QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS V
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
The Travels of Peter
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Q: [This is a follow-up to Was Peter Ever in Rome?] Isn't it almost impossible, chronologically, for Peter to have spent the Bible recorded times in and around Jerusalem, and still have made it to Rome? --Jack
A: After the Day of Pentecost (which was probably in 30 AD), the Book of Acts tells us that Peter ministered in Jerusalem (Acts 3-5), Samaria (Acts 8), in the coastal plain near Joppa and as far as Caesarea (Acts 9-11), and back in Jerusalem (Acts 12), all before the well-established date of Herod Agrippa I's death in 44 AD (mentioned in Acts 12:20-23; the famine mentioned in Acts 11:28 can also be firmly dated to 46/47 AD). From the book of Galatians, we know that Peter went to Antioch, where he had his disagreement with Paul (Gal. 2) that led to the Council in Jerusalem of Acts 15, which can be fairly accurately dated to 49 AD. (Some date this disagreement after the council.)
After this, Peter drops out of the record, except for a series of hints that he embarked on much more extensive travels than before. Paul mentions him traveling with a believing wife in 1 Cor. 9:5, and hints to a visit to Corinth (which accounts for the divisive followers of Cephas/Peter in 1 Cor. 1:12). Peter's first New Testament letter, addressed to believers in different parts of what is today Turkey, also probably refers to areas in which he had traveled (1 Peter 1:1).
None of these travels after 49 AD provide us with firm dates. But the 15 years from the Council of Jerusalem to the traditional date of Peter's death in Rome (in 64 AD) leaves plenty of time for these more distant travels, as well as a visit, if not an extended stay, in Rome.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Peter.)
Q: [This is a follow-up to Is the Tithe Commanded in the New Testament?] I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts [on tithe and prosperity]. I do wonder exactly how or where I should go with my 7 and #8 on the way children. I don't want to "cop" out but are not some of us called to teach and make disciples as we go through our lives as opposed to being sent out to a different land living off of the gospel? --Brian B.
A: Jesus said to "Go!" (Matt. 28:19). But he didn't specify which particular direction or a certain number of miles, only that we go to those not yet reached with the gospel message ("all the nations"). Today, that can be almost anywhere in the world. There are foreign mission fields on college campuses and in the large foreign populations in most large cities, not to mention all the local non-believers.
Nor did he say that we must live only off of the gospel. The apostle Paul continued to do his trade as a tentmaker as he did his missions work. Thousands are involved in "tentmaker" missions around the world today.
But he did say that we must "Go!" And that means a change, a break with our past lives: not only must we sell our possessions (Luke 12:33), we must leave our familes behind (Luke 9:59-62). The new has come, and the old must pass away (2 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus' command to sell all is not about poverty for its own sake, as some have misunderstood it. Jesus promised rewards in this life for those who go for his sake (Mark 10:29,30). But it is about a radical break with the past. This is the only way to become a true disciple of Jesus: to put our entire lives in his hands.
It's also a way to increase our effectiveness in ministry. As Jesus said, "No prophet is welcome in his home country [the Greek can also be translated home area or hometown]" (Luke 4:24). To be effective, we must go!
This doesn't necessarily take place all at once. Acts 1:8 implies that our service starts where we are right now (our "Jerusalem") and that as we become equipped, God will lead us further afield (our "Judea and Samaria") and eventually to places we never imagined we would go ("the ends of the earth"). Once you get rolling, God will steer you. And he will lead you further than you could ever imagine.
Don't worry about your kids. If God provided for hundreds of thousands in the deserts of Sinai, I don't think they'll be any problem. Kids travel easy. Besides, he loves them more than you do. And he promised to supply your (and their) needs if you seek first the kingdom (Matt. 6:33).
But the most important thing is to get started--right now, in whatever way you can--asking God to lead you past life as usual and into the thrilling adventure of discipleship. Just take one step at a time. And he will open every door at the right time.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Missions.)
Q: I'd like to call your attention to the following sentence [in Clean and Unclean TL#12]...: "However, the disciples in Acts 15 specifically determined not to include Gentile Christians under the Jewish food laws." YOUR implication is clear here that the new babes were not expected to adhere to the law regarding food. However, it seems to me that in neglecting to note the continuation of the sentence in Acts 15:21 (For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day), which seems to clearly imply that the Gentile Christians were expected to grow into the full knowledge of the Mosaic law as they worshipped each Shabbat at the synagogues, you give an erroneous impression of the truth of the text.
You go on to erroneously state that : "The only such law imposed on Gentile Christians was the prohibition of blood, which includes animals that have been strangled (since their blood is still in them; Acts. 15:20)". In MY King James....there is also a message of abstaining fornication in Acts 15:20... I think it's important to note that although the Jerusalem Council DID reduce the IMMEDIATE burdens of ALL THE LAW on the babes, there is a DEFINITE expectation on the part of the Apostles that the new babes would grow in a knowledge of the law. I think we need to be SOOOOO careful that we don't set up any scenarios with our words where we might contribute to the unwary having a trap for their feet and believing the lie that the law was done away with. --Jo
A: You are correct that the requirements laid down by the Council of Acts 15 for Gentile believers include not only the prohibition of blood (including animals that are strangled), but also sexual immorality and the pollutions of idolatry. In the sentence you mention, I was talking about the food laws of tahor and tame (permitted and forbidden foods). The "only such law" (regarding permitted or forbidden foods) that appears in Acts 15 is the prohibition of blood (and strangled animals).
The other issue you raise is much more serious: Were the decisions of the Council only an "opening position," with the expectation that Gentile believers would later come into greater obedience to the Law of Moses; or was this a final position, which permanently exempted Gentile believers from obedience to the other ordinances in the Law of Moses? This is a key question that all Gentile believers must sooner or later confront that embrace a return to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
First of all, let us make clear that this is not a question of whether the law was done away with or not. Jesus clearly taught that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but that everything in it would be fulfilled, and that it would remain until the heavens and the earth pass away (Matt. 5:17,18). The Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua) continued to obey the Law of Moses for hundreds of years, as most Messianic Jews do today. There was never a debate among the early Jewish believers as to whether the Law continued to apply to the Jews--this was accepted without question.
