Yesterday I traveled an hour away from home to visit two sharp and accomplished African American friends, and to attend their weekly worship/teaching event. They have dedicated themelves to helping Christians understand how their faith is built on the foundation of the Jewish people relationship with God and the way of life that God gave to the Jewish people. Although I only intended to visit, from the moment I walked in the door, both husband, Mike Davis, and wife, Karen Aviah, invited me to teach their people . . . for well over an hour! I had not come prepared to do so, but I was prepared to speak from my heart, from the core convictions that God has led me to at this time in my life. And I was prepared to pray for God’s help prior to my going up there to teach. I did pray. And God helped.
I cannot summarize here all that I said in about ninety minutes, for I ranged widely. I taught about many things, presenting major components of my Messianic Jewish hashkafa, the Hebrew term for one’s religious worldview and guiding philosophy. I talked about different divisions in the world, categories where people have us/them thinking, and showed them why Paul’s message to the pagan world in his day triggered riots. Both the pagan world and the Jewish world had always defined themselves in contradistinction to each other—that was the way the world was. There’s us, and there’s them. But Paul said that the Jewish “them,” that is, the Gentiles, could become “us,” part of the people of God, without becoming Jews first. This was unacceptable. He was overturning reality and its structures. He had to be stopped!
I also explained how Paul’s message, that “he (Messiah) himself is our peace who has made the two (warring factions) one” (Eph 2:14) is very much at the heart to my life and message, that through The More Jewish Jesus Gentiles could become “us” (part of the people of God) without having to become Jews first. This was revolutionary in Paul’s day, and it overturned a deeply founded cultural assumption of us/them thinking both for pagans (Gentiles) and Jews. This did nothing less than restructure reality.
I also explained what I meant by The More Jewish Jesus. He is the very much central to my hashkafa. He is to be contrasted with the Jesus of Christian supersessionism, also called “replacement theology.” This is the Opposition Jesus: Jesus instead of the rabbis, grace instead of law, the church as the new Israel instead of the Jews. I showed how this is false to Paul’s hashkafa as Paul makes clear when he addressed the Ephesians and said,
11 Therefore, remember your former state: you Gentiles by birth — called the Uncircumcised by those who, merely because of an operation on their flesh, are called the Circumcised — 12 at that time had no Messiah. You were estranged from the national life of Isra’el. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without God.
For Paul, the Jewish people were home base for the people of God. The reason the pagan world had been “in this world without hope and without God” was because they were disconnected from the national life of Israel and were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise! I showed how since the second century, the church learned to argue that the Jewish people had been disinherited, and that the church were the new people of God. So it is that in our day it iis fundamental to most people’s thinking that it is the Jews who are without hope and without God. Christendom has turned Paul on his head.
And again, how did Paul say the Gentiles became part of the national life of Israel? Through being joined to Messiah–the JEWISH Messiah, indeed The More Jewish Messiah, because ” he himself is our shalom — he has made us both one.” He has made peace between two communities that have always defined themselves in contradistinction to one another. He has made it possible for two communities that were and remain essentially different to live in reconciled unity. Not uniformity. Not unanimity. But unity–the unity of those who are distinct from each other but who live together in reconciled wholeness. What we might term “the shalom constant.”
The More Jewish Jesus is not the same as the Jewish Jesus of missionary culture. The Jewish Jesus came from a kosher home, his mother called him Yeshua, and he kept the Law. But now that he’s done all that, other Jews don’t have to! This fails to go far enough to match the facts of history. The real Jesus is more Jewish than that. He is The More Jewish Jesus.
For economy’s sake we’ll explain that by looking at three concepts.
The first concept – The More Jewish Jesus upheld Jewish community structures. Here is what he said, in two different translations of Matthew 23:2-3:
“The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim,” he said, “sit in the seat of Moshe. 3 So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act!” (CJB)
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (ESV)
Archaeologisits have found five stone seats facing the congregation where the teacher might teach from in five different locales both in the Land and in the Diaspora. Likely there were many other such seats made of wood which have long since become dust, but these ancient relics remain as mute testimony to the fact that there were actual special seats in which the rabbis sat and from which they interpreted Torah. This was “the Seat of Moses,” and one could speak of the Pharisees sitting in Moses’ Seat as a metaphor for this role.
This idea has echoes that have remained to this day. In Muslim culture, imams sit on a chair near a pillar of the mosque to teach while their students sit on the floor. This is “the teaching chair.” The Universities of Europe picked up on this custom, so that from Medieval times to the present day, we speak of people holding “the Chair of Jewish Studies” or “The George Eldon Ladd Chair of New Testament Theology” etc. Why do we refer to “chairs?” Because of the association with this ancient Middle Eastern custom of teachers sitting in chairs associated with their authority to teach.
