LET ME GUESS … YOU HAVE HEARD THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT IS FULL OF VITRIOL, VENOM AND VIRULENT HATRED AGAINST THE JEWISH PEOPLE. IT IS NOTHING BUT A RANDOM COLLECTION OF ANTI-SEMITIC IMAGERY AND ARGUMENTS. RIGHT? WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT ALL THOSE “V’ WORDS WAS ACTUALLY WRONG!…
Did you know that according to Biblical scholar Roger Nicole about 4.4% of the New Testament is a direct quotation of a passage/verse from the Hebrew Scriptures (1 out of every 22.5 verses)? And if you add up all the allusions to Hebrew Scripture references, you could have more than a thousand references or up to 10% of the entire New Testament (see http://www.bible-researcher.com/nicole.html). Jesus is noted as utilizing every book of the Hebrew Scriptures but Jesus’ four “favorites” books are Isaiah, Genesis, Exodus and Psalms (http://blog.biblia.com/2014/04/which-old-testament-book-did-jesus-quote-most/). Does that sound like an anti-Semitic book to you?
Or what about just looking at a sample passage from Matthew 1:1-17 (we could also show you the Luke 3 passage and Mary’s lineage if you want but it is a lot longer because it goes all the way back to Adam!):
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. (KJV – Public Domain)
Even if you dropped out of Hebrew School after your Bar/Bat Mitzvah – some of those names are familiar are they not? Jesus is Jewish. The New Testament is a Jewish book and the Christian faith is not Judaism replaced but something else – Tzedakah Ministries likes to call it Judaism Realized or Judaism Continued.
If so, isn’t it worth exploring the three questions we are going to examine in this section? If so, isn’t it worth discussing these questions with us at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board.
DON’T CHRISTIANS WORSHIP 3 GODS WHILE WE WORSHIP ONE GOD?
I remember flying from New York to Amarillo, Texas, more than a few years ago to speak at a church. Well, you cannot fly direct to Amarillo from LaGuardia and so I had a layover in Dallas where I met a lovely Jewish woman from Connecticut who was flying to the city to spend Passover with her daughter (yes, there are Jewish people in Amarillo!). We talked about Jesus and she shared with me the common argument of many – “I am a Jew and we worship ONE God and YOU Christians worship 3 gods that you just call the Trinity.”
Interestingly, and as a warning to those who might fly in Texas during the spring, the weather can become extremely chaotic and we encountered a thunderstorm while flying across the plains of Texas that even frightened the flight attendants! We landed in Amarillo and as I disembarked I encountered my new Connecticut friend who was still trying to recover from the “extreme highs and lows” of the flight. I checked on her and asked, “I prayed to God the Son during the flight (i.e., Jesus). You okay with that?” She smiled and shakily said, ”Yes!”
However, the bigger question that needs to be answered is do Christians pray, believe, worship 3 gods? Do we as believers in Jesus have a misunderstanding of Biblical belief that we call the Trinity or perhaps has this concept been in the Hebrew Scriptures all along and you need to EXPLORE it now for yourself?
THE SHEMA (DEUTERONOMY 6:4) ARGUMENT
Shema, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God the Lord is One.
Was this not the first prayer you were taught to pray? Whether you were in Yeshiva, Hebrew School or on your grandparent’s lap? The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is the basic/foundational prayer of all Judaism … is it not? But did you know …the Shema is not really a prayer at it’s core – it is a command when you look at the Hebrew itself?
The word “Hear” is a command because it is in the imperative case. Moses is giving the people a series of orders in these verses and the first one is primary – DON’T WORSHIP OTHER GODS BECAUSE THERE IS ONLY ONE! But let me you in on an another important secret – there is a special meaning to Moses’ usage of this word for “ONE” that has been missed for generations upon generations upon generations…
There are two words for “One” in Hebrew – (echad – אחד) and (yachid – יָחִיד); however, their meanings are significantly different. When (or if) you go to Rosh Hashanah services, you read from The Akedah of Genesis 22 … right? The rather grisly sounding (on the surface) passage when Abraham is commanded to offer his “ONE and only son” even though in man’s eyes Abraham has another son Ishmael. Confusing? Why does God not recognize Ishmael? Is God playing favorites? Does He not recognize Ishmael? What is the answer?
In God’s eyes, Isaac is the ONE and only son of the Covenant Promise (Genesis 12, 15, and 17) and that is the key understanding of the passage. The word in Genesis 22 is yachid to show that for God – Abraham needs to be willing to give up his ONE AND ONLY covenant son to God. GULP!
