QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Here are answers to some of the questions we've received about our teaching newsletters and other articles. Click on a title to go to a particular question and answer. Or you can just scroll down the page to the questions and answers below. If you have a question about the Bible, Christianity, or the Jewish Roots of our faith, e-mail us at Jeff@totheends.com.

In response to the "Binding of Isaac" (TL#3):
What did Abraham know of the Law (Torah) of God?
The Promised Seed of Abraham
The Binding of Isaac and the Site of Calvary

In response to the "Prophet Like Moses" (TL#1):
Trinity: How can the Messiah be David's Son?

In response to the "Chariot" Article:
How does the Holy Spirit fit into the Trinity?

Other answers:
Is God Three?
Prayer Shawls and Head Coverings
Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha

Click here to return to the Classroom Page.




What did Abraham know of the Law (Torah) of God?

Q: In your article "The Binding of Isaac" you say, "The simple fact of the matter is that Abraham did not know all the law that would come hundreds of years later. He did not know that there was anything wrong with God's request that he sacrifice his son." How then do you explain Gen 26:5: "Because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws" (NIV)? --Johan B.

A: At the time of Abraham, the Law (or Torah, which means teaching or instruction) that had been revealed to man was the Laws of Noah, as the rabbis call them, in addition to those revelations made directly to Abraham himself, such as the covenant of circumcision. In all of these, Abraham was faithful (Gen. 26:5).

The Laws of Noah include all the commandments given to man from the time of Adam to Noah himself. Traditionally, these are seven laws, which duplicate some of the ten commandments: 1) no blasphemy, 2) no worship of other gods, 3) no murder, 4) no incest or adultery, 5) no theft or robbery, 6) no eating the flesh of a living animal before it dies (i.e. with its blood), 7) the requirement to establish courts of justice (Sanhedrin 56a).

The Laws of Noah are a requirement for all mankind, since all are descendants of Noah. The rabbis still teach this today. The Laws of Noah affected the debate over the requirements for Gentile Christians at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. This is one of the topics discussed in our seminar "The Jewish Roots of Christianity."

(For more on this topic, see the Index categories Gentile Christians and Law of Moses.)

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The Promised Seed of Abraham

 Q: That was a great lesson on the seed [of Abraham in "The Binding of Isaac"]. I was wondering how that promise of many could be accurate for there are not that many Jews today. --Sheila C.

A: The promised seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:17,18 and elsewhere) is traditionally understood by the Jewish people as referring to themselves. This is quite plausible, since compared to Abraham and his immediate family, the Jews are certainly many today, in the neighborhood of 20 million worldwide, which is many more than the stars visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

However, in my teaching I was emphasizing the interpretation of Paul that the seed, which is written in the singular in Hebrew, refers to the Messiah (Gal. 3:16). The multiplication of this singular seed ("I will greatly multiply your seed" Gen. 22:17), if we continue with Paul's interpretation, must therefore refer not to the "natural" Jews, but to the Body of Messiah: both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. This includes the future promise of "all Israel" being saved of Romans 11:26. We who are Gentile Christians by faith are therefore included in this beautiful promise.

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The Binding of Isaac and the Site of Calvary

Q: I do have to differ with you on the Dome [of the Rock in "The Binding of Isaac"]. I believe Isaac was [bound] on Calvary, north of the [Temple] mount. See Lev.1:11. --Sheila C.

A: The interpretation that places the binding of Isaac at the site of the current Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is not my own, but is the traditional understanding of the Jewish people until today. It is possible, although not at all certain, that this is alluded to in Genesis 22:14 where it says, "...which is [still] said today in the mountain of the Lord."

Personally, I have reservations both about the traditional identification of Isaac's binding with the Temple Mount as well as the more recent identification with Calvary. My objection, shared by many scholars and archeologists, is that the story in Genesis seems to indicate a remote desert location. No other people are mentioned in the area, let alone a city like the Salem (later known as Jebus) that existed just to the south of the present Temple Mount. (Salem and Jebus were earlier names for Jerusalem.) The Bible tells us that the summit of what became the Temple Mount was later used as a threshing floor. This would likely have been the case in Abraham's time, too. But there is no indication of this or the fields, orchards, animals, and people that would have been in the area around the city. Surely Abraham, as a foreigner, would have been challenged or at least met by someone before coming so close to the city--either with the Temple Mount or the Calvary scenario.

