Friday, August 31, 2012

Approaches to Messianic Halacha: An Introduction (Part II)

Approaches to Messianic Halacha:  An Introduction (Part II)

The UMJC Says that the Sages of the Talmud Hold Divine Authority

Sounds ridiculous, right?  But it's true and I'll prove it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Handy Overview to Halacha

I found a site that gives a very concise overview of halacha based on Mishneh Torah.  It's particularly useful if you're interested in what halacha is or how halacha is topically categorized.  Also, since Rambam categorized everything so neatly, this might be a good place to start learning about how to organize Messianic halacha.  Just a thought.

Here's the link.  After you read the introduction, just scroll down till you see the link for "view the archives."  Click that and then you'll see the fourteen categories of halacha with their subsections--all nicely summarized.  It's really quite brilliant. Also, I am not affiliated in any way with  Enjoy:

Greetings to Visitors from U.K. and India

Wanted to give a shout out to some of the new visitors from U.K. and India:

U.K.:  To the British, I would like to say that I've enjoyed spending time in your country.  Some of my fondest memories include walking with my father alongside the river Cherwell at Magdalen College or climbing the stairs of St. Paul's to reach the Whispering Gallery and on up to the Golden Gallery where the great, glittering panorama of London unfolds all around like some sort of dream city.

India:  My favorite food on earth is extra spicy saag gosht.  I first learned that American food was flavorless when my parents hosted a girl at our house who was the daughter of missionaries to India.  They acted as sort of surrogate parents while she was attending college away from home.

Principles for Building Local Communities (Cajun)

Cajun was good enough to share with us a set of principles which over the past twelve years has helped his community grow and guide a healthy local congregation.

Approaches to Messianic Halacha: An Introduction

Approaches to Messianic Halacha:  An Introduction

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One G-d, One Law, One Community...One Voice!

So this initiative to get the One Law Messianic leaders to get together to eat bagels and shmooze for the greater good, I think I've got a good name for it:  The Kol Echad Initiative.

I was thinking this would be a good name for several reasons.  The phrase hakahal chukah achat (the community of one law--Numbers 15:15 uses the term "kahal" (federated community) which has the root word kol (voice).  One of the federal ideas in the term kahal is that every member of the covenant has a voice and all the voices should come together as a single, compound voice (kol echad).

I was also wondering if anyone out there is or knows a graphic designer who wouldn't mind volunteering his or her services to create some designs/artwork for use in publicizing the Kol Echad Initiative on this site and perhaps on facebook.  It would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We Need a List of Trusted One-Law Messianic Leaders--YOU CAN HELP!

So I've been talking to some grass-roots leaders this week, guys like Cajun and Judah Himango.  It seems we're all seeing the same problem:  the One-Law Messianic movement is fractured and disorganized as a whole and, though we have some great leaders, they are not united.  

So I say let's get them all to sit down in one room, have some bagels and coffee, and have an informal discussion.  They can talk about how to establish a unified vision, how to delineate core values, how to open channels of communication--everything related to long term strategic planning.  


If you could write down the names of the trusted leaders in the movement, that would be a big help.  We need leaders from a cross-section of the movement, guys who are humble, diplomatic, peaceful, righteous, and have solid reputations.    

Surprisingly Pleasant Confrontation with Anti-Messianic Missionary

I don't believe in censorship.  In fact, I'm going to share with you an email I received from an anti-Messianic missionary in Israel.  He makes some great points and asks good questions at the end.  Naturally, he doesn't believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.  But we shouldn't let that stop us from dialoguing with him.  Oh, I should say that I do censor a little bit here to preserve anonymity for certain parties.  But I've not censored anything substantive.  Here's the email:

Strategies for Building One-Law Communities (Cajun Style)

Recently, a commenter who goes by the call sign "Cajun" answered the call for Hebrew Roots leadership to start developing elements to go into a long range strategic plan for the movement.  This is just Cajun's brainstorm, a rough outline of possible elements to include in a long range plan.  My hope is that you leaders out there will review it and add to it.  It's a discussion, not a final product.  Some of Cajun's points should be seen as ACTION ITEMS.  And we'll need someone to devise a PRIORITIZATION for such action items.  Above all, we need users to generate some content.

Without further ado...

Establishing Messianic Day School: Cajun's Responsum

[The following was written by Cajun as a Responsum]

Shayla: How would you establish a messianic day school?

Vayakhel Moshe Et Kol Adat Bnai Yisrael

"Vayakhel Moshe et kol Adat Bnai Yisrael…" (Exodus 35:1)

How do we translate this?  It's not as easy as you might think.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jerusalem Council II: The Wrath of Cohen (Question 33)

So there's a few people out there who want to establish a second Jerusalem Council for the Messianic community.  You've got guys like Dan Juster who are trying to do it:

And you've got other Messianic associations giving it a shot:

I have a few reservations about these attempts.

Man needs government because of the evil inclination.  And not just any government but it must be a covenantal government in order to (1) orient man to G-d; (2) separate powers so that the government institution does not become an institutionalization of the evil inclination; (3) ensure that each covenantal member is being represented since each member is an equal ben brit (son of the covenant).


What sort of risks do you see in pursuing a second Jerusalem Council?  And, if you think there are risks, do you believe there's ways of mitigating or negating those risks?

New "Contact Me" Section

It took a little bit of hacking since Blogger doesn't have a "Contact Me" widget but I now have a Contact Me page on the top row of tabs.  Feel free to send me any questions or comments.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Vision for the Hebrew Roots Movement: Question 32

"When there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18)

"…A cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecc 4:12)

"If one takes in hand a number of reeds bound together, can one break them?  Only if they are separated, each from the other, can they be broken," (Tanchuma Nitzavim 1).

The Hebrew Roots movement shows a lot of promise.  It is only a fledging movement but through grassroots efforts it has spread all over the country and even the world.  Believers from all different denominations and even religious backgrounds are awakening to the beauty of G-d's Torah.

But there are serious dangers threatening the movement.  HR congregations are typically isolated.  As individual communities are faced with resolving complex doctrinal issues (e.g. what role should traditional Jewish halachah play in communal life?), many have become confused and discouraged.  And, very recently, major organizations affiliated with main line Messianic organizations are directly attacking the core values of the Hebrew Roots movement.

Aside from those threats, there are individual congregational needs that are not being met.  Key institutions that are the hallmark of healthy religious organizations are largely absent from the Hebrew Roots movement.  We need congregational networks, centralized leadership training, boards tasked with developing much-needed liturgical publications.

The Sages (I know you are out there) must come forward and start developing a long range plan for the Hebrew Roots movement, a plan that will organize long range plan committee(s) and allow the movement to work together to achieve goals much larger than anything achievable by any single community.  I think this is why the Ruach put a verse into my head that I recently put in a blog post:  "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour"  (Ecc 4:9).  Together we can achieve things that we could ever achieve individually.  Together we can pool resources, allow the gifted ones with various specialties to bless the Body.  Plans fail for lack of counselors.  So we must have scores of counselors!  You must all come forward now and be courageous as we move to establish a worldwide community of one law (hakahal chukah achat).



How do we establish a long range plan?  What sorts of nuts and bolts need to go into it?  Are there any Sages out there who can help us?  Who out there specializes in strategic planning?



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Christian School Drove Us to Suicide [REVISED AND EXPANDED]: Question 31

I was raised in a Christian school and, like many of my friends there, was suicidal.  Two of my friends succeeded in committing suicide.  My closest friend was suicidal only in the ninth grade but managed to get through it.  Other friends from there just simply abandoned Christianity for atheism.  

