Category Archives: Church Customs – Jewish roots

Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah – Jews and Gentiles in the Land

While it is common for Gentile Christians to refer to it as the Holy Land, this term (“Adama HaKodesh”) appears only once in the Tanakh (the Hebrew “Old Testament”), in Zechariah 2:12 (Zechariah 2:16 in the Hebrew original):

טז  וְנָחַל יְהוָה אֶת-יְהוּדָה חֶלְקוֹ, עַל אַדְמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וּבָחַר עוֹד, בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.

16 :2 זְכַרְיָה / Zechariah 2:16

To the people of the day, it was simply “the Land” — and all other countries were “outside the Land”.  It didn’t need the addition of the term “holy”.

The Rabbis of the time believed that there were ten degrees of sanctity from the bare soil of the Land, up to the Most Holy Place (“Holy of Holies”) in the Temple.  In  their eyes, “outside the Land” represented darkness and death – in fact, the very dust of a heathen country was viewed as unclean, and was considered to defile by contact. It was regarded like the grave, or the rotting of death. They even said that if a spot of heathen dust so much as touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. This, of course is not in Torah, but was the teaching of the Rabbis. They taught that all contact with pagans (non-Jews) must be avoided, and all trace of it shaken off.  

It was into this cultural context, that Yeshua (Jesus)  spoke to His Disciples about those that will not accept the news of the coming of the Kingdom, in Matthew 10:14;

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town.”

It is also in this context that He spoke about restoration of a brother – that if he refuses to listen to us and to the Community that “he should be to us as a pagan and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

Although the way the Rabbis of various eras classified the Land vary, the earliest Rabbinic source, the Mishnah, describes different areas of the Land primarily based on religious obligation or privilege. For example, it would specify which Omer offering needed to be taken from the Land, and which did not.

The North-East border of the Land, which is now the modern country of Syria, was loosely defined by the Rabbinic institutions of the day under the term Soria. Unlike other borders of the Land, which had more clear definition of where Israel ended and the Gentile world began, the border region of Soria was less explicitly defined. It was a ‘soft border’: a strip of land in between Israel and the Gentile world, but not considered part of either.  The Mishnah states that if a man buys a field in Soria that lies close to the Land of Israel, he can treat its soil as of it were part of the Land.

The only clear geographical point in Soria where one would know that they had entered the Gentile world was the Syrian city of Antioch. The city and everything Northward was considered the Gentile World. It was in this city where the first Gentile Church was formed (Acts 11:20-21) and also where the Gentile disciples were first called “Christians“.

The Jews who lived in the Land were surrounded by many foreign nationalities, religions and cultural customsthe majority of which were favored and privileged by the Romans, who occupied the area.

Edersheim describes it as follows;

“If anyone had expected to find within the boundaries of the Land itself, one nationality, one language, the same interests, or even one religion publicly professed, he would have been bitterly disappointed.”

Among the Jews of the Land at the time, two main factors divided them; geography and religious sect.  In a nutshell, geography was an influencing factor in that the local culture, Aramaic dialect and political inclinations of the North and the South developed differently.

Galilee in the North was influenced more by the large Roman trading routes that went through it while Judea in the South, with Temple at Jerusalem became the center of religious scholarship and debate. The region of Samaria which was in between the two, served to keep them separate, because the Samaritans were despised by both. As found in the Gospels, Jews from both Galilee or Judea did not associate with Samaritans.

These differences will be expanded on in later articles – suffice to say that the main differences between the Jews in the North and the Jews in the South, in general are that the Galileans of the North tended to be more socially warm and welcoming to both Jews and non-Jews. Language-wise, their dialect of Galilean Aramaic did not have what was considered at the time to be ‘proper’ pronunciation of guttural letters. This not only made them an object of ridicule by the Judeans of the South, it also made them easily identifiable as being from the North. This sheds light on the passage in the Gospels where Peter is confronted by a little girl and denies knowing Messiah and then some bystanders are able to easily identify him as being from Galilee, by how he spoke;

“A little while later, some of the bystanders approached Peter and said to him, “Surely you’re one of them, too—your accent gives you away.

Matthew 26:73

Politically, the North, although being warm and welcoming of Jews and non-Jews, had a more violent attitude towards the Roman occupation. Chronologically, Galilee was annexed by the Romans in 6 CE, which was before Judea was annexed.  This may explain why most of the violent rebel leaders during the first of the Jewish-Roman Wars, also called “the Great Revolt” (66-73 CD) were from Galilee. Even the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, who participated in the Revolt, was from Galilee.