Therefore, does echad of Deut. 6:4 and the Shema really mean anything different than yachid?… YEP.
Echad would be like two people getting married and the rabbi/minister/judge saying you are no longer “two people but one flesh.” You are still an individual but you are no longer alone – you are united together as one (echad). Here are some Scripture verses that show this united concept of one being more than lonely one – Ezekiel 37:17; Ezra 2:64; and Genesis 34:16. Check us out on the Hebrew if you think we are pulling a fast one.
So then why didn’t Moses just use the word yachid in the Shema instead of writing echad?
Perhaps it is God not so alone as we thought?
Perhaps there is a hidden message that perhaps we need to explore further about the united idea of God?
Perhaps there is a hidden message that even Maimonides himself sought to keep hidden –
“Instead of the Hebrew word echad as found in Dt 6:4, which gives the connotation of a plural or unified one, Maimonides uses the alternative of yachid which can only be define as the singular (i.e., lonely) one. Louis Goldberg who was a Jewish believer in Jesus writes this simple but clear statement—’With one neat statement, this Jewish philosopher undercut what the Council of Nicea sought to express: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, each viewed as God, are one God, but in a Tri-unity. That is, God is one but in three persons.’” (from Amy Downey’s 2016 Ph.D. dissertation)
In other words, Maimonides, you know the “from Moses to Moses” guy you learned about in Temple, was uncomfortable with the usage of echad that the original Moses used in Deuteronomy 6:4 because of its “plural unity meaning” and sought to change the usage to yachid. Why is this? Talk to your rabbi if you have one. Talk to us because if you have been reading everything we have posted, yes, we have talked about this issue before. And so I would encourage you to talk to the Echad (because you actually can) as well and ask Him.
THE CHRISTIAN IDEA OF THE “TRINITY” IS NEVER MENTIONED IN THE HEBREW BIBLE … RIGHT?
Everyone’s life would be simpler if I could answer the question above in the affirmative because I am going to let you in on a secret – the concept of the Trinity is confusing even for those of us who believe and affirm it. It is a tough one. Trying to wrap one’s head of how God could be one and then three as well as three and then one at the same time – TOUGH. However, the concept is present in both what is called the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. So let’s start at the beginning and cover just two passages from both sections of the WHOLE BIBLE.
GENESIS 1:26 – “LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE”
ויאמר אלהים נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו וירדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובבהמה ובכל־הארץ ובכל־הרמש הרמש על־הארץ׃
There are many controversial passages in Scripture but it did not take very long (twenty-six verses into the first chapter!) for one of the most unique and controversial ones to be found. If God is SOLO/SINGLE/SOLITARY/ONLY, why did He say, “Let us make man in our image”? All sorts of explanations have been given throughout the ages –
HE WAS TALKING IN THE “ROYAL WE” LIKE THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND
HE WAS CONSULTING THE ANGELS LIKE ONE WOULD A BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR ADVICE/WISDOM
HE WAS BEING DELIBERATELY OBTUSE IN CASE FUTURE GENERATIONS DECIDED TO BE HERETICAL AND BELIEVE IN SOME SORT OF TRINITARIAN NONSENSE
Yes, those explanations have been given in Rabbinic thought from Rashi to Targum Yonasan to the BT Sanhedrin to various Chumash’s from Orthodox to Reform. However, I would like to ask you (and any rabbi if he/she would like to chime into the discussion a few questions and throw out a few of our own thoughts along the way):
- Why would God need to speak in the “royal we” language? Even Richard Elliott Friedman (author of Commentary on the Torah  acknowledges that God never utilized such language for himself after this passage [and the one in Genesis 11])? Could it be that He was talking to someone other than Himself in this conversation … which leads us to Question #2
- Throughout the entirety of the Torah and the rest of Hebrew Scriptures, we never encounter God consulting the angelic host for advice. Even in Job, the angels come to report to Him and not the other way around. Why would God consult the angels in the creation of humanity, especially given that there is no actual evidence that we are anything like the angelic host? Yes, the scholar Rashi seeks to make this point but this is his view based upon what? Opinion? Conjecture? Hope…? Did God consult the angelic host before any other “big decision” in the Hebrew Scriptures? Why here? Does it make sense to you? So … who was He talking to in Genesis 1:26?
