Thursday, 20 July 2017

Land monopolies

Every so often, Christian leaders in churches all over the world, gather together in leadership meetings to discuss how the church might become more relevant.

It has concerned me that many Christians don't realise that the bible has much to say about issues that are top of the mind in society today.

Let's take concerns over housing and the property market.  

All over the world, low interest rates, lax lending policies and globalization have resulted in rising land and real estate prices as cashed up investors look for bargains, bolt holes from potential conflicts or just to launder ill-gotten gains.

This has created enormous pressures for those who are entering adulthood, want to find cost effective housing for their families and increasingly the lower and middle classes are feeling like hard work is not going to allow them to own their own homes.

For example, in New Zealand, for most of the 20th Century, the average home was worth between 3-5 times the average salary.  Now it is sitting between 9-10.  The OECD reports that NZ housing ranks amongst the highest nations with overvalued housing when compared to long term averages price to income ratios. 

The social result is alarming:
  1. Young families crammed into garages, living out of cars, 3-bedroom homes with a dozen or more people living together; no surprise that respiratory diseases such as colds, flus and pneumonia are common amongst these households.
  2. Young couples putting off having families until they are well into their thirties, when their bodies are best suited to bear children in their early twenties.
  3. An increasing gap between the haves and the have nots.
  4. An increasing number of absentee landlords living in foreign countries.
  5. Rising numbers of land bankers evidenced by an increasing number of unoccupied households and undeveloped land.
Social commentators are talking about generations of people who will forever be tenants, with no chance of owning their own homes, with an air of acceptance and inevitability.

This is not God's view of how life should be.  Consider these scriptures (hover over them with your mouse to read them:
  1. Isaiah 5:8:  Land monopolies are a wrong.
  2. Leviticus 25:8-13:  In God's society, people were allocated land, and every 50 years, land transactions were unwound, so that each family had their allocation returned to them.
  3. Micah 2:2: Permanently disengaging a person from their land (their heritage) is an act of oppression.  
We have all played the game of monopoly.  We know how it ends.  It never ends well.

When discussing this problem with Christians the responses are less than encouraging:
  1. I saved for my house, no one helped me, why should I help anyone else?
  2. Everyone can own a house, said one Christian, it just needs good budgetting.
  3. It's a free market, the incentives are there for all to work hard and progress in the world.
  4. They should have saved, spent less, worked two jobs, used birth control...
But centuries of feudalism, class societies, aristocracy, slavery and oppression tell us unfettered free markets do require moderation and even intervention.  Without it, experiences such as the French Revolution and the rise of Communism, tell us that the inequalities become so severe that civil anarchy breaks out with much deadly violence.

The genuine Christian should be inspired by the bible to act vigorously to counter-act this great wrong. 

Sometimes Christians throw their hands in the air, frustrated that though they might like to see social justice done, they are perplexed and clueless on what can be done about it.  In fact, the actions required are well developed and have been for many years.  They are not difficult to implement where there is a will:
  1. Vote for land value taxes and reduce income and company tax.  
  2. Introducing standards of abandonment.
  3. Adopting principles of usufruct eg Leviticus 19:9-10 and Leviticus 23:22.
  4. Other ideas that include the application of easements, and real covenants.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Paul on Circumcision

Circumcision continues to be a controversial subject today.  I recently came across this from FFOZ's Torah Club Volume 5 (Parasha Lech Lecha), where they put forward their views on Paul's comments regarding Torah Observance and circumcision:

Paul and Circumcision

Genesis 17

Any discussion of the commandment of circumcision in Genesis 17 requires an investigation into the text of Galatians and the Pauline issues regarding circumcision. Some have supposed that Paul taught against circumcision. This is not true.

If Paul had been teaching lews not to circumcise their children, as was alleged of him in Acts 21:21, then he would have been an apostate from Judaism and a heretic. But as Acts 21 makes clear, Paul never discouraged Jews from circumcision. Instead, his concern was for Gentiles who were being compelled to enter circumcision as a means for attaining salvation and covenant status.

