Thursday, December 31, 2015

an Appeal to the Messianic Community about Catholic Evangelism

So as many of you have heard at this point, the Vatican has come out against Jewish evangelism. At least organized Jewish evangelism, while giving vague language regarding individuals sharing the gospel. This shouldn't be a surprise. Today's Roman Catholic Church is not the Roman Catholic Church of 1950, let alone the Roman Catholic Church of 1050. Since Vatican II, Rome has held to an increasingly inclusivist position.

I wanted to write this short post as a former Roman Catholic who has spent years involved in Jewish evangelism with many close friends in the Messianic Jewish community. I'm fairly certain most of my brothers and sisters in the Messianic Jewish world will view it through the lense of their own concerns for Jewish evangelism. I understand that completely and understand that the largest Christian body repudiating giving the gospel to Jews does not send them a good message.

Let me plead with all my Jewish and Gentile friends involved in Jewish missions, Messianic congregations, and evangelism in general. Let this be a reminder to evangelize Roman Catholics.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is a fatal error. While there are Roman Catholics who ignore this teaching, those who hold this teaching do not hold to the gospel.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Galatians 3:10
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:4
Those who rely on works for a declaration of righteousness before God are under a curse because our works (anyone's works) cannot measure up to the standard of God's righteousness.

This is why Rome's teaching is wrong and endangers the souls of its followers.

So as we are concerned about getting the gospel to the Jews, let's remember that the gospel is for Gentiles as well. And in America, especially around me, the largest group we need to reach with the gospel are Roman Catholics.

The papacy is allegedly the successor to Peter, who was the apostle to the circumcision. (Galatians 2:8) This irony should not be lost on us.

The apostle Paul also warned the churches at Rome regarding unbelief and arrogance towards the Jews:
Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. Romans 11:19-23
So let us not be proud, but fear.

Jews need the gospel; Catholics need the gospel; I need the gospel.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zechariah the son of Barachiah, Some Textual Criticism, a Prophecy, and the Old Testament Canon

In the middle of a discussion regarding with a Roman Catholic about the extent of the canon, I had referenced that Jesus' mention of all blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah showed that Jesus believed the Old Testament canon was the traditional Jewish canon. The canon wasn't in flux and it did not include the Apocrypha.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:29-36

To this, I got the following reply.

//The Zechariah that was murdered in the temple is Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Matthew 23:35). But the Zechariah that you try and use to close to canon was not murdered at the alter, but stoned in the court, NOT between the Alters. Not to mention the Zechariah that was stoned was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.....//

Actually, there is no witness outside of this to say that Zechariah ben Berechiah was murdered in the Temple, although that is a solution some have proposed. A number of Jewish anti-missionaries have picked up on this reference and have claimed this is an example of where the New Testament has erred. However, I think as I explain a few things we will see this is a reference to Zechariah ben Jehoiada.

One other explanation have offered is that this is a textual error that has crept into Matthew's text. There is some evidence for this. Some Greek manuscripts reference "Zechariah ben Jehoiada" instead, but this is a minority reading. Jerome references the Nazarenes had a Hebrew text of Matthew that read "Jehoiada". A later Hebrew writing of Matthew, Shem Tob, reads something like "Zechariah etc.". If this preserves an earlier reading it could mean the "etc." was later filled out by scribes. Not that I am a textual critical expert, but I think the majority reading is correct, but at the same time the minority reading may shed some light on why the person in question in the text of Matthew is Zechariah ben Jehoiada of 2 Chronicles.

