What’s the Incarnation … Really?

INTRODUCTION:

When one considers what has been called the Christian idea of the INCARNATION, it can’t just be addressed in one simple way. So … we have broken it down into three shorter ideas. Jump around to the issue that interests you most. And remember at any time, we are ready to discuss these thoughts with you at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board.

How Could God Become a Man?

Confession time – this was my kindergarten picture. I am desperately hoping that no one uncovers my junior year in high school picture because it will confirm the inevitable truth … I am the “Queen of the Nerds.”

If the picture and the confession is not enough … perhaps the following will do it for you – the topic of my doctoral dissertation:

MAIMONIDES’ YAHWEH: HOW HIS VIA NEGATIVA GOD INFLUENCED RABBINIC JUDAISM AND ITS SUBSEQUENT MISUNDERSTANDING OF INCARNATIONAL CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY

Even if you have not been to Temple in a while, the name Moses Maimonides (Rambam) is one that you probably remember from Bar/Bat Mitzvah training days – including his two most famous works Mishneh Torah and Guide for the Perplexed. Born in the 12th century Spain, his teachings I would argue still influence Judaism today more than even the first Moses from Mount Sinai days.

Rambam believed that God could only be known by his negative attributes – in other words God is unknowable, unattainable, and unapproachable. Now why would a “nice Jewish boy” like Maimonides do such a thing? I don’t know about you but this sounds a lot like Deism and not Judaism to me.

I for one (yes, this is the “Queen of the Nerds” with Rambam in Cordoba, Spain) argued in my PhD work that he did so as the one of the first major apologetic/anti-missionary efforts against the Christian arguments of the Incarnation.

In fact, he even tried to change the wording of the Shema in order to accomplish his goal! Maimonides wanted to change the word “Echad” to “Yachid” but why since they both mean the word “One”? Perhaps because they mean different types of “One”…

The word “Yachid” is the idea of the solitary and lonely ONE – if you like 1960s semi-psychedelic music and Lego Batman think of the song by Three Dog Night called “One is the Loneliest Number”

It can mean nothing but ONE. However, “Echad” has a different nuance as it means a ONE of UNITY (i.e., people group or hours in a single day). For example, a person goes to the store to buy “Yachid” gallon of milk but “Echad” carton of eggs.

So … for Maimonides … I would argue that the idea of unity of oneness in the Shema struck him as sounding too much like the Christian idea of the Trinity. Perhaps for a reason…? Is it possible that Jesus was around before He showed up in Bethlehem? Did He show “His face” before we even knew Him as Jesus? This idea that Jesus shows up in the Torah/Tanakh is called by Bible scholars (both Christian and Jewish) by the big words – Theophany and/or Christophany. Basically, it means a “an appearance of God/Jesus to someone, specifically in the Hebrew Scriptures.”

You can imagine that Rambam hated this idea and wanted to read almost all of Scripture allegorically/metaphorically but I would ask you to read the following passages for yourself and see what you think: (1) Genesis 16:7-13; (2) Genesis 18:1-33; (3) Genesis 28:12-17; (4) Genesis 32:24-32; (5) Exodus 3:2-6; (6) Exodus 24:9-11; (7) Numbers 12:6-8; (8) Joshua 5:13-15; and (9) Daniel 10:1-21 – After you are finished reading this passage – do yourself a favor and ask a rabbi why the Book of Daniel is skipped in the synagogue readings? 

Explore Messiah…? wants you and everyone to know that you can actually KNOW God. We can recognize who He is when we worship Him. We can have a closeness to Him. We can know that He actually does love/care about us. This is Biblical Judaism in its truest form.

Perhaps this idea was a little mind-blowing. If you would like to discuss this view with us more, come to the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP.

How Can a Virgin Have a Child?

Philip Roth is considered one of the great American Jewish novelists – including Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, American Pastoral, The Plot Against America. However, my favorite Roth work is a 1959 short story that is often overlooked and forgotten … perhaps because it is about a taboo subject which is remarkable considering some of the topics which Roth covered – the attack on the stereotypical Jewish mother, hidden and overt forms of racism, anti-Semitism, etc. But … Roth’s  story “The Conversion of the Jews”  (https://www.macalester.edu/religiouslife/programs/sacredstories/documents/RothConversionoftheJews.pdf) is not simply about Jewish people believing in Jesus as Messiah but also about believing the idea that a … virgin could actually have a baby!

