Let’s say that I am a Jewish man living in Constantinople during the Middle Ages. I become convinced that Jesus is my Messiah, the one who bled and died for my sins. I make the difficult decision to make a profession of faith and be baptized into the church of Constantinople. I get into the baptismal waters, and with the priest and all the church members around me, I am given this confession to read:
I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom, and above all I renounce Antichrist, whom all the Jews await in the figure and form of Christ; and I join myself to the true Christ and God.
I did not make this up: this was really recited by real Jews as they joined Christ’s church. As they joined the congregation of the Jew named Jesus. As they joined the fellowship of those who read and believed the Scriptures written by Jewish men. The Jewishness of Jesus and the apostles had been forgotten, but the converts’ Jewishness was made forcibly so. Here is my expanded version of the baptismal creed:
I renounce absolutely everything Jewish. My Jewishness taints the purity of Christ’s church, so to join with Christ, I must renounce my own Jewishness.
I must renounce one of the 10 commandments, the Sabbath.
I must renounce my accustomed prayers, even if they are drawn from the Holy Hebrew Scriptures.
I must renounce circumcision, even though, like Timothy, I do not believe it is a grounds for my salvation, but rather an identification with the faith of my father Abraham.Tags
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Romans 9:20
In my previous post, I shared some of my experiences in Catholic-dominated Europe and the difficulties that arise when one accepts dogma without a legitimate divine source. At the end of that post, I made a comparison between Catholic and Jewish understandings of contemporary divine revelation, explaining that both accept continuous innovations in religious law. Today we will dive into a fascinating passage in the Talmud that serves as a basis for this humanistic approach to Jewish law.
The Hebrew Bible is full of many kinds of literary styles, but the most prominent are narrative and prophetic proclamation. In narrative, God is not a bystander but rather an active influence on the outcome of the story, a phenomenon clearly seen, for example, in the patriarchs’ story in Genesis. Prophetic proclamation goes even further, with many of the prophets’ words coming directly from the mouth of the Lord. One cannot read the Hebrew Scriptures very long without being confronted by the divine character who is truly the lead role in the story. In contrast, upon turning to the Talmud it seems strikingly different than the text of the Hebrew Bible. Gone are the prophets speaking the direct words of God. Instead, the Talmud consists of many rabbis from many eras discussing matters of Jewish life, sometimes coming to a conclusion, sometimes not. Surprisingly, despite these rabbis discussing matters of Torah, direct discussion about God rarely surfaces, and unlike the Bible, God rarely intervenes. However, there are certain places in the Talmud where a “heavenly voice” breaks the silence to intervene in the rabbis’ discussions. A survey of these occurrences indicates that the Talmud’s concept of divine revelation is markedly different than the Hebrew understanding during the era of the Bible.Read more »Tags
Did you know that Paul was a Roman soldier before he converted to Christianity? Or that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is actually the Queen of Heaven, sitting at Jesus’ right hand after having coronated her? Oh, we learned so many things about Mary during our trip to Europe. Of course we knew that she was a perpetual virgin for her whole life, and that she had been conceived without sin, but we learned for the first time that she was assumed into heaven, just like her son, leaving no earthly body behind! But she, along with the apostles, left many relics behind where we can go to pray and receive their favor. How were these details kept from us? Perhaps I should have stayed in Rome permanently.
In reality, none of these teachings can be verified as fact as corroborated by eyewitnesses or multiple sources. Instead, they can be traced to a historical origin many centuries after the purported events took place. Sometimes, the absurdity of the teaching can be clearly seen after reading the Scriptures: Paul was not a Roman soldier before “converting to Christianity”, but rather a Jewish Pharisee who studied under Gamaliel the Elder and who continued to be a Jew and a Pharisee after he accepted Jesus as the Messiah of Israel (See my previous post). Likewise, the Scriptures’ repeated reference to Jesus’ brothers (John 2:12, Acts 1:14) in the same breath as referring to his mother makes Mary’s perpetual virginity a difficult prospect. (Eusebius also mentions that during the reign of Domitian there still survived “the family of the Lord… the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord’s brother according to the flesh.” [Ecc. Hist. Book 3, Chapter 20]) In the case of Mary’s conception and Assumption, the error is not as obvious. One must consciously note the absence of teachings about Mary in the New Testament and early church fathers before having a framework to verify her Immaculate Conception or Assumption. Why do later Christians teach something about Mary that was completely absent from the generation that learned at Christ’s feet? There is nothing about her Assumption that contradicts Scripture, but where did the idea of her Assumption come from? The teaching surely came from somewhere, but by what authority did it come?Read more »Tags
Rabbi Shaul was in chains, being dragged all around the land of Israel in a masquerade of justice. He was accused of being a member of The Way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), which had been equated with heresy. The irony of the situation was that the rabbi, more popularly known as the Apostle Paul, had once been the chief persecutor of The Way. Now the persecutor was on trial for having joined his victims.
