Tag Archives: theology

The Evidence of Love

love-in-lightsThe Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (NASB)

I would hardly suggest that the commentary I found in an email I received from Chabad.org was intended to map back to the teachings of Yeshua (Jesus), but the comparison really stands out. Perhaps it is one of those lessons that is equally apparent from a Jewish and Christian point of view, except that Jesus was a Jewish teacher talking to a Jewish scribe within a wholly Jewish context. We non-Jews get that point (or should get it) somewhat after the fact, so it would be wise of us not to do away with the Jewish framework in which the Master was teaching. That’s what gives his lessons their full meaning.

The “Today’s Day” commentary is specifically addressing a Jewish audience as well, which is obvious since it discusses one Jew loving another Jew as being equal to loving God, rather than one human being loving another. The interesting question is, when Jesus was teaching the two greatest commandments, did he mean that loving your neighbor is loving your Jewish neighbor?

That could very well have been the case, if you look at who Jesus was addressing and where this conversation was taking place. I don’t mean that Jesus was unconscious of the larger application of his teaching, but it hadn’t gotten that far yet. He came for the lost sheep of Israel not the lost sheep of planet Earth…well, not at that time. He assigned that job (gathering the lost sheep from the nations) to Paul on the road to Damascus some time later.

As impossible as it sounds, as absurd as it may seem: The mandate of darkness is to become light; the mandate of a busy, messy world is to find oneness.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Mandate of Darkness”
Chabad.org

It’s important to remember that Rabbi Freeman is also addressing a Jewish audience, so don’t go crazy and assume he believes that Jews and Gentiles (particularly Christians) should all be “one.” Except that in Judaism, it is believed that Messiah will unite humanity in peace, not as a homogeneous body of human beings, but as Jews and Gentiles who are all subject to the King, who will come (return) and rule with a rod of iron. We will all be “one” in the sense that we will all be subjects of the King.

Even in the Messianic age though, as I understand it, people will still have the choice as to whether or not to acknowledge and obey the King. On the other hand, it does say that every knee shall bow. But there will still be Israel that is blessed by God and the people of the nations who are blessed through Israel; the people of the nations who are called by His Name.

But what is to be learned from this? Not that those of us who put ourselves under the authority of the King will all be cookie-cutter, carbon copies of one another. What is to be learned is that we will love one another and in fact, all disciples of the Master are commanded to love one another right now.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 13:34 (NASB)

arguing-with-godWithin the context of being disciples of Jesus, both Jewish and non-Jewish followers are commanded to love each other, regardless of our differences. That’s a rather tall order. I once heard a retired Pastor say that he’s seen churches split over what color to paint the walls of the Fellowship Hall. We don’t get along easily, let alone love one another. But if the Baal Shem Tov is correct and loving your fellow human being (I’ll adapt his teaching to be more generalized) is equivalent to our inner essence loving God, then the reverse must be true. Hostility, envy, anger, and hatred toward our “neighbor” must also be the expression of those emotions toward God.

That’s a horrible thought.

I don’t know if it’s true or not but if we were to even pretend it is, our motivation to love should become a great deal more plain. If we say we love God with all our heart and with every fiber of our being (most people tend to exaggerate the extent of their ability to love, but let’s say we are capable of this), then the evidence of our statement is how we treat other people, particularly within the community of faith.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:35 (NASB)

See? Love (or lack thereof) of our fellow believer is evidence of whether or not we actually do love God. People will know us as disciples of the Master by how we love each other. God, of course, already knows.

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Jewish Identity in the Way

paul_trebilcoIn recent years a lot of scholarly effort has been given to questions about early Christian “identity,” how early and in what ways early believers in Jesus saw themselves and acted as distinct groups with their own identity. Major research projects continue to be devoted to this sort of question (e.g., the project on Prayer and Early Christian Identity, based in Oslo, with which I’m connected currently).

Paul Trebilco has now published an important study relevant to these questions: Self-designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). His new book comprises a further significant contribution to the study of earliest Christianity. Drawing on observations about how groups develop their own “social dialects” (“in-group” terms and expressions), he focuses on the key terms evidenced in NT writings that appear to have been used to refer to early Jesus-believers, each term given a chapter-length analysis.

-Larry Hurtado
“Trebilco on Early Christian Self-designations”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

This sounds like a fabulous book but even the Kindle version costs over $63.00, so it’s deffo out of my price range. Hurtado is of the belief that Jesus was worshipped as God very early historically so he’s going to likely come down on the side of an early distinctiveness of identity of Christians as apart from Judaism, probably very soon after the ascension of Christ.

This is an important topic for me since in my readings, I regularly find that the early “Jewish Christians” continued to self-identify as Jews and understood “the Way” as a Jewish branch among the other “Judaisms” of their day.

When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Torah (emph. mine).

Acts 21:20 (NRSV)

I deliberately rendered the world “law” as it appears in the NRSV as “Torah” to communicate more how James and the elders in the apostolic council in Jerusalem would have understood the vital concept. There were thousands of Jewish believers in Moshiach who were all zealous for the Torah.

Sounds pretty Jewish to me.

Going back to Hurtado’s blog post, he praises Trebilco, referring to him as “a proven scholar in the field” and citing his earlier, important works.