The context and description in Matthew matches what we know of Zechariah ben Jehoiada. 1) murdered by Jews 2) occurred in the court of the Temple (according to the Palestinian Talmud in the priestly court which would make sense since ben Jehoiada was a priest, and not in one of the less holy courts). 3) linked with Abel because the blood is crying out (2 Chron. 24:22)

As it was written down in the Talmuds, the Midrashim, and the Targums the death of Zechariah ben Jehoiada held a firm hold on the national conscience. According to the Palestinian Talmud this happened on a sabbath on the Day of Atonement besides being in the priestly court, so that would make sense. The Babylonian Talmud has Zechariah ben Jehoiada being avenged by Nebuchanezzar. Now this would be even greater evidence that Zechariah ben Jehoiada is referenced because in Matthew 23 Jesus says all of the blood of the prophets will fall on this generation. And we know in roughly 40 years the Temple was also destroyed by the Romans. I would say this is prophecy of the Temple's destruction, given the parallel and the destruction of the Temple that is predicted elsewhere in the gospels.

Alright, so why would Matthew write "ben Berechiah"?

I'm going to quote from one of my sources. "In rabbinical haggadah different characters from Scripture who are linked by a similarity of name or of other characteristics are often said to be the same person." "Adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions."

This practice can be found in the Haggadic Midrashim, Babylonian Talmud, and back to the Jerusalem Talmud, Halakic Midrashim, and to the Mishnah. You can even see the practice in non rabbinical works like pseudo-Philo. Or in the second book of Esdras. Older still, you can see the practice in the tile prefix to Psalm 34. Ashish king of the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-22:1) is referenced as Abimelech the Philistine king (Gen. 20-21, 26). This might also explain why Jesus says "Abiathar" instead of "Ahimelech" in Mark 2:26.

The Targum on Lamentations 2:20 also talks about killing Zechariah ben Iddo in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. "ben Iddo" is coming from Zechariah 1:1. But the details follow the traditions for Zechariah ben Jehoiada that I referenced earlier. So this Targum shows the conflation of Zechariah ben Berechiah with Zechariah ben Jehoiada in terms of name usage, just like Jesus did.

So even after all of this, if you don't want this to be a reference to the scope of the canon, you have two more problems. The last prophet murdered before Jesus was John the Baptist. If you ignore and bypass John the Baptist, the last chronologically from the canon would be Uriah ben Shemaiah. (Jeremiah 26:20-23)

I used Roger Beckwith's "the Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church" and Dr. Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus volume 4" if you would like to read more on this topic.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good Video on Oral Torah (or Lack Thereof)

I have one argument I would add against the existence of an Oral Torah.
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” 2 Kings 22:8-13

Israel forgot about the contents of the written Torah. It was discovered in the Temple and the message caused a reaction in the king.

What does this text show us? If they forgot about what was in the written Torah, I'm going to assume they forgot the Oral Torah. And you don't have a written text with the Oral Torah to recover that knowledge.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

UMJC & Anonymous Christianity

So I'm back.

It stopped blogging in general in 2008 and then at the end of 2010 I decided to take a break (from a break?) to finish off the one thing I had left undone. A completion of a book review for Marc Shapiro's the Limits of Orthodox Theology, since it was such an important book. And now almost exactly (I mean really, really close) 4 years later something has awoken me from my exile to blogging.

RealClearReligion posted a link (above) to a pretty interesting article on the Messianic Jewish movement. It even had nice Chagall paintings with Jesus in them. But at the sidebar, which in the online version is at the end of the article, was what really caught my attention.

There was a quick interview with Dan Juster, who the UMJC would declare as one of their pioneers and who is currently the head of Tikkun Ministries. In the sidebar, Dan Juster embraces the teaching of Anonymous Christianity.

Now, this is not my first time at this rodeo. It is now over a decade since I first confronted this issue. For those who may have never encountered this or may need a refresher, Anonymous Christianity is the view that people can be saved apart from conscious belief in Jesus. They can be saved by Jesus without knowing they have faith in Jesus, although they are responsible for responding to the light they do have.

Here is the sidebar:

Are Jews who don’t come to Jesus going to Hell? Dan Juster says no, not unless specific conditions are met. “God judges us on the basis of the amount of revelation we’ve had,” he explains. “If a Jew has sought the truth but has only had a superficial exposure to Christianity, God won’t condemn them. But if they pray to God sincerely, then the Holy Spirit enters and shows them the truth, and then they turn away from it, that’s where the danger lies. I knew a businessman like this once, he said he believed, he had an inner witness, but he didn’t want to go there because he thought it would interfere with his career.”

