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.