Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Gospel According to the Inner Circle: Chronology

So far, this series has covered Yochanan's introductory description of Yeshua, His Being, and His Mission. Now, let's take a moment and look at how these two Gospel accounts (and by extension, the other two Synoptics) fit together. Much of the composition of this chronology is thanks to Holding's article on the subject.

It is altogether appropriate that any reconciliation of the Gospel accounts begin with Yochanan's introduction, which describes Yeshua's origin (if we can use that term of an Eternal Being) "in the beginning." However, we soon arrive at Yochanan HaTivlei (John the Baptist) describing seeing the Spirit descending on Yeshua as a dove, which is certainly a flashback to His Mikveh (immersion, baptism) as described in Mark 1. This begins the carefully placed time markers which describe the intricate interplay between the two, as Yochanan the Apostle seeks to fill in the gaps in Kefa's narrative (as delivered to us by Mark).

In the following timeline, I'm concentrating primarily on the actions, not the discourses, of Yeshua. This is in no small part because Yeshua, like any traveling preacher, reused His teachings and parables repeatedly, making the issue of when they were "really" delivered a moot point. I'll also leave aside the matter of the birth narratives, which are easily reconciled to each other and which I'll probably comment on closer to Sukkot.

It should also be noted that not all of the Gospel accounts are written in chronological order. While Luke claims to write an "orderly" (that is, in order, chronological) account (1:3), Matthew arranged his material largely by subject, and we are told by Papias regarding Mark's Gospel account:
Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. (quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, ch. 39)
Therefore, where Mark or Matthew's apparent chronology seems to contradict that of the other Gospel accounts, I'll tend to favor Luke and John. For example, Mark reports Yeshua's first exorcism after the calling of Kefa, Andrew, Yochanan, and Ya'akov (James), while Luke states that the exorcism happened first, so we'll follow Luke's chronology, since he was more concerned with the "when." For that reason, and because most of the material added by Matthew is in the form of discourses, we won't be referencing the book of Matthew all that much.