Hurtado continues:

These terms = “the brothers” (αδελφοι), “the believers”, “the saints” (οι αγιοι), ”the church” (η εκκλησια), “disciples” (μαθηται), “the way” (η οδος), and “Christian” (Χριστιανος). Among his conclusions, he contends that “εκκλησια” originated among “Jewish Christian Hellenists” (“most likely in Jerusalem,” p. 301), but he further argues that this does not mean that they no longer considered themselves also part of the larger Jewish community. He judges the term “Christian” to have originated among outsiders/observers of early Jesus-believers, thereafter appropriated by believers, especially in the later period of persecutions.

As to the larger question about when and how believers saw themselves as a distinct group, Trebilco contends (rightly in my view) that the use of these terms indicates that “they were creating and shaping their identity” already before the time of our earliest texts. This means easily within the first couple of decades after Jesus’ execution. (I’d say likely within the first few months.) Trebilco again: “…these designations also involve the claim of a distinctive identity . . .” (p. 308), “have clear boundary-marking roles,” and “distinguish this new group from other Jews and from Gentiles” (309).

ancient_beit_dinWhat can we make of this? First, that the Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah continued to consider themselves Jews participating in a normative Judaism in their day. However, as “Messianics,” they also understood that their identity was unique and that they were, in some sense, distinct from their Jewish brothers who adhered to other streams of Judaism, because ultimately salvation and the realization of Israel’s redemption and restoration only comes through Messiah.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

Romans 9:2-3 (NRSV)

In stating this, Paul is saying that Jews outside the framework of “the Way” are also outside of salvation, and the anguish at this thought drives Paul to declare he would be willing to be accursed by God and cut off from Messiah if only it would save the Jewish people who do not know Messiah.

But it also continues to establish that the identity of a first century Jewish disciple of Messiah is as a Jew operating within a Jewish religious framework. This is opposed to Paul assuming a non-Jewish identity in a non-Jewish religious movement as many modern Christians currently believe. Being a “Messianic” (Christian) for a Jew was then both an exercise in normative Jewish religious worship and a unique Jewish identity because of adherence to Messiah, the living embodiment of Torah, Israel, and God’s gracious redemption.

The limits of Hurtado’s blog post allows for a minimal exploration of Gentile identity but that’s not my main point at the moment (though I do touch in it below). My primary point is to affirm for my Gentile Christian brothers and sisters, as well as any Jewish readers, that the historic worship of Jesus by Jews is not an aberration within Judaism or an abandonment of Judaism and the Torah. It was and is the highest expression of devotion to God both within the first century context and within what some have called modern “Bilateral Ecclesiology” Messianic Judaism.

It’s important to note though, that at least one Jewish scholar has a different idea as Hurtado points out:

I mean no criticism in saying that this all seems rather obvious to me, but in view of the nature of recent scholarly discussion (e.g., Boyarin’s claim that we don’t have “Christianity” as such before the fourth century CE), I’m very grateful to Trebilco for this fine evidence-based study, which will further confirm his status as a noteworthy figure in NT/Christian Origins.

Without reading “Boyarin’s claim” in full, I have no context upon which to comment, but I would have to guess that Boyarin may be stating that the “Jewishness” of Christianity extended much further forward into history than Hurtado or Trebilco believe. If, based on Trebilco’s book, Hurtado believes that the Christian identity replaced the Jewish identity of Jews in “the Way” in the first century forward, then I’m going to have to strenuously disagree. As long as Jews participated in the worship of Yeshua as Messiah, I can’t see them self-identifying as anything other than Jewish, and certainly I don’t believe they would ever abandon the Torah and a Jewish identity for the sake of Messiah. I say this because it is totally contrary to the Jewish Messiah himself to request that devotion to him should require abandoning the Torah and Israel.

I will split a hair and say that Jewish identity was not imposed on the Gentiles being admitted into the Jewish “Way” (see Acts 15:22-35, Acts 21:25), thus the Gentile “Christians” would have established an identity that, while initially contained within a Jewish religious framework, made them distinct not only from their Jewish mentors relative to Torah-observance, but also distinct from the pagan people and religions in their world.

In addition, we’ve already seen Hurtado quote Trebilco as saying:

“distinguish this new group from other Jews and from Gentiles” (emph. mine)

jewish-davening-by-waterI’m going to argue, based on the above-statement, that the distinctiveness of first century “Messianic Jews” was in relation to the Gentiles in “the Way.” By definition, all Jews were distinct from all Gentiles, so it would be redundant of Trebilco to say that it was “Christian Jewish” identity that distinguished them from pagan Gentiles. It makes more sense for him to make this statement if he is defining a distinctiveness of Jewish identity within “the Way” that identified the Jewish disciples uniquely both within the context of larger Judaism and as compared to believing Gentiles.

Of course, I’d have to read Trebilco’s book to actually confirm this, but what I can gather from Hurtado’s blog post certainly suggests it.

In summary, Gentile Christian identity distinctiveness as a religious stream wholly separate from paganism would have occurred very early, probably within Paul’s lifetime. Jewish discipleship in Messiah would have continued to be Jewish in every sense and yet, would still have distinguished Jewish members of “the Way” from other Jewish streams by virtue of Messianic redemption and the promise of national restoration upon Messiah’s return.

