Saturday, August 15, 2009

'Tis the Season to Repent

Thursday night of this week begins a 40-day period known on the Jewish calendar as the Season of Teshuvah. This Hebrew word literally means to turn, as in turn back to G-d from whom we have strayed. In English, we can best translate as the Season Repentance. It starts on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the sixth month of the biblical calendar or the twelfth month on the civil calendar, and ends on Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the year.

This period of Teshuvah should serve as a time of reflection for all of us who follow Messiah Yeshua, whether Jew or Gentile. The words of Haggai the prophet always seem to come to mind at this time of year. His message begins by saying,

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the L-RD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judea, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the High Priest, saying: … “Is this a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this Temple lies in ruins? So now, thus says the L-RD of Hosts, consider your ways! You have sown much but bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink but your thirst is not quenched; you clothe yourselves, yet no one is warmed; and whoever earns wages earns it for a purse with holes. Thus says the L-RD of Hosts, consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:1-7)
Haggai is calling the people to repent. Notice that the day of the year when he spoke just happens to be the first day of the 40-day season of Teshuvah. The timing is no coincidence nor should we consider that the words he spoke were only for his generation. We should let them reach across the millennia to our time and allow them to ring true in our own hearts.

The rabbis have a saying that a man should repent the day before he dies. The man who coined this phrase was Rabbi Eliezer of the late first and early second centuries. His disciples asked how a man can repent the day before he dies since no one knows the day of his death. His reply was that one should repent every day. While his words ring true, the idea of repentance is especially profound at this time of year. Judaism teaches that the Gates of Repentance are wide open during these 40 days.

Another passage of scripture that comes to mind is found in Ezekiel chapter eight. There we find the word of the L-RD coming to the prophet in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month (8:1). Again we see that the time of year just happens to be the 40-day season of Teshuvah. Again, the L-RD is chastising His people. Instead of repenting, we find the women sitting in the Temple of G-d “weeping for Tammuz,” a Babylonian deity, while the men were bowing in worship to the sun, with their backs to the sanctuary (8:14-16), symbolizing that they had turned their backs on G-d.

These words were written as examples, warning us not to set our hearts on evil as they did (1 Corinthians 10:6). How will G-d remember our generation? What words will He pen to record our deeds (Revelation 14:13)? Let us not repeat the mistakes of past generations. Instead, let us set our hearts on serving our Creator. Let us remember that He is the King and we are His servants. As servants, we are called to serve, not to be served. Part of our calling is to regularly examine our ways, admit our mistakes, change the direction in which we are headed, and return to the Holy One. Let us seek His forgiveness and forgive others. In seeking His forgiveness, let us remember that if we have sinned against others, we must first seek their forgiveness, possibly making restitution, before approaching our Heavenly Father for mercy. Finally, let us remember that the blood of Messiah Yeshua shed upon his altar atones for our sins if we trust in His redemptive sacrifice and live faithfully to Him.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Organizing the First Churches

What was life like for 1st century cities in the Roman Empire, such as Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Antioch? To understand the population density of these places, we need to look at cities like Mumbai, India. The overcrowding is beyond anything we have ever seen in the U.S. Imagine the sanitation problems, the lack of running water, flush toilets, and disinfectant, the lack of refrigeration, and the rampant spread of disease, such as typhus, pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, smallpox, and measles. Most houses were nothing more than cramped cubicles stacked one on top of the next and subject to collapse. The average life expectancy for the wealthy was twenty-five years and even less for the poor. The only way to sustain a city’s population under such conditions was through a continual influx of new immigrants.

The constant arrival of strangers by the thousands created an environment where few people knew each other. The newcomers were often uprooted from their families in other parts of the Mediterranean. As a result, many people had no support group, no extended family, and no one to care for them when they became sick. In addition, few outside the Jewish community felt the need to take care of others. As pagans, they had no understanding of “loving one’s neighbor.” To them, the gods needed to be appeased, not obeyed.

The Jews, on the other hand, maintained a close-knit community while living in close proximity to their pagan neighbors. These Gentiles saw the love and compassion displayed among them and were drawn to it. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Paul found many non-Jews gathering in the synagogues he visited. Thousands more were drawn to his message that the G-d of the Jews would accept them as Gentiles if they would abandon idolatry and place their trust in the atoning work of Messiah Yeshua.

