Archive Page 2

The Messianic Meaning of the Book of Esther (Part I)

 

 

Illuminated Megillah

Illuminated Megillah

Christian commentators of the Bible often have greatly disregarded the Book of Esther. As noticed for example by Trisha M. Gambaiana Wheelock,

“The early Christian community did not produce a single commentary on the book for seven centuries, and John Calvin never preached a sermon or wrote a book concerning the Esther text. Martin Luther’s infamous remark succinctly summarizes much of the Christian response to the Esther scroll, “I am so great an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it had not come to us at all, for it has too many heathen unnaturalities [it Judaizes too much].” [1]

Yet early Christians loved this book, which was appreciated by many Church fathers, like Pope Clement I, Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and Aphrahat the Persian. [2] Their appreciation seems to be based, however, on allegorical or typological interpretation. Jerome, for instance, saw its principal characters, Mordechai and Esther, as types of the Church and Christ. One should know, moreover, that, until Jerome, the Church mainly favoured the Greek version of the book, preserved in the LXX. [3] That’s probably why in the Eastern Church there never was a real controversy about Esther. The reason for its problematic position in the West was that the Hebrew text was perceived as too typically Jewish and lacking in piety. The conspicuous absence of any mention of God or religious practice had even caused some Jewish reservations about its canonicity [4]:

For how to explain the inclusion in the canon of a book which was ostensibly so secular in nature? Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind the view of the Christian Church for whom the Book of Esther was, on the whole, an embarrassment. Most premodern Christian exegetes would probably have wished that it had never been included in the canon. The Church Fathers ignored it completely, and in the Middle Ages it was commented upon very rarely. Those exegetes who did comment on it usually interpreted it allegorically. Many Christian scholars, and not a few Jews, even in our own century, are offended by its particularistic, nationalistic tone and especially by the bloody scenes of revenge and the joyful triumph of the Jews over their enemies described in the book. [5]

Jerome’s comparison of Esther to the Church introduces us into the problems of interpretations based on Replacement Theology. Should this comparison lead to the conclusion that while in pre-Christian times God saved the Jews from their persecutors and secured their national and ethnic survival, yet after the advent of Messiah he transferred this favour to the Christians? Such a reading is not only completely beyond the literal meaning of the Book of Esther, but flatly contradicts its message, which is that the Jews are physically saved as a nation and people, wholly apart from their spiritual and religious condition.

In the XIXth centure some of the first dispensationalists, in a predictable reaction to Church theology, moved to the opposite view that saw in the replacement of Vashti by Esther a veiled prophecy of the end of the Gentile Church. At least, in his Études sur la Parole, John Nelson Darby made the following intriguing remark:

Nous voyons l’épouse Gentile, mise a côté à cause de sa désobiesance et pour avoir manqué à montrer sa beauté au monde; elle est remplacée par une épouse Juive qui possède l’affection du roi. [6]

William Kelly, following Darby’s dispensationalist approach, was even more explicit. He typologically compared Vashti to Christendom in an explicit way in a 1873 lecture on the Book of Esther:

The book not only is a book of providence — God’s secret providence — when He could not name His name on behalf of his people — in behalf of the Jews in their poor and dispersed condition among the Gentiles; but, further, it is typical of the great dealings of God that are yet to be, because what, mainly, does the book open with? This — the great Gentile wife of the great king is discarded, and the singular fact comes that a Jewess takes her place. I cannot doubt, myself, that it is what will follow when the Gentile has proved himself disobedient, and has failed in displaying the beauty that should be in the testimony of God before the world. In short, it is what is going on now; that is, at this present time, the Gentile is the one that holds a certain position before God in the earth. The Jew, as you are aware, is not the present witness of God, but the Gentile. The Gentile has utterly failed. According to the language of the 11th of Romans, the branches of the wild olive — the Gentile — will be broken off, and the Jew will be grafted in again. Well, Vashti is the Gentile wife that is discarded for her disobedience and failure in displaying her beauty before the world. That is what Christendom ought to do. The Gentile, I say, will be broken off and dismissed, and the Jew will be brought in. This is what is represented by the call of Esther. She becomes the object of the great king’s affections, and displaces Vashti, who is never restored. [7]

Whether Kelly’s comparison has any sound textual basis remains to be seen. It is obvious, however, that in dealing with the interpretation of a biblical text we should not in the first instance run to a typological, allegorical, or any other kind of non-literal explanation. Our first concern should be to establish its literal meaning. This being said, it is also obvious that historical events described by a text may point beyond themselves to other and greater events of which they are preconditions and prefigurations. That’s why the redemption from Egypt and the birth of national Israel can point to the national end-time redemption in the Messianic Kingdom and even beyond that to the state of eternal redemption in the World to Come.

The reason for this possibility of a deeper explanation is that God not only reveals himself in the words of Holy Scripture but also in the historical events described by the words of Scripture. These events are all directed by God and are part of his all-encompassing purpose with creation. This causes not only the words of Scripture to have signification, but also the events described by the words. Hence a particular and limited story can point beyond itself and find a deeper and more comprehensive meaning in later events or in the broader context of scriptural history. Thomas Aquinas gives a succint account of this possibility in the opening question of his Summa Theologiae:

The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science [i.e. sacred doctrine — GtH] has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. [8]

By this account of Aquinas a typological or other “spiritual” sense of a scriptural text that would go against the literal sense, or overthrow its gist, is rightly excluded. That’s why I discarded here above the typology of the Church father Jerome.

The preferred way to find out whether a biblical history contains a typological meaning is to examine its connection to the mystery of Messiah. When there are hidden clues which clearly signify the person and work of Messiah, then it is reasonable to assume that the text has a spiritual meaning related to the broader context of biblical history, since all divine plans and purposes culminate in Messiah.

To find such hidden clues in the Book of Esther is not particularly easy, because of its secular appearance. Neither God nor anything religious is explicitly mentioned by it. However, there’s a character which shows a resemblance with Messiah in his humiliation and exaltation. This is Mordecai. He is a Jewish official in the palace of Ahasuerus (Est. 2:5). When he gets the news of the decree of Haman, Mordecai puts on mourning apparal (Est. 4:1). But soon after he is exalted as “the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Est. 6:11). Finally, he replaces Haman (Est. 8:2) and reigns under Ahasuerus, in a similar position as Joseph under Pharao (Est. 8:15; 9:4; 10:3). This is an indication that Mordecai can be considered a type or prefiguration of Messiah.

When we look a bit closer to the details of the text, this indication is confirmed and we see in the events of Mordecai’s life a striking resemblance of “the sufferings of Messiah, and the glory that should follow” (I Pt. 1:11). In the following paragraphs we’ll go into some of these details, by way of a preliminary survey, without trying to be complete.

