By Eric Chabot, CJF Midwest Representative (Note: if you click on my profile here, you can always email me questions).
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 Damascu" (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.
A Final Thought: James Dunn offers a nice exhortation here:
“As Paul wrestled with what it meant to be a Jew who believed in Jesus Messiah, so Christians today must wrestle with what it means to be a Gentile who believes in the Messiah of Israel. As Paul wrestled with the issue of what is central in Israel’s heritage and what continued to be the Word of God for him, so Christian (and Jew) cannot escape the same issue. And as Paul resolved these issues, so far as he did resolve them, by making the key defining factor the purpose of God and the relationship with Christ, so today’s Christians may learn to resolve the issues which plague them by the same priorities.”- James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels, ( Grand Rapids, Erdmans, 2011), pg 132.
Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.” But in this case, on more than one occasion, Jesus appealed to the fact that Moses wrote about him in the Torah. I will not take the time to argue for Mosaic authorship in this post. That is dealt with elsewhere. Anyway, let’s look at where Jesus discusses this issue:
"How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God. Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" ( John 5: 44-47).
So can Jesus be found in the Torah? Jesus doesn’t list any specific texts here. First, we need to remember that there were other names that were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.
The First Messianic Promise
It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:
“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel ” (Gen. 3:15)
The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” 
I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history. God was planning on doing something for the entire world.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
A good study of the Abrahamic Covenant shows the messianic blessing for all the world. Hence, all peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). The Abrahamic promise of blessing of the nations is repeated in Ps. 72:17; Isa.19:24-25; Jer. 4:2; Zech 8:13.
As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.
Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).
Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). Hence, while God’s plans are national (Israel), it is evidence that the nation is an instrument to bring international blessings. Therefore, Israel’s Head, the Messiah, is called to restore the nation and use the nation to bring blessings to the other nations of the earth—blessings that are spiritual and physical.
“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be" (Gen 49:8-12).
In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:
1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.
2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.
3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).
4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.
5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.
A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”
The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or, it may refer to a proper name for the Messiah. This is seen in the Talmud in Sanhedrian 98b which answers the question of what the Messiah’s name is by saying, “Shiloh is his name, as it is said, “Until Shiloh Come.” In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission. The challenge is seen in that Shiloh can be rendered in six ways: (1) “until he come to Shiloh,” (2) “until Shiloh comes,” (3) “until a ruler comes,” (4) “unti this ruler comes,” (5) “until to him tribute comes,” or (6) “until he comes to whom it belongs.” (1)
The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, Shiloh is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27, Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling. (2)
We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.
It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:
A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations. (3)
We have been discussing the temporal element of this prophecy. Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.
But there is another aspect of this prophecy that remains partially unfulfilled. Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed came who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the “peoples” of not just Israel but the rest of the world (also see Gen 17:6; Exod. 15:16; Deut. 32:8). While the immediate context probably refers to King David, it also speaks to an eschatological ruler whom the Gentile nations will come to in submissive obedience! We should note that part of this prophecy has not been fulfilled. While there are many Gentiles who have submitted to the rule of Messiah (Jesus) in their lives, all the nations are not under the universal rule of the Messiah. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not the King right now. He most certainly is. However, there is more to come in the future.
In Numbers 24:17-19, we see a similar theme is seen in that a ruler shall arise out of Israel and how a descendant of Jacob will have universal dominion:
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.“One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city "
The Messianic Interpretation of this prophecy is the following:
1. The context is about Balaam’s oracle. In vs 7 we see that there shall come forth a man who shall be Lord over many nations and his kingdom shall be exalted in Gog.
2. Balaam references two important points: First, “a star shall come from Jacob” and “a scepter comes forth from Israel.”
3. The figure is visible in the term” scepter” who is an earthly king who will use his earthly power to subdue the earth.
4. “Star” may refer to his heavenly origin. (4)
Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).
God, through Moses, warns Israel to remain separate from the evil practices of the surrounding nations (Deut. 18:9-12) and instructs Israel how to tell the difference between a “true prophet” and a “false prophet.” After God had warned Israel about attempting to get supernatural information from bogus pagan sources ( Deut. 18:9-14 ), he announced that he would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own brothers” (v. 15). Any prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord and his words do not come true is a “false prophet.” God has not spoken through him.
Some critics like to point out that Deut. 34: 10-12 which says that “No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Does this prophecy mean the end of prophecy had come? Certainly by the time of the final completion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch as a whole, there had been no prophet who had arisen in Israel like Moses. But this does not mean there is not someone who will come in the future to fulfill the prophecy. After all, if prophecy had ended than why is it in the time of Jesus many Jewish people seem to be looking for the prophet of Deut. 18:15-22? For example:
The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)
Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)
John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).
Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).
We see in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority. Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent from God. In response, Moses defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have. Moses says, ” 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” (Num.16:28).
As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:
So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7: 16-18)
"I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world" (John 8:26)
"For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life;therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).
"Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works" (John 14:10).
"Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me" (John 14:24).
"For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me" (John 17:8).
To summarize, when Jesus speaks, it is not His own word that he gives to the people, but that of the Father; it is as if God is speaking to us. Also, there is a similar relationship between those who do no heed the words of Moses and those who do not listen to the words of Jesus. For example, Moses exhorts and warns the people about the consequences of not heeding the Word of God:
“ See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deut 30: 15-20).
Of course, one of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Likewise, Jesus, who is the Word incarnate and the new Moses gives a similar warning:
”The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life " (John 5: 22-24).
Signs and Miracles
While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God. Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that the “signs” will confirm his call:
God says, “I will be with you. And this will be “the sign” to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
”If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even thesetwo signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Exod 4: 8-9).
We see the signs are used to help people believe.
Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)
The Works of Jesus
“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 works that 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 works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)
“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9)
There are many other places in the Torah that point to the life and ministry of Jesus. For now, I hope these texts can spark some interest for further study.
1. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darell L. Bock, and Gordan H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 46.
2. Ibid, 49-51.
3. Various translations of 4QPBless are found in Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking, 1958), 401; Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 53; cited in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 660
4. John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity, 385-386
By Eric Chabot, CJF Midwest Represenative (note: feel free to email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Over the years, I have had the privilege of teaching on Jewish backgrounds of the Christian faith. Just a quick clarification: Understanding the Jewish backgrounds of the Christian faith is not the same as being part of the Hebrew Roots movement.
