Does the Old Testament Teach Two Comings of the Messiah?

Introduction

Jewish people and even some skeptics like to assert that Christians are the ones who have come up with two act play about the coming of the Messiah. In other words, since Jesus failed at the messianic task, Christians then had no choice but to make up a second coming of Jesus. I already have a post called “Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?” here.

While there is much to discuss about this topic, the real question at hand is whether the Old Testament teaches two comings of the Messiah. Let me attempt to offer some helpful tips:

First, Jewish messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”

So we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament. Second, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However,  what are we to do with the several texts in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the following:

  1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
  2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
  3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
  4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
  5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.

One text that is cited about a peaceable kingdom where we see the end of violence in both human society and the world of animals is Isaiah 11: 1-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom as mentioned here? It seems only a Messiah who is supernatural could do such a thing!

But that leads me to my next point. In many cases, while the word ‘Messiah” is not mentioned, there are names used for the messianic person  such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root,  Servant of the Lord, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth. For example, we just read a name for the Messiah in Isa. 11:1-9 which is “Branch.” It is texts like these that prompt the following objection:

“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available athttp://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Another text that is similar to Isaiah 11:1-9 is the following:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days   that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,   to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways   and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,  neither shall they learn war anymore.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk  in the light of the Lord.- Isa 2: 1-4

Here we see again there is no mention of the word “Messiah. ” But again, there is mention of a figure that will judge between the nations and there will be a time of peace. Another passage that used the name “Branch” is Jer. 23:5-8:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”

In these texts, it is clear Israel will dwell securely in the land. Another similar text that mentions the nations going to Jerusalem to worship a messianic figure is in Zechariah 14. I won’t copy the text. But you can read it here.

The Reigning Kingly Messiah and the Suffering/Rejected Messiah 

 Let’s look at one of these names for the Messiah: Daniel 7:13-14: The Glorious, Ruling King.
  • In this passage, we see the following:
  • God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

  • The figure will be given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language will serve him.

  • He is given a kingdom by the Ancient of days, so he must be interpreted as an individual, namely a king.

  • Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (“God appearances”).

  • Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).

  • How the Son of Man is used in the New Testament
  • The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha)  expression  is employed to the earthly ministry of Jesus  (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37).

  •  Son of Man is used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33).

  • Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).

The Suffering, Lowly Rejected Messiah

After the time of Jesus, the rabbis tried to reconcile the passages about the suffering and rejected Messiah with the ruling, kingly Messiah. For example, we just looked at Daniel 7:13-14. But let’s look at the following:

Zechariah 9: 9

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king  is coming to you,  a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey,  on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,  and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

“The Bible hints that two different figures will play important roles in Israel’s redemption. During the Second Temple period, the prophet Zechariah offered an oracle about the people of Jerusalem “lamenting to [God] about those who are slain … showing bitter grief as over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). The book of Daniel also contains a cryptic reference to “an anointed one [who] will disappear and vanish” (Daniel 9:26). These fallen would-be heroes came to be identified with the Messiah ben Joseph.” -Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope,

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David:

There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; …[b. Sukkah 52a]

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

  • He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.
  • He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).
  • He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.
  • For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.
  • Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary. There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures. Instead, in contrast to this rabbinic model, the New Testament applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Remember Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah

Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once.

There are  texts that are  fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

Sources

  1. Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing
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The Crucified Jew: Why Jesus Continues to be a Stumbling Block to the Jewish People

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Within New Testament studies, many biblical scholars embarked on what was called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that was been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”

Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(1) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine.

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (2)

Despite the fact that there has been a lot of work to recover the Jewishness of Jesus, Jesus continues to be a stumbling block to Jewish people. Let me go ahead and give some of the reasons for this.

Stumbling Block #1: Anti-Semitism

In relation to this topic, I think there is a lot of truth in these set of comments:

As Philip Yancey says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (3)

Jaroslav Pelikan also makes a significant comment:

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?” (4)

For many Jewish people, Jesus is the source of anti-Semitism. They tend to see the polemical exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees (as in John’s Gospel) as one of the main reasons his followers have so much hatred towards Jewish people. Granted, there has been much work done on this topic. But to see an overview of the history of anti-Semitism and the Church, see this resource. Many Christians have responded by saying “No true Christian would be anti-Semitic.” Maybe so. But the damage is done and many Jewish people have not recovered. So this is a huge stumbling block to Jewish people.