On the other hand, the culture of the Jews in the South in Judea had a profound intellectual and religious ‘snobbery’.  Religious education was prioritized above everything else, and treatment as an individual drastically differed depending on whether the person was taught, and by whom they were taught.  Among “learned men”, there was a contempt for those they regarded as ‘the country people“; who was anyone untaught. The “country people” were viewed with contempt because of their lack of understanding of the rigorous traditionalism of the dominant sect of the day, the Pharisees. 

Language-wise, the Judeans were considered to have better pronunciation of gutterals in their distinct Judean Aramaic dialect. In their institutions, the Judean Jews who studied, also learned Hebrew and could read Biblical texts in their original language. This fueled their sense of elitism and superiority over the Galilean Jews.

Politically, despite their arrogance, the Judean Jews tended to be more willing to cooperate with the Romans in matters of business and governance. Some even got rich in their dealings with the Romans, and the Jewish Sanhedrin, because of its willingness to cooperate with the Romans, was given an ‘ear’ before the Roman officials. This is why members of the Sanhedrin, when seeking to kill Yeshua, were able to go before Pontius Pilate and be heard.

Religiously, there were four major sects or movements. The dominant sect were the Pharisees, who controlled the local institutions of learning (e.g. synagogues).  There were the Sadducees who were almost exclusively made up of Priests – both inside and outside of the Temple, the Essenes who former scribes who became a separate sect primarily as isolationists, and based in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were later found.  The last sect, which wasn’t an official sect, was what would later be called the Zealots.  They only developed the title “Zealots” during the Great Revolt.

All of these sects disagreed vehemently with each other on almost every theological and political issue. The idea that the term “the Jews” could be applied to members of all four of these groups is a generalization that can contribute to significant misunderstanding. When the term “the Jews” is used in Scripture, it is essential to “read up” in the passage, to determine who is being referred to.

Despite the Judaism of the day being so bitterly divided, there was one thing that united all Jews, and even Samaritans, from North to South and that was observance of some kind, to the Five Books of Moses.

To the Romans, these deep differences between sects of Jews were not appreciated. We were all Galileans or Judeans, to them.  To say they did not have an appreciation for the profound complexities of our culture and religion, would be an understatement.

Edersheim described it like this;

“Circumcision, the Sabbath-rest, the worship of an invisible God and Jewish abstinence from pork formed a never-ending theme of merriment to the heathen.”

The New Perspective – second phase of the Reformation?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His theses were copied and distributed throughout Europe and the debate which followed culminated  in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation restored the Word of God to the ordinary people and called them out of an obligation of submission to the papacy to one of submission to Scripture.  But was the Reformation all that was required to restore the Scriptures to their first century understanding? This is the topic of this article.


Martin Luther taught that justification (God’s declaration that we are forgiven of sin and righteous in His sight ) comes only through our faith in the ‘completed work and the ‘perfect righteousness of Christ’,  which the Father imputes, or reckons to our account through faith.

Romans 1:16-17 was central to Martin Luther’s theology and lies at the heart of Reformation theology;

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

Luther initially had disdain for the phrase, “the righteousness of God” because he understood it to be speaking of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners;

I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans … but to that moment one phrase in Chapter 1 stood in my way. I hated the idea, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed”.  I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners .

—Martin Luther

In time, Luther said he began to understand that the “righteousness of God” is given as a “gift of God” given to sinners by faith and by which the righteous live;

“At last, meditating day and night and by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.

—Martin Luther

James D.G. Dunn, Peter J. Tomson and other proponents of the “New Perspective on Paul” are restoring an understanding of the teachings of Paul to one set in its first century Jewish context, and in doing so, have set in motion what may be viewed as a second stage of Reformation of the Church.

Two foundational books by New Perspective theologians are "Paul and the Jewish Law - Halakha in the Letters of the Apostles to the Gentiles" by Peter J. Tomson (1990) and "The New Perspective on Paul" by James D.G. Dunn (1993)

According to Dunn, Paul’s theology of justification necessarily must be viewed as integral to the commission to preach the gospel to non-Jews.  This after all, is the context of Paul speaking of “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:16-17;

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Gentile.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

Viewed in context, “the righteousness of God” is not as Luther first thought as “God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners” nor as he later thought, ‘as as a gift of God given to sinners by faith’ — but rather “is a relational term that refers to the fulfillment of one’s obligation to another in the context of a relationship”, specifically;

“God’s fulfillment of the obligations that He took upon Himself in creating humankind and particularly, in the calling of Abraham and the choosing of Israel to be His people.

