Tag Archives: tradition

What I Learned in Church Today: The Eisegesis of 1 Timothy 1:8-11

In church today, Pastor Randy preached on Deuteronomy 5 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 but I want to preface this “meditation” by citing some of the notes from the Sunday school class, which taught on Deuteronomy 9.

What can cause us to not give God credit for our successes and blessings? Why is it important for us also to “remember and never forget” (citing Deut. 9:4-7) what God has done for us “in Christ”?

The obvious answer to that first question is “pride” and that plays into the next classroom question.

Have you or I been a source of frustration to someone in leadership responsibility over us? Give examples of our acts or omissions that make their job more difficult.

For me, the answer is “Well, yes, of course” and my examples would be most of my conversations with Pastor Randy over various theological issues, principally the issue of the continuation of the Jewish obligation to the Torah commandments.

Now I have to be very careful. Before the beginning of class, the teacher was telling me what a challenge putting together this week’s lesson was and later during class, he said that he prepares a full two-page lesson outline so we’ll have to study for several days before class and not just whip out our notes the night before.

Except I didn’t think his lesson was particularly challenging and I did complete the worksheet the day before in something under an hour.

To be fair, I have probably spent more time studying the Torah than most of my fellow students so grasping the essentials of the material seems a fairly straightforward affair, at least as my teacher presents them.

And I have to watch out for that “pride” thing. I had to keep stopping myself (my train of thought) in class and remind myself not to be so arrogant, which I’ve written about before. I thought I had successfully re-evaluated my role in church but I still find that I am struggling with some very difficult but very typical attitudes in Christianity.

One last question from Sunday school before I get started on the sermon.

In Deut. Chs. 9 and 10, God answers Moses’ prayer not to destroy the nation. He goes up for a 2nd written copy of the 10 Commandments. How easily do you and I give up on others?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, although Pastor and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much in terms of theology and doctrine, I have a great deal of respect for him as a person, a scholar, and a Pastor. When he preaches, I usually am frantically taking notes and writing commentary and critique on the various points he makes, but this was the first time when, after he said something quite specific, I almost stood up and walked out in mid-sermon.

But let me back up a bit.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Pastor is taking several weeks to lay the foundation for a series on the Ten Commandments and his assertion that these specific commandments are universal, timeless, and apply to all Christians today. He’s lifting just the Ten Commandments out of the Torah and saying they are the only parts of the 613 Commandments that remain in force for the Church (although he has an interesting spin on the commandment to keep the Shabbat), and that the rest of the Law ended with Jesus (Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:19).

All this, I knew and it didn’t surprise me, but when he left Deuteronomy 5 and moved on to 1 Timothy 1, I was in for a surprise. I suppose I should insert the specific text for reference. Actually, it’s a little more than just verses eight through eleven.

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

1 Timothy 1:3-11 (NASB)

Talmud StudySo the issue, as I’m reading it, was that Paul was relating to Timothy how in Ephesus some men were teaching “strange doctrines” that had to do with “myths” and “endless genealogies” and giving rise to “mere speculation”. Apparently, these guys wanted to be “teachers of the Law” but according to Paul, they didn’t know what they were talking about.

It would seem to indicate that these men weren’t Jewish since it would be fairly likely that Jewish teachers would have some idea of how to teach the relevant essentials of the Law (Torah) to newly minted Gentile disciples of the Master. I suppose the “endless genealogies” could be indicative of Judaism since we find numerous genealogies in the Torah and later, when the Apostolic Scriptures were canonized, we find that the genealogy of Jesus (Yeshua) is included and considered important in establishing his credentials as Messiah. But I hardly think that Paul would consider anything related to the Torah, including Jewish commentary on the scriptures, would qualify as “myth”. This is more reminiscent of how I have experienced, at different times over the past ten years or so, some non-Jewish teachers have rendered their interpretations of the Torah, and more than a few theories have been rather fanciful.

So what “strange doctrines” were the fellows Paul describes trying to pass off on the disciples in Ephesus?

In verse eight, Paul says that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” but while Pastor acknowledged the wordplay in Greek (“Law”, “lawfully”), he chose to translate the latter word as “properly”. Toward the end of his sermon, in his notes, he asked “What is the improper use of the law?”

One of the misuses, according to Pastor, is following speculations, controversies, and myths rather than “sound doctrine”. So who is engaging in these speculations, controversies and myths?

Although it would have been impossible for Paul to have meant this, Pastor is applying this “misuse of the Law” to Rabbinic Judaism with all their “man-made rules” (which most Rabbis consider the interpretation of the various mitzvot and their application across history and the differing requirements and circumstances that arise). He also cited the teachings of Seventh-Day Adventism as distracting from the doctrine that one is saved only through faith in Christ.

And then he mentioned Messianic Judaism as “speculative” and “controversial” with their proposition that a Jew can have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and still realize that the Sinai Covenant and its conditions, the statutes and laws of the Torah, remain obligatory for Jewish Jesus-believers.

I know all of the areas that Pastor and I disagree upon, but this is the first time, especially publicly, that he directly hammered on the theological and doctrinal platform which is the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.