Here then, we see a template for the modern Messianic Jewish movement, a model for how Jews today can view adherence to Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah as truly and completely Jewish, and unlike the vast majority of Christian history otherwise indicates, as a movement which does not require a Jew to abandon Jewish identity or the Torah in order to be a disciple of the Master.

112 days.

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 2

tulipThis is the second part of a rather lengthy two-part blog post on the first two chapters of Dr. Manfred E. Kober’s article “Divine Election or Human Effort,” a paper based on a workshop given by Kober on October 25, 1971 in a faculty meeting at Faith Baptist Bible College, and provided to answer student questions about Arminianism and Calvinism. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this post before proceeding here.

I want to talk a little bit about Calvinism and TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) and to do so, I looked up TULIP on the Calvinist Corner website:

The doctrine of Total Depravity is derived from scriptures that reveal human character: Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and sick Jer. 17:9). Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20). He does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12). He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). He is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15). And, is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist asks the question, “In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” The answer is, “He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.”

When talking about part of this with Pastor Randy, he’s the one who brought up man being created in the Image of God. That means, in some sense, that even though human beings are fallen, there is still something of us that carries a spark of the Divine. Jewish mysticism makes a great deal about these “sparks,” but I won’t open up that topic right now. I do want to say that I don’t believe the “T” in TULIP takes “the Image of God” in man into account. It’s what separates human beings from the rest of creation. Plants and animals behave the way they do because they are responding to their design. While we humans also respond to our design, part of that design is to seek God. Most of the time we fail but the drive to do it is inborn. It’s woven into the fabric of our being. It’s the image of God in man.

God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21).

The “U” in TULIP seems to assume that we live in a “flat” universe where God and man operate on the same level or plane of existence (of course, God being infinitely powerful). It also assumes that God is subject to linear time (note the “look into the future” language above) as Kober states:

These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man.

-Kober, “Chapter 2: The Decrees of God,” pg 7

Kober’s statements are just saturated with references to linear time and causality when I believe it is totally inappropriate to attribute those qualities to God or to believe God is subject to them.

Kober writes that the main point of Calvinism is that God saves sinners. I don’t deny that, but from Kober’s viewpoint, the statement would be better rendered God saved sinners since he did so from before the creation of the earth. There’s no active process, it’s just a “done deal” and was a done deal before we were ever born.

Yet, from a lived human experience here on the ground, people are unsaved, are in the process of approaching a decision for salvation, are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. If Calvin was right, why bother preaching and teaching the word of God. Saved is saved and unsaved is unsaved. It’s already happened. The “decision” of the people involved isn’t even a formality since there’s nothing for them to decide.

It occurred to me that Calvinism also seems to contradict prophesy.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV)

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Joel 2:28-29, 32

Pouring waterOne day everyone will “know God” and the Spirit of the Lord will be poured out upon “all flesh.” Depending on your point of view, either that means all human beings everywhere or all human beings who have turned to God. Either way, these events have yet to occur and are signposts of the Messianic Age. But according to Calvinism, the “elect” already “know God” and those who were not chosen never will.

For that matter, referring back to Jeremiah, why would the prophet write something like “know the Lord” as if it really mattered; as if we really had a choice to know God or not know Him if Calvinism is true? “Knowing the Lord” is totally irrelevant to those who were specifically chosen by God not to know Him. And yet they are horribly and eternally punished for this “non-decision.”

In summarizing Arminianism (page 11), Kober states that the Arminianist position is that “Divine sovereignty is incompatible with free will and therefore God’s sovereignty is limited.” There’s another “either-or” statement. I disagree that God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will are mutually exclusive states. They are from a human standpoint since we are limited in how we can conceptualize this “mystery,” but I don’t doubt that from God’s point of view, there is no dissonance and that He is both sovereign and people also experience choice.

On pages 12 through 14, Kober writes about “The Sequence of the Decrees.” I remember Pastor Randy mentioning that last Wednesday, and I remember objecting to imposing “sequencing” on God because it (again) makes God subject to linear time. It’s funny how all of the linear time and either-or arguments are a human effort at limiting God’s sovereignty over His own existence and experience while we discuss God’s sovereignty over man and salvation.

But as part of this section of his chapter, Kober cites Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1949), pp. 343-344 in describing different variations on Calvinism including Supralapsarian view, Intralapsarian view, Sublapsarian view, and Modified Sublapsarian view. I won’t list all of the points of each perspective, but they illustrate that even within Calvinism, there is a variability about how the “mechanism” of Calvinistic salvation operates. Not all Calvinists everywhere agree on all the details. Does that mean it isn’t all that evident from scripture exactly how God saves?

Calvinists are wrestling with each other over how salvation works but perhaps they’d be better off wrestling with God and living with a particular amount of uncertainty, rather than trying to pin God down, so to speak, so that we can believe we have the last word on the Word of God. MacArthur said the Bible was sufficient, not that it contained literally all the information we desire. I believe God left some stuff out of the Bible. It may not be able to tell us certain things, at least down to the finest details.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

2 Peter 2:1 (NRSV)

Kober quotes this verse on page 16 as he’s describing Biblical support for Modified Calvinism. This is a school of thought that supports all five of the TULIP points except for Limited Atonement, what is considered the weakest link in TULIP’s chain. Apparently, according to this perspective, Christ’s redemption is universal, and Kober says that some people “insist that even Calvin accepted the unlimited theory of the atonement later in life.”