Why were we so unhappy?  I think it had to do with the Christian approach to education:  don't think for yourself, just accept everything we tell you.  Listening quietly was seen as a virtue and asking questions was seen as rebellious.  Also, they were a little short on practical advice.  Specifically, relationship wisdom.  A lot of my friends were confused and miserable about relationships and many are now divorced.  

In contrast, the Jewish method of education is found in Deuteronomy 6:7 (v'shinnantam l'vanekha, teach/sharpen your children) and in Ephesians 6:4 (paideia kai nouthesia, discipline and instruct).  

Shinnantam from shanan (sharpen) connotes learning through heated, oppositional interaction somewhat like the dialectical methods of the Greeks (e.g. Socratic method).  The illustration is iron striking iron, opposing against each other, sometimes growing heated, but always ending in a sharpening of the metal until it shines like a sword with a razor sharp edge that can cut through virtually anything, fully capable of defending the one who wields it.  

In Jewish schools, this process of sharpening involves machloket (arguing) in chavrutot (learning partnerships).  The chavruta challenges his chavruta to ensure that their reasoning contains no weaknesses.  

But machloket is dangerous.  It is not peaceful.  In fact, you could look at it as an exception to the principle of shalom.  Argument is separation;  Shalom is unity.  So why argue?  Because the narrow exception is that arguments for the sake of Heaven (just like a loving rebuke) are done with the intent to eventually bring about shleimut and shalom.

I believe that Ephesians 6:4 is a reference to the v'shinnantam l'vanekha of the Shema.  The two aspects of shinnantam (i.e. physical and mental correction through oppositional process) are captured by the two terms paideia kai nouthesia, discipline and instruction.  

Paideia denotes training by chastisement (which reminds one of the Tochechah of the Shema) which involves training by action;  Nouthesia denotes training instilling lessons directly into the mind via words.  So there is a physical correction and also mental correction involved here that is analogous to the concept of shinnantam.  

So in Jewish schools the students gather around tables and discuss, they challenge one another, exchanges get heated, but, at the end of the day, the separation of machloket (conflict/argument) yields greater shleimah (wholeness).

The other aspect of shinnantam is derived from the context of the Shema:  learning the mitzvot.  This involves talking about Torah all day long, when you arise in the morning and when you walk about during the day and also before going to bed.

The third part of the Shema (Numbers 15) explains that men have a special need when it comes to education.  They have a weakness in that their eyes will constantly be drawn towards women.  So Torah says they must wear tzitzit so their eyes won't wander.  If eyes wandered back in ancient times when women covered themselves in modest garments, how much more will male eyes wander in today's culture in which women reveal their figures?

In mentioning this, Torah addresses a specific need for men (and women) to have guidance when it comes to relational matters.  And so Judaism developed an entire culture to respond to this need.  Very specific guidelines are provided to men and women, explaining what is expected.  Gender roles are clearly established.  There's no confusion about when or how to date.  When the man is financially stable, it's time to date.  The "how" to dating is established by the community. Everyone makes sure that the men and women are never alone together (yichud)--and even the classrooms are segregated according to gender.  The men and women do not touch prior to marriage (shomer negiah).  The length of the courtship is typically very short---there's no dating for years on end.  The dating is purposeful and marriage-oriented.  And, by the way, all of these things also protect women.  These communities don't have to worry about things like date-rape, teen pregnancy, emotionally tumultuous break-ups--they eliminate these things by making sure single men and women are never alone together.

Perhaps the keenest insight in Jewish education is that gentile entertainments should be forbidden.  This is because, just like children, young adults learn from observing.  Whatever they see will become normative.  So if young adults are allowed to watch a lot of movies depicting premarital sex as something casual, this becomes their norm.  Judaism prevents this by establishing clear standards:  no gentile entertainments.

To sum up, shinnantam is about communal learning (chavrutot) with the focus of guiding men and women toward healthy relationships.

Some traditional Christian schools probably share these values in certain ways.  But in my experience they fall short.  The good news is that, with the growth of the Hebrew Roots movement, Christian school systems may eventually get exposed to the Jewish approach.  My hope for the Hebrew Roots movement is that it will truly become a counter-cultural force.


What are your thoughts on the educational system you went through?  Did you have positive or negative experiences?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Do We Know That We Know Him? Question 30

Jeremiah 31:34  " And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

But we're in the era of the New Covenant and we still don't know G-d.  

Question 30:

How and when does this "knowing" G-d take place?  And how do you know that know Him?  Is it even possible for a finite being to understand an infinite being???

Ecclesiastes 4:9...Question 29

Ecclesiastes 4:9 "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour."


What is the reasoning here?  What is the reward to which the author refers?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hakahal Chukah Achat (The Community of One Law)

So I sent out an invitation for Gene to clarify his views and he responded here:

His view is that the community (kahal) referred to in the Sinaitic Covenant is different from the community (kahal) referred to in the New Covenant.  He concludes, therefrom, that the obligation to observe Mosaic Torah is derived only from the Sinaitic Covenant.

This view can be refuted by demonstrating that the New Covenant (1) includes Mosaic Torah and (2) includes gentiles in the community of Israel.

First, note that there is one law for every member of the community of Israel:

"...hakahal chukah achat..." (Numbers 15:15).

Second, note that the New Covenant involves both categories of Torah, the chukim and mishpatim (Ezekiel 36:27).

Third, note that the New Testament includes gentiles in the kahal.  The word "ekklesia" (translated into English as "church") is a translation of the Hebrew word "kahal."  We see this, for example in Acts 7:38 in which the kahal of Israel in the desert is referred to as "ekklesia."  Next, observe that Yeshua is the governing head of the ekklesia:

Colossians 1:18  "And He [Yeshua] is the head of the body, the church [ekklesia]..."

Since we know that Yeshua is in Israel, it follows that those who are in Yeshua are also in Israel.  And we see this confirmed by Paul when he says that the gentiles are no longer excluded from being citizens (politeia) in Israel, that they have in fact become fellow citizens (sumpolites).  Presumably, this inclusion was accomplished by the fact that Yeshua is the Passover Lamb and participation in the Passover is something only a citizen of Israel is permitted to do.

Therefore, gentiles have been inducted into both the Sinaitic Covenant and the New Covenant.  This is perhaps why Paul can say without qualification that the gentiles are no longer strangers to the plural covenants (Eph 2).

May we all come together as a unified community in our time.  May we all show ourselves worthy of being included in the Community of One Torah (Hakahal Chukah Achat).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Unraveling Gene's Enigmatic Theology: Question 28

As anyone knows who reads this blog, I find Gene to be fascinating, brilliant, and, yes, frequently enigmatic.  One of the most intriguing things Gene has said (and I'm paraphrasing) is that gentiles are members of the New Covenant and thus obligated to follow Torah...(wait for it)...that applies to them as gentiles.

So let's think about what Gene is REALLY saying here.  He's saying that the "one law" principle stated in Torah only applies to members of the Sinaitic Covenant and that the only way for a gentile to join that covenant is via ritual circumcision.  Gentiles are members in the New Covenant but, according to him, not members of the Sinaitic Covenant (unless they ritually circumcise).


Do you think that gentiles are members only of New Covenant, Sinaitic Covenant, or both?

The Lesson That Almost Killed Moses

[Thanks to Dan for the sources for this]

"At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it," (Exodus 4).

