Beautiful Tapestry of Scripture

Of late I have again been struck by the beauty and importance of the WHOLE of scripture. The manner in which all of it ties together and works in concert to paint an amazing picture of redemption evokes from me spontaneous praise. There is no contradiction, there is no confusion – it all has been divinely orchestrated from beginning to end in an effort to communicate salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah! Indeed as Paul said, “When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,”.

God announced His intentions early by saying in Exodus 6:7, “I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” He repeats this phrase throughout the course of Scripture, but Jeremiah 24:7 captures the essence of this idea which is the very heart of God, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God….” Lest we mistake that this was God’s over-arching purpose, He wraps up Scripture by saying in Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”

This was in accordance with “the eternal purpose” (Eph 3:11) that God carried out in Messiah Yeshua, namely the bringing together of one people to be His and to dwell eternally with Him in the world to come. This serves as a thematic framework for the understanding of Scripture that resonates with me powerfully and shapes my understanding of all that I find in God’s Word.

Book Review – 7/20/06

I have been searching for several years for books that dealt fairly and comprehensively with the issue of the separation of church and synagogue. These books qualify for that description.

The late Rabbi Phillip Sigal was ahead of his time in terms of the clarity with which he saw the true origins and essentially Jewish character of early Christianity. He was also uniquely qualified as a master of ancient Jewish writings and an in-depth student of the New Testament. He wrote during the same time as E.P. Sanders’ revolutionary works, but seems to me to be more balanced than was Sanders in his assessment of 2nd Temple Judaism.

I would like to recommend the 3-Volume (4-Book) series: The Emergence of Contemporary Judaism, by Rabbi Phillip Sigal

Volume One: The Foundations of Judaism – from Biblical Origins to the Sixth Century A.D.

Volume One, Part One: From the Origins to the Separation of Christianity

Volume One, Part Two: Rabbinic Judaism

Volume Two: Survey of Judaism – From the 7th to the 17th Centuries

Volume Three: From Medievalism to Proto-Modernity in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Rabbi Sigal also wrote Judaism: The Evolution of a Faith and The Halakah of Jesus of Nazareth According to the Gospel of Matthew, which was actually his dissertation for a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a book I would very much like to get my hands on.

Here are some very short excerpts to give you just a glimpse into the kind of viewpoint backed up by excellent documentation and superior scholarship that you can expect from this series. I only have the 2-part Volume One, by the way, as these are difficult to locate for a reasonable price, so I am making my recommendation on the basis of Volume One, having not read volume 2 or 3.

Christianity arose from the matrix of Judaism. It was a variety of Judaism until the Christians were expelled from the synagogue, probably toward the end of the first century. Theology, however, was not initially a major factor in the separation…. Not even such notions that developed into doctrine as the incarnation of God in human form, need necessarily have resulted in the great schism between Judaism and Christianity….Paul, no more than Jesus, was antithetical to Judaism and neither underwent a break from Judaism. Both taught a form of Judaism which was understandable within the messianic context in which they preached, but was not persuasive to those who did not believe the Messiah had manifested himself. (Pg 377, Chapter 7 – The Watershed, Vol 1, Part 1)

Some scholars take Paul’s primary theological postulate to be “justification by faith” and Judaism’s core concept to be “justification by works,” and assume that the two are in irreconcilable opposition. …Because this is manifestly a misreading of both Paul and Judaism the antithesis falls and so does the idea that Paul and Judaism were antithetical. (Pg 413 – Vol 1, Part 1)

Out of all these views on Paul and his relationship with Palestinian Judaism three positions have been summarized: a) Paul is basically a rabbi (I would say a proto-rabbinic figure) who believed the Messiah had come; …. Of the three I adhere
basically to the first. (Pg 414 – Vol 1, Part 1)

That Paul was a learned Jew is evident in his scriptural quotations throughout the epistles and the manifest rabbinic midrashic style he applies to their interpretation. That Paul might have been a disciple of Gamaliel I as he claims is even given credibility by a scholar who is far from being biased in Paul’s favor. Finally, to set up rabbinic Judaism of the third – fifth centuries as one’s model, and to measure the Paul of the years 32-60 against that in order to declare him a deviant, is not in accord with sound scholarly method in comparative religious history. (Pg 414 – Vol 1, Part 1)

Sigal works very hard to not take the perspective of Orthodox or Reform or Conservative Judaism, but to approach Judaism as the evolution of a faith, and discuss its evolution throughout history. Which is one of the reasons I appreciate him so thoroughly.

