QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS IV
Here are answers to some of the questions we've received. Click on a title to go to a particular question and answer. Or scroll down the page to the text below. If you'd like to ask a question about the Bible, Christianity, or the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith, e-mail us at Jeff@totheends.com
Should Missionaries Take Nothing with Them?
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Q: [In response to the Prosperity teaching TL#10:] When Jesus told them to go and preach and heal the sick, but not to take anything with them, no scrip or purse, etc., do you feel He means this literally for us always? I know that He is wanting us to trust Him fully even to go to the nations…. I am leaving for Nigeria in Aug. (please pray) and offerings have been given to me for travel, etc. This whole trip is supernatural by His hand. What does the Lord want of us here today in this issue? --Terri K.
A: It's a blessing to hear that you are searching God's Word as you prepare for ministry. The passage you refer to is in Matthew 10:9,10: "Do not procure for yourselves gold or silver or copper for your (money) belts, or a (traveler's) bag for the journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a walking stick; for the worker is worthy of his provision." The point of the verse is that the worker does not have to provision himself, but that his needs will be provided for him as he goes. It sounds to me like God is already doing this through the offerings you have received. May God be with you and provide all your needs as you minister in Nigeria!
Q1: I wanted to respond to your "To the Ends of the Earth--Teaching Letter #9" [Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness]…. You say adultery is grounds for divorce…. One of the biggest misinterpretations in churches and congregations worldwide is Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:9…. The word fornication [used in the King James translation of these verses] has been wrongly called adultery by many leaders and teachers of Torah [the Law of Moses]. Fornication and adultery are two very different types of sexual sin that we are so clearly warned not to engage in….
Matthew was written to the Jews and Yeshua [Jesus] knew their customs and laws…. This scripture was to clarify that if a woman who was betrothed to her husband (they were called husband and wife in the betrothal period, even though the marriage had not been consummated yet…) was found to have been unfaithful by means of fornication (pre-marriage), then a Get [a divorce] was allowed. Yeshua was clarifying under what circumstances a Get (divorce) was allowed, and it was only allowed during this betrothal period, if one had committed fornication before the marriage was consummated.
A1: You are correct that in both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, the ground permitted for divorce by Yeshua (Jesus) is "fornication" (in the King James version). But the Biblical definition of the word "fornication" (porneia in the original Greek, the root of the English word "pornography") is not restricted to the betrothal period. It includes any kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, including adultery. There is no foundation in Jewish law for a distinction between fornication before the consummation of the marriage and after. In fact, the rabbis clearly state that Jewish law is distinct from Roman law in that it does not recognize any legal difference between immorality in the time of betrothal and that of marriage. This can be seen in Deut. 22:23,24, which addresses the exact situation you mention: fornication during the betrothal period. Here the penalty is not divorce, as you suggest, but death, the same penalty as for adultery. In his teaching, Jesus was not introducing something new to Jewish law, nor was he annulling the Law of Moses; he was merely restating (and clarifying) the grounds for divorce given by Moses in Deut. 24:1: that divorce was permitted only in the event of unlawful sexual intercourse.
Q2: Jeff, you had noted in your teaching that 1 Corinthians 7:15 said "a man abandoned by a non-believing wife is permitted to re-marry, as is the man who divorces an adulterous wife." I am sorry, but that is one scary interpretation to me and clearly not at all what scripture says. Nowhere does 7:15 say it’s o.k. to remarry, the word used is depart. There is a huge difference in meaning between remarry and depart.
A2: You are correct that 1 Cor. 7:15 says nothing about remarriage. The permission of a man to remarry appears in 1 Cor. 7:26-28. Here Paul says that a man who has been "loosed" from a wife may marry a virgin without sin. This presumes, of course, that he has been loosed according to God's law, which only permits divorce under the two circumstances of being abandoned by a non-believing wife (1 Cor. 7:15; the Greek word translated "depart" refers to separation through divorce) or divorced from an adulterous wife (Matt. 5:32).
Q3: Under no circumstances do these scriptures instruct us to leave our mates if they are adulterous to us and it is o.k. by G-d to remarry. It is very clear in 1 Cor. 7:11 what Yeshua wants us to do. If a husband or wife departs, we are to remain unmarried or be reconciled to them. It is one or the other. Re-marriage is not a given choice. Re-marriage would contradict the rest of the scriptures Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:8-12, Luke 16:18, provided our covenant, one-flesh mate is still alive. Re-marriage is only allowed, according to scripture, in the event that our one-flesh mate dies.
A3: You are correct that 1 Cor. 7:11 forbids remarriage, but only in the case of a woman. Although men and women are equal before God on the spiritual and religious level (Gal. 3:28), they have distinct callings at the physical or social level. In Jewish culture and society, this was reflected by the father being considered the head of the household, with the primary responsibility for raising his children. If he divorced his wife because of her unfaithfulness, he was permitted to remarry in order to provide for the care of his children. A divorced woman ordinarily went out alone and, especially in such circumstances, would find it difficult to remarry. In the New Testament, her remarriage is actually forbidden: in Matt. 5:32, the case of a guilty woman, on the assumption she is an adulteress; and in 1 Cor. 7:11,39, the case of an innocent woman, as a proof that she is a virtuous woman. But the man who found himself divorced because of the sin of his wife or her departure (because of unbelief), was permitted to remarry, but only to a virgin or widow (1 Cor. 7:26-28, 39).
Q4: It was man (Moses) that made the divorce decree, due to the hard-heartedness of the Jews heart (Matthew 5:7-8). Abba makes it very clear how he feels about divorce in Malachi 2:14-16… G-ds will and desire is for man to be faithful to one wife and vice versa, until death do they part. He makes this very clear in Genesis 2:24 where they become one flesh and they are no longer two. Man created adultery, divorce and polygamy — not G-d!…
A4: You are right that God hates divorce. Unfortunately, divorce has been the practice of unregenerate man since earliest times. But in Deut. 24, Moses spoke not for himself, but for God when he gave regulations probably intended to limit this practice. In the New Testament, Jesus limited it even more.
Immorality is the only grounds on which divorce is permitted because it is a violation of the basic marriage covenant, which puts the man and woman in an exclusive sexual relationship. With immorality, this exclusive bond and covenant is broken. This is also a picture of heavenly things. The relationship of God and his people is like that of a husband and wife. But those who are not faithful to him will be broken off (Rom. 11:20,21).