– James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul, pp 340-346

To Dunn and other proponents of the New Perspective, the ‘righteousness of God’ involves God’s reckoning of covenant membership with respect to Gentiles.  We have referred to this in previous articles as God’s fulfillment of His promise that He gave in the “all nations clause” of Genesis 12:2-3 of the Abrahamic Covenant.

God promised Abraham that he will be (1) the father of "a great nation" -- that is a specific nation (Hebrew: לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל) though Isaac and Jacob (the Jews), and He also promised (Genesis 12:3) that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, "all the peoples  (nations) of the earth will be blessed".  This is the so-called "all-nations clause".

According to Dunn and other proponents of the New Perspective, the term ‘the righteousness of God’ is not a term indicating transfer, but status recognition;

God’s justification is not His act in first making His covenant with Israel, or in initially accepting someone into His covenant people. God’s justification is rather God’s acknowledgment that someone is in the covenant — whether that is an initial acknowledgment, or a repeated action of God (God’s saving acts) or His final vindication of His people”.

– James D.G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul”, p 97

The ‘righteousness of God‘ refers to God’s fulfillment of the obligations that God took upon Himself;

(1) in the calling of Abraham when He chose Israel to be His people (the “great nation”) and made His “everlasting covenant” with them, giving them as an “eternal possession” all the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:1-8).

and a fulfillment of the obligations that He took upon Himself;

(2) in the “all nations clause” (Genesis 12:3), that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, “all the nations of the earth will be blessed”.

The New Perspective as a second phase of the Reformation?

The Reformation restored the common people’s access and accountability to the Word of God, but is it helpful to view “reform” as having occurred at one point in history and complete? Perhaps what began in 1517 was the first phase in restoring a correct understanding to Scripture?

Reformation theology failed to understand that the ‘righteousness of God‘ was God’s reckoning of covenant membership to Gentiles and they also erroneously viewed ‘justification’ and the ‘righteousness of God’ as one of transfer, rather than of status recognition.

New Perspective theologians situate the teachings of Paul in their first century Jewish context, and in doing so may form the beginning of a second phase of the Reformation – one which restores the teachings of Paul and of Jesus to their first century Jewish context.

Understanding that ‘justification’ and the ‘righteousness of God’ describe status recognition of either being “in the covenant” or “not in the covenant” does not distinguish whether the one “in the covenant” came from the “great nation” through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews),  or as a result of God fulfilling His promise to “all the nations of the earth” (the Gentiles).

New Perspective theologians understand that the ‘righteousness of God‘ was God’s reckoning of covenant membership to Gentiles in addition to Jews, which leaves room for a correct reading of Romans 1:16-17; “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile“.

Furthermore, God fulfilling His promises in the “all-nations clause” of the Abrahamic Covenant necessitates that God will also  fulfill the promises He made to the “great nation” (the Jews), the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob under the same “everlasting covenant, including the “eternal possession” of the land (Genesis 17:1-8).

Final thoughts…

The ‘New Perspective on Paul’ is a much a restoration of the Scriptures to the Church as the Reformation of 1517, and may be rightfully viewed as the beginning of the second phase of Reformation.

What is surely needed next is for Gentile Christian theologians to situate the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, in their first century Jewish context — a so-called ‘New Perspective on Jesus‘.

If the esteemed theologians of the Church would work together the well credentialed theologians of Messianic Judaism, perhaps this second phase of the Reformation might take place in our day – a first century Jewish understanding of the Scriptures restored to the Church.

cover photo: "Sola Scriptura" - Scripture alone, "Sola Gratia" - grace alone, "Sola Christus" - through Christ alone, which represents the heart of Martin Luther's teachings

The Last Day of the Great Feast

In a sense, Sukkot has two  ” last days” — Hoshanah Rabbah and Shiminei Atsaret. The “last day and greatest day of the Feast” (John 7:37) is Hashanah Rabbah (also translated ‘the last day of the Great Feast ‘, mentioned in John 7:37.

During the Temple service, it was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day”. The priests would carry palm or willow branches in their hands — two of the four  ‘species’ used to celebrate Sukkot, and contained in the “lulav”. The Temple ceremony was one of rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year.

Jesus and the “last day of the Great Feast”

Another ceremony, called the water libation ceremony also took place during Sukkot.

