Friday, December 28, 2007

Angels on the Head of a Pin

JERUSALEM - Israeli scientists have inscribed the entire Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible onto a space less than half the size of a grain of sugar.

The nanotechnology experts at the Technion institute in Haifa say the text measures less than 0.01 square inch surface. They chose the Jewish Bible to highlight how vast quantities of information can be stored in minimum amounts of space.

I guess we'll finally be able to answer the age-old question. Just how many angels appear in the Tanakh, anyway?


The Importance of Religion As Well As "Spirituality"

Touchstone has published an interesting article that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, as it punctures a particular conceit on the part of secularists. Some highlights:
A group of prominent social scientists from Princeton, Pennsylvania State, Baylor, and other institutions answered that question at a conference on “Religious Practice and Civic Life: What the Research Says.” The conference, held in Washington, D.C., in late October, was hosted by the Heritage Foundation and their research partners Child Trends and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. . . .

Thus, Smith concludes: “Religious involvement is associated with, and probably promotes, civic engagement. . . . Those participating in a faith community are more likely to vote, belong to voluntary associations, and carry out altruistic acts than the nonreligious.”

The latter claim may seem presumptuous, but according to the 2002–2004 GSS, for every 100 altruistic acts—like giving blood or letting someone ahead of you in the checkout line—performed by nonreligious people, the religious perform 144. . . .

That is not what the data show. For nearly 40 years, psychologists and sociologists have studied the connection between religion and various negative outcomes in adolescents. According to one meta-study (a study of the studies), 97 percent of studies found a negative relationship between religion and sexual activity; 94 percent claimed a negative link between alcohol use and religion; and 87 percent alleged a negative correlation between suicide and religion.

One survey done by the University of Pittsburgh’s John Wallace, Jr., and his colleagues reports that when teenagers are asked whether they have smoked cigarettes, gone on a drinking binge, or smoked marijuana in the last 30 days, weekly-attending religious kids are twice as likely to report not having smoked or drunk heavily and are more than twice as likely to report not having used marijuana.

But religion affects behavior, Wallace maintains, not only at the individual level but also at the community level. The moral community in which students are immersed has an impact above and beyond that of personal religiosity.
Go read the article--and then bring up the actual facts the next time your friends launch on a tirade against "organized religion."


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Article on HebrewRoot

There's a new article on HebrewRoot: Who Has the Authority? Hopefully, it will spark some interesting discussion in the Body of Messiah.


Mixed Traditions

I was recently interviewed by the Gwinnett Daily Post for an article on families with split traditions. Anna was very nice, and the overall direction of the article is correct. There were a couple of quotes that came out awkward (like the one that said that I liked having the synagogue do all the decorating work--that's partially true, but I said it that way as a joke), and I do wish that she had written "Messiah" instead of "Christ," not because Christ is a dirty word, but because the connotation is different.

But it did give me a chance to honor my parents, who have been extremely supportive these last few years in my calling to a Messianic Jewish lifestyle. And it is that theme of honor that I'd like to touch on for a moment.

Messianics often find this time of year difficult. Most of us were raised on Christmas and have family who still celebrate it, but are distinctly uncomfortable with the pagan symbolism that has been carelessly mixed with the theme of the Messiah's birth (mistletoe, yule logs, decorated trees, etc.). How do we associate with our families during these times without feeling like we are betraying our spiritual convictions?

In answer, let us remember two important keys: 1) Yeshua put loving our neighbor (which definitely includes our families) just behind loving God in importance, and 2) the rabbis have always understood the command to honor our parents to reflect an honor of the God who put them over us. They have actually written that it is impossible to do one without the other.

So then, while Christmas no longer has any significance for me, it does for my parents. It is incumbent for me therefore to honor them if not the day. So on Christmas morning, I will be over at their house to exchange gifts (our gift to each other this year is a trip to Israel in April) and to have Christmas dinner together. I will enjoy their love and fellowship, and let them enjoy mine without mocking their dearly-held traditions. Discussions on the scripturalness (or lack thereof) about the holiday can wait for another time.

I'm not saying that we should compromise our beliefs, but that we should let love cover a multitude of sins.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Once and Future Antiochus

Here on the last and most joyous day of Hanukkah it's fitting to look forward as well as back, to the future persecution that the past one prefigures.

When four of His talmidim came to Him to ask about the time of His Second Coming, Yeshua spoke of false messiahs, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, and then of a worldwide persecution of His people. He tells us the event that would spark off this persecution:
Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat. 24:15-22)
Here the Master refers to two key events prophesied by Daniel: The Abomination of Desolation (Dan. 9:27, 11:31) and the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1). The important thing to realize is that the passages in question had already been fulfilled by Antiochus Epimanes.

They had already been fulfilled, and they will be fulfilled again.

The key to Biblical prophecy is to understand that it is about pattern, not just prediction. Recognizing this puts aside the often venomous debates about, for example, whether the Olivet Discourse is a prophecy of the Second Coming or of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The answer, as to the question of whether the Abomination referred to Antiochus or to a future desecration of the Temple, is both.

There is another link between Hanukkah and the End Time Antiochus. Daniel 12:11-12 says, "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!" These two numbers are unique in the prophecies, which usually measure the last period as 3 1/2 "times" (roughly years), 42 months, or 1260 days--thus, the prophecy here speaks of two events 30 days and 75 days after the end of the Seventieth Week.

There is a strong indication in Scripture that the Seventieth Week of Daniel's prophecy will end on Yom Kippur. Hanukkah just so happens to come about 75 days after Yom Kippur. It is no stretch to suppose that just as the Temple was cleansed and rededicated on Hanukkah over two millennia ago, it will be again in a Hanukkah yet to come.

And when that day comes, those who see it will surely be called blessed.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah: Particularly Happy for Messianic Jews

Today marks the first day of Hanukkah, which celebrates the cleansing of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epimanes ("the Madman," a somewhat better title than "Epiphanes," methinks). Though it's not a Biblically mandated Feast, it is mentioned in the New Testament (John 10:22), and since it is not expressly mentioned that Yeshua eschewed it, it's safe to say that He celebrated Hanukkah along with everyone else in Jerusalem.

I've occasionally been challenged for keeping Hanukkah instead of Christmas, usually on the basis that it's purely tradition, having no Biblical mandate. And it's true, there isn't a specific Biblical command, but nevertheless, Hanukkah has become very dear to me.

Why? you ask. Simple: Because it celebrates the successful resistance of the Jews to forced Hellenization. Even though God had not sent a prophet in many years, nevertheless He remembered His covenant with the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and gave them victory against overwhelming odds.

It truly breaks my heart that for so many centuries, the Church actually stood in the place of Antiochus, demanding that Jews who wanted to follow the Jewish Messiah to give up everything Jewish, and become functional Greeks instead. And though at times the persecution of a perverted state-church was nearly unbearable, still my people hung onto their identity and their dedication to the Torah of God.

Ironically, it is only because the Jewish people as a whole rejected this false image of Christ and resisted assimilation that the prophetic Scriptures have not been broken. Later in the week, I'll explain a particular end-time prophecy that actually points to Hanukkah as its fulfillment.

Until then, Happy Hanukkah, and for my Sunday brethren, Merry Christmas.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Response to Rabbi Singer re: Yoma 39b

By Rabbi Gavri’el Moreno-Bryars and Michael Bugg

An item recently came to our attention that it seemed beneficial to respond to. Rabbi Singer, a well-known anti-missionary, recently responded to a question regarding a proof that many Christian and Messianic teachers have recently begun using from the Talmud. The quote in question comes from b. Yoma 39b, and reads as follows (Neusner’s translation):

Forty years before the destruction of the sanctuary, the lot did not come up in the right hand, and the thread of crimson never turned white, and the westernmost light never shone, and the doors of the courtyard would open by themselves, until Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai rebuked them. He said, “Temple, Temple, why will you yourself give the alarm [that you are going to be destroyed? You don’t have to, because] I know that in the end you are destined to be destroyed. For Zechariah b. Eido has already prophesied concerning you: ‘Open your doors, Lebanon, that fire may devour your cedars’ (Zec. 11: 1).”