The calendrical date of the publishing of Haman’s decree is the thirteenth day of the first month (Est. 3:7, 12), i.e. the 13th of Nisan or the day before Pesach. [9] According to the Gospel of John this is the day before the crucifixion. [10] It seems probable that this was the first of the three fast days demanded by Esther as a preparation of her appearing before the king. For we read in Est. 3:15 that the king and Haman set down to celebrate and drink on the publication of the decree, but that the city Shushan was perplexed. So the city seems to have known of the decree the same time when the king and Haman were celebrating. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Mordecai, being an official in the palace, would have found out about it at the same time or even earlier than the city. [11]

On the assumption that this is correct, Mordecai appeared in sackcloth before the king’s gate on that very day, and this would make the 13th of Nisan the first of the three days of fasting. The third day of this fast, the day of Esther appearance before the king and of her first banquet with the king and Haman, is then the  15th of Nisan , the first Yom Tov of Matzot and the day of the Pesach Seder. This is the day when Messiah was dead and resting in the sepulchre. Mordecai prefigures this death in remaining complete motionless before Haman. While at an earlier occasion (Est. 3:5) it is said that Mordecai bowed not before Haman, nor did him reverence, here (in Est. 5:9) it is said that Mordecai did not rise or even stir on Haman’s account. Surely he didn’t rise, for he was destined to be typologically risen — i.e. to be exalted — the next day, the 16th of Nisan, which was to be the day of Haman’s definite humiliation and death. According to the chronology of John’s Gospel the 16th of Nisan is the day of the resurrection of Messiah.

In the Book of Esther this typological resurrection day starts with the night when the king couldn’t sleep and the merits of Mordecai were read before him from the royal chronicles. Here Ahasuerus functions as an image of the King of kings, because “he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). [12] It isn’t difficult to recognize that Mordecai’s exaltation as “the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Est. 6:11), on the very calendrical date of the resurrection, typologically functions as a prefiguration of the resurrected Messiah in whom all Israel will be saved in the end. The hanging of Haman on the same day (the 16th of Nisan) clearly prefigures the defeat of Satan by the resurrection of Messiah.

At this point we have to pay attention to the more difficult question of the typological role of Esther. We have already seen that this role is linked to that of Vashti, whom she supersedes as queen. Esther cannot simply stand for the Jewish nation, since the Jews’s literal presense in the story is manifest enough. But perhaps we can discover what she represents by exploring her connections to the persons whose typological functions we have establised thus far. We’ll attempt to do this in Part II.

To be continued.

______________

[1] Wheelock, Trisha M. Gambaiana, Drunk and Disorderly: A Bakhtinian Reading of the Banquet Scenes in the Book of Esther, Baylor University — Waco, Texas 2008

[2] According to Athanasius, the Book of Esther was not included in the canon of Scripture.

[3] Summer 16-17: “In his survey of patristic literature on Esther, Timothy Gustafson notes that the response of early Christian writers to the Book of Esther was largely shaped by the Greek additions described above: “Although the translators of the Septuagint could not know it, their pious recasting of the story would give the book a general religious appeal that Christians could accept.” Because the Greek version emphasizes Esther’s extraordinaryfaithfulness, patristic writers often interpreted the narrative typologically with Esther representing the Church. In a late fourth century letter, for example, Jerome offers a typological reading of the story. Esther is a type of the Church, he writes, who “frees her people from danger and, after having slain Haman whose name means iniquity, hands down to posterity a memorable day and a great feast.” Gustafson cites other Christian writers with similar interpretations, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Rabanus Maurus.” [Saralyn Ellen Summer, “Like Another Esther”: Literary Representations of Queen Esther in Early Modern England, George State University — Atlanta, Georgia 2006]

[4] Philo of Alexandria never mentions the Book of Esther at all; Josephus summarizes it in his Antiquities, but it is not clear that he viewed it as part of Scripture.

[5] Walfish, Barry Dov, Esther in Medieval Garb. Jewish Interpretation of the Book of Esther in the Middle Ages, State University of New York Press — New York, Albany 1993

[6] Darby 172 [John Nelson Darby, Études sur la Parole destinées à aider le chretien dans la lecture du Saint Livre, Tome II (I Rois à Esther), Éditions Bibles et Traités Chrétiens — Vévey 1974]

[7] Kelly 8-9 [William Kelly, The Book of Esther, Lecture by W. Kelly 1873, Bible Truth Publishers — Oak Park, Ill.]

[8] S.Th. I.1.10c: “[…] auctor sacrae Scripturae est Deus, in cujus potestate est ut non solum voces ad significandum accommodet (quod etiam homo facere potest), sed etiam res ipsas. Et ideo, cum in omnibus scientiis voces significent, hoc habet proprium ista scientia quod ipsae res significatae per voces, etiam significant aliquid. Illa ergo prima significatio, qua voces significant res, pertinet ad primum sensum, qui est sensus historicus, vel litteralis. Illa vero significatio, qua res significatae per voces iterum res alias significant, dicitur sensus spiritualis, qui super litteralem fundatur, et eum supponit.”

[9] Pesach in the strict sense is the day when the Pesach lambs are to be slaughtered, the 14th of Nisan. This is not the same day as the feast day of Matzot, which is the immediately following day, the 15th of Nisan (Lev. 23:5-6).

[10] Jn. 19:14 says that the day of the crucifixion was on the preparation (day) of the Passover. This is to be understood as the preparation of the feast day of Matzot, as is clear from Jn. 19:31. According to John’s chronology the Lord Yeshua was thus crucified on the 14th of Nisan.

[11] Berlin 45: “Mordecai heard the decree at the same time as the city of Shushan. Unlike the dumbfounded city, Mordecai springs into action, taking definite steps to publicly demonstrate his feelings.” [Adele Berlin, The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther, The Jewish Publication Society — Philadephia, Pennsylvania 2001 (5761)]

[12] This is confirmed by the opinion of R. Tanhum, who said that “the sleep of the King of the Universe was disturbed” (BT Megillah 15b). Actually, the Hebrew text doesn’t say “disturbed”, but that the kings sleep “fled”, according to Young’s literal translation of ‘nâdad’. The same Gemora explains the passive form used for the reading of the chronicles — “they were read” instead of “they read them” — as an indication “that they were read of themselves”, meaning perhaps a passivum divinum.

 

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The Problem of Women Dressing Like Men: An Early Warning from a Roman Cardinal

 

 

Modest and elegant

Modest and elegant

No serious believer will deny that in our time sexual perversions are propagated and modesty and chastity ridiculed. Today’s political correctness is siding with those who attack traditional family life, religion, and the divine laws of nature and revelation.

This counter-culture of perversion has invaded traditional Christianity on a massive scale since the end of the Second World War. It started with the mistaken emancipation of women and feminism and is now involved in the diabolical attempts to destroy all traditinal morality  by the LBGTQ and Gender Ideology movements.

When in the late 50s and early 60s of the XXth century emancipated women began to dress like men, only a few prophetic voices foresaw what was coming. One of these voices was the Roman Cardinal Siri’s. [1] In a pastoral letter entitled: Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women, dated June 12, 1960, this staunchly conservative Catholic prelate dealt with the roots of the problem in an excellent psychological and social analysis based on the principles of natural law. [2]

We decided to republish this Notification for our readers. It highlights aspects of sexual morality which are often overlooked by believers of evangelical upbringing, but which are quite familiar to traditional Catholics and religious Jews. Messianics will discover that Siri’s analysis provides a general clarifying background to many Torah injunctions and prohibitions on the domain of the social interacting of the sexes as well as on traditional Jewish fence laws.

I expect that Siri’s letter, given here below, will surprise many readers for its actuality, relevance and depth of vision.

Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women

By Giuseppe Cardinal Siri

Genoa,
June 12, 1960
To the Reverend Clergy,
To all Teaching sisters,
To the beloved sons of Catholic Action,
To Educators intending truly to follow Christian Doctrine.