But I think it is significant that when Marvin Wilson released his book last year called Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal, David Neff, who is former editor of Christianity Today, said the following:
“As a historical religion, Christianity must own its Jewish origins and live up to the best of that heritage. Marvin Wilson, a pioneer in evangelical-Jewish relations, makes a compelling argument for renewing Christian faith by recovering our Hebraic heritage. If only there were more like him, we could have a healthier church.”
So what about the renewal aspect that Neff mentions here? Here are five lessons Christians can learn from the Jewish roots of their faith.
#1: Yeshua and the Name of God
Regarding the disciples prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), Yeshua says:
This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.”
Regarding the hallowing of God’s name, Scot McKnight says:
“At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus’ vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother” “Countless Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to “hallow” or “sanctify” the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus’ day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God’s awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. “Reverencing the Name of God” is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God’s Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of God in it’s behavior” (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).
God’s Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God’s Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence,” or “sanctify” the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in the context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites.” -Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans. Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85.
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 Yeshua.
The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.
Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. For those that say they don’t need discipleship, you are setting yourself up for failure. Sorry to be so blunt. But there is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian.
Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. In an overly sensate culture, people need to be constantly stimulated and have a hard time focusing on something such as discipleship. In a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. 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 way of happiness.
#3: The Shema
In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by quoting the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 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.” Jesus then added to the Shema a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Shema is seen in the following text:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.-Deut 6:4-9
This was something every Jewish child would memorize at a very early age. As we see here, in Deut : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We are to love him with everything. Not just our
heart and strength but with our very lives! We love our God with our emotions, our actions, and our entire beings (including our minds).
#4: What Does it Mean to say Jesus is the “Christ”?
There is no doubt that the major identity marker for a committed Christian is to say they follow Jesus Christ. But for the average Jewish person, the name “Jesus Christ” has no relationship to Judaism. And for the average Christian, there is little a very limited understanding as to what it means to even say Jesus is “The Christ.” In my personal experience, many of my Christian friends are fully convinced that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Millions of sermons as well as evangelistic appeals are given each year to people to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. But when it comes to thinking about whether Jesus is actually the promised Messiah of Israel and the nations, many Christians know every little about what it means to affirm Jesus is actually the Messiah. Michael Bird says it so well:
The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird , Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163.
But if we probe deeper, the Greek word Christos, from which we get the English word “Christ” carries the same connotations as the Hebrew word — “the Anointed One” which is where the word “messiah” comes from. 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 Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed for a specific purpose such as priests (Exod. 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev. 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg. 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam. 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam. 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; 1 Chron. 11:3; 5:17; 127; 2 Sam. 19:11; 1 Kgs. 1:34, 39, 45; 5:15;19:15,16; 2 Kgs 9:3, 6,12;11:12; 23:30; 2 Chron. 22:7; 23:11; 29:22; Ps 89:21), and even prophets (1Kgs.19:16; 1 Chron.16:22; Ps.105:15)
After teaching on this topic for several years, Dr. Brant Pitre summarizes the challenge that lays before us:
“Regarding Jesus, according to the testimony of the four Gospels, who did he claim to be? Who did his first followers believe him to be? And, even more important, why did they believe in him? As soon as we ask this question, we run into a bit of a problem—a paradox of sorts. I’ve noticed this paradox over the last ten years that I’ve been teaching the Bible as a professor in the classroom. On the one hand, if I ask my students what kind of Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for in the first century AD, they all seem to be very clear about the answer. Usually, their standard response goes “At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were waiting for an earthly, political Messiah to come and set them free from the Roman Empire.” On the other hand, if I ask students which prophecies led to this ancient Jewish hope for an earthly, political Messiah, they are often at a complete loss. The classroom quickly falls silent. They often get even quieter when I ask, “Which prophecies of the Messiah did Jesus actually fulfill?” or “What prophecies did the first Jewish Christians think he fulfilled?” Every time I pose these questions, the vast majority of the students (who are usually all Christians) can’t answer them. They often can’t name a single prophecy that Jesus fulfilled that would show that he was in fact the Messiah. Every now and then, one or two students may bring up the oracle of the virgin who bears a child (Isaiah 7) or the passage about the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52–53). However, that’s usually as far as it goes. If my experiences are any indication, many contemporary Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t necessarily know why they believe he was the Messiah, much less why his first followers thought he was the long-awaited king of Israel.”—B. Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ(New York: Crown Publishing. 2016), 102-103.
I hope these four lessons can enhance your faith and help you to be a stronger disciple of Yeshua the Messiah.
Over the years, I have seen a lot of confusion about the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Christians tend to be very confused about how to bridge the gap between the Testaments. Granted, some Christians just ignore the entire Tanakh (i.e.,Old Testament). Yes, this happens! Why is their so much confusion?
First, we can tend to forget there was no New Testament at the time of Jesus. Paul stated: “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Here “Scripture” (graphē) must refer to the Old Testament written Scripture, for that is what the word graphē refers to in every one of its fifty-one occurrences in the New Testament.
Second, many Christians assume the way it is today was the way it was in the first century.
As I have said before, this is the problem of paradigms. As Ronald Timothy says:
" Paradigms can be so strong they act as psychological filters – we quite literally see the world through our paradigms. Any data that exists in the real world (or even in the Bible) that does not fit our paradigm will have a difficult time getting through our filters. We are quite literally unable to perceive the facts right before our eyes. Thus, our greatest strengths can become our greatest weakness by not allowing us to see both the need and the opportunity for change. The people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community. “– Ronald Timothy, Following Jesus: Our Cruciform Example
Because of the first diagram is sometimes assumed by many Christians, it leads to the problem that is stated by Walter Kaiser:
“God never intended that the two testaments should result in two separate religions: Judaism and Christianity. The Tanach (= OT) was meant to lead directly into the so-called New Testament and thus be the continuation of one plan from creation to consummation. When the divine promise-plan of God is ruptured and divided into two distinct parts, with the climax triumphing over the earlier revelation, then we have introduced a division where God had revealed the fulfillment of what he had revealed in earlier texts! Therefore, we must investigate further how this disparity appeared among the people of God”- Walter Kaiser, Jewish Christianity: Why Believing Jews and Gentiles Parted Ways in the Early Church
In reality, the way it was in the first century was this diagram:
Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century wasn’t seen as a single “way.” There were many “Judaisms”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc. The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14; 28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5). Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were a sect of Second Temple Judaism. Even James Dunn says the following:
“Prior to Paul what we now call ‘Christianity’ was no more than a messianic sect within first-century Judaism, or better, within Second Temple Judaism — ‘the sect of the Nazarenes’ (Acts 24.5), the followers of ‘the Way’ (that is, presumably, the way shown by Jesus)”- James Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels, pg 119.