Stumbling Block #2: Supersessionism

You may say what is Supersessionism? In this article, Michael Vlach says two points that stand out about Supersessionism are the following: (1) national Israel has somehow completed or forfeited its status as the people of God and will never again possess a unique role or function apart from the church; and (2) the church is now the true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God. Supersessionism, then, in the context of Israel and the church, is the view that the New Testament church is the new Israel that has forever superseded national Israel as the people of God.

Does this matter? Well, I know some Christians don’t know much about this. But others are aware of it and do hold to this position. Just think if you were trying to tell a Jewish person about why Jesus is their Messiah (the Jewish Messiah) and you said, “By the way, I do think national Israel has no future in the plan of God. Your people and land have no future as well.” This will probably cause your discussion with Jewish people to end very quickly.

Stumbling Block #3: What about the Torah?

Many Jewish people think the giving of the Torah is the supreme revelation to them at Mt. Sinai. Thus, if there is any religion or faith that says the Torah has been replaced or changed, it is heresy. From my own experience, many Christians have not taken the time to do the research on this issue and have an overly simplified view of the subject. Comments like “We are no longer under the law, but now under grace” doesn’t do justice to the complexities of the topic. I will go ahead and punt to Sam Nadler’s detailed work on this subject.

Stumbling Block #4: A Divine Messiah and Idolatry

Over the years I have heard several objections from Jewish people. Keep in mind, there are many Jewish people who are not overly religious. Hence, they are not Orthodox in practice and belief. But for the ones who are Orthodox, they have spent some time learning from counter-missionary organizations like Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism. Hence, they know our arguments and tend to be ready to give their own apologetic as to why we are wrong about our claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. In other words, the entire belief in Jesus’ deity is a Christian invention that developed much later in church history. Therefore, Christian theological concepts like the incarnation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, etc. are totally foreign to both Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures (The Old Testament). For many Jewish people, it is a great delight to call Christians “idol worshipers.” I have already written about this topic here.

Stumbling Block #5: A Dead Messiah

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“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that Jesus’ death automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel. How has a dying Messiah been received by the Jewish community throughout history? Perhaps a couple of comments can shed some light on this issue:

“Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444)

“We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521 (5)

Christians tend to cite Isaiah 52:13-53 and Psalm 22 as a slam dunk for a suffering/atoning Messiah. But Rabbinic Judaism sees the Isaiah texts (and for that matter most of the Servant Songs) as being about Israel. Also, for Jewish people, no man can atone for anyone else. Once again, I have written more about this here:

Conclusion

In my opinion, answering Jewish objections to Jesus is one of the most challenging aspects to the field of Christian apologetics. Michael Brown has written more on it here. The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6).

Sources:
1. Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241.

2. Sheller, J. L., Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 191.

3. Yancey, P. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55).

4. Ibid.

5. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.

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What Christians Should Know About Paul

Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin.  Both Christian and non-Christian scholars have come to have great respect Paul. Allow me to mention a few comments here:

“Without knowing about first century Judaism, modern readers—even those committed to faith by reading him—are bound to misconstrue Paul’s writing…Paul is a trained Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles.” –Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), xi-xii

 

“Paul has left us an extremely precious document for Jewish students, the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jew…Moreover, if we take Paul at his word—and I see no a priori reason not to—he was a member of the Pharisaic wing of first century Judaism.”–Daniel Boyarian, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.

 

“Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of Torah.”-Rabbi Jacob Emeden (1679-1776)–cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 18.

Allow me to list some of the basics every Christian should know about Paul:

1. Paul was educated

In this case, I have adapted much of this material from A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians (The Jewish Roots of the New Testament) by Joseph Shulam and Hilary Le Cornu. I have taken most of these points from their section called Paul: A Biography, pgs, 435-469.

1. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel.

2. Hillel the Elder was nicknamed “the Babylonian” because he was descended from a family of Babylon.

3. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.”

4. The house of Hillel was unique in that it was an example of a family of who originated from the diaspora, with no priestly connections, which attained the position of hereditary leaders of the nation until, in the time of Rabbi Judah ha Nasi (170-200 C.E.), its members were officially recognized as by the Roman government as Patriarchs.

5. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.” The New Testament evidence demonstrates that Paul belonged to Beit Hillel rather than Beit Shammai. This is supported by Paul’s halakhot (with the possible exception of his view of the legal status of women), his tolerance and openness of Gentiles, some of his no literal interpretations, and his anthropocentric rather than theocentric emphases.

