Book Review: The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus

However, my understanding of who Yeshua was as an historical person has changed.  I once thought of him to be a usurper who came to do away with Torah. Yet the more I study the Hebrew Matthew, the more I find that whenever Jesus seems to be doing away with Torah in the Greek, Yeshua ends up upholding Torah in the Hebrew.

Nehemia Gordon
The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus p. 71-72

This book was recommended to me by a trusted friend, whom knows I am working to digest as much information as I can comprehend and absorb, on a journey that started about a year and a half ago.  I’ve started to question everything and seek verifiable answers in scripture, based on the historical and cultural relevance of when those scriptures were written.

To be forthright, Nehemia Gordon is a Karaite Jewish man, who does not believe Yeshua is the prophesied messiah.  However, he has a respect for those seeking truth and maintains some friendships with Torah observant Christians.  A couple of these friends asked him for some translation help with some confusing text written in Matthew..

It all started when my friend Michael Rood, a Messianic teacher, asked me what I thought of Matthew 23:1-3.  Michael explained that in this passage Yeshua told his disciples to obey the Pharisees because they teach with authority.  At first I told Michael that as a Karaite I stick to the Tanach and therefore I did not really have an opinion on the matter.  Michael asked me if I could nevertheless use my scholarly training to help him understand this test.  I hold a degree in Archaeology and Biblical studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked for several years on the Dead Sea Scroll Publication Project, the official publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  So Michael figured I could use these skill to try and shed some light on the book of Matthew.

-ibid p.2

One of the frustrating issues I have discovered is that each Bible translation has some differences.  Sometimes these differences may be inconsequential and other times they are so different that the meaning of a passage can be read entirely different.  Many are aware of the King James controversy surrounding Acts 12:4, in which the word Easter was used to replace the word Passover.  Or the trinity reference in 1 John.  These are minor to some, or major issues to others. Either way, it can really affect a reader by causing a separation from the original Jewish author and the modern-day reader.  There are several examples similar to this, and the King James edition is not the only culprit.

At first I believed these were innocent mistakes based on the interpreters language skills, cultural background, or even their attempt to interpret difficult passages while expressing their best guess of the intent of the scripture.  The problem is that when these passages are changed through poor interpretation, whether mistaken or intentional to pursue an agenda or bias towards a certain theology, the entire meaning of all scripture change.  Very rarely anymore does anyone studying scripture only use one verse as the basis for an entire theology.  Scriptures are referenced, cross referenced, combined, compared, and grouped into similar messages.  One small change can have a ripple effect, touching several other passages.

It is fairly common knowledge that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament has been presumed to have been written in Greek.

After a few grueling weeks immersed in New Testament Greek, I was no closer to an answer than when I started. So what if the book of Matthew had been written in Hebrew or had Hebrew sources?! As fascinating as this was, how did this help me understand Matthew 23:2-3? I went back to my colleague at the university and he confessed he had left out the most important part.  My colleague explained that not only did some scholars believe that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, but a version of the Hebrew Matthew has survived to this day.

-ibid p.35-36

Earlier, Gordon explained that the Greek version of Matthew was full of Hebrewisms (p. 33).  A Hebrewism is what scholars consider an awkward translation, typically into Greek, in which a common Hebrew phrase or idea sounds awkward or loses meaning after translation.  Any of you with teenagers should understand this. chinese-sign When a teenager says, “That car stereo is sick,” we understand that sick is slang for awesome.  Imagine someone who only understands English as a second language and does not have the experience of street slang.  They could translate into their language as, “That car stereo has an illness.” No doubt, many, if not all of us have seen funny pictures of ill translated signs from around the globe.

 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Matthew 23:1-3 (KJV)

The awkwardness of this passage, for many that have tried to study this, is to understand the overall message of what Yeshua is trying to teach.  The commonly accepted understanding is that Yeshua was teaching his disciples to recognize the Pharisees because they are in authority, and follow what they teach, but do not follow the hypocrisy of their examples.