The only question, and the whole reason for the Council of Acts 15, was to determine whether the Law also applied to Gentile believers in Jesus. The two different positions presented at the Council were (1) that of the believing Pharisees, who said that Gentiles must be circumcized (that is, converted to Judaism) with the requirement of observing the entire Law of Moses, just like the Jews (Acts 15:5), and (2) that of Peter, Paul, and Barnabbas, who said that the "yoke" of the law should not be put on Gentile believers, whom God had fully accepted independently of the Law (Acts 15:10-13).
These two positions reflected those taken by the Jews in general on the subject of Gentiles and the Law. Some said that (1) Gentiles must convert to Judaism and follow the entire Law of Moses, others said that (2) Gentiles only had to obey the Laws of Noah, given to all mankind, and were not required to observe the rest of the Law of Moses. This second position was the one finally accepted by Judaism until today: that Gentiles can be in a right relationship with God without following the Law of Moses (other than the Laws of Noah). It's important to note that this decision does not in any way undermine the validity of the Law, or do away with the Law. Rather it is a legal decision made from within the Law of Moses on the status of the Gentiles.
The Council of Acts 15 anticipated Judaism's final position. They decided that Gentile Christians had a relationship with God through Messiah that was independent of the Law of Moses. This doesn't mean that Gentiles are forbidden from observing any part of the Law that they may individually choose to observe. Nor does it mean that they should avoid growing in the knowledge of the whole Word of God, including the Law. But it does mean that observing the Law of Moses is not a requirement for Gentile Christianity, thus upholding the position of Peter and Paul mentioned above.
The reference in Acts 15:21 to Moses being read in the synagogues every week has been interpreted in many different ways. What is clear from the context is that this is the reason why a letter concerning the "three exceptions" required of Gentiles was a necessity. This letter needed to be written, not just because of the presence of people with a basic knowledge of the Law in every city (as this is often interpreted), but because of those who were preaching Moses, in other words, who were preaching the necessity of obedience to the Law, just as the Pharisees who had become believers in Jesus had been doing (Acts 15:5). The clear implication is that a letter was necessary to give the Gentile believers in Jesus a defense against those who were trying to compel them to come under the yoke of the Law.
The overall issue that determines our attitude toward the Law of Moses is our understanding of its function or purpose. Why was the Law given, and what was it sent to do? Paul answers this question in Gal. 3: The Law, he says, is a sort of guardian (literally a "child conductor") to lead the Jews (those under the law in vs. 23) to Messiah (Gal. 3:24)--through whose testimony Gentile believers have also been saved (3:26-29). The purpose of the Law is to point to Messiah (literally the "goal of the Law" in Rom. 10:4, not the "end of the Law" as often translated). That goal has not changed now that Messiah has come. The Law continues to point to Messiah both for the unsaved Jews and for believers, but the fullness is in Messiah himself (Col. 2:17). Therefore there is no necessity or requirement for Gentile believers, who have come to faith outside of the Law, to obey the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:2). In fact, Paul calls obedience to the Law of Moses by Gentile believers, when undertaken as a religious duty or as a means of righteousness, a step back from faith (Gal. 3:2-5, 5:1-6). Rather, we should concentrate on going forward in faith, not back to the Law of Moses (Gal. 5:18-).
These teachings must be seen against the background of the Jewish understanding of the role of the Messiah. The Messiah was expected to come as a "prophet like Moses" (Deut. 18:18) who would have authority to legislate as Moses had done. Not only would he explain the parts of the Law of Moses that were difficult to understand, he would bring a new law, the Law of the Messiah.
All these expectations were met in Jesus for those who believed. In the Sermon on the Mount he delivered the foundational teachings of a new law, the Law of the Messiah, which explained the true meaning of the Law of Moses, and brought that Law to a new, higher level. Unlike the Law of Moses, which since it had been given to fleshly men, concentrated on physical things, this new Law of the Messiah was intended for spiritual men (born from above), and so it concentrated on spiritual things. For example, the Mosaic prohibition of murder was elevated by Jesus to the teaching that we should not even get angry with our brother (Matt. 5:21,22). Jesus' teaching includes and upholds the teaching of Moses. But it brings it to a new, spiritual level.
This does not mean that the Law of Moses is done away with. It continues to fulfill its God-given purpose of educating and teaching us about the Messiah, both through its words, and through its embodiment in the nation of Israel. But for believers, our primary allegiance and obedience is to the Law of the Messiah (1 Cor. 9:21), which does not require Gentile believers to obey the Law of Moses (Acts 15). Rather we, together with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, are to concentrate on fulfilling the Law of the Messiah, which is the perfect fulfillment and completion of the Law of Moses.
Q: I was asked a question by a young minister...about women in the ministry. I started by showing him 1 Timothy 2:12-14, " but I do not permit a women to teach a man or exercise authority over him: rather, she is to remain at peace. For adam was formed first, then chavah [Eve]. Also it was not adam who was deceived ,but the women who, on being deceived, became involved in the transgression." Later I started to do some checking on my own, regarding this topic. 1 Corinthians 11:3-4 " But I want you to understand that the head of every man is the Messiah, and the head of a wife is her husband , and the head of Messiah is ELOHEEM [God]" I have come to this conclusion, ADONAI [the Lord] allows both men and women to teach his word and there are many things that women, as pertains to the work of HA'SHEM [God], can do, but a women is not to exercise authority over a man. I know that women were teaching in the book of acts, shortly after this discussion came [up]... I would love some information and your thoughts on this. --Dale P.