Once the Gentiles began to embrace the Jewish Messiah and follow him, they became a part of the Jewish community, not as Jews but as Gentiles. In this new covenantal relationship, they would be expected to immediately abandon idolatry, sexual immorality, certain foods, and the eating of blood (Acts 15:28-29). In addition, the context of Acts 15:21 seems to indicate that the new converts to the faith would be expected to attend synagogue in order to learn the Torah of Moses. As strangers, most of whom were poor, they certainly would have lacked the infrastructure and resources to conduct their own separate meetings. Besides, they first needed to be taught in the ways of G-d.

My assumption is that most Christians have a very different understanding of how the first believers formed into communities. For years, I imagined Paul and other leaders having ready-made church buildings, large and spacious, in which they could gather together; or perhaps they met in someone’s large living room. The problem with this view is that church buildings did not exist in that day, and houses were typically not much larger than dorm rooms.

Besides these logistical issues, one major obstacle stood in their way. The Roman government prohibited all groups from gathering, except those officially recognized as collegia. A collegium was an officially recognized association of like-minded individuals from the same trade, social interest, or religion. Creating a new religious collegium for Christianity would have been next to impossible due to the fact that the population was expected to participate in the local cult worship, which included paying homage to the local deity and participating in the eating of meat sacrificed to it. Furthermore, taking off from work one day out of seven would have been another practice prohibited by the Roman government.

Jews, however, had an exemption from Rome in both these regards. They were not expected to participate in the idolatrous feasts of the city and were allowed to observe the Sabbath. In order to avoid prosecution from government officials, the newcomers had no choice but to join the Jewish community. However, joining them was not a matter of convenience. Doing so was simply understood and expected.

The conclusion I want to draw from this information is that the very first believers were closely tied to the Jewish community. They did not seek to form their own separate collegium. Such efforts did not occur until the beginning of the second century, right after the death of John, the last apostle. Perhaps I’ll discuss that topic at length in a later post.

Formation of Christianity in Antioch
Mystery of Romans
Letter Writer: Paul's Background and Torah Perspective
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is Christianity an Anachronism?

According to the Book of Acts (11:26), the followers of Yeshua were called Christians for the first time in the Syrian city of Antioch. Interestingly, the oldest manuscripts available to us identify this group, not as Christians, but as Chrestians. The fourth century manuscript known as the Sinaiticus is the oldest known collection of the gospels and epistles. Discovered in the mid-nineteenth century, the Biblical Archaeology Society, in 2007, published an article about the importance of this document:

The Codex Sinaiticus is relevant not only for the history of the text of the Septuagint and New Testament, but also for the history of many layers of later revisions to the text made by generations of correctors. These [revisions] range in date from…the 4th century to…the 12th century…[the revisions can be as simple as] the alteration of one letter [or as complex as] the insertion of whole sentences.

The Codex Sinaiticus is therefore the base text against which all other New Testament manuscripts are measured for accuracy. Another ancient text, the fifth century Bezae manuscript, also uses the word Chrestian. These two ancient documents seem to indicate that the inhabitants of Antioch mispronounced the term Christian. The second century historian Seutonius tells us that the edict of the Roman Emperor Claudius, in the year 49, resulted from the trouble-making acts of someone named Chrestus. The Book of Acts makes a reference to this edict, mentioning that Priscilla and Aquila had left Rome because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave (18:2). Scholars are not clear on whether Seutonius mispronounced Christus, like the people in Antioch, or whether a rebellious Jew having the actual name of Chrestus was the real instigator, resulting in Claudius’ actions. Regardless, the fifth century historian Orosius quoted Seutonius and changed the spelling to Christus because he believed that is what Seutonius meant. If Christus is the correct spelling, as Orosius contends, then Claudius banned the Jews on account of the Christians. Personally, I think Orosius made a serious error in judgment and created an anachronism.

An anachronism is an error in historical chronology, assigning people, ideas, technology, etc., to the wrong period. For example, to say, “air travel in the time of ancient Rome,” would be an error in chronology because neither the airplane nor any other form of air travel existed two-thousand years ago. I am suggesting that the term Christian is also anachronistic.