First of all understand that I recommend these books for their benefit as it regards the study of history. Correctly understanding that Christianity was first a “variety of Judaism”, as he puts it, and only later developed into something separate and different, Sigal presents a thoroughly researched and uniquely unbiased approach to tracing the separation of the Church from the Synagogue. (no one is totally unbiased, of course, but I appreciate the degree to which Sigal strives for this goal, and the degree to which he achieves it).

The understanding of the facts surrounding our origins can only improve our theology and doctrine. Just as the Church separated from the synagogue, Judaism as it was in Yeshua’s day morphed into something different as well. So present-day Judaism is certainly something separate from present-day Christianity. However, it is important that we understand that both Christianity and Judaism (as we know it today) sprang from the same original fount, but have resulted in two new entities.

Judaism has focused on what was intended to be a preliminary and then complementary issue, and in missing the core has moved away from the original fount. Christianity, in jettisoning one of the complementary (yet crucial) parts, has maintained the core in theory, and struggled desperately to realize it in practice.

Why the Sabbath?

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Jesus is my Sabbath. To me every day is now the Sabbath.” And while not exactly correct, this does reflect part of the truth.

Messiah has rested from His work, and we can rest in our knowledge of having received “at-one-ment” with God.

However, there is more to the story. And, as usual, Scripture repeats itself in themes, and our spiritual heritage pre-figures our future.

The day you recognized your need for a Savior and believed in the Lord, Jesus the Christ, you entered the first fruits of your Sabbath. It was the day you crossed the Jordan River. But, you’ve not yet conquered the Canaanites and occupied the Land. Our final Sabbath day will last for eternity, but does not begin in full until the return of Messiah.

In the meantime, our weekly Sabbath is to memorialize Messiah having parted the waters (atonement), and our having crossed the Jordan (justification). The fact that it ends each sundown reminds us of the ongoing work of exterminating the Canaanites (sanctification). Additionally, we celebrate with hope and heighten our anticipation of the return of Messiah, the perfecting of the work God has begun in us, and the permanent dwelling of God among men (glorification).

Rest Today, Rest Tomorrow

Rest is presented as representative on 3 levels in Scripture. 1) the Promise Land that God led the Israelites too, was their rest, 2) the specific Sabbath day was a day of rest, and 3) of that final, eternal Rest which is the eventual outcome of our salvation.

In Hebrews 4, the writer urges us not to follow the example of disobedience, but rather to be diligent to enter the rest that is available today. What was the example of disobedience the writer urges us not to repeat? The refusal of the Israelites to obey God’s command and enter the Promised Land. (hence, the reference to Joshua in verse 8, and we are told specifically in chapter 3 that this is the disobedience referenced by verse 11.) The author of Hebrews reminds us in verse 9 that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. And he refers both to the weekly Sabbath and to the eternal Sabbath.

When we refuse to enter the weekly rest that God has enjoined upon us, we are re-enacting the Israelites refusal to enter the Land, and directly violating a New Testament command not to follow that example of disobedience. Sure, we can rest every day in the knowledge that Yeshua has finished His work, but when God finished His work (creation), did He start a memorial or end a memorial? Why would we think that God no longer wants us to memorialize His great creative and then great redemptive work–and its finished nature–by ceasing from our labors?

This idea that because we now know more fully (with the benefit of hindsight) what the types and shadows anticipated by the OT are, we no longer need to honor or practice them befuddles me. Yes, they are shadows; shadows cast by the reality, the substance of Messiah. They remain the best picture we have of the eternal future and the truths upon which our participation relies.

I will never forget a story a friend of mine once shared. He went to Wheaton College outside of Chicago, IL and was greatly excited to learn that the Chicago Bulls would be practicing in the Wheaton College gym. He was shocked to discover upon entering that the team of professional basketball players were practicing layup drills, passing drills, etc. All the basics that he practiced in junior high and highschool!