Consider, for example, the situation in Galatia. The Galatians were new believers, mostly non-Jews, converts out of paganism. They were the Gentiles of the cities of Pisidian—Antioch, Iconium and Derbe. Faith in Yeshua was their only rite of conversion. But subsequent to their conversion out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God, some brothers and sisters from Jerusalem paid them a visit.

The visitors from Jerusalem taught that it was necessary, in addition to faith in Yeshua, that the Galatian Gentiles should also be circumcised—thereby signifying their formal conversion to Judaism. Faith in Messiah was not adequate. According to these visitors, the Galatians also needed to become Jews.

Paul responded to this teaching with his scathing letter to the Galatians. Regarding those brothers, he lost his temper and accused them of teaching “some other gospel.” He said, “Let them be eternally condemned!” He even took it a step further than that. He said, ‘As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12 NIV).

Consider what the Apostle is saying. As if eternal damnation was not bad enough, Paul wanted them to be eternally damned with less than their whole apparatus! Paul’s rancor reveals his priorities. The Gospel of Salvation, full and free, specifically salvation proclaimed to the Gentiles, salvation by faith through grace, was his very heartbeat. The Gentile inclusion through faith in Yeshua was the Gospel to Paul! That was the good news. To him, anything that obscured that simple truth was some other gospel. Paul’s opponents were a very vocal, very active portion of the first-century believers, and by all appearances, theirs was the majority opinion.

All of Paul’s letters must be weighed against this ongoing argument he has with other Jewish believers regarding the status of non-Jews in the covenant. When we read his letters, we must always keep in mind that we are only hearing one half of the argument. The cultural context he was writing from and into was one that was overwhelmingly Jewish in its expression and practice. It was a context in which non-Jewish identity was threatened with extinction as the more conventional forms of Apostolic Judaism attempted to absorb the non-Jewish believers by forcing them to make formal conversion to Judaism.

The problem with this, from Paul’s perspective, was that any attempt to force a non-Jew to accept conversion was selling the work of Messiah short. In Galatians 2:7-8 Paul referred to himself as the ‘”Apostle to the uncircumcised.” Literally he calls himself, “The Apostle to the foreskinned.” But wait. Suppose you didn’t have a foreskin. Take Paul’s convert Lydia, for example: a weaver of purple cloth and, more to the point, a woman.Was she outside of Paul’s purview because she was a woman and he was the apostle to the foreskinned?

The point that needs to be made is the term ‘foreskinned’ does not refer to the literal state of being circumcised or uncircumcised. It is used categorically to refer to those Gentile believers who had not made a conversion to Judaism. In a similar way, the term ‘circumcision’ is used categorically to refer to Jews, and to proselytes who have come to Judaism via the rabbinic conversion ritual.

That’s why Paul is able to say, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Notice the apparent contradiction: Circumcision is one of God’s commands. If keeping God’s commands is what counts, then surely circumcision is something. The way Paul uses the terminology, circumcision refers specifically to the rabbinic conversion ritual, not only the written Torah command of circumcision.

Thus Paul is saying, “Converting to Judaism or not is meaningless. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” So Paul responded to the Galatians who were considering conversion to Judaism by saying, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). The specific ‘flesh’ Paul was speaking of was a formal conversion to Judaism through the rite of removing flesh. In the eyes of men, circumcision allowed for a conventional, physical, human position in Israel.

It was a position attained through natural, physical, human methods. Paul asked the Galatians, “Are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? By natural means? Are you trying to buy your way into the Kingdom by converting to Judaism?” Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a fierce, impassioned argument against the requirement of Gentile conversion through rabbinic Judaism.

Paul contended that it was not necessary for Gentiles to convert to Judaism in order to be a legitimate part of the People of God. It was not necessary for them to be reckoned as part of the physical Seed of Abraham because the promise of the covenant of the Seed of Abraham had already received its ultimate fulfillment in the one singular seed: namely Yeshua.