Another second century historian, Tacitus, wrote about Chrestus as the founder of a group of men known as Chrestianos. Later manuscripts, written generations after Tacitus, changed the spelling of these words to Christus and Christianos. Based on this evidence, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), a standard reference for over ninety years, concludes that Chrestian was probably the original designation used by outsiders as a label for the early disciples. What the ISBE seems to be saying is that Gentile outsiders of the first century did not understand the term Christos so they corrected it to Chrestos, a fairly common name in first century Greek. In other words, Chrestian was the label used by uninformed outsiders to refer to the followers of Christ.

At this point a question should be asked. Why should people care that the early believers were called Chrestians and that translators, living hundreds of years after the fact, changed the word to Christian? This question should not be taken lightly. First, the early believers did not call themselves Christians. The word seems to be a derogatory term used by outsiders. Instead, the believers called themselves disciples. Scripture itself confirms what they were called when we compare the frequency of these two words in the Gospels and Epistles. The word Chrestian appears three times while disciple appears over 100 times. Second, Chrestian has no meaning. It is not defined by scripture nor is it a term for the followers of Christ. Third, the term “Chrestian” only evolved into “Christian” hundreds of years after its original usage.

To me, none of these reasons really matter when answering the question. What does matter is that the word Christian is a much later theological term indicating a break from the Jewish past. To the believers of the first century, the word Chrestian made sense as a word to describe the ignorance of those on the outside. Hundreds of years later, after the Gentile believers had long broken away from the Jewish community, the translators read back into the first-century text a fourth, fifth, and sixth century reality that did not exist at the time when the text was originally written. For this reason, I don’t call myself a Christian, choosing instead to be labeled as a disciple. While the distinction might seem trivial to some, to me "disciple" communicates a return to the Jewish roots of the faith and a restoration of the body of Messiah to the nation of Israel.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2007
The Separation of Church and Faith, Volume I

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Time to Weep and a Time to Mourn

Wednesday night of this week begins an important day of mourning on the Jewish calendar. Known as Tisha B’Av, it commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the second temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. The origin of this day, however, precedes these two tragic events by more than 500 years. We are told in Numbers chapter 13 that Moses sent twelve spies from the Wilderness to spy out the Land of Canaan. Verse 21 of this chapter tells us that the time of year was “the season of first ripe grapes.” Therefore, we can place their mission at about mid to late June. Verse 25 tells us that the spies returned from spying out the land forty days later, which would have been late July to early August, precisely the time of year when Tisha B’Av occurs.

So what does the mission of the spies have to do with the destruction of both temples, you might ask. The answer is, plenty. Ten of the spies brought back an evil report (13:27-33), whom the congregation foolishly believed. In response, the entire assembly wept all night, believing they were going to die at the hands of the “giants.” Jewish tradition says that the people wept for no reason, since G-d had delivered the nations of the Land into their hands. Therefore, G-d gave them a reason to weep. History seems to bear witness to this idea since all sorts of evil have fallen upon the Jewish people on this day.

Besides the destruction of the two temples, other events are worth noting.
  • The Israeli town of Betar was destroyed in 132 AD, and Jerusalem's Temple Mount was ploughed under in 133 AD, both at the hands of the Romans in the aftermath of the Bar Kochba rebellion.
  • England expelled all its Jews in 1290.
  • The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
  • The Jews were yet again expelled, this time from Vienna in 1670.
  • World War I began in 1914.
  • Himmler presented his plan for the Nazi Party’s “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem” in 1940.
  • Germany emptied the Warsaw ghetto and sent its Jews to Treblinka in 1942.
  • Saddam Hussein began launching scud missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War in 1990.

What does Tisha B’Av mean for the disciple of Yeshua? Should believers recognize this day on the Jewish calendar? How should the day be observed if we are to keep it?