A rough chronology may be developed as follows. My apologies in advance; this is going to be a rather long post.
  • Introduction of the Word and Light of God (John 1:1-14)
  • Yochanan begins preaching in the wilderness (Mark 1:2-8, John 1:15-18)
  • Yeshua's Mikveh, or baptism (Mark 1:9-11)
  • Yeshua's forty days of temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13)
  • First meetings
  • Some time later, the priests and Levites come to question Yochanan, who tells them he is neither the Messiah, nor Eliyahu (Elijah, John 1:19-28).
  • The day after the inquiry, Yeshua returns to the Jordan, where He is identified as the Messiah by Yochanan to two of his disciples, one of whom is Andrew, Kefa's brother. They stay and converse with Him overnight, after which Andrew introduces Kefa to Yeshua (John 1:35-42).
  • The day after that, the four travel to Galilee, where Yeshua calls Philip, who makes introductions with Nathaniel (John 1:43-51).
  • The wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)
  • A relatively brief stay in Capernaum (John 2:12)
  • The first Passover. Yeshua clears the Temple for the first time and is challenged by the Judean leadership. The midnight meeting with Nicodemus. (John 2:13-3:21)
  • Yeshua remains in Judea for a time, with His talmidim (disciples) immersing alongside Yochanan's, causing some jealously among the latter which Yochanan has to rebuke. (John 3:22-36)
  • As a result, Yeshua leaves Judea and passes through Samaria to get back to Galilee, meeting the woman at the well. (John 4:1-43)
  • After delaying with them for two days, He passes through Nazareth and is nearly thrown from a cliff when He declares Himself to be the fulfillment of prophecy (Luke 4:16-30, John 1:44).
  • At about this time, Yochanan is arrested (Mark 1:14-15).
  • Yeshua returns to Cana, where a nobleman asks Him to heal his son, which He does. This, according to the account, is Yeshua's second miracle. (John 1:46-54)
  • The calling of the fishers of men
  • Yeshua goes to Capernaum, where He begins His ministry of healing and casting out demons, including the man in the synagogue and Kefa's mother-in-law (Luke 4:31-44, Mark 1:23-34).
  • As a result, Yeshua has to use Kefa's fishing boat as a floating stage to address the crowds. The miracle of the fish and the calling of Kefa, Andrew, Yochanan, and Ya'akov. (Luke 5:1-12, Mark 1:16-22)
  • The Galilean ministry (Mark 1:39-6:6), which includes:
  • The Twelve are appointed. (Mark 3:13-20)
  • Yeshua is rejected by the P'rushim (Pharisees) and begins teaching only in parables (Mark 3:22-4:34)
  • Calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41)
  • Casting out Legion (Mark 5:1-20)
  • Healing the woman with the issue of blood and raising a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:21-43)
  • After this, Yeshua sends out the Twelve to operate on their own for a time (Mark 6:1-30).
  • While they are gone, He Himself goes up to Jerusalem for an unnamed Feastday and heals a paralytic on the Sabbath, defending His right to do so against the Pharisees (John 5).
  • The second Passover (John 6:4):
  • The Twelve regather and report their success, and Yeshua takes them across the Sea of Galilee to try to find a quiet place to rest. However, a crowd of 5,000 men followed them, prompting the first feeding miracle (Mark 6:31-44, John 6:1-15).
  • Yeshua walks on the sea (Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21).
  • Yeshua calls Himself the Bread of Life, possibly coinciding with the Feast of Matzah (Unleavened Bread, John 6:22-71).
  • A brief stay at Gennesaret (Mark 6:53-56)
  • The Second Galilean Ministry (John 7:1, Mark 6:56-9:50), which include:
  • The disputes with the Pharisees over halacha (how to apply Torah; Mark 7:1-23)
  • Yeshua and His talmidim withdraw to the border of Tyre and Sidon, where a Gentile woman asks for healing for her daughter (Mark 7:24-30).
  • Yeshua heals a deaf and dumb man (Mark 7:31-37).
  • The feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-9).
  • The Pharisees ask for a sign, a blind man healed outside Bethsaida (Mark 8:10-26)
  • Kefa's profession of faith (Mark 8:27-33)
  • The Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-13)
  • The Feast of Sukkot (John 7:2-53)
  • Yeshua teaches in the Temple (John 7:14-36)
  • On the last day of the eight-day feast, Yeshua proclaims Himself to be the source of the true living water (John 7:37)
  • Yeshua forgives an adulteress (John 8)
  • Healing a man born blind and subsequent discourse (John 9:1-10:21)
  • Hanukkah (John 10:22-39)
  • Yeshua withdraws to the region of the Jordan (John 10:40)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-53)
  • Yeshua again withdraws to the wilderness, to instruct His talmidim (John 11:54, Mark 9:30-32)
  • The last journey to Jerusalem:
  • Yeshua appoints the Seventy and sends them into Judea to announce His coming (Luke 10:1-24), while remaining in Capernaum (Mark 9:33)
  • Yeshua passes through Judea, teaching and healing, on His way to Jerusalem. (Luke 10:25-19:27, Mark 10)
  • Six days before Passover, Yeshua stays in Bethany. (John 12:1-11)
  • The Triumphal Entry, four days before Pesach, on Nisan 10 (Mark 11:1-11, John 12:12-50). This was probably on the Sabbath.
  • The clearing of the Temple on the following day, followed by two days of being tested by the leaders of Israel in the Temple. (Mark 11:12-44)
  • Yeshua leaves the Temple for the last time after denouncing Israel's leaders (Mat. 23) and delivers the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) two days before Passover (Mark 14:1), or just before evening on Nisan 12.
  • Yeshua is anointed in Bethany at dinner after sundown on the 13th, after which Judas contracts to betray Him. (Mark 14:3-11)
  • The Third Passover:
  • The Last Supper (Mark 14:12-31, John 13-17)
  • Prayer and Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemene (Mark 14:32-52, John 18:1-12)
  • Yeshua's trials before the high priest and Pilate (Mark 14:53-15:15, John 18:12-19:15)
  • The Crucifixion and burial (Mark 15:16-47, John 19:16-42)
  • The Empty Tomb, three days later on a Sunday (Mark 16:1-11, John 20:1-18)
  • Yeshua meets two disciples on the Emmaeus road (Mark 16:12, Luke 24:13-35)
  • He appears to ten of the Eleven for dinner immediately after (John 20:19-23)
  • Eight days later, He appears to the Eleven, now including Toma (Thomas, John 20:24-29, Mark 16:14-18).
  • He appears to the Eleven on the Sea of Galilee (John 21)
  • The Ascension (Mark 16:19-20)
A few things of note: Right off the bat, we find ourselves confronted by the fact that there is no evidence that Yeshua's ministry lasted the traditional 3 1/2 years. There are three Passovers mentioned, which have only two years sandwiched between them. Previous to that, we have a period of (I believe, for reasons I'll get to in forthcoming articles) six months between Yeshua's baptism and the first Passover--during which, we see, He was rather quiet. He gathered only a few disciples and performed only a single miracle, and that under duress, as it were. It isn't until after Yochanan's arrest that Yeshua begins a ministry of miracles.

Why then do so many believe that Yeshua's ministry lasted a full year longer? The traditional view apparently came out of an erroneous interpretation of Daniel's prophecy of the Seventy Weeks--though it's surprising that so many Premillennialists have simply subscribed to that view instead of challenging it. It should be noted that the amillennialist view that Yeshua brought an end to sacrifice and offering in the Cross fails on other fronts, which I'll explain in a dedicated article someday--but the fact that the Bible does not give us a long enough ministry is just the final nail in the coffin.

Is it possible that the unnamed feast in John 5 is another Passover, thus giving us 3 1/2 years? If so, then we have a full year of Yeshua's ministry about which absolutely nothing is said. Moreover, the fact that this feast was not named suggests that it was one of the minor feasts, perhaps Hanukkah or Purim.

