In the last days, instruction will go forth from Zion...
Questions and Answers VIII
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. You can also check out our Subject Index and Search pages to find topics of interest. 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
Q1: I just have a question about paradise, which is also called Abraham’s Bosom. Is it true that it is now empty as what the scripture said in Ephesians He led the captives free? I just read from my Bible’s notes (Dakes) that Abraham’s Bosom is...the same place as where Hades is, there is just a great gulf between them and of course the climate is different as what we have seen in the rich man and Lazarus story. According to Dake, right now we can go directly to heaven. So paradise is different from heaven?
A1: The location of paradise (or Abraham’s bosom, also known as Gan Eden, the place of the spirits of the righteous dead) was seen in different ways by different people in the time of Jesus. Some held it was under the earth and was a section of Hades (or Sheol, the underworld). Others held it was beside, though separate from, Hades. Yet others held that it was somewhere in the lower heavens above us. But all of these early views agreed that paradise was not in the upper or highest heavens where God is. The Book of Revelation, for example, teaches that the direct revelation of the Father God will only take place at the time of the resurrection (Rev. 20:11; 21:3,22; 22:1,3-4; see our book The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John).
The early Church accepted this distinction between paradise and the highest heavens, though unlike earlier views, it began to teach that no one had entered paradise until after the resurrection of Jesus, who they said had released the righteous dead from Hades into paradise. This doctrine is known as the Harrowing of Hell, or more accurately as the Harrowing of Hades and is often related to 1 Pet. 3:19 and Eph. 4:9. Later, this was modified into the belief that Jesus had released the righteous dead from a good section of Hades called the Limbo of the Fathers. This they now identified with the Bosom of Abraham. As a result, the paradise to which Jesus took them came to be seen as completely separate from the Bosom of Abraham. This higher paradise was eventually confused together with the highest heaven under the influence of Greek thinking. As a result, it began to be taught that Jesus had released the righteous dead from Hades (the Bosom of Abraham) directly into the presence of the Father God in heaven. This is the traditional teaching referred to in your Bible’s notes.
But a strong Biblical case can be made against the Harrowing of Hell idea (see our teaching Can the Gospel be Preached to the Dead?), and that the earliest Church was right to maintain a distinction between paradise and the highest heaven of the Father. Paradise, wherever it may be located, is the Bosom of Abraham, and is still the place to which the righteous dead go today, to wait for the resurrection.
Q2: And a follow up question about the Trinity: I read from your website about this. Is the Godhead three distinct persons? As we have seen in Genesis, God said Let US make man in our own image...... ...The Bible used the plural US...definitely God is not talking to angels here as man is much higher than the angels, right? And also there is proof that they are separate when Jesus got baptized in water, Jesus is here on earth and the Father spoke from heaven This is my beloved son.... and then there is the Holy Spirit descending to Jesus.
A2: As to your question about the Trinity: God is one, yet he is complex. This complex unity includes Father, Son, and Spirit. How they are one and yet distinct from each other is beyond human comprehension. However, we do know some things about it: for example that they are not three separate persons in the sense in which we usually use the word person today. Today, a person means a completely separate being. This cannot be true of the distinct identities within the Godhead, because Scripture teaches that God is one God, not three gods (Deut. 6:4). The original doctrinal formula of one God in three persona (a Latin word that means a role or character as in a play) should probably be expressed today as one God with three personalities or three distinct personal identities, each of which is associated with some aspect of God’s inner complexity.
Q3: Is it true that before Adam, there were other living creatures?—aside of course from the animals stated in Genesis. Some call these pre-Adamites. Their scripture basis is Genesis 1:1-2.... In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, then in verse 2, And the earth was formless.... According to what I’ve read God will not do anything that is formless so something happens between verse 1 and verse 2... It is also stated there that the earth is filled with water, and this proves that there is judgment as this is what God did in the times of Noah until he committed not to judge the earth anymore with water.
And also the fossils of dinosaurs prove that they existed before man as science says that they existed for millions of years and also they got preserved, so the explanation goes that they got preserved because they were buried with water and they are still intact because they were drowned. —Erwin A.
A3: The theory that you mention about creatures existing before the creation week of Genesis 1 (pre-Adamites), after which there was a world-wide judgment in Genesis 1:2, is called the Gap Theory. It was proposed by Christians trying to uphold Biblical truth in the face of evolutionary science. This was a way to maintain the authority of Scripture but yet accept that creatures (such as dinosaurs) existed on earth millions of years ago, as evolution claims.
But there are many serious problems with the Gap Theory. For one, this is not a natural reading of Gen. 1:1-2 in the original Hebrew. Gen. 1:1 serves merely as a heading for what comes after, telling us that what follows is an account of the Creation. Similar headings can be seen in Gen. 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, etc. Instead, Gen. 1:2 describes the situation of chaos out of which God brought order into the Creation. To find a previous Creation and judgment here is reading an awful lot into what it says.
Besides, today we know that the facts about evolution are not as certain as they once seemed. Dinosaur fossils, when they are carbon dated, give an age of only a few thousand years, not millions of years. Non-fossilized dinosaur bones have also been found, which would be impossible if they are really millions of years old. Today the evidence of a recent world-wide flood in the layers of sediment found around the earth is much better understood than it was only a few years ago. The many dinosaur fossils found around the world come from the sediments of this fairly recent flood. I would recommend any good book on Creation Science to get more information about this important topic.
Q: Greetings to you...my name is Kathy and I have a question. I am a former Roman Catholic (40 years cradle) and I feel that the Lord has led me to live a Messianic lifestyle...to honor and celebrate His appointed feasts. My family and I do live by the Jewish calendar. I have been wonderfully supported by former Catholic priests and nuns who have had the most incredible stories to tell. They have a great support group, all of them, and frequently keep an eye out on what goes on at the Vatican and in the Roman Catholic community.
I wanted to ask you not your opinion on Catholicism, but rather on the Eastern Orthodox Church. I have been keeping my eye on Archbishop Veron Ashe (Mar Enoch) from the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church from Fresno, CA. He has been featured on TBN (I don’t know if you view the Praise The Lord program) and he has a website and sells books and tapes. He is quite different and very charismatic. In his church, you don’t sit when you attend mass and the liturgy is done in Aramaic chant. I recently posted a question on their message board about how they felt about the Jewishness of Jesus and got a rather informative answer, but the deacons and deaconess there usually keep their answers focused on their doctrine and dogma, and refer to the teachings of the desert fathers.
My belief is that Paul and the disciples after Pentecost went to people’s houses and worshipped and broke the challah [Sabbath] bread and blessed and drank the wine in memory of our Lord and then travelled all over to spread the good news. They rarely went into the synagogues to preach and teach.
My question to you is, how do you see the justification of any Orthodox church as it relates to the early church ministry after Jesus died? The Orthodox are screaming that THEY are the true church. The Roman Catholic church is screaming that THEY are the true church and both say that all are lost without doing it their way. I heard a priest on EWTN state that Any church without an altar is spiritually bankrupt. The Roman Catholic church and Orthodox church are still bickering with each other over unresolved matters and the Eastern Orthodox are trying to align themselves with the Malankara archdiocese. It is a big mess and I personally found it to be spiritually dry. I feel that Messianic Judaism is the way we should truly worship and keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes. I am looking forward to your reply. —Kathy A.
A: My own interest in a more Messianic-style expression of faith comes partly from my own odyssey back through the pages of church history as expressed in the living Church today. This took me through an early interest in Roman Catholic monasticism to a fascination with Orthodoxy, and then to some extended research on the Church of the East (the so-called Nestorian Church).
But the bottom line of my discoveries is that the original Jewish flavor of Christianity—and the original cultural context of the faith that helps everything make sense—is long gone from all of them. Even the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Monophysite), which preserves more of a Jewish flavor than any other Orthodox church, has long been culturally assimilated to a completely different culture and spiritual expression.
While I believe all of these churches have something positive to offer from a historical perspective and as a testimony to the faith, you are right that most are spiritually dry. However, I believe that this dryness is not only from the weight of tradition and traditionalism, but also from a Gentile Christianity gone astray from the apostle Paul’s vision of one new man: of Jew and Gentile together in what is essentially a Jewish religion that has found its Messiah in Jesus (Eph. 2:15). Without recapturing this original and essential Jewishness, I don’t think we can be adequately in touch with God’s original plan and power.
But how exactly God wants us to incorporate that original Jewishness into the life of the Church is a big question. To date, I only know that it must be in line with the original vision as expressed in Acts 15 and elsewhere in the New Testament: that Gentiles are not required to observe the Law of Moses (with the exceptions noted there—closely connected with the Laws of Noah [see our teaching on the Laws of Noah]). In other words, I believe the move among some to make the Jewish Law obligatory for Gentile Christians is also bankrupt, in that it draws us back to the shadows rather than to the fulfillment in Messiah (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:1).