From Paul’s vantage, for a Gentile believer to become circumcised under the auspices of a rabbinic conversion to Judaism was redundant. It was, if anything, an affront to Messiah because it implied that faith in Messiah was not adequate to secure a position in the covenant with Israel. It was a denial of the Gospel. Paul says, “If you receive circumcision (that is to undergo a formal conversion into Judaism as a necessary component of your salvation), Messiah will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2).

Messiah is of no value because the convert has opted to accomplish his participation in Israel through his own physical efforts. To Paul’s way of thinking, ritual conversion after salvation is like campaigning for an office to which you have already been elected. Paul responded to the bid for Gentile conversion to Judaism by forbidding the Galatians to circumcise. He may have even gone so far as to discourage all Gentile believers from circumcision as long as the commandment of circumcision was being misunderstood. 

In the case of Gentiles with authentic Israelite heritage, however, he does not hesitate to circumcise. In fact, Paul personally oversaw Timothy’s circumcision. Gentiles without Israelite bloodlines, like Titus or the Galatians, he encourages to remain uncircumcised, at least as long as circumcision is understood as the ticket into the Kingdom. Gentiles with Israelite blood, like Timothy, he circumcises without hesitation.

Misunderstanding Circumcision
In Genesis 17 the Lord gives to Abraham the everlasting covenant of circumcision. In spelling out the terms of the covenant, God methodically debunks several of the errant teachings prevalent today and throughout history concerning the mitzvah of circumcision.

    • To those who say it was “only temporary,” the Lord says that it is “an everlasting covenant” (17:13).

    • To those who say that it was “only for the Jews,” the Lord says that it is for “all males among [the people of Abraham] “ (17:10,12) and not just those who are descended from Abraham. This is why Abraham circumcised the servants of his household as well as his sons (17:27).

    • To those who say that the “true meaning of the covenant is ‘spiritual’ circumcision—of the heart and not of the flesh--therefore the physical sign is not necessary,” the Lord says “My covenant shall be in your flesh” (17: 13) and “you shall circumcise the flesh of your f0reskin” (17:11).

    • To those who say that “circumcision was for the ‘age of Law’ and we are in the ‘age of grace’ now,” the Lord says that “every male among [Abraham] shall be circumcised as an everlasting covenant, throughout all [Abrahams] generati0ns” (17:7,9-13). In other words, circumcision is an everlasting covenant, not confined to a so-called ‘age of Law;’ it is for all males among all of Abraham’s generations, not just those generations preceding the coming of Messiah.

It is as if the Torah anticipated all the contrivances that man would devise against the sign of circumcision.

Paul goes on to develop his argument from several angles. Later readers of the epistle, who were not aware of the contextual situation, interpreted Galatians to be an anti-Torah and anti-Jewish work. Based upon this sad and deeply flawed misreading of Galatians, we Christians jettisoned most of Torah observance and our connections to Judaism.

We began to believe that anyone who attempted to keep a commandment of Torah was under the curse of the Torah. In retrospect, it was an absurd proposition, but to those who expounded the idea, it was consistent with their misreading of Galatians. Ironically, the epistle to the Galatians is the very scripture that Christians most often use to refute Gentile believers who are beginning to return to their Jewish roots.

As Christians begin to involve themselves in the various aspects of their heritage (such as Sabbath observance, kosher laws, daily prayer, etc.), they are often rebuked by other believers quoting from Galatians. But that is turning it exactly backwards! Galatians was written to argue for Gentile inclusion in Israel, not Gentile exclusion from Israel! Paul concludes his Galatians argument by saying, “Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).

When he says “circumcision” he means being a natural Israelite, specifically a Jew, whether by birth or by auspices of rabbinic conversion.
When he says “uncircumcision,” he means being a natural Gentile, specifically one who has not made a formal conversion to Judaism.

When he says “new creation,” he means Israelites or Gentiles who belong to Messiah.

When he says “Israel of God,” he means all of us.
The Jewish authors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, say Paul's lack of hesitation to circumcise those with Jewish bloodlines is easily explained.  They believe that the Torah commandments were only given to the Jews at Mt Sinai and therefore Gentile believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not under their jurisdiction.  This is inconsistent with Paul's view where it is clear that he expected new Gentile believers to obey God's commandments. 

