Israel as a Divine Council, Part 3: The Fall of the Nations

Only by understanding the true importance of Israel’s position as a son of God and the Ekklesia’s true relationship to Israel can we hope to understand the Eternal One’s prophetic plan. But in order to understand Israel’s position, we must first understand the events surrounding God’s second use of that mysterious phrase, “Let us,” in Genesis 11, at the fall of the tower of Babel.

"Let us build a tower to the heavens . . ."

“Let us build a tower to the heavens . . .”

As commonly told, the tower of Babel comes across as a charming fairy-tale explanation for the origin of the many languages of mankind and a cautionary tale against hubris, but nothing more. Certainly, it could be completely excised from the Bible without so much as interrupting the flow of Genesis. So why is it there, so prominently in the opening chapters?

It turns out that the story of Babel is crucial to understanding not simply the origin of languages, but the origin of paganism itself. Many readers of the Bible catch the name of the city, so obviously related to Babylon, the “mother of harlots” (Rev. 17:5), and understand that something in the origin of polytheism must be hinted at here, but even then, the full import of the story is lost. Babel is not simply about how mankind rebelled against the true God and began worshipping imaginary deities. It is the story of how very real and very potent spiritual forces were given lordship over all of mankind–save only one tiny tribe that the true Creator chose for himself.

Part of the reason that the true importance of Babel has been for so long lost is a scribal error that has crept into one of the key passages in Scripture commenting on it. Deuteronomy 32:8 reads, in the Masoretic Text, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the children of men, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.” However, the Septuagint version reads the final clause as, “the angels of God,” while the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the variant, “the sons of God.” So which is correct?

tableofnationsgenesis10The reference in verse 8 to the Most High giving the nations their inheritance and separating the sons of Adam is an obvious call-back to the tower of Babel event: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth” (Gen. 11:8). This was many centuries before the Holy One covenanted with Abraham, let alone the sons of Israel (Jacob). Of course, the Lord of Time could have spread apart mankind in a way that anticipated Israel, but if so, the intent of the phrase is ambiguous at best. Some have pointed to the fact that there are seventy nations listed in Genesis 10 and seventy sons of Israel (Jacob) who went down into Egypt in Genesis 46:9-27. While those numbers are far from coincidental, they still do not adequately explain Moses’ reference.

Let us read again the verse, this time in context, with the final clause of verse 8 corrected to match the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Remember the days of old.
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will show you;
your elders, and they will tell you.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the children of Adam,
he set the bounds of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.

For the LORD’s portion is his people.
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
He found him in a desert land,
in the waste howling wilderness.

He surrounded him.
He cared for him.
He kept him as the apple of his eye.

As an eagle that stirs up her nest,
that flutters over her young,
he spread abroad his wings, he took them,
he bore them on his feathers.

The LORD alone led him.
There was no foreign god with him. (vv. 7-12)

There is an obvious contrast being built here, and it isn’t simply saying that Israel is equal to all the nations (though this isn’t false, as we will see). Rather, it is contrasting the nations which were apportioned among the sons of God, angelic beings in the heavenly court, with Israel which the Creator himself took as his own special nation, rescuing Israel from slavery without the aid of any other god of the nations.

We can find further confirmation in the Aramaic translations of the Torah. After the Babylonian exile, a large number of Jews ceased to speak Hebrew conversationally, and therefore needed the Scriptures translated into Aramaic, the language of Babylon and Syria (see Neh. 8:8). These Aramaic translations were not merely word-for-word, but often contained expansions to explain to the masses what the Torah meant. Originally passed down in an oral form, they were eventually written down in several “Targums” (lit. “translations”) in the late first century. These became the standard liturgical text for Jews in the Middle-east, with the Torah being read first in the original Hebrew, then recited in the translation (b.Berakhot 8a). While they were not inspired or canonical (though the early rabbis took them as authoritative, often citing them as “our Targum”), they do present a very useful window into the broadly accepted interpretations of the Scriptures in Yeshua’s time. For example, passages with oblique references to the Messiah are outright attributed to him in the Targums.

In the Palestinian Targum’s (or Targum Yerushalemi’s) paraphrase of Deuteronomy 32:8, we see that not only must “sons of God” be the original reading, but that it can refer to both Israel and the angelic beings:

When the Most High made allotment of the world until the nations which proceeded from the sons of Noach, in the separation of the writings and languages of the children of men at the time of the division, He cast the lot among the seventy angels, the princes of the nations. With them is the revelation to oversee the city, even at that time He established the limits of the nations according to the sum of the number of the seventy souls of Israel who went down into Mizraim (Egypt).

The only way that the Targum’s paraphrase makes sense is if the original Hebrew read, “Sons of God,” which the Targum read to refer to both the heavenly host and to Israel. And as we will see, the Targum is absolutely correct in its interpretation.

What Deuteronomy tells us is that the nations didn’t simply start worshiping idols after Babel out of mere stubborn rebellion, but because the Eternal God had set the spiritual entities that the idols represent over them:

Take therefore good heed to yourselves; for you saw no kind of form on the day that the LORD spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire. Lest you corrupt yourselves, and make yourself an engraved image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth; and lest you lift up your eyes to the sky, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the army of the sky, you are drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole sky. But the LORD has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be to him a people of inheritance, as at this day. (Deu. 4:15-20)

We catch glimpses of these “princes” over the nations throughout Scripture. Perhaps most notably, Daniel 10 describes the power of the prince of Persia in holding back an angel sent to answer Daniel’s request for twenty-one days–obviously, this can’t be referring to Darius. Only the intercession of Michael, Israel’s “prince,” allowed the angel to pass. The angel further warned Daniel, “When I go forth, behold, the prince of Greece shall come” (v.20), again, not referring to any human ruler, but to the angelic “prince” set over the sons of Greece. The LXX translates “prince” as archon. Jude (v.9) would later refer to Michael as the archaggellos, or “archangel,” not referring to one of the four cherubim (as in Jewish belief) or in one of seven archangels who stand closest to God (as in Catholicism), but instead referring to Michael’s status as the spiritual guardian and ruler of Israel. Paul refers to these entities as ”the principalities . . .  the authorities . . . the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and . . . the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The word “principalities” is the Greek archas, meaning a prince or ruler, just as in the related terms archon and archaggelos. We will likewise term these more powerful angelic authorities Archons for the sake of convenience: They are above mere messengers, and far above demons, but by no means deserve to be called gods in anything but a sense of irony.

