Friday, October 30, 2015

Why Did the Pharisees Try to Save Yeshua's Life? A Question on Luke 13:31

"But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him," Matthew," 12:14
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you," Luke 13:31

 I was wondering about Luke 13:31 this morning...  Why did the Pharisees, a group that previously had sought to destroy Yeshua (Matt. 12:14), try to save His life by warning Him that Herod was trying to kill Him?

Is it possible then that some Pharisees in Luke 13 were actually trying to save His life?  We know that some of them, after witnessing the signs He performed, were drawn to Him and acknowledged Him as a great teacher (John 3).

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


Here's another passage indicating that there were divisions within the Pharisees regarding Yeshua:

"So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them," John 9:15-16 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Paul's Identity Construction Project for Gentiles

"[Y]ou are...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Yeshua haMoshiach Himself as the chief cornerstone.  In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord," Ephesians 2:19-21

Did Paul want Gentiles to radically change their identities--to think of themselves as non-Jewish members of Israel? 

I'm going to discuss 2 ways in which Paul advocates for just such a change:


"If any of them should wish to pass over into the Jewish citizenship [politeian], [the Egyptians] must not be spurned with an unconditional refusal as children of enemies, but be so favoured that the third generation is invited to the congregation [ekklesian] and made partakers in the divine revelations..."  Philo, On Virtue 108, (note 1)
In a classical Greek context, "politeia" would refer to secular citizenship (note 2) and "ekklesia" would refer to a secular convocation of citizens political purposes.  However, we see in Philo's writings (and other ancient Jewish sources) that there is also a Jewish context for these terms--that first-century Jews appropriated politeia as referring to religious membership in Israel and ekklesia as referring to religious convocations of members of Israel. 

So if we see Paul referring to Gentiles as members in the Ekklesia (which is translated as "Church") and emphatically declaring that Gentiles are citizens in Israel ("Remember that [formerly] you were...excluded from citizenship (politeia) in Israel..." Eph 2:12), then based on first-century Jewish usage of these terms in a religious context, it must follow that Paul wanted to Gentiles to think of themselves as members of Israel and qualified to participate in the assembly of Israel.

Now let's look at another piece of evidence.


"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree," Romans 11:17

To understand what Paul is getting at here, we first need to review some Scripture:

"The LORD called you a thriving olive tree..." Jeremiah 11:16 (also see Hosea 14)
In Jeremiah 11:16 (and other passages), G-d is clearly referring to Israel as an olive tree.  So this at least allows for the possibility that in Romans 11 Paul is borrowing the metaphor in order to convey that Gentile Believers are grafted into Israel.  We can also see from later rabbinic writings that this language of "grafting" to the "root" refers to conversion that bestows membership in Israel:
"In truth, the converts could not decide to come to Israel if Israel had not already been first chosen by God.  Israel's election, to use a rabbinic term, is 'the root' (iqqar); the converts' conversion is 'grafted' (tafel) onto it," Novak, The Election of Israel, pg. 188

We're left with the very distinct impression that Paul wants Gentiles to think of themselves as members of Israel (politeia) who may participate in the assembly of Israel (ekklesia) based on the fact that they have been in-grafted (tafel) to the root (iqqar) of the Olive Tree (Israel).


Note 1:  The reference to the "third generation" comes from the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:8 on allowing an Egyptian to enter the assembly (kahal) until the third generation. 

Note 2:  Politeia is a term that refers to citizenship in writings such as Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, 2 Maccabees 8:17; 3 Maccabees 3:21,23, and Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews.  "The Greek word politeia means in the first instance 'citizenship,' the quality of being a citizen," (Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Instructions Not Included: Why Many Gentiles Leave Messianic Judaism for Non-Messianic, Halachic Judaism [UPDATED]

[Please see "UPDATE" below]

"Res est misera ubi jus est vagam et invertum" ("It is a miserable state of things where the law is vague and uncertain")

Some of you probably remember the following lines from "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter:
"'Now my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."
This is what parents are constantly doing:  issuing specific instructions so that our children don't get hurt and/or die.

Don't play in the road.

Don't run with scissors.

And we also have to give specific instructions if we want our children to do something good for themselves and do it correctly.  Whether it's for the purpose of avoiding something harmful or directing towards something good, we try to give specific instructions because....why?