Somehow, as Gentile Christians, we must find a way to nourish our spiritual lives both from the Old Testament as well as the New, not in observance of the letter of the Jewish Law, but seeing in the Law and in selected aspects of post-Biblical Judaism a rich source of ideas for spiritual nourishment, a way to identify with Israel, and a means of correctly understanding Messiah Jesus and his will for our lives.
This is what I believe most of the earliest Gentile Church was doing before anti-Semitism and Greek thinking crept in. We now have evidence, even at Rome (Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition, 3rd cent. AD) of Sabbath-like candles, a Passover-like meal, and other originally Jewish-style observances that were later transformed into something unrecognizable. But these were not exactly like the Jewish observances, though they clearly shared a common heritage in a much more obvious way than the practices of most churches today. I believe it’s time once again to be grafted back into the original root from which our faith comes. For Jewish believers, this will be Messianic Judaism. For Gentile believers, this will be a yet-to-be-defined Messianic Gentilism.
Q: I am an African American girl and I was wondering how slavery fit in the Bible or if it was mentioned. There was the Holocaust and that in itself was terrible and I see GOD has a special place in his heart for the Jews but why slavery for the blacks?
A: Slavery is mentioned many times in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It has unfortunately been a part of human history from the earliest times up until recent years. Even today, slavery continues in parts of the Muslim world, as in Sudan, where young Christian or animist children in the south are captured and sold as slaves to Muslims in the north, or in the scourge of human trafficking around the world.
Most of the slavery of ancient times was not based on race. The slaves of the ancient Egyptians or of the ancient Roman Empire were of all different races and ethnic groups. Why slavery came to be race-based in the 17-18th centuries is a question I can’t answer, since I haven’t studied that time period well enough.
But I do know that in the Old Testament, God introduces himself to Israel as the God who frees his people from slavery: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of slavery (Exo. 20:2). There are more ways to be freed from slavery in the Law of Moses than in any other ancient law code.
The Law of Moses did not strictly forbid slavery. But it did lessen its effects. For example, all Hebrew slaves were to be freed every seven years (Deut. 15:12) and at the fifty-year jubilee (Lev. 25:40). This was an attempt to keep slavery from becoming a permanent condition. A slave was also to be freed if he or she was injured by the slave owner (Exo. 21:26-27). This was an attempt to return human dignity to the slave.
The New Testament, too, did not strictly forbid slavery. But from the earliest years, slaves were welcomed into the Christian community as equals in every respect to other believers (1 Cor. 12:13). This was because believers in Jesus were understood to be spiritually a part of Israel (Eph. 2:19), and therefore that the anti-slavery principles in the Law of Moses now extended to them, too (1 Cor. 7:22-23). Many slaves became leaders in the Christian community. Christians who owned slaves that were believers were instructed to treat them as brothers or sisters in the Lord (Philemon 1:15-16). Over the years, the attitudes of respect for human dignity found in the New Testament eventually convinced Christians to outlaw slavery in most of the world.
I have no idea why God put blacks through the experience of slavery, any more than I know why Africa is suffering so much right now with the AIDS epidemic. But I know that, just like with the suffering experienced by Israel and other peoples and nations, there is a purpose to it, and that God turns these difficult experiences to good for those that love him.
That blacks are just as important to God as every other people can be seen by the many places that they appear in the Bible: from the Cushite (black) wife of Moses (Num. 12:1) to the Cushite that rescued Jeremiah from the cistern (Ebed-melech, Jer. 38:7-13); from the wonderful prophecies about the Cushites in Isaiah (Isa. 18), to the Ethiopian (also from the kingdom of Cush) that first took the gospel to black Africa (the area of Nubia in what is today the Sudan; Acts. 8:27), and the (possibly black) Simon of Cyrene that carried the cross of Jesus (Mark 15:21): God loves the black peoples of the world just as much as he loves all the other descendants of Adam and of Noah.
Q: In your Q&A [North Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba en route to Mt. Sinai?] you state: To cross the Gulf of Aqaba, they would have had to climb down an underwater mountain and back up again the same night: the depth reaches about 5,000 ft. in the center of the gulf. There is no hint to such a grave difficulty in the Bible, nor any clue how Pharaoh’s army could have driven chariots down such a steep slope and then up the other side.
You might have a look at this website: http://anchorstone.com/redsea_update02a.html. It contradicts your statement on the depth of the Gulf of Aqaba. In particular it is stated: We discovered that there is indeed an extremely gradual slope out to sea of about 1 in 14 as it goes out from Nuweiba, and about 1 in 10 as it rises back up to Saudi Arabia.
Given the effort they have put into surveying the location at Nuweiba on the Gulf of Aqaba and the fact their results agree with Israeli maps, I would conclude that you are in error. —Ed A.
A: I took a look at the website you recommended. Thanks for sending it. The 5,000 foot depth I mentioned, which is for the Gulf of Aqaba as a whole, may need to be reduced in discussing the crossing point at Nuweiba, but not by much. The elevation given by the unnamed head of the Israeli Marine Geology, Mapping, and Tectonics Division is 850 m. That’s 2,790 feet, which is still more than half a mile, not much of a difference when it comes to the difficulties this would have created for them. The elevation of Jerusalem above the Mediterranean Sea is just a bit less. This would make their sea crossing the equivalent of a descent from Jerusalem to Latrun (ancient Nicopolis along the modern Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway) and back up again. That’s mountain climbing.
The author mentions a grade for the sea bed of 8%. In the U.S., highways post steep grade warnings for truck drivers at 6%, if not less. This would be a tremendously difficult and dangerous obstacle both for the children of Israel, with all their possessions and animals, and the chariots of Pharoah. But the Bible says nothing about this.
The reaction of the same Israeli government mapping official is instructive: [He] said bluntly, Your land bridge simply doesn’t exist.... Does a half mile deep ridge constitute a land-bridge?
The Bible says that God pushed back the sea by a strong east wind all night (Exo. 14:21). This tells us that God used a naturalistic means—the wind—to perform this miracle. But what kind of wind would it take to move half a mile of water out of a sea bed? No tornado or hurricane has strong enough winds for that. Yes, of course, God could have done it in a non-naturalistic way, but that would contradict what the Bible says: that he used an east wind. The evidence of the Bible, of history, and of the land itself give no support for a crossing at Nuweiba, or anywhere else in the Gulf of Aqaba.
My name is Kent, I’m an 18 year old Rom (Gypsy) from Norway. For a couple of years or so, I’ve been a Nazarene/Messianic Gentile and an observant Noachide. I just would like to say that I really like your website, especially the FAQ and the articles! Thank you!
I’m impressed by the fact that I agree with so much on your website. Of course, I don’t mind when believers disagree on the details of the faith, but it’s always nice to see when we agree with people.
I also appreciate that you seem to have the same views as myself, when it comes to non-Jewish believers being Noachides. There are so many unserious, weird opinions and ideas among the Messianic Gentiles and Christians in general. Some Gentiles would like to believe that they have some Jewish roots, and when they can’t find them, they often seek refuge in theories such as the Two House heresy, claiming that they too are part of Israel. Others agree that the Two-House or Ephraimite or Messianic Israel theory is wrong and unbiblical, but still they want to be part of Israel, claiming that they no longer are Gentiles, but spiritually Jewish and should observe the entire Torah (this is what the Ebionites and certain other non-Nazarene groups believed). These wonderful brothers and sisters in Moshiach [Messiah] are great believers, but Gentiles wearing tallits and reading from the Torah scroll is not part of Jewish tradition, and sometimes makes our movement look kind of weird and goyish.
Jahve Jews are not impressed when they see Gentiles living like Jews:) I think Messianic Gentiles being married to a Messianic Jew, or with a need or calling to become part of the physical Israel, should have a Messianic Jewish conversion (or Orthodox conversion, if they can do this without rejecting the L-rd).
As a Messianic Gentile and a Noachide, I may use the term Christian about myself, because I’m a non-Jewish follower of Khristus (the Christ, the Moshiach [Messiah]). But I don’t identify with Christianity or with the Church. I believe in Judaism, and the Judaism of the Rebbe (Yeshua) is valid Judaism. In Nazarene/Messianic Judaism there is, and must be, room for righteous Gentiles (B’nei Noach/Noachides), like there always has been within almost every traditional, serious Jewish sect.
As a Messianic Gentile and a Noachide, I may celebrate the Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, but not in a Jewish manner. I must obey G-d and the Shiva Mitzvot (seven commandments [of Noah]), and although I should try to worship HaShem within my own culture, I may adopt certain elements from Jewish culture as well (if necessary to replace...pagan elements in my own culture). I am permitted to observe more mitzvot than just the seven basics (they are categories, including all the so-called moral laws), but certain mitzvot in the Torah are reserved for the children of Israel only, and are forbidden for the Children of Noach, including: resting halachically on the Shabbat and holy days, public reading from the Torah portion in shul, to affix the mezuzah, wear tallit, use tzizit and tefillin, and to pretend that I’m Jewish or lead people to think that I might be Jewish.
