In my previous post, I spoke of the co-traveller that was always nearby as I sought to follow Jesus, the link between Christianity and Judaism. I shared about how early on in our marriage Wife and I spent time learning about Judaism as background for our faith. In this post, I am going to present some more recent events that are having an impact on my understanding of Judaism, how it relates to Christianity, and how new knowledge is impacting my faith.
In my Apology post, last month on my Curmudgeonly Librarian blog, I spoke of three new “revelations” that I received that have shed new light on what I have believed. (And by “revelation”, I am specifically NOT claiming that God talked with me and gave me new scriptures, etc.)
Lastly and (at this time) most important to me is my recent reading. Material I have seen and read in the past couple of years has got me thinking that we Christians have really created our own religion, separate from the one that Christ practiced and instituted.
These three “revelations”, insights, have started me on a process of re-evaluating what I have been taught and accept as “gospel”, and just how much of it might not be as “gospel” as I think. That I am doing this should come as no surprise, given that I have a whole series on Bad Teaching over on my marriage blog. And while I have changed my thinking on several points of the Church’s teaching about marriage, these three events have me looking farther afield in my faith.
First “Revelation” –
That what we “know” the Bible teaches just might be completely off-base. In the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess, the character Sportin’ Life sings
The words that you’re liable
To read in the Bible,
They ain’t necessarily so.
As you would hope, I disagree with his statement vigorously; however, if he were to rephrase to say that what we’ve been taught by the Church “ain’t necessarily so,” you will hear this sedate Methodist turn into a shouting Baptist as I give a hearty “Amen!”
A couple of years ago, as part of a discussion on a Christian marriage forum, I was directed to a TEDTalk entitled “Interpreting Language,” by Dr. Joel Hoffman, a Jewish translator and author. Within the first five minutes, Hoffman demonstrates that our understanding of certain phrases, including “God so loved…,” are faulty due to not understanding how our language changed over 400 years.
Because of Hoffman’s video, I started searching for information on Hebrew idioms and came across an article that, among other information, completely destroyed a tenet of Calvinist faith, the completion/fulfilling of the Law by Christ. In Hidden Hebrew Idioms, the author tells how the phrases, “You’re destroying the Law” and “I’m fulfilling the Law” were idioms of disagreement that were common. I recently found a confirmation of this in Spangler’s Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus:
But when Jesus contrasts “fulfilling” with “abolishing” the law, you know he is employing a rabbinic idiom. In this case, to “fulfill the Law” means to properly interpret the Torah.
Think about all those sermons you’ve heard or books you have read that say that Christ was the end of the Law because He fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Basically, because we didn’t understand this Hebrew idiom, we built a whole doctrine out of thin air.
Second “Revelation” –
Pure and simple, I was shown that I was wrong, that the entire Church is wrong, in using Mal. 2:16 as a tool to scotch any and all discussion of divorce. It is commonly accepted that the verse says, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD….” However, I have since learned that newer translations correctly put the verb hate in the third person rather than first person: “He who hates” instead of “I hate.” A good article on the subject can be found here.
This discovery came about because I was involved in a discussion about divorce and someone referred me to David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage In The Bible. The book is a scholarly look at divorce in both Old and New Testament eras, and shows that, basically, our lack of knowledge of the context of the discussion means that we don’t have a correct understanding of many things that the biblical writers were saying. Jesus and Paul lived in a time and culture where ketubahs, gets, and agunah wives were commonly known and part of the presuppositions of any discourse on marriage and divorce. And yet, how many of us know what an agunah wife is? And what is likely, one of Jesus’ most well-known discussions was probably with an agunah wife; I speak of the Woman at the Well, in John 4. (Okay, I teased it enough; here’s the link to learn what an agunah wife is, and how it was and still is a problem for Orthodox Judaism.)
Receiving this revelation concerning the context of a narrow topic, divorce, was definitely an awakening. I realized that it was quite likely that our ignorance of the historical context of pretty much everything else in the Bible might be coloring our beliefs and doctrines, and it concerned me. Then came the ….
Third Revelation –
Simply, a book. Specifically, a book about that missing context. Last year, Lori Byerly, of Generous Wife, told a bunch of bloggers about a daily email service that linked to book bargains for Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBook readers. Being the librarian that I am, and realizing that I had fallen down lately in my reading, I signed up for the service. About three months ago, I was notified in the daily alert that one of the books was Sitting At the Feet Of Rabbi Jesus (linked above.)
In his short work An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis says some readers are so affected by a book “[t]heir whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before.” That has been the effect on me. The subtitle of Sitting… is “How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith” and this is exactly what is happening. Sitting… is one of the few books that I’ve read of which I can truthfully say, “It changed my life.” (Seriously, folks, get this book!!) I am not kidding when I write that by ignoring what Christ was saying in the time and place of His incarnation, by reading His teaching through our Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, etc., lenses, we have missed so much of what the Bible is saying to us.
First of all, realizing that everything that Jesus did or said was in the context of being a Jew who was speaking to other Jews was eye-opening. As Christians, we have our creeds and statements of belief, and they are extremely important, as they are our gathered wisdom of what constitutes Biblical faith. Rather than just something that is recited as ritual or rote, creeds define us. We either accept our creeds, which defines us as Christians, or we reject them, which means we reject Christianity.
As a Jew, Jesus had a creed and He recited it twice a day. It is entitled the Shema, a recitation of three portions of OT scriptures: Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41. Just as our acceptance and identification with our creeds helps us to define who we are as Christians, reciting the Shema and devotion to Torah, God’s Word, identified Jesus as a believing Jew.
In the Lewis quote above, he says that some books change us, that we become what we weren’t before. I find that this is happening to me; I’m looking at what it means to follow Christ in light of the implication of what He was saying when He spoke.
I’ll give you just one example, from the story of the Prodigal Son. We all know the story of the younger brother who said to his father, “Give me my share of the inheritance.” One of the authors of Sitting… became curious how this line of the story would be perceived in the Middle East and began asking, on her visits to homes, what the story said to them. She found out that everyone was scandalized by the words of the younger son; in essence, by demanding his inheritance, he was saying “I wish you were dead.” When Jesus told this parable to His listeners, it is more than likely that they had the same shocked reaction to the younger son’s words.
As a result of this, learning how this aspect of the Prodigal Son comes across, I realize that sin isn’t just disobeying a set of rules, but an act of rebellion against a loving Father, and wishing to deny His existence. In our culture, we like to have our heroes with a little smudge on their cheeks; we like the good-hearted bad boys (Han Solo and Mal Reynolds come to mind, and betray my love of sci-fi at the same time.)
But as Spangler and Tverberg make clear,
“We tend to think of sin as an infraction of rules. But the story [Prodigal Son] Jesus tells makes it clear that our sin is not just an infraction of a set of laws but a terrible offense against God, our loving Father.” ~ Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.
And In,… Well Not Conclusion
I’ve got some reading and thinking ahead of me. After I finish this book, there is a sequel I’m going to read, Walking In The Dust Of Rabbi Jesus. As well, one of the author’s has a website with many articles and blog posts, Our Rabbi Jesus. And as I learn more, as I internalize more, I will be writing more.
This bend in the journey, at this time in my life, is making things very interesting.