In the Roman Catholic world, when the Pope makes binding doctrinal pronouncements, he is said to be speaking “ex cathedra.” The Catholic Encyclopedia to be found at the website www.newadvent.org fills us in: “Literally ‘from the chair’, a theological term which signifies authoritative teaching and is more particularly applied to the definitions given by the Roman pontiff. Originally the name of the seat occupied by a professor or a bishop, cathedra was used later on to denote the magisterium, or teaching authority. The phrase ex cathedra occurs in the writings of the medieval theologians, and more frequently in the discussions which arose after the Reformation in regard to the papal prerogatives.”
I showed how, in his language, Yeshua is echoing the very text the rabbis used to justify their authority, Deut 17:8-11 where we read this:
If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again. (Deuteronomy 17:8-13 ESV).
Yeshua was certainly a great communicator. Are we to assume that it is accidental that he echoes the language of Deut 17:8-11 when he admonishes his disciples to do whatever the Scribes and Pharisees say to do? Are we to assume he was sloppy to be inferring that their authority was legitimate, although their example was not? No, in this Matt 23 context, Yeshua validates Jewish communal structures (do what the Scribes and Pharisees they tell you to do). To assume otherwise because we find this upsetting is to hide our heads in a pile of theological sand.
This brings us to our second point: The More Jewish Jesus upholds Jewish values. We see this in the first part of Matthew 23:23 –
23 “Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P’rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah — justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to . . .” (Matthew 23:23, CJB).
That he accuses the Torah-teachers (Scribes) and P’rushim (Pharisees) of neglecting these weightier matters of the Torah—justice, mercy, and trust, means that they knew these things but neglected them. These values did not originate with Yeshua. For example, remember that famous passage in the Prophet Micah – “He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does the LORD require of you but to seek justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), in other words, justice, mercy and trust. These were and remain Jewish values, and the More Jewish Jesus validates them.
We come then to our third concept: The More Jewish Jesus upholds Jewish customs, that is, oral traditions. Let’s look at Matthew 23:23 again, and add in the part we left out.
23 “Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P’rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah — justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to — without neglecting the others!
What is it Yeshua is telling the Scribes and Pharisees to not neglect besides the weightier matters of the Law? The tithing of mint, and dill, and cumin. Minutiae. And more than that, minutiae that are not taught in the Bible. The tithing of mint, dill, and cumin was a rabbinic custom, Oral Law, and Yeshua said, “don’t neglect them. Just make sure you don’t major in the minors!” Yeshua is saying, “Your traditions are good. Don’t neglect them! But don’t major in the minors! Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the Torah out of preoccuption with smaller concerns!
Did Yeshua have criticisms to level at the Scribes and Pharisees? Many! In fact, these very criticisms may be found in Jewish sources of the time! HIs criticisms are scathing. But most people don’t bother to note that this was in-house criticism. He was speaking as a faithful Jewish Prophet addressing his own people. Not as an outsider, but an insider. And his criticism can all be found in the Talmud, where Jewish figrures critize the very behaviors he names. But amidst Yeshua’s scathing criticism, it is most remarkable that he upholds Jewish community structures, Jewish values, and Jewish custom—man made traditions. He is saying, “Look: the Scribes and Pharisees have God given authority which you must respect, values which you should honor and customs you should follow, but they have also set you terrible examples which you must not follow and here are some of them.” He would not need to warn his disciples and the crowd against the Pharisaic excesses and errors if he was recommending severing contact. It was because he was ratifying this continued contact that he issued his warnings. Nothing else really makes sense.
I taught much more in this long session, but won’t tell you about that now. For that you can come back for my next blog. But before you go, there’s a lesson to be learned.
The delight I experienced yesterday was the delight of agreement: these people, who had been well taught before I ever met them, all “got” and rejoiced in what I had to say. I was only articulating clearly truths underlying the hashkafa of their own teachers.
And I felt like the Apostle Paul on a good day because this Gentile audience “got” and rejoiced both in Israel’s specialness and their Torah way of life, whils also rejoicing in how God has also chosen themselves as Gentiles to be joined to Israel through the Messiah, without their needing to embrace Torah living for themselves. It was a good day, a wonderful day, because they understood what I was trying to get across, truths also precious to the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Did you rejoice in what you read today? Then you will rejoice as well in something new we will be doing beginning in June which will get these kinds of ideas out in a broad and effective manner. I will tell you what that is . . . but not yet.
Stay with me 🙂