A: This is a hot topic today because of its implications concerning women's rights, politics, and workplace issues. But in the original cultural context of first century Jewish life, there is no question of Paul's meaning, nor would his remarks have appeared controversial. Within Judaism and Jewish law, until today, there is a clear asymmetry between the roles and responsibilities of men and those of women. In Orthodox synagogues, men sit on the ground floor, and participate in every part of the worship; women sit in a balcony above, and have a more limited participation in the worship. Many religious duties that are required of men are not required of women, out of respect for their vital responsibilities in the home and family. This is clearly a patriarchal culture in which traditional families are the norm and family values are a top priority.
Paul, in addressing a primarily Gentile congregation in Corinth, does not hesitate to transfer these values cross-culturally. Why? Because he understands them to be Biblical values, and appeals directly to Scripture for support (Gen. 2). In doing so, he connects the leadership structure of the Church with that of the family, a step consistent with other New Testament teachings that describe the Church as the family of God ("our Father"), the bride of Messiah, and includes the practice of referring to fellow members of the Church as brothers and sisters.
However, Paul also avoids the extremes that are possible in a patriarchal system by acknowledging the interdependence of man and woman (1 Cor. 11:12), and above all by comparing their relationship to that of God and the Messiah (1 Cor. 11:3): a relationship of shared power, authority, and responsibility.
The implications of this have been almost universally acknowledged up until this century: that women are to be vitally involved in the spread of the gospel and Christian work, with the exception of being in authority (including teaching authority) over adult men. While some today are sure to react to this traditional model in a negative way, the simple fact remains that men are more responsive to male leaders, and need male role models in order to grow into godly men. In recent years, this can be seen in the tremendous response to the Promise Keepers movement, that has reached out to men with male themes and a male orientation. It has also been my observation that churches with female head pastors have more difficulty keeping men in the congregation and involving them in vital ways in the ministry. Call it what you will, even a weakness of the male character if you like, but men need male leaders.
As indicated above, these restrictions on the exercise of authority by women pertain only in relation to adult men. Jewish as Christian women have always been vitally involved in the education of women and children as well as many other vital aspects of ministry.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Women.)
Q: In the book of Samuel (and Chronicles for that matter), the story is related about how David wants to get a census of the people. Why this offended God so bad I do not know, but that is not the question. My question is that David is offered three punishments as a result of this sin: Three years of famine, three months of being pursued, three days of plague. I always thought the plague was naturally the best idea. Some others do not.
Is there a flaw in David's character that we can use to improve our character by examining his decision in this matter. Some discussion took place the other night about how he was afraid to be chased again. I never took it this way, but am intrigued by the idea.
A: The second option presented to David is not to be understood as only a personal flight, but as the flight of the nation of Israel before its enemies (2 Sam 24:13, compare 1 Chron. 21:12). All of these are national calamities, because David's action as king caused sin to come on the entire nation of Israel. David's choice was a wise one: choosing to submit the nation to the merciful hand of God, rather than the hand of her enemies. As that section goes on to say, God relented when the plague came to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15).
At first, both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles seems to deflect the ultimate responsibility for this trial away from David by saying that it came about because "the anger of the LORD burned against Israel" (2 Sam. 24:1; "Satan stood up against Israel," 1 Chr. 21:1). But no prior event is related as a cause of this anger. The preceding verses list only David's mighty men and their exploits (2 Sam 23). But it is surely more than a coincidence that the last of the mighty men listed is Uriah the Hittite, whom David had killed because of Bathsheba. This also appears to be how Chronicles understands this event. The incident of the census is placed just six verses after the account of the seige and fall of Rabbah in Ammon, the same seige in which Uriah was killed (1 Chr. 20:1-3). This again places David squarely in the spotlight, his sins of lust and murder having placed the entire nation in jeopardy before the Lord.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category David.)
Q: I just finished reading your teaching letter #12 [on Clean and Unclean]. Do you believe there will not be production of babies in the Millennium....[for] 1000 years even tho people will be living on earth? Could you please give scripture for this? --Gail H.
A: Jesus himself clearly taught that there will be no human reproduction at any time after the resurrection of the righteous: either in the Millennium or the New Heavens and New Earth. This teaching was given in his dispute with the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. His reply to them was: "In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matt. 22:30). Since marriage, from a Jewish and Biblical view, is primarily for the purpose of "being fruitful and multiplying" (bearing children; Gen. 1:28), the absence of marriage implies that there will no longer be human reproduction after the resurrection.
This is confirmed by Jesus' statement that we will be like the angels. This does not mean we will float around on wings, as this verse has been popularly misinterpreted. Rather, it means that we, like they, will not engage in marriage and reproduction.
That this is Jesus' point can be clearly seen by comparing his answer with the question of the Sadducees: they asked to which of seven brothers a woman would be married in the resurrection who had been married to all of them. His answer: none, because there will be no marriage in the resurrection.
The teaching by the heretic Cerinthus (about 100 AD) that there would be marriage and reproduction in the Millennium was one of the earliest heresies rejected by the Christian Church, opposed, according to tradition, by the apostle John himself. Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, remembered that, "John the apostle once entered a bathhouse to wash; but learning that Cerinthus was within, he leapt out of the place, and fled from the door, not enduring to enter under the same roof with him, and exhorted those with him to do the same saying, `Let us flee, lest the bathhouse fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, is within'" (Eusebius, History, III.28). Cerinthus' teaching, which later reemerged in the 3rd and 4th centuries, was one of the reasons that the teaching of a literal, earthly Millennium was rejected by almost the entire Church for more than a thousand years.
(For more on this topic, see the teaching on Neglected Issues in the Debate about the Millennium and the Index categories Babies, Marriage, and Millennium.)
Q: Someone just sent me a joke about the ceremony of Tashlich at Rosh HaShanna. Does such a thing exist? I've never heard of it. --Harry
A: The ceremony of Tashlich ordinarily takes place on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. Observant Jews go to the seaside or some other place where there is running water and shake out their pockets while they recite Micah 7:18-20: "You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (v. 19). This is seen by many to represent a transfer of sins to the fish, reminiscent of the ancient rites in the Temple. Like the less-widespread ritual of Kapparot, in which a chicken is killed as a sacrifice (also practiced in some places at the time of Rosh Hashanah, although usually in association with the Day of Atonement), it represents the inner instinct that man is in need of a substitute to carry away his sins. This is a late custom: the earliest references to it are in the 15th century AD.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category High Holy Days.)
