Dr. Joel Willitts (Ph.D. Cambridge University), Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University as well as College Pastor at Christ Community Church, writes in the popular Christian Patheos blog claiming Paul was a Messianic Jew who did not leave Judaism proper, but configured his Judaism around Messiah Yeshua.
This is a welcome statement from such as scholar. I do however think that Paul continued to identify himself as a Pharisee even after his “conversion”, so I don’t even think he left his “Pharisaic stream of Judaism”. I do agree he configured his faith around Messiah Yeshua.
On my reading of it, based on Galatians 1:13-14, Paul did leave something behind as a consequence of his heavenly vision. But it was not Judaism. Paul did have a conversion, but it was not from Judaism to something else, say Christianity.
What Paul turned from and rejected was his specific Pharisaic stream of Judaism. This Judaism was Torah centered, but configured around the traditions of the fathers, which made all the difference. In its place, Paul became a Messianic Jew, a Jew whose belief and practices are centered on a three-fold Torah (Moses, Prophets and Psalms – see Luke 24:44), but configured around the resurrected and reigning Messiah who has given his Spirit. And this made all the difference.
Read the full post here
New Testament scholar, Craig Evans, is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Author and editor of more than sixty books and hundreds of articles and reviews. Here is a link to his recent lecture - The People, the Land and the Future of Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles.
“Whatever conclusions can be drawn about Paul’s teaching on the current redemptive-historical status of Israel, a simple supercessionism or “replacement” theology is unsupported. The New Testament church does not replace Israel, says Paul.”
It seems as if traditional Replacement Theology/simple supersessionism in the Reformed World is beginning to loose its dominance. However is there a soft supersessionism here as found in N.T. Wright? Here is article.
Reacting against a perceived tendency to reduce Paul’s teaching to answering the question, How can I be saved?, the trend today is to say that the real question that concerns Paul (as it did all first-century Jews) was, Who are the people of God? In other words, it’s a question of ecclesiology (defining “Israel”), not soteriology (how one gets in). However, Paul’s arguments in Romans 9 to 11 especially demonstrate that he is interested in both questions and that,in fact, neither can be successfully answered in isolation from the other. Thus far in Romans, Paul has emphasized that since all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are “in Adam,” condemned by the law, under the sentence of death and divine wrath, the only way to be saved is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Who Is Israel?
The problem is that the covenant that the people made with God at Sinai was being allowed to determine the answer to these questions. How are we saved? By fulfilling the law. Who is Israel? Those who fulfill the law. Paul held this view before his conversion, as a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, but on the Damascus Road everything was turned upside down when he encountered a vision of the very “cursed” one according to the law (“cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) triumphantly seated at the Father’s right hand in glory. Now the questions receive different answers that are, in fact, perfectly consistent with the expectations of the prophets. How are we saved? We are saved in the same way that all of the saints in redemptive history were saved: by trusting in God’s promised Messiah. Who are the people of God? The children of promise-those who share Abraham’s faith. The heirs of the Sinai covenant (and thus of the earthly land) are those who are ethnic descendants of Abraham, circumcised in the flesh; the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (fulfilled in the new covenant) are all people, Jew and Gentile, who are “in Christ” through faith alone, circumcised in heart.
Throughout his epistles, therefore, Paul labors the contrast between these “two covenants,” represented by two mothers (Sarah the free woman versus Hagar the slave), two mountains (Zion and Sinai), and two Jerusalems (heavenly and earthly) (see especially Gal. 4). Pulling together his teaching across these epistles, we can offer a list of contrasts (see chart below).
Paul has been unveiling the free grace of God in the Abrahamic covenant to all those who are “in Christ”: pre-destined, called, justified, glorified (8:30-31). He has stressed the un-conditional basis of this everlasting covenant. So now, especially for those who had confused the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, the likely question is raised: So, Paul, is this election that you are talking about a new and different one from the election of Israel? Has God failed in his saving purposes for Israel, so that now he finds himself having to resort to “Plan B” (the church)?
To answer this question, the apostle does not invent a new theology of election. Rather, he shows that all along God has fulfilled his eternal electing purposes distinct from the election of Israel as a national theocracy designed to point all the nations to Christ. It was the Abrahamic covenant (made 430 years before the Sinai treaty) that promised blessing for the nations. It was Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, who illustrate the prerogative of God’s sovereign grace in election. Although both were the fruit of his loins and outwardly members of the covenant of grace, circumcised in the flesh, God had already chosen Isaac and rejected Ishmael. “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’” (Rom. 9:10-13). God is not unjust in electing apart from any foreseen virtues. Since the elect are chosen out of a mass of perdition, God would only have foreseen sin and resistance in any case. The point could not be any clearer: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16).