Israel in CovenantThis arrangement of a High or Father God who “begat” the gods and set them over specific nations is actually attested to in pagan mythology as well. The ancient Mesopotamians believed in Anu (or An, lit. “Heaven”), the father of all the gods, but each city had its own principle god that it held to be their own lord. For example, in Eridu this god was Enki, lord of the earth and the absu (abyss, the source of fresh water). Enki was believed to have brought kingship down from heaven to man. He was further believed to be the master of all Me, a word that means civilization, science, magic, and fate. Likewise, Babylon had Marduke as its patron, and Assyria Asshur. A similar arrangement can be found in Egypt. Atum was the uncreated father of all the gods of Egypt, but the Egyptians reserved their greatest devotion for Osirus/Horus, who was believed to be incarnate in the Pharaohs. In the Ugaritic (Canaanite) religion, the father of the gods was El–the same name as often used for the Biblical God–but most Canaanite devotion was given to El’s vice-regent Baal. The Greeks in turn knew El as Cronos, and believed him to have been outright overthrown by Zeus, which was in fact their name for Baal.

While the pagan conceptions of this uncreated Father-God fall well short of the glory of the incomparable Holy One, the fact that each of these cultures recognized that their most important gods were subordinate to another, more distant One is nevertheless an astounding admission that coincides with the Bible’s own teaching that while the pagan world “knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom. 1:21, 23). Only Israel could claim to be in a direct covenantal relationship with the uncreated Creator, the true Father of the principalities set over the nations. That relationship, once enjoyed by all mankind together, was now known only to a few.

If that were the only significance of Israel’s covenant with the Eternal One, it would still be astounding, but it turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Psalm 82 contains an astonishing rebuke of the angelic princes set over the nations:

 A Psalm by Asaph.

God (Elohim) presides in the council of God.
He judges among the gods (elohim).

“How long will you judge unjustly,
and show partiality to the wicked?”
Selah.

“Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless.
Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy.
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

They don’t know, neither do they understand.
They walk back and forth in darkness.
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods, (elohim)
all of you are sons of the Most High.

Nevertheless you shall die like men,
and fall like one of the rulers.”

Arise, God, judge the earth,
for you inherit all of the nations.

Many commentators, and even translators, uncomfortable with the image of the God of the Bible sitting in a council of other gods, interpret the “gods” of verse 1 to really mean “judges” or “great ones.” However, Dr. Heiser argues in “Should the plural אלהים of Psalm 82 Be Understood as Men or Divine Beings?” that the only reading that takes into account the full context of the psalm is indeed “gods.” In ancient Hebrew, elohim does not refer to a creator or to the other powerful qualities we associate with “God” in the English language–the three “omnis” of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience–but is rather what Dr. Heiser calls “a place of residence term.”

 It labels the entity in terms of its residence, if you will. [Hashem], the lesser gods, angels, demons, and the disembodied dead are all rightful inhabitants of the spiritual (i.e., non-human) world. They may be able to cross over to our world, as Scripture tells us, and certain humans may be transported to their realm (prophets; Enoch), but their proper domain and our proper domain are two separate places. Within the spiritual world there is ontological differentiation, rank, and power: [Hashem] is an אלהים, but no other אלהים is [Hashem]. That was what an orthodox Israelite believed about [Hashem]. He was not one among equals; he was species unique. Our modern term (17th century) “monotheism” is deficient for describing this, since it carries the mental baggage of identifying “g-o-d” with a single set of attributes held only by [Hashem]. However, the thought behind the term–that [Hashem] is utterly and eternally unique–remains completely intact. Our translations and our theology ought to make this clear. We have nothing to fear from letting the text say what it says.

As Dr. Heiser goes on to explain, the final line makes it clear that these “gods” which God is judging are those which rule over the nations, the same princes and principalities that we have been exploring at length. Calling them “the sons of the Most High” is another confirmation. Moreover, it makes it clear that they themselves are not men, since they will die “like” men. He further points to other passages that speak of the “sons of God” in connection with the council of the Most High, such as Psalm 89:5-7:

The heavens will praise your wonders, LORD;
your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.

For who in the clouds can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the sons of God/the gods (Heb. elohim) is like the LORD,

A very awesome God in the council of the holy ones,
to be feared above all those who are around him?

Hesier continues:

“Psalm 89 rules out the notion that [Hashem’s] council of אלהים sons of God refers to an assembly of humans because it explicitly places that council ‘in the clouds.’ There is no text in the entirety of the Hebrew Bible that says or suggests that there are a group of human judges in the heavens ruling with [Hashem] over the nations. That position is offered only because of a perceived threat to monotheism, not because it has any textual merit.”

As a final argument, Psalm 82 is expressly quoted by Yeshua in John 10:34 in defence that his own Divine claims were not automatically to be rejected as blasphemous: “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture can’t be broken), do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (vv. 35-36). As Heiser points out, if Yeshua thought that the elohim of Psalm 82 were simply human judges or rulers, quoting it would either weaken the impact of the Divine claim that he had just made (vv. 30-33) and would immediately make again (vv. 37-38), or else would amount to saying “you mere mortals can call yourself gods, so I can, too.” Neither one fits the argument.

Both Jewish and Christian theologians have long believed in Satan, the Adversary, as some kind of fallen ruler of the demons. In the case of Judaism, Satan’s role has been de-emphasized over the centuries in response to what has seemed to the rabbis to be a lurid preoccupation with the Devil among Christians, but the earlier rabbis of the Talmud and the Midrash had much to say about him. Both faiths have struggled with the idea of how to reconcile the existence of a Prince of Darkness with that of the God of Light without falling into a Zoroastrian dualism. In the end, both have come to understand that the Devil as a created being who fell into rebellion, but who was allowed to have a kingdom. This kingdom is comprised of other fallen angels and spirits with which he could tempt and dominate mankind–but always constrained by the will of the Sovereign Creator.

