Archive for November, 2008

Minor Celebrations Connected with the Birth of Messiah


  by Geert ter Horst

If it is correct that Messiah was born on the first day of Sukkot, i.e. the 15th of Tishri, a date for which strong arguments can be given, then the calendrical dates of a number of minor celebrations connected with his Birth can be established.[i] The following deductions are all based on the assumption that indeed the 15th of Tishri is the correct Birthday of Messiah. Arguments for this assumption may be found e.g. in the article of David M. Hargis, “Biblical Dates for Messiah’s Conception and Birth.[ii] Another source for this opinion is the Companion Bible of E.W. Bullinger. In Appendix no. 179 Bullinger meticulously points out that the biblical and historical evidence goes in the direction of the 15th of Tishri, which according to his calculations fell on September 29 in the secular year 4 B.C. [iii]

The first event after Yeshua’s birth would be his Circumcision, which had to be performed on the 8th day. According to our assumption Messiah’s Circumcision thus occurred on the 22th of Tishri, which is the concluding day of the Sukkot celebrations, Shemini Atzeret. Both dates are of great spiritual significance. The 15th of Tishri signifies Messiah dwelling among us in the fragility of a temporal, earhly and perishable body (cf. John 1:14). This fits the image of the Sukkah, which is a temporary and fragile dwelling. The commandment is to dwell in the Sukkah for seven days, symbolically all of our earthly life. The eight day we go home. This home now signifies the non-temporary dwelling of the World to Come. The 8th day of Sukkot thus signifies (our entrance in) the World to Come. 

The theme of entering the World to Come is strongly connected with the theme of Circumcision. Circumcision of the flesh signifies the destruction of the earthly body and also prefigures the Circumcision of the heart. The Circumcision of the heart and the destruction of our earthly existence are the two necessary prerequisites for entering the World to Come.

The next events after Messiah Birth occured on the 31th and the 41th days. On the 31th day the ceremony of the Redemption of the first born was performed, and the 41th day was the day of the Purification of Miryam, Yeshua’s mother. According to our present fixed calendar, which has Tishri always as a full month of 30 days, the day of Yeshua’s Redemption falls on the 15th of Cheshvan, and the day of Miryam’s Purification thus happens to be the 25th of that month.

From our earlier accepted assumption we can also trace the time of Yeshua’s Conception. If 40 weeks is to be accepted as the ideal time period for human conception, then Yeshua’s conception would have happened on Rosh Chodesh Tewet, which falls during the celebration of Chanukah. If Kislev is a full month this is the seventh day of Chanukah, otherwise it is the sixth.

It seems to be of significance that the month of Chesvan thus connects the events of Tishri and Kislev. The celebration of Yeshua’s Redemption as a firstborn on 15th day of Cheshvan refers backward to the 15th of Tishri, the celebration of his Birth. The celebration of the Purification of Miryam on the 25th of Cheshvan refers forward to the Purification of the Temple at Chanukah, which begins at the 25th of Kislev. The person of Miryam is of course strongly connected with the Temple, because her body became a Temple of the Ruach HaKodesh of HaShem in a unique sense when Messiah was supernaturally conceived.

In sum, we have thus at least five occasions during the festive year which are connected more or less tightly with the Birth of our Messiah. Two of them (Birth and Circumcision) are on Yamim Tovim prescribed by the Torah itself. One (Conception) occurs on a minor festival instituted by the Sages. And the other two (Redemption and Purification) are minor celebrations which fall on other calendar dates and which are only of the importance of liturgical remembrances.

Thus we arrive at the following order of events:

1st day of Tewet (Rosh Chodesh): Conception of Messiah

15th day of Tishri (Sukkot): Birth of Messiah

22th day of Tishri (Shemini Atzeret): Circumcision of Messiah

15th day of Cheshvan: Redemption of Messiah

25th day of Cheshvan: Purification of the Virgin Miryam

It is my opinion that, should the above given reconstruction be correct, it is proper to celebrate the 15th and the 25th of Cheshvan as minor occasions, and to add prayers in the daily liturgy, to remember the events of the Redemption and the Purification. However, one should notice that the proposed reconstruction is not clearly proved yet. There may be reasonable alternatives for it. Another possibility seems to be that Messiah was born on Rosh HaShanah. The historical and halachic issues of all the hypothetically proposed dates have to be carefully examined before making a definite decision on this subject.