Again, there’s a certain amount of “wiggle room” within the Calvinistic blanket.

I keep thinking about a couple of things.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NRSV)

If the choice were made for the Israelites, then why would God exhort them to “choose life” and to love and obey God and His commandments?

One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.

Luke 5:17-25 (NRSV)

welcome-to-faithJesus saw the faith of the men who brought the paralyzed man to him through the roof. He forgave the man of his sins and then healed him. Was the paralyzed man all part of “the plan,” already saved from before the creation of eternity, paralyzed for the glory of God so he could be forgiven and healed by the Son of Man?

What about this?

Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:21-24 (NRSV)

Did the boy’s father believe or not? Did he have faith or not? Did he progress from a state of unbelief to a state of belief and did Jesus help with that process?

Jesus was often critical of his disciples and others around him having “little faith” as if they had some sort of control of their faith. According to Calvinism, we have no control of our faith. It’s either present or not, like a light switch flipped to either on or off. Yes these passages seem to introduce a set of inconsistencies that question many Calvinistic assumptions.

Kober mentions that the beginning roots of Arminianism and Calvinism stretch all the way back to the fifth, fourth, and even the third centuries C.E. but both Arminius and Calvin lived during the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. James, Peter, Paul and the other apostles were dead for 1600 years by the time these doctrines had been constructed and both theories have experienced modifications and adjustments for the last 400 or so years.

I wonder what Paul would think if he could read the first sixteen pages of Dr. Kober’s article or for that matter, what would he think of the history of the Baptist church and the other denominations of modern Christianity? The theories of Arminius and Calvin are largely based on the Gospels and on Paul’s letters, so I imagine the ancient sage and emissary to the Gentiles might have an opinion or two on this matter.

I’ll continue to read Dr. Kober’s article. I’m sorry if it seems that I’ve been a little rough on him. It’s not my intent and I really don’t feel “hot under the collar” about all this. I just think that all of the arguments pitting Arminianism and Calvinism against each other are making a tragic mistake by assuming that God has to construct spiritual realities the way we write scholarly papers on theology and church doctrine.

The Bible is supposed to be a source of illumination, not a straight-jacket.

Whereas the Greek philosophical way includes defining things and relationships with precision, the Israelite way was to define things with story.

Derek Leman

113 days.

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 1

arminianism-calvinism-debateThe following paper is based on a faculty workshop given by the writer on October 25, 1971, in a faculty meeting at Faith Baptist Bible College. Frequent questions by students in the area of the sovereignty of God have prompted the writer to put his notes into a more permanent form. Although recognizing the differences that exist among evangelicals, the author believes that the position stated herein approximates most closely the Biblical and historical Baptistic view. This paper must not be construed a the official position of the school. However, it is sent forth with the prayer that it might generate more light than heat and be found profitable by the ever inquiring students…

-Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
“Divine Election or Human Effort?”

Pastor Randy gave me a copy of this paper during our Wednesday night talk last week and I’m just now getting into it. I’ve read the first two chapters (17 pages) and can’t restrain my response any longer. I’ll write more as I progress through the 50+ pages of Dr. Kober’s paper and hopefully I too will generate “more light than heat.”

Before proceeding, a few things. First of all, I told Pastor Randy that I tend to think of myself as a “generic Christian with a Jewish twist” rather than align with a particular denomination, Baptist or otherwise. I also believe it’s quite possible to be a perfectly well-functioning Christian without declaring to be an Arminianist or a Calvinist. After all, these are systems constructed by theologians and honed by other theologians over the course of many centuries. Sure, they’re both based on scripture, but they are derived from scripture; interpreted from scripture. That doesn’t mean that either system is presupposed by scripture, let alone God. I could wad up both Arminianism and Calvinism in all their variations like so much waste paper and toss them into the trash can, then move on to other matters. My existence as a disciple of the Jewish Messiah does not hinge on making such a decision. Theologians, teachers, and preachers in a formal Christian sense must come up on one side or another but as a plain old “vanilla” Christian, I don’t.

Now on with the show.

The primary task for a theologian is to interpret God’s Word for man. But interpretation is both an art and a science. This means that any exposition of the Bible is guided by specific rules and checks which guard against personal whims and prejudices of the interpreter. The application of these rules demands the greatest care in judgment that the godly and dedicated interpreter can bring to bear upon the text. In that sense interpretation is an art.

-Kober
“Chapter 1: The Duty of the Theologian,” pg 1

I can grasp the science of Biblical translation and interpretation but we must admit that it is the “art” that makes things elusive and ambiguous on occasion. If theology was an “exact science,” we wouldn’t have so many different ideas about what the Bible means. Or would we? After all, even a hard science such as astronomy contains many varying points of view on phenomena we can observe through the electromagnetic spectrum, and sometimes what we see can surprise us and challenge our long-held positions.

Kober has already somewhat contradicted himself (I’m sure he doesn’t see it quite that way and I am stretching my interpretation of “contradicted” a bit) by saying in the introduction that he’s presenting his material from the “historical Baptistic view” and in Chapter 1, he says that the science of Biblical interpretation follows rules and checks “which guard against personal whims and prejudices.” Maybe those rules and checks guard against the interpreter’s personal bias, but what about the bias built into the “historical Baptist view?”