Wait a minute!  How could G-d be so angry with Moses?  After all, Moses' son couldn't have been Jewish according to modern non-Messianic Orthodox Judaism (Tzipporah wasn't Jewish).  The modern view is that one is a Jew by the mother and that being Jewish from the father alone is not enough to make someone a Jew.  Thus, G-d shouldn't have been angry, right?

Wrong.  Moses' son was Jewish because the father was Jewish.  This is called patrilineal descent.  

So when did the law of descent change in Judaism?  According to Shaye Cohen (whom we'll forgive for being a professor at Harvard--I kid), the change occurred in third century common era.  

Now, maybe the Rabbis had their reasons for overturning the Torah on this issue.   Whether or not they had the authority to do this is debatable.  But one thing is for certain:  this idea of matrilineal descent is not from the Bible.  

And so when you have guy's like Gene saying that Timothy was a Jew because of his mother, this is simply not supported by Scripture.  To support it from history, Gene would need to adduce some clear evidence.  Since he hasn't, I'm going to assume that Paul thought it was okay to circumcise gentiles provided they understood that it didn't change their already covenantal status.

We should take note of this lesson.  It's a lesson that nearly cost Moshe his life!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Letter to My Friend Who is Being Trained by UMJC to be a Rabbi



I enjoyed your recent sermon entitled [space].  When you talked about the need for conflict resolution, it made me want to talk to you.  Since I support you and know you to be a good man, when I hear that you are studying at MJTI, the leadership wing of UMJC, it makes me want to tell you what's on my heart.  I have a conflict with the UMJC and I don't want it to be a conflict with you.  I hope you will permit me to share with you what is on my heart.

I feel that the UMJC is teaching something very hurtful:  the teaching that gentiles should not follow the Torah.  So I'd like to talk about three things:  (1) the teaching itself; (2) why the teaching is harmful and; (3) why the passages used to support this position are being misused.  I hope that I can talk about this without causing you offense.  This is truly weighing on my heart and it is my sincere desire to see this conflict resolved.

There are many Rabbis in the UMJC who teach this position.  David Rudolph is one among many.  He puts it this way, "…there are two universal rules in the New Testament that enjoin Jews to remain Jews, and Gentiles to remain Gentiles--one authorized by Paul (1 Cor 7:17-24) and the other by the Jerusalem apostles (Acts 15)," (Rudolph, "Paul's Rule").  And he states what this means for praxis here:  "…Gentiles do not need to take on Torah observance as proselytes…" (Rudolph, "Paul's Rule").

Why is this harmful?  Because Torah is G-d's instructions for righteousness and freedom.  The Torah is meant to be taught to all the nations (Mic 4:2; Zec 2; 8:22-23, etc).  It is a crucial part of the New Covenant to which both Jews and gentiles belong (Jer 31:33, etc), telling all Believers how to become His people, an Am Segula.  So when G-d instills in them a desire to follow Torah but they're taught by the UMJC that Torah is not for them, this plunges them into identity confusion, cognitive dissonance, and sometimes can even lead to them abandoning Messianic Judaism for a non-Messianic form of Judaism in which they will be encouraged to follow Torah provided they reject Yeshua as the Messiah.

The UMJC primarily bases this teaching on three passages:  Acts 15; 1 Cor 7:17-24; and Galatians 5.  I will briefly state the UMJC's case and then respond to each in turn.


The UMJC states that the issue before the Jerusalem Council was "Should gentiles get circumcised and be required to follow Torah?"  Dan Juster writes that the answer is a resounding "no" and that the council decreed that the gentiles were merely bound to the Noahic Covenant.  Other UMJC writings echo this belief that the council decided against including gentiles in the Sinaitic Covenant and elected instead to bind them to the Noahic Covenant.  Rudolph himself says that the fourfold decree was a proto-rabbinic form of the Noahide Law.

In reality, the issue before the Jerusalem Council was whether gentiles were accepted into the covenant by grace (15:11) and Peter's assertion that "…we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" is a direct attack on the Pharisaic position stated in 15:1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."  In short, Peter argued that the gentiles were saved by grace and that the Ruach accepted them into the covenant so that from out of the gentiles G-d had created "a people for His name" (15:14).  In Tenak, this expression refers to the covenantal relationship between HaShem and Israel.  Israel actually took on G-d's name and became Am Yisra-EL.  

The fourfold decree is not ethical in nature but rather refers to "pollutions of idols" and various pagan practices connected with idolatry that must be avoided at all costs since they "pollute."  These gentile "converts" (note the use of epistrepho in vs 3, 19) were expected to renounce idolatry and the rest of normative covenantal Torah lifestyle was well known since it had been taught from ancient times in every city each Shabbat in synagogues (15:21).


In this passage, Paul tells Jews and gentiles to remain as they were called.  The UMJC argues that this proves that gentiles should not follow Torah.

However, verse 19 says "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what counts."  The plain reading here is that whether or not one is circumcised, each Believer should follow the Torah of Moses.  The scholar Frank Thielman notes that that expression "commandments of God" occurs in the Septuagint's translation of Ezra 9:4 as a synonym for the law of Moses.  So this verse actually damages the UMJC's argument pretty severely.


Russ Resnik and Dan Juster write, "Galatians 5 warns Gentiles not to receive circumcision or they will be required to keep the whole Torah. The clear implication here is that without circumcision, Gentiles are not required to keep the whole Torah"  (Resnik and Juster, "One Law Movements").

But did Paul really see circumcision as a horrible "yoke of bondage"?  If we look in the context we see that Paul wasn't against proper circumcision at all but rather he was arguing against the false doctrine from Acts 15:1--the teaching that unless one is circumcised one cannot be saved.  We know that Paul is attacking works-based justification and not circumcision itself because Paul says "You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4).  


Thank you for taking the time to hear what was on my heart.  I hope that even if you choose to disagree with my position (which is fine by the way) that we can respect each other.  However, my fervent hope is that you will reevaluate the UMJC's position since I've demonstrated how it is unstable.  And if you ever want to talk more about this then I would take that as a sign that you also desire to resolve any doctrinal conflicts that have arisen between us and work towards mutual respect.  

Shalom in Moshiach,


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Responding to Anonymous' Questions About Conversion

A recent Anonymous asked a TON of really good questions.  Don't know if I'll get through them all but here goes:

QUESTION 1:  "When a gentile comes to faith in Jesus, is he or she obligated to keep the whole law of Moses?"

First, let's understand the background.  A Jew is obligated to Torat Moshe because of his ancestors at Sinai who said "na'aseh v'nishma".  Yeshua was obligated to Torah because of His ancestors.  Gentiles are obligated to Torah because Yeshua becomes their ancestor (Heavenly Father).

But let's look at Exodus 24:7 to see how the Israelites became obligated to Torah.  "..kola asher diber adonai na'aseh v'nishma."  Notice the order in which they respond, "all that G-d has spoken, we will do and we will understand."  They didn't understand right away.

G-d doesn't expect these incoming gentiles to know all of the Torah right away but He does expect them to accept that His instructions are binding and He wants them to make a commitment to studying in order that they understand.  A new citizen must pledge to abide by the law, to do it, even if he doesn't know or understand all of the law.

Now let's see if the premise that a convert is still a convert even if no one explained the Torah to him, if this premise is confirmed by the Rabbis:

Maimonides in Hilchot Issurei Biah, Halachah 13:17 says "When a court did not check a [potential] converts background and did not inform him of the mitzvot and the punishment for [the failure to observe] the mitzvot and he circumcised himself and immersed in the presence of three ordinary people, he is [still] a convert."