Q5: Yeshua told the woman that was caught in the act of adultery to stop sinning, do it no more, I forgive you. This is our example. We are to walk in his image and likeness. Most people today say no way, I will not forgive my mate for adultery, I will divorce and I will interpret scripture the way I want, so that it fits into my lifestyle, not necessarily into G-ds. Divorce is another form of unforgiveness. We must die to ourselves (flesh) and quit letting our own selfish wills destroy souls. It’s incredibly a lot harder to forgive our mates for adultery and ask G-d to restore our marriages and believe that he will, than to become bitter and hard-hearted and find someone else to meet our needs. Yeshua taught love and forgiveness. Walk in love and forgiveness. Let him take our pain, rejection, abandonment and let him restore our marriages for only he can. We have to die to the flesh and walk in the spirit and only he can give us everything we need to restore our marriages. But we have to start with our own hearts and ask him to change in us what needs changing and not focus on changing our unfaithful mates. In time he will change our unfaithful mates because he is a covenant keeper and he was a witness to our marriages, but not until he has purified us and refined us by putting us through the fire that makes our trials more precious than purified gold. --Tracy H.
A5: You are right that God's will is forgiveness and restoration. Jesus did not command divorce in the case of adultery. He only permitted it. He would much prefer that there be a restoration of the marriage, and of the brokenness in the soul that allowed it to happen. As Christians we must be ready to forgive, even as our heavenly Father forgives us. Unfortunately, there are cases where restoration is impossible. And in these, when immorality has taken place, the Bible permits the dissolution of the marriage.
Q6: [A follow-up to the above:] You are right on Porneia [a Greek word, see above], there are many definitions of this Greek word and it covers a scope of sexual sin. As Matthew refers to the word fornication, which is premarital sexual relations, this is the grounds that Yeshua gave for divorce. In Mosaic law, if a person was caught in the act of adultery, they were stoned to death, not granted a divorce. I cannot emphasize enough that Abba has given us His commands and His laws on how we are to treat our one-flesh mate and if we do divorce them for any reason and marry another while our one-flesh mate is still alive, we are committing adultery. This is what the written word teaches us. There is no scripture that says adultery is grounds for divorce. The word used is fornication. Distinct difference between the two words and if you go back to the oldest translations of scripture, you will see the word used in Matthew is fornication….
A6: You are right that the Bible is very strongly against divorce, and that in many cases, remarriage as practiced today is actually adultery. But in evaluating any controversy concerning Scripture, such as Matt. 5:31-32, we must turn to the original, which for the New Testament is Greek, not English. Therefore the meaning of the Greek words takes priority over the English translation. The English word "fornication" is a translation of the original Greek work porneia. If we want to really understand what this verse says, we must consider the original Greek work, not the much later translated word. When we do that, we see that the original word porneia does not match the narrow definition you are giving to that word, but is a broad term referring to many different kinds of immorality, including both fornication and adultery. For any of these sexual sins, the Scripture permits a man to divorce his wife.
You are right that the Law of Moses prescribed death for adultery. But in the time of Jesus, this law was rarely enforced. The Pharisees had made such strict regulations for implementing it that it was almost impossible for anyone to receive the death penalty: two witnesses had to actually see the sin committed, and they had to have warned those involved that such an action was a sin in advance (to avoid the possibility of the sin being committed in ignorance). In many cases, the only alternative available to a man who had been wronged, as Joseph originally thought he had been because of Mary's pregnancy, was to divorce his wife (Matt. 1:19).
Q7: I disagree with you, that there are some marriages that are beyond Abba’s repair, provided it is a true covenant relationship, and someone is willing to take a stand for G-d to restore their marriage. It may not happen in a month, 6 months, 2 years, 10 years but it will happen if we walk in faith and what the written word promises us, and not look at our circumstances, because our circumstances can become very discouraging…. I always find it amazing that people are willing to let G-d take control of all areas of their lives or believe he can feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, but when it comes to marriage very few people are willing to do it G-ds way. They do not believe he can heal marriages, which I find so disheartening as nothing would please him more than to mend peoples broken hearts and marriages as He created marriage. Marriage he holds very close to his heart and is very sacred to him and yes He will go ALL out to restore marriages, even the marriages that look like they are beyond help, provided someone in the marriage is willing to trust in our almighty creator and quit trying to find loop holes so they can escape the pain…. --Tracy H.
A7: I agree with you wholeheartedly about the need for people to let God come into their marriages and restore them. As you have said, God's will is for restoration and forgiveness. This is why divorce is so strictly limited in the New Testament. God hates divorce in general (Mal. 2:16). How much more when that divorce or remarriage is outside the boundaries God has established? But there are circumstances in which even God himself is against the restoration of a marriage: As it says in Deut. 24:1-4, if a man divorces his wife, and she becomes the wife of another, who then dies or divorces her, it is forbidden for her to return to her first husband. The Bible goes so far as to call this forbidden action "an abomination before the LORD" that brings "sin on the land" (Deut. 24:4). This is an example of what I meant when I mentioned marriages beyond repair. May God help us all to avoid these traumas and remain true to our promises before God and man.
(For more on this topic see the Q&A below. See also the Index category Marriage.)
Q: [Follow-up to the previous set of questions, see Is Adultery Grounds for Divorce?:] I am not sure if you are aware of the DuTillet Hebrew Matthew transcript by James Trimm or SANJ. If you are not, it is the book of Matthew translated from the original tongue (Hebrew). You may or may not give merit to this transcript. It is quite interesting and according to this manuscript which is the Hebrew translated to English, not Greek then Hebrew then English, but Hebrew to English. The verses we are in debate about both use the word fornication as in the King James Version…. [In answer to a follow-up question:] The Hebrew words used for fornication are: al davar-zenot "or for the matter of unlawful sexual activity." So this would of course include fornication…. --Tracy H.
A: As you have pointed out yourself, the words that appear in the Du Tillet manuscript refer to "unlawful sexual activity." This includes not only fornication, but also adultery. This can be seen by the use of the same word, zenut, in the Old Testament. Of the nine times it appears, in most the context clearly refers to harlotry, often of Israel, described as a married woman, with others besides her husband, God (Jer. 3:2,9; Ezk. 23:27, 43:7,9; Hos. 4:11, 6:10). This clearly refers to adultery, not fornication according to your definition (which restricts "fornication" to immorality during the betrothal period).