Since Christmas, Easter etc. are forbidden holidays, and because I love G-d and want to know more about Him, I celebrate all Jewish holidays. I also celebrate Shabbat as a day of rest, worship and delight, with special meals and prayers. I’m not commanded to rest, but since I need a day of rest, I picked the day the Creator rested. —Kent
A: Finding the way back to God’s original plan for Messianic Gentiles is not easy, and I believe it will take many years to work this all out in the Body of Messiah. It’s interesting to hear how you are balancing these issues in your own life. Thank you for sharing it. I would like to respond to a couple of things you mentioned, in order to clarify my own position:
1) I can sympathize with your lack of desire to identify with the Church and with Christianity. The horrible treatment of Jews by Christians over the years has tarnished the testimony of the Church almost beyond repair. The catastrophe of the Holocaust and all the centuries of Christian hate that prepared the ground for it is perhaps the saddest story in human history. And the many Gentilizing changes in the Church over the years have often obscured its original faith and Jewish roots beyond recognition. But in the Bible, God responded to a history of disobedience among the Jewish people by continuing to relate to them as his chosen people, in spite of many horrible lapses in their obedience to his Word. That is to say, there was a corporate calling and a corporate history, in spite of the lapses of individuals and generations. I believe that we who are Messianic Gentiles must continue to identify with God’s historical movement among us, too, in spite of the many misunderstandings, sins, and lapses over the years, and that we must do what we can to help steer the ship back into its proper course. If not, I fear we risk forgetting the testimony of history, which includes many important lessons for all of us.
This does not mean that we all need to rush back into historical churches. On the contrary, for our testimony to be effective, we need to develop new structures and styles of worship that are more authentically Biblical and that will challenge and entice historical churches and church members to return to their roots. But it does mean that we should look at these fellow Christians as brothers, and on their history as our history, however far they may have drifted from the truth. For the gifts and the calling of God are—for us, too—without repentance (Rom 11:28).
2) This approach, I believe, should extend to the practice of Christian holidays. Though the celebration of many holidays is replete with pagan elements, there is nothing in theory to prevent Gentile members of the Body of Messiah from establishing special days of celebration. The problem comes with the identification of what is and what is not a pagan element, on which opinions sometimes strongly differ. I think we need to allow for Christian freedom in this area, though at the same time we should purge our own celebrations of pagan elements, and ensure that they accurately communicate Biblical truth.
A similar problem presents itself in the area of originally Jewish holidays that have been transformed by the Church. I think the Body of Messiah needs to return to something much closer to its original Jesus-focused celebration of Passover (Pascha, Easter) for example, and eliminate the anti-Jewish alterations made simply to spite the Jews: things like changing the date of the celebration, eliminating the Passover-style meal in memory of Jesus, etc.
The same applies to the Sabbath. While it is absolutely not a problem for Messianic believers to worship on Sunday (or any other day for that matter—every day is to be a day of worship to the Lord), there is no justification for calling Sunday a Sabbath in place of the Biblical Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), a change that was made in the early centuries largely for anti-Jewish reasons. Besides, the change is completely unnecessary for, as you correctly noted, we Gentile believers are not commanded to observe a day of rest.
I also think there is a tremendous blessing available in the recognition and celebration of other Jewish holidays as well, though as you have rightly noted, we should not observe them in the Jewish way, but in our own Christian manner, with Jesus (Yeshua) as a major focus of our celebration.
3) You mention certain circumstances in which you find conversion to Judaism acceptable. I find Paul’s instruction against conversion in Gal. 5:2-4 to be very strong: If you become circumcised [i.e. convert to Judaism], Christ will not profit you at all... You are released from Christ [language used for a divorce].... As a result, I counsel against conversion in all circumstances. It is quite possible for a non-Jewish spouse to conform to the practices of a Messianic Jewish spouse without conversion. This is the general drift of Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 9:20-21, that to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews.... to those who are without the Law, as without the Law. In all things we must seek to accommodate our Jewish and Gentile brothers and sisters in Messiah in such a way that we do not violate our individual callings. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29; also 1 Cor. 7:18).
However, I am also open to hearing other views on these issues, which have not yet been conclusively resolved in dialogue with Messianic Jewish believers and leaders.
Q1: Have you asked yourself what is the meaning of the name Jesus in Hebrew? And where the name is coded in the Torah?
A1: The name Jesus in the original Hebrew is Yeshua (sometimes written Jeshua). It means salvation, or more accurately, Yhwh is salvation. This name appears prophetically (in the noun form yeshuah) in many prophecies in the Old Testament about the ministry of Jesus, such as Psa. 89:26; 96:2; 98:2,3; Isa. 12:2-3; 25:9; 49:6, 52:7,10; 56:1; 59:17; and 62:1.
Q2: Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshu, and it is an abbreviation of three words, that are coded in the Torah, in Sefer Devarim [Deuteronomy] chapter 4. The noun yeshuah, has [the Hebrew letter] hey at the end, his Hebrew name does not have it.
A2: While Yeshu is a name commonly used for Jesus in the Hebrew-speaking Jewish community today, that is not the name he was known by in his own time, which was Yeshua. Yes, you are correct that the closely related noun yeshuah has the letter heh at the end, but this is because it is linguistically a feminine noun, while Yeshua is a masculine given name.
Q3: I forgot one point, I suggest you start addressing the book as the Torah, and not in any other way. Unless you would accept your friends calling you Bill.
A3: While the word Torah can be used of the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole, it is also commonly used to refer to the first five books, often called the books of Moses (or Pentateuch). This can be seen in the more precise Hebrew name for the Hebrew Scriptures, Tanakh, which is an abbreviation of the words Torah (used here for the books of Moses), Neviim (Prophets), V’Ketuvim (and Other Writings). This is similar to the name used by Jesus himself for the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17, 7:12, 22:40, etc.).
The common Christian name for the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, is an older English form for Old Covenant. This is based on the understanding of Christianity as a new covenant, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31. As it says in Hebrews 8:13: By saying a new covenant [in Jer. 31:31], he [God] has made the first covenant [the Hebrew Scriptures] old. Now what is old and aging is about to disappear.
To the earliest followers of Jesus, who were Jewish, this did not imply that the Law of Moses had been abolished (as later incorrectly understood by Gentile Christians), since these Jewish believers continued to obey the Law. Rather, it was a recognition that faith in Jesus brought a more intimate connection with God, which made the Law of Moses old by comparison. Even many of the rabbis expected there to be a new, Messianic law in the time of the Messiah. Believers in Jesus believed that in him that time had come.
Q4: ....Do not try to stretch the meaning of the word yeshua to the female meaning just to rationalize years of needing to materialize the abstract. The evolution of the Christian religion probably had to happen because of the enormous gap in the intelligence in human beings. We see now people that are very strong in IQ but very immature in EQ, but now we are more civilized and can help each other to grow and evolve although we still experience exceptions what I hope very soon we will reach the critical mass and will pull the dark side into the LIGHT.
I listen each Sunday to a Christian speaker in the radio, and I wish he will dare removing the word Jesus from his speech. To respect our intelligence and God wisdom (if God had a plan to convey his message to us thru one of his messengers, give him the credit that he would make sure that millions would witness the event, like the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai).
Jeffrey, in Jer. 31:31, it says that God will chop in Hebrew carat [cut or establish] a new brit [covenant] between the house of Israel and the house of Yehuda [Judah] (because both houses got separated after King Shlomo’s [Solomon’s] death), in other words a unity will happen. But the Christian arrogantly decided to take part of the sentence and create such a new meaning and teach it for so long a time (but as I mentioned earlier, I understand the process). —Rachel
A4: The use of the term Yeshu for Jesus appeared among the Jewish people because of a wish to deny the clear meaning of his actual Hebrew name Yeshua, which means salvation.Yeshua is itself the abbreviation of the longer form Yehoshua, which has the same meaning. Yeshu is not an abbreviation, but a term of disrespect. It is name-calling, an attempt to dishonor his real name. (It is considered by many Jewish people to be an acronym for may his name and memory be wiped out.) This can be clearly seen by studying the Talmudic references (often partially disguised) and later Rabbinical references to Jesus, as in the Toledot Yeshu, an infamous compilation of slanderous stories about Jesus.
I strongly disagree that humanity is getting better and better. This is a product of the conceit of modernity, which thinks that a few technological trinkets are what life is all about. The truth is that for most people in the world, life is getting more difficult than ever: the poor are being dispossessed or turned into refugees, the earth is being destroyed by pollution and its natural resources used up, killer diseases (like AIDS) and sicknesses are rampant, terrorism is on the rise. Millions are hopeless and see no way out. I know what I’m talking about: I live in a third world country [the Philippines at the time of writing] in which most of the ordinary people are suffering. The one-world initiatives (like the World Trade Organization) work to favor the rich and against the poor. From over here the perspective is very different than in first world countries, which are benefiting in many ways materially, although the actual quality of life for many even there is deteriorating, and destructive behavior is on the rise. A larger percentage of the population is in prison now in the U.S. than at the height of communism in Russia.