I won’t rewrite his analysis of the translation, but Gordon explains the mistakes made in translation by presenting the Hebrew version and re-translating.  The summary of Gordon’s analysis is that Yeshua was not necessarily supporting the Pharisees as being in a position of authority, but he was stating that if their claim to authority is that they sit in Moses’ seat, then diligently do what Moses says! (p.48) 

While this  review is not going to do justice to the full content of Gordon’s analysis, the point I hope to get across is that he does a thorough job of breaking down the text, and even more so, making a strong case why Hebrew was the original language.  For anyone curious about the origin of scriptures and their meaning, or perhaps seeking validation that Yeshua’s message has been subtly distorted from Judaism over the years, Gordon’s book is an eye opener.

Galatians – Part 2 – Running in vain

In the previous post, I established that Paul wrote this letter prior to the Jerusalem Council.  I also made a statement that I disagree Paul was breaking free from Judaism or challenging Jewish leadership.

 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Galatians 2:2 (ESV)

What did Paul mean by run in vain?  Have you’ve ever watched a marathon or race on TV, such as the Olympics?  If you watch long enough, at some point it is common to see the race participants spread out as the reach their own pace.  Imagine watching the race and one of the participants veers off course, yet continues to run as if still in the race.  The helicopter zooms out and shows this lone runner well off course, but smiling as thought he is thinking, “There’s no one else in sight.  I can’t believe how far ahead I am!”  When the reality is that he is so far off course that he’s not even in the race any longer and thus, running in vain.

There is more than one account of Paul submitting to authority.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:1-2 (ESV)

Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

Acts 21:26 (ESV)

It is worth remembering that Paul was a disciple of Gamaliel and considered a zealous Pharisee.  For Jews, submitting to authority was and is paramount.  Whether he was seeking permission from the high priest or agreeing to a purification ceremony to prove his Torah observance, he submitted to authority.  The idea that in the middle of his ministry he would challenge or turn his back on authority, is inconsistent with the scripture accounts of his character.

and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Galatians 2:9 (ESV)

Paul describes a meeting that he had with three leaders; James, Cephas (Peter), and John.  If you aren’t already familiar with a beit din, I would recommend you follow that link and do some research.  Essentially a beit din is a leadership council, typically of three rabbis that would render decisions based on scripture interpretation.  I would also encourage you to read about the Jewish meaning of binding and loosing, which Yeshua mentions in Matthew 18:18.  If someone had a question about how a scripture passage should be applied, they would typically ask their rabbi.  If the rabbi was unsure of or wanted to confirm the answer he would request a ruling from the beit din.  If the beit din disagreed with the answer or interpretation, they would bind (forbid) the interpretation.  Contrarily, if they agreed with the interpretation, they would loose (permit) the interpretation.  Again, understanding context is critical.

Paul accounts that the beit din added nothing to his teaching and gave him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship to continue teaching the Gentiles. Despite a common perspective that Paul was breaking away from Judaism to create something new or different, the evidence does not support that.  Paul describes a scenario, in which he knew he needed validation from leadership that what he was teaching was not contradictory to scripture.   He knew if the beit din of James, Cephas, and John ruled against him, no matter how right he felt he was, he would not be considered a reliable rabbi, nor would he be welcome to teach in synagogues.  He would not have had the support of the Jerusalem leadership.

Paul may have challenged authority, by presenting his vision and arguing his case using scripture.  However, he was still submitting to authority and I believe he would have respectfully lived with their decision in the same way David submitted to King Saul, even when he knew the king was wrong (1 Samuel 24).  It just turned out that the beit din agreed with his interpretation and permitted his ministry to continue.

Galatians – Part 1 – When did Paul write this letter?

To some, this post is going to seem tedious, unimportant, or possibly more complicated than it needs to be.  For me, this was just the beginning of unraveling common misunderstandings or misinterpreted passages in Paul’s letter. When reading commentary about Galatians, I found the common understanding was that this letter was written after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 and Paul’s reference in the chapter 2 about going to Jerusalem is an account of him challenging the authority of the council, thus breaking away from his old Jewish ways or turning his back on Jewish authority.  I find this account wrong, and unsupported in scripture.  I spent days flipping between Galatians and Acts comparing the timelines and accounts to figure this out.  I believe I have a legitimate and accurate account of Paul’s timeline, and I believe by reading Paul’s letter correctly, we see him submitting to authority rather than challenging or turning his back.  This post will flip back and forth a lot between Galatians and Acts.