“On the last and greatest day of Feast [of Sukkot], Yeshua stood and cried out loudly ‘if any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scriptures has said, out of his belly will flow streams of living water. “

John 7:37-38

Just below, is an excellent article , written by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz , about this ceremony .

” The Eighth Day”

The day after Hoshanah Rabbah is the so-called “8th day” of the 7-day Feast of Sukkot called Shiminei Atzaret.

After commemorating so many significant occasions, including Yom Teruah (referred to currently as Rosh Hashanah), the ten days of Awe followed by the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, then the seven day Feast of Tabernacles called Sukkot,  G-d asked for one more day as a sabbath.  There are no special activities – no shofar, no fasting, no sukkah, no lulav. Just one more today together – just Him and us.

Tonight at sundown (Sunday October 23, 2016)  until tomorrow at sundown, is this ‘last day’ of the great feast, which we take for- and with Him.

 

PHOTOS: Reenactment of Ancient Water Libation Ritual Revives Part of Temple Service

Shavuot – Counting of the Omer from Passover to Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday! Yes, we know that the Church celebrated it on May 15th this year (2016) but according to how God in Scripture commanded the Jews to determine the date of Pentecost (called Shavuot for “weeks”), it is today, June 12th.  For us, it began at sundown on Saturday night.

The timing of Shavuot, is determined from when Passover falls, and as covered in an earlier article, Passover’s Significance to the Church (http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/passovers-significance-to-the-church/), the date that Passover falls each year wasn’t known until the “new moon” appeared that month.

[Orthodox Jews have since replaced the Biblical way of determining when the new moon is, with a fixed calendar however Karaite Jews still use the Biblical method of sighting the new moon.]

Passover is the first holiday following the start of the first month of the Biblical calendar, and falls 14 days after the sighting of the “new moon”.

new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016
new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016

Once the new moon is sighted, the first month is said to start. The date of Passover is on the 14th day of that first month, which is called Nisan [or Aviv, in the parts of Scripture from before the Babylonian exile].

Note: The 'fixed' Rabbinic Calendar, was developed in the 4th century CE, by Rabbi Hillel so that the beginning of each month (and the beginning of the first month by which all other dates are determined)  was pre-set. This meant that Jews that were scattered from the Land after the destruction of the Temple in 30 CE and the expulsion of the Jews under the Romans in 135 CE, would know when to celebrate the Passover and all other holidays. This is the so-called "Jewish Calendar" that is followed by most Jews, today. According to this fixed calendar, every month of the year has a set number of days, except for three (that have a pattern for determining how many days they have).

Biblical Pentecost is not simply 50 days after Passover on the Biblical lunar calendar, as some people think. In fact, when Pentecost began was one of the most fiercely contested matters between the Pharisees and Sadducees. More on that below…

"Christian Pentecost" does not fall on the same date as "Biblical Pentecost". Christian Pentecost falls 50 days after "Easter Sunday", on a 'fixed' solar calendar -- adopted by the Church at Rome around the time of Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, or just before. At this point in time, the Church abandoning the Biblical calendar established by God in Scripture; a lunar calendar of 354 days -- in favour of a solar calendar of 365 days.  Their reasons for doing so were much the same as the reasons for the adoption of the 'fixed' Jewish Calendar, adopted in the 4th century; so that the date of all the holidays was known in advance. 

Church records document that the believers, including the early Church father Polycarp (80 – 167 CE) commemorated the death of Jesus on the Passover on the 14th day of Nisan according to the Jewish (lunar) calendar, as he maintained he had been taught by the Apostle John to do.  Polycarp and many other bishops were almost excommunicated from the Church of Rome because they wouldn’t adopt the new practice of commemorating of the death of Jesus on the Sunday following Passover on this new ‘fixed’ Roman (solar) calendar — a day the Church now calls “Easter Sunday”. With the adoption of the Roman solar calendar, the date of “Easter Sunday” is ‘fixed’ and “Christian Pentecost” was set as falling 50 days after “Easter Sunday”. [see http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/early-church-including-polycarp-continued-to-celebrate-passover/]

At first glance, determining when Biblical Pentecost is to start seems fairly straight forward, however when to start counting is not agreed upon by all sects of Jews. 

“You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. Bring two loaves of bread from your homes as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord.”

Leviticus 23:16-17

Jews start counting 7 sets of “weeks” from “the day after the seventh Sabbath (following Passover)“.  The 7 sets of weeks totals 49 days and the “day after the seventh Sabbath” adds 1 more day, totalling 50 days until Pentecost, but “which Sabbath” do we start counting from?

