Advent and Some Things to Think About

First, I need to begin with the admission that this indeed is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the beautiful contrast of the light piercing and penetrating the darkness which occurs during this time, through the combination of holiday lights and the decreased sunlight. It is also a time to recontact people with whom we have become disconnected within our stories. It is also a time when songs related to Messiah Jesus can be freely sung, and even the secular society allows for this expression of praise.

However, in the midst of the joyous season there is a darker side. It is easy for American

Christians to make the mistake of believing that the acceptance of Christmas carols and crèches, or nativity scenes, indicates a greater acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. It must be remembered that while it is culturally cute and acceptable to acknowledge Jesus as a baby, it remains equally unacceptable to present him as the Savior of the world and the risen Lord. The spirituality of Christmas, for many, is just a superficial veneer for practicing the politeness that should be practiced all year, and merely about getting gifts of both food and material possessions. Don’t get me wrong - I enjoy seeing the spirit of kindness and receiving a few packages of my own during the Christmas season. But this is a far cry from the true glory that Jesus indeed deserves. Come January 1, the same dislike which existed before Christmas for those who take Jesus seriously and believe the worldview which the Bible presents will return to its normal level - which means that in our secular society, those who seek to follow Jesus and promote His worldview will still be considered: homophobic, anti-women, bigoted, and narrow minded. Society’s pause from its angst against biblical Christianity is just that; it’s “a pause” that will evaporate with the new year. Followers of Jesus must be prepared for and understand that this is a beautiful exhale during a beautiful season.

On another note, we must also remember that for some, this time of year is not as bright and cheery as is often expected. For those who are facing struggles in their lives the holiday can highlight the things lost during the year or the stresses that they experience. Some people enter this particular season with pain and scars and it behooves us to practice some of that Christmas cheer by being sensitive to those individuals, not by managing a “Ho Ho Ho” in the midst of their struggles. Better yet, maybe we could best serve Jesus by being a help in some small way to someone who is facing struggles during this happy holiday season. What we must not do is leave these people to face the struggles alone. We must find a practical way by which some of the joy of the season can spill over into their lives. Those who are heavenly minded are truly of earthly good. It is a fake spirituality that pontificates great concepts but does not practice their ethical content.

This season, let us remember that the baby Jesus is truly Lord and did not stay in that manger. Along with remembering Jesus is our Lord during this holiday season, let us remember to be a blessing to others by being his hands and feet.

Hanukkah: A Servant and A king

This blog will be shorter than usual since it is such a busy week in the ministry. Despite the busyness of the holidays, I could not help but write a blog related to Hanukkah and the Advent season. Sunday I was reflecting upon the lines that I will be reciting in an upcoming Advent play. I hope the irony of that sentence is not lost upon you - a Jewish kid playing a part in an advent play. I will be playing the role of Simeon. Hanukkah celebrates the dedication of the second temple in Jerusalem, and so it’s this repaired, renewed, and expanded version of the temple to which Simeon comes so many years later. He does not come without a purpose, but rather because he is awaiting a great and glorious event. Luke tells us of the incident: “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel (Luke 2:25–32, NKJV).’”

As I consider these words which Simeon uttered I think about the particular consolation toward which he was looking. What consolation was on Simeon’s heart and mind which drove him to the temple  in the first place that morning, in obedience to the promise that God given him - that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s anointed? Israel was suffering under foreign oppression because of their own wandering from the ideals that God had for them as a people, but the consolation of Israel was not just simply a change in Israel’s condition. Rather, it was tied to a person. Yes, the comfort which Simeon so long waited for was the coming of a person. But what person could provide such a great consolation? This person was both a servant and a king.

Clearly the Scriptures teach that this person would be a servant and would offer himself or Israel. Is this not fitting, since the very candle by which the other candles of the menorah are lit is called the shamus, or servant? But one might ask where the Scriptures teach that the coming one must be a servant. One does not have to look far, for Isaiah 52:13 declares, “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and very high.” But a great paradox exists, for this servant shall also be a king. Micah 5:2 states, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” So this servant is to be king over Israel and, based on other prophecies, the whole world to establish God’s kingdom again upon the earth.

In my final ponderings, the question arises - why a servant AND a king? A servant because we needed something done for us which we could not do for ourselves. Hence Isaiah’s words, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord is laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).” We needed someone to serve us by providing something which we could never attain for ourselves. But if a servant, why a king? A king because we needed somebody to lead us. A life without purpose leads nowhere and is aimless, and that is not the life we were created to live. Our purposeful God made us for a purpose, and He is the only one that can make clear that purpose. So we needed someone to lead us in that purpose, and thus we needed a king.

Yes, the servant represented by the shamus candle of the menorah is the king who leads us forward towards a life full of meaning and purpose. May your holiday be filled with blessing and purpose this year as you contemplate the One who is the servant and the king!

Making much of Messiah and season’s greetings,

Rev. Jeffrey Kran

 

Theology as Dialogue

In recent conversations with a dear friend and pastor, we discussed how theology is a conversation. Now I’m not saying that doctrine is a conversation. Doctrine is clearly taught in the Scriptures - but that doctrine has to be understood by real people in real situations, and that causes certain truths of Scripture to be highlighted in certain ways at certain times by certain individuals. For example, very few of the reformers honestly studied the doctrine of Israel during the Reformation because their battle and main concern were with the Catholic Church over the doctrines of grace. That concern molded their theology, and different circumstances may have altered what the reformers decided to focus on and ultimately hand down to us. So we see that theology is a continuous conversation between God’s people and the challenges of the world.

Often rabbinical Judaism and Christian belief are both treated as if they are static as opposed to being formed by an elongated dialogue throughout history. Most Jews assume that the Judaism of the rabbis which exists today is the same Judaism that has existed since the Torah was given at Sinai. Nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to being molded by the rabbis in general, the Judaism of today was also deeply influenced by a Jewish thinker named Moses Maimonides. Several articles in his systematic statement of Orthodox Jewish belief are very contrary to the thinking of Christianity, yet they also do not even represent the consensus of Judaism in general, much less rabbinical Judaism throughout history.

In an excellent book by Marc Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, he points out through a reappraisal of Maimonides’ Thirteen Articles of Faith that there are distinct differences between the articles of Maimonides and historic Jewish thought. These same areas of differentiation also exist between Christianity and modern Judaism. In other words, the doctrines of Christian belief are far closer to some ways of Jewish thinking then are acknowledged today. In addressing the main disagreement, Shapiro says, “The third principle teaches God’s incorporeality — that God is without image or form (Shapiro, 45).” This would, of course, preclude the possibility of the incarnation of Messiah Jesus.

However, it has not always been a Jewish belief that God could not take on a form. As Shapiro notes, “Returning to the principal, it must be stressed that, contrary to popular belief, the notion that God is incorporeal was not always a unanimously accepted Jewish (or Christian or Muslim) view (Shapiro, 47).” He goes on further to point out, “Maimonides is correct in asserting that the targumim often shy away from anthropomorphism, but this is hardly the case with Talmud and Midrashic literature. In this literature, there are numerous descriptions of God as a corporeal being, one of the most famous being the Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 6A, which describes God is wearing a tefillin (Shapiro 49).” There is much in Jewish thought and Scripture which allows for the incarnation of Messiah, so modern Jewish objections to the incarnation of Messiah are based more on Maimonides’ understanding of Judaism than on Jewish thought throughout history.