Q1: Your teaching [on the Laws of Noah TL#13] left me with some questions. Are not we all, Jew and Gentile, children of Noah?
A1: Yes we are, as the rabbis also recognize. And since we are all children of Noah, we are all responsible to the covenant with Noah. But since the Jews are uniquely included in the later Law of Moses, the rabbis primarily identify the Jewish people as children of that later covenant, which is what they mean by the term "son of Abraham" (see Q3 below). As a result, "Son of Noah" is a synonym in rabbinical Hebrew for "Gentile," as "son of Abraham" is for "Jew." While the New Testament writers distinguish the same two groups, they chose to identify them using different terminology: believers "from the circumcision" (Jewish believers in Jesus) and believers "from the uncircumcision" (Gentile believers in Jesus).
Q2: What about the verses that state that there is to be one law for the native born (Jew) and the stranger dwelling among them?
A2: These statements apply to particular laws, which are mentioned in the discussion about the ger (resident alien) [in TL #13]. Only much later, when the ger came to be identified with the proselyte, were these verses generalized by the rabbis--but only with regard to proselytes, never with regard to Gentiles in general (sons of Noah). But the important point is that the Council of Acts 15 did not place Gentile believers in the category of proselytes, required to obey the whole Law, but in the category of Sons of Noah (the Godfearers of the New Testament), who were not required to obey the Law of Moses.
Q3: Are we (believers in Messiah) not children of Abraham, at least spiritually?
A3: Yes, we are specifically called children of Abraham by Paul in Galatians 3:7-9,29. But Paul's point, in controversy with Jewish authorities who did not accept Jesus, is that the true children of Abraham are not to be identified as those who obey the Law (as most Jews would define "children of Abraham"), but those who share Abraham's faith, which came before the Law (Gal. 3:8). This was exactly the point of John the Baptist, that mere descent does not determine true lineage from Abraham (Matt. 3:9). As a result, all those who believe in Jesus (from both the Jews and the Gentiles) are the true children of Abraham, even though this understanding is rejected by Judaism.
Q4: Is it not unusual for the Father to put requirements on one group of people and not on another seeing He is no respecter of persons? Were not the O.T. Hebrews to be an example for others to join with?
A4: Historically, the Jews have been joined by non-Jews going all the way back to the Exodus. But the Law of Moses, specifically those sections that concern the ger (often translated the "sojourner"), implies a separate status for these resident aliens. While the historical situation in those days is not entirely clear, what is clear is that the Law of Moses continually puts different requirements on different groups of people: priests have different laws than ordinary Israelites, men than women, married than single, people with certain medical conditions as opposed to others, the list goes on and on. The Law of Moses is absolutely full of such distinctions. That God is not a respecter of persons means simply that God does not play favorites and that the Law is applied uniformly on the basis of his requirements, not ours.
One of the divine distinctions established by God is between Jews and Gentiles. For Gentiles to be responsible to the Laws of Noah (and the Law of the Messiah) rather than the Law of Moses is in strict obedience to the teachings of the Law itself, as understood both by the rabbis and the early Jewish believers in Jesus.
When we accept Jesus, we do join with the historical testimony of the Jewish people, but in a manner established by God himself, as authoritatively interpreted by the Messiah and the New Testament. Were we Gentile believers to join the Jews in any other manner, such as by becoming proselytes, this would miss the point of what that Law is all about (Gal. 3:24,25), and hinder us in fulfilling the distinctive calling that we have to bring the truth of God to all nations.
Q5: Is there now no longer Jew nor Greek in Messiah? Is not the wall of separation destroyed? Are we not all part of the same body in Messiah?
A5: Yes, the wall, or literally the "fence" of separation (alluding symbolically to the stone fence surrounding the inner courts of the Temple to which only Jews were permitted) has been destroyed in Messiah (Eph. 2:14). We believing Gentiles now have equal access with Jewish believers in Jesus to God. But this does not mean that we have stopped being Gentiles any more than it means they have stopped being Jews. The same verse (Gal. 3:28; "There is neither Jew nor Greek") also says "there is neither male nor female." But certainly that doesn't mean we are no longer men or women! It simply means that we all have equal access to God, and are all equally members of the body of Messiah. Yet we continue to have many distinctions among ourselves, including different callings, both individually and corporately.
The recognition of a distinct calling of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus is reflected in the New Testament distinction between "believers from the circumcision" and "believers from the uncircumcision" (Rom. 3:30, 4:9-12, 15:8,9; Gal. 2:7,12; Eph. 2:11; Col. 4:11). In the Early Church, they were called the Church from the Circumcision and the Church from the Uncircumcision: two distinct witnesses to the truth of the message of Jesus the Messiah.
Q6: What about observant Jews who reject Yeshua as Messiah, are they ok because of a "different" covenant? --Brian B.
A6: Peter was speaking to Jews when he said "there is no other name under heaven [than the name of Jesus]...by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The First Covenant, that of Moses, has promises that relate to this world: the blessing of many children, living a long life, the promise of the Land of Israel, etc. But the New Covenant, that of Jesus, has "better promises" that relate to eternal life and a new heavens and a new earth (Heb. 8:6). Yes, God will fulfill every promise that he made to the Jewish people. But if they also want to receive the better promises, they must enter the better covenant. [More on this in our Seminar II: The Jewish Roots of Christianity.]
Q: As I recall, the 9-stemmed menorah used at Hanukkah represents the eight days the light lasted with the one in the middle representing God. Is this correct? --Harry B.
A: The nine-branched lampstand (called a hanukkiyyah) of the festival of Hanukkah has eight "primary" lamps, and a ninth "service" lamp (called shammash or servant). The shammash candle is used to light the other lights. The place of the shammash candle is usually distinguished from the others in some way, often by being set apart from or at a different level than the others. The eight primary lights represent the eight days of the festival, which recall the eight days of the dedication of the Temple after it was liberated from the Seleucid Greeks by Judah Maccabee.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Hanukkah.)