[i] For the arguments in favour of the 15th of Tishri as Messsiah’s Birthday see for instance http://www.keremel.org/Articles/When%20was%20messiah%20Born%2012-24-04.htm

[ii] This article is available at http://waterclear.tripod.com/messiahbirthdate.htm

[iii] The Companion Bible‘s Appendix 179 can be viewed at http://www.therain.org/appendixes/app179.html

Some Remarks on Progressive Revelation

 

 

The idea of Progressive Revelation is the idea that later revelation is added to earlier revelation. This implies that the content of that later revelation is not already completely found in the earlier revelation, for otherwise this later revelation would be entirely superfluous. So later revelation does always add something new to the already existing revelatory content.

 

To give an example, in the Torah it is never stated that a Messiah must come and preach repentance. Moreover, there is no Messiah (“Anointed One”) in the Torah except the Anointed Priest, i.e. the High Priest of Israel. So it seems that Yeshua’s ministry — although not in conflict with the Torah — is by no means authorized by the Torah.

 

In a later stage of history, when kings were installed in Israel, these kings were considered to be within the category of “Mashiach” or “Anointed”. Take for example when the prophet Samuel annointed David. Neither the epithet “anointed” nor the anointing ritual is found in the Torah with respect to kings. Samuel certainly anointed Saul and David by the commandment of HaShem (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:1, 13), but there is no such commandment found in the Torah. It was an innovation and a new revelation of HaShem that the kings of Israel should be anointed with oil. Stronger, the Torah seems to prohibit the anointing of any other person besides the High Priest:

 

Ex. 30:31-32

And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throuighout your generations. Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you.

 

In Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth it is explicitly said that Israel’s kings were anointed with this holy oil of anointment: Neg. comm. 84. It may of course be questioned whether the opinion of the Rambam is correct, but the whole thing clearly shows that neither the ancient Judaism of biblical times, nor the later Judaism of the talmudic and medieval Sages, had any difficulty with the concept of progressive revelation. The instruction to anoint kings is never stated in the Torah. Likewise, the Torah doesn’t contain precepts for the appointment of prophets.

 

But by whom then was Yeshua authorized to take the office of a prophet? Where is it written in the Torah that Yeshua is a prophet and may act as one? That the office is given by HaShem to the individual presupposes that it cannot be simply deduced from the Torah who is to be a prophet. Also it cannot be deduced from the Torah what the prophet is going to say. Only that the prophet may not contradict the Torah and other preceding prophetic revelations is of course to be assumed. There is no way to determine for instance that Isaiah is a prophet by means of the Torah. Much additional information is needed for that. So I don’t see how the authority of Messiah or a prophet can be directly derived from the Torah. In the Torah neither an outline is given of the ministry of a Messiah, nor is it made known who should be a or the Messiah. We can’t know by means of the Torah that a Messiah should come, nor that Yeshua was to be that Messiah.

 

There is of course a very basic plumbline for testing a prophet. It is his observance to the Torah (Dt. 13:1-5). If someone claims to see visions, or claims to have the gift of prophecy, but his daily life doesn’t conform to the Torah, then of course the claim cannot be true. This test however is only negative in character. Torah observance is of course a necessary precondition to be a prophet. But only a necessary condition indeed, not a sufficient condition. For all Israelites are to observe Torah. Yet it is clear that not all Israelites are prophets. Each true prophetic calling is based on a new revelatory act of HaShem. It cannot be known beforehand whether a so called prophet is truly called by HaShem. This can only become clear in the course of time. One of the criteria for a prophetic message is certainly that it cannot contradict the Torah. But, as we saw from the anointing ritual of kings, new things can be revealed that were not known before. This is even to be presupposed when a prophecy is written down and received as a holy book. What sense does it make to accept a new book as beloning to Scripture, except if some new revelational content is in it?

 

But, may be asked, don’t the Apostolic Scriptures and later Christianity at least claim to be able to prove that Yeshua is the Messiah from the later writings of the Tanach?

 

The way this question is to be answered is strongly connected with our viewpoints on the historical development or -progress of divine revelation. Later parts of that revelation cannot be reduced to the earlier ones. Without being in any sense superseded by later revelation, earlier revelation is enriched and completed by it.