The “thread of crimson” refers to a custom that when the Yom Kippur sacrifice was made, the goat for Azazel (the “scapegoat”; cf. Lev. 16 for the ceremony) would have a scarlet ribbon tied in its horns. If Adonai accepted the sacrifice, the ribbon would miraculously turn white—as Rabbi Singer correctly points out, this sign points to Isa. 1:16-20:

"Wash yourselves clean! Get your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing evil, learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow. "Come now," says Adonai, "let's talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be eaten by the sword"; for the mouth of Adonai has spoken. (CJB, which is based on the JPS Tanakh)

As Rabbi Singer states, many Christians see this rejection of the Yom Kippur sacrifice for the forty years separating the Cross and the destruction of the Temple as proof “that God was no longer accepting animal sacrifices, and the Jewish people, therefore, needed to turn to Jesus as their only avenue for atonement . . . [and] that the sins of the Jews were not forgiven because they did not accept Jesus as their messiah.”

Using the Talmud

Rabbi Singer, of course, rejects this view outright. In fact, he spends two pages (as counted by MS Word) engaging in a type of “argument by outrage” that a Christian would dare to appeal to the Talmud for proof of their beliefs. He calls it a “schizophrenic technique” that on the one hand “evangelicals fervently insist that the written Bible alone is reliable and divinely inspired and often scornfully mock traditional Jews as practicing a ‘rabbinic Judaism,’” while on the other, “whenever missionaries feel the urge to advance their position by quoting from the Talmud, they undergo a spontaneous conversion . . .“

Since Rabbi Singer attacks the very idea of Christians referring to the Talmud at length before getting to the meat of the interpretation, let us take a moment and ask, “Is it really illegitimate to refer to the Talmud as a historical source without admitting its Divine inspiration?” Would Rabbi Singer consider it equally illegitimate for a Christian (or a Jew) to refer to the histories of Josephus, Eusebius, or Tacitus, since we also reject the idea that they are inspired? Does Rabbi Singer also reject referring to the books of the Maccabees in making a study of Hanukkah—or for that matter, referring to the Renewed Covenant (New Testament) or other Christian writings when making an argument against Yeshua? I somewhat doubt it. The energy he devotes to arousing the indignation of his traditional Jewish readers against Christian and/or Messianic Jewish apologists is therefore misplaced, contributing nothing to the discussion but to further prejudice his audience.

His ire thus raised (and given the “convert and assimilate” attitude of the majority of Christian missions to the Jews, we completely understand that irritation), he goes on to engage in a bit of reflexive opposition:

Citing the above statement, missionaries contend that the year the scarlet ribbon ceased to turn white coincides with the time that Jesus was crucified. They go on to insist that 40 years prior to the destruction of the second Temple corresponds to the year 30 C.E., which is approximately the time of Jesus' crucifixion.

Missionaries “contend” that the year the ribbon ceased to turn white coincides with the time Yeshua was crucified? They “go on to insist” that 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple equals 30 CE? Why does Rabbi Singer require such qualifiers? The dates are not a matter of dispute, so why use language implying a valid uncertainty rather than simply arguing for coincidence without correspondence? If he cannot refer to even such a matter without using prejudicial language, Rabbi Singer is clearly falling into the trap of reflexively saying the sky is green when the other side calls it blue.

The point here is not to make fun of Rabbi Singer, who is a very learned man with a great zeal for the Eternal One and his people. The point is to demonstrate that just as the Christian missionaries have an ideological axe to grind when they quote Yoma 39b without explanation or qualification, so does Rabbi Singer.

With that in mind, let us look into the actual passage in question. Rabbi Singer raises two valid objections to the common Christian argument from this passage: 1) That it ignores the context, which indicates a slow degradation rather than a sudden cessation, and 2) that even evangelicals expect a return to the sacrificial system based on Ezekiel 40-48, so the issue could not be that sacrifices were no longer valid. However, while these are valid objections, it is our opinion that they do not seriously afflict the apologetic value of this passage for the followers of Yeshua.

The Context

Shim’on HaTzaddik (Simeon the Righteous) was the Cohen HaGadol, or High Priest, over Israel in the beginning of the 3rd Century BCE. He is one of the most famous figures in Jewish history, representing the high point of the Second Temple priesthood, when the Eternal One blessed the Temple and priesthood and the sacrifice was always accepted and always gave a good omen (the lot for Adonai coming up in the right hand). It is no surprise, then, that the Talmud portrays a loss of this level of blessing after Shim’on HaTzaddik’s death.

And indeed, such a view is completely consistent with the NT view. The authors of the Renewed Covenant certainly did not regard everything in the Temple as in keeping with the Eternal One’s intent up to the point that Yeshua HaMashiach died on the Cross. We see, for example, Yeshua chasing out the moneychangers and merchants with a whip—twice (John 2:14-17, Mat. 21:12-13)! We also see the plot against Yeshua being motivated by fear (John 11:48) and jealousy (Mat. 27:18). In short, we see Jerusalem’s leadership affected by the very “spiritual decay” and “self-destructive . . . interpersonal baseless hatred that was pervasive among the Jewish people during this difficult time” that Rabbi Singer sees.

Yet the Talmud does not speak of a gradually-decreasing glory in the Temple. It says only that after Shim’on HaTzaddik’s death, sometimes the miracles associated with his life still happened, and sometimes they did not. But about 30 CE, something abruptly changed: Not only was the Yom Kippur sacrifice never again accepted (a “mere” withdrawal of a miraculous sign), but the western light on the Menorah actively went out and the doors actively swung open. Josephus (Wars, 6.5.3) records other signs that happened as well. Though he does not record when they began, he mentions the doors of the sanctuary swinging open on their own, so we may surmise that he was referring to the same forty-year period.

What is the point of all this? The point is that it wasn’t simply that the Eternal One had ceased to perform the miracles that He had in the days of Shim’on HaTzaddik—He was actively performing miraculous signs as a warning call to Israel, beginning 40 years before the Temple’s destruction.

Why 40 years? What happened at that time that brought God’s judgment to the tipping point? In the Torah, God tested and judged Israel for 40 years after they sinned by not going into the Land of His Promise, bringing about one generation’s end so that another generation could enter that Promise. And while there were many sins that Israel committed on the way, there was a final and specific sin that resulted in that judgment: They did not trust the One who had Redeemed them in the face of the Anakim. What then was the specific sin among the many that caused God to reject Israel’s sacrifices for forty years, culminating in the destruction of that generation?

Gratuitous Hatred and Yeshua’s Death

Let us consider the Talmud’s answer. Yoma 9b seeks to explain why the Second Temple was destroyed, even though it had not fallen into the idolatry of the First Temple and the study of Torah was widespread in Israel:

But as to the second sanctuary, in which the people were engaged in Torah and practice of the commandments and acts of loving kindness, on what account was it destroyed? It was because of gratuitous hatred. That fact serves to teach you: gratuitous hatred weighs in the balance against the three cardinal sins of idolatry, fornication, and murder.

To the Messianic or Christian, this brings to mind Yeshua’s words on the eve of His crucifixion,

I command these things to you, that you may love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. . . . But this happened so that the word may be fulfilled which was written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.” (John 15:17-19, 25, citing Psa. 35:19, 69:4)

What if, we ask, the general rise of gratuitous hatred in Israel culminated and focused in a hatred of the One whom the God of Israel sent “to proclaim good news to the humble. . . to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to those who are bound; [and] to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isa. 61:1-2)?

Even many traditional Jews are recognizing Yeshua as a great rabbi, if not (yet) the Messiah. Dr. Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox scholar, for example writes,

Jesus was utterly true to the Torah, as I myself hope to be. I even suspect that Jesus was even more true to the Torah than I, an Orthodox Jew. (The Resurrection of Jesus)

Interestingly, Lapide accepts the Resurrection as a historical fact, a true miracle of God, though he disagrees that this miracle proves Yeshua to be the Messiah of Israel. Likewise, Jewish scholar Stephen M. Wylen writes,

It then becomes apparent that Jesus was in some ways an innovator who taught new ideas or extended old ideas into new territory, while in other ways Jesus followed the Jewish teachings of his times. Generally speaking, Jesus’ teachings can be placed in the broad context of first century Judaism in its many manifestations. (The Jews in the Time of Jesus, p. 13)

Wylen goes on to surmise that Yeshua was put on trial and executed not because of any religious blasphemy, but because “Caiphas and Pilate believed Jesus either intended an insurrection, or else would be the cause of one,” possibly because of his action in driving the money-lenders from the Temple (pp. 128f).