Is there a significance to the fact that Yeshua's active ministry was about two years long? I believe so. Remember that Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years--but the first two years were spent at Mt. Sinai, during which they were all being taught by God and being given His Torah. The remaining 38 years were a time of testing and punishment for Israel's lack of faith at the end of which the last of the generation that failed to obey passed away. In the same way, for two years Israel was taught by God in the person of the Messiah Yeshua, after which were 38 years of testing and punishment, concluding with the destruction of the generation who rejected Him.

But just as God raised up a new generation of Israelites to follow Y'hoshua (Joshua) into the Land, He is also raising up a new generation of Israelites to follow Y'hoshua (the longer version of Yeshua).


Mark Steyn: The axis of evenhandedness

More Steyn goodness.
"The Jews are a peculiar people," wrote America's great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. "Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem . . . But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab . . . Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world."

That's an interesting question, isn't it? Is it that we hold Israel to a higher standard? Or is rather that in the postmodern era Israel--unlike Canada, Britain, France, New Zealand--is the only western nation that's found itself fighting an existential struggle? Let's take it as read that a lot of folks don't like Jews. The present conflict then is chiefly of significance as a study in whether the least enervated of western nations is capable of seeing off the terrorist proxies of nuclear Islamists. Because, if Israel can't hold off a resurgent Islam, what chance Norway or Belgium?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How NOT To Get a Comment On My Blog

This blog doesn't get many comments--which is fine, since its in no small part a resource for myself and a few of those in my congregation, like the youth group. But there's a reason that I moderate any comments that come in, and that reason is best illustrated by a comment I received last night.

For the record, the B'rit Chadasha Pages are here, first and foremost, to bring glory to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who manifested Himself in the flesh in the Person of Yeshua HaMashiach, who was the perfect sacrifice made in atonement for our sins. Therefore, while I would happily okay a comment that challenges my beliefs on any subject and respond to it (within a limited scope, since this is not primarily an apologetics site), I am most certainly not going to okay a comment that contains links back to a book which I consider blasphemous or which promotes a false messiah!

No, seriously, I'm not promoting your fringe book and/or website. Don't ask.

Secondly, if you're going to challenge my belief in the validity of Torah or even in the Messiah of Israel, don't do it with vague conspiracy theories and hollow calls for me to "keep an open mind." And certainly don't do it with emotional appeals. I build my beliefs on verifiable facts, thank you, not on speculations that require ignoring verifiable facts.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate

Mark Steyn's latest piece isn't optimistic, but it's very, very real. Here are just a couple of excerpts:
None of these pillars of what we used to regard as conventional society is quite as sturdy as it was, and most of them have collapsed. Many mainstream Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political cliches. In this world, if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican vicar in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally-friendly car with an “Arms Are For Hugging” sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.

Yet, if the purpose of the modern church is to be a cutting-edge political pacesetter, it’s Islam that’s doing the better job. It’s easy to look at gold-toothed Punjabi yobs in northern England or Algerian pseudo-rappers in French suburbs and think, oh well, their Muslim identity is clearly pretty residual. But that’s to apply westernized notions of piety. Today the mosque is a meetinghouse, and throughout the west what it meets to discuss is, even when not explicitly jihadist, always political. The mosque or madrassah is not the place to go for spiritual contemplation so much as political motivation. The Muslim identity of those French rioters or English jailbirds may seem spiritually vestigial but it’s politically potent. So, even as a political project, the mainstream Protestant churches are a bust. Pre-modern Islam beats post-modern Christianity. . . .

But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are: i) Demographic decline; ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state; iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

None of these is Islam’s fault. They’re self-inflicted. If you doubt that, forget about fast Islamifying Europe and look at the most geriatric jurisdiction on the planet. In Japan, the rising sun has already passed into the next phase of its long sunset: net population loss. 2005 was the first year since records began in which the country had more deaths than births. Japan offers the chance to observe the demographic death spiral in its purest form. It’s a country with no immigration, no significant minorities and no desire for any: just the Japanese, aging and dwindling. . . .

The advantage Australians and Americans have is that most of the rest of the west is ahead of us: their canoes are already on the brink of the falls. But Australians who want their families to enjoy the blessings of life in a free society should understand that the life we’ve led since 1945 in the western world is very rare in human history. Our children are unlikely to enjoy anything so placid, and may well spend their adult years in an ugly and savage world in which ever more parts of the map fall prey to the reprimitivization that’s afflicted Liberia, Somalia and Bosnia.