According to Juster, here’s how you can come to know the truth about God and Jesus:

1. Openly ask God to show you the truth, and be willing to submit to His will as He shows it to you.

2. Go about your business. At some point in the future, you may hear a voice calling you, most likely when you are alone, and feel the Holy Spirit entering your body and leading you to know the truth. You may also see visions or miracles, which Juster says are often a big part of how Messianic Jews come to the Lord.

3. If the truth is revealed to you, don’t turn away from it. You’d be better off not even asking in the first place.

Now since he is quoted by this journalist and I've seen this coming from UMJC sources previously, I'm going to take this at face value. I'm more interested in responding to the position than to Dan Juster personally.

This position is not a good blueprint for evangelism. "Go about your business." That's a little different than God telling people to earnestly seek Him.

God does judge us according to the revelation we have. And that will result in condemnation, both for Jew and Gentile alike.

If you want to see this clearly laid out, please read the book of Romans. And in that book there is a passage that should be the death knell of any attempt to teach Anonymous Christianity.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Messiah. Romans 10:9-17

Call on the Lord and you will be saved. But you need to hear to believe and call. And you need to have a preacher. And preachers need to be sent. This chain of logic cuts off Anonymous Christianity at the knees and should be rejected by all who hold to the full council of Scripture.

If you would like to read a full-throated critique of not just Anonymous Christianity but all forms of inclusivism I recommend reading the Very Pernicioius and Detestable Doctrine of Inclusivism.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Nine, The Messiah; Resurrection of the Dead

This is the last entry in the series. Hopefully, I hope this series will lead people to pick up Marc Shapiro's important work.

The Twelfth Principle

"The Twelfth Principle is the coming of the messiah."

"Included in this fundamental Principle is that there will be no king of Israel except from David and from the seed of Solomon exclusively. Whosoever disputes [the sovereignty of] this family denies God and the words of His prophets."

Shapiro highlights a tension which a believer in Jesus can sense. The author finds the stress on an actual figure noteworthy since "a number of prophets and midrashim appear to disregard it." Those sources which disregard a Messiah speak instead of a messianic era in which "God alone will be the redeemer." This conception, according to Shapiro who references another scholar, is found in Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Malachi, Joel, and Daniel. Jeremiah 31:10 is given as an example. "He that scattered Israel doth gather him." R. Menachem M. Kasher is quoted to support this position. According Isaiah Levy, whether you believe in a future messianic era with God Himself as the Redeemer or a personal messiah, you are not to be considered a heretic.

As I mentioned above, I can see this tension in the Tanakh. There are passages showing God Himself as the redeemer. And there are passages which speak of a personal messiah. The believer in Jesus sees this tension resolved in Jesus in a few ways. First, the incarnation. Jesus as God in the flesh. He is the God-Man. And as Jesus as God dealing with humanity and reconciling humanity to Himself through Jesus.

So both strains are true and find fulfillment in Jesus. This is similar to the concepts of a suffering and a victorious Messiah found in Jewish literature. We have two strains which seem contradictory but are not.

The Twelfth Principle states that the Messiah can only come via the line of Solomon. R. Joseph Kafih disagreed that this was essential and believed it was directed against Christianity for polemical purposes since Jesus was not descended via Solomon. Shapiro isn't certain that Maimonides knew enough about the New Testament to be making a polemical point and it seems that Maimonides actually believed in descent through Solomon.

Shapiro then goes on to list a number of post-Maimonides scholars who disagree with Maimonides on this point. R. Azariah dei Rossi, R. Gedalyah ibn Yahya, and R. Jehiel Heilprin "each quote qithout objection the view, falsely attributed to Philo, that all of Solomon's descendants were wiped out and only Nathan's line survived." Zohar 3:173b states that the Messiah will be descended from Nathan's wife, which implies the descent from Nathan. Recently, David Frish wrote a commentary on the Zohar giving the kabbalistic reasons on why the Messiah is to be descended from Nathan instead of Solomon.