The conclusion of the historians: Jesus was killed by some Romans and some Jews, a conspiracy between the homegrown and imperial rulers of the country, in order to keep the peace during the Passover holiday. (ibid.)

Yet the Gospel accounts make it clear that Yeshua led no insurrection, even making an argument for paying taxes to Caesar (Mat. 22:21). Moreover, the Sadducees set up a crowd to call for the release of a known insurrectionist rather than see Pilate let Yeshua go (Mark 15:11), so clearly more than a concern for peace with Rome was at stake for them. Note that the “sympathetic” Pilate that many believe they see in Pilate doesn’t match up with what we know from secular history—but a Pilate who realized that he was being used as the hatchet-man in what was essentially a religious dispute and as a result pushed back against the Sadducees’ pressures is (cf. Mat. 27:18)!

The Mishnah (Makkot 1:10) tells us,

A sanhedrin which imposes the death penalty once in seven years is called murderous. R. Eleazar b. Azariah says, “Once in seventy years.”. R. Tarfon and R. Aqiba say, “If we were on a sanhedrin, no one would ever be put to death.”

The Gemara of this passage goes on to describe the very great lengths the Sanhedron would go to in order to avoid a sentence of death, including finding every possible way of disqualifying the eyewitnesses (a parallel can be found in John 8:1-11, where Yeshua uses precisely this method). This distaste for the death penalty was greatly increased by the fact of the Roman occupation: It was considered incredibly shameful to turn a brother Jew over to pagans to be slain.

Now consider the hatred focused on this one man, a man who modern Jewish (and Christian) scholars are more and more recognizing taught from the Torah within the bounds of the traditional Judaism of His day—leaning, in fact, towards the teachings of R. Hillel. What cause had Yeshua given the leaders of Israel to hate Him and call for His death, even handing Him over to the pagans? He taught repentance rather than revolution, the love of God and our fellow man, and never, ever taught anyone to practice idolatry or to abandon the Torah (cf. Deu. 12:32-13:5 [13:1-6]). Where He claimed to be the Messiah and Savior of Israel, He did so by His deeds rather than by His words—and his deeds were to raise the dead, heal the lepers, bring sight to those born blind, and cast out the deaf-mute spirits.

To slay one who brought about great weal to the Jewish public by the finger of God out of envy and fear would certainly qualify as “gratuitous hatred.”

The End of Sacrifice?

However, Rabbi Singer is right and the Christian missionaries he contends with are wrong in one very important aspect: The rejection of the Yom Kippur sacrifice was by no means proof that God had “taken away” the sacrificial system or the Levitical priesthood. Aside from the prophecies of Ezekiel (which Evangelicals widely acknowledge to refer to a future restoration of the Levitial priesthood), there are numerous proofs from the Scriptures—both in the Tanakh and the Renewed Covenant—that while the priesthood and Temple service were taken away as punishment for Israel’s sins, they were not simply discontinued for all time because of Yeshua’s ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross:

  1. The descendants of Phinehas were given “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Num. 25:13).

  2. Jer. 33:15-22 states that just as “David shall never want a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel,” neither will “the priests the Levites want a man before me to . . . do sacrifice continually.” But where David’s promise is spoken of as a singular man, the Branch, the Messiah, the Levitical priests are spoken of in the plural in vv. 21-22. Hence, Christians and Messianics who believe that the Messiah’s office is an eternal one must acknowledge that the Levitial priesthood is likewise eternal.

  3. The disciples of Yeshua did not immediately break from the Temple; on the contrary, they went “[d]ay by day continuing with one mind in the Temple” (Acts 2:46, cf. 3:2). To worship in the Temple meant participating in the daily sacrifices; therefore, if they had truly believed that Yeshua’s Sacrifice ended and forbade all future sacrifices, they would have withdrawn from the Temple services as the Essenes, who merely saw the Temple as corrupt, did.

  4. In Acts 21:18-26, we see Rabbi Sha’ul, the student of Gamaliel, better known to the world as the Apostle Paul, facing accusations that he was teaching Jewish believers in Yeshua to no longer circumcise their sons (i.e., raise them to be Jewish) and to no longer keep the Torah and the traditions. In order to refute that charge, he takes a voluntary Nazrite vow with four other Messianic Jews—note that these four were already under a vow, meaning that such things were not unusual in the Messiah’s early Assembly—and to pay for the requisite sacrifices that were required to shave their heads. Clearly, they did not see a problem with continuing to make sacrifices some thirty years after the Messiah’s crucifixion.

However, while the rejection of the Yom Kippur sacrifice is not, as many Christians suppose, a sign that God had brought the Levitical priesthood to a permanent end, it does point us to an important aspect of the Messiah’s mission. Psalm 110:4 speaks of one who would be like Melchizedek, both a king and a priest, and Zec. 6:12-13 tells us that the Branch, the Messiah, “will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”

ADONAI slew Aaron’s two sons for the sin of offering unauthorized fire (Lev. 10:1-2). If He did not accept an unauthorized form of worship from authorized priests, might we suppose that He would also reject an authorized sacrifice by an unauthorized priest, especially those who were complicit in rejecting and putting to death the king-priest that He had sent to call Israel to repentance and offer the true Atonement for their sins?

Likewise, God took away the sacrifice in the days of Jeremiah because the people had gone to other gods, resulting in hatred, murder, fornication, and injustice. Would He not also take away the sacrifice if Israel, following a corrupt leadership, rejected Him as King in the person of the Messiah in order to curry favor with the kings of the pagans, as a result of and resulting in even more hatred, murder, fornication, and injustice?

Rabbi Singer makes another crucial error when he writes, “Isaiah loudly declares that charity and acts of kindness alone atone for man's most grievous sins, as he repeatedly and resoundingly trivializes the blood sacrificial system as an efficacious means for atonement” (emphasis mine). Isaiah says no such thing, nor could he, for “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11). Rather, the prophet is simply affirming the truth of Num. 15:26-30, that the sacrifices were useless to atone for those still actively sinning against God’s commandments, for the sacrifices could only be offered for one who sinned unintentionally, out of ignorance or weakness, not those who sinned “with a high hand.”

In other words, Isaiah didn’t call for more sacrifices because the sacrifices were already being made; he was calling for repentance resulting in social justice so that the Blessed One would accept the sacrifices!

This Biblical truth, that it takes blood-sacrifice to atone for sin, has been set aside by the rabbis since the destruction of the Temple. However, the Torah is clear that unless the Eternal One provides an atoning Sacrifice, our good deeds could never save us or atone for us, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6).

The issue was not that Israel continued to sacrifice in obedience to the Torah, but that they were not putting their trust in the correct Sacrifice, nor were they repenting of their sins, including the gratuitous hatred towards the One God had sent to them.


There is no denying that the Talmud puts the final rejection of the Yom Kippur sacrifice at forty years before the fall of the Temple, and there is no denying that Yeshua was crucified at about that same time. The only subjects open to debate are how we interpret that correspondence: Was it simply coincidence, or was the God of Israel sending a message to His people?

We have seen that while the Talmud does indeed indicate a spiritual decline after the time of Shim’on HaTzaddik, it also marks a definite point at which God not only withdrew a miraculous sign, but in which He sent miraculous signs warning of His impending judgment. This definite point corresponds to the execution of Yeshua. It is not enough to just claim a coincidence; if not the rejection of the Messiah, exactly why did God choose that exact time to begin actively and consistently warning Israel of the impending judgment?

We have seen that the rabbinic explanation for the destruction of the Second Temple, that of gratuitous hatred, finds its focus and full measure on the gratuitous hatred Israel’s leaders, the Sadducees in particular, held against Yeshua.

And we have seen that the reason the Yom Kippur sacrifice was rejected was not that God had discarded the sacrificial system per se, but that Israel had once again rejected her proper King in favor of pagan lords—a King who was also a Priest.

Rabbi Singer is correct when he says that most Christians who latch onto Yoma 39b do so without an appreciation for its proper context, and that God’s rejection of the Temple sacrifices because of Israel’s sins does not mean that Yeshua’s Sacrifice was meant to bring all others to an end. However, he does not even attempt to demonstrate what other event, if not the rejection of Yeshua, might have caused God to actively work against the Temple service circa 30 CE.