For many, First Century Judaism's conception of circumcision seems to have metamorphisized from its original intent.  It was meant to be a covenant sign, but for many, and even today, it has become an ethnic sign.  To be circumcised is to be Jewish, not necessarily a follower of God.  This concept needs to be returned to its roots.

FFOZ don't address the question:  If a gentile believer did understand that his entry into the Kingdom of God was not predicated on whether he was circumcised but should he still undergo circumcision as an act of obedience? 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A J Heschel: The Malaise of Protestantism

Heschel was once asked to comment on the challenges facing Protestant religious life.  He then wrote a thought provoking piece, from which this is an excerpt:

A deliberate cultivation of differences from Judaism, a tendency to understand itself in the light not of its vast indebtedness to but rather of its divergencies from Judaism. With the emergence and expansion of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world, Gentile Christians overwhelmed the movement, and a continuous process of accommodation to the spirit of that world was set in motion. The result was a conscious or unconscious dejudaization of Christianity, affecting the church's way of thinking and its inner life as well as its relationship to the past and present reality of Israel – the father and mother of the very being of Christianity. The children did not arise and call the mother blessed; instead, they called the mother blind. Some theologians continue to act as if they did not know the meaning of "honour your father and your mother"; others, anxious to prove the superiority of the church, speak as if they suffer from a spiritual Oedipus complex.

The Christian message, which in its origin is intended to be an affirmation and culmination of Judaism, became very early diverted into a repudiation and negation of Judaism; obsolescence and abrogation of Jewish faith became conviction and doctrine, the new covenant was conceived not as a new phase or disclosure but as abolition and replacement of the ancient one; theological thinking – and its terms in the spirit of antithesis to Judaism. Contrast and contradiction rather than acknowledgement of roots, relatedness and indebtedness, became the perspective. Judaea is a religion of law, Christianity a religion of grace; Judaism teaches a God of wrath, Christianity a God of love; Judaea is a religion of slavish obedience, Christianity the conviction of free men; Judaism is particularism, Christianity is universal; Judaism seeks work-righteousness, Christianity preaches faith-righteousness. The teaching of the old covenant a religion of fear, the Gospel of the new covenant a religion of love; a Lohnordnung over against a Gnadenordnung.

The Hebrew Bible is preparation; the gospel fulfilment. In the first is maturity, and the second perfection; in the one you find narrow tribalism, and the other all-embracing charity.
The process of dejudaization within the church paved the way for abandonment of origins and alienation from the core of its message.

The vital issue for the churches is to decide whether to look for roots in Judaism and consider itself an extension of Judaism to look for roots in pagan Hellenism and consider itself as an antithesis to Judaism.

The spiritual alienation from Israel is most forcefully expressed in the teaching of Marcion, who affirmed the contrariety and abruptness discontinuity between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God whom Jesus had come to reveal. Marcion wanted a Christianity free from any vestige of Judaism. He saw his task as that of showing the complete opposition between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels. Although in the year 144 of the Christian Era the church expelled the apostle of discontinuity and anathematized his doctrines, Marcion remains a formidable menace, a satanic challenge. In the modern Christian community Marcionism is much more alive and widespread than is generally realised.

Notwithstanding the work of generations of dedicated scholars who have opened up new vistas in the understanding of the history and literature of ancient Israel and their relation to Christianity, the is an abiding tendency to stress the discontinuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

According to Rudolph Bultman (as summarised by Bernhard Anderson), "for the Christian the Old Testament is not revelation, but is essentially related to God's revelation in Christ as hunger is to food and despair is to hope… The God who spoke to Israel no longer speaks to us in the time of the new covenant." [1] (here is the spiritual resurrection of Marcion. Was not the God of Israel the God of Jesus? How dare a Christian substitute his own conception of God for Jesus' understanding of God and still call himself a Christian?