A word of caution about the Du Tillet manuscript: James Trimm himself believes that this manuscript, which dates from the Middle Ages, "descends" from a Hebrew Matthew. This means that he believes that changes have been made to it over the years. George Howard, one of the scholars that have examined the manuscript, calls it a "revision" of an earlier Hebrew Matthew, related to the Shem Tob version (14th cent. AD) which itself was "contaminated" by Jewish scribes in the Middle Ages. For example, the earlier Shem Tob version never identifies Jesus as the Messiah. John the Baptist is presented with Messianic traits. Salvation of the Gentiles is only in the future Messianic era, not now. And even more to the point, Jesus does not forbid divorce at all. In other words, the theology of this family of documents is clearly heretical. This is not a very solid foundation on which to build one's faith.
No one would be more excited than I if an early, authentic scroll of the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew were to appear in an archeological excavation somewhere. But until that happens, the many attempts to "reconstruct" the Hebrew New Testament using late sources such as the Du Tillet and Shem Tob manuscripts are an interesting and potentially instructive exercise, but cannot be accepted as an authoritative replacement for the Greek text without further evidence.
The same caution applies to David Stern's translation of the Bible: The Jewish New Testament. Stern has made a genuine contribution by reminding us of the Jewishness of the New Testament. But unfortunately, many of his "unique" renderings (those that vary from other translations) are more in the nature of a paraphrase, reading his point of view into the text, than they are an accurate reflection of the original language of Scripture. All these attempted reconstructions are interesting and thought provoking, often in positive ways. But they lack authority. And that is what Scripture--God's Word--is all about: it is God's authoritative communication to us. Either God spoke, and is powerful enough to preserve his Word through the years, or he did not, and the Bible is merely a human invention.
This is what our discussion really comes down to: what is our source of authority in interpreting God's Word? You and I have accepted different bases of authority. You have accepted an interpretation that relies on a personal understanding of an English translation (KJV) made 1600 years after the original was written. I base my position on the original Greek language of the earliest dependable version of Matthew available to us (which agrees in this case with the Du Tillet Hebrew dating to the Middle Ages), as well as the testimony of Christian and Jewish history, none of which has ever recognized the distinction you make between betrothal and marriage with regard to the term "fornication."
Rather, the Bible teaches that any and all forms of sexual immorality are a violation of the covenant of marriage which break the covenant. A Biblical example is when the children of Israel in the desert broke their covenant with God by acts of idolatry (spiritual adultery). Moses broke the tablets as a sign that the covenant had been broken. While reconciliation and restoration should ideally be pursued (as Moses did with God), unfortunately this is not always possible, and a divorce is necessary (as when God sent the Northern Kingdom of Israel away into exile, see Hosea 2:2-13).
Q: Do you feel that speaking in tongues should be a requirement for joining a church? Do you think that speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift? My daughter is in a church and wants to work in the nursery so that she can be in the nursery with her child and one of the questions on the form to fill out, is "Do you speak in tongues?" She is bothered by this and has not been given a satisfactory answer when speaking with someone from the church. Her husband wants to stay in this church and she doesn't. I told her to pray about it and go and visit other churches. I have not and am not in a church where people spoke in tongues. --Mary R.
A: From your description, this church seems to be a Pentecostal or Charismatic church. A very few of these churches believe that speaking in tongues is necessary to salvation, many more believe that it is essential to a full Christian life, the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Since working in the church, even in the nursery, is an extension of the ministry of the church, they want to be sure that their workers share their doctrinal position and practice, even though speaking in tongues may or may not be required for church membership.
It sounds like your daughter is bothered by the question because speaking in tongues has not been part of her Christian experience and she feels awkward about something that is strange to her being required for nursery work. But since her husband likes the church (which many other wives could only wish would happen), perhaps it would be good for her to start with a Bible study to see what the Word of God says about speaking in tongues.
There's no question that the Bible includes speaking in tongues among the spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:10, etc.). The major difference of opinion is whether or not speaking in tongues is for every believer ("they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues"; Acts 2:4) or only for some ("All do not speak in tongues, do they?"; 1 Cor. 12:30). The position a group takes on this issue is usually related to their understanding of whether or not speaking in tongues is the only valid sign that a Christian has been filled with the Spirit, or if it is one of many spiritual gifts that testify to this filling.
Part of the reason for the wide variety of opinions on speaking in tongues is the diversity of descriptions that appear in the Bible itself. On one hand, especially in the book of Acts, the filling of the Spirit is described as an experience of receiving the power of God that can occur over and over again in a person's life (compare Acts 2:4 and 4:31; Eph. 5:18). In these times of filling, all are often said to have spoken in tongues (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6). But on the other hand, especially in 1 Corinthians, which concerns the regular life of a particular congregation, Paul mentions speaking in tongues as one among many gifts distributed among the members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:10,28), which not all have ("All do not speak in tongues, do they?"; 1 Cor. 12:30). He even needs to warn them not to suppress this gift altogether ("Do not forbid to speak in tongues"; 1 Cor. 14:39).
Because of these diverse descriptions, different churches have taken different positions on the issue. Your daughter, together with her husband, will just have to seek God's direction and leading in this area so they can be in harmony with one another (priority #1) and with the church they attend (priority #2).
Q: How should we consider Allah of the Muslims? Specifically, is the God of the Bible the same as Allah of the Qu'ran? Maybe Mohammad did really mean the God of the bible in his book, only he did not fully understand? In languages like Arabic and Indo/Malay God in the Bible is translated as Allah, Why? Should Muslims pray to Allah in Jesus name and assume they are reaching the God of the Bible? --Hank M.
A: Christians in different parts of the world have taken different positions on this question. It boils down to two distinct issues: (1) the meaning of the name Allah, and (2) the historical associations of the name.
1) The name Allah comes from the Arabic al ("the") and ilah ("god"), implying the one true god. This is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew Eloah, which appears most often in the Bible in the plural: Elohim. So it is quite possible for Allah to be used of the true God of the Bible, as some Christian groups in Muslim regions are doing.
2) The problem is, though, that Allah has his own unique identity, which is quite different than the God of the Bible. Muslims claim that these differences are the result of "changes" introduced into the Christian Bible after it was written. In this way, they claim to be the authentic representatives of the religion of the Bible. But most Christians believe, on the contrary, that these differences only prove that Christianity and Islam are two very distinct religions.
The unique identity of Allah begins long before the time of Mohammed, in pre-Muslim Arabia. Allah was one of the 360 tribal gods worshipped in the Kaaba (in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam). Allah was regarded as a high god over the other gods. Mohammed's reform removed all the other gods, and retained only Allah (along with many of the rituals still practiced today during the pilgrimage to Mecca; these include the tawaf, in which Muslims walk around the Kaaba seven times).