So we see that Rambam essentially agrees with me.  It's possible to convert through normative processes (e.g immersion, or as Rambam would say, circumcision + immersion) EVEN IF one does not know or understand all the mitzvot at the outset.


"If a gentile has the status of a convert as a believer in Jesus, will his or her next generation be considered Jewish?"

No.  "Jewish" refers to the tribal identity of Judah and also to proselytes to that tribe.  A gentile who converts through Yeshua has not gone through the normative procedures for joining Judah.  He is, however, an Israelite because his Father is Yeshua.


"When is this moment that a gentile is obligated to the law of Moses?"

When one accepts to follow Yeshua and all of His teachings.


"At what point could Paul start bringing his gentile believers past the court of the gentiles?"

I wasn't aware that he did.  I'm aware that he was accused of this but I'm not aware that it did in fact happen.  Perhaps you could elaborate?


"Would this new gentile believer receive the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath or would they say you are a gentile, you have not gone through the proper conversion process, why is your case even being heard?"

To answer this question, one would have to be familiar with first century Sanhedrin case law pertaining to Sabbath-breaking and one would need more facts about the gentile in question.

Acts 16 and the Unusual Rationale For Timothy's Circumcision: Question 27

Acts 16:3 is an interesting passage because it occurs right after the Jerusalem Council decision (in which it was determined that gentiles belong to the covenant) and because the author (probably Luke) cites the reason why Paul circumcised Timothy:

"Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: (2) Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.(3) Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:1-3)

What an interesting reason!  What does it mean?  Some people get circumcised out of a sense of being called to do it (e.g. Abraham) and some people get circumcised because they're afraid NOT to get circumcised (e.g. Esther 8:17) but who ever heard of being circumcised just because you want to preach to the Jews and someone might find out that your father is a Greek?  Shouldn't Paul have circumcised Timothy out of a sense of covenantal obligation given that Timothy's mother was Jewish?


What is your interpretation of this passage?  Particularly, what do you make of the rationale behind Timothy's circumcision?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Post For Men Only: The Jewish Guide to Seduction

The majority of marriages end in divorce.  So how many more stay married but are miserable?  Surely Yeshua never intended for so many in the Body to be confused and miserable about love.  So I'd like to talk about the Jewish (Biblical) approach to love and marriage.  

The most dangerous myth today is that the best way to learn about love is through experience.  Don't buy the car until you take it for a test drive, right?  Wrong.  If experience is the best way to learn about love then every prostitute out there must be a relationship master.

The truth is that there are better ways to learn than through experience.  But it will require us to talk about some private matters.

The first thing to understand is "Who am I?"  If you don't have a strong identity then you will NEVER attract anyone.  A woman is hardwired to be attracted to a confident man who knows what he wants, a man who respects himself.  

First, let's eliminate what you are not.  You are not:  your possessions, your achievements, your wealth, your physical looks.  Cultivate those things because they convey confidence and self-respect but don't define yourself by them.  They can all be taken away.

What's the one thing that can't be taken away?  Your relationship with HaShem!  That's it.  All of your wisdom and knowledge and looks and cars--all can be taken away.

If you are looking for a shidduch, you must convey that you are a son of the King.  Always be well-groomed, dress stylishly yet modestly ("hey, I'm more than a piece of meat, ladies!"), maintain proper hygiene at all times, study the art of confident body language, study humor so that you can know how to be funny (e.g. Comedy Writing Secrets by Melvin Helitzer), keep in shape so that you can convey ENERGY!

Now, whether you use shadchan or Jewish dating site, you will eventually have to approach a woman and you must have a game plan.

How to identity a good woman.  Eliezer was the first shadchan who was tasked with finding Isaac's bashert.  What is the first question he asked her?  He asked her "whose daughter are you?"  (bat mi at?).  Yechus is CRITICAL.  Does she come from a family with strong Jewish values?  You must ascertain her pedigree.  He also observed that she had the trait of chesed because she was very hospitable.  We also know she understood the role of tzniut because she wore a head-covering.

But don't just interrogate her!  Your task is two-fold:  (1) generate attraction; (2) determine her yechus by asking about her family, friends, pursuits, etc.

That first task is also critical.  How do you generate attraction?  By conveying higher value.  Women have instincts and there are certain attraction switches.  You must know how to flip each one in sequence (well, not EACH one as some things must be left for marriage).

The first switch is that women are attracted to alpha males.  Study up on this.  Cultivate yourself to be an alpha male.  Some of the traits of an alpha male are confidence, humor, being well-groomed and well-dressed.  Don't expect a woman to like you if you don't like yourself!

The next is to demonstrate higher value.  A woman wants to see that women are attracted to you.  She wants to know that you are not needy or desperate.  She wants you to have social awareness.  She wants you to be someone who can address all of her friends and make them all laugh.  She wants to know that you won't always say "yes" to her, that you are, in fact, a real man and that being in your social circle is a privilege, not a right.  She wants to know that you have standards when it comes to women, that you are screening her!  She wants a little bit of mystery.  Don't give everything away about yourself.  Play the game, brother!  Dating should be, above all things, playful.

When I resume next time, I'll talk about dating strategies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Derek Leman Opens Blog Up for One Law Discussion

I hope that you will all take time to visit Derek's blog and engage in the discussion he has just opened up.  He states his position:

"Main point: not all in Torah is given universally to all people. The text in focus here is Deuteronomy 14:21."

And then he asks for everyone to discuss and promises not to censor provided that everyone is polite.  So go forth and be polite!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Have an Ax to Grind With First Fruits of Zion and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, a Response to Gene and Anonymous

The Torah commands that we teach Torah to our children, a command which includes teaching Torah to the gentile proselyte because the proselyte is like a new-born child:

Yevamot 48a "R. Jose said: One who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born.  Why then are proselytes oppressed? — Because they are not so well acquainted with the details of the commandments as the Israelites.

More than this, the proselyte is an orphan:

"The reason for the prohibition 'You shall not wrong a stranger' (Exodus 22:20) that he has no family roots" (Ibn Ezra's short commentary to Exodus 22:20)

Therefore, one distorts Torah to the proselyte is susceptible to the following curse:

“Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’"(Deut 27:19).

Therefore, the teachers who distort Torah for proselytes must be rebuked because we are commanded:

"You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him." (Lev 19:17)

But are the gentiles in the New Covenant to be equated with proselytes?  See the following posts:

In conclusion, to not rebuke FFOZ and UMJC would be to violate multiple commands:  (1) failing to rebuke a brother; (2) failing to instruct a "child" in the ways of Torah; (3) failing to protect the rights of the sojourner.  And probably other mitzvot as well.


Monday, August 13, 2012

I'm a Closet Messianic: Question 26

I believe that's it's possible to love Christians without being attracted to their religion.  I even visited a Christian church this past Sunday.  I felt very loving toward the people...but I sort of drifted during the service.  The pastor held my attention whenever he talked about the book of Acts but whenever he made excursions into broader areas I found myself growing sleepier and sleepier (and at one point toward the end I momentarily lost my battle, dozing off for the briefest of moments).   

They are doing a lot of things right.  I observed that in the lobby they had an Israeli flag right next to the American flag and that the t.v.'s intermittently advertised that Messianic singer Marty Goetz was going to be visiting.  All of these things show growth and potential. 

However, they hate G-d's Torah.  I'd gone in with the secret hope that they would be Baptist's in name only and that they would really be a Baptist-Hebrew Roots hybrid church.  And in some ways they are.  Certainly more so than most Baptist churches.  But they still recite the same old lies "Jesus fulfilled the law!"