What happens when vague instructions are given?

Answer:  bad things will happen.

And a loving father doesn't want bad things to happen to his child.  He shows his love then through specificity.

But according to the UMJC, G-d doesn't have specific instructions for the Gentiles.  

A Gentile wonders "which commandments do I have to perform?" David Rudolph says "Well, you're exempt from the most distinctively Jewish requirements of the Torah" (note 1).  So which ones are those?  That's rather vague...  Mark Kinzer says "Well, you're only obligated to keep a limited number of commandments from the Torah" (note 2).  So which are those exactly?  That's extremely vague.  Dan Juster says "Well, you're just supposed to keep the morally good commandments" (note 3).  But if morality refers to G-d's value system then aren't all of the commandments moral?  So that hermeneutic isn't even workable.  Michael Rudolph says, "Well, you're only obligated to keep the commandments that apply to Gentiles as opposed to the commandments that apply to Israelites," (note 4).  Right...which ones are those again?

It's little wonder that I've seen so many Gentiles leave the UMJC for non-Messianic synagogues (which, sooner or later, also involves rejecting Yeshua).  But I can sympathize with them.  They want a Heavenly Father who loves them--loves them with specificity.  But all they're offered is a Heavenly Father who doesn't care what they do. 

To the Gentiles I'd just like to say:  G-d does love you with specificity.  He does want you to have clear and specific instructions for how you should live your life.  And if you want to know more about how Torah applies to you, please check out these ministries:




Shortly after publishing this post, a commenter named Yahnatan said I misrepresented these UMJC leaders and that they're actually providing clear instructions to Gentiles.  He cited vaguely to a book written by Michael Rudolph.

However, this book proves my point.  Compare the following 2 quotes and see for yourself if it sounds like the UMJC is presenting an unambiguous message to Gentiles:

"...Gentiles are not required to keep specific calendar days as Sabbaths (i.e. no work)..." Dan Juster, The Law of Messiah Compiled as Mitzvot, Introduction by Daniel C. Juster
"...we would teach that God wants [Gentiles] to keep the Shabbat (Isaiah 56:3-8)," Michael Rudolph & Ralph Finley, Messianic Judaism:  A Response to Mark Kinzer

Does that sound clear to everyone?  "Don't keep Shabbat....but remember that G-d wants you to keep the Shabbat."  Right...


Note 1:

“[In] the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council decision [James] exempted Jesus-believing Gentiles from most of the distinctively Jewish requirements of the Torah…” David Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, pg. 56

“The Jerusalem Council decision in Acts 15 centered on the question of whether Jesus-believing Gentiles were exempt from Mosaic law…The apostolic decree was only addressed to ‘Gentile believers’ and clarified the ‘requirements’ (including certain minimal food restrictions) that were incumbent upon the ‘Gentile believers’ (Acts 15:19-20, 23),” David Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, pg. 49.

Note 2:

“Jervell notices what most commentators miss.  James’s exegesis of Amos 9 leads to the immediate conclusion that ‘two groups exist within the church.’  The first group consists of the Jewish Yeshua-believers, who constitute Israel’s eschatological firstfruits.  As we showed in chapter 2, the controversy in Acts 15 makes sense only if all parties assumed that this Jewish group is obligated to live according to the Torah.  The second group consists of Gentile Yeshua-believers, the ‘people’ whom God took for himself from among the nations.  Amos 9 treats this as a distinct group, related to Israel but also distinct from it.  Therefore it cannot be presumed that the commandments incumbent on Israel are also incumbent on this group.  According to the implicit Torah exegesis of James [in his fourfold decree] based on Leviticus 17-18, this group associated with Israel is obligated to keep only a limited number of commandments from the Torah.  Thus James roots his halakhic decision in the bilateral ecclesiology he derives from Amos 9,” Mark Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, pgs. 159-160.