This in itself is not a problem. The God of the Bible allowed himself to be identified in some ways with the El of the Canaanites. But although Mohammed claimed to be preaching the God of the Bible, he denied central Christian doctrines such as the deity of Jesus Christ and his atoning death, and the Trinity (tri-unity) of God. He also denied Old Testament teachings, such as that Isaac was the son Abraham nearly sacrificed, substituting in his place Ishmael.
Muslims call Allah a god of mercy, yet he often appears harsh and cruel compared to the God of the Bible. This appears in the removal of body parts as punishment under Muslim Sharia law (such as hands for theft) and the fatalistic attitude toward debilitating injury and sickness as the will of Allah. Generally accepted Muslim attitudes toward leadership, inevitably modeled on the character of Allah, have historically produced many tyrants and dictators, as can be seen today in the Muslim world. This is not to mention the whole theology of jihad (holy war) that leads Muslims to attack Christians (as is happening right now in Nigeria, Sudan, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines), nor Muslim moral doctrines, such as the permission of "temporary" wives (legalized fornication) and permission to beat disobedient wives.
If Christians, by using the name Allah, invoke in the minds of people this very different god with very different ideas and teachings, it only confuses the distinction between Christian and Muslim beliefs. This is why other Christians in Muslim areas choose not to use the name Allah. (In some places, Muslim authorities themselves forbid the name Allah to be printed in Christian holy books.)
It all comes down to what you mean by Allah. The decision of Christian groups in Muslim areas will vary depending on the local situation. This much we can say for certain: Christians living and witnessing in Muslim areas are much in need of our prayers! Let's not forget them in their time of great need, especially those who are under attack right now.
Q: Can you give me any information about the poor-man's tithe, that was gathered every third year? And can you also tell me if this is a third year in the cycle? I know it is the third year since the Jubilee. As near as I have been able to gather, the third tithe in the third and the sixth year was to go to the poor. At what time of the year was the third tithe given--at the time of the high holy days? --S.M.
A: Most Gentile Christians have never heard of anything but the First, Levitical Tithe, which is often used as a model for Christian giving. But if we are going to resort to the Old Testament as a model for giving, we must take account of its entire system of giving. This includes not only the First, but also a Second Tithe. The Second Tithe was for the use of the worshipper and his family when he came up to Jerusalem, usually at the time of the yearly pilgrimage festivals (Deut. 14:22-26). This was given in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven-year sabbatical cycle. If I were to suggest a parallel for this for modern Christians, it would be money spent on attending Christian seminars and workshops, buying Christian tapes and books, and other items and activities that build up the inner man.
In the third and sixth years of the cycle, the Second Tithe was set aside for the poor (the poor man's tithe, sometimes called a Third Tithe; Deut. 14:28,29; 26:12). This, too, is an area of giving that should not be neglected today.
Q: [In response to teaching letter #10 on Prosperity:] …The message of lesson #10 is that material wealth and salvation/relationship with God/doing God's will etc. etc. are mutually exclusive. This teaching is unBiblical. It runs contrary to the COMPLETE teachings of both the Old and New Testament…
When the pursuit of prosperity and wealth is acted out APART from the context of a person's complete recognition of his COMPLETE dependence on God, that individual will break himself upon the natural law. God wants to save everyone but can only save those who are in relationship with Him and dependent on Him. Wealthy people face the great danger of thinking that they can save themselves in their own power, since they feel it has been their power and wisdom that has given them their wealth and don't recognize that it is God's gift and blessing (and that the wealth belongs to Him). THIS is the Bible's teaching from beginning to end…
In his story of the man who wanted to build more barns to store all his wealth, the man didn't depend on God or acknowledge Him. It is unclear whether this is the case with the Rich Young Ruler. I believe this is what Jesus had in mind with what he said about the camel going through the eye of a needle. The disciples asked incredulously, "Who then can be saved?" implying that if the rich Pharisees and Sadducees couldn't save THEMSELVES, then who could? Jesus answered, With man this (saving YOURSELF) is impossible, but with God all things are possible. It is God/Jesus that saves us, not we with our wealth or good works… It is not wealth, or conversely, the lack of it that makes one moral/pious. One's socio-economic status does not save us. Our laziness/mediocrity (due to our belief that wealth is bad) cannot save us. It is only the dependence on the salvation that comes through Yeshua. --Stefan B.
A: You are right that a different understanding about wealth has been reached by many students of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. This includes the direct spiritual descendants of the Pharisees, the modern rabbis. As a whole, they rejected what seems at one time to have been a somewhat common impulse among the Jews (though I don't know how often it was actually done) to give all their possessions to the poor.
For example, a king, who had converted to Judaism (1st cent. AD), gave all his wealth to the poor during a famine. As the story goes: "When his relatives upbraided him for squandering his riches in this manner, he replied to them, `My ancestors stored up treasures for below, but I have stored up treasures for above; they stored treasures in a place over which force can prevail, but I in a place where [earthly] force is powerless. They stored up treasures which yield no fruit, but mine will be productive. They stored up treasures of money, but I of souls. They stored up treasures for others, I for my own good. They stored up treasures in this world, but I for the World to Come'" (Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, Schocken Books, 1995, p.69, from Tosifta Peah IV 18).
As you can see, there are remarkable parallels between this speech and the teachings of Jesus: Jesus also warned of the dangers of storing up treasures on earth. In fact, he forbid it: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
But the rabbis, too, recognized that a life lived for the pursuit of wealth is empty. They told this parable: A fox found a vineyard that was fenced in on all sides, but there was one hole in the fence. He wanted to enter it, but was unable to do so. What did he do? He fasted three days, until he became very thin, and then went through the hole. He feasted there and, of course, grew fat again. When he wanted to go out, he was unable to pass through the hole. So he fasted another three days until he grew thin and then went out. When he was outside, he turned back to the vineyard, and looking at it said, "O vineyard! What use have you been to me and what use are your fruits? All that is inside is beautiful and praiseworthy, but what benefit has one from you? As one enters, so he comes out" (based on Cohen, p. 68-9).
This is similar to Jesus' teaching about the rich man and his barns: "The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, `What will I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' And he said, `This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).
Whatever Jesus meant by the expression being "rich toward God," in a Jewish context it implies far and above the minimum level of giving, which for Jews in Jesus' day was more than 25%. But with regard to his laying up "treasure" for himself, we have the clear instruction of Jesus, as mentioned above, not to lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven (Matt. 6:19).
Although different interpretations of the Hebrew Bible's teaching on wealth are possible, earliest Christianity (the early Jewish Christians) believed that Jesus, as the Messiah, came to give us the correct interpretation of the Scripture (in fulfillment of Deut. 18:18). Unlike previous teachers, he rephrased the whole issue of wealth in relationship to following him: "So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions" (Luke 15:33).