I

The first signs of our late arriving spring indicate that there is this year a certain increase in the use of men’s dress by girls and women, even family mothers. Up until 1959, in Genoa, such dress usually meant the person was a tourist, but now it seems to be a significant number of girls and women from Genoa itself who are choosing at least on pleasure trips to wear men’s dress (men’s trousers).

The extension of this behavior obliges us to take serious thought, and we ask those to whom this Notification is addressed to kindly lend to the problem all the attention it deserves from anyone aware of being in any way responsible before God.

We seek above all to give a balanced moral judgment upon the wearing of men’s dress by women. In fact Our thoughts can only bear upon the moral question.

Firstly, when it comes to covering of the female body, the wearing of men’s trousers by women cannot be said to constitute as such a grave offense against modesty, because trousers certainly cover more of woman’s body than do modern women’s skirts.

Secondly, however, clothes to be modest need not only to cover the body but also not to cling too closely to the body. Now it is true that much feminine clothing today clings closer than do some trousers, but trousers can be made to cling closer, in fact generally they do, so the tight fit of such clothing gives us not less grounds for concern than does exposure of the body. So the immodesty of men’s trousers on women is an aspect of the problem which is not to be left out of an over-all judgment upon them, even if it is not to be artificially exaggerated either.

II

However, it is a different aspect of women’s wearing of men’s trousers which seems to us the gravest.

The wearing of men’s dress by women affects firstly the woman herself, by changing the feminine psychology proper to women; secondly it affects the woman as wife of her husband, by tending to vitiate relationships between the sexes; thirdly it affects the woman as mother of her children by harming her dignity in her children’s eyes. Each of these points is to be carefully considered in turn: —

A. Male dress changes the psychology of woman.

In truth, the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent. This motivation shows clearly that male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being “like a man.” Secondly, ever since men have been men, the clothing a person wears, demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside.

Then let us add that woman wearing man’s dress always more or less indicates her reacting to her femininity as though it is inferiority when in fact it is only diversity. The perversion of her psychology is clear to be seen.

These reasons, summing up many more, are enough to warn us how wrongly women are made to think by the wearing of men’s dress.

B. Male dress tends to vitiate relationships between women and men.

In truth when relationships between the two sexes unfold with the coming of age, an instinct of mutual attraction is predominant. The essential basis of this attraction is a diversity between the two sexes which is made possible only by their complementing or completing one another. If then this “diversity” becomes less obvious because one of its major external signs is eliminated and because the normal psychological structure is weakened, what results is the alteration of a fundamental factor in the relationship.

The problem goes further still. Mutual attraction between the sexes is preceded both naturally, and in order of time, by that sense of shame which holds the rising instincts in check, imposes respect upon them, and tends to lift to a higher level of mutual esteem and healthy fear everything that those instincts would push onwards to uncontrolled acts. To change that clothing which by its diversity reveals and upholds nature’s limits and defense-works, is to flatten out the distinctions and to help pull down the vital defense-works of the sense of shame.

It is at least to hinder that sense. And when the sense of shame is hindered from putting on the brakes, then relationships between man and women sink degradingly down to pure sensuality, devoid of all mutual respect or esteem.

Experience is there to tell us that when woman is de-feminised, then defenses are undermined and weakness increases.

C. Male dress harms the dignity of the mother in her children’s eyes.

All children have an instinct for the sense of dignity and decorum of their mother. Analysis of the first inner crisis of children when they awaken to life around them even before they enter upon adolescence, shows how much the sense of their mother counts. Children are as sensitive as can be on this point. Adults have usually left all that behind them and think no more on it. But we would do well to recall to mind the severe demands that children instinctively make of their own mother, and the deep and even terrible reactions roused in them by observation of their mother’s misbehavior. Many lines of later life are here traced out — and not for good — in these early inner dramas of infancy and childhood.

The child may not know the definition of exposure, frivolity or infidelity, but he possesses an instinctive sixth sense to recognize them when they occur, to suffer from them, and be bitterly wounded by them in his soul.

III

Let us think seriously on the import of everything said so far, even if woman’s appearing in man’s dress does not immediately give rise to all the upset caused by grave immodesty.

The changing of feminine psychology does fundamental and, in the long run, irreparable damage to the family, to conjugal fidelity, to human affections and to human society. True, the effects of wearing unsuitable dress are not all to be seen within a short time. But one must think of what is being slowly and insidiously worn down, torn apart, perverted.

Is any satisfying reciprocity between husband and wife imaginable, if feminine psychology be changed? Or is any true education of children imaginable, which is so delicate in its procedure, so woven of imponderable factors in which the mother’s intuition and instinct play the decisive part in those tender years? What will these women be able to give their children when they will so long have worn trousers that their self-esteem goes more by their competing with the men than by their functioning as women?

Why, we ask, ever since men have been men, or rather since they became civilized — why have men in all times and places been irresistibly borne to make a differentiated division between the functions of the two sexes? Do we not have here strict testimony to the recognition by all mankind of a truth and a law above man?

To sum up, wherever women wear men’s dress, it is to be considered a factor in the long run tearing apart human order.

IV

The logical consequence of everything presented so far is that anyone in a position of responsibility should be possessed by a sense of alarm in the true and proper meaning of the word, a severe and decisive alarm.

We address a grave warning to parish priests, to all priests in general and to confessors in particular, to members of every kind of association, to all religious, to all nuns, especially to teaching Sisters.

We invite them to become clearly conscious of the problem so that action will follow. This consciousness is what matters. It will suggest the appropriate action in due time. But let it not counsel us to give way in the face of inevitable change, as though we are confronted by a natural evolution of mankind, and so on!

Men may come and men may go, because God has left plenty of room for the to and fro of their free-will; but the substantial lines of nature and the not less substantial lines of Eternal Law have never changed, are not changing and never will change. There are bounds beyond which one may stray as far as one sees fit, but to do so ends in death; there are limits which empty philosophical fantasizing may have one mock or not take seriously, but they put together an alliance of hard facts and nature to chastise anybody who steps over them. And history has sufficiently taught, with frightening proof from the life and death of nations, that the reply to all violators of the outline of “humanity” is always, sooner or later, catastrophe.

From the dialectic of Hegel onwards, we have had dinned in our ears what are nothing but fables, and by dint of hearing them so often, many people end up by getting used to them, if only passively. But the truth of the matter is that Nature and Truth, and the Law bound up in both, go their imperturbable way, and they cut to pieces the simpletons who upon no grounds whatsoever believe in radical and far-reaching changes in the very structure of man.

The consequences of such violations are not a new outline of man, but disorders, hurtful instability of all kinds, the frightening dryness of human souls, the shattering increase in the number of human castaways, driven long since out of people’s sight and mind to live out their decline in boredom, sadness and rejection. Aligned on the wrecking of the eternal norms are to be found the broken families, lives cut short before their time, hearths and homes gone cold, old people cast to one side, youngsters willfully degenerate and — at the end of the line — souls in despair and taking their own lives. All of which human wreckage gives witness to the fact that the “line of God” does not give way, nor does it admit of any adaption to the delirious dreams of the so-called philosophers!

V

We have said that those to whom the present Notification is addressed are invited to take serious alarm at the problem in hand. Accordingly they know what they have to say, starting with little girls on their mother’s knee.

They know that without exaggerating or turning into fanatics, they will need to strictly limit how far they tolerate women dressing like men, as a general rule.