Can I guess some of the responses you are having right about now?

  • Wait … a virgin and a baby. That sounds just like that “Christian belief” and Jewish people don’t believe in that … right?
  • Wait … I heard back when I was going to Shabbat School or from one of those Chabad guys in college that Christians had really messed up the Hebrew and it really doesn’t mean what they say … right?
  • Who cares … but ice cream sounds really good right about now.

 

Before you go get some ice cream (FYI – I like a double scoop of pistachio and peppermint chip) … would you give us two minutes to respond?

What do you think? Okay … the videos on this website will never win one of those statues they give out every year but at least it won’t win one and then have it taken away!

So … the point of the short video was to show you that miracles and prophecies have always been considered possible in Jewish (and Christian) life. I know that such an idea has in many ways been lost in Modern Judaism but if they have been lost … what hope is there?

  • Howard Schwartz – “…few among the followers of modern branches of Judaism believe in the literal parting of the Red Sea, much less the existence of angels. Along with our belief in miracles, we have lost much of our spiritual faith. But in recent years many Jews have begun to search for way to restore the lost spiritual realm.”

  • Lucette Lagnado – People have stopped believing in God, in the possibility of miracles, in the mystical, and in that most belief of all – the idea that somebody’s going to come along and make the world all better.”

But we at Explore Messiah…? think there is hope and miracles and prophecies to believe in today. For while we might not be able to change the world with a piano (sorry, Ed Sheeran), we believe there is someone who can change it for the better and, yes, He was born of a Virgin! If you would like to discuss this idea with us more, come to the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board and someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP.

Why Would God Come to Earth in the First Place?

The Hebraic studies writer Harris Lenowitz once wrote, “Who at different times in their life hasn’t had a belief that someone, a messiah, can help them and the world? And the messiah is the biggest answer to the biggest single question: ‘Does God care about me?’”

I suppose this is a longing that everyone who cares to admit it has – the need to have a personal encounter with God for a specific divine purpose. The idea of having the CEO of the universe “coming downstairs” to deliver some good news for a change. And when you think about it, this is the idea of the Incarnation in a nutshell.

A friend of mine Erica once came to me after reading the Matthew account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27 with one simple question – “Why would Jesus do it for me?” A great question that could be simply be answered by the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Where Jesus is, there is God’s love;” but … it needs a broader answer.

Up until CE 70 and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, what was the Jewish teaching for the forgiveness of sins? Animal sacrifice – right? Now this changed with the institution of Rabbinic Judaism but the words of the Tanakh/Torah have not changed have they? Actually … No. So … should we go about sacrificing lambs for the forgiveness of sins? Thankfully … No!

It would be like a gruesome remake of “Silence of the Lambs” if we did! Something else happened that connected God and humanity together in a unique and unexpected (to us) way. Jesus who is the Incarnation of God Himself offered to become to ultimate sacrifice for us. This is not “human sacrifice” because this is the miracle of the Incarnation – the CEO of the universe came TO us to do FOR us what we could not do for ourselves.

Is this a tough concept to contemplate? YEP! Do believers in Jesus struggle with it as well? DEFINITELY! The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (http://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html) who was a part of the plot to kill Hitler and was murdered by the Nazis for his efforts offered some great thoughts on the idea that you might find interesting:

“Jesus is not just a man, but the man. What happens to him happens to man, happens to all, and therefore to us as well. The name of Jesus takes all of humanity and all of God into itself.”

“Christ does not bring a new religion; rather, He brings God.”

“Jesus does not call us to a new religion but to life.”

However, it is not just Bonhoeffer who makes these observations but Moses and the prophets. Moses provides us the very personal name of God in Exodus 3. Why would God tell us His name if He didn’t want us to know Him personally (see also Exodus 20:18-22 for a perspective of God that you might never have seen before)?

Speaking of a perspective of God that might be unrecognizable from your synagogue days … check out and then come chat with us about it at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board. Someone will either be there or will get back to you ASAP.

    • Genesis 32:22-32 and Hosea 12:3-5
    • Daniel 7:13-14; Isaiah 9:6-7; and Matthew 26:63-66 (FYI – If I didn’t believe in Jesus, I would have called Jesus a blasphemer as well)
    • Isaiah 6:1-8
    • Zechariah 3:1-6
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