The body of Messiah is inextricably linked to the nation of Israel, regardless of whether either group accepts this position. Yeshua called his body the kahal (ecclesia, in Greek), a Hebrew word used in reference to the nation of Israel. Paul warned his readers, the grafted-in branches, not to be haughty against the natural branches but to remember that the root supports them, not the other way around (Romans 11:16-24). Neither of these men presented a separate “church” to either replace or to exist alongside Israel. In contrast, Yeshua spoke of his body as comprising the faithful remnant of Israel (Matthew 7:13-14; 22:14; Luke 13:23). Paul added the non-Jewish disciple into this group. To distinguish the two peoples, I would classify the former as Israel Proper and the latter as Greater Israel.

Since the non-Jewish believer is tied to Israel through the Messiah, in my opinion, he should identify with the people of Israel in the same way Ruth did (Ruth 1:16-17). Observing Tisha B’Av is certainly a way of identifying and connecting with the Jewish people. Orthodox Jews take this day very seriously, sitting in mourning as one would do so for a near relative who passed away. Romans 12:15 says to “weep with those who weep.” Similarly, Yeshua said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Some believers might be tempted to say that we don’t need a temple because we have Yeshua. Why then should we mourn for its loss? Like it or not, we will have a third temple as the prophet Ezekiel clearly states (Ezekiel 43:1-15), as Isaiah makes plain (Isaiah 2:2-4), and as the prophet Daniel implies (Daniel 9:27). Furthermore, such thinking betrays ignorance about the purpose of the temple. The prophet Isaiah said that the temple is G-d’s house and a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7), not just the Jewish people. As the caretakers of the house, the Jewish people had an enormous responsibility for maintaining its purity. Unfortunately, they defiled it through baseless hatred, which ultimately led to its destruction (Yoma 9b). That doesn’t mean, however, that G-d has no desire for a new temple or that He has written off His people. On the contrary, He has restored His people to their Land. Similarly, He will restore the Temple to its rightful place.

Having a Temple in no way changes the fact that Yeshua is Messiah. He is our atoning sacrifice, so no animal will ever again atone for sin. Future sacrifices will simply remind us of the tremendous price that he paid to obtain the redemption of all mankind.

To keep the day, believers can fast from just before sundown Wednesday, July 29 through just after sundown July 30. Other traditions include:

  • Refraining from studying Torah (The reason behind this practice comes from Psalm 19:9, which says, “The statutes of Hashem are upright, rejoicing the heart.” One who is in mourning is not allowed to rejoice.)
  • Reading the book of Lamentations
  • No bathing or washing
  • No anointing oneself with oil
  • No wearing of shoes or fine clothing
  • Sleeping on the floor
  • Sitting on the floor or on a low stool until midday

At a minimum, the disciples of Yeshua should remember the day by praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). What are your thoughts on this subject?

The Book of Our Heritage, Volume 3

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Missing Link

In my blog post, “Was Paul the Founder of Christianity,” I pointed out that a number of key passages from Paul’s Epistles were mistranslated into modern English, reflecting “a Christian bias” on the part of the translators. I mentioned that “dozens of examples” could be cited, but provided only one. In this posting, I would like to give another example. My intent is not to slam the translators. They have a tough job choosing the appropriate English words to convey an accurate reflection of someone communicating to an audience within a culture from 2000 years ago. They must rely on their knowledge of ancient Greek, ancient Hebrew, cultural norms of the time, the political climate of the day, colloquial terms, historical events, ancient technology, archaeological evidence, and much more. Furthermore, the translators of the Gospels and Epistles must be fully versed in the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Torah and Prophets), and Targumim (Aramaic translations of the scriptures).

As you can see, simply knowing Greek is not sufficient. Being a biblical translator requires a unique set of skills. Therefore, I want to qualify my criticism of their work since I certainly don’t meet that long list of qualifications. Instead, I’ve had to rely on the expertise of others. Making no claims of having superior knowledge, let’s examine a new example.

The passage I want to review is found in Hebrews 8:6. The second part of this verse typically reads, “the covenant of which he is mediator, is founded on better promises.” The English word “founded” comes from the Greek nenomothetêtai. We find this word in only one other place, occurring in Hebrews 7:11. There we find a parenthetical statement that typically reads, “through it the people received the Law.” The same nenomothetêtai appears in this phrase, translated as “received the Law.” Why do so many translators of the 7:11 verse bring out the word “Law” from the Greek but ignore it in Hebrews 8:6? Perhaps one of them will read this post and respond.