Imagine being a Seventh-Day Adventist and listening to this part of the sermon. How would you feel? Or at different times, Pastor or others in the church have taken exception to Pentecostals, Catholics, and Mormons. Imagine being a member of one of those denominations or orientations and being a guest in Pastor’s church to listen to such sermons and teachings.

Like I said, my first impulse was to stand up and walk out. My second impulse was to wait until the sermon was over and then leave, skipping Sunday school.

I thought better of both actions and when I’m caught off guard, it’s usually a bad idea for me to go with the first thought that pops into my head.

So I’m writing about it instead.

I used the word Eisegesis in the title of this blog post, which is basically reading your theology and doctrine into the Biblical text, as opposed to Exegesis which is reading the Biblical text and allowing it to develop your theology and doctrine, and I never thought I’d say something like this about Randy.

Although we disagree on many things, I know that he’s an intelligent, well-educated and well-read, thoughtful, and honest researcher. I know, like most of us, that he comes from a particular theological tradition and that perspective colors how he reads the Bible. My perspective equally colors my interpretation of the Bible, and I don’t believe any human being can be perfectly objective, especially in the realm of religion.

However, I do believe that my theology is driven by a more straightforward view of what the Bible says and treats all of scripture as a single, unified document which doesn’t require suddenly “jumping the tracks” from one major version of God’s redemptive plan to another at Acts 2. But to equate Paul’s comments on speculations, controversies, and myths specifically to variants on religious Judaism, as well as a Christian denomination that is generally accepted by most other mainstream Christian denomination, is pure opinion and cannot be reasonably derived from the text.

rabbis-talmud-debateI know that even Christians who say they love Jewish people and Israel, draw the line at Judaism as a religion, generally expressing at least some disdain at what is considered “the traditions of men” (and remember, it wasn’t that long ago in Church history when we were burning volumes of Talmud and calling said-volumes “obscene”), but I know that the “love” many Christians say they have for the Jews, once you throw religious Judaism into the mix, has a severe limitation.

I suppose this is just my opinion, but what if when Messiah returns, the way we will be worshiping and studying will be more like a Judaism than a Christianity? After all, “ekklesia” doesn’t mean “church”. I’ve written before that the word “church” didn’t come into existence for many centuries after the Bible was canonized.

Pastor himself said assembled Israel was referred to in Biblical Hebrew as “kahal” which is (interestingly enough) translated in the Septuagint as “synagogue”. The Apostolic Scriptures use the word “ekklesia” and they all (more or less) mean a gathering of people for a specific purpose.

I think it’s a shame that all English Bibles translate the word “ekklesia” as “church” not only because it’s anachronistic (although referring to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 5 as “synagogue” is as well) but because it sends the message that the Jews as Jews are out of the picture and replaced by Gentile (and Jewish) Christians.

Now to his credit, Pastor spent a significant amount of time saying that all of God’s promises to the Jewish people in the Bible are true and, if they aren’t, then we (Gentile) Christians have no assurance that God’s promises to us aren’t true as well (although all of God’s covenant promises are made with the House of Judah and the House of Israel…and only His covenant with Noah involves the rest of humanity…we’re just grafted into the blessings of the New Covenant).

But how can God’s promises to Israel all still be true if virtually all the conditions of the Sinai Covenant expired when Jesus died on the cross (something God never mentioned even once when He made the Sinai Covenant)? How can God’s promise that the Aaronic priesthood is an eternal covenant (Numbers 18:7) if, as Pastor says, the Priesthood of Melchizedek replaces the Aaronic? The Prophet Ezekiel says in no uncertain terms that the sons of Zadok, who are from the sons of Levi, will be the priests in the future Temple that will be built in Messianic times (Ezekiel 40:45-46).

It would be impossible for all of the Torah precepts except for the Ten Commandments to have ended permanently “at the cross.” If that were true, the Levitical priests in Ezekiel’s Temple wouldn’t know what to do with themselves since their duties are described down to the last detail only in the Torah.

That’s also why, when the New Covenant fully emerges into our world in Messianic Days, the Torah must continue as the conditions of that covenant, even as they remain the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, which is still incumbant on the Jewish people (including Messianic Jewish people) today.

Maybe in a later blog post, I’ll insert the diagram Pastor put in his sermon notes, which map the Ten Commandments to 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and which supposedly serve as proof of Pastor’s assertion that only the Ten Commandments survive out of the full body of laws given at Sinai. It is (again, this is all my opinion) wildly speculative to somehow read this portion of 1 Timothy and believe this is what Paul was presenting, rather than the Apostle writing to address a situational problem occurring at that point of time within the ekklesia at Ephesus.

Although his comments on Messianic Judaism were the real “capper” for me, I was still astonished with him explaining that the two greatest commandments we see Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:34-40 were “proof” that Jesus said only the Ten Commandments apply in Christianity (nevermind that Jesus was still alive so the Law hadn’t been “nailed to the cross” with him yet, that he was a Torah observant Jew, and that with rare exception, all of the people he spoke with and taught were Torah observant Jews) because the Ten Commandments can be divided into those laws that relate to God and man and those laws that relate to men and other men.

And yet, all of the 613 mitzvot can be divided into those two general groups, so Matthew 22:34-40 is not a good proof text to support Pastor’s assertion.