As one of my professors in Jerusalem put it (Dr. Gabi Barkay), Jerusalem is either the Moriah of Abraham or the Salem of Melchizedek, but cannot be both. The two sites, both of which played a role in the life of Abraham, are incompatible with one another.

It is just as possible that Abraham went south as that he went north (the direction of his travel is not mentioned in Genesis 22). This has led to the identification of the binding of Isaac by at least one scholar with Har Karkom in southern Israel, a religious center in Abraham's day with abundant flint (used in the rite of circumcision).

With regard to your reference to Lev. 1:11, this assumes the accuracy of General Charles Gordon's feverish dream (in 1885), in which he saw a skeleton laid out across Jerusalem, the skull of which rested on "Gordon's Calvary." This dream, in the final analysis, is the only basis for the identification of Gordon's Calvary and the Garden Tomb--both north of the walled city of Jerusalem--with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. I know that this comes as a shock to many Protestant Christians. But although at one time the archeology did lean in favor of this site, today it discounts Gordon's site and favors the traditional location at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which lies to the west of the Temple Mount.

To make a long story short, the Garden Tomb was first cut out as part of a First Temple burial ground (in the time of the Kings of Israel and Judah). It was later reworked as a Byzantine period tomb (4th to 7th centuries). There is no evidence of Second Temple burials here (in the time of Jesus). For more on this, see Gabi Barkay's articles in Biblical Archaeology Review about the two sites.

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Trinity: How can the Messiah be David's Son?

Q: I just read your article about two Lords ["The Prophet Like Moses"]. Did not Y'chua [Yeshua, Jesus] ask the Rabbis how can the Christ be King David's son? Did not David say, speaking by the Holy Ghost, THE LORD said to MY LORD, sit you on my right hand until I make your enemies to be your footstool? Matthew 22:42-45 --Doyle M.

A: You are right. Here Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1, another of the many fascinating places where two Lords are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this case, the two occurrences of the word "Lord" in English translate two different underlying Hebrew words: the first ("the LORD") is YHWH, the personal name of God sometimes written Yahweh; the second ("my Lord") is Adonai.

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How does the Holy Spirit fit into the Trinity?

Q: I was reading the article ["The Chariot"]. I do not understand the Trinity of God. The trinity of God as I understand it: God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all in the same being. According to the author the bible claims that God is spirit. Would not the Holy Spirit of God be the will of the God the Father? It is not the will of the Father that none should perish? I guess what I'm asking is how can one separate the will of God, his Holy nature, from the Father of creation. I do understand the Son part of the Trinity. I know that the Trinity is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. But could it not be misinterpreted. Please help me to understand. --Brent D.

A: When the Bible says that "God is spirit" (John 4:24), it refers to the essential nature of God, in other words, that he is not a material being like we are. Yet within this spiritual nature, there are three distinct "faces" or realities, defined by the early Church as three persona, a Latin word that means something like the modern word "personality."

The attempt to define this Trinity (or Tri-unity) with Greek thought forms, as the Church has done for hundreds of years, has at times confused the issue for the ordinary believer and obscured the original Biblical logic behind this teaching. The original Jewish and Biblical explanations are much more functional and practical than the high-flying Greek theories and formulas. They emerge not from speculation, but from the real-life experience of people including Abraham, Moses, Ezekiel, and others (see our articles "The Prophet like Moses" and "The Binding of Isaac"). These people met, or had visions, of someone who was God, but yet at the same time was not all there is to God. This being they described as the Angel of the Lord, or as a radiant man-like being seated on the throne of God, etc. Isaiah's attempt to make sense of all this was to call this being the right arm of God, affirming both his unity with and distinction from the Father (Isa. 53:1).