The shoe also fits on the other foot. Christianity has had to define its doctrines through an understanding of biblical doctrine in real time and space as expounded by people. The Replacement Theology which widely exists in Christianity today is a historic result of the Anti-semitism held by many of the church fathers. To act as though replacement theology within the reformed camp is a result of biblical doctrine would be an utter farce. In Acts 1:6-7 the disciples asked when the Lord would return the kingdom to Israel. Jesus responded that it was not for them to know the times or seasons in which the Father would do so. This conversation between modern Christian belief and historic Antisemitism is certainly worth reexamining. While I don’t have time in this specific blog to trace replacement theology, I may take it up in another blog post. But for now, I feel a brief mention here fits in well with Hanukkah and Advent. And with this, I conclude that whether Jew or Christian, those who treat theology as if it were a static thing, unmolded by the times, neither truly understand history nor theology.

Until the next blog “Making Much of Messiah”,

Rev.Jeffrey Kran

 

Shapiro, Marc B, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised. The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004), 47-49.

How to Misuse Jewish History and Thought 101: a Muslim Plays “The Jew Card”

In my last blog I discussed the debate between David Wood and Mohammed Hijab. I pointed out that Hijab’s knowledge of the Hebrew language and history was flawed and focused on the language foible that he committed during the debate - a language foible which, incidentally, any first-year Hebrew student could spot. I also discussed the fact that he had no shame as an Islamic polemicist in pulling out Jewish objections. This showed the commonality between certain objections shared by both the Jewish and Islamic communities.

Now I’d like to examine in more depth the glaring error Mohammed Hijab committed in relation to Jewish history and the Second Temple era. This particular tactic is very common among Islamic polemicists. They attempt to make trinitarian belief the odd man out by pointing to rabbinical Jewish objections against the doctrine of the Trinity. However, these objections ignore both the Old Testament foundations of the Trinity and the allowance for a mysterious plurality in the Godhead which existed in Jewish thought prior to the 12th-century Jewish thinker, Moses Maimonides.

Dr. Michael Brown points out one example of such thought, the important concept of the Memra of God, which certainly allows for plurality within the Godhead. This Memra theology has a direct connection to John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” He even lines up the Targums (the Aramaic translations of the Bible used at the time of Jesus) with the Hebrew text in a chart to demonstrate the Memra being discussed as a distinct person apart from God.

The translation of the Hebrew text is followed immediately by the translation of the Aramaic Targum. Keep in mind when reading that these Targums were the official translations used in the synagogues. Therefore, the Targums took on great significance in the religious life of the people, just as English versions of the Bible take on great significance for English speakers today. Here are several examples:¹

 

Genesis 1:27 God created man.

The Word of the Lord created man. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

And it repented the Lord that he made man on the earth. Genesis 6:6–7

And it repented the Lord through his Word that he made man on the earth. Targum of Gen 1:27

And God said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between me and you.” Genesis 9:12

And the Lord said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between my Word and you.” Targum of Genesis 9:12

And Abraham believed in the Lord. Genesis 15:6

And Abraham believed in the Word of the Lord. Targum of Genesis 15:6

And God came to Abimelech. Genesis 20:3

And the Word from before the Lord came to Abimelech. Targum of Genesis 20:3

May the Lord keep watch between you and me. Genesis 31:49

May the Word of the Lord keep watch between you and me. Targum of above verse

And they believed in the Lord. Exodus 14:31

And they believed in the Word of the Lord. Targum of above verse

And the Lord spoke all these words. Exodus 20:1

And the Word of the Lord spoke all these words. Targum of above verse

 

Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 19.

 

While the Memra is different than the Trinity, an allowance for distinctions within the Godhead is further made in a Judaic doctrine called the Sefirot. As Isidore Singer explains, “These emanations, or intelligences as they are called, are the intermediary agents between the intellectual and the material worlds.”² I included discussion of the Sefirot only to demonstrate that within Jewish thought there has been an allowance for distinctions within the Godhead from early on: during the second Temple era, and even during the medieval era before post-Maimonides rabbinical Judaism. The concepts of the Memra and Sefirot do not even include the Shekinah of God, which the Scriptures clearly indicate as separate from God while being deity.

With all of these concepts in mind, Mohammed Hijab’s analysis of the Jewishness (or non) of the Trinity clearly ignores Jewish history and oversimplifies Jewish thought in a way that may be consistent with modern rabbinical thought, but does not capture Jewish thought with historical accuracy. In doing so, Hijab proved he can hardly be considered a scholar - he merely dished out some convenient Jewish polemics against faith in Messiah Jesus. While he may get points from those encamped in rabbinical Judaism, he cannot get points for an accurate picture of Jewish thought. His picture is clearly skewed, borrowing only from those who slant Jewish history to avoid trinitarian conclusions. To make a long story short, his reasoning is circular and full of confirmation bias: there is no Trinity, therefore I will pick only those elements of Jewish thought which deny the Trinity, and therefore prove my case against the Trinity.

 

 

¹ Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 19.

² Isidore Singer, ed., The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), 154.

A Muslim plays the “Jew card”

I had the chance to both watch and participate in a live broadcast commenting on the debate between David Wood and Mohammed Hijab. One of the things I was waiting to see was whether Mohammed would try to use the Old Testament, or Jewish Scriptures, as a foil against the Trinity - perhaps remarking upon how rabbinical Judaism is non-Trinitarian and how the Old Testament (in his mind) does not support the Trinity. In this, he did not disappoint me.

What did disappoint me was his lack of understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hebrew language, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Why can someone like Mohammed get away with blatant errors such as the ones he fell into during the debate? One reason he and other Muslims are able to do is that many Christians are woefully ignorant in the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the Old Testament support for plurality in the Godhead. which falls under understanding the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. We Christians must fully understand what we believe before we can properly teach the tenets of our faith to the outside world.

To the uneducated Christian, it might well look like the early Jewish followers of Jesus went from a monotheism that disallowed any sort of distinctions within the Godhead to a full-blown Nicaean trinitarianism without any problem. This blatantly ignores the allowance within Jewish thought in the Second Temple era for plurality within the Godhead. I have found it rare in any church to find any teaching on the Hebrew Scriptural evidence for plurality in the Godhead or the Jewish roots of the Trinity.

 Mohammed Hijab also made assertions about the Hebrew language which can not be supported by someone who has actual knowledge of the Hebrew language. He attacked one of the common ways that Christians try to affirm the Trinity (from the word Elohim in Genesis 1), and by doing so fell into an untenable situation. It is not as though the argument cannot be used - if further substantiated by some additional facts from the first three chapters of Genesis - but Christians often do not know how to use or state the argument correctly.

In order to defuse the argument from Genesis 1, Mohammed made use of an argument from circles of Judaism that the plural in Elohim is related to the majestic plural, like Queen Victoria saying, “We are not amused.” To buttress this argument, he made the absurd claim that only singular pronouns are used with Elohim. However, within the same chapter of Genesis, it is clearly stated: “Let us make man in our image.” What Mohammed ignores is that in this passage, the noun for image carries the pronoun attached to it, which often happens in Hebrew. Furthermore the pronoun attached to the word image is first person plural. So, his assertion that plural pronouns are not used with Elohim demonstrates a distinct lack of knowledge as far as the Hebrew goes, but it is something that many Christians would not pick up on either.

If the church is going to be prepared to take on the challenge that Islam presents to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is necessary that we understand proper apologetics to defend against Islam’s attacks against the Trinity. It is also critical that we better understand the Jewish roots of our own doctrines so we can defend the continuity between the New Testament and the Old. It is for purposes like this that I am called and that Zionsbanner exists.

The Bible, the Word of God or the word of Men- a rebuttal to an argument

The way in which the Bible was written and has come down to mankind both helps us understand how to properly interpret it while simultaneously producing some of the strongest objections to its validity. How often have you heard the liberal argument that since the Bible is written by men, and men are not perfect, we cannot trust the Bible? There is an Islamic version of this objection which, although is not exactly the same, touches on this very point of the Bible’s composition. The claim of this argument is that the Qur’an contains only the words of Allah, not the speech of men and angels. Since the Bible’s composition includes the words of men and angels, it cannot be considered the word of God. In an article which was included in the Journal of Biblical Apologetics, Sam Shamoun notes:

 As we had indicated earlier, Muslims claim that the Quran is the pure word of Allah, containing nothing but the speech of Allah alone. One will not find the words of either humans or angels mixed in with the words of Allah. 1

 

This argument is ridiculous because the Qur’an itself confirms the authority of the Scriptures in Sura 5:68.