After being arrested by Roman authorities in Acts 21, Paul is bounced between one Roman authority and the next, repeatedly forced to act as his own defense attorney and fight for his life. Just like with Jesus some twenty-five years before, Paul’s Jewish brothers were requesting the death penalty for his heresies. How would Paul defend himself against the charges?
Paul’s method of defense should shock us. Paul fights for his life by claiming he is a Pharisee.
Pharisees in Christian Tradition
I grew up with nothing but bad things associated with Pharisees. To be a Pharisee was to be a nitpicking, legalistic bigot whose heart’s current ran against the flow of the Gospel. Could one be a Pharisee and a Christian at the same time? Of course not! A Pharisee trusted in his own righteousness, flaunting it to be seen by men (Matthew 6). They were hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, snakes, a brood of vipers, and gnat-strainers! Jesus’ denunciations of the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23 could hardly be more stinging, and my understanding of them mirrored Jesus’ words.
However, one of the easiest errors to make in biblical interpretation is to only study a topic until we have a narrative that makes sense to us. We often assume that one passage’s discourse handles a subject exhaustively, and we see no need to read the rest of the Scriptures. Atheist detractors employ this tactic when they proclaim that Christians are hypocrites because they don’t stone adulterers like Moses prescribed in the Torah (Lev. 20:10). But was Moses the last word in God’s divine revelation to man? In the history of the Church, Christians had the same difficulties with the personhood of Christ. Was Jesus just an enlightened man, or was he an inhuman spirit-form of God? Reading certain texts exclusively seemed to tip the scales in either direction. But the correct and difficult answer is to hold the Manhood and Godhood of Christ in tension, together at the same time, each one intact and yet interacting with each other… somehow. It’s that mysterious tension that we find difficult to accept, but we must.
So too there is a tension with the Pharisees that we must learn to embrace. They were not simply the bad guys.Read more »Tags
Earlier this week, the Messianic community was struck with an unexpected blow by the quick passing of Jhan Moskowitz. It happened so suddenly – he went to use the subway like millions of New Yorkers do every day, then tripped, hit his head, and within 24 hours he was gone. The doctors could do nothing.
Jhan was one of the founders of the ministry Jews for Jesus, a sister Jewish evangelistic organization that came from the American Board of Missions to the Jews (later changed to Chosen People Ministries) in the 1970’s. He served as the Director of North America with Jews for Jesus, something I did not learn until his passing. You see, Liz and I spent several Friday nights at the Moskowitz’ Brooklyn home this year for their young adult Shabbat dinners, but I did not know Jhan very well. But in the short time I did spend with him, I looked to him as a mentor, role model, teacher, and friend. He had an infectious personality that drew you into whatever he was talking about, whether it was theology, classic literature, artistic themes in film, or the worldview of modern art. His wife, Melissa, was the queen of hospitality, cheerfulness, and laughter. In the little time we spent with the Moskowitz’s, we grew to love both of them. In the wake of Jhan’s passing, we Crawfords find ourselves distraught with Melissa’s pain, but also mournful about the missed opportunity to be influenced by one of the greatest evangelists to the Jewish people of the last 40 years.Tags
Below is a personal journal entry of Brian hashing out his emotions with God about his purpose in history for the Jewish people. The question of, “What happened with the Jewish people?” still looms large in Jewish evangelism, just as it did in Paul’s mind in Romans 9-11. Here is one man’s attempt to wrestle this out with the Lord, ultimately finding rest in the counsel of Scripture.
"Why, Lord?" This simple prayer draws our souls down deeper into the recesses of our finiteness and our lack of understanding. We see the evidence before us, discounting any possibility that it is anything but exhaustive, and we dream of an outcome, any outcome other than the one You have chosen. With that evidence before us, we would have chosen the opposite course. So we charge you with injustice, or non-love, ineptitude, or aloofness. The truly regenerate soul will recoil from such accusations and return to You the mystery, acknowledging by faith that our understanding, however informed, is finite and nonexhaustive.