This idea is not far from that of the Divine Council paradigm as expressed in Psalm 82 and Daniel 10. When mankind rebelled at Babel, the Holy One scattered mankind over the face of the earth and set seventy angelic princes over them. These princes may or may not have been fallen in their hearts at that time, but either way they were charged with guiding mankind in giving just judgments, protecting the weak and the fatherless, and rescuing the needy from the wicked. They failed in their task, and in fact encouraged mankind in wickedness. Perhaps they were motivated by envy, and hoped to cause God to utterly destroy mankind by driving us to the very depths of depravity. If so, their plot failed. The Creator judged against them, telling these immortal beings that for their sin they would die like the men they were oppressing, and replaced them . . . with a nation of men.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 2: Sons of God

Heavenly HostThe book of Genesis contains three very rare instances of the Eternal One speaking of taking an action, but doing so with a plural. In the first, on the sixth day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Lest anyone think that someone other than God himself actually created man, the next verse reads, “God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” So, while God spoke to a plural “us,” when it came to actually making man, the Holy One worked alone. The second time, Hashem says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22)–that is to say, experiencing both good and evil, both weal and woe. The third instance is similar, taking place at the Tower of Babel. The Lord says, “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7), but then, when Genesis records the actual action, the Holy One himself gets the credit: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth” (v. 8).

So who is God speaking to in these three instances? It cannot be, as some Christian pastors have suggested, other members of the Trinity, since otherwise we would expect to see this sort of plural construction throughout Scripture. Nor can it be some sort of “royal we” (“We are not amused!”) for both the same reason and because there is no “royal we” in ancient Hebrew. No, there must be someone outside of himself that God is speaking to.

While for the most part, Scripture concerns itself with matters of this world, from time to time it gives us a glimpse into the heavenly throne room where the King of the Universe sits . . . and he does not sit in solitude. As with any earthly king, the Most High has his attendants:

Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting on the throne that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones. On the thrones were twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white garments, with crowns of gold on their heads. Out of the throne proceed lightnings, sounds, and thunders. There were seven lamps of fire burning before his throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne was something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal. In the midst of the throne, and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within. They have no rest day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!” (Rev. 4:2-8)

 

I saw, and I heard something like a voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!” (Rev. 5:11-12)

While the Revelation given to the Apostle John is probably the best-known example of this apocalyptic throne imagery, he is far from the only case. Job (ch. 1-2) relates times when the “sons of God” were gathered together to report to the Most High. Isaiah (ch. 6) saw the throne room when given his commission as a prophet. Daniel (7:9-10) and Micaiah (1Ki. 22:19-23) received similar visions, while Ezekiel (ch. 1) saw the Lord riding forth with his entourage on his royal chariot-throne to visit his people in their exile. These heavenly courtiers do not simply sing the Holy One’s praises all day (though that is indeed part of their function), but take an active part in God’s government: God asks them questions and requests volunteers to carry out his tasks, sends them forth to find the one worthy of opening the scroll of the Revelation, etc. The take part in judging and dispensing justice, as in Daniel’s vision. They speak to summon those the Lord has sent for. And when God commands it, they send forth armies to protect his own even here on earth (2Ki. 6:17, cf. Mat. 26:53).

Most of us simply call these entities “angels,” but that name is somewhat of a misnomer. The words translated “angel” (Heb. malak, Gr. aggelos) simply means “messenger,” and can refer to a human messenger just as easily as a supernatural one. And while there is certainly are supernatural beings that carry messages between heaven and earth, not all of them have this particular function. Indeed, many of them seem to have been created with a far greater grandeur and purpose than most realize.

There is a class of spiritual being that in the earliest books of the Tanakh are called “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4; Deu. 32:8 (DSS, cf ESV); Job. 1:6, 2:1, 38:7) and “sons of the Most High” (Psa. 82:6). By the time of the prophets, this phrase had ceased to be in vogue, doubtless due to the prophets not wishing the risk of mixed messages when they rebuked Israels compromises with paganism. By the time of the New Testament, both Jewish and Christian literature refers to these beings only as angels and demons (“demon” originally being a Greek term referring to a minor god). Nevertheless, while the terminology changed, the idea of the Eternal One having a Divine Council of spiritual beings clearly remained strong throughout the era of the prophets and into the time of the New Testament. (The term “Divine Council” is taken from Dr. Michael Heiser’s work on the subject, much of which has been published at thedivinecouncil.com, and more of which will be available in his upcoming book. As this work can only give the outlines of the concept due to space considerations, readers are encouraged to study Dr. Heiser’s work for a much fuller treatment.)

But why does the Bible call these beings “sons of God”? Doesn’t John 3:16 call Yeshua God’s “one and only Son” (NIV, cf. the ESV)? Not exactly. The word translated “one and only” in the NIV and “only begotten” in most older translations is monogene. Earlier translations (as reflected in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #3439) assumed that this was a combination of mono, “only, single, one,” and ginomai, “to cause to be (“gen” -erate), that is, (reflexively) to become (come into being), used with great latitude (literally, figuratively, intensively, etc.)” (Strong’s, #1096). GenusandSpeciesHowever, more recent studies, having access to a wider body of Greek literature, now recognize that monogene comes from mono and genos, which means a “kind” or “type of” (see, for example, Thayer’s Lexicon). It is closely related to the Latin word genus (pl. genera), which we use today to designate a division of types of animals more specific than “family” but less specific than “species.” Therefore, the actual meaning of John 3:16 is that while God may have many sons, Yeshua is the “unique kind” of Son.

To understand what makes Yeshua unique, we first have to understand what it means to be a son of God. So what do the spiritual, or angelic, beings have in common with Adam (Luke 3:38), Israel (Exo. 4:22), disciples of the New Covenant (John 1:12), and the Messiah himself? The answer is that each is a unique creation of God which was made for the purpose of bearing his image.

This brings us back to the first of the “us” statements God makes in Genesis: “Let us,” he said, speaking to the same Divine Council seen by Isaiah, Macaiah, John, et al., “make man in our image, after our likeness.” The angelic (for lack of a better term) sons of God in heaven, just like man below, are made in the Holy One’s image. However, verse 27 makes it clear that man’s image is not derived from that of the heavenly host; rather Adam, like the heavenly sons of God, was made directly by God in his own image.