Say: “O People of the Book! You have no ground to stand unless you stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelations that has come to you from your Lord, that increases in most of them their obstinacy rebellion and blasphemy. But you do not grieve over (these) people without faith.” 2

 

It must be remembered that Mohammed did not come onto the scene until after the completion of the synoptic Gospels and long after the completion of the Hebrew Scriptures, which means this Sura refers to Scriptures that include stories written down by human penmen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the words of prophets declaring the word of God, and direct proclamations by God. In other words, the Qur’an affirms Scriptures which contain the word of God directly, the words of angels, and the words of men as God directed.

Of course, there are other reasons why this specific argument is foolish. However, let’s look at the secular version. This argument has its problems also. Considering the claim that the Bible cannot be trusted because it was written by men, what would happen if we applied this reasoning to other written documents, even a scientific theory? Einstein was a man and he wrote down his theory of relativity. Can we assume that his theory is wrong simply because it was written by a man? The answer is obviously no! The fact that God used human penmen does not invalidate that an Almighty God could ensure the accuracy of what was transmitted. Put another way, which is harder: to create the universe or to oversee a human penman whom you yourself have chosen, under the exact circumstances you have chosen, to transcribe what you desire to be recorded?

Clearly, it would not be too hard for God to accurately transmit His word to us through human writers - but, it also makes sense for Him to do it that way. The Bible is written to specific human beings in a specific situation, so it would be logical for God to use human beings and human language to make his revelation understandable to them.

What the Islamic and secular arguments ignore about the Bible is key. The Bible was never intended to be a list of commands or a textbook on God. It was meant to be an incredibly beautiful story interwoven with commands, history, poetry, and letters to convey the nature of God and his wondrous plan of love toward humans. This is the heart of why such objections are totally flawed (and also the reason why the Bible must never be reduced to simple systematic theology).

 

1 Sam Shamoun, “The Message of the Quran: Worship of Allah Alone?,” Journal of Biblical Apologetics 7 (2003): 19.

2 Sayed A. A. Razwy, ed., The Qur'an: Translation, 20th ed. (Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, 2007),5:68 .

In The Trenches

Some of the blogs that I’ve written have been theological and apologetic. Some have been encouraging anecdotes from the ministry. This blog, however, will be intensely personal and reflective, as I will be sharing some things that my present situation has forced me to revisit.  As my family and I have been going through a difficult period in our ministry and life, I have recently been reminded of several things. I have had to go back to the Scriptures for guidance, but I was often quoting and praying them expecting an immediate answer of deliverance, rather than realizing that I needed to reckon them to be true, which is faith, knowing the Holy Spirit was applying them even before I would ever see the deliverance that I desired.

I had the opportunity to look again at some good guidance in a book called The Red Sea Rules. It reminded me that often when circumstances seem to be going against us, it is easy to believe that we are doing the wrong thing. This is especially true if you grew up in a highly legalistic environment in which little or no grace was shown. One of the most helpful things I have been reminded of is how faith can often be doing the next logical thing while trusting God. In addition, it is helpful to remember that even though we make mistakes, if we believe in the sovereignty of God then we are where He wants us now. That is not to say we bear no responsibility in the decisions that got us to a certain place, but He is certainly guiding our lives and choices. This does not mean He leads us into sinful actions. What it does mean is that our present geographic location, especially if we were seeking and following Him leading up to the moment we now find ourselves in, is of God. I say this because, as a missionary who ended up in Arizona and is facing some tough times in the ministry, I can believe that God brought me to Arizona even if it did not work out exactly as I had planned.

Another thing that I needed to realize is those bad situations aren’t always forever, or even ultimately bad. I continue to struggle with my sleep situation but that does not mean that I will always have a sleep situation to struggle with, or that the struggle is abnormal or wrong. This applies to many struggles Christians face - in particular, I am thinking of those who struggle with depression. The struggle with depression is not evil. It is more likely what you do within that struggle that determines where the struggle ultimately leads you (whether into evil and sin or somewhere else).

Finally, it is good to remember that small encouragements are not necessarily to be ignored; neither are they small. They are sometimes God’s way of letting us know that He is with us through the struggle and has plans for us beyond the struggle.

Are All Doctrines Equally Weighty; Doctrine is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

 

In a recent Zionsbanner broadcast, I used a quote by Sir Isaac Newton, who did theology as well as science. It goes: “In nonessentials straw, in essentials iron.” I went on to explain that I do not think that any doctrine is nonessential. So, how do we reconcile the fact that believers will disagree on doctrine, yet there are areas of doctrine in which we cannot afford to disagree? How can we consider all doctrine to be equally important in light of the fact that some doctrines seem to have greater significance than others? I think if we bear in mind that doctrines do not stand in isolation, but touch other doctrines, an analogy which might help us to understand is a jigsaw puzzle.

Like puzzle pieces, because doctrines touch other doctrines, they have weight, and some doctrines may be weightier than others. Before we take this analogy any further, you may be saying, “But Jeff, how do you support this idea that doctrines have weight scripturally?” Let me turn to two passages. The first of these passages is 1 Corinthians 15:3. It reads, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” The Greek word here for “first of all” is πρωτος which carries the meaning of prṓtos, as exampled here:

1. From Homer, prṓtos signifies the “first” in space, time, number, or rank.

2. The word occurs in the LXX some 240 times, half in Genesis to Nehemiah, and mostly with reference to number, though also at times rank.

3. Philo uses the term in various connections (e.g., ho prṓtos is the only true God for the sage); in Josephus the term is used for leaders in the tribe, people, or priesthood (e.g., Ezra), as well as for the first in time.[1]

 

We can see that the idea of rank was certainly an allowed meaning for this particular Greek word, and this is the sense used in our Bible reference. It is reasonable to believe Paul is saying that the things listed in that passage are of prime importance, or that they are extremely weighty doctrines.

Jesus also hinted about a hierarchy among Scriptures when He spoke of weightier things in the Law. Our second Scripture passage says,“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Matthew 23:23, NKJV).” Since all of the Law was Scripture, Jesus here seems to be indicating a hierarchy within the Law, with some teachings or doctrines being of greater weight than others.

How can these things be? Let’s now go back to the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle. In a jigsaw puzzle some pieces touch more pieces than others. For instance, a corner piece may only touch one or two pieces while a piece in the center may touch as many as five or six. Therefore, some doctrines within the body of truth may impact other doctrines more extremely than others. Beyond this, some doctrines may touch on matters far more central to salvation than other doctrines do. While all doctrine is equally important, not all doctrine is equally weighty. One must ask how central the doctrine in question is to other key doctrines related to the Christian worldview and salvation, and on that basis give the doctrine a level of weight. So, while all doctrine is important, I may disagree with my brothers and sisters on less weighty doctrines while still regarding them as important. At the same time I can find some doctrines more central where there is little room for disagreement, thus allowing us both to disagree in love, remain unified, and preserve the message of salvation. I hope this analogy is useful to many who read it (and I hope many read it), and that it might help you as you wrestle with the balance between cooperation and integrity in your faith.