In my own Western way, I like to think of the Son (and the Spirit) as a kind of localized concentration of who God is: just as starlight is concentrated in a telescope so we can see it. It's the same light (Father and Son are one), but made visible to us in time and space. But since God is spirit, and spirit is personal, these concentrations (or extensions) are also distinct personal expressions or personalities.

This is a deep topic which these few words hardly do justice. But this is a theme we deal with in our seminars and will in future teaching letters. Stay tuned!

(For more on this topic, read the Q&A below.)

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Is God Three?

Q: I am just curious about one thing. I read the article "Jewishness and the Trinity" [one of the outside articles previously recommended on our Classroom page--no longer available]. What convinced you that God was three? And also what convinced you that the Holy Spirit was a person? --David D.

A: The individual reality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is clear to most people from the pages of the Bible. The question for many is, as you mentioned, 'Are the three one', with the related question, 'Are the Son and Spirit really God in the same way the Father is God'?

The attempt to identify the relationship between these three through Greek thought forms, as the Church has done for several hundred years, has greatly confused the whole issue and made it difficult to see the original Biblical meaning and logic behind the idea of Trinity. The original Jewish and Biblical explanations are much more functional and practical than the high-flying Greek theories and formulas. It consists not so much in ideas as in the actual experience of people--such as the encounters with the "Angel (Messenger) of the Lord" by Abraham, Moses, Ezekiel, and many others in the Bible, a Messenger who identified himself as God and spoke as God. (See the "Chariot" article and the "Prophet like Moses" article on our Classroom page.)

The Trinity idea also developed from the ways in which Jesus identified himself as God, a claim later confirmed by God in raising him from the dead (see the article "Did Jesus Claim to be God?" on our Classroom page). The Hebrew, functional view of Trinity tells us why there must be a Trinity: God, the Father, was removed from direct interaction with us after the sin of Adam and all the sin that followed ("No man can see me and live" Ex. 33:20). Yet he continued to interact with us through his "arms" (Isa. 51:5,9; 52:10,13; 53:1,2): the Son (the Word) and the Spirit.

I picture this as something like one of those big glass chambers that scientists reach into through gloves that are attached to holes in its sides. The Son and the Spirit are the two hands or arms of God by which he reaches into our world to touch us. Yet, since God is Spirit (John 4:24), which unlike matter is pure being, any "extensions" of God must also be spirit and therefore pure being, in other words, independent personalities (unlike our arms, which are material and do not have an independent spiritual identity.).

Another image I like to use is that the Son is a "concentration" of who God is, just as starlight is concentrated in a telescope. Without that "concentration" in a particular time and place, we would have no way of seeing God in our current sinful condition. It's the same light (Father and Son are one), but made visible to us by being "concentrated" in time and space. However, after the birth of Jesus (the incarnation), the Son has now also irreversibly joined himself to humanity in the drama of his birth, death, and resurrection. Through this drama, he made available to us a way to return to God and be accepted, in spite of our past sins. All we must do, according to Romans 10, is to confess that Jesus is Lord (i.e. God), that is, to accept his claim that he is one with the Father; and believe that God raised him from the dead. In other words, we must believe that God confirmed the truth of all Jesus said by honoring him in the resurrection. Jesus' earthly ministry is now over until his return. But in the meantime, the Holy Spirit carries on the work.

This is a deep topic which these few words hardly do justice. But this is a theme we deal with regularly in our seminars and will again in future teaching letters. Stay tuned!

Q2: Thank you for your response. I have studied the bible over and over. I don't find the trinity doctrine in there. I asked what made you think that the Spirit of God was a distinct person from God. Your answer is what most people tell me who believe in the trinity. As I use the bible (the word of God) as my ultimate authority and it doesn't give the "trinity" theory precidence, I can't accept it. Until we are talking about God being Spirit (not a separate God or a separate spirit), I don't refer to it as "he". There are only two persons in heaven worthy of praise, glory and honour. The Father and the Son. I give praise to no-one else. Hence, I worship NO "trinity". But thank you for your comments anyway. --David D.