I know Pastor is well-educated in theology and I’m just an interested amateur, but I feel like I could walk through the gaping holes he left in his presentation.

I’m sorry, I really am. I know I’m probably going off half-cocked and I’m trying really hard not to let my feeling like my tail has been stepped on overwhelm my good sense, but it just seems fantastic to me that Pastor’s read on the Ten Commandments and especially his opinion on Messianic Judaism being a controversy and even a myth isn’t a projection of Christian traditions being read back into the Bible in order to support what he considers “sound doctrine”. It’s more like a defense against the idea that God really did make permanent covenants and that His promises actually do endure just as God uttered them and had recorded in the Bible. Pastor admits that the Jewish people will always be a nation before God, but he’s missing just how they’re supposed to remain recognizably and “covenantally” Jewish.

I inserted my Sunday school class notes above in part because they included a suggestion that disagreeing with church leadership is a bad thing. Am I being disobedient and prideful by disagreeing, especially so strongly, with the Pastor’s teachings? Is this my pride talking or am I allowed to have my own theological opinions independent of what’s being taught? God did make Randy the head Pastor of this church. He has authority over everyone who chooses to attend. Who am I to argue?

I stopped referring to Randy “my Pastor” when he called me on the fact that I disagree with him on almost everything. But why is it only “sound doctrine” when it’s stuff that he teaches based on the particular model of theology to which he subscribes? More than ever, I’m convinced that the Church teaches on principles that more resemble sound tradition. What one considers “sound” simply depends on what Christian traditions are employed to interpret scripture.

ChurchI don’t want to be prideful, disobedient, and arrogant, thinking I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Believe me, I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But what am I supposed to do, especially now, when I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner?

I used to worry that I’d never make any sort of impact in this church environment but now I’m worried I am making an impact, a bad one. If this is the result of my discussions about Torah and the Jewish people with Pastor in specific and with others more generally, then what a terrible thing I’ve done.

Oh, and yes, I plan to go back to church next week if for no other reason than because Pastor said that today’s and next week’s sermons are necessary to understand the foundation he’s putting down. He’ll be speaking on Galatians 3 next week. Oy.

Addendum: Continued in The Consequences of Disagreeing.

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Does the Church Interpret the Bible Based on Traditions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.C. Sproul
R.C. Sproul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sukkot Season of Joy

have-sukkah-will-travelSeven days shall you dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:42) … and you shall only be rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man’s temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah – the symbol of our temporary stay on earth – is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall …

… try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 15”
Aish.com

I have to admit that at this time of year, sometimes I envy Jewish people. The traditions surrounding the celebration of Sukkot are so rich and full of life. Sure, I can build a sukkah and I can observe, to some degree, the same traditions, but I wonder what it must be like to have a life-long experience of such celebrations. What memories do Jewish people have of childhood, eating in a sukkah each year, “partying” with relatives and friends, singing, dancing, rejoicing?

I’ve come to the party far too late and worse, I was too late to bring my children. If I had been more timely, perhaps, my son would build a sukkah for his wife and child each year. Face it, in terms of traditions and spiritual depth, Sukkot has got Christmas beat all hollow.

I recently came across a Facebook page called Jewish People Around the World. The stories and photos of Sukkot observance are just fabulous. Certainly if, as Rabbi Twerski says, the Torah teaches us to enjoy life, then Sukkot is one of the crowning jewels of that Torah sentiment.

Rabbi Twerski also said this:

God wants us to enjoy worldly goods, but to do so in a manner that befits a spiritual people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Sukkot_Priestly_BlessingSukkot, for all its focus on being a “season of joy” does not focus on just the individual seeking his or her own joy as another of Rabbi Twerski’s commentaries notes:

Rabbi Mordechai of Nesh’chiz looked forward all year to the mitzvah of the Four Species on Succos. Since a fine esrog was costly and Rabbi Mordechai was hardly a man of means, he would accumulate small coins all year round, even depriving himself of food, in order to be able to afford an esrog.

A few days before Succos, Rabbi Mordechai joyfully took the money he had saved, and in high spirits, went off to buy the coveted esrog. On the way, he encountered a man sitting at the side of the road, weeping bitterly. He inquired as to the reason for the man’s grief, and the latter told him, “Woe is to me! I earn my living with my horse and wagon, and this morning my nag died. How am I to feed my wife and children?”

“How much do you need to buy another horse?” Rabbi Mordechai asked.

The sum that the man specified was exactly the amount that Rabbi Mordechai had laboriously saved all year long for the esrog. Without giving it another thought, he gave his purse to the man. “Here, my dear man. Go buy yourself a horse’

After the man joyfully left with the money, Rabbi Mordechai said, “Oh well. All of Israel will be fulfilling the mitzvah of the Four Species with an esrog, but I will do so with a horse.”

Rabbi Mordechai’s sacrifice of his personal comfort all year round teaches us how precious is the mitzvah of the Four Species, but his final act teaches us that the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) is even greater.

Today I shall…

… try to realize the greatness of the commandment of charity, to make certain that another person has the means to survive.