What is the pedigree of the Christian gospel? These are the words with which the New Testament begins: "the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of a Abraham" (Matthew 1:1; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-3; 1 Peter 1:10ff). Yet the powerful fascination with the world of Hellenism has led many minds to look for origins of the Christian message in the world derived from Hellas. How odd of God not to have placed the cradle of Jesus in Delphi, or at least in Athens!

Despite its acceptance of sola scriptura which ought to have protected it from dejudaization, Protestantism has often succumbed to an individualistic Hellenised conception of the Christian tradition, to a romantic oversimplification of the problem of faith and inwardness, to pantheism and sentimentality. Only a conscious commitment to the roots of Christianity and Judaism could have saved it from such distortions. To the early Christians the premise of the belief that the word became flesh was in the certainty that spirit had become the word. They were alive and open to the law and the prophets.

In modern times there was a tendency to look for the spirit everywhere except in the words of the Hebrew Bible. There is no religio ex nihilo, no ultimate beginning. There is no science without presumption and no religion without ultimate decisions. An ultimate decision for Jew or Christian is whether to be involved in the Hebrew Bible or to live away from it. The future of the Western world will depend on the way in which we relate ourselves to the Hebrew Bible.  The extent of Christianity's identification with the Hebrew Bible is a test of its authenticity – as well as of Jewish authenticity. Lack of such identification lies at the heart of the malaise of Protestantism today.

Reconnection between Christians and Jews is critical to both traditions.  Without each other, neither will see the full potential of religious life envisaged by both Jesus, his disciples and Paul.  The "dividing wall" remains.  Heschel's view is a little harsh.  I think he underestimates how deep a culture can etch itself in the minds of a society.  It is not easy to understand how deeply the Hebrew worldview is different from a Hellenistic one.  It is even more difficult to adopt a new worldview and operate within it.  It's like trying to lose a foreign accent when learning English.  Hard work. 

Source:  Heschel, A J.  Insecurity of Freedom.  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Logos: How to install a subset of your resources on a tablet

Tablets are increasingly being adopted as an alternate to a hard copy bible.  They're light and bring all the benefits of having a bible on a digital platform:  convenient search, cross referencing and access to other resources such as original language dictionaries and commentaries. 

Often tablets don't come with much hard drive storage.  These days a meagre 64GB doesn't usually have much left over once the operating system and manufacturer "added value" applications have been loaded. 

And then Office 365 will take some space too.

It isn't long before conserving space on the Hard Drive is a top priority.

With Logos Bible Software, a typical user might have over a gigabyte of resources.  I have about 8GB myself and I started out with the Silver bundle.  Lots of others have more.  What to do?

Logos doesn't make it easy to only install a subset of resources.  Logos prides itself on giving their users access to a huge number of resources.  Once purchased, Logos allows automated searches of the entire oeuvre of resources which can help users to relatively gain broader perspectives on a particular biblical passage or topic.  In Logos' eyes this is one of the primary benefits of their software so provisions for installing a subset of resources have been overlooked.

The good thing is they don't mind how many instances of Logos are installed.

Anyway, here's a workaround for installing a subset of resources; it works in Logos 6 but I haven't tested it on earlier versions: 
  1. Start a clean installation on the tablet 
  2. Select Custom installation 
  3. uncheck “Automatically Download Updates”
  4. Copy required resources to a folder    ----> this assumes you already have a full installation
  5. Sign in to Logos when installation has completed
  6. Run scan command  i.e. scan the folder at step 4
  7. Let it run and index
  8. When using it, don't click download updates.
  9. Use web link for software updates
  10. Use Scan command for resource updates ----> get them from a full installation
  11. Note that the books you choose will be files with the following extensions:-
*.logos4   ---->  Logos 4/5/6 format books incl. Vyrso
*.lbxlls     ---->  Logos 3 format books
*.lbspbb    ----> personal books
*.lbxclv     ---->  Clause Visualizers (if you want Syntax Search)
*.lbxtml     ---->  Logos 4 timelines
*.lbshtm    ---->  Interactive resources

Files with other extensions are your datasets that are all pretty much needed for your Logos to function e.g. reverse interlinears (NT/OT), pericopes, excerpts (Home Page), LCV (topics), morphology, lemmas, grammar, referents, events, ancient literature, pronunciation, preaching themes, etc. These can take up to 4 GB of space.