Q1: [In response to The Laws of Noah TL#13: Your final two paragraphs]...flag up a huge contradiction! Paul was urgent in his demands that the Gentile believers should not go backwards into the mechanics of elemental religious practice. Yet if we accept Christ as the "goal" ("the fullness is in the Messiah himself") of the law.... I would urge you to consider that: (1) Jews who do not accept Christ admittedly are still under the "child-conductor" (the Law of Moses) and all that this entails. (2) Gentiles who accept Christ are no longer bound by this elemental "child-conductor". (3) But if Christ is the "goal" of the law, why should Christian Jews remain subject to the "child-conductor". This is an insult to Jewish intelligence. Are they, despite being a tribe of God's chosen people, so weak compared with the (originally pagan) Gentiles, that they need the "child-conductor" to ensure their devotion to Christ and their faith in his sacrifice? I don't think this holds up!
A1: It is quite difficult for Gentiles to understand the national, religious, and personal ties that connect religious Jews (both those who do and those who do not accept Jesus as Messiah) with the Law of Moses. Rather than an "insult," religious Jews consider it an honor to obey the Law of Moses, to as much higher a degree than many Britons, for example, consider it an honor to serve their traditional monarchy, as the Jewish God is greater than that earthly monarch. One could equally argue that the legal and political powers put in place among the Gentiles are "weak and worthless elemental things" for Gentile Christians, since our obedience is now to God himself; and these external enforcers are no longer needed (1 Peter 2:13-16). Yet far from leading us on a criminal rampage, breaking all these "elemental" laws, faith in Christ leads us to uphold them with even greater care, as part of our testimony as Christians to the honorable nature of our God. In the same way, Jewish believers continue to honorably uphold their ancient traditions (which in the time of Jesus were the "law of the land"), even though they are not "under" that Law any longer as a final arbiter, but are under the far greater Law of the Messiah.
Q2: I believe that is why Paul was so adamant in condemning the Judaisers... In [Matt. 23, Jesus] forthrightly condemns the Pharisees et al. I think we need to be as careful today about misrepresentations espoused by "Christian" rabbis setting their own agendas of "Torah pre-eminence" in Christian belief as Paul was in his day...
A2: Another common misconception among Gentile Christians is that the "Judaizing" forbidden in the New Testament is encouraging any kind of practice that is even remotely Jewish--even among Jews. But how can you "Judaize" a Jew? Isn't he a Jew already? And why is it wrong for a Jew to be Jewish? On the contrary, "Judaizing" in the New Testament refers to the insistence that Gentiles convert to Judaism in order to be "true Christians"; or that they be required to obey certain teachings of the Law of Moses (beyond those stated in Acts 15). But the Council of Acts 15, as the rest of the New Testament, while freeing Gentiles from the obligation of the Law of Moses, assumes that Jewish believers will continue to obey that Law, just as Gentile believers must obey the political laws in authority over them.
With regard to the Pharisees, don't forget that in the same passage you mention, Jesus taught: "The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and obey..." (Matt. 23:2,3). This is a direct command from Jesus himself that Jewish Christians remain in submission to the teaching of their traditional religious leaders.
I have never encountered Christians teaching "Torah pre-eminence." But the proper teaching should be respect for the Torah and for its intricate interrelationship with the Law of the Messiah (the New Testament). Unfortunately, there are many today who are Judaizing (according to the New Testament definition). But this error will more easily be corrected when the New Testament teaching is expressed in a historically accurate, Biblical manner, that eliminates the anti-Semitism that has long colored the Church's views.
Q3: In a sense it gets back to that question...what about the Jew who converts to Christianity not from a "tabernacle" background, but from a worldly background. Is Christ so weak that he is required to revert to the Law of Moses?
A3: I do not intend to tell Messianic Jews what to do: there are complexities in this issue that Gentile Christians can hardly imagine. But the New Testament precedent is the case of Timothy, son of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother. Since his mother was Jewish, this made him legally a Jew (from the point of view of Jewish law). Therefore Paul circumcised him, in obedience to that Law (Acts 16:3), even though he was not in obedience previously. I cannot imagine Paul would have done this is if it was a sign of any weakness of faith.
Q4: Surely we are dangerously insulting Christ, the "goal" of the law, if we say that on the one hand he can save Gentiles through their genuine repentance and faith, but on the other hand, he is too weak to save Jews unless they combine their faith with the observance of elemental laws. --Peter B.
A4: This is a "straw man" argument, traditional in the Church, that misstates the issue. To my knowledge, no Messianic Jew has ever argued that obedience to the Law of Moses brings salvation. Probably the thing most clear in the world to them, especially those who grew up obeying the Law (like Peter and Paul) is that it did not bring salvation. Salvation comes only through belief in Jesus. However, continued obedience to that Law after salvation is no more irrational than obedience to such things as traffic laws and income tax laws on the part of Gentile Christians--an obedience that if truly and faithfully undertaken can be a sign of a truly converted life. Now just imagine if, as a Christian, you also knew that the tax and traffic laws had originally been given by God himself.
Q: Recent events in Israel prompt me to write and ask another question: Should a state of Palestine be set up and should they have part of Jerusalem? Would they be satisfied with this or would they eventually want the whole city and the entire land? What should be our position in this matter as gentile followers of Jesus the Messiah? --Hank M.
A: The problem between Israel and the Palestinians boils down to this: they are two peoples claiming the same land. The option of making a single democratic state including both peoples (in essentially equal proportions) is rejected by the Israelis because of their desire to create a Jewish state where Jews will be safe from persecution and can define their own destiny. The futility of the single state idea can be seen in the example of Lebanon, in which Muslims and Christians (of essentially equal numbers) fought a bloody civil war for control of the country.