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the morrow (day) after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”

Leviticus 23:10

The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Pentecost is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which they designated a “Sabbath.”

The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls began the 50-day count to Pentecost on a different Sabbath from the Pharisees. The Essenes had a 364-day solar calendar which began every year on a Wednesday and had fixed lengths for each month, so being a solar calendar, Pentecost always fell on the 15th day of the third Hebrew month. The Essenes began their count to when Pentecost started on the Sunday after the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Sadducees who made up the Temple Priesthood, believed the 50-day count to Pentecost began on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

Orthodox Jews today also count the Omer the same way the Pharisees did, by starting on the second day of Passover. Karaite Jews (a very small sect) do not recognize the authority of what the Pharisees and today’s Orthodox Jews call “Oral Torah” (i.e. of the Talmud or Mishnah) and follow only the teachings in the Old Testament (Tanakh).  Karaites count the Omer is accordance with a clear reading of the text (which was the same as the understanding of the Sadducees) which is also the way by which we determine when Shavuot falls.

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the morrow (day) after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”

Leviticus 23:10

“You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. Bring two loaves of bread from your homes as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord.”

Leviticus 23:16-17

Counting from Passover until Pentecost — beginning on the day after the Sabbath

The way the Sadducees and today’s Karaite Jews (and the way we do), determining the timing of Pentecost is based on a straight forward reading if the text; Since Sabbath is on Saturday, the “morrow after the Sabbath“, is a Sunday.

In Temple times, the “wave offering” of the first stalks for grain cut during Passover is called the Feast of First fruits, and in Jesus’  day, would have fallen the day after the weekly Sabbath.

The timing of Pentecost, as God commanded the Jews to observe it, has profound implications to the Church and in retrospect, we know that the Sadducees had the correct interpretation for determining it’s date, because exactly 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits, the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. 

The year that Jesus celebrated “the Last Supper” (more accurately the “Last Seder” with His disciples), Passover fell on a Thursday night. Remember that Biblically the new day begins at sundown the evening prior, so Thursday night after sundown is the beginning of Friday.  The day Jesus was crucified (called “Good Friday” by the Church) was the day of the Passover. The next day was Saturday, the Sabbath.

Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday (“Resurrection Sunday”) – which was the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover — the day of the wave offering, the “Feast of Firstfruits” and Scripture says that He is the “first fruits from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:23).

“But now Messiah is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Messiah the firstfruits, afterward those who are Messiah’s at His coming.”

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

The night of Jesus’ last Seder with His disciples, the Feast of Passover fell on Thursday night, which by the Jewish reckoning of days is the beginning of Friday (days begins at sunset, the night before). Jesus was crucified later that day (by Jewish reckoning) which is the “next” day by the way the days are determined by non-Jewish custom. This Friday is what the Church has called “Good Friday“. So the “Sabbath of Passover” was the one between Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.

Now here is where it gets very interesting…

It was that Sabbath — the Sabbath during Passover from which is the “morrow after the Sabbath of Passover” (a Sunday) was determined.  It is that Sunday of the wave offering, on the Feast of Firstfruits — from which the “counting of the Omer” began that year. When one adds one day to the 49 days (7 weeks of weeks) in accordance with Leviticus 23:15 — on the year that Jesus went to the cross and rose — that year, Pentecost fell on a Sunday… Pentecost Sunday!

It is important to remember that the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, so the year following Jesus’ death, Pentecost would have fallen on some other day than Sunday i.e. it was not “Pentecost Sunday” the year after, or even the year after that.

Pentecost (Shavuot) in Judaism has come to be associated with the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai although this is not explicit in the Biblical text.  While Shavuot was one of the three Pilgrim festivals — one of the three times a year that every Jewish man was commanded to ascend to Jerusalem and present himself before the Lord in the Temple, the reason for this festival is not stated by God, in Scripture.  He simply commanded us observe it as outlined above, and that it is a Sabbath.  It is only with the coming of God’s Messiah. that we understand the significance of the day — as the one in which the Holy Spirit was given, as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts.

 

What did Paul mean by “may it never be!” ?

When Paul said in Scripture ‘may it never be” (me genoito / μένα genoito is the Greek equivalent) he was using a very common Hebrew expression as many other Jews of his day would have — not surprising considering Paul was Jew.