In earlier ages, the golden age was always understood to be in the past, when life was richer and more meaningful and more inspiring, when man was more healthy and more in tune with God and his natural God-given surroundings. Only recently has the idea of a golden age shifted to the future, in part because of the influence of Christianity and its belief in a coming Messiah who will introduce an era of prosperity. But the secularized version of this future golden age relies largely on science to bring in this age of miracles, or perhaps as you seem to indicate in your own belief, in the perfectibility of mankind by our own spiritual efforts. But science’s track record is spotty at best as is mankind’s in general, introducing us to things like nuclear waste and the destruction of the earth through pollution, misuse of resources, and destruction of habitat and species. As you can see, I am not optimistic about humanity in general, and with this the prophetic word of God agrees: that much more horrible things are coming in the future, because of man’s rebellion against God.
Jeremiah 31:31 does not say anything about a covenant made between Israel and Judah (maybe you’re thinking of Eze. 37:19), but rather a covenant that God himself will make with both Israel and Judah. This was to be a new covenant written not on stone (like the Ten Commandments), but on the hearts of men. Even some of the Jewish rabbis were looking forward to a new law in the Messianic age.
God has always conveyed his message through messengers, including Moses and the prophets. Jesus’ ministry is one of the most fully recorded events of ancient times. More ancient copies of the New Testament (and the Bible as a whole) exist than of any other ancient document. His resurrection was witnessed by hundreds of people. And he continues to reach out to and touch people today. I know, I’m one of them. I once had a very indulgent, self-destructive lifestyle, but now, through the reality of Jesus, I’ve been living in his grace for four decades and have an eternity to look forward to.
Religion itself can’t help anyone. But the spiritual reality of Jesus is far greater than anything mankind will ever be able to achieve on its own.
Q5: On Tuesday I heard a lecture about The World To Come for Jews and non Jews and most of the audience were Bnei-Noach (former Christian believers). [Note: "Sons of Noah" (B’nei-Noach) is one of the Jewish names for Gentiles in general. This reflects their obligation to the Laws of Noah (or covenant of Noah; Gen. 9). However, today this name often refers to those who accept Rabbinical authority after having rejected Jesus and Christianity.] The conclusion at the end has been that only the people that are or will be getting the idea of God will last. More literally, any Jew and Ger-Toshav [literally, a Gentile living in Israel, also used for sons of Noah that have come under rabbinic authority] are promised to enjoy the ultimate joy that God promised at the end of the days.
I accept the fact that discover[ing] Jesus and learning the New Testament have helped you brought you back on track, but now I advise you to take it one step forward, although it seems to you reaching the destination, metaphorically speaking. Just as an intellectual exercise, go and read some of the material [on a kabbalah web site], listen to the music, watch some of the videos, read some of the Zohar....
Life is very painful to many of us, and I’m one of them, but lucky me I always could see the positive coming out of the painful experiences, and with God’s help, I experience from time to time the extraordinary and overwhelming feelings of goodness. From time to time I feel God’s pain because so many of us do not understand yet his existence among us....
A5: Been there, done that, with many of the things you mention. Kabbalah was how I was first introduced by some Jewish friends into spirituality, which led me into witchcraft, etc., which destroyed my life.
Yes, it’s spiritual, but is it of God? Maybe there was some reason that all the rabbis in the world so vehemently opposed kabbalah when it first appeared (or re-appeared) in the 12th century AD. Isaac Luria, a famous kabbalist, and his friends were spiritists. Joseph Caro and others had spirit guides that revealed kabbalistic doctrines to them and that spoke through them (i.e. demon possession). They also believed in the transmigration of souls [an idea similar to reincarnation]. Although these occult roots were later obscured when kabbalah became normalized in the Jewish community, those roots continue to nourish the tree.
By contrast, God had some pretty strong things to say about spiritism, like in Lev. 19:31 (Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am Yhwh your God) or Lev. 20:6 (As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people). See also Lev. 20:27, Deut. 18:11, and Isa. 8:19.
It’s not just knowing about him that God wants, but living our lives the way he wants us to live our lives. That way was first revealed in Torah, and clarified in Messiah, who fulfills Torah, and makes a way for us to fulfill it, too.
I realize that a large number of those that have called themselves Christians have blasphemed the name of God through the years, in part through their ignorant and malicious persecution of the Jewish people. But this does not prove the error of the religion they claimed any more than the errors of Israel in its history disprove the Torah.
Yeshua came in answer to the promises of the Torah. He offers more than only moments of goodness, but an eternity—that starts today—of nearness to the Eternal One. By contrast, kabbalah promises much—it sounds great and profound in theory—but delivers little to help with the hurts of real life.
(For more on this topic, see the index categories Yeshua and Jesus.)
Are Jews and Israelites Two Different Groups of People?
Q: I’m a little confused: Is not Jew a nickname derived from Judah? And why are the people of Jacob all called Jews, when they are not? There are the Jews from the line of Judah and the Israelites from the line of Israel (Jacob). As the sons of Noah and the sons of Abraham, there are the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel. As in all three cases Abraham, Jacob, and Judah’s lineage were called out for a special purpose of God. It seems there is no true blood line of the Jews or Israel. It looks like everyone married out of their race. So isn’t the lineage of God more a way of acting and living verses a race? He took a group of people and called them out to live by laws and precepts to make them morally in his image. —JiJi
A: You are correct that the word Jew is derived from Judah. But Judah was one of the sons of Jacob (Israel), so the descendants of Judah are also Israelites. This can be seen in Romans 9:4, where Paul calls his Jewish kinsmen Israelites. So Jews and Israelites are not two different groups, but one group.
The best way to explain this is to trace their history: Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, each of whom was the founder of a tribe of Israel. One of these sons was Judah, founder of the tribe of Judah. All of these twelve tribes together are called Israel, or the tribes of Israel, or the twelve Israelite tribes.
What makes it confusing is that after the time of Solomon, the ten northern Israelite tribes separated from the southern Israelite tribes and took the name Israel for their kingdom. The southern Israelite kingdom took the name Judah, because it was mostly on the tribal territory of Judah, one of the twelve tribes. But the word Israelite continued to be used of the inhabitants of both kingdoms as an ethnic identification. This sometimes makes it tricky to know whether a passage in the Bible is talking about Israel as the whole of the twelve tribes, or Israel as the northern kingdom.
Because of their disobedience, the ten northern tribes (the kingdom of Israel) were taken into exile by the Assyrians. Many of them disappeared among the nations, becoming the Ten Lost Tribes. But not all of them disappeared. Some retained their identity as Israelites, and joined up with their Israelite brothers from Judah after they were taken into exile by the Babylonians. Others escaped from the Assyrians and fled to Judah, where they were taken in as refugees. As a result, from the time of the Assyrians on, Judah was no longer purely Judahite, but included people from all twelve tribes.
When this mixed group was released to return from exile, since the majority were from Judah, and they returned to the territory of Judah (in the time of Ezra), they came to be known as Jews, a name that from this time on was used of all the descendants of Jacob, even those descended from the ten northern tribes. The Jewish prophetess Anna or Hannah in Luke 2:36, for example, was from the tribe of Asher, one of the northern tribes. But among themselves, they also continued to use the older ethnic identification, Israelites. (All those returning from exile are called the people of Israel in Nehemiah 7:7.)
While it’s true that Israelite blood has now been scattered throughout the Gentile nations, the New Testament chooses to call these Gentile peoples Gentiles and never Israelites. This was also the point of view of the Jewish rabbis, who considered anyone descended from the ten lost tribes a Gentile with regard to the Law of Moses. So from the point of view of the New Testament, an Israelite refers only to a Jewish person.
While there is a prophetic sense in which the Israelite blood scattered among the nations is being restored through Gentile believers coming to faith in Jesus and becoming part of his Messianic kingdom, this never led the New Testament writers to refer to individual Gentiles as Israelites. This is because they put the focus not on unity according to the Law of Moses (which is not required of Gentile believers; see Acts 15), but on faith in Jesus.
What all of this means is that there is very much a true bloodline of the Jewish people (that is, of Israelites). Why is it so important that there is a real, physical, chosen people of Israel, the Jewish people? Because this shows us that God has established a single, definite way to know and serve him, a way which is different than the way of the world, and which is fully revealed only in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
At the same time, you are correct that the definition of membership in God’s chosen people is not simply race, but how you act and how you live. As Paul said in Rom. 9:6: Not all [are] Israel who are descended from Israel. Many who are of the right race have been broken off because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:19-20). And others who are of the wrong race have been added in because of faith (Rom. 11:17).
Yes, God is calling a people to be morally pure. But his definition of what is right and morally correct has been revealed through a particular group, his chosen people Israel (the Jewish people), and the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. To the faithful remnant of the Jewish people, those who have accepted Jesus, Gentiles can be added by grace and faith in him (Eph. 2:12-13,19).
Q: My husband has been reading in Numbers and wants to know why there were so many feasts with so many offerings. Were the Jewish people that rich that they could afford so many animals and grain offerings? Did all the sacrifices get burned up or did the priests keep the best and burn the rest? Was the tribe of Levite priests so large they were able to eat all these sacrifices? —Denise E.