I mentioned Christmas before, which I suppose is the closest thing in Christian tradition to Sukkot (apart from Thanksgiving, which strictly speaking, isn’t a “Christian” holiday). I think for some Christians, teaching charity and giving is the focus of that holiday, but for most people, including most Christians, all attention is drawn on buying and consuming material goods for their own sake and for ours, not for the sake of other people.

Also, as we read in the first quote from Rabbi Twerski, Sukkot teaches us the difference between temporal, material values and those for the sake of Heaven, and yet even eternal values are celebrated with the joys of our material world. Our mortal life is much like living in a sukkah, while what is beyond can be compared to basking in the glory of God on His Throne.

If it comes down to experiencing our own joy and providing joy to others in material ways that summon the eternal, I say, is it too much to ask for both?

Love and Commentary

praying_jewFrom where do we learn from the Torah that changing one’s clothes is a sign of respect?

-Shabbos 114a

The verse from Yeshaya 58:13 was already expounded to teach, among other things, that one’s Shabbos clothes should not be like one’s weekday garments (113a). Nevertheless, Rabbi Yochanan is quoted trying to show that this concept is indicated not only from a verse in the prophets, but that it is also rooted in the Torah. Ben Ish Chai explains that based upon this verse from the Torah, there is a practical difference which can be derived regarding the need to wear special clothing on Shabbos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Suiting up for Shabbos”
Commentary on Shabbos 114a

I’ve been pondering a few things lately regarding Judaism and particularly the Messianic sect of Judaism which recognizes Yeshua (Jesus) as the Moshiach (Christ). There are many things about Judaism that I find beautiful and I find myself sometimes drawn to those traditions. In the days when I used to worship on Shabbos and pray while wearing a tallit gadol, there was a “specialness” about it I can’t articulate. Weekday mornings when I would pray shacharit while wearing a tallit and laying tefillin had a texture and a quality about them that I can’t describe. The blessings I recited from the Siddur (which are taken from Hosea 2:21-22 in the Tanakh or verses 19-20 in Christian Bibles) when donning the arm tallit, invoked a particular unity between me and my God that I think Christians miss some of the time.

I will betroth you to Me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with kindness, and with mercy; and I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you will know Hashem.

Hosea 2:21-22 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Christians sometimes criticize Jews for all their “man-made traditions” but there is a certain beauty in how observant Jews even prepare themselves for encountering God in prayer. After all, if you were summoned to appear before an earthly ruler, such as a King or President, you would certainly prepare yourself, including dressing for the occasion. Why shouldn’t the same be true if we are summoned to appear before the Ultimate King: God? And after all, Jews are indeed commanded to wear tzitzit (Deuteronomy 22:12) and to, in some sense, wear the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:8).

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (JPS Tanakh)

But as my conversation with Pastor Randy reminded me the other day, there are also commandments and rulings that are beyond my comprehension.

All holy writings may be saved from a fire.

-Shabbos 115a

Perek teaches the laws of saving items from being burned in a fire on Shabbos. On the one hand, our sages realized that if a person is given an unlimited license to save everything he can possibly grab, the person would invariably be driven to try to extinguish the flames, which is a Torah violation… This is why the halachah put a finite limit on what a person is allowed to salvage from a fire. Once this quota of clothing and food is met, the person may not remove anything more from the burning building, even if the particular situation allows the time and conditions to retrieve more.

On the other hand, our sages were lenient to allow saving holy scrolls from a burning building. It is permitted to remove a Torah scroll, for example, to a domain which is normally rabbinically restricted. This is the topic which the first Mishnah discusses.

It is interesting to note that the sages put limits on a person regarding his property pulled from a fire in a building, whereas in other cases we find the opposite. If a person is traveling up to the last minute before Shabbos, and he fails to make it to the city, what should he do with the valuables he is carrying? The Gemara (153a) rules that a Jew in this predicament may instruct a gentile who may be traveling with him to bring the items into the city for him. This is normally a violation of “amira l’nochri – telling a non-Jew to do a melachah for a Jew on Shabbos”, but in this case our sages allowed it, being that they felt that if the Jew would have no recourse, he
might carry the items into the city himself. The Rishonim deal with this apparent inconsistent approach of the halachah to a Jewish person who is faced with a risk to his property. In the case of a fire we limit him although he is not doing any melachah, but when carrying into the city as Shabbos begins, we are lenient.

PogromFor a Christian, the problems being posed here and their solutions do not appear on our “radar screens,” so to speak. It’s as if a difficulty was made up for the sake of proposing a solution. Yes, the Jewish people are commanded to observe the Shabbat and to keep it Holy (see Exodus 20:8, Exodus 31:15-17, and Deuteronomy 5:12), but all of the Rabbinic rulings that go along with these commandments are enormously complex, at least to me. How can one even begin to observe Shabbos and remember each and every condition and circumstance that could possibly apply in a flawless manner?

But then again, I don’t live in the Orthodox Jewish space, so what do I know?

(I should say at this point that being married to a Jewish wife does give me an insight that a Christian who is not intermarried lacks, but on the other hand, my wife is the first one to say that she’s hardly Orthodox)

I can only imagine that there are many, many Jews who are Shomer Shabbos. I know that after the local Chabad Rebbetzin gave birth to her youngest child on a Friday night, her husband, the Rabbi, walked from the hospital to the synagogue in the middle of the night (since it was Shabbos and he was forbidden to drive or to even accept a ride from another) so that he could be at shul to lead Shabbat services Saturday morning.