- God is seen in the Torah as a jealous God. He is seen as a patient God. He is seen as a loving God. Have you ever seen Him to be capricious and vindictive? Yet, Rashi and elsewhere in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 38b especially) argues that Genesis 1:26 is purposefully vague in the event that future generations saw a Trinitarian God in the verse. The exact wording from The Legend of the Jews (Midrash) by Louis Ginsberg is the following – “God replied, ‘Whoever wishes to err will err.” Does this seem like the God of Judaism to you? Or perhaps God is talking/ speaking to others involved in the act of creation. Have you considered what earlier verses in Genesis 1 state about the work of world creation – “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2b) Just WHO is this Spirit? Rashi wrote – “The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over a nest…” Very lyrical and metaphorical until one considers what Apostle John wrote of John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus’ baptism, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” (John 1:32). BTW, I haven’t even told you one of Jesus’ names in the Gospel of John yet and it will BLOW YOUR MIND!
ISAIAH 9:5 –THE LONGEST NAME IN HISTORY!
כִּי־יֶ֣לֶד יֻלַּד־לָ֗נוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָ֔נוּ וַתְּהִ֥י הַמִּשְׂרָ֖ה עַל־שִׁכְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֨א שְׁמ֜וֹ
פֶּ֠לֶא יוֹעֵץ֙ אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר אֲבִי־עַ֖ד שַׂר־שָׁלֽוֹם
You might not believe me (and please feel free to check us out on this one at http://www.breslov.com/bible/Isaiah9.htm#9) but the 1917 English edition of the Jewish Publication Society Bible translates Isaiah 9:5 in the following way:
For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom
A lot of questions could go through one’s mind right about now — Who in the world is this guy – talk about the world’s longest name tag? Why would anyone in the world give their child such a name? But the real questions are why didn’t the editors of the 1917 JPS translate it from the Hebrew? Why did they instead transliterate it? What does this name mean?
Later editions of the JPS (1999) have translated it to the following: “… He has been named ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler—” NOTE: We will argue below that while this is a close translation … it is missing something intangibly and eternally important.
The Chabad version of the Tanakh (edited by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg) translates it in the following way: “and the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, “the prince of peace.” NOTE: Now this might create a more comfortable reading for some but it goes completely against all Hebrew rules and structure in order to accomplish – read the above Hebrew if you want to double check our argument against this translation.
The 1917 JPS, the 1999 JPS and the Chabad translation all miss something, especially as they try to force interpretation that this verse is speaking of King Hezekiah because a name has meaning and purpose behind it.
For while I am not named after anyone in my family, my first name shows that I was/am beloved in my family. My middle name shows that my family wanted me to exhibit the grace of God – something that I am still working on in my life. And so if my name has a purpose how much more do you think Biblical names mean something to the world? So … let’s look at this mysterious name in the Hebrew itself:
The 1917 JPS translation is accurate in its transliteration (even while hiding its meaning) and so we will utilize for it for ease of explanation:
PELE-JOEZ = WONDERFUL COUNSELOR/ADVISOR
The word for wonderful (an adjective) is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is to describe God alone or the actions/judgments of God – Exodus 15:11; Psalm 77:11, 14; Psalm 78;12; Psalm 88:10, 12; Psalm 89:5; Psalm 119:129; Isaiah 25:1; Lamentations 1:9; Daniel 12:6. The word for counselor/advisor simply describes what God does for us. This cannot be used to describe Hezekiah especially in light of Isaiah 39 because Hezekiah fails miserably does he not … and the adjective belongs alone to God. The 1999 JPS edition attempt to translate this passage as “is planning grace” does an injustice both to the idea of “wonderful” for while this phrase is in a verb form, it should not be translated as a passive verb concept but as an ongoing active principle.
EL-GIBBOR = MIGHTY GOD
Gibbor is an intensive adjective used to describe the noun God. Who in their right minds could believe this refers to Hezekiah? This is why the Chabad translation attempts to re-order the Hebrew in order to change the meaning of the verse to force a Hezekiah meaning into the verse; however, they fail basic translation rules in order to do so.
ABI-AD = ETERNAL/EVERLASTING FATHER
Abi is a form of Abba which means father which is common until we connect it to the adjective “Ad.” Which earthly Jewish king or any king has been everlasting or eternal? No one. Right?
SAR-SHALOM = PRINCE OF PEACE
A common enough phrase and an idea that everyone is longing for in today’s world. Hezekiah did not bring it. There was not an absence of war – spiritual or otherwise. Who has been the only one to promise a spiritual concept of peace that truly encapsulated the Hebraic idea of completeness and wholeness?