If it’s difficult to focus on long-term trends because human life is itself short-term, think short-term: Huge changes are happening now. For states in demographic decline with ever more lavish social programs and ever less civilizational confidence, the question is a simple one: Can they get real? Can they grow up before they grow old? If not, then western civilization will go the way of all others that failed to meet a simple test: as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1870, “Nature has made up her mind that what cannot defend itself shall not be defended.”
On a spiritual note, I'll add that God has made up His mind that those who reject Him shall not be defended either--but those who trust in Him will have the Lord Himself as their shield.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rockets hit Lebanon despite cease-fire

I'm a huge fan of Opinion Journal. They caught this little bit of biased reporting against Israel on their Best of the Web Today column:
Stop Hitting Yourself!
"Rockets Hit Lebanon Despite Cease-Fire" reads an Associated Press headline from yesterday. Oh, those treacherous Zionists, blasting away at Lebanon despite the cease-fire! Well, actually, no. As the second paragraph of the story reports:
Hezbollah guerrillas fired at least 10 Katyusha rockets that landed in southern Lebanon early Tuesday, the Israeli army said, adding that nobody was injured. The army said that none of the rockets, which were fired over a two-hour period, had crossed the border and so it had not responded.
This casts the headline in a somewhat different light, no?
Immediately following was this little gem:
Why Not Let Israel Find Them?
"Bush: Hezbollah Lost"--headline, Middle East Online, Aug. 15

A Youth Exodus From Church -- What Are We Doing Wrong?

This is a good and timely (or past-timely) article.

One thing I think the author misses is the necessity for good apologetics teaching. Being able to defend the faith, to articulate why one believes in Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and to be able to demonstrate both to one's self and to others that he or she has not had to check their brains at the church door is more important now than ever: Why Johnny Can't Believe: On the Failure of the Church to Educate.

Part and parcel of this, of course, is educating our kids to know the Bible itself. I can't tell you how many times we reviewed the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the Sermon on the Mount in my youth group as a kid, but we received practically zero instruction on how the whole Bible fit together, what the covenants are and how they related to each other, how the Apostles interpreted the Tanakh (the OT) and its Messianic prophecies, how the Feastdays pointed to the Messiah, etc.

As a result, 2/3rds or more of my "graduating class" fell away from the faith and never came back.

Of course, how can the adults teach the children what they themselves don't know? When I went looking for a new church home some years ago, I found those who taught more than what Hebrews called the "foundation" from which we are to go on to completeness (6:1ff) were few and far between. Indeed, in most churches, you get dirty looks if you ask a question or suggest a subject of study that they don't consider "down to basics."

Frankly, the number of young people falling away should be a massive wake-up call to the adults: We need to give up the "just have faith" aphorisms, give up a little TV time, and study God's Word with the fervor of a person studying the love letters of their dearest, both for our own edification and for the good of our children.

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but just I wanted to rant and get some things off my chest. :-)


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Multiple Fulfillments of Prophecy

Back when I worked for Ravi Zacharias, I spent some time chatting with Paul Copan (yes, yes, forgive the name-dropping) and I asked him where he stood on eschatology. He told me, "You know, Michael, I think that when it's all said and done, we'll find out that all three major positions (i.e., preterism, historicism, and futurism) will have turned out to be correct."

Maybe he was just trying to avoid an argument, but his words struck me as profound. Since studying our Jewish roots, I've become even more convinced of his wisdom.

In the West, we think of time as linear and of prophecy as simple prediction-and-fulfillment. But in the Hebrew and other Ancient Near East cultures, they think of time as circular--not in an ultimate sense, as in Hinduism, but in the sense that things have a tendency to repeat--and of prophecy as the fulfillment of a pattern.

So then, let's consider a prophecy that there should be little debate on, 2 Sa. 7:12-16:
And when thy [David's] days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be My son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But My mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.
So, does this prophecy refer to Solomon, or to the Messiah? The answer is both.

Solomon followed his father David, built a house for YHVH's Name, and God established his kingdom. When he committed idolatry, God punished him "with the rod of men"--specifically, the sword of Hadad the Edomite (1 Ki. 11:14) and Jeroboam the son of Nebat (v. 26). But God did not take Israel from him as He did Saul, but waited until Solomon had passed and his son had taken the throne, and even then He took away only the northern kingdom (vv. 11-13). And so David's line continued on the throne.

Yeshua also followed His father David. He is building a spiritual house for YHVH's Name in the Church (1 Pt. 2:5) and will also build a physical Temple for the Millennium (Ezk. 40-48). While He never committed iniquity Himself, He became sin for us so that by His stripes, administered by the rod of men, we could be healed. And though the Father's mercy departed from Him for a brief time as He hung on the Cross, it did not depart forever as it did from Saul, nor was the Kingdom taken from Him--on the contrary, by His eternal life, the throne of David is forever secure.

Examples abound: Isaiah prophecy of a child whose birth would be a sign of YHVH's fidelity to the house of David (Isa. 7:14ff) was fulfilled both in the near term by the prophet's own son, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (ch. 8), but it also looked forward to the birth of the Messiah, who fulfilled the prophecy in even more literal detail (e.g., being born of a virgin, being called "God With Us") and went on to fulfill parts of the prophecy that Maher did not (chapters 9-12, which should not be removed from the stream of though begun in chapter 7).