Which aspect of salvation does God the Holy Spirit accent? Is it God’s sovereignty in salvation or the effort of man?

-Kober, pg 2

I’m crying “foul” here. Kober makes it sound like the question at hand is “Does God save or do people save themselves?” Not being a Calvinist, I can still agree that God and only God saves, but the question is, do human beings have any ownership of the process at all. It is God’s “effort” that saves, all a human being has to do is to effectively surrender to God. Is surrender an “effort?” Why do we have to be so “either-or?”

This is something of a side note, but I couldn’t resist finding the following statement somewhat ironic.

Frequently, one encounters a strangely resigned attitude on the part of believers toward certain areas of God’s truth, especially that of election, such as “Oh, well, we will know it all by and by!” This is true of course. But the point is that God has revealed more about His majestic plan of redemption than Christians sometimes realize.

-Kober, pp 2-3

beth-immanuelGiven the multitude of blog posts I’ve just written giving my own interpretation of how Messianic Judaism understands God’s revelation of His “majestic plan of redemption,” I wonder what Dr. Kober would say to the suggestion that he, like the Christians he references, may be unconscious of certain viewpoints on the redemption and salvation of Israel as well as the people of the nations called by God’s Name as presented from outside his own framework?

But back to the main focus on this “meditation.”

There are two basic ways of approaching the doctrine of salvation. One way is to stress the importance of man and his free will to choose for or against christ; this school of interpretation is called Arminianism, named after James Arminus. The other way of approaching salvation is to stress the importance of God and His sovereign will in bringing men to Himself through Christ; this school of Interpretation is called Calvinism, named for John Calvin. It is unfortunate that one must call himself an Arminian or Calvinist but for theological purposes every Christian is either one or the other.

-Kober
“Chapter 2: The Decrees of God,” pg 4

Is it better to be feared or respected? — I say, is it too much to ask for both?

-Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)
Iron Man (2008)

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Yogi Berra

That’s kind of my resolution to the problem in a nutshell, and it’s way too early to tip my hand, but I’m doing it anyway. I know people reading this blog post will probably classify me as an Arminian because I’m not a huge fan of God running roughshod over humanity, approving this one for salvation and tossing that one into the fires of the damned for all eternity without so much as a by your leave.

On page 4 of the paper, Kober quotes J.I. Packer saying:

The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis but one of content. Once proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself.

Again, I cry foul because Packer, like Kober, is looking at the picture as an “either-or” equation. Either God is supremely sovereign and saves who He wills and condemns who He wills, all outside the awareness let alone the consent of the people involved (you are saved or “unsaved” before you are ever conceived and born and draw your first breath of life according to a Calvinist) or God has handed some sort of authority over to the human who then does the job of saving himself. It’s not that concrete a choice.

I suppose I’ll be busted because I can’t point to a part of the Bible that says “it can be both” but is that entirely true? I’m going to try to find out and then show you some examples but let me introduce something first.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

Genesis 32:24-30 (NRSV)

The name “Israel” can be interpreted a number of ways, but one common meaning is one who struggles with God and prevails (wins). If Jacob struggled with a personified God or an angel of God, logic tells us that a flesh and blood mortal cannot hold his own let alone defeat a supernatural being, particularly if that being is literally the Creator of the Universe or some incarnation of Him.

In some areas of Judaism, it is thought that Jacob’s struggle with God is a picture of how the Jewish people struggle with the difficulties of understanding God’s perfection in an imperfect world. I’ve sat in a local synagogue and listened to the Rabbi disagree with another person’s understanding of God’s sovereignty and say something like “I’m willing to struggle with God on this one.” (not an exact quote)

What if the difficulties we have with the doctrine of salvation are built into the text of the Bible and built into our lives as believers so we can “struggle with God” over them and our relationship with Him? I’m not saying it has to be that way, but it seems like Christians always want definite “either-or” answers to all of the difficult sayings in the Bible, while many religious Jews are willing to live in a state of uncertainty on certain matters, “wrestling with God” over them.

Six million Jews were slaughtered in Hitler’s Holocaust. Many of the Jewish survivors lost their faith and turned their backs on God, and from a human point of view, this is understandable. But many other Jewish survivors found a stronger faith in God as they moved forward with their lives, ultimately raising children and grandchildren with that same abiding faith. How were they able to “wrestle with God” over a seemingly enormous injustice committed or at least allowed by God against His treasured, splendorous people?

Because Arminius was not the systematic theologian that John Calvin was, he did not clearly define his thinking on salvation. As a result, the followers of Arminius distorted his system with views Arminius simply did not hold.

-Kober, pg 5

While this can be taken as a statement of fact regarding the relative backgrounds of Arminius and Calvin, it also reveals (again) the writer’s bias. He is predisposed to select Calvinism over Arminianism, so you could say the paper I’m reading is hardly a balanced and objective examination of the two viewpoints. Nevertheless, I choose to believe that Kober is an honest person who is just trying to “clear the air” about this debate. It doesn’t mean I have to accept the either-or premise of his argument, though.