As a diversion, before I even get started, I learned something interesting while writing that is unrelated to the timeline.  If one looks at a traditional map of where Paul travelled, he was always north of Jerusalem, yet in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 he wrote that he “went up” to Jerusalem and in Acts 9:30 “they brought him down to Caesarea,” which is north of Jerusalem.  This confused me until I learned that in Hebrew, when referencing a trip to Jerusalem, the word aliyah is used, which means to go up.  Thus, regardless of where you are in relation to Jerusalem, you will always go up or when you leave, go down.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to Destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:15-24 (ESV)

Unfortunately the writers of this time did not provide date stamps in their letters.  That sure would have made it a lot easier for us!  Paul provided a short synopsis of what occurred over about a three-year period.  He sawYeshua while traveling to Damascus, spent about 3 years in the area, then traveled to Jerusalem and met with Cephas (Peter) and James, brother of Yeshua.

I compared Paul’s brief account to Luke’s account in the book of Acts.

But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul.  They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Acts 9:22-25 (ESV)

Along with Acts 9:1-21, this corresponds with Paul’s account of spending time in Damascus after his vision.

And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists, but they were seeking to kill him.  And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Acts 9:26-30 (ESV)

While Luke does not provide a time frame of how long Paul was in Damascus until his visit to Jerusalem, in Acts 9:26, I believe this corresponds with Paul’s account in Galatians 1:18, which he wrote after three years.  So far, so good.  Pretty simple comparison and the timeline accounts correlate.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Galatians 2:1-2 (ESV)

Keep in mind that Paul is providing a timeline as part of his testimony.  He is establishing credibility with the readers of his letter by providing details and names that can be verified by others.  With that said, Paul claims that he went to Jerusalem for a few days and met only with Cephas and James.  In his next sentence he states “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem.” He doesn’t provide a record of what he did during those fourteen years, but the way in which he wrote this implies that the next time he went to Jerusalem was fourteen years later.  If, in Galatians 2, Paul is referring to his trip to Jerusalem regarding the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council, it seems inconsistent with Luke’s historical and chronological account because Luke mentions Paul going back to Jerusalem between those visits.  If we flip back to where we left off in Acts 9, the next time Luke mentions Paul is Acts 11:19-30.

Paul mentions that he went back to Jerusalem “because of a revelation.” What revelation?  Is Paul talking about his revelation when he met Yeshua on the road to Damascus?  That just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Earlier in Acts 9:27, Barnabas already vouches for Paul and retells the story of Paul’s vision of Yeshua.  Why, fourteen years later, would Paul feel the need to go back to Jerusalem and explain his revelation?

I believe the revelation that Paul is speaking of is one of two things.  Either he is referring to Peter’s vision and subsequent understanding of that vision that salvation is also available to Gentiles (Acts 10 & 11), or, more than likely, he is referring to the prophecy mentioned in Acts 11:28 of Agabus’ vision of a famine because of Paul’s reference to remember the poor in Galatians 2:10.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 11:27-30 (ESV)

Paul is in Antioch at the time Agabus prophesied that a famine was coming, so the disciples took up a collection and sent Paul and Barnabas to deliver it.   The next mention in Acts of Paul is the last verse of chapter 12.

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Acts 12:25 (ESV)

Other than a brief mention that Paul and Barnabas bring a collection, then leave Jerusalem some time later.

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Galatians 2:10 (ESV)

Paul makes a specific mention about remembering the poor, which completely correlates to the account given in Acts 11:30 about going to Jerusalem with a donation because of an impending famine.

My conclusion is that Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

If you have followed along up to now, here’s the point.  When trying to understand some of this, I found a common theme in a lot of commentary that considered Paul’s explanation at the beginning of Galatians chapter 2 as him taking a stand against Judaism and starting the Christian church.  Instead of an act of rebellion, I believe Paul was sincerely following Jewish protocol and seeking validation from leadership.  Instead of breaking away from his Jewishness, he was embracing it and following protocol.