5. The Talmudic sources distinguish between the beit sefer (i.e., the house of the book”) wherein the (sofer) taught the reading of the written Torah- and the beit talmud (i.e., the house of learning). Children would learn the alphabet and how to read in the former, the teacher would write the letters on a wax tablet with a stylus and the pupils would recite them aloud. Reading skills were attained through repetition after the teacher and auditive memory since the scriptural text was not yet vocalized, students were dependent on the teacher’s precision in orally transmitting the precise reading for every passage.

6. Young children were taught how to read and understand the Torah and Prophets, to recite the Shema and the basic blessings over the food, and received instruction regarding their future roles in family and command of life. Following years of Bible study, students moved on to the study of the Oral Torah. School studies would finish at the age of twelve or thirteen (bar mitzvah age) and of the boy was gifted and so inclined he would then enroll at a “beit midrash” to study Torah with other adults who devoted themselves to Torah study in their spare time.

7.  If he showed further ability and willingness he could go to one of the famous Sages and learn from him for a number of years. Gamaliel would of served as one of the foremost teachers of the “beit midrash” (e.g., a college or “seminary”) conducted by pharisaic leaders within the Sanhedrin. Therefore, given that Gamaliel was such a distinguished teacher, it may be possible that Paul began to study with him only after he had displayed great promise and reached an age whereby he could profit from learning under a great master like Gamaliel.

8. In the relationship between the students and teacher, a deep bond could be established which led to great love and respect. The subject matter of study revolved around three main areas: Bible, midrash (creative biblical interpretation), aggadah (narrative elaboration of the biblical text). Since Paul’s letters demonstrate a strong familiarity with biblical text among other ways, since he quotes from the Tanakh over ninety times in his letters, the standard hermeneutical rules are displayed both halakhically and aggadically.

9. Paul spoke mishnaic Hebrew/Aramaic as well as Greek (cf. Acts 21:37), in addition to possessing a reading knowledge of biblical Hebrew. Paul also demonstrated he was familiar with Greek poets (e.g., Epimendies, Aratus, Euripides, Memander).  Therefore, since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas.

 2. Paul as an active persecutor

The language Paul uses in his pre-revelatory encounter with the risen Lord shows how antagonistic he was towards the messianic movement. In Gal. 1:13-15, Paul uses terms such as “persecute” and “destroy” to describe his efforts to put and end to the spread of the early faith.  We see here:

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him (Stephen) to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8: 1-3).

Furthermore, Luke summarizes Paul’s persecution of the early Messianic community.

I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:10-11).

3. Paul’s Antagonism Towards the Early Messianic Movement 

Paul doesn’t give a list of reasons as to why he persecuted the early Messianic community. It may be that Paul perceived faith in Jesus as a threat to Torah obedience. His zeal for the Torah is evident in his Letters (Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim 1:13). Any tampering with the Torah was off limits cause it defined the identity of the Jewish people.  Or, perhaps Paul wanted to help keep the peace. Hence, he feared a Roman reprisal of a Jewish sect proclaiming Jesus as Messiah.  Another possibility is that given that Deut. 21:22f. puts “the one who is hanged under a divine curse” and  Paul’s language about the offensiveness of a crucified Messiah (1 Cor. 1:23), Paul  knew the seriousness of his fellow countrymen proclaiming a crucified blasphemer like Jesus. In the end, we can’t be dogmatic as to why Paul was the persecutor that he was. Paul doesn’t list his reasons for why he persecuted the early followers of Jesus.

 4. Paul’s Encounter with the Risen Messiah

Paul did not follow Jesus from the beginning. However, Paul is still considered an apostle, though “abnormally born” and “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). His turning to Jesus happened though a dramatic revelatory encounter (Acts 9: 1-7). His first years as a follower of Jesus in Arabia remain a mystery. Three years later he went to Jerusalem to visit; this is where he saw Peter and James.  Paul’s account of his calling in Galatians 1:15-16 is similar to what Jeremiah’s says about his own calling:

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. (Gal 1:15-17)

 

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,  before you were born I set you apart;  I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jer.1: 4-5)

Regarding what happened to Paul, he more likely received a “call” rather than a conversion to a new religion. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel”  (Acts 28:20).  Notice that Paul didn’t say “I was a Pharisee” or that “I was a Jew.”  He saw his calling as being in line with the same divine mission that was given to the prophets of the Old Testament.