As I’ve already mentioned, I have a problem with “either-or” and believe that, on some level, the answer can be “both.” While most people may not think of it this way, by “forcing” a decision about God’s thoughts and actions, even based on scripture, we assume that we can know God’s process and intentions to an absolute or at least reasonably knowable and concrete degree, then drag it down from Heaven, so to speak, and into the realm of human understanding at ground level.

It’s almost arrogant to say that the “mechanism” of salvation cannot be mysterious on any level and that we can wholly know all of the little nuts and bolts about how God “does it.” Actually, even the author must admit that we are rather “slippery” on just how many screws God used to put salvation together, and what type of battery he powers the thing with (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course). I’ll get to that tomorrow.

On page six, in describing the “five points of Arminianism,” Kober says, “The faith which God foresaw and…” This wouldn’t be the last time Kober would say or intimate that from the point of creation or before (if “before,” “during,” and “after” have any meaning to God), God looked into the future and saw what was going to happen, like some cheap fortune-teller wielding a crystal ball and some Tarot cards.

New WorldI wrote a response to this idea in relation to Calvinism about a month ago and suggested that God exists outside of time and thus is not subject to its passing as we are. Unlike human beings, God isn’t “trapped” in a little pocket of linear time being carried forward one day at a time whether He wants to be or not. I can’t prove this, but it makes sense (to me anyway) for God to “experience” all of “timespace” as a single instantaneous event, as if everything from the creation of the earth, to Moses parting the Reed sea, to the giving of the Torah at Sinai, to David seeing Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop, to the first birth cries of Mary (Miriam) as Jesus is about to leave her womb, to Jesus breathing his last on the cross, to the first crusade, to the first inquisition, to the first ship to sail to the new world, to the first footstep of man on the moon, as if all those events, and everything else, were happening simultaneously.

God doesn’t “foresee” anything. He just knows because all of Creation from alpha to omega is before Him always. It’s only from our point of view that, when God chooses to touch a specific moment within Creation, we human beings experience God within the context of linear timespace.

Which may be part of the “solution” to the “either-or” problem of God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s free will. Remember, as Kober writes his paper, he’s the observer. His readers are the observers. We are all the observers of God and it’s our point of view we depend upon. We experience choice and free will because that’s what it looks like from down here. We’re powerless to glean even a hint of God’s perspective and who knows what all this looks like as He sits enthroned in the Heavenly Court?

I have no problem with God being ultimately sovereign and at the same time with humanity experiencing a sense of “partnership” with God in the affairs of the world and in the workings of our lives.

This blog post took on a life of its own and I had to split it into two parts. I continue my discussion of Chapter 2 of Dr. Kober’s article in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

114 days.

Squiggle

squiggly-lineAnd the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job 40:1-5

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:13-24

Pastor Randy is back!

It’s only temporary as he’s leading a group on a two-week trip to Israel in the middle of this month (and alas, I won’t be going with them), but we renewed our conversation last Wednesday evening. We spent very little time in Lancaster’s Galatians book, but we did revisit Calvin and his five points, otherwise known as “TULIP:”

  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Oy.

I have to admit, Romans 9:13-24 is a devastating argument and one that I can’t ignore. The last time this came up in our conversations, I blogged about it and came to the uneasy peace that God’s mercy outweighs His justice and He desires that none should die, but all live in Christ.

And even Jesus said that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), which does not seem to mean for God so loved the elect… He loved…loves the world.

But what do I do with all this? I happen to agree that “He who makes the universe makes the rules” and that God is sovereign over all, even when we don’t like how He expresses His ultimate sovereignty over our existence.

If God “pre-chose” who would be saved and who wouldn’t be, who am I to argue?

But one of the things I really like about Judaism is that it’s OK to wrestle with God about the “hard stuff” and not be afraid (though I expect to get banged up in the process).

One theory of “election” is that God already knew before He created the universe who would accept Him in faith and who would not, so the “elect” are simply those who would have chosen God anyway and the “non-elect” are those who, no matter what, would never have accepted God.

eph-2-10-potter-clayBut that’s not how Romans 9:13-24 reads. It reads like God made His decision and, as his creations, as clay jars from the potter’s hands, we have nothing to say about how we are formed, if we are formed “saved” or “doomed.”

On the other hand (I actually argued this last Wednesday), we are all formed in God’s image, which means that everyone has something of the Divine in them/us. We are all searching for God, granted some in pretty malformed ways, but that’s why the very concept of “spirituality” exists in our world.

Pastor Randy didn’t buy it.

But I do remember reading a Rabbinic commentary (I can’t remember where anymore) that said part of being made in God’s image has to do with having a built-in desire to do good as God does good, which may account for both religious people and atheists trying to help our fellow human beings. Even the person who denies the existence of God still is made up of the essence of God, the Divine spark within man.

And free will is one of the effects of being made in God’s image according to the Aish.com Rabbis. But if we are “pre-chosen” since before the creation of the universe and we absolutely cannot lose our salvation as a “pre-chosen” group of people, then free will is an illusion.

Or is it?

I won’t give the details, but Pastor Randy did tell me a story that undercut his own argument. Apparently, he knew a man who was an exceptionally fine Pastor and Christian, a man who served God and man unswervingly for decades, a man who no one doubted was is in God’s hand and that doing the will of God was his only waking thought.