The word under review here is actually a compound word in the Greek, composed of nomos (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Torah) and tithêmi (meaning put, place, or make). We could perhaps view it as “Law-Giver.” What I find a little too disturbing is the fact that only half of the compound word is translated in Hebrews 8:6. Again, the question is why the omission. Let’s bring it out and see how the meaning of the verse might change. Here are some possibilities:

  • The covenant…has made law on better promises.
  • The covenant…has received the Law on better promises. [taking a cue from 7:11]
  • The covenant…has been legally given on better promises.
  • The covenant…has been established as the Law on better promises.

Of these, the possibility that makes the most sense to me is the last one. The author (Paul, in my opinion) seems to be connecting Yeshua to Moses. Just as the Covenant of Moses was given in the form of the Torah on Mount Sinai, so the New Covenant is given in the form of Torah from Mount Zion. Moses himself said, “Out of your midst, Hashem your G-d will raise up a prophet like me, from your brethren; to him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). For those who accept him, Yeshua is the prophet like Moses. Therefore, we should be able to compare them to each other. Just as Moses gave us the Torah, so Yeshua affirms the Torah, albeit with necessary alterations to Levitical emphasis. Accordingly, we should not be surprised to learn that the word for “New” Covenant, in both the Hebrew and Greek, does not mean something brand new but rather something rebuilt. Thus, the English would be better translated as Renewed Covenant because the New Covenant is really a renewal of the old, not a replacement for it.

The inclusion of this one word radically alters the meaning of the verse and goes against at least 1,700 years of Christian teaching. Such tradition is so ingrained in the hearts and minds of Christians that I can see why translators may be reluctant to reveal it. Out of a dozen or so translations I’ve read, only two translate the nomos half of nenomothetêtai. The first is the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the other is the Jewish New Testament (JNT). Of these two, Holman waters down the translation, stating the covenant was “legally enacted.” In my opinion, nomos in this instance is a noun, not an adjective. Only the JNT clearly identifies nomos as referring to Torah. There we read, “For this covenant has been given as Torah on the basis of better promises.” Put in this light, the prophet Isaiah’s declaration in 2:3 suddenly has new meaning. There we read, “For from Zion will the Torah go forth and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.”

Holman Christian Standard Bible
Jewish New Testament
Jewish New Testament Commentary

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lost in Translation

Throughout nearly all Christian-published Bibles, I find the word Law used over and over again. What does this word mean? In the Gospels and Epistles, the English word "law" is translated from the Greek word "nomos." In the Hebrew scriptures, law is usually translated from the Hebrew word torah. Nomos and law are very similar in meaning. However, Torah means much more than law. It connotes instruction or teaching. It originates from the Hebrew word yarah, which means to throw or shoot, in the sense of an archer aiming for his target. Yarah can also be defined as laying a foundation. The Torah is the teacher aiming for the student's heart, the bullseye. It also the foundation upon which we should build our very lives.

The English "law" falls short of conveying this sense. Fortunately, we have a wonderful tool for associating Greek words with their Hebrew counterparts. It's called the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek during the third century B.C. The name Septuagint (pronouced sep-te-jent) means seventy, so named because of the seventy Hebrew sages conscripted by Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt to translate the scriptures into Greek for his famous library at Alexandria.

The seventy scholars realized that many important Hebrew words would not translate well to Greek, causing a loss of meaning. Torah was one of those words. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, they designated certain Greek words to serve as markers for the Hebrew original. The marker words would serve as a reminders to the reader to ignore the literal Greek sense and to apply the Hebrew meaning instead. Nomos served as one of these markers. Other examples include Christos, corresponding to the Hebrew Mashiach and ecclesia, corresponding to the Hebrew kahal.