 

What can be proved from the Tanach — within the context of certain assumptions — that Messiah should come in the first century, namely about the 69th Week of Years of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 9:25). But this prophecy, although it determines a time, doesn’t determine exactly which individual person was to be the Messiah. This was not revealed before the angel Gabriel appeared to Miryam to announce the birth of Messiah. And the contents of this prophecy is not found in the Torah, nor in the other prophets. It was a new revelation. From my viewpoint there is not a problem here, but from the viewpoint that everything is already contained in the Torah this is disastruous. This however is a very strong indication that the position that later revelations must already be contained in the Torah in actual form is a false position. The historic process revelation is a progressive unfolding of truth. Later revelations can never be deduced from earlier ones, yet they never overthrow or contradict the earlier ones.

On Repentance and Forgiveness

 

 

If the Tanach states that one must repent in order to receive forgiveness of sins, why do we have the requirement in the Apostolic Scriptures to believe in the vicarious atonement of Messiah in addition to repentance in order to obtain forgiveness?

 

One of the most essential aspects of this question is whether what is called here an addition is really an addition if considered properly. If it should be granted that G’d forgives everyone who seriously repents his sins and wants to lead a new life in faithful obedience to Him, then this does still not imply that the repentance of the sinner is the effectual means whereby the result of forgiveness of sins is obtained. The repentance may only be the necessary precondition the sinner must fulfil to have access to the means whereby G’d grants grace and forgiveness.

 

I think that this is actually the case. I think that every grace of G’d, and especially his grace of forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life, is founded in Yeshua’s atonement. It does not matter whether the person that receives this grace lives before or after Yeshua’s appearance on earth. If he truly repents and starts leading a new life, the grace of forgiveness and the gift of everlasting life is granted to him on account of Yeshua’s atonement. The person is reckoned by G’d as being included in Yeshua. The new birth of a sinner is something that occurs on a supra-temporal level, by the working of the Ruach HaKodesh.

 

When the repentant person lives however after the atonement of Messiah has actually occurred in world history and after having been explained by the apostles and their writings, this person’s repentance should of course and naturally include belief in the revealed atonement, which is the effectual means by which G’d grants forgiveness and entrance to the World to Come. A person clearly doesn’t truly turn to G’d when he rejects the very means by which G’d grants forgiveness if this means has been revealed by G’d! The requirement to believe in Yeshua’s atonement — and in every revealed teaching about Messiah — is not some strange outward addition to the requirement of repentance. It is nothing else but the acceptance of the plan and purpose of G’d for our lives and for this world, which of course is an essential element of repentance. When Messiah was revealed as the King of Israel, and as preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, he had to be credited in this quality as part of proper repentance. When Messiah later was revealed in his priestly and sacrificial office, he had to be credited also in this quality as part of proper repentance.

 

It is sometimes asked why the Torah demands only sacrifices for unintentional sins against HaShem, while for intentional sins against HaShem it has no means of forgiveness, and while for intentional sins against one’s neigbour it requires restitution. These stipulations seems to be in conflict with the idea that the atonement on the Cross is necessary to receive forgiveness of those sins for which the Torah demands restitution instead of sacrificial atonement.

 

We should keep in mind in considering this question that Messiah’s atonement is of a different nature than the levitical atonement in the Temple. Messiah’s atonement is related to our entrance of the World to Come. The levitical atonement of the Torah however is related to this world. This is because the commandments of the Torah are about this world, not about entering the World to Come. These commandments are therefore only accompanied by sanctions and punishments in this world. And because the Torah is instituted as a legal system in this world it only punishes visible or detectable transgressions.

