Why then do we have this emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus – Yeshua; on the Jewishness of the Bible; on the Jewishness of the Church? The reason I’m interested in it (and that’s really the only thing I can tell you about!) is that I want to see God’s people understanding both Yeshua and the Bible better. I want to see his people getting to know Yeshua better. And the best way of getting to know Yeshua better is by getting to know the Bible better. One of the ways we can understand the Bible better is to understand how the people who wrote it thought and acted.
Jesus “YESHUA THE JEW”
In this context, it is also useful to ask the question, “How are Jews defined today?” What do modern Rabbis define a Jew as? This is basically the same question as “How does modern Israel define a Jew for immigration purposes?” They will define a Jew as the offspring of a Jewish mother.
Jewishness in this sense does not come through the father but through the line of the mother! It is interesting then to note that Yeshua was born of Miriam (Mary). In fact, the Gospels emphasize the fact that he was Miriam’s son – that he came through her line. This shows to us the great foreknowledge of God. For he knew what the Rabbis of our day would be saying. One of the arguments often raised in Rabbinic literature is that Yeshua was not really a Jew because his father was not a Jew. Thus they destroy their own argument! Because even they admit today that Jewishness is defined through the mother.
There has been some rather unfortunate teaching coming out recently about whether Jewishness has anything to do with the Church? One of the arguments has been that Yeshua had no Jewish blood. Now that is a rather silly argument! It might be said that “yes” he was divine and that the blood that he shed was divine. But his natural parentage, his natural lineage was Jewish. There is no doubt about it and we shall see that as we go on.
One Jewish scholar has said, “The faith of the Jews unites us. But faith in Jesus divides us!” The truth should rather be expressed in this way: The Tenach (Old Testament) separates us – but the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) and Yeshua unite us. That is how it should be. Unfortunately throughout history, because of the attitude of the Church, the Brit Hadasha and Yeshua have actually separated us! In fact, the whole purpose of Yeshua coming to this earth was that the Gentiles might be grafted in, might begin to share in the blessings of Israel.
The SYNAGOGUE & CHURCH
It is worthwhile defining a few more words. One of the major problems in the whole question about the Jewish roots of our faith really comes in definitions of words. There have been some misunderstandings. One concerns the words, “Church” and “Synagogue”. It has been suggested that Christians took on the word “Church” whilst the Jews took on the word “Synagogue” and they mean completely different things. This is not so!
If we look at the Greek Brit Hadasha we will find one word, ecclesia. This word has been translated into English as “Church”. When we look at the words ecclesia and sunagogia (from which “Synagogue” comes) in the Greek translation of the Tenach, the Septuagint, they are used interchangeably. At one point you might have the Hebrew word for “assembly” being translated in one place as sunagogia and in another ecclesia. In fact, sometimes we even find the translator using the two different Greek words to translate the same Hebrew word in the same sentence! So we find that even the Jews, in their own translation of the Tenach into Greek, use the words that we have today, “Church” and “Synagogue” interchangeably.
During its first three hundred years, the Church developed a liking for the word ecclesia, probably because that was the word used in the Brit Hadashah. Up until that point, the Jews were quite happy to use the words “Synagogue” and “Church” interchangeably. Around the beginning of the 4th century CE the Church and the Synagogue, instead of recognizing each other as brothers in the faith in the one God, began to work in opposition. Thus we ended up with the words “Church” and “Synagogue” seeming to mean two completely different things.
We have to realize that the Church emerged from within Judaism. In Romans 11 we learn that the Gentiles have been grafted into Israel. The people that come to Yeshua have not been planted separately – we don’t have Israel and the Church! All of God’s promises come to Israel and through Israel.
A JEWISH BIBLE
We also need to look closely at the Bible. It needs to be remembered that no part of the Bible, whether Tenach or Brit Hadashah, was written by a non-Jewish writer. Some people have suggested that Luke is Greek. There is no foundation for this in the Bible. There are two examples of Jewish people that are called Luke-Acts 16:1 & Romans 16:21. In the last passage, the person being referred to is one of Paul’s own family. It seems that the only reason for people suggesting that Luke was Gentile was because he had a Greek name! But so did members of Paul’s own family.
Another argument for the Jewishness of Luke can be found in the incident recorded in Acts chapter 16. Here we find Timothy joining Paul’s apostolic band. We find that whilst Timothy’s mother was Jewish, his father is a Greek. Now you might say, “Well, it’s obvious – because his mother is Jewish, Timothy is also!” The problem is that Timothy has not been circumcised. According to Luke, this is not a problem for Paul. However, it could possibly be a problem for the Jewish population. Because of this, seemingly in contrast to his normal habit, Paul circumcises Timothy “for the sake of the Jews”. The interesting thing to note is that there is no mention that this was a problem for Luke and he had as much to do with Paul as Timothy. That suggests to us that Luke did not need to be circumcised as he was already “one of the circumcision”.
This argument seems to be confirmed when the above is compared with Acts 21 where Paul and his party, including Luke, arrive in Jerusalem. Despite the brothers in Jerusalem’s best endeavor, some Jews from Asia stir up trouble against Paul. The reason given by Luke is that they had previously seen Paul with an Ephesian Gentile, Trophimus. Note carefully that Luke’s presence did not seem to be a matter of concern. No, the only Gentile who could be used against Paul is Trophimus. There seems little doubt of Lukes ancestry here.