They know they must never be so weak as to let anyone believe that they turn a blind eye to a custom which is slipping downhill and undermining the moral standing of all institutions.

They, the priests, know that the line they have to take in the confessional, while not holding women dressing like men to be automatically a grave fault, must be sharp and decisive.

Everybody will kindly give thought to the need for a united line of action, reinforced on every side by the cooperation of all men of good will and all enlightened minds, so as to create a true dam to hold back the flood.

Those of you responsible for souls in whatever capacity understand how useful it is to have for allies in this defensive campaign men of the arts, the media and the crafts. The position taken by fashion design houses, their brilliant designers and the clothing industry, is of crucial importance in this whole question. Artistic sense, refinement and good taste meeting together can find suitable but dignified solution as to the dress for women to wear when they must use a motorcycle or engage in this or that exercise or work. What matters is to preserve modesty together with the eternal sense of femininity, that femininity which more than anything else all children will continue to associate with the face of their mother.

We do not deny that modern life sets problems and makes requirements unknown to our grandparents. But we state that there are values more needing to be protected than fleeting experiences, and that for anybody of intelligence there are always good sense and good taste enough to find acceptable and dignified solutions to problems as they come up.

Out of charity we are fighting against the flattening out of mankind, against the attack upon those differences on which rests the complementarity of man and woman.

When we see a woman in trousers, we should think not so much of her as of all mankind, of what it will be when women will have masculinized themselves for good. Nobody stands to gain by helping to bring about a future age of vagueness, ambiguity, imperfection and, in a word, monstrosities.

This letter of Ours is not addressed to the public, but to those responsible for souls, for education, for Catholic associations. Let them do their duty, and let them not be sentries caught asleep at their post while evil crept in.

Giuseppe Cardinal Siri,
Archbishop of Genoa

From a Torah obedient perspective it is clear that believers in Messiah Yeshua shouldn’t be involved in modern cross-dressing or in any attempts to blur moral standards or the natural distinctions of creation. These standards and distinctions should instead be cherised and accentuated by cultural norms. Many of these norms are given and upheld by divine revelation. The Torah explicitly warns us against cross-dressing, which is considered an abomination in Dt. 22:5. The Body of Messiah has the clear and unambiguos obligation to uphold a biblical and traditional culture in matters of sexual morality.

_____________

[1] Giuseppe Cardinal Siri (1906-1989) was Archbishop of Genoa. His Notification can be found at: http://olrl.org/virtues/pants.shtml

[2] ‘Natural law’ can be defined as the collection of moral principles and norms detectible by natural reason unaided by divine revelation. The Apostle Paul refers to the natural law in Rom. 1:18-32.

Niet-Joden en de Torah: Drie Opvattingen

 

vennIn de Gemeente van de Messias bestaan in het algemeen drie opvattingen over de noodzaak en wenselijkheid van Torah observantie door niet-Joden. De eerste opvatting is die van de zogenaamde ‘One Law’ richting, de benaming die in de Angelsaksische wereld waar de discussie aangaande dit vraagstuk het hevigst woedt, wordt gegeven aan hen die de opvatting zijn toegedaan dat er één Torah, één Wet is voor de geboren Israeliet en voor de vreemdeling, voor de Jood en voor de niet-Jood. Dit is de opvatting dat binnen de Gemeente van de Messias het onderscheid tussen Jood en niet-Jood vervalt dan wel irrelevant wordt. De Torah is voor allen.

De tweede opvatting is dat het onderscheid tussen Jood en niet-Jood gehandhaafd wordt en dat de Gemeente van de Messias uit twee duidelijk onderscheiden en soms ook gescheiden groepen bestaat. Aan de Joden is de Torah in volheid als verplichting gegeven, aan de niet-Joden alleen sommige gedeelten, met name de algemene morele geboden en enkel rituele observanties zoals het verbod om bloed te eten. Dit wordt genoemd de positie van ‘Bilateral Ecclesiology’ richting. Deze staat, zoals de naam zegt, een bilaterale of tweezijdige ecclesiologie voor, waarbij de twee groepen, Joden en niet-Joden, onderscheiden blijven qua levenswijze maar geünieerd worden door hun gemeenschappelijk geloof in Jesjoea.

De uitwerking van deze bilaterale richting kan verschillende vormen aannemen. Er is een stroming die zegt dat de Torah geboden die boven de algemene morele maatstaven uitgaan weliswaar niet verplichtend zijn voor niet-Joden, maar dat niet-Joden, krachtens hun inclusie in het Verbond door de Messias, zoveel van de Torah op zich mogen nemen als zij zelf opportuun, wenselijk, of mogelijk achten. Dit is het model van de ‘Divine Invitation Theology’, dat met name door de First Fruits of Zion groep gepropageerd wordt. Anderen wijzen dit af en geven de niet-Joden wat het praktische leven betreft de status van Noachieden, hoewel erkend wordt dat zij door het geloof zonen van Abraham zijn.

De derde opvatting stelt dat niemand de Torah geboden moet doen en dat allen zich alleen hebben te richten naar de algemene morele principes van de Torah en het onderwijs van de Messias en zijn Apostelen. Voor het overige, met name allerlei questies betreffende liturgie en ritueel, heeft men zich te richten naar de praktijken en gewoonten die de Kerk heeft ingesteld. Dit is de traditionele positie van het historische Christendom.

Elk van deze opvattingen heeft haar eigen bijzondere moeilijkheden. Een specifieke moeilijkheid van de traditionele christelijke positie, om daarmee te beginnen, is dat praktisch alle rituele praktijken en andere tradities afkomstig zijn uit niet-bijbelse bronnen. Dit zijn bijvoorbeeld de zondag, sommige feestdagen zoals Kerstmis, benevens allerlei observanties zoals vleesloze vrijdagen, quatertemperdagen, vigilies, &c. Deze zijn afkomstig uit Romeinse, Germaanse of nog andere culturen en zijn vervolgens gekerstend, dat wil zeggen zo goed mogelijk aangepast aan bijbelse noties en principes. In essentie blijft deze positie echter syncretistisch, ongeacht de soms bewondering afdwingende en hier en daar geniale wijze waarop buitenbijbelse praktijken en rituelen zijn omgevormd tot zogenaamde christelijke cultuurvormen.

Op een meer pregnante wijze kan men de moeilijkheid van deze positie ook als volgt verwoorden: Waarom zouden buitenbijbelse praktijken, rituelen en liturgische vormen beter aansluiten bij de openbaringswaarheid van het Nieuwe Testament dan de eigen bijbelse en joodse, in de context waarvan het Nieuwe Testament zelf is ontstaan? Waarom zou bijvoorbeeld de zondag een instelling zijn die beter aansluit bij het geloof in Jesjoea dan de bijbelse Sjabbat? En sinds wanneer wordt religieus syncretisme in de Bijbel aangemoedigd of goedgekeurd?

Een pregnantere moeilijkheid van de traditioneel christelijke positie is dat Joden die in Jesjoea geloven de Torah zouden moeten opgeven en dus in praktische zin afstand zouden moeten doen van hun Jood-zijn. Dit wordt echter in het Nieuwe Testament nergens geleerd en zelfs duidelijk tegengesproken, zowel door Jesjoea zelf (in Mt. 5:17-19) als door Paulus, althans volgens Lucas (in Hand. hst. XXI, en 25:7-8; 28:17-18).