As much as we disagree with Rabbi Singer’s treatment of Yoma 39b, we agree with his closing statements. We live in a day and age when the whole world seems to be gathering against the people of the God of Abraham, both Jew and Christian, and yet in so many quarters we continue to tear each other apart. As Messianic Hebrews, we repent of the hatred so many of our physical and spiritual ancestors have shown to our Jewish brothers and sisters in the past, and affirm again our love for and support of Israel. To that end, if any of our words to and/or about Rabbi Singer in this article have been unintentionally harsh, we beg the reader’s forgiveness and understanding.

We also repent of the hatred that has so often flared between brothers and sisters in the Messiah, whether we call ourselves Messianics or Christians, and call for a renewed commitment to love, humility, righteousness, and charity as we struggle with the issues, both in and out of the Body, which are facing us in the 21st Century.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Correction With Apologies

In one of my articles against, I originally referred to Mark Nanos here as being Messianic; he is not, but rather is a Reform Jew who believes that the misrepresentation of Paul's view has been extremely harmful to the Jewish people--and he's right. My apologies to him for the accidental misrepresentation on my part.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Much Belated High Holy Day Post

Okay, I've really got to apologize here. I seem to be doing a lot of that recently in RL.

We all have our flaws; my principle ones are in time-management (or lack thereof)--particularly procrastination. Despite being well-aware that this time of year (and Passover, on the other side of the year) are so busy for me that I find it difficult to find the time to write blog entries. This is especially true this year, when I have only limited web access. Yet I did not take the time to write up my entries for the High Holy Days in advance.

This time of year is a time of repentence, of turning back from our sins, whether major sins against God's commandments or sins of simple bad habits. So let me take the opportunity to repent now of my procrastinating ways, to get ahead on my writing and studies as well on my other work.

So then, let me finish this all-too-brief post by saying Happy Birthday to my Lord Yeshua!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Ping From CNN

Not bad. has run a story called "Christians, Jews in Holy Land Alliance." It's not an in-depth piece, but it talks about the advent of Messianic Judaism as well as having the usual boilerplate about Evangelical support for Israel. To quote a few highlights:
Sondra Oster Baras is an Orthodox Jew doing an unorthodox job.

"If you had asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing with my life, I don't think I would have told you I'd be in church," she said.

Baras stumps for money from evangelical Christians to support Jewish settlements in the occupied territories -- land she calls biblical Israel.

A recent stop finds her in Melbourne, Florida, visiting Pastor Gary Christofaro at his First Assembly Church of God.

Christofaro and his flock take their Jewish roots so seriously that on Friday nights they observe the Jewish Sabbath with Hebrew prayers.

This is not just religious ritual. They support Israel -- which to them includes Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank. Church members tour settlements with Baras and have donated more than a $100,000 to support them. . . .

"I was never fully American," she explained. "I was Jewish." Judaism was not only her religion but also her nationality.

"We learned how to read Hebrew before we learned how to read English," she said.

Her parents, who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, sent her to Zionist summer camps that championed the Jewish homeland.

"My parents felt very safe in America ... but there was always a part of them that said there needs to be an Israel in the event that we have another Hitler. Put it all together and I couldn't help but be a Zionist."


This blog got linked in the "From the Blogs" section at the bottom for my post last night about dinner with Eli. Woot for us!

In the course of trying to find the link that was pinging this blog, however, I happened to go through the comments section. I find it extremely sad how many Americans have swallowed the tripe that the Jews "stole" Palestine. For the record, the Jews bought large tracts of that land up legitimately (and at exorbitant prices) in the centuries leading up to 1948, and when they declared their independence from Britain(!), not from Palestine (which never existed as an independent nation), they allowed those Arabs who were willing to join them to have their full rights as citizens, including representation in the Knesset.

The fact that the Arab population of Israel has representation in the government puts the lie to every claim that the Jews are oppressing the Palestinians. The only ones being "oppressed" are those who have built their entire being on wanting Israel destroyed and the Jews driven into the sea.

The second thing that saddened me was the comments from some of my Christian brethren. Guys, exactly what good does it do to tell perfect strangers that they're going to Hell unless they agree with you? If you can't present the Gospel with at least a mustard seed of diplomacy and (outward) love, then please shut up and stop putting stumbling blocks in peoples' paths.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Dinner With An Israeli

Last night I had the opportunity to have dinner with an Israeli gentleman, Orthodox by upbringing and faith, named Eliyahu (Eli for short) at my SO's house. The conversation was incredible! He's very intelligent and well-educated, and we ranged from history to evolution vs. creation to the nature of faith to politics.

The latter was particularly thought-provoking. At one point, he was talking about watching the preachers on TBN and said of Jack Van Impe in particular, "You know he's crazy." Did I mention that I love the man's bluntness?

"But he supports Israel," my SO's mother said, not so in love with the bluntness.

"Oh I know. And I tell you, anyone who is for Israel, no matter what their reasons, G-d bless them! I will happily accept their support. But Jack Van Impe, you know, he only supports Israel because he thinks we fit into his prophetic expectations. He's looking forward to all of the Christians getting Raptured up and leaving us to face the Russian tanks." (Referring to Van Impe's view of the Magog invasion of Ezk. 38-19.)

He went on to explain that he would much rather have people support Israel on the basis that it is the only democracy and pro-Western state in the Middle-east, because that's a fact that isn't going to change, while he sees support withering and dying when the popular belief in Dispensationalism dries up.

Frankly, just on a practical level, he's right. Leaving aside the issue of whether Premillennialism and/or Dispensationalism are correct (I think Premill is, though I have major differences of opinion with my Dispensationalist brethren, especially about the timing of the Rapture), the fact is that should the L-RD Yeshua tarry His Coming, it is entirely possible that popular support for the view--and the corresponding popular support for Israel--will fade away. Certainly it is true that various forms of amillennialism are on the ascent again.

But rather than base our support for Israel purely on an equally vapid political situation--after all, that makes it all too easy for support for Israel to dry up if they don't do everything Politically Correct in our eyes--let me suggest a better reason for American Christians to support Israel: The Jews there are our brothers and sisters.

Messianic Judaism arose because of a realization that Yeshua and His Apostles never wanted to create a new and distinctly Gentile religion called Christianity, but that they were all Jews through-and-through. We therefore see their struggles with "the Jews" in Scripture not as two competing religions, but as an argument within a family, much as a Baptist and a Presbyterian might argue about theology while recognizing each other as brother Christians. That means, by extension, that we who are the inheritors of the legacy of a Jewish Messiah and Jewish Apostles must view the Jews likewise--not as "them," but as "us."

I pray that the increasing appreciation for the Hebrew Root will continue to spread throughout the Body of Messiah, because then our support for Israel will not be based on a prophetic fad, but on solid history and kinship--and you don't let someone mess with your family.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

On Knowledge in the Tanakh

The following was written as an answer to an inquiry received by our ministry. It's a bit outside of our normal purview, but I thought I'd post it here. The question was in regards to the word "knowledge" in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and whether it was significant that "knowledge" rather than "discernment" was used.

The name of the tree in question, in Hebrew, is Eytz haDa’ath Tov v’Ra’ (עצ הדעת טוב ורע), with da’ath being the word for knowledge (Strongs #1847). Da’ath is actually a fairly common word, appearing 92 times in the Tanakh. Of those 92 times, it is translated “knowledge” 81 times in the NASB and 80 times in the KJV. Of the other uses of the word (going from the NASB, which is easier to search for hits with my current tools), it is used to mean concern (1), know (3), premeditation/ intentionally (4), skill (1), truth (1), what (1). Of the four times it refers to premeditation or intentionally, two are with a negative participle (that is, “unintentionally”).

In all cases, the word simply refers to conscious knowledge of a matter. If you are interested in Hebrew root words, the root of da’ath is da’ (דע), which literally means “door of the eye”—the eyes being the principle way in which humans gain knowledge about the world. The equivalent Greek word, used in the Septuagint translation, is gnooston (γνωστον, Strongs #1110), from gnosis, or knowledge. Lest anyone try to draw a connection between that and Gnosticism, I should point out that the word has no negative context in and of itself, appearing in various conjugations 15 times in the NT to mean simply something known.