The Thirteenth Principle

"The Thirteenth Principle concerns resurrection, the belief that the dead will rise from their graves to live again."

Again, this Principle is interesting for being a Principle Maimonides didn't seem to hold. It looks to me that his Greek influence shows again at this point. "For Maimonides, the ultimate reward is eternal spiritual life."

Maimonides taught that the dead will be raised up and then they will die again and return to spiritual life. Shapiro describes this view as "confusing." This view was laid out in "Essay on Resurrection" and it seems that a lot of critics and supporters didn't believe this was his real view.

Shapiro goes on to mention a few Orthodox scholars that didn't believe in a physical resurrection, but the main point is clear. There is disagreement on this point within Orthodoxy although it doesn't appear to be too much.

And that is a good spot to end this series. While Shapiro leaves a lot to chew on for apologetic purposes, his overall point is firmly established. The Thirteen Principles are not and have not been the ultimate litmus test for Orthodoxy within Judaism. He must be thanked for writing this book.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Nine, God's Knowledge; Reward and Punishment

The Tenth Principle

"The Tenth Principle states that God knows the actions of men."

This is definitely not a very controversial principle. However, even this principle contains interesting caveats from some within the Orthodox fold. It has been mentioned by some like R. David Cohen that only actions and not thoughts. Shapiro also mentions views which seem similar to Open Theists within Christianity. Regarding Gersonides Shapiro writes: "But the actual doings of individuals, which are infinite and undergo change through free choice, fall outside God's knowledge."

The Eleventh Principle

"The Eleventh Principle is that of reward and punishment."

This principle offers another opportunity to examine the odd views of Maimonides himself. Shapiro writes "one cannot help but wonder whether any of the Orthodox spokesmen who have advocated acceptance of the Thirteen Principles are really aware of Maimonides' view of reward and punishment, for it diverges sharply from the mainstream rabbinic tradition."

Maimonides held a view of reward and punishment which to my understanding is influenced by Greek thought. "Maimonides believed that immortality is entirely consequent upon an intellectual grasp of divine things." This seems to have similarities to Gnosticism as well, where salvation hinged on secret knowledge. Not that it seems the knowledge Maimonides refers to was of secret things.

Even when Maimonides speaks of rewards for performing mitzvot he stresses performing mitsvot properly. In other words, with correct knowledge.

Shapiro goes on to argue that Maimonides view of eternal punishment was annihilation. Maimonides also held an interesting view of temporal rewards and punishments. "Bad things happen to people, not as a direct result of God ordering them to occur, bus as a result of the lack of divine providence."


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Eight, The Eternality of the Torah

"The Ninth Principle teaches that the Torah will never be abrogated, in whole or part, and that God will never give another Torah. Maimonides repeats his insistence that the biblical mitsvot and the Oral Law will never be abrogated, not even in messianic days, in a few other places. While this is certainly a popular position among rabbinic authorities, and has a talmudic source, it is hardly unanimously accepted."

In the previous post, I had mentioned that there were two chapters worth their weight in gold. This is second of those two chapters, which happen to follow in succession.

The importance of this chapter has to do with two reasons. First, this is an ongoing issues between Judaism and followers of Jesus. Secondly, with the Messianic community Torah observance has become a point of contention. Although I'm not sure that people divide over it. The Limits of Orthodox Theology can shed light on this topic regarding the relationship between the New and Mosaic covenants, although I would suspect Shapiro wasn't intending to do that.

Shapiro begins the chapter by quoting the Talmud (BT Nidah 61b) which states "the mitsvot will be abolished in the Time to Come." After this Shapiro keeps the references coming. What was interesting was how many of the quotes seem similar to traditional Christian arguments.