After King Hussein of Jordan renounced his former territories west of the Jordan because of his own problems with the Palestinians, there was no option left to Israel but to negotiate the future of the West Bank and Gaza with the emerging national entity that will probably soon be known as "Palestine." (There was never an Arab Palestinian state before in history, so the frequent comment in news reports that Israel is giving land "back" to the Palestinians is incorrect.)
Although foreign Christians sometimes object to the idea of a Palestinian state because of their own personal views about prophecy, the fact of the matter is that most Israelis, including Jewish believers in Jesus, recognize that a Palestinian state (of one kind or another) is the only realistic path to peace. They want to get out of the difficult moral and strategic position of ruling over another people, and want the constant attacks by the Palestinians against them to stop.
The only real question remaining is, how much land will Israel give up? It is certainly a legitimate opening position for the Palestinians to lay claim to the whole of the pre-1967 West Bank. But they want much more than this, frequently laying claim to the whole of "Palestine" (including the whole of modern Israel) with inflammatory rhetoric about destroying all the Jews and removing them from their land. This is not just political posturing, but the heartfelt desire of many Palestinians based on the Muslim religion, which states that once a territory has been Muslim, it must always remain so. As a result, Israel as a Jewish state has no legitimacy in the eyes of religious Muslims (the governments that have made peace treaties with Israel are essentially secular). And it will always fight an uphill battle against its Muslim neighbors--even should peace treaties be signed.
As Christians, I think we best fulfill the instructions of Jesus when we try to act as peacemakers between the two sides (Matt. 5:9) and pray for peace in this very volatile region of the world. The current political situation notwithstanding, God is accomplishing his purposes there, which are to bring both Jews and Muslims into a saving relationship with Jesus and prepare for the return of our soon coming King.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Israel, Modern.)
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #13, the Laws of Noah:] I firmly believe in the two houses of Israel [as taught by the "Two House Movement"], and that the believing supposed 'gentiles' [Gentile Christians] are really a part of Israel and as such are to obey Torah just as any other Israelite. To preach that there are two separate standards is not scriptural or correct. --Heather M.
A: [Introductory Note: The "Two House Movement" claims that many Gentile Christians, especially in Western Europe and America, are in reality descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the house of Israel), and that now is the prophesied time for them to accept their true identity and join together with their brothers the Jews (the house of Judah) through observance of the Law of Moses, and in this way to bring the Jews to belief in Messiah Jesus. This teaching has several features in common with Anglo-Israelism, which is considered a cult by most Christian groups.
From my own studies in genealogy and history, particularly with regard to the exponential growth rate of human populations and their intermingling over time, I am willing to go much further than this group, and agree with several other scholars that the chances are very high that every Gentile on earth--even in remote tribes--is, at least in some miniscule way, a descendant of the Lost Tribes of Israel. I would also agree that Christianity is in many ways not only a symbolic but also a literal fulfillment of many of the prophecies made about the Northern Kingdom of Israel (cmp. Gen. 48:19 with Rom. 11:25, and Hos. 1:10,2:23 with 1 Pet. 2:10). But the real issue here, and what separates the two house teaching from other Christian groups, is their conviction that Gentile Christians (or what they prefer to call Ephraimites or Israelites) are required to obey the Law of Moses in some way.]
The teaching of the Two House Movement, as I understand it, does not require an immediate mandatory observance of the whole Law of Moses by Ephraimites [Gentile Christians]. Rather, it teaches a gradual adoption of the Law, in which those who adopt more should be tolerant of those who adopt less (as stated by Eddie Chumney [one of the leaders of the movement] in a recent e-mail). This idea of voluntary obedience puts Ephraimites [Gentile Christians] in the position of Gentiles with regard to the Law, rather than that of Jews, who are required to obey the whole Law. As Rabbi Koniuchowsky (of Your Arms to Israel) [another advocate of the two house teaching] said in a recent e-mail ("Leading Former Two House Advocate...", 9/30/00), Ephraimites should not be converted to Judaism (ritually circumcised, which brings immediate responsibility to obey the whole Law of Moses), even though circumcision is the first major requirement of the Jewish Law. This he admits is "strictly forbidden in 1st Corinthians 7:17-20." Therefore the Two House Movement itself teaches that the two houses are distinct and do not in fact observe the Law in the same way. To use your term, they have two different standards.
The difference between the two house teaching and most other Christian or Messianic groups is over what this standard is for non-Jews (including Ephraimites). Most Christian or Messianic groups agree with the rabbis and the early Church (in Acts 15, Gal. 2,5, etc.) that obedience to the Law of Moses for Gentile believers (which includes Ephraimites, since they are Gentiles with regard to the Law) is not required of them by God, even in the Law of Moses itself. Or to put it from a more Messianic or Jewish point of view, the Law of Moses itself exempts non-Jews from obedience to most of its provisions (just as Jewish women and children are also exempted from many requirements). Rather obedience to most of the provisions of the Law of Moses by Gentiles (with the exception of the Seven Laws of Noah) is entirely optional, up to the individual person, and does not advance one's righteousness in any way in the eyes of God.
Our focus should instead be on obeying the Law of Messiah Jesus (the New Testament), which is not optional. Sooner or later the Two House Teaching is going to have to accept the Biblical, rabbinical, and New Testament exemption of Gentiles (and Ephraimites) from the Law of Moses, or it will fall by the wayside under the New Testament prohibition against Judaizing (telling Gentiles they must obey the Jewish Law in order to be right with God).
Don't forget what the Bible says to those under the Law: "Whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). But the good news of the gospel is, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law [of Moses]" (Gal. 5:18).
Q: [A follow-up to the preceding question and answer:] I do not see that following written Torah is optional - only the Oral law and all the rabbinical additions to the original Torah. When I look at the church, it is obvious that they live under all the curses of Deut 28 and 29. This observation was one of the initial things that spurred me to ask YHWH what the problem was, why are christians cursed? The answer shown me was that it is disobedience pure and simple. Following the Torah brings the blessings and not following brings the promised curses.