 

 

 


[1] Bromiley, G.W., Friedrich, G., Kittel, G. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 965-966). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

God encouragement our usefulness

At first I thought about making this blog contain some aspect of the recent video teaching I have been doing, but thought it might be better and more edifying if I relayed the effect of that video teaching and some practical lesson that could be learned from it. In a recent video dealing with the use of Amos 9:11-12 I discussed the importance of authorial intent as the basis for interpretation even when God had a wider meaning in terms of the implications of a prophecy than even the prophet understood. Now when I share this I did not necessarily have Islam as the main system in mind. But this is the beauty of our God, he can use truth and the sound defense of the faith to impact an argument against the gospel when that group is not even being directly addressed. There are several reasons why God can so effectively do this aside from his total sovereignty and wisdom. His sovereignty and wisdom are of course reasons by which he can so elegantly use arguments in one area to deal with error in another area. One of the reasons God can so effectively do this, is because our enemy has a limited number of tactics which he can use given his own limited nature and the structure of the universe that he is intending to corrupt. Secondly, man as a created image bearer made according to a specific design of God tends to have certain patterns of thought. Third, God is a rational God created a rational universe and therefore the universe has built with in its logic. A word to pastors here, when you violate the laws of clear logic you insult the God of logic who is the author of logic. Too many clergy feel that the rules and study of logic and philosophy is somehow beneath them and unspiritual. But we are told to love God with all our mind and it is supremely spiritual to understand the laws of rationality that he built into the universe. Well now we see reasons why God can so elegantly use a line of reasoning against the specific objection to the gospel in varied ways.

I would like to share the beautiful encouragement from a sister in the Lord that I received. She is a moderator with the Acts 17 apologetics Facebook group. I am so blessed that she tuned into our Monday broadcast and listened. Here is the story she relayed to me,” I wanted to tell you that I took what I learned Monday night about Authorial intent and used it in talking with a Muslim who was trying to say that Hebrews 5:8,9 prove that Jesus was Muslim. It worked very well. Thank you!”

Amos 9:11-12 and Acts 15

The Feast of Tabernacles has begun and it is celebrated for seven days. This is the time Jews spend eating and sometimes sleeping in outdoor booths. In a recent Zionsbanner broadcast that can be found on our website and YouTube channel (just search for the name Jeff Kran), I discussed Acts 15 as it pertains to the inclusion of the Gentiles and the tabernacle of David. In this account, James referred to Amos 9:11-12 as he announced a verdict during the deliberation of the vital Jerusalem Council. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for the tabernacle in Amos 9 [סֻכַּ֥ת] was the very same word used, although in a different form, in Leviticus 23 in reference to the Feast of Tabernacles. I do not believe this is an accident but has to do with the very structure of God’s word being a great story, with each book of the Bible serving a special purpose within that story or Canon.

The Jerusalem Council debate in the book of Acts provides us with some important principles. God’s word is to be applied in terms of God’s great plan for the ages, and while it must be understood in its authorial intent, it must also be recognized that the authorial intent of the passage connects to the larger narrative of Scripture. As we read our Bibles we need to understand that it is not all about us, but about God’s kingdom, and we must read the verses in light of something greater than ourselves. This does not mean that we should not garner personal encouragement and apply the Word to our lives personally, but it is all too easy to make ourselves the only frame of reference for understanding the application of Scripture.

Such misapplications can happen on an individual or national scale. I have heard this Old Testament verse used in reference to America: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV).” While I believe that God does chastise nations and honor His Word when it is followed, the larger picture of this verse is God’s promise to restore the people of Israel if they turn again to Him. Therefore, within the original context of restoring Israel, the better application would be God’s willingness to heal His people from the devastations of sin and to heal churches and revive them, if they will seek Him through the person of Jesus Christ. This ties God’s work among the body of Messiah to His loving nature, and to the original authorial intent in a way that is consistent with the great narrative of Scripture.

Now, those who deliberated in the Jerusalem Council looked at what God was doing and then looked for Scriptural verification. Paul, the cross-cultural evangelist, testified of God’s work among the Gentiles to the Council. The appeal to Scripture was to see whether their perception of God working could be verified in His Word as according to His overall plan and whether it was indeed the confirmation of God’s promise to call people from among the Gentiles and include them among His people.

Preceding this reference to Amos 9, James stated that the prophets agree with the apostles’ conclusion. This means he had other Scriptures dealing with the inclusion of the Gentiles in mind, among them possibly Isaiah 45 and Jeremiah 12. It was not uncommon in Jewish thinking to see a theme and to connect several verses together in one idea. The basis for doing this was the notion that common themes in Scripture could be discerned as one looked at the authorial intent of individual passages and saw a common element to them. We can see from these examples that they understood the connection between God’s Word and His overall purposes, and how each informs the other.

This broadcast further went into the concept of sensus plenior, or a fuller sense to the Scriptures, which we will not cover in this blog, but I will leave you with some of the distilled principles: the individual interpretation of verses connect to the greater plan of God, and there is such a thing as biblical theology; the working of God is always consistent with the Scriptures; and, finally, God is into building His kingdom and it is not all about us as individuals all the time.

The Number One Use of Cowhide and the Jewish High Holidays, A Challenge of Being Not Just Doing

A little joke to think about, what is the number one use for cow hide is in the United States? The answer is holding cows together. So often when it comes to the Jewish holidays there is either an emphasis on doing them in the Jewish believing community or an emphasis on ignoring them within the larger church. I do not want to get into the ins and outs of the value of the Jewish holidays, they are part of the Bible, and we are told that all Scripture is useful and inspired by God. I personally celebrate them, but I think there is a bigger problem we need to focus on. I think we forget what the Jewish holidays were designed for or get so involved with either the doing or not doing that we lose the being. While the Torah or Pentateuch is one it does have different aspects to it. If you are going to have a nation ruled by God you would have to have certain civil laws that would govern the way the society interacted within itself and where the societal boundaries were corporately, we could refer to this as civil laws or the civil aspect of the Torah. Obviously the way individuals conduct themselves in order to reflect God ethically and morally would also be important and so there are moral laws based on God’s character which formed the moral aspect of the Torah. And obviously since Israel was to be a worshiping community with God actually dwelling in the midst of that in his glory and holiness there would have to be certain laws related to worship. Now the laws related to ceremony and worship would provide valuable truth pictures of who God is and how he relates to human, and that is exactly what the ceremonial aspect of Torah does.

Now if the Jewish holidays or moedim provide truth pictures related to who God is and how he relates to human beings then of course they have purpose! But are they more important to learn from and do or more important to learn from and be. By the way, one could be them without necessarily doing the holidays. We know that Passover pictures the sacrifice of the Lamb and the application of the blood so that God’s judgment will not be upon us. Then we must live under the blood of Messiah both coming to him and relying upon his atonement to provide our view of ourselves and give us a true picture of our worth. In the case of the feast of Tabernacles there may be more than one picture there, but one obvious picture is God dwelling amongst his people and being there source of protection and security. Was God not the source of blessing when he visited Adam and Eve regularly in the 1st Tabernacle being the garden of Eden. Was he not the source and protection for his people Israel as he dwelt in the tabernacle of old is a tabernacle alongside him relying upon him for their protection and security — of course he was! Is that Jesus or Yeshua not the place in which God meets man and provides blessing, security, and forgiveness. Is the answer not obvious, of course he is! So, the proper response to the feast of Tabernacles is to remain in Christ and to come to him as your dwelling place where you can meet God if you have not already done so. Just as knowing the proper purpose for cow Hide helps us understand it, so understanding the purpose of the high holy days helps us live out their lessons.

For my dear Jewish brothers and sisters who follow Messiah let us exemplify by being not just doing in this holiday season. For my dear Gentile brothers and sisters I encourage you to be blessed by the pictures of truth contained in the Jewish holidays. Above all, let us remember that we dwell together in Yeshua and receive one another as Jesus received us!  