The New Covenant
Third, in most cases, many Christians assume the New Testament=new covenant. The New Testament contains 27 texts, and all of them were written sometime during the first-century CE. Is there something "new" about the message that Jesus brought? Yes, and no. We can't just jump to Mark 14:24-25 or Heb. 8:8–12 and assume that is all we need to know about the new covenant. The first place to start is in the Scriptures that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles were raised on.
The only place the words “new covenant” are seen is the following text:
Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jer. 31: 31-34).
Though Ezekiel never uses the phrase “new covenant,” he does mention a similar theme as Jeremiah:
Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezek. 11: 17-20).
I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36: 23-28).
Just like the giving of the Torah (with Moses), the new covenant needs someone to inaugurate it. We just read about the day when God will place his Spirit permanently inside people so they can walk in holiness and love. We can summarize some of the benefits of the new covenant here:
- God promises the forgiveness of sin.
- God pledged the indwelling Ruach Ha Kodesh (The Holy Spirit)
- God promises the knowledge of God.
- God promises His people would obey Him.
- The fulfilling of this covenant was tied to Israel’s future restoration to the land.
Gentiles Participation in the New Covenant
Now that we see the passages in the Jewish Scriptures about the promise of the coming of the New Covenant, how can Christians and Messianic believers claim this new covenant was inaugurated if universal forgiveness for sins has not come to Israel? It is abundantly clear that the Lord made the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jer. 31:31–34, quoted in Heb. 8:8–12) and not with the nations of the world, which leads us to ask the question: How do Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant? In response, God’s plan for Israel was to be a light to the nations and be a conduit for Gentiles to come to faith in the one true God. The only way Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant is that they are grafted in as Paul talks about in Rom. 11: 13-24. But what's the point? There would be no understanding of the new covenant apart from the Jewish Scriptures.
Did Jesus Come to Bring a New Religion?
Another reason Christians have a problem with bridging the Testaments is because many Christians still assume the Old Testament is synonymous with law (Judaism) and the New Testament is synonymous with grace (Christianity). This plays out when some assume Jesus came and brought a brand new religion. But as Craig Evans says:
“Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.
Evans goes onto say:
But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.
Look at both quotes from Evans in this post. From my own experience, most Christians like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions, Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion. Here are a couple of pictures to help summarize where we are today:
Just recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how Christians approach the Old Testament. He happened to pass this quote on to me by Richard B. Hays who says the following:
“Many “mainstream” Protestant churches today are in fact naively Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no OT reading, or if the OT is read it is rarely preached upon. Judaism is regarded as a legalistic foil from which [Yeshua] has delivered us. (I once had a student say to me in class: “Judaism was a harsh religion that taught people to fear God’s judgment, but Jesus came to teach us to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength.”) This unconscious Marcionite bias has had a disastrous effect on the theological imagination of many Protestant churches, at least in the United States….” – Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco: Baylor University, 2014), 5.
For the record, Marcion believed Jesus was the Son of God, but he rejected the Old Testament and the God of Israel. He also believed the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful God while the God of the New Testament was a God of love and forgiveness. To see more about Marcion, see here:
” The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church. Yet one more objection can be heard from some detractors. “Now that we have the New Testament, should we not go to the New Testament first to form an understanding of the Bible’s teachings and then go backward into the Old Testament, interpreting it in the light of the New Testament?” This approach is advocated so frequently in the church today that it must be faced squarely. This whole approach is wrongheaded historically, logically, and biblically. As we have seen, the first New Testament believers tested what they had heard from Jesus and his disciples against what was written in the Old Testament. They had no other canon or source of help. How, then, were they able to get it right? Thus, from a methodological point of view, reading the Bible backward is incorrect historically as well as procedurally. What is more, the early church knew the Old Testament to be true; therefore, logically, they could not have tested what was established (and true) for them (possessing only the Old Testament) by what was being received as new (the New Testament)! That would be a reversal of the natural, historical, and logical order of things.”
In conclusion, I hope Christians will see the Bible is one continuous story and not divorce the Testaments.
By Eric Chabot, CJF Midwest Representative
The reign of God is one of the most pertinent themes in biblical theology.The term “kingdom of God” is absent from the Tanakh. However, the God of Israel is identified as King: (1 Samuel 12:12; Psalm 24:10; Isa 33:22; Zeph 3:15; Zech 14:16-17), as ruler over Israel (Exod 15:18; Num 23; 21; Deut 33:5; Isa 43:15), and ruler over the entire creation (2 Kings 19:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 46:18; Psalm 10; 47:2; 93; 96:10; 145:11,13). The God of Israel also possesses a royal throne (Psalm.9:4; 45:6; 47:8; Isa 6:1; 66:1; Ezek 1:26); His reign is ongoing (Psalm10:16; 146:10; Isa 24:23), and rule and kingship belong to Him (Psalm 22:28). We see in the Tanakh that in an eschatological sense, God’s sovereignty is not universally accepted, but it will happen in the future (Zech 14 1-9; Dan 7:13-14; 2 Sam 7:11-12; 16-17; Matt 19:28).
As far as Christians, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians think Yeshua will bring the physical or earthly aspect of the reign of God in the future. It is evident that Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom of God. However, he didn’t do this physically but spiritually. Thus, Yeshua spoke of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21).
Depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians have concluded that Yeshua corrected the view that there will be a restored Israel in the future.I should note that Craig Evans says:
Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. -Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation, pg 18.
What is interesting is that Yeshua spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him in the following text:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35
A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.