Yes, we are all guilty of not following it wholly and perfectly and that is why Yahshua had to die for us (it is NOT a redemption issue at all), but we are not freed from obedience by His death, only the eternal consequences of our sin. The Scriptures are like an instruction manual for life on planet earth - follow it and reap rewards now and in the life to come. Don't follow it and suffer the consequences which are clearly spelled out in Scripture - if there were no consequences then YHWH would be a liar.
So I have to disagree with anyone who teaches that obedience is optional and thus sends people further away from blessings and a better life, and even better rewards in the life to come.... Why does the church insist on keeping people out of that blessed place by telling people that disobedience is now OK? That it is 'optional?' It's a shame and needs to be rectified. No wonder there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. --Heather M.
A: We agree on many issues: (1) that the Law of Moses is still in force (Matt. 5:17), (2) that obedience to God brings blessing, and (3) that obedience to God is required of Christians, too. But if we're going to talk about obedience to the Law of Moses, we must look at exactly what that Law actually says. The Law of Moses is not a uniform code for all humanity. It has different requirements for different people. If a priest undertakes to obey the Law as it is written for Israelites, he will become a breaker of God's Law. Why? Because the Law of God has different requirements for priests than for Israelites. The same is true of other categories like kings, children, married, and single. What is important in obeying God's Law is to obey those sections that apply to you. If you don't do this, and obey the wrong sections of it, you may become a law breaker.
There are several sections of the Law of Moses that apply specifically to non-Jews. These were recognized as having universal application to all Gentiles (including Ephraimites) in Jesus' day and were later codified as the Seven Laws of Noah. For a Gentile (or Ephraimite) to be obedient to God's Law, he must obey these sections, since they apply to him or her. To do anything else risks breaking God's Law.
That this was, in fact, the area of Law that applies to the Gentiles was confirmed by the Council of Acts 15 under the leading of the Holy Spirit, that is to say under the leading of God himself. The Council agreed with the Law of Moses and the rabbis that the Gentiles fell under the specific area of Law later known as the Seven Laws of Noah, and not under the whole Law of Moses. For Gentile Christians to now claim the necessity of obedience to sections of the Law not intended for them places them in disobedience to the Law and in rebellion against God himself. You can't have it both ways. Either you obey the Law as written and interpreted with God's approval in the Bible (including Acts 15), or you risk becoming a law breaker.
This does not mean that obedience to other parts of the Law of Moses is forbidden to Gentiles. We are free with regard to most of the sections of the Law that apply to Jews, which leaves open the possibility of joining with the Jews and Jewish Christians in such things as the Sabbath, Jewish festivals, etc. But these things are specifically not required of Gentiles.
With regard to curses on the Church, I cannot agree with your view. In spite of all the problems and misunderstandings of God's word over the years, the Church has been greatly blessed by God and has now expanded into nearly the whole world. Most of the prosperous nations in the world are those that have had the most historical Christian influence. On the contrary, even the Jews themselves recognize in their own history the fulfillment of the curses of Deut. 28 and 29, which were specifically addressed to them (as seen in the recent controversial statements about the Holocaust by the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel). This is not to say that the Church is immune from the discipline of the Lord. It, too, has been and will be punished for disobedience to the things it has been commanded (Heb. 12:5-11).
I must also disagree with you on the issue of redemption. The kinsman redeemer, who buys back his relative from slavery, is a teaching of the Law of Moses (Lev. 25:25,26, etc.) that is exemplified in God's deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exo. 6:6) and even in the pre-incarnate ministry of Christ himself (the Angel of the Lord, Gen. 48:16). In the same way, Jesus is our kinsman redeemer who buys us back from slavery to sin and liberates us into freedom in him (Gal. 3:13,14; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18). His work on the cross very much is a redemption issue. He not only died to free us from the consequences of our sin, but to free us from sin altogether--to remove it from our lives! Consider these verses: "But now once at the consummation of the ages he has been manifested to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26). "For the Law..can never by the same sacrifices year by year...make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered?.... For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who have been made holy" (Heb. 10:1,2,14). Jesus (Yeshua) is our redeemer from sin which means he can get us out and he can keep us out of sin (though most of us will go through many struggles along the way as he cleanses and purifies us).
Q: [A follow-up to the question and answer above:] Gosh you are confused, and steeped in Jewish tradition. The laws of Noah appear nowhere in Scripture. They were invented by the Jews and are incumbent on no one. Acts 15 did not confirm the Naochide laws, that is a huge stretch of the text.
I also am not a Gentile. We are returning Israelites and the Torah states that it is for all Israel for all time. You are the one who is picking and choosing which sections of the Torah to obey and which you can discount - not me. Sounds like you are just being a snob and want to be part of the special ones chosen for obedience, and wanting to exclude others to make your group feel better about their exclusive position.
You have also greatly misunderstood what I said about Yahshua's death on the cross. Of course that is how He redeemed us, what I said was that our obedience to the law is not a redemption issue. We are not redeemed or saved by obeying it, they are free gifts. Our obedience comes afterwards out of love and a desire to please out heavenly Father. And obedience brings the blessings prescribed.
If you can't see the church sitting under curses then you are blind. It was a standard joke amongst the salesmen in our business that they always knew when they were dealing with a Christian since he was always sick and broke and usually divorced or with other family problems as well. A sad commentary. The church has had to glorify suffering and make it sound like they are chosen special for all their trials and tribulations in order to rationalize their curses due to disobedience. --Heather M.
A: I am glad to hear that I misunderstood your point about redemption. I was afraid you were rejecting Messiah's precious atonement for our sin.
I am willing to concede several points to the two-house movement. This includes that many, if not all, Gentile believers in Jesus are descended from the ten tribes at least in some small way. I am also willing to admit that the apostles themselves may also have recognized that Gentile believers are descended from the ten tribes, as seen in such places as James 1:1 and 1 Pet. 2:10.
But this is precisely what creates a problem for the two house teaching. Because the apostles, faced with the same facts that the two house teaching faces today, arrived at a different conclusion. You say that Gentile believers should be considered Israelites and brought under the Law of Moses. They said that they should not be brought under the Law of Moses. This is a fundamental disagreement.