So in this mysterious verse in Isaiah, we have a child who is to be born upon whom the responsibility of the government will be laid upon his shoulders. He will have a mysterious name laden with holy connotations imbued with Godly attributes. Who has been the only child in the history of humanity that has claimed this mantle? Who has promised to bring true peace that was not simply an absence of war but wholeness/ completeness in the truest meaning of Shalom? Who alone claimed this responsibility and we as believers in Jesus affirm lived up to these attributes? Are you will to explore it even further … because after all this verse is not in the New Testament? However, we would like to ask you to examine two more verses in the rest of Scripture as well.
JOHN 1:1-3 – WHEN “WORD”(S) REALLY MEAN SOMETHING
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
In other questions and other sections, we have explained that John was the theologian of the disciples and of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the first three verses of his Gospel.
For if you are not raised in a church/Christian setting, I could well imagine you going what in the world is John talking about – who or what is “the Word”? Glad you asked! Or even if you didn’t … we were going to tell you anyway.
The WORD if you read the rest of the passage (and please do) is Jesus and John is making some radical observations with his opening statements:
JESUS HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE THE BEGINNING (I.E., GENESIS 1:1)
JESUS WAS ACTIVE IN THE CREATION OF THE WORLD AND NOTHING COULD HAVE BEEN MADE WITHOUT JESUS
AND MOST OF ALL … JESUS IS ALSO GOD. WHOA! STOP THE PRESSES!
John makes absolutely no bones about who he believes Jesus to be. All throughout the Gospel of John we are confronted with these “I Am” statements that define exactly both Jesus’ deity and divinity.
Where did John get such an idea? Did he pull it out of the air? Was it wishful thinking or did it come from somewhere more common and personal to all Jewish people? Let’s look and at both the Hebrew Scriptures and something that preceded the Talmud and Rabbinic Judaism. Something called the Targums…
A Targum was “a way of doing theology” in the first century world when the Temple still stood and the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth was making waves in Judea and among the Pharisees. In fact, the word Targum means “interpretation” or “translation” and was used in the Synagogues by the leaders, the Pharisees and the rabbis to make the Biblical passages being read and explained understandable to the everyday Jewish person. (For more information – go to pages 5-8 of http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948). In fact, I would argue that Jesus utilized a form of “Targumic reasoning” in his parables and the Sermon on the Mount that you can read throughout the Gospel – especially Matthew 5-7.
So what was it about John 1:1-3 (and following) that is not unusual but downright ordinary in a first-century Jewish setting? Let’s briefly discuss…
- The word for “Word” in the Greek is logos. The meaning of logos is the concept of reason, idea, doctrine, plan and even an actual written/spoken word. The concept of the “Word” is, therefore, important. This is why the modern philosopher Jacques Derrida (who was also Jewish) spent so much time seeking to deconstruct speech and the “Word.” For what is “Word” is vital to everything.
- But this emphasis on “Word” is not a modern or Greek philosophy. It is actually Hebraic in origin … for lack of a better expression.
o The word for “Word” in the Hebrew is dabar. The word for “Word” in the Aramaic, which was the street language in first-century Judea and the language of the Targums, is memra. We are going to focus on a few examples when it is memra (מימרא) as you shall come to understand why. Memra means more than just spoken word and has a richer connotation—it means also the voice and presence of someone in the sense that it MEANS something (summary of pages 37-38 — http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948).
o Even the no-nonsense Online Jewish Encyclopedia and anti-Christian (http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10618-memra) acknowledges that the first-century Targums provide an uncomfortable insight into the idea of “Word” that is definitely anti-Rabbinical in thought but fit very nicely with the view of Messiah Jesus and John 1:1-3
o So let’s consider just one quick Targum example for space sake but more examples are available at http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948:
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Numbers 21:8-9 – This is one of my favorite passages from the Torah because my own father preached from this passage quite often—even though it sounds like a rather odd story on first glance.
Here is my summary of the original Numbers account, the Israelites are kvetching (again!) and so God punishes them with poisonous snakes. The only cure for the snakes is a bronze serpent placed upon a pole and the faith of the people to look at it and believe they will be cured. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan writes the following: “And it shall come about that all whom the serpent bites should look at it and live, if he turns his heart to the name of the Memra [Word] of the Lord.”
Now this would just an interesting story if one did not connect it again back to the disciple John and his account of the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus (John 3:1-18, esp. 14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Interesting is it not? Coincidence … I think not.