The “image of God,” as Dr. Heiser points out, obviously cannot refer to mankind’s visible, physical form (“Image of God,” retrieved from michaelheiser.com on February 12, 2014). Nor, he points out, could it refer to some attribute dependent on mankind’s physical ability, such as intelligence, rationality, or free will. That would imply that geniuses are more “in God’s image” than other men, or that infants, with their still-developing brains, are not worthy of protection against murder (see Gen. 9:6, where the injunction against murder is specifically linked to God’s image). It would also imply that the image can be taken away by inflicting brain damage or by breaking the will through torture. “Spiritual” qualities, such as the ability to believe in God or our conscience, what we mean when we say, “a soul,” are all dependent to at least some extent on our intellectual capacity, and therefore wouldn’t work for the same reasons.

Instead, Dr. Heiser argues:

The preposition “in” should be understood as meaning “as” or “in the capacity of.” Humanity was created “as” the image of God. The concept can be conveyed if we think of “image” as a verb: Humans are created as God’s imagers—they function in the capacity of God’s representatives. The image of God is not a quality within human beings; it is what humans are. Clines summarizes: “What makes man the image of God is not that corporeal man stands as an analogy of a corporeal God; for the image does not primarily mean similarity, but the representation of the one who is imaged in a place where he is not. … According to Gen 1:26ff, man is set on earth in order to be the representative there of the absent God who is nevertheless present by His image (Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 87)”

Every human, regardless of the stage of development, is an imager of God. There is no incremental or partial of the image via some ability, physical or spiritual. No member of the animal kingdom, regardless of any cognitive ability it might have, is an imager of God. . . (ibid., pp. 10-11)

This understanding lends clarity to the Old Testament passages. Being created as God’s imagers means we are His representatives on earth—the only qualification for this is that we are human. This is why the creation of humankind as God’s image in Gen 1:26–27 is immediately followed by the so-called dominion mandate of Gen 1:28. Humanity is tasked with stewarding God’s creation as though God were physically present to undertake the duty himself. Genesis 9:6’s requirement of capital punishment for murder is because the intentional killing of an innocent human was tantamount to killing God in effigy.

So let’s apply that definition to the various “sons of God” and see if it fits:

  • The angelic sons of God were all created directly by God (they “neither marry nor are given in marriage,” Mat. 22:30, cf. Luke 20:35) for the purpose of bearing his image, that is, functioning in the capacity of God’s representatives, whether by participating in his heavenly government or by bearing his messages to mortal men.
  • Adam was likewise created directly by God for the express purpose of being God’s image, or representative, in the physical plane. Eve was Adam’s co-image, equally being made after God’s likeness (Gen. 1:27). While the image was passed on to Adam’s children (5:3, 9:6), those who followed were no longer the direct creations of God. That, combined with the marring of the image by man’s sin, is the reason why humanity at large is no longer termed “sons of God” or “children of God.”
  • Israel, unlike all other nations, was directly created by the Holy One, who entered into a unique covenant relationship with the Patriarchs which he ratified at Sinai. Israel’s purpose was to both bear the glory of the Lord with her and, by keeping his Torah, collectively be his image to a fallen world.
  • Those born-again into the New Covenant symbolically and spiritually die in order to be spiritually raised into a new life characterized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–and in so doing, truly become “a new creation” (2Co. 5:17, Gal. 6:15) directly by the hand of God for the purpose of bearing his image as well as that of his Messiah.
  • And the Messiah himself? His body was a direct creation of God via the virgin birth. But what makes him the unique Son of God is that of all of the above, he is the only one who bears God’s image perfectly, without the stain of error or distortion of sin, by virtue of being the incarnate Word, Wisdom, Glory, Presence, and Messenger (Angel) of the Lord. As such, he alone is worthy to be the Holy One’s ultimate representative and viceregent over Creation.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 1: Introduction

The degree to which the Bible interacts with the mythologies of Israel’s neighbors is a fact that is all-too-often better known and understood by its critics than by its believers. Jews and Christians often find themselves confronted with claims by atheists and neo-pagans alike that the ancient Jews simply stole from the legends of the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and of course the Canaanites in creating their own holy books. Unfortunately, while these parallels are well known to scholars, an understanding of them has not filtered down to the lay level. Indeed, many believers reflexively reject seeking out and understanding these cultural similarities. After all, Sola Scriptura! Others, unfortunately, find their faith in the Bible–and therefore, in the God of the Bible–undermined or destroyed because they were never prepared to deal with such a line of attack. It is a shame and a tragedy that both the Jewish and the Christian worlds have failed to prepare their young people for such challenges–especially since, properly understood, comparative religious studies of the ancient near-east pose far more opportunities to better understand the Word than to undermine it. After all, the Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum! Just as understanding the nature of Epicurean philosophy and its impact on Greco-Roman thinking helps one to understand many of the details of Paul’s letters (such as his dissertation on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15), understanding the pagan worldview helps one to understand the arguments of the prophets against the pagan paradigm.

These legends also provide extra-Biblical support for pre-historical events such as the Flood or the Tower of Babel. We would be right to be suspicious if only the Bible contained a record of a worldwide Flood that wiped out nearly all of humanity. The fact that the Flood legend is so ubiquitous in so many cultures all around the world, with versions appearing even in Native American tales, isn’t evidence that the authors of Scripture “stole” it, but rather that the Flood was indeed a primordial event that affected all of mankind. Pagan mythology and theology serves a similar purpose. After all, even most ardent fundamentalists understand that the Bible’s claim isn’t that the gods of the pagans are non-existent, but that they are demonic entities that are not worth worshipping (Deu. 32:17, Psa. 106:7, 1Co. 10:20).

Moreover, since all of humankind shares a common ancestry, and therefore a common history, why should it surprise us that certain motifs concerning the spiritual world appear in both Israel and in its near-eastern neighbors? In fact, the Bible’s first eleven chapters are almost entirely devoted to “correcting” ancient near-eastern mythology. For example, there is a great deal of debate today on how (or if) to reconcile the creation account of Genesis with our modern scientific knowledge. Neither young-earth creationism, nor old-earth progressive creationism, however, can really claim to interpret the text according to its original historical purpose. To suggest that the ancient Hebrews would have read into Genesis 1:1 the creation of a universe over 30 billion light-years across is, of course, ludicrous. To the ancients, “the heavens” referred to that which they could see with the naked eye: Sky, clouds, the sun, moon, and stars (which included the “wandering” stars, or planets), etc. They did not, and could not, distinguish between the atmosphere and outer space, let alone interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic space.