This common expression in Hebrew is “הל’לה” also spelled “הללה” (pronounced “chalilah” —  guttural ‘ch’) is found 21 times in the Tenakh (Old Testament).  The Strong’s word is H2490 and literally means “to be profane, and thus forbidden“.  It is used (interjectionally) in the KJV as “God forbid”, “far be it” (4x), “Lord forbid” (3x) and in other translations as “by no means”, “absolutely not”, “let it not be”, “certainly not”, “far be the thought”.

The first occurrence of this phrase is in Genesis 18 where Abraham is pleading with God in the form of a man on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (incidentally yes, the tetragrammaton YHVH (יהוה) is used twice to describe the Man) :

“You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

The last occurrence of the 21 passages in the Tenakh where this word is used is in Job 34, where Job says:

“Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding. It is impossible for God to do wrong, and for the Almighty to act unjustly.”

Job 34:10

The Greek phrase me genoito / μένα genoito  occurs 15 times in the New Testament and is translated at “may it never be” and means the same as הל’לה (also spelled הללה) — “God forbid that such a thought should be allowed in any one’s mind”, “let the thought be abhorred”)

When Paul speaks of God never rejecting the Jewish people, he uses this SAME phrase; “may it never be“.

For example;

“Did God forsake His people? May it never be! “

Romans 11:1

“I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not!”

Romans 11:11

When Paul speaks in Romans 9 – 11 of God never forsaking the Jewish people, he meant the phrase just as strongly as Abraham and Job; God could never possibly do that! It is impossible for God to do wrong or act unjustly. Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

Romans 9:14

 

Biblical Pentecost and the Church’s Pentecost

Someone told us last night that today is Pentecost Sunday; “a time to remember when the Holy Spirit was given to us“.

My first reaction was “no, its only day 21, there’s another 29 days to Pentecost“!

We looked at each other blankly.

You see, the date the Church celebrates as Pentecost is not the anniversary of the date that it occurred in Scripture. The Church’s Pentecost is on a different date than Biblical Pentecost.

Based on God’s command to us in Leviticus 23, Jews actually count 50 days from Passover to arrive at the timing of Pentecost. The commencement of this 50-day period was marked in Temple times by the bringing of the Omer offering and ended on the 50th day with the festival of Shavuot, as described in the Book of Leviticus:

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.”

Leviticus 23:15-16,21

During the Second Temple period there was a well-known debate between the three different Jewish factions (Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes) about the meaning of the Hebrew phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” . All three groups agreed that the “morrow of the Sabbath” was associated with the Passover / Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the different interpretations resulted in it being observed on different days by each of the sects.  The highly contested issue was “which Sabbath” do we start counting from? 

The Sadducees who made up the Temple Priesthood, believed the 50-day count to Pentecost began on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. According to their reckoning, the counting could begin anywhere from the 15th to the 21st day of the first month of Nisan — depending on what day of the week the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.Taking a plain reading of the text as the Sadducees used to [and as the Karaite Jews still do today], count from the day after the Sabbath of Passover [a Sunday], which was the day that the wave offering was brought in Temple times (also called the Feast of Firstfruits), until the day after the seventh Sabbath.  Based on this way of determining the date, Pentecost (Shavuot) always fell on a Sunday.

The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Pentecost is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is designated as a “Sabbath” (where no work is done). There is a problem with the Pharisees way of counting, however. The 1st day day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread could theoretically be called “Sabbath,” (which is what the Pharisees do) but the 49th day of the Pharisee’s way of counting is does not usually fall on the weekly (7th day) Sabbath. As a result, the Pharisee’s Shavuot was rarely the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” as required by Leviticus 23:16. Only about once every seven years, did the Pharisee’s Shavuot fall on a Sunday, i.e. the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath”.

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

[Note: as Messianic believers, we have reason to be able to say that the Saduccees had it right — because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday! More on that below]

Pentecost got its name because there are 7 “weeks of weeks” (7 x 7 = 49 days) from after the wave offering — so when one day is added to the 7 “weeks of weeks” it totals 50 days (49 + 1 = 50 days). Pentecost (50 = Pente). The name of this feast day in Hebrew is Shavuot, meaning “weeks”.

As you may recall from an earlier article,  the date that Passover fell each year wasn’t known until the “new moon” appears that month. Once the “new moon” was sighted, the date of Passover was set for 14 days later.

Biblically, and based on the sighting of the New Moon which occurred this year in Israel on April 9th, Passover fell 14 days later], and today is Day 22 of that “counting”.

Coincidentally, based on the fixed Jewish Calendar adopted by Rabbinic Jews in the 4th century — long after the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of Jews throughout the known world, today is also Day 22 of that “counting”.