The Apostolic writers were aware of this approach and likely meant to convey the same sense to their audiences. They certainly quoted often from the Septuagint, leading me to draw such a conclusion. Modern biblical translators, at least non-Jewish ones, seem to be unaware of this custom. Their omission is understandable in translating the Gospels and Epistles, although I wish they would overcome this weakness. What I don't understand, however, is why these modern scholars, when translating the Torah and Prophets, favor the English word Law over the better choices of Teaching and Instruction. One would think that they were translating from the Septuagint instead of the original Hebrew. The practice has become so entrenched, that I'm beginning to think it betrays an anti-Judaic bias on the part of the translators.

Separation of Church and Faith, Vol. 1
Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon
501 Hebrew Verbs

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Separation of Church and the Jewish State

As a born again Christian twenty years ago, I believed that Yeshua (known as Jesus in most circles) came to earth in order to establish his Church. While I may have rephrased this idea by saying he came to establish his kingdom or that he came to redeem us from sin, my interpretation of “establishing the kingdom” was equivalent to “building the Church.” Likewise, I maintained that sinners are saved into the Church. Furthermore, I saw the Church as a separate entity alongside Israel.

An honest examination of the Apostolic scriptures reveals that this position was simply wrong. Yeshua does have a community of followers, which the scriptures call the 'ecclesia' in Greek. To understand ecclesia, one must go back to the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek during the third century B.C. This valuable compilation is the key for translating much of the Apostolic writings into English. We do this by matching up Greek words from the gospels and epistles with their counterparts in the Septuagint. From there we can take them back to their original Hebrew antecedents. The word ecclesia appears often in the Septuagint. Taking it back to its Hebrew source, we find that it is used to translate the Hebrew word kahal, which means congregation, assembly, or community. More importantly, it refers to the congregation of Israel.

We also know from many passages in the gospels that Yeshua preached to the people of Israel but not the other nations. While only a small percentage of the Jewish people received him, these Jewish disciples, who made up Yeshua's ecclesia, nevertheless remained a part of their nation. When looking at the lives of the believers, we find some astounding evidence that they remained actively involved in daily Jewish life. For example, Acts 2:46 tells us that the disciples met daily in the Temple courtyards. We find later that Peter and John went to the Temple at the hour of the afternoon prayers (Acts 3:1), the same hour that all other observant Jews would be gathering to pray. Years later, Jacob (James), the head of the community of believers worldwide, made a revealing statement to Paul when he came to Jerusalem at the Jewish festival of Shavuot / Pentecost. He said in Acts 21:20, "You see brother, how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Judeans, and they are all zealots for the Torah."

A number of questions immediately come to mind from these passages. If Yeshua called his "Church" out of Israel, why did they continue to meet at the Temple at all, much less at the set times of prayer? Why did Paul hurry to be at Jerusalem in time for the festival (Acts 20:16) if not for the reason commanded in the Torah (Exodus 23:14-17). Finally, why did they continue to be zealous for the Law of Moses? Surely, they were not being disobedient, else how could they legitimately be called "believers."

While these questions plagued me another question puzzled me even more. How do the answers to the previous questions impact the believers from among the Gentiles? We live in an era when over 99% of Yeshua’s disciples are non-Jewish. In my former way of thinking, the answers to such questions were irrelevant simply because the body of Messiah had clearly become a Gentile entity. Again, examining the scriptures more closely, I discovered that the Good News of Messiah Yeshua did not spread to the Gentiles for another 15 years after the events of Shavuot / Pentecost in Acts 2. Once the message did go to them, however, they too were to be brought into the nation, i.e., the kahal or ecclesia, of Israel (Acts 10:47-48). Nevertheless, they were not to replace Israel nor were they to become Jews.

In fact, what to do with these non-Jews became a hotly debated issue in the first century, with some saying they must become Jews and others saying they should simply be grouped with a class of people known as the G-d fearers (Acts 15:1-11). The decision reached by the Jerusalem Council was that they not undergo full conversion. Instead, they were given a set of starting commandments (Acts 15:19-20) and instructed to attend synagogue where they would learn Torah (Acts 15:21).

Finally, in my quest to learn where the concept of the Church as a separate and distinct entity originated, I found that it began to be seriously proposed in the early second century, shortly after John, the last Apostle, passed away. Once the apostles were all dead, non-Jewish leaders in the community of disciples began actively seeking to separate themselves from the Jewish community, which until that time likely operated under the auspices of the Jewish community leaders (Matthew 23:2-3; Romans 13:1-7 [The "authorities" mentioned by Paul in Romans 13:1 are not Roman government officials as commonly taught by Christians, but rather the recognized Jewish community leaders empowered by Rome.]).