1 PETER 3:18 – ALL THREE PLAYERS OF THE TRINITY WORKING TOGETHER AT ONCE
The entirety of the section of 1 Peter from verse 15 to verse 18 is really fascinating because one begins with a chicken/egg question – which came first the words of Peter or the saying found in the Pirkei Avot 2:14 or 2:19. I would argue the words of Peter but the correlation is fascinating and just goes to show a reader that the New Testament is anything but anti-Semitic:
I Peter 3:15 — 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;
Pirkei Avot 2:14 or 2:19 — “Rabbi Elazar said: ‘Be eager to study the Torah: Know what to respond to a heretic. Know before who you toil and who is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor.’”
So what we find in this 1 Peter section is a very Jewish concept in verse 15 as well as Peter utilizing all 3 members of what the Christian Church calls the Trinity – God the Father who will be the receiver of the action of God the Son who died for both the just and the unjust but who was brought back to life by God the Holy Spirit. It is almost as if Peter is trying to bring the recipients of his epistle/letter who coincidentally Jewish believers back to the idea of the Shema and true unity. Hmm…
I have to confess that we always have good intentions of writing short sections but you deserve better. It would be unfair to cater to the lowest common denominator of discussion. We get that enough from the news and politics these days. We know that those who come to this website want to be engaged in thoughtful consideration of eternal issues or you would not be on this exploration for the identity of the Messiah. However, we will continue to seek to find ways to be less verbose! Engage with us on CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and be as verbose as you want! I think we have some pretty good questions below!
ORIGINAL SIN – THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES DOESN’T TEACH THAT IDEA … DOES IT?
The word sin today is definitely Politically Incorrect. We can like or dislike something. We can find something questionable but we hesitate before we want to call it wrong. We might go as far as saying “it is wrong for me” but we don’t want to call it wrong for anyone else but that just comes across as judgmental and … wrong.
However, the Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20. We don’t want to be murdered and wouldn’t like it if someone stole our car or lied about us. Situational ethics sound great until they impact us negatively … Right or Wrong?
So what exactly is the meaning of Sin and how far apart is the Jewish and Christian teaching of this Biblical teaching? Therefore, Tzedakah Ministries thought we would begin this section with a couple of primary questions that might help us answer this overarching question.
TWO PRIMARY QUESTIONS…
I am sure that you have heard it taught that all Christians believe in the concept of “Original Sin” – the idea that because Adam/Eve sinned we are all born damned in our sins because we are all born sinful. While Judaism doesn’t believe in such a barbaric theology but instead believes in the concept of free choice/free will.
However, and because you don’t like to be stereotyped in your Jewishness, I must warn you that not all Christians believe this idea. Without getting bogged down in the weeds of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, there is a lot of gray area on the issue of “Original Sin” within Christian thought and even within Christian denominations (For example – many but not all Baptists do but most Methodists don’t while Presbyterians more than likely do but Pentecostals probably don’t). So instead of getting trapped in Christian political minutiae, let’s examine Scripture instead because it is always the best way to go:
- Genesis 8:21b (after the flood narrative and the Noahic Covenant) states – “…for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;…” – Couple of key words are heart, evil, youth
a. Heart in the Hebrew is the muscle that keeps life going. In other words, what beats in our chest is simply…
b. Evil plain and simple from…
c. Our youth or childhood. Now does this mean from the time we were born or at a certain age? We cannot ascertain from this passage and we will need to dig further but look at us … are we really that nice when no one is really looking?
d. We can be “good people” but what does our heart reveal about us? Just a question that we should all ask … including me because I was not always nice to my sister even when I was a child.
- Psalm 51:5 (after David’s sin related to Bathsheba) states – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
a. One could argue that David was exercising a bit of hyperbole here but was he? Or was he acknowledging that even King David was a sinner from the earliest of ages?
b. He was not born illegitimate because he was the youngest of 7 and so that could not be his rationale. He truly saw himself as a sinner and a sinner that began from an early age.
There are other passages in Job and Proverbs we could list but I believe you can research those for yourself. Bottom line, the Hebrew Scriptures does not excuse or eliminate the possibility that sin begins at the earliest of ages. And I (Tzedakah Ministries) will be honest with you that we believe in Original Sin in the sense of the questions below:
- Does it really matter if it was a matter of birth or not? After all … we all sin as if we were born to do it. Right? Can you remember a time when you were truly perfect (and not just because your Bubbe told you that you were)? We all blow it (I remember lying to my dad at the age of 4 or 5 and watching his face crumble because he knew I was doing it) and even though Rabbinic Judaism tries to dismiss the idea of being “born sinful” they have created “creative” ways around the idea that we will discuss below.