Galatians – About the Author

In order to understand my perspective of Galatians, one must understand my perspective of the author.  After all, I am attempting to put myself in the shoes of the author as much as possible, two thousand years later, in order to decipher one of his letters.  I was not raised with the beliefs I currently hold.  I was raised believing that The Church had essentially replaced Israel as the chosen people.  Therefore, I always read the Bible from that perspective.  After my revelation, when I read scripture, I viewed it through a different lens.  One significant conflict I had to work through when I read anything written by Paul, I struggled with inconsistency between what I was taught vs what I read on the page.  Prior to studying and consequently teaching Galatians for an adult Bible study, I decided to get to know Paul better and understand his character, personality, and attempt to reconcile seemingly contradictory statements he made.  There are numerous books written about Paul, of which I had not read until recently.  When formulating my understanding of Paul, I did so with an ESV bible and a lot of prayer.  Since that study, I found a great article written from the same perspective I developed on my own.

This is the result when we approach Paul from our side of the time line. We live after the triumph of Christianity and the final parting of ways between Jews and Christians. Paul did not. Yet we bring that post-Pauline framework with us when we read him. And that framework has determined how we read him—at least until a few decades ago, when a number of scholars began to offer a new view of Paul.

Consider what would happen if, for just a moment, we were to consider Paul’s letters from the other side of the time line, from Paul’s time instead of our own. What would happen if we threw into doubt the triumph of Christianity in Paul’s time, or even the notion of the final split between Jews and Christians?  Or—since we have started to ask tough questions about our assumptions—what would happen if we were to recall (here I am not inventing but simply describing) that in Paul’s time there was no Bible other than the Hebrew Bible, no New Testament, or even any idea of a New Testament, and no Christianity, or even any idea of Christianity? What difference would it make to our reading of Paul if we were to bring these assumptions, this framework with us when we read his letters? The result is not just a minor adjustment here or there on the fringes of the old image. What I and others have been arguing is that the old image, the image that has been 100 percent dominant from Paul’s day to our own, is 100 percent wrong, from top to bottom, from start to finish.

John G. Gager
Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity (p.6-7)
Biblical Archaeological Society
biblicalarchaeology.org

Gager’s position described my own when I was trying to reconcile inconsistencies between Paul’s letters.  To any believer, it is a requirement that scripture can not contradict itself.  Otherwise, we can not rely on it as an absolute truth to guide our lives.  If that is true, then how was it possible for Paul to make pro-law and anti-law statements?  How was it possible for Paul to write against the law, yet continue to observe the Sabbath, travel to Jerusalem for festivals, engage in a Nazarite vow of cleansing, and defend himself as law-abiding when accused otherwise?  Either my previous assumptions about Paul were wrong, or Paul was a complete hypocrite, speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

What if the last two thousand years of history and doctrine has adjusted our position of what Paul was attempting to say?  Is it possible that if we view Paul from a different lens, a lens from his perspective in history, that what Paul meant was completely removed from how his words are read today?  Prior to reading Gager’s position, I attempted to reconcile these questions on my own, simply by digging into scripture and finding what I considered to be contradictions.  I will not spend a lot of time here outlining the contradictions.  Instead, I am going to paint a picture of the Paul I found in scripture by seeking words from his pen and how some of Paul’s life was recorded by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul authored nearly half of the New Testament books.  Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon.  It is easy to determine which letters Paul wrote because he introduced himself in the beginning of each one.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (Romans 11:13 ESV)

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8 ESV)

Arguably the father of many Christian church doctrines because he was the self-proclaimed apostle to the Gentiles and each of his letters ring a certain theme of teaching directed towards Gentiles.

I am not sure where I heard the claim that Saul’s name was changed to Paul after his vision of Yeshua as a method to separate himself from Judaism.  This subtle assumption may seem inconsequential, but it does provide a pinch of understanding that scripture can be misread so easily.  Acts 13:9 simply reads Saul, who was also called Paul. The simple understanding here is that in Hebrew, he would have been called Rav Sha’ul or Rabbi Saul.  Paul is the Greek equivalent of the name Saul in the same way that Yeshua is the Hebrew equivalent to Jesus in the Greek.  Odds are much higher that Paul referred to himself with his Greek name because his mission field was primarily Greek speaking territory. Other than the name he used or what we call him today, who was Paul?

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

Romans 11:1 (ESV)

Paul, being an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, was potentially named after King Saul, also from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21).  Being named after King Saul is purely speculation, but would not be uncommon.