Once the separation became final about 200 years later, the concept of Church as the New Israel became accepted orthodoxy. After the Reformation of the 16th century, new denominations sprang up which modified their stance toward Israel. Instead of seeing the Church as a replacement for Israel, they saw the Church and Israel as two separate groups, both having a place in G-d’s eternal plan. That was the view I held for years. Since then, I have come to realize that scripture views the body of Messiah, i.e., the ecclesia, as a part of Israel. The Jewish believers comprise the faithful remnant of the Nation while the non-Jewish believers comprise what I have termed Greater Israel, much like the mixed multitude that left Egypt with the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In my view, the very word "Church" makes little sense because its modern-day definition is so radically different from the context of ecclesia. Defining Yeshua's ecclesia as part of the overall kahal of Israel seems logical to me, especially in light of Zechariah 14:9, which says, “Hashem will be King over all the earth. On that day, Hashem will be one and His name one.” At the time he penned those words, only Israel uttered Zechariah’s reference to Deuteronomy 6:4, considered the watchword of Israel. He foresaw a time when all nations would embrace these words as their own with Messiah as their king. In so doing, the whole world will fall under the dominion of Israel.

The Separation of Church and Faith, Volume One by Dan Gruber
The Mystery of Romans by Mark Nanos
The Formation of Christianity in Antioch by Magnus Zetterholm
Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Was Paul the Founder of Christianity?

A common belief within mainstream Judaism today is that Christianity is a religion founded by Paul. He is viewed by many modern-day rabbis as an apostate Jew who taught the Gentiles that they don't need Torah because the Torah is cursed and those who follow it are under a curse. When reading Paul, one can very easily make that inference. For many years I held that same opinion. However, here are some inconsistencies that are often overlooked or ignored by that way of thinking:
  1. Paul made a nazirite vow for which he went to the Temple in Jerusalem at Shavuot (Pentecost) to fulfill (Acts 18:18; 20:16; 21:17-26; 24:17). In so doing, Jacob (James) told him that everyone will know that he keeps the Torah (Acts 21:24).

  2. His normal practice was to keep the Sabbath (Acts 13:13-15; 13:44; 16:13; 17:2; 20:7).

  3. He had Timothy circumcised because his mother was Jewish (Acts 16:3).

  4. He obeyed the Jerusalem council decision of Acts 15 when he delivered the council's mandate to the Gentile followers of Yeshua (Acts 16:4).

  5. He observed the week of Unleavened Bread, not traveling until after those days were completed (Acts 20:5).

  6. Jacob (James) and the other apostles accepted him into their ranks (Acts 15:4; 21:17-20; 2Peter 3:15-16).

  7. Paul continued to claim to be a Pharisee after coming to accept Yeshua as the Messiah (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5).

These inconsistencies have caused many to question the conventional interpretation of Paul. Two recent books challenge that way of thinking by offering a well-reasoned case to see Paul in a new light. Space does not permit me to give a summary. Instead, the titles will have to suffice. They are:

  • The Mystery of Romans by Mark Nanos
  • The Formation of Christianity in Antioch by Magnus Zetterholm

These books are well worth reading. Others have pointed out problems with Gentile translations of Paul's letters - interpretations that reflect a Christian bias. Dozens of examples can be cited, but one in particular provides a good illustration. In Romans 10:4, the typical Christian translation says, "Christ is the end of the Law...." The underlying Greek text actually says, "Messiah is the goal of the Torah...."

Whole commentaries could be written on these mistranslations. No wonder Judaism has such a problem with Paul. Perhaps I'll wrote more on this topic later.

To answer my own original question, Paul was not the founder of Christianity. Christianity is a man-made distortion of the teachings of Yeshua. Perhaps we can lay this honor at the feet of Ignatius, second century bishop of Antioch. He seemed to be the first to agitate for a separation from the Jewish community. Others followed his lead until the final separation occurred in the year 325 at the Council of Nicea.