They also had no conception of, and no concern about, our current scientific debates about the ultimate origin of a universe that was largely invisible to them and which we have only begun to perceive in the last century via our powerful (and in some cases orbital) telescopes. Nor would they have cared about the extent to which evolution played a role in the development of the earth’s life-forms, or if it did at all. Atheism and materialism were not even on the table for discussion.

What was on the table for discussion was the means by which the visible world was created and by whom. All Ancient Near-East (ANE) pagan systems personified nature into their gods. These gods, in turn, were not eternal, but arose (evolved) spontaneously from a chaotic, primordial world which they proceeded to shape and vie over.

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

For example, the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish tells us that Abzu and Tiamat, the personifications of fresh and salt water, mixed together and created the gods. Apsu wished to kill them, but Tiamat prevailed in keeping them alive. Ea, the chief of the gods, killed Apsu in his sleep, leading to Tiamat seeking revenge. Marduk in turn killed Tiamat in battle and divided her, using half of her corpse to form the earth and half to form the heavens.

The Egyptians and Greeks had myths of a similar sort, with the structure of the world and the very laws of nature arising from the emergence, marriages, births, wars, and deaths of the gods. The chief point of Genesis is to correct these pagan traditions of personified nature. In their place, Genesis asserts that in the beginning was one God, transcendent and separate from the visible world, and that he alone created the natural entities and forces that the pagans worshipped. God did not bring the world into being by strife, nor with the help of (or death of) other gods, but simply by the Word of his power. The deep (Heb. tehom) was not a god or a monster, but was simply the primordial ocean over which the Spirit of the Living God brooded before acting to create, and so forth. This is the plain-sense, historical interpretation.

Does this mean that Genesis has nothing to speak to today’s issues, or that it is ahistorical and simply a polemical device for countering paganism? Not at all. First of all, its polemical value is anchored on being a true, historical account by the One who created everything. And if that is the case, then we should expect that as our scientific knowledge of creation expands, we should find confirmation of God’s account. Secondly, the major difference between paganism and philosophical materialism is that paganism personifies the natural elements. (Though given how non-theists tend to personify “the Universe,” “the Cosmos,” and “Evolution” when speaking of the design in nature, there’s an even thinner line between the two than may be apparent at first glance.) The Bible’s response to paganism would therefore answer materialism as well–and such a response would have to be rooted in real, verifiable natural history in order to be effective. Moreover, if the God of the Bible is truly all-knowing and eternal (outside of the created dimension of time), we would expect that he would anticipate future attacks on his sovereignty over creation just as much as those in the past. But now consider the inverse: Just as the Bible acts to correct the errant beliefs of paganism, paganism in turn must have distorted an original knowledge of the Creator: “Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).

"Let us build a tower to the heavens . . ."

“Let us build a tower to the heavens . . .”

Paul is not speaking of all individual men having a knowledge of the Creator from Creation, which they all then individually rejected in favor of paganism, but rather of the original rejection of the Most High by men thousands of years before at Babel.

To be continued . . .

What Does “Reforging the Menorah” Mean?

The menorah for the coming Temple

The menorah for the coming Temple

When Israel was commanded to build a Tabernacle for the Eternal Creator so that he might dwell among his people, God also gave Moses detailed descriptions of the furnishings, including the famous Menorah, which became a symbol of Israel for thousands of years. The Menorah (literally “light bearer”) was the sole illumination for the Tabernacle, and had to be built to very particular specifications:

“You shall make a menorah of pure gold. Of hammered work shall the menorah be made, even its base, its shaft, its cups, its buds, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it. There shall be six branches going out of its sides: three branches of the menorah out of its one side, and three branches of the menorah out of its other side; three cups made like almond blossoms in one branch, a bud and a flower; and three cups made like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bud and a flower, so for the six branches going out of the menorah; and in the menorah four cups made like almond blossoms, its buds and its flowers; and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the menorah. Their buds and their branches shall be of one piece with it, all of it one beaten work of pure gold.” (Exo. 25:31-36)

The Menorah had to be completely unified from the moment of its creation, being built by hammering out a single block of gold. Its branches could not be created separately and then welded on. This symbolized the complete unity that God expected of his people, which in turn was to reflect the complete unity of the Holy One himself.

Hear, Israel: the LORD is our God; the LORD is one. (Deu. 6:4)

And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their good, and of their children after them:(Jer. 32:39)

I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; (Eze. 11:19)

In the New Covenant Scriptures, Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) called for his followers to have the same unity.

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16)

I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. . . that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; (John 17:11, 21-22)

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4:32)

For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. (Eph. 2:14-16)

Tragically, because of the sin and rebellion in the heart of men, this unity has never been realized. Israel of course eventually split into two nations, the northern and the southern kingdoms, and by the time of the New Testament period, the people had been further scattered across the Roman world and split into numerous sects: The Pharisees (who became Orthodox Judaism), the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Galileans, the Hellenists, the Essenes, etc.

The Church has fared no better, and it was actually prophesied in the final book of the Bible that this would be the case.

I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. Having turned, I saw seven golden menorahs. And among the menorahs was one like a son of man, clothed with a robe reaching down to his feet, and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace. His voice was like the voice of many waters. He had seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. (Rev. 1:12-17)

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Instead of a unified body symbolized by seven lampstands unified as a single Menorah, Revelation reveals the churches to be separated from one another by a loss of love and fellowship, the rise of elitists and false prophets, spiritual deadness, and lukewarmness–all of which began with the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the mostly-Gentile Christians. [link to Judenrein Christianity article] The result has been that the Menorah has been broken, each of the seven branches snapped off of their base and setting themselves up as their own individual lampstand.

The Menorah can no more be welded back together now than it could when it was first created. Instead, it must be melted back down by great heat and hammered back out again.