Another text that is important to the concept of Israel’s repentance and the Messiah’s return is seen in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:19-21:
“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel.. C.K. Barrett said that this text speaks of “the times of refreshing” which suggested “moments of relief during the time men spend in waiting for that blessed day.” – C.K. Barrett, “Faith and Eschatology in Acts 3” in Glaube und Eschatologie (ed. E. Grässer and O. Merk), J. C. B. Mohr. 1985). 1-17.
The point is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance. Also regarding the Acts 3 text, widely respected theologian Gerald McDermott notes the following in his book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land
1.The Greek word he uses here for “restoration” is the same word “apokatastasis” used in the Septuagint for God’s future return of Jews from all over the world to Israel.
2. I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to their own land that I gave to their fathers. (Jer. 16:15)
3. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to this land. (Jer. 24:6)
4. I will restore Israel [apokatastēsō] to his pasture. (Jer. 50:19 [27:19 Septuagint]
5. Peter was using a Jewish code word for a future, renewed earth in which Israel would be preeminent.
Ironically, the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the later rabbinical literature. In the book Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife, Leila Leah Bronner says the following:
All “the ends” have passed and still the Messiah has not come; it depends only upon repentance and good deeds. (BT Sanhedrin 97b) If [the whole of] Israel [genuinely] repented a single day, the son of David would come immediately. If [the whole of] Israel observed a single Sabbath properly, the son of David would come immediately. (JT Ta’anit 64a) If Israel were to keep two [consecutive] Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed forthwith. (BT Shabbat 118b) Because they describe a uniformity of devotion and behavior that is difficult if not impossible to attain, these passages show the lengths to which Jews as a community must go to attract the Messiah, as does this statement from Rabbi Yohanan: “The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.”
Also, in a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah features a dialogue between Bruce Chilton and the late Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:
What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.
Now this is very interesting! Does moral regeneration sound familiar? Just read John 3 when Yeshua discusss the new birth with Nicodemus.
In conclusion, we see in the Bible and the later rabbinical literature that there is a relationship between Israel's repentance and the return of the Messiah!
When it comes to the study of messianic prophecy, the idea of corporate solidarity states that one person can represent a whole group. In other words, given the Messiah is supposed to be the ideal representative of his people (Israel), Yeshua is the Jew par excellence! Keep in mind, this post is not arguing that the Messiah's identity as the ideal representative of his people means there is no longer any future significance for Israel as a national entity. Let’s take a closer look:
Yeshua as the Son of God
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”- Exodus 4-21-23
He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.- Psalm 89: 26-29
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.- Colossians 1: 15-18
Even though divine sonship appears in the Jewish Scriptures with regards to persons or people groups such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), and Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Son of God issue is the king. When the divine sonship is used in the context of the relationship between Israel and the king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7;89:26-27), the sonship theme emphasizes that the king is elected to a specific task. Furthermore, there is also a special intimacy between God and the king. The existence of Israel is directly related to God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s relationship to God as the King. The Davidic covenant established David as the king over all of Israel. Under David’s rule, there was the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. David also captured Jerusalem and established his capital there (2 Sam. 1-6).
In Psalm 89, the Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. Furthermore, David’s throne continues his dynasty from one generation to the next for perpetuity (vv.28-29). In Psalm 110, the Davidic King is invited to sit at the royal throne at God’s “right hand” (vs.1) and his called “lord” (vs.1) and called a “priest” after the pattern of Melchizedek. As Israel went into the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Hosea says that Israel will be without a Davidic king for many days (Hosea 3:4).However, in the last days, God kept his promise of the Davidic covenant by rebuilding Israel which includes the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom (Isa.11:1–2; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11–12). The Davidic King will be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) and would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is.7:14-17; 9:6-7;11:1-10), even though he is not spoken of specifically as “The Messiah.”
Israel and the Priesthood
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”- Exodus 19:5-6
In Israel’s history, priests served as an intermediaries between God and men, so this “kingdom of priests” had been called by God to bring God’s Word to man. Also, the priest (Heb. cohanim) was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14). Since Yeshua is the ideal representative of Israel, he fulfills the role of priest.
As Harvey E. Finley says:
Psalm 110:4 reads: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This is a royal psalm. Two significant points are made about the One who is to sit at God’s right hand. First, the order of Melchizedek is declared to be an eternal order. Second, this announcement is sealed with God’s oath. Neither of these affirmations applied to the Aaronic order of priesthood. As with Melchizedek, Jesus was without the ancestral, genealogical credentials necessary for the Aaronic priesthood ( Hebrews 7:3Hebrews 7:13Hebrews 7:16 ), he was also before Aaron and the transitory, imperfect law and Levitical priesthood ( Hebrews 7:11-12Hebrews 7:17-18; 8:7 ). Melchizedek, Aaron, and his descendants all died, preventing them from continuing in office ( 7:3). Jesus has been exalted to a permanent priesthood by his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God in the heaven (8:1). (1)
Israel’s Calling to be a Light to the Nations
What does it mean to say Israel was elected? Scott Bader-Saye says:
Election is the choice by one person of another person out of a range of possible candidates. This choice then establishes a mutual relationship between the elector and the elected, in biblical terms a “covenant” (berit). Election is much more fundamental then just freedom of choice in the ordinary sense, where a free person chooses to do one act from a range of possible acts. Instead, the elector chooses another person with whom she will both act and elicit responses, and then establishes the community in which these acts are done, and then promises that for which the election has occurred. The content of these practical choices is governed by Torah, but there could be no such coherent standards of action without prior context of election, the establishment of covenantal community, and the promise of ultimate purpose.”
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”- Isaiah 60: 1-3
Election is not solely a doctrine about salvation- that some get saved while others do not. Hence, it is simply about God’s fairness. Instead, election of one is not the rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit. It is in Genesis 12:1–3 that the Messianic blessing for the entire world would come from the offspring of Abraham:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”
It is God’s reaching out to restore Israel and through Israel to extend covenantal peace to the world. Israel is elected for mission by God for the sake of these other families so that God’s blessing might come to all of them through what Israel is and what Israel does. The calling of Israel would be to see the inclusion of Gentiles (“goyim” or “people groups” ) into the covenant.
Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). Hence, while God’s plans are national (Israel), it is evidence that the nation is an instrument to bring international blessings. Therefore, Israel’s Head, the Messiah, is called to restore the nation and use the nation to bring blessings to the other nations of the earth—blessings that are spiritual and physical.
Keeping this in mind, within the book of Isaiah there are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:
“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”
In order for the prophecy of Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. Remember, Isaiah 49:1-7 predicts that that the Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us ask the following questions:
Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of gentiles?
There are only a handful of major world religions, about five, so the search among the possibilities is rather manageable (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism Christianity/Messianic Judaism). Before the first century A.D. only the Jewish people and a few Greek philosophers were believers in one God, and only a small percentage of the world’s population had any awareness of the Jewish Scriptures.
But now, 1.4 to 2 billion people profess to be followers of Yeshua. And these are mostly if not all Gentiles.
How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion? A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.
Since the world has produced about five founders of major religions and since about one in 300 persons are Jews, a guesstimate for the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true is highly improbable.
This expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal.
Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. (3)
In the end, as the ideal representative of his people, Jesus has helped bring Gentiles into a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Given the ekklesia is made up of predominately Gentiles, the word “mystery’ (μυστήριον) plays a key role here. It does not mean “mysterious” as in “strange.” It means “secret”–something kept hidden. The mystery that Paul talks about (e.g., Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7-8; Eph. 3:4-9; Col. 1:26) was that regenerated Jews and Gentiles being united in one body was not known in the Jewish Scriptures.. Gentiles had now become fellow heirs and members of the body of Messiah with the Jewish people. While Paul knew Israel held priority in God’s program, he realized that the prophets had revealed that Gentiles would be blessed–but after Israel had been blessed–and through Israel’s blessing.
These are just a few examples as how Yeshua is the only one who is the one-man Israel.
1. Harvey E. Finley, “Melchizedek” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).
2. Scott Bader-Saye, The Church and Israel After Christendom: The Politics of Election(Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1999), 31.
3. R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997, 221-223.
Even though the Christian can always offer certain dates for the Gospels, it should remembered that there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus. Therefore, there was an oral period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Oral Tradition is the transmission of a teaching or saying from person to person or from generation to generation by word of mouth rather than by the use of writing. The home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers. But while we need to heed the importance of the oral phase of the Jesus story, at the same time, there is some evidence that Jewish people of that era took notes on waxed tablets. There is no reason to presuppose that literate members of Jesus’ group might not have written down his teachings. We could point to the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness who was the founder of the Qumran sect which predates Jesus. This Teacher of Righteousness had his own teachings written down during his lifetime, perhaps on waxed tablets. This lends support to the possibility that literate members of Jesus’ group might have written down his teachings as well.
Given that many skeptics assume the New Testament is biased, they tend to ask for sources that are written about Jesus outside the New Testament. Furthermore, since the request for these sources must be written by non-Christians, this supposedly equates to pure objectivity and no propaganda. Sadly, the demand for this wish list shows the ignorance about the oral world of Jesus.The late Maurice Casey, who was a non Christian scholar who specialized in early Christianity summarized the importance of the oral world of Jesus:
The major reasons why all our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus are Christian is that Jesus was a first- century Jewish prophet who lived in a primarily oral Jewish culture, not a significant politician in the Graeco-Roman world. By contrast, for example, Julius Caeser was an important political and literary figure in the highly literate culture of the Romans. It is therefore natural that he should have written literary works which have survived, and that other surviving literary sources have written about him.
Casey goes onto say:
Jesus of Nazareth left no literary works at all, and he had no reason to write any. He lived in a primarily oral culture, except for the sanctity and central importance of its sacred texts, which approximate to our Hebrew Bible. A variety of works now thought of as Apocrypha (e.g. Sirach) or Pseudopigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch) were held equally sacred by some Jewish people, and could equally well learnt and repeated by people who did not possess the then- difficult skill of writing. Almost all our surviving primary sources about Jesus are Christian because most people who had any interest in writing about him were his followers,and the few relatively early comments by other writers such as Josephus and Tacitus are largely due to special circumstances, such as Jesus’ brother Jacob (Jos.Ant .XX,200), or the great fire of Rome (Tac.Annals XI, 44). 
As Craig Evans notes, according to the Shema, which all Torah observant Jews were expected to recite daily, parents were to teach their children the Torah ( Deut 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Eccl 12:9).
How would Jesus have made his teaching memorable?
While none of Jesus’ adversaries called Jesus a rabbi, Jesus was seen as a rabbi and teacher in the Gospels (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2). In the first century A.D. Rabbi (‘My great one”) could refer to those religious figures who were in a high position,while later in the third century it became associated with those who had produced rabbinic literature. There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. As Paul Barnett notes, the disciples of Jesus had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1).
Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. Also, in some ways Jesus did fit the mold of a rabbi, this doesn’t mean he fit the mold of an ordained of rabbi which was more of a formal office that took place a century or more later. The similarities and differences between Jesus as a rabbi and teacher and the rabbis who also taught in his culture are seen here:
- Jesus taught but not in formal educational settings.
- Jesus’ delivering system was face to face and oral.
- Jesus modeled how to live as much or more than he stated, ”Do this” or “Don’t do that.”
- Jesus’ teachings were created orally and transmitted orally.
- Jesus was a passionate guardian of Old Testament law.
- Jesus explained and expanded on Old Testament law.
- Jesus’ actions could attain the status of commandments in the minds of his followers.
- God’s truth was incarnate in Jesus.
- Jesus wrote nothing; it was sufficient for this oral text to remain oral.
- The oral origins of the Gospels are evident within the Gospels.
- It was not until approximately twenty years after Jesus’ public ministry that the first written accounts of his words and deeds were inscribed in the Gospels. 
Interestingly enough, given Jesus had such a high view of the Torah and it was believed that God was incarnate in Jesus, we should heed the words of Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner. He says:
Since rabbinical documents repeatedly claim that, if you want to know the law, you should not only listen to what the rabbi says but also copy what he does, it follows that, in his person, the rabbi represents and embodies the Torah. God in the Torah revealed God’s will and purpose for the world. So God had said what the human being should be. The rabbi was the human being in God’s image. That, to be sure, is why (but merely by the way) what the rabbi said about the meaning of Scripture derived from revelation. Collections of the things he said about Scripture constituted compositions integral to the Torah. So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever present revelation, the always open-canon. For fifteen hundred years, from the time of the first collections of scriptural exegeses to our own day, the enduring context for midrash remained the same: encounter with the living God.