Several Jewish sources find support in Psalm 146:4, "the Lord looseth the bound." Midrash tehilim (146:4) states: "What does the verse mean by the words 'looseth the bound?' Some say that of every animal whose flesh it is forbidden to eat in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, will declare in the Time to Come that the eating of this flesh is permitted..." Another midrashic passage on this psalm quoted by Albo states that God will permit the forbidden.

Very interestingly, R. Joseph Albo lays out a theoretical position. If a prophet were "to arise whose mission could be be verified in the same public and miraculous way in which Moses' mission was verified, it would be possible for the commandments of the Torah to be abolished." Albo believes that there is nothing to prevent God from doing this, not that this is necessary.

This possibility is likewise believed by R. Moses Sofer, R. Tobias ben Moses Cohn, R. Jacob Emden, and R. Abraham Hayim Viterbo. Viterbo describes many examples of things in the Torah which were permitted and then forbidden in order to show that Torah can be changed. Examples include the consumption of the sinew of the sciatic nerve, sacrifices outside the land of Israel, and Jacob being able to marry two sisters. Viterbo viewed Maimonides' position as presumptuous since it told God how He should conduct Himself.

Shapiro notes Devarim rabah 4: 6,9 which relates the Torah changing after it has already been given, the example of Leviticus 17's provision about eating meat is revoked in Deuteronomy 12:15-16. The midrash did not state that the prohibition was only to be temporary. Instead, it references the aforementioned verse in Psalm 146.

R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, in a position very similar to Reformed theologians, said that in the future the mitsvot will no longer have a physical component but only a spiritual one. The spiritual aspects of mitsvot remain eternal. Reformed theology speaks about a division between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, and Polonnove's position seems similar to saying the moral aspects of the law remain.

There was then discussion of changes to the sacrificial system. Some viewed changes along the lines of Ezekiel's vision of a restored Temple, some thought all or some types of sacrifices would be annulled, and there is the interesting view of R. Abraham Isaac Kook who believed that there will be only be vegetable sacrifices in the messianic era. And R. Hayim Hischensohn argued that the sacrificial system in messianic times will be different in ways we cannot currently comprehend.

Perhaps the most historical insightful insight comes from Bezeal Naor. Shapiro relates:
From what we have seen so far, it is obvious that there is a significant rabbinic position which declares that the commandments will be abolished in messianic days. In fact, Bezalel Naor has speculated that perhaps it was this knowledge -- that Maimonides' Principle was subject to such dispute -- that prevented many great Torah scholars from reacting more strongly to the false messiah Shabetai Tsevi's violations of halakhah. Since they knew that many authorities believed that Jewish law would change in the messianic era, as long as it had not been established that Shabetai Tsevi was not the messiah, his violations of Jewish ritual were not a sufficient reason to condemn him. (bold mine)

There is a passage in this chapter which is pertinent to the issue, which I feel Shapiro needs to elaborate more on. He writes:
[T]he Torah is explicit that his descendants will have an 'everlasting priesthood' (kehunat olam; Num. 25:13). Presumably, Luria and Halberstam understood 'everlasting' to mean until messianic times, when a new spiritual era.

If you've dealt with those who believe that hell is not eternal, you may know that the word translated eternal is the Hebrew word 'olam. That word means age-long. If the age is forever, "eternal" is a good fit. But if the age has a termination point, "age-long" or something similar is a better fit. (This is a good example of how we are benefited from having multiple apologetic disciplines.)

So what can we make of all this?

For one, we hopefully can get a fresh look at the biblical data. Some in the Torah-observant Messianic community have claimed that those who believe in the fulfillment of Torah in the death and Resurrection of Jesus are operating under a cessasionist filter. The numerous Orthodox sources that look to possible changes in messianic times raise serious doubts about that.

Furthermore, we have to say that books in the New Testament which seem to support the fulfillment of the Torah in the Messiah (Hebrews, Galatians) need less explanation. The Torah-observant community needs to explain those texts (which they do). But the traditional understanding of those texts, as this chapter shows, fits nicely within a good segment of past Orthodox theology.

Note: I'm starting to link to Amazon with their Affiliate Program. So feel free to obtain the book here.

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