I will bring the third part into the fire,
and will refine them as silver is refined,
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name, and I will hear them.
I will say, ‘It is my people;’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zec. 13:9)

. . . that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. (1Pt. 1:7)

Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. (1Pt. 4:12)

Reforging the Menorah Ministries is dedicated to the reunification of all of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile. This reunification cannot be accomplished by purely human strength, but must be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit:

‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts. (Zec. 4:6)

That means that the Reforging the Menorah movement is NOT:

  • A political movement, nor do we have any political designs on any nation, though we do support Israel.
  • A cultural or legalistic movement. We are not calling for Christians to live as Jews, nor Jews as Christians. We do, however, support Christians who wish to learn about Israel’s feasts and Jewish life and thought.
  • A movement intent on abolishing important distinctions or theological controversy. We recognize the importance of good dogma and good traditions in the Body of Messiah, and we also recognize that there are fundamentally important debates within the Body–but our intent is that these debates be held in a spirit of brotherhood within the Body. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Since we believe that the first split in the Body of Messiah was actually the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the Gentiles, our first focus is on healing that rift by education, edification, and fellowship, and most especially, by showing the full importance of the Biblical teaching that the Gentiles who have put their faith in Israel’s King have been adopted as fellow-heirs to Israel (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11), and peaceably annexed into God’s kingdom as God’s people and the work of God’s hands alongside Israel (Isa. 19:24-25). We believe that because of this adoption, every Christian should look upon every Jew they meet as a brother or a sister–whether or not the Jew feels the same.

While we have our own prophetic perspective (described in Rabbi Mike’s books When the Stars Fall, soon to be re-released, and the forthcoming Reforging the Menorah), this Israelology is not dependent on having any particular stance on the Millennium, the past or future fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, or one’s belief–or lack thereof–in the Rapture.

Indeed, we believe that regardless of the specifics of one’s eschatology, that it is clear that we are living in prophetic times. But rather than chase after prophetic voyeurism, we believe that it’s past time to roll up our sleeves and be about our King’s business, to make straight the way of the Lord!

Shalom u’vrekhah (peace and blessings),
Rabbi Mike

Announcing the Creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries

It has been so long since I actually posted that it looks like WordPress has completely changed around the interface in my absence. That’s sad.

Her fault, this time.

Okay, I could make another excuse about my kids–I do have a new baby that I’ve been playing with, after all. But I’ve not actually been idle all this time.

Well over a year ago, I posted the first part of an article entitled “The Curse of the Law.” And anyone who thought it was interesting waited. And waited. And waited. And plotted my downfall.

Much as in the case of the still-missing second volume of When the Stars Fall, the problem wasn’t that I had nothing to write–it was that every thing I thought of to write led to more questions, which led to more research, which led to more writing, which led to more questions . . . you get the idea.

Basically, the questions raised by the second half of the book of Revelation led to writing a whole new book (which is still in pieces, but about ready to do the proposal on). The parts of said book that I intended to post here led to still more articles and research.

In short, I’ve been having a lot of fun.

RtFM_seal_400 (2)So I guess this is as good a time as ever to announce the genesis of a new ministry that I’m working on that is distinct and separate from my work at Congregation Beth HaMashiach (cbhm.org). So without further ado, I’d like to announce the creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries. We hope to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews–and for that matter, between Christians and Christians–through a ministry of teaching via podcasts, blog posts, and books. I’ll let the introduction on our website,  explain it:

Throughout the past two millennia the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth has remained divided between Jew and Gentile and has even fractured within those groups; this is sometimes due to dogma, sometimes to ethnicity, frequently to both. Such segregation and infighting damages the witness of all, and is contrary to both the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Apostolic writings of the New Testament. As implied by its name, our ministry is dedicated to mending relations between those disparate parts, or “candlesticks” as symbolized in Revelation 1:20, and forging them into a single whole: a seven-branched menorah to shine light into the darkness (see Zec. 4).

Our goal is not to enforce a particular form of worship. Indeed, we believe such legalisms are contrary to our King’s will. We strongly oppose attempts to force Gentiles to proselytize through a perversion of the circumcision ritual as described in certain of the Apostle Paul’s writings. Likewise, we condemn the application of “Confessions of Faith” that amount to outright refutations of the Jewish way of life, which continue to create a stumbling block that prevents Jews from recognizing their Kinsman-Redeemer. In our view, the Church neither replaces Israel (the Jewish people) nor is wholly separate from them. Rather, the Gentiles of the Church are adopted into Israel as fellow-heirs (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11:17-24), and therefore should regard every Jew as a brother or a sister. Toward this end, we work to achieve understanding and cooperation by celebrating those customs common to all, exhorting the roots of our faith, and exploring those areas of disagreement or outright contention in the hope of finding the truth in Scripture.

If you enjoy our teachings and have a congregation in either the Atlanta, GA or Tampa, FL areas, please see our Booking page for information on scheduling us to teach classes in-person.

The website is still under construction, but we’re already loading up some articles there (including some “golden oldies” from this blog). We’ve got four podcasts, a series on Hosea, in the can, but due to life issues are holding off on posting the first of them until we’re sure we can reliably upload them on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some excerpts from the Reforging the Menorah book here, both to explain what our ministry is about and (hopefully) whet some appetites.

There are a few complications on the horizon, but Hashem willing, this will be the beginning of me getting back into the game. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

Shalom.

Book Review: The Second Coming of the Antichrist by Peter Goodgame

I’ve been meaning for a while to do a few book reviews on this blog, but work on “The Curse of the Law” series–which has actually required me to back up and write prequels to the original blog post–has joined forces with my newborn baby girl and very typically two-year-old son to keep me from spending as much time reading as I’d like. If it weren’t for my Nook and having a bit of time to kill when rocking one of my kids to sleep, I’d get almost nothing done. However, there’s been one book recently that I just couldn’t put down, which in fact had me go back for a second read and had me scribbling notes in the margins. I figure such a book deserves to be my first ever review on this blog.

Peter Goodgame’s The Second Coming of the Antichrist (SCA, for short) is the sort of book which would be easy to dismiss at first glance as just so much apocalyptic pablum–at least for those who aren’t immediately drawn to the genre. However, while the book does indeed speculate heavily on the origins of the Antichrist, its take is unique to itself, and in the process of presenting his case, Goodgame has created a detailed study of history and mythology that even those with no interest in eschatology will find fascinating. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s flaws, but I think the flaws are eclipsed by its vision.

The vast majority of SCA is a study on pre-history and comparative mythology, focused on a very Biblical mystery: Who exactly was Nimrod, the son of Cush? Though only appearing in Genesis 10 and a couple of relatively obscure prophetic references, the figure of Nimrod has been the subject of speculation by both Christian expositors and Jewish rabbis for millennia. The general consensus has been that he was the first world dictator, and instrumental in building the Tower of Babel (despite the fact that he isn’t mentioned in Genesis 11 at all). Goodgame carefully compares the ancient histories of Egypt and Mesopotamia together and sets forth a very good case that Nimrod was known to the Egyptians as Narmer and later as the god Osirus, to the Assyrians as Asshur, the founder of their culture, and to the Sumerians as Enmerkar. He further shows how the ancient mythologies of these peoples were essentially political and religious propaganda covering the true events that the Bible relates the truth of only in brief.