Then he suffered a terrible tragedy, but not one any more difficult than many other Christians. The effect through, was astounding. Again, I won’t paint you the full picture, but this man of God, who even Pastor Randy was convinced was a trustworthy servant of the Most High, did a terrible thing and sinned against not just a few, but ultimately against anyone who had ever believed in him.

Most of the time, if we take a Calvinist point of view, we can look at a “Christian” and realize that they are not really committed to Messiah as shown by their behaviors, their “fruits,” so to speak. Yes, even the best of us struggle with sin, but there’s a difference between that, and remaining captured by the ways of the present world and only paying lip service to God.

The falling of Pastor Randy’s friend was almost literally something that came out of left field, a totally unanticipated event. How could it have possibly happened? Even Pastor Randy is baffled. Either this guy was a world-class actor, or there is something wrong with Calvin’s theory. It could mean that God has allowed some small part of us to be completely outside of His control.

Free will.

fallingBut if God’s plan is absolute, cannot be defeated, and if God Himself can’t be surprised, what do we do with free will and what do we do with election?

We talked about another interesting thing that relates to all of the above: sequencing.

As human beings living in linear time, we understand the world in terms of sequencing. That is, something happens first, then second, then third, and so on.

But as far as I’m concerned, God isn’t subject to linear time. He doesn’t “see into the future” or “look into the past.” He exists outside of creation (although He can intersect it) and is not subject to the rules of our reality. For God, there is no before, during, and after…there is just is.

OK, this is all speculation, but what the heck, I can’t lose anything by giving it a shot.

God decides to create the universe but saying that, it really means that God has already created the universe, God is in the process of creating the universe, and God is about to create the universe, all at once. It also means some interesting things. God gives man free will to choose or not to choose Him but that happens at the same time (everything happens at the same time from God’s point of view) as us making all of the decisions we’re ever going to make from birth to death. Literally, the act of God creating the universe means that He is not just starting the universe and then letting it progress, He’s creating the universe from Big Bang to the last gasp of entropy and everything that occurs in-between in a single, unified act.

Try to get the implications of all this.

It doesn’t mean that God created the universe, and then the earth, and then the garden, and then Adam, and then Eve, and then all the animals, and then watched Adam and Eve sin, and then the fall happened, and then sin entered the world, and then….

It means that God created the universe, sun, moon, stars, earth, garden, humans (all of us), and at the same time, all we humans committed every single event every single living being would ever, ever commit from zero to infinity, all as the same creative act.

Yes, I can’t prove any of it so don’t ask me to try. This is just my imagination shooting off sparks and hoping that some illumination will occur.

But what if it’s true? What would it mean? It would mean that at the instant of creation, predetermination and free will, even seemingly minor and random actions (how dust motes float through the air), all happened in a single instant and as a single action.

It’s only from a human being’s point of view from inside the bubble of creation that concepts like election and free will have any “legs” so to speak. It’s not like God decided who was saved and who wasn’t before they were born, exactly. And it’s not like we have free will to defy God and His plan, exactly. Our decisions from birth to death were all part of the creation process. Yes, we will make, are making, and have made those decisions of our own “free will,” but since our entire lifetimes go “squiggling” across the nearly infinite panorama of cosmic history, we’re all part of the single creative act by God wherein He “created” that history.

It’s terrifically metaphysical and impossible to truly communicate in human language, since we (including me) are all designed to communicate accurately only about the environment contained in God’s creation. “Metacommunication” is practically a “mystic art” since it requires describing the indescribable.

creationThat’s the closest thing I can come up with to explain why God isn’t heartless and cruel (though, as Job 40 and Romans 9 seem to say, I don’t have the right to question…but as Genesis 32 seems to say, I do) and at the same time, feebly try to explain the co-existence of man’s free will and God’s total sovereignty. I know my theory’s got more holes than a golf course, but as I said, it’s the best I can do.

I think God created the universe exercising just slightly more mercy than He did justice, so we’d even have a fighting chance, but given that, at the moment of creation, our lives flashed across history like a hyper-energized photon, so even if creation took any time at all from God’s perspective, within that unimaginably fleeting instant, we made all of the free will decisions we would ever make, and when God declared creation a done deal, so were all our decisions…a lifetime’s worth.

It just seems as if we have future decisions to make from inside linear time.

So God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills. Because His will was, is, and will be the will of Creation and we human beings willed (are willing, are about to will) inside of that creative act.

A lousy theory, I admit. If you’ve got a better one that explains all the facts and still accounts for God’s sovereign will and man’s free will, I’m all ears.

Oh, and if the hard and fast rule of Divine Election turns out to be true, what do we do about Luke 14:15-24?

142 days.

Emor: Being Your Slave What Should I Do?

onfire.jpgAnd G-d said to Moses: … [a Kohen] shall not contaminate himself [through contact with] the dead of his people. Except for his closest kin–his mother, father, son, daughter or brother. Or for his virgin sister… who has not married a man–for her, he should contaminate himself…

But the Kohen Gadol, the greater of his brethren… may not come in contact with any dead; [even] for his father or mother, he may not contaminate himself.