Don’t you see? Just because we are “New Covenant” saints doesn’t mean that we can forsake the instructions of God, the keeping of by which you shall find life. No, they are the expression of a loving God’s heart for his am segullah–treasured possession. God is not capricious, no He is immutable. He would not give legalistic, binding, heavy, unbearable commands to His chosen people! God’s heart for his people (in which we Gentiles are now privileged to be included) has never changed, it has always been passionate and desirous that we might have life abundant!

What was the promise of the New Covenant? That God’s Spirit would write His Torah (instructions) on our hearts! Why? So we could subsequently ignore them? Of course not! “Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.” (Romans 3:31)

What is this “obedience of faith” that Paul speaks of? “For it is not the hearers of the Torah who are just before God, but the doers of the Torah will be justified.” (Romans 2:13) And why will the doers of Torah be justified? Because of their doing? No! Because those who love God, keep His commandments. Those who believe in God, love Him. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Are we made righteous by keeping the commandments of God? Heaven forbid! Once having become part of His covenant people, does God wants us to honor His commandments? Absolutely! “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5)

What does this word “fulfill” mean? Does it mean “made it so that you no longer need to abide by God’s commands?” Of course not! Messiah himself said that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul writes, “Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) When Paul says “fulfillment” does he mean that once having loved our neighbor we no longer need to keep the commandment? No; how silly that would be. That’s right! How silly it is to think that Messiah said, “I did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it.”…”In fact, to fulfill it so much that it is effectively abolished!”

This word “fulfill” (pleroo) means to fill up, like you fill up the hull of a ship, in this case to fill full of significance! So now that we understand so much more, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (oh yeah, that was one of the commands for Sabbath wasn’t it?), rather let us encourage one another all the more toward love (the royal command) and good deeds! And what are good deeds? They’re the practice of God’s commands! There the very things that God fashioned before the creation of the world for us to walk in–for us to do (Eph. 2:10)!

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Not all the feasts of the Lord (note that they are never called “the feast of the Jews”) have been fulfilled, the event which some anticipate still remains unrealized. Let us then celebrate those that have been seen and testified to with joy and great gladness, but let us celebrate those which remain to be fulfilled with great joy and anticipation! Let us be “diligent to enter that rest”, to physically keep the Sabbath in celebration and anticipation of that final, joyous, everlasting Sabbath, when God will return to be our God and us to be His people, when God will finally dwell among men forever and ever.

Some might say, but “Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Torah, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” (Gal. 3:13) Well, of course He did! He redeemed us from the curse that was written in the Law, from the condemnation of the Law, that stood as witness testifying to our sin (lawlessness). Is the Torah itself a curse? Absolutely not! “So then, the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.” (Romans 7:12) One is only under a curse, if one looks to the keeping of Torah as a means of salvation. If one accepts the gracious gift of God, then one can keep the Torah with glee and gratitude. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10 NASB)

Torah, Tradition & Mezzuzot

The following is written in response to the blog of Boaz Michael, which I highly recommend, by the way). There have been a series of blogs concerning the publishing of an upcoming book on mezuzahs and an effort to procure kosher-certified scrolls to go inside of mezuzahs for your door post. Additionally, Boaz has been engaged in an on-going dialog with Russ Resnick from the UMJC about the place of Torah in the life of believers in Yeshua. Resnick and the UMJC think the Torah is for Jews only. Boaz and FFOZ believe the Torah is for all who believe (for all who believe are the sons of Abraham).

All of this is inextricably bound up with the place of tradition. Who defines it, who certifies it, to whom does it belong? Should Gentile-believers in Yeshua keep the Torah? If so, who are the proper authorities for determining what it means to not work on the Sabbath? If we put a mezuzah on our door post, are we beholden to do so in the same manner that orthodox Jews do? Orthodox Jews don’t even believe it is acceptable for a Gentile to keep the Sabbath, but require that if you honor it, that you also break it slightly in some manner.

The following are my thoughts on all this. Some of what I say will only make sense if you’ve read Boaz’ blog and the comments posted there.