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

Philippians 3:5 (ESV)

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 

Acts 23:6 (ESV)

Paul was proud of who he was.   Clinging to his Pharisee status, with pride, well into his ministry.  It is important to recognize a common misconception among New Testament readers.  All Pharisees were not bad.  Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were different sects within Judaism.  Similar to Christian denominations, Judaism has sects which have different understandings of how to interpret or uphold scripture.  The common Christian understanding is that all Pharisees were bad because of the snapshot portrayed in scripture.  Being a Pharisee wasn’t bad in itself, in fact there are a few good examples in scripture.  That, however, is an entirely different topic which I may write about in the future.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

Acts 22:3 (ESV)

Being trained by Rabbi Gamaliel would have been an incredible honor.  Rabbi Gamaliel was very well-known, highly influential, and to be a disciple of him would have meant Paul was extremely well-educated. (As an honorable mention, but unrelated to this post, do not forget that Gamaliel, although not a messianic believer, was a Pharisee and the voice of reason on the Sanhedrin that saved the Apostles.  Acts 5:34-39).

So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Acts 22:27-29 (ESV)

Historically, Roman citizenship meant high status. It could be obtained by being born in a Roman territory of parents that were citizens, serving in their military, adoption, or by purchasing the citizenship. Simply living or being born in a Roman territory did not grant citizenship.  The idea that Paul was born a citizen, and that his parents were Jewish, implies that someone in his lineage was able to purchase their citizenship.  His Roman citizenship probably held significance in respect to him being able to move and teach within these territories without as much fear of persecution.  As seen above, Roman citizens were not as susceptible to legal retribution or punishment.  Obviously this changed during the time of his ministry, but it allowed him to have a far-reaching effect.

Finally, I feel the need to establish a pattern of Paul’s character and obedience to God and the Torah (law).  I believe that this is the single most important key to reading Paul’s letters accurately.  One of the most argued positions regarding Paul’s letters is his stance on the law.

And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. (Acts 21:20-24 ESV)

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets (Acts 24:14 ESV)

Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” (Acts 25:8)

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12 ESV)

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being (Romans 7:22 ESV)

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:25 ESV)

Each passage above shows a consistent pattern of Paul defending the Torah.  Many readers have interpreted Paul’s writing to mean that the law was no longer required.  Many have even interpreted Paul’s writing to mean that the ceremonial portion of the law should not be observed.  Specifically Sabbath observance, dietary laws, and the biblical festivals.  I argue that Paul’s lesson is not that the law is no longer required, no longer important, or even no longer necessary.  I argue that Paul’s lesson is that salvation does not come through the law.  If one is capable of setting aside preconceived ideas about the grace vs law debate, and reading Paul’s letters from the perspective that Paul is teaching that salvation comes through grace, and not teaching against Torah observance, scripture makes a lot more sense.

Consider this point:  If Paul truly taught against observing the law or in some way was attempting to teach that Torah observance was not required, not necessary, or even worse, should be abandoned, isn’t Paul the biggest liar and hypocrite?  Consider the conflicting message.  In several passages, Paul defends the law.  Luke recorded in Acts, Paul defending himself, claiming to follow the law.  James, also recorded in Acts, believed and defended to others that Paul lived according to the law.  Paul himself, in Romans claims the law is holy and should be upheld.  Either Paul was lying and had others fooled, or Paul truly maintained Torah observance.  Scripture simply will not contradict itself.

but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. (Acts 13:14 ESV)

As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. (Acts 13:42 ESV)

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2 ESV)

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 ESV)

but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. (Acts 20:6 ESV)

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16 ESV)

Several references that Luke recorded throughout the book of Acts provide evidence that Paul observed the Sabbath and made the festivals a priority for his travel.   All of this must be taken into consideration when reading Paul’s letters.

From my perspective, by reading scripture, Paul was a well-educated Jewish man, from a proud Pharisaic family, trained by the prominent Rabbi Gamaliel, who loved God, and forsook all that he had to carry out a mission spreading the gospel to the nations.  He lived a Torah observant life and refuted anyone that accused otherwise.