No! I am convinced that Luke is Jewish and I have even further (probably conclusive) Biblical evidence for this conviction. In Romans 3:1&2 we read, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” This suggests that the whole Word of God was given to the Jews first. Just as the promises, the covenant and much else that we shall learn about in further articles. There seems no doubt that the whole Bible, from Genesis through to Revelation has been given to us through Jewish writers.
THE BEST LANGUAGE TO READ THE BIBLE IN
We need to understand one thing, especially when we are looking at our Jewish roots. That is we do not need to have any special understanding to be able to read the Bible. God’s Word and the primary, essential elements in it can be understood by all. In fact, the best language in which to read the Bible is our own language. For the majority of those reading this article that language is English. And we are very fortunate that we are not just stuck with just one translation which we might not be too sure of. We have many translations to choose from and compare.
The Bible is Jewish, inspired by God, yes, but God used Jewish writers. Because of this, it can be helpful if we want to go deeper in our understanding of the book as a whole and various texts to actually understand how Jewish people think. Particularly how they thought 2,000 and 3,000 years ago when the Bible was being written down.
THE WHOLE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD
It also is important to realize that 72% of the Bible was written in Hebrew. Only 28% was written in Greek. It is very unfortunate that within the Church there has developed a distinction between one part of God’s Word and another – i.e. the “Old” & “New” Testaments. The Bible is one book, it is all God’s Word. It is equally important to realize that the whole Gospel is contained in the Tenach (Old Testament).
However, we must also realize that Jewish people have been thinking about and reading this book for the last 3,000 years. Anyone who thinks about and reads this book for that amount of time must have something to tell us. There is much within Jewish thought about the Bible that can enliven our understanding and interpretation of what God has to say to us.
There is a danger here that we must avoid. Some have suggested that the Brit Hadashah is not as trustworthy as the Tenach. Also, that Greek is not as good a medium to convey God’s Word as is Hebrew. This cannot be the case. The external evidence alone must show us this is not so. Why would the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) choose to use the Greek language if it was not capable of expressing what he wanted to say? The Bible from Genesis through to Revelation is the Word of God. All of it is the Word of God. All of it has been inspired by God. When God speaks he does not use words loosely, he does not use words cheaply and he does not use words without meaning. If God has spoken through the written word – and he has – then through his Ruach (Spirit) he is capable of preserving it whether it was written originally in Hebrew or Greek.
There is no doubt that God uses words carefully and he preserves his Word. The Bible is unadulterated by human contribution. It is not part of God’s Word and part man’s words such that only the trained can sort it out! It certainly is the case that lots of different people contributed to writing it down. But it is all God’s Word. It is all inspired by the Ruach of God. You don’t need to be a trained scholar to read it and get what God wants to say to you out of it. What you do need is to be filled and inspired by the Ruach of God (the Spirit of God).
WHY THIS EMPHASIS?
Why then do we have this emphasize on the Jewishness of Yeshua; on the Jewishness of the Bible; on the Jewishness of the Church? The reason I’m interested in it (and that’s really the only thing I can tell you about!) is that I want to see God’s people understanding both Yeshua and the Bible better. I want to see his people getting to know Yeshua better. And the best way of getting to know Yeshua better is by getting to know the Bible better. One of the ways we can understand the Bible better is to understand how the people who wrote it thought and acted.
Another question we have to ask is, “What do we mean by Judaism?” Do we mean some sort of sentimental Judaism? You know, the Menorah (lampstand), the Hannakiah at Hannukah? Do we mean the Kippa, that all the men wear when they go into Synagogue? Do we mean the Star of David that lots of us like to wear? Do we mean the method of praying that the Jews have? Is that what we are talking about – what I call “sentimental Judaism”.
All these things are useful and good and I use them myself. But if we just stick at that level all we have is just sentimental Judaism which isn’t going to tell us anything, really, about who Yeshua was.
If we don’t mean sentimental Judaism then are we talking about modern Rabbinic Judaism? If we are then we have to ask another question, “Do we mean Orthodox, Liberal, Reform or Hassidic Judaism?” Modern Rabbinic Judaism looks upon the Torah (the Law of God) as having been “fenced in” by the oral law, the Talmud – they have in fact added to the Bible. I would suggest that modern Rabbinic Judaism is not what we are looking for. It is not going to help us to the fullest extent. It can help us, the Talmud can be useful. All of those 3,000 years of Jewish thought and interpretation of Scripture can be useful to us.
Well then, what type of Judaism do we mean? Are we talking about the Judaism of Yeshua’s time? If so we again have to ask ourselves, “Which part of it?” Do we mean the Pharisees or the Sadducees? Do we mean the Essenes or the Fourth Philosophy? Do we mean the Herodians or possibly the Samaritans?
You see it’s not that simple! We need to ask ourselves the question, “Is there a final, clear-cut definition of what Judaism is and should be?” Yes! There is! It is the Bible, God’s Word. The Bible is God’s written constitution for his people Israel. I would, therefore, suggest that it is Biblical Judaism that we need to be looking at. It is Biblical Judaism that Shoreshim was started to look at. It is certain that this emphasis will open up God’s Word to us in a greater and more wonderful way than we have known before.