A: The system of offerings in the Bible can be compared to the taxation system of modern nations. This is because the Law of Moses was intended to be the law of the land, not just a religious law. The priests and Levites were the equivalent of government employees.
From this perspective, the required minimum offerings of the Bible are similar to the tax rates in many countries today: about 26-30% of gross income. (Sin offerings, free-will offerings, and other voluntary or penal-type offerings that varied from person to person are not included in this total.) As with most modern tax systems today, the amount you paid depended on your income, so if you made more, you paid more. If you earned less, you paid less. Just like in other societies, the wealth of individuals among the Jewish people covered the whole spectrum from very rich to very poor.
The Jewish feasts could be compared to the holidays of modern nations. They celebrated the events that united the people and gave them a national identity. In the case of Israel, these events were identified with the actions of God in history, which gave them a strongly religious orientation. The number of days involved in these holidays might seem high at first, such as the week-long festivals of Passover and Tabernacles, until you realize that only the first and last days of these longer holidays were days of complete rest. The intermediate days of the feast were considered half holidays when many types of work were done.
Some sacrifices were burnt up entirely (the whole-burnt offerings). But most were not, leaving either a portion or most of the animal for the priests. Some sacrifices could be eaten only by the priests in the sacred precincts of the Temple. Others could be eaten by the priests’ families and their servants in their homes. Yet other sacrifices were eaten by the worshippers themselves who brought the sacrifice. All this diversity meant there was little waste in the system.
The tribe of Levi was originally one twelfth of the population. But this changed dramatically in the time of the Kings when the ten northern tribes stopped frequenting the Temple and most of the priests and Levites migrated to the southern kingdom of Judah. After this, priests and Levites were a larger percentage of the population. As a result, customs changed, and fewer and fewer Levites were permitted to be involved in Temple work. By the time of Jesus, those living from the offerings in the Temple and the tithes were mostly priests, who had grown to be a more sizeable percentage of the population than they were initially.
Q: One question: according to Hebrews 8:8 the new covenant is made with Israel and Judah. If I am not of one of these people groups, can I say that I have the Torah written on my heart?
A: Hebrews 8:8 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31, where Jeremiah speaks prophetically of the new covenant in Messiah that was to come. This new covenant was to be made with Israel and Judah, which refers to the northern Israelite kingdom of Israel and the southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. In other words, the new covenant would be made with all the descendants of Jacob (Israel).
But this does not imply that the new covenant would only be with Israel. The earlier covenant made at Sinai (the Law of Moses) was also made with Israel (the house of Jacob, Exo. 19:3). Yet it made provision for foreigners that joined themselves to the Lord (Ex. 12:38; Lev. 17:10,13,15; 18:26; 20:2; 24:16,22; 25:45,47; Num. 35:15; Deut. 5:14; Isa. 56:3,6-8; etc.). Isaiah said of these foreigners that their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isa. 56:7). God does not say that only Israel and Judah are acceptable to him, but that all the peoples are welcome. This is the same verse quoted by Jesus when he cleansed the Temple in the area known as the Court of the Gentiles (Mark 11:17). Why was there a Court of the Gentiles in the Temple? Because God’s house was open to all.
In the same way, the new covenant in Messiah is made with Israel and Judah, yet provides for foreigners (Gentiles) to be joined to it. As Paul says in Ephesians: Remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). But as a result of their faith in Jesus, he continues, So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household (Eph. 2:19). This was written not to Israel or Judah, but to you Gentiles (Eph. 2:11, 3:1). And just to make it very clear, Paul says in Eph. 3:6: The Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Jesus through the gospel.
Paul, in fact, saw this inclusion of the Gentiles as the crowning prophetic insight of his career, the mystery that God was revealing through him and others to the Church: To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Messiah (Eph. 3:8).
Why was Paul so excited about this truth? It was one more piece of evidence that the new covenant is entered into not by physical ancestry, but by grace and faith (Eph. 2:8). As John put it, But as many as received him [Jesus], to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). Or as Jesus himself put it, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). Any who try to enter this new covenant by means of the flesh will ultimately fail. Why? Because this is a spiritual covenant. As Jesus said, Unless one is born from above [that is, has a spiritual rebirth] he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
Even in the old Law, physical descent was not a guarantee of participation in the covenant. In Jesus’ day, as in Judaism today, though someone may have a Jewish father, he is not considered Jewish (a descendant of Israel) unless his mother is Jewish. How much less those with a more remote descent from Israel, such as those descended from the exiled Ten Tribes (the northern kingdom of Israel), who were (and still are) considered Gentiles with regard to the Law (Yeb. 16b:9, Yeb. 17a:3-4).
But the good news is that the gospel is offered freely to all, regardless of their nation, tribe, language, and ancestry (Rev. 5:9). To miss this wonderful truth is to miss the very heart of the gospel.
A: The deaths of four of the apostles are known from history; that of the others belong more to the realm of legend. The most certain is that of James (or actually Jacob) the brother of John, the son of Zebedee, who was martyred by the sword in Jerusalem (in 44 A.D.; Acts 12:2).
Another James (also actually Jacob), the brother of Jesus, who wrote the book of James, was also martyred in Jerusalem. He was killed by stoning (in 62 A.D.; Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.1 § 200). According to Hegesippus, he was thrown down from the pinnacle of the Temple, pummeled with stones, and then finally killed with a club (Eusebius, Church History 2.23).*
* Being thrown down from a great height was the first step in an execution by stoning as it was practiced in Jesus’ day.
Peter and Paul were martyred by Nero in Rome, either at the time of the great persecution associated with the fire of Rome (64 AD), or soon thereafter. Tradition claims that Paul was killed with the sword, which was his right as a Roman citizen, and that Peter was crucified upside down, though this detail is not mentioned in the earliest accounts.
John the Apostle died of old age in Ephesus. Jesus’ mother Mary, who was given into John’s care by Jesus (John 19:26-27), also died in Ephesus, though there is a competing tradition that she died in Jerusalem. Both traditions are late. John is the only one of the apostles that died of natural causes. All the others, according to tradition, gave their lives as martyrs for the faith.
From here on, the legends associated with the deaths of the apostles grow increasingly unreliable, though there may be a seed of truth in some of them. The problem is that many of the apostles travelled to distant places from which we have no reliable early sources. But an even greater problem is that Christians all over the world wanted to claim them as their own. As a result, there are many claims and counterclaims which cannot now be verified.
The earliest tradition associated with Thomas is that he preached in Parthia (today’s Iraq). He is also said to have gone to India (in the area of today’s Pakistan) where he was killed with a spear. This tradition is maintained by the Thomasite Christians of India until this day. Although the legend of Thomas’s ministry in India was long dismissed by Western scholars, recent archeological evidence has confirmed certain points of the legend, giving it new life: Ancient coins and an inscription have confirmed the reign of King Gondophares and his brother, mentioned in the legend, from 19-45 A.D. in the Indus Valley.
The earliest traditions concerning Andrew put him in Scythia (north of the Black Sea). Later, he was also associated with Greece, where he is said to have been crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Bartholomew is said to have preached in Armenia and to have died in India, where he was flayed alive with knives.
Jude and Simon the Zealot are said to have gone to Assyria (today’s Iraq) and Persia (Iran). One strand of tradition also puts Matthew in Persia. Simon is said to have been crucified, and Jude killed with arrows.
The primary tradition about Matthew is that he died a martyr in Ethiopia. Though this is a late tradition, there is no question that a Jewish-style Christianity made a fairly early appearance in Ethiopia.*
* The Ethiopian official of the book of Acts, however, was not from what is known today as Ethiopia, but rather was an official of Candace (or actually the Kandake, the title of the queen mother) in nearby Meroë, in what is today Sudan (Acts 8:27).
Philip (not to be confused with Philip the Evangelist of Acts 6 and 8) is said to have preached in Phrygia (central Turkey) and died a martyr at Hierapolis. He is said to have been martyred by hanging.
James the son of Alphaeus is said by late tradition to have preached in Palestine and Egypt, and that he was crucified in Ostrakine, in lower Egypt. Other traditions, however, place him in Persia.
(For more on this topic see the index categories Apostles and Peter.)
Q: ...A friend told me that it is believed that Baghdad was the Garden of Eden.... Is it true that the Garden of Eden was located in Baghdad? Also, what are your thoughts on the idea that there may be books that were not included in the Bible? How about the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdelene? —Kim H.
A: 1) Where was the Garden of Eden? Local Arab tradition, recently popularized by Western reporters stationed in Iraq, puts the Garden of Eden in several different places near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, including Baghdad.
At one of these spots, in the little village of Qurnah, tourists can have their picture taken in front of a tree identified by locals with the tree from which Eve plucked the forbidden fruit. (Garden of Eden Devastated Under Saddam,Guardian Unlimited, Apr. 29, 2003, on-line article no longer available.)
Other, more scholarly attempts to locate the Garden of Eden put it in the mountains of eastern Turkey, near the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, since these sources are said to be in (or near) the garden in the Genesis account (Gen. 2:10,14).
