Last time I outlined two of three problems that cropped up as I pondered certain paradigms, namely, that the Pharisees were all wrong, and that 1st century Jews who came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah had “converted” to Christianity and ceased being Jewish. And the proof given always circled around the Apostle Paul’s supposed “name change” and “conversion”. The longer I lived with my Jewish husband, and the more Bible studies I had with our Hebrew speaking/reading/studying daughter, the more I struggled with those paradigms. And since Evangelical Christianity gives such weight to the apostle Paul and his writings, I figured it was important to understand him better.
My life in EC thankfully taught me to read the Bible, and trust that it’s God’s word—therefore authoritative and reliable—which gave me the only measure of relief in this early time of questioning; for it’s a very lonely path to tread. I found that the Biblical account never mentions God, or anyone else, changing Paul’s name. Rather, since Saul of Tarsus, the devout Pharisee, was a Jew as well as a Roman citizen, he had two names: the Hebrew Saul, and Latin Paul.
That was easy.
The second problem was accepting the paradigm that Jewish disciples believing in Jesus (and the many thousands of other Jews who believed) had “converted” to become Christians, like me. So, why’d Jesus only have Jewish disciples? Why was the Messiah born to observant Jewish parents? Why did Jesus avoid Gentiles and tell his Jewish disciples not to act like them, and why’d he say that “Salvation is of the Jews”?
Isn’t all that completely counterintuitive?
Yeah, I thought so too.
So, what to do with God’s primary revelation of Himself, i.e., the Tanakh, the other 80% of the Bible that contains the “Thus sayeth the Lord[‘s]”; or what we call the “Old Testament”?
It seemed as if Christianity had always existed, and a few of these carnal and dimwitted Jews finally “got it” and made it right by converting to a religion that said the Old Testament was finished, and ceased from doing all that God specifically commanded them to do. . . for all generations. . . .
I was getting dizzy now!
Isn’t the chronology of Biblical history critical to understanding it?
I certainly can’t speak for all of Christendom, for there are over 40,000 sects, and I am not a theologian so I’ll constrain my remarks to the teachings I received and the assumptions I had.
Finally—The third problem
Over and over again the Messiah was promised to the Jewish people. (Is 9:6-7, Amos 9:11, Ezek 34:23, Ezek 37:24, Lk 1:32, 1: 68-69, Ps 132:11, Matt 1:21 just a sample)
That’s literally enough right there, but I’ll go on…
Any Christian Bible study about the Messiah I’ve seen points to the “Old Testament” and shows scriptural proof of a promised Redeemer beginning with Gen 3:15. It isn’t hard to track down those prophecies, and Christianity has thankfully kept this knowledge alive for 2k years now. The prophecies are staggering if you know even basic things about Jesus; and even better when you begin to understand some Hebrew and Judaic thought processes. The study of Biblical prophecy has led many to believe in God, and the veracity of Jesus’ disciples claim:
“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Jn 1:45 ESV
They [Jewish disciples] “found” him? That means they were looking, and they were looking because they had been given a “heads up” via the Scriptures (Old Testament). This claim, made by disciples early in his earthly ministry, places Jesus within a pre-existing Jewish matrix, not a yet nonexistent Christian one!
Can you think of even one time the Biblical account has a Gentile saying:
“Oh, finally! We’ve been waiting for you.” ?
Me neither. (In other words, there’s a reason the conversation on the Road To Emmaus–Lk 24:13-35–happened with Jews.)
In fact, I noticed that the Apostles “told” Gentiles about the gospel, and the new development that they could gain access to the God of Israel via faith in Messiah (which had also been prophesied), but they “proved” Jesus was the Messiah to the Jewish people, the ones who possessed the revelation of God.
Those Enquiring Minds Want To Know
You may wonder why I spent so much time questioning. I suppose most people would’ve just accepted what they were told and moved on, especially regarding the issue of the Apostle Paul and his “name change” and “conversion” because these are not subject to debate; everyone knows it.