California, a Cowbell, and Apologetics

We recently returned from a wonderful time of ministry in California where I again had the opportunity to have an “Isaiah 53” table on Venice Beach. Open tables of this sort are allowed on Venice Beach for free, which is one of the things I appreciate as someone involved in a nonprofit venture (or faith missions, in other words). For those who are unaware, an “Isaiah 53” table is a table on which I place literature pertaining to Isaiah 53, other Gospel tracts, and a laminated copy of Isaiah 53 written in both Hebrew and English. One fun part of this Venice Beach outreach is that we actually get some interesting camera footage of me talking with people and answering their questions. This means that the edifying conversations we have in outreach can further edify viewers on the internet. Sometimes, we might also capture and share some funny moments, as was the case at this past outreach.

Last Saturday morning while we were there talking to folks and generally enjoying ourselves, a band composed mostly of homeless people beating all kinds of drums and percussion instruments was playing near us. They had a propensity for loudly overusing a cowbell as a main  instrument. They were making a good deal of noise, which finally drew the negative attention of one of the beach bungalow owners nearby. Needless to say, this concerned citizen decided to call the police. The policeman that came over to talk to them was extremely cordial and polite. He decided to tell them one of the major uses for the cowbell (any of my friends reading this who live in farm country or in Vermont will get a real chuckle): the officer explained that the purpose of a cowbell is for people to ring it in order to call cows to come into the barn. In other words, he wanted the band to think of a cowbell as a sort of doorbell for cows. I grew up as a city boy in the suburbs of Chicago, but even I know that this is not the correct use of a cowbell. A cowbell is put around the neck of a cow so that the farmer can find the cow, not so that the cow can answer the door. None of the band members had ever been involved in the agricultural sector nor lived in a rural environment (at least not from what I could tell), so they simply believed what the policeman was telling them. We who knew the truth stood there staring at him with looks of disbelief on our faces, trying not to laugh. Life is full of sermon and blog illustrations, and sometimes God just drops one into your lap that is too good not to share.  You may ask what the point of this story is other than giving us all a good laugh, but this particular story contains a little nugget of truth about the value of apologetics.

Now, faith in the ideas of others can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. Apologetics fits into this in the sense that many unbelievers have misconceptions about the Christian faith and the theology of the Scriptures, much like the policeman and the band did about the cowbell. Often they go to places like the web, which contains both valid and invalid information. One of the jobs of the apologist in making the Christian worldview winsome is to deal with some of these misconceptions (or shall we say misused cowbells). There are those that question the value of apologetics, but often before you can share the gospel you have to remove the false impressions so that they can hear the genuine gospel. So, as I continue in the ministry I realize that I will be dealing often with people’s false understandings. As you read this, please consider that those of us who are involved with teaching the Scriptures, apologetics and sharing the gospel are reliant upon the rest of the body of Christ for support. Your faithfulness in partnering with them is what allows them to remove the false cowbells from the ears of others so that the gospel might truly be heard.

Thoughts on the Great Comission

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ". (Matthew 28:18–19, NKJV)

 

As we get closer to our time in California, which will include taping some of my teachings and some street witnessing  on Venice Beach (and maybe a few other beaches), I cannot help but reflect on the Great Commission and how it is typically understood by the church. First, it must be noted that this commission was given to an entirely Jewish audience. This means that Jewish evangelism was assumed by the receivers of the commission. This is usually not understood by the church today. Rarely does the church consider Jewish evangelism a given in their missions program - in that sense, they are ignoring the background of the Great Commission. Let me be clear that there are many churches who are Jewish-hearted and involved in Jewish evangelism - but overall, can we say that the church considers Jewish missions a starting point in their missions program? I think the answer would certainly be no.

Second, the Greek word for “nations” in our Scripture reference is ethnos, which does not mean countries at all, but rather people groups. As it is given here, the Great Commission implies that we need to reach not only distinct people groups in other countries, but also the ethnic groups living among us. What this means for the American church is that to fulfill the Great Commission, it needs to include, for example, Muslim outreach in the United States. Since Jewish evangelism was a given when Jesus laid the commission upon the disciples, we can only assume that Jewish evangelism must be a given for us also if the Great Commission is to be completely followed. Some fellowships of churches have caught on to this idea, among them the Southern Baptists, but too many have not.

Third, although the single word “go”  in English carries the force of the command, the original language uses what is called a participial phrase, which includes words that modify the subject, to put it simply. A more literal translation of the Greek word is “as you go.” Of course, the going is assumed in this rendering and carries the force of the command also, but the point is that the disciples were to move around and encounter the people in the areas where God led them, and by so doing reach all the ethnic groups.

Fourth, and  I know this may step on some toes, but the command is to “make disciples,” not necessarily to plant churches. Planting churches is a result of making disciples, but making disciples perfunctorily does not always lead to planting churches. This is a major error that the modern church makes, thinking that if you make the disciples, the church will follow, or that if you plant the church, the disciples will follow. If you try to plant the churches without the emphasis on making disciples, you get neither the disciples nor the churches. So, churches often end up fighting over individuals to draw to their church instead of focusing on preaching the Word to all within earshot and proclaiming the Gospel.

Fifth, while there are individuals called to give their full time to this effort, no person sitting in the pews is exempt from playing a part in the Great Commission. Part of that responsibility is supporting those who are called to give full time to the effort, but this is only part of a greater responsibility. Messianic congregations are notorious for not supporting Jewish missions or workers in Jewish missions, much less getting out of their own comfort so and interacting with unsaved people. Kudos to those exceptions I see out there that are doing their best in these areas (I can think of some individuals and some congregations). The evangelical church does have a heart for this sort of thing - but often its people are very uncomfortable with interacting with others who are very different than themselves. While that may work well for the smooth functioning of a local church, it works horribly for the big picture of the Great Commission.

In conclusion, many ideas about the Great Commission simply reduce it to church planting or overseas missions. While these are important parts of the greater picture, local ethnic ministries must be considered a part of the mix, and the evangelistic teaching and preaching of the Word apart from church planting must be considered a legitimate kingdom activity. These are my thoughts, as I prepare to go to California to do what seems to me to be very much kingdom work.

Confessions of an Introverted Thinker

This is probably one of the most personal blogs that I will ever write. Without going into details, my family and I are going through many  life changes right now. Some of the spiritual lessons I learned at the beginning of my walk with the Lord are being revisited now in a deeper way. I am, by nature, a sociable introverted thinker. I tend to be highly analytical, methodical, and generally enjoy a certain amount of order and routine to my life - but that orderliness is just not happening right now. This has got me thinking about temperaments. Some folks out there may object to this (particularly pastors of certain doctrinal stances) and will argue that temperaments do not really exist. They will say that temperament tests are a tool of the devil. Well, let me address the first part of this objection. Any man who has ever gone shopping with a woman has experienced that the male and female temperaments have distinct differences, some of which have even been stressed and popularized in some recent books.

Beyond such temperamental differences between the genders, differences in personal temperaments also have a long history of documentation. The Bible does not have one particular word related to the idea of temperament, but it does give us the idea that we as personal image-bearers have individual personalities, as seen in this verse: "You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139:3, NKJV)." Surely the psalmist does not believe that all other people's perspectives and basic methods of doing things are the same as mine. It is also commonly acknowledged that some individuals are prone to certain sins, while others are prone to distinctly different ones. People are not equally drawn to the same kinds of sin.

In the same way, to argue that all people are equally outgoing in nature would be absurd. Equally absurd would be to argue that all people make decisions more from logical thought rather than feelings, or even the other way around.  In short, individuals have individual strengths and weaknesses as part of a general temperament. It logically follows that if people have certain types of temperaments, i.e. certain sets of strengths and weaknesses, these patterns of strengths and weaknesses may be seen to exist in such a way that we can also say there are certain types of people. For this blog’s purpose, there are two: all unsaved people, who remain sinners until they accept Christ, and all regenerated people, who stay regenerate.