I can’t imagine a Pastor ever being in a similar situation and from a Christian’s point of view, even if we had such a restriction, it is very likely that we would depend on the grace of Jesus and under unusual circumstances, overlook the commandment by allowing ourselves to drive or, in the case of a fire, retrieve any of our property we could lay our hands on before the fire could get to it (or to even put out the fire if we could).

Do we admire such dedication to the commandments of God as they are understood in religious Judaism or do we consider observant Jewish people to be bound and gagged by the letter of the Law and also by the commentary on the letter of the Law?

That’s a tough one. Even if we in the church disagree with how Jews choose to obey God, it’s their choice, not ours.

But if those Jews are also Messianic, should we look at the mitzvot any differently? Should we allow ourselves to judge others because they are Jewish and they choose to live a religious Jewish lifestyle?

I’m in no position to do any such thing, but it does bring forth interesting questions. There is not always a single tradition in religious Judaism as to how to perform the mitzvot because there isn’t a single Judaism. Further, there isn’t always agreement between the ancient or modern sages as to how to perform certain of the mitzvot, and so one much choose which tradition to follow, usually based on which Judaism you are operating within.

But those are human choices not necessarily the will of God, unless we want to consider that God is “OK” with all of the variants on Rabbinic teachings, and that is a big “if.”

Setting that aside for a moment, another problem presents itself, but it too is a man-made problem.

I was recently criticized on another person’s blog about the questions I was bringing up as a result of last Wednesday evening’s conversation with Pastor Randy, but the criticism wasn’t coming from anyone Jewish. There is a certain corner of Christianity that believes we Christians are identical to the Jewish people once we come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, at least as far as the mitzvot are concerned…well, sort of. It’s complicated, but the core of their argument is that there is such a thing as a perfect Christianity/Judaism that can be divined solely from the Bible, and that it is possible to practice this very particular form of religion without any (or any excessive) human-created interpretation and set of attendant traditions, and using more than a little theological sleight of hand to “prove” their position.

What’s really interesting is that my critic and his friends who have commented on the matter, didn’t seem to actually read what I’d written. I was asking questions, not making pronouncements, and yet they were actively condemning my “conclusions.” The one thing I can say with certainty though, is that I see no directive for modern Christians to mimic modern Jewish religious behavior in an attempt to worship as if we are in one of Paul’s first century churches or synagogues.

I’m not here to criticize Jewish people or Jewish religious observance. I don’t have the right or the necessary qualifications to render a definitive commentary, only the drive to share my questions and thoughts on the matter, such as they are. I’m not even really criticizing how other Christians choose to view their religious obligations to God, except to the degree that they attempt to impose their personal viewpoints on other Christians and on observant Jews.

To the best of my understanding (and I’m attempting to improve my understanding all of the time), no human being has the ability to perfectly obey God in every single detail, regardless of the religious tradition to which they belong. This was probably as true in the days of Moses, Solomon, and Elijah, as it was true in the days of Jesus and Paul, as indeed, it is true today.

studying_tanakh_messiahPastor Randy suggested a very straightforward method of studying the Bible based on the three steps of observation, interpretation, and application. That requires some fluency in Biblical Hebrew and Greek, and lacking much ability in that linguistic arena, I’m already handicapped. This is why I speak with teachers who I respect to discuss and debate them on their insights. This is why I have so many questions.

But in the end, the advice of another friend of mine must be at the heart of every question and lay the foundation for every answer. In the end, and in the beginning, we should not seek out Judaism or Christianity, but only an encounter with God. This is something that not only are we all capable of, regardless of who we are, but in fact, it is something that we are all commanded to do, because it is God’s greatest desire.

“What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”

-Shabbos 31a

Yeshua answered him, the first of all the mitzvot is: “Hear, O Yisra’el! HaShem is our God; HaShem is one. Love HaShem, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your knowledge, and with all of your strength.” This is the first mitzvah. Now the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” There is no mitzvah greater than these.

Mark 12:29-31 (DHE Gospels)

Love God and seek Him and, if you do love God, seek out your fellows and love them, too.

28 Days: Trying to Get Used to Church

mfbc

Boy, you miss one day of church and you certainly hear about it.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I was surprised to find that people actually noticed I wasn’t in church last week. It caught me a bit off guard.

Today (as I write this), we had a guest speaker who delivered the “sermon,” the combined adult Sunday school class teaching and, if I’d have stayed, more teaching during and after a pot luck lunch (I knew nothing about this which is what I get for missing a week of church): James W. Rickard. I guess he does the taxes for a lot of the Pastors across the Northwest. Since my wife is so good managing finances, nothing he said came as a huge shock (credit card debt is bad) but I stayed for the “Sunday school” portion of his talk, just to see what he’d say.

This meant that Pastor didn’t give his sermon on Acts this week and of course, we didn’t meet in Charlie’s class to discuss Pastor’s sermon. And I had my brand new, ESV Study Bible with me and everything (because the battery in my Kindle Fire went toes up…replacement Kindle Fire will be shipped out soon).