I submit to you that the reason the “Sharpie guy” is no longer keeping the commandments is more likely that he had no community joining him in his practice rather than that he was “re-inventing the halachic wheel” or was un-jewish in his praxis.

The key to success is that we agree and have a larger community that agrees (at least more or less) with our halachah, not that we be rabbinically Jewish in our orthopraxy. There is such a fine line between thinking that it would be nice to have a kosher klef and thinking that it’s not ok to write your own. In fact, my guess is that it would be more meaningful and “kavannah-inducing” to labor over your own klef in love, pondering how to evidence your reverence for HaShem and His words, than to pay a steep price for one a sofer penned.

Perhaps we need a “One-Torah” halachah for writing a klef, that might not be a bad idea, but we need to remember that God never specified which of His words to write on our door, nor how to write them—the principle served by creating halachah around this practice is two-fold: 1) to aid in having a proper reverence for Avinu and for His Words, and 2) to aid in forming identity as mitzvoth-keeping, Yeshua-believing, worshippers of God.

We need tradition, indeed tradition is critical to the existence of a community—without it there is no community. However, the most important thing to remember about tradition is that it exists to serve principles, and it must always remain so. Traditions can and most likely should change from generation to generation, but the principles (mitzvoth, ordinances, etc.) remain the same.

In urging an affinity with rabbinic Jewish tradition surrounding how to keep God’s commands, we are one small step away from the UMJC’s mistake of seeking to be recognized as a legitimate Judaism–by Judaisms that reject Yeshua. Whatever their reasons today (which are more than understandable) historically they rejected Him. Jamie Guinn made a phenomenal observation in one of his comments, “They want to connect more fully with “Judaism”, we want to connect more fully with the root of Judaism.”

Why is it not arrogance when a Breslover disagrees in halacha with a Lubavitcher, but it is arrogance when a Messianic forms halacha?

There are plenty of stories of individual observant Jews responding positively to individual Messianics observing various Torah commands (tzitzit, etc.), but there are also cases of individuals having negative responses. The issue is not with the action of the doer, but with the heart of the viewer.

There is a historical reality that we must keep in mind. The goal we are seeking is to return to an authentic representation of Yeshua’s belief system and practice. Rabbinic Judaism is just as different an entity from the religious system practiced by Yeshua as is traditional Christianity. They both formed and defined themselves in opposition to the other, and in opposition to the sect of The Way.

There is just as much danger in appropriating modern Jewish halachah as a sort of default as there is in doing the same thing with evangelical tradition. Not a one of us would consider the latter, why are we so tempted to consider the former?

We were grafted into the root, not into one of its offshoots (rabbinic Judaism). We are seeking to partake of the rich sap from that root, not the fruit that one of its branches (a branch that rejected the historical Messiah…not the a-historical Jesus that Christianity has presented) has produced.

I am the first guy to recommend studying and benefiting from the Talmud and the midrash. It reflects in many ways the cultural milieu that Yeshua and his talmidim were formed and influenced by. Ignoring the ancient Jewish writings is a sure-fire way to misinterpret the 1st century writings of the talmidim.

The approval or understanding of greater Judaism ought not be our concern (at least not a guiding one). They will consider the writing of our own siddur arrogance as well. Is it? No.

Granted, the guy with a sharpie may have chosen unwisely in his attempt to walk out the command. But we need not go the other direction and lay significant value on a kosher klef either. A klef can’t be un-kosher. I must confess mine is kosher…so I’m not arguing against using one. Like Justin said, when it doesn’t violate Torah feel free, but let’s not mistake ‘feel free to use” with “this is the preferred method”.

In my opinion, it would be preferable for FFOZ to produce their own tiny scrolls for mezzuzot in a method involving kavannah, fear of God and respect for His word, then to seek rabbinically kosher one’s. Lest some mistake an effort to procure them (and subsequent premium price) as a need for the approval of those men. What we need as a movement is One-Torah halachah at a high level with local community elders providing specific guidance. Always teaching that tradition exists to potentiate the keeping of commandments as a people/community and serves the principle, rather than the commandments being bound to the tradition.