- Does the possible reality of “Original Sin” make God unfair or is there more to the story? If so … wouldn’t it be a good time to find out? We will discuss this more below! Keep reading!
EVIL INCLINATION VS. FREE WILL
Yes, Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? believes in “Original Sin” but we also believe in Free Will. Confused yet? Don’t be. God gave humanity the “fair” gift of free choice and we blew it and we are continuing to blow it.
So … we now must face the consequences and find out what will satisfy God’s demands for perfection (i.e., the whole “be ye holy as I am holy” concept found throughout Leviticus). Rabbinic Judaism has an option that we will discuss but we want to suggest there is a better and more Biblical option that will answer your heart exploration more honestly and thoroughly. Because … I can promise you that “Yaytser-Hure” will not cut it.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS “YAYTSER-HURE”?
My mother’s family can trace its roots in Texas back almost to what is called the “Original 300” that came with Moses and Stephen F. Austin. We came with the second group in the early 1830s from Tennessee led by Sam Houston and Sterling Robertson. Now if you are not from Texas, this is not that impressive but if you are and drive through Huntsville you will see the gargantuan statue of “The Sam” and realize our Texas roots are pretty deep. For Sam Houston was not only the president of the Republic of Texas but also a governor of Texas.
However, my mother’s family greatest genealogical Texas history claim to fame is not Sam Houston but Cynthia Ann Parker. Not many have heard of Cynthia Ann, but most Texans have heard of her son Quanah, one of the most famous leaders of the Comanche Tribe. What is significant about Cynthia Ann’s story is that she was taken captive during a Comanche attack on the Parker settlement in the late 1830s and ultimately became a full-fledged member of the tribe including marrying the chief of the Nocona branch of the Comanches. Later she was “rescued and returned to civilization” when the Nocona tribe was attacked and her husband was killed. Cynthia Ann never readjusted to “White Society” and she basically grieved herself to death in 1871.
The point of this story is that Cynthia Ann’s grandfather John Parker was a Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptist pastor who believed one was born with either a Good Seed or a Bad Seed and depending upon what seed you were given determined your eternity. The descendants who survived the 1830s massacre saw Cynthia Ann’s struggle to readjust as proof of her “Bad Seedness” and were not surprised when she died. In other words, my multiple great-Uncle John was what you would call a Hyper-Hyper Calvinist and this view which filtered down to the view of Primitive Baptists which was strong in my family until my great-grandmother on both sides of my mother’s family broke away from it thankfully in the 1930s and 1940s.
Explore Messiah…? has told you this rather bizarre family story because many within Rabbinic Judaism will point to such a tale as an example of what is incorrect about the Christian faith. Yet, they will then turn around and advocate a concept called Yaytser Hure (aka Yetzer Hara) or the evil inclination. The idea of the “evil inclination” within Rabbinic Judaism is that every human is born with both a good and evil inclination. We can choose to do good or evil but our natural instincts will eventually take over and somewhere along the line we will choose to do bad – “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
I don’t think any of us (even myself) would disagree with Ecclesiastes 7:20 but a simple question that I have often asked myself – how different really is the whole Inclination Argument than the Two-Seed Argument? Yes, Rabbinic Judaism says you have a choice … but do you really? Yes, Rabbinic Judaism will relent and say that the choice is not really a choice because everyone eventually succumbs to our baser nature but they will then turn around and say you can do enough good to make up for you bad choices. Therefore, a final question before we look at what Scripture actually says – if we cannot control our baser nature … do you think you can really do enough good to make up for your own basic desire to sin?
BLOWING THE GIFT OF “FREE WILL” AND THE COST THROUGHOUT THE GENERATIONS
Tzedakah Ministries/Explore Messiah…? absolutely believes in the dual concept of the Sovereignty of God and “Free Will.” In fact, we would argue that God actually is secure enough in His Sovereignty that He never wanted robots for His greatest action of creation and gave us and still gives us “Free Will” but we continue to blow it. So … what is our choice, what is our road, what is our hopeful exploration back to Him?
First – Torah teaches that God only accepts holiness (i.e., “be ye Holy as I am Holy”) as found throughout Leviticus and attempts at good stuff will never cut it with Him.
Second – Isaiah actually said that our attempts at being good is absolute garbage in Isaiah 64:5 (verse 6 in the Christian Bible). Isaiah compares our best, believe it or not, in the Hebrew to the sanitary efforts/cleaning rags that a woman burned after her menstrual cycle!
