be dragons.

I know life isn’t exactly like that but there are similarities. While we can consult our parents and other people whom we feel would be good “guides” for our journey in life, no two people live exactly the same life, so there are going to be “blank spots.” My son David served in the United States Marine Corps and I’ve never been a member of the Armed Forces. Before he entered the Corps and during his service, I had no way to guide him through many of his experiences. Even now that he has been honorably discharged for several years, there are things I can’t relate to because I didn’t live the life he did. Only others who have also served could understand what David went through.

That doesn’t mean my understanding and “sage” advice to him is useless…but there are limits.

Which brings me to the Bible.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the Bible is the perfect guide for a person’s life, and that it anticipates every detail for good or bad that we could possibly encounter.

Well, that’s not entirely true (Note: I wrote this before reading a chapter from John F. MacArthur’s (editor) book Think Biblically called “Embracing the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture,” a photocopy of which was given to me by Pastor Randy…more on that in a later blog post). In the Aish.com Ask the Rabbi pages, someone asked the following question:

How do we know that the Torah we have today is the same text given on Mount Sinai? Maybe it’s all just a game of “broken telephone.”

This is part of the Rabbi’s answer:

The Torah was originally dictated from God to Moses, letter for letter. From there, the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 9:4) tells us:

Before his death, Moses wrote 13 Torah Scrolls. Twelve of these were distributed to each of the 12 Tribes. The 13th was placed in the Ark of the Covenant (along with the Tablets). If anyone would come and attempt to rewrite or falsify the Torah, the one in the Ark would “testify” against him.

Similarly, an authentic “proof text” was always kept in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, against which all other scrolls were checked. Following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Sages would periodically perform global checks to guard against any scribal errors.

reading-a-mapMost Christian and Jewish Torah scholars and academics will likely disagree with this explanation, since it’s based more on Midrash than on historical record or other academic and scientific investigation. The Rabbi also neglects to mention the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and what would have happened to the Ark and the Torah scroll it contained (assuming Midrash is correct and the scrolls ever existed in the first place). When ten of the twelve tribes went into the diaspora, what happened to their Torah scrolls? Do any of those original scrolls exist today? If not, how do we know the level of fidelity of the Torah we have today to those earlier copies (and this is why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such in incredible find because they allow us to check much of our current Bible against much earlier manuscripts)?

Even within the scholarly study of the New Testament, experts such as Larry Hurtado often have differences of opinion with other academics in the field. These aren’t bad people, inexperienced people, or unintelligent people…they are educated believers who are experts in their field, and who, based on their studies, continue to disagree with each other, even on important aspects of the Gospels and Epistles.

That, of course, leads to different conclusions, at least to some degree, on the nature of Jesus Christ and what was being taught to the first century CE Jewish and Gentile believers.

It’s not just having a roadmap and it’s not just having an accurately translated roadmap, it’s interpreting the roadmap in one way or another. It’s also important to remember that interpretation starts right at the first step: translating the ancient text into a language we can understand.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Spirit of God supposed to guide us in all truth and to help us correctly understand the Bible? In theory, yes. In practicality, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. Otherwise, all believers would have an identical understanding of the Bible and that would be that.

So what gets in the way? Our humanity. Our need to be “right.” Our trust in our own intelligence over the trust in God’s “intelligence.” So of all the different Christians and all the different Christian interpretations of the Bible, how do we know who is fully “trusting the Spirit” and who isn’t? Are we just supposed to “check our brains at the door” and let the Spirit “beam” understanding into our skulls?

They think self-surrender means to say, “I have no mind. I have no heart. I only believe and follow, for I am nothing.”

This is not self-surrender—this is denial of the truth. For it is saying there is a place where G–dliness cannot be—namely your mind and your heart.

G‑d did not give you a brain that you should abandon it, or a personality that you should ignore it. These are the building materials from which you may forge a sanctuary for Him, to bring the Divine Presence into the physical realm.

Don’t run from the self with which G‑d has entrusted you. Connect your entire being to its Essential Source. Permeate every cell with the light of self-surrender.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Self-Surrender”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

If we are to believe Rabbi Freeman, then God doesn’t expect us to abandon the use of our brains and expect us to just “sense” what the Bible, the world, and everything else means. Understanding and exploring our life is a partnership between the ordinary and the Divine, between man and God.

rabbis-talmud-debateHowever, because the trust and faith of a human being is never perfect, then our understanding is never perfect. We fill in the gaps with our own personalities, our own biases, our own intellect, and that’s what has resulted in about a billion different translations and interpretations of the Bible, and thus the differences we experience in our understanding of God…and the differences we experience in understanding ourselves and other human beings. That’s one reason (to use an extreme example) why some believers are completely delighted that NBA center Jason Collins came out as gay and other believers express concerns.

It would seem that while we’re all using the same roadmap, what it tells us is radically different depending on who we are. Taken to an extreme, we can get caught up in revising our understanding of the Bible to the point where we believe we can “reinvent” or “overrule” what it says for the sake of adapting to the current cultural context.

Where does that leave us as travelers on a journey? Are we “lost on the road with no signposts,” or are we making up the road and the signposts as we go along?

143 days.