If this is the way God has always worked, then election and grace cannot be assimilated to the Sinai covenant. God’s eternal and unconditional election of individuals for salvation, hidden to us, cannot be confused with his conditional covenant with the nation of Israel. What remains unconditional in God’s promises to Israel is his utterly one-sided oath to bring the blessing of salvation to all nations through Abraham’s seed. The Sinai covenant, based on law, cannot annul the earlier Abrahamic covenant, based on promise (see Gal. 3:15-18).
So God is not unfaithful. His Word has not failed, even if we do not currently see the Jewish people embracing Christ en masse. The prophets consistently taught that Israel would be saved through a remnant, and that this Jewish remnant would also include a remnant from all the nations. Together, they would form “one flock with one shepherd,” in a “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:11-31). The people resulting from this unconditional election would constitute the true Israel. Paul is simply announcing that this remnant theology of the prophets has been finally realized in the history of redemption.
Many first-century sects saw themselves as this remnant (especially the Essenes); others regarded themselves and their party as a remnant that will purify the whole nation in preparation for Messiah (the Pharisees). Yet across the spectrum, the pattern is the renewal of the Sinaitic covenant. By contrast, with Hebrews 1:1-2, as Delbert Hillers describes, “Early Christians, even those of Jewish descent, did not look on themselves either as an unbroken continuation of the old Israel or as a group attempting to return to an ancient pattern of faith, like the Essenes. Instead, they stood over against the days ‘of old’ as men living in the ‘last days.’” Part of this “newness,” says Hebrews 1, is that the new covenant coalesces around a person-a Son, a “better covenant,” one “enacted on better promises.” Commenting on Jeremiah’s prophecy, the writer says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13; cf. 9:11-23).
The Sinai covenant can become obsolete because it was a conditional treaty, intended by God to serve an important but temporary purpose of pointing forward to Christ. Once Christ (the reality) has come, the law covenant of Sinai (the shadows) becomes obsolete. If we don’t understand this covenantal background, we will either conclude that God has in fact reneged on his promises to Israel or we will build a whole theology around a future restoration of an earthly holy land, with a Davidic king, temple, priest, and sacrifices other than Christ (as in at least old-style dispensationalism).
Thus, the contrast between the Sinai covenant of law and the Abrahamic New Covenant of promise is drawn not merely by the Protestant reformers, nor even merely by Paul, but by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and his apostles. By justifying the wicked by faith apart from works of the law (how we are saved: soteriology), God will be able finally to realize the promise made to Abraham and heralded by the prophets (Isa. 9; 49; 60; 66; Jer. 4:2; Ezek. 39), that in him and his Seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed (who will be saved: ecclesiology).
Has God Failed?
Read full article here
The Huffington Post has this article: 5 Rabbis Explain Jesus:
For every complex question, as H.L. Mencken once put, there is usually an answer that is “clear, simple and wrong.” His observation rings true when it comes to a question I get at least once a week. What do Jews believe about Jesus?
Jews as a group rarely agree on matters of Jewish belief. How could we agree on the essence of another? Yet, we ignore the question at our own peril. What lies behind it is a yearning for a deeper faith and understanding between Christians and Jews. For Christians a better understanding of Judaism leads to a better understanding of Jesus. For Jews it leads to a deeper appreciation of the world’s largest faith.
While scholars and historians can give us a critical and detailed picture of the first-century Jewish life in which Jesus lived and taught, rabbis can give us a better picture of his spirituality. What made his message resonate for Jews of the time and ultimately lead to the birth of a new religion?
Fortunately, over the last 100 years many rabbis have explored this issue, and the number of relevant books keeps growing. Here are five intriguing points of view:
1. A Jewish National Hero
2. The Penultimate Messiah
3. A Righteous Leader
4. A Rabbi
5. An Ethical Exemplar
Full article here
This is a cross-post from Calvin Smith.