But most Christians don’t have a daughter making provocative statements such as:
“Why, thank you mommy!” when they’re called a “Pharisee.”
Most of you readers who know my daughter are probably smiling right now, but for the sake of those of you who don’t know her, I want to briefly explain.
I’m truly blessed with both my children; they’re wonderful individuals. If you asked me who the kindest person I know is, without a doubt I would tell you it’s my son. And considering the things that he endured in his life, his generosity and kindness are all the more inspiring. He’s funny, smart, artistic, a great father, and very good-looking. He also has an amazing job, but I can’t really talk about it this publicly.
My daughter has many of the same qualities as her older brother and she’s also kind, but I’ve always said she has an extra measure of grace, and her ability to communicate it into other people’s lives is beautiful, and is like salve on crusty wounds.
But don’t get me wrong, she isn’t above “tweaking” me. (I call it “mom torture”).
Do The Math
When she was no more than four-years-old, she came to me and said:
“Mommy, when I grow up I want to learn nine languages.”
I don’t know why she decided on nine, but determined to develop a confident and capable young woman who was free of the oppressive gender baggage foisted onto me, I ignored the daunting aspect of learning foreign languages and instead told her she could do anything she set her mind to. (I grew up in a very macho, male dominated home, hearing about all the things I couldn’t do because I was “just a girl”).
Between the ages of three and four years old she began learning French with my husband. At five she began piano lessons, and by the time she was seven-years-old she had begun teaching herself Italian, which, along with French, she is fluent in. (Can I say, it’s a little strange for a 7 or 8 year-old to beg for Puccini and Verdi librettos as birthday presents?) And, as mentioned before, she also began reading Shakespeare at seven with her English professor-Shakespeare adoring-Grandmother. There’s a lot more to say, but the short story is that she’s crazy smart, very determined, and, oh yeah— she loves languages! :-)
Putting 2+2 together was somewhat easier for her because she was studying the language that God initially revealed Himself in: Hebrew. Not needing to rely on someone else’s translation and word choices, she was able to absorb the Scriptures and mull over their deep meanings. Additionally, she approached the Jewish people written about in the Scriptures as her own people.
So she continued to challenge my thinking by thanking me for calling her a Pharisee.
“Yes! Cha ching”, she’d say with a grin…
As I said in a previous post, I noticed that the hated and much maligned Pharisees believed the same things we Christians now believe about angels and demons, the afterlife, resurrection from the dead, and the coming of Messiah. (Click here and scroll down to the chart). And that the “scripture only” Sadducees who rejected those doctrines, vanished from history. But the Pharisees believed these things based on their interpretation of Scripture, and they existed prior to Jesus’ life and ministry and certainly prior to the first Christian, whether it be a “converted” Jew, or a Gentile entering in to partake of the blessings promised to Israel.
So what gives here?
. . .The Chicken Or The Egg?
Here’s what I knew:
- God chose the Jewish people to receive His revelation, keep His commands, be a light to the nations, and to bless all mankind, etc.
- He promised them blessings for keeping His Word, aka the Torah, and curses for turning away from it.
- He promised to bless those [non-Jews] who bless them [the Jewish people], and to curse those who curse them.
- He specifically made many commandments perpetual (Passover, etc) for all their generations and anywhere He scattered them to— as punishment for breaking the Torah. (Some commands can only be kept in Israel, if the Temple is present, and if there’s a Sanhedrin)
But now that the promised Messiah arrived, as a Jew no less, all of the Jews who believed in him had to “convert” out of their Jewishness, and had to declare the “Old Testament” kaput? Really?
How does that make any sense at all?
Was the “mission” a failure? Had God miscalculated the extent that the Jewish neck could/would “stiffen”? Was He being a shifty liar? Was He abandoning His chosen people and instead giving all promised blessings to the non-Jewish Christians?
When the last sentence is answered in the affirmative, the underlying evidence is always the Apostle Paul.
So why does Paul deny the charge of conversion then?
Up next: “Who’s Side Are We On?”
Thank you for reading and please leave your thoughts and comments!