Leviticus 21:1-11

A heretic once asked Rabbi Avahu: “Your G-d is a Kohen; so in what did He immerse Himself after He buried Moses?” Replied Rabbi Avahu: “He immersed in fire.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a

But one thing remains unresolved: surely G-d is no ordinary Kohen, but a Kohen Gadol, whose greater holiness proscribes any exposure to impurity, even for the sake of his closest relatives. How, then, could G-d “contaminate” Himself, even for His “children” or His “sister”?

Put another way: if, in His relationship with us, G-d assumes the role of an ordinary Kohen, whose lesser holiness allows him contact with impurity for the sake of “Israel, His kin,” G-d certainly transcends this role, possessing also the inviolable sanctity of the Kohen Gadol.

“A Pool of Fire”
-Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Chabad.org

I couldn’t help but think, not only of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, but of his role as High Priest in the Court of Heaven. One role seems inconsistent with the other, because how can the High Priest cleanse himself when he has not only touched the dead, but has been the dead person? It’s a mystery I choose not to pursue because, in all likelihood, it cannot be pursued from the mortal realm, but then again, Rabbi Tauber also said this of God as the High Priest:

As “Kohen Gadol,” G-d effects all without being affected, pervading the lowliest tiers of His creation without being tainted by their deficiencies. Yet G-d chooses to also assume the more vulnerable holiness of the divine “ordinary Kohen” (which translates, on the human level, into the ordinary Kohen’s permission to contaminate himself in certain circumstances): to contaminate Himself by His burial of Moses, to suffer along with His people, to bloody Himself in the process of extracting them from exile. He wants us to know that He is not only there with us wherever we are, but that He also subjects Himself to everything that we are subject to.

At the same time, He is also there with us as “Kohen Gadol”: transcending it all, and empowering us to also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.

I know that I’m reading far more into this than Rabbi Tauber would ever have intended, but again, we see Jesus as both mortal man and Divine High Priest of Heaven. As “Kohen Gadol,” the Messiah transcends our world in inviolable sanctity, but as the teacher who walked among his people Israel, he pervaded “the lowliest tiers of His creation without being tainted by their deficiencies.”

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

1 Peter 2:22

Rabbi Tauber also says this, as was quoted above.

…transcending it all, and empowering us to also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.

Jesus lived among human flesh as human flesh and yet did not sin. And he died and was resurrected and in glory, sits at the right hand of the Father. And he is our High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary who never sinned and yet who can sympathize with our human weaknesses.

Shechinah-Above-The-TownAnd if I can borrow from Rabbi Tauber, by Messiah’s holiness and his example to us, we can aspire to become better than who we are, as he has empowered us to “also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.” How like Paul’s comment from 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “we might become the righteousness of God” is the commentary from the Rabbi?

Although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), it is also said, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Thus holiness is something to be acquired by man, not purely through our own efforts but through faith, and yet not only through faith, but through our efforts.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

Jesus the man. Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the Priest. Jesus the Divine. It’s hard to know how to relate to him. Most Christians prefer to address Jesus as a close friend and companion, a “bosom buddy,” even a cuddly comforter. Yet in Revelation 1:17 when John, who had walked with Jesus in this world, saw him in the Heavenly realm, he ” fell at his feet as though dead.”

God is at once Almighty in the ultimate, cosmic, radically One sense, and also close to His people, acting tenderly toward us, as a Father, as a husband, as a brother:

It would therefore follow that G-d, who ascribes to Himself the Halachic status of a Kohen (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a) is precluded by Torah law from “contaminating” Himself through contact with the impurities of mortality. Yet the Torah tells us that G-d Himself buried Moses, and the Talmud discusses how He subsquently purified Himself in a “pool of fire.” Our sages explain: The people of Israel are “G-d’s children”; Moses is thus one of G-d’s “closest kin,” for whom a Kohen is permitted–indeed obligated–to become tameh.

-Tauber

Rabbi Tauber comments from a Talmudic and mystic sense, so we probably can’t directly apply his words to our discussion on Jesus, but his imagery is so wonderfully kind, gentle, and intimate, that it’s difficult to resist such an “inappropriate” application.

For we too have been dead in our sins and yet Jesus cared enough to bury us with him, so to speak, so that we could come alive in the resurrected Christ.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Ephesians 2:1-6

rabbi_wasserman_funeralMetaphorically then, as our Kohen, he “is permitted–indeed obligated–to become tameh” for the sake of his beloved ones.

I know that for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been commenting on the various articles in David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. Messianic Judaism stresses a significant distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Ekklesia of Messiah, but for today’s commentary, I chose to focus on what we have in common. Although Israel was chosen and remains the “apple of God’s eye,” so to speak, I can’t believe that we Gentiles are the proverbial “left-handed, red-headed foster children” of God, and that He merely tolerates us and only truly loves Israel. For the promises of Messiah to be true, we have to be his beloved children as well, so that Jesus was willing, even obligated, to become “tameh” for us as well.

What would I do for the High Priest who considered me as a close member of his family, and who attended to my “body” while I was “dead in sin?” What wouldn’t I do?

I would be willing to take the lowest position in the Kingdom, the moral equivalent of the guy who cleans the toilets or takes the trash out to the dumpster while everyone else is seeking glory, seats at the head of the banquet table, and partying with the Prince in the palace, just so I could be the least of his servants.

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.

-William Shakespeare
Sonnet 57

Good Shabbos.

152 days.