Will I go back next Sunday?  Sure.  Am I happy about it?  I guess I'd rather be in a non-segregationist Messianic synagogue or Hebrew Roots congregation.  But since that's not available, this is probably the next best thing.  

It's definitely not the ideal though.  And I know the Leman's out there will just say that I'm "paganoid" but that's not it.  The pagan aspects of Christianity are not the only drawback to attending Christian church.  Here's the drawback:  if they find out you are secretly Torah-observant they will treat you like you are a closeted homosexual.  It's a sickness that must be treated because "the law is the way of sin and death" and "to follow the law is to deny grace" etc, etc.


Question 26:

Is the urge to separate from Christianity a healthy urge?  If so, is it unhealthy to suppress it?  [I'm still gonna go to church but I'm interested in what you all have to say]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Law School Taught Me About Acts 15: Question 25

A lot of Messianic groups who advocate against the gentile obligation to observe Torah (e.g. UMJC and FFOZ)  like to claim that Acts 15 clearly and unquestionably supports their position.  But is the process of interpreting Acts 15 really so simple that one can claim that their interpretation is clear and beyond question?  

It turns out that Acts 15 is a difficult passage to interpret for several reasons.  First, as with any passage of the New Testament, one must overcome the difficulty of understanding Greek language and grammar.  Second, Acts 15 is one of those passages that contains an inordinately high number of anti-Judaic, non-original scribal additions.  Third, Acts 15 is unique in that it contains a truncated and often cryptic judicial opinion.  

Faulty analysis of Acts 15 can lead to major problems in the Body.  This is because Acts 15 is construed as defining the following relationships:  (1) gentiles and G-d; (2) gentiles and Jews; (3) gentiles and Torah.  So if the main line Messianic interpretation is wrong then it could be leading to identity confusion, role confusion, and all of the misery that comes from avoiding G-d's instructions for life.   

What's the solution?  One of the things I learned in law school was that if one follows the steps of proper case analysis one is much more likely to extract the intended meaning of a judicial opinion.  So I'm going to share with you a method which I believe will assist you in ascertaining the true meaning of Acts 15.  But first I'll have to explain a few basics about case analysis.

Each case is composed of certain interrelated components (e.g. facts, law, issue, holding, etc).  Since these components are interrelated, misidentifying any one component means misunderstanding the whole and extracting a meaning that was never intended by the writer of the judicial opinion.    

The most critical component of a case is the issue. Why is it critical?  Because the holding of the court is the issue rephrased as an answer.  For example, if the issue is "Under federal law, is it Constitutional for States to prohibit same sex marriages?"  That is a legal question.  The holding will rephrase that question into an answer like this "Under federal law it is Constitutional for States to prohibit same sex marriages."  Thus, if you get the question wrong then you'll get the answer wrong.  

But sometimes the court doesn't state the issue.  For example, in Acts 15 the Pharisaic party states their case in 15:1, 5.  However, if the council accepted the Pharisaic framing of the issue, they never state this.  No council member explicitly states the narrow issue being decided.  If an issue is unstated then one must do a bit of reverse engineering in order to infer the issue as it has been framed by the judge or council.  

This reverse engineering process to identify the issue involves several critical steps.  First, you must determine whether the issue is a factual issue (i.e. is there a dispute about the facts?) or a legal issue (i.e. is there a dispute about which law applies or how it applies or whether the law applies at all?) or a hybrid of the two.  Second,  you must look at the holding because the holding should (ideally) contain all of the information in the formal issue statement.  Third, look to see what legal rule is being applied and the elements of which it consists.  Fourth, look to see what facts are relevant to the elements of the legal rule (i.e. the key facts of the case).  Fifth, if the issue is still vague then you can examine the propositions contained in the arguments presented before the court and make inferences from that.

If the issue is merely factual then the process is simplified.  For factual issues, either a jury will render a verdict or a judge or council will make a finding.  The jury's or judge's decision will be based upon the believability of the evidence.  


Do you think the council was resolving a question of law or a question of fact?  Did the council focus more on legal precedent or did they put more emphasis on the facts of the case with regard to gentiles?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Oil of Healing: Question 24

James 5:14 is a difficult passage.  In it, James says that if you're sick then you should call for elders (plural) so that they can (1) pray over you; (2) anoint you with olive oil; (3) recite the name of the L-rd (i.e. Yeshua).  James seems to be saying that if we follow these procedures then we can be confident that healing will result.  But what is the social and religious context here?  To understand this we must ask a few questions...

What does olive oil signify in the Bible?  

--It is at times an agent of healing as in the case of lepers in Lev. 14:13-18

--It is a blessing.  Deut 11:13-14 says that if Israel keeps Torah then it will be blessed with grain, wine, and olive oil.

--It is not to be used in certain cases.  In the case of the Sotah, it may not be employed (Number 5:15).

--It is associated with the Ruach.  I john 2:27 talks about the anointing which also "teaches" you.  Also see Zechariah 4.

--It makes the face "shine":  “wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15).

--It is associated with Torah-observant children:  “Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways.  When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD” (Psalm 128:1-4).

--It has medicinal properties:  Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34.  [So it's important to keep in mind that James wasn't necessarily advocating against standard medical practices].

--It is used to consecrate prophets (Is 60:1), priests (Ex 29:7), and kings (1 Sam 10:1).

--It is used in the menorah to generate tongues of fire.  See also Acts 2 which records the New Covenant Shavuot during which the disciples were "filled" with the Spirit which Joel prophesied would be "poured out" and manifested as tongues of fire above their heads.

What about the fact that James says that the sick person must summon all the elders?  What is the significance of having multiple elders?

--“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments” (Psalm 133:1-2). 

This makes it seem that where there is unity there is the Holy Spirit also, pouring itself out like a comforting, healing olive oil on all those gathered together in unity.



Why don't we see James' proposed healing technique employed in congregations today?  [if you have seen it employed then perhaps you will share your stories with us]

Suspect Wives and Jealous Husbands: Question 23

Numbers 5 is one of those chapters that anti-Judaic people often use to point out the supposed unfairness of Torah.

But it's also understandable why they get this impression.

In Numbers 5, it says that if a man is jealous--he feels that his wife has cheated on him--even if he has ZERO proof and even if she is INNOCENT of wrongdoing, the presence of jealousy means that she must be taken before the Temple court, be humiliated (e.g. have her hair exposed), and then undergo the trial of the Sotah.


How is it fair that an innocent woman should be humiliated in public on the basis of nothing more than her husband's jealousy?

Messianic S.W.O.T.: Question 22

Swot analysis is a strategic planning tool that you use to ensure that your venture (usually business) achieves its goals.  The acronym stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.

I thought it might be helpful if we all devote a few moments to apply this to Messianic Judaism.  I'll try to get it started and then you, the readers, can see what you think should be added to it.




Lack of unity


Scholarship:  we need scholars to compile works dealing with Messianic Jewish Theology (MJT); Systematic MJT; Messianic apologetics;  Messianic hermeneutics;

Community:  we need to learn from the Orthodox in some ways.  There should be actual Torah study amongst men at Messianic shul.  Chaverah groups should be more inclusive of Christians and non-Messianic Jews as we seek to build bridges to the broader community.

Halachah:  we need to develop battei din, local councils which coordinate with regional councils that develop halachah.  This must involve the establishment of scholarly offices and Houses of Study to ensure that our elders have a thorough understanding of Torah and Tradition.