Prophecy may even refer to past events which prefigure future ones. We are all familiar with prophetic types, as when Abraham "sacrificed" his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, or Joseph was sold by his brothers as dead only to be made king over them. Or consider Matityahu's (Mathew's) use of Hos. 11:1 in Mat. 2:15. Consider the prophecy in context:
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
Was Matityahu wrong to quote this as a Messianic prophecy, as Jewish anti-missionaries claim? Or did he perhaps engage in a legitimate bit of "newspaper exegesis," seeing that the Messiah, just like Israel, had gone down into Egypt for safety in a time of trouble, only to come back out to the Land God had promised Abraham? In doing so, Matityahu shows us the connection between the Messiah and Israel, one that cannot be broken.

In fact, numerous of the Psalms which are quoted in the NT as Messianic prophecy were originally written by David to describe his own situation. In many cases, a highly poetic and allegorical description of David's situation, like Psalm 22, describes the betrayal and crucifixion of Yeshua in excruciating and literal detail.

Therefore, I actually agree with the preterist and historicist that the Olivet Discourse actually do prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I even leave open the possibility that the Apocalypse looked backward (being written over twenty years later) to the Temple's destruction even as it looked forward to the eschaton. I also agree with the historicist that the Revelation has within its scope the last 2000 years of Church history.

Where I disagree with both is that it ends there. Therefore, preterism and historicism are not so much wrong as they are incomplete. The chiefmost gripe I have with each is not in what they assert, but in what they deny: That YHVH has yet a place for "Israel of the flesh" in His plan, despite the evidence of our times and the testimony of Scripture; that He will keep all of His promises to the letter; and that there will indeed be a time of great testing for all of the children of Abraham, both the natural seed and those adopted into the Messiah, before Yeshua's bodily return to physically rule over the earth.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Revelation Was NOT Written Before 70 AD!

This is one of those subjects that comes around every so often in my debates on FR, so I'm just going to post it here so that I can just make a link or copy-and-paste whenever it comes up again.

Early Church tradition overwhelmingly supports that Yochanan (John) was exiled to the quiet, lonely isle of Patmos during the reign of Domitian, which would put the writing of Revelation somewhere between 90 to 96 A.D. The earliest quote verifying the date of the writing of this book comes from Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of Yochanan the Emissary himself. In about 180 A.D., Irenaeus wrote:
We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign. (Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 30.3)
Preterists, whose position requires that Revelation have been written before Jerusalem’s fall in 70 A.D. (for it undeniably claims to speak of events yet future as of its writing), will try to make the case that Irenaeus was actually referring to Yochanan being seen “towards the end of Domitian’s reign” rather than the “apocalyptic vision.” But how many of us would refer to a revered Apostle with the neuter pronoun “that”? The argument that the pronoun was changed in the Latin translation but was correctly preserved in the Greek quote preserved by Eusebius does not hold up, as we'll see in a moment.

Besides which, Irenaeus’ interpretations of Revelation are decidedly consistent with modern premillennialism. Bear in mind that he wrote Against Heresies primarily as an apologetic work. If Revelation were really so manifestly a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, wouldn’t the early Church fathers have recognized it and used it as a part of their witness? Yet history tells us that’s not what happened. Only centuries removed from the event was the “discovery” made of Revelation’s supposed intent to prophesy of Jerusalem’s destruction.

Nor is Irenaeus the only person to comment on the time when this book was written. Eusebius quotes Irenaeus and goes on to cite others that were also exiled during Domitian’s reign in support of Irenaeus’ dating:
And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ. (Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 1; see also Book V, chapter 7).
If Eusebius understood the Apostle to have been exiled during Nero's reign, why exactly would he offer the exile of other Christians during Domitian's reign as proof that "they"--his sources, evidentially not limited to Irenaeus--"indeed, accurately indicated the time"? Is it not more likely that a scribal error, or even an original typo, crept into Eusebius' work than to assume that he himself misunderstood Irenaeus' statement so aggregiously? Moreover, the above testimony is sandwhiched between two other chapters describing Domitian's persecutions, which would be absurd if Eusebius understood Irenaeus to be referring to Yochanan being seen in Domitian's reign after an exile under Nero's.

If only these two fathers recorded Yochanan's exile to have taken place in the 90s, this would be enough to put the nails in preterism's coffin. But they were not alone: Victorinus wrote that “when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian” (Commentary on the Apocalypse, chapter 10.11), in agreement with Jerome (Illustrious Men, chapter 9) and Hippolytus (On the Twelve Apostles). Nor can the case be made that when the early Church fathers spoke of Domitian in regards to the Apocalypse, they really meant to write ”Domitianou,” a title for Nero, as some have tried to claim. Eusebius speaks of both Nero and Domitian in his works, and never once refers to the former emperor by any name other than Nero. If every early Church father stated in no uncertain terms that the book was written in Domitian’s reign, why in the world would we try to date it decades earlier?

Simply arguing that Irenaeus is fallible is barely a fig leaf of a counter-argument, and amounts to begging the question: The only reason to assume that Irenaeus (and Hippolytus, Victorinus, Eusebius, and Jerome) has the dating of the Revelation wrong is the presumption of preterism, which requires an early date.