De bilaterale opvatting vindt haar bijzondere moeilijkheid daarin dat de éénheid van de Gemeente verloren lijkt te gaan. Theoretisch en in de orde van de geloofsleer moge deze eenheid gehandhaafd blijven, in praktisch opzicht echter valt de Gemeente uiteen in twee delen die wel beschouwd niet veel met elkaar te maken hebben. Hierbij maakt het niet zoveel uit of men een Noachidische dan wel een Divine Invitation theologie voorstaat. De eventuele observantie van niet-Joden blijft immers toch een gratuïte bezigheid waar men in gemeentelijk verband niet op kan bouwen of rekening mee hoeft te houden.

Deze opvatting tendeert er daarenboven ook naar zichzelf op te heffen, hetzij door de niet-Joden in de richting te duwen van het traditionele Christendom, hetzij door zich praktisch in de nabijheid te bewegen van de ‘One Law’ opvatting.

De bilaterale opvatting is met name verre van bevredigend omdat zij de gelovigen uit de volken de mogelijkheid ontneemt het geloofsleven op een bijbelse wijze gestalte te geven. Wanneer immers de Sjabbat en de feestdagen en de overige rituele instellingen van de Torah niet voor deze gelovigen zijn bedoeld, dan heeft dit een dergelijke verschraling en verarming van hun godsdienstige cultuur tot gevolg dat men nauwelijks nog van een godsdienst in de volledige zin van het woord mag spreken. Alleen de Joden binnen de Gemeente hebben dan alle middelen om hun geloof in uitwendige vormen en observanties gestalte te geven. Een dergelijke ongelijkwaardigheid van deze twee groepen gelovigen lijkt echter wel nauwelijks de openbaring te kunnen zijn van de eenheid van het Lichaam van de Messias zoals deze door de Apostel Paulus is bekend gemaakt. Voor Paulus is de Gemeente een fysieke eenheid, een corps of corpus zogezegd, niet een louter geestelijke geloofseenheid. Deze eenheid vraagt om een eenheid van ook het praktische leven en de godsdienstige observantie.

De eigen moeilijkheid van de ‘One Law’ theologie is dat de consequente uitwerking ervan noodzakelijk tot gevolg heeft dat de gelovigen uit de heidenen onder het Torah gebod van de besnijdenis komen te vallen en dat dit niet of nauwelijks te verenigbaar lijkt met de besluiten van het Apostelconcilie in Hand. hst. XV, en uitspraken van de Apostel Paulus. Zowel het Apostelconcilie als Paulus lijken immers de niet-Joden te ontslaan van de verplichting tot de besnijdenis. Sommige uitspraken van Paulus doen zelfs het vermoeden rijzen van een verbod op de besnijdenis van de niet-joodse gelovigen.

Om zich uit deze moeilijkheid te redden wijzen aanhangers van de ‘One Law’ theologie er op dat dat men deze afwijzing van de besnijdenis dient te interpreteren als een afwijzing van de bekeringsprocedure (de gioer) tot het Jodendom zoals deze door de Farizeeën was ontwikkeld en waarvan de besnijdenis de kern uitmaakte. Met de term ‘besnijdenis’ zou dus deze bekeringsprocedure worden bedoeld. De Apostelen wezen deze af omdat zij de leerlingen niet het juk wilden opleggen van een overgang tot het Farizeïsche Jodendom als voorwaarde voor hun opname in de Gemeente van de Jesjoea. Zulk een voorwaarde zou onaanvaardbare hindernissen opwerpen voor vele heidenen om het evangelie aan te nemen.

Men zou dus onderscheid moeten maken tussen de besnijdenis als bijbels gebod en de besnijdenis in het kader van een Farizeïsche gioer. De verwerping van de proselieten besnijdenis zou niet een verwerping inhouden op de besnijdenis als Torah-gebod. Het bijbelse besnijdenisgebod kan dus, zo zegt men, ten volle gehandhaafd worden.

De moeilijkheid met deze oplossing is echter dat men in het Nieuwe Testament nergens een tekstplaats kan vinden waar het onderscheid tussen deze twee typen besnijdenis duidelijk geleerd wordt. De aanname van twee typen besnijdenis lijkt ook op gespannen voet te staan met de geloofwaardigheid en duidelijkheid van het evangelie voor de niet-Joden. Want is het werkelijk aannemelijk dat Paulus enerzijds uitvoerig de proselieten besnijdenis afwees maar anderzijds en tegelijkertijd de bijbelse besnijdenis onderwees en toepaste op de gelovigen uit de heidenen? Zou een dergelijke gecompliceerde positie niet tot grote verwarring hebben geleid? Het feit dat we in het NT geen indicaties vinden van welk type besnijdenis dan ook zodra het om niet-Joden gaat — uitgezonderd natuurlijk de geestelijke besnijdenis ofwel de besnijdenis van het hart — pleit dus niet voor deze oplossing.

Hieruit volgt echter niet, zoals men wellicht zou denken, dat daarmee de ‘One Law’ theologie gedisqualificeerd zou zijn. De kern van de zaak is namelijk dat elk van de drie besproken opvattingen met grote en weerbarstige moeilijkheden te maken heeft. De typische moeilijkheid van de ‘One Law’ theologie wijst dus op zichzelf helemaal niet in de richting van (één van) de overige opvattingen. De moeilijkheden van een ‘Bilateral Ecclesiology’ of van de traditionele christelijke opvatting zijn immers niet minder groot, misschien zelfs groter.

De oplossing van het vraagstuk van de positie van de niet-Joden is daarmee één van de kern-opgaven voor een consistente interpretatie van het NT. Naar mijn vermoeden is een vruchtbare aanpak van dit vraagstuk alleen mogelijk als men de bijzonderheden van het tijdvak van de Handelingen der Apostelen erbij betrekt. Dit tijdvak wordt gekenmerkt door het hernieuwde aanbod van Israel’s nationale herstel en van de zgn. ‘Naherwartung‘, d.i. de verwachting van de Wederkomst binnen één of enkele generaties. Deze kenmerken maken het waarschijnlijk dat gedurende dit bijzondere tijdvak, waarin de voorrang van de Jood boven de niet-Jood in Paulus’ brieven beklemtoond wordt, een bepaalde scheiding tussen Joden en niet-Joden ook binnen de Gemeente in stand moest worden gehouden, in afwachting van Israel’s bekering en nationale herstel. Eerst dit nationale herstel zou dan uitlopen op een alomvattende missie tot de heidenen.

Nadat echter duidelijk geworden was dat Israel de Messias niet zou aannemen gedurende de tijd van de Apostelen, en dat het nationale herstel dus voor onbepaalde tijd uigesteld moest worden, had de scheiding tussen Joden en niet-Joden in de Gemeente haar functie verloren. We zien dan ook dat de Apostel Paulus eerst na de Handelingentijd, in zijn gevangenschapsbrieven (met name in de brief aan Efeze), de volkomen gelijkwaardigheid van Jood en niet-Jood leert in het éne Lichaam van de Messias.