Bilateral Ecclesiology:  what could be more divisive to the Body?

Unrecognized Mediation:  the idea that Yeshua saves members of Israel even if they don't accept Him personally.

Errancy of Scripture:  the idea that the Scriptures contain errors.  This idea is a direct attack on the authority of Scripture.  

Non-Divinity of Yeshua:  the idea that Yeshua wasn't really HaShem, that He was a man and possibly more than a man but definitely not G-d.

Non-Messianic Rabbinic Judaism as Primary Authority:  This idea promoted by such groups as FFOZ is extremely dangerous.  We should respect the Rabbis historical sources on the ancestral traditions.  On any matter that could potentially affect Messianic Jewish Theology, they should not be given authority---such authority was given to the Holy Spirit working through the Kahal of Believers in Yeshua as represented by local or regional battei din (councils of elders).  


Can you think of any ways to improve this Messianic SWOT analysis?  Anything to add?  Or do you disagree with anything I've presented?  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Overlap of Covenants: Question 21

One thing I've never fully understood is how the Old Covenant and the New Covenant seem to be operating on some level simultaneously.  For example, one may belong to Israel via Old Covenant and yet by not believing in Yeshua still not belong to the New Covenant.  I believe scholars have at times tried to explain this by saying that there are different types of Israel (e.g. the Israel of G-d).  But I've not heard anything really persuasive.

Question 21:

Has anyone studied about this concept?  What ways the old covenant remains operative/inoperative?  Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

So I just got off the phone with a friend of mine.  We were talking about our friend who is currently in Sudan in a refugee camp as a part of a humanitarian campaign with Doctors Without Borders.

Want to have your mind blown?

A typical day for him is waking up with four inch long roaches climbing on all of his stuff, scorpions on the bed, snakes on the floor of the tent.  Then, if he's not suffering terrible diarrhea or other sickness, he's working as fast as he can to help people survive.

Sanitation is a disaster.  They have no idea about waste disposal.  You have to literally tell them to bury it so that they won't kill everyone.

Warlords send out gangs to terrorize everyone.  The camp has these ditches that you have to dive into when the gangs start firing assault weapons.

Part of the job involves having babies die in your arms.  Sometimes there's nothing you can do for them.

There's a huge manpower shortage and the local refugees are able-bodied and willing to help but they don't know how to read and they don't understand basic math.  So when you explain dosages and times for administration they often get it wrong and people die.

This is for real and it's happening right now.

Please check out this video to learn more:

The Immersion of Cornelius: Question 20

Acts is one of those really dense books.  So I'll be asking a lot questions about it.  Here's one such question:


Why did Peter IMMEDIATELY immerse Cornelius in a mikveh after it became evident that they Ruach had accepted and purified Cornelius?

Messianic Kiruv: Question 19

So the Orthodox have a method of Jewish outreach called "kiruv" which involves welcoming non-practicing Jews and inspiring them with Torah and Tradition.  The word kiruv is derived from karav which means "to draw near" or "befriend."

I once read something about how we draw near to G-d.  It said that the way we draw near to G-d is by getting close to that which G-d loves.  Since G-d loves Torah (which is love) then it makes since that we should draw close to Torah in order to draw closer to G-d.

Ephesians 2:13 says "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Question 19:

What does Paul mean by "brought near" in Ephesians 2:13?

Romans Road vs. Jewish Road: Question 18

So those who've grown up in Christian circles are probably familiar with the evangelistic method known as the Romans Road.  It goes like this:

Romans 3:23 NKJV – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:10 NKJV – As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
Romans 5:12 NKJV – Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned–
Romans 6:23 NKJV – For the wages of sin [is] death, but the gift of God [is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8 NKJV – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 10:9-10 NKJV – that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation
Romans10:13 NKJV – For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

This is a pretty good outline for how to share the gospel.  

The only problem is once you share this message and the person responds to it and says "Where can I go to learn more about this?"



If you're Messianic or Hebrew Roots but you don't have such a congregation in your area and you're witnessing to someone, to which congregation do you direct them to learn more?  A Christian congregation?  [I don't claim to have answers here;  I'm just asking]

Rabbi vs. Elders: Question 17

Question: 17

What are the pros/cons about having, as the primary decision-making entity, a single leader (i.e. Rabbi) over an entire congregation vs. having a group of representative elders?  What Scriptural sources can you cite as evidence for your position?

Romans 3:3-2 and The Value of Jewishness: Question 16

Romans 3:3-2 says "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."

Question 16:

What sort of "advantage" is Paul talking about here when he says "unto them were committed the oracles of God"?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sharing Our Struggles: Question 15

One of the things I'd like for this blog is that people feel welcome to come and share any struggles they're having so that we, as a Body, can encourage one another.

For example, my family is having a struggle finding a congregation where we feel we belong.  So without further ado:


Do you have anything on your heart that you would like to talk about?

Rambam on the Events of Galatians 2: Question 14

In Galatians 2, Paul rebuked Peter "in front of everyone" because Peter was being racist:  he refused to sit with gentiles because of their race.

Was Paul violating halacha by rebuking a fellow Jew in public and embarrassing him?

Rambam, in Mishneh Torah Hilchot De'ot Chapter Six, says the following:

"Halacha 7

It is a mitzvah for a person who sees that his fellow Jew has sinned or is following an improper path [to attempt] to correct his behavior and to inform him that he is causing himself a loss by his evil deeds as [Leviticus 19:17] states: "You shall surely admonish your colleague."

Halacha 8

From this, [we learn that] it is forbidden for a person to embarrass a [fellow] Jew. How much more so [is it forbidden to embarrass him] in public. Even though a person who embarrasses a colleague is not [liable for] lashes on account of him, it is a great sin. Our Sages said: "A person who embarrasses a colleague in public does not have a share in the world to come."…

When does the above apply? In regard to matters between one man and another. However, in regard to spiritual matters, if [a transgressor] does not repent [after being admonished] in private, he may be put to shame in public and his sin may be publicized. He may be subjected to abuse, scorn, and curses until he repents, as was the practice of all the prophets of Israel."



Do you agree with Rambam's articulation of the principles of confrontation?  When is it a good idea to confront a brother publicly?  When is it a bad idea?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Evidences of Gentile Obligation to Follow Torah

Here's some evidence for gentile obligation to follow Torah that I'm gonna be putting into a book on Acts 15.  Sorry that this is just an outline and that I haven't gone through and fully explained each point.  But it'll give you a taste of the magnitude of the rebuttal that exists for FFOZ's Divine Invitation position:

Evidences for Full Gentile Torah Obligation:


The Abrahamic Covenant promised that Abraham's seed would become a great nation.  This was fulfilled by the Sinaitic Covenant.  Exodus 19:5-6 shows us that the Sinaitic Covenant established the People of Israel as a nation.  Jeremiah 31 shows us that the New Covenant is a reaffirmation of the national covenant (Sinaitic) because it makes explicit references to the nation and to the constituent Houses of the nation.  Yeshua tells us that His blood is the blood of the New Covenant.  Therefore, partners in the New Covenant are members of the nation of Israel.


Epistrepho:  Peter uses this term interchangeably with "immersion" (Acts 2:38 and 3:19) which shows that Peter saw Cornelius' immersion as a rite of initiation into the Israelite religion (Acts 10,11) and also that Luke and James saw the "conversion" of the gentiles (Acts 15:3, 19) in the same way.