A2: From your response, I can see that I misread your core question. Please forgive me for that. Perhaps this will be a more helpful answer:

Jesus said in John 16:13: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears, he will speak; and he will disclose to you what is to come." The first "he" in this sentence, which serves as the referent for all the subsequent verbs, is ekeinos in Greek (literally "that one"). This is a masculine form, not the neuter form (ekeino) required if the Spirit was an "it." If you truly accept the Word of God, you cannot deny this and the many other places where this type of construct occurs. (John 16:7: "I will send him to you" is masculine in Greek, not neuter; John 16:8: "And he, when he comes..." is also masculine, not neuter; John 16:14: "He will glorify Me" again masculine, not neuter; etc.)

Do you agree that the Bible teaches that God is Spirit? (John 4:24: "God is Spirit") If God is Spirit--if Spirit is what he is--then Spirit is personal, and not an "it." Whatever the Bible means by "the Spirit of God" (a phrase equivalent to "the spirit of a man") can therefore not be an impersonal force, or an "it" any more than your spirit is an "it". "The Spirit of God" is therefore the personal God, and a "he." But at the same time, the "Spirit of God" is clearly distinct from God, just as your spirit is distinct from you (although still a part of who you are).

Jesus said: "I will ask the Father and he will give you another helper, that he may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16,17). Here Jesus clearly states that the Spirit is distinct from both himself and the Father. Yet by calling the Spirit "another helper," he identifies the help of the Spirit with his own help, that of a divine, conscious, living being. This is required by the word "helper" used here (paracletos) which means an advocate as in a court of law. The word cannot be used to refer to any other than a conscious, living, being.

Jesus said "the world cannot receive [the Spirit of truth], because it does not behold him or know him" (John 14:17). Jesus makes receiving the Spirit dependent on seeing him and knowing him. The word for "knowing" here, (ginosko), just as its underlying Hebrew equivalent, implies intimate knowledge of a personal nature. You cannot "know" an impersonal force or object.

Many additional proofs of this nature could be added. Jesus said that he wants us to "know" and receive the Holy Spirit. I can only hope and pray that you, too, will receive of his fullness.

Q3: Thank you for you response. First though I must say something that may end this discussion (as it may just eat up some of your valuable time). I am a searcher for the truth. I have spent my life with a view against the trinity. But I know that if God is truly saying that he is a trinity in the bible then I have to let go. I will continue to challenge myself and my view until I can either find something that breaks it (my view) or I stand strong in the truth.

I am having this conversation to you to see if you can show some evidence that may cause me to look again. But so far I'm not convinced. Why? Because it is not as though I haven't heard these same arguments before. I have. I have had to search and research bible again and again. I find that there is one Spirit and that it has many titles among which are "the Spirit of the Father" and "the Spirit of Christ". I know that in the old testament, the Hebrew gave the Spirit feminine qualities and NOT masculine. (Excuse my rudeness in my next statement) Unless the Spirit had a sex change, I can rest assured that any part of the new testament that talks of it has a reason for using the words it uses.

In my study of greek, I have found that the verbs that can go for "he" can also go for "it". I have found verses that say that the Spirit is Christ (the Lord), or that the Spirit is God. I can see in John 14-17, there is ample evidence that the Spirit is Christ and his Father dwelling in us. Even though Christ uses the third person to describe the Spirit, he used that to describe himself in John 17. I know that there is nowhere in Scripture where the Spirit is given praise, honour and worship and, if it is God, deserves it. I can see that if there is anywhere where the Spirit is a "he" then it can easily refer to God himself and not a separate "God the Spirit". Where the Spirit is, there is ample evidence that it is God's mind, consciousness, power, and/or presence. Just like if I was talking about your spirit, I may talk about it as though it were separate, but it is not. With all this in mind, I see nowhere in the bible where God is three in one. I see only two persons. The Father and the Son. Although I know that in the King James Version that I use, there is 1 John 5:7,8, there is ample evidence that that was added later on.

If you have any evidence that refutes all of this, I would love to hear it. I want the truth.