For future updates:
  1. Resources:  Go to your full installation and copy across the new versions and then rescan.
  2. Base programRun the newer setup on Windows:
  3. Don't click the download link otherwise you will trigger a full install of all your resources.
Update (Sept 10, 2016):  I bought a 32GB microSD card with the hope of doing a full installation. 

My target device was a ThinkPad 10.  After installation on the card, Logos wouldn't run reliably at all, with a full installation.  Worked fine the first time, then on after a while, it freezes and an error message says that there is a problem and the application has to be closed.  Subsequent program launches result in crash to desktop.  I have 9GB of resources.  The index takes it up to around 12GB in total. 

Retried by installing Logos on the C: drive and leaving resources on microSD card but worked same result. 

Went back to installing on C: drive with minimal resources (1GB). 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Rachel Smalley: Lazy journalism

Rachel Smalley

Recently Rachel Smalley wrote a piece in the NZ Herald about the suspension of British politician, Naz Shah MP by the Labour Party for comments she'd made about Israel and Jews.  She had made remarks about moving all the Jews in Israel to the US and thereby solving the Middle Eastern Conflict. 

Smalley felt that Shah's comments hardly warranted a suspension and felt that "Israel is a country, it seems, that is above criticism."


She goes on to say that during the 2014 Gaza War, she had criticized Israel for attacking a UN School:  "And when I criticised Israel for that, the response was extraordinary. The letters, the emails, the abuse was quite unlike anything I'd had before - apparently I was anti-Semitic!"

Israel is subject to criticism all the time.  However, her critics should not be so precious that they and their own comments, might also come under scrutiny too. 

Both her comments regarding Shah and the UN School lacked context.  Shah made her comments in an environment when Labour and the comments of some of its more prominent leaders were coming under increasing scrutiny because they suggested a strong Anti-Semitic sentiment

The UN School in question was being used as a focus for Palestinian military activity.  Even during the conflict, the UN was publicly and repeatedly calling on Palestinians to stop using their facilities for weapons storage and as launch pads. 

It wouldn't have been difficult to carry out half an hour's desktop research to find out these things.

Lazy journalism.  Calling it an opinion piece or using some other excuse doesn't wash either. It's just lazy journalism.  Lazy journalism just leads to becoming a "useful idiot."

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Knowing Jesus

I have just been reading Jacob Fronczak's book Yeshua Matters, a book that describes his journey in discovering the historical Jesus.

He writes:

Christians generally understand that they should be like Jesus Christ, but most of us don't know enough about Jesus to make this aspect of discipleship a daily reality in our lives.

There is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. He is at the centre of everything we believe in. He is our connection with God. We literally worship and adore him.

But we hardly know anything about him.

But how can we be like someone we don't know anything about?

Think about it for a while, and even scarier questions begin to emerge. What if Jesus isn't anything like what most of us think?

What if the real Jesus doesn't look anything like the stained glass windows and children's book illustrations? Even worse – what if we're not really following his teachings? What if Jesus wouldn't agree with either of our political parties' platforms? What if the core of his message is different then we think it is? What if we think we are doing a great job following him but in reality we would have been kicked out of the upper room?

What if we have lost a really pivotal idea of who Jesus is?

Pick up any popular book on American Christianity and you'll read about problems. The church has problems. Christianity has problems. We aren't functioning correctly. In some way, we're broken; we're sick. People are leaving churches, youth aren't keeping their faith into their college years, pastors are suffering from burnout, and church doors are closing all over the country.

Some of our churches are experiencing great numerical success, but statisticians like George Barna remind us that even as the majority of Americans claim to have had a conversion experience, and even some churches experience huge growth, only a tiny fraction of professed believers are truly committed to the faith, and most churches are struggling. If anything, the Western church appears to be shrinking. We're getting weaker, smaller. Slowly but surely, we're circling the drain.