This distinction makes a huge difference for the regenerate because, in the hands of our Redeemer, struggles with weaknesses in our temperament are not always about sin. Sin is not so much having weaknesses, any more than it is exercising one's strengths. In fact, every virtue or strength has a correlating weakness or vice. One could easily argue biblically that this is the very reason why we need the sanctifying influence of the Spirit - to help us in our weaknesses and to help us keep our strengths in balance, so they do not become vices.

So, where does that put the individual who is given to analysis and reflection, and in love with the world of ideas (a.k.a. the introverted thinker)? Well, a gift for analysis is an incredible strength and very useful in Bible teaching, as well as in apologetics. The struggle is that the misuse of specific abilities tends to create a problem with doubt and lack of faith. Therein lies my own struggle. In my fifties, this introverted thinker is finding it necessary to refocus on God's character and the issue of faith. To this end, I am grateful that God has raised up other thinkers in the faith -  individuals such as J.P. Moreland and CS Lewis, to name a few. You see, if God had not raised up thinkers of the faith, then faith could be regarded as only for the unthinking. By raising up individuals who are thinkers, God is indicating that faith is something that needs to be exercised by all in Jesus Christ. For the individual who is more of a feeler, the difficulty may be in objectively thinking through one's faith and not simply leaving truth behind. However, for the thinker, the challenge may be feeling and experiencing the faith which one knows intellectually.

In conclusion, one can see how the strengths an individual possesses can become their greatest challenges. All need Christ, for the thinker must believe and experience Him, and the feeler must know Him objectively through the truth of His word.

Is Race An Issue

Recent events have made a real issue of race and race relations, from campaigns such as “Black Lives Matter” to the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement. While this topic falls a little outside the area of Jewish missions, it is not outside the area of a Messianic or Judeo-Christian worldview. In this blog, I will not deal with the intricacies of the present problems between people groups and cultural groups within this country, but I will briefly touch upon a Scriptural worldview of the idea of race.

 

It must be acknowledged that there are certain distinctions and divisions which God does recognize within humankind, and these should be discussed. First, God obviously acknowledges the difference between genders. In the very first book of the Scriptures God states very clearly, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27, NKJV).” In other words, man and woman are created differently and are distinct from each other (a point quickly being lost on society today). This represents the first historical distinction that existed within humankind.

 

For the next distinction God allows within humankind, we need to go to the Tower of Babel and the table of nations. Chapter 10 of Genesis gives a genealogical breakdown of the nations while chapter 11, with its record of the incident of the Tower of Babel, explains the mechanism by which those nations came into existence, and the origin of the distinct languages of humankind. In chapter 10, a phrase is used in terms of the descendants of the three sons of Noah: “according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.” From this we know that the divisions that occur between peoples are according to their families (lineage), according to their languages, and according to their lands and nations (geographically and culturally).

 

For the last of God’s distinctions, we will look at the end of the big story as all of humanity is brought under the rule of God. We read, “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9, NKJV).” Distinctions within humankind are being mentioned here in a way that is similar to Genesis 10. Again we see tribe, which is lineage; we see tongue, which is language; and we see people and nation - these are culture and location. There is one category of distinction which is missing from any of these divine perspectives: that is, the distinction called race. This gives us a clear clue that race is not a Biblical concept, or even a distinction worthy of consideration from God’s perspective.

 

I have always hated the section on various tests and questionnaires that asks me whether I am Caucasian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, or Other. I probably missed some categories in the list, but they would be as equally irrelevant as the categories I did remember (it is interesting to note that new “races” have been added over time to the two that were at one time the most recognizable, black and white). The answer to that question is not clear-cut for many people; it follows the fact that race does not exist from the perspective of the divine author of the universe. Differences in gender, culture, and lineage are notable by Him, but race is distinctly missing.

 

The answer to the present problem of race relations is to realize that race is not a thing - it is a measure of distinction between the appearance of two people groups. I saw a picture of a young lady with blonde hair, blue eyes, and lighter skin. She was born in South Africa, so in essence she is an African. She migrated and became a citizen in America, therefore she is an African-American, although she does not have dark skin. Where does she she fall within the supposed racial categories? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the concept of different races, as opposed to one human race, was introduced through an evolutionary model of thinking and introduced with anti-black bias. I have a picture of the original title of Darwin’s book The Origin of Species. The original title was The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life - or what he really meant: “the superiority of the white race.”

 

In conclusion, problems of race relation are really about the challenges between people groups of different culture, lineage, and location. The best way to deal with race relations is to scrap non-Biblical designators of humankind and see the issues for what they really are. Yes, due to prejudice by those of fairer skin, who belong to the exact same human race as their darker skinned brothers and sisters, there have been injustices. But these are not a function of race - these are a function of sin. Let me close with the words that Paul gave the Athenian philosophers by the working of the Holy Spirit: “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26, NKJV).”

It’s My Body And I’ll Pry If I Want To…

One should note that the title of this blog is taken from an old rock song in which a young girl is crying over a boy she is mad at. The song by Lesley Gore was originally entitled, “It’s My Party.” The nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice has prompted no small amount of protest from the Left. While not surprising in and of itself, it has resurrected discussions about the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. One of the more ridiculous comments that has been repeated in my hearing several times is, “I do not want nine men deciding what I do with my body.” This response, designed to create a knee-jerk reaction, is ridiculous on several levels. I think a brief discussion on the ludicrousness of this comment, and why it is being used, is worthy of consideration.

First, a disclaimer. There are those horrible instances in which a woman finds herself bringing forth a child through an act of violence. I am being deliberately discrete here. Such an instance would not in any way entail the normal relations between a man and woman. I want to make it clear that such sad cases, which are part of the mosaic of our fallen world, are to be treated with the utmost compassion and gravity. Therefore, they are not included in this particular discussion, but rather represent a grievous exception to the dialogue about abortion in general. Let us call these, “the exceptions that need to be looked at on a unique, case-by-case basis.” Of course, there is another situation which needs to be looked at in such a way: those cases in which a choice must be made between the life of the mother and the life of the child (again, such a heartbreaking situation is a result of the fallen world in which we live). It is important to remember that since children could be born at an earlier and earlier gestational age, these cases are becoming less frequent. Nonetheless, these situations must be treated as important exceptions and we should not glibly dismiss them.

The comment directed at the Supreme Court as a group of nine men making decisions about women’s bodies, however, is not about these exceptions, but something far deeper. Let us grant the premise that it is a legitimate argument, just for the sake of examination. If a woman should not be told what she can do with her body, it logically follows that a man cannot be told what he can do with his body. If that is the case, then what is the basis for objecting to a man committing rape, since he is simply doing what he wants with his body? Any sane person would make the distinction that a woman is being abused by his actions - they don’t just affect his body, but they affect hers as well. And that is just the point - in the case of abortion, not just the woman’s body but also another body and another person is being affected. If it is logical that a man is restricted from doing what he wants with his body because it will harm another person, then it is logical that a woman is restricted in what she does with her body because it will harm another person. Let us take this line of thinking a step further: should a woman have the right to tell other women what can be done with their bodies? The woman affirming abortion would obviously say no. But doesn’t a mother who aborted her unborn daughter become a woman who is telling another female what will happen to her body?

 Beyond this, what is ignored is the importance of the rule of moral law. Every day when I am not allowed to speed, steal, or murder other people I am being told what I can and cannot do with my body. We are society of laws and principles and people are expected to submit, or restrict what they can do with their bodies, to follow those laws. The rights of an individual never supersede the obligations of moral law in a just and free society! Let us get down to something far more fundamental: the issue of moral obligation. Our society, informed by a Judeo-Christian ethic, has always held that individuals have a moral obligation to do that which is right and to avoid doing that which is wrong. In other words, people should do what is right because it is right, and avoid wrong because it is wrong - not just because the law tells us to do or not do something. Any mother who has told her child to share her toys with another child exercising this very moral principle.