But this approach breaks down because of the other rivers mentioned in that same passage in Genesis. There is no river, for example, originating in eastern Turkey that flows around Ethiopia (or actually Cush, modern Sudan; Gen. 2:13): unless, that is, you are willing to accept the wild idea that one of the sources of the Nile is a secret underground river running from Turkey to Egypt, somehow passing under the 5,000 ft. deep Red Sea.*
Nor is there a major river that flows around the western part of Arabia, presumed to be the location of Havilah where there is gold (Gen. 2:11).
But these and other, similar difficulties are easily resolved when we remember that the Flood of Noah, a major earth catastrophe, resculpted the entire surface of the land. Sediments from the Flood are as much as a mile deep in some places: These are the major sedimentary layers of the earth’s crust. This means that the present appearance of the earth is dramatically different than it was before the Flood. An increasing number of Creation scientists believe that it was during the Flood year that the continents broke apart from one another, more evidence of dramatic change.
The modern rivers with the names mentioned in Genesis 2 are therefore not the originals, but are later rivers, after the Flood, that were named for these earlier rivers. Why were these names kept and used again after the Flood? It’s just like the many cities and rivers in America that are named after European originals back in the old country.
Eden itself was destroyed beyond recognition in the Flood, and buried under tons of debris. There is no way to locate it with our current level of technology.
2) Are there books that were not included in the Bible? There were dozens of ancient religious writings claiming divine inspiration that were left out of the Bible. Why? They were fakes! Many of them were written by heretical teachers trying to justify their strange teachings. Recently, many of these books have been published under catchy titles like, The Lost Books of the Bible. But in fact, most of these books were never lost. They were rejected. The reason we have our Bibles today, or rather the reason we have the list of books that make up our Bibles today, was to exclude these erroneous and false writings.
In addition to these false writings, there was another group of writings that was left out of the Bible, even though they were looked on more favorably by the Church. These are the apocryphal writings, some of which have influenced Christian thinking over the years.*
3) Did Jesus marry? This belief shows up in fringe teachings from time to time. Needless to say, there is not a shred of historical evidence to support this idea. On the contrary, Jesus took a bold stand for intentional celibacy, which he called being a eunuch for the kingdom of God (see Matt. 19:10-12). This was at the time and remains today a radical teaching. It was related to his understanding of the coming Messianic Kingdom, in which there will be no marriage other than that of Messiah with his bride, the Church (Matt. 22:30, 1 Cor 7:31-32). Jesus’ advocacy of intentional celibacy strongly challenged the traditional Jewish emphasis on family life and replaced it with a commitment to a larger familial bond: that with God himself and his people. As he said in Matt. 12:48-50: Who is my mother and who are my brothers?... Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
* For more on this topic, see the index categories Marriage and Jesus.
Q: I’m working on Isaiah 56 (writing our women’s Bible study)... Why does Isaiah/God tell foreigners that He wants them to keep the Sabbath in verse 6? I’ve already read on your web page that keeping the Sabbath wasn’t a requirement for Gentiles even before the time of Christ, so why does Isaiah seem to make it one? —Sarah P.
A: Good question! While Isaiah may at first appear to be advocating Sabbath observance by Gentiles, a closer look at Isa. 56:6 shows that he is actually directing foreigners not to profane the Sabbath (who keeps from profaning the Sabbath). This is quite different than his direction to Israelite eunuchs to keep my sabbaths (Isa. 56:4). In other words, Gentiles were to respect the Sabbath, even though they are not required to keep it according to the detailed instructions of the Law of Moses.
This was the actual practice of the earliest Church. In some places, worship services were held on both the Sabbath (Saturday) and Sunday, as the Ethiopian Church continues to do right up until today (Apostolic Consitutions 5.3.20). Fasting was also avoided on the Sabbath as a sign of respect. This was the nearly universal practice of the earliest Church, still practiced by Orthodox churches today.
This matches the wording of the Sabbath command itself, which calls for Sabbath observance by the Israelites, their slaves, and the stranger who is in your gates (Exo. 20:10 in Hebrew). This last expression refers to Gentiles living in Israelite cities, and was later understood by the rabbis to refer to proselytes (converts) to Judaism. But it was not understood to be a requirement for Gentiles in general.
A similar meaning was probably intended in Isaiah’s instruction in that same verse that the foreigner hold fast the covenant of God (Isa. 56:6). Gentiles, in other words, should obey the sections of the Law of Moses that pertain to them. These instructions for Gentiles were later known collectively as the Laws of Noah.
That Jesus understood this verse to imply a distinction in the worship of Gentiles from the worship of the Jewish people can be seen in the way he used this passage. He quoted the very next verse, Isa. 56:7, when he cleansed the Temple, to support the right of Gentiles as Gentiles to worship there (My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations, Mark 11:17). And in John 10:16, he quoted Isa. 56:8 in another reference to Gentile Christians (And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold...). This understanding of Gentiles as distinct from the Jewish people, with a different calling and different requirements, yet joined spiritually with Israel, is one of the major themes of the New Testament.
With regard to the Sabbath itself, many in the earliest Church understood that the Sabbath of the Law of Moses pointed to the eternal Sabbath rest that believers have in Messiah (Heb. 4:9). This is likely the group Paul referred to in Rom. 14:5 that judged every day alike. In other words, they did not observe the Sabbath or any other day as a special day because they believed they were living in a continual Sabbath rest in Messiah (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 12; 2nd cent.). Tertullian (3rd cent.) says of Christians that we understand that we...ought to observe a sabbath from all servile work always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time (An Answer to the Jews 4).
It was only many hundreds of years later that Christians began speaking of Sunday as the Sabbath.
Q1: Who are the 144,000? That is one question that I have yet to see anyone comment on except the Jehovah’s Witnesses..and I know that’s a farce...but do you know who they are and why they are? —Shawn D.
A1: If there’s one thing we can say for certain about the 144,000 of Rev. 7 and Rev. 14, it’s that they are Jewish. Revelation 7 goes to great lengths to specify that this number is made up of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, listing off the name of each of the tribes in turn (Rev. 7:4-8).
In this same chapter, the 144,000 are associated with a great crowd from all the nations that worship both the Father and the Lamb (Jesus; Rev. 7:9-17). This great crowd, in other words, is the many millions of Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Jesus, emphasizing again by contrast that the 144,000 are Jewish.
But the 144,000 are also described as believers in Jesus, as they are sealed with the seal of the living God (Rev. 7:2-3), a reference to salvation (see 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13, 4:30). Baptism was often referred to as being sealed in the earliest Church. So these are Jewish believers in Jesus.
In relation to the great crowd from the nations, and in relation to the total number of Jews in the world (both now and in ancient times), the 144,000 are a small number, a remnant of the Jewish people. And this seems to be exactly the point of this prophetic image, a visual reference to what was in the time of the New Testament an important prophetic theme: the remnant of Israel. As the apostle Paul says in Rom. 9:27, quoting Isa. 10:22-23, Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will do a work on the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.
This cut short tribulation was also taught by Jesus: For at that time there will be a great tribulation...and if those days were not cut short, no flesh would be saved, but for the sake of the chosen, those days will be cut short (Matt. 24:21-22). Here Jesus is connecting the prophecy of Isaiah 10 with that of Daniel 12, which also refers to a time of tribulation: ...And there will be a time of tribulation such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time... (Dan. 12:1).
Unfortunately, the meaning of this important set of prophecies was soon forgotten by the Church as it became increasingly Gentilized. But in its original Jewish context, it refers to the general expectation of a time of trouble and tribulation prior to the coming of the Messiah. This was also known as the approaching footsteps of the Messiah (or literally the heels of the Messiah, Psa. 89:52), an allusion to the Messianic prophecy of Gen. 3:15, which prophesies the destruction of the devil by the Messiah when he comes.
The earliest Christians taught and believed, in agreement with these prophecies, that only a remnant of the Jewish people were to be saved before the return of the Messiah in power. This has clearly been proven true by history. But they also believed that at the coming of the Messiah, all Israel will be saved, as Paul says in Rom. 11:25-27, as John says in Rev. 1:7, and as Jesus says in Matt. 24:30; all of whom are referring to the repentance of Israel when Messiah returns to Jerusalem in Zechariah 12:10-13:1 and 14:1-4.
God’s plan for Israel revealed in these prophecies was an extremely important issue to the earliest Church, since it had to explain why, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, most Jews rejected him. The answer was supplied by the prophetic word of God, which foretold that in the present time, only a remnant of the Jewish people will accept Jesus, though in the end, in the final generation, Israel as a nation will receive Jesus as Messiah.