I repeat Peter’s warning that Paul is difficult to understand and his words easily twisted.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

2 Peter 3:15-17 (ESV)

When deciphering anything that Paul wrote, I will maintain the assumption that Paul was Torah observant and would have expected his readers to know that.  He also would not have been hypocritical and taught contrary to his lifestyle.

Galatians – Introduction

About a year ago I started waking up about 3 am every morning and was unable to sleep.  I felt wide awake, but frustrated knowing my alarm would go off in a couple of hours.  I would dread the sound of the alarm and would dwell on the thought of how tired I was going to be.  Each night, for three or four nights, I would toss and turn trying to will myself to sleep.  I couldn’t shut my brain off.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  This seemed odd to me since I had not really paid much attention to it before.  After a few days, I finally succumbed to the thoughts, crept downstairs, and started reading Paul’s letter.  I think I read it a two or three times.

I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to teach this letter to the adult Sunday School class from as much of a Jewish perspective as I could figure out. To teach a class, in a church that I was not a member, that does not embrace this perspective at all, seemed like a crazy and disrespectful thing to do.  Yet, I found myself in the pastor’s office explaining my idea.  I fully expected to be asked to step down from teaching or at the very least have this idea turned down.  To my surprise he agreed to have me teach from this perspective.  This led to about a 4 months study of the letter.  Most of which was very much outside of my knowledge spectrum and comfort zone.

I was still trying to understand what Hashem had revealed to me just a few months earlier regarding the Jewish roots and perspective of all scripture.  I had been listening to some audio teaching by D. Thomas Lancaster from Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.  I remember listening to some of his series on Galatians, but I don’t remember anything standing out significantly that would cause me to have a burning desire to teach a class.

I spent several hours studying each week, sometimes toiling over one word that would have me stuck.  I remember writing a lesson two different times, and just feeling like it didn’t make sense.  I don’t remember how I learned this, but I learned that the original text would not have included quotes so the translators added the quotation marks based on their understanding of where they should go.  Comparing multiple translation versions, the quotation marks were in different places.  I had a eureka moment.  I can still remember telling my wife what I found about quotation marks while she looked at me like I had lost my mind and asked if she was going to have to sit through Sunday School class and listen to a study about where quotation marks belonged.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

2 Peter 3:15-17 (ESV)

Peter provided a warning that Paul’s letters were hard to understand and were easily twisted.  My goal was to study as much as I could from a historical and contextual perspective.  Instead of viewing Paul’s letter(s) through the lens of 2,000 years of Christian theology, I worked hard to view his writing from the perspective of a first century reader.  I recognize that Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament and that his letters are the basic foundation for many Christian church doctrines. My intent is not to offend anyone or to incite anger.  It is only to explain the  perspective that came to me while I was teaching this class.  At the time I taught this class, I did not feel qualified.  I still do not feel qualified and imagine that over time some of my understanding may change.  I chose not to use any single study guide when teaching this class.  It was me, Hashem, a cup of coffee (or several), my English Standard Bible, and the internet.

The notes I have are currently written in outline format designed as a study guide for a Sunday School class.  I will be reformatting each lesson and posting these periodically.  If you’re like me, you probably have your cup of coffee and a bible close by.

I welcome your thoughts, whether you agree or not.

Faith vs Trust

Faith and Trust: Each are five letters and both have significant meaning.  Related to each other, yet very different. When I used a common search engine to search for the term “having faith” the first result seemed simple enough.

“Faith means relying on God” by Rick Warren (link to devotion)

I am not here to agree or disagree with Rick Warren.  However, I think that simple phrase, by such a popular Christian teacher, is an excellent example of unintentional confusion.  Rick Warren is not the first to define faith in that way.  Mirriam-Webster first definition of faith is “strong belief or trust in someone or something.”  How do the scriptures define faith?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 ~ ESV

The author of Hebrews defined faith as an assurance or conviction.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!  

James 2:14-19 ~ ESV

James defines faith as belief and separates that belief from the evidence of works.

I wrote earlier that Rick Warren’s statement is an example of unintentional confusion.  If we turn to scripture to define faith for us, I’ve given two examples which define faith as a belief, assurance, or conviction.  Faith is better defined as a feeling and not defined as an action in those two examples.  The unintentional confusion is that the word faith has been elevated to a meaning beyond its intended origin.  By unintentionally assuming that faith is enough, one must remember that James warned that even the demons believe.