Now, if there were any competing traditions from the second through fourth centuries, there might be some reason to doubt all of the above fathers. The closest thing one finds to such a competing tradition is found in the intro of the book in the Syriac version, which reads, "The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the island of Patmos, whither he was banished by the Emperor Nero.” However, to cite the Syriac version, you have to ignore the fact that in the original Syriac translation that is dated from the second century, the books of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were not included. The others had been put back in by the fifth or sixth century, but there seems to be some doubt as to whether Revelation was included even then. Indeed, one source states that Revelation “did not appear in the Syriac Testament as late as 1562.” Even if we argue that that date is too late, the fact is that the Syriac version of Revelation’s title was written, at a minimum, four centuries after Yochanan recorded it and is contrary to every other manuscript of the book and the witness of at least five early Church fathers. How exactly is this a point in preterism’s favor?

The fact is that there is really no question about the dating of Revelation except among those who require a certain date in order to make their particular interpretations viable. In this regard, it should be noted that a futurist, premillennial interpretation of Revelation does not depend upon the 90 A.D. dating of the book, and in fact will work perfectly well even given an earlier authorship. That being the case, it should be up to those requiring the earlier date to prove their supposition with clear and decisive evidence.


Is the Church an Enemy of the Gospel For Its Own Sake?

"Paul says in Romans 9:6 that 'they are not all Israel, which are of Israel' and in 11:19 that 'The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.' Therefore, the cut-off branches, the Jews, have no more right to claim to be Israel, as that title has passed to the Church."

That's not an exact quote, but it sums up a typical Replacement argument. However, it misses Sha'ul's point entirely, as can be demonstrated by the closing arguments of this three chapter long section:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, "There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins." As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
(Romans 11:25-29)
Now, if we are to assume that in Sha'ul's theology that "Israel" now means the Church, that would mean that the Church is partially blinded until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, and that the Church is an enemy of the Gospel because of itself. That makes no sense at all. Therefore, it must follow that by "Israel" here, Sha'ul is speaking of the same Israel of which the majority were blinded in vv. 8-10, the same Israel that he starts chapter 9 by describing:
For I could wish that myself were accursed from the Messiah for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Torah, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Messiah came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (vv. 3-5)
It is not we Gentile believers who are beloved of God because of the patriarchs--we are beloved solely because of our adoption in Yeshua--but Israel, who received the covenants that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is Israel who received the Torah, the service of God, and the promises. Sha'ul starts chapters 9-11 by defining Israel in such a way that nobody could mistake him for meaning the Ekklesia, and he ends his argument the same way. How then can some read Romans and suppose that God has forever rejected "Israel according to the flesh"?

Some have tried to get around the conclusion that the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have a special promise that YHVH will fulfill in the future by positing that "all Israel" means instead all of the Jews who join Yeshua's Ekklesia. However, this also fails to explain Sha'ul's final argument. The Apostle, after all, had already acknowledged that there was "at this present time . . . a remnant according to the election of grace" (11:5), and implies that God has always kept and will always keep a remnant of Israel who are faithful to Him despite the lack of faith of the majority (vv. 2-4). So then, if this remnant is the "all Israel" spoken of in v. 29, then Sha'ul, using the future tense, didn't know what he was talking about.

Moreover, we see in v. 12 that "if the fall of them [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?" In other words, though Israel's current blindness was necessary so that the Gospel could spread to the Gentiles, when "all Israel is saved" the "riches" that will come about will be even greater, even comparible to the Resurrection of the dead (v. 15)!

However, we are not to assume that "all Israel" means that every circumcised Jew is automatically saved--that would contradict Sha'ul's clear teaching of chapters 2-3. Rather, "all Israel" should be understood as "Israel as a whole." If I said, "When Yeshua returns, all America will be saved," we wouldn't suppose that to mean everyone born in America since her inception would be retroactively saved, but rather that the nation as a whole at the time of His Coming would be. Likewise Israel.

Sha'ul uses the imagery of an olive tree and her branches. Branches, in Biblical imagery, do not simply denote individuals, but family lines. Thus, the Messiah is repeatedly called the Branch which comes out of David; that is, David's descendant, many times removed. Now, many of these branches were cut off, pruned, because they refused to put their trust in Yeshua HaMashiach. In turn, branches brought from wild trees were grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel. They become part of the tree, nourished by its sap.

Because we are the graftees, Sha'ul warns, "Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee" (v. 18). When the Church boasts against the Jews, we forget that it is not the Ekklesia to whom Israel must be grafted, it is we who must be grafted into Israel through her Messiah.

But those branches which are broken off have not simply been cast away.
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (vv. 23-24)
This is not simply saying that individual Jews who become Christians can be saved. This is saying that the whole nation can in fact be regrafted back into their rightful promises--and in fact, Sha'ul goes on to say that this is not merely a possibility, but a promise!

The problem is not in the claim that the Ekklesia, both Jew and Gentile, belong to Israel. We do, just as the Galatians belonged to Rome. The problem is the claim that we are Israel, to the exclusion of the Jewish people, and that therefore the present Jewish nation by that name has no claim to it.