Doug, the Music Director, who is over-the-top cheery and expressive at 9:30 in the morning, pointed out that the Christmas decorations are up in the church (I honestly hadn’t noticed until that moment) and one of the hymns he lead us in this morning (again, as I write this) was “Joy to the World.” Yes, I sang my first Christmas Carole in many, many years in church this morning. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, I haven’t gotten to the point where I have to tell anyone at church that I don’t celebrate Christmas, so we’ll see how that goes.

I don’t really have a focus for today’s “morning meditation” slash “report on church.” I was just thinking though that it didn’t feel quite so strange this time. Almost exactly in between the end of service and the beginning of Jim Rickard’s class, my wife phoned me. She thought I was home and wanted me to look at the shopping list she’d left behind. I mentioned that I was in church (and listening to my voice say that out loud was an interesting experience). She quickly apologized and told me to have fun.

Did I have fun?

Not exactly.

I did sign up to participate in the church’s “challenge” to read the Bible through in one year or less (not like I haven’t done that before). That’s actually not much of a chore since I read the traditional Torah and haftarah readings each week, plus the traditional Psalm, a portion of the Gospel, and several of the Proverbs each Shabbat. I’ll just add a little more each day.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

Consider this.

I bought a brand new Bible. I signed up for a church “activity.” People at church noticed that I had been absent last week. I can feel myself becoming more committed, bit by bit to going to this church. So far, my offerings when they pass around the plate (it still blows my mind that giving money is actually part of the religious service) have been cash, but I guess I should start making more formal arrangements if I’m going to continue attending. Am I starting to get used to the “church culture?”

Well, maybe a little bit. I’m choosing to redefine Christmas as a cultural event and a church tradition to make it easier to absorb when I attend services this month (though now that I think about it, I’m surprised Rickard didn’t mention Christmas and credit card debt in his teachings this morning…they seem like a natural fit).

kosher-foodsBut I still can’t get away from how much more integrated Judaism is (or can be) in terms of a relationship with God, as the Aish Ask the Rabbi column testifies in answering the question, “Why Keep Kosher?”

It is good that you are grappling with this and trying to acquire your Judaism as your own.

The ultimate answer to your question is “because God said so.” Beyond this, however, there are practical, observable benefits to keeping kosher today:

1) Spirituality: The Torah teaches that non-kosher food has a negative effect on a Jewish soul. The soul is like an antenna that picks up waves of spiritual energy. Eating non-kosher food damages the capacity of the soul to “connect spiritually.”

2) Self Growth: If you can be disciplined in what and when you eat, it follows that you can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait between milk and meat, and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you’re hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline, and enables us to elevate our spiritual side, by making conscious choices over animal urges.

3) Health Reasons: With its extra supervision, kosher food is perceived as being healthier and cleaner. After slaughter, animals are checked for abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Blood – a medium for the growth of bacteria – is drained. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters and crabs have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction). Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body. And of course, pigs can carry trichinosis.

4) Moral Lessons: We are taught not to be cruel – even to animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and we “don’t boil a kid (goat) in its mother’s milk.” We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain. And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

5) Tradition: One of the keys to making a Jewish home “Jewish” is the observance of keeping kosher. When we keep kosher in the home, our attachment to Judaism and the sacrifices that we make become ingrained on our children’s minds forever. And with food so often the focus of social events, keeping kosher provides a built-in hedge against assimilation. For many, the bridge between past and future is the spiritual aroma of a kosher kitchen.

Ultimately, we cannot fathom the full depth of “Why keep kosher.” For as the saying goes, there is more to keeping kosher than meets the palate…

christian-coffee-cultureHere you have the Rabbi responding to a query delivered by a young Jewish fellow who had just left home and was struggling with how or if to create a Jewish home for himself. For Jews, being Jewish isn’t just something you do on one day a week, it’s what defines you in every aspect of your life, including eating. Technically, being Christian should also define you in every aspect of your life, but because being a Christian is a religious identity and does not also define a nation, a people group, and arguably, an ethnicity (that last one is complicated), it’s easier to compartmentalize the Christian part of a person’s life from everything else.

Actually, it was Rickard who said that Christians must not compartmentalize their (our) lives but that we must be Christians in every aspect of what we say, do, and think. Of course, Rickard was raised in a Christian home, “confessed Christ” when he was eight years old (I can only assume he reaffirmed his commitment as he got older and understood the adult ramifications of a Christian faith and life), was married as a Christian, established a Christian marriage, raised Christian children, and has Christian grandchildren. Sure, his focus in teaching was being Christian in terms of managing finances, but that covers a great deal of just plain living.

Although not nearly as formally defined as it is in Judaism, Protestantism does have its cultural and traditional aspects (and as I mentioned before, Christmas is a major cultural tradition in the church) and since I’m trying to make this commitment, I suppose I’d better “hunker down” and get comfortable (or as comfortable as I can be) with the idea.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with calling a voluntary financial gift to the Pastoral staff a “love offering.”

Yeah, I’m rambling. I guess as with everything else, the story is to be continued.

Learning the Traditions of Our Fathers

Talmudic Rabbis“We keep the customs of our forefathers.”

