Thursday, August 6, 2009

How can Christians understand Jesus without understanding Judaism?

So a few days ago I bought a book called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. I started reading it today and am only 40 pages in, but already I have learned so much! The authors show how while modern day Christianity is beautiful, it is missing such a huge portion of God's heritage; the culture and faith that shaped the way Jesus taught. That's why the parables we read from the Bible confuse us, because we read them from the 2009 American/European perspective and not an ancient Jewish one.

There are techniques and styles of teaching within the New Testament that made sense to its original audience; something that has been heavily lost through time. For instance, many rabbis of Jesus' time would quote the Torah and or make references to a certain scripture throughout the day- whether it be for teaching, making a quick and sharp retort, or subtly making a point known without coming out and saying it.

The authors show this in a situation (a tradition used throughout the centuries) between a modern rabbi and his student. The student had betrayed him and the rabbi said to him "Banim gidalti veromumti" which in English means "I have raised children and brought them up." The student had no idea what he meant by this remark, but he knew it was taken from Isaiah, so he went home and found the passage. The full piece reads "I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me." To a Jew in ancient times, if someone had said such a thing, the full message would have been understood. All Jews, whether rich or poor, man or woman, child or adult, studied Torah HEAVILY. (I was surprised to read even women were encouraged to sit in on discussions and many were educated enough to debate the rabbis and spiritual elite!) It's like today if someone says "Up yours." we don't have to ask 'up what of mine?' we know where and what they mean; it's just part of our ways.

So the authors proceed to show how this is relevant in the Bible. At one point in Matthew, Jesus had been healing and teaching in the temple and crowds were gathered cheering. The children shouted "Hosanna to the son of David" and this p*ssed off the priests. They confronted him and asked if he realized what these children were insinuating. And Jesus says "Have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" Matthew 21:16 Yeshua is quoting Psalm 8:2 here. "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger." This psalm means God's glory is so immense that even the innocents of the world, the children, innately praise and worship him; which thus shames those who hate the Lord.

There is also one other chapter I wanted to share from this book. Peter asks Yeshua in Matthew 18 how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him; should he forgive him seven times? In Judaism, the number 7 represents completeness: a point many Christians miss. Peter is asking if he should completely forgive those who sin and wrong him. Yeshua responds "seventy seven times" Now hmmm, what is he saying? I should forgive someone 77 times and then at 78 it's done! I will get my revenge! No, he is quoting Genesis 4:24 where Lamech says "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me; If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 77 times." This essentially means, cross Lamech and you will not only receive the COMPLETE payback you deserve, but 77 times more. He will rip you to shreds. Yeshua uses this scripture to teach us as Christians to be as Lamech, but only in FORGIVENESS! When you are sinned against, you should not only be quick to forgive the sinner completely, but to be eager to douse them in your mercy. Put as much passion behind your forgiveness as Lamech put behind his vengeance.

Wow. How amazing! I never read that scripture that way before, I never knew exactly what Yeshua was getting at, but I knew it was good. However, I much prefer having the knowledge of the Jewish culture and tradition equipped to me when I read my Bible than reading it as a 21st century westerner. "Good" does not compare to the magic you get from Torah. I wish I had the knowledge of a Jew from this time; having the Torah written in my heart, mind, and soul. I wish I could read Yeshua's teachings and small hints and go "Aha! I know exactly what you are quoting from and the meaning it has in this situation!"

All this in the first 40 pages! Needless to say I am itching to read the rest! I highly recommend you buy this book!


Anonymous said...

WOW! I have always wanted to know the meaning behind some of the parables of Jesus, but never was able to get at the original meaning. I am really going to have to study this! Thanks for sharing this!

Btw, would you happen to have studied the Feasts too?

R.A.~ said...

The feasts of the old testament? Yea, a few years ago I started observing them. I love how from the Christian view point many of them relate to the Messiah and our salvation.