Spare me the Bible verses about the narrow path if you find. I have read the New Testament, in the New Testament Church wasn't sick or dying. It grew exponentially. It rocked its world. It set in motion a movement that now encompasses the globe. Why don't we generally see that kind of movement in the church down the street?

Every book I have read has a different solution. Maybe we don't love hard enough. Maybe we don't pray hard enough. Maybe we don't evangelise enough. Maybe we haven't fully grasped God's grace. May be we're not satisfied enough involved. Maybe we're not committed to making disciples. Maybe we have failed to engage the culture. Maybe we have forgotten what our mission is. In short, these are all problems. But what is the source of these problems? Why aren't we doing all those things?

To me these problems sound like symptoms. The church at large hasn't found the real root of the issue, the real disease. Not yet.

I have been going to church for longer than I can remember. I have wondered, along with everyone else, what the problem is. Why doesn't our church looked like Acts 2 or 1 Corinthians 13 or Philippians 4? Why aren't church attendees becomingconverts and why aren't converts becoming disciples? Why do people in in church complain so much? Why do they leave at the drop of a hat? What's with the backbiting and shallowness? Where is the depth? Where is the passion? Where is the commitment? Where is the community? Where is the Love?

As committed Christians, we are so close to the answer. We are on the cusp of it. We are standing on the solution, and we don't even know it. We sing about it and church and hear about it from the pulpit.

The solution is Jesus, and the problem is that we have lost sight of who Jesus is.

Not only that, we have lost sight of so much of what Jesus came to do, of what Jesus' core message was, and even to whom Jesus' message was originally delivered.

In place of the real, living Jesus, we have substituted a theological formula, a set of beliefs, a litany of dogma. We have substituted the apostles' Creed for the teachings of the apostles. We have substituted the Nicene Creed for the person of Christ. I am not saying that beliefs are bad – they are good, they are necessary, and Christians cannot afford to be slouches when it comes to theology – but theology and beliefs are no substitute for a real relationship with a real person, the real historical Jesus.

The only solution to Christianity's problem, the only cure for her illness, is to bring back a personal, intimate knowledge of Christ, to really encounter him, to meet him afresh, to get to know him as the first Christians did. We have to know Jesus better. If necessary, we have to sacrifice everything else in order to know Jesus better.

There is no other solution. There is no way to sustain a Christianity that is not fully, completely centred on the historical person of Jesus Christ, and there is no way to centre our lives on Jesus Christ if we don't take the time and effort to know Jesus as well as we possibly can.

Jesus is all we have – our only connection with the father. If we get one thing right, it had better be Jesus.

"On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

If you are a disciple of Christ, then wherever your spiritual journey takes you from here, it must be informed by an accurate conception of Jesus. The picture of Jesus in your mind must match the real historical person of Jesus. In this chaotic world of full of differing and contradictory beliefs about Jesus, you cannot afford to be any less than crystal clear on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Today, thanks to the efforts of centuries of biblical scholarship, we know that Jesus was a practising Jew. We know that our faith is built on nothing less than the blood and righteousness of a Jewish rabbi from a backwater town in Israel.

And I think this matters. Yeshua matters. The fact that Jesus was a practising Jew matters. It changes how we see him, how we here his teachings, how we follow him. It changes how we see ourselves and how we see his people, the Jewish people. It changes how we live and how we do church. It changes our message. Or at least it should.

Pages 143-146.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Being "Born Again" and becoming a "New Creation"

Yeshua or the writers of the Apostolic Scriptures did not invent the term “born again”. Rather it was a rabbinic term for a Gentile who underwent a formal conversion to Judaism. Part of the conversion ritual involved a full body immersion into a mikvah, i.e. baptism. [See Torah Club Val pages 28-29; and Volume 4 “Noah’s Mikvah] Through the process of conversion and immersion, the Gentile proselyte was regarded as being re-created into an Israelite. In the Talmud, this concept is expressed in tractate Yevamot.
When he comes up after his immersion he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects. Yevamot 47b.
Rabbi Yose said,” One who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born.” Yevamot 48b.
In his book the Waters of Eden, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, drawing on traditional Jewish thought and sources about the mikvah immersion ritual comments on the born again imagery of the mikvah. Consider the following passages from his book on the subject.