Kahal, Ekklesia, and the Expression "Day of the Kahal" as Shavuot:  The latter expression refers to Israel (Dt 9:10; 10:4; 18:16; 5:22).  The Day of the Kahal refers to Shavuot when Torah was given.  Gentiles are included in the New Covenant Shavuot (Acts 11).  Stephen applies ekklesia to Israel in Acts 7:38.  Ekklesia is the word for Church and it comes from the Hebrew word for the political gathering of Israel (Kahal).  

Covenanted (proselyte) and Non-Covenanted (paroikos) Dichotomy of Gerim (LXX).  Ephesians 2 tells gentiles that they are no longer paroikos (non-covenanted germ).

Politeia (Eph 2) as the perfect descriptor for the political connotations of the Hebrew word ezrach (citizen).  


Acts 15:  Shows that the uncircumcised gentiles were "epistrepho" [converts] and were expected to attend synagogue to learn Torat Moshe (Acts 15:21) on the basis that they had become part of the covenanted people for His name (Am Yisrael) via the conversion of the Holy Spirit (which Peter, in re Cornelius, had symbolized with immersion in a mikveh).


Passover:  Familial Symbolism; Federal Institution; Federal Citizenship; Passover Feast as Citizenship Par Excellence

Positive Law Rights:  Intimacy Only Found in Positive Commands of Divine Revelation (i.e. Torah);  The Correlative Nature of Rights/Duties; The Right to Intimacy; Ruach Immersion as Change of Legal Status


Instruction to Abandon Gentile Identity (1 Cor 12:2; Eph 2; Eph 4, etc)

Spiritual Circumcision as Ritualized Circumcision Par Excellence (Col 2:11-13; Eph 2:11-22; Gal 6:15-16; 1 Cor 7:19; Rom 2:26; Rom 3:29-31

Rights Teachings (Eph 2)

Instruction for Gentiles to Imitate Models of Torah Observance (Phil. 4:9)

Instruction for Gentiles to Follow Mosaic Torah (1 Cor 7:19)


Gentiles as the People Called by His Name (Acts 15)

Gentiles will Receive Persecution for Rejecting Idolatry

Gentiles (along with Jews) are Israel (1 Peter 9-10)


The Gentile Corinthians Celebrated Passover:  1 Cor. 5:7-8

The Colossians Observed Moedim:   In Col 2, Paul is attacking the ascetic and gnostic "traditions of men" (2.8) and the "commandments and doctrines of men" (2.22).  This is what Paul was attacking:  non-Scriptural, man-made traditions.  Now observe that kashrut law, Shabbat, New Moon celebrations, these are not "traditions of men" but rather they ARE Scriptural.  Thus, Paul was not attacking Scriptural practices. Also, for the acetics to be judging the Torah-observant Colossians for their feasting, the Torah-observant Colossians must've been keeping those feasts.

Gentile Assimilation into Jewish Communities in First Century:  Fredriksen, Zetterholm, Nanos, Irshai, 


Isaiah 2:2-3; 56:6

Jeremiah 31:33

Micah 4:2

Zech 2; 8:22-23

Derek Leman Rejects Plain Meaning of "Epistrepho": Question #13

On a recent blog of Derek's (

I tried to engage him by asking the question:

"To what religion were the uncircumcised gentiles converting in Acts 15:3 when it talks about their conversion?"

His response:

"Well, Peter, I don’t know much about the compound Greek word epistrophe (translated in most as “conversion”). But it is used only once in the NT.  I do, however, understand the basic sociology of Jew vs. Greco-Roman in the first century. The word does not mean “conversion from one religion to another” in a modern sense (like switching from Buddhism to Judaism)."

Derek then disabled comments and poor James was left holding his popcorn in the dark:

James wrote:  "(Takes a seat with drink and popcorn in hand…prepared to watch the Peter/Derek debate over the “epistrophe” issue). ;-)"


So let's discuss:

Epistrepho means to "turn" and it's the same as the Hebrew "teshuvah" used of converts who are turning to follow Torah.  It literally denotes changing your orientation so that you have a completely different identity, an identity that, in Judaism, has always meant becoming part of Am Yisrael.

Oh, and, big surprise, it's used several times in Acts 15.  Verses 3 and 19 I believe.  

I'm gonna post a few scholarly quotes on epistrepho and teshuva and then ask my question:

" [tois apo ton ethnon epistrephousin epi ton theon] [those among the Gentiles who are turning to God] could be said by a Jew of Gentile converts to Judaism; to a Jewish Christian the Christian conversion of Gentiles must have had to a considerable extent the same appearance.  Gentiles were turning from whatever heathen gods they had previously worshipped to the God of the OT, the God of the Jews.  It was this fact that gave strength to the requirement that they should behave like converts to Judaism, that is, should be circumcised and thereafter keep the Law.  [epistrephousin--which is teshuvah or turning] could be used to describe what was required of Jews (3.19). [Acts 3:19 says "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord"]" pg. 728 of A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by C.K. Barrett

The term...(epistrophe) refers to a change of thinking, a 'turn' in orientation, and so a conversion; this is the noun form of the verb...(epistrepho, turn).  It is the only place the noun is used in the NT, although the verb is frequent in Acts (3:19; 9:35, 40; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19, 36; 16:18; 26:18, 20; 28:27)." pg. 495 of  Acts: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Darrell L. Bock

"Teshuva, a different definition of one's identity, can change one's whole world..." pg. 415 of Change & Renewal by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz



Is Derek Leman correct that epistrepho does not mean to change your religion?  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Rabbinic Authority: Question 12

Recently, FFOZ said that the Rabbis of Rabbinic Judaism have authority over Messianic believers in Yeshua.  


What authority, if any, do you feel the Rabbis have over Messianic believers in Yeshua?

First Fruits of Zion and the False Teaching Known as "Divine Invitation"


Are gentiles (along with Jews) Israel?  Are they obligated to follow Torah?  FFOZ answers with a resounding "No."  They explain their position in a paper called "Divine Invitation:  An Apostolic Call to Torah."

As we've seen recently, they've gone militant with their message, comparing gentiles who follow Torah (thus rebelling against Rabbinic Jewish "authority") to the followers of Korach who rebelled against Moses.

But what if FFOZ's position is wrong?  What if it amounts to calling unclean that which G-d has called clean?  What if excluding gentiles from the "people called by His name" is tantamount to "putting God to the test" (i.e. provoking G-d)?

So I propose a look at FFOZ's paper so that we can evaluate the merits for and against the Divine Invitation position and then, as always, we can discuss.  I look forward to discussing this topic with you all!


Divine Invitation teaches that gentiles are only obligated to follow the Noahide laws but are invited to follow a very limited set of Torah commands.




As you'll read in their paper, FFOZ relies heavily upon a single verse:  Galatians 5:3.  They argue that the meaning of the verse is "obvious" and "irrefutably simple."  They interpret this verse as Paul discouraging gentiles from circumcision on the basis that circumcision obligates one to follow all of the Torah.  In other words, they argue that Paul teaches that it is ritual circumcision which initiates one into the covenant.


 If this is Paul's argument then, reductio ad absurdem, Paul thinks that Torah is a dreadful burden.  But what if that "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1) does not refer to proper circumcision but rather the idea of works-based justification contained in the false doctrine that only ritual circumcision can initiate one into the covenant (Acts 15:1)?  It seems to me that it is more likely that Paul is criticizing works-based justification rather than Torah because (1) Paul is pro-Torah, not anti-Torah and (2) the context of Galatians 5 indicates that Paul is combating works-based justification:  "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace."  Indeed, if Paul thought that circumcision rendered Christ of no effect then Paul's circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16) would've rendered Christ of no effect to Timothy.

