“Inherit The Land”?

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**I use the term Tanakh or TNK in place of the common term, Old Testament.

Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.

I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into just how much we know just ain’t so!

In a post I did last spring, I demonstrated that our belief that the people of Jerusalem turned against Jesus and demanded His crucifixion was just so much twaddle. The crowds that acclaimed Him on Palm Sunday weren’t even up and about at the time that Pilate was pronouncing Jesus’ death sentence. But that doesn’t stop us from preaching about fickle crowds, does it?

Today’s Hot Shot

So what’s got me frothing at my keyboard this morning? I have just read something that makes me wonder just how institutionalized is our desire to extricate Jesus from Judaism. The wellspring for this unsettling of my emotions today can be found in, of all places, the Beatitudes of Matt. 5, considered to be one of the most sublime of Jesus’ teachings.

In v. 5, Jesus says, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is a statement that has comforted Christians for two millennia. And yet, believe it or not, I have just read something that upsets me, because–consciously or unconsciously–translators have separated Jesus from His Jewishness via word choice.

“Inherit The Land”

If you, dear reader, are proficient in the use of a reference bible, you will quickly find that you are directed to Ps. 37:10-11:

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

In following the reference from Matt. 5:5 to Ps. 37, we learn that Jesus, in presenting His teachings in the Beatitudes, was citing a verse from the Tanakh** that His audience would know and understand when H quoted it. When Jesus sat down and started to teach, He made statements that referenced writings in the TNK and that his audience would be able to follow and apply to what He was teaching.

The word land in the TNK had a special connotation to the Israelites, and I’m pretty sure that any Christian who takes their Bible seriously understands that connotation.

Whether it be God’s promise to Abraham that his children would possess the land, or God’s promise to Moses that the Israelites would possess the land, or Joshua’s exhortation to Israel to take possession that day of the land that God was giving them, land had a specific meaning Jesus’ audience: Canaan.

As Christians, we understand that Canaan symbolized God’s promised blessing and rest to Israel. As a result, we can be sure that the psalmist who wrote “the meek shall inherit the land” was referring to God’s promised land.

And the fact that we don’t get this connection to God’s promised land of rest when we read Jesus words in the Beatitudes Ps. 37 bothers me.

“Inherit The Earth”

And why don’t we get this connection to God’s promise of entering into His land of rest? Because of word choice in translation.

Oh, I get the argument for saying that the Greek text says “earth”; after all, the Greek word for earth is gē, which is the root from which we get words like geography and geology. I get that. But Strong’s  Dictionary Of New Testament Words says that can be translated as both earth (the whole world) or a country/place enclosed within fixed boundaries”. In other words, a specific place that isn’t the entire earth, such as Canaan.

And, yes, while it is defensible to argue for the use of earth in the passage, from a lexicographical standpoint, I don’t think it is defensible from either a biblical or contextual standpoint. Jesus quotes a verse from the TNK that is in keeping with the Jewish mindset and teaching that has land as its touchstone, and it is ignored by translators. The result of this decision by translators down through the centuries is this:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” is a near-quotation of Ps. 37.11 …. The Hebrew of the psalm speaks of inheriting the “land” (‘aretz), which should be taken as a reference to the land of Israel. The [Septuagint] and hence the New Testament reads  , which could be translated as either “land” or “earth”; the reading of “earth” serves to de-Judaize Jesus by disconnecting him from any specific concern for the land of Israel.
~ The Jewish Annotated New Testament (my emphasis)

When we remove Jesus from from the context of first-century Judaism, we lose our spiritual anchor to the revelation of God, and become free to drift, led by our own imaginings.

CSL

 

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“Salvation Is Of The Jews”

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In my Why A Rabbi? post, I traced how God’s revelation of himself and His way came through Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mankind’s history has been the story of gods and idols that need to be appeased, cajoled, or bribed in order to get favorable results in one’s life. In essence, magic, myth, and mysticism have been the spiritual legacy of humanity from, … oh, say, the time of Noah?

Judaism’s difference, and because it is from the same root, Christianity’s difference, is that there is one God who is supreme and who has been revealing Himself to mankind in order to draw fallen people back into fellowship and holy, right living. The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). And unlike the gods of the universe, this God, this LORD who is one, is not only powerful, He cares for his creation.

In a recent discussion with someone in my church, I was challenged over my statement that Jesus was the completion of God’s Old Testament revelation. This person felt that my belief was both provincial and old-fashioned, tying Jesus to the Old Testament. After all, she reasoned, “Jesus transcended Jewish religious restrictions and showed God as a universal god, don’t you think?”

As you might expect, I demurred.