Central to Goodgame’s model of the Antichrist is the very Biblical belief that he will be a dark reflection or copy of the true Messiah, a point that Peter drives home throughout his book. He believes that the false messiah will copy the True not only in having some manner of “resurrection,” but also in having two “comings” separated by thousands of years.

Many will be critical of that final claim, arguing that Satan could have no power to truly resurrect a man. They may be right. They should read Goodgame’s book anyway. Even if one rejects his thesis about the ultimate nature of the Antichrist, the historical work he has done makes it a must-have for the shelf of any serious Bible student.

It should be noted that Goodgame has his own model of the timeline of the End Times that is pretrib in nature, but parts with classical pretrib on several key points. He develops this model in his other book Red Moon Rising to a far greater extent. I myself have some critiques of what I’ll call RMR pretribulationism, and I had the chance to query him on some of those points on the Iron Show a while back. While I am critical of some aspects of this model, I like the fact that Goodgame raises some very good points that highlight some areas of the prewrath model that I am not completely satisfied yet. I mention this because in SCA, he briefly explains his model and shows how his views here are consistent with it, but without developing a dependency between the two that would make SCA itself unpalatable for either classical pretribbers, or prewrathers like myself. My only objection is that instead of placing his model in a chapter in the middle of SCA, it would have been better placed as an appendixso that those reading the book could go back and refer to it instead of having to wait until the middle of the book to find out what Goodgame believes in that regard.

I said before that SCA has its flaws, and it does. Goodgame makes a few errors in translating or connecting certain ancient Semitic and Hebrew terms. These are, fortunately, always tangential to his main point, but they are there. He also depends a great deal on the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Tanakh (OT), which is to my mind risky. The LXX translators were good scholars, but the quality of their translation varies greatly from book-to-book (the introductory notes in the New English Translation of the Septuagint are very helpful in this regard). The also did their translation work in the “silent years” between Malachi and John the Immerser, when there was no prophet in Israel (see 1Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41, cf. Amos 8:11), which means that the LXX is no more inspired than the King James Version. While I often refer to the LXX myself, I am suspicious of instances where it departs seriously from the Hebrew text, such as in ascribing longer lifespans to many of the men in the genealogies in Genesis. This results in problems such as having Methuselah surviving the Flood.

Goodgame is less critical of the LXX than I would be, and uses it to definitively place Nimrod at the time period of c. 3200 BCE. The biggest problem I can see with this is that the same archaeological techniques that allow us to date the Middle-eastern ruins also indicate that man had spread at least as far as China by the same time period, and there is a good bit of evidence that puts men in the Americas long before that. I agree that dating such ancient and pre-historical events is tricky at best, with a large margin for error, but there are some potential snarls in the timeline as Goodgame presented it which might bring one to conclude that

  1. Mankind had indeed spread out from Mesopotamia after the Flood, and the Nimrod/Tower story concerns the building of a one-world empire in the Middle-east that was nipped in the bud before the cancer could spread.
  2. The Nimrod narrative comes from a period long before Enmerkar/Narmor, and this individual was trying to replicate an event the memory of which is all but lost to the fog of history now.
  3. Secular historical dating is wrong about events anywhere except in the Middle-east.

These are of course not problems unique to SCA. They plague all attempts to firmly reconcile the Biblical accounts with secular historical dating. My own belief is that the Flood and the Tower took place much earlier than Goodgame puts it, and that the genealogies of Genesis are not meant to give an unbroken chronology. At the same time, Goodgame’s dating for the life of Narmer (possibly the Biblical Nimrod) is substantiated by secular historical work, so his arguments have quite a bit of merit, and my quibbles here should not be taken as an attack on his position, just a dissatisfaction that we have enough of the pieces to put the puzzle together yet.

Finally, I do think that Goodgame’s view of the relationship between our current social-political context and the End Times–that is, that he sees little relationship between the Antichrist and any current political entity, though he does note the obsession the Freemasons and related groups have with Osirus–is a bit naive. I realize why he has a desire to avoid tying the Antichrist to any current national groups or movements, and applaud his concern that, for example, Muslims not be singled out as an enemy to be destroyed. As he aptly puts it, “The problem comes in when Christians believe that they must react to every new scheme of the devil by being worried or offended and by responding in fear or by force” (pp. 4f). Exactly! He and I have very different views as to what the final religion of the Beast will look like, but we agree on how we must approach those caught up in falsehood. We must regard them as victims to love and rescue, not as enemies to cut down on the field of battle! Nevertheless, we do have very different views on the current players on the field.

I sent Peter a multi-page commentary on his work that I won’t share here now, but which both of us hope will be the basis for a second podcast interview on the subject. Instead, I will end with this observation: Goodgame has a wonderful writing style that somehow combines a genuine love and humility with incisive logic. I would that more of us in this field focuses on presenting positive cases for our own views instead of attacking those who disagree with us. I also admire that he was willing to put the book down for several years when he realized that he had neglected his relationship with the Lord.

In short, Peter Goodgame is a true Christian. Though he and I would take his work in different directions in some cases, reading his book has had a profound impact on my own comparative studies. I hope that you will give it the opportunity to do the same for yours.

Can Women Minister? – 1 Timothy 2:11-16

Adam and Eve by Rembrandt

Adam and Eve by Rembrandt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (ESV)

In the previous section, I deliberately left one possible argument unaddressed: “But what about when Paul says, ‘If there is anything they [women] desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home’? How does that tie in with your argument about women being permitted to prophesy?” I did so both because the major commentators I consulted all wrestle with the prophecy issue, which makes it the stronger argument, but also because I wanted to tie in the subject of women learning and teaching with the above passage from 1 Timothy 2:11-16.

Verse 11 directly contradicts the notion that women expected women to only learn from their own husbands at home–as indeed does both his own example and that of the Lord Yeshua. Yeshua’s band included a number of women who actually financed the mission (Luke 8:1-3), and he personally taught Mary, who sat at his feet as any rabbinic disciple would (10:39, 42). He also taught a certain Samaritan woman while waiting by a well (John 4), breaking two conventions of Jewish society at the same time. Paul in turn taught a group of Jewish women who gathered near a river in Phillipi, noting that one Lydia was especially attentive and led her whole household in immersing into the name of Yeshua (Acts 16:13-15).