Indien deze overwegingen juist zijn mag men misschien de voorzichtige conclusie trekken dat de besnijdenis van niet-Joden nu geen probleem meer is. Deze besnijdenis wordt immers door het georganiseerde Jodendom niet erkend. Zij is louter een interne aangelegenheid van de Gemeente van Jesjoea. De scheidingslijn loopt nu niet langer tussen Joden en niet-Joden in deze Gemeente, maar tussen de Gemeente van Jesjoea als geheel en het officiële Jodendom. Het onderscheid van Jood en niet-Jood zou in dit perspectief eerst weer relevant worden bij de oprichting van het Koninkrijk, ofwel bij Israel’s eindtijdelijke nationale herstel.

Voor de volledigheid dient hierbij echter aangetekend te worden dat ook deze laatste overwegingen, waardoor de ‘One Law’ opvatting een grotere waarschijnlijkheid krijgt, voor een gedeelte gebaseerd blijven op speculatieve en buitenbijbelse aannamen.

Alles overziende moet de conclusie helaas luiden dat geen enkele van de drie behandelde posities zonder problemen is of op bijbelse gronden bewijsbaar mag worden geacht.

The Biblical Canon, Church Tradition, and Messianics

 

new-testament-orientationA basic problem in the domain of biblical studies is the question of (how to establish) the Canon of Scripture. This problem is particularly important for Messianics when it comes to the Canon of the Apostolic Writings (commonly, but erroneously, called the New Testament). This importance is related to the fact that Messianics reject many of the traditional teachings of the Christian Church and yet accept the Canon of the New Testament as it is recognized by the tradition of this Church.

From the assumption that the Messianic theological position as to the remaining relevance of the Torah is correct it necessarily follows that the Church already began to deviate from the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles during the second century, and thus at a time when the formal recognition of the New Testament was still in its initial stages. For it is in the second century that we see the emergence of Replacement Theology, together with the development of christological doctrines that finally would lead to the dogmas of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. [1]

The historical time-frame of the recognition of the New Testament Canon roughly coincides with the historical time-frame of the development of Replacement Theology and the great christological conflicts. However, there is evidence for the proposition that the history of the formation of the Canon is more complicated than often admitted, and that it extended to the times of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent. One of the factors that led to its ultimate fixation were Luther’s and Erasmus’ reopening of the debate. This evoked a Catholic reaction at the Council of Trent. The position of this Council seems to have been helpful in ending the debate, even among the followers of the Reformers.

Regardless the exact reconstruction of this history, it is problematic to simply accept the NT Canon without granting any authority to the tradition of the Church, since it is clearly impossible for anyone of us today to determine which collection of books or letters of the times of the Apostles we should recognize as being part of Holy Scripture — had this collection not been handed down to us through the generations by the authority, the constant teaching, and the liturgical tradition of the Church.

This problem can be stated as follows: If the position of the Church on the relevance of the Torah and the nature of G’d led the believers completely astray by the developments that culminated in the doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity, how can we be sure that the Church did not lead us astray by adopting and using in her liturgy the collection of Scriptures that we call the New Testament?

From the Catholic point of view it is considered a basic theological error to isolate the genesis and reception of the NT Canon from the developing early Christian tradition. According to this viewpoint it is a fundamental metho-dological problem of all non-Catholic NT studies that they first isolate the NT from its functional context in Christian tradition and the living community of the Church, and subsequently find things in it which conflict with this tradition and the authority of the Church.

The Catholic response to these findings is to ascribe these conflicts with Church teaching to this initial error of isolating the Scriptures from the tradition and authority of the Church. If divine revelation is only partly contained in Scripture and if Scripture is an organic part of the developing Jewish nation and the later Christian Church, how can one separate Scripture from the tradition and teaching of the Church and subject the Holy Books to the insights of individual scholars, while ignoring the primal fact that these scholars themselves have received the Scriptures from the Church? Defenders of Catholicism always stress that the sola Scriptura teaching of the Protestant Reformers is not found in the Bible itself.

The Messianic position seems even more difficult to defend than the position of the Reformers. For the Reformers accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils until about the fifth century, when the question of the Canon of the NT was practically settled or at least no longer debated. The Messianic position, however, is that the Church during the first centuries of her existence got throughly corrupted in such basic teachings as the nature of G’d and the relevance of the Torah, while at the same time developing a correct intuition in solving the problem of the NT Canon.

The question is thus: How it can be made reasonably credible that the Church stumbled into error after error in her teachings about the ontological status of Yeshua, the nature of G’d, and the normative status of the Torah, and yet preserved a right intuition on the issue which books of the Apostolic times should be recognized as inspired and canonical in addition to the Hebrew Bible?
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[1] Regrettably, many Messianics accept the Church doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. But the basic problem pointed out here remains the same for them, since they don’t accept Replacement Theology.

Pope Francis and the Apostasy of the Christian Church

 

anti-pope-francisThe Roman Catholic Church throughout her history has always vehemently opposed to give the Sacrament of Holy Communion to those living in irregular sexual relationships. The position of the Church was that those living in cohabitation, adultery, or any other sexual relation outside traditional marriage were unfit to receive Communion, because they were in a state of mortal sin and in danger of losing their eternal salvation, according to the warning of the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:

I Corinthians 6:9-10
Know ye not that unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of G’d? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of G’d.

Holy Communion was considered to be only for those in the ‘state of grace’ according to Catholic theological terminology — or, in evangelical terminology, in the ‘state of being saved’. To be in the state of grace requires that one has confessed and sincerely repented the mortal sins one has committed, and has acted upon this repentance by leaving all situations of continuously ‘living in sin’.

This sacramental discipline was based on the notion that, ultimately, the Church is only composed of those are saved, i.e. the truly faithful. Only the saved, ultimately, are part of the mystical Body of Christ. This community of the saved is liturgically expressed in Holy Communion, because in receiving the Eucharist the Body of Christ is actualized in this temporal life and in and through it the faithful are bodily and spiritually united with the Lord Jesus Christ.

After the Second Vatican Council there has been a growing minority in the Church of liberals and modernists abandoning this traditional moral position. For some decades, this minority has grown vocal and demanding, and important Church leaders, including Cardinals have joined it. And in our days of the pontificate of Francis even the Pope seeks to support it. Sacramental discipline, which was already considerably weakened after Vatican II, is now in danger of being completely thrown out of the window.

Under the guise of proclaiming “mercy” and “compassion” — reiterating the general Christian invitation that the Lord is welcoming everyone — Pope Francis’ pontificate has become a concerted effort of theological liberals to change the moral basics of Catholicism and to bring it in line with the demands of the modern world. For this is really what theological liberalism or modernism is all about: adapting the Church to the modern secular sensibilities of liberty and equality.

What is happening in Catholicism since Vatican II, and now seems to culminate in the effort to abandon traditional sexual ethics, is nothing less than the introduction of the principles of the French Revolution in the Church.

As Torah minded believers we should be attentive of this phenomenon as a new manifestation of the spirit of lawlessness (i.e. Torahlessness), as a radicalization of Replacement Theology.

The Replacement Theology that was introduced in the early days of the Church can be viewed as an effort to synthesize the biblical and Jewish heritage of the Church with the surrounding culture of Greco-Roman Antiquity. Such a synthesis was only possible by giving up the culture and rites of the Torah. The Catholic Church was the result of this synthesis. For this reason Catholicism can be viewed as a secularization of the Jewish religion. In order to have universal impact, and to be acceptable to all people, it was deemed necessary for the message of the Gospel to shake off its Jewish particularisms. Thus the Church supposedly would be enabled to gain cultural influence and to effectively evangelize the masses of the Roman Empire without the obstacles of Jewish cultural forms.