Crucifixion of Jesus – the ‘same day’ as “the Last Supper”

We have often been asked how it is if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, how He rose from the dead “on the third day”, given that was a Sunday.  In the explanation of how Pentecost was determined the year Jesus died, the “3 days” will become clear.

The night of Jesus’ “Last Supper” (more accurately, Last Seder) with His disciples, the Feast of Passover fell on the evening of the fifth day of the week.

[Note: Sunday is the first day of the week (see Mark 16:9, Matthew 28:1), the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week]

Therefore, the evening of the fifth day was what non-Jews would have called Thursday night.

[Note: By the Jewish reckoning of days, Thursday night is the beginning of Friday, as days begins at sunset, the night before – based on Genesis “evening and morning were the first day”].

Biblically, by the Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later the same day as He shared the Passover meal with His disciples. That is, after sundown on the fifth day (Thursday night), the sixth day (Friday) began.  By a Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later on the 6th day, a “Friday” to Gentiles. This is what the Church has come to call “Good Friday“.

Now here is where it gets very interesting…

Jews started counting the days to Pentecost (Shavuot) from the day after the “Sabbath of Passover” — so the year Jesus went to the cross, the “Sabbath of Passover” was the Saturday between Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection. 

It was the day after that Sabbath — the “Sabbath of Passover” from which the Sadducees would have begun “counting of the Omer“.  Of course, the “morrow after the Sabbath [a Saturday] of Passover“, is a Sunday (as it is required to be according to Leviticus 23:16)

On the year that Jesus was crucified, it was that Sunday, that the “counting of the Omer” began. Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday (“Resurrection Sunday”) – which was the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover — the day of the wave offering, which is called the “Feast of Firstfruits” and the Scriptures say that Messiah (Jesus) is the “first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Counting the 50 days of the Omer from the day that Jesus rose from the dead [a Sunday, following the Sabbath of Passover] brings us to another Sunday… Pentecost Sunday! 

The Holy Spirit fell on Shavuot (Pentecost), 7 weeks after the Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead!

The Church’s Pentecost

“Christian Pentecost” does not fall on the same date as “Biblical Pentecost”, which is why to the Church, Pentecost is tomorrow and by Biblical reckoning, it is 29 days from now.

As we developed at length in an earlier blog on Passover, and its celebration by the Early Church on the 14 day of Nisan (including Church Father, Polycarp), this was changed by the Church leaders of the First Ecumenical Council (4th century CE). At that time, they adopted the secular Roman solar calendar (Julian Calendar) and “fixed” the date of “Pascha” (forerunner to Easter) to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on, or after the vernal equinox (set as March 21st).  Therefore, Christian Pentecost falls 50 days after Pascha (or Easter).

Biblical Pentecost is tied to Passover based on a lunar calendar, and which falls 14 days after the sighting of the New Moon in the first month (called Aviv before the Babylonian captivity and Nisan, afterwards).

In the 4th century, the Church abandoned the date of Passover established by God in Scripture [which was based on the sighting of the New Moon on a lunar calendar (354 days)] – in favour of a fixed solar calendar of 365 days. Their reasons for doing so were much the same as the reasons for the Jew’s adoption of the ‘fixed’ Jewish Calendar— so that the dates of all the holidays were known in advance.  With a fixed solar calendar, Christians throughout the known world could celebrate the holidays, especially Pascha (Easter) on the same date.

Which Pentecost, then?

As Messianic believers, we continue to celebrate the Passover, and commemorate Messiah’s Last Seder with His disciples and going to the cross on the 14th of Nisan, as the early Church did and as the Church father Polycarp, did (as the Apostle John taught him, see earlier blog).

Since the timing of Pentecost is tied to Passover, Pentecost (Shavuot) for us, falls on the same date as it did in Scripture; 50 days after the “morrow of the Sabbath of Passover” — which is always a Sunday and which is the actual anniversary of the giving of the Holy Spirit.

That being said, we don’t for a moment think that the Church changing the dates of Passover and Pentecost has any importance to Gentile believers. The matter of Gentiles not being required to keep  the Law of Moses was resolved in Acts 15:5. Halacha (“the way to walk”) for Gentiles is simple;

“(1) abstain from things polluted by idols, (2) from sexual immorality, (3) from eating anything that has been strangled and (4) from blood”

Acts 15:20

We don’t believe that it is somehow ‘wrong’ for the Church to celebrate “Easter” on a date other than on the date of Passover, or for the Church’s Pentecost to be on a different date than the Biblical Pentecost.