I have been captivated by David Berger's Persecution, Polemic, and Dialogue. My heart has been broken to read about the threats, the coercion, the bickering, and the distrust of Christian-Jewish relations in the Middle Ages. Not only were the Christians guilty of institutionalized Jew-hatred, but they preached a Christianity engineered specifically for Jewish distaste. As if the original Jewish Gospel message of the Apostles wasn't enough of a stumbling stone for Israel - now the church was ripping out the Jewishness from the faith and whitewashing the past. Imagine! The very message I preached at 20 churches in the Spring - the Messiah in the Passover - would have me excommunicated in another church age. I would be accused of Judaizing, of returning to obsolete shadows and done-away-with traditions. It's hard to imagine such a church founded by a Jew.
God, why did it have to be this way? Why, Lord? Why did you come to your people, only to have the majority reject you? Why did those few who followed you, the first Jewish Christians, die out so quickly? Why did they cease to have any influence on the church after the first century, and why did they cease to exist after the fourth? Oh, it makes me so mad to think of Jerome's quote about the Ebionites! Too Jewish for the Church (yet in full agreement on the Creeds), and too Christian for the synagogue! No place to go, no fellowship to be had with Rome or Antioch or Constantinople. So they just disappeared. Based on Jerome's quote, Chosen People Ministries would be condemned as a cult. “Leave your Jewishness at the foot of the Cross,” he would say. Forget the Seders and your Shabbats. Stop celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan - that was the past! We are in a new era, and the Church usurped all claims of the covenants.Tags
Every spring, I travel around the country, teaching at churches about the traditional Passover Seder meal, and how Jesus brought greater depth and significance to the traditions. I hope you are richly blessed by seeing how Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are all proclaimed in the Jewish Passover. Read more »Tags
That’s what John Piper said about this sermon given by David Platt at Together for the Gospel 2012. This is an incredibly moving and challenging sermon. Platt goes from the big picture perspective of God’s sovereignty and breaks it down to how his sovereignty should motivate us to share the Gospel with all nations.
Yes, all nations need the Gospel! Platt asks the question, “But what about the innocent people in Africa who haven’t heard about Jesus?” To that he gives the answer, “All the innocent people will go to heaven.” But here’s the technicality: there are no innocent people. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. This should motivate us to go and be a part of the solution.
Platt says that for every $100 a Christian in North America makes, an average of $0.05 goes to unreached peoples. Unreached peoples are those who never, in their entire lives, hear the Gospel. They live isolated, far away from access to the Bible and to Christian evangelists. And yet we Americans are the richest people who have ever walked the Planet Earth. Why has God given us riches?
But I’m giving too much away. Watch Platt’s fantastic sermon below:Tags
We have quickly found out that working with Chosen People Ministries means that we are never in one place for very long – before we know it, we’re off to the next event, the next church, or the next conference. Here’s a multimedia tour of our life in March.
Brian’s First Messiah in the Passover
The month started out with Brian’s first Messiah in the Passover sermon, given at a Presbyterian church in Scranton, PA – yes, of “The Office” fame. While Brian had given shorter versions of the Passover message before, this was his first Sunday morning delivering a full 40-minute sermon. It was a test run for the last two weeks of the month, where he would lead the Passover over a dozen times!
A Date in the City
Every once in a while, we need to pull ourselves out of the office and our textbooks and just take a good walk in the city. This place is so huge that we could be permanent tourists here if we had the time. Well, we had a little time, so out we went to Skyline Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. New York City is always a fascinating place for street photography!
Along the way we also ran into a familiar and welcome sight:Tags
Soon I will be traveling the country in order to do something that prior generations of Christians would consider unthinkable. If I lived in another era, my actions could prompt the convocation of a church council for the purpose of my public condemnation. If called to my defense, I could testify that the basis of my actions are the Scriptures and the precedent set by Jesus himself. But that would be no matter. I would be excommunicated.
What is my heinous crime? I am going to teach Christians how to celebrate the Passover.
Condemnation from the Church
The celebration of Passover has been a contentious issue ever since the 2nd century. It was at this time that Christianity and Judaism began to part ways, no longer sharing Jewishness as a common denominator. Despite Christianity being Jewish to its core, the practices adopted from this point on were specifically adopted to highlight the contrast between the Church and the Jews. As you can imagine, the Church in this early era had quite a few Jewish believers in Christ, being the descendants of Judean believers and followers of the apostles. But their Jewish flavor of Christianity would soon be extinguished by the force of Gentile converts. The Jewish Christians could not withstand the polemics the Church employed to combat the unbelief of the Synagogue.
For example, take this letter written by Jerome to Augustine. Few names in Christendom carry the weight of these Doctors of the Church. Jerome’s translation of the Scriptures into Latin served as the Western Church’s only Bible for over a millennium. Yet listen to what he says about Jewish Christians who have no intention of giving up their Jewishness:Tags