I actually was going to be really studying the feasts this fall so I can hopefully meditate and come to a conclusion about other holidays. For instance christmas & easter. I don't know if I should simply stick to the appointed times of the Bible, or if these new traditions are permissible. Do you celebrate? :)

caraboska said...

I am a Gentile, Christian by choice, who grew up in an arguably Jewish home (arguably because my stepmother is Jewish but not observant). Once I became a Christian, all the more so that 60% of the kids at my college were Jewish, I began checking out the OT background and soon became the go-to person in the evangelical circles I traveled in for things like presentations for Bible studies on the Jewish holidays.

Yes, it is very helpful in understanding the NT. Have you ever noticed, for example, the correspondence between the bread and wine from the Last Supper and the memorial portion of the OT sacrifices?

As far as the question of actually celebrating holidays are concerned, The New Testament does not prescribe any particular set, although it is evident that Yeshua celebrated the Jewish holidays. I think that the NT (see Romans 14 - the whole chapter - in particular) teaches we have to be convinced in our own heart about what we are doing in this regard, and keep it to ourselves (rather than, for example, stirring up controversy between ourselves and those whose convictions and practice are different).

So there's a huge variety of practice. Some people celebrate typically Gentile Christian holidays, some celebrate Jewish holidays, and a handful consider every day including Shabbat to be equally holy, which means they celebrate no day 'in particular'.

I myself fall into the latter category. For some years, I have spent time in the company of Quakers, and also have spoken at length about spiritual matters with Jehovah's Witnesses. Mind you, I have serious reservations about many things Jehovah's Witnesses believe, but the point is that they too have what the Quakers would call a 'testimony about days and times'.

They point out, rightly, that many of the traditionally Christian holidays have pagan roots. And truth is truth, regardless of who it is coming from. I would be a fool not to listen. So I have become uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating what are basically Christianized versions of originally pagan holidays. One could say I now have a bit of a weak conscience in this area.

As far as Shabbat is concerned, I once observed a day of rest very strictly (no writing of checks or carrying of money, no practicing my violin, no doing homework or studying anything except Scripture, etc.). But now I consider the entire time since my conversion to be Shabbat, so that I am to be occupied not with my own works, but with the works of God. I have in mind here Hebrews 3:7-4:11.

As far as other holidays go, personally I no longer celebrate them, and those who invite me for their holiday observances know to keep the ceremonious part toned down or absent (unless we are talking about the Jewish holidays, about which more in a moment), and just treat it as a fellowship time.

People have for the most part been pretty good about that. So if they invite me for Christmas, OK, obviously at some point we have to think about and study the matter of Yeshua's birth, since it is in the Bible. And for churches where they systematically read through Scripture, it's going to happen at a fixed time during the year.

These people choose to have a special time of fellowship at that time, and like I said, they are considerate. They don't expect me to participate in customs that may have edifying significance for them personally, but for me have pagan associations I am not comfortable with.

And sure, we sing traditional songs about Yeshua's birth - but also other worship songs that could be sung at any time. One time I spent this particular day at my choir director's house. The whole family are musical, so it was no problem for us to sing the songs in four-part harmony...

to be continued

caraboska said...

On the other hand, sometimes my family's friends invite us to a Seder for Pesach, and quite frankly I feel more at home there than I do at Christmas in particular. And these people, too, are considerate. It was from one of them, a *non-Messianic* (!) Reconstructionist Jew who keeps a kosher home, that I found out that the Last Supper was a Seder. They pointed it out specially, knowing I am a Christian...

caraboska said...

This is a note to A Covered Sister. I am trying to post a comment on your latest entry about 'training them up...', but you do not seem to have the Name/URL option in your ID options. Could I ask you to add it? I am not a subscriber to any of the other options you list...

R.A.~ said...

thanks for sharing your testimony and perspective with me! I loved it and appreciate it very much :) It's great finding like minded believers on here Baruch HaShem