Shabbos 35b

The Gemara here notes that we keep the customs of our forefathers, even when the rationale behind the custom no longer applies. One such custom is the recitation of Kedushah in U’va LeTzion. Why do we repeat Kedushah if it has already been recited during Birkas Kri’as Shema and Chazaras HaShatz?

The origin of this recitation is recorded in Shibolei HaLeket (ch. 44). There was a time when the gentiles banned the Jews from reciting Kedushah and would send a representative to sit in shul through Chazaras HaShatz to guarantee that it was not recited. Once Chazaras HaShatz was completed, the representative felt confident that his job was finished and he would leave. Only later, when the gentiles left, were the Jews able to say Kedushah. They therefore inserted Kedushah into U’va Letzion, in Hebrew and Aramiac, to replace the two times they were not able to say Kedushah, in Birkas Kri’as Shema and Chazaras HaShatz. Although we are now able to say Kedushah without fear of being harmed by gentiles, we continue to recite Kedushah in U’va Letzion based upon the principle of “Minhag Avoseinu Biyadeinu” — “The custom of our forefathers remains in our hands.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Keeping the customs of our fathers”
Commentary on Shabbos 35b

All denominations or sects of Christianity of which I’m aware have a problem with the relationship between religious Judaism and its traditions and customs. As we see from a Christian point of view, the function of traditions in Judaism seems to exceed what we would consider practical utility and common sense. Certainly all cultures and groups engage in various traditions and as such, there’s no problem in this, but why participate in a custom or tradition that has outlived its usefulness and may well (though not in this case) contradict the Word of God?

Christianity, and particularly the Protestant church, sees itself as relying solely on the Word of God as we have it in the Bible without the “traditions of men” getting in the way (Sola scriptura), while we tend to see Judaism as relying primarily on their traditions (which we see growing and growing, even when some of them have outlived their original purpose) as equal or even superior in authority to what God has said to Israel. But does that really reflect the reality of what we do (and you probably know where I’m going with this)?

To define sola scriptura without academic terminology might sound something like this: The Bible is the only authority in the believer’s life; it is never wrong about anything; it touches on every aspect of life; it needs no outside help to be correctly interpreted; it never disagrees with itself; it can be understood by anyone of average intelligence; and it applies to everyone in every situation.

I only use the example of translations to illustrate the fact that in a very practical sense, the Scriptures in their original languages are, for most Christians, not enough – tools such as translations, concordances, the Masoretic vowel points, and commentaries are required in order to understand the text. Of course, the goal is to understand the original text, which in itself is not an objection to the doctrine of sola scriptura – until one realizes that every translation, every commentary, and even the textual tradition itself are all based on traditions along with the divine written revelation. It is simply impossible to get away from these traditions and study the Bible in isolation.

-Jacob Fronczak
“The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura”
Messiah Journal, Issue 111 (pp 47, 52)

If you read my recent blog post, Chayei Sarah: Oil for the Lamp, you recognize the quotes from Pastor Fronczak. You also remember the meaning behind those words: that Catholic and Protestant Christianity does not understand what the Bible is saying apart from our own traditions. That is to say, no one of us has raw, unfiltered, unmediated, uncommentaried access to anything the Bible is telling us. We all read the Bible while wearing the moral and intellectual equivalent of “rose-colored glasses.”

Not only do we find that we must accept the wisdom of the “traditions of the Christian elders,” but we must also accept the wisdom of the “traditions of the Jewish elders.” Why?

Consider the Old Testament. About two-thirds of the Christian Bible is made up of the Old Testament. Who wrote the Old Testament? Jews (It’s important to realize that Jews also wrote the New Testament, but that’s a discussion for another time).

The organization of books, chapters, verses, and insertion of vowels and punctuation all come from Jewish sources, and have been altered very little if at all by Christian translators in most cases. Without realizing it, the vast majority of Christians, when reading nearly any part of the Old Testament, are tacitly accepting Jewish tradition in how it is translated and presented to us.

Right now, you might be saying, “So what. I still believe the Bible is the highest written authority and no Rabbi, Pastor, or scholar is going to have an opinion or judgment that overrides scripture.” Well, that’s not exactly true.

Translating dead languages (ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are all dead languages and only somewhat associated with the modern-day “living” counterparts) into the land of the living so that English speakers (for example) can read the Bible is no small thing and it’s hardly an exact science. The art of Biblical analysis and translation is highly specialized and it’s not a matter of simply saying, Word A in Hebrew means word B in English.

Even with the Masoretic traditions, though, many English readings of the Scripture can be divined from a single Hebrew text. Translation committees have to pick one. Many times readings are chosen to emphasize some Messianic prophecy which appears to point to Jesus Christ, while a Jewish translation committee might choose a different readings for the exact opposite reason. Both readings might be technically correct. However doctrinal presuppositions dictate which reading is chosen. In effect, then, when Christians have only an English Bible and no other tools, they are completely unable to interact with the Scripture – the original Greek and Hebrew texts. They are completely dependent on the work of the translator.

-Fronczak (pg 52)

Let’s go through that again. Two separate translations of the Hebrew (or Greek) text can both be technically correct, but actually render opposite meanings, depending on the doctrinal presuppositions of the translation committees involved.