A3: A couple of things will help me clarify where you are in your understanding: Do you agree that the expressions "the Spirit of the Father" and "the Spirit of Christ" show that the Spirit is distinct from both the Father and the Son?

You are right that in Hebrew, the word for "spirit" is feminine. In the same way, in Greek the word for "spirit" is a neuter word ("it"). This does not mean that the Spirit of God changed between the Old and New Testaments, it just means that different languages assign different genders to different words. But precisely for this reason, the gender of the word "spirit" does not clarify the identity of the Holy Spirit. For this, we have to look at pronouns used to identify the Spirit, when the word "spirit" is not used. And that is the strength of the examples I gave you last time. They are pronouns which, quite contrary to the expectation of those who think that the Spirit is not personal, describe him as a him. If language has any meaning at all, these Scriptural examples cannot be ignored. They clearly indicate the identity of the Spirit as a he.

You are quite right that the Greek verbs for "it" and "he" are the same. As a result, verbs will not help us at all in resolving the question about the Spirit.

You acknowledge that the Spirit is Christ and his Father dwelling in us. But that is exactly the point: the physical Jesus (according to his flesh) is not dwelling in you. The Father is not directly dwelling in you (if he showed up in the full, unmediated reality of who he is now, we would all be destroyed: Ex. 33:20). But spiritually, both the Father and the Son are able to dwell in us through another Presence who is distinct from both of them, yet united to both of them: the Holy Spirit of God.

Believe it or not, you are speaking in a very Trinitarian manner when you compare God and his Spirit to the relationship of a man and his spirit: "Just like if I was talking about your spirit, I may talk about it as though it were separate, but it is not." That's exactly the point: We can talk about the Spirit as separate, because of his distinct identity. But in fact, he is not separate: he together with the Son are one with the Father.

In fact, Father, Son, and Spirit are not separate "persons" at all in the modern sense of that word. (Today we speak of John, Jane, and Mary as three different "persons," that is, as three different beings.) But the Father, Son, and Spirit are not separate beings. This is a heretical belief known as "tri-theism," the belief in three gods. Christianity has always believed in one and only one God (Deut. 6:4). Rather, the original Latin word persona used in the Church's definitions actually means something more like the modern word "personality" (it was originally used of the masks representing the different characters in a drama). The Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct "personalities" yet one being, and in the modern sense of the word, one person.

Q4: I was wrong about the he and it thing in John 16. You were right there. So it would be good to take this in the way that the spirit could be a "he" .... all that has to be done is question why Jesus said later on in the same chapter that he had said all this in proverbs or parables. We know that we cannot take parables as literal (if you understand what I mean). I mean according to the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is a woman, figaratively speaking. Just like in 1 Corinthians, love is also a "she".

You see through the evidence of Scripture, a person can easily forsake the trinity doctrine because it has holes in it where as true bible doctrine should not. If the bible said that God was three in one, I would agree with it. But both you and I know it doesn't. A trinitarian would have to pick verses from all over the bible to try to get evidence for the trinity, and even then they probably all could be refuted based on other scriptural evidence. What I am saying here is that there is something wrong. I mean you give scriptural evidence for something that is not mentioned in scripture but you believe the evidence of it is in scripture. I claim that what you believe is not in scripture and even though things may look as though there is evidence in scripture, there must be an assumption or theory behind it for it to understood in that light. Maybe the fruits of this discussion is vain. I want the truth, but there are two problems:

1) Whatever evidence you give there will be evidence against or an explanation unless you can unequivocally show a verse that says "our God is a trinity" or words to that effect.

2) Whatever you say, I will test to its uttermost limit (within the constraints of the bible). Nothing you have said so far has gone through the test either showing my hard-heartedness (and I'm not ashamed to admit that I can be stubborn if through God's grace and strength, the hard heart can be destroyed), or showing that the trinity theory may have some merits into understanding God, but is generally not biblical and man's way of placing assumptions on the bible.