We also see an emphasis on the importance of remembering the words of Jesus:
“Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.” (Luke 9:44)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on themwill be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”(Mark 13:31)
“ It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63)
“So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68)
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10)
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”(John 14:26)
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7)
Even after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles gave their eyewitness testimony to the words of Jesus. It is also important to note the role of how the disciples were active participants in the life of Jesus. They saw the importance of bearing witness to the deeds and sayings of Jesus:
As Bauckham says:
The sense (not a properly one generic one) in which the witnesses of the Holocaust created a new literature of testimony, is much the same sense as that in which the witnesses of the history created the Gospels. Those witnesses understood the imperative to witness to a command of the risen Christ, but the parallel is sufficient to be suggestive. In both cases, the uniqueness required precisely witness as the only means by which the events could be adequately known. In both cases, the exceptionality of the event means that only the testimony of participant witness can give us anything approaching access to the truth of the event.
Common Objections to Oral Tradition
#1: Hasn’t Memory Been Shown to Be Very Unreliable?
First, if memory is so unreliable, than much of human existence couldn’t be sustained on a daily basis. Memory, along with testimony are some of the things we take for granted in the common concerns of life without being able to give a reason for them. Also, high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period. As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note, the “memoric skepticism” paradigm can be traced back to the collapse in human knowledge after World War I. This time period that gave rise to the this paradigm is seen in various forms such as individual (F.C. Bartlett); collective/social (Maurice Halbwachs); historiography (Carl Becker); sociology of knowledge (Karl Mannheim) and New Testament studies (Rudolph Bultmann). Sociologist Barry Schwartz says: “These men appealed so greatly to the West because their views resonated with the cynicism of the post World War I worldview and ethos: ‘the world is not what it seems.’
One thing for sure: high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period. For example, my sister died in 1973. Even though I was four years old at the time I can still remember much of the details of the day it happened. Steven Waterhouse summarizes Bauckham’s work and the importance of memory:
1. Unique, unusual, unexpected events (like healings, miracles, and exorcisms) are memorable.
2. Events that are personally important and relevant tend toward long term memory (like matters of the Messiah’s arrival and eternal destiny in heaven or hell).
3. Events in which one is emotionally involved are memorable (Mark 9:6, 14:72, as in being a participant in a great cause with struggles and opposition).
4. Memories involving vivid imagery are remembered well (Mark 2:4, 4:37-38, 6:39-40, 7:33-34, 9:20, 10:32, 50, 11:14).
5. Memories often include irrelevant and odd details (there were “other boats,” Mark 4:36).
6. Reliable memories rarely include precise dates as on July 15 but do include time of day and relationships to seasons and holidays (as in the Gospel of John).
7. The “gist” of a memory (even with details essential to the main point) is more likely to be retained than purely secondary details. (Bauckham’s own conclusion is that this explains the variation in the Gospel accounts but unity on the core facts.)
8. Frequent retelling of a story shortly after an event tends to sharpen not diminish memory. “Frequent recall is an important factor in both retaining memory and retaining it accurately.” 
In conclusion, as Bauckham says:
The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember – and the Gospels rarely record – merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable. Such details may often have been subject to performative variation in the eyewitnesses’ telling of their stories, but the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably. We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory.”
Mauruce Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.2014).
 John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World World of Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 2013), 105.
Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997), 138.
D. G. Reid, The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004), 460.
 Walton and Sandy, 108.
 Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 137.
 Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.
 Barry Schwartz, “Christian Origins: Historcial Truth and Social Memory” in Memory, Tradition and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity, ed. A Kirkand T. Thatcher (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 45-46; cited in Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.
 Steven Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009), 86-87.
Bauckham, 346; cited in Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009), 87.
Over the years I have taught on the resurrection of Yeshua. Sometimes we take for granted that we understand what we mean when we talk about resurrection in the Bible. Perhaps this post will help spark some interest to go further on the topic.
One of the most important doctrines is the resurrection of the dead/the resurrection of Yeshua. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Yeshua. If Yeshua was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Yeshua said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Yeshua could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Yeshua took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor.15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet.1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John. 5:25-29).
An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13).Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Yeshua was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel. The resurrection also marked Yeshua as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).
Where do we see resurrection in the Tanakh?
As just stated, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn. 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous.
As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn. 12:2; 12:13), an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)
The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Yeshua was.
J. D. Levenson and K. J. Madigan, say the following:
““Christian understandings of resurrection, along with the church’s appreciation of its religious depth, its historical richness, and its reverberations, would be much impoverished if Christians thought that the expectation of resurrection were merely theirs. In particular, and what is most crucial, they would lose sight of the extent to which resurrection is rooted in the belief and practice of Judaism. Indeed, it occurs already in the Old Testament, the only scriptures the church knew at the time of Jesus (when it wasn’t yet called the “Old Testament”). In fact, not only the notion of the resurrection of the dead, but the expression of God’s vindication of Jesus in the language of resurrection, owes its origins to its parent religion, Judaism-or, to be more precise, to Judaism as it stood late in the Second Temple period (about 515 B.C.E., when the Temple was rebuilt after its destruction in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians, to 70 C.E., when the Romans destroyed it.” (2)
Resurrection in Jewish Thought
In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:
” The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead” (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b).
Three points are made here: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)
Resurrection in the New Testament
As we approach the New Testament, Joachim Jeremias comments:
” Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event in history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Yeshua. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa [glory] as an event in history.” (4)
Other Issues in Defining Resurrection
1. Resurrection is completely different from reincarnation which is a many-times event: Reincarnation is also categorized as a rebirth of a soul into a new and different but still physical and mortal body. Resurrection is a one-time event where the believer receives not a second body but a transformed body. In resurrection, there is continuity between our present bodies and the transformed body to come.