You say that I am stretching the text in Acts 15. But you are rejecting it altogether. There was one and only one purpose for the meeting of that Council, to decide what to do about non-Jewish believers. You have rejected their decision and decided to do the opposite of what was the decision not only of the believers gathered there, but of the Holy Spirit himself.
The Church today, just as Israel through history, often does have the appearance of an oppressed minority. But prosperity is not always a measure of God's approval. As it says in Psalms: "A senseless man has no knowledge; nor does a stupid man understand this: that when the wicked sprouted up like grass, and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore" (Psalm 92:6-7). More dangerous than appearing humble in this life is the humiliation of eternal destruction for those who disobey God and reject his commandments.
Please read through Acts 15 again and consider what it means in such verses as Acts 15:28 when it says, after talking about whether the non-Jewish believers should be brought under the Law or not, that "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things." Our unity with Israel is not a physical unity through uniform obedience to the Law of Moses, but a spiritual unity through obedience to the Messiah.
Q: About the site of the true Mt. Sinai [Teaching Letter #8, Crossing the Red Sea], I appreciated the arguments that you have. I just think that Mt. Jabel El Laws in Saudi Arabia looks the part. Is mount Sinai and Mt. Horeb the same place? If so, there should be a cave where Elijah met God. Did you ever see the video? It really looks like the right place. It even has the split rock where water gushed out. Why does it look so authentic with the black rock on top that looks burnt? I suppose logistics can disprove it but the bedouin Arabs in Saudi Arabia also have the tradition of it being the Mountain of Moses. I'd just like to know what you thought of how it looks. --Nikki B.
A: The burnt appearance of the top of the mountain is only significant if the Bible itself mentions the rocks being scorched, or describes an event that would necessarily lead to this effect. While it's true that the fire of God often fell with disastrous effect in the Bible (Gen. 19:24, Lev. 10:2, Num. 11:1, 1 Kings 18:38, etc.), this is not the case when God himself appears in the fire. For example, in Moses' earlier encounter with the fire of God at the burning bush, the bush was not consumed (Ex. 3:2). On Mt. Sinai, Moses walked right up into the cloud to the top of the mountain where the fire was and stayed there for a total of eighty days, peacefully communing with the Lord. This doesn't match with a dangerous fiery explosion of the kind that would scorch rocks.
On the contrary, the evidence indicates some kind of spiritual fire rather than a physical fire. The same applies to the fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples on the day of Pentecost, which is a typological fulfillment of Sinai (Acts 2:3). The description in Exodus can just as easily be interpreted as an earthquake accompanied by unusual weather phenomena and a non-material manifestation of God in spiritual fire. In this case, we would not expect to see any scorching on top of the mountain.
Earlier attempts to locate Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia (beginning in the 19th cent.) were similarly based on the discovery of volcanic activity in the area in ancient times. But this assumes that the Bible is describing a volcanic eruption (Ex. 19:18), which does not match the evidence. There is no mention of lava flows, ash fall, or any of the other events that usually accompany an eruption and make it extremely dangerous.
Sinai and Horeb do seem to refer to the same place in the Bible. But the cave in which Elijah stayed (1 Kings 19:9), since it is called "the cave" (rather than simply "a cave"), may be a reference to the cleft in the rock where Moses was hidden by the hand of God (Ex. 33:22). This word (nikrah, meaning cleft, crevice, or hole) does not indicate a very deep cave, and could match any number of sheltered spots on the traditional Mt. Sinai (Jebel Musa in Sinai) or on any of the other mountains in the area.
There are many places in the desert where water comes out from a split in the rock. The account of the water coming from the rock in Ex. 17 is set at Rephidim (Ex. 17:1,8), before the children of Israel came into the wilderness of Sinai itself (Ex. 19:2). This may indicate that Horeb (like Sinai) was also a regional name, in addition to that of a mountain, and does not require the incident of the water to have taken place at the mountain itself.
Arab Bedouin traditions about Biblical events were formulated thousands of years after the actual events. These desert populations have moved and changed over the years, often with large gaps in occupation. As a result, their identifications have not proven to be historically significant.
Q: I have just finished reading a book named The Handwriting of God by Grant Jeffrey. In it he documents what appears to be teachings about the triune nature of God. He shows teachings from the Zohar and The Targums which appear to teach this doctrine. I was wondering if you could direct me to a library or bookstore where I can obtain these writings so I can read it for myself. Also can you tell me when the zohar and Targums were written and if these writings are held in reverance. --Dan A.
A: The Zohar is available in English translation (the Soncino edition is also available in a computer readable form). The Targums are more difficult to find, and very expensive. Both, though, should be available in a good theological (seminary) library.
The Zohar is a relatively recent writing that emerges from the Jewish mysticism known as kabbalah (Jewish occultism). Kabbalah was predominant in the Jewish world from about the 15th-18th centuries, even though its teachings were originally condemned by most rabbis. Many are surprised to learn that the leaders in this movement were involved in occult practices such as automatic writing, etc. However, kabbalah has since been spiritualized (to a certain extent) and is now part of popular mainstream Judaism.
However, there are some who believe that much older ideas and teachings are contained in the Zohar, perhaps even going as far back as the mysticism of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd cent. AD. But this is a hotly debated topic, and even if it were true, its spiritual value would be suspect.
It's true that the idea of Trinity appears to be alluded to in this writing, although I imagine that Jewish followers of kabbalah would hotly deny this interpretation.
The Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament) are a much older and more valuable source of information. They preserve Messianic ideas that were current in the time of the New Testament. Many of the Biblical interpretations of the New Testament writers can also be found in the Targums.
I must insert a note of caution about the writings of Grant Jeffrey. I have not read everything he has written. But the few pages of his writings that I have read, as well as an interview on television I have seen, contained errors of substance with regard to archeological discoveries in Israel and Sinai. Although he is sometimes presented as an "expert" in the field, he is a popular writer and not a trained archeologist.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Trinity.)
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