Note 3:

“As for gentile believers, they are given the direction to ‘abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood’ (Acts 15:29).  We recognize here one of the historic Jewish positions:  A gentile who is to be accepted as righteous must follow the Noahic Covenant. …[James] affirmed the basic moral dimensions of the Law as universally applicable as well as the sanctity of blood…It is also of note that this is the minimum standard for Jews and gentiles to achieve table fellowship, that great symbol of spiritual unity…,” Dan Juster, Jewish Roots, pg. 83

Note 4:

"In this paper, I posit that the [Fourfold Decree of Acts 15] was intended only as a minimum requirement, and was neither meant to limit Gentiles' adherence to Torah, nor infer that Torah was not applicable to them.  I then proceed to suggest that, not only has Torah always been for Gentiles, but that Gentiles were its first recipients....Since we have shown that Torah predated Israel and the Mosaic Covenant, obedience to Torah cannot possibly be claimed by Judaism as a unique Jewish distinctive.  That notwithstanding, particular requirements of Torah and the manner in which they are obeyed may indeed be identity-dependent....In the same way, certain commandments apply only to Israeltites (Jews), certain ones only to Gentiles, and many to both....In the New Covenant, both Jews and Gentiles need to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to know how to apply commandments that were given under the previous Covenant and many centuries ago...." Michael Rudolph, "Of Course Torah is for Gentiles!", 2005

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Adulterous Teachers: Can Someone be Permanently Disqualified from Teaching?

Recently there was a teacher, well-known in the blogosphere, who posted a confession online that (1) confessed to the sin of adultery and (2) stated that the individual was in a new period of life that did not involve leading others.

But then the post mysteriously disappeared.  You couldn't even find a cached version of it.  The internet had been scrubbed clean (although I did manage to find a copy).

And now this person has, for all intents and purposes, resumed teaching online and is, within a few months of the confession, one of the most popular bloggers in the blogosphere, once again in a position to lead many people.

And so I have a few questions:

Can someone be disqualified from teaching--even on online?  Can someone be restored to a teaching position if they have confessed and repented?  How should that work exactly?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Plugged In: What it Really Means to be a G-d-Fearer

“The apostles in the Jerusalem Council decision left Gentiles] with an ambiguous and tenuous status among the people of God that can best be described as that of a God-fearer:  a monotheist non-Jew worshipping in a Jewish context,” Boaz Michael, D. Thomas Lancaster, “ ‘One Law’ and the Messianic Gentile”, Messiah Journal 101.

Some in the Messianic movement teach that Gentiles belong to a class called the G-d-fearer, that Gentiles are not to bother with anything in the Torah more than just being a good person. 

But is that what yirat HaShem really means in the Scripture?

First, let's observe that yirat is not about trembling in fear but rather:

“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling,” Psalm 2:11
In this verse we see what looks to be a contradiction:  fearing and rejoicing at the same time.  But the contradiction is resolved once we understand that within the word yirat is the word ra'ah which means to see.  The idea being that once you see how awesome G-d is then your reaction is reverent awe and even an excited trembling with joy wherein your soul desires to return to its source.

It's like when we see the universe and immediately feel humbled by the power of the Creator:

"When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man that you take thought of him, And the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:3,4
But what causes our soul (nefesh) to rejoice when we see G-d's awesomeness?

Well, that's where the term for "returning" to the L-rd is enlightening:

“When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return [vshavta] to the LORD your God and obey him,” Deuteronomy 4:30
That term for return, shavta, has the same letters as Shabbat.  Why is that?  Because on Shabbat we realize that we are utterly dependent on G-d and we delight in drawing close to our Source! We literally return (shavta) to Him on Shabbat!

And this term shavta is related to meshivat which is translated in English as "restoring" or "converting":

"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul [meshivat nefesh]: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple," Psalm 19:7
Why does Torah convert/restore the soul?  Because it is "perfect" which means it carries the fullness of everything your soul has been looking for.

So "fearing" G-d is really about "returning" to Him by keeping the commandments:

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man," Ecclesiastes 12:13
In conclusion, we should not listen to such men who say that fearing G-d results in an ambiguous status and a tenuous connection to His people.  Such men are effectively working to unplug us from our power source.  Heaven forbid!  Scripture says:

 “The secret of the LORD [is] with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant,” Psalms 25:14

"...keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me and take hold of my covenant....all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it...these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my House of Prayer," Isaiah 56:4,6-7
Yirat HaShem means we are so excited that we tremble with joy as we return to G-d by hearkening to His Voice!  We are so awestruck by Him that no man can keep us from pursuing His Torah!  It is our power source!

Don't let any man discourage you from plugging into the joy that G-d intends for you and your family!

Shalom and Blessings to the True Brothers and Sisters,