 5. Paul’s Letters: Primary and Secondary Sources

Remember, written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary.  A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness.  A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells.  A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates.  Since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

6. Paul’s use of oral tradition terminology

Paul  employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters in the following places:

Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

1 Corinthians 11:23: For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.

Philippians 4:9: The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

1 Thessalonians 2:13: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you receivedthe word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

7. Why do Paul’s Letters Matter?

Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60. These are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus.  Therefore, to jump to the Gospels as the earliest records to the life of Jesus is a tactical mistake.

Note: To see some of the common objections to Paul, see our post Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect: A Look at Paul’s Letters

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10 Steps that Lead to Jesus Mythicism

As much as I rarely debate this topic anymore, Stephen J. Bedard hits the nail on the head here. I subscribe to him. So this is from a recent email. He says:

Jesus mythicism is growing despite being rejected by the majority of biblical scholars and historians. I have read a lot from Jesus mythicists and have heard their arguments.

From my observations, these are the ten steps to become a Jesus mythcists. They are in no particular order.

  1. Reject the normal way people do history.
  2. Rely not on pagan myths themselves but summaries by other mythicists.
  3. Use a different standard for examining the historicity of Jesus than used for other ancient figures.
  4. Reject inconvenient evidence as later interpolations.
  5. Doubt anything that was written by a Christian (ancient or modern).
  6. Don’t trust trained and recognized Egyptologists or Classicists.
  7. Label all miraculous births as virgin, even if conception is through intercourse.
  8. Never worry about chronology. Later texts cam be the inspiration for earlier texts.
  9. As long as the Bible is considered Scripture, reject it as historical evidence.
  10. When in doubt, blame Constantine.
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Did Jesus Have To Do Apologetics?

Recently a friend of mine wrote an article on the need for apologetics. Someone wrote a response that said the following:

“If more Christians lived the faith and spent less time trying to figure it out. We could then have people see for them selves that the peace we have, can be there’s . Jesus did not have to defend his position, He spoke what the father said to speak. The defense of the Christian is to try and convert people and Jesus said all you have to do is believe. So by living it, people will see it and believe. “

So what is the truth here? Did Jesus have to defend his position? Was Jesus an apologist?  Since there was no New Testament canon at that time, it is not as if Jesus was walking around with the text 1 Peter 3:15-16 where we read, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. So I doubt that Jesus walked around saying, “ I have been called to be an apologist and I need to carry out my task in a faithful manner.” However, Jesus had to offer several reasons on several occasions as to why He is the Jewish Messiah and God incarnate. So let’s take a look at some of these and try to learn some things.

 1. Jesus Appealed to Evidence

Jesus knew He could not show up on the scene and not offer any evidence for His Messiahship. In his book On Jesus, Douglas Groothuis notes that Jesus appealed to evidence to confirm His claims. John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This may seem an odd question from a man the Gospels present as the prophetic forerunner of Jesus and as the one who had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, however, did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22). A published scroll from Qumran has helped confirm this:  According to 4Q521:

“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah and all that is in them will not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones … for (the Lord) will honor the pious upon the throne of the eternal Kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bowed down…. For he will heal the wounded, revive the dead, proclaim good news to the poor.”

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

2. Jesus Appealed to Testimony and Witness

Because Jesus was Jewish, he was well aware of the principles of the Torah. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that the Biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Unverifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony.

Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). In Jn. 5:31-39, Jesus says,” If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” Far from the verification, Jesus declares that singular self-attestation does not verify, it falsifies. We see in this passage that Jesus says the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the Father, the witness of the Word (the Hebrew Bible), and the witness of His works, testify to His Messiahship. (1)

3. Ontology: Being and Doing-The Actions of Jesus

Ontology is defined as the branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as, “Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?” Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Trinity since Orthodox Christians are required to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence. In relation to ontology, the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “Biblical ontology does not separate being from doing.” Heshel went on to say, “What is acts. The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds.” (2) Jesus continually appeals to His “works” that testify to His Messiahship.  “Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The worksthat I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very worksthat I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

As far as miracles,  they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (3)

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2). In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.

It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. Jesus did not do His miracles for entertainment. They were done to evoke a response. So perhaps Paul Moser is right on target in what he calls “kardiatheology” – a theology that is aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions. In other words, God is very interested in moral transformation.