      Emerging from the Mikvah is very much like a process of rebirth: Seen in this light, we see that the Mikvah represents the womb. When an individual enters the Mikvah he is re-entering the womb, and when he emerges, he is as if born anew. Thus he attains a completely new status…. When he emerges, he is like one reborn… We therefore see that immersion in the Mikvah represents renewal and rebirth. [Kaplan, 1995, pages 320-323]

“Like one reborn” is a general Talmudic way of speaking about proselytes. The rebirth of Gentiles who passed through the Mikvah was taken literally by the sages. Gentiles born again as Jews were regarded as having no kin. In a legal sense, they were regarded as completely new creatures.  Old family ties and relations were considered defunct, as if the convert had actually died and then come back to life as a different person.

Traditional readings of John 3 have always assumed that Yeshua coined the phrase “born again” in His conversion with Nicodemus We have generally taught that Nicodemus was confused because he interpreted the phrase literally. Nicodemus puzzled, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4) According to our traditional understanding of the passage Nicodemus was baffled by Yeshua’s use of figurative language as if he has never encountered the use of metaphor before.

However, in the rabbinic context, the phrase “born again” was already in use. A born again person was a Gentile who had converted to Judaism under the auspices of the rabbinic ritual. It referred to the symbolic death and rebirth the convert underwent as he passed through the waters of baptism. The immersion into the Mikvah is regarded like re-entering the womb from which the proselyte is reborn as a Jew. “When an individual enters the mikvah, he is re-entering the womb, and when he emerges, he is as if born anew,” Rabbi Kaplan wrote.

When Nicodemus objects and says, “How can a man be born when he is old?” It is not because the figurative language has left him baffled. Rather, he is employing the same metaphorical terminology that Yeshua was using. According to the imagery, Nicodemus was objecting to Yeshua by saying, “I am already Jewish. How can I convert to Judaism?” It is actually a sound objection.

Yeshua goes on to explain, “Amen! Amen! A man must be born of water and spirit!” In other words, Yeshua tells Nicodemus that it is not enough to simply be Jewish. To be ethnically Jewish, or even to be a convert to Judaism via the rabbinic ritual is not adequate for entrance to the kingdom of heaven. A spiritual conversion of the heart is the conversion experience that is really necessary. In essence, Yeshua is warning Nicodemus not to rely on his ethnicity (that is his Jewishness) for salvation. “You need to have a converted heart,” Yeshua tells him.

“Flesh gives birth to flesh,” he says, which is to say, “A Jew gives birth to a Jew, but spirit gives birth to spirit.” It is not adequate to be merely a physical descendant of Abraham, one must also be born of the spirit of God, and that is a spiritual transaction.

This spiritual rebirth is implied by the ambiguity of the word anathon which the New International Version translated as “again” in the phrase term “born again.” The Greek word anathon can also mean “from above.” The one “born again” is born from above. The convert’s rebirth from above, in pharisaic symbolism, was a type of resurrection from the dead. [Daube (1956) “A baptism catechism.” Pages 106-139] Thus, the rebirth imagery was tied closely to the belief in resurrection. To be born again, or born from above, then would mean to be raised from the dead. The novel idea of resurrection from the dead before death is a motif that Yeshua will explore later in John’s Gospel.

Hebrew word play is at work in the master’s saying, “wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” The Hebrew word for “wind”, ruach is the same word used for “spirit.” [1]

The above material, from Torah Club Vol 1, suggests a further thought, if the idea of being "born again" was so widely understood in the context of the "proselytization" ritual in the first century, could it be that Paul's use of the ideas of becoming a new creation in 2 Cor 5:17 and Gal 2:20 might also be understood as part of proselytization? 

[1]  Torah Club Vol 4, FFOZ Publications.