This is part of Jesus' teaching of radical discipleship: a demand for us to be totally sold out for him. He is not asking for a tithe, but for 100%. It's part of leaving everything behind to follow him, as his first disciples did: "We have left everything and followed you" (Matt. 19:27).
This is not a call to poverty, but to Jesus! And in that obedience of leaving all to follow him, we show who we really serve: God or mammon (Matt. 6:24). But Jesus does not say that those who make this radical break to follow him will languish in poverty: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for my name's sake will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29). The "many times as much" is a promise for this life for those who obey him and are engaged in the work of the kingdom (Matt. 10:10). Just like the manna in the desert, he will supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19).
One is a route of faith in ourselves and our own abilities. The other is a radical step of faith in Jesus. Jesus is not looking for our money: "'The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD" (Hag. 2:8). He's looking for men and women who are willing to follow him in obedience to his word, willing to trust him rather than their own efforts for the supply of their needs (Matt. 6:33). Which one do you choose? Discipleship to Jesus, or the pursuit of wealth (mammon)?
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #10 on Prosperity:] ....May I suggest sir, that you get out your study aids and do some word studies. Should you choose to do so, you will find that Jesus' continual admonishments towards wealth ALWAYS pointed at the conditions of the heart, not the money.... I seek wealth every day of my life, because the Kingdom of God cannot advance and win souls without it. I will continue to tithe and give abundantly to my home church, and others. I guarantee you, my pastor is thankful that I understand the Word of God. Additionally, my Loving Heavenly Father does not mind, at all, if I prosper at the same time.......matter of fact I believe that it delights him greatly.
Additionally, I have visited Israel. Simon the tanner's house is by the sea, but it's also in a village…. Additionally, the fact that life was simple and poor during the time that Jesus began his earthly ministry has little to do with us now. There are many countries today that are poor that don't vindicate Godly poverty........Christianity barely exists in some…. The spirit of poverty is an awful thing…. --Sue H.
A: You are right that the spirit of poverty can be an awful thing. We are currently living in the Philippines, and all around us we see poverty of a kind hard to imagine in first-world countries. But the solution of Jesus to this problem is not to pursue wealth. It is to follow him in spreading the good news of God's kingdom.
It is not true, as you claim, that the kingdom of God cannot advance without wealth. Most of the money given to Christian ministry around the world comes from people who are not wealthy. The kingdom of God is advancing most rapidly today in countries where there is great poverty, while in rich countries like the U.S. and Europe, the gospel is in dramatic decline. How can this be if, as you claim, wealth is the key to the gospel?
Here in the Philippines, a good pastor's salary is $113 per month ($1363 per year). Yet the gospel is spreading rapidly. The greatest evangelism explosion in history is taking place right now in poor, rural China. Some of these pastors barely have enough to eat, but God is doing great miracles through them. It's cruel for rich foreign Christians to criticize the prosperity level of godly men like these.
Did you know that for every dollar raised for Christian work, only six cents goes to missions? Most is spent in the U.S. and other first-world countries, where it seems to be having the least effect. If the "prosperity" message is really true, why isn't it having more success in reaching the U.S. for Jesus?
Jesus did not ask for 10%, he asked for 100%. He did not tell us to get wealthy first and then preach the gospel. He told us to preach the gospel right now, and trust God for our support. And his promise, to all who will take him at his word, is that he will supply their every need (Matt. 6:33).
It is not true, as you say, that "Jesus' continual admonishments towards wealth always pointed at the condition of the heart, not the money." In Luke he clearly states: "No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions" (Luke 14:33). That his disciples took him literally can be seen in Matthew when Peter said to Jesus, "We have left everything and followed you" (Matt. 19:27). He does not say that they cleared up the attitude of their hearts, but that they left everything behind for Jesus.
Jesus issues the same challenge today. Are we willing to give up everything and follow him?
With regard to Israel: The place in Jaffa shown today as Simon the Tanner's house has no historical or archeological claim to that title. In ancient times, tanners' homes were located outside of town because of the stinky substances they used in processing leather, not in the center of town, as this location would have been at that time.
Q: [Follow-up to the Q&A above, Is the Problem with Wealth Merely the Attitude of the Heart toward Money?:] I find your response very interesting in many ways, I can even find some points that I can agree with you on. As we continue our work in Zimbabwe I am well aware of the need for financial support. As one of my dearest friends does a monumental work, also in the Philippines, he also has great need. God always meets those needs, interesting though that he often uses "wealthy, foreign Christians" to meet these needs….
Jesus did ask for 100% of your life. If He does not have access to everything you have at any time, then you are definitely missing the point. Sacrifice is part of Godly living. Poverty, however, is not an indication of Godliness or sacrifice, much of the time it is an indication of pure stupidity. I know many poor Christian Americans that don't give a dime. I also know many wealthy ones that give abundantly. I do not believe that wealth is the key to the Kingdom of God. Sowing and reaping is, however, the system that God set up. I will not sit back and pretend that money is not included in His system. Trusting God at every opportunity to sow and reap for the Kingdom is one of the challenges set before us. This is evident in Mt 25, by the words of my Lord, the unprofitable servant was called wicked and slothful and cast into outer darkness. God can always do more with something, rather than nothing…. --Sue H.
A: You're right that it takes money to live and to do ministry. It requires the generosity of God's people in every area for Christian work to continue. Every one of us should also work to provide for our families--and to have extra to share with those in need (Eph. 4:28). But these things are quite different than wealth and the pursuit of wealth. Wealth is defined as the over-abundance of money and possessions: having considerably more than you need to live on. Jesus' message is that we don't need to have wealth to do God's will: we can do God's will with what we have right now. Talk with someone about God's love. Pray with someone. We must not postpone doing the will of God because we are preoccupied with the pursuit of wealth, a pursuit that ultimately leads away from God. Jesus tells us to trust him and start doing God's will right now. Why? Because God will supply our needs. Is it more important to put in those overtime hours for money that will be wasted on some material desire, or to spend that time with a neighbor or friend in counseling, prayer, and ministry? What are our priorities? What are our goals? Who are we trusting to provide our needs? God or riches? Who are we really serving? If we really believe that God is the God of the universe, who created all things and is in all things and through all things: then we can believe that he will supply every need, and stop being anxious about material things. Did he supply our needs today? Then he will supply our needs tomorrow, too.