We see Jesus’ frustration when His miracles did not bring the correct response from his audience. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation 

5. Jesus Appealed to His Own Authority

Another way Jesus appealed to those around Him was by His own speaking authority. The rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2). But Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even losing one’s life for his sake. Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). (5)

Conclusion:

So as we have looked at some of the apologetic methods of Jesus, perhaps we can concur with Douglas Groothuis when he says the following:

“Our sampling of Jesus’ reasoning, however, brings into serious question the indictment that Jesus praised uncritical faith over rational arguments and that He had no truck with logical consistency. On the contrary, Jesus never demeaned the proper and rigorous functioning of our God-given minds. His teaching appealed to the whole person: the imagination (parables), the will, and reasoning abilities. For all their honesty in reporting the foibles of the disciples, the Gospel writers never narrated a situation in which Jesus was intellectually stymied or bettered in an argument; neither did Jesus ever encourage an irrational or ill-informed faith on the part of His disciples.” (6)

So How Can We Live it Out?

So now  that we’ve settled the issue on the fact that Jesus did defend his claims,  let’s ask the question as to how we might attempt to live out what Jesus taught. I can think of two areas that come to mind. And they happen to be the two greatest commandments. Note:I tend to fall short on both of these:

Commandment #1: Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”- Mark 12: 28-31

Here, Jesus appeals to the Shema:

Deut. 6: 4-8:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

In Jewish thought , in the Shema hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. “ Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you;  you shall not bow down to a foreign god.” – Psalm 81: 8-9

Commandment #2: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”- Lev. 19: 17-18

To see the context, how about this:

  • Lev. 19:3: Respect for parents
  • Lev. 19:9-10: Provision for the Poor
  • Lev. 19:11: Respect for the property of others
  • Lev. 19:14: Care for the physically challenged
  • Lev. 19:15: Justice for the powerless
  • Lev. 19:16: Kindness in language about others
  • Lev. 19:17-18: Prohibition of hate and vengeance

Conclusion: How about these for starters?

Sources:

1. Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, J. and A. Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1984, 19.
2. Heschel., A.J. The Prophets. New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 2003, 44.
3. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.
4. Ibid.
5. Skarsaune, O., In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity. Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 2002, 331.

6. Groothuis, D., Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist: Available athttp://www.equip.org/articles/jesus-philosopher-and-apologist/

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When Will We Move Beyond the Basics? The Dumbing Down of the Church

1. The introduction to the job
2. The training/equipping for the job
3. Time to do the job!

The youth leader lamented that much of the Church has gotten many of our youth (and even older Christians) to point #1. But we have not gotten many of them to points #2 and #3. I agree with this leaders assessment. I see it over and over. But how did this happen? I think there are many reasons for this problem, but I will list a few:

1. We live in an overly sensate culture: With all the reality TV shows, video games, cell phones, texting, etc, means people want to be constantly stimulated. They want quick answers and have short attention spans. So pastors and leaders have had to try to adjust their ministry to this problem. In other words, the culture has rubbed off on the Church. Christians are being conformed to the image of the culture, not the other way around. Sadly, many Christians are just impatient. They want fast answers without exerting much effort.

2. We don’t know what it means to be created in the image of God: Can we all agree that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature? It is evident that God calls on us to use our reason (Isa. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 22:36-37). God is a rational being, and He created us as rational beings. So we can agree that since humans are created in the image of God, reason is not opposed to revelation; it is part of it. Learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

3. What is the Great Commision? I would say that probably most sermons on Matthew 28:19 have focused on the “go” part and forgotten the rest of the text. The text says that a large part of the Great Commission is to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. If we have not made disciples, we have have not fulfilled the Great Commission.

The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now- not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving by God’s grace to be consistent follower of Jesus. The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.

Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. And for those that say they don’t need discipleship- I pity you. Sorry to be so blunt. But without discipleship, you are destined for failure. There is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian. Also, discipleship involves teachability. I have run into my share of those who know it all and can’t be told or taught a thing. Pride is the central problem in this area. So sad.

Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the only way of happiness.

Conclusion:

To all youth leaders and ministry leaders:

Perhaps you are saying we can’t change this problem. My suggestion is to find the few that are interested in being conformed to the image of the Messiah and not the other way around. Remember, Jesus had twelve men. Stop basing your success on how many youth or people you have in your church or ministry! The issue is quality not quantity!

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