Indeed, the Scriptures are overwhelmingly positive about Man having da’ath, particularly in the Proverbs. It is often paired with the ideas of wisdom (cf. Exo. 31:3, Ecc. 7:12) and self-discipline (Pro. 12:1 and 17:27). Outside of the narrative of the Fall, the worse the Bible has to say of it is that an increase of knowledge can bring one pain (Ecc. 1:18)—of course, given the genre of Ecclesiastes, perhaps we should consider that to mean knowledge outside of the Eternal One’s.

I’ve given you the Strong’s numbers so that you can double-check my research. However, I have to say that “knowledge” really is the best translation of the idea of da’ath. Given the overwhelmingly positive view the Bible takes of real knowledge, I would suggest that if anything, we can understand this passage to teach that the knowledge of good and evil were not sinful per se, but rather that the avenue that Adam and Havah took (disobedience to the Father’s clear command) in pursuit of this knowledge is the reason behind the Fall.

In other words, the ends—however noble—do not justify the means of disobeying ADONAI.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

An Answer to, Part 6

Well, I'm back. I've finished moving into the new house, with the exception of a couple of pieces of furniture which I will get next week, and a few dozen boxes of books to be put back on the shelves. So let's return to our regularly-scheduled blogging:

The purpose of this article is to defend Messianic Judaism against what I believe to be an unfair and unscriptural attack. While this of necessity requires a certain amount of “counter-attack,” I will try to keep the focus on the arguments rather than the person, though some comments about Vicki’s general tendencies in her writings are necessary.

To Embrace Hebrew Roots: Part II
The Bible & The Talmud

Vicki begins her section on the Talmud with a personal note, expressing her love for those she in her article argues against despite finding ”material that I have found disturbing.” She goes on to say, “What I feel very strongly is that all the issues addressed were dealt with at the cross. Truly, His grace is sufficient.” Very true; however, the Hebrew Roots and Messianic movements have never been about overturning a belief in salvation by faith (though we would argue, as would Vicki, that faith without works is dead, per Jas. 2:17; cf. Eph. 2:8-10)—it is about how we who are already saved should now live. To repeat the mantra I am trying to promote throughout the Messianic world: I do not try to keep the Torah in order to be saved; I follow the Torah because I am saved, and I want to be like my Savior in every way.

Vicki next writes,

What I do have, is a strong sense or desire to see deceptions--regardless of who propagates them--exposed. This issue is very large and complex. Not all that is said about one group's views can necessarily be applied to all.

Now this is an amazing admission, since her previous section did indeed take “one group’s views” and apply them to all Messianics, and did so several times, at that! It is also surprising to see her admit the complexity of the issue, as she is about to take a very large, complex set of documents, the Talmud, and try to reduce it to a handful of distasteful passages without regard to the historical or cultural context, or even a fair comparison to Christian writings from the same period. I shall demonstrate this as we proceed.

Let me start out with a warning, however: As my own writings on the subject indicate, I am not one who regards the Talmud as holy, though I do think that it is useful in understanding 1st Century Judaism, the crucible that forged what we today call Christianity, and I do find the rabbis’ understandings of certain passages and concepts to be extremely insightful and thought-provoking, especially when we see the parallels in their beliefs and a New Covenant belief. I also believe that a Messianic Jewish believer living in a Jewish community is as bound to follow the authorities of that community, the rabbis, as we are bound to follow the authorities of our country, state, etc.

However, I would be the first to admit that there is much material in the Talmud that is frankly wrong and embarrassing; I would also be the first to admit the same of the great body of Christian writings through the centuries. In both cases, one must learn to understand the text in its original context, then to chew up the meat and spit out the bones.

With that in mind, let us look at Vicki’s claims about the Talmud and its relationship with Messianic Judaism and the Hebrew Roots movement.


Vicki’s overview is just that, and overview, and does not contain enough information for the first several paragraphs to dispute; she is simply framing her argument. She then writes of her intent,

[This section] evaluates the need for Midrash, Mishnah, Haggadah, Halakah, and the use of the "Ancient Wisdom" versus the teaching of the New Testament and the sufficiency of Scripture with the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

First of all, on what basis are the two necessarily opposed? She argues in favor of the Received Text—but does the Bible itself speak of the RT? No; rather, Vicki is the beneficiary of centuries of “ancient wisdom”—tradition and scholarship—in reconstructing the Koine Greek of the NT (and the Hebrew of the Tanakh), and even in knowing which books to include in the Bible!

And let’s look at what she’s arguing against here:

  • Midrash – this just means “teaching” or “delving”; is Vicki claiming to have never received teaching about the Bible from extra-Biblical sources?

  • Halakhah & Mishnah – literally translated, halakhah is “the way you walk,” this is how the rabbis understood how to apply God’s commandments to our lives. The Mishneh is the compilation of the 2nd Century rabbis’ halakhah. Does Vicki refuse all discussion on the proper application of God’s commands in our lives?

  • Haggadah – this is simply the “order of service” for a Passover Seder. Is Vicki against all orders of service in all churches everywhere?

When we get past all of the Hebraisms, we find that there are parallels in Christian teaching to virtually every aspect of Jewish interpretation. Consider the long-standing debates on the proper way to baptize, the proper description of the Trinity, whether one can drink or smoke, etc. before we condemn the rabbis for having the same sorts of discussions on their side. Therefore, Vicki cannot object to the fact of such interpretive methods and applications; she can only object to the form—in this case, a distinctly Jewish form. But is it really illegitimate to refer to Jewish sources as well as Hellenized (Christian) sources in understanding the Scriptures? On what basis? Should we not consider a culture’s language, idioms, practices, etc., in understanding such an important Book from that culture?

If Vicki is so certain that the Holy Spirit is meant to be our sole source of information about the Scriptures, then let her no longer quote from any translation, but hereafter read only the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, trusting in the Spirit—not human translators—to interpret the words for her.

But if she relies on scholarship to translate the words of the Bible into her own language—scholarship which does in fact use extra-Biblical Jewish and Greek literature in order to interpret the meanings and connotations of the words of the Bible—then let her cease from disparaging those of us who rely on scholarship to translate the cultural idioms of the Bible into our own language as well!

Regarding those of the Hebrew Roots movement who challenge the Greek New Testament, I will say first and foremost that such are the minority. Most of the movement bases its arguments not upon what the original Hebrew might have been, but on the Greek manuscripts that we do have (see, for example, Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary). Where some (like FFOZ) do occasionally refer back to what Yeshua’s original Hebrew and/or Aramaic words might have been, no significant Christian doctrine is challenged in the process; rather, such excursions are generally taken either a) explain the “hard sayings” of Yeshua (particularly in the book of Matthew), or b) to compare one of Yeshua’s sayings or that of an Apostle to that of a Jewish source (such as the commentaries on John 1:1 by Lightfoot and Holding, which we reference here).

In any case, it is almost a given that Matthew and Hebrews, at the very least, have a Hebrew origin, as attested to by the early Church fathers. Papias (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. His. 3.39) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.1.1) both report that Matthew was originally written “among the Hebrews in their own dialect.” Jerome likewise bears witness to this when he writes (On Illustrious Men, ch. 3):

MATTHEW, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it.

Likewise, the book of Hebrews has a witness in Clement (Fragments, 1) that it was translated from Hebrew to Greek (by Luke). If indeed it was originally written to the Jews in the vicinity of Judea to correct a dependence on the Temple service, it could not have been written in Greek originally, for as Josephus notes in his Antiquities (20.11.2),

I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations . . .

While it does not follow that every book of the NT was written in Hebrew or Aramaic, the fact that these two most likely were—and more importantly, the fact that virtually every word our Lord originally spoke would have been in those two languages—means that going beyond the Greek and attempting to reconstruct the Hebrew is a worthy venture. Nor does it deny the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures, for inspiration and inerrancy has always been understood as applying only to the autographs, not to copies nor translations.

After quoting 2 Pt. 3:16—what significance she finds for the current subject is not given—Vicki writes, “Orthodox scholars agree that the New Testament was originally written in Greek.” How she defines “orthodox”—does this merely mean scholars that agree with her views?—or how she arrived at the unspoken “all” in her statement are not given; she quotes only two sources. A far better treatment of the issue of Matthew’s original language, for example, which acknowledges an ongoing discussion as to the possibility of an Aramaic/Hebrew original of Matthew, is presented by the non-Messianic apologist J.P. Holding here.