A4: You are coming up against the prophetic "barrier" of Scripture. Revelation says that "the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). Belief in Jesus as Messiah is essentially a prophetic belief, that is, a belief that one particular interpretation of the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is the right one. Using the same kind of arguments you mention, most of the Jewish people until today reject the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. The Sadducees in the time of Jesus rejected the belief in the resurrection of the dead, or in angels, or in eternal life (Acts 23:8).

As incredible as it might seem, it is quite possible to argue from the Hebrew Bible that there is no resurrection of the dead because it is not spelled out in clear language. But the Pharisees promoted the doctrine based on the same kind of analysis that I am using with you about the Spirit: small indications here and there that, if we actually believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scripture, cannot be ignored. The analysis of the Pharisees has been accepted by the Jewish people until today, and was confirmed by Jesus and the New Testament. It just comes down to how seriously you take the whole Scripture, and every word in it. If Jesus says he is going to send another comforter, which implies another like himself that is divine, and describes this one as the Spirit of God and refers to him in the masculine personal pronoun--if we really believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture, we must take these words seriously.

But there is a whole other line of evidence we need to consider here: and that is the experience of the Early Church, as recorded in the book of Acts. Jesus was accepted as being the divine Son of God primarily through the experiences of the disciples, which were later, on reflection, confirmed by Scripture. The same can be said of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost they had an introductory experience with the Spirit that can only be described (in today's language) as mind-blowing. This, in their own words, was an experience of a divine Person, not an impersonal force.

In Acts 5:3, Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied "to the Holy Spirit," which in the next verse is interpreted as "You have not lied to men, but to God." They understood that the Holy Spirit was himself God (and personal: you cannot lie to a force). In Romans 8:26, Paul says that the "Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings [or sighs] too deep for words." Intercession means to ask on behalf of another, and has a legal connotation. This is something that can only be done by persons, not impersonal forces. The next verse mentions "the mind of the Spirit"--another reference to the Spirit's personal nature--which it says God knows, which clearly states that the Spirit is distinct from God (the Father), even though he is also often called the Spirit of God.

Jesus himself, in warning about the sin of blasphemy against the Spirit (Matt. 12:31,32), uses language that could only apply to a person. How can you blaspheme (slander) an object or a "force"? Such a charge would never be accepted in a courtroom even today. But surprisingly, Jesus makes slander against the Holy Spirit a greater offense than slander against himself, which implies not only the Spirit's personal nature, but also his divinity.

There are many, many other examples like this. What it boils down to is that everything Jesus and the disciples said about the Spirit reveals their understanding that the Spirit was divine and was personal.

If we take the Scripture as objectively and verbally true, we must accept not only its clear statements, but also its assumptions, which are also stated there, although in a less direct manner. But in spite of being indirect, this is also objective evidence, which by the way cannot be refuted within the context and language of the early disciples. We as Messianic believers/Christians must submit ourselves to their cultural understandings and language in order to correctly understand their thinking.

The fact that the resurrection is not clearly spelled out in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) does not mean it's not true. The incarnation is also not mentioned by name in the Bible, but that doesn't mean that the reality behind that word didn't happen. The same is true of the Trinity. We must use all the evidence of Scripture--the whole Bible--both its clear statements and the implications of its words, and not restrict ourselves only to one particular kind of statement that we might be more comfortable with.

You say (or at least I think this is your position) that God is two, Father and Son. But does it say anywhere in the Bible that "God is a duality," or that "there are two Gods" (if this is your position)? To be fair, you must submit yourself to the same standard that you require of others.

But there is an additional point here, which is more important than anything we have yet discussed: that the Spirit is not just an object of speculation, but an experiential reality that the Scripture considers an essential part of the Christian experience. Paul says: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him" (Rom. 8:9). The reality of the Spirit of God in our lives defines the Christian experience. He is the one helping our weakness (Rom. 8:26), interceding for us, convicting us (John 16:8), filling us (Eph. 5:18), and guiding us into all the truth (John 16:13).

An essential question for you here is: do you have an experience of the Spirit? Have you experienced the reality of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your own life? If not, there is a whole realm of personal experience that God wants to open up for you. And that experience is part of the equation of truth that you are seeking to solve. I would invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal himself to you. Ask him to show his reality to you. As Jesus said, "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?... How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11:11,13) Once you have this reality in your life, this discussion will take on a whole new immediacy for you, and will be an incredible blessing as well.