The prosperity teaching implies that Jesus should have waited to preach to the 5,000 until he had the material resources to provide a proper meal for the crowd--that the "viability" of a ministry depends on the finances available to it. But Jesus went ahead with five loaves and two fish. His thinking wasn't "practical" at all. But he wasn't restricting himself to man's abilities. He was trusting in God's ability to turn the little that was available into all that was needed. Can we really base our lives on such "impractical" thinking? It comes down to a matter of faith. Who are you serving? Who are you believing in to provide your needs? God or mammon? The disciples gave out of the best of their available resources. God did the rest.
The prosperity teaching sends people off in a vain pursuit of wealth (rather than a pursuit of the things of God), with the idea that if they find riches and pour it into the kingdom of God, they have pleased God and are advancing his kingdom. But Jesus praised the poor women who put in a couple of pennies more than the rich who put in many thousands. Why? Because God looks at the heart. Hers was a sacrificial gift: she put in out of her need, they out of their unneeded excess. Her heart and her soul were toward God, theirs toward making a show of generosity, when in fact they kept far more than they needed for themselves. God is not dependent on the rich in order to advance his kingdom. His resources are beyond anything we can even imagine. But what he is concerned about is the condition of our hearts. Who are we serving? Whose words are we obeying?
Jesus came to free us from the bondage of the vain pursuit of wealth. True happiness does not consist in having the biggest house and the fanciest possessions. In fact, these things quickly become burdens that lead us away from true happiness, the source of envy that divides us from our fellow man and robs us of the joy of sharing our lives with others (in part because we're too busy working to pay the bills). Jesus pointed to a completely different road: a call to leave all that behind, and come, follow him in a simple life of meeting the needs of others through the power of a living and loving God. And God will take care of us along the way.
Those who preach a gospel of wealth serve themselves, not God. They appeal to the greed and selfishness in each one of us: "Give (a little) to get (a lot)!" This is a lottery mentality, not the gospel.
These teachers make a great display of the wealth they have received (and squandered) because of their message. But Jesus did not have a million dollar home, drive a Mercedes, and go out to the best restaurants every night. He didn't promise the people riches, take a collection, and then go off to feed himself and the disciples with the money. He spent his time, humbly, among the poor. He met their needs personally by the power of God operating in his life. His needs, in turn, were supplied through the generosity of those who were encouraged and blessed by his ministry. But there was nothing about his lifestyle or his possessions to inspire worldly envy, nothing to obstruct the pure message of perfect trust in a loving God.
Jesus' message is not about providing ourselves with exorbitant riches. It's about humbly and personally serving God through the preaching of his kingdom and obedience to his will. It's a message about community and sharing our lives with others. And it's a message of faith, trusting God to supply our needs, just as he promised to do.
Q: The "aliyah" [return to Israel; literally "going up"] of the Jewish people: It seems there are 2 arrivals, first to build the land (since 1948) and next a spiritual one, when all Israel will be saved. Should Gentile followers of Jesus actively support the present movement of Jewish people to Israel?… The "all Israel will be saved" and "a remnant will be saved" seem contradictory. And what about the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of revelation, seems more than just a remnant. Any comments on the above would be appreciated. God Bless! --Hank M.
A: Just as important as any answer I can give you about prophecy is the reason why I have a particular prophetic view and the scriptural basis for that view. These are topics that we deal with in detail in our new Revelation of Jesus Christ to John Seminar, which addresses many of the questions you raise. But to give you the short answer, yes, there are two different aspects to aliyah: The physical aspect is the physical return of the Jews and the restoration of the State of Israel (which has been going on since the end of the 19th cent.). The spiritual aspect is the turning of the Jewish people to Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah, which has dramatically accelerated with the restoration of the Jewish people to their land, though their numbers are still small by comparison with the overall Jewish population.
The "contradiction" of (1) the salvation of the remnant and (2) the salvation of the nation is resolved by seeing them as a two-step process, the sequence of which is established by Scripture itself. Zechariah 12 and 13, as interpreted and confirmed by Jesus in Matt. 24:30 (and parallels), describes the salvation of the nation of Israel (step #2) as taking place at the appearance of the "sign of the Son of Man" in the heavens, immediately before the resurrection (of the righteous; vs. 31). The comparison of Matthew and Zechariah resolves the translation question over who these tribes are. Although both "tribes of the earth" and "tribes of the land (of Israel)" are possible, the fact that Jesus is alluding to Zechariah confirms that he is talking about the tribes of Israel.
By contrast, the salvation of a "remnant" (step #1) is a good description of the number of Jews who have been saved from the time of Jesus up until today. Paul certainly believed that "the remnant" referred to the Jews being saved in his own day, including himself (Rom. 9:27 and context). This also seems to be the point of Rev. 7. Although the 144,000 are often described as evangelists, that word is never used of them in Scripture. They are simply described as being "sealed," which a quick check in a concordance will show was used as an image of salvation (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13, 4:30). This remnant is sealed before God's winds of judgment begin to blow on the earth (Rev. 7:1-3), just as we see happening right now. (144,000 is less than 3% of the current population of Israel--definitely a remnant.)
Should Gentile believers support the return of the Jews to Israel? Absolutely! In fact, it's prophesied that we would do so (Isa. 60:9,10; 66:20; etc.). Many millions of dollars have already been raised, many thousands of Jews have been helped to return.
[For more on this topic, see our Revelation of Jesus Christ to John Seminar.]
Q: Just browsing through some of your photos and I noticed a caption beneath a photo of you at the pulpit. It mentioned SUNDAY morning..... ??????? Your sub heading to your web site is that " ...the LAW shall go out from Zion...." etc.... I was thoroughly astounded to see you preaching at a Sunday service.... Can you please explain? Do you believe that it is OK to break one of God's commandments and to teach others to do the same.? --Jan W.
A: Is there a day on which the preaching of the Word of God is forbidden? The Law of the Sabbath concerns the day on which God instructed Israel to rest, not which day is to be a day of worship (Ex. 20:8-11). The Bible teaches that everyday is to be a day of worship, as can be seen by the "perpetual" offering of lambs every morning and afternoon in the Temple (Num. 28:3). Besides, I am a Gentile believer in Jesus, and neither the Law of God nor even the rabbis require observance of the Sabbath by Gentiles (Acts 15, Col. 2:16, Rom. 14:5). This is one of the areas of freedom granted to Gentile believers (Gal. 5:1). [For more information on this issue, see our Seminar II: The Jewish Roots of Christianity.]
Q: In my studies I believe that Yeshua (Jesus) rose on a Sabbath. All my gentile friends say this is wrong do you have any feedback on this? --Bud K.