Vicki next quotes one Hyram Maccoby as stating that the Gospel accounts reflect an anti-Semetic bias. Here she once again has not done her homework, as the mainline Hebrew Roots and Messianic movements have done a great deal of scholarship to prove that the Gospel accounts and other NT writings, far from being tainted by anti-Semetism, actually reflect an internal debate between Jews and a great concern for the Jewish people as a whole, not the external debate between “Christians” and “Jews” that many Christian commentators consider a given when reading them. For example, Lancaster writes in the introduction of King of the Jews,

Jesus was really Jewish. If you saw Him, you could not possibly mistake it. The man was Jewish. Everything He did and said was patently Jewish. That’s what this book is about. (p. ix)

After describing the shift from being a distinctly Jewish faith to “a new Christianity” which “defined herself against Judaism and Jewishness” (p. xi), Lancaster states,

However, the church’s sacred writings—the Gospels and Epistles left behind by those earliest believers—testify to the absolute Jewishness of the man and the original faith. The evidence remains within the books of the New Testament, like an ancient, hidden code. Most Christians read over it without ever suspecting its existence. (p. xii)

As one reads through the books and articles written by dozens of Messianic authors (including this author’s own webpage), one finds the same conclusion repeated over and over: The problem has never been with the New Testament, but with the presuppositions we have read into it. Maccoby would therefore actually be on the far fringe of the movement, and certainly not a spokesman for it.

Once again, Vicki has displayed a complete lack of discernment in choosing who to hold up as indicative of the direction of the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movements as a whole.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Still Alive!

Well, I survived the move . . . if only barely. I've still got a lot of unpacking to do, but it's mostly just moving stuff from boxes to shelves now.

Tonight should be interesting; I'll be sleeping in a bed I've kept in storage for about five years now--all of the places I've lived since then have been furnished already, so I haven't had need of it. I hope it's as comfortable as I remember.

Thank you, Father, for keeping us safe on the road today, and for providing a roof over my head.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Random Update

It's been a busy few days, and lest I drop out of sight for another six weeks (Heaven forbid!), I thought I should post at least something briefly.

I'm currently in the process of getting ready to move, which means lots of planning and packing. The move is being driven by my financial situation not improving as I'd hoped, but it's also beneficial to the family as a whole; if all goes well, I'm taking over a house my parents haven't been able to sell and moving in with my brother. It also puts me closer to my SO.

While I've got more material on the SeekGod front, I'm holding off posting it for a bit, mostly so I can space posts out if things stay crazy for a while.

Be back soon!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, has just passed. It's a solemn occasion, a time to remember the destruction of the two Temples as well as numerous other calamities that have befallen the Jews on this day since. For example (with thanks in part to KHouse for the list):
  • 135 CE - The Bar Koshba revolt is squelched with the fall of Bethar, the last Jewish stronghold
  • 136 CE - Emperor Hadrian establishes a temple of Zeus and the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem
  • 1095 AD - The declaration of the Crusades by Pope Urban II, which resulted in many Jews being attacked by Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land
  • 1242 AD - The burning of the Talmud
  • 1290 AD - The signing of the edict by King Edward I expelling the Jews from England
  • 1492 AD - Ferdinand and Isabella issued a royal decree that all Jews must leave the Spanish territories by August 3rd (9th of Av on the Hebrew calendar)
  • 1914 AD - The start of the First World War
  • 1942 AD - The first killings at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland
  • 1994 AD - And the AMIA bombing by Arab terrorists in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 86 and wounded more than 120
It is also tradition that it was on the 9th of Av that ten of the twelve spies that Israel sent into Canaan came back with a bad report, causing Israel to lose faith and wander the wilderness for 40 years (cf. Num. 13). I also think it likely that Moses removed the Tent of Meeting from the camp on Tisha b'Av, as we explain in our article, The Feasts and the Exodus.

We praise ADONAI that Tisha B'Av has passed this year without trouble, and pray His continued protection over Israel, both the land and in Diaspora, throughout the year.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Response to Pyromaniacs

Per reader Bryan Z’s request, we’re taking a break from responding to SeekGod’s Vicki in order to respond to another article written on the Pyromaniacs blog. The article in question is written by Steven A. Kreloff rather than the blog’s owner, Phil Johnson. Pardon the length; I wanted to answer a whole post in a single post, and these are not simple issues to be addressed.

While the article is very well written, and is instructive for making a very (if I may say so) typically Christian argument against Messianic Judaism. Many of its arguments have been previously refuted on HebrewRoot, and in those cases, I will of course refer readers to the appropriate articles rather than re-invent the wheel. I also suggest that all readers refer to our general article Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away With the Torah for a general overview of arguments in favor of a Torah-observant Body of Messiah.

Kreloff’s opening paragraphs explain exactly what he sees wrong in Messianic Judaism:

A number of years ago, when my son was young, we attended a baseball game. Not only was my son a baseball fan, but he was also an avid collector of baseball cards. When we arrived at the ballpark, though, I noticed that he seemed more interested in looking at the pictures of the players on his cards than in watching the ball players on the field. In my astonishment I asked him, "Why are you looking at the pictures, when the real living players are standing right in front of you?"

What my son did with baseball cards and players, many Jewish Christians today do with their faith. Embracing a concept known as Messianic Judaism, these Jewish believers emphasize Old Testament laws and practices (such as dietary laws, feasts, and Sabbath days) as the way to please God. Yet Paul referred to these kinds of observances as "shadows" pointing to the reality of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16, 17).

Our fuller response to the argument from Colossians can be found here. To sum it up, I will make two illustrations here. The first is to ask whether Mr. Kreloff keeps a picture of his wife or significant other in his wallet? If so, why? Doesn’t he have the real wife to look upon? And yet he, and most other Americans, keeps pictures of his loved ones as reminders of them and a way of keeping them close as he goes through his day.

In the same way, the Feasts of ADONAI serve as reminders of the Messiah. Consider the first Feast commanded, Passover. It celebrated Israel’s redemption from Egypt. Would we ask why Israel continued to keep Passover after they had already been redeemed? Or do we understand that it served like a picture in the wallet, reminding Israel every year of her great Loved One and how He saved them from bondage? In the same way, Messianics keep Passover as a yearly reminder of our Beloved Lamb, who gave His life to redeem us from bondage to the world—and really, don’t most Christians keep Easter for the same reason?

The second illustration is derived from water immersion, or baptism. As Col. 2:11-12 explains, baptism is symbolic of our dying to our old lives with Yeshua and being raised with Him into a whole new life to be lived in the Spirit. Now, knowing the reason for this “shadow,” how many Christians think that we should cease to keep baptism simply because we have the Messiah, the reality to which the baptism points?

Kreloff continues by stating that Yeshua is superior to the types of the Tanakh that point to Him. We agree completely; that doesn’t in and of itself change whether we should continue to keep God’s commandments. The argument that he alludes to, but doesn’t yet make, from Hebrews is answered here and in my debate with Myles Davis: No part of the Torah was done away with, and only the High Priesthood and sacrifices were transferred to Yeshua.

Kreloff’s next argument is both very typical of mainline Christianity and utterly without Biblical support: “Instead of encouraging these Hebrews to remain within their comfortable religious practices, the inspired penman pleads with them to abandon these customs in favor of loyalty to Jesus Christ.”

Such a thought never entered into the Apostles’ minds, let alone their pens! In Acts 15, the subject of whether Jews should continue to keep the Torah is never even raised; it is considered a given that they would and the question is wholly on how to handle the Gentile converts flooding the synagogues every Sabbath to hear of Yeshua. In Acts 21:20ff, we are told that the tens of thousands of Messianic Jews “are all zealous for the Law,” and that Rabbi Sha’ul, aka the Apostle Paul, took a Nazrite vow with four others and went to the Temple to make sacrifices (v. 26) in order to refute the idea that he was telling Jewish believers “to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (v. 21)! We also refute the argument that the Apostles had ceased to live as Jews that is often made from Galatians here.

Note that without this foundational assumption that the Apostles saw themselves as the forerunners of a new religion rather than as Jews who saw their Judaism made complete (whole) in the Messiah, Kreloff’s entire article falls apart. Note also that Messianic Judaism has long had substantial rebuttal arguments to this assumption, arguments that Mr. Kreloff does not even mention, let alone address. With all respect to Mr. Kreloff, this speaks of a knee-jerk response, not of someone who has carefully studied Messianic Judaism so as to be able to write a viable argument against it—and reflexive opposition has never been an ally to the truth.