 So, when a woman says, “I do not want nine men telling me what to do with my body,” she is really saying that even if those nine men (or women) rightly posit and enshrine in law a moral obligation, she does not want to be held to that obligation. Therein is the problem: individuals want to be able to act autonomously apart from moral obligations. What the woman is ignoring is the fact that, as a woman (who has a unique role in the miracle of birth), at the point of conception her body is no longer just hers, but both hers and the child’s - for the time being. Now, I know this creates some impositions on the woman - and one can argue whether these impositions, which are an intrinsic component of her gender, are fair or unfair. But, what one should not argue with is that there exists a moral obligation to that child at the point of conception. There is a moral obligation for a woman to control her body to the extent that she is capable of. By the way, the same obligation exists for men, who are not to take advantage of women to get what they desire. A man has certain moral obligations also (what is good for the goose is good for the gander). I do not let my gender off the hook. But the principle of moral obligation must be upheld. It is not a matter of which Supreme Court Justice is sitting on the high court; it is a matter of a moral obligation that needs to be remembered. You may do with your body only what does no unnecessary harm to another - this is true whether you’re a man or a woman and has nothing to do with the makeup of the Supreme Court. The relative merits of Roe v. Wade can be debated till the cows come home, but the principle remains the same: I do not have the right to do whatever I want with my body, whether I am a male or female, because moral obligation and moral law constrain me.

As a final word or two in passing, we created this problem in a sense by giving people the idea that ethics in their sexual behavior do not exist. Organizations like Unplanned Parenthood (which should be the actual name of Planned Parenthood), have told our youth for too long that they have no responsibility for that area of life towards which their awakening drives begin to lead them. Lastly, from this particular blog, one can see that I will in no way, ever, come close to being considered for a Supreme Court post. While realistically the reason would be my lack of legal education, even if I had the proper credentials and education, it would most certainly be due to my views on moral obligation (which, ironically, are not shared by many of the Justices).

Two Types of Liberty?

I think it is proper and right on this Fourth of July week to reflect on freedom. The apostle Paul, writing during the period of the Roman Empire, states, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17, NKJV).” It is good to ask what type of liberty Paul is referring to here: internal or external freedom? During the period of the Roman Empire, it is a historical certainty that, while Paul as a Roman citizen enjoyed greater external liberties than others within the Roman Empire, they were considerably less than the liberties that we enjoy in America today. 

Given the difference between the times, political structures, and guaranteed rights which exist between us and Paul, and considering the context of 2 Corinthians itself, it is reasonable to assume that Paul is discussing internal freedom. This internal freedom would include freedom of conscience and spiritual freedom from the dictates of the sin nature. In other words, it is a freedom of heart that Paul is discussing in his statement in 2 Corinthians 3:17. In the vein of this distinction we should  ponder the following two-part question.

First, can a man who is externally free be internally enslaved? Let me give you an example. Recently my sleep cycles were extremely disturbed and disordered, and I was not getting restful sleep. My mind churned and would not turn off at night. Experiencing some relief from this condition has been a tremendous joy, and also has provided an interesting illustration. By the law of the land I was perfectly free to sleep. However, by my internal state I was not free to sleep. In this way I was free, yet not free. My external freedom gave me limited benefit because my internal freedom was not present, at least in sleeping. (As an important side note, this is wonderful proof that our brain is not the same as our mind. My brain was completely willing to sleep, but my mind would not let it.)

Second, is it possible for man to be externally limited in his freedom and internally free? I know that this is difficult for us to imagine, especially on a day like the Fourth of July, as the fireworks are bursting and we soak in the ethos of freedom. Yet, Paul was imprisoned during his time as an apostle, and yet felt incredibly free in Christ. What freedom, then, did Paul enjoy? He enjoyed internal freedom - being free in conscience and free from the dictates of what his sin nature might do, especially in the situation of imprisonment. Paul was not free, yet he was free.

Like Paul, many dear followers of Christ around the world do not enjoy external freedom, but enjoy internal freedom. I am greatly blessed for the external freedom I enjoy in this country, and am not anxious to trade places with those beloved brothers and sisters of like faith. I also realize that as a free citizen in the United States, I can be enslaved by any number of things and end up being not free, though I am free.

In short, the great freedoms that we enjoy in the United States are not the only kind of freedom, nor are they the ultimate kind of freedom. These external freedoms are a tremendous gift from God, who gives all freedom and, in whose name, only do we have any claim to the inalienable rights we enjoy. Yes, our internal freedom can be enjoyed and expressed through our external freedom, and this is indeed the way the founding fathers intended it. Let me close with this very idea which they wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

Who is Jesus

It may seem strange, since the name seems to be known by almost everyone, but given the various religions and cults out there, “Who is Jesus?” is one of the most contested questions; it is also one of the most important questions that a person can ask. First of all, we must realize that since Jesus is central to the New Testament Scriptures by direct reference, and to the Hebrew Scriptures in terms of his Messiahship (although this Messiahship is contested by Rabbinical Judaism), this is not strictly a secular historical question. It must be noted that I say “secular historical question” slightly tongue-in-cheek, since I believe all history to be grounded in God. But we do acknowledge that there is biblical history recorded in the Scriptures as well as history that is not directly recorded in the Scriptures. Therefore, any attempt to answer who Jesus is cannot be confined to merely extra-Biblical historical sources, and here we will examine a passage of Scripture to answer our question of who Jesus is.

The foundational thing we must know is that Jesus is not merely human, but also deity, or God, the Eternal God. To believe that God is not eternal would be difficult to maintain under any doctrinal conception of God held by the monotheistic religions. Moreover, if God were not eternal, He could not be the first cause of all things or the creator, since something would have preceded His existence; so, it is logical that God would be eternal if He was indeed the creator. You can see how the eternal nature of Messiah contained in Micah 5:2 thus points to Jesus being deity:

 

Phrase  in Hebrew

Translation in English

וְאַתָּ֞ה בֵּֽית־לֶ֣חֶם אֶפְרָ֗תָה צָעִיר֙ לִֽהְיוֹת֙ בְּאַלְפֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה מִמְּךָ֙ לִ֣י יֵצֵ֔א לִֽהְי֥וֹת מוֹשֵׁ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּמוֹצָאֹתָ֥יו מִקֶּ֖דֶם מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃” 

Micah 5:1, BHS/WIVU

““But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”” (Micah 5:2, NKJV)

 

I have taken the liberty of including Micah 5:2, or rather, Micah 5:1 in the Masoretic text in both Hebrew and English. It states that Messiah’s goings forth were “from everlasting.” I will not take the time here to demonstrate that the Hebrew word עוֹלָֽם carries the connotation of eternal-ness. For that you can go to the website and see a message that deals with this very topic. While there are many ways to demonstrate that the Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is God, Micah 5:2 succinctly points out this truth. Let us look at the argument more clearly:

•      God is eternal, and this is an essential characteristic of His nature;

•      Messiah is Eternal;

•      It follows that Messiah is God.

Groups such as the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement (I have written in more detail on this cult in other blog posts) may have some division on this issue, but the Scriptures certainly do not. Modern Rabbinical Judaism also denies the deity of Messiah, but it must be noted that the Judaism of the Second Temple Era would have had far less trouble with this concept. There are clearly verses pointing to Messiah having a nature that is not merely human, and acknowledgments of verses which point to His deity. Likewise, Islam denies the deity of Messiah quite clearly: “And say: (All) praise is due to Allah, Who has not taken a son and Who has not a partner in the kingdom, and Who has not a helper to save Him from disgrace; and proclaim His greatness magnifying (Him).”[1]

Any depiction of Jesus which does not take into account His deity paints a false view of Jesus, and thus falls short of the truth. This fact provides a strike against the Black Hebrew Israelites. Additionally, it shows that Islam, while it honors Him, denies the truth of Jesus. Finally, this truth highlights the failure of Rabbinical Judaism to acknowledge the Messiah for which it waits.