“Salvation Is Of The Jews”

The problem for Christians who want to excise Jewishness from Jesus is that both Jesus and Paul made statements that are insurmountable, inextricably linking Christianity with the faith of the Tanakh.**

The statement that I just used as my subheading, “Salvation is of the Jews,” is what Jesus said to the Woman at the Well, in John 4. After Jesus got uncomfortably personal (“the man you have now is not your husband”), she tried to change the subject to religion (hey, it was the only topic in Judea, after all), and Jesus made a statement that should have each of us examining his/her faith. He said,

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

When the average Christian reads this statement, s/he goes to the standard “Red Thread” that is said to run through the Tanakh, God’s plan to provide a Savior by establishing a new covenant to replace the old. But we need to look deeper into the implications of the statement, “Salvation is of the Jews.”

“You Worship What You Do Not Know”

That statement sums up the religious and spiritual history of mankind. In Acts 17, Paul even confronts the Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus on this score, noting, “… as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god.’”  Down through the ages, holy men and hucksters have pushed their imaginings about what God or the gods are like, and how we relate to them.

The world has had an overflow of prophets and profiteers “re-imagining” God for us, trying to show us a “universal” God. The problem is that the “universal God” has revealed Himself, and shown us what He is like through His word and through His Son. The problem is that the world does not like the fact that this “universal God” has revealed that His prescribed moral code is the one received by Moses at Sinai.

And, I’m afraid, a growing segment of the Church agrees with the world.

We Are Ruth, Not Rome

Two thousand years ago, Rome ruled the world. According to what I am reading, the “We’re No. 1” mindset did not originate in the U. S.; the people of Rome suffered from what I call the “Rome Complex”, believing that they were superior to all the others they had conquered; after all, they had brought Pax Romana and civilization to the world. I believe that the same thing happened in the religious world. As the church became more Gentile and less knowledgeable about Torah, the idea that Jesus came to create a new Church and a new religion, began to grow until it became the overarching belief in the Church. And I feel that my belief is supported by Paul’s admonition to the Roman church.

In Romans 11, Paul tells us that God planted one tree, not two, and in v. 16, he says that “the root is holy.” The entirety of God’s revelation through the Tanakh was God’s truth, and to the Romans who were starting to develop a Rome Complex, thinking that their new belief was superior. However, Paul nipped that thinking in the bud, reminding them that they had no cause for arrogance: “… remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” (v. 18)

The perfect image for our situation is Ruth of Moab. Ruth is rightly held up for her devotion to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and leaving her people to live in Israel. Her beautiful declaration is the substance of many a wedding vow today:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1: 16-17, ESV)

A wonderful statement of commitment, but there is a special nugget of truth in her statement that the Church needs to take to heart:

Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

In addition to committing herself to Naomi, she states that she is adopting the Hebrew people as her people and the Hebrew God as her God. This is what we need to take to our hearts, to see that becoming a Christian means that we are taking the Hebrew God as our God, and that we are committing ourselves to His people, as well.

Ruth knew that she was asking to be grafted into Israel; the Church has forgotten that this is still the case today. As Rev. David Pryor put it, “God didn’t plant a Christmas tree; He planted an olive tree.”

And it is we who are grafted into that holy root.

CSL

** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.

Why Tanakh, by the way? From Wikipedia: 

Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh.

Why A Rabbi?: The Silent Years?

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One of the popular topics of speculation in religious circles, both Christian and non-, is “what happened during Jesus’ Silent Years?” Of course, the silent years being the time in Christ’s life between His twelfth birthday and His baptism by John in the Jordan, when He went off into the desert for forty days.

But here’s the deal about those supposed silent years—while the Gospels don’t give us specifics concerning any particular event in the life of Christ prior to ministry, (other than His youthful visit to the Temple), we have enough historical writings to know what His life was like as He grew, and how He was preparing for His public ministry. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”: A Slight Detour

rabbidetourAs I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am examining the Jewish nature of Jesus’ ministry, and what it should mean to those who fashion themselves to be His disciples. I’m going to begin this post by asking a question, and then following it up into a rabbit trail that actually is quite relevant to this series of posts. Here is the question:

Who has NOT heard the statement “Jesus was born to die”?

No one, right? This is a commonly-used statement that people make to say that the purpose of Christ’s birth was to get Him to Calvary, to die as God’s sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”, part 1

rabbi1I realize that several of my recent posts may lead some to think that I’ve become ga-ga over Judaism, that I might be a couple bubbles off-center in my fascination with the historic background for the birth of the Church due to this one book that’s gotten me all hipped on Jesus the Jew. But I have to say that seeing Jesus in a synagogue and not the cathedral has both answered a lot of questions for me and engendered a whole lot more.

But one basic question that I have been coming back to, over and over, is a simple, three-word question in the second chapter of  Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus:

“Why a rabbi?” Continue reading

A Bend In The Journey, pt. 2

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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.) Continue reading

A Bend In The Journey, pt. 1

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I’m 67, and I’ve been a Christian since I was 19, almost 50 years now. I’ve made some interesting discoveries and surprising turns in my spiritual pilgrimage; raised Catholic, I “got saved” in a Pentecostal Holiness church as a young sailor in the Navy. By turns in a CMA church and in a charismatic church. Previously an ordained minister in a pentecostal church and currently a very satisfied nothing in a Methodist church. Continue reading