A Theological Danger?

Kreloff’s next section begins,

The greatest menace posed by Messianic Judaism is that, by encouraging its followers to diligently observe Old Testament laws, it obscures the foundational truth of Christianity, which is justification by faith in Christ. Though many within this movement are born again and would affirm that their salvation is based upon Christ's substitutionary atonement, yet their emphasis upon Old Testament ceremonial laws gives the distinct impression that the observing of these laws are necessary for salvation.

A distinct impression to whom? And on what basis? Does simply obeying a command of God automatically imply that one is doing so with the belief that one is working towards his/her salvation?

I assume that Mr. Kreloff opposes adultery and homosexuality, and his faithful to his own wife. Would he accept the argument that by doing so, he “gives the distinct impression that the observing of these laws are necessary for salvation”? He might, at that, but would such a stance in any way diminish Grace? What about the command to be baptized into the Name of the Lord Yeshua? Is doing it in just the right way—whatever way Mr. Kreloff thinks is correct—necessary for salvation?

Obviously, any command can become the basis for a legalistic attitude. Many Christians have killed each other in arguments over baptism in darker times, and even today many Christians condemn those who drink, smoke, listen to the wrong music, etc.—none of which are even part of the Biblical commands! Do these errors mean that mainline Christianity should be considered a “menace”?

Let’s be clear about this: Repentance (turning away from one’s sin) is necessary for salvation:

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1Jn. 1:5-10)

Does this mean that someone who sins unintentionally and doesn’t realize it is condemned? Not at all—the sacrifice clearly covers sins of ignorance (Lev. 4:2ff, Heb. 9:7). This is one reason why the Apostles did not see keeping the Torah as a prerequisite for salvation, and instead only laid down four basic laws that would separate the Gentile converts from paganism (see again our article on Acts 15). However, it does mean that just as the Israelites who sinned out of ignorance and then came to realize it were responsible for repenting from that sin and making the appropriate sacrifice, those of us in Messiah who find out that we have not been keeping one of His commands because we didn’t know about it or didn’t know that it applied to us are likewise responsible for thereafter keeping the command and relying on Yeshua’s sacrifice to cover us.

So then, do I believe that we who are in Messiah should continue to keep His Feasts and other “Jewish” commandments? Absolutely. Do I see it as a matter of salvation? Absolutely not. Since we are indeed saved by faith, we can afford to honestly disagree about the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture.

I trust that clarifies the erroneous “impression” Mr. Kreloff has. On to his next objection:

Indeed, there are some within the messianic movement who teach that Jewish believers are obligated to observe all the Old Testament laws. They would in fact associate their salvation with keeping these laws.

For the former, yes, on the basis (Acts 21) already given. For the latter, who is Kreloff claiming takes this position?

Kreloff next argues from Galatians as a whole We’ve previously touched on this in part, but have not yet finished a full article on Galatians as a whole. While our previously cited articles address Kreloff’s specific points, let us take a moment to address the specific points he makes here:

He called their rejection of grace for law "a different gospel" (1:6) and a distortion of the gospel of Christ (1:7).

This is true. However, the issue was neither one of Jewish believers remaining Jewish nor even of Gentile believers keeping the commands of the Torah. Rather, the issue, per Acts 15:1 & 6, was that circumcision (being Jewish) and keeping the Torah were being distorted into prerequisites for salvation and fellowship. As I pointed out in my debate with Myles Davis,

In fact, it was to combat this then-prevailing rabbinic error that the Apostles forbade Gentile believers to circumcise, as explained before. The command to be made righteous by trusting in God alone (Gen. 15:6) preceded (both chronologically and in importance) the command to be circumcised (Gen. 17). So long as the misperception ruled that one had to be circumcised to be saved, and to be circumcised meant to become a Jew, the two were in conflict.

In order to preserve both the true way of salvation as commanded by the Torah—by faith—and to preserve God’s promise to call Gentiles—not just proselytized Jews—by His Name, the Apostles had to put the command of faith ahead of the command of circumcision. They did not annul the Torah by so doing: They actually preserved and upheld it according to its true meaning!

Note that the emphasis against circumcision was meant to be a general rule, not an absolute prohibition; otherwise, Paul damned both Timothy and himself by circumcising the young Greek (Acts 16:3; note that this was many centuries before the rabbis ceased to trace one’s ancestry through the father).

So long as justification by faith, just as our father Abraham was, is kept foremost in mind as the reason for doing good works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10), there is no contradiction between faith and works. Let me repeat again: I do not seek to keep the Torah in order to be saved; I seek to keep it because I am saved, and I want to be like my Savior in every way.

A Ecclesiological Danger?

Kreloff’s next objection is, to put it plainly, nonsensical:

One of the great truths of the New Testament is that the Body of Christ is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It is an unbiblical concept to have a local church that is distinctively Jewish or Gentile (by necessity the early church in Jerusalem consisted of all Jews because the Gospel had not been presented to the Gentile world). Thus, the nature of messianic synagogues—with their unique Jewish distinctions—violates the very spirit of fellowship among believers of all backgrounds and cultures.

If it is unbiblical to have a local church that is distinctively Gentile, then by definition virtually every church in the world is unbiblical! Would Kreloff argue that having a church with a distinctly American culture—as his doubtless is, though he may be so immersed in our culture as to not notice it—is a violation of Scripture? What about a church with a distinctly Chinese flavor? Hispanic? African? What exactly is wrong with having a church with a particular cultural tradition?

And if one may have a Biblical church with a distinctive American, Chinese, Hispanic, or African cultural tradition, exactly on what basis can one object to an assembly with a distinct Jewish cultural tradition?

Of course, this "any culture but Jewish" attitude in the Ekklesia goes back a long way, with Jews who wanted to worship a Jewish Messiah being forced to take oaths to give up everything Jewish about their heritage, as Dan Juster documents in an article on our home site. Even today, Jews who come to the Messiah in a Sunday church are nearly always pressured to become “uncircumcised” in direct violation of 1Co. 7:18 and Acts 21. “You know Jesus now? Congratulations! Here, have a ham sandwich. What? Don’t you know that only the weak in faith keep kosher?” etc.

That being the case, it’s hardly surprising that Messianics would rather a new Jewish believer come to one of our synagogues. It’s not a matter of forcible separation on our part—it’s a matter of not wanting to help with the assimilation of the Jewish people into a Gentile culture. It may be objected that Christians aren’t assimilating Jews, but “completing” them. Not true. According to Paul in Romans 2:25, a Jew who ceases to keep the Torah becomes a Gentile for all practical purposes: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”

Fortunately, we are seeing a shift in the above situation: Many evangelical churches today are discovering a new respect for the Jewish culture which gave them the Bible, and are encouraging the Jews in their midst to keep to that culture. However, that shift is coming about precisely because there is such a thing as Messianic Judaism and the Hebrew Roots movement.

Kreloff writes,

By encouraging messianic synagogues, Messianic Judaism promotes division in the Body of Christ that is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament.

Tell me, does having Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, etc. promote division in the Body of Messiah, or should we all go back to being Roman Catholic in the name of unity? If one supports the right of different denominations to develop with their own (Biblically-defined, one would hope) cultures, liturgy, songs, order of service, etc., on what basis can one object to Messianic Judaism as one among many?

Are we seeing the pattern here? Isn’t Mr. Kreloff saying again (however unintentionally, as I’m sure it is), “Different church cultures are fine—just as long as they aren’t Jewish!” How did we, who are the inheritors of a Jewish Messiah whose Name and teachings were passed on by wholly Jewish Apostles ever come to such a theological (as opposed to personal) anti-Semitism?

Simple: By a misuse of Galatians compounded by centuries of human tradition. Galatians does not override Acts 21, or the book of Romans, or 1Co. 7, or any of the other innumerable places where Paul affirmed that there was still value to being Jewish and keeping the Torah—let alone our true Master’s own command that even the least of the Torah should be kept (Mat. 5:17-19)!