Don't give up looking. As the Bible says, "Seek and you will find."

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Prayer Shawls and Head Coverings

Q: Should we wear a prayer shawl when we pray here at home? Should I cover my head during church services? I truly want to be a biblical Christian. --Florence B.

A: The prayer shawl among the Jews traces back to the Biblical commandment to make tassels and fringes on their garments (Num. 15:38,39; Deut. 22:12). Today, this is an obligation understood to apply only to Jewish men. Originally, in Biblical times, these tassels and fringes were part of the outer garment or cloak worn as part of the ordinary clothing of the people. Later, when fashions changed, it was retained by the Jews as a "prayer shawl" used strictly for religious purposes, although some today also wear a small vest with tassels all day long. Today Jewish men also often cover their heads with the prayer shawl, but this was not yet the practice in New Testament times (1 Cor. 11:4).

The obligation to wear this prayer shawl is understood by the Jews to apply only to themselves. In the early Church, such obligations from the Hebrew Scriptures were understood to apply only to Jewish Christians, not Gentile Christians (see Acts 15 and our Seminar #2 on the Jewish Roots of Christianity). So there is no obligation of any kind for a Gentile Christian to wear the prayer shawl.

As to whether it is appropriate for a Gentile Christian to wear a prayer shawl if he or she chooses, that's another matter. There are many points of view on this, strongly held on both sides. In the privacy of your home, it's of course up to you. But the guiding principle in public should be to be sensitive to others and do everything in love. If we follow the principle laid down by Paul in Romans 14:13-21, if our wearing a prayer shawl in public worship is offensive to our Jewish or Gentile brothers and sisters in Messiah, we should refrain.

With regard to head coverings for women, Paul makes his argument about women wearing veils in 1 Cor. 11 on the basis of widely held cultural beliefs and practices ("If it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head" 1 Cor. 11:6; "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?" 11:13; "Does not even nature itself teach you" 11:14; "We have no other practice" 11:16). This refers to the common practice of the time, especially in the Eastern Roman Empire, in which women wore a cloth draped over their heads. This can be seen in coins and statues preserved from that time. The front edge of the cloth is usually shown coming up to the middle of the top of the head (that is, the forehead and bangs were exposed, but not the back of the head). Wearing a head covering was seen as a sign of modesty. Even today, in the Middle East, a head covering among Muslim women is the custom (in some places it extends to a covering of mouth and nose as well, with only the eyes exposed). For a Muslim woman to reject this custom is a rejection of thousands of years of tradition and the general cultural sense of what is right and what is wrong. It is from within such a traditional world view that Paul makes his case.

The problem in applying this teaching to modern Western society is that these cultural norms are no longer generally accepted, so that Paul's questions no longer evoke the same response that they did in his day. It is no longer considered a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut short or to shave her head (associated in Paul's day with prostitution)--consider the Olympic athletes who do so. In the same way, for a woman to pray with head uncovered is no longer considered improper or immodest by the culture at large.

Paul does not base his argument directly on Scripture, since there is no place in the Hebrew Scriptures where the veiling of women is commanded. Nor does he himself actually command it, using the phrase "the woman ought [to do so]" as a strong form of persuasion rather than a direct command. As a result, this teaching lies very much in the gray area of differing interpretations. Some teach that women should continue to cover their heads today in Christian worship; others that it is not necessary in the modern Western world where the custom is not common practice. Because of this, the veiling of women should be treated in the way that Paul recommends other "gray area" practices be treated, such as observing a particular day and eating meat offered to idols: "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). Follow the way you feel the Lord is leading on this, without judging those who may disagree.