Third – God never cancelled out the need for an actual atonement sacrifice for sins despite what Rabbinic Judaism tries to argue – and if they are honest they will admit it that Rabbinic Judaism is really Plan B Judaism to what Scripture teaches (Leviticus 17:11; 23:26-32). Incidentally, I am taking a continuing education course at Rutgers University on Rabbinic Literature and the professor basically admits as much!
Therefore, this is why we who believe in Jesus as our Messiah do not see Jesus’ sacrifice as a negative but as a solution to what we could never achieve ourselves. We blew/blow/continue to blow “Free Will” and Jesus did what we could never achieve on our own. He is our choice, our road and exploration back to God and that is what Romans 5 and Hebrews 10 seeks to explain if you are willing to explore/read it.
HAVE YOU EVER REALLY READ GENESIS 8:21; PSALM 51:5; ECCLESIASTES 7:20; AND ISAIAH 64:5 IN THE SYNAGOGUAGE?
One quick but really important final question – this section has utilized four specific passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (and we are not even including those awkward Leviticus verses!). When was the last time they were mentioned in the synagogue you attend[ed]? I remember one time bringing up Isaiah 64 to a rabbi and he didn’t even know that verse was there. Seriously! Would your rabbi know about it? How would he respond to it? Would you let us know?
Have you been surprised by what Christians actually believe about the idea of “Original Sin”? Is it different or the same from what you have been led to believe? Come and discuss it with us along with some of our questions at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board.
JUDAISM DOESN’T BELIEVE IN HELL – WHY SHOULD I SHOULD WANT TO BEGIN BELIEVING IN THIS MACABRE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT?
I personally am a fan of The Big Bang Theory. And as a self-confessed nerd, this should not surprise you. I would describe myself as a cross between the characters of Amy Farrah-Fowler and Howard Wolowitz – with includes having an awkward, sarcastic humor most often at my own expense, etc. Wolowitz represents the typical Jewish individual today – religiously Reform at best and for the most part agnostic/atheistic in his understanding of God. This reality is illustrated well when he explains to Sheldon, Leonard and Raj what he perceives as the Modern Jewish understanding of hell…
However, is Wolowitz’ view of HELL really the Jewish, even the Modern Jewish understanding of the afterlife for the damned? Let’s look at some other thoughts:
Reuven Alcalay – “The way from Paradise to Hell is very short, the way back: impossible.”
Midrash, Tehillim – “When justice is not meted out on earth, it is meted out in heaven.”
Ibn Gabirol – “Live as if you expect to live forever, but plan as if you expect to enter the hereafter tomorrow.”
Talmud, Chagigah – “For everything that the Lord created, He created its opposite: He made Heaven and He made Hell.”
Obviously there are lots of conflicting messages and opinions are there not. So … let’s explore the issue a little further.
SO JUST WHAT IS THIS AFTERLIFE PLACE CALLED HELL – WHO GOES THERE? WHAT IS IT LIKE? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BIBLICALLY BETWEEN THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING?
- Who goes to Hell?
The Modern/Rabbinic Jewish understanding of who goes to Hell is a little complex because it is based on whether (1) you believe it is there and (2) who you think deserves to go.
Adolf Hitler – YES
Inventor of Air Conditioning if you live in Texas in August – NEVER
Righteous Gentiles during World War II even if they believe that Jesus is God – Well… that is a tough one! (Trust me – I have had that discussion with an anti-missionary Yeshiva student in Bensonhurst Park, Brooklyn)
Jews for Judaism (https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/belief-in-heaven-is-fundamental-to-judaism/) compares Hell to the modern Roman Catholic understanding of Purgatory (hmm…?). Interesting that THEY would use such a weird comparison don’t you think? What is even more interesting is that they state the following:
“God does not expect perfection or He wouldn’t have provided repentance as a way of returning to Him. God’s message of love and compassion is: “Return to Me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you,” (Zechariah 1:3). This is an invitation from God to return directly to Him without the need for an intermediary to help us.”
Obviously, Jews for Judaism is responding to people like Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? and that is perfectly fine. And you should know their arguments in order for your exploration to be fully developed; however, could I point out some flaws in their argument:
- God does demand perfection. As we have already shown in the Leviticus account of requiring holiness. This is what God requires from us and in our sacrifices but we cannot satisfy His demand. This is why Jesus became our sacrifice for humanity. His Perfect Sacrifice became what we could not deliver. There is an older church chorus that explains it better than I could — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfKT2AM6exE
- The passage in Zechariah 1 has absolutely nothing to do with what Jews for Judaism is saying. The context is about the return of the refugees from Babylon and their confessional repentance to not be like their ancestors who were dispersed in the first place. This is not a salvation (heaven/hell) text and to pretend to be so is to do you and the folks in Zechariah a disservice.
3) Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea of an intermediary is present (Moses and Exodus 20 anyone) and this “not so subtle dig” at Christianity was immature to say the least.
So who goes to Hell according to Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament canon? Let’s look at it fairly and objectively…
- What is Hell Like?
Every Halloween where I live in Texas, some church in the area will present their version of “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames.” This presentation creates a scenario that allows people to see characters die and face eternity. Some will go to Heaven and others will go (cue dramatic music) to Hell. I don’t care for this presentation for a multitude of reasons that I often share with others but I will share one of those reasons with you here – the reality of Hell will be far worse than anything we can imagine.
Evangelical Christians often focus on the physical suffering of Hell (the wailing and gnashing of teeth that we find described in such places as Matthew 8:12). And, yes, Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? believes that Hell will be a place of fire, brimstone, pain and physical suffering. Here is what we officially believe and why:
We believe in the bodily resurrection of the redeemed and the reprobates. The redeemed of Messiah Jesus will be raised to receive the reward of eternal life in heaven and those who rejected the salvation gift of Jesus will be condemned to an eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire also known as hell. (Daniel 12:1-3; Matthew 7:13-27; 16:27; 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31; John 3:36; 5:19-29; 14:1-3; Acts 17:29-31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 15:51-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-2:17; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 1:18; 14:9-13; 20:11-15; 21:1-8)
However, I think we do Hell a real disservice if we overlook “the emptiness of Hell.” Hell will be empty of love, light and hope. Hell will be empty of possibility, future and joy. Hell will be crowded with people but empty of anything resembling presence, especially and eternally the presence of God Himself. And it is unnecessary for as C. S. Lewis wrote –
The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. (The Great Divorce, 1945)
Now I might disagree with Mr. Lewis on some nuances of his view of eternal abomination but I would recommend The Great Divorce as well as the Evangelical work Four Views of Hell, ed. William Crockett. Both are worth a read even if I personally do not agree with everything written on the pages. For Hell is real but it doesn’t have to be a destination worth exploring because of the emptiness that awaits … unless once chooses to not recognize the gift that was given in Messiah Jesus.
- Is there really a Biblical difference between the Jewish and Christian understanding of Hell?
Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? will admit that our statement on Hell is dominated with verses from what we call the New Testament. There is a reason for this fact – the Hebrew Scriptures do not broadly explain Hell; however, this does not mean that the concept is not present in the Tanakh.
One of the great Baptist theologians of the 20th century, and admittedly a personal friend, James Leo Garrett, writes in his second volume (page 661) of his Systematic Theology that in order “to understand the entire Old Testament perspective, we need to identify and explain several strands with the [Hebrew Scripture.]” He then goes on to explain eight issues (pages 661-664) related to death and life after death that are found in the Tanakh with in-depth explanations of not only Sheol but also Abaddon and others.
Therefore, let us just look for a moment at the one verse from the Tanakh that we do list in our statement of faith – Daniel 12:1-3, specifically verse 2. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Yes, I know that Daniel is rarely if ever touched in the synagogue. This passage along with Daniel 7 and Daniel 9 are troublesome but they need to be explored as you are on your journey. For the writer of Daniel (who I personally think was Daniel but that is a story for another day), believed in resurrection from the dead but not all went to heaven, but not all went to some Jewish form of Purgatory as Jews for Judaism teaches, and not all went through some form of super-duper extra but temporary cleansing as the Lubavitch/Chabad teach today (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1594422/jewish/Do-Jews-Believe-in-Hell.htm). Some in Daniel 12:2 went to what Daniel described as eternal contempt/ abhorrence which incidentally is the actual translation on the Chabad website. (https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16495#showrashi=true) Why did they go such to horrible place – the word for contempt/abhorrence gives us a clue because we find in its root the idea of blasphemy.
Is this not what Jesus taught in Matthew 12:31 that any sin could be forgiven but the sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”? What sends someone to Hell is not God’s capriciousness but our defiance. And how do we illustrate our defiance is to reject the ultimate gift that He gave to the world – the gift of Messiah Jesus who was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. This is blasphemy. This is contemptible. This is abhorrent when you think about it. But it is avoidable if one simply accepts the gift of the debt He paid for…
Truly, the question of exploring the idea of Hell and Heaven is life’s ultimate and eternal decision and we would love to talk with you about it on the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board. Will you continue the exploration with us?