A: In spite of all the difficulties in understanding the exact chronology of Yeshua's last week in Jerusalem, there is one thing that is firmly fixed: The day of his crucifixion was a Friday (yom shishi). We know this because he was taken down from the cross the same day and placed in the tomb just as "the Sabbath was beginning to shine" (a literal translation of Luke 23:54), a beautiful phrase that refers to the lighting of the Sabbath lamps. After this, we know only that the women found he had already resurrected by dawn on Sunday (yom rishon).
To fill in the gap between, we must turn to Jesus' prophecy of the "sign of Jonah," that he would spend three days and three nights "in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). This three days and three nights has been interpreted literally by several Gentile interpreters, causing them to rewrite history in trying to make it fit. But from a Jewish ritual perspective, any part of a day counts for a whole day (as in computing the duration of various kinds of uncleanness).
Therefore, the first day was from the time he was put in the tomb until the beginning of the Sabbath that evening (yom shishi), the second day was from Friday evening to Saturday evening (Shabbat), the third day started with Saturday evening (erev yom rishon). Jesus could have arisen any time from Saturday evening through Sunday at dawn (erev yom rishon).
In light of the Genesis account of the Creation, it would have been very odd for God to have performed this first act of the new creation (creating the resurrection body of Jesus) on a Sabbath. More likely, he waited until the Sabbath was over.
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #11, The Tithe and Other Taxes:] I just finished your most recent teaching letter about the tithe and giving to the government. One question that you did not directly address is if the tithe is commanded in the new covenant. I would be interested in your thoughts on this. --Brian B.
A: The tithe is barely mentioned in the New Testament. Two out of the nine times it appears are in the accounts of Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees, where he notes that they are diligent to tithe even their spices, a practice that Jesus affirms (Matt. 23:23, Luke 11:42; a third mention of the tithe by Jesus, in a parable, also refers to the diligence of the Pharisees: Luke 18:12). Here again, Jesus appears as one who upholds the Law of Moses, not as one who tears it down (Matt. 5:17). As a result, we can assume that he would uphold not only the tithe (the First Tithe, maaser rishon), but all the other giving requirements of the Law, too.
But it must be remembered that this, the Levitical tithe, was commanded to be given to the Jewish Levites (Num. 18:21). Certainly no one would suggest that this implies Gentile Christians must pay a tithe to Jews of Levitical descent. Even the Jewish rabbis did not apply the tithe or any of the other giving requirements of the Law of Moses to Gentiles (sons of Noah). Nor did the early Church: the Levitical tithe and other required giving was omitted from the instructions to Gentile believers in Acts 15. So the statements of Jesus cannot be taken as a command for Gentile Christians to pay the Levitical tithe. (The drift of the New Testament as a whole is that Gentile Christians are not under the Law of Moses.)
All of the other references to tithing in the New Testament appear in a single chapter: Hebrews 7. This is a discussion about Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20). The point of the argument is to show that Jesus' priesthood (of the order of Melchizedek) is far greater than the Levitical priesthood. It also strongly suggests that tithes should now be paid to the priesthood represented by Jesus, rather than the Levitical priesthood, though this is not directly stated. This is the strongest argument from the New Testament for Gentile Christians to pay a tithe to Christian ministry. But it must be remembered that Abraham's action was a one-time event of a strictly voluntary nature. Although this is supportive of a New Testament tithe, it does not directly teach it.
Lacking a specific command in the New Testament, we must turn to a less direct approach. As Hebrews also states, the Law is a shadow of the reality that has come in Christ (Heb. 10:1, also Col. 2:17). It is a guide toward what is realized in Christ (Gal. 3:24, Rom. 8:4). And as Jesus himself said, "Unless your righteousness [a word that implied acts of charity] is abundantly greater than the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Since the Pharisees were diligent in all the giving requirements of the Law of Moses (up to 25% plus of their income), surely Jesus implies that we must be more generous than they in giving to the work of God (which according to Heb. 7 should now be directed to Christian ministry), to the poor, and toward rejoicing in the Lord.
But how much farther than the Pharisees do we have to go? This question Jesus answers for us directly in clear language: "Any of you that does not give up all his possessions cannot be my disciple" (Luk. 14:33). The fact that this is a hard teaching doesn't make it any less real. Jesus isn't asking for 10% or even 25%. He wants us to give up everything and follow him. And he means it. Endless effort is spent justifying "life as usual": 'just give your ten percent and you'll be right with God.' But that's not Jesus' message. God is not happy with 10%. He wants all of us: everything we have and everything we are. He wants to take us into the incredibly exciting adventure called discipleship, to launch us out into the unknown. Jesus is looking for workers to go out into the harvest, not to sit at home: the harvest is great, but the workers are few (Mat. 9:37). And for those who do, he promises to provide all their needs (Mark 10:29-30).
This is the goal of being a disciple of Jesus: to go out with the gospel--not to sit at home and make money (so you can give a "bigger tithe"). God already owns everything and can supply the needs of all. But what he's lacking is those willing to step out and obey him in preaching the gospel. There's a whole world out here waiting to hear. As God said to Isaiah, "Who will go for us?" (Isa. 6:8).
(For the follow-up to this question and answer, see Do We All Have to be Missionaries?)
Q: My contention: Simon Peter was never in Rome!! Is there viable evidence to prove same? --Jack
A: Some Protestants have long sought to deny Peter's presence in Rome, in order to refute papal claims. But Peter's presence in Rome was firmly established long before the first pope. (Leo I in the 5th cent. AD is usually considered the first pope since he was the first to claim Rome's authority over other churches because of a succession from Peter. "Papa" was a form of address used originally of many bishops. The leader of the church of Rome was originally known as the Bishop of Rome).
The evidence for Peter's presence in Rome includes Biblical evidence: Peter's mention of "she who is in Babylon" (1 Pet. 5:13) is most likely a covert reference to the believers in Rome. (The association of Rome with Babylon also appears in the Book of Revelation and in rabbinical writings.)
Early Christian documents outside the Bible also support Peter's presence in Rome, including the first letter of Clement to the Corinthians (1st cent. AD) and the writings of Tertullian (2nd cent. AD), both of which mention his martyrdom in Rome. There is also the historical mention of a monument to Peter (probably a burial marker) near the Vatican Hill in the 2nd cent. AD. The site of this marker may have been located by excavations underneath the modern church of St. Peter at the Vatican, which uncovered a well-preserved first century cemetery with possible evidence of Christian burials.