 ACTS 15:10

 This is the other key passage that FFOZ uses to prove Divine Invitation.  FFOZ argues that the "unbearable yoke" in Peter's speech is a reference to Torah:

 "The inescapable conclusion, then, is that the yoke which neither the apostles nor their forefathers had been able to bear is indeed “the law of Moses.”

FFOZ concludes from this that the Torah is an unbearable burden.


If Peter was arguing that the Torah was an unbearable yoke then his argument becomes as follows:

(1) the law is an unbearable burden;
(2) it's wrong to attempt an unbearable burden;
(3) it's wrong to follow the law;
(4) therefore, the gentiles are wrong to follow the law

Thus, reductio ad absurdum, FFOZ's view would have Peter arguing that is is wrong to follow G-d's Torah.  This view is untenable because (1) Peter was for the Law; (2) the Law says it is not an unbearable burden; (3) Peter's critique of the Law would also apply to Jewish Torah observance.

It's more likely that Peter was arguing against works-based justification just like Paul in Galatians 5.  This is implied by Peter having to argue FOR grace-based justification in 15:11, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."  Through basic issue analysis one can reasonably extrapolate that Peter was attacking the proposition of works-based justification.

But does this fit with the context?  If we examine the legal context of the issue, covenantal initiation, we see that there were definitely two antithetical views in Acts 15.  The Antiochian delegates position was that the Holy Spirit via a spiritual baptism initiates gentiles into the covenant making them a "people for his name."  The Pharisaic position was that these gentiles had not been saved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that they had not been saved at all because they had not been initiated by ritual circumcision.  The Pharisaic position thus negates grace by advocating for the work of circumcision.  So the idea that Peter was attacking works-based justification fits very nicely with the context.

ACTS 15:20

FFOZ says that the fourfold apostolic decree was derived from the laws of Noah and from the purity code of Leviticus 17-18:

"Those four essentials may have been derived from the laws given to Noah and the laws found in Leviticus 17–18."


It is unlikely that the fourfold decree derives from the Noahide "laws" for several reasons:

"The Noahic precepts as the source....there are difficulties in this view.  The similarities between the prohibitions and the Noahic precepts are not as close as they may seem at first glance.  For example Genesis 9 has only one clear correspondence to the prohibitions (eating meat with blood in it).  The only other command relates to murder, and while [aima] can be used as a metonymy for murder, the earlier examination of this term has shown that this meaning is unlikely.  It is also problematic that [pniktos] does not occur in the Noahic precepts.  Furthermore why were between six and thirty precepts narrowed down by James to four.  Suggesting that the Noahic precepts provide the source of the prohibitions is also problematic historically.  As Wedderburn has noted, there is no evidence that the Noahic precepts were in use in the first century.  Witherington concurs when he writes, 'It would be anachronistic to bring the latter rabbinic concept of seven Noahic commandments, binding on all descendants of Noah, into our discussion.'  Contextually the Noahic view seems difficult to sustain.  For one thing, very little in the immediate context would bring Noah to the reader's mind.  The first mention of the prohibitions in Acts 15:20 makes reference to Moses, not Noah."  pg. 10 of "A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15" by Charles H. Savelle

Also, there is a political science reason why the fourfold decree would not represent the only commandments for gentiles.  To put it succinctly, there is no intimacy in negative commandments.  And rights and duties are correlative.  The fourfold decree in Acts 15 is negatively framed.  Thus, if it represents the only duties/rights that gentiles have then gentiles have no right to experience the intimacy of the positive commandments found in Torah.  Novak explains this dynamic in his book Natural Law in Judaism:

"As even our cursory presentation of the Noahide laws above indicates, six are negative and only one positive.  Moreover, the positive one, namely, the requirement to establish a judicial system, is actually for the sake of the the adjudication of cases involving the other six, negative precepts." pg 154 of Natural Law in Judaism by David Novak

"But only in revelation do humans learn the truth from the One who is the source of that worth, which is that these humans are loved by this God.  And through positive commandments that give the covenant concrete content, humans are enabled to respond to that love as their desired end." pg. 172 of Natural Law in Judaism by David Novak.

FFOZ's other alternative explanation for the source of the fourfold decree is that it comes from Leviticus 17-18.  However, this hurts their argument that gentiles are like G-d-fearers as opposed to proselytes because the verses they're referencing in Leviticus 17-18 translate the Hebrew word "ger" as "proselyte."

Thus, neither explanation offered by FFOZ makes any sense.

It makes more sense to think of the Decree as the starting point (i.e. renunciation of idolatry) on the basis that the rest would be learned in synagogue:  "For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (Acts 15:21).


In this verse, Paul writes "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters."  FFOZ says that this should not be read as attributing the same commandments to both Jews and gentiles.  Rather, they argue that the word here for "commandments" is typically used by Paul to refer to individual commandments.


In this verse, "commandments of God" refers to the entire Torah and thus Paul appears to be advocating that the gentiles follow the entire Torah.  Consider the following regarding this expression:

“The phrase ‘the commandments of God’ is frequently used in the Jewish and Jewish Christian literature of Paul’s time to refer to keeping the law of Moses. Late in the second century B.C., for example, the grandson of the jewish scholar Ben Sira translated his grandfather’s summary of the law this way: ‘Guard yourself in every act, for this also is the keeping of the commandments [teresis entolon]‘ (Sirach 32:23). Similarly, Matthew translates Jesus’ reply to the rich young man’s question about how to obtain eternal life as “keep the commandments” (tereson tas entolas), a clear reference to the law of Moses, as Jesus’ list of commandments and summary of the first table of the law from Leviticus 19:18 demonstrate (Mt. 1917-19). Moreover, the Septuagint’s translation of Ezra 9:4 uses the phrase ‘commands of God’ as a synonym for the law of Moses. The phrase Paul has chosen to refer to God’s commandments, therefore is one that in his cultural context clearly referred to the Mosaic law.” pg. 82 of David Rudolph's A Jew to the Jews.  Quoted from Frank Thielman.

Thus, FFOZ attempts to negate not only the plain reading of the verse but also the lexicological evidence that the phrase "the commandments of God" refers to the entire Torat Moshe.


The final point that FFOZ makes, which they seem to feel is a rather strong point, is that they say that the apostolic writings are silent on gentile Torah observance and that this therefore proves that gentiles are not supposed to follow Torah.

"If the apostles intended for the Gentiles to eventually learn the Jewish particulars of Torah (such as circumcision, Sabbath, festivals, and Levitical dietary laws) and practice them, they never stated that expectation."

"The complete absence of instructions to Gentiles about the rudiments of Sabbaths, festivals, and dietary laws is a glaring omission which can best be explained by its obvious implication: The apostles did not regard those matters as legally obligatory to the Gentiles."


This argument is a type of logical fallacy known as argumentum ad ignorantiam (i.e. argument from ignorance).  This fallacy is best captured by the following example:  "Nobody has ever seen God; therefore God does not exist."  This is a classic non-sequitur.  The conclusion does not follow the premise.

However, the apostolic writings DO have a lot to say about gentiles and Torah observance.

But that will have to wait until later because I have to run.  I have to watch my daughter while my wife is attending a friend's wedding.


But please feel free to discuss FFOZ's position.  Does anyone have a different take?  Is there evidence for or against their position that needs to be discussed?