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.