I’d love to just copy and paste the entire text of Fronczak’s article into this blog post because I think every Christian (and Jew) should read it, but that’s highly impractical. You’ll just have to purchase a copy of Messiah Journal to read all of his write up (and even if you disagree with Fronczak, you’ll still have to read the complete content in order to craft a rebuttal that contains any validity at all).

But beyond apparently trying to shoot down the doctrine of sola scriptura, why am I bothering to write this and why should you care?

The vast majority of Christians do not interact with the rabbinic tradition at all. As a consequence, it is poorly understood and even attacked. Modern Jews have not forgotten the Christians who burned copies of the Talmud in Europe. Even many in the Hebrew roots movement disparage the teachings of the rabbis and ancient sages, without realizing that in many ways, we rely on these very teachings in order to interpret the Bible.

First Fruits of Zion has been vehemently attacked for this very reason – we rely on rabbinic traditions and other extra-biblical literature to illuminate and explain the text of the Scripture. Like any reputable translation committee or research institution would do, we consider a lot of evidence before coming to a conclusion on what a Bible passage means. Unfortunately, people who do not understand the importance and usefulness of this literature continue to disparage the ministry of First Fruits of Zion, even though they, as explained above, are equally reliant on traditions and extra-biblical evidence for their own interpretations of the Scripture. The continuing attacks on traditional Jewish literature such as the Talmud and Zohar betray anti-Judaic and perhaps even an anti-Semitic spirit on the part of many of our detractors.

-Fronczak (pg 53)

The focus of my point for this blog post and for the existence of my blog in general, overlaps Fronczak’s and First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) message, but my overall scope is beyond the confines of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots (and all of the variants those two groups contain). This is a message that should concern every Christian and every church, regardless of denomination or affiliation. We all share a common Bible (relative to translation), a common Jesus, and a common God. The origin of the core faith in Christ of the church can be traced directly back to ancient Israel and the Second Temple period, and the origin of everything Jesus taught as we have it recorded in the New Testament, every bit of it, travels deeply back into the Old Testament, to David, to Moses, to Jacob, Issac, and Abraham, and indeed, back to before Adam and the creation of the world by God. Not one word of what Jesus said wasn’t Jewish, nor was any of it disconnected from the Jewish reality of the Bible.

Add to that the fact that we in the church rely just as much on our traditions (and some Jewish traditions) to understand all of what God is saying, and we have a very poor case for tearing apart Jewish reliance upon tradition to understand themselves and God.

It is really, really important to view the struggle of Christianity trying to comprehend Judaism as not a specialized or niche perspective or movement. It’s not just for those few people who are affiliated with those entities we call “Messianic Judaism” or “Hebrew Roots.” This is the struggle, the mission, the challenge for everyone who calls themselves a Christian.

If the church has any hope of understanding itself, it (we) must come to terms with not only where we came from, but the people and nation God granted the ability to give us life in Him, the Jews. We cannot afford to keep living in an isolated silo pretending that those connections are forever severed or relating to our “Jewish roots” as if the last 2,000 years of Jewish and Christian history, culture, custom, and tradition simply never happened.

Not long ago, I wrote another blog post called Intersection. There are a small group of Christians and Jews who are approaching a point of intersection where we going to realize we are, in some mysterious or even mystic way, interdependent on one another for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (which has nothing to do with “going to Heaven” and everything to do with enacting and progressing God’s plan for humanity on Earth). What may now appear as minority religious groups, variant Christian and Jewish sects, and even (Heaven forbid) cults, may well actually be part of the resurgence, the restoration, and the re-establishment of God’s intentions and design for His people Israel and the other nations of the Earth.

I believe when those Jewish and Christian people arrive at the intersection, this will happen.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah 8:20-23

No, I don’t believe Christians will be turned into Jews or Jews will be turned into Christians (and a Jew being Messianic is not the same as being “Christian” as we comprehend the concepts and lifestyles), but we will all flow to “the mountain of the house of the Lord” and the people of many nations will 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 his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (see Micah 4:1-2)

Many Christians, including those in the Hebrew Roots movement, are fond of quoting from Ephesians 2 (particularly verse 15) and saying that differences and distinctions between Jews and Christians were all obliterated (along with the Torah, Talmud, shabbat, Passover, and anything even remotely referring to a Jewish identity and life) in Christ, “nailed to the cross,” so to speak.

And yet the unity that we see described in Zechariah 8 and Micah 4 requires no melding into uniformity between Gentile and Jew in order to achieve the prophesied unity between Israel and the nations. What is required is a sense of humility and recognition, the humility to “take hold” of the tzitzit on the tallit of a Jew, and to ask him to guide us to the mountain of the house of the Lord, the holy Temple in Jerusalem (which apparently will exist again) so that even we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah King may be taught his ways and walk in his paths. (Zechariah 8:23 “says take hold of the robe of a Jew.” Is that any Jew or only one, the firstborn son of Israel…Moshiach?)

We’re all doing our best right now to do that; to walk in his paths. But we can do better. We must do better. Let us hurry to the intersection and meet together, Christian and Jew, we who share the Messiah and honor the One God. Time is short. There’s a lot of work to be done, starting with learning how to listen to one another, and comprehend the wisdom of the customs of our fathers, both the Jewish and Christian fathers.