We trust you will understand, that for us as Jews, we continue to do as we always have, and see no reason to adopt a different date.

Final Thoughts

We think that the important thing is what Paul said in Romans 14 — if the Church commemorates Pentecost tomorrow, then observe the day — for the honour of the Lord;

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Romans 14:5-8

So, Happy Pentecost to our Christian brothers and sisters!

Meanwhile we’ll keep counting. . .until June 12th.

Sunday May 15, 2016:
Today is the 1st day of the 4th week of seven weeks. Today is the 22nd day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.
שבוע 415 מאי 2016:
הַיּוֹם יוֹם רִאשׁוֹן‏ לַשָּׁבוּעַ רְבִיעִי מִשִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת. הַיּוֹם עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁנַיִם יוֹם מִסְפִירַת חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם מֵהֲנָפַת הָעֹמֶר מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת.

 

A Jewish Perspective on Counting Days (Lent) and Easter Egg Hunts

As we’ve been working on the 3 upcoming posts (Part 2, 3 and 4) that follow Part 1: The Significance of Passover to the Church, we thought we’d take a bit of a divergence and look at two Gentile Christian customs related to the Church’s celebration of “Easter” that we thought our readers might find it interesting to look at through Jewish eyes.

Easter Egg Hunts

As discussed in previous blogs, the commemoration of the Lord’s death on what the Church has come to call “Good Friday“, originated with, and is very closely tied to the Feast of Israel known as Passover.  The “Last Supper” — the meal that Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated on the night He was betrayed should more accurately be called “The Last Seder“, as that is what it was.

The Passover meal, known as the Seder, commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jewish people out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, and the sparing of the first born sons by applying the blood of a slain Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the doors of our houses. This is the same meal in which Jesus took the cup (which symbolized the blood of the lamb) and said “This is the New Covenant established in my blood”.  You can read more about this in our previous article.

At the celebration of the Passover Seder, there is a custom in which the middle piece of unleavened bread (called matzoh) is taken from a special cloth bag which holds 3 separate matzot (plural of matzah) and is broken, wrapped in a piece of white linen, buried somewhere below table height by the eldest man at the Seder and later searched for by all the children present, until it is found.  The finder then brings it to the leader of the Seder (the eldest man) and it is ‘redeemed‘ for a price — literally “bought back”.  The parallels of this custom to Yeshua (Jesus) being separated from God, broken for us, wrapped in white linen, buried and resurrected, is most interesting.

While the Church at Rome abandoned the commemoration of the Lord’s death in association with the Passover around the Council of Nicaea (see a previous blog about Church father. Polycarp), the custom of children searching for “Easter eggs“, somehow found its way in.

As you can probably understand, for us as Messianic Jews, the children searching for the broken, white linen-wrapped middle matzah has significance; whereas searching for chocolate “Easter eggs” has none.

Counting of days tied to the first Sunday of Passover

The counting of the 40 days ofLent” before “Easter” (which was originally commemorated by the Early Church as Passover); is done from “Ash Wednesday” until “Easter Sunday” / Pachal Sunday, originated in 339 CE, with Saint Athanasius.

God did command the Jewish people concerning the “counting of days” in relationship to the commemoration of Passover — but not beginning prior to Passover, but following it.

God commanded the Jews to count 50 days from the “day after the Sabbath of Passover” to arrive at the date of Pentecost (Shavuot, in Hebrew — from “weeks”). When that counting begins and why will be developed in an upcoming article.

The counting the days between Passover and Pentecost (Shavuot), called the “counting of the Omer” as God has called us to has significance, because it originated with His command. The timing of this “counting of days” has very important significance to the Church, and will be outlined in an upcoming article.

We find it puzzling — sad even, that customs such as the counting days before “Easter” and children searching for chocolate eggs have found their way into Christian expression, while throughout history the Church has deliberately distanced itself from anything Jewish.

Some thoughts…

As we have said many times in previous blogs, we do not believe that Gentile Christians are in any way required to keep the commands of God given to the Jewish people in the Law, including feasts such as Passover and Pentecost — but we wonder two things;

(1) Why would the Church chose to commemorate the day Jesus gathered with His disciples for His last meal on a day other than the one God chose for?

(2) Why would the Church have “Christian Pentecost” fall on a day other than the one God chose?

…then it occurred to us, that perhaps many Gentile Christians don’t even realize that in the 4th Century, the Church at Rome changed the dates of both Passover (“Easter”) and Pentecost?

More on the timing of these two significant days in upcoming blogs.