 

[1] M. H. Shakir, ed., The Quran (Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library, n.d.). Surah 17:111.

The Theology of power

This week we have been terribly busy trying to raise up our support team to keep this ministry going. In the midst, it has been interesting to see how the Lord orchestrates different events during my week, such as an event this week and one last week which were knit together in such a way as to demonstrate the need for discussing the politics and theology of power. Last week, as I was preparing to work out, I heard a snippet from Fox News pointing out how it appears those in Washington are less respectful of the rule of law. Then, while preparing my Monday night broadcast this week, I dealt with a cult called the Black Hebrew Israelites (which practices a form of racism by believing that the black people will come to power and force the subjugation of white people, including Jewish people, many of whom are lighter skinned). These two instances lead to the question: for what purpose does God give authority to individuals and groups? Having a well-articulated understanding of the Judeo-Christian* worldview is important in getting to the right answer.

Two points need to be made and upheld. First, authority over others must be exercised with love and respect. In the Gospels, Jesus is terribly clear on this: “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39, NKJV).’” We see this same basic principle in God’s choosing of Israel: “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3, NKJV).’” Clearly, He is stating that “in you [Israel],” all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Therefore, the purpose for which God chose Israel was to be a channel of blessings to others -  never was Israel chosen for itself. Plainly, God giving Israel a special status was for the benefit of others. Likewise, when any authority over others is given, it is meant for the benefit of the subjects.

Second, the exercise of authority for the sake of raw power is unholy. The exercise of authority within a Judeo-Christian worldview must be in line with God’s two great Commandments which are loving God and loving our neighbor, or in the spirit of Torah (which is love, according to Christ in His Gospels, as previously stated). Indeed, we must be clear to define love: love is seeking the ultimate good for the one loved. It is not seeking their temporary happiness. Unfortunately, our culture has begun to worship happiness as opposed to good. Moreover, the command to love one’s neighbor is subordinate to the command to love God, which must be the case, as only in loving according to God’s commands is the ultimate good of an individual realized. While humans made in God’s image have the capacity to love, that capacity is tainted by their own natures. Though some who are unsaved have moral knowledge by general revelation and the image of God within them, they are apt to err and make mistakes about the ultimate good if not properly guided. Therefore, the saying is true, that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Power is to be exercised for the ultimate good of others, as defined by God, and not for raw power.

Let us apply these principles to the two situations. First, Washington (that is, the United States government) was never created to tyrannically reign over US citizens in the name of making them do good or, more accurately, what appears to be right according to a faulty worldview and agenda. Let me unpack this idea a little: the US government was never designed to be a nanny dictating to US citizens political correctness (which, by the way, is not genuine love). The founding fathers designed the rule of law to rein in the government since they understood that because of man’s fallen nature, power corrupts. Washington’s submission to the rule of law would be loving to US citizens. Ignoring the rule of law and proper conduct is an abuse of authority, and thus unloving to US citizens.

Now to the cult, the Black Hebrew Israelites. Their philosophy is based on past victimization and racism. Having suffered evil never gives anybody the right to tyrannically rule over another. Since the purpose of authority is to exercise love, groups that claim an oppressed status have no more right to authority than groups that do not claim an oppressed status. The BHI cult reflects a politic of victimization, which is contrary to a proper theology of power. God gives the right to rule as He chooses, for the good of all. Serving in love is the way to gain power in its proper sense and respect. Jesus said it when He stated, “And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35, NKJV).’”


 

*For those who would object to the word ‘Judeo-Christian,’ it must be pointed out that Jesus and His disciples were practicing Jews, and that ethical monotheism came to the world through the Jewish people.

Unhitching the Horse From the Cart Does Not Get You Where You Want to Go

Does the Old Testament really hinder the Gospel? Discussion has swirled about a recent sermon delivered by Andy Stanley and its relationship to the value of the New Testament. Admittedly, I have not had the chance to listen to the sermon, but what concerns me is that a mindset may be growing which influenced some of the remarks in the sermon. In the minds of many, the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, are problematic in view of modern thinking. I would like to briefly examine two things: are the Hebrew Scriptures a hindrance to proclaiming the Gospel, and does it matter if the Hebrew Scriptures may be unsuited to modern thinking?

Andy Stanley may have had noble intentions by pointing out that the central message of Scripture is Messiah Jesus. His desire to see Jesus proclaimed is a right and good desire, and those of us who value the Hebrew Scriptures would concur with this noble aim. However, in the mind of Stanley, the Hebrew Scriptures are a hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel - or at least, that is the impression that may be given. This sort of argumentation would fall into a category of fallacy called ‘a false dilemma.’ First, let us look at just one passage of Scripture. John 1:29 states, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” What does this phrase, “Lamb of God,” even mean if we remove it from the context of the Jewish Scriptures? Clearly, this title refers to both the Passover and the binding of Isaac, or the Akediah. Without the background of the Hebrew Scriptures (which John’s audience clearly would have had), this reference would have made no sense, and would have told them little to nothing. John clearly did not believe the Hebrew Scriptures were a detriment to the Gospel, but rather that they were the correct way of presenting the Gospel.

If Jesus is the center for the believer, and the One he or she is to proclaim, perhaps we should look at Jesus’ own attitude towards the Hebrew Scriptures and their relationship to the Gospel. The very context of the famous John 3: 16, which someone like Andy Stanley would use to proclaim the Gospel, contains clear reference to the Hebrew Scriptures. We read in John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” In the mind of Jesus there was no John 3:16 without the Hebrew Scriptures contained in Numbers 21. Jesus makes clear use of the Old Testament to share the Gospel, even in this verse which is used in evangelism more than any other. Clearly, Jesus does not agree with Andy Stanley’s analysis of the problematic nature of the Old Testament. Jesus does not believe that the Hebrew Scriptures hinder the proclamation of the Gospel at all!

But what about the problem that the Hebrew Scriptures are inconsistent with modern thinking? Given the nature of modern thinking, which tends towards materialistic or postmodern explanations of the world, the Gospel itself and the New Testament are both inconsistent with modern thinking. To argue that the Old Testament should be untethered from the church to accommodate modern thinking is tantamount to arguing that the Gospel should be changed in its essential truths to make it more palatable to the mainstream worldview of our culture. Many of the doctrines which are central to our faith, such as blood atonement, are archaic to modern society. I doubt the folks from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.) find the sacrificial system of the Hebrew Scriptures acceptable - yet they are key to the doctrine of blood atonement in understanding the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.

The fact that the modern mindset does not understand the thinking of the Scripture’s original audience does not mean that the Scriptures need to be changed, but rather that they need to be explained.  It is always a bad idea to mistake pragmatism for wisdom. When we deal with the essentials of the faith, I am not saying that other doctrines are not important, but on those things which are clear and repeatedly displayed under the Perspicuity of Scripture¹, we must stand firm.

One of the driving forces and part of my passion that the mission of Zionsbanner is to uphold the idea that the Scriptures, which include the Hebrew Scriptures as a vital part, are one story testifying to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Ministries like Zionsbanner, which I am so excited to be creating, serve the vital purpose of connecting the big story - which is integral to the Hebrew Scriptures - with the presenting of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.

 

 

1 The Perspicuity of the Scriptures refers to the doctrine that the Scriptures in their central message are clear and that, while there are sections of Scripture which may be hard to understand, the central things of the word of God can be understood clearly and are made plain.