Most of us have seen a video or perhaps even participated in a trust fall exercise.  One person stands with their eyes closed and falls backwards trusting their partner behind them to catch them.  I recently saw a video in which a woman was standing on a platform about three feet off of the ground, with no one else around.  She turned around, closed her eyes and started counting down.  As she counted, people came quietly out of hiding and lined up behind her and linked arms.  When she reached zero, she fell backwards, trusting her team would be there even though she hadn’t seen them arrive.

Applying the definition from Hebrews and James, the woman had faith before she fell backwards.  She could not see her team, yet she believed they were there.   She could have said, “I know you are there and thank you for being willing to catch me,” and ended the exercise.  Of course, the intent of the exercise is not faith, but trust.

In the Hebrew language the words emunah and bitachon are used to explain faith and trust.

The Rambam defines emunah as the knowledge that Hashem created and continues to run all of Creation.

Bitachon, however, is quite different. Bitachon means trust. The Chovos HaLevavos defines bitachon as relying on Hashem, trusting Hashem. It is a sense of depending on Him to watch over and protect me.

Amazingly, a person can have emunah and not bitachon. He can know that Hashem runs the world, but not necessarily trust in Him.

The Difference Between Emunah and Bitachon
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier
Orthodox Union
http://www.ou.org

I highly doubt that Rabbi Shafier would have used the New Testament letter from James as the basis for his definition, however, their thought processes are similar.  Rabbi Shafier explains that a person can have faith in Hashem, but not necessarily trust in Him.  This has a very similar undertone to what James wrote by segregating the two.  Even the demons believe in Hashem, but they certainly do not trust in Him.

In my earlier example, if the woman had stopped counting, and simply proclaimed, “I know you are there and thank you for being willing to catch me,” she would have exercised faith without trust.  It is obvious to us as we read this that had she only expressed faith, it is impossible for us to believe in that faith because faith can not be seen.  She proved her faith by showing trust through action.  Perhaps a better explanation of trust is the physical manifestation of one’s faith.

As I was preparing to write this post, I prayed for guidance, as I try to do each time I sit down to study.  An immediate thought that came to mind was the trust needed for the Israelites as they fled from Pharaoh’s army.

The Children of Israel came within the sea on dry land; and the water was a wall for them, on their right and on their left.

Exodus 15:22
Stone Edition Artscroll English Tanach

Put yourself in the sandals of the Israelites for a moment.  You’re standing at the bank of a large body of water.  Large enough that the rest of the story explains it took all night for Israel to cross the dry sea bed.  As these people cross through a dry land passage way, water standing tall to their left and right, held only by the power of God.  Israel trusted that God would hold the waters for them as they passed.

When this story came to my mind, I was unsure if it was a good example to use.  After all, shortly before Israel walked across a dry sea bed, they cried out to Hashem and asked Moses if he brought them to the wilderness only to die because there were not enough graves in Egypt.  I thought of this as a complete lack of faith so soon after they had been able to walk out of Egypt carrying their plunder of gold and silver.

I decided to turn to a search engine and sought to find if bitachon was used in any scripture.

Avoteinu trusted in Thee; they had bitachon, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were delivered; they had bitachon in Thee, and were not disappointed.

Tehillim 22:5-6 ~ Orthodox Jewish Bible

In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm 22:4-5 ~ ESV

It felt like a confirmation that I was on the right path of understanding.  I am unsure if David was thinking of Israel crying out just before they ran into the dry sea bed, or if he was thinking of when they cried out initially while still in Egypt.  If I had to guess, he was probably speaking of the latter.  However, I believe my example still holds value.  To walk on a dry sea bed, through a corridor of two giant walls of water, with nothing holding it back, took tremendous trust that the water would not fall.  Bitachon.

How do we apply this today?  First, we need to redefine faith as belief and hold trust as the higher principle.  Scripture has given us the definitions we should use, so we should not deviate.  James, David, and the author of Hebrews have given us great examples.

Faith is a feeling.  Trust is action showing proof of faith.

Discipleship

Luke explains, “A large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people … had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured” (Luke 6:17–18).