Next: A Rift in God's Kingdom


Monday, August 07, 2006

The True Jew

"But," objects the Replacement Theologist, "doesn't Paul say, 'For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God'?" (Rom. 2:28-29).

Indeed he does, but you completely take this statement out of context if you think that he's therefore saying that a Gentile Christian is the "real Jew."

In the opening chapters of Romans, Sha'ul is establishing that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (3:23). He starts by demonstrating the sinfulness of the pagan Gentiles (1:18-2:8), then goes on to show that the Jews are also under God's judgment (2:17-3:23). Where the (pagan) Gentiles are condemned because though they have an innate knowledge of God and an innate knowledge of what they consider to be sin when it is committed against them but nevertheless worship the n0-gods and do not repent of what they know to be evil, the Jew is condemned by the Law of the Torah. Both are judged according to the light that God has given them, and both are found wanting.

In 2:17, Sha'ul begins, "Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God . . ." This marks the transition: No longer is Sha'ul establishing the guilt of the Gentile; now he is addressing his own people, warning them that they have no reason to boast. Ergo, when he is addressing the issue of, "Who is a real Jew?" he's not even touching on the issue of the status of Gentile believers!

There is an old Jewish tradition that Abraham will let no circumcised Jew suffer condemnation to Ge'Hinnom (Gehenna, or Hell). Sha'ul here seems to be addressing that tradition. To the Jew that is depending on his circumcision, his Jewishness, and the fact that he knows the Torah to save him, Sha'ul writes, "Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?" (2:21). In other words, do you practice what you preach? "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Torah: but if thou be a breaker of the Torah, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision" (v. 25). In other words, if you go about breaking the Torah, you might as well be a pagan Gentile.

It may be thought that by "circumcision of the heart," Sha'ul is saying that only Christians--or at least only Christian Jews--are real Jews, since the heart is circumcised by the Spirit (v. 29, Col. 2:11). However, this presupposes that circumcision of the heart is a New Covenant concept connected to the giving of the Spirit at Shavuot (Pentecost). Not so--in fact, there are repeated commands in the Tanakh for Israel to circumcise their hearts (Deu. 10:16 & 30:6 and Jer. 4:4). The idiom therefore does not refer to being "born-again in the Spirit" per se--it means to internalize the external rite. A true Jew is not just one who was born to Jewish parents and circumcised on the eighth day, or who just goes through the motions for the sake of appearances. A true Jew is one who lives his Jewishness, keeping God's mitzvot (commandments) and making them a part of himself, doing so not for the praise of men, but for the praise of God. (Sha'ul is employing a pun here, as Y'hudah means "Yah's Praise.")

Therefore, I don't think that Sha'ul was addressing the issue of faith in the Messiah at all, at least not at this point in his letter. Rather, he seems to be addressing the Hellenized Jew, the one assimilated in all but name. He may even be addressing the synagogue-going Jew who just shows up for the sake of community appearances, the praise of men. But he is not, in my mind, addressing the God-fearing, Torah-keeping (albeit imperfectly) Jew who had not yet come to a conclusion about whether the Messiah had truly come.

On the other hand, he certainly was saying that the truest expression of Jewishness was to put one's trust in the Messiah of Israel! He was also issuing a challenge to his brothers of blood to look at those Gentiles who "have not the Torah . . . [but] shew the work of the Torah written in their hearts . . ." (Rom. 2:14, 15). The reference to the Torah being written on their hearts is a clear reference to the fact that these Gentiles were partakers of the New Covenant in the Messiah (cf. Jer. 31:33). He was challenging his people to observe the Gentile believers and see that they did indeed keep the Torah better than many Jews even without formal instruction as evidence of the work of God's Spirit. (Remember that the Jews had been expelled from Rome for a time, leaving the Gentile believers without those from whom they would normally learn the Scriptures from; Acts 18:2.) Where under the Mosaic covenant, men were to carry out the external actions and internalize them, under the New Covenant YHVH puts His Spirit in us to convert us internally first, and then this internal conversion comes out in our actions.

Does this mean, as some claim, that the external rites like Passover, tzitzit, etc. have no value? Hardly. Do we claim that because we have received Yeshua in the Spirit that the Lord's Supper and baptism have no more meaning? "But those aren't rituals, they're sacraments!" Potayto, potahto. A sacrament is just "[a] rite believed to be a means of or visible form of grace" (, and the Catholic Encyclopedia agrees that the rituals of the Torah were "the sacraments of the Mosaic Law." Trying to avoid the fact that even those who most strenuously object to any form of the "ceremonial law" still believe that rituals have their place in the New Covenant by playing word games is a losing proposition. (See Why the New Covenant Doesn't Do Away With the Torah for more on this subject.)

So then, what does this mean for us today?

First, it means that we Gentile Christians can no longer use Romans 2-3 to support Replacement Theology, since Sha'ul is addressing the subject of what makes a Jew, not whether a Gentile should be considered a "true" Jew.