What is happening nowadays is a radicalization of this Replacement Theology by an effort to synthesize the historical Catholic heritage of the Church with the surrounding culture of Naturalism and Secular Humanism. Such a synthesis is only possible by giving up traditional Christian sexual morality.

What will be the result of this proposed new synthesis? In any case not Catholicism or Christianity as we know it. If the agenda of the modernists is accepted by the Church, the result will be a rupture in the continuity of Church’s teaching and practice as big as when the Church rejected Torah observance and introduced Replacement Theology.

By adopting the umbrella of Secular Humanism and an attitude of inclusiveness the Church will become more thoroughly de-judaized then ever before. Not only Jewish rites and ritual laws but also Jewish ethics will be declared obsolete. This amounts to a nearly complete rejection of the Hebrew Bible, the so-called ‘Old Testament’. But this also implies the rejection of many and fundamental parts of New Testament teaching.

This modernist revolution is so fundamental that it could never succeed under the existing premises of Catholic doctrine. That’s why it is introduced by the Pope and his circle of liberal theologians as just a matter of pastoral care and compassion. It is presented to the faithful as if the practice of the Church could change without changing the doctrine. Once the practice is changed, however, in the name of mercy, traditional moral doctrine, while being preserved in name, will become completely obsolete and fossilized.

It will be clear to Messianics and to traditional Christians that what is happening here is nothing less than open apostasy from the faith. The pastoral terminology is just a smokescreen. What is called ‘mercy’ by Pope Francis and other Catholic modernists is just what traditional theology rejects as ‘cheap grace’. It is a ‘mercy’ that doesn’t require repentance in the sense of turning away from the state of sin. It is a lawless mercy which permits the sinner to continue in sin and yet be in ‘full communion’ with the Church and presumably with Christ.

The principle of lawlessness, that was introduced in the early history of the Church, nowadays seems to be on its way to a complete victory. If this analysis is correct, then we are witnessing an important preparatory phase for the coming of him who is called by St. Paul the “man of sin” and the “lawless (Torahless) one” (II Thess. 2:3, 8), the Anti-Christ or Anti-Messiah.

The coming of this Torahless person is connected to the “falling away” — the massive apostasy from the Christian faith — and other events that will precede the Second Coming of Christ:

II Thessalonians 2:3
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [i.e. the day of the Second Coming of Christ] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition […].

Why are these developments within the Roman Catholic Church important for us as Torah observant Messianics who deny many Catholic doctrines and precriptions? Because the Catholic Church is the historical heart and centre of Western culture, its unifying factor and its traditional moral compass. The apostasy and possible collapse of this Church is an alarming sign of the moral collapse and desintegration of our entire culture.

While it is true that the Catholic Church has been an important factor in the persecution of the Jews and a fierce opponent of Torah observance by Christians, this doesn’t mean that we should simply rejoice in her downfall. For we can be sure that when the Church is removed from the scene, or should choose to side with the forces of secularism, we’ll have to face a future of persecution. The Church will not be replaced by a more friendly power but to all probabilty by the naked aggression of an openly Anti-Christian Secularism.

The Catholic Church has known many Popes and other high prelates who were examples of wicknedness and lawlessness instead of examples of Christ and shepherds of his flock. But whatever these persons said and did, they never questioned or attacked the dogmatic and moral fundamentals of the Church.

After Vatican II all this has changed. The present crisis is mainly a consequence of the tidal waves of modernist theology that entered the Church during and after this Council. Pope Paul VI complained that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. John Paul II tried to consolidate the situation and to limit the damage. This line of consolidation was continued under Benedict XVI. Under Francis, however, we face again the full seducing force of modernism at work. His pontificate might well initiate the final apostasy of the Christian Church.

Liturgy and the Sense of the Sacred

 

Traditional Synagogue Service

Traditional Synagogue Service

Every great religion is much focused on the distinction between the sacred and the secular. It is the basic religious distinction. This distinction is particularly relevant in public worship, by which it is made visible and tangible. There are sacred times and secular times, sacred places and buildings, and secular ones. But modern Christianity has very much destroyed the sense of the sacred because of its anti-ritual bias and its liturgical amateurism. Protestantism in particular has almost lost all real liturgical spirit, or fallen into the modernist error of confusing liturgy with art and performance. Even Catholicism, in its post Vatican II fashion, has fallen prey to this. The modern Mass betrays a mindset which is more concentrated on the community than G’d. Liturgy, however, is theocentric. It is about such things as “facing east” when praying, about following the rubrics, not the personal whims of the minister or the momentary wishes of the congregation. Only traditionalist Catholics and traditional Jews have real liturgies today.

Liturgy is about a consistent line of behaviour in all things which happen in the church or synagogue, for instance about not deviating from the calendrical structure and giving the proper weight and emphasis to each particular occasion. First and foremost it is about a theocentric spirit, which is to be cultivated by such things as the minister facing the Altar or the Holy Ark instead of the congregation, by acts of bowing and kneeling and really making the building a sanctuary. The modern cult of spontaneity and informality is deeply at odds with all this. This ‘spontaneity’ is secular and fed by the idea that we should follow our passions and emotions. This leads to arbitrary acts and an embarrassing informal way of behaviour which is very much the contrary of the aristocratic spirit which permeates traditional liturgy. The modern standard of informality is infected with the ideology of equality and betrays a lack of respect and revence.

Liturgy is not without emotion and passion, but its emotions are evoked and cultivated by reverence for G’d and all things sacred. It is based on making clear distinctions: between the sacred and the secular, and between degrees of sacredness, in a hierarchical order, and on upholding these distinctions in our solemn celebrations. It is essential for Messianics in Torah communities to maintain in their liturgy and worship this sense of hierarchical order, because this is the way we are related to G’d. The basic framework of Scripture is about the hierarchical order between G’d and creation, between the angelic world and the material creation, between the celestial bodies in the firmament and the things here in this earthy world, between men and women, parents and children, between kings, priests, levites and other ministers and lay people, &c, &c. This scriptural framework should be mirrored in the solemnities of messianic liturgies, as indeed it was from times immemorial mirrorred in traditional Jewish and Christian liturgies. Any intelligent person will know what liturgy is about by visiting just once a traditional, tridentine mass or an orthodox synagogue service.

For Evangelicals and Messianics the idea of liturgical worship is often associated with stiffness, constraint, and dulness. This may often be due to their Protestant background. Because of its abrogation of the Mass, Protestantism historically has practically lost the art of celebration. In fact neither the traditional Catholic Mass nor the traditional Synagogue Service fit this characterization of stiffness. Proper liturgical worship is characterized by aristocratic elegance and fluency. In contradistinction to Protestant and Evangelical worship it draws no attention to the person of the minister but only to his function. Perhaps a quote from C.S. Lewis’ A Preface to Paradise Lost (ch. III) is appropriate here:

To recover [the old idea of solemnity] you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a wide-spread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual.

The sense of the sacred and of reverence for G-d can only be maintained and cultivated in a traditional liturgical culture. Tradition and liturgy elevate us to a higher order, the aristocratic order of the Kingdom of G-d. The liturgy thus explicitly and ceremonially reflects our true created being and eternal destiny.