Protestant and Evangelical Involvement in the Holocaust
We sometimes hear about the pre-war Roman Catholic Church’s attitudes towards the Jews which not only reflected European deep-rooted anti-Semitism at the time but also contributed to a milieu which allowed the Holocaust to happen. Yet we read far less about Protestant attitudes (Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, even Pentecostal) towards the Jews in Germany and across pre-war Europe, which likewise permitted the architects of the Holocaust to go about their genocidal task. Here’s an excerpt taken from a disturbing essay on the subject (itself part of a much larger piece of research). Evangelicals take note.In 1933, Bishop Rendtorff (who would later become a leader in the Confessing Church) had questioned the whole assumption that the state’s behaviour towards the Jews was “unevangelical”. For 1700 years, he noted, the church had fully approved of restrictive laws against Jews. Emancipation was an idea of the enlightenment, and should not be identified as an evangelical norm (26). Wilhelm Halfmann, the spiritual director of the Confessing Church in Schleswig-Holstein, and Bishop of Holstein after 1946, wrote in 1936 that, because of “legitimate” Christian anti-Semitism, it was not the church’s duty “to interfere in the state’s Jewish legislation:
Far more, we of the church must say, based upon two thousand years’ experience with the Jews: the state is right. It is attempting to protect the German people … with the approval of the Christian church”. (27)Likewise, the Brethren Die Tenne spoke of the “accursed” nature of the Jews, and of “the cleansing of Germany from … Jewish immigrants”. On June 18, 1933,Licht und Leben carried an article by the Chairman of the Gnadau Association to Promote Fellowship and Evangelisation, Walter Michaelis, stating that he and his organisation “had nothing against stemming Jewish influence, and treating Jews as non Germans.” From a Biblical point of view, “nothing could be said against this,” and it was indeed, “part of the divine plan for them.” (28) Concerning the Nuremberg Laws, the Baptist Wahrheitszeuge “told its readers not to forget that the hearts of Jews had been hardened by God following their rejection of the Messiah. Under God’s judgment, they had become a curse for the world.” (29) Likewise, the founder of the Elim Pentecostal church in Germany stated that he had “warmly welcomed” the Nuremberg Laws and knew that they did not violate God’s Word “in any way”. (30)In Poland, during 1936, Monsignor Trzeciak addressed a large audience on the topic “The Jewish problem in the light of Christian ethics”. He stated:
Saint Jerome hated the Jews and Pope Pius V expelled all Jews from the Papal domain. Poland should follow this example: Jews should be destroyed, exterminated and expelled from Poland … Noble are those Christians who refuse to sit with Jews on the same bench at university … every Polish woman who buys from a Jew is a traitor. The Christian religion imposes a penalty for dealing with Jews. (31)The fruits of supersessionism in the above material are clear. Anti-Jewish legislation is approved of by these churches, based on “2,000 years” of Church history, the “accursed” nature of the Jews, the “divine plan” for them and “God’s word.” Jewish suffering was officially promoted by these churches based on their own doctrines. The churches could have behaved like the Israelites in 2 Chronicles 28:13-15, or like David in 1 Samuel 26:11. Instead, they behaved like Babylon in Isaiah 47:6, not understanding Isaiah 54:7-8. This official support for the boycott and exclusion of Jews dispersed across Europe finds its ugly parallel in today’s supersessionist Christian support for the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions aimed at the ingathered Jews in the state of Israel.Excerpt from Colin Barnes, “Denouement of Supersessionist Triumphalism: European Churches and the Holocaust” in Calvin L. Smith, ed. The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism. New revised and expanded edition (King’s Divinity Press 2013), 74-77.
Here is a great article at algemeiner.com by Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff, the Zvhil-Mezbuz Rebbe of Boston examining the use and misuse of Tikkun Olam, stating that if everything is Tikkun Olam, nothing is. This is a salutary piece and teachers in the Messianic Movement should take note that we don’t misuse this term either.
The Fallacy, Delusion and Myth of Tikkun Olam
The term and concept Tikkun Olam appears nowhere in the Torah itself, but first appears only in the Mishna and Talmud in the context of the courts and halakhic (legal) regulations involving disputes and legal rights.
Tikkun Olam is quite clearly “a theological notion and not a trendy socioeconomic or political one,” observing that, “It would be an exaggeration, but only a small one, to say that nothing in Judaism directs us to the pursuit of social (as opposed to judicial) justice.”
Calling it “a blatant distortion of the meaning of the term,” a “substitute faith” and a “shibboleth,” he writes that “the current [promiscuous] usage of this term represents a category mistake, is a blatant example of conversion by redefinition, and constitutes a paradigmatic example of the reductionist fallacy” which is merely “liberation theology without the theology.” He concludes, “Tikkun Olam means ‘for the proper order of the Jewish community.’ It is a long way from that definition to ‘build a better world.’”
Please read the full article here.
Here is an article from the Huffungton Post arguing that Paul was a dedicated Jew till the end of his life – read in full here
It’s widely acknowledged that Jesus was a thoroughly practicing Jew throughout his life. Anglican Priest Bruce Chilton expressed that conclusion explicitly and concisely in his book “Rabbi Jesus”: “It became clear to me that everything Jesus did was as a Jew, for Jews, and about Jews.”
But what about Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles? It’s generally accepted that Paul was the true founder of a new religion called Christianity. Biblical scholar Gerd Ludemann, author of several books about Jesus and Paul including “Paul: Founder of Christianity,” affirms that “Without Paul there would be no church and no Christianity.” Ludemann adds, “He’s the most decisive person that shaped Christianity as it developed. Without Paul we would have had reformed Judaism … but no Christianity.”
Paul converted Jews and then Gentiles to Jewish Christianity, basing these conversions on his belief in the teachings, resurrection and divinity of Jesus. But powerful evidence within “Acts of the Apostles,” the book of the New Testament that chronicles Paul’s mission, reveals that Paul, like Jesus, remained a dedicated Jew until his execution. In fact, if Paul had simply stated that he was no longer a Jew but the leader of a new religion, he would not have been imprisoned or executed.