Secondly, we Gentile Messianics should stop fixating on trying to prove that we're "really" Jewish, by bloodline or otherwise. Instead, we should concentrate on showing the evidence of the Spirit in our lives by keeping Torah in such a way that a Sha'ul could point to us for an example. That most especially means loving our Jewish neighbors, whether or not they accept us.

Next: Is the Church an Enemy of the Gospel For its Own Sake?


The Ekklesia and Israel

Recently, I've been shocked by the level of anti-Semitic rhetoric that arose on a Christian thread on FR (since pulled by the mods). One poster, whom I have considered in the past and would like to continue to consider a close friend, went so far as to call the Jews "God-hating" and to say that it was illegal to consider the present-day nation of Israel and Jewish people to be "true" Israel, as that title had supposedly been claimed by the Church.

Just a few days later, during our Beit Midrash ("House of Study," i.e., a Bible study), a dear friend in the congregation got upset when I re-stated my belief that simply following Yeshua HaMashiach and keeping Torah did not by default make those of us born to a Gentile heritage (most definitely including myself) Jews.

Let me deal with both of these errors.

First, it is significant that nowhere in the New Testament, the B'rit Chadasha, does any Apostle call the Gentile believers and members of the Ekklesia, the Church, Jews. There are numerous passages where the Ekklesia as a whole is described in the terms that God used originally of Israel (cf. 1 Pt. 2:9 and Exo. 19:6), and certainly it is the centerpiece of Sha'ul's (Paul's) teaching that Jew and Gentile had been made into one Body, one Congregation, with no division between them, by the blood and Spirit of the Messiah. Many quote the following passage:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Messiah Yeshua.
(Galatians 3:28)
Amen! However, many miss the real point of this passage, claiming that this means that Jewish believers should no longer be distinctly Jewish. Oh really? So, men and women should not longer recognize the differences in the sexes? Homosexuality is now okay, since there is neither male nor female? Of course not! So clearly we recognize distinctions between each of the above groups--Sha'ul's point is that all who are in the Messiah, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or economic status, are equally God's children by virtue of their faith. Elsewhere, he writes,
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
(Romans 3:1-2)
What does he mean by that? I think he means that the Jews were the original recipients of the sacred Scriptures in their own language, idioms, and culture, and therefore have a natural advantage in understanding them. Certainly, we in the Messianic movement have found that when we read the NT with "Jewish eyes," as it were, we find troublesome passages opening up to us. Certainly, a Gentile can learn to do so as well, but we have to make a cultural transition.

But even acknowledging this distinction and advantage, Sha'ul continually championed the rights of Gentile believers to full inclusion into the community without becoming circumcised--that is, formally giving up their Gentile nationality and heritage and becoming fully Jewish. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Co. 7:19), he writes. That is, Jewishness is nothing and Gentileness is nothing--it's whether a person keeps the commandments of God that counts.

This is where I grow frustrated with many Messianics. Messianic Jews--that is, those born and raised Jewish--sometimes look at those of us who are Gentile as outsiders. Now, I understand that many Messianic Jewish synagogues exclude Gentiles to create an atmosphere where non-believing Jews can feel at home. I think that they are wrong to return to the error of the first century which the Apostles struggled to overcome, but I understand their reasoning. By the same token, if Rav Sha'ul writes that keeping the commandments of God is for Jew and Gentile alike, by what reasoning do Jewish believers exclude Gentile believers from Torah-observant congregations? "You have thousands upon thousands of Sunday churches," they say. "Let us have our few synagogues." Sure, but what if I am convicted that I should keep the command of God to observe Shabbat? Should I be excluded from doing so for the sake of putting back up the middle wall of partition between us?

Others of my Messianic brethren, often reacting to the above, become obsessed with proving that they really are Jewish. They delve into genealogies, trying to find some trace of Jewish blood. "I must be Jewish," they say. "Why else would I be drawn to worship in a Jewish manner and keep the Torah?"

Gee, I dunno. Maybe because you are immersed into a Jewish Messiah and grafted into the root of Israel?

I make no pretensions to being Jewish. I was born to Gentile parents. As far as I can tell, neither side of the family has any significant Jewish blood. But I will still keep Torah, because I am saved, and I want to be like my (Jewish) Savior in every way. And if the Apostles were willing to undergo persecution for the sake of the Gentiles, and called them Gentiles without insult, who am I to deny my Gentile heritage?

I am a man of two heritages. I am an American, a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden, who came over on the Mayflower so that they could worship God according to their understanding of the Scriptures. My ancestors based Thanksgiving on Sukkot. They fought a war of independence against Britain. I come from a long line of teachers. But I am also grafted into Israel. Their history is my history, their King my King, their God my God. And though they do not yet see me the same way, I regard all Jews as my brothers and sisters by my adoption by the Messiah of Israel.

And therefore I will defend their honor and persons against all attackers as if that were my own--even when, especially when those attacking them do so from under the Christian banner.

In my next article, I'll deal with some of the objections raised by those who want to claim that the Church is not "the true Israel." Until then,


Next: The True Jew