Q2: One thing I see in your response is that you said that one thing we can say for certain about the 144,000 of Rev. 7 and Rev. 14, it is that they are Jews. Yet Jews is short for Judah and Judah is only one tribe of the twelve tribes of Israel. I understand after the [division of the kingdom of Solomon] that Judah consisted of Levites and the tribe of Benjamin also, and is referred to in the Bible as the Southern Kingdom (one of many names they are referred to by) and that the Northern Kingdom is referred to as Israel or sometimes Joseph as in Ezekiel 37, and even as Ephraim. With that being so, how can the whole 144,000 be JEWS. I agree that the whole 144,000 are of Israel, but I also understand that not all Israel is Jewish. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that any group REPLACES the Jewish people by any stretch of the imagination either. But I do believe that the prophecy in Hosea [Hos. 2:23, 1:10] that Paul quotes in Romans 9:24-25 that the Northern Kingdom that was dispersed, who had no mercy and lost their identity, will, in the place where they have been dispersed, realize their heritage and embrace the Torah [the Law] and Yeshua [Jesus] together and become one body WITH JUDAH their brother.... I am interested in hearing your view and I thank you for your response.
A2: You are correct that the word Jew is ultimately derived from Judah. But the identity of the Jews and the meaning of the word Israel both today and in ancient times is a more complicated story than your question indicates.
The division of Israel (all Israel) into a northern kingdom (the Kingdom of Israel, also known as the Ten Tribes) and a southern kingdom (the Kingdom of Judah) took place as a result of the apostasy of Solomon, in 930 BC. The southern kingdom of Judah was originally, as you correctly mention, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin along with the majority of the Levites (the tribe of Levi). To these we must also add the assimilated tribe of Simeon. But in addition to these, many others joined them from other tribes at the time of the division of the kingdoms. As it says in 2 Chron. 11:16-17: And those from all the tribes of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel, followed them to Jerusalem...and they strengthened the kingdom of Judah... Again, in the time of King Asa, many came from the north to live in Judah: And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin and those from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who resided with them, for many defected to him from Israel... (2 Chron. 15:9). So already at this early date, the blood of all the tribes could be found in the southern kingdom of Judah.
After the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, only a portion of the northern Ten Tribes were taken into exile and dispersed from there. The rest stayed in Israel (2 Chron. 30:6, 34:9, 35:18). Some of these assimilated with foreigners brought in by the Assyrians to become the Samaritan people. But others escaped south to the Kingdom of Judah. This was another influx into Judah of blood from the Ten Tribes.
Then again at the return of Judah from exile, some from the northern tribes joined them (Neh. 7:7, Luke 2:36). Because of this large number of immigrants from the north over many years, Judah effectively contained the blood of all twelve of the tribes of Israel. This means that by the time of the New Testament, if not long before, Judah and Israel (in the sense of all Israel) were effectively one and the same.
This is clearly the understanding of the New Testament. The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, calls himself and his Jewish kinsmen Israelites (Rom. 9:3-4,6; 11:1). Here and throughout the New Testament, Jew and Israelite are used interchangeably. [For more on this point, see our teaching on The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and the related Questions and Answers at the bottom of the page.]
This does not negate the reality of the much larger portion of the northern kingdom (the Ten Tribes) that were dispersed among the nations, and that will one day be reunited with Judah, as taught by Eze. 37, which you mention. But the New Testament writers, just as the rabbis, understood that these Lost Ten Tribes, because of their long assimilation among the nations, were to be considered Gentiles with regard to Jewish Law, and no longer a part of Israel (Yeb. 16b:9, Yeb. 17a:3-4). In other words, just as Hosea said, and as Paul quotes him, the Lost Ten Tribes are no longer God’s people, that is, no longer Israel (you are not my people, Rom. 9:26, Hos. 1:9). Because of this, they could not simply realize their heritage and embrace the Torah as you put it, because this would require a conversion to Judaism, which the New Testament specifically forbids (Gal. 5:2-4). However as Gentiles, they can be admitted by faith in Jesus into a relationship with the living God (they will be called sons of the living God, Rom. 9:26).
This is also the meaning of the prophecy in Genesis 48:19: that Ephraim (who, as you correctly note, often stands for the whole of the Ten Tribes), will be the fulness of the Gentiles. In other words, the northern kingdom will lose its Israelite identity and become identified with the Gentiles. This is exactly the sense in which Paul alludes to this prophecy in Rom. 11:25: Israel (all Israel, that is, the Jews) is hardened while the fulness of the Gentiles (including the descendants of the Lost Tribes) comes in to faith in Jesus. Here again, Israel (all Israel, referring to the Jewish people) is contrasted with the Gentiles, not Judah with Israel, as your understanding would require.
The union of Judah with (fallen) Israel described in Ezekiel 37 is not a union effected by observance of the Jewish Law, but by becoming one kingdom with Messiah ruling as king (Eze. 37:22,24). The everlasting covenant by which they will be ruled (Eze. 37:26) is the covenant of the Messiah, the new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah mentioned in Jer. 31:31, a law no longer written on tablets of stone, but on our hearts.
Several groups today advocate that the descendants of the northern kingdom (the Lost Tribes) are still fully Israel and that therefore they must obey the Jewish Law, a view that you appear to hold yourself. But this is just the opposite conclusion that the apostles reached on this same issue. They, together with the rabbis, classed the descendants of the Lost Tribes as Gentiles and therefore no longer as Israel with regard to the Law (you are not my people). This issue was so important that a council was convened to deal with it in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The outcome was clear: Gentile believers, which includes all those descended from the Lost Tribes, are not under the Law of Moses (Acts 15:10,19-20,28). As we saw in Ezekiel, the unity of Judah and (fallen) Israel takes place not through the Law, but through faith in Yeshua [Jesus] the Messiah.
This self-understanding of the Church, that it consists of two major groups, one from the Circumcision (Israel/Jewish believers in Jesus) and one from the Uncircumcision (Gentile believers in Jesus) is exactly the picture given in Rev. 7. The 144,000 are the remnant of Israel, Jewish believers in Jesus from all the tribes of Israel. The great crowd in heaven, on the other hand (Rev. 7:9-17), are the multitude of Gentiles saved during this same period of time, just as Paul describes it in Rom. 9-11.
This issue is extremely important to the Christian faith. Either the unity of the Gentiles and Israel/the Jewish people takes place through Messiah or through the Law. If this unity is through the Law, there is no need for Messiah, as can be seen in the many groups that advocate this teaching and are falling away from faith in Yeshua [Jesus]. On the other hand, if this unity is through the Messiah, it is on the basis of the new covenant, and not the Law of Moses, from which the Gentiles are excluded. This latter position was the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament.
Q: Hi Jeff, I’m new to your ministry, and I am really learning a lot. You noted a 17th century book that states the native populations of the Americas (I assume north and south) could be one of the lost tribes of Israel. Is this the basis of the Mormon faith? The DNA evidence seems to suggest the native populations having descended from eastern Asiatic origin, possibly populating the areas almost 14,000 years ago. This brings me to my other stumbling block of dating the earth to around 6,000 years of age. Could you please help me reconcile the scientific data with the Old Testament data, and give me your feelings on the validity of the Mormon faith with regards to Lehi’s group coming to the Americas around 600 BC, becoming the seed for native Americans and Polynesians. Thank you so very much —Howard R.
A: Yes, the widespread speculation from the colonial period through the early 19th century about a possible connection of Native Americans with the Ten Tribes of Israel provides the general historical context for Mormon beliefs. According to the Book of Mormon, Lehi, who led the migration to America, was a descendant of Manasseh, and therefore a member of one of the Ten Tribes.
The problem with granting any historicity to the Book of Mormon is the complete lack of archeological evidence to support it. Even many Mormon archeologists acknowledge this point. In fact, the archeological data from the Americas contradicts much that is found in the Book of Mormon. For example, the idea that elephants were once found in North America, or that there were once huge Old World-style cities, or that steel and the compass were used in early times, etc. The book has also been proven to contain plagiarisms..., anachronisms, false prophecies and errors of fact (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1985, p. 187. See Martin’s chapter on Mormonism for all the details). The clear result of many years of research on the Book of Mormon is that it is a fiction, pure and simple, with no connection to any actual history.
There is no question that most Native American populations have genealogical roots in Asia. But as to when their ancestors made the trip, that’s another story. Most current dates for the populating of the New World are based on carbon-14 dates. But carbon-14 dating, as with all radiometric dating techniques, is based on a set of unproven assumptions. Since most of the equations currently in use were established on the assumption of an old earth, they will naturally yield long ages of time beyond the Biblical dates for a young earth (which are between 6-10 thousand years old). But if Creationist assumptions are used, the dates are much lower, and fall right into line with Creationist beliefs.
Here are some examples of the deficiencies of current radiometric dating practices: Lava flows in Hawaii that are known to be about a hundred years old date in the millions of years. The different rock layers in the Grand Canyon, which should date progressively older as you go deeper and deeper, do not, but give dates all over the place, and not in the correct stratigraphical order. Egyptian artifacts for which the dates are known date several hundred years too old. Also, as a matter of course, 50% of radiometric dates are discarded because they do not match the expectations of the researcher. Many other examples could be added to these. Radiometric dating is much less scientific and precise than many people imagine.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority of non-radiometric methods of dating the earth point to a young earth (see for example Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, revised, Master Books, 2002, pp. 440-41).