Luke prefaces the sermon by distinguishing between the large crowd and the disciples, just like Matthew does. Luke says, “Turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say …” (Luke 6:20). In these words, Luke indicates that Yeshua delivered the sermon to His disciples, not to the crowds. Matthew explains that He first withdrew from the crowd by ascending the hill.

This story indicates that Rabbi Yeshua had two kinds of followers: the crowds of people and the disciples. Which kind of follower do you want to be? Are you one of the crowd that flocks around Him to receive a miracle, a blessing, or a ticket to heaven? Or are you one of His students, eager to learn His teachings and every word that comes from His mouth?

Two Kinds of Followers
First Fruits of Zion
800.775.4807
http://www.ffoz.org

When I received this weekly email teaching, it was one that really challenged me to look at myself in the mirror.  Would I be one of those Yeshua turned to address? Am I one of the crowd that listens but doesn’t transition from crowd to disciple?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Arguably one of Yeshua’s most quoted phrases by the evangelical Christian movement.  I would even go so far to say that these words have been the driving force behind global Christian growth for the last two millenniums.

Am I disciple? Am I a good disciple?  More importantly, would Yeshua consider me a disciple or part of the crowd?  If I self evaluate, I’d say I rank fairly low on the scale based on how well I follow his complete instruction, “to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The Greek text of Matthew used matheteuo.

Cognate: 3100 mathēteúō (from 3101 /mathētḗs, “disciple”) – to disciple, i.e. helping someone to progressively learn the Word of God to become a matured, growing disciple (literally, “a learner,” a true Christ-follower); to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required, i.e. helping a believer learn to be a disciple of Christ in belief and practice. See 3101(mathētēs).

~Strong’s definition listed on BibleHub.com

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and to claim that I am even familiar is a complete stretch.  However, I  do seek out the origin of words, at times, to search for clues of the intended meaning.  With a little reading, I found that there’s an entirely different controversy surround the Hebrew version of this passage in Matthew compared to the Greek text, but I won’t dig into that controversy here.

Notice the key words above as to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required.  If Yeshua meant what he said in the literal sense to teach others the lifestyle required, this rings a familiar tone with the familiar count the cost of discipleship passage.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33 ESV)

It seems that Yeshua had expectations for his disciples.  These expectations must have been the distinguishing factor between being one in the crowds or one he considered a disciple.

It is important to remember that Yeshua was not unique in his role as a rabbi.  As a rabbi in that era, his expectations would not have been out of the ordinary compared to any other rabbi.

Children began their study at age 4-5 in Beth Sefer (elementary school). Most scholars believe both boys and girls attended the class in the synagogue. The teaching focused primarily on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time this level of education was finished.

The best students continued their study (while learning a trade) in Beth Midrash (secondary school) also taught by a rabbi of the community. Here they (along with the adults in the town) studied the prophets and the writings (3) in addition to Torah and began to learn the interpretations of the Oral Torah (4) to learn how to make their own applications and interpretations much like a catechism class might in some Churches today. Memorization continued to be important because most people did not have their own copy of the Scripture so they either had to know it by heart or go to the synagogue to consult the village scroll.

A few (very few) of the most outstanding Beth Midrash students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmid, s.) in Hebrew, which is translated disciple. There is much more to a talmid than what we call student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. This meant the rabbi-talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture his students (talmidim) listened and watched and imitated so as to become like him. Eventually they would become teachers passing on a lifestyle to their talmidim.

Rabbi and Talmidim
Follow the Rabbi
followtherabbi.com

We know that Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers,” (Acts 22:3) which must have been considered a high honor since Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin and a well-known rabbi.

It is easy to establish that being a disciple had expectations.  I would argue that the expectations were well beyond our understanding of being a disciple today.  It seems that students started at early school age and continued in a dedicated lifestyle of learning with the elite often leaving home to learn.  Even in reading through the gospels, we do not see the apostles visiting Yeshua.  They literally and physically followed him for the three years of his ministry.

If that is the standard of being a disciple, not just of Yeshua, but of any rabbi at the time, then, again, I can’t help but rank myself in comparison to these examples.

Am I worthy to be called a disciple? Or am I simply in the crowd?