However, there is a Biblical constant in Paul's argument that is not open for debate, since it is based directly on clear statements in God's Word: the relationship of men and women, of which the veil was a symbol. A woman is in subjection to a man (either her father, or after marriage, her husband; 1 Cor. 11:3. See also 1 Cor. 7). This he bases on the story of the Creation in Genesis 2, which teaches that woman was created for man's sake (11:9; Gen. 2:18). This Biblical teaching should lead us to obey the spirit of Paul's instruction in a way that is meaningful in our own lives and our own culture today. Physically, the closest equivalent I can think of with regard to authority in modern Western society is the wearing of a wedding ring (on the proper finger). This, like the veil in ancient times, sends the clear signal that a woman is spoken for. With regard to modesty, the equivalent today would be avoiding clothes that are immodest by today's standards.

But in another sense, the wearing of a covering (or a ring, or modest clothing) in itself does not completely fulfill the Bible's instruction, any more than the physical act of circumcision fulfills God's commands about circumcision for Jewish men (Rom. 2:25-29). These are outward signs of what should also be an inward reality. Without the circumcision of the heart toward God, the outward circumcision is meaningless (Rom. 2:28,29). In the same way, the covering or veiling of a woman, without a heart of submission, is an empty act.

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Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha

 Q: What is all the excitement about the Dead Sea Scrolls? And what is the Apocrypha? --George M.

 A: The Dead Sea Scrolls are incredibly important to our understanding of the time of Jesus. They are basically the "books" of the library of a small religious sect living out in the desert in the time of Jesus. They were probably members of the Essenes, one of the four major "denominations" in Judaism in the time of Christ (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots). There are also a lot of parallels between their ideas and those of John the Baptist. Since John was raised in the desert (Luke 1:80), and not by his parents, he probably grew up in a community like this one, and possibly even this same community, which was known for taking in orphan boys and raising them in the traditions of their sect.

The reason the scrolls are so important is, first, because many of them were copies of books of the Bible. Before this discovery, the oldest Hebrew Bible was from 1,000 years after the time of Jesus. But the scrolls, which date to the time of Jesus himself and earlier, have shown that the Bibles we have today are essentially the same as they were in his day. There are a few tiny differences, like different spellings of certain words, or a "typo" here and there. But they are overwhelmingly identical to the Bibles we have today.

The other reason they're so important is that the other, non-Biblical scrolls describe the religious life and beliefs of this sect, which reflect the religious ideas and views that were popular in the time of Jesus. This helps us better understand the audience Jesus was preaching to. If we can understand what was in their minds, we can better understand why he said what he said, and why he said it the way he did. In the end, it makes it possible to understand Jesus' teachings far more accurately than they have been understood for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The Apocrypha (taking the word in its most general sense) refers to a large group of ancient "Bible-like" writings. Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of these are not new discoveries, but have been around for centuries. But although many of them make high-sounding religious claims, most have long been rejected by the Church (and/or the Synagogue) as doctrinally flawed.

This includes the various writings being hyped today as "lost" books of the Bible. But this is a misrepresentation. Most of them were never lost. They were rather rejected by most believers from the start, and with the exception of a very few of them, were never considered for inclusion in the Bible. Nothing in these books (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) should be taken as Scripture. At best, we study them in order to understand the (sometimes wrong) beliefs of people that the gospel was given to correct.

The exceptional few that were taken seriously are sometimes also referred to as the Apocrypha (this time using the word in a narrow sense) or as the Deuterocanonical Books. These are the extra books found in Roman Catholic Bibles. These writings were included in the Septuagint (the Old Greek) translation of Scripture that came to the Church from the Jews of Alexandria in Egypt, and became the Old Testament of the (Greek-speaking) Gentile Church. But these books were never included in the Hebrew Bible, nor were they accepted as Scripture by most Protestants. However, at least one of these writings, the book of First Maccabees, is a reliable historical document and can be helpful in studying the time between the Testaments.

There were one or two other apocryphal writings that gained acceptance in parts of the earliest Church. For instance, the book of Jude quotes the apocryphal book of Enoch (in Jude 1:14). Enoch was read as Scripture in some churches, as were a couple of the so-called New Testament Apocryphal writings (the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, the Revelation of Peter). But all were soon rejected as being Scripture, though they remain of interest to scholars.

 

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