2. There are three resuscitations in the Gospels: Lk. 8:49-56; Jn. 11:38-44; Lk. 7:11-15. Lazarus was resuscitated. He went on to live on in his old mode of but still had to face a second death. Lazarus and these other resuscitations are similar to the raising of the dead as already mentioned in the examples of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). Yeshua was not only but resurrected, he was changed. His body was transformed into what Paul calls a glorified body. He never died again. Therefore, it is important to remember that Yeshua is not the only one in human history that has been raised from the dead ( if we call it resuscitation), but he certainly is the only one that has ever been resurrected! In other words, He is the only one who has been raised immortal.
3. Resurrection is not translation: Within the Tanakh (the Old Testament) people such as Elijah and Enoch did not die but were simply translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Gen. 5:24). Also, within the extra-canonical Jewish writing called Testament of Job 40, an account of translation was given as a category to describe recently deceased people as well as to the living.(5) Translation is defined as the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven while resurrection is defined as raising up of a dead man in the space-time universe.(6)
4. In relation to the view of resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:51, is a critical passage. Paul says, “We shall all be changed.” Paul is indicating that the resurrected body is the transformation of the existing body into a new mode of physicality. When Paul describes the new body as a soma pneumatikon, which is often translated “spiritual body” he does not mean a “nonphysical body.” Therefore, Paul is not contrasting a “spiritual body” with a “physical body” but instead a soma psychikon, which is literally a “soulish body.” The real contrast is between a body “animated by the soul” (the present natural body, which, will, like animals, die and decay), and a body animated by a spirit, which is presumably God’s spirit, which will allow a quality of life that transcends the present decaying existence.
In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, Paul contrasts the present, earthly body and the future, resurrection body, which will be like the Messiah’s. Paul says the earthly body is mortal, dishonorable, weak, and physical whereas the resurrected body is immortal, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. (7)
5. Resurrection is not the same as the so- called dying and rising fertility gods in the ancient world: The myths of dying and rising gods in pagan religions are merely seasonal symbols for the processes of nature and have no relation to historical individuals. (8)
6. Resurrection involves transformation since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Accordingly, Paul indicates that believers will be “raised immortal” (1 Cor. 15:52), which suggests the transformation or change that results in immortality is coincident with resurrection. In fact, this is part of the resurrection event itself.
7. Another aspect of resurrection is the how it impacts our present life: We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event). Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).(9)
This is where many of us miss the boat. When Yeshua rose from the dead, He not only reversed the curse of death (1 Cor. 55-56) but also broke the power of sin in this life for us. This doesn’t mean we will be perfect. But it does mean we can have a transformed life and victory over sin in this present life.
8. What are the differences between our resurrection and the Messiah’s resurrection? Yeshua was raised on the “third day” whereas we will be raised on the last day. And only of Yeshua was he installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). (10)
What is the final destination for the follower of Yeshua?
Sadly, due to a lack of teaching on the resurrection, we may assume that that the final destination is to be in the intermediate state- the place that is called “heaven.”
Hence, immortality is generally viewed as the immortality of the soul. Contrary to what many people think, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. Eternal life is a quality of life that does not start when we die, but right now in the present (John 17:2).
In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.
Peter Walker leaves us with a detailed definition of resurrection:
“Resurrection” (anastasia) in Greek was a word which has already developed a clear meaning. It referred to a physical raising back to life within this world of those whom God chose –“the resurrection of the just” “on the last day” (cf. Matthew 22:28; John 11:24). So when the disciples claimed Resurrection for Jesus, they were claiming that God had done for one man what they were expecting him to do for all his faithful people at the end of time (what Paul refers to as the “hope” of Israel [Acts 23;26:6]. If they had meant merely that Jesus was a good fellow who did not deserve to die and whose effect on people would surely continue beyond his death, they would have used some other word. They would not have dared to use this word, which meant one thing and only one thing—God’s act of raising from physical death. That is what they meant. And that is what they would have been heard to mean.” (11)
1. Adapted from Harris, M.J. From Grave to Glory: Resurrection In The New Testament (Grand Rapids: MI: Academie Books. 1990), 66-67.
2. Levenson, J.D., and K. J. Madigan, Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews (New Haven, Yale University Press. 2008), 2.
3. Gillman, N. The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought (Woodstock, VT. Jewish Lights Publishing), 1997.
4. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith.Third Edition. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books, 1984.
5.Sandlin, A.P., New Flesh, New Earth: The Life Changing Power of the Resurrection (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown Books), 2003.
6. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith, 394.
8. Borg, M..J. and N.T Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (New York, NY. Harper Collins Publishers, 1999), 120.
9. Longenecker, R.N. Life After Death: The Resurrection Message in the New Testament ( Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans), 1988.
11. Walker, P.W., The Weekend That Changed the World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 63.
It is that time of the year when many people will attend a Good Friday service this weekend. Also, since many of us think the Messiah is the fulfillment of Passover, some of us may attend a Passover event as well. But as many of us gather to remember the death of the Messiah and all that He has accomplished for humanity, it made me think of the following: How many cross necklaces have you seen around the necks of people? What about the crosses that are seen on the necks of movie stars and sports figures? If you ask the average person who is wearing a cross what it means, they may say the following:
” Jesus died for me on the cross”
” The cross is a symbol of love”
“The cross saved me”
The First Century
I don’t doubt the sincerity of some of these people. But what is interesting is that many of us don’t know how the cross was viewed in the first century. Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. According to Cicero (Vern. 2.5.168) and Josephus (J. W. 7.203), crucifixion was the worst form of death. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion to end the uprising of any revolts. Thus, the primary political and social purpose of crucifixion was deterrence. The concept of deterrence has two key assumptions: The first is that specific punishments imposed on offenders will "deter" or prevent them from committing further crimes. The second is that fear of punishment will prevent others from committing similar crimes.
But for the Jewish person, there is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:13-14 is rather telling:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith
The very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. So what is seen in these verses is not the execution itself but what is done to the body after the person is executed–it is displayed as a warning to others. For Jewish people at the time of Paul, the crucified victim could be viewed as either a victim or a villain. If it is the latter, the person being condemned as a criminal would be considered cursed by God because of their actions.
Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:
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)
Even well known skeptical scholar Bart Ehmran says:
“Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened” (2)
A Dead Messiah and Sheol
In light of what Jewish people knew about Sheol (the realm of the dead), a dead Messiah was an absurdity. In the Jewish Scriptures, the pictures of the fate of the wicked are presented as consciously suffering in Sheol, or the grave. It is also described as the place that both the righteous and the unrighteous are expected to go upon death (Ps. 89:48). God does no wonders for those that are in Sheol; those that are there cannot praise God. Let’s look at some of these passages:
1. “For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (Ps. 6:5).
2. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9).
3. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Ps. 88:10-11).
4. “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).
5. “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (Isa. 38:18).”
It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.
Blessing and Curses
In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse. The blessing is for those who obey the stipulations of the covenant while the curse is upon those who violate the stipulations.
Deuteronomy 27:6 says “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all the commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:1-2).
For a Jewish person to be blessed was to be in the presence of God and enjoy his presence and all the benefits that this entailed. The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, to be cursed was to be outside the presence of God. To be declared “unclean” or defiled meant was an offense to the Jewish people. So for the Messiah to die on a crucifixion stake was not a sign of blessing from God. If anything, it was the opposite.
“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “- Luke 9: 23
The death of the Messiah may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, to a Jewish person, a Messiah who was crucified was not a badge of honor. In reality it was a sign of rejection and embarrassment. When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the cross and self-denial here, they knew to make Jesus the Lord of their lives was going to be a life of commitment and an abandonment of autonomy.
1. Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 144-145).
2. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 221-222.
Believe it or not, many Jewish people say they don't need to believe God exists to be Jewish. That's because for many Jewish people, ethnicity and culture is what defines their Jewishness. Here is just one of several articles that dicusses this issue. Note that this Jewish person says that losing belief in God gave them a new reason to practice Jewish customs. How about that?
Thus, the attempt to discuss passages in the Jewish Scriptures about the Messiah with Jewish people can be a fruitless enterprise. After all, why try to use Scripture with someone who doesn't think there is a God who has spoken into history and revealed who He is in a written text?
But how do we know God exists? Over the years, when I have been asked this question, I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I ask the person “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, “What method should we use?” Now I know that when you ask a Christian, Jewish person or Muslim, and Mormon as well how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. So in this post I want to discuss some of the various ways we can approach the existence of God. I am well aware that there are other methods as well.
#1: The Revelatory Approach
The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.
One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.
The mediums God uses in the Bible are General Revelation (The Created Order/Conscience; Rom. 1&2); Special Revelation: Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), The Bible (2 Tim. 3:16); Miracles, Prophecy, Theophanies, Messengers, and other means as well.
But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of God. Hence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil/the Fall. In other words, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we would not know our destiny.
#2: Historical Arguments
When it comes to historical arguments, we ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity. Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics.
The good news is that we can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. Former atheist Antony Flew said the resurrection of Yeshua was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen In a debate with Gary Habermas, Flew agreed that if it is a knowable fact that Yeshua rose from the dead literally and physically it then constitutes “the best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” 
All historical revelatory claims must be taken on a case-by-case basis. We need to evaluate the evidence for each claim in its own historical and religious context. Thus, what is needed is to examine the written documents, both oral and eyewitness testimony, as well as archaeological evidence to support the people, place, or events in the documents they have available to them.
#3: God or Theism as an Explanatory Hypothesis?
C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. In utilizing this method, people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists. Both sides strive to offer the better explanation for the evidence. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:
- How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
- How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
- How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
- How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
- How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?
#4: Philosophical Evidence
If we could remember the nature of the object determines how we know it, than for skeptics to constantly say there is no evidence, the first thing to ask is “What is the nature of the object they are trying to know?” What is God? Welcome to natural theology!
The word ‘proof’ is a loaded term, which turns on our understanding of what constitutes knowledge. There are knowledge claims that are rooted in inference, and are therefore on various levels of probability. Some arguments for God’s existence use this approach. A different approach in terms of ‘proof’ in establishing the existence of God is by rational demonstration. This is found in the classical writings of Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, & Leibniz. Edward Feser writes that philosophical arguments are still the most adequate approach to showing there is a God—the God of classical theism. The God of classical theism is immutable, immaterial, eternal, uncaused, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and can’t be compared to created gods that are part of the physical world such as Thor, Zeus, and others. Please note that if you want to find out about these thinkers by reading Richard Dawkins, you are already off to the wrong start.
#5: Pragmatic Arguments?
Many people might ask why I would bring this one up. The reason I mention it is because about 70% of people I talk to about say ”I don’t understand what difference believing in Yeshua would make in my life?” This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference.
This does have some merit. After all, if a specific faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Yeshua and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false.
It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship or living in sin. So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.
#6: Existential Arguments
The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God.
According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant.
Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:
- the need for cosmic security
- the need for meaning
- the need to feel loved
- the need to love
- the need for awe
- the need to delight in goodness
- the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
- the need to be forgiven
- the need for justice and fairness
- the need to be present with our loved ones
#7: Religious Experience
Here we have to differentiate between knowing our faith is true and showing our faith is true:
1.Knowing our faith is true though personal experience: Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience.
Showing our faith is true through reasons and evidence: While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. Knowledge can be the key thing as to what keeps us close to God over the long haul. Plus, Jesus says we should love him with all our being (i.e., mind, emotions and will). Sometimes people think that personal religious experience negates the need for having other good reasons for faith.
But think about this: Would you accept Islam as true if a Muslim said to you, “I know Islam is true because of my personal experience.” Or, what if a Mormon said to you, “I know Mormonism is true because of personal experience.” The list goes on. I assume many of us wouldn’t consider Islam nor Mormonism as being true based on these comments. Therefore, perhaps when we say, “I follow the Messiah because of my personal experience,” some people aren’t very impressed. In conclusion, religious experience should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for our faith.
There are several other approaches to the existence of God. Given humans are emotional, intellectual, and volitional creatures, there is no “one size fits all approach.” I hope that has caused you to go further in the question of God’s existence.
 See Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2007).
 Gary R. Habermas, Antony Flew, and David J. Baggett, Did the Resurrection Happen?: A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew (Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity. 2009), 85.
 Gary R. Habermas and Antony G. N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, ed. Terry L. Miethe (San Francisco: Harper & Row. 1985), 3.
(4) W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Faith and Apologetics 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 43-60.
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