Q: Dear Jeff, a question from your seminar [the Jesus of Nazareth Seminar]. Why did Jews think that long hair was a disgrace in view of the Nazarite vow which prescribed them to not cut their hair? —Marcia A.
A:[In the seminar, it’s mentioned that Jesus did not wear his hair long, as is often shown in Christian art, since he was a Nazarene (a person from Nazareth) and not a Nazirite (a person who has taken a Nazirite vow to grow out his hair) with which this is often confused. When we show him with long hair, we are actually dishonoring him.] The reference to long hair as a dishonor (or disgrace, shame) is 1 Cor. 11:14: Doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him? Paul’s appeal to nature here, in talking to Gentile converts to the faith, is an appeal to generally accepted social norms that were shared both by Jews and Gentiles. That this was the common view at the time can be substantiated both by historical references as well as pictorial images and statues.
I doubt that Paul had Nazirites in view when he made this statement, since within Jewish society, the long hair of Nazirites was a temporary condition of short duration for a specific purpose, and not at all the norm. The usual (or default) Nazirite vow was for thirty days (Nazir 1:3): though it could be longer if vowed for a longer duration. Lifelong Nazirites like Samson or John the Baptist were very much the exception.
But even so, the category of disgrace or dishonor is not entirely inappropriate for Nazirites. The Nazirite was separated from certain aspects of normal human society that were considered honorable (keeping one’s hair neat and trim; drinking wine, which figured in many important religious activities; and mourning the dead; Num. 6:3-6). The Mishnah rules that a Nazirite cannot comb his hair (Nazir 6:3), and calls him unkempt (Nazir 1:1 פרע). In other words, the Nazirite willingly dishonored himself, separating himself from honorable human society, in order to keep his vow. In this sense, the Nazir, though separated to God, was in a condition of dishonor with regard to ordinary human society, which could be most quickly recognized by the condition of his hair.
This understanding of honor and dishonor is not at all strange to the Bible. Paul speaks, for example, of the dishonor that accompanies his life as an apostle (2 Cor. 6:8). Here too, this is a dishonor from the point of view of human society, though it is undertaken in obedience to God.
(For more on this topic, see the index category Jesus.)
Q: I thoroughly enjoy your presentation of the Red Sea Crossing [Crossing the Red Sea]. I am a pastor in New Jersey and I am preaching on Exo. 14 this week. In researching the crossing site I am most comfortable with your position and logic on the crossing being near the western part of the Red Sea. However, I am interested in an answer from you, (if you’re able) on the findings of ancient chariot wheels and human bones in the gulf of Aquaba. Does this puzzle you? Are there similar findings in the Gulf of Suez also? —Doug T.
A: There are always a lot of strange stories and tales coming from the Middle East and Israel in particular. It’s a place that sparks people’s imaginations in a way that other places do not—sometimes even driving them over the boundary of sanity (as in the Jerusalem Syndrome, in which people come to Israel and suddenly become convinced they are a personality from the Bible). For this reason, it’s always very important to check carefully any stories coming from the Middle East.
With regard to the reported finds you mention, associated with the Gulf of Aqaba, it’s important to remember that they have never been brought to any competent archeological authority for analysis or dating. Even if they are ancient, there are thousands of years of history that they could be associated with. Even if those artifacts could be securely dated to the time of the Exodus (which they have not been), there is still no guarantee that they would have anything to do with the Exodus. There were hundreds of thousands of chariots and millions of people (and their bones) in the world at that time that had no connection with that Biblical event. The fact that somebody dumped an old chariot in the water is hardly evidence for the Exodus. Finding dozens of chariots would be a more convincing story.
The physical facts of the Exodus, as recorded in the Bible and as required by the lay of the land, make it impossible that the sea crossing was from Eastern Sinai. Remember that the water in the Gulf of Aqaba goes down to 5,000 feet or so below sea level. This would have required them to do mountain climbing to cross the sea, if its foundations were laid bare. Also, there is no mention of miracles of provision before the sea crossing. But they would have desperately needed miracles of provision to get all the way to Eastern Sinai with a mixed multitude of men and women, children and elderly, together with their belongings and animals—all while being chased by Pharaoh and his army. Nor does the Biblical account provide enough time to travel all of this distance. But most important of all, the desert of Shur into which they emerged after the sea crossing was located in Northwest Sinai, not in Saudi Arabia (Exo. 15:22).
Q: Were women baptized (submerged) in the old Jewish
tradition the same as men?
In Acts 16:25-34 it mentions a household being baptized.
That could imply infants as part of a household. They
were baptized after midnight and I doubt they went to
the river. Probably to the nearest well? Which would
Faith as a child is in reality faith without thinking
and therefore it’s faith given from God to the child or
infant. What believing parent would not want their
child baptized, especially when Christ said, suffer
the children to come unto me for of such is the
kingdom of heaven and Mark 10:15 whoever does not
receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by
no means enter it. I believe faith is a gift to
everyone old or young from our heavenly Father.
Baptism is the re-birth, the born again by the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. The baby just born, we are
giving back to God, I think shows thankfulness, hope
and love to the Almighty. —Donn L.
A: Yes, women were submerged in a mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath) in the same way that men were. This was and still remains today an important part of an observant Jewish woman’s life, most commonly related to the completion of her time of the month. The use of the mikveh that most directly led to Christian baptism was immersion for conversion to Judaism. This was a requirement for both men and women desiring to convert to Judaism.
The events in Acts 16 can be interpreted in many different ways. However, since we know that infant baptism was considered something new when it was introduced in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD (as were pouring and sprinkling-type baptisms when they first appeared), it is unlikely that Paul baptized infants that night, or that he used any other method than the traditional Jewish immersion.
As for the location of the baptisms, the fact that the jailer took them someplace to wash their wounds and then to be baptized suggests that it took place outside of the jailhouse (Acts 16:33). That he then, afterwards, brought them into his house also indicates that they were not in his house for the washing and baptisms, but somewhere else (Acts 16:34).
The most likely guess as to where the baptisms took place is the stream outside the city (the Gangites) where there was a place of Jewish prayer (Acts 16:13). These spots were commonly used in place of a synagogue where the Jewish community was too small to have one. The reason a location was chosen by a river was specifically so that the river could be used for ritual immersion, since running or living water was considered better for immersion than stagnant water.
The only other possibility would have been a public bathhouse, where water was commonly available in Roman cities like Philippi. But it seems most unlikely that Paul would have chosen a pagan location like this (with its idols all around) when an established Jewish prayer site was available nearby.
The Hebrew root that comes to us as the English word faith implies an active trust, that is to say, an act of the will. This is impossible in an infant. While you are correct that Jesus does very much want us to bring little children to himself, he did not say this in the context of baptism, but rather of praying for them (Matt. 19:14).
Rather the original Jesus movement, as with John the Baptist before it, was raised up in opposition to the idea that a passive identity with God through the circumstances of one’s birth (having Jewish parents) was enough to be right with God. Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, We have Abraham for our father (Matt. 3:9). Something more was needed to be right with God: a personal and living faith in God’s revelation through the Messiah.
The same applies to Christian children. It is not enough that they have Christian parents and are raised in church. They must also have a personal, living faith in God through Jesus. While it’s true that faith is only possible because of the gift of God’s work in our lives, it is nevertheless a gift that must be responded to and actively embraced.
Baptism is an outward sign of the inner reality of having embraced, by faith, God’s gift to us in Jesus. It is the outward sign of the inward experience of the new birth. This cannot be understood, and therefore cannot be experienced by an infant.
Yet at the same time, it is completely appropriate to respond to God for the gift of newborn children. The Biblical pattern for this response is the dedication (setting apart) of the infant Jesus at the Temple in Luke 2:22-23. This is, in effect, what most mainline churches are doing when they baptize infants. Even according to their own understanding, that baptism doesn’t achieve its full effect until it is confirmed by the child him or herself at an age of understanding (usually when the kids are in their early teens). The earlier dedication (or infant baptism) is an act of the parents, who are indicating their commitment to raise up this child in the ways of the Lord: that is, to do everything they can so that when that child comes of age, he or she will respond to God’s gift with faith and trust.
(For more on this topic, see the index category Baptism.)
Q: Why does Matthew list Joseph’s lineage if he had nothing to do with the birth of the Messiah? —Rob D.
A: The book of Matthew lists Joseph’s genealogy because Joseph was what today we would call the step-father of Jesus, and so his legal (though not biological) descent was through Joseph. This is indicated in the genealogy in Matthew 1, where the pattern of to X was born Y is broken in the case of Jesus. Rather than to Joseph was born Jesus it says that Joseph was the husband of Mary, and that to Mary was born Jesus (Matt. 1:16). This is a delicate but clear way of saying that Joseph was not the father of Jesus.
The genealogy in Luke, which is different than that in Matthew, lists the ancestry of Mary through her father Eli. Here, too, the relationship between Jesus and Joseph is carefully listed as Jesus...being supposedly the son of Joseph, which also indicates that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph (Luke 3:23).