However, Peter's presence in Rome and probable burial at the Vatican does not imply support for papal claims. Historical evidence shows that the Roman church retained the synagogue style of eldership structure long after the time of Peter. Several of the earlier "popes" listed by Rome were simply members of this eldership, which may or may not have included Peter. This evidence denies that Peter could ever have been the bishop of Rome, much less the "first pope."
(Read the follow-up to this question and answer: The Travels of Peter.)
Q: I have learned about…what Constantine did in Rome, mixing sun worship with Christianity. When Marim [Miriam] went to the tomb early at the start of Sunday He was already gone. Yeshua raised on Saturday not Sunday, and He is the living Sabbath so why do you hold it on Sunday the sun-god day. Even though we know the calendars changed the days never did… Thanks and Shalom. --Kim
A: I don't know of any place in the Bible that calls Jesus the "living Sabbath." But he did call himself the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8). This was in a debate with the Pharisees about what is permitted and what is not on the Sabbath. By claiming to be the "Lord of the Sabbath" and "greater than the Temple" (vs. 6), Jesus boldly proclaimed himself to be God (since God is the one who established the Sabbath), and therefore that he, and not the Pharisees, has authority to determine what is and what is not acceptable on the Sabbath.
The early Jewish believers in Jesus continued to observe the Sabbath (resting from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset), and attend the synagogue on that day, but also held special believers' ("Christian") meetings on other days as well (Acts 2:46). Among the early Gentile believers, some continued to rest on the Sabbath, but others did not and worshiped on whatever day or time was convenient to them (Rom. 14:5).
The reason they were able to do this, with Paul's approval, was that observing the Sabbath was not considered a requirement for Gentiles, but only for the Jews. This is why the rabbis did not include Sabbath observance in the Laws of Noah (the laws that the rabbis believed God had given for Gentiles [see What did Abraham know of the Law of God?]). This same line of thinking was followed by the early Jewish believers in Jesus. This is why they did not include the Sabbath in the requirements for Gentile believers in Acts 15:20,29. This is part of the freedom that Gentile believers have in the Messiah. We can choose to rest and/or worship on the Sabbath or on any other day. It's completely up to us.
By the mid-2nd century, it became the practice of many Gentile Christian groups to worship on Sunday (though they did not at first consider it a day of rest; this came later). Why they chose Sunday is not entirely clear, although it may have been connected with the increasing observance of that day as a day of rest by pagan Romans (connected with worship of the sun) and the prohibition of Sabbath observance by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (2nd cent.). But certainly it was within their freedom in the Messiah to choose to do so. Before long, Sunday worship became the commonly accepted practice among Gentile Christians, and was associated with the resurrection of Jesus on that day. [For the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and not the Sabbath, see Did Jesus Rise on the Sabbath?] Other Gentile Christians, though, as late as the 5th century in Antioch, attended synagogue and rested on the Sabbath, as well as attending church on Sunday (a practice opposed by the sermons of the famous preacher John Chrysostom). This, too, was within their freedom in Christ.
What Constantine did was to turn Sunday, the day of worship of many Gentile Christians, into a "Sabbath" by making it the Christian day of rest instead of Saturday (in a law issued in 321 AD; Christians were later commanded to work on the Biblical Sabbath by the Council of Laodicea in 360 AD). This was a radical decision, a changing of times and seasons for which he had no authority in the Word of God, and was in fact in violation and denial of God's Word. The anti-Semitic reasoning behind this change can be seen in the similar rejection by the Council of Nicea of the celebration of Passover, a decision also made under the leadership of Constantine. A letter he sent out soon after the conclusion of the Council describes the reason for this decision: that it would be better not to follow the "detestable company of the Jews," since they are "the murderers of our Lord" and "we should have nothing in common with" them. Why did the Church accept this decision? Unfortunately, many had come to accept these anti-Semitic views.
You are right that Roman sun worship was an influence on Constantine. This is probably the reason that this day was still called "Sunday" rather than being changed to the "Day of the Lord," as it was known by Christians at the time.
The bottom line of all of this is that Gentile Christians are free to worship God and/or rest on any day of the week. But the Biblical Sabbath remains from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset, as observed by the Jewish people. Those who choose to rest and worship on the Biblical Sabbath are within their freedom to do so. But whatever the day we choose to rest and/or worship, the Bible says we should not judge each other or reject each other. Rather we should accept one another and build each other up in the Messiah (Rom. 14:3-22). Because ultimately, the Sabbath was given not for its own sake, but to prepare mankind for the eternal rest available in Messiah, in which we cease from our own works and rest in him (Heb. 4:10).
[For more on this topic, see our Jewish Roots of Christianity Seminar.]
Q: In your Teaching Letter #6 Man with the Inkwell, you said the 'mark' in Ezekiel 9:4 is the Hebrew "tav", which was written as an equal-armed cross/X. Today the letter looks similar to a lower-case 'n'. Was it perhaps from the Aramaic alphabet? If not, when did the letter/word change and why?… Was it only the Dead Sea community that used the mark on their scrolls for Messianic passages, and then, would this have been before or after the death and resurrection of Jesus? --Charlene B.
A: The tav was written as an equal-armed cross (or sideways as an X) dating back to the earliest appearance of the Semitic alphabet (in inscriptions in Sinai, 1700 BC). It appears with the same basic shape in several derivative scripts, including Hebrew (the original Old Hebrew script, used before the Babylonian exile), Canaanite, Phoenician, and Aramaic. The square-letter "Assyrian" script used for Hebrew today was introduced after the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. But the earlier alphabet was never completely forgotten, appearing for example on coins during times of nationalistic revival, as late as 100 years after the time of Jesus.
As a result, when the Jews read Ezekiel 9:4, which they knew was written when the old script was in use, they associated the mark mentioned there (tav in Hebrew) with the original cross-shaped tav. This understanding was shared by the Dead Sea Community with the rabbis, the early Jewish Christians, and the early Gentile Christians (see Jack Finegan's The Archaeology of the New Testament, pp. 339-390; its use by the Dead Sea community predates Christianity). The use of a cross-shaped tav as a free-standing sign also appears on several burial boxes (ossuaries) from the time of the apostles found on the Mt. of Olives. These may or may not be Christian burials, but in either case the tav probably functioned as a sign of protection from God's judgment. You can see how easily this sign, which resembled the cross on which Jesus was crucified, came over into Christianity.
The rabbis also associated this same shape with the anointing of Jewish priests, which they said was done by marking them with oil on the forehead in the shape of a tav. This practice added to the tav's Messianic significance (since "Messiah" means the "anointed one").
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