A Scriptural Deduction of the Seven Noachide Laws

 

noahide-lawsIn Genesis chapter IX we see that G-d gives several commandments and instructions to Noach and his descendants. The conspicuous examples are the prohibition of “shedding blood” (murder) and eating “flesh with the life thereof”, (often interpreted as the consumption of blood).

Rabbinic Judaism teaches that these commandments and instructions can be summarized in seven rules, called the Seven Noachide Laws. These are considered to be the basic laws for all mankind, in particular the non-Jews. The deduction of these laws and their detailed implications from the scriptural text is viewed as a process guided by the Oral Torah. Acceptance of the Noachide Laws thus logically entails the acceptance of rabbinic authority. As explained by Clorfene and Rogalsky in: The Path of the Righteous Gentile,

The hurdle that must be cleared in preparing for observing the Seven Noachide Commandments is the acceptance of the idea that mankind’s way to the Father is through the Rabbis. Rebellion against the sanctity of rabbinic authority and tradition has been with us since those first days in the Wilderness of Sinai when the followers of Korah led a revolt against absolute rabbinic authority, as we learn in the Torah […] [1]

From this perspective it is impossible to obey the Noachide Laws without obeying their rabbinic interpretation. Obedience to G-d is defined as obedience to the Rabbis. The authors of The Path of the Righteous Gentile are aware of the fact that this creates a particular difficulty for non-Jews:

When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, the people all accepted the Written Torah willingly, but G-d had to lift the mountain over their heads and threaten to drop it on them to persuade them to accept the Oral Torah, that is, the rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. If the Jews had difficulty in accepting the Oral Torah as no less divine than the Scriptures themselves, how much more difficult must it be for the non-Jews. But accept the Rabbis they must, for the source of understanding the Seven Noachide Commandments is found in the Talmud and the later rabbinic teachings, and nowhere else. [2]

It doesn’t need much argument to demonstrate that the approach outlined by Clorfene & Rogalsky is unacceptable for Messianic Jews and their Gentile co-religionists. Messianics cannot uncritically and axiomatically believe in rabbinic authority without damaging their obedience to Yeshua and his Apostles. This is abundantly clear from the fact that Judaism views obervance of the Noachide Laws as the Gentile’s way of earning a place in the World to Come.

By observing G-d’s commandments, a person becomes connected with G-d’s infinite will and wisdom and therby elicits a godly light which shines onto his or her soul. This godly light is eternal, and in it the soul earns eternal reward. By observing the Seven Noachide Commandments, a Gentile fulfils of his creation and receives a share in the World to Come, the blessed spiritual world of the righteous. [3]

For Messianics it is non-negotiable that the way to the Father is essentially through Yeshua and that all other mediatorship can only be of value if it is subservient to and directed to the mediatorship of Yeshua. Messianics cannot but reject the idea that a place in the World to Come can be merited by the observance of the Noachide Laws. And however high a view Messianics may have of Jewish tradition and rabbinic authority, it is simply not possible for them that to affirm that the Oral Torah “has the same inviolability as the Holy Scriptures themselves for the Written Torah and the Oral Torah are two halves of one thing”. [4]

At this point, rabbinic theology goes off-track. By stating that Jews inherit a place in the World to Come by observing the 613 commandment of the Torah and Gentiles by observing the Seven Noachide Laws, this theology betrays its lack of insight in the depth of the problem caused by the entrance of sin. It simply doesn’t see the necessity of a renewal of human nature by being born again by water and the Holy Spirit, prior to any requirement of observance. [5]

From a messianic perspective the Naochide Laws are not meant to provide a way for the Gentile nations to enter the World to Come. They are regulations imposed on mankind for upholding a basic framework of justice in this world. They are thus bound to the order of this world and will remain relevant as long as this world will exist.

The number of these commandments is never given in Scripture, but the rabbinic arrangement of Seven Laws can be easily be detected by considering the context and practical implications of the explicit instructions given in Gen. 9:1-7. The following is an attempt to deduce the Seven Laws from these scriptural instructions.

If the Creator G-d reveals himself and gives laws and instructions, it is obvious that a person should not blaspheme this G-d or turn to other gods, particularly so after the terrible judgment of the flood. So the prohibitions of blasphemy and idolatry are reasonably included in the concept of the one true G-d revealing himself as Creator, Sovereign and Lawgiver.

Normal sexual relations are presupposed by the instruction to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 9:1), which is of course to be interpreted in its historical context of the situation after the flood. We should have in mind here that the corruption of marriage was one of the reasons why the flood came, according to Gen. ch. VI, and thus it should be taken for granted that Noach and his family knew that they had to keep the purity of marriage intact by abstaining from sexual promiscuity.

That a system of law enforcement should be set up is implied by the injunction that the blood of man and beast will be required by G-d, through the hand of man (Gen. 9:5-6). This requirement implies setting up a system of human government.

The interesing prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal may seem a bit peculiar at first, but it follows from the prohibition of consuming blood in Gen. 9:4 and the later Torah legislation for Israel, which permits the stranger to eat that which has died of itself (Dt. 14:21). That which has died of itself inevitably contains blood. This verse thus implies that the non-Israelite may consume blood — although this concession is perhaps limited to this particular case of eating an animal which has died of itself. [6] Because of this permission it is inferred that the prohibition of Gen. 9:4 cannot be a general prohibition of blood but is literally only about “flesh with the life thereof”, i.e. the limb of a living animal.

Finally, the prohibition of theft and robbery is logically contained in Gen 9:2, where the creatures are given into man’s power. This is not a permission for a power struggle of all against all in order to grasp as many possessions as is possible for each individual or family, for this would result in endless bloodshed. It would defy any peaceful system of government to permit man to simply take what is perceived to be already in another man’s possession. So the prohibition of theft is derived from man’s dominion of the lower earthly creatures in combination with the general idea of maintaining a system of law and justice.

The Seven Commandments of B’nei Noach are covered by this analysis. They are divided into six prohibitions and one positive commandment. The positive commandment of establishing a government is a kind of meta-commandment intended to make it possible to enforce and maintain the six prohibitions, which are: (1) blasphemy, (2) idolatry, (3) sexual promiscuity, (4) murder, (5) theft and robbery, (6) eating the limb of a living animal.

As to religious worship, blood sacrifice is permitted under the Noachide Covenant, but it is not strictly required. It is not possible to deduce its obligation, neither exegetically, nor by implication. While the prohibitions of blasphemy and idolatry are direct implications of the true G-d revealing Himself, a positive commandment of sacrificial worship cannot be derived in this manner.

It seems, however, that the majority opinion is that after the introduction of the Torah of Sinai, by which Israel was constituted the priestly nation, the Noachides are no longer permitted to sacrifice. The sacrificial service was now transferred to Israel on behalf of them. For the very reason of Israel’s election is to be a Priestly Kingdom on behalf of all mankind.
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[1] Clorfene & Rogalsky, p. 4. [Chaim Clorfene & Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile. An Introduction to the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah, Targum Press — Southfield, Mich., Jerusalem 1987]

[2] Ibid, p. 5.

[3] Ibid, p. 4.

[4] Ibid, p. 128, n. 6.

[5] Cf. John 3:5.

[6] If this interpretation is correct, the interesting conclusion is that the prohibition against the consumption of blood in Acts ch. XV is not a repetition of a Noachide commandment but the imposition of the later Torah prohibition — and perhaps the requirement of Shechitah — of the Sinai Covenant on Gentile believers.