In none of these cases did either Yeshua or Paul refuse to teach the women personally. This again proves that Paul must have been quoting someone else’s position in 1 Corinthians 14 rather than presenting his own.

But what does Paul mean here when he says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness”? Well, the word “quietly,” hesychia (used also in v.12), doesn’t mean “utter silence,” but simply the quietness that goes with a willingness to listen instead of arguing, or to live in peace instead of meddling in the affairs of others, and is used of men as well as women (cf. Acts 22:2, 2Th. 3:12).

But what about the word “subjection”? We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Verse 12 is where the trouble lies: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Taken together with 1 Corinthians 14, this is often given as proof against women having any public role in the Church. And yet, the same problems with that interpretation of the Corinthians passage plague this one: There is a clear precedent for prophetesses in the Bible, including at least one who served as judge and ruler over Israel; and Paul had indicated that women may prophesy if dressed modestly, which by the necessity of the role of a prophet ascribes to the woman a certain authority given by the Holy One himself!

The popular interpretation (which I won’t bother to source, since it’s nearly universal) is that this passage limits a woman’s proper role to teaching (and prophesying to) other women, as well as children. However, it seems odd that Paul would not have said so in Corinthians when explaining that women can prophesy with a head covering–it would have saved a lot of confusion in his previous letter. And again, such an interpretation flies in the face of the Biblical precedents.

There is are some additional problems, which crop up in the translations. First, the word translated “exercise authority” is not the common word exousia, but a far more rare word, authenteo. In fact, this word is so rare that this is the only place it appears in the canonical Scriptures. Thayer’s indicates that in the rare cases where it is used in Greek literature, it means “one who does a thing himself, the author . . . one who acts on his own authority” as “an absolute master.” That’s quite a different thing from “exercising [properly held] authority.”

The second translation issue comes out of the fact that in Greek (as well as Hebrew), there is no special word for either “husband” or “wife.” Instead, the terms “man” (aner) and “woman” (gyne) are used, with only the context indicating whether the man and woman are married or not. So let’s look at the context of v.12.

Verses 13-16 use Adam and Eve as the prototypical example to support v.12–but Adam and Eve weren’t just a man and a woman, but the first married couple. Paul then goes on in 3:2 to use the same Greek words to indicate a husband and wife. Indeed, the whole of chapter 3 focuses on what the family life of a deacon should look like.

So let’s look again at the passage, fixing the translation issues:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a wife to teach or to act on her own authority over a husband; rather, she is to remain quiet [peaceful]. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

In the early Ekklesia, it was not uncommon for a wife to come to faith in Yeshua before her husband (1Co. 7:13f). It may well be that the only point of this passage is that a woman who came to faith first, or who was otherwise more gifted in the Word than her husband, should not be put in a position of being a teacher to or acting on her own authority apart from him, so as to not disrupt the proper chain of authority in their household (Eph. 5:23).

However, as Glenn Miller explains (http://christianthinktank.com/fem09.html), there were also cultural issues that necessitated Paul’s instruction to Timothy which also explain why he decided to refer back to Adam and Eve for his prooftext:

Ephesus was legended to have been founded by the Amazons in the 12-13 centuries BC (ISBE, s.v. “Ephesus”), and maintained one of the strongest goddess worship centers in history (WS:ISNW:47-54). This was worship of the Great Mother or maternal principle, who allegedly gave birth to both humans and the gods. . .

“From the earliest times in Anatolia, female religious officials known as ‘old women’ kept alive the ancient myths.” (WS:ISNW:64). . . “Ancient writers attest that distorted stories, including perversions of the Adam and Eve saga, were already circulating in the first century of the common era. Recent scholarship suggests that Gnostic-like myths opposed to traditional biblical values may have been afloat in Alexandria as early as the second or first century before Christ. Philo, who died in CE 45, utilizes the very theme which was to draw rebuttal by Paul; namely, mythologizing Eve as the one who brings knowledge and meaningful life to Adam” (WS:ISNW:65). . .

The success of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus would no doubt have included some of the priestesses of Artemis (cf. the story of the burning of incantation scrolls by cult practitioners in Acts 19.19). Mickelsen (cited in WS: WIC: 126) shows how these might be in view in a number of the textual situations:

In Ephesus with its huge temple to the goddess Artemis were hundreds of sacred priestesses who probably also served as sacred prostitutes. There were also hundreds of hetaerae, the most educated of Greek women who were the regular companions and often the extramarital sexual partners of upper-class Greek men. Possibly some of these women had been converted and were wearing their suggestive and expensive clothing to church. Since hetaerae were often respected teachers of men in Greece (many are named in Greek literature), they would be more likely to become teachers after they became part of the church.

Paul, of course, had lectured in a Greek secular school for two years there (Acts 19.9), and if the pattern was anything like that in Athens (Acts 17.34), educated women were probably there and were converted under his teaching.

Miller then provides the punch-line which truly changes our understanding of the meaning of the whole passage:

The lexical work of Kroeger (WS:WAB:225-244) and Kroeger/Kroeger (WS: ISNW:87-104), although complex, documents one important strand of meaning as being “to proclaim as the originator or source of something” (op.cit.). Liefeld summarizes Kroeger in WS:WAB:246: “If Kroeger’s understanding of authenteo is correct, the most straightforward translation of the verse would be, ‘I do not permit a women [sic] to teach or to declare herself the originator of man.'”

WS:ISNW:103 states it thus: “If we were to read 1 Timothy 2:12 as ‘I do not allow a women [sic] to teach nor to proclaim herself author of man,’ we can understand the content of the forbidden teaching as being the notion that woman was somehow responsible for the creation of man.”

And elsewhere: “I do not permit woman to teach nor to represent herself as originator of man but she is to be in [peaceful] conformity [ with the Scriptures, as a respectful student]. For Adam was first formed, then Eve…”

Ergo, the correct meaning of the passage is not that no woman can have a properly invested authority over any man, but either a) that wives may not be in a position of authority over their own husbands, or b) that the “reverse Bible stories” common in the goddess-centered city of Ephesus must be put to an end.

Shalom