 

This “outwardness” or externality of the regime of the Torah should be properly understood. The Torah commands for instance that the Israelite must love HaShem with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might (Dt. 6:5). Yet it doesn’t punish the ungodly Israelite who doesn’t love HaShem, except insofar as his ungodliness becomes apparent in the visible and juridical realm. An Israelite who says in his heart “there is no G’d” (Ps. 14:1), and yet fulfils (e.g. for fear of the judges or out of conformism) his legal religious duties, will not be punished in this world by the legal system of the Torah, since there is no detectable outward transgression, but instead a transgression of the heart only. A former godly Israelite however, who at a certain moment becomes rebellious, and e.g. willfully and openly transgresses the Sabbath laws, will according to the Torah’s legal system receive the death penalty. If this last mentioned person heartily repents and turns to G’d before the penalty is executed, he will still have an inheritance in the World to Come. But by his repentance he can no more escape his death penalty in this world. If, on the other hand, the aforementioned ungodly person doesn’t break out in open and rebellious sins, but manages to live according to the outward legal order, he will never be punished for his ungodly attitude in this world. Yet if he persists in this attitude, he will not have an inheritance in the World to Come.

 

It is clear from this that the Torah when purely viewed as a legal system can never renew man’s nature. It can only mold him into a certain pattern of behaviour. This doesn’t deny that the Torah appeals to the heart, as we saw in Dt. 6:5, but strictly as legal code it can’t reign or control the heart. Its domain insofar it functions as a legal code is limited. This again should be properly understood. It doesn’t say that the Torah was only meant by G’d to be legal code. The point is that it can only reach the heart of man, if man truly receives the Torah as what it is, the living word of HaShem. But if man chooses to live only to the limited and outward aspect of the Torah as a legal system, then the Torah according to its own legal system doesn’t punish him in this world.

 

The Torah as a legal system has of course to deal with transgressions. And from the outset it is evident that the means of atonement for transgressions it offers cannot be unlimited. The whole legal order would be corrupted and justice overthrown if for every transgression atonement could be made. If for instance an apparant willful transgression of the Sabbath could be atoned for by means of a sacrifice, and if the refusal to bring this sacrifice could again be atoned for by some other means, and, if this means was despised, still another means of atonement would be opened, then within the shortest time the Torah itself would be completely destroyed.

 

The limitations of the means of atonement were already mentioned above. Sacrificial atonement within the levitical system of the Torah is only possible for unintional sins against HaShem, i.e. unintentional sins in holy matters. One should be aware of course that the terms “intentional” and “unintional” also have a legal or jurical meaning here. They do not refer immediately to the status of the human heart — which cannot be attained by the juridical order — but to what is the apparent intention or the lack thereof.

 

Now, why is Yeshua’s atonement necessary to receive forgiveness for willful sins committed against one’s neighbour, if restitution is the means whereby these sins are generally treated in the Torah? This is because the legal sanctions of the Torah only deal with these sins according to their outward appearance. But it should be kept in mind that on the deeper level of the heart all sins are sins directly against HaShem, also the sins committed to my neighbour. The Torah has divided the world into a special “sacred” realm of holy things and another “profane” or “secular” realm of common things, but this division is again only a division in the worldly and outward order, and not on the central level of the human heart. If I steal for instance, I don’t violate the holiness of the earthly Sanctuary, and I don’t violate any of the chukim. Yet by stealing I violate the holiness of the Torah! And if I violate only one of the commandments I violate them all in a sense, as is explained by Ya’akov (Jam. 2:10). Why? Certainly not because I distinctly transgress all the commandments, but because I transgress the Torah! By one willful transgression I show my disrespect for the entire Torah. This disrespect for the Torah is disrespect for HaShem. Essentially, it is apostasy, leaving HaShem. It is a repetition of the first sin of Adam.

 

Messiah’s atonement is about this deepest level of sin in the human heart, man’s rebellious nature. On this deepest level all sin is sin against the holy order of HaShem’s original creation. If this sin is e.g. an act of stealing, it is expiated on the legal level by the sanction of restitution as it is outlined in the Torah (adding a fifth, &tc). On the level of the heart however repentance is required for forgiveness. But, as I said, repentance is only the necessary prerequisite, not the effectual means or instrument, for receiving forgiveness and new life. Although repentance is absolutely necessary, our repentance has in itself no creative force. We cannot “make” forgiveness or new life by being repentant. The only means we can acquire new life is by being included in Messiah’s new life, in his resurrection life. And we can only be included in Messiah’s resurrection life by first being included in his death. In the inclusion in his death, by faith, all of our old Adam receives the death penalty. This penalty is ultimately executed at our bodily death. From a purely legal perspective this would be the end. But by being spiritually included in Messiah we will be resurrected to a completely renewed and sinless existence in the World to Come.