Tell me, Mr. Kreloff, since you have cited Gal. 3:28 as stating that Jewish believers should not continue to live as Jews, does this passage also annul Paul’s own teaching on separate responsibilities for men and women, per 1Co. 11:3-10, for example? Does this passage mean that homosexuality is now permitted, since there is no difference between male and female? Of course not! The point of the passage is that all have equal access to the Messiah and God’s grace regardless of their birth, not that all distinctions have been completely destroyed!

Paul himself states, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). Is Paul schizophrenic on the issue? Or have we perhaps misunderstood his writings, as happened even in his own day (cf. 1Pt. 3:16)? Perhaps it is time to stop building our theology wholly upon Paul (and that out-of-context), and build it instead on the whole of Scripture.

If Mr. Kreloff is really concerned about Jews going to Messianic synagogues and “robbing” the Sunday churches of their richness, perhaps he should abandon an anti-Jewish, anti-Torah theology which drives them there. He should also recognize that just as he goes to an American church as opposed to a Korean church because of his cultural preference, the Messianic Jew has the same freedom in the Messiah.

An Evangelistic Danger?

Kreloff starts his next section,

Adherents to Messianic Judaism believe that those identified with messianic synagogues make better witnesses to Jewish people than Gentiles from a Bible believing local church. However, the Apostle Paul told the Romans that his goal in ministering to so many Gentiles (he was the Apostle to the Gentiles) was to provoke Jewish people to jealousy (Romans 11:14). In other words, he felt that the best way to arouse Jewish interest in the gospel was through Gentile Christians. When Jewish people observe Gentile believers having a relationship with the Jewish Messiah and loving their Jewish Bibles, they often are provoked to a jealousy that eventually leads them to Christ.

Likewise, when Jewish people observe Jew and Gentile worshipping together in a Messianic synagogue, following the Messiah by keeping the Torah, their jealousy is aroused that much more.

Let me share a true story: I know a family in which the mother’s mother is Jewish. For years, she has resented her son-in-law because she saw him as tearing her daughter away from her Jewish heritage. From a very young age, she had adopted the philosophy, “I was born a Jew, and I’ll die a Jew,” which made her completely resistant to Gentile Christianity.

Since her family started attending our synagogue and her daughter has returned to her Jewish roots, her attitude towards her son-in-law and Yeshua have softened considerably. Her jealousy for her heritage has indeed been provoked, but it wasn’t by Gentile Christianity—it was by her daughter and granddaughter’s Messianic Judaism.

What Kreloff fails to appreciate is that when Paul penned those words, he was living in a time when Gentile believers were coming into the Jewish synagogues (Acts 13-14) and learning the Torah (Acts 15:21) to hear of the Messiah. They were a sub-culture within Judaism, a sect (Acts 24:5 & 14, 28:22), not a separate religion. In such a position, they could indeed provoke the Jews to jealousy by showing an enormous love to each other, displaying their Spiritual gifts, and speaking of a Messiah who encapsulated the whole Torah—but as a separate religion which rejected even her own Jewish members (as long as they remained distinctively Jewish) and who rejected the Torah, we don’t provoke this jealousy—the vigilant guardianship of something we own or have a special relationship with. Does a man feel jealousy over his wife when he sees his friend with a different woman?

While it’s true that most Jews who have come to faith in Messiah have done so by my Sunday-brethren’s efforts. That’s hardly surprising just as a matter of numbers and time—Messianic Judaism has only really begun to spread in the last 20 years, and there are perhaps a million in us in the world as opposed to billions of professing Christians.

I don’t know many Messianics who would lose that advantage of numbers and time in reaching our Jewish brothers and sisters with the Gospel. Our concern is wholly with which way our Gentile brethren will influence new Jewish believers after they come to faith in a Jewish Messiah: Will they encourage them to maintain their Jewish culture, or tell them to stop keeping the Torah and become as Gentiles? If the latter, then they are in violation of Paul’s own writings as well as the Tanakh and Yeshua’s teachings.

Jewish believers do indeed offer so much to the Body of Messiah. Unfortunately, for most of the last 2000 years, we have rejected their gifts in the name of conformity and a terrible misreading of Paul’s writings. Messianic Judaism represents a reversal of this tragedy, a movement where Jews and Gentiles together can learn the full Jewishness of the Messiah and the Bible, and in turn use what we have learned by living to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Monday, July 23, 2007

An Answer to, Part 5

The purpose of this article is to defend Messianic Judaism against what I believe to be an unfair and unscriptural attack. While this of necessity requires a certain amount of “counter-attack,” I will try to keep the focus on the arguments rather than the person, though some comments about Vicki’s general tendencies in her writings are necessary.

Answering Vicki’s Specific Objections

Having established that many of Vicki’s arguments are misdirected due to her failure to discern the fringe from the core, let us deal with some of her arguments that actually do touch on the core of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic movements:

She quotes Larry Rowland of Messengers of Truth as saying, “In order to correctly understand the Newer Testament, it is beneficial to have a working knowledge of the world from which it was birthed.” She responds,

We have always understood that the Bible was a revelation of God himself. It encompasses His unending love, mercy, justice, patience and most of all, His plan for humanity and our salvation through Jesus Christ.

That does nothing to answer or disprove Rowland’s statement. Yes, the Bible was written for all mankind, but it was written through the lens of a particular culture, and that culture is Jewish! All Christian scholars acknowledge that our culture today is nothing like that of the Biblical world—take for example apologist J.P. Holding’s comparison of Biblical culture to Japanese culture in its honor-shame paradigm. While the major truths of the Bible, such as salvation by faith, are apparent in any decent translation, there are many passages that can only be fully understood by learning about the original culture and situation of the authors. Indeed, the very fact that we have to translate the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into English proves Rowland’s point!

Vicki asks,

Do we indeed have to become Jewish in thought and custom in order to fully understand the Word of God and be pleasing before Him?

Okay, without accepting the “prophecy” as such (I don’t know Cozzen well enough to judge his “credentials” as a prophet, nor do I consider the question important at the moment), Cozzen’s essential point that we have accepted the Bible in general and the NT in particular as filtered through Western, Hellenistic culture rather than through its original Hebrew culture is essentially correct. Just as a Japanese person must become somewhat American in thought in order to fully understand an American book, we too must become Jewish in thought in order to fully understand a book written by Jews, the Bible. Why should that seem strange to anyone? (We do not, however, have to become Jewish in custom in order to please God, per Acts 15 and Gal. 2.)

Are we to accept that we have been lacking and even deliberately misled as some will say, by the New Testament and many orthodox teachings?

Few Messianics claim that the New Testament has misled us! What we are saying, just as Martin Luther said to the Church of his day, is that the NT has been misunderstood and some of its teachings ignored or distorted by preconceptions of what constitutes “orthodox” teachings.

What of the needed reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles they say will take place if we embrace our Hebrew Roots?

What of it? I’m not seeing a contradiction here.

Is there any truth to the charges of anti-Semitism towards Jews on the part of Christians in general, and from the New Testament?

From the former, there is no doubt. From the latter, no—but our misreading of the NT has certainly been used to justify anti-Semitism both great (blood-libel, pogroms) and small (forcing Jewish converts to Christianity to stop keeping the Torah).

She next objects to this “teaching of Jew and Gentile reconciliation” on the basis of Gal. 3:26-29. How exactly this passage is supposed to counter the Messianic movement is not stated; she simply assumes as a given that “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” negates the Bible’s distinctly Jewish—rather than Greek—origins. One wonders if she also sees this passage, which goes on to say, “there is neither male nor female,” negates the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, for example, or Paul’s own teaching about the distinctions between men and women (e.g., 1 Co. 11:4ff).

After a brief criticism of the Sacred Namers (which we would agree with in general, though Vicki simply doesn’t provide much in the way of an actual argument to be considered), she writes,

Besides removing or changing the Name of Jesus Christ, many would eliminate the term Christianity. Uri Marcus, of Nehemiah Trustees Covenant Fund, in an email regarding "A Vote For "Jesus"?, insists that converted Jews must retain their Jewish identity and refuse the Christian name so as not to offend their fellow Jews

Vicki fails to recognize that there is a good reason for this: For the better part of sixteen centuries, Christianity has been the persecutor of the Jewish people. Even today, every time a Jewish person comes to faith in the Jewish Messiah, we tell them to become like Gentiles rather than remaining in their own Jewish culture. Messianic Jews wish to be considered part of the